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“People want to have me to dinner,”
(in a 1997 interview with The Associated Press)
Late February 2004, Golden Nugget Casino, Laughlin Nevada
It’s the Golden Nugget’s weekly “Dinner and Dance,” a sort of date night for older couples. We’re sitting at a small round table, watching others dance to music provided by a Frank Sinatra impersonator. The tables are so close that adjoining conversations sound as though they are meant for us.
The crowd is typical “Laughlin;” jeans prevail—altogether casual until a new couple squeezes by to take the vacant table between ours and the dance floor. The man wears an expensive tan suit, the woman a black cocktail dress. She wears diamonds and shoes my wife feels compelled to tell her she loves. A waitress takes their order for drinks, a martini for him and a whisky sour for her. He reaches into an outside coat pocket and withdraws a roll of bills, pealing off a twenty to pay for the drinks. He’s left-handed. When he turns to pay, I recognize the face.
When they move out onto the dance floor I tell my wife, “I know that face.” Ellie says he was the doctor in Beaches, a movie we’ve watched many times. There’s no doubt, but neither of us can come up with a name. A woman at an adjoining table agrees but also can’t remember his name.
After returning home, I locate our Beaches VCR. When I tell Ellie that his name is Spalding Gray, she says she read that name in the paper recently. I run an internet search and learn that he’s been missing since January 11. I call the NYPD to report our sighting. Although the detective who answers tells me there have been sightings in Miami, LA, and Seattle, he asks for details.
Two days later I get an urgent call from a person who identifies himself as the detective in charge of the Spalding Gray case. He asks questions and says he will be getting back.
On March 7, 2004, Spalding Gray’s body is pulled from New York’s East River. The official finding is suicide. Speculation has it that he jumped from the Staten Island Ferry on January 11–a month and a half earlier than we’re certain we shared adjoining tables.
This is from our 2004 Christmas Poem:
Then it happened in Laughlin–certainly no fluke!
In the Golden Nugget, we dined by a spook.
We sat in their nightclub watching a fake Frank
While at the next table (it seemed almost a prank!)
That we didn’t see a ghost we now hope and pray,
For the man, we’re sure, was the deceased Spalding Gray.
Before the body turned up, we were absolutely convinced it was him. Everything checked: the distinct Hollywood hairstyle & clothing, loose money in the pocket instead of a credit card or wallet that would identify a man on the run, left-handedness, the drinks, and even the woman, probably an old Hollywood flame. We watched Beaches again & saw the same body language, especially the unforgettable, unmistakable smile. I told the NYPD that we were absolutely certain we’d seen Spalding Gray—and what better place to hide out could there be? Laughlin, a place literally unknown to most, with its ritzy resort casinos on the Colorado River? Everything fit so perfectly—then the call from the NYPD that our interviews were over; they’d found his body.
That’s when it became really creepy. Everything I read about Spalding Gray seemed to support our certainty.
Probably because I’m an infidel, insofar as existence after death is concerned, I have tried to explain what we experienced. I recalled another experience that involved a service buddy that I thought had been killed in the Korean War. Years later, on a family trip I spotted him with a woman in a restaurant and ran over calling out, “Spence you old son of a bitch, I thought you were dead!” He replied, “I’m not Spence.” I responded. “You’re kidding me.”
He wasn’t kidding, but believe me when I say he was a carbon copy of my dead friend. And so it was, I’ve concluded, with Spalding Gray.
Last week we watched Beaches for the umpteenth time. When Spalding Gray appeared onscreen as the doctor, Ellie said to me, “You know that was him, don’t you?”
I do know that I would like to think so.
E. “Mac” McGill