When my husband worked on Staten Island, he would complain that at some point, all unhappy customers would jump in his face and yell out the same thing: “Do you know who you’re dealing with? I KNOW PEOPLE.”
I always wanted to know people.
Not scary people… not the kind that Staten Islanders brag about. I wanted to know famous people… important people… the kind of people you’d imagine would be guarded from the unwashed masses. I wanted to have access to the sort of people others have difficulty meeting. I wanted to be their friend. I wanted to chat with them easily, sipping a glass of wine with our feet up on coffee tables.
Let’s be truthful. I wanted to BE people. I wanted to be someone you saw on screen, or at least onstage. I wanted to be read. I wanted a bank account that couldn’t be overdrawn, a house too expansive for clutter, a car with a lady mounted on top of its hood. I wanted to be quoted, and respected. I wanted to be secure.
This didn’t seem absurd, because when I was young, I knew a lot of people who knew people. Oh, I didn’t know the people themselves, but I was intimate with their intimates. My grandfather and his cousin were Cuba’s two leading impresarios in the golden age of the island’s “Farandula”… a celebrity culture that included all of Latin America’s biggest stars, and a few well-known figures from the U.S.A. The friends and acquaintances they casually talked about were the people whose records my parents played, and whose faces I saw on TV.
Here in the United States, I went to high school with the scion of an important American theatrical family, and to college with the nephew of a legendary baseball star. After graduating, I started doing community theater, and I worked with the mother of a rising actor and the sister of a prominent comedian.
Of course, I had a nine-to-five life too, which required me to pick up a business degree. Even there, I learned that one of my textbooks had been written by my boss’s boss’ boss. This created enormous pressure to do well on my exams.
There’s a certain amount of responsibility you carry, you know, when you know people who know people.
The years passed, and I accomplished very little, so it became fairly evident that I would never become “people,” or get to meet “people” in their own spheres.
Two college classmates became stars, but I certainly could not say I knew them. I’d been too mousy to run in their circles, and was fairly sure they’d never remember me should I ever cross their path.
So I guess I forgot about my old desire to be someone who knew people… and that’s when “people” started popping up all over my life.
My best friend, a community theater comrade who went into the same field of “real work,” became a very important person in our industry. Another friend became a well-respected jazz singer, whose voice could be heard over the radio and in many fine clubs. A dear friend’s daughter became a Broadway star. My cousin started a tiny little enterprise in her kitchen and became one of New Jersey’s most prominent businesswomen. Knowing any of these people gives a person automatic clout… but God bless them, they’re as down-to-earth as they’ve ever been, and gracious enough to continue letting me enjoy their company.
About ten years ago, my son developed a truly outstanding singing voice, and spent his late teens and early twenties being mentored by some of this world’s most important singers… people who have graced the stages of The Met, La Scala, and every important opera house on the globe. These amazing people not only befriended him; they welcomed me into their lives, and made fantasy into reality, sitting with me in Manhattan, chatting and sipping that glass of wine.
I thought about this yesterday, as I sat reading a wonderful book of poetry written by another very dear friend, who was once my high school English teacher. I know people. I know important, talented, successful and amazing people.
But you know what? I’ve always known people. I know mothers and fathers who bring children into this world and raise them to become unique human beings. I know lawyers who get people out of trouble… mechanics who perform the wizardry that keeps everyone safe on the roads… teachers who expand minds with knowledge… psychologists who bring tranquility to troubled minds… storekeepers who enable others to acquire the goods they need… doctors who heal… scientists who make discoveries… clergy who save souls.
It seems I had to get to know people before I realized that I’d known people all along.
I’m very impressed at this point.