MY MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT (AKA "THE NOBU STORY")
I don’t know about you guys, but, when I’m getting to know people, one of my favorite things to do is to swap “most embarrassing” moments.
Well, there are multiple reasons really. One, these moments are often great for a laugh at someone else’s expense. Two, the way someone tells the story of such a moment, not to mention the specifics of the moment itself, often reveals a lot about their character. Three, if you’re like me, then the sheer process of telling the story and getting it out there in the open can be therapeutic. And, four, when you’re finished swapping these moments with people, a certain trust has been established. You have each shared something very personal, with the understanding that neither of you will share it with others. It’s your secret, so to speak. (And, should the two of you ever get into a fight or if one of you decides to extort money from the other one, then these moments make great fucking ammo.)
So, when it recently came to my attention that a good friend of mine – let’s call her “Mrs. X” – was feeling extremely embarrassed about an incident that happened a few nights ago, I pounced. She was initially reluctant to tell me, but, one Dos Equis later, she gave it up. And I have to say, Mrs. X wasn’t exaggerating. Her moment was truly painful and cringe-worthy. In fact, in many respects, it’s as good as, if not better than, my most embarrassing moment. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for me to reciprocate by sharing mine last night, so I thought I’d write a blog about it today. Mrs. X, this one’s for you…
It all started one Saturday afternoon back in the Fall of 2002. I was living with my then-girlfriend in Santa Monica and was working as the Creative Executive at Mace Neufeld Productions over on the Sony lot. On this particular weekend, my girlfriend told me that she had some very good friends – a husband and wife – in town and suggested that we take them out to dinner. “Where do you want to go?” I asked. She suggested Nobu, a famous sushi restaurant in Malibu, which is co-owned by Robert De Niro. I suppose it’s a great place “to be and to be seen,” if you’re into that sort of thing. Personally, I couldn’t care less. Prior to that, I’d been to Matsuhisa, Nobu’s sister restaurant (or would it be “brother” restaurant?) in West Hollywood, on multiple occasions and knew the cuisine was world-class. And my girlfriend and I adored sushi. Therefore, I looked forward to Nobu, which was just down the road.
So, my girlfriend called the restaurant, in order to make a reservation. Well, unfortunately, as is often the case with some of L.A.’s finer restaurants, the phone wasn’t answered by an actual person. Rather, there was a recorded message that instructed those wanting to make a reservation to leave their name, the number of people in their party, the time they would like their reservation for, and their phone number after the beep. So, my girlfriend said something like, “Phelan. Party of four. For 7 o’clock this evening,” and left our phone number. The fact that we left our request on the voicemail, however, did not guarantee us a reservation. That’s not how it works. How it works is: if the restaurant decides to grant your reservation request, then they will call you back and confirm. If they decide not to grant your reservation request, then they won’t call you back at all. So, basically, you have to wait. If you’re a big name, they call. If you’re not, well… it’s anybody’s guess.
Anyway, after several hours passed and we still hadn’t heard anything, I decided to call and make a reservation under my girlfriend’s name, in the hope that we’d somehow be increasing our odds of getting a table. And guess what? A couple hours later, the restaurant called back and offered us a table. There was just one problem. They could only seat us at 6 o’clock, which was way, way too early. I mean, seriously, who wants to go out to dinner on a Saturday night at 6 o’clock? This is when I should have graciously accepted the reservation. What did I do? I did something else. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to get “creative.”
At that point, one of my co-workers at MNP was a guy by the name of Ryan Patterson. Like me, Ryan had started off as an intern at the company and, as he worked his way up the ladder over the next couple years, we became good friends. One of the interesting things about Ryan is that, although his aunt and uncle are well known in the business, he never once relied upon or took advantage of nepotism in order to further his career. He literally started at the bottom and earned everything he ever got, and I always admired him for that. I’m not sure that I would have been able to resist such a temptation, especially if my uncle was Michael Lembeck, an actor-turned-director who worked on such TV shows as “Friends” and such films as “The Santa Clause 2,” like Ryan’s was. Anyway, one time Ryan told me that his aunt and uncle, who lived in Malibu, frequented many of the local restaurants and could always get a reservation, regardless of what night it was or how crowded. Furthermore, another good friend of mine, who I won’t name and who descends from Hollywood royalty, once told me that, whenever he tried to make reservations at certain restaurants for himself and his girlfriend and couldn’t, he would simply use his dad’s name – and it always worked like a charm. He would get a great table, no questions asked. So, I called Nobu and left a new, altogether different message and it sounded something like this: “Michael Lembeck. Party of four. For 7 o’clock this evening.” Then, being sneaky, I left the number to a different phone.
