Near Greatness

Big Shot

The night I almost became Billy Joel's uptown girl

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I was never a big Billy Joel fan but that doesn't mean I couldn't have married him when I had the shot. Yes, that could have been MY LIFE. I could have been Mrs. Billy Joel, the uptown girl, living in an uptown world. If only.

It was the early Eighties, and I was a waitress at a nouveau-hot restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Early one Saturday night, a limo pulled up out front. Out stumbled two guys who looked like trouble. I was drawn. I've always enjoyed a nice batch of trouble.

I watched from my station on the balcony as the limo riders were led up the stairs to my empty section. The short one was disruptive, singing to the Billy Joel tape that was playing throughout the restaurant. He began waving from the steps like an emperor, claiming, "Hi, I'm Billy Joel! I'm Billy Joel!"

I wasn't sure it was really Billy Joel, especially since he kept saying, "I'm Billy Joel!" It seemed to me that if you were Billy Joel, you wouldn't have to say that you were him. To be fair, he might have been a little high—a good bet, since it was the Eighties.

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As the hostess sat him at my prime to-be-seen table, perched in the eagle's nest of the restaurant, he started drumming frenetically on his table to the Billy Joel hit that was still blaring from the quadrophonic speakers. "That's my song: 'You may be right, I may be crazy.' Rat-a-tat-tat!"

I was a Deadhead myself, and wasn't sure if it was really Billy Joel, nor did I much care. I mostly cared about my tips. This was the summer of money and I'd waited on movie and rock stars, politicians and pop artists until my eyes rolled up into my head. My memories of them all circled around how much they tipped: Dustin Hoffman, $20; Robert DeNiro, $50; Peter Max, $25 and a doodle on his placemat, which my busboy spilled coffee on and scrunched up, ruining my chances to be an art collector.

This could go either way, I thought. Rock stars were iffy. The Rolling Stones stiffed me on a $200 check. Damn Brits! Since I had no clue what Billy Joel looked like, I asked the bartender, "Is that Billy Joel?" He gave me a maybe shrug, continuing on with his Saturday night mixing. I started asking around, "Is that Billy Joel?" No one was sure, but it seemed possible, since he was a short guy who got out of a long limo.

The unruly customer using Billy Joel's name was waiting for me when I slid up to his table. He jumped into a full-on rant, empty of periods or pauses: "You're my waitress great you're gorgeous I'm Billy Joel what's your name glad I didn't get an ugly one I'm Billy Joel this is my lawyer it's my birthday I'm gonna have a hamburger he's having the duck you want rice with the duck yeah he'll have the rice make my burger medium with cheese you know who I am right we want two double white Russians!"

"Up or on the rocks?" I replied, shaking my head from information overload. I put his drink order in at the service bar, asking the bartender again, "Can you please look at this guy again and tell me if it's Billy Joel?" Again, he just shrugged.

Another customer took the table to Billy's left. Before they were even settled, he said, "Hey, how ya doin? I'm Billy Joel." The man would just not give it up! He continued with his two-fingered drumming. By now, someone else's song was playing and he was ruining it. Oh this better be a big tip, I thought. I was glad I'd never bought any of his albums. Jerry Garcia probably never once had to say, "I'm Jerry Garcia."

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Within ten minutes of him being there, my entire section was overrun with the Billy Joelness of it all. Everyone knew Billy Joel was in the joint, particularly Billy Joel. He kept flagging me over and flirting heavily.

"Hey, I'm having a party tonight at Magique. It's my birthday," he said. "You can be my date. I want you to come. I don't have a date!"

That's because you're obnoxious, I thought. "Thank you for the offer, Billy, but I'm working," I said, nodding around the joint to make my point.

"Working? Here? You don't have to work. I'm Billy Joel."

"Well, I'm Debbie Kasper and Debbie Kasper has to work."

"You come and you ask for me," he continued.

He was gone within 45 minutes. As he left, he slipped me fifty bucks and a piece of paper with his name on it: Billy Joel.

"You'll be on my guest list," he said. "Make sure I know when you get there. And bring a hot chick for my lawyer." Then he danced out the door, still telling anyone who cared that he was you-know-who.

At midnight when my shift was done, I counted my tips. It had been a banner night: Well over $150! I grabbed a fellow waitress (a hot chick) and we decided to go to the party. I wasn't particularly excited about seeing him again, but maybe Roger Daltrey would be there, I thought. Now that was some sexy!

We decided to call Magique before taking a cab to the East Side, since it all just seemed surreal. When I called, the woman on the other end of the phone barked at me, "There's no Billy Joel party here tonight!" I hung up, turned to my friend and said, "Nope. Told you!" At least I was right (not crazy), which always made me happy.

I went to bed but not before recounting my stack of bills on my futon, very glad I didn't part with the ten bucks to get to the other side of town only to be humiliated. I had to be back at work at 11 in the morning for brunch the next day, anyway.

When I walked into work the next morning, the bartender stopped me from behind his bar, "How was the Billy Joel birthday bash?"

"There was no birthday bash. That wasn't Billy Joel," I lamented. "I knew it!"

"Oh really?" he asked. He opened the NY Post to the center gossip section where there was a double-page picture captioned, "BILLY JOEL'S BIRTHDAY BASH AT MAGIQUE." There was my Billy Joel, dancing like a man in love with a tall blonde, who I could only see from behind. She looked like a model. Next to Billy was someone who looked exactly like Roger Daltrey dancing alone.

Soon after that, I read that he and Christie Brinkley were married. I felt badly that he had to settle.

   
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