Years ago, I was asked by an editor to head to an Apple Core hotel, in midtown, to attend a mix-and-mingle with the reigning Miss Universe, Lara Dutta. Lara was not only beautiful, she was sweet and even though I didn't represent Esquire or Cosmo -- just India Abroad -- she made chit-chat with me for what felt like five to ten minutes. I remember feeling completely at-ease in her company, even grabbing a few of the Swedish meatballs during pauses (very brief pauses) in the conversation. And at some point, when I noticed I was standing on her foot, I thought, "That's pretty amazing -- she just let me stand there without saying anything!"
These days, of course, Lara is a Bollywood star with such credits as "Billu Barber" and the upcoming "Don 2: The Chase Continues" to her name. Will we ever meet up again and laugh over that foot incident? Who knows. We're both busy people.
If there's one thing that irks me about that evening, so long ago, it's that more people couldn't enjoy Lara's company. As a member of the media, I was able to clear the gatekeepers that society installs between its most attractive people and the hoi polloi. Which is why it's so nice to see what Applebee's has done today: they've persuaded Rima Fakih, the current Miss USA (not Miss Universe, as I incorrectly stated earlier), to welcome all customers who enter their 234 West 42nd Street location. Funny to think that even the most average, un-connected person can meet Miss Universe, all for the price of Wonton Tacos ($10.99). Offer ends at 7 p.m. today, but if you miss it, she'll be heading to the Queens Mall Center Applebees tomorrow.