Thursday, June 20, 2013

My James Gandolfini Story

My best celebrity sighting occurred on Aug. 26, 2002. It was a Monday afternon, and Jill was usually off on Mondays back then, so we treated the day as a family day. But she was working, so I took Skyler, not then 2, to her favorite spot in the workd -- the playground at Rockefeller Park in Lower Manhattan.

It was about 95 degrees, and the city was almost deserted. Very few people were at the playground, but one man stood out -- James Gandolfini, who was there with his young son.

I live in Manhattan. I am cool about these things. So, after coming to grips with the fact an Emmy-winning actor from one of my all-time favorite shows was, basically, doing the same thing I was, I immediately began engaging in the activities that every parent of a toddler performs at a playground -- namely, making sure my child got through the experience alive, or at least with minimal injury.

At one point, as often occurs with toddlers, things got disgusting. Skyler had two enormous boogers on her face, one protruding from each nostril, and I decided to get them off. My daughter was running around, screaming "BLEEAAAHHHHH!!!!!!" and charging blissfully through the water fountains that were blasting away. (Did I mention that it was 95 degrees?) But I was determined, so I chased her, even though Daddy hates getting wet. Finally, after many minutes of fruitless pursuit, I grabbed hold of the arm of my wet toddler, who was wriggling like an eel, and prepared to administer the big wipe.

Just at the point, from two feet behind me, I heard Tony Soprano say, "C'm'ere, you."

I almost keeled over from fright. And Skyler did, in fact, wriggle away.

I saw Gandolfini at the playground a few other times (Michael Imperioli, too -- the place was very safe). And now I'm thinking of his kids, and the loss they suffered, and the fact that the world is diminished just a bit more because a terrific talent has left us.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gary Carter at the 7-Eleven

Gary Carter, the Mets' starting catcher on their highly entertaining mid- to late 1980s teams, has four small brain tumors. He joins an ever-lengthening list of people in my thoughts and prayers.

Back in the day, I ran into him once after a game a Shea Stadium. It was in the summer of 1987 in a 7-Eleven in Syosset, Long Island. By that point, Carter's offensive skills were diminshing, although he could still field the position, and the fans were starting to get on him. I attended a Mets-Cardinals with my brother, Andrew. Passions between the two teams ran high in those days, and the crwod was glum, if not downright surly, as the Cards took a 2-0 lead into the late innings.

In the top of the eighth, St. Louis had runners on first and second with nobody out. Doc Gooden was tiring, the Cardinals' pitcher was batting, and everybody who's ever attended a baseball game knew that he would try to bunt the runners over. That would have given the Cards runners on second and third, only one out, and a chance to pad their lead.

The St. Louis pitcher (I forget who it was) offered at a pitch and missed. Suddenly Carter sprang up and fired the ball to second. The Cardinals runner must have overly optimistic about his pitcher getting the bunt down, because he was way off the bag. So he took off for third. It wasn't a bad decision -- force the Mets to make a play. Anybody who's ever followed the Mets for a while knows that defense has rarely been the team's strong suit.

The runner was thrown out at third. And then, for reasons I will never understand, the runner on first took off for second. The Mets' third baseman made a strong throw to second, and that runner, too, was gunned down.

Two runners thrown out without the ball ever being batted into play. I've never seen that, before or since.

Anyway, the crowd roared back to life, the Mets started hitting the ball, and they went on to win, 3-2. And it all started because of a really alert play by Gary Carter.

I lived on Long Island at the time, and after the game I went to a 7-Eleven near my home to pick up a couple of things. As I was walking toward the cash register I heard the woman behind the counter yammering on and it sounded as if she was saying, "blah blah blah YANKEES ... blah blah blah YANKEES ... blah blah blah YANKEES."

I was coming home from a really good Mets win, and I was thinking, "The last thing in the world I want to deal with right now is some moronic Yankee fan."

There was a guy ahead of me at the register. I put my stuff on the counter and looked at him.

It was Gary Carter.

The man was huge. At least 6-foot-2, about 210 pounds and built like a block of granite. He was also buying the biggest bag of barbecued Doritos I've ever seen.

He said something to the woman behind the register about how the fans were getting on him because he wasn't hitting.

At this point I piped up and said: "I was at the game tonight! You made the play that turned the game around when you picked that runner off second!"

Carter was extremely gracious. He thanked me, then shook his head ruefuelly and said, "But the fans, all they want is offensive production."

I tried to buck him up: "There are plenty of ways to win a game, and you figured one out! That was a great play!!!!"

He thanked me again, took his 50-pound bag of Diroitos and headed for his car. As he did, I thought to myself, "I just tried to cheer up a guy who makes two million dollars a year."

And if I could say anything to cheer him up now, I would. He was a great player, and I wish him nothing but the best.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Death of Bin Laden

My feelings about the news are not ones of happiness, or even satisfaction. Rather, I have the sense that something that needed to be done, has been done.

