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How Not to Eat Spaghetti With a Celebrity

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In the late 70's and early 80's, one of the hottest nightclubs in town, JP's, a musician's hangout for some of the top names in Pop, welcomed us despite our shallow pockets and outdated clothes. Even huge stars treated us well. Billy Joel would come to our table for a round of drinks, knowing he would have to pay for them.

Late one weeknight, after I had finished my set, I collected my cab fare at Catch A Rising Star, and hung out looking for a comic to share a ride to the Improvisation. I joined Bobby Kelton and Andy Kaufman (two fellow comics) at a table in the back of the showroom. A few minutes later a familiar face sat with us. At first I didn't recognize him in the dim lighting, figuring it was just a new stand-up who had his nerve sitting at the table with us Catch A Rising Star almost, would-be, near-future heavy-weights. I took another longer look, his profile seemed familiar -- large thin nose, small chin, and penetrating eyes that held a lingering sadness. I was about to ignore him, like a king passing his lowly subjects, when he turned, looked directly at me and we realized it was Dustin Hoffman. Yes, Dustin Hoffman! I couldn't believe a guy who actually kissed both Katharine Ross and Anne Bancroft on the lips was sitting at our table. He nodded his head, smiled crookedly (just like he did in The Graduate) and said a very warm hello. I replied, my words barely sneaking out of my mouth.

As I was to find out later, he was preparing for the scene in Marathon Man by staying awake all night because his character was supposed to be completely exhausted before he gets his teeth drilled by Sir Lawrence Olivier. I had a real dilemma here. Should I sit at the table with Mr. Hoffman, a man I later named a dog after, (I named the tiny canine Dusty, not Mr. Hoffman) and hope that'll he want to do my life story as he did with another comedian, Lenny Bruce (even though I've been doing stand-up for less than a year)? Or do I go across town, and do another set where I could score eight more bucks? I figured being a stand-up comic for such a short time wouldn't make a compelling story, but there was a chance he would find me so funny, that he'd option my future life story, and he could play me at several ages.

The debate didn't last long, the odds of getting a second cab fare seemed a more solid bet and the need more pressing. So I found another comic, who I never told that Dustin Hoffman was sitting a few feet from him, to share a cab, went across town to the Improv, broke in a few new jokes, and sealed the deal on cab fare. We didn't have cell phones, or beepers, and no one I knew carried a pay phone, so I didn't talk to Bobby Kelton until the next afternoon at Poachers restaurant -- home of the 99 cent breakfast.

Over a cup of coffee that was better suited for destroying nature preserves, it was time for me to ask Bobby why he was smiling -- a gloating smile that said, I don't care if what I'm eating gives me a terminal illness. He took his time spilling the beans, spreading out his reply between chunks of iridescent coffee. He told me that after the show, Mr. Dustin "I also kissed Faye Dunaway on the lips" Hoffman, had invited Bobby and Andy Kaufman to his house, where they not only spent the night talking about themselves to Mr. Hoffman, he made spaghetti -- fresh sauce and all -- probably to stop them from talking. I immediately thought, that if Mr. Hoffman did do Bobby's life story, I might get a role-playing myself, so I paid for Bobby's meal -- shelling out two bucks plus a 50 cent tip. About a dozen years later, Bobby ran into Dustin Hoffman on the street in NYC and he remembered Bobby and that night! He made no offer to do his life story, however, so I had wasted over a quarter of the cab fare I received at the Improv, and Bobby Kelton was served a free meal of homemade spaghetti from Mr. Dustin "I kissed Mia Farrow on the lips" Hoffman. I returned to the table the next night and hoped Mr. Hoffman would bring, Katherine Ross, or Anne Bancroft, or Mia Farrow or all three to watch the show and they'd be so enamored with my act they'd fight to kiss me on the lips. Instead, I sat there by myself blowing my chances at sharing a cab across town and looking forward to surviving breakfast at Poachers.