A beautiful day in lower Manhattan, early autumn, cool enough for sweater vests, not sweaters, a sprinkle of rain in the early morning, the air windswept and sharp… just. Cool, diffused, leaf-dappled October light on the ground.
I had gotten off the A, or was it C train, some time ago, and was meandering towards Washington Square, loafing mode on max. On fall break from my school in Hong Kong, I was momentarily freed from numerous responsibilities. My only goal for the day was to saunter through lower Manhattan, make my way upwards, and see a museum or two when I reached the nexus of culture that would pop up towards Central Park. At least, that was my sense of the limited geography of the island.
Little school kids appeared, sporting matching yellow mackintoshes, first one, then a gaggle of them, chatting and laughing and bickering adorably. They were herded by their teachers into one of those schools in New York that is compact, yet homely, probably a space converted from the home of a wealthy or magnate of old New York industry. I stopped and smiled, how could one not? The sight seemed to come straight from a postcard.
They crossed my path to enter the school, and the last teacher in the rear passed, I looked up, still smiling, to see a friendly middle aged man, shorter than I was, with groceries on both hands. He too, was smiling at them, and the wrinkles of his face, so distinctive, warmly connected to the crows feet of his eyes. I know this face. It has adorned numerous billboards. It has grinned in such a way, but with much more sinister tones, next to the image of Spiderman, as its possessor flings exploding pumpkins – how appropriate, it’s fall season! – towards the viewer. It was the Green Goblin: Willem Dafoe.
Willem looked at me, we smiled a communal smile, and as he passed to carry his groceries home, I realized who he was.
This was the best kind of celebrity encounter. You don’t have to stay behind and make awkward conversation. You both shared a moment, and it was brief, but it resonates and you’re star struck the rest of the day. Lower Manhattan is now associated for you with this brush with an actor you’ve admired.
That evening, I forced my brother to come watch John Wick with me. Keanu was fine in a role made for his talents, but Willem in a supporting role as John Wick’s best friend was excellent, putting in a steady, calm performance that fully utilized, for once, his distinctive, kindly smile.