Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Misfits

Here's a little story I intended to write a few months ago but didn't get around to. It's on that recurring theme that has been following me around like a puppy, karma vs. coincidence.

But before I get into it, let me remind you that driving a cab in New York City is like being spun in circles on the Wheel of Fortune. We who drive the iconic yellow cabs do all our business off the street. No one calls us on a telephone to get our services. It's just a random coming together of a person on the street - one person out of millions walking around in the city - with one of the 13,187 cabs that are in their own random motion from east side to west, from west side to east, like a kaleidoscope of yellow. So to speak.

So with all this random motion, when something happens that seems to defy the randomness of it - something that would make coincidence seem like a naive explanation - one begins to get the idea that "something's happening but we don't know what it is". It's like sensing that there's a phenomenon going on and if we could just isolate exactly what that phenomenon is we would really be onto something.

In my case, I know that when I have my attention on something - especially when I have started to do something but have not completed it - I have a tendency to "pull in" whatever that thing is. It happened again recently...

My favorite television station is TCM - Turner Classic Movies. Here you can find more great, classic films than anywhere else in TV land. It's a premium channel, but to me it's worth a few bucks a month because I'm a big classic cinema fan. One day last July I was looking over the schedule and saw that a movie I'd always wanted to see but never had was slated to be on the air. So I set my video recorder to copy that movie. Its name is "The Misfits".

Some of the great names of cinema were in front and behind the camera in this film from 1961. The screenplay was written by Arthur Miller. It was directed by John Huston. And it starred Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift, who were all big names then (it was Gable's and Monroe's last movie), and co-starred an actress named Thelma Ritter and an actor named Eli Wallach.

The movie remained unwatched in my recorder for a few weeks, but it didn't matter because I could watch it whenever I felt like it. Finally, one day in August, I turned it on. I watched it for about half an hour and then, although I was enjoying it up to that point, I had to attend to other matters so I turned it off. But, again, it didn't matter because I could continue watching it whenever I felt like it.

Well, two months went by and I still hadn't gotten back to it. I record a lot of movies and sometimes I wind up with a backlog. C'est la vie. Having too many great films to watch is a problem I like having.

Then on October 13th I was driving 9J72 and stopped for three passengers at 16th and Park Avenue South. A 30-something fellow sat up front with me and an elderly man and woman were in the back seat. They were a pleasant group which created an easy air of conversation in the cab. The fellow up front with me would alternately chatter with the couple in the back and with me, talking about nothing in particular at first but eventually mentioning that they were all actors. In fact, he said, the passengers in the back seat were both renowned thespians who'd been in the theater for many, many years. Their names were Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach.

Eli Wallach!

I ask you, what are the odds of watching half an hour of a movie that was made 47 years ago and then having one of the stars of that movie walk into your cab? It was almost like having a character on the screen jump out and sit down next to you in the theater. Or reading a book about the Civil War and then there's a knock on the door and Abraham Lincoln is standing there.

Eli Wallach, now 92 years old and kicking, and his wife, Anne Jackson, were delightful passengers, happily fielding questions from me about their careers. I took great pleasure in being able to tell Mr. Wallach that I was in the middle of "The Misfits" but hadn't finished watching it yet.

"Don't tell me how it ends!" I pleaded.

So what do you think? Was this just a random coincidence? Or was it "something's happening but we don't know what it is"?

And if you were to click here for Pictures From A Taxi, would that be karma? Or just following orders?


Gilighan Qabista said...

Good stuff. There's no such thing as coincidence.

King of New York Hacks said...

KARMA G.S., Good Karma.

Lisa said...

Just happened across your blog when I googled karma vs. coincidence. Fell in love with Eli Wallach - when I saw him in "The Holiday". Not only will I check back in on your blog, but will be hunting down The Misfits this weekend!

jodester said...

i thought i saw this guy in Holiday! what a rom-com, what a sweet guy! have to see The Misfits!

Anonymous said...

Great stuff to read and you write it so well!
greetings Louis, Netherlands.

Sam said...


A man traveled to Atlantis
In a zone that is called 2
When it was darker than the twilight
After the bars stopped serving brew
It was not like what he called home
And the street it was on was Terminal
But the voices which talked to him
Were quiet & subliminal
The taxi which had taken him there
Was of standard colour yellow
And the quiet of the neighbourhood
Seemed as deceptive as it was mellow
For the cabby sat calmly behind the wheel
'Though everything was strange
Nothing here was certain
Each moment came with its change
Until return came to the earthly realm
And away from the one which did haunt
When the passenger found that Atlantis
Was the name of a restaurant.

Sam said...

After a bit of reflection I realized that I should maybe kinda sorta share the incident behind the poem.
There's a number of towns along the coastline of the Island where I live and, this fellow went to his favourite bar in his town. He met some friends who introduced him to some of their friends and people came and went as sometimes happens in a bar. After some time he didn't know anyone at the table where he was sitting but everyone was getting along when it was suggested that everyone should contribute for a case of beer to go and go for a ride in someone's van. Beer was aquired and off they went. What the character in the story didn't realize was that they went to another bar in another town.
So, they sat a table and people came and people went and the van people were all gone (perhaps a nasty prank on the person who they'd transported from one town to another) but everyone was still getting along and our original character was invited to a party when the bar closed for the night. Some time later the police arrived and declared the party over and called for a bunch of taxis. My cab was among the taxis and the guy who this story is about got in the cab in front of me and got out and got in my cab. The driver who'd sent him away warned me on the radio that this guy wanted to go to another town for five dollars (about a thirty dollar fare at the time.) I tried to talk sense to him for a few minutes then; realizing the state he was in; decided that this was futile when; he asked me to drive him to the pizza place "just north of downtown" for five dollars. I said that I could do that and, off we went.
When we arrived at Atlantis Restaurant I wasn't thinking about the large sign over the window that only said "Atlanis" not "Atlantis Restaurant" or "Atlantis Pizza" - just "Atlantis."
What I did notice was that he was just sitting there with his eyes bugging out and jaw hanging slack with a look of horror on his face. I didn't know that he was unaware of the town transfer and that he'd never heard of Atlantis Restaurant; that came later.
I asked for the fare several times but he just sat there staring. He asked the name of the street in front of the restaurant and his eyes got bigger and the look of horror increased when I told him that it was Terminal. Then, he asked in a slow, cautious and quavering voice what town or city we were in. When I answered, "Nanaimo" the tension departed in a rush and he sagged in relief. Due to living in a neighbouring town the name of the town where I worked was familiar to him. He counted out all his money (no credit or debit card use in taxis at the time) and had almost, but not enough, to get home. I told him that if he gave me all of it I'd take him to his front door so, he forked over and off we went; sorting out the details as we proceeded including his claim that the music from the "Twilight Zone" was running through his head as he stared at the sign.
"Meet Joe, he's about to take a taxi to the.......... "Twilight Zone." Da da, da da, da da, da da.
I realized later that this should qualify as a bona fide trip to the Twilight Zone but, was a bit miffed when I realized that it was his trip not mine as I was just the driver who took him there - and back thankfully. I got over it.

Q. What's worse than raining cats and dogs?
A. Hailing taxis.

Imagine all those taxis falling from the sky.