“I`ve known you since I was born; it`s about time you meet me!”. That’s what my sister was planning to say to Woody Alen by the end of the show. She rehearsed the phrase for weeks, since the moment we got the good news; we’d been granted a trip to New York. We couldn’t book a table (even though we tried a month in advance, the seats were sold over a month before that), but there still lived the hope of sitting at the bar, at the end of the show room.
To those who just got here, Woody Alen (mainly because of our parents influence) is one of our favorite filmmakers. We’ve watched his movies since our childhood, from his start at physical comedy up to his modern introspective experiences. And this very director, a nostalgic figure to us, is also a good jazz musician; clarinetist in a nice old band of nice old people that presents itself eight Mondays a year in a private room, down into a nook of a big, expensive hotel.
The show starts every time at 8:45pm. At 5:45, we were already waiting by the glass door to see if we would be able to enter. And we weren’t the first group in line. Still, since there wasn’t more than a handful of people before us, there was hope.
It was almost six thirty when the first major event took place: three Brazilian ladies burst through the front door, happily speaking about nothing in particular. One of them was talking to her friend back in Brazil at the phone as if she needed to push her voice all the way back to our country through the device so that she could be heard. As they were quite a bit confused as to the size of the line (greatly enhanced in the last forty minutes or so), my grandma decided it was a good idea to speak to them, telling the ladies that the line was, indeed, this one, what they promptly interpreted as an invitation to park right alongside us. The whole line behind us frowned as one, and my mother quickly and (almost) patiently explained that the end of the line was in fact forty meters behind, to which they made no actual remark but a snake-like hiss as they walked down the corridor. The echoes of the phone conversation (screaming) filled the room for several minutes to come.
Six forty. The empty room gives its first sign of live. I was still far from the door when it was open by a uniformed employee (who I later on would learn called himself “Pedro”), which asked, with a trumpet voice: Who’ve got reservations?
Promptly, eight visitors walked proudly into the room, followed by Pedro, who disappeared for a few more minutes (“go and ask him if we can go in!”, “no, mom, we can’t go in right now”, “go there and ask, otherwise I’ll go myself!”). Not long after that, Pedro reappeared and, at a second call, seven less punctual visitors with reservations followed after the first group.
For the next half hour, Pedro made the same call (“anyone with reservations?”) a few times, to no avail, and quickly explained (in fact at a speed that could qualify him as a Latino football radio shout-caster) to the left-overs that it wouldn’t do any good to wait by the door. “Go and take a walk around the area, eat something. We’ve got a bar right outside. There is no list: When the time comes, I’ll try and fit most of you inside, but you’ll have no seats. Stand up only. The price to come in is of U$XXX, plus the minimum spending of U$XX in drinks. Come back at 8:45pm and we will see what we can do.”
I find it necessary to remember the absurd speed with which he puked all the information in order to have an accurate image; the whole process took less than five seconds. I took five more minutes to explain to my mom why it wouldn’t do any good to stay still and wait there (“can’t we put our name in a list?”, “no, mom, he said ‘no’ to that.”, “go and ask him!”, “he already said no, I don’t need to ask anymore”, “go there and ask, otherwise I’ll go myself!”), and after that we took of to the streets, noting with melancholy that the Brazilian ladies from before were already setting camp by the door.
After a quick family discussion at the night streets of New York (New York!), we rearranged our setting. First off, my aunt (who isn’t an avid jazz lover, to say the least) and my grandmother (too tired to think) would go back to our own hotel and rest, what was made possible by my sister in a single, powerful whistle which stopped a taxi in its tracks and a quick word exchange between myself and the cabdriver to make sure they’d get to the right place in one go. In the end, there were four: my cousin, my sister, my mother and myself; a little family lost in the heart of Manhattan.
I’ll jump over the next hour or so; there’s no need to narrate the little chronicle that was the search for dinner (which took several minutes walking, getting lost in despair for the possibility of not seeing the show and a handful of not-exactly-compliments thrown at the BB ladies, the “Brazilian Bastards”), whose end was inside an incredibly good Italian restaurant, where my sister saw a old man who was surely someone famous (but whose name no one was able to remember) and I ate the best Carbonara in my life.
Belly full to the brim, we made our way back to the showroom. We were now much closer to the door. The BB ladies were as if glued to the door, real-life guard dogs; around them, some almost-hopeless visitors. For the first time, I was able to take a good look through the glass door; the room was kind of small for a showroom, with about twenty little tables (full) and eight stools by the bar (full).
Pedro stuck out his head once more, speaking in his now familiar shout-caster pace that there was still an empty table, with three seats, to which the BB ladies immediately squeezed through the opening, barely listening Pedro as he listed the additional U$XX for the table and U$XXX for the extra service and even less the cries of dismay of a couple of blonde teenagers that was waiting in line for much longer than they were for a chance to go inside.
A trumpet player asked for the little crowd excuse as he walked on to the door and up to the stage. One by one, the rest of the band passed by and took their places at the stage; “god, will Woody also come through this corridor?!”.
The answer came ten minutes after, precisely at a quarter till nine. Woody entered the showroom using a backdoor, walked through the tables and up to the stage without looking up, the clarinet clenched in his right hand, and sat at his little wooden chair. Less than a minute after that, there was music. While at the people at the tables were in bliss, we, the pariahs, tried our best to have a good look at the tiny celebrity at the next room. We held our breath fast as Pedro came closer once again; “All right, I managed to fit all of you inside. You four, come with me.”
