The Day We “Dissed” Alec Baldwin (unintentionally, of course)

Written By: Arlene  Russell

It was a few days before Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island. My friend and I were on our way to East Hampton for a celebratory meal at the Maidstone Inn. In the distant past it had been an annual event but this would be our first return visit in ten years. As colleagues for more than 30 years, she and I were not only commemorating our fall birthdays but our second year of retirement after simultaneously bowing out of gratifying careers as music teachers in Port Jefferson Elementary School.

Upon entering East Hampton, in accordance with the rituals of previous years, we first stopped at the beach for our obligatory photo shoot and to breathe in the fresh ocean air while repeatedly voicing thanks to God for the gracious gift of another year. Our second stop was the Village Pond for a scenic stroll accompanied by another photo shoot in an effort to capture as much autumn beauty as possible.

Finally, we excitedly climbed the steps of the rustic porch of the Historic Maidstone Inn. Traditionally before entering, we would pause to sit among the festive pumpkins and mums trying to extend a few brief moments into a timeless respite. But we sensed something was different this year and had this confirmed when our luncheon banquet was preceded by a feast for the eyes. The restaurant, now called The Living Room, had undergone such an astounding transformation in layout and design. We passed through a most artistically colorful room decorated in “Bohemian Scandinavian” on our way to the bar area where we had expected to see our old table with the high back chairs adjacent to the window. Saddened to see this spot existed no longer, we were then led to a tiny table for two in a main dining room beside a window that at least procured the same cherished view.

Once seated, my friend excused herself to visit the powder room and I sat perusing the menu recalling memorable meals enjoyed at the Maidstone Arms. As I awaited her return, my curiosity began to rise regarding the colorful ambience of the cozy dining area we had just passed through and I found a growing urge within me to move there. Upon her return, all it took was one suggestion on my part to supply the impetuous for us to change our table. As soon as our waitress arrived, we asked if we could please move to the other, more exotic dining space. With menus, water glasses and purses in tow, we moved swiftly so as not to disturb those dining nearby.

Thoroughly enjoying our decision to relocate, we snapped another dozen photos of our new digs, ordered a bottle of wine and asked some questions concerning the menu. It came to our attention that by moving, we were now seated in the approximate spot our usual table sat years ago. Up to this point, we couldn’t be more thrilled with how our East Hampton birthday excursion was unfolding. Little did we expect the next question our waitress was to ask when she returned with our wine. She filled our glasses, put the bottle down and queried, “If you don’t mind my asking, I’m just a bit curious why the two of you decided to leave your previous table where you were sitting right next to Alec Baldwin?” In a sudden moment of silence, our mouths dropped open as we stared first at each other and then at the waitress. Wait a minute!!! What? Alec Baldwin? Are you kidding? We were just sitting next to…? He was just at that table…? You mean, we could have been dining near…?

Well, you can imagine what dominated our conversation for the rest of the meal, the rest of the evening, the rest of the week. We became like silly school girls. Under the guise of looking at art hung in the bar area, we decided to take turns passing the main dining room in an effort to sneak a peek. Neither one of us wanted to impose upon his privacy yet we wished we had the courage to just say hi. Of course, once he left, we thought of things we could have mentioned, like our roundabout connection to his mom because of our involvement in Port Jefferson’s Charles Dickens Festival; or wondering if he still owned his house in Nassau Shores, Massapequa which was in danger with the fast-approaching Sandy; or just asking for an autograph on the occasion of my friend’s 60th birthday.

I later regretted being so timid and recalled other times I had treated “stars” in a less friendly way than I would treat an ordinary stranger, only because I wanted to give them their privacy. Like one summer while working at Club Marakesh in Westhampton Beach, I passed up a chance to meet Sting. Or the time I found myself standing behind Carrie Fischer on line waiting to use a pay phone at an EST Seminar in NYC. Here we were classmates and I didn’t even say one word fearing it would disturb her.

Another time I remember standing with my mother-in-law at the front desk of the Hedges Inn when whom should appear next to us to check in but James Earl Jones. We wanted to shout, “We love you” as he carried his suitcase up the stairs. Instead we acted the exact opposite and remained mute.

Sometimes I shy away from meeting people because I feel awkward and know I can utter ridiculous things, like when I met Christopher Lloyd in an art exhibit at the Idyllwild School of Music and Art in California in the eighties. Our eyes met and he smiled at me and all I could do was just point to him and say, “It’s YOU!”. How brilliant! At least one time I was polite, careful and brave enough to tell someone – Dan Rattiner, actually – how much I enjoyed hearing him narrate Peter and Wolf at an outdoor concert in Bridgehampton.

I also can become too paralyzed with awe to say anything at all, like the two instances I saw a childhood idol, Julie Andrews. As Maria von Trapp, she had significantly influenced my life by inspiring me to become a music teacher and even led my husband and me to be married in Salzburg. The first time I could have met her was at a showing of “The Party” in the Sag Harbor Cinema when she sat in the back of the theater across the aisle from my husband and me. She was accompanying her husband, Blake Edwards, who was being honored for his directing. I was so excited about attending so I could share with my husband the fond and joyous memories that this hilarious movie held of my mother who passed away just a few short years after she and I had seen it together in 1968. Although I was only fifteen years old at the time, it seems like yesterday and I shall never forget how hard we laughed at the opening segment which involved a lengthy dying scene of a bugler in the British Indian Army who had been shot. Every time we were sure he finally died, he suddenly sat up and blasted another note. Because we didn’t recognize the actor as Peter Sellers, we didn’t think our comedy had started yet, so when the scene struck us as funny, we were afraid to laugh out loud. The more we tried to stifle our voices, the harder we laughed to the point of crying. Well, what a poignant moment for me to be so near two people who had no idea of the impact they had on my life specifically through the Party and The Sound of Music. How badly I wanted to approach the couple afterwards to thank them. Fortunately, a couple of years ago at a book-signing by Ms. Andrews, I received a second chance to thank her. Still, while waiting in the cue, my anxiety grew to the point that I became speechless and my charming husband had to bail me out. Silly, I know. But this time, I was prepared to be tongue-tied and handed her a written note expressing my sentiments.

Well, back to you, Mr. Baldwin. Should you happen to read this – No, those two giddy women did not “dis” you that day in the Fall of 2012 at the Maidstone. I’m sure you didn’t even notice their presence or absence, but in case you did, please know that you made their day.