So I was on 116th Street crossing Broadway with my friend and we’re deep in conversation. Not sure what we were talking about. Maybe her job, or my job, or oxford commas, or the meaning of life, or the meaning of chocolate.
But it didn’t really matter, for in the corner of my eye I saw an older man, sporting one of those crumply wide-brimmed hats senior citizens and fishermen are wont to wear. The man was sitting on a bench on the median, like many perfectly respectable people do on Broadway.
It was hard to discern what he was doing; it seemed like he was innocuously staring at the sky, listening to the birds, perhaps stealing glances at passerby. At any rate, he had achieved perfect normalcy in his sitting.
But for all is effort to disguise himself as a normal senior citizen, it dawned on me as suddenly as a smack in the face that beneath that hat was the unmistakable visage of Wallace Shawn, who was Vizzini from The Princess Bride.
I never actually knew the man’s actual name or that of his character until I had to look it up for this post—his name being overshadowed by others more demanding of attention, like Inigo Montoya, Princess Buttercup and Prince Humperdink—I always identified him as the inconceivable guy who died laughing.
At any rate, in my excitement I was hit with amnesia and totally forgot the name of the damn movie, on top of not knowing this man’s real name, or even his character’s real name.
But I had to say something.
“OH MY GOD, ARE YOU THAT GUY?” was what I managed to blurt out.
His blue eyes widened behind is round spectacles, his mouth opened slightly as if he would say, No. You have the wrong man. I am innocent. This is not the guy you’re looking for. He certainly emanated innocence: an older gentleman enjoying a public bench until this crazed youth came along to disturb the peace.
My friend was confused by my behavior and rapture.
She looked beyond the median, far past Wallace Shawn, to where collegiates from Columbia University were streaming up and down Broadway.
“THAT guy,” I said, tilting my head at his general direction. He was literally two feet in front of us. “You know, that guy from that movie.”
It was the best I could do to clarify. While unable at the moment to conjure the movie’s name, I wanted to specify him as the man who introduced “inconceivable” to the lexicon of generations of American youth, the man with the malicious laugh who spat when he was angry. You know, not Inigo Montoya, but the bad bald man who died at the hands of a rare Australian poison, I would have pointed out, only it seemed mean, for sitting before me was not a bad bald man, but a harmless citizen devoid of evil machinations, whose only wish was to enjoy an afternoon on a bench.
Ultimately I hoped my friend would feel my intended message, but she was not being telepathic enough for my purposes.
I turned to the man, who looked at me, with his eyes still wide. Would he tell me the name of the damn movie he was in? Only there are lots and even if he did want to help me, he probably wouldn’t know where to start. But I felt my cerebral capacities becoming more anchored in the wide blue pools of his eyes.
“You know, The Princess Bride!” I was finally able to blurt out.
“Oh, yes I saw that movie–” started my friend, who seemed to be missing the point.
“You’re that guy from The Princess Bride,” I said, addressing Shawn again.
He had yet to say a single word, and really that’s all I needed him to do to confirm if it was really him, the inconceivable guy. How to describe that voice…like an angry, urban relation of Winnie the Pooh?
“Yes, I’m that guy,” he said, in that voice.
“Oh my God you ARE that guy!”
I’m not sure why he just sat there and tolerated such ridiculousness, but he stayed planted on the bench. His eyes remained wide, and his face seemed on the verge of smiling or grimacing. I half expected him to say “inconceivable,” and was slightly disappointed when he didn’t.
I mean, it is pretty inconceivable that I couldn’t just let the man be. I mean, this is New York City. There’s a celebrity on every corner. Okay, there’s not, but New Yorkers are expected to act like there are. And just nonchalantly walk by. Oh, it’s the guy from The Princess Bride, only my favorite movie when was a kid (before I discovered Star Wars). Pshhh. No biggie.
I apologized profusely for not acting like more of a New Yorker. I mean, I’ve met famous people before and I was totally able to act like a New Yorker (actually, when I was a nanny I met Michael Douglas at his and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s apartment and I was so nonchalant I spilled orange juice on their white rug—okay I didn’t, but the two year old I was taking care of did, so I’m guilty by association), but I guess this goes to show I haven’t been fully assimilated.
Because there was no undoing the embarrassment I figured I might as well go the whole nine yards.
“I’m really sorry. This is embarrassing, but…can I get a picture with you?”
He looked at his feet, then looked up at me and shrugged.
He still had that bemused look on his face, but maybe that’s just what his face looks like when he’s being himself, and not Vizzini.
“Yeah, sure,” he said with a shrug and a smile.
I handed my camera to my friend and that was that. I hope I was the last person to disturb Wallace Shawn’s peace that afternoon.