Sometime last week, while I was procrastinating from my writing, I came across a fateful piece of information: Ina Garten, star of The Barefoot Contessa, would be doing a book signing here in the Los Angeles. In general, I’m not much of a book signing person, but I knew I this was one event I had to attend. When the day came, I hopped in my car, braved my way over to the yuppie-tastic West Side, and stood in line for two hours, all in the pursuit of a GOOD picture and autograph. The adventure, including two surprising celebrity cameos, after the jump.
I arrived at Santa Monica’s new Williams Sonoma at around 10:50 AM, thinking that I’d find about a hundred people in line for the book signing (which was scheduled from noon to 2 PM). Being the careful planner that I am, I actually called the store ahead of time, and they politely told me there were a “fair amount” of people lined up outside. Well, if this was a “fair amount,” I’d hate to see their definition of “teeming masses” because I soon found myself on the end of a line 200 people long Ã¢â‚¬â€ conservatively. It very well could have been higher, but I’m notoriously bad at estimating quantities; so we’ll just leave it at that.
Of course, before I could get in line, I had to go into the store and purchase two of Ina’s new cookbooks, Back to Basics (one for me, one for fellow Ina Garten enthusiast Jash). This process was quite smooth, albeit expensive. $75 for two books? Oy. Do yourselves a favor: if you buy the cookbook, get it at Amazon for $20.
Not much happened inside the store Ã¢â‚¬â€ beyond the IDIOT woman in front of me who seemed incapable of gasping the notion that the line we were in was the same line that non-autograph seekers would have to use to buy their housewares, etc.. She just couldn’t believe it. “But you don’t have another line if you’re not buying the cookbook?” she asked a store clerk over and over again.
“No, this is the line that everyone uses,” the incredibly patient worker replied, multiple times. I don’t know why the woman in front of me cared so much. It’s not like she wasn’t there for the autographs. She just was generally curious Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â to her detriment too. She became so fixated on this that when a new register opened up, she didn’t even notice it. I, of course, did the right and kind thing: I let her finish her conversation with the worker… and while she did that, I took the open register. HA!
Listen, you snooze you lose. And if you’re an idiot, then good riddance.
Eventually, I got my cookbooks and headed to the back of the line where another Williams Sonoma was addressing the crowd, saying that Ina would only be signing cookbooks bought from this specific location. This caused quite the murmur from the women in front of me as one of them had purchased Back to Basics elsewhere (the horror!). Even worse, someone had been so foolish to bring Barefoot in Paris. No autograph for you! Luckily, the women had a masterful backup plan. One of them would scurry into the store and buy new cookbooks while the rest of them would hold their place in line. PHEW! Disaster averted. And even better, the ladies laughed with nervous relief as they realized that they could just give away their old books as gifts for Christmas. A happy ending for Peg and Marcy and Dawn!
Anyway, as I settled down into my spot in line, I came to the realization that I was one of maybe five males in the entire crowd. It was, to say the least, highly emasculating. But that’s okay. I’m confident with myself and my manhood to be able to talk about it and… and… okay, it was highly embarrassing. But not totally unexpected. I was actually in a small enclave of males. And by small enclave, I mean two husbands who had been dragged to this event by their wives. I’m more that happy to report that the people immediately to the front and immediately to the back of me were very pleasant and enjoyable. No incessant yapping. No dumb comments. No disagreeable body odor. I really have nothing bad to say about them Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â thank God.
Some person asleep in a chair.
The good news was that the weather was beautiful. Actually, a bit too beautiful. With the sun blazing, it was a warm 85 degrees (if not warmer). Luckily, we were in the shade, but the intense heat was a bit much for some people to handle. One older woman got a case of the vapors and next thing we knew, she was splayed out on the floor of a Pinkberry, her feet elevated and a wet towel over her forehead. Later, the paramedics came by to tend to her dehydrated body. I’m not sure if she was taken away or not, but if she was, well, that sucks.
The good news was that in an effort to capitalize on their captive audience standing in front of the storefront (not to mention distract us from the old lady lying on their floor), Pinkberry offered up free samples of its yogurt. Now here’s a small confession: I’ve never been to Pinkberry. I refuse to go to any frozen yogurt place that doesn’t have a chocolate yogurt option. That’s just the way it is. However, who was I to turn down a free sample? I tried the classic plain yogurt, and well, it was delicious. Consider me a convert. Luckily there’s a Pinkberry conveniently located a block away from my new, er, offices; so I imagine that I will soon make that part of my snacking rotation.
This is what I call Ina weather.
Because of the lovely weather, there were plenty of people out and about on Montana Avenue, and none more surprising than the one and only Lou Ferigno, a.k.a. The Incredible Hulk. Yes, the giant muscle man was walking around for no real reason, which amused me to no end. I mean, what a morning: Ina Garten AND The Incredible Hulk? How could it get any better?
Well, how about throw in a little Cuba Gooding, Jr. into the mix. That’s right, the crowd on the street was so big that Cuba Gooding, Jr., couldn’t help but slow down his car and rubberneck. Now I know what some of you may be thinking Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â he was just trying to get noticed. I really don’t think that was the case. He was genuinely intrigued, and luckily, he happened to have had his window down. I spotted him immediately and pointed him out to everyone. A good time was had by all. Sadly, I missed both him and Lou Ferigno with my camera; so I have no photographic evidence of this magnificent gathering of stars.
