Dinner with Richard Dreyfuss

Dinner with Dreyfuss

“Hello,” she said to me in a thick foreign accent, when I turned around to take a peek at the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who was sitting at the table next to me.  I heard her “hello” but turned quickly back to my table companions, thinking she couldn’t possibly be talking to me.

I was out with clients in La Jolla, California following a presentation skills training session I conducted.  Our group was a mix — some in-house marketing people, me and the company’s outside agency.  They were shooting a commercial the next day so anticipation rode high among our rag-tag group of creatives, out to dinner at a restaurant on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Marine Restaurant in La Jolla, CA

Marine Restaurant in La Jolla, CA

Our table faced the ocean, waves crashing against the window before the tide receded.  “Richard Dreyfuss is at the table behind us,” my friend Anita announced quietly to our table.  I saw her told her phone low to her lap so she could take a picture of him.

“Hello,” she said to me again when I turned my neck and took another look at the table behind me.  She was blond and exotic looking, wearing a tight, sleeveless, sequined white and black dress.  I didn’t know why she was talking to me; I thought it was a mistake.  I turned back to my table companions.  By now, we had all pulled out our phones to google Richard Dreyfuss.  From the accounts we read, it appeared that his third wife was a Russian woman named Svetlana.  Was this Svetlana?

The sun began to set with its warm orange glow as we talked about our work and our connections.  Maria, the producer, lived just blocks away from me in Chicago.  Jaime, the agency head, and I realized we had met and worked together more than a decade ago and had a variety of both personal and professional friends.

And there she was again.  She was saying ‘hello’ to me.  This third time I turned to her and said, “Hello, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, I have been trying to get your attention,” she said with a heavy accent.  At first I thought she was Polish.

“Well, hello then, ” I chirped back.

“Tell me about your table,” she asked, raising an eyebrow in an intriguing way.  “I’ve been interested in your table tonight.”

“Well, we are a bunch of people from Chicago.  That’s about it,” I reported.

“Are you Republicans?” she asked.

“Well, I can’t speak for everyone but I know we all have an independent streak, which is not quite Libertarian but very individual,” I hedged, wondering why she would ask such a question

Without having to wonder, she offered, “Well, my husband Richard Dreyfuss does not like conservatives,” nodding to the white-haired man across the table from her, and confirming what we already knew.  Yes, this was Svetlana, the third wife.  “Let me introduce you to my friend,” she said, gesturing to the man sitting next to her.  “He is a doctor.”  The man nodded.  “A doctor of our muscles,” she said.

“Oh, he is a physical therapist?” I asked.

“Yes, that is exactly what he is,”  she said.

Our earnest conversation continued, and my seat-mate Bill joined in as we asked questions and got to know Svetlana.  “You ask me so many questions.  You need to know I could kill you in five ways and you would never know it,” she hissed, intimating that the heel of her Chanel shoes might indeed be one of these secret weapons.

“Did we do something to make you angry,” I asked?

“No, not yet.  You must know that I am Russian and have learned very much before coming to America.”

Just then, I felt someone move close to me.  It was Richard Dreyfuss, pausing as he walked past and whispering in my ear, “What do you think of my wife,” he asked.  “She is an interesting woman to be sure.  How long have you been married?”

“Ten thousand years,” he said.  Svetlana heard this and reiterated.  “Yes, ten thousand years.  Is there any question?”

We talked a little more and then Svetlana moved on to the bar, joined by all our table companions except Bill.  Richard was now sitting all alone.  “Bill, let’ move to his table,” and in an instant we were sitting across from him at his table.

The three of us talked.  We talked about life, about Richard’s career and about things.  Richard talked about the moment he knew his life was changing.  His star was ascending and he was performing in a Shakespearean production.  “I knew that if I continued, there would be no turning back.  That my life would no longer be my own.  That I would become a celebrity and everything would change,” he said.

“I did it anyway and the rest is history.  But when all is said and done, I’m just a person.  A person having a conversation with you, which is nice because I can’t have conversations with people at will, so this is very nice,” he said. Indeed it was nice.  I thought of his work —   American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  The list went on.  This was a unique moment.

Sun setting over the Pacific; view from the Marine Restaurant

Sun setting over the Pacific; view from our table.

Eventually a woman came to the table to let Richard know they were ready to leave when he was.  Taking the cue, he thanked us and excused himself, collecting his wife at the bar and leaving the restaurant.  We were the only patrons left and we called cars to take us back to our hotel in downtown San Diego.

Later I surfed the web, learning that Dreyfuss had been a cocaine addict in the 70s, among other many other colorful life facts.  And then there was this tidbit:

“Dreyfuss attributes much of his ability to end drug addiction to a life-altering vision experienced in hospital after a bad car crash. Under the influence of drugs while driving, Dreyfuss knew the crash was his fault. Though he was the only one injured, in his recovery state he was moved by the image of a beautiful little girl in a white dress. The girl served to remind him of the kind of innocent life he could have destroyed, and it compelled him to save his own life, he says, by confronting his drug demons.”

If only we had more time, I would have asked him about this too.  Was it a brush with the divine, a figment of his imagination or a sign that came just when he needed it?  And why did he heed it?  What made it so powerful that it made him change?   (Read Sarah Hinze’s account of this incident here.) But, for now I was satisfied — we had a moment, a very nice moment.

