An out of town visitor—a good friend of mine—was staying at the Palihouse hotel in West Hollywood. We agreed we would meet for dinner at a nearby restaurant.
I chose the WeHo Bistro, which was within walking distance for both of us, at La Cienega and Holloway.
A waiter with curly dark hair framing a face of youthful beauty and a smile that sent out sparks or stars—something blinding—stood ready to take our order.
“What do you recommend?” asked Stephen of the waiter.
“Don’t ask that,” I told Stephen. “You have to have a frame of reference. Find out what his favorite movie is. Then you will have an idea of his taste.”
The waiter was ready. "The Master,” he said.
“Huh?” was our reaction.
“The Master. I saw it last night on DVD,” the waiter explained. “It starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, both of whom were nominated for best actor Oscars for their performances in the movie. People thought it was about Scientology, although ...”
I cut the waiter short and turned to Stephen. “If you liked The Master, consider his recommendation. Had he said Gigli—well, surely you would order something else.”
“I suggest the duck,” said the waiter, trying to hide his amusement. “Gigli?” he asked.
“A movie with Ben Affleck and J.Lo.—a big flop, but I sort of enjoyed it,” Stephen said. “I remember The Master,” now he added. "I didn’t like it.”
“Nor did I,” I replied. “But I will have the duck. I like duck.”
“So much for your frame of reference,” the waiter impudently told me. But his smile and the stars that shone from it took away the sting from his remark. His voice was ever-so-slightly accented. I couldn’t place it.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Portugal,” he told me.
“A country I love,” I gushed truthfully. “Where in Portugal?”
“Sintra,” he replied. “It’s outside Lisbon.”
“I know it well. Catherine Deneuve goes there to rest after making a movie.” (I am a mine of useless information.)
“How about the petit mignon?” Stephen asked.
“How do you feel about the petit mignon?" I asked the waiter, whose name I had learned was Francisco.
“Everything is good here.” He could be a diplomat, I thought.
“What did you do in Portugal?” I asked.
“I was an actor in a local soap opera on Portuguese television,” he told me, scribbling our order down. “Two petit mignons and a duck.”
“That was the name of your soap opera?” I asked incredulously.
“No, it was your order.”
There were four Russian ladies literally bristling with diamonds at a nearby table, obviously waiting for him to take their order, but I wanted to learn a little more about Francisco before sending him to Kiev.
“What was the name of the TV program?”
“Sweet Strawberries. I played a basketball player.”
I immediately imagined him in shorts and a singlet, dribbling a ball expertly around the court. It was a lovely sight.
“Was your character a good guy or a bad guy?”
“A bad guy,” he said—a smile so bright one could have done brain surgery by its light.
He left our table and went to Kiev.
“Blintzes?” they asked.
“No blintzes,” he replied. “How about the duck?”
As we were leaving, Francisco kindly held the door open for us.
“Thank you for coming,” he said. A pause, and then he asked, “Your favorite movie?” A cat playing with a mouse—tables turned.
“Brief Encounter,” I replied.
“How apt,” he grinned. A real bad-boy grin.
A few weeks later I returned to the Weho Bistro. Another waiter, also handsome, also tall, also with a slight accent.
“What is your name?” I asked, “and where are you from?”
“My name is Tiago, and I am from Portugal.” A neon smile.
“This restaurant seems to specialize in boys from Lisbon,” I said. “The other day I was here and met Francisco.”
“He is my best friend, and we are roommates,” Tiago said. “We came to America together.”
“Francisco told me his favorite movie is The Master.”
“That was last week,” Tiago replied. “Francisco told me of you, and your favorite movie question. He said he enjoyed meeting you.”
Boom! Boom! Boom! (It was my heart.)
“Are you an actor, too?”
“Yes. Francisco and I met when we were both on the TV show Sweet Strawberries."
“Were you a basketball player, too?” I imagined Tiago in shorts—another lovely sight. Sweet strawberries, indeed!
“No, I was a priest."
“You seem very young to play a priest.”
“He was a very young priest.”
“Oh, a good guy”
“No, my character was bad. Francisco’s was good.”
“That’s not what he told me,” I said.
They are confused, these Portuguese boys, I said to myself. Perhaps a language problem.
I had to ask, “What is your favorite movie?”
“I was hoping you would ask," Tiago said. “I have had my answer ready in case you came back. It is called A Swedish Love Story.”
“Oh,” I nodded. “En Kärlekshistoria,” I said in an off-handed manner.
“You know it?” He was very impressed.
“I am a mine of useless information,” I responded.