Saturday Night Forever


Tonight’s the night. If all goes well, I —

I should stop right there.   

Tonight has the potential to be big. I’m at an invitation-only wedding at Hotel Bel-Air. My “plus one” is Haley Sinclair, the incredible girl that I’m going to marry. If I work up the nerve to ask her, and if temporary insanity makes her say yes. Taking a girlfriend on a date to a wedding, and a Hollywood wedding at that! It should be a stone-cold lock. Haley and Brandon. Adorable, right? I can’t miss. I just have to shake off the awkwardness of mingling with fantastic looking millionaires.

I have no reason to be jealous. I’ve told myself this a dozen times in the past. Now, a minute later, I tell myself for the thirteenth time. I look around, taking everything in.

The Garden Ballroom is posh with a capital Wow! Everything is glassy and luminous and ensconced in art-deco elegance. Spiky chandeliers dangle everywhere like orbiting Sputnik satellites. Recessed in the wall is a stage with an orchestra playing classical music. A professional deejay has her equipment set up to their left. I catch her eye, I think. She’s wearing Prada sunglasses with mirrored lenses. She nods almost imperceptibly. To me, that means, the plan is a go.

Right now, it’s a scene straight out of The Great Gatsby, complete with a few of the actors from the movie. There’s probably fifty or more people here that I recognize from movies and television.

It’s not easy for me to see all these A-listers and the attention they garner. Especially when they garner Haley’s attention. It’s silly, I admit it. She doesn’t idolize or adore any of them, not even a little. What’s my problem?

Among other things, I have Imposter Syndrome. I tell myself that I don’t belong here with truly successful and beautiful people. And I feel like everybody else knows it, too.

Haley looks absolutely stunning. She’s in a Cristallini velvet and French lace evening dress. Green like her eyes and achingly gorgeous like the rest of her. Every hair is perfectly in place, and somehow it makes me think how out of place I am. Way out of your league, Brandon, my nasally inner voice says. Self-doubt and anxiety are beginning to creep in. Haley tightens her grip on my hand, and that helps. Then she says, “There’s Nic!” And there he is, she’s right. She seems a little starstruck and I am not jealous. I feel “Mister Green” trying to make a guest appearance, and I swallow hard, hoping to gulp down my envy.  

“He looks a lot older in person,” she says, then turns to me. “You look great,” she says. I know she’s just trying to make me comfortable. “Must be the eighty-five-dollar haircut and beard trim,” I joke. I spent the afternoon at Buzzed Barbers while LFG Styling was elevating her natural beauty into the stratosphere.  “No,” she says, running her hand along my lapel, “It’s everything.”

It’s the suit. A tailored Brooks Brothers 1818 tuxedo that cost me a fortune. I pulled out all the stops for my big event with Haley.  

The tux was one of my first purchases when Hollywood came calling a couple years back. The rights to my debut novel were purchased for a film adaptation by Stanley Sinclair. Now a sequel is in the works. The royalties are enough that I don’t have to live too far out of town.  

I enjoy a sort of anonymity, being a writer. Only a few people in this room know my name or recognize me. They all know the great producer Sinclair, though. And of course, his daughter.  Haley.

No, she did not pull any strings with her dad to sell my story. She didn’t offer, and I didn’t ask. I wanted the story to stand on its own merits, and it did. Haley just made sure it got noticed. You really do need an inside person to get your story to the top of the stack.

I’ve worked hard to shed that fish-out-of-water feeling that comes with being a regular guy in Tinseltown. It’s a struggle. Occasionally I have little flashes of envy when I hear my girl talk about Bradley or Leonardo or Captain Jack Sparrow.  

It was one such flash of envy that inspired my silly plan for tonight. I dreamt it up a couple of weeks ago when Haley mentioned Tom Cruise. A director he’d worked with was the one throwing the wedding bash. His youngest son was marrying an up-and-coming starlet. But sadly, Tom Cruise would not be at the wedding.  

It was an innocent remark by Haley, just a comment really, about Top Gun Tom having a prior commitment. But to me, she sounded a little disappointed. And my insecurity built that up into a full-blown love affair in my mind.  

