Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Yanni Dilemma

A couple of weeks ago my family went out to Five All's to celebrate my dad's birthday. For anyone who has never heard of the Five All's, you're missing out. It's a great spot off Foothill in Salt Lake that serves five-course meals on pewter. The only trick is parking, because the schmuck who owns the oriental rug store next door chains off the parking lot after 6pm. Anyway, the local economy hasn't helped my friends at the restaurant either, so it made my family feel good to be helping out for at least one night.

Five All's has become something of a tradition for commemorative family meals. Most of the time I only go with my family, because the place isn't cheap, and I am. But a while back my friend Elise and I went there to celebrate our 30th birthdays. As usual, the food was great--I had the filet mignon--but that night was special because of an unexpected celebrity presence.

We were making our way through our Scottish Meatball appetizers when Elise noticed something curious about the dinner party that was moving in behind us.

“Don’t look too obvious,” she said, leaning across the table, “but that guy behind you looks just like Yanni.”

“Really?” I said, turning in what I hoped was a subtle fashion.

She was right. There were about half a dozen people in the dinner party, and one of them looked just like Yanni. He was a slight, elegant man with long, wavy dark hair and a stylish mustache. I considered the implications of dining in the same room with the guy from “Live at the Acropolis”. Should I sit up straighter? Do I make loud insightful comments on the food? Do I even acknowledge his presence?

“How much would it take to get you to go ask for his autograph?” I asked Elise.

She smirked. “I don’t think I could keep a straight face.”

Now, I'm no expert, but I was pretty sure that the guy behind us wasn't really Yanni. The entrance seemed off, for one thing. I imagine a guy like Yanni never enters a room without people at his side tossing flowers to stunned onlookers. Plus I had a tough time figuring out what course of events would lead Yanni to the east bench, though if my encounter with George Lucas last year has taught me anything, it is that you can run into a celebrity anywhere.

But whether it was the real deal or not, the guy looked enough like the maestro to get me thinking. I started to wonder if he suffered from some of the same social limitations that I imagined Yanni is subjected to. Once one chooses to adopt a style of dress and demeanor consistent with the fine arts, one is kind of limited to that line of social interaction. Yanni Guy, for example, cannot show up at Iggy’s anymore; at least without turning a lot of heads, and getting a lot of drunk guys yelling, “Hey Yanni!”, “Yo Yanni!”, and so forth. Yanni Guy can’t go to see stock car races, or watch professional wrestling in his underwear. It just doesn’t fit. In fact, Yanni Guy pretty much has to stay fully dressed at all times, unless he takes off his shirt to drink tea on the deck of his Italian villa. But then he has to be wearing cream-colored pants.

This is the same reason I’ve always felt a little bit awkward whenever I’ve had to socialize with my academic colleagues in group settings. Part of it is because I don’t drink, but a bigger part of it is because my Ph.D.-holding peers are more sophisticated than I am, and their conversations with me are limited to an analysis of whether Michael J. Fox looked too old to play teenage Marty McFly in “Back to the Future”. Sure, Dr. Tinnemeyer supported my decision to write my conference paper on Ricardo Montalban’s performance in “Star Trek II”, but would she ever endeavor to write such a thing? I seriously doubt it. And neither would Yanni Guy.

It’s very possible that in today’s culture, only musically-inclined men feel naturally drawn to grow long, wavy hair. A few years ago, there was another guy in my student ward who had long, wavy blonde hair, and he was really into classical music. In fact, I always referred to him as “Blonde Yanni” behind his back. I didn’t refer to him as anything to his face, because I never officially met him, and I could never remember his real name. I can say that he seemed like a solid, upstanding young man who happened to sport long curly blonde locks. I can't say that it ever occurred to me to invite him over to swear at my television while watching a Jazz game.

It is also possible that the man at Five All’s was a Yanni Impersonator, and that he had been hired by the rest of his dinner party to improve their social status and image by making them look more sophisticated and culturally-savvy. I can’t put an exact dollar amount on such a service, but if the cost is within reason, it might be worth bringing him along on a date sometime.

“Hello, Mr. So-and-So, I’m here to pick up your daughter. I'm Josh, and I'm sure you've already met my associate, Yanni…”

That would be more than enough to calm the nerves of any protective father, and it would probably go a long way towards making a good impression on his daughter, too. With Yanni at our side, we could get into any restaurant we wanted, get any seat we wanted, and might even be able to fake our way through conversations with prominent local celebrities.

"Why thank you, Mr. Decker. Yanni and I were just talking about how much we've enjoyed your investigative reporting over the years."

Elise and I never did find out if we were dining with the real Yanni or not. I'm sadistic enough to come up with mischievous prank ideas, but my conscience keeps me from following through most of the time. I always worry that my actions will genuinely hurt somebody's feelings, or even worse. One time I snuck a friend's cell phone and changed a couple of speed dial numbers, then felt horrible four hours later and called her up because I had this terrible picture of her lying at the side of the road after a brutal car crash, bleeding internally and frantically trying to dial her parents to give one last tearful goodbye, only to find herself connected to the Domino's Pizza on the corner of 4th East and Pages Lane in Centerville. So instead we just returned to our previous conversation, which was most likely me complaining about my dating life. Elise, on the other hand, was in the early stages of dating her soon-to-be husband, which is why that was our last official "celebrate each other's birthday's" dinner.

Maybe next time my big day rolls around, I'll give the Yanni Guy a call.