I go to this swanky Beverly Hills party, and there is Steve Martin. An actor that I have never particularly cared for. Anyway, to my surprise he appears to be paying attention to me. Every time I glance up, he is looking directly at me. This is the oddest thing, but it has happened once before, with a famous tennis player, so it is not entirely outlandish, I assure myself. At one point he sidles past me while I speak to someone. He moves by me very slowly; I do not look at him but can tell his eyes are glued to me.
Later, I am on the phone with Matilda, and she tells me she knows this guys who sells Steve paintings. She’ll check this out. She calls me back with excellent news: Steve likes English-accented mousy, brainy brunets; I’m his type. Later still she tells me he is shy, that he never approaches girls. He was looking at me. He definitely was looking at me.
Matilda says she is going to get me Steve for a husband, that we’re perfect for each other, and that she knows exactly how to pull this off. I say, ‘OK, but go slowly and keep me posted all the way. I have the power to veto any of your choices.’ She agrees. But she is a major con artist, so why do I believe her? I guess it suits me.
Time flies. I’m busy writing my novel, and even though I’ve told all my close friends that I think Steve Martin was looking at me at this party that I went to, it all gradually fades into the background.
Then one morning the phone rings; it’s Matilda. She tells me that she called Steve’s doorman and left Steve a message from me. I know she is kidding, and I am too cool to appear shocked by anything, so I laugh and say, ‘That would be funny.’
And she says, ‘You wouldn’t be mad at me?’
And I reply, ‘No, I would think it was funny, but don’t, whatever you do, don’t do it.’
An hour later the phone rings again. It’s a gentleman claiming to be Steve Martin. I am impressed with the lengths Matilda is willing to go for a laugh. ‘Ha, ha,’ I trilled at the prankster. ‘How nice for you.’
‘Sometimes it is,’ he says.
Wow, I think, this guy is good, but I am not about to falter and fall for the gag.
‘It was great to see you at the party,’ ‘Steve’ is saying as I pace about with the telephone jammed against my head, trying my best to line the voice up with His voice. It sounds eerily similar. ‘I was so pleased to get your message,’ he says. ‘Really, I didn’t think you would call me.’
‘Who am I speaking with?’ I demand.
‘Steve Martin.’ He says softly, ‘How is your book coming along?’
‘What?’ I say, sighing, as I stare at myself in a mirror, making faces of incredulity. All right, I think, if you’re going to keep up this charade, so am I.
‘She told you about my book?’ I add somewhat under my breath. ‘How much did she pay you for this?’
‘Can we have lunch one day soon?’
‘Lunch?’ I think for certain that at this point he will confess to the hoax. Instead, he asks me more questions about my immediate life: where I live, how long I’ve been here. He laughs after my every sarcasm. Furthermore, he sounds giddy, in love. Before I hang up, I agree to lunch.
I speed-dial Matilda and interrogate her. ‘I told you I can do anything,’ She cajoles, assuring me it was Him. ‘What happens next is up to you.’
Hoping against hope that for once in my life something truly phenomenal is occurring, I have to take this a bit seriously. First thing is to rent all his movies, including his directorial efforts. I study. I revise my earlier distaste. I realize my future husband is exceptionally talented. Second, I make an appointment at the dentist, to get my teeth cleaned.
Sunday morning the same male voice is again in my telephone. After my back-to-back viewing of his entire oeuvre, I know the voice. The ramifications are mesmerizing, colossal. It’s a funny thing, I think, usually I attract psychos.
I arrive early at the restaurant. I have a newspaper as a prop but keep on eyeball on the front door. Five minutes later Steve Martin, in person, in a slack hat and soft layers, stands at the door, looking about the mostly empty restaurant. I am extremely composed, waiting for him to throw himself down on bended knee and ask me to marry him. He looks at me, and then again at the empty room, and then back at me. He frowns. ‘Are you Christina?’ he asks, peering at me.
‘Yes.’ I say, and add half-jokingly, ‘Is something wrong?’ I sit up and wait for him to swoon under the influence of love. Instead, he says, ‘You don’t look anything like how I remember you.’ He looks sincerely perplexed.
Ignoring the sour turn, I go ahead with my prepared speech, which is to assure him right up front that it was not I who left the message with his doorman. ‘How do you mean?’ he demands, dead serious, looming over the table. ‘Who did then? What’s going on?’
I had thought we would laugh it off as one of Cupid’s many funny ways. His fury catches me quite of guard. ‘I’m the subject of a prank?’ he spits out, shoving his hands deep down to the bottom of his coat pockets. I expect him to turn and leave, but as he does not, I am obliged to offer some sort of explanation. I decide to lie, vigorously. I turn it all around and blame the bungle on him. ‘After all,’ I point out, my voice trembling, ‘You knew my name, you called me. I never even believed it was you on the phone. Who did you think I was?’
‘Who did you think you were meeting here?’ he asks, still standing behind a chair, fingering the rim of it.
‘I hadn’t a clue,’ I tell him, truthfully.
Inexplicably, he sits down. Apparently there was another Christina with an English accent, whom he had run into at some book party, who was also writing a book. He had asked her to call him, and he had supposed that he was meeting her for lunch.
‘This is enormously embarrassing’, I babble, on automatic. ‘Really unforgivable…’ I maunder on, seemingly for hours, masterfully divvying up the blame between himself and Matilda, who, under the circumstances will have to forgive me this treason. At no point do I mention any abstract plans of marriage.
‘Who is Matilda?’
‘A friend,’ I offer, careful not to taint myself with conspiracy. ‘She’s a funny girl. Really, if you met her, you’d probably like her. For one things she is unusually beautiful…’
A waiter comes by with menus. His simple suggestion of an aperitif seems surreal.
‘She sounds psychotic,’ Mr. Martin says, never looking up from his menu, and then orders himself a salad and a plate of pasta.
‘I’ll have the same,’ I finally manage, pointing surreptitiously at Mr. Martin with my chin. Left alone again, Mr. Martin says, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ and shoves his chair back a few feet, crossing his legs. He does not crack a smile.
Moments pass and most of a paper napkin disintegrates in my nervous hands. I think I might have a heart attack. Meanwhile I recognize the benefits of surviving such an ordeal. I know people who pay big money to experience terror, as a character enhancer.
I fold my hands and take a deep breath. ‘I’m not a Brit,’ I begin, by way of explanation, ‘But I grew up in England, hence the accent. It’s a fake, or rather, I’m a fraud.’ His face remains impassive. Staring at the whiteness of the tablecloth, I continue, breathing deeply between sentences for fortification. One miserable anecdote at a time I claw my way up the cliff face of this disaster. I chat on while he eats pasta, spinning tines in the oily strands. If I did not know better I would suppose he is relaxing. But I had heard him on the telephone when he thought I was someone he liked. At no point during the meal does he sound like that man.
He orders coffee after lunch, a sure sign of peace, but I decline a cup myself, fearing it would launch my already taught nerves into the stratosphere.
It is a relief to watch him walk away. I back into a deli and buy myself a pack of cigarettes. I smoke them all the way down to stubs in less than an hour, as I tramp homeward, more vividly awake than I have ever been in my life.
The episode was so embarrassing I actually thought for a while that it might have bonded us for all time. I thought it might be a second beginning, now that I’d proved myself. But it wasn’t even a first. I never heard from him again.