At this moment, I’m paralyzed by an unfamiliar anxiety. I have to pee, but in order to pee, I must cross this restaurant. But I’m afraid of being enveloped by fans—smoking-hot, tall, blond women—wanting my attention. Women who, before all of this, would never have looked twice at me, or just rolled their eyes had I attempted some clever opener. But everything’s different now.
Life’s been very different indeed these past 15 minutes, all this time I’ve spent being Dave Matthews.
I’m in Vegas for my best friend’s bachelor party, and we’re at the Palms Casino. We booked this dinner six months ago, otherwise they may not have let chumps like us through those shiny doors. So a few moments ago, I’m standing at the bar chatting with the groom-to-be and his best man. The rest of the guys have already been seated, but we linger, basking in the lovely silicone/saline scene.
To my right, two women seem fixated on something directly behind my head, perhaps a TV. I don’t bother turning around; maybe they’ve just spotted one of the many celebrities who frequent the Palms. I lived in L.A. for five years and learned that the cool thing to do is not look at celebrities.
But the goddesses approach; one extends her arm and speaks—to me.
“Dave? Is your name Dave?”
I instantly realize what’s going on here. This has happened to me once or twice before. Usually I laugh it off, tell people no, I’m not him. But this is Vegas. This is a bachelor party. I don’t get out much these days. So I roll with it.
I extend my right hand. “Hi, I’m Dave.”
“Oh my God, it is you! Dave Matthews!!!”
She turns to the other woman, who could be her sister, both from a gene pool much blonder and more delightful than mine.
“I told you it’s him! Normally I’m not star-struck, but right now I can barely speak.”
And her friend doesn’t actually speak during this entire exchange.
I do the stand-and-chat for only a minute, because I’m certain I’ll blow my cover. The woman tells me she saw me at an arena in Seattle. I tell her I love playing that venue, I remember that show, but I really should be getting back to my friends.
Being mistaken for Dave Matthews is, of course, contextual: It doesn’t happen when I’m at the cafeteria salad bar at work. It happens in happening places like the Palms Casino; it happened last year in New York, when Dave Matthews was playing Madison Square Garden. I was walking through Central Park and some dude shouted, “Hey, Dave! Great show last night!” I quickened my pace and fled.
I’m not even sure I look much like him. I have the same hairline and similar bone structure, but I’m much darker, of Sephardic blood, and am about 10 or so years younger. I suppose it helps that, despite Dave’s fame, 95 percent of the general public has only a vague idea what he looks like. They’ve seen him on TV or in a magazine once or twice, and that’s it.
Back at the table, the guys think this is great stuff and start concocting ways in which to benefit from the situation. Dave’s target appeal is their demographic sweet spot, they say—young, hot sorority bitches. One guy says he wants to play the role of my manager; another wants to be my assistant, like that guy Turtle on HBO’s Entourage.
“What do you actually know about Dave Matthews?” my friends inquire.
“I think his family’s from South Africa, or maybe South America,” I say. “And I think his bus accidentally dumped a load of crap on some tour-boat passengers as the bus was crossing a bridge in Chicago.” One of the guys with an Internet-enabled cell phone starts to look up all the necessary data: It turns out I’m playing a concert tomorrow in San Francisco, a benefit to help register voters. I love voters, apparently; I love people who vote.
I also learn that Dave Matthews is married and I’m not, and I’m not wearing a wedding ring. One of my friends offers me his. No thanks, I’ll just say I lost it or my wife and I just had a fight—or, better yet, “I’d rather not talk about it.” That’s best—mysterious.
Meanwhile, word has spread: The Dave Matthews sighting has gone viral. It’s all anyone can talk about over at the bar. My chair is facing the center of the restaurant. I notice people doing unnecessary laps or conspicuously craning their necks. Don’t they realize how obvious they’re being? If they’re so damn curious, why don’t they just come up to me? No, wait—I don’t want them to come up to me; I’m trying to eat dinner here. I have to pee, but I can’t stand to be swarmed, I need space, I can’t breathe. Goddamnit, leave me alone!
Of course, Dave Matthews is no sex symbol. I suppose I’d rather look like Justin Timberlake or even Latino singing sensation Ricky Martin. But a rock star’s appearance doesn’t seem to preclude him from copious play. All musicians get action: wedding singers, Christian rockers, Yanni, Raffi.
After dinner, we decide to head for Rain, one of the Palms’ nightclubs. I offer to use my juice as a beloved celebrity to get us where we need to go. But we don’t need it: The best man is actually a money manager for the Morton family, part owners of the casino. Our names are already on the guest list.