It was a silly thought. Which I followed with a much sillier one. If the people wanted Tom Cruise (they didn’t) then I would give them Tom Cruise (I didn’t). At the end of the day, we could all laugh about it. I knew it was something I should never attempt. And yet. I talked to the deejay about my plan and paid her to go along with it. Now I was locked in.

The cake-cutting finally began to wind down. An eight-story tower of pale blue and gold fondant and frosting had been sliced and smeared on the bride and groom’s faces. All the requisite photographs were taken, and a team of tuxedoed workers came to cart off the ragged remains of buttercream overindulgence.  

Meanwhile, I excused myself and hurried to the palatial washroom. I changed into my ridiculous outfit before I could talk some sense into me. The attendant didn’t bat an eye as I walked past him to make my grand entrance.

The sugar-high celebrities and their friends are waiting for an invitation to hit the dance floor. That will come right after I finish. It’s go-time. The stage lights up in a purple hue, reflecting off DJ Stacey’s sparkling dress. That’s my cue.

Next, the loud piano intro to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” will play, and Haley’s date will slide on the dance floor like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. I’ve got the whole sequence down pat. I think. 

The runway is clear. The dance floor dims, and I begin to sprint toward it.

About the time I get a full head of steam, a few things happen at about the same time.

Someone shouts in surprise. “Whoa!” Million-dollar heads turn in my direction.  

Music begins to play. Loudly. It is not what DJ Stacey and I had agreed on, or more correctly, she had not agreed to. I had given her a hundred bucks. In retrospect, that’s like a dollar in Hollywood. I probably insulted her.

It’s a poor start. Oh well. I decide to go forward and try to salvage my act. I can’t stop now without spraining something anyway. Maybe after I put my pants back on in a few minutes, nobody will recognize me.

The funky bass intro of a Bee Gees’ tune is pounding. “Stayin’ Alive” roars to life, inside every recess of my skull. It’s a far cry from “Old Time Rock and Roll,” but what can I do?

Multicolor lights begin to pulsate, matching the throbbing in my head.

Here goes something, I think, preparing to hit the glassy dance floor at full throttle. At the last second, as I begin my power slide, I see a uniquely styled fellow stand up and step toward the floor. His bright white jacket (the 1930’s called…) reflects a rainbow of hues from the lowered disco ball. Of course. He thinks he’s John Travolta and wants to show off some Saturday Night Fever calisthenics. I should abort my mission, and let the guy have his moment. However, I’ve already reached maximum velocity, and my nine-dollar tube socks are delivering a million bucks worth of slippy-slidey.

“Sit down, Travolta!” I ad-lib on the fly. Hilarious! I crack me up. We nearly collide. Whoa! That one was me. I manage to avoid plowing into the man stealing my scene. I slide right past, only slightly brushing him. I doubt his polyester pants even felt it.

I’m in the middle of the floor in my white dress shirt, white briefs, long white socks, and a pair of Wayfarers. And I’m about to give 1983 Tom Cruise a run for his money. I doubt he would have improvised to this ridiculous tune, but I’m going to.

No… No, I’m not. The music stops. All the lights slam back on, bright enough to give me a sunburn. This is either a bad dream or an even worse joke. There are hundreds of simultaneous gasps. Collectively they sound like King Kong stifling a gigantic sneeze.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that nobody in the room is staring at the idiot in the center of the floor. The one in underwear and sunglasses and flushed face.

The bad news is what everyone is looking at. The man flat on his back at the edge of the dance floor. I apparently knocked him down, but how? I barely touched him. And yet, there he is, someone on each side of him helping him up. More people are rushing to his aid.  

The man looks shaky. His white suit looks disheveled. His face looks like – he looks like… No. Oh no. It is John Travolta. Of all the roles he’s played, the only one I can think of right now is from Pulp Fiction. Vincent Vega – assassin.

I’m finished here, I think to myself, and I’m not sure if I mean here at the party, or here in Hollywood, or here on planet Earth. They all seem equally likely.

I know how bad it looks from where I am, so I figure if I multiply by three, that’s how bad it looks to everyone else.  

