At a recent corporate meet & greet we connected with colleagues overseas via video and went through a series of introductions as part of a team building exercise. Each were asked to say something about themselves which few people on the call would likely know. Must say I was impressed about the number of global colleagues who have met famous people at some time in their lives.
Unfortunately, this story popped into my mind after the call, and I realized it needs to be told…so here goes, WallyWord fans.
Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I was in the magazine publishing industry in New York, life was a lot different than that business operates today. We didn’t know what an “RFP” or “programmatic buy” was because they didn’t really exist. Your typical day of advertising sales calls most always included a client or agency lunch date and depending on the size of your expense account that could be at high end restaurants like La Grenouille, 21, The Four Seasons, Harry Cipriani, The Palm…or something more modest like “an Irish Pub.”
Along around 2:30/3pm each day, the streets were crawling with ad salespeople heading (in some cases staggering) back to the office after lunch. Of course, since it was NYC, you would often see famous people – once I passed directly by Tom Wolfe the author, resplendent (he would have like that word) in a white suit and hat. I smiled and he nodded and tipped his hat to me that day. Classic.
However, on another lovely spring day in 1995, I was one of the above-mentioned ad sales people (not staggering mind you), heading south after lunch on Fifth Avenue.
As I move between 53rd and 52nd street, I look ahead and see an old friend from high school, Michael Berman, and another person walking toward me. Michael sees me, and we stop, shake hands and he introduces me to his friend John. He explains that he and John have just come from “21” where they had lunch. Michael adds that he did not see our other high school classmate, Charlie Wilfong, at the restaurant (Charlie was one of the management team), we mused that maybe he wasn’t working today.
Not one to avoid a poke at a friend, I look at John and say – 21 for lunch with Michael? I’m sorry John – I hope you got a good table; they tend to put Michael on the 3rd floor or in the back of the restaurant. They both laughed, and we chatted a bit; they told me about a magazine project they were working on in vague terms, and then we all went on our way.
When I return to the office, I call Charlie at “21” and say that I ran into Berman on the street – Charlie says to me “oh yeah, I didn’t see him, but apparently he was here with John Kennedy today.”
The bell went off in my head….oh, THAT John Kennedy. Duh.
Yes, it seems that I spent about 10-15 minutes speaking and joking with John and didn’t realize who he was. Sure, he was a tall good looking guy, but I literally didn’t catch on. When I hung up the phone, I exited my office and there were a few of the administrative staff sitting at their desks and I shared the story. Incredulous, they couldn’t believe I had no idea it was John, and frankly most said they would have fainted on the street right there.
Oh well – I’m sure that John appreciated me not asking him a bunch of questions and “pretending” to not know who he was. I do know he loved that I zinged Michael. One cool part is the magazine project they were discussing was of course GEORGE the political/fashion publication which launched September 1995.
Fear not, I did get a second chance to meet John Kennedy again a few months later at Michael’s birthday party at a restaurant and actually, when introduced to my wife, John kissed her hand.
She’s worn a glove on that hand ever since.
The news of his passing a few years later of course was sad, but this fond memory still lives on, even if I was clueless at the time.