I fear being in the nightclub: fear for my personal space, fear of being suffocated. And there’s another emotion kicking around in there, one my mom would be proud of: guilt. I’m deeply guilty about profiting from someone else’s talent. I can’t sing two notes, can only strum the G and E and A chords. I can’t write a song, can’t write lyrics that aren’t literal and don’t rhyme. This is identity theft. Sure, I don’t have Dave’s credit cards; I’m not headed to Best Buy. But I’m stealing his aura. It doesn’t feel right.
And I’m scared of getting caught. Someone will call my bluff. You’re not Dave Matthews! Perhaps they’ll want to exact some sort of revenge on Dave’s behalf: a drink in the face, a knee to the groin, being dragged out of the Palms by a couple of steroidal bouncers.
Rain is disappointing, too crowded, although I’m safely anonymous in the crowd. There’s probably loads of people aware of my presence but too cool to look. My friends and I snake a spot at the bar. I face the bar instead of the crowd, feel eyes on me. My only comfort is the eight guys I’m with, my entourage. These friendly faces—guys I’ve known for 10, 15 years—they’re my only buffer.
I’m ready to end this, just tell the next person who walks up that I’m not him, offer to show my Deloitte & Touche employee ID or my MetroCard. Dave wouldn’t have one of those, would he? But the bachelor, the groom-to-be we’re honoring this weekend, asks me if I’ll perpetrate just one more theft before I give up the life. One last score.
Five minutes later, we’re standing in front of the Ghost Bar, the Palms’ most exclusive club. I don’t know much about Vegas, but my understanding is that, of all the hot joints in town, this is the hottest and there is none harder to get into. So I did it, and I didn’t even really have to do anything. The best man approached a Ghost Bar bouncer, said he was here with Dave Matthews, Dave’s really low-key, hates to be recognized. We were hanging out in Rain, but Dave would be much more comfortable somewhere less crowded. Fourteen milliseconds later, we’re in the V.I.P. section at Ghost Bar.
I still have to take a piss.
A sweet voice comes from my left, a tall blonde in line for the ladies’ room.
“You have to wait in the bathroom line just like everybody else, huh?”
I smile and turn away. Then a plump woman from Middle America, also in the bathroom line, speaks.
“I have an 18-year-old daughter who is just going to die when I …. ”
But she’s interrupted.
“What are you doing in—” someone asks.
The plump lady is pissed; she interrupts back.
“My daughter would love your auto—”
For the love of God, people, I’m just trying to take a friggin’ piss here. I cut the line and head right into the bathroom.
When I emerge, it’s time: Before I give up being Dave, I must at least experience a woman throwing herself at me shamelessly. One last score.
(Of course, I have a girlfriend with whom I’m very happy and whom I’d never cheat on, and who is more gorgeous and lovely than any girl mentioned in this story.)
I decide I will start talking to a girl, the hottest girl I can find. I will open with something cool, nothing desperate, just “Hi, how are you, are you enjoying your night in Vegas?” And before I say too much—because the real me always does—another hot woman will come up to me, a plant, someone who’ll be in on the whole thing. And she’ll scream Dave’s name and jump up and down and tell me she can’t believe she’s actually standing right in front of me. What’s a god like me doing in a place like this? The best man will jump in like a good handler would, intervene, drag the poor girl away, saying, “He’s really not in the mood for this.”
And it goes off pretty much exactly like that. I try not to miss a beat in the conversation after best man wrestles overzealous fan away.
I say, “Right, you said you’re a model.”
But she’s having trouble picking the conversation back up. She’s having trouble concentrating.
“You were on the Bikini Bowling team? How’s your bowling?”
“I can bowl a 150 on a good day but an 80 on a bad one,” I say.
“My name’s Colleen.” That’s all she can muster.
Then she gets choked up: “I just have to tell you. I have a friend from home, from back in Seattle. She loves you so much, we call her Sandy Matthews. She would do anything to meet you—anything.”
“Listen, I’m not a prostitute or anything, but …. ”
A lot of great sentences have started this way; I wait.
“I would do anything— anything —to be with you.” Her hand is on my thigh, squeezing.
” Be with me?” I say with a Peter Brady squeak.
I’ve just been propositioned by one of the hottest women I’ve ever seen; this does not happen to guys like me. I could probably do it right there, in a bathroom stall—these groupies are crazy! (And we probably wouldn’t need to wait in line.) I’ve seen the Mötley Crüe Behind the Music; I know this kind of shit happens all the time.
I’ve benefited from my Daveness in the past. Back when I lived in L.A., an out-of-my-league hottie at Kenneth Cole became obsessed with me because of it. But this is different. Colleen wouldn’t be doing it with me, a Dave look-alike—she’d be doing it with Dave.
If I’d gotten a comped suite, comped meals or comped drinks—all of that would be stealing. But accepting this lustful advance would not—necessarily—be stealing. Right?
Cut to Sunday morning at the airport: the conclusion to my Vegas weekend. I overhear some chatty girls in the security line.
