Okay, this is one guy I really have met and went to dinner with in Paris in the spring of 1966.
My girlfriend Cheryl and I were on a three-week long vacation with one of our stopovers in Paris, my lifetime dream. Every day Cheryl and I would consult Arthur Fromm’s Europe on Five Dollars a Day and decide what to do with our five dollars. This day we decided to see the Louvre. At this point in our traveling, Cheryl and I had ditched our suitcases and were down to one dress a day, which, with our underwear, we faithfully washed every night. In England we had learned to scrunch up our waistlines with a scarf or belt and in France we were told to relax them since only women of the night wore short dresses.
So it was that one day in one of the rooms at the Louvre we met Blackwell, the famous designer, known for his notorious lists of the Worst Dressers, and his then partner Spencer, deep in boredom, as they glanced around. What I haven’t mentioned was my girlfriend Cheryl was really one of the great beauties of the day. She had a flawless alabaster complexion and thanks to a really good nose job by Dr. Goldstein, a classic profile. I had resigned myself to being in the background when anybody met the two of us; they were so entranced with her beauty. Blackwell, being a lover of beauty, noticed us, gestured to Spencer and they made their way over to us. After engaging us in conversation for a very short time, they invited Cheryl and me to dine with them that evening. We were agog.
Unfortunately, we still had only those two dresses to wear. Nevertheless, Cheryl and I immediately went to the Galleries Lafayette, splurged on some scarves, in my case a vest, donned our dresses again with rose water splashed generously on them and waited nervously in our rooms for our concierge to call us down to our guests. Having dismissed us before as crass, ugly and poor Americans, I could hear the newfound respect in her voice as she told us that our dates had arrived. Departing the hotel, I saw immediately why she was so impressed. I myself did a double take at the silver Rolls Royce waiting to accommodate us.
Naturally, Cheryl was chosen to sit in the front seat with Blackwell while I barely relaxed with Spencer in the back, trying to make inane conversation with him. I must say they didn’t try to dress down for us. Blackwell was almost menacing and formidable in black velvet and Spencer equally fabulous in an impeccable white linen suit. There is no doubt that Cheryl and I looked like the kitchen help on holiday with our masters. But nevertheless, off we went to some old farmhouse on the outskirts of Paris known for king-sized artichokes hearts.
The restaurateur greeted us humbly and warmly. I don’t know if he knew who Blackwell was, but there was enough deference expressed to satisfy anybody. After we gave our order, the waiter walked towards our table holding the wine bottle abreast on a silver platter. He unfortunately tripped and some wine droplets fell on my shoe, which I stupidly remarked upon. A fury seemed to ignite in Blackwell at this, whereupon he reached down to grab my shoe as evidence of some indignity he was collaterally suffering with me. I however was aware of the condition of my shoe, having traipsed in it in countless museums; the sides of the shoes were so stretched out as to resemble a small canoe. Suddenly, there was this struggle going on underneath the table: me pressing my foot into the shoe into the floor so as not to relinquish it, Blackwell, relentlessly attempting to snatch it off my foot. He won. Without looking at it, he thereupon held it up to the waiter for all of us to witness. I think we all gasped. Blackwell had come to his senses by then, his fury receding, and when he grasped the condition of my shoe he quickly placed it under the table. The rest of the meal was spent in embarrassed silence.
Maybe it started out as Blackwell doing noblesse oblige to some young women, or maybe he and Spencer wanted to know what it was like to feel the wonder and excitement again of being with famous people, driving in a Rolls Royce and eating a really expensive meal. I don’t know; we didn’t keep in touch.
Sometimes I’ll call Cheryl forty-five years later and say to her, “How about those artichokes, Cheryl?” And she’ll laugh hysterically with me.