I went out to dinner the other night to a "contemporary Mexican" restaurant, which is code for, "The portions are smaller; the sauces are unfamiliar, but it's basically still just tacos." There was a giant thick-glass window along one wall, allowing everyone in the dining room to see the cooks preparing dinner. Fireballs periodically erupted from big saucepans. Everything was at least seventeen dollars, even the tacos. Everything had mesquite in it, even the cheese.
I don't mind a floor show when I eat. I've known The Wife forever at this point, so even a hopeless effort at free entertainment presents something like a new conversation, if only because it's something to bust on. It was. Even getting past the fact that, yes, it's a Mexican restaurant, you have to wonder at the wisdom of showing customers in the south a kitchen staff that is 100% hispanic. You'd hate to unhouse their beliefs about immigration and how the economy functions by showing how both function. But even past that is the fact that exposing a bunch of people handling fire and sweating a lot while making your food is a little unappetizing. I was starting to pay too much attention to how close everyone was standing to the stoves when Lou Bega showed up.
Lou Bega gained national attention for his 1999 hit "Mambo No. 5," the most successful mambo up to that point, all the rest having died of incurable rhythmic diseases in the Bang and Olufson labs months before. The song was amusing enough the first dozen or so times, then went on to become intolerable, and now has returned to that moderately satisfying level that competent pop singles achieve when you combine them with "I Think That Guy Might Be Dead Now" nostalgia. This Lou Bega seemed reasonably alive, but I didn't poke him or try to smell him or anything.
There's always a good chance that he wasn't Lou Bega. In fact, he kind of looked like a kid of black-hispanic descent from the Dominican, but I didn't really examine the possibility too much, because it was more satisfying to assume he was Lou Bega. The fact that he was wearing jeans, suspenders, a tie and a buttoned-up waistcoat topped off with a rakishly tilted black fedora pointed to a Begaesque attempt at jazzy machismo. I suppose he could also have been very gay and confused or very straight and confused. I mean, he was obviously confused either way. Unless he was Lou Bega. Which was possible.
Anyway, immediately after sitting down with his oversized party of past-college-aged white boys accompanied by freshmen-15- and sophomore-30-type young ladies, two of his buddies banged on the big glass and flipped twin birds at the hispanic chefs. You know the types who'd do this: age 22 and going on 45, polo shirts tucked in below a gut, khaki pants already a 36-inch waist, hairline in retreat since before they could legally drink, already on Year #4 of sweating out Natural Light dregs at the slightest exertion.
This, I thought, was pretty shabby of Lou Bega. If you're going to wear a hat like that out in public, you've implicitly agreed to a part of the social contract that thinks flipping twin birds at anybody — let alone a bunch of minorities — in full view of a restaurant isn't done. If you have to take the hat off and look inside it at a laminated list of suggestions for discouraging unpleasant behavior, go right ahead. That's between you and whoever blocks it for you. Just do something. Lou was silent on the matter. Distinctly un-Bega if you will. Monica, Rita and Jessica would have thought it beggarly.
At this point, my stomach was just empty enough, and I'd just had enough margaritas that I was considering snagging the empty seat next to Lou and saying, "Hey, Lou Bega. Huge fan, by the way. But this is pretty uncool, man. Do you think you can do something about this?" That's when I remembered meeting Kenny Loggins. It didn't go well.
Many years ago when I lived in a shitty college town with shitty college bars, I found myself at yet another college-town knockoff of an Irish pub. I drank there a lot, principally because I could walk back home from there without much hassle, if I needed to. It was the type of Irish pub that had "both kinds" of Irish beer: Guinness and Harp. I'm not even sure if it sold food, but if it did, clearly that never was an interest of mine while there. Most of the time I was there to drink someplace that wasn't my house, or because a friend insisted we go.
One night, Kenny Loggins walked in. He wasn't the real Kenny Loggins, but it didn't matter. The guy was a jerk and a cipher, the sort of person who wouldn't have a personality at all if he weren't an asshole. The important thing was that he might as well have been Kenny Loggins. He had that vacant sort of worn white face and bad hair that could be Kenny Loggins for anybody. You already know a Kenny Loggins in your life. This guy's person was a cave wall onto which anyone could project the essential Kenny Loggins form.
I remembered not liking the guy in the past for a good reason, and the same was the case for a friend of mine who'd had some disagreeable brush with him. Somehow the combination of beers, those memories, his jean jacket, long hair and antsy demeanor led my friend and me to go up to him and say, "HOLY SHIT, KENNY LOGGINS!!!"
The rest of the night was sort of a blur. My friend hunkered down on a stool at Kenny's table and relentlessly peppered him with questions about the Top Gun theme, what Messina was up to these days, if he was feeling "All Right" and if anyone "needed to worry about him." Meanwhile, I kept approaching young coed after young coed who walked into the bar, asking if they would like to "meet Mr. Loggins," escorting them up to him, while my friend pretended that Mr. Loggins' disgust and objections were due to his unwillingness to be recognized as a celebrity. Eventually I'd walk them over to the bar and apologize, asking if Kenny could buy them a drink. They'd say yes; the bartender would refuse because that "wasn't really Kenny Loggins," and I'd say, "He's always like that. Shy about his celebrity. That and his last few records haven't sold well."
I suddenly remembered all this with Lou Bega just a table or so over, and I mentioned it to The Wife. Another margarita over the line, and I might have greeted Lou with the same enthusiasm. But The Wife turned noticeably green at the gills, and while she has a killer wit and a ruthless attitude toward bird-flipping fatted calves, she's not much of a wingman. At that point she had neither alcohol nor ire enough to be relied upon in the Danger Zone. Luckily, Lou and his buddies calmed down and started acting passive as soon as the food troughs were brought out.
We paid our bill soon after and left a tip and with my memories of meeting Kenny Loggins. I refuse, however, to entertain conjecture that that wasn't Lou Bega. He probably needs the work and food.