I spot Haley in the crowd. Her mouth is slightly open, no words coming out and no oxygen going in. She looks beautiful, even with the “I am so disappointed in you” look all over her face. I understand. I am so disappointed in me also.   

At least my next few steps are obvious. Quickly out the corridor, back into the huge bathroom where my tuxedo is stowed. The attendant won’t make eye contact, he must have seen my… act.  A comedic actor I won’t name is at the urinal. He takes one glance at me and says, “Well, you had to have known that was –” And God help me, it just comes out. “If you say Risky Business,” I snap at the tipsy joker, “I’ll drown you in your own champagne stream there.” It’s not my finest moment. No, that was earlier when I knocked down John Travolta. I wonder if I broke him. Does insurance cover that?   

I am fully aware of how much I’ve ruined everything. Mad at myself, I slam the door on the farthest stall as I go in. I dress in a hurry and slam the door again on my way out. I leave my sunglasses on and turn the collar up on my tuxedo. I duck my head as far inside the jacket as I can, like a turtle, and exit stage left.  

Out in the parking lot, no one is running after me. Which is good. And bad. I hoped against hope that Haley would be chasing after me to tell me I hadn’t blown it. Nope. She wasn’t coming. She was probably with all the others, helping out poor John –

Travolta. I can’t believe my eyes. It’s him, moving quickly in my direction. He looks nothing like the fractured person I left out on the dance floor. He’s not even limping. In fact, he’s smiling!   

“Hey,” he says. “Brandon.” He knows me? I’m shocked. Before I can even launch into a billion apologies, he says, “Thank you so much. That was perfect. Stace told me you were the right guy.” What? I’m lost. “DJ Stacy,” he says, as if that explains everything.

“You earned this,” Travolta says, pressing a wad of cash the size of a softball into my hand. It’s a lot of money. And I still have no idea what it’s for. I don’t know what to say, so I say, “Gee, I think I’ll get myself a Royale.”

Travolta laughs. “A Royale with cheese,” he says in Vincent Vega’s voice. He’s grinning at me and now I’m suddenly starstruck.

He turns to go back inside, then stops. “Hey, pal, do me a favor?” Pal? I think. “Anything,” I say like a giddy idiot. A giddiot, that’s me. “Trade clothes with me?” he asks. This is one weird dream.

“My tux is yours,” I say. He did just pay for it, after all.

And now, two grown men are stripping down and exchanging clothes in the parking lot of Hotel Bel-Air. People walk past, and nobody gives us a second glance. That’s Hollywood. A minute later, John Travolta is wearing my tuxedo. And I’m in his white polyester and a big goofy grin.

He thanks me again. I’m still clueless. My mouth is open, and I look like I’m catching flies. “You have no idea,” Travolta says. “You just wouldn’t believe it. Everywhere I go. Every party, every wedding, everyone, and I mean everyone wants to see Tony Manero doing his solo thing out there.” He does a few moves from his iconic Saturday Night Fever routine. It’s flawless. He is Tony Manero. “So,” he says, “What can I do? Everyone expects it. Gotta say, you really came through for me.” He hugs me. John Travolta hugs me and says, “Thanks again, man. I needed the night off. You were perfect.”

I give him my Wayfarers and tell him, “Now you can just be Tony Incognito.” He laughs again and leaves me standing there wondering. Did that just really happen? What a night.

It gets even better. I see Haley running toward me. And she’s smiling. She pauses for a couple seconds as she passes by my new best friend, who turns back and gives me double thumbs-up. Suddenly, Haley is in my arms, hugging me excruciatingly and wonderfully tight. “You were perfect,” she says. Second time in a minute I’ve heard that. “Travolta tell you to say that?” I chuckle. “No,” she says. “He told me I better never let you get away.” She kisses me, and I know my entire wad of Travolta money is going toward her diamond engagement ring. This turned out to be a perfect night.

Haley frowns just then. “I didn’t get to see your ‘Risky Business’ routine,” she says, pretending to pout. “Why don’t we leave, and then you can show me?”

“Sorry, Haley,” I say, with a phony frown. “No can do.”

“John Travolta has my outfit.”