“Hey, take my name: Whiteheart. Back in the day, it was a bad thing.”
He sounded so full of shit, but I let him continue.
“But now, it sounds courageous or something. When really, back then in England it meant, like, cowardly.”
He took out his harmonica. “No, no, I don’t know much man, you know. I’ve only been playing this thing since 1963… I… I’ll tell you what.”
He was way too close to me and had quickly lost any charm that he may have initially brought into the doorway of our Soho boutique hotel. I had come onto my midnight doorman shift, and this guy was just there. He was a middle-aged New York Irishman and presumably an out of work actor: drunk, abrasive and all-knowing.
He finished smoking, and I held the door open, hoping he would go inside or anywhere away from us. “Nah man… anywhere you go, there you are man,” he said, with long pauses between statements. “I’ll tell you what… Hey, close that fuckin’ door, man. No one’s going inside. Hey! This right here,” he said, looking at our little piece of territory, “this is OUR deal.”
I closed the door and stared him down a second to take the drunken sense of ownership away from him. He backed up two inches and continued.
“Right there,” he said, pointing to the corner, “right there I was talking with Tim Roth, the actor. And he says, and I’m not gonna try to do his accent, but we were rapping.”
He was encroaching again. “Hi, how do you do?” There was a passerby who also looked annoyed. “What, you don’t say hello?”
A “hello” fell out with a huff of air as he disappeared inside.
“So, I ask Tim Roth. I ask him, ‘Tim, what part of London are you from?’” He can’t help but use a little English accent as he continues: “And he says, ‘Brian, everyone thinks I’m from some highfalutin Kensington or such, but I’m from the East End. But, Brian,’ he says to me, ‘I have to go. I have a dinner party with the Gyllenhaals.’“
“I say, ‘fine,’ and I go back to my beer there in Fanetti’s. The next night, I see him again, and I ask him, ‘Tim, I see the name Roth. Are you Jewish?’ And he says to me, ‘Our original name was Smith, but there was so much suffering in WWII that my father changed his name to Roth as a sign of solidarity with the Jews.’ I say, ‘You’re fuckin’ with me.’ He says, ‘Brian, would I lie to you?’ So, Tim Roth’s real name is Tim Smith. Now, this is the real shit. You don’t learn this in a book. You don’t learn this in a goddamn… NYU acting class,” he said with an added smirk.
“You learn this on the streets of New York City baby,” he said. There was absolutely no stopping him now.
“These Italian guys… Now the mobsters, from the early pictures… Jimmy Cagney…” He landed on something he could talk about again.
“Jimmy Cagney, James Cagney was from 102nd and Third Avenue, a real New Yorker. This was back when Yorkville was fuckin’ Yorkville: Italians, Jews and Germans…and Irish. James Cagney told me, ‘You wanna know how I act? Brian, you wanna know how I act?’ I say, ‘Jimmy, yeah of course.’ He says, ‘I jump into a room, plant both feet, look someone in the eye and let him have it.’ This is it. Jimmy fuckin’ Cagney… There’s no greater stage than New York City.”
He paused for a second to let this old standard gem of knowledge soak in before he began again. “But you wanna know who the original gangster was? The original O.G.?”
“Sure,” Juan replied with his feathery Colombian stoner accent. It was unnecessary since we both knew he’d continue unabated. It was my chance to escape inside somewhere, but this was at least something interesting.
“The original gangster was a little guy in England called William Fuckin’ Shakespeare. Now I’m talking…500 years ago…Richard the Third comes out and does what no other Shakespeare lead does and addresses the audience.”
He backed up theatrically and ran his hand through his thick sprout of sandy hair. He hung his head down, curled his arm into a gimp and began his soliloquy. We laughed together and then let ourselves enjoy the performance.
“But, cursed I am, beggar I am, villain and….” He saw us look past him toward the street. A black Escalade pulled up, and we moved into position to get any doors or bags that might need opening or lifting. Shakespeare turned and continued, a moving stage, “and from the cursed shadow of the damned, of the wicked decay…” on and on as three ultra-famous actors from movies with explosions file out. The radio is blasting a bouncy club rhythm.
“From the murk, hence I am an …OUTRAGE…an…ABOMINATION OF THE PUBLIC PARADE.” And he freezes in a bow as they look down to the ground or right past him to the entrance of the nightclub.
They disappear and the driver pulls away, leaving the stage strangely quiet.