Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Night it Rainned in Seattle

Something about a puddle. What was it? I mentioned it briefly in the last post.... slick cement, my face at ankle level,  a fancy dress -tags carefully hidden in the back- soaking up the rainwater running down the sidewalk. Now what was that . . .

Right! Now I remember. It was the tail end of Restaurant week and I was leaving the Steelehead Diner in downtown Seattle, having just shared a liquid dinner with Rainn Wilson and his friends. Three running steps away from the Diner, on the way to the theater, the steep hill and the rain and all the wine and excitement reached a crescendo and darn it if I didn't just lose my footing and end up in a heap right there on the shiny pavement.  A very beautiful older woman stopped right in front of me, mouthed "are you alright?" and I responded, very politely and full of exuberance, "Yesyesyes thank you I'm great- I'm perfect!"

But let me back up a bit.

As I sometimes/very often like to mention here, I'm a writer for a project called Soul Pancake (The Place to Chew on Life's Big Questions!) which is the brainchild of Rainn Wilson. But not many people have heard of Soul Pancake. A lot of people don't even know who Rainn is, even in Seattle where he's from. But everybody has heard of his alter ego, Dwight Schrute, and I've gotten used to seeing the merest glint of recognition in the eyes of that who I'm speaking to turn to full on excitement when I mention that crazy paperselling beat farming motha:

Rainn is an absolutely brilliant comedic actor and a really good guy. And he stars in the show that I'd give my eyeballs to write for. So naturally, when I heard that he was coming into town for a performance, I was determined as I've ever been to meet him in person. And whatdoyaknow, I got to have dinner with him! Although, I didn't really eat anything. At all. Maybe a carrot stick. Nerves, you know.

Dinner was held in the back room of the Steelehead Diner across the street from Pike Place Market. It was a very small room and it was very black, very dark, very Hollywood. I was running late, surprise surprise,  careening on leather boots through downtown, herds of people everywhere, light rain, and I almost got run over by an SUV that smashed right through a pedestrian light. Like- I really almost got hit. This made me angry and so when a man approached me about a lighter, and then about a cigarette, and then about the cash in my wallet, I turned around and yelled so loud at him to go away that he actually did.

A few minutes later I squeaked to a stop right before the Diner, composed myself, and glided inside. The performers had not arrived yet but the wine sure had. I gulped back a glass like it was water and threw back the second like it was a shot of Patron. Then I very politely asked for another glass and the bemused waiter obliged. By the time the performers showed up, any social anxiety I had about dining with celebrities had more or less been drowned.
Rainn walked in, the last to arrive, to a smattering of applause. He had his mother in tow, his gorgeous wife by his side and their little boy, Walter, between them. The rest of the performers were dressed in black with leather jackets; a few had a girl hanging off the bend in their elbows like an elaborate handbag. I'm an equal opportunity observer and fairly assumed that the girls were part of the show, but they weren't. Although  the entire evening was a benefit to the Mona Foundation which services women and children, there was not a single girl (or child) in the whole shebang. The lovely girls in black who laughed a lot were pure decoration, so it seemed, for the somewhat surly performers gathered in the little dark room.

Here's a funny thing about when celebrities mingle with civilians, and I didn't even think about this before. The civilians are there strictly to have access to the celebrities and nobody bothers to pretend otherwise. They regard one another with narrowed eyes,  throw around looks of hostile boredom and competition. I, a civilian, was the victim of many such looks and if I hadn't been on my best behavior I would have snarled at them. But there was a big difference between myself and the other ten or so people of no interest: I went alone. I had a seat at dinner, tickets to the show, and a VIP bracelet for the after party and I was all by meself. By choice. Basically, I was climbing my social Everest. My choices were 1. sit very quietly in the corner and chew like a rabbit on cut vegetables or 2. come up with some seriously class 5 small talk.

Rainn and Holiday both chewed gum like machines, and they seemed a little worn out, but they were completely kind. Holiday was s-t-u-n-n-i-n-g-l-y gorgeous and had this smile like a Christmas tree. I spoke with her for a while, sitting by the wall with our legs crossed. We talked about writing, my website, her work. Holiday studied fiction writing at UW just like myself; we even had a few of the same professors (including the notable and moustached David Bosworth.) Then Rainn sat down next to her with two plates of food, handed one to her, and began asking me questions about the writing I do for SP. (Lucky for me, Rainn is currently in a Soul Pancake Frenzy, because the book was about to be released.)

