A few years ago, when I first moved to the city, I took a job cater-waitering, as they say. Every actor’s dream role. I’d get paid about $20/hour to hand out finger foods at corporate Christmas parties, offer up a glass of wine at an art gallery opening. It was long and it was hard and serving rich people made me furious but I was desperate for money and was often tipped a huge chunk of cash.
It was during one of these soul-sucking catering shifts, while walking around serving mini bruschettas to disinterested drunk corporate executives, that I met Joe. He had big brown eyes and a sweet smile and we got to talking and joking, trying to keep the humor about us so we wouldn’t “accidentally” drop a tray on some entitled Westchester trophy wife’s head.
There was never anything romantic between me and Joe. From the minute we met, it was almost like we were old friends. He was an actor too! He had family on Long Island too! He was catering to pay the bills too! BESTIES. But not really.
Joe and I exchanged no contact information that evening. We said goodbye and vowed to see each other again soon even though we had no way of communicating about future get-togethers. I never really expected to see him again. He would just be compartmentalized into one of those mental boxes in my brain – “Boys I Met In My Early 20′s One Time”. It wasn’t like I was going to run into him on a regular basis. I mean, this is New York City. It’s kind of…crowded.
I was of course proved wrong.
And not just once.
Joe is one of those people I inexplicably run into every few months or so. STILL. AFTER YEARS. How is that possible!? It just is.
I have seen Joe:
In my neighborhood, on my way to the bagel shop
In his neighborhood while out for a run
Walking down Amsterdam with his girlfriend across from Lincoln Center
Walking past his table at a diner on a Sunday morning for brunch
At two separate audition studios, years apart
Every time I see him, Joe’s entire face lights up.
“HOW ARE YOU, LAURA!?” he exclaims, sweet as can be. He hugs me or gives me a kiss on the cheek. He asks about my family on Long Island. He tells me about how he’s going to the bakery to get dessert for his nieces and nephews. He asks how the acting career is going, if I still live in Astoria, if I’m happy. He always tells me I look great.
These encounters brighten up my life. Pure and simple. Joe is so genuine, so lovely, so warm. I don’t even know his last name and yet every time I run into him, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.
“JOE!” I can’t help but squeal. I give him a crazy amount hugs and we chat for a few moments and we carry on with our lives, never extending our casual encounters too long, never promising long dinners or drinks after work or telephone conversations.
Maybe that’s sad. Maybe when I run into him, I’m SUPPOSED to get more information. I’m SUPPOSED to promise to stay in touch. I’m supposed to move Joe from ‘coincidental hello’ to ‘dear friend’, maybe it’s up to me to make that shift. Maybe his role is supposed to evolve.
But then maybe I would find things out about Joe that I don’t like. Maybe he’s the type of friend who cancels on you last minute, every single time. Maybe he smokes too much pot or drunk dials you at 2 AM to cry about his break up. Maybe Joe has a gambling problem or is addicted to over-the-counter sleep aids or likes to quote movies from the 80′s that I’ve never seen.
I think it’s better not to know. It’s possible that I keep running into Joe because we’re meant to be something more than we are. But to be honest, I really don’t think so. Whenever I run into him, as I did this morning, out of nowhere, for no reason, in the middle of midtown Manhattan, I can’t help but waltz down the street afterward thinking that Joe, dear sweet Joe, is perfect right where he is.