Larry David didn't want to shake hands.
Nothing personal -- no hard feelings at work here. It was, in fact, a very pleasant, amiable lunch between the three of us -- me, and the two Larrys, the funny, neurotic, cranky, fictional star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and the funny, neurotic, less cranky, real-life man who created the celebrated HBO show, now a couple of episodes into its seventh season.
But what made the "no-shake" stance unusual was the introductory handshake. No hesitation there. Firm, direct. "Hi, I'm Larry David," said one of the Larrys who was dressed casually like the character -- blue long sleeve T-shirt, khaki pants, glasses.
Then, at a corner table inside the upscale Stefan's at L.A. Farm in Santa Monica, the famous 62-year-old recognizes some television executives. He wanders over, says hello, and quickly returns. "I just shook four hands," said Larry, grimacing. That tally includes mine. "You have any Purell?" he asks, looking for hand sanitizer.
Not on me. He politely excuses himself to wash his hands. "How could a guy like me not be carrying Purell?" he wondered aloud.
The moment is the stuff "Curb" (or "Seinfeld," Larry's other baby) is made of. It's like being forced into a double goodbye from a party, violating the 10 p.m. cutoff for phone calls or any of the hundreds of other mountain-out-of-mole-hill social situations that routinely play out on what is arguably the funniest show on television.
Larry, whose hypochondria functions as a critical plot device in Sunday's highly anticipated kickoff to "Curb's" so-called "Seinfeld" reunion story arc, has reasonably good intentions, but they're misconstrued. With the H1N1 virus lurking around every corner and whatever else lingers on the human hand, he's not being rude, simply being health conscious.
"He means well," said one of the Larrys, probably the real one. "He tries to do the right thing and gets in trouble for it."
Some "Curb" seasons, Larry doesn't do any press interviews. That's only one of the advantages to having a critically beloved hit show on a premium cable channel. It also doesn't hurt to have a small fortune -- even after a 2007 divorce from environmental activist ex-wife Laurie -- thanks to co-creating "Seinfeld." No offense intended, but speaking to a journalist isn't his idea of a fun afternoon.
"I don't like reading what I have to say, so I don't like other people reading what I have to say either," he said. "I'm not in control of it. I can't edit this conversation and if I could it would be a lot different than what you're going to do with it."
It would certainly be funnier.
But Larry wants to promote his show's end to the "Seinfeld" diaspora, after once famously swearing that he would never stage a reunion. While Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry Seinfeld have all been on previous "Curb" episodes as individuals, the "Seinfeld" gang has never appeared together on the show. Now, the foursome, including Michael Richards, returns as their reunion story line unfolds over five episodes.
Hence, Larry is willing to submit to some media torture over a lunch.
"I don't see any upside. I see all downside," he told me, raising his voice, then reining it back in. "I could say something and then I'll get phone calls, 'Why did you say that about me? I thought we were friends.' Who needs that?"
So, here we are talking about the non-reunion reunion on his almost entirely improvised comedy show. The conceit for Sunday night's episode is comically simple: Larry's desire to win back his (on-screen) ex-wife, Cheryl, now an actress, overrides his utter disdain for a "Seinfeld" network special. The reunion show will go on, after all, and he promises to cast his ex in it. Of course, problems ensue. Many, many problems.
Other than that, Larry remains mostly reticent on specific plot details. Are you going to handle Richards' 2006 racist comedy club tirade? "People are wondering how we're going to address it," he said. "Yeah, we address it."
No normal moments
As "Curb" viewers know, a good portion of Larry's life takes place in nice restaurants, which like any experience for him can be fraught with peril. When he walks into the main dining room, a couple of patrons exclaim, "Larry David! Larry David!" He admits he's gotten used to it with a shrug, but still finds the shout-outs annoying.
In person, he's as trim as he looks on television. That 10 pounds television is supposed to add hasn't in his case. And despite knockin' on senior citizenship's door, he appears not to have aged since "Curb" began in 2000.
I offer him my hypothesis regarding balding (a club of which I'm member). Bald guys pay up front in the age and appearance department. A bald 30-year-old can look 40, even 50. But once the hair is gone, you can be ageless for a few decades, or until you start looking like Yoda.