Let’s face it. It is not a common occurrence to have someone simply walk into your home. I’ve had it happen twice in my lifetime. Once as a child when an elderly Alzheimer’s patient from a not-so-nearby nursing home wandered around town, decided she liked the look of my mother’s roses in our yard and strolled on inside to make herself at home. The second time was just a bit more noteworthy because the visitor was fitness legend Richard Simmons.
You read that correctly, Ricard Simmons once waked into my living room and decided to stay and chat for a while. Totally normal, right? I am sure you are thinking, how in the hell did that happen and are you making this up? It’s a long story, be patient. And yes, this is a true and authentic story and my former roommate Carrie was there as well and can corroborate. (Please message me should you want her email or phone number if you require verification.)
This was around 2001 and Carrie and I were living in an apartment in Beverly Hills. (Digression: Our zip code was 90210 and at the time, as a huge fan of the show, I thought that was pretty amazing. Sadly, I was never able to locate the Peach Pit…) Back then if you wanted to rent a house or apartment in the greater Los Angeles area you used the website Westside Rentals. Period, end of story. It was a fee-based site that listed rentals by neighborhood and if I had a dollar for every time I heard “does anyone have a Westside Rentals password I can borrow?” I would not be working today.* One of the more odd things about properties listed on Westside Rentals is that many of them were left unlocked so you could just wander in and see the property at your leisure. Call it lazy landlords or maybe it was a safer time (it wasn’t), but that was how things went. On one occasion when I was apartment hunting I arrived at an unlocked property only to find someone sleeping on the floor inside. It was a bizarre practice that I hope is no longer in effect. (*= this is one of the “you know you lived in LA if you remember…” type of statements, apologies to any non-Angelenos.)
So, to recap: in the early 2000s many apartments listed for rent were left unlocked for potential tenants to just walk inside. And unfortunately, for me and Carrie, that summer the apartment next door was vacant and unlocked after our neighbors, who had a perverted Pomeranian named Chester (named for the chest of drawers he would hump on a daily basis), moved out. (Chester the Tiny Molester plays no role in this story, I just think it is funny.) We saw a few people come by to inspect the apartment but for the most part we didn’t give it any thought.
One Saturday morning Carrie and I were glued to our couches, eating our beloved takeout salads from Jerry’s Famous Deli and nursing slight hangovers. The previous evening we had thrown a big party for Carrie’s birthday and hadn’t yet cleaned up; the evidence of the previous night’s debauchery was everywhere. I was right in the midst of shoveling a forkful of Cobb salad into my mouth hole when we heard a knock on our screen door and someone sing-talking into the apartment. “Helllllllllo, anyone in here?” We looked at each other with a WTF, we are too hungover for this right now-expression. But before we could even answer the door opened and in walked two people. It took a second for our brains to catch up with what our eyes were seeing, but lo and behold, our new visitor had a mop of curly hair and wore a rhinestone-encrusted tank top with a matching pair of silky shorts. It was Richard Simmons. Behind him stood a woman, much more timid than he, wearing – I kid you not – a Sweatin’ To The Oldies sweatshirt.
“Hello ladies, sorry to bother but I was just next door checking out the apartment. I am thinking of renting it for my, um… nephew and I was wondering what you thought of this darling building. Any insight you can share?” he asked, full of such enthusiasm that it almost hurt our heads given our current physical state.
Two minutes prior to his arrival we had barely even been able to lift our heads off the couch, but as soon as he crossed the threshold into our apartment his contagious energy perked us up instantly and we began excitedly chatting with Richard about our experience with the building. Before long we were gossiping like old hens (while the woman in the sweatshirt oddly stood in the corner, watching everything but saying nothing) about the horrible landlord and crazy, upstairs neighbor (who informed us on the day she moved in that she once had a recurring role as Bailey’s girlfriend on Party of Five), but assured him the building itself was wonderful and we loved living there. While we were chatting Carrie’s cat tried to take advantage of our distraction and jumped on the coffee table in an attempt to eat our salads.
Carrie and I both screamed in unison, “No, Ricky!”
