"I'm Your Biggest Fan"
I didn’t know that at the start. The quiet, elderly lady who walked in one evening in dark glasses and a somber face, just wanted to hear some tunes and that was it. Or so I thought. I didn’t give the dark glasses much notice, look this is LA, and she could have been some huge star of yesteryear or something. But she was an “ordinary” person named Rita Kipnis, yet soon I would see how extraordinary she truly was.
The dark glasses were there for a reason---she had just come from her husband’s funeral, her companion for 58 years. She was grieving, and spontaneously took to weeping, so the shades were working overtime. She just needed some diversion, a little escape, had decided to walk through the lobby, and must have heard the piano in the bar. She sat right in front, expressionless, silent, intently focused on the songs. I wasn’t initially aware of the piano’s effect on her spirits, and although she said nothing during that first visit, it turned out to be the beginning of her nightly trips to see me. She paid such attention, and raised the level of expectation, causing me to feel I had a purpose. Very quickly we struck up a friendship, she would ask for songs, mother me a little whether I liked it or not, bring me stuff, critique the women I fancied, share time and stories.
She was trying to move on with her life as a widow and now she had her little Beverly Wilshire hangout. And she had Tony, who was both her therapist and pet project. Such a selfless, dignified serene and wonderful soul hasn't been equaled in the encounters of this piano player. Everyone loved her, the staff addressing her by saying “my lady”, and “young miss”. Customers also noticed her, and they were moved by her devotion, rapt attention, courteous manner and complete lack of concern at being there alone most of the time. They were witnessing a loyal enjoying her habit. "Tony, I'm your biggest fan! Can I take you home?", was her frequent slogan. She would declare it like an anthem. I warmed to it.
The dark glasses were a nightly fixture until about a month later, one epic evening, when a group of businessmen were whooping it up with noisy banter, guffawing and shouting at a table very near to her. She couldn't bear them any more, and all of a sudden she stood up and walked over to their table. They fell silent. She scolded them for being rude, giving them an earful of her wrath for not letting her enjoy the music, as she pointed in my direction. I was shocked, maybe a little embarrassed. She sat back down, leaving them deaf and dumb. Not even two minutes later, a server brought her a glass of champagne, courtesy of the gentlemen, who, raising their own glasses in her direction, apparently respected her immensely. The whole thing impressed me so. You go, lovely Rita! I'm not sure she even noticed that they only spoke Italian, and they probably only understood her from her tone of voice. Just then, I realized that her customary dark Ray-Bans had disappeared, never to be worn in the bar again. For, you see, dear “Aunt Rita" had come back to life. She was light of heart, open of mind, just wanting to enjoy and be happy. Occasionally she’d slip outside for a smoke, begging me not to play her favorites till she returned in 5 minutes. A little feisty, always courteous, genuine, decent. For the next 7 years she would be there practically every night, waiting for me. Listening to my songs, protecting me, feeding me. I miss you Rita.