I once worked part time at a little bakery in the Upper East Side. A small cafe about a block from Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum, so we frequently had tourists from all over the world. That was one perk of the job, because I would meet a lot of interesting people.
There was once one man in particular. An older gentleman, probably in his early sixties, wardrobe being high end but causal, black slacks, boots and a gray turtleneck sweater. He always ordered very particularly but was never rude about it. Of course he wasn't, he couldn't because he was Canadian. At least that's what he told me. He could have been lying about everything he told me during his two months stay but something in my gut knew I could believe him.
Out of respect, I never researched who he was from the clues he provided, but from what I took he made his success in the entertainment world. "I was in the right place at the right time when rock n' roll became big in Canada." Besides his success in music, he also owned a radio station, or did at least at some point in his career. Now he just travels and lives on a small island, I believe in Europe, filled with eccentric artists. Right away he saw something in me, even more than I probably believed in myself. In him, I found a familiar comfort of being in like minded company, which I don't find often.
"My dear, believe me when I tell you there are like minded people like you out there. How lucky it is that we found each other, that I could be a guide at this point in your life. Don't feel so alone, though I know it is hard sweetie. We're here, but mainly on this little island I now live on. I can't tell you much about it. But you would love it there, people truly living on a higher plane."
I never pried, but soaked up his every words. I enjoyed the days I got to see him and the little gems of encouragement. He really motivated me to write. How much I wanted to be a part of his world. Artists, musicians, innovators, living in sustainable luxury with other enlightened people. I sorta resented that my role in his life was that of service. They say to always surround yourself where you want to be, which is why I choose to commute further up into the city for work. Why I dress for the role I want in life. Except when I have to dress in uniform, which is one of the pitfalls of rubbing elbows when you are waitstaff.
As glamorous as burlesque can be, very few artists in the city perform exclusively. The majority of the working performers freelance in other arenas, have part time jobs or spouses and partners to help support them. I have never lived with a boyfriend, so I've been on my own my entire burlesque career. I'm not ashamed of having another job, it's smart and safe to have a multiple sources of income, especially now that I produce a regular monthly show. But customer service can be trying at times, and you definitely are given a sense of separation with the rest of the public. I felt like I belonged with him and his world, but wasn't there yet. I'm glad he understood and never treated me inferior to him. I've noticed that the most successful people in life are often like that. It's a commonality, positive kind people move up in life.
When his time in New York was coming to a close, I tried to give him my email address but he politely refused. I don't blame him. He knows people from all around the world and told me he only corresponds with a handful of close friends. And as much I would have wanted to see him again, I wouldn't want it be in the same scenario. In fact, if he were to come back the next winter and I was still there, I think I would have felt so ashamed. We would have both been equally disappointed. So I left the cafe that autumn.
Whenever I get caught up in the petty drama of the industry, or begin to question my ambitions, I think of him and the island. I pick myself back up, wipe away my tears and continue on my path. It's not like others, it may be slower or faster than most, but it's my journey. I hope that when he comes back to the cafe and asks for me, the staff will tell him that I left to explore acting. And he will smile silently to himself, then return to his coffee and notebook.
I'll one day find that island.