I thought about his comments, when he knew his life was changing, when he knew he could never go back, when he knew he would be a celebrity.  And how he brought us to his table, to talk, to discuss, to have that moment.

If we think about it, we all have moments when we know our lives are poised to change, when we can no longer go back.  These are the fires of our lives — whether it’s an actual incident like burning on a stove or a shift in our minds.  Sometimes things change forever and we don’t know it at the time.  But Richard Dreyfuss did, he saw his life moving from the precipice of rank-and-file actor to celebrity, and knew nothing would be the same again.  Imagine that moment.   Would we all take the risk ahead of us when we are fully aware of the moment?

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Sister Mary Pastry and the Virgin Mary’s Appearance

French Fruit Tarte

As regular visitors to Chesterton, Indiana‘s European Market (www.chestertonseuropeanmarket.com) on Saturday’s, we’ve seen the pastry stand for years, nestled among the fruit and vegetable stands and directly across from the cheese stand.  It’s a curiosity in the heat of summer, staffed by a nun in full black habit and displaying an array of delicious French pastries, brioche, croissants, fruit tarts and the like.   When we passed by the stand and my kids asked, “Who is that nun?” I said the first thing that came to mind, “Oh, why that’s Sister Mary Pastry,” and immediately felt the heavy burden of Catholic guilt for making fun of a nun in full habit.  The name stuck.

When we visited the market last, I brought Mack my older son who usually prefers to sleep in on Saturday mornings.  As we passed the pastry stand, he paused to inspect the goodies and that’s when we realized that Sister Mary Pastry was French but spoke English well.  Excited, Mack turned to me and said, “Mom, speak to her in French.”  I hesitated, not wanting to pull out my limited French from study abroad in Paris and Aix-en-Provence from years ago.

“Oh, you speak French?” Sister smiled and we began a conversation in mixed French and English.  “How did you come to sell pastries at the market?” I asked.  Sister’s story unfolded.  Fraternite Notre Dame (www.fraternitenortredame.org), a French-based order with a mission of serving the poor, has its mother house in Chicago’s underserved Austin neighborhood.  As a way to raise funds for the order, the nuns began baking pastries to sell in the Chicagoland area.  The proceeds support their soup kitchen and other ministries for the poor. 

Jean Marie, the order’s bishop, is a mystic with internal stigmata.  Sister told me that in 1977, the Virgin Mary appeared to Jean Marie with spiritual messages to pass along to the faithful.  Now, on the 14th of every month, the Bishop celebrates the Mass of the Apparition at 5 a.m. at their Chicago church, 502 N. Central Avenue.  During the mass, Virgin Mary appears to the Bishop, delivering messages, graces and often miraculous healings.

“Would you like to come to our mass?” Sister asked me.  “Please come.  You would like it.”

The next mass is July 14th.  I plan to attend.

Chance Encounters

May is a uniquely busy month for parents with school-age children.  As the school year ends, there are celebrations galore – from the athletic banquet to the spring concert, the father-daughter dance, the girl scout bridging ceremony and the end of the basketball travel team league.  At a certain point, any sane adult simply starts going through the motions.  My mental state was precisely there as I joined the line cascading around the corner for entry to the Spring Show, the annual song-fest where each of eight grades and kindergarten sings a couple of numbers.

Directly behind me in line stood R and her daughter M, the teenage girl burned in a home accident just weeks before.  Thick white burn tape provided a necklace around her neck and her arm was tightly bandaged in the same special tape.  Before I knew it, I had re-introduced myself to R and told them I too was burned as a child.  As I said it, I like itching myself.  It seemed to come from my stomach, which turned itself slightly at the thought.  As we talked, M shared, “I itch all the time.  It’s constant.”  I remembered the feeling well.  Insatiable itching that seemed to crawl inside with no good way to relieve it.  M also said that her burns were second degree, which immediately relieved me and I told her how well she would heal.  It’s the 3rd degree burns that leave the nasty scars — 2nd degree can heal with nary a reminder.

When they asked what happened to me, I told them about my burn accident, then gently rolled up my pant leg to show them a little of the scars.  “Yours seems so much worse than mine,” M said and I immediately felt bad that she focused on my injury when hers was so recent and raw, itching as it healed.  Her mother R looked and me, her eyes brimming with wet and said, “See M, look at Anne.  She’s successful and pretty.  We can make it through this.  It didn’t stop her.”

Like me, M didn’t like it when people stared at her.  We talked about “to tell” or not to tell strategies, to make eye contact or not to.  M seemed remarkably mature for a teenager.  She had a presence.

“M, it may not feel like it right now, but your burns are a gift.  Look how they help you teach other people.”  I believed it as I said it.  It would not have been the gift I’d chosen for myself, but I always felt right with it.

The line began to disperse as we entered the school gym for the Spring Show.  R hugged me tightly whispering, “thank you” as they wandered off to their places.

As the 4th graders began “Getting to Know You,” from the Lion King, I wondered:  How much more difficult are these burns for a parent? R was there when M’s leaned over the gas stove and her scarf caught fire.  She choked up as she told me about it.  They are replacing the stove with a smooth-topped electric model.  I understand.