“Where’d you guys go?”
“Palms. It took like an hour, but we got into Ghost Bar.”
“How was it?”
“Awesome, so cool. Dave Matthews was there!”
I feel like Cinderella after the ball, ragged, empty, exhausted, anonymous. On the plane, I close my eyes.
I get back to my ratty fifth-floor walk up in New York, remove the contents of my suitcase, find Colleen’s business card and decide I must dispose of it before my girlfriend comes over. I turn on my lap top and punch in Colleen’s Web site address. There she is, in all her hotness—Colleen, a woman who’d have gladly given it up for Dave Matthews. And yet, when it came down to it, I hadn’t done it. Instead, I’d thanked Colleen—and meant it—and walked away.
I start to tear the card in half, but I hesitate. Maybe I’ll hold onto it for a couple of weeks. I tuck it deep into the back of my desk drawer. Maybe Colleen wouldn’t mind coming to New York to visit Dave in his grungy pad on 88th Street. It’s about the size of the bathroom stall at the Ghost Bar.
Veronica Lake in the Catskills
The final remains of Veronica Lake will surface this Saturday in the Catskills. Oct. 16 marks the unveiling of a memorial shrine to the screen siren at the Mystery Spot, a shop in Phoenicia, N.Y. To celebrate the event, a Veronica Lake “Look-a-Like” contest will be held. Free refreshments will be served: milk and peekaboo cookies. (Local baker Craig Thompson will create cookies mimicking Ms. Lake’s peekaboo haircut.) The “Look-a-Like” contest will be open to women, men and children.
“These ashes basically fell into my lap,” said Laura Levine, proprietor of the Mystery Spot. Ms. Levine, 46, is a self-taught artist who lives in Soho and runs the shop on weekends. Officially an antique shop, the Mystery Spot is also a kind of art installation of pulp paperbacks, humorous salt-and-pepper shakers and exhibits like Petey the Petrified Piranha and Desdemona, the Devil Girl of Phoenicia.
How did the ashes of Veronica Lake arrive at the Mystery Spot? One of Ms. Levine’s customers, Larry Brill, received the cremains from record producer Ben Bagley, who was given them by two close friends of the actress, who lived near her on Park Avenue in her final years. These friends, William Roos and Dick Toman, later scattered most of the ashes off the Florida coast.
“It’s misleading,” said Ms. Levine. “Some people think that what we’re talking about is all of her ashes, and it’s just a tiny little amount—most of them are long dissipated into the Atlantic Ocean.” She estimated the mass of the ashes as two teaspoons. They are gray and “sort of gritty.”
Veronica Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockleman in Brooklyn on Nov. 14, 1919, but moved often, to Canada, Miami and finally Beverly Hills in 1938. At a tender age she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and her mother enrolled her in the Bliss Hayden School of Acting in Hollywood as a form of therapy. Casting agents soon responded to Constance’s beauty. Shooting a publicity photo for Forty Little Mothers in 1940, a lock of hair fell over her eye and her hairstyle was born. Such classics as Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and This Gun for Hire (1942) followed. During World War II, Veronica Lake’s hairstyle was so widely copied that the War Womanpower Commission formally requested her to wear her hair up for the rest of the war, to prevent working women from injuring themselves. She complied.
But Lake was always difficult to work with and began to drink heavily. The Hour Before the Dawn (1944) was her first bomb. In 1948, Paramount did not renew her contract. Though she continued acting, her career never recovered. Her final movie was the low-budget Flesh Feast (1970). She died of hepatitis while visiting friends in Vermont in 1973.
What will the shrine consist of? “It’s going to be beautiful, befitting her legacy,” said Ms. Levine. “I’ll probably have a brief little history of her, and a photograph. Something very subdued, and hopefully respectful.”
Where will the memorial be? “I think I’m going to keep it on the counter,” Ms. Levine said. “And I’m going to have to figure out some security measure, because the ashes aren’t mine. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to, you know, walk off with them.”
The Mystery Spot has garnered its share of celebrity visitors, even before the dead Veronica Lake: Chris Stein of Blondie, Amy Sedaris, punk icon Richard Hell (who bought a handmade portrait of Casper the Friendly Ghost), Kate Pierson of the B-52’s and photographer David LaChapelle.
“Who would be the Veronica Lake of now?” I asked Ms. Levine. She paused to think.
“Physically, I would say Nicole Kidman comes close—except Nicole Kidman is incredibly tall, and Veronica Lake was very little,” she said. “But both can do comedy, can do drama, blonde, beautiful. Veronica Lake was possibly a little bit more mysterious than Nicole Kidman is, but she’s the closest we have today.”
Is Veronica Lake a gay icon? “I don’t know if she is, but if that becomes one of the consequences of this event, I would be very pleased.”