Melissa loved rock stars long before she became one

by Nick Auf der Maur, Special to the Gazette

New York- This was a trip many Montreal parents look forward to with great trepidation. Hell, I guess parents everywhere feel it, but it seems to be one of those peculiar afflictions of English speaking Montrealers- travelling to some other city to visit a child's new abode.

True, this isn't necessarily permanent- perhaps just a temporary career move because my daughter Melissa's rock band, Hole, is based in the United States and logistics dictate an American address.

Well, that's what I'd like to think. But Melissa's enthusiasm for New York City goes way back. Every eight years or so we go there together.

The first time was when she was 8 and I took her there for a vacation at her insistence. We stayed at the Hotel Pierce on Central Park- the manager was Swiss, so we were charged half price- and did all the tourist things, visited the Statue of Liberty, went to the top of the Empire State Building, saw a Broadway show and had a good time. I wrote a column about it at the time and The Gazette published a picture of Melissa wearing a wongy-bonker, those silly balls at the end of a pair of long bouncy springs that people wear on their heads.

I chuckled to myself on the plane coming down, recalling that visit and the next one eight years later when she turned 16. We're supposed to do something special for a daughter's 16th birthday, and a friend of mine was head of Pepsi Canada at the time and he suggested I take her down for the opening of the Michael Jackson tour that Pepsi was sponsoring. He would get me a pair of tickets, he said, and told me to stay at the Helmsley Palace. Not terribly interested in Jackson myself, I invited Melissa's best friend Alice, to join us. Going up in the hotel elevator, the bellboy asked the girls, "So what brings you to New York ?"

"We're going to see Michael Jackson tonight," the girls answer breathlessly in unison.

"Well, you're staying at the right hotel," the bellboy said. "Jackson is staying a few floors above you and half the people from the Grammy Awards last night are in the hotel."

The girls almost swooned.

In our room they unpacked their Kodak's and announced they had to stake out the lobby.

Fine, I said, you check out the lobby and I'll check out the bar.

I sat in the bar reading my newspaper. After about 15 minutes, the girls came running in to announce they had just seen Whitney Houston get off the elevator.

They were so excited they got only a picture of the back of her head as she walked out the front door to her limo.

The barman and I laughed.

At showtime, I took the girls to Madison Square Garden and then picked them up after the show.

"Our tickets were better than Whitney Houston's," they told me later. "She was in the front row, but we were on the stage. ON THE STAGE!"

Back at the hotel, they resumed their stakeout in the lobby. I went to the bar, where some ditzy New York woman asked me to pass the peanuts. She was sitting at a table next to the bar with a couple of bored-looking guys.

Boy, she was ditzy but kind of fun to talk to.

After about an hour, I realize I haven't seen my girls, so I ask the barman to keep an eye on my drink while I went for a look.

"You're going to tell them who you're talking to, aren't you?" the barman asked.

"Who am I talking to?" I whispered back.

"Cyndi Lauper," he answered.


Just a few months previously, I had come home to find out what I thought was blood all over the bathroom sink. Turns out it was hair dye.

Melissa had entered a Cyndi Lauper look-alike lip-sync contest held by CHOM's Terry Dimonte at Alexis Nihon Plaza. Melissa came in second.

The girls in the lobby wouldn't believe me when I told them whom I was talking to. The Lauper trio had just paid their bill and were walking out another door. I managed a hurried introduction and then La Lauper whoosed out to the sidewalk.

"How could you talk to her for an hour and not tell us ?" Melissa and Alice whined.

I found a Mexican restaurant that served decent margaritas and sat there reading newspapers while they wandered around. Then we caught an evening flight back to Montreal.

Now, again, eight years later- Melissa turns 24 on St. Patrick's Day- I found myself in a taxi from LA Guardia, heading to the same Mexican restaurant, the Cactus Café, to meet Melissa, because her new apartment is just a few blocks away.

I'm not sure why I wanted to go to the Cactus Café first, instead of going directly to her place. For old time's sake ? Trepidation, more like it. When I did get to her place, I was appalled but had to make complimentary noises.

It's a slightly seedy, fourth-floor walk-up in the East Village and little bigger than a Volkswagen camper van. And she's paying more rent that I ever did in mortgages and taxes in my entire life.

However, she's happy, healthy and hilarious. What more could a father want?

Now I'm off for real margaritas, with a retired New York City cop friend living in Mexico.

Montreal Gazette, http://www.montrealgazette.com