After family, good friends are life's finest gifts.
I am pleased today to have acquired two new friends. And not just any kind of friends, but "special" friends.
What makes me even more fortunate is that until today, I did not know either of these friends.
In fact, I wouldn't know them right now if they showed up at my front door. But they say we are "special" friends, so it would be rude of me to reject this special status.
I learned of this new friendship when a letter arrived. It said:
"Please accept the enclosed Planet Hollywood Express Card which we have created for our special friends so you may be served as quickly as possible.
"Your card will allow you and up to three guests to bypass 'the line' and be seated at the next available table in the restaurant.
"Your Planet Hollywood Card will be accepted at every Planet lTC Hollywood restaurant as we open them around the world.
"Hope to see you there soon!
"Keith Barish, Chairman
"Robert Earl, President"
Attached to the letter was a really snazzy holographic plastic card that said "Planet Hollywood." My name was on it and it said: "This card is for the express use of our friends at Planet Hollywoods worldwide."
If you are a real square and stiff, it's possible that you haven't heard of Planet Hollywood, so I will enlighten you.
It's a big, glitzy restaurant that recently opened in what has become Chicago's celebrity row of chow joints just north of the Loop. Nearby are Jordan's, Harry Caray's, Oprah's, the Hard Rock Cafe and other places that attract gawkers.
Among its owners are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone and Bruce Willis, who showed up on opening night with a lot of their famous Hollywood chums. There were spotlights scanning the skies, hordes of screaming fans and other thrills.
I have to admit that I know this only from news accounts, since I've never been to Planet Hollywood. And I wasn't there on opening night because I thought the excitement would be too much for my ticker. In fact, I've never been to Jordan's restaurant, Oprah's restaurant, the Hard Rock Cafe or any of the celebrity in-places.
And even though I am now a "special friend" of Mr. Barish and Mr. Earl, and possess the magic clout-card that would allow me )) to whiz past "the line," I'm going to decline this great privilege.
When I received the card, I asked a co-worker, who is part of the young Generation X, if she had been to Planet Hollywood. And if so, how long was the wait?
"The last time I was there," she said, "we waited about 45 minutes. But I'm told the wait can be up to an hour or longer when they are really busy. The lines can get really long at all those celebrity places."
So this card could create some very serious friendship problems.
On the one hand, Mr. Barish and Mr. Earl say that I am now their special friend, which is gratifying and shows that this is still the land of opportunity, although I hope they don't invite me to their family weddings and such.
But if I show up at Planet Hollywood and flash my special friend clout-card and am escorted past those unfortunates standing in line, what might their reaction be?
I can hear them shouting: "Who's he? Just a crummy columnist. Why don't you get in line like the rest of us? This is unfair, undemocratic, elitist. If you want to gawk at Bruce Willis, wait your turn, you newspaper bum. Why, you aren't even a TV weatherman."
And I wouldn't blame them for being resentful. I'd be upset if I stood in line for 45 minutes and then saw someone like me swaggering to a table.
So while I have made two new friends in Mr. Barish and Mr. Earl, I would run the risk of making dozens of enemies of those who waited in line with the feeble hope of seeing Sylvester, Bruce or Arnold, or even Siskel and Ebert.
No, if I ever go there, I will wait in line like everyone else. But because I have flat feet that hurt, I never go to restaurants where I have to wait in line, so I won't ever go there.
I will put the card in my wallet and, in a pinch, use it to scrape frost from my windshield.