Teaser 175: Indulging at Michael’s Restaurant and Serena’s Gala Event

We dropped in on Michael at his fancy eatin' place Saturday night. I called for the reservations. She said they were booked. “Would you like to be added to the waiting list in case anyone cancels?”

“I'm sorry to hear it. I really wanted to take Michael up on his open and indefinite free meal, since I showed him how to grow that great garlic he features in his restaurant nowadays, but tell him Gregory Hess will catch up with him another time, if it should ever happen, which might be the next time I'm in the States from Europe or some other far-flung, exotic place I may be living, and since I rarely come back to the States any more, well, tell him he can cook that meal for me in Australia maybe.” Silence. For about a minute. “Anybody there?” More silence but I could hear rumblings going on in the restaurant until I heard a very loud voice shout, “You just left him on the phone?!

“Gregory!” Michael said over the phone, very suave and smooth. “What time will you be here and how many in your party?”

“Michael, how are you, my crazy cooking friend? I haven't seen you in ages! I'm going to have to sample several dishes with that marvelous garlic you've been growing.” Michael laughed. “Listen, Serena and some friends of mine would like to satiate ourselves about eight this evening if it's not too much trouble and there will be a total of six. Can you squeeze us in somewhere in your establishment? That would be the one I've never had the pleasure to enjoy, you know.”

“Eight it is, Gregory. I have plenty of room for you, my friend.”

When we arrived at Michael's restaurant we were immediately escorted to our table by the hostess, who apologized several times while we walked past the main dining area to a more secluded area with only four table arrangements. We all let Serena order the appetizers and when they were brought to our table, Michael came out with our waiter. I stood up and hugged him, asking if he had some of the gorgeous garlic he's been growing in the kitchen. “I will bring you a bulb right now,” he said and disappeared.

When he returned he presented it to me with great flourish. “May I?” I asked, intending to split it open to one of the cloves.

“Of course. Please be my guest, Gregory!”

I tore the bulb open, grabbing a clean plate, and scraped open a clove, rubbed it hard, smelled its extreme pungency, and licked my finger. “That is some very nice garlic, Michael,” I said, beaming at him as he beamed back. “You have done very well, my friend. I am pleased.” I showed it to Jana sitting next to me. “Rub your finger hard on this, smell it, then taste it.” I watched her rub her finger over the clove, smell it, giving a look of astonishment, and stick her finger in her mouth.

Oh, my god, that's powerful!” Jana exclaimed and we all laughed.

“John warned me about you, Gregory,” Michael explained. “I believe he said that you said, 'Two can play the game.'”

“Indeed, it is exactly what I told him. Two can play the game. You're not buying my meal this night or any other night. You met my terms fully, Michael. I read your menu. I saw your sign out front. It's enough. You'll buy some other lucky person's meal tonight. Let me decide. You let me slide and I'll hand them the cash. I came prepared.” Michael laughed, came to my seat and we shook hands.

“Deal! I'm not gonna win with you. I know. I'm delighted you finally came to eat with me. Enjoy, Gregory! Enjoy, all of you! Serena, love you dearly!”

Our meals were all off the charts. Even Sofia was licking her lips and Lance was in heaven and he had eaten at Michael's restaurant before. Jana and Carla were speechless. Before we were readying to leave, Michael came out again to wish us well, and see what I would do. “Michael, my friend, there's only one uncertainty I have.”

“What's that, Gregory?”

“This free meal you have offered me, through John, how far does it extend? To just me or to my entire group? And remember this is your largess. It comes out of your bottom line.”

I must give Michael his due. He never hesitated when he announced, “Why, my offer, Gregory, extends to your entire table.” He flashed a look of mock hurt. “I'm surprised you would even ask.”

Our more secluded room had been occupied the whole time we were there, but several times during our meal, we had been interrupted by people sitting at two of the tables. There was one table with two couples I estimated were in their late twenties who had noticed Serena and I but they all simply nodded or made some other innocent acknowledgment. Other than this they left us alone and never made any effort to intrude. I waved Michael to approach me. “Michael, the two couples over there,” and I pointed discreetly to them, “would you please find out how much their meal is going to be and let me know. I intend to buy their meal, at your expense, of course.”

Michael smiled wide. “Give me a minute, Gregory.”

