On a Sunday evening a little over a month ago, my Frequent Companion and I were on our way to the Encores! production of On Your Toes. As we walked west on 56th Street, I caught sight of an eastbound woman a few yards to my left. I knew her but couldn’t place her, and I smiled and gave her a wave. She smiled broadly, gave me a wave in return, and continued on toward Sixth Avenue while Lynne and I went on toward City Center.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” I said. “You know who that was?”
“A friend of yours, and she looked familiar, but—”
“That was Akalitus,” I said. She looked puzzled. “Anna Deavere Smith, she plays Gloria Akalitus on Nurse Jackie.”
“Oh, right. She’s a wonderful actress. I couldn’t place her.”
“Neither could I.”
“I didn’t know you knew her.”
“I don’t,” I said.
“But I thought I did, and I waved to her the way you wave in passing to a friend or acquaintance. And, since I thought I knew her, and acted accordingly, she thought she knew me, and waved back the same way.”
After the final curtain, we went home on the subway and watched that evening’s Nurse Jackie episode. As Edie Falco’s boss and hospital administrator, Smith’s character was having memory problems suggestive of dementia.
“There’s your friend Akalitus,” Lynne said. “No wonder she didn’t remember you.”
It was, to be sure, a nice New York moment, but it’s stayed with me more than I’d have expected. I’ve had a special feeling ever since for Anna Deavere Smith, as if we’ve known each other, although I’m not delusional enough to suppose that our relationship exists outside a shadowy chamber in my mind.
Nurse Jackie ended its fourth season two nights ago—Akulitis’s memory problems, I’m pleased to report, turned out to be the temporary side effect of medication—but I may not have to wait as long as the rest of you to renew my acquaintance with Ms. Smith. A friend of mine is the show’s executive producer, and has invited us to visit the set when they start shooting Season Five.
I look forward to my first meeting with my old pal.
And all of this, curiously, reminds me of a story. A Hollywood friend told me quite a few years ago about a woman of a certain age who’d done some organizational work for a benefit at which the actor Jack Albertson, then starring on TV in Chico and the Man, had appeared. Some months later she saw Albertson perform at a theater in Santa Monica, and the friend who accompanied her told her she ought to go backstage and say hello.
“I don’t know if I should do that,” she said. “He won’t remember me.”
“So? I bet he will. The two of you hit it off. And even if he doesn’t, you’ll say nice things about his performance and he’ll be flattered. Where’s the harm in that?”
So she went backstage, where Albertson gave her a big hello. She complimented him on his performance, and they chatted about this and that, and then he said, “And how about yourself? Are you working?”
Not really, she said, flustered. A little volunteer work, of course, and—
“Oh, that’s terrible,” Albertson said. “With your talent, and everything you’ve done in this business? You should be working. Listen, I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll find something on Chico for you…”
He knew that he knew her, and assumed that she was an actress. And now she had to explain that all she was was a Hadassah committee member, and not really up to learning lines for a TV role.
“With your talent, and everything you’ve done in this business…”
I’ll have to tell Akalitus that story. If I know her, she’ll get a kick out of it.