How do you feel when you are alone? Are you self-conscious and painfully aware that you have no friends? Can you imagine people wondering why you are there alone? Do your attempts to appear like a thoughtful, independent professional, rather than a dateless wonder, seem artificial and make you cringe? Perhaps the following true stories will change the way you approach awkward moments.
On the eve of my twelfth birthday, while on a glorious vacation in Florida, my older brother, Jim, observed me at the local teen club staring at my toes and writhing in self-conscious agony. Unfortunately, the rest of the merry group of children completely ignored me.
He asked: “What’s wrong with you, Fatsinello?” (I was so skinny that calling me Fats was a big brother joke.) Haha.
With a sigh, I replied, “Nothing.”
Jim, with his typical insight, said, “Go find the loneliest person in the room, just walk up to them and say ‘Hi.’ He nodded in the direction of a young woman sipping a Coke at a distant table.
“Go say hi,” he ordered.
The walk to their table was throbbing in anticipation of total public humiliation, as my three brothers had arranged a million times before for their comedic entertainment.
The girl stared at me like a scared rabbit and her stiff head twisted. I pulled out a blade, “Hello.”
Like a double rainbow after a dark storm, her smile was beautiful. His shoulders slumped, he laughed and said enthusiastically that he didn’t know anyone here. I looked back at Jim, who had a smug “I told you so” expression, but he seemed pleased too. The girl and I were best friends during my vacation in Florida and thanks to her, I had a lot of fun. With a friend by my side, I came to life, was more fun, more daring, danced at the club and even left semi-hypnotized by the visiting magician.
I had another chance to try the “Just Say Hi” technique. He was working for Emmy Award-winning Alexander Singer as his assistant at a Directors’ Dialogue held at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles. My job was to help out during meetings and nervously invite directors, including Warren Beatty, to attend meetings. I also received a special benefit: a one-time ticket to a workshop on the Queen Mary ocean liner.
I arrived at seven in the morning hoping to be discovered by a ship full of directors. I listened to several readings and watched some movies and then all the attendees gathered in the large dining room for lunch. Most of the people were men and they seemed to know each other well. They quickly grouped together and filled the tables. I felt self-conscious and a bit like the last one standing by the musical chairs. Then, I saw a pretty woman sitting alone at a table near the podium and I remembered “Just say hi.” She was staring at her place and seemed lost in her private thoughts.
“Hello,” I offered.
As if awakened, she looked at me. She was exotically beautiful and her silky black hair moved when she turned her head. Her slight smile was welcoming and gave me permission to join her. After thirty minutes I had fully recovered from my “last man standing” crisis and she and I chatted easily and intimately, as often only two strangers can. He began to reveal his concern for his sick father and spoke of “Jack” several times. I nodded compassionately, still faking my way as I had no real connection to anyone in the room.
He then introduced himself to the guest speaker and slowly made his way to the podium. He was wearing a navy blue velvet tracksuit and looked frail and bony. He talked about his father, Walter, and a lifetime’s experiences making movies. Many times, John Huston stopped coughing and tried to catch his breath. But he would stand up and start over. The audience watched his every word and the applause was deafening, quickly followed by a standing ovation. Mr. Huston waved goodbye and escaped the crowd of directors who swarmed near him to touch his tall frame or shake his trembling hand.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” my new friend said.
I followed her tall, slender figure down the long corridors deep within the Queen Mary’s private apartments, away from the noise and crowds with no idea where we were going. He opened the door to an elegantly decorated stateroom, where our speaker John Huston sat on the sofa, his jacket unbuttoned to reveal a thin white T-shirt. I instantly knew who he had been talking about for the past hour. Simultaneously, I broke the tip of my high heel and stumbled into the cabin. Always ready to make a grand entrance, I have learned to laugh easily and have fun with my embarrassing moments. We all laughed together as I lifted my broken heel.
“Give it to me,” said the deep, deep voice.
Mr. Huston extended his big hand towards my shoe. Here I am, in John Huston’s cabin with his beautiful daughter, Anjelica, and the greatest director of our time is playing with my shoe. He coughed louder and longer now that he was in a private room. Anjelica’s face showed her every emotion of concern, adoration, and anguish as her father gasped for breath. I wondered briefly what an elegant lady like this saw in Jack Nicholson, knowing little about him at the time except his bad press and the sadness that still caused her to mention his name. Senior Huston would quickly regroup after coughing, start teasing us, sparring, alternating critical comments with funny, ostentatious, harsh jabs in a way that, laughing, we ignored and just enjoyed. I was missing the workshop, but I could have cared less. Surprisingly, after several knocks on the coffee table, John Huston even fixed my shoe. Finally, Mr. Huston said he needed to rest and Anjelica whispered that he would see me later.
I joined the group of directors and media at the next workshop. What would either of them have given to be invited into the private world of superstar Anjelica Huston and her famous father? To this day, I am surprised that this was the case. No director discovered me that day, but I did discover a fascinating man and his daughter. I also learned that when shyness or feelings of shyness threaten to overwhelm you, just say “Hello” and a new world will open up before you.