Mere moments later, that phone rang and someone said, “This is so-and-so from Nobu.”
“Yes?” I replied, trying to sound as I imagined the real Michael Lembeck sounded like.
“We have the Lembeck party down for 7 o’clock,” she said.
My stomach did a somersault. It worked!
“OK, thank you,” I said, trying to sound casual, and hung up.
That evening, our friends picked us up and we drove up the coast to Malibu together. We arrived at Nobu right on time and found a crowd of people standing in the little foyer area, waiting to be seated like a bunch of plebeians. My girlfriend stepped up to the hostess, whispered something like, “Four for Lembeck,” and, while the plebs looked on with envious eyes, we were led straight to our table. It was a thing of beauty. No, scratch that. It was… magic.
We ordered food. We ordered drinks. We celebrated my brilliance.
Then, about twenty minutes later, after we were good and comfortable, the hostess came back over to our table with a casually-dressed man in tow.
“Is this the Lembeck party?” She asked.
“Yes,” my girlfriend said.
Then, the casually dressed man stepped forward and said, “I’m a huge fan. Which one of you is Michael Lembeck?”
The eyes of my co-conspirators all turned and focused on me, as if to say, “You got us into this mess. You better fucking get us out of it, you daft prick.”
This is probably when I should have yelled “Fire!” and run screaming from the building. But what did I do? I tried to talk myself out of it.
“I’m not actually Michael Lembeck,” I confessed. “I’m his nephew,” I then said, trying to exchange one lie for another.
“Oh, really?” The guy said. “What side of the family?”
I was speechless. Questions raced through my mind. What side of the family? How could this guy possibly know the family? Who the hell is he?
Then, the man said, “The reason I ask is because I’m Michael Lembeck and I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
Then, he smiled, leaned in close, and said, “You’re so busted.”
My co-conspirators were mortified. I wanted to die.
I apologized to Mr. Lembeck. I told him that I’d never done anything like this before in my life, which was true, I might add. Then, I explained to him that I was a good friend of Ryan’s, that I tried to get a reservation for 7 o’clock, that I couldn’t get one, and that I stupidly thought I’d use his name to get a table.
Mr. Lembeck told me that, when he called to make a reservation for himself and his wife at 7 o’clock earlier that day, he was surprised to discover that someone with his name already had one. That seemed a bit suspicious, so he accepted the only other time that they had available – 6 o’clock – and waited to see who was going to show up.
I walked right into his sting operation, like the novice criminal that I was.
I asked him if I could at least buy him and his wife a drink by way of apology, but he declined and said he had to return to his dinner.
I apologized again, we shook hands, and he left.
Needless to say, I could barely touch my food. None of us could. We all felt absolutely terrible. But I’m sure that I felt the worst because I knew that I had dragged my friend, Ryan, into the whole mess. I shouldn’t have mentioned his name, but I did. And, now, I had to call him. I wanted him to hear it from me first. However, I figured that I’d wait until I got home to do it.
A little while later, Mr. Lembeck returned to our table, with his wife in tow this time, as they were getting ready to leave. He smiled and said, “Hey, I’m sorry to bother you guys again, but I just wanted to take a moment to introduce my wife to her nephew.”
It was actually very funny, though it would be years before I’d be able to laugh about it. The thing is, because Ryan and I were friends, I had actually met his aunt before on a couple of occasions. I doubt she was thrilled to see me on this one, though. Still, her sense of humor remained intact, as was evident when she suggested, “Next time, use Spielberg’s name and you’ll get a better table.”
The next morning, when I finally reached Ryan on the phone, I confessed to my crimes, apologized for dragging him into it, and told him that, if he never wanted to speak to me again, I would totally understand.
Ryan was understandably shocked and insinuated that I might be mentally retarded, but, I’m pleased to say, we’re friends to this day.
Believe it or not, it took years for the “sting” of this incident to go away. If it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, then it’s probably tied for first place. Interestingly, the one thing that sticks with me the most is how cool Mr. Lembeck was about the entire incident. I only hope that, if I ever find myself in his position, I handle myself with such grace, poise, and humor. The guy’s got class.
In fact, Ryan recently informed me that even now, whenever he and his wife make dinner plans with his aunt and uncle, Mr. Lembeck often jokes, “Why don’t you call your friend and see if he can make a reservation for us.”
And even I have to laugh.
P.S. If anybody else has a "most embarrassing" moment they'd like to share, feel free to post it in the comment section. I'd love to hear them...
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