John Cleese


We were visiting a new client in Bethlehem PA which is only about an hour away from NY so we decided to spend the weekend in New York. Our meeting was in the morning so our plan was to head for NYC after the meeting, check into the hotel, and then hit the street for lunch. All went according to plan and we were searching for a place to have lunch by 1:00 PM. It is truly unfortunate that sometimes women view eating different than guys do, and on this occasion, Sharon wanted something special. We walked from 26th St. up Madison looking for a place but nothing seemed good enough for her. This one didn’t have tablecloths, no burgers/fries, that’s to common, this is so so, etc. etc. After about an hour of this we decided that the next place we came to good or bad would be the one we finally stopped at. So it came to pass that on 51st St and Madison we passed by a place called the Russian Caviar Room.

“Lets do one more” I said after looking at the name. All there was was a door on the street with a menu next to it. The restaurant was upstairs.

“This looks perfect” sharon replied

I looked at the menu and surprisingly, all there was, was sushi.

“What the fuck” and upstairs we went.

It was a beautiful room (see pic.) and except for two japanese tourists the place was empty. It was very quiet naturally, comfortable, clean, tranquil, and looked like I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of the afternoon there. We ordered our sushi and then settled down to having a few beers and getting a bit pissed. To pass the time I started taking pictures of the japanese tourists in the mirror at the end of the room.

John Cleese walked in as I was starting my second beer. He was very tall and walked like a drum major, marching right past us, staring straight ahead and sitting in a spot next to the window at the opposite end of the room from where we and the two japanese tourists were sitting. (see arrow)

I motioned to Sharon. “Basil Fawlty” I said, “its him

We watched as he pulled out a small paperback and started reading. He was oblivious to what was going on. The two japanese tourists were into their food and anyhow probably had no idea who he was. All I could think about was making contact given the fact that we were alone in this restaurant together.

Then I then thought of my cousin Harold telling me years ago that once, he found himself sitting close to Donald Sutherland at a baseball game in Montreal. Harold was a real celebrity hound (there is a black and white framed picture of him as a six year old sitting on Liberace’s lap on his mantle. The inscription reads, “to my dear friend Harold, your friend, Liberace.” How he got the photo is another story.) He told me that he had this impulse to say something to Donald Sutherland but he did not know how to begin. His inspiration came during the seventh inning stretch when Donald left his seat to go take a piss and Harold followed him into the toilet and stood next to him in the urinal and said,

“I am trying to remember the name of the first movie you were ever in but the name escapes me” he said.

Donald muttered the name of the movie, zipped up his fly and quickly left.

Harold told me that he thought Donald Sutherland was a bit rude for not wanting to hang around the urinal and shoot the shit with him for a while. I thought Harold was pushing it a bit. It occurred to me that celebrities encounter this problem all the time, where the public think they have the right to encroach on their privacy and accost them in public as if they really know them, and feel really offended when they are told to fuck off.

But back to John Cleese. I fantasized about asking him to sit down with us so I could take a picture of him and Sharon. I thought about asking him to do his goose step from the Fawlty Towers episode entitled “The Germans”. All sorts of schemes were racing through my head as we watched him order his food, read his book, eat his lunch slowly, and be totally alone in his thoughts.

In the end, I decided to do nothing. For years I have read about celebrities punching out fans who feel they have a right to invade their privacy. I remember that schmuck who used to follow Jackie Kennedy around with sixteen Nikons around his neck endlessly taking pictures of her as she walked down the street in Manhattan as if he were part of her anatomy. If it were me being stalked by Mark Focus all day, I too would be tempted to shove the camera up his ass.

So in the end, as I watched him read his book, take a mouthful of his dinner, stare at the ceiling and quietly enjoy his lunch, we did the same. While I was finishing my second beer, John Cleese paid his bill, and casually left the table and proceeded to leave, passing us on his way out. We made eye contact and I nodded to him. He smiled back and said

“How was your lunch?”

“Very good thank you,” I replied

“Great!”

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