09 May 2015

Hannah, her sisters, Woody Allen and me

The year was around 1985. The scene was the Upper West Side in New York City. Specifically it was inside Leo's Barbershop on 73rd and Amsterdam. About 11 a.m. on a weekday. I was inside the shop and Leo was making me look decent. His shop was unusually empty. I was the only customer in the shop. It was eerie. Like most in his trade, he depended on a steady flow of customers to pay the bills and get ahead. He had been a barber for decades, in NYC mostly, but was originally from Italy. So that I was the only one inside with him on a normal workday seemed odd. I asked him about the reason for such.

He told me that Mr Woody Allen had hired the shop from midday and that I was the last customer of the day. Seemed that Woody had hired out the shop for a previous movie he made, and that he and Leo had 'a relationship' of sorts. I did note a photo of Woody on the wall behind me. And if Woody were going to take the whole place, I wondered what movie it might be. Leo didn't know.

A few moments later, almost on cue, two men entered dismissing the "Closed" sign on the door. It was Woody and an offsider, no doubt. Wow, here was a movie legend, producer, director, writer, and here I was getting my haircut under the cape, and under the efficient tonsorial wizardry of Leo. I really wanted to speak with him. I was, after all, wearing a "Jews for Jesus" tshirt like this one pictured.  And Woody is a famous Jewish man, and dealt with stories of angst and the search for meaning and such. But he was in a class way above mine...

So I let it go. He was busy anyway, discussing so many things with his offsider. Leo finished my haircut and he took the hair-capturing cape off me. I arose from the barber chair. And Woody looked at me, or rather my shirt. He looked away. Then he did a double-take, looking back at the shirt. And that's when I should have said something. But I didn't. I'm sorry to this day that I didn't. Regrets, I have a few.

I left and didn't think about this episode particularly again for months. Then the next Woody Allen movie came out entitled, "Hannah and her sisters."  (1986) It was a typical Allen film with a great cast (Mia Farrow, Dianne Weist, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Richard Jenkins, Carrie Fisher...) and the problems of life and the meaning of life. The Allen character in the movie is (mis)diagnosed with a brain tumor and he begins seriously even investigating religion and spirituality. He is, of course, a Jewish man in the role he plays, and his search for meaning actually takes him to the Catholic church and he seeks to convert. The scenes that follow are comic, real, disclosing and helpful for anyone who wants to know what Jewish people are thinking in this consideration of conversion.

After Woody meets with a priest, we see Woody on the Upper West Side. He goes inside a book shop and buys some items. That book shop was actually Leo's barbershop! The production crew changed things around and only used the front of the shop. Perhaps the inside shots were on the cutting room floor. I never knew. So the Woody character named Mickey, returns to his home and unpacks the conversion ware. What is inside the brown paper bag? What did Mickey buy at the Catholic book shop? A Bible, of course. And a crucifix (The Catholic version with Jesus still affixed to the cross). A loaf of white bread. A jar of mayonnaise.

No wonder Woody did a double-take on that barbershop day. His film character Mickey was going to convert to Jesus and here I was inside the shop where it would happen wearing a shirt .... well, you get it.

It's not too late for the real Woody Allen to write me. I promise not to be shy and avoid his email.
I promise to answer his questions, if they persist or linger at all.

And I promise to answer yours as well. Like why the white bread and mayonnaise? Like why search for meaning and give up before you find it? Ask, you just might get an answer that works.



No comments: