Thank You Debra Messing

Here in Atlanta now, my beautiful wife likes to remind me that we don’t get to the beach enough. Atlanta does not have a real beach, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Back in the 80’s there was a bar called Buckhead Beach with a sandy outdoor area replete with palm trees and hammocks and volleyball nets. Bikini-clad waitresses walked through the crowds holding trays of colorful drinks.

I was too young to go to Buckhead Beach, but my older brother and his friends would talk about it, and in my imagination I saw a real beach, real palm trees, an ocean even. So my geography was a little lacking back then, but not my imagination.

Back in LA, we were probably 10 miles from the beach, and yet we were not there every day either, or even every weekend for that matter. In fact, one of our favorite escapes was like the opposite of the beach: It was a Mexican restaurant in the Valley called Casa Vega.

You’d walk in on a bright hot Valley day with your sunglasses still on and be blinded by the darkness: dark wood paneling, dark booths, dark carpet, and really low light. Eventually your eyes adjusted, but never completely. Especially after a margarita or two.

It’s a bit pricey these days, but back then you could get a couple margaritas, a burrito, and a celebrity sighting pretty cheap. It was dark enough in there that celebrities seemed to blend in. We’d see Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, when they were still together, dressed way down so you’d barely recognize them in the dimly lit place. Rockers in black leather and spiked hair would wander around like extras from Spinal Tap. Big name directors getting booth readings. Hollywood agents in suits. Hollywood wives discussing the latest treatments. And wannabes counting change for a beer at the bar next to neighborhood regulars who’d been coming there for years. It was a real motley crew.

My wife used to get (and still does) that she looks “just like that woman from Will and Grace… What’s her name… You know?” And we’d smile and nod when they’d say “I bet you get that all the time?” If we had a dollar for every time that happened in LA, we’d be rich. But the only thing we ever got out of it was a good seat at Casa Vega one night.

The place was packed. Probably an hour and a half wait for a table. I guess word had gotten out that the food and drink was affordable and the customers interesting, to put it mildly. We had a group of 6 people from out of town. No reservation. Alex and I approached the hostess and were about to put our name in for a table, when one of the waiters pops out of nowhere, all smiles and compliments. “Good to see you again!” He says to Alex. “How have you been?” “Good,” Alex answers. The waiter shakes my hand and says hello like he knows me too. “We have a table for you and your guests right back here, if you’ll just follow me,” the man says to Alex. On our way through the crowded restaurant Alex looks at me with her red hair and high-cheekbones and shrugs. We got the best table and the best service that night. Our out of town guests thought we were celebrities. And so did the waiter apparently. Thank you Debra Messing.

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Restoration Hard-on-the-wallet-Ware

“Why is furniture so expensive?!” I exclaimed to my wife after looking at another $1,200 armchair and mistakenly thinking the footrest was included. “That’s called an ottoman, and it’s another $400,” said Alex. “Well it’s made in the same fabric and obviously goes with the chair—who would buy this leather footrest, I mean ottoman, for anything other than this chair? Maybe we should regulate furniture as well as Wall Street,” I said in frustration. But Alex had already moved on.

Thankfully, Alex doesn’t actually buy stuff from these expensive places, she just uses them for ideas. Then she catalogs all that information in her brain somewhere and uses it later on when there’s a sale or she finds something similar online: price, color, fabric, all on instant recall. I have a hard enough time remembering a footrest is an ottoman, or the thing in our dining room with the good dishes is a credenza.

The first few years in our new Atlanta home was a constant hunt for deals. Not just furniture, but rugs, and lights, and fabric for curtains. I spent more time in Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and Jo-Anne’s than any man should. But hey, I try to make the best of a situation, so I was in there searching for buttons and fabrics half the time…. and complaining the other half. I admit, I used the “business call” excuse more than normal to not have to go into some stores. There was a kid in a shopping cart at Jo-Anne’s one day who summed it up for me when he told his mom flat out, “this is not my idea of fun, Mom!”

Alex, however, is in her element in these kinds of places. She always has her coupons prepared, her comparable figures pulled out of her brain-file, and her mission statement clear: “Today we’re looking for thick blackout curtains in off-white for half-price,” she told me as we pulled into the parking lot. I had been to this store so many times, I actually knew which direction to go for the curtains. There were women hovering around the general area, probably due to the sale. This was when having me with her helped Alex tremendously. She was a bit too nice to her fellow shoppers, but I was more matter-of-fact. “Excuse me,” I said as I made my way to the off-white section. And I got there just in time—there was only one bolt left and barely enough for Alex’s project. I grabbed the bolt and wiggled out of there with our prize, only to discover I’d grabbed a thinner version than Alex wanted. “Excuse me, excuse me,” I said as I wiggled back in for another go.

When we got to the checkout line, Alex surreptitiously handed me a coupon and stepped back with another coupon for her buttons, or whatever she was getting, and acted like she didn’t even know me. I winked at her in acknowledgement. These places were limiting the number of coupons you could use for one purchase, so we had to work the system. We were a pretty good team…. until Restoration Hardware.

Restoration Hardware has probably ruined more than a few marriages. They have a way of wooing you into wanting not just one piece of furniture, but an entire way-of-furniture. They have set the bar (and prices) so high that no normal person can begin to shop there. I mean their flagship stores are places you’d want to live in, not just shop in. The Buckhead Atlanta store has such a nice rooftop deck and view of the city that you really just want to bring a picnic lunch and hangout.

Thank god for the Restoration Hardware outlet store. It’s a good hour drive from Atlanta, and they only have a limited selection, but if you’re patient you can find what you want. It also helps to befriend the employees, and Alex did just that by way of chance.

It just so happens Alex is a bit of a gay magnet. Gay men love her for her bubbly personality and general fashion and design sense. And for the fact that she looks a lot like Debra Messing—one of TV’s first real gay magnets. So this gay man who works at the RH outlet started up a chat with her, and they’ve been chatty ever since. She tells him what she’s looking for, and he calls her when it comes into the store. She then runs up to try to get the item before anyone else does. I’ve got to admit, even the sale prices add up, but at least we’re getting good solid furniture out of it, and I’m learning some new terms: console table, sleigh bed, etagere, hutch, etc.

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