The clock across the street read 12:15. The line had been moving for the past twenty-five minutes. Hopefully it wouldn’t be much longer…
My Pinkberry sample.
The line continues to be unwieldy.
Anyway, while we stood in line, I spotted two noteworthy things. First was some idiot girl wearing a homemade t-shirt that featured several photos of Ina Garten and the slogan “Jesus Loves Ina!” (or maybe it was “Jesus Loves the Barefoot Contessa”). Either way, I couldn’t imagine this shirt coming across as anything short of offensive, particularly since Ina happens to be, you know, JEWISH. Several people murmured about the shirt in line, and I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one somewhat offended. Damn, I should have taken a picture of that dumb idiot.
The only thing that riled me up more was some Waspy old coot walking by who stopped and asked a woman near me, “Are you all standing in line for one person to write their name in a book?”
“Yes,” replied the lady in line.
“Oh my!” the woman responded with a haughty laugh. As she walked away, I sincerely was thiiiis close from muttering, “BITCH.” Seriously, don’t act all highfalutin. If this were a world leader or an esteemed author, I’m sure she’d have no problem waiting in line. Her snobbery really rubbed me the wrong way, and this is coming from someone who LOVES snobbery! Hopefully, she’ll get run over by a car or something. Maybe Lou Ferigno can beat her up.
ILLEGAL! ILLEGAL! This woman’s yapping away on her cell without an earpiece. The amount of housewives in Santa Monica I spotted doing this was astounding. I’ll just chalk it up to yuppie entitlement.
Just when we thought we were about to reach Ina, the line instead veered South down the block. Even worse, we were then stuck in direct sunlight.
LET US IN.
GREAT. Another illegal talker. Of course, just as I snapped this photo, she took her phone down, but you get the point.
The good news was that the Williams Sonoma people spent a good amount of energy passing out samples and water. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite clean up their garbage…
At last, we approach the entrance.
Obligatory artsy shot. What? The lighting was great!
Thar she cackles!
The rules for the signing were very strict: in order to keep the line moving, Ina would only sign her name Ã¢â‚¬â€ no special requests like “Hope you use GOOD vanilla” Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â and she would not be posing for any pictures. We could take pictures of her, but not with her. Hence, I wound up with this awkwardly composed image:
Well, I finally got the chance to talk to Ina, and I had three points I wanted to make: a) she’s been very helpful in my progress as a home chef, b) I went to summer camp with her friend’s step-daughter, and c) I went to Dartmouth (much like her husband, Jeffrey). It occurred to me that had I worn a Dartmouth t-shirt, I could have saved time on talking point C), but it’s no big deal.
Anyway, with all the rules about keeping things moving along, I was a bit flustered when I spoke to Ina. I wasn’t nervous or anything, and I didn’t have a meltdown like when I met Julie Chen. I just sputtered my words out very quickly. Too quickly, in fact. She could hardly understand me.
“It’s because of you I learned how to cook,” I said, bending the truth slightly (my Mom and Giada De Laurentiis Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â as well as the insights of many of my friends Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â deserve credit too).
“Really?” Ina answered, somewhat shocked.
“Three years ago I was heating up Hot Pockets,” I explained.
“Hot Pockets?” she said, even more shocked. She then turned to her assistant and said, “That’s bad.” She then chuckled, and I figured okay, I got one talking point in. I should probably move on. I thanked her and started to step away, but she stopped me.
“I still have another book to sign!” she said. Well, thank you Jash for prolonging my Ina time! With a new lease on the banter, I started up again.
“You know, your friend Susan Stroman Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â I went to summer camp with her stepdaughter,” I said. This totally caught Ina by surprise. She looked up from the book, her eyes widened, and her mouth made this little circular shape.
“You’re kidding!” she said. Her sudden excitement attracted the attention of her assistant, and Ina tried to explain the situation to her.
“He went to camp or school with Susan Stroman’s Ã¢â‚¬â€Ã‚Â wait, what was it?” she asked, deferring back to me. I then told them that I went to camp with Natasha Ockrent, Susan Stroman’s stepdaughter, but that I hadn’t seen her in about fourteen years.
“Wow…” Ina said. Yup, NAILED IT. Ina then informed me that Natasha was doing great, and I was going to tell her to send my regards, but then I realized how silly that would be. “Hey Natasha, this guy I met for two seconds in LA says hi.” Not gonna happen.
Nevertheless, I was so happy about making a notable impression, that I didn’t even bother with my third talking point (Dartmouth). Actually, truth be told, I was a bit overwhelmed and I simply forgot. No worries. My first two comments were strong enough (but gosh, Dartmouth would have been the trifecta. DRATS!)
Well, just like that, our interaction was over, and Ina went on to her next fan. She was very sweet and exactly like she appears on her TV show. Hopefully our paths will cross again sometime (in a GOOD way), but chances are they probably won’t.
Ina from afar as I walked away.
All in all, it was two hours well spent. I got to meet one of my pop culture fixations and emerged with a nifty cookbook to boot. HOW GREAT IS THAT?