Monday, April 13, 2015

John Grisham, Party Crashing and Dark Brown Champagne

               Not to get all Sophia-from-the-Golden-Girls on you but picture this:  It was 1991 and I was a junior at Mississippi University for Women and John Grisham had only recently hit the periphery of fame so he still lived in Mississippi and was available to speak at small schools like mine.  As one of the few young men serving as a Student Ambassador on campus, I was designated to drive the Athletic Director’s giant Cadillac and chauffeur Mr. Grisham to and from events for Welty Weekend, so named for our most famous alum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty.  Once I get my book of blogs published, I fully expect them to change the name to Dusty/Welty Weekend or Welty/Dusty Weekend, or something hopefully more clever.
                This weekend had many illustrious guests and speakers including Ms. Welty herself and Roger Mudd (who was nice), cartoonist Doug Marlette (who was funny) and George Plimpton (who was neither).  I also drove Miriam Cruz from the Department of Education and a gentleman who was either the US Ambassador to Mexico or Mexico’s Ambassador to the US.  He was just some tiny dude in a tux who sort of sat there so I guess being interesting is not an ambassadorial prerequisite. 
                I picked Mr. Grisham up and was determined to play it cool.  I had been warned by all my jealous friends, most especially Tara Wages, that I was to be myself but a version of myself that was less, well, just LESS than normal.  Message received.  As there were multiple people in the car and even a Cadillac can only hold so many people in the back seat, Mr. Grisham was riding up front with me.  I told him I thoroughly enjoyed “A Time to Kill” (still my favorite of his) and was looking forward to “The Firm”.  We were having a lovely chat that was continually interrupted by the very pushy Miriam Cruz who from the backseat kept trying to insert herself into my conversation with comments such as “Hi, I’m Miriam Cruz” and other nonsense.
                When we arrived at the dinner, I made a point to drop them off at the side entrance so he could avoid the crowd out front as I had seen this in a movie. I was dressed in a tux (leftover from my choir days, tails and all) and Mr. Grisham asked if I were attending the dinner.  I told him that I wasn’t but assured him that we would be fed and eager to spirit him to the reception afterwards at the President’s Home.
                I ran around to the front of the convention center to assist my fraternity brothers who were serving as valets that evening.  This was where I interacted with the previously mentioned Misters Mudd, Marlette and Plimpton.  After the event which was fairly uneventful for those of us outside, we left for President Clyda Rent’s home to the Champagne and Chocolates Reception.  As I parked, Mr. Grisham asked if I were coming inside.  I told him that I hadn’t been invited and even if I had, I had no funds for the admission as my last $5 was earmarked for my 2 AM cheeseburger as I invented fourth meal long before Taco Bell used it in their ad campaign.  He told me that I was his invited guest and that if anyone “hassled” me to come find him.  I love me some John Grisham, y’all.
                We entered the party and I made my way to the outer edges as I was out of my element and needed to make an assessment of the situation and get myself mentally prepared.  This was back in the days when I could become overwhelmed in any environment more elegant than a potluck luncheon at a Southern Baptist Church. 
                Seeing no beverage other than white wine and champagne, which I soon discovered does not in fact taste anything like fizzy apple juice; I entered the kitchen looking for water or something.  I had been to the President’s House before, so I felt bold enough to ask for "water or something".  After giving me a confused look and shrugging their shoulders, the caterers told me to check the pantry if I wanted.  My search uncovered a stash of Diet Coke, which I summarily served myself in a champagne flute.  What?  I wanted to be fancy too, y’all.
                Newly-beveraged and feeling more confident, I strolled around the room trying to look as if I belonged and trying my best not to look confused when people kept telling me that they were really impressed by my position at such a young age.  Dr. Rent walked over and smiled and before she could even ask, I blurted, “John Grisham snuck me in.  Snuck is that right?  Sneaked me in!  I’m not drinking I swear! It’s Diet Coke!”  Compassionately, Dr. Rent smiled and patted my arm and said, “Don’t worry, Dusty.  Enjoy yourself.”  Suddenly feeling a little more best-friendy, I then asked her why she thought people kept congratulating me, she looked at my nametag, and then chuckled and pointed out that it said I was a Senator (at MUW).  Everyone else thought I was a Mississippi State Senator!
                I made my way to the quieter part of the living room and stood in the corner weighing my options.  I hadn’t noticed our Lilliputian honoree, Ms. Welty seated on the loveseat.  I was quietly laughing and she asked why so I pointed at the VCR and said, “It makes me feel better about people when I can see they aren’t perfect” noticing that the clock was flashing 12:00, like everyone’s VCR used to do.  She smiled and asked me to sit with her.  We chatted for a bit; I poured her a Diet Coke at her request and we people-watched.   Well, she watched people, I watched her. I had read about but never experienced anyone whose eyes literally sparkled with intelligence; hers did and I’ll never forget that.  We talked about my fraternity brothers who were the drivers and therefore waiting outside with the cars.  She asked me to bring them inside.  She wanted a photo because she loved the idea of MUW being co-ed, unlike when she attended.  We lined up in front of the fireplace with her in the middle and right before the snap, she kicked her leg a little to the side, stating that she felt like a chorus girl being surrounded by such handsome gentlemen.
                When Ms. Welty was ready to go home, she asked if I could take her and so I did.  I informed Mr. Grisham of my errand and he said he would be ready by the time I got back.  I made the school photographer take our picture to prove our friendship and then squired Ms. Welty to her hotel.
                When I returned Mr. Grisham was ready as was the ever-present Ms. Cruz and a couple I hadn’t met.  When I dropped Mr. Grisham and Ms. Cruz, the remaining couple asked me to take them to the train tracks.  I was uncertain where this was leading as I had not intended to be murdered in my show choir tux in a borrowed Sedan DeVille.  The husband quickly explained that he was the President of Amtrak and he had a private rail car (actually two).  When we arrived, they invited me in for a tour and I readily agreed.  I f I were going to be murdered it would at least be in stylish surroundings.  They gave me a tour and even offered to have their chef make us a snack.  I declined as my mother would have been horrified at “making that poor man wake up and cook for you Dustin Terryll”.  My father would have been equally horrified at the rebuffing of an offer of high quality food.  And he was when I shared this story.
                And that’s all I’m saying for now.

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