I was recently a guest at a fundraiser honoring famous athletes, which my friend Paul’s daughter Sara had been working on. She got two complimentary tickets for being a staffer on the fundraiser, she gave them to her Dad, and he invited me to go with him.
So I went.
Going meant putting a suit and tie, attire I had not been seen in since Anna’s wedding last September. It also meant passing up a UCLA fundraiser for film preservation, where they show classic silent comedies, accompanied by an original score played by members of the L.A. Philharmonic.
But I opted to go with Paul.
I wanted to see the athletes.
The last time I had attended an event at the Century Plaza Hotel was at an Emmy Awards dinner in the late seventies. After the Emmy ceremonies, which were held somewhere else, you relocated to the hotel for the celebratory dinner (or not, if you lost, which I believe that year, I did.)
I recall stepping into a vast ballroom, and proceeding to a long table where you found out where you were sitting. I gave them my name, and they looked it up. It turns out, I was not on the list.
It was only then that I discovered I was in the wrong ballroom. The one I was in was hosting an optometrists’ convention. I told them what event I was attending, and they said,
“Oh. The ‘television people’ are downstairs.”
I went downstairs, having learned a bracing lesson in humility. To hotel event planners, optometrists and “the television people” are entirely interchangeable.
When Paul and I arrived at the fundraiser – they were raising money for genetic research at Cedars Sinai Hospital, coincidentally the venue of my heart surgery – the first thing I noticed was the “Red Carpet” area, where arriving luminaries had their pictures taken and were interviewed. I went over to check out the excitement.
As the bigger fish began to arrive, I found myself being shunted further and further back in the “Gawkers’ Gallery.” So there is not much to report on the celebrities. When I was close, I didn’t know them. And when I knew them, I couldn’t see them.
I was standing on the periphery, beside an attractive young woman who had to be at least six-foot four, who was towering over the crowd. I politely said to her,
“If you see something interesting, do you think you could let me know?”
I’d had probably done the same thing if it were a guy.
Our next stop was at the bustling “Silent Auction” area, where all types of sports memorabilia were being energetically bid on. (An Oddity: There was a basketball reputed to have been signed by L.A. Lakers immortal Jerry West, but on further examination, he had apparently not signed his own name. The signature on the ball was, like, “Abram…something.” Why wouldn’t Jerry West sign ‘Jerry West’?”)
I bid on two things – a grouping of framed Mickey Mantle baseball cards, and a signed Magic Johnson basketball. (Which he actually signed “Magic Johnson.”) I don’t know if I was showing off, but I was freeing up a substantial amount of money. It was like I was trying to cure genetic defects all by myself.
The bidding on the Mantle package ended early, and I won, if by “won” one means I paid more for those baseball cards than anyone else there thought made any sense. The Magic Johnson basketball was still in play, though my bid, at the moment, was the highest. I hovered nearby, hoping to ward off potential higher bidders with my personal voodoo. I chalk up that insanity to having downed almost a quarter of my complimentary glass of Scotch. How drunk was I? Not long afterwards, I joked with my friend’s daughter that I had bid on the hotel.
Sober, I would never have made that joke. Nor thought it was hilarious.
I was appropriately punished by being outbid on the basketball.
The auction ended, and the doors to the ballroom opened. The evening was about to begin.
Eighteen hundred people filed to find their tables. We were seated with Cedars Sinai Hospital doctors, and the actor who played “Jack” on Will And Grace. Also a man who was seated on my left, who I can only identify as “the guy who spent two hours jiggling his leg.”)
It was too noisy to talk to anybody. I later that learned that one doctor tablemate was a pulmonary specialist who taught famous athletes how to breathe better. He did not mention who any of them were, adhering to the principle of doctor-gasper confidentiality.
Salad was awaiting us when we arrived. When I was asked if I wanted salad dressing, I said I would prefer a slice of lemon, if they had any. The waiter said he would check in the kitchen.
The ballroom was a cacophony of chaos. After ten minutes, I was certain the waiter had forgotten about me, and I began eating my salad dry.
When I was down four tiny shreds of lettuce, the waiter arrived, setting before me a small dish, containing six wedges of lemon. What else could I do? I thanked the waiter for his kindness, I picked up a wedge, and intently squeezed it onto my remaining lettuce leavings, and I ate them.
They were very lemony.
The event itself felt like every fundraiser I had ever attended, except that this one included (hockey’s all-time goal scoring leader) Wayne Gretzky and the “Honoree of the Evening”, (soccer superstar) David Beckham. (Gretzky was seated a table away from us, and studying him from the side, with his reddish complexion and noble nose, it occurred to me for the first time that he might be an Indian. Though I have never heard of the Gretzky Tribe.)
Every fundraiser includes an inevitable guilt-inflicting element, and a subtle or not so subtle inducement to publicly outdo others with your generosity. Both of these make me uncomfortable.
What made me even more uncomfortable, however, was that, while certain speeches were being made, the audience didn’t seem to be listening, choosing, instead, to chatter among themselves. I identify with anybody on stage – especially ones who are considerably more accomplished than the people who are ignoring them. And when nobody’s paying attention to them, I get empathetically furious.
A guy wins four NBA championships, and they’re yammering on about remodeling their kitchen.
While working on the (now Senator) Al Franken comedy, Lateline, I attended a fundraiser in New York that ended around one in the morning. This being L.A., the sports fundraiser finished before nine. I guess L.A. people need more sleep. Something about looking good in front of the cameras.
I picked up my Mickey Mantle memorabilia, and as we headed out, we were each presented with a small backpack full of “party favors”, which included such sports-related goodies as muscle enhancers and lip balm. Plus, a DVD of The Hangover Part II, which, if I had finished more than half my Scotch, I might have experienced personally.
A night out. It was different. And probably rather enjoyable.
If I didn’t happen to be me.