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My Buddy Akalitus

June 18, 2013

akalitusOn 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.

chicoAnd 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.

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  1. Years ago, the actor Dom DeLuise rented a house in Fair Harbor in Fire Island. We all knew he was out there, and we would see him in town from time to time. One day, I was swimming in the bay when I heard some say “Hey, kid! Come here!” I looked around a bit and didn’t see anything, so I went back to swimming. A couple of minutes later, the same thing. So, I look around again. Then I notice a man standing waist-deep in the bay a short distance away. We make eye contact and he starts gesturing for me to swim over to him. It’s the aforementioned actor, who says to me,” Kid, ya gotta help me find some clams. I bet my brother-in-law fifty bucks I could find more clams than him.” So, I went clamming with Dom DeLuise. I encountered him a few more times that summer.

    The punchline is that I was living with my mother in Los Angeles at the time, so I returned to the West Coast at the end of the summer. That fall, I was in a movie theater in Westwood with my grandmother when she elbows me and says, “Look! There’s Dom DeLuise!” So I say, “Come on, grandma. I know him,” and proceed to lead my mortified grandmother by the hand over to where he and his family were standing. I say hello to him, and he says. “Hey! Look, honey, it’s that kid from Fire Island!.” He greeted us both very warmly and asked me why I was on the West Coast. We chatted for a bit and then parted. My grandmother was on her ass.

  2. Bruce permalink

    With anecdotes like that, I don’t see why you’re not on with Craig Ferguson more often. You brought a chuckle to my lunch hour after a challenging morning. Thanks.

  3. juliabarrett permalink

    Oh god, I think it was my mother, that Hadassah lady. Great story! Have fun on set.

  4. Thank you for a helluva day-brightener, Larry. I think you have stumbled onto the secret of having “good buddies” wherever you may go.

  5. Marianne permalink

    More people need to think/act that way – like everybody’s a friend. Then this would be a more friendly world & our lives would be so much more fun too!!

  6. Levin Messick permalink

    My problem is that when someone across the street waves I would not be able to recognize them if my life depended on it. So, I always smile and wave back! Getting old could be a bummer, can’t remember, can’t see, can’t hear. But I can still laugh and enjoy friends. May you be so blessed.

  7. Suz what permalink

    I love this story.

  8. Robin Gaige permalink

    A lovely story. I love Nurse Jackie and have always had that feeling that I know Gloria. The hallmark of a good actress, I suspect.

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