The helicopters have been buzzing over downtown all day, as if the authorities are afraid he'll launch an attack on the fast-developing site he tried to destroy nearly ten years ago. Officials -- the Very Serious People we are all supposed to take Very Seriously -- are warning us once again that the Snidely Whiplashes of the world are about to tie us to the railroad tracks.

This attitude is what's wrong and perverse about our approaches to terrorism. The bad guys want to terrorize us, and we allow ourselves to be terrorized.

Jill, Skyler and I recently spent a few days in Washington. As we, members of the public, tried to gain access to our public buildings, it became painfully apparent that the people in charge of our security remain deeply afraid about the possibility of, well, everything.

This is no way to live. Security theater will never replace true security ... and true, absolute security is impossible to achieve, even in totalitarian states. The death of bin Laden will only have meaning if it brings about the death of an attitude: that we should be afraid, and that we can accomplish nothing worthwhile because the world is full of boogymen.

There are no boogymen. Except those we see in the mirror.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reading on My Mind

About 30 people attended the reading at the Cell Theater on Sunday, Nov. 7, that featured Charles Salzberg, Katia Lief, Mary Stasia Concannon and myself. The theme was murder, and I don't think we disappointed anyone. I enjoyed myself thoroughly (deep down, I believe I'm a ham), and I even sold a couple of books. It was a great experience to hear the other writers; their work was interesting and twisted. Sometimes it's nice to realize that my mind isn't the only demented mind one out there.

The space itself was intriguing. It's a small theater on 23rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, and the seats are all pews, which gives it a hushed, church-like feel. The ceiling soars and the space is open. We spent some time speculating about what it might have been before it became a theater -- a church, a Quaker meeting hall, a firehouse -- but we never did get an answer.

Besides the reading series, which is held once a month, the theater is also the site of plays, concerts and recitals, and performance art.

After the reading, we got a chance to mingle with the members of the audience while enjoying wine and nibbles. I even got into an interesting conversation with a man named Schuyler. What are the odds on that?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Reading

I'll be doing a reading with two other mystery writers at the Cell Theater in Chelsea on Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. The organizers are asking for a $5 donation to cover the cost of wine and nibbles at the event. That sounds reasonable to me, but then again, I'm not disinterested in this process.

Here's a link for more information:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dennis Hopper, R.I.P. (or Something)

I'm writing this at the request of my brother, Andrew, who reminded me of it upon the recent death of Dennis Hopper. The story, as I heard it, ran like this.

In the 1980s, when Hopper was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, he was called the morning the nominations were announced by a New York Times reporter. The conversation went like this (caution: all quotes are approximations and may, in fact, be apocraphyl):

Reporter: Dennis, congratulations, you've been nominated for best supporting actor.
Hopper: Thanks. To be honest, I've been expecting this. I've got something prepared, if you don't mind.
Reporter: Great. Go ahead.
Hopper (reading from a paper): I want to thank the acadamy for this honor. "Blue Velvet" is one of the greatest pictures I've ever worked on --
Reporter: Dennis --
Hopper: David Lynch is a genius, a true artist --
Reporter: Dennis!
Hopper: And one of the great directors of our time.
Reporter: DENNIS!
Hopper (nonplussed): What?
Reporter: You weren't nominated for "Blue Velvet."
Hopper (after a pause): I wasn't?
Reporter: No.
Hopper: Then what the fuck was I nominated for?
Reporter: "Hoosiers."
Hopper (incredulous): "Hoosiers"?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Reporter: That's right.
Hopper (increasingly incredulous): I was nominated for "Hoosiers"!??!?!?!? For that piece of crap?!?!?!? "Hoosiers"?!?!?!?!?!? I can't fucking believe it!!!!!! What a piece of shit!!!!!! "Hoosiers"!?!?!?!?!? Those fucking fucks in the fucking academy wouldn't know a good fucking piece of work if it bit 'em in the fucking ass!!!!!! Fucking "Hoosiers"?!?!?!?!!?!? Those fucking fucks ....

Apparently, it went on like that for a while. And, unfortunately, not a word of it could be related to the paper's readers.

The story, as I mentioned above, may be apocraphyl. But, for the record, if Hopper made that point, I think it was a really good one.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

R.I.P. Dave Stern

I should have posted about this a few days ago, but the press of events has prevented me.

My college roommate, friend and writing partner, Dave Stern, died suddenly of a heart attack last weekend in his hometown of Marblehead, Mass. His love and commitment to his community were evident on Monday at his funeral -- about 1,000 people attended the service at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead.

Dave was 51, and left us all far too soon. We will always remember his humor, intelligence, energy, and innumerable kindnesses. In your thoughts and prayers please remember Dave; his wife, Sylvia; and their sons, Sam and Jeff.

Here is a link to Dave's death notice, which ran in The Boston Globe: