Your life can change in an instant. One moment you’re feeling competent, capable, and up for anything the day has in store for you, and the next moment you are walking the streets of Manhattan scanning the filthy pavement for pennies. It happened to me.
When you are an actor-singer-dancer-magician-variety artist in NYC you’re sometimes carrying your whole life around in your shoulder bag. Today’s true story is about the day I subwayed into Manhattan from Queens full of hope and energy, and ready for another full day of trying to make it in show business. I left for Manhattan at 9:00am, and I wasn’t expecting to get home to Queens until around 11:30pm. My shoulder bag was packed to bursting on that fateful day. My first stop was the Ansonia Hotel, 73rd and Broadway, for a call back for a new musical. It was a workshop production centered, of all things, on basketball.
Wanting to make a good impression, I borrowed my brother Pat’s brand new $85 basketball sneakers ($85 was a lot of money for sneakers in 1979). I also brought along a new terry cloth shirt and short ensemble I was allowed to keep from a recent mime/modelling job I did. After the callback I would head down to midtown for a rehearsal of show that was going to open at the Grand Finale Nightclub in a few days. Next I had my usual jazz dance class at Carnegie Hall studio, and that evening I had a rehearsal in the East Village for a show that would open in a few weeks (the one in which I met my life partner, Gretchen, by the way). So, in addition to all of the basketball stuff, my shoulder bag also contained my dance shoes, a stack of headshots, custom transposed audition music (my only copies), rehearsal clothes, my ID, and what little money I had. But probably the most valuable thing I had in that bag was my little black appointment/address book. In this book was not only every important phone number I had accumulated up to that point, but also all of the dates and contacts for my magic gigs for the rest of the year.
So, you can imagine my “chagrin” when, while having a cup of rice pudding in The Ansonia coffee shop before the callback, I reached for my shoulder bag to pay and discovered it was gone! (#$@&%*!) How you might ask does a hardened, experienced New Yorker let someone steal what amounts to not only his whole day, but possibly his whole life? I was sitting at the counter and had to put the bag on the floor, so like a good New Yorker I put my foot through the shoulder strap, in case someone tried to merely grab it. So, this means that my assailant had somehow managed to cut the strap without my noticing (a feat in itself), then slip the bag out from under me. Some serious genius misdirection was employed to achieve this, and I almost had to admire the perpetrator's skill. However, I was not in the mood to be appreciative.
What I did in hindsight was impressive. After explaining that I couldn’t pay for the rice pudding (I think the real tears in my eyes gave me a certain believability), I went to the "basketball musical" callback and not only sang (without accompaniment), but also danced barefoot in my street clothes. I then went to the afternoon rehearsal and again danced barefoot in my street clothes for 2 hours. I skipped the dance class at Carnegie Hall and used the time to walk all the way down to lower Manhattan for my evening rehearsal – all the while scanning the sidewalk for any coins I might find to pay for my subway ride home to Queens later that night.
I never did find enough money for a subway fare, but someone at the evening rehearsal lent me enough for a subway token. They also offered to buy me a sandwich, since I hadn’t had anything to eat since the rice pudding that morning. A week or so later I got a note in my mailbox telling me something was awaiting postage for me at the Post Office. It was my little black apt/address book! Someone, maybe even the perpetrator, saw the intrinsic value of this book and threw it into a mailbox.
So, in retrospect, some really wonderful things happened to me that day. First, I learned that I could overcome a major setback with a certain amount of grace. Then I was given these gifts: free rice pudding, a much needed sandwich, and a subway token. PLUS my little black book was miraculously returned to me. Oh, and I even got cast in that basketball musical! But I turned that show down, because I had a much better offer from the producers of the Tony Award winning musical, “Barnum”. Life was pretty good – even without my shoulder bag.