Monday, October 27, 2008

Way Out East

I was sitting in a theater on Friday night when Phillip Seymour Hoffman walked right by me.

He didn’t see me, but then I don’t think anyone else did either. I was feeling somewhat invisible on this night.

I had been stuck for something to do for the weekend, but I was determined to fight the gravitational pull of Netflix and my living room couch and get out into the alleged real world.

I was tempted to see the opening of Charley Kaufman’s movie, Synecdoche, New York, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, which opened on Friday, but sitting in a dark movie theater seemed a bit too similar to sitting on my couch.

You don’t meet too many people in the dark, or at least not the kind of people you want to hang around with once the lights come back on.

I decided that if I’m going to live in the five-borough asylum that is New York City, I really should do the New Yorky things that I couldn’t do when I was living in Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

So I went to the Labyrinth Theater Co.’s free play reading at the Public Theater, where, yes, smart-ass, I would sit in the dark by myself, but this is theater.

You can meet people more easily at a play than you can at a movie, especially during the matinee. I’m always chatting with fellow audience members when I go to a play, whereas when a movie ends, everybody heads for the doors.

I sat in the lobby reading the Village Voice waiting for the doors to open and scoping the people around me, keeping an eye out for attractive single women in my approximate age bracket and coming up with nothing.

I took a seat in the front row and hoped I’d have some free space on either side of me during the reading, but a lovey-dovey young couple whom I had seen in the lobby and tried to avoid gravitated to the two seats on my left.

The couple wrapped up in themselves and made little cooing noises at each other—God, I’m a cranky old bastard, aren’t I?—while I prayed for the lights to come down as quickly as possible.

It was then that a heavyset man with a full beard walked by me and I was sure it was Hoffman—no surprise given that he’s a member of the Labyrinth—but just to settle things, he greeted some women in the audience with just one word—“Ladies…” –and I was certain it was him.

Don’t stare, don’t stare, I shouted at myself as he walked to the back of the theater. You’re a New Yorker, not a yahoo from East Bumfuck. You’re supposed to be jaded; you’re supposed to be indifferent to everything around you.

But he’s one of my favorite actors, my inner yahoo whined, and his movie opens today!

Nobody cares what you think, schmuck, and he knows about the goddamn movie opening; he's in it, for Christ's sake. Just shut your piehole and act cool.

I sat there and fantasized about talking with Phil about theater, movies, the state of the world. I could tell him about my projects, give him a rundown of my own (exceedingly brief) stage career, and--the big one--invite him to read my blog.

Then we could all go out to some chi-chi club and talk art until the sun comes and the cows come home.

They Say The Neon Lights Are Bright...

Once again, however, I was blind-sided by reality. The two actors came out and began the reading and there I was, back on earth and sitting next to the clingy couple.

The actors were very good, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with the play itself.

Perhaps if there had been a real set and props, I would have felt more enthusiastic, but I found myself nodding at one point and then worrying that Hoffman might have seen me.

He won't take you to the chi-chi club if he sees you leaning over.

At the end of the show, I stood up, put on my jacket and looked up and locked eyes with Hoffman who was sitting way in the back.

Don’t stare, don’t stare!
I walked around the young couple and out the door. It turns out that Hoffman exited through another exit and once again I found myself locking eyes with the guy.

Get the hell out of here!

I walked quickly out the door and headed down to St. Mark’s Place to get some dinner. As always, this street was packed with people—nearly all of them young couples.

This city and this block in particular are so teeming with life I had to wonder why people feel a need to travel around the globe to “exotic” locations. St. Mark’s looks like a bazaar…and it looks like rather bizarre.

It’s fun being down there, but not so much when you’re alone. You can just slide right off the glittering surface of this city if you’re not careful.

This is the kind of thing I’ve been trying to change for years now and while I’ve made some progress, I still get caught flatfooted every so often and wind up on my own.

When I was living Connecticut, I once called a friend who lived in the Village one Friday night and whined about how I was stranded in, well, East Bumfuck.

But he told me he felt stranded in Manhattan, too, as he walked by these chi-chi clubs were everybody is young, aloof, and clad in black.

By the time I moved back to New York, my friend had gotten fed up with the whole scene and moved to a lake community in the wilds of New Jersey.

He told me he liked the East Bumfuck life, though he did miss some things about New York.

“You always give up something,” he said.

I wound having dinner at the Chipotle on St. Mark’s, after promising myself I wouldn’t, and got on line behind a young couple who were all wrapped up in each other.

After I got my chicken burrito and sat down with my Village Voice and hoped no one would take the empty table next to me.

But yet another young couple—how many does that make so far?--put their trays down and prepared to sit down. I’m like a young couple magnet. Why can’t I just attract the young women and get rid of the guys? Can't I break up the set?

The woman had to go to the bathroom, but before she could do that, the two of them just had to hug and kiss each other because they were going to be separated for such a terribly long time. I scarfed down my burrito and got the hell out of there.

The subway was catering only to young couples, as well, and wondered if maybe they should have their own train.

I think there should be some kind of warning sign for us aging types to stay home or go out on a different night. I’m tired of being part of the background.

Saturday night wasn’t much better. I went to one bar in Sunset Park, but bailed almost immediately because it was too loud, too crowded and too young. I ended up at a saloon at the end of the R line that was too quite, too empty, and too old.

Balance—that’s what I need, or else you start to slide.

This happened to me last week, while I was eating a sandwich at my desk. I had a flashback to when I was a kid eating lunch with my mother.

It wasn’t any particular memory; I just went back to a time when I could swing my legs off the seat and not come anywhere near the floor.

I was actually getting teary-eyed as the image became more real and I wondered what the hell was wrong me, why I had to take a perfectly lovely memory and use it as an excuse to start weeping.

My shrink had to point out that this was a beautiful memory and maybe I was crying because I don’t have anything new to replace it.

East Bumfuck isn’t a place on the map; it’s a state of mind. And you can spend your whole life there if you’re not careful.

I heard Charlie Kaufman, the writer and director of Synecdoche, New York, on the radio today talking about his flick and I'm really excited to see it now. But I don't want to go by myself.

Maybe I’ll ask Phil to come with me...and then we can start hitting the clubs.


Anonymous said...


Rob K said...

Lefty, Righty, I'm not Picky.

Mark said...

Anon wants me to help you out because we vacation with Phil and his family in the summer.

Rob K said...

For real?

Mark said...

Honest injun.

Mark said...

I've known Phil's girlfriend (and mother of their 3 children) for years. In fact, her sister is one of my best friends. My wife and Phil also have a working relationship. My wife is the General Manager of the Public and Phil's theatre company works in conjunction with the Public. We all go down to Cape May in the summer. Loads of fun.

Rob K said...

Well, I was going to say something about a small world, but I think I'll skip it.

Mark said...

Go ahead. Say it.

Rob K said...

Well, it's a small after all...