I wanted to become an actor, too. I had no idea how anyone did such a thing, let alone become a star. I so wanted someone to look at me the way they looked at John Belushi — with admiration, fondness, respect and, dare I say, love. But I knew that was a pipe dream. He was hilarious, smart and bigger than life. I was awkward, painfully skinny and partially mute.
Several Sundays after that first appearance, Dad gave me my big chance to wait on John. I slipped on some sawdust and almost landed in his lap. My father shook his head and disappeared into the office with a tall glass of vodka. I knew he couldn’t bear to witness what would inevitably be a disaster.
After all, I had clumsily on purpose/by accident broken most of his most recent wedding gifts. He had just married the playwright Eve Ensler, who thankfully adopted me and literally saved my life. Eve saw something in me I didn’t even recognize in myself. She was the one who encouraged me to become an actor, and I ran with it.
Dad was relieved it was August, because I would be returned to my grandmother in Connecticut for the coming school year. I couldn’t quite blame him. My Dorothy Hamill hair, white Capezio dance shoes and red tuxedo jacket had long outstayed their welcome. I was clearly channeling David Bowie and the New York Dolls … desperately searching for an identity.
John Belushi looked at me with a combination of confusion and disappointment.
“You’re not Jimmy,” he said.
“No, I’m not,” I immediately apologized.
“Where’s Jimmy?” John said.
“Sick,” I offered, lying through my teeth.
“What can I get you?” I stammered.
“Bacon and eggs,” John said, diverting his attention to the script he was reading. “And I want them runny.”
“Runny?” I repeated.
John looked at me the way one looks at a dog who’s missing a hind leg: sympathetic yet strangely curious.
I apologetically shuffled off and placed his order. Russell, our drunken chef, dropped some wet cigar ash into Mr. Belushi’s meal, which was tragically not uncommon. I dutifully pointed it out. Russell groaned and wiped off the black ash with an even filthier cloth.
I cautiously picked up the hot plate, weighing whether to run out onto West Fourth Street and hail a cab to some exotic destination, or deliver this pile of holy slop to his highness.
As I passed the bar, Benny the bartender was shoving his glass eye back into his head after dousing it with club soda. I delivered John’s breakfast and sprinted away.
“Wait!” John shouted.
Damn, did I not get it right? I thought he said bacon and eggs? I was sure of it!
I raced back to his table, praying to the Holy Virgin Mary herself that there wasn’t a dead cigar stuffed under his hash browns.
“Yes?” I mumbled.
“Ketchup,” John said.
“What?” I politely asked.
“Ketchup!” John exhaled, annoyed that he had to repeat himself.
I fetched some and gingerly placed it on the plastic green checkerboard tablecloth, the kind mostly reserved for Irish bars and wakes.
John finally looked at me and smiled.
“Thanks, kid.” Egg yolk proudly dripped down his famous protruding chin.
How pathetically wonderful, I thought to myself: John Belushi acknowledged my existence. However brief this strange encounter, it gave me what I needed to hold on to.
I waited on plenty of celebrities over the coming summers. Most of them were dismissive or irritated.
But when I finally hosted “S.N.L.” many moons later, the ghost of John Belushi seemed to tap me on my shoulder with his sword for good luck. I was standing on the very same stage where he performed “Samurai Delicatessen”! I said a prayer of thanks to him for inspiring me.
My father and Eve were in the audience that night, both happy and confused that I had made it so far. But most important, they looked at me with admiration, fondness, respect and, dare I say, love.