It was a maybe six to eight weeks ago that Rob came back from grabbing some lunch and said, "Guess who was behind me in line for the salad bar at Così."
"Who?" I said.
"Yep. He's really tall, too."
Rob came back from lunch a couple of days later and said, "I saw Chazz Palminteri at Così again. And guess who was with him."
"Way. They must be filming a movie around here or something."
But that didn't make sense, because on the set they would have had craft services. I didn't think any more about it, though, until one day the next week. I was returning to the office after getting a gyro from my favorite street vendor, when I saw Chazz Palminteri walking down the street toward me. It was surreal. He was wearing a black beret, a black leather duster, a black scoop-neck T-shirt, and black parachute pants tucked into black army boots. I thought for a minute he was going to offer me a Vanilla Coke, but he just walked past. Probably on his way to Così.
When I got back to the office, I delighted in telling Rob that I had seen Chazz too. (By now we were calling him just Chazz.)
A couple of days later, I walked into Così to get a salad for lunch. Unsurprisingly, Chazz was there, but he wasn't alone. It wasn't Al Pacino with him, though. It was Dominic Chianese.
Of course, I didn't think to myself, "Holy cow, Dominic Chianese is at Così!" I thought to myself, "Holy shit, Uncle Junior is at Così, and he looks like he wants to shoot somebody!"
Rob came into the office one day last week with a copy of that week's New Yorker. (Yes, computer programmers read The New Yorker too.) "Hey, I figured out why Chazz and all those guys were always together. They're all together in this Brecht play."
The play was The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, an allegory on the rise of Hitler that casts him and his cronies in the roles of Chicago gangsters. It was a production of Tony Randall's National Actors' Theater at Pace University. Pace University is down by City Hall, nowhere close to my office, but we figure they must have been rehearsing somewhere in our neighborhood before opening. The cast included not just the three mugs we'd already spotted, but also Billy Crudup, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Charles Durning, Paul Giamatti, William Sadler, and Tony Randall himself.
The play runs through November 10. It was Halloween when Laura and I decided to try to get tickets. Success didn't seem likely, but we figured we'd try. We called Telecharge, and surprise! There were still seats available and while I was purchasing two tickets, our friend Brian (who happened to be over at our place) asked me to get two tickets for him too. We ended up with four seats together.
So last night Laura and I arrived at the theater about forty-five minutes early. We went to the box office to pick up our tickets. The girl in the box office directed us to the will-call table set up around the corner. There were two lines at will call: A-L and M-Z. There was a long line at M-Z. There was no one at A-L. Go figure.
When we reached the head of the line, the helpful fellow behind the table couldn't find any tickets for Shunn. "Did you purchase them through Telecharge?" he asked.
"Okay, you should probably go to the box office then, because they can check your purchase on the computer and print your tickets. I hope."
So we went back to the box office. After waiting in that line, I explained to the girl that our tickets weren't at will call. I gave her my name. She checked a printed list and couldn't find my name on it. "Let me just look you up on the computer," she said.
By now, Laura and I were getting a little nervous. Brian and his boyfriend would be meeting us soon. What would we tell them about this ticket snafu if we couldn't get it sorted out?
The girl swiped my credit card, which brought my ticket purchase record up on the screen. "Um, I'm sorry, but this says you purchased tickets for October 31st."
"No," I said. "I made the purchase on October 31st. We bought tickets for tonight."
"Well, this says your tickets were for October 31st."
"That doesn't make any sense," said Laura. It was already ten at night when we made the purchase. "Why would we buy tickets for October 31st on October 31st? We bought them for tonight."
"I'm sure you did," said the girl, making clear she was sure we hadn't. "We do have seats you can purchase for this evening. I have four free. Would you like to do that?"
"You mean make another purchase?" I said. "What about the ones we already bought?"
"You'll have to call Telecharge to get that straightened out. Meantime, would you like to buy these four tickets?"
I didn't have another four hundred dollars available on my credit card, which is really a debit card, and I told the girl so.
