The time I had a martini with Mrs James Brown at Hotel Bel Air

One time I was invited to a wedding in Los Angeles. This was back in 2007, when I was young and vulnerable, at that impressionable age when brushing with semi-famous people was pretty cool (probably still is for some people; I mean look at how they recite the names of Jersey Shore and American Idol participants – who are they anyway?).

No matter. The wedding took place at the Bel Air hotel, the day is June 1, the time is roughly 6 or 7, and it’s a perfect evening in California. The palm trees are everywhere in sight, so are dark pastels, I’m wearing a sexy white dress (is the non-bridal white a taboo? No matter) and it’s the hors d’oeuvres time in the grassy area around the Bel Air Hotel. The wedding ceremony finished, and the happy couple looked like this:

The wedded pair are doing photos, guest books are being signed, and everyone is waiting for the wedding party to get back. Or have they just gotten back? As I chomp down a cheesy puff that is also probably spiced with gold dust, I see a worried bridesmaid running up to me. Her name is Gaia and she is terrified, because she took a bite of her cheese puff and the gooey inside projectiled onto her shinyish brown bridesmaid dress (not my ideal choice).

Image

This was not that wedding, but you get the idea. Swans, seats, romance at Bel Air.

“Karin, can you go with me to help fix this?” she says tipsily, because the wedding party was in a limo all day, rolling around LA and drinking whiskey.

“Sure”, I say. And we walk to the ladies toilets at Hotel Bel Air.

I have to admit that I was doing a lot of eye rolling at that moment, but I was also holding a grudge at my boyfriend at the time (which is why I was at the wedding in the first place), and wanted to get away. He was in the wedding party and nowhere in sight.

We enter the toilet and Gaia excitedly talks the whole time we are there. I propose napkins, I propose water, we discuss my relationship briefly (Gaia brings it up), when the door opens and two things happen:

A beautiful, tall, long-haired redhead walks in a sexy pencil skirt, lovely top, fishnets and fierce Yves Saint Laurent heels that I immediately know were in May’s issue of Vogue. I’ve got a great photographic memory, and those heels were all the rage in 2007. She eyes me, says in a deep, seductive and velvety voice: “Nice hair”, and walks into a stall.

I melt.

Second thing: an African-American woman in a flowerful (that’s right) turban walks in. I am completely startled also by the fact that she is wearing a long mermaid skirt emblazoned with tropical fruits and flowers, plus a bikini top.

I am embarrassed to say it, but seeing the two of them together, the first thing I thought was, “Is there a gay party happening at the Bel Air tonight?” And an air of excitement filled the room.

The woman in the turban says, “Do you know who that is?”

“No”, we both say, mesmerized. I’m sitting on the bathroom counter, waving my legs in white heels that match the dress.

“That was Mrs James Brown”, says the flower lady in a loud whisper.

I immediately think “Right”, and then: wait, I’m in Los Angeles, Hotel Bel Air, it is summer and James Brown died on Christmas 2006. Where does this go now?

Mrs James¬†Brown emerges and pays attention to us. The wedding party girl squeaks about her cheese puff problem. “Oh, we can help you,” and they shoot a barrage of stain removal advice. I have to admit that I must have been tipsy at the time or it was a long time ago and I don’t remember all this very well.

Mrs James Brown calls the Bel Air concierge from the toilet and asks her to bring some soda water and a hair dryer. This happens.

Gaia, the bridesmaid, is so grateful that she exclaims that she must buy Mrs James Brown and – drumroll…. guess who we are with? Princess Selassie of Ethiopia, or so she says and I have no reason not to believe her – a drink. Princess Selassie looks suspiciously like this, and apparently she was on Real Housewives of New York (I’m not surprised):

So we all make our way to the Hotel Bel Air Lounge Bar not too far away. It looks like this:

Hotel Bel Air Lounge Bar

Bridesmaid recommends an apple martini to Princess Selassie and to Mrs James Brown, whose real name is Tomi Rae Hynie, and apparently they never heard of those. “Really?” I think. I highly doubt that, but hey, if the ladies want to play the part, that’s absolutely fine.

Gaia goes to pay for the drinks and she is upset that the cost is $80 for four martinis. Sounds about right, but at the age of 2o or 22, that is a huge chunk of money. Realistically, you could have bought 1.5 bottles of Veuve Clicquot at the store, so that counts for something too.

We return to the table and converse with the women. All the celebrity crap, B-A-C, whatever, aside – the women were kickass. They talked to us about the importance of career, about not letting the man trample all over you, girl power, being independent, strong and more. We also exchange phone numbers (really? That did happen, I had the Princess’s number and Tomi Rae’s number down), and we were invited to a couple of jazz shows and some other events.

I have to say that Tomi was at the time embezzled in a vicious battle of James Brown’s estate (read more here), and she was really pushing the story on us too. Which is fine. I would probably also go for the money had my late husband died and I wanted to take care of my kid, James Brown II.

What else? A great evening. The Bel Air Hotel lounge is beautiful, and it was filled with dark types that – in my young digital mind – resembled the smoky, analog Hollywood era long gone. I swear I saw a mafia guy or two.

“There you are!” yelled the wedding planner. Our dreamtime had to end. “You should return to the wedding.” A wedding planner was telling US what to do. If it happened today, I’d slap the living hell out of that woman. But we obliged and went to the wedding banquet area.

Everybody heard of our adventures by now (bless me and my BBM abilities of 2007).

The first song that the wedding DJ played?

This: 

PS. Random little observation. Tomi Rae’s hair colour darkened from the same bright that I had to a more somber color (like me). Could it be that we were using the same L’Oreal Feria brand and then had to stop?

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