The Thing About Meeting Tom Waits
People I've met, #1
I’ve been fascinated by Tom Waits for years. Say what you will about his music, but you have to admit he’s a fascinating guy! Just the hair alone speaks volumes (to me it’s like one of those nametags: Hi, ask me about my hair!)
I haven’t listened to all of his music. Some is too abstract for me. But some of it is really good and some of it is GREAT and it has just the right amount of weirdness to be interesting. Like Radiohead back in the day (before they got too weird). So I would call myself an admirer of Tom’s music. Yes, I’d be okay with that label.
In the late ‘90s I went to visit my uncle, who owns a large estate in Napa (more about that someday) and was delighted to discover he had a cat named Gracie. I was even more delighted to discover that Tom Waits had named the cat Gracie. See photo above; please note fangirl face. I wished Tom would name a cat for me too!
Fast forward to Napa, 2019. I’m back at the estate for a huge birthday bash. One of the events was a private screening of the movie The Cotton Club. I hadn’t seen it in years, and it was fun to revisit it. When the movie was over, I turned to look around the small theater and … there was Tom Waits, sitting a few rows back. I just about lost it.
Of course I had to do the fan thing. Of course I had to go say hi. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t! I girded my loins and went for it.
I’m fairly obtuse when it comes to facial expressions and reactions of other people (more on that later, too) but at least I have an awareness of not being obnoxious or overstaying my welcome. I hope, anyway. So I introduced myself, said hello and told him that I was a huge fan and loved his music (close enough for horse shoes and hand grenades - and meeting music icons). He was very nice, as I would have expected. But I was too nervous to read much more of the situation. Then I said thanks, and went back to my seat. We left the theater and I was giddy the rest of the day.
The following day, there was another big event. And I ended up sitting in a big plush booth with … Tom Waits. Holy smokes, another close sighting! I think I had been sitting there first, and he and his wife, a few other people, sat on the other end of the big curved couch. Then their friends left and it was just them and me and my dad, who was completely clueless as to who Tom Waits was. I think someone might have talked about typewriters, I can’t be sure. The rest was … empty space.
I couldn’t think of anything to say. What do you talk to Tom Waits about? Yeah, I should have asked about his hair, I guess. Or maybe I could have asked about the cat from 20 years earlier. But I forgot. Politics? Football? I had nothing.
Eventually Nicolas Cage and Lawrence Fishburne sat down and started talking to Tom, so I could go back to official wallflower status instead of Holder of the Awkward Silence. Nic was dressed in biker leathers, Larry in a velour track suit. And Tom Waits had his hair. A postcard-perfect image that will stay with me for a very long time.
That evening, I ran into Tom AGAIN and this time things were different. This time, it went well! Just kidding. I had absolutely nothing to say. Again.
I do okay with small talk, but with some people (like Tom Waits), I just don’t even know where to start. Then they look at me, and I can tell that they’re sizing me up. I am looking at them with a blank smile, in my mind I’m going down in a sinking rowboat, and they are sizing me up and I just know the conclusion they’re coming to is not in my favor. I’ve had enough of these experiences to know.
Tom: 3; Andrea: 0.
Oh - Bruce Springsteen was there too. I didn’t even go there. But we did smile blandly at each other, so that was nice.
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