My brother Nate is married to Rae Dawn Chong. She was in town to be on a panel at the Tribeca Film Festival and invited me to go with her to see the premiere of "Keep On Keepin' On", a documentary about trumpeter Clark Terry and one of his young students, Justin Kauflin. Rae Dawn said "show up at 5, and I think we're going to sit with Whoopi Goldberg who is an old friend of mine."
Saturday afternoon rolls around, it's a beautiful day and I've been out in the park. I think about changing clothes but I realize I'm cutting it close on time so I jump on Citibike to ride to the theater. So I show up, and Rae Dawn says "I think we're going to go down the red carpet with Whoopi. Have you ever done that? It's kind of fun." And that's what we did. Holy crap, that was nuts; Whoopi gets out of a limo and RD introduces me and there's like a cloud of assistants and handlers that materialize, and people shouting "Whoopi, can a get a photo for the UK!" "Whoopi, can you sign this!"
So we eventually get to the red carpet part and somebody takes all the stuff in our hands (my bike helmet, RD and Whoopi's pocketbooks, scarves etc) to hold onto, and there is all this negotiation going on about who stands where, and RD and Whoopi keep saying, "Put the white guy in the middle! White guy in the middle!" I'm getting all this residual second-hand ass-kissing but the volcano of attention is focused on Whoopi, with like a minor branch on RD.
The red carpet proper is maybe 100 feet long with four stops along the way; the first two stops are photos, and there are (no exaggeration) maybe 20 photographers at each stop, shouting and blasting away. It was so weird. Like looking into the eye of the Kraken?
I can assure you that despite the fact that the photo shows me looking away from that camera and not smiling, I'm definitely looking at a camera, and grinning stupidly the other 99.9% of the time we're there, and I assume it's somebody's job to go through mountains of photos and publish one that makes Whoopi and Rae Dawn look reasonable. I'm imagining that person wading through photos thinking, "Who is this dude with the stupid grin? Why is he in the middle? Aha, here's one where he's not ruining the shot too much."
We spend probably 3 incredible transcendent minutes at each stop, and the last couple of stops are these little press interviews with ladies in sparkly dresses; RD and I kind of drift past while they focus on Whoopi.
RD and I go to the green room and sit with another person she knows, the woman who directed the movie Hysteria, about the invention of the vibrator. Eventually my bike helmet rematerializes and Rae Dawn and I go in and sit in the theater; I'm holding Whoopi Goldberg's scarf and handbag until she finishes the press stuff and comes to sit with us. White guy still in the middle.
RD is a world-class schmoozer and talks to everyone in sight. We're near Hysteria director (her name is Tanya Wexler and she's really funny) and her assistant, and that's when Heather Graham and her pal (another actress who I recognize but cannot place because excuse me HEATHER GRAHAM) come in to sit in the row in front of us, and RD is like "you look beautiful, this is my brother-in-law Thatcher!" This is when the two-finger handshake with Heather Graham occurs -- well, all of my fingers, but only around two of Heather Graham's fingers because I think she's holding her wallet or something. She looks exactly like Heather Graham, and other than that, the thought that popped into my mind when we made eye contact was, "wow, she's skinny and scared." I'm pretty sure she was scared that I would ask to take a photo with her. Either that, or her actor superpowers allowed her to exactly mirror my internal state of mind. Anyway, she sat down and that was the end of that.
The movie was really good. Everyone should see it. Then they did Q&A which was great. Then they did a mini concert which was CRAZY; like 5 or 6 tunes, the young guys from the movie, plus Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Diane Reeves, Jon Batiste.
Whoopi ended up sitting somewhere else during the actual movie, and there was this frantic hustle to pass her stuff over to a staffer to take it to her. She came and sat next to me after the movie was finished and they did Q&A and then the mini concert and then we retired to the green room to shmooze some more, where I met Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock and Diane Reeves and who knows who else. Justin Kauflin's guide dog licked my hand. Heather: FYI this happened after I shook two of your fingers.
There was an awkward moment in the green room when some young fans asked me to take a photo of them with Quincy Jones, and one of the girls hands me her iPhone.
Quincy was like, "OK, just one. I'm about photo'd out." Dude is 82, legendary, and a bit intimidating.
So I go to take the photo, and I press the button, and I realize it's in video mode, and since it's an iPhone and I use Android, I have no idea how to work the camera. I fumble for a second and then hand it back to the girl in the group, who is panicking, and she changes the mode and hands it back, and then Quincy is totally over it and looking the other way so I have to just hang on and wait for him to turn around so I can frantically snap a couple of crap pictures. Sigh.
Whoopi wasn't excessively interested in me and I couldn't think of much to say but she seemed pretty cool and Whoopi-like. I was in the limo ride with her and RD and another friend over to the after-party and heard them talking about who of these jazz people are creepy or nice or slutty or whatever. RD told a story about when she was in her 20's, filling up her jeep at a gas station in LA, and Miles Davis (looking all futuristic) pulls up behind her in his red Ferrari. He leers and says in his growly voice, "I know who you are, and I like you." She was scared, smiled, and felt faint.
The after party was full of the same batch of people plus some more, and was kind of fun, and then I left to meet Won & Pablo for beers on the roof of Pablo's building. Looking over the Hudson we can see this really big boat lit up in bright purple and labeled "Topaz"; Won tells us it's one of the top 5 largest yachts in the world, owned by someone with a lot of oil money. In the other direction we can look down and see the actual red carpet at the BMCC theater where I had been earlier.