Real Rainn was not much like Dwight at all. Minus the severe middle part on his head, the pocket protector and the manic eyes, Rainn was just an a regular, good looking dude. I'd been terrified I might slip up and call him Dwight, but that fear was nothing. Here he was, Rainn- the Seattalite, the husband, the guy who obviously works really hard, one eye always roaming the room to check on Walter. Rainn who smelled like the most incredible cologne there ever was. Apparently people are always asking him how similar his own personality is to that of Mr.Schrute's, assuming from his magnificent portrayal in The Office that they've just got to be the same weirdo. And he always tells them, "No, NBC did not go and hire a beat farmer paper salesman for this role. I actually do act."

I figured talking to him about my own writing and this blog and my features on the Pancake might feel surreal and that I'd choke on the hoursderves (how in H do you spell that word??) and spit wine on his wife, but I didn't. It was really easy. Of course, I do have a little celebrity experience of my own. Once, at LAX, I stood behind Brittany Spears (pre K-Fed) on an escalator.  (Because I know you're wondering: her hair looked just awful, poor thing, dried out and died to straw.) Between Rainn's naturally easy demeanor, white wine and the latest SP news and stories, starstruckness melted easily into real and lively conversation.

I spent the rest of dinner with Craig Robinson and the girl he brought with him, who by the way he kept trying to feed. She'd pick something off her plate and he'd take it out of her hand and then put it in her mouth. I drank a lot of wine during this time.  Craig speaks in exactly the same manner as his character, Daryl.  While perusing the buffet, he held up a red thing on a piece of toast and said, "wuz thiz now?" And I said, "I think that's an alcohol soaked cherry on a piece of beef," I only knew cause a waitress had just told me. He looked up, nodded his head very calmly. "Yeah. Yeah- Lina knows whats up." Then we went and sat down and talked more and got into a gleeful a debate about what year facebook started. Then the next thing I remember is that I needed to be at the theater for the show to start.

But I was officially drunk by now, happy as a clam, which is not an elegant thing to be at 7:30pm. But nothing, absolutely nothing could have bothered me in that moment. I flew down the hallway and outside, breathing in the heavy, wet air, beaming up at the brilliant pink Pike Place sign, smiling at everyone. I felt very Manhattan, running from one event to the other in a cut velvet dress, not bothering to put on a jacket or wait for traffic lights to turn.

That's when the heal of my boot slipped and I did a face plant into the sidewalk. I remember rolling over, peeling  my cheek of the ground. I was looking up at the sky and seeing people walk by and thinking my gosh what a nice night. Someone tried to help me but I announced that I was in perfect condition, thankyouverymuch. Good to go. I remember the city lights bouncing around me as I got up and kept running- it was imperative to run- all the way up the street, through the throngs of people, and into the Theater.

 Seated in the front, I watched the stage slide from side as I tilted my head to the left and right. Why did I do that,  drink four glasses of wine and eat nothing but one carrot stick, I'd begin and think, but then the thought would melt into the warm fuzz that was my brain. And then the show started.

The gorgeous, gilded Paramount theater was packed, 3,000 people and not a single chair open. The dress attire ranged from fancy gowns to hipster jeans to Dunder Mifflin t-shirts. And how they managed to pack so much talent onto one stage is something I still can't wrap my mind around.  Rainn introduced the bands and the performers and the grateful but fierce founder of the Mona Foundation. He read a few jokes off a pile of index cards he held out in front of him, and then the music started. 

And you know what- I can't write about music!  Oliver Sacks can, but I can't. So I'm going to turn this post interactive and you can see  for yourself just how good this show was. Andy Grammer, who was one of most talkative guys at the dinner, was the first to sing. This is the song I remember loving the most out of his set, one I wanted to soak up into my skin and then expunge later for my sister, who works so hard, and worries so much:

Hey, you'll turn out fine, you know you're going to turn out fine. But you gotta keep your head up, and you gotta let your hair down....

