Monday, March 08, 2004

Body found in East River Identified as Spalding Gray


I saw Spalding Gray live a couple of times, and he still ranks as the celebrity I have had brushes with the most often. The first time was when I was working at a coffee shop in Northern California. I was about eighteen or twenty I guess, and the coffee shop was catering live performances at an old estate in the hills above town. I made sure I was on hand for Gray's performance of Monster In a Box, having seen Swimming to Cambodia some time before.

I smoked a lot back then. Unfiltered Lucky Strikes. Maybe two packs a day. And if I finished a pack while I was driving, I'd fling the wrapper down in the car. As a result, I had a carpet of empty Lucky Strike packs all over the floor of my car.

Before the show I pulled my car up to the very front of the venue, where I'd be serving coffee before the start of the show and at intermission. I opened the passenger side door and pulled out one of the giant coffee urns I'd be using, took it over to the refreshments area. When I got back to the car to grab the decaf urn, a BMW was parked next to my car, and Spalding Gray was looking in the open passenger door, goggle-eyed.

"Thank goodness!" he said. "I thought you'd died from too many Lucky Strikes!"

"Spalding mon!" I cried in a poor imitation of one of the characters from Swimming to Cambodia "Never too many!"

That was it.

A few years later, the wifely friend and I saw him at UCSC, reading Gray's Anatomy, and the next day he was sitting at the next table at our favorite breakfast place. I remember thinking of walking up and saying hello, maybe mentioning something about the incident with the Lucky Strikes, but of course, he wouldn't have remembered.

So now Spalding Gray has washed up on the river's edge in Mahattan. Maybe there just weren't enough perfect moments, or they were too long in coming.

I didn't know him, but I admired his work. And what else can you say, really?


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