Sunday, June 6, 2010

Artie and the sandwich

Artie is 81 years old and the highest point of his life was that he was in a production of "The Fantasticks" almost 50 years ago.

We met oddly. He called my office to tell me he'd moved back to the area a year and a half ago and noticed that the jazz shows at Tamarack were both poorly promoted and poorly attended. Shocking, I know, but he wanted to talk to me about what he could do to help. He promised lunch. I said, "OK."

"I want to tell you that my heart isn't completely in this," he said as we sat, not having lunch at Jimmy Johns on Capitol Street. He even wore a seersucker suit for the occasion and how often do you seen one of those? In my line of work? Not too much.

"My head," he said, "I mean, is not really here. I've had a troubling week. It's been difficult."

The trouble for Artie is the same trouble it always is: women. Artie has three divorces under his belt and had been getting friendly with one of the women in the church choir where he also sings. She straightened his tie. They shared some Nicholas Sparks inspired dialogue, had dinner, went to see some really poorly promoted and poorly attended jazz shows at Tamarack, but he believes she's been stringing him along as a "foil" for another man.

The love and sex lives of octogenarians who also collect, and distribute to friends, carved coal "art" don't usually interest me, but he'd promised lunch and I was willing to listen since there was shit either of us can do to encourage people from Charleston to go see jazz bands nobody has heard of at the state's premier highway rest stop and souvenir emporium.

"I went to see her," he told me. "And there was a big sports utility vehicle parked in the drive."

He shook his head. It was disappointing. He liked her. He might have been considering making her number four.

Artie also likes music, which led to an odd aside into his experiences with "The Fantasticks," the single greatest moment in his life, where for about two months in the early 60s he performed nightly in Chicago with some little troupe who'd managed to secure permission through a dodgy connection with Jerry Orbach (he was also on "Law and Order"). One night, one of their friends used another dodgy connection to bring the whole cast in while Frank Sinatra rehearsed with Count Basie.

"The orchestra played and Frank stood by his microphone and kept time, snapping his fingers," Artie said. "He mouthed the words to the song, but never sang. "

The rat pack were all sitting in the front row. At the end of each song, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Joey Bishop, Shirley MacLaine and a few others would hoot and cheer like it was the greatest thing to ever happen.

Artie thought it was pretty cool, too, and I had to agree, though I wouldn't have minded a sandwich.

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