Then Craig Robinson took the stage and 1,500 women in the audience just about took their panties off. Now I don't use that phrase lightly, but I do use it accurately. Craig sits at his keyboard and effortlessly pulls out songs that everyone sings, immediately, upon hearing the first measure. And while we're singing, we're all singing, he just throws in a few "take your panties off...." into the chorus, and by that time it just sounds like a good idea.

Just two week ago I stood in front of a packed theater, albeit a much smaller one, and I made a very intentional decision. It was my job to give away 25 pairs of expedition style X-officio underwear as part of the Climbing Film Festival Charity Auction. And I could either take the easy road and muddle through the "expedition style wickaway thermal underwear...." thing, or I could get the audience going by saying the P word. I chose the latter. Do you remember? Maybe you were there. "Alright everybody, next big winner gets some panties!" The audience winced and writhed but eventually laughed. Craig is onto something here with this Take Your Panties off thing..... People claim to really hate that word but they can't help but get wild when someone shouts, sings, flings it into a crowd!

 All of a sudden, Craig stopped dead on his keyboard, raised his hands, the pandemonium gave way to silence. "Ohh...yeah....you all white people- I know what you want to hear," and he started playing the beloved chords to this song.

And we just freaked out. Just as we in the audience had worked ourselves into a lather- just as I thought panties were literally going to rain down upon the stage...Craig brought Rainn back onto the stage and switched to banging out the notes of....

We couldn't stand it, we couldn't take it anymore! We flew to our feet, all 3,000 of us, and proceeded to go nuts! It was amazing! It made me want to go home and write and pick up the banjo and smash a guitar and wake up the neighborhood! It was....awesome.

The After Party was packed full, elbow to elbow, with funky lighting and food everywhere. Rainn and Holiday entered but they couldn't get two feet without someone throwing their arm around them and thrusting a camera into a stranger's hand. By this hour in the night, sober and starving, I made quick work of all the free food that's available at after parties. There were truffle salt french fries and hamburgers, latte carts, an open bar (which I avoided) and a sea of cupcakes which I swam through, the destroying angel of the chocolate mini with whipped pistachio frosting. I did a lot of people watching and stalking of the waiters who darted about, their trays hoisted above our heads.  I got to talk to Holiday again and tell Craig just what I thought of his show. And Craig goes, "Well, Li-na, where we going after this? What part of town is happening?" And I said, "Capitol hill, it's where all the gay bars are, and he said "But Lina, I want to see ladies." 

So there you have it a nearly thorough description of almost all my night in the world of pop celebrity.

But what does it all mean. It's just one night, after all. The next day, I returned the dress. And I put on a ski hat and went and sat at the coffee shop, opened my lap top. Dreamt again of writing scripts, writing a novel, writing in an actual writer's room. And that's what I've been doing ever since that wild night, writing and thinking, keeping my head up, letting my hair down.

(Now go buy Soul Pancake book, you'll love it. These guys do, but then again what to do they know, they're just ([The] Office workers).


elissa said...

man. that was amazing to read. i almost felt like i was there, in all of the excitement.

"Why did I do that, drink four glasses of wine and eat nothing but one carrot stick, I'd begin and think"

haha, I can totally relate to the "why did I do that?" mental conversation.

Heather B. said...

I would have sworn that was Amy Donahue with you in the first picture with Rainn Wilson. Wouldn't have surprised me- you're both rockstars.

Cassandra said...

Ditto what Elissa said... I felt so excited just reading about it, like it was my own unreal and exciting night that lasted as long as I kept reading.

Also, my favorite line that made me snarf my oj:
"the destroying angel of the chocolate mini with whipped pistachio frosting"

Now THAT I can relate to.


elissa said...

oh, and: hors d'oeuvre (i mean, obviously)

Tracy said...

So jealous. Can't even begin to describe how jealous. Sounds like an awesome night!

Paul said...

Hey faux fiancée...this is a great blog! Admittedly, I thought this was just an interesting title with a typo until reading down a little. Sounds like an awesome night...Rainn and his wife seem much more charismatic than Britney Spears' backside.

Anonymous said...