"Well, you're free to call Telecharge now and see what they say." The girl very helpfully (yeah, right) printed us out the records of the original purchases, slid them under the glass, and turned her attention to the next customer.
"Do you have your cell phone?" Laura asked, getting agitated. If we couldn't straighten this out, we were going to have to find a branch of our bank and transfer money from savings.
I just studied the printouts, looking for a clue to what was going on. First thing I saw was that my name was down as WILLIAM CHUNN. The second thing I saw was that the printouts each very clearly said, 2 TICKET(S) FOR WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2002.
In smaller type, further down, the printout said, Sale date: 10/31/2002. The girl at the box office had been looking at the wrong field on her screen.
We got back in line.
"Oh, I'm sorry," said the girl a few minutes later, sounding anything but, when we made it to the head of the line again. "Your tickets will be under this name at will call."
So this time we got in line at A-L, and the helpful man there found our four tickets under CHUNN immediately.
"See, I knew they could straighten it all out at the box office," said Mr. M-Z, smiling. We were just glad we'd arrived at the theater with plenty of spare time for dealing with silly snafus.
As we were leaving the will-call table, Laura suddenly began slapping my arm in excitement, saying something that sounded like, "Laura Shunn! He said hi to me! Laura Shunn!"
"What?" I said. "Who? What are you talking about?" I looked where she was pointing and saw the back of a short man in a blue windbreaker, in line for will-call tickets. "He called you Laura Shunn?"
"No! He's Wallace Shawn! He said hi to me! You know me, I usually can't place people right off, but I saw him and I knew it was Wallace Shawn, so I just said hi, and he said hi back to me, but not like just hi, it was more like hi-i-i-i-i-i in that Wallace Shawn way, you know? Like he knew I knew who he was, and he enjoyed being recognized."
"In-con-theev-able!" I said. (Actually, I didn't say that, but I wish I had.)
"That's so cool," I said, and then the man in the blue windbreaker turned, and yup, it sure was Wallace Shawn.
We found Brian and Neosho outside, and we all settled into our seats for the show. It was a spirited play, delightfully and cleverly staged, and there wasn't an actor who didn't leave teeth marks all over the scenery. Pacino himself must have been dehydrated at the end of the performance, considering how much spit flew from his mouth on every plosive. The incidental music was original to the production, and was composed by Tom Waits, and the first act ended with a song sung by Steve Buscemi. (Buscemi Sings Waitscoming soon to your local record store.)
The strange thing, though, was that Chazz Palminteri's costume looked familiar to me. It wasn't just déjà vu. It was exactly the getup he'd been wearing the day I saw him on the street.
As much fun as the first act had been, the second act dragged, and it was hard to escape the realization that this was not a great production. But much of the play was enjoyable, some of it immensely so, and who could beat all that star-power on one stage?
After the show, the four of us decided to go for a drink. None of us knew any bars in the neighborhood, but across an empty parking lot we could see an Irish pub called the Beekman on the next block south. We beat a path for it.
The bar was only middling crowded, but the manager kindly seated us in the dining area, which was completely empty. When we saw the menu, we all realized we were hungry and decided to order food.
That was when Charles Durning entered with two of the other actors from the play and was seated at the table next to ours.
And that was only the beginning. Dominic Chianese showed up a few minutes later with a tiny entourage, and a couple of other groups of actors wandered in shortly as well. We realized at that point that it was probably inevitablethis was the only open bar in the neighborhood, and if we had found it, no doubt it was the obvious post-show hangout.
Anthony Heald was not in the play, but he was probably in the audience because he and a female companion ate dinner at the table across from ours. John Goodman showed up halfway through dinner, and as he bent to say something to Charles Durning, Laura looked at him and raised her pint of bass. He tossed her a nod and a smile.
By the time we finished eating, the dining area was crowded with gangsters. The only high drama may have taken place at the box office, but it was a thrilling evening nonetheless. It might not have been worth eight hundred dollars, but we certainly got our four hundred dollars' worth.
Too bad Rob is home sick today. I can't wait to tell him all about it.