A few minutes later the couples' waiter appeared and came to my seat. He held in his hand the current receipt for their meal. It was about three hundred and some dollars, so far. I had looked at the dessert prices and figured it in my head and noted the wine they had been drinking. I figured another glass of wine for all in my head, too, and assumed five hundred would cover it all.

I stood and walked to the two couples' table and introduced myself to the nearest male I reached. “Excuse me. I'm Gregory Hess.”

The man said, “I knew it was you.” He stuck out his hand. I wanted to be polite and not make everyone stand for a hug so I shook his hand. “Andy. This is my best friend, Leonard. This is his wife, Dorothy, and my better half, Olivia.”

As Andy introduced each, I reached and squeezed each hand offered. “I wanted you all to know I appreciate your discretion to leave us to ourselves and not come over to our table and interrupt us. Serena and I want to thank you. I knew you recognized us but you kept your shit together,” and they all laughed, “so we have decided your dinner tonight is on us.” Now they looked shocked. “Well, not on us. Chef Michael insists I eat at his restaurant for free forever because I helped him learn how to grow garlic the right way, but he gave me everything I insisted. It's why my name is on his menu. Enough.” I pulled out my cash and flipped over five hundred dollar bills and handed it to Andy. “This should cover your meal, a dessert for each of you, should you choose, and another glass of wine. Please accept it with our compliments and may your future be filled with peace, love and cooperation.” I squeezed Andy's shoulder, waved, and walked back to our table as everyone rose. We all waved at the two couples as we left, noting their complete astonishment.

Serena's make-up launch came later in the week, Friday night. She insisted. “I don't care if it ruins anyone's weekend. I'm having it Friday and that's it.” See? Serena pushes back.

Jana and I accompanied Serena, we arrived at the back of the venue, and I was soon greeted with a demand. “You'll have to go off with Gerald. See him with the earpiece and the clipboard? He's producing tonight. You can't go back stage, not where the girls are dressing. Do you want to come back stage, Jana?” No wonder I don't like these things. Can you fault me?

I made it through all right. I wandered around the audience and forgot about both. Well, I didn't forget them. I simply found other things to occupy my time. I saw Jada Pinkett Smith. She totally ignored me, the mountain man without a tuxedo. How completely destitute. Her husband, Will, was not looking all too enthusiastic, but when he noticed his wife looked disparagingly at me, he had to see who that was. Shit, he recognized me.

“You can't be here stag, Gregory Hess!” Will exclaimed loudly so all within a hundred yards could hear. “It's so unlike you, from what I've heard.”

“You have the voice, Will, since you used to sing, or so I've heard. Say it louder so everyone in Palos Verdes can hear. I think they may have missed it.” He laughed. At least Will has a sense of humor since I was only half kidding.

“What are you doing here? You can't be scoping babes. You've got plenty.”

“I see you still have your sense of humor. Ten years in Hollywood and it's usually history.” He reached me and wanted to give me a brother hand, arm or elbow greeting, whatever is vogue at the time. “It's a hug or nothing, Will.” I put my arms out and Will stepped up to me and hugged me tentatively.

“Here with Serena?”

“Well, I came here with her. Don't ask me where she is. No clue.”

You're Gregory!” Jada exclaimed. “I was wondering who you were.” I really didn't think she was wondering too long. I think she had come to a conclusion instantly. I hugged her anyway. Her hug was less tentative than Will's hug, I should add and I will.

“Kendall told me about running into you at the Oscars party,” Will remarked. “A woman on either side and one on your lap. Yeah, you don't have a reputation.” He laughed. I didn't but I smiled politely. A little louder he added, “Congratulations on your Oscar!” He patted my back.

That was all it took. One minute later I had gone from ignored, perhaps even shunned—I think it's a given—to the darling of the moment, the center of attention which spread out like a nuclear blast. I actually wished I had a cigarette so I could step outside and smoke and have some peace. You would think the make-up, modeling crowd wouldn't give a shit about a screenwriter, even an Oscar-winning screenwriter. They did though and some of the questions were so disappointing at times—I am really trying to refrain from writing moron—that I could barely contain myself. I did, with a smile no less. Thankfully, Jana, then Serena appeared out of nowhere, or from back stage, something like that, and Serena and Jada and Will traded whoppers, or something like that, and I kept trying to fend off the attention I so wished on anyone else. I looked to Jana, standing by herself, a little out of place but obscure, though she looked delicious. I wanted that, well, not to look delicious. That will never happen. I cannot be on anyone's menu.

- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-OnePrepare For Entry” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

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