"Orson Says It's OK!"
Orson Welles was larger than life, but really truly—all joking and physical metaphors aside, he was far more so spiritually and mentally. It could even be argued that he was one of the first-ever influencers. A multimedia genius. Actor, author, genuine character. And tastemaker. Most of his accomplishments which made him a fixture in Americana happened way before I was aware, or even born, but I knew his work well. And here he was before me now, big as life. Not just once or twice, but nearly every night for dinner (and quite often for lunch too) at Ma Maison, where I was entertaining 5 nights a week till they closed. Ma Maison Restaurant was his maison, he never wanted to have dinner anywhere else. Such was the comfort he got there, due in no small part to the great care and attention that Patrick Terrail, owner and maitre d’ and great friend to Orson, bestowed upon him. Orson always ate in his own room, a small annex next to the main dining room, which was reserved for his supper hours every night. Nobody else was ever seated at any of the empty tables in that little room while he was in it. Nor was any staff allowed to wait on him. The same table existed just for him every night, always set up and waiting. I could see him from afar, sitting quietly, taking time to savor the fare which kept him going. He never spoke, nor interacted with the clientele. Night after night, like clockwork he would be there, exclusively tended to by Patrick himself. What a mystical presence he was. Little did I know that where he sat would play a role in our little engagement.
The scene at that restaurant was exclusive, private, such a total insider bliss, and the top people on planet earth knew they would get the best of everything. Yet it was served up in a homey, slightly funky country vibe, and I realize now that even without security or bodyguards it was virtually paparazzi-proof. Patrick was like a daddy, and he really ran the place in a way that made them all feel comfy cozy. And anybody who was anybody had been through the "Ma Maison Experience”.
One night in particular, there became need for me to answer a call from nature, and on a break I took the opportunity to do so. Trouble was, the men’s room was just beyond the little dining annex and unless I tunneled underneath the restaurant foundation, I’d have to pass through the little room to reach it. The same little room that was inhabited by a large force of nature, Mr. Welles, whose table was adjacent to the path I had to to take. As I approached the entranceway to the room, Patrick, in his instinctive protector mode, blocked me. “You can’t go in there now!”, he barked. “Orson hasn’t even received his appetizer, and I’m about to pour his wine. Not a good time!” The fear of disrupting Orson Welles’ sacred supper ritual was real indeed. Thoughts of being banished from all LA entertaining, being bounced out, blackballed and shamed by the media for being a lewd heckler, and having to move to another state and change my name were all looming menacingly. I instantly stifled my movement and aborted the approach. I began to discreetly cross my legs while attempting to appear at ease (failed!) and scan my brain for a backup plan, like going across the street or somewhere, anywhere else.
Suddenly, with the wave of a large high-reaching hand, everything was magically solved. That hand belonged to Orson! Like a parent to a child, Patrick admonished me, “Go on now, he wants to talk to you!” Orson confirmed this with a direct look at me, a nod and a friendly welcoming beckoning gesture. And so the butterflies took flight, the steps became involuntary, and I motivated my disbelieving body to his table. “It’s ok, of course!” he said, comforting me with a chuckle and a tone of appreciation. I realized that he knew my predicament. After all, he knew the layout of the place and figured where I needed to go, but also I was already familiar to him, being nearly as nightly a regular as he was. “I know you need to get back there. “I’m enjoying you, but you play too long. You should take more breaks!” “That’s true”, I answered. He’s so damn right, I thought, I should take more breaks. But somehow the time spent playing there always flew for me. Well, thanks to his allowing my tresspassing, I was about to feel much better. “Thank you so very much!”, I uttered, on my way to the rear area past his cheerful charming little setup. Thank goodness I didn’t have to walk all the way Norms Restaurant just to relieve myself.
On my way back, passing him again, I thanked him once more. He said, with wine glass in hand, “Any time you need, Mr. Cobb, please, it’s fine, do what you will!” "Could you by any chance play 'Laura'?" I answered, "Gladly! It's a great song." He agreed, saying in a low, satisfying tone: "Oh, it is!" Just then I noticed that he had a miniature dog in his lap, as irresistibly cute as could be, and every bit as quiet and well-behaved as the big man himself. The little dog was peeking out from the folds of Orson’s immense coat, looking up over the edge of the table, at an empty miniature dinner plate set up for him. The dog looked at me, as relaxed as a monk, anticipating some great chow. Wow, I pondered, he actually isn’t alone after all. He’s had a regular secret companion for who knows how long. I was enchanted by the scene. I looked at Orson once more, and he had a gentle smile on his face. His eyes reflected back to me such an “I know everything you’re thinking and then some!” expression in them.
To the shock of the entire restaurant, just a few weeks later, he passed away. Patrick was in mourning. He set up thick red velvet theatre ropes and silver posts around Orson’s table, and hung a portrait on the wall behind the table, of Mr. Welles sitting at that actual spot, waiting for his dinner, with knife and fork in hand. Nobody else ever sat there again, as the ropes remained up. For a long time afterwards, Patrick would occasionally cajole me, randomly declaring: “Orson says it’s ok!”