Richard then walked over to the table, leaned down to Ricky’s level and pointed a finger at the cat and said, “No, Ricky. No sally for Ricky! Sally is bad for kitties!” (To this day, Carrie and I quote this line whenever we see each other.) Richard then turned to us and in the most serious voice said, “Girls, I really need to talk to you. I saw something that I can’t stay quiet about.”
“What?” we asked, now slightly concerned for our new friend.
He sighed and looked down. “I saw an ashtray filled with cigarette butts outside. Now you must know this. Smoking is bad for you!” And then, just as he shook his finger at Ricky, Carrie and I were now being chastised.
“No,” I shouted! “We threw a party last night. It wasn’t us, I swear!” Well, that was sort of a lie and I knew I had probably added a few butts to the pile the previous evening. But I couldn’t stand the thought of Richard Simmons being upset with me.
“Hmmmm,” he said, not exactly believing us but giving us the benefit of the doubt. “Okay. But tell your friends to stop or get new friends. Smoking will kill you.” We assured him we would, he was so kind and charming I would have probably run around the block right at that moment if he had asked, despite my screaming headache.
Now remember, back then we didn’t have smart phones, we didn’t even have text messages (or if we did we had no idea yet how to send one). In short, there was no camera handy and we had no way to capture the moment. (I can assure you, had this happened today, I would have used all the memory on my phone taking photos of this bizarre yet amazing encounter and probably printed the pictures on T-shirts and handed them out to all of my friends.) Unfortunately the iPhone was but an idea in Steve Jobs mind at that time and we never got a photo.
Richard happily chatted with us for a few more minutes and then said he had to be going. His mute friend in the corner was starting to develop a scowl on her face and I could tell she wasn’t enjoying our visit. Then again, she was wearing a sweatshirt in Los Angels in the middle of July – maybe she was just hot and uncomfortable? At any rate, she found her voice and encouraged their departure.
As they were about to leave I just decided to go for it. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, honey!”
“Are you Richard Simmons?” (Keep in mind, we had never introduced ourselves and had no real verification other than the fact that we had eyes and this was obviously Richard Simmons.)
“I sure am!”
“Ummm… can we get your autograph? Because no one is going to believe us when we tell them this story!” (My premonition was correct, Carrie and I had to tell the story over and over before our friends started to believe us, and many times one of us has called the other so she could verify the story to whomever we were with at the time.)
“I can do you one better!” He turned to sweatshirt girl and asked, “Can you come back this afternoon and drop the girls off a package? Autographed photos, some exercise videos and goodies?”
“Of course,” she said, smiling sweetly at Richard and then dropping her smile when she turned back to us.
Carrie and I emitted a series of squeals and effusive thank-yous to Richard and saw them off. After a few minutes we still were in shock. Carrie turned to me and said, “You know he wasn’t looking for his nephew, right?” And she made air quotes with her fingers as she said the word nephew.
“Oh, totally. He’s completely gay and is planning on putting up his boyfriend in an apartment,” I replied.
“Do you know what this means? Richard Simmons’ boyfriend may be our new next door neighbor!”
We squealed some more at the thought and went to bed that night dreaming of how he would become our new bestie, and maybe we would even get a rhinestome-studded tank top or two. We would all meet early Saturday mornings to jazzercise on the front lawn and Carrie and I could commission our very own Barbra Streisand doll just like Richard! The future was so bright that it gleamed like the sheen from Richard’s shorty silk shorts.
Unfortunately those dreams never became a reality and that was as far our promising new friendship went. Not only did the “nephew” not move in but sweatshirt girl backed out on her promise. We never received our autographed photos.
In the end it is probably for the best. I have no doubt that if I had actually received that photo I would have framed it and my husband and I would argue incessantly about why I insist on displaying it in our living room (I can almost hear me defending my decision to him… because it is RICHARD SIMMONS, that is why it needs to be hung above the fireplace instead of putting the television there!). At least we have the memories. And the instant laughter whenever one of us says, “no sally for Ricky!” Not too shabby for two girls with hangovers on a slovenly Saturday afternoon.