A Sardi's Tale

I told you about Bill Ayers earlier, the king of second acters. He was also a great story teller; I would encourage him. He was sort of like Toddy in Victor/Victoria. He would put on his finest British accent and do a little thing about "a dozen double damask dinner napkins" that he stole from Noel Coward. It was very funny, but he insisted that they were the only things they used in his affluent childhood home at the dinner table. "Well, until the market crashed in '29", so he said. You just never knew when he was putting you on.

He would do the english music hall song Berlington Bertie, or recite something as if he were doing Shakespeare, "there's a fair-r-ry at the foot of my garden" is all I remember.

But, at Sardi's we had a routine. John, the legendary bartender use to be at the little bar downstairs, and when we had a good crowd, I would elbow Bill and say with a wink, "so, whatcha do today, Bill?" And, off he would go!

"Why, I had Ava Gardner over for tea. We were chatting and the doorbell rang. Damn, if it wasn't Oona Chaplin! I introduced them. Ava, Oona, Oona, Ava. I poured more tea, and the doorbell rang again. My, My, aren't I the popular one? My goodness, look who's here. It's Uta Hagen. He introduced his guests. Ava, Uta, Uta, Ava, Oona, Uta, Uta, Oona. No sooner had he sat down, the bell rang again.

"I feel like a real Pearl Mesta here. Heavens! It's the sparrow herself. Yma Sumac. Come in Girl."

Yma, Ava, Ava, Yma, Yma, Oona, Oona, Yma, Yma, Uta, Uta, Yma

And another guest arrives!

Eva, Ava, Ava, Eva, Eva, Yma, Yma, Eva, Eva, Oona, Oona, Eva, Eva, Uta, Uta, Eva

This story goes on with about six more names that have the same syllables, and it becomes a riotous tongue twister, and he never, ever made a mistake, getting faster and faster, pretending he was out of breath. Finally, the doorbell rings the umpteenth time, and it's Tallulah Bankhead. Bill would turn to all at the bar, pause, a look of disbelief on his face, "Oh, it's Tallullah, what the f**k are you doing here?"

Everyone would roar, and the upside down shot glasses would pile up in front of him.

About a month after Bill died, I was in Jimmy Rays bar, and the bartender gave me a box with a rope around it. It was a dusty old box. I asked, "what the heck is this?" "Oh, they cleaned out Bill's apartment, most of it they threw away, but this had your name on it, so they brought it here."

I cut the rope and inside were a dozen double damask dinner napkins. Very old, very beautiful, and very elegant; definately from another era of elegance.

To this day, when I set a formal table, I use them. As I place them around the china place settings, I chuckle to myself, "Ava, Oona, Oona, Ava." and a guest will invariably say,

"What was that?"

"Oh, nothing, just a distant memory from Sardi's."


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