Saturday was a classic actor’s day – a long day of errands, trudging on foot throughout the five boroughs, ending in my attending a reading by a theater company I’ve worked with before. After the show, and the requisite schmoozing, I started back home – and as I was too hot and exhausted to face an endless ride on the subway, I decided to splurge on a Metro North train ride to my North Bronx abode. As is inevitably the case, I arrived at Grand Central Station a few minutes after my train left, leaving me with a stretch of time to kill before the next departure. And so, still thirsty from the brutal August heat, I ducked into the cool gray comfort of a magazine kiosk to purchase a bottle of iced tea.
The register clerk was a short and crooked man, the sort of “character” this city has in such mind-reeling abundance. As I offered him my little bottle to scan, he looked at me quizzically, his head cocked at a strange angle (though it might be that way all the time), and said, “you’re an actor, right?”
Well, there’s an Equity card in my wallet, so I said, “yes.”
Having guessed right, his face lit up. “What have I seen you in?”
I was flummoxed for a moment. Usually, when people ask me if I’m an actor, it’s because they’re actors themselves and are confirming that they’ve seen me around at auditions and the like. And for a moment, that’s who I thought this gentleman was – he was such a “type” that Central Casting could easily find bookings for him. But no, he was a regular vendor, who thought he recognized me from movies or television. And the film and television projects I’ve done have been the sort of independent and student productions that largely go unseen.
“I do theater, mostly.”
Which is true, but it still left me wondering. The most recent shows I performed in last year were small, experimental little showcases, and if he’d been in their sparse audiences I would have remembered. Likewise, I didn’t remember him ever making his way up to St. Nicholas Avenue when I was performing with Classical Theater of Harlem. So did he even remember me at all? Was I having a conversation meant for some other actor, some genuinely prominent performer I might happen to resemble, with whom the vendor had confused me? Was I being asked about my profession, my very identity, by accident?
“Well, break a leg,” said the vendor, and I went off to my train, enjoying a benediction, and a bottled iced tea, that the vendor probably still believes he gave to Tim Robbins.