The teenage couple opened their mouths in fury as even more people got into the room before they did, and I faltered for almost a whole second before sending them to hell in my minds own little world and following my family inside the room (Woody. Freaking. Alen.)
We were as far from the stage as we could possibly be without actually getting out of the room, behind the cash register counter. Still, it was a good view for my cousin and me. Mother and sister, vertically impaired, elbowed their way through the crowd in search of a better place to exist in that little jazz world. The BB ladies, as I ascertained with pleasure, were squeezed in a tiny tight table, behind the piano, with little to no view to anything; still, they managed to hold up to proud (even if not broad) little smiles.
I was not long before I found a position in which I could stay higher, precariously poised at the edge of a table, my behind leaning at the backdoor. There I stood with the camera, unsure what I was supposed to do; take a picture and freeze the moment in time or record video as to not lose Woody’s mannerisms while he played or stood waiting for his turn to play, blowing his nose, scratching his left ear with his right hand or swinging his head to the music. Sometimes I did one, sometimes the other. Taking into account my position, I couldn’t think of many possible angles and motives to film, since even the biggest zoom in of the big lens wasn’t enough to make any kind of close up, but I experimented a little with motion, going from Woody and his band to my sister, then to my own reflection at a mirror, expression frozen in a big smile, and back to the band; and all the time my cousin had the difficult task of feeding me some (illegal) beer while trying not to disrupt the recording, dropping the booze or making me fall from my circus acrobat perch.
Right next to us, a gentleman, whose hair seemed to have been entirely relocated to his mustache and whose waist was as large as his kind expression, chattered with two girls and a guy, his young companions, each with about seventeen years. From time to time, the girls whispered something among themselves, looked up to me and my cousin, giggled and looked away. The blonde gave more attention to my cousin, while the other one, with oriental features, kept looking up to me (certainly some kind of personal curse; maybe I can go back to that another time). Sighing, I decided that, since I was feigning to be someone old enough to legally drink the beer my cousin was holding for me, it wouldn’t make much sense to go after girls even younger than me. I shrugged; the music was first class, and I was managing to get some nice shots of the band from my nest.
When my feet and back bellowed louder than the band, I went down from my post and gave the camera to my cousin, who wanted to see the pictures. By his side, the mustached gentleman looked approvingly to the camera viewfinder. “You’ve got some nice pictures there, my boy!”. My cousin shook his head and, apologizing, pointed at me “I no... I don’t speak English... He. He speak.”. The gentleman, then, began talking with me and, as the jazz went on, we talked about my pictures there, at the show, about the pictures my sister had taken all over Manhattan, about Brazil, which he had once visited, about how the boy who was accompanying him was also a Brazilian (to which the boy briefly turned up to us and made a “hang loose” sign with his hand without, however, uttering a single word), and any loose subject that came up to our minds. I though of asking the girls names, and also what the gentleman did for a living, but I couldn’t find any breach to address the subject, as I would soon regret. As the show grew close to an end (half the band had already left the stage using the back door, right by my side), I decided to go back to my post and shoot some goodbye images. From there, I noticed my sister smartly posed as to intercept anyone who, in a close future, intended to cross the room from the stage up to the backdoor (read: Woody Alen).
An elegant man, suited up in black tie and with a transmitter stuck to his ear, in the best James Bond style, stepped into the room via the backdoor (almost knocking me down from my nest) and spoke a few, hurried words with my new friend, the gentleman with the mustache. “The chauffeur is ready.” “All right.”. The mustached gentleman, then, made a hand gesture to the girls and the boy, who promptly went out through the backdoor, just as Woody bellowed the final high pitch notes in his clarinet. What, I though, they will loose the end of the show! And he will probably pass through here on his way out!
I recorded the moviemaker as he got down from the stage, impressed by the fact that, watching him there at the little viewfinder, I felt as if watching one of his movies, his meticulous gestures and mannerisms jumping up to my eyes from the little frame. For a single moment, at the corner of the visor, my sister appeared to be inevitably fated to cross the path of our idol, but a more passionate fan intervened and, to Woody’s absolute horror, gave him a hug. For the first time since he entered the room, the artist rose his eyes, in desperate expression, but in less than a second he was saved by a fat man in a suit who, in a single swipe, removed the perpetrator and conducted Woody to the door next to me, keeping everyone away. It was only when both passed right by me, at a distance from which I could have touched them by reaching my arm (what I didn’t do less out of respect than as to not screw up my own shooting), that I noticed that the man taking care of Woody was the same mustached gentleman that few minutes prior was friendly talking with me.
The door closed behind them, and a security guard made sure it remained closed for a minute longer.
Shocked, my cousin and I were reunited with my mother and sister and exchanged tales; apparently, they had been through quite a few adventures over the last hour and half, which had made them some enemies, a non-official prize to my sister for being the “party’s soul” and “best dancer” and, even more curious, Pedro’s friendship, which took a little while to be explained since at the time I didn’t even know that that was the name of the man who first prevented and then let us into the showroom.
My sister and I went on to talk with the few musicians remaining at the stage, the pianist, the drummer and the banjo player, each of them an excellent musician. We managed to get the pianist attention: “Hey! Excuse us! So, my sister/brother and I at first came only to see Woody Alen, but we loved you/you guys are amazing!”. I’m not sure if it was due to the fact that we were so straight forward or that we spoke at the very same time very similar phrases, but the pianist first reaction was, for about two seconds, to blankly look at the couple of siblings before him. After that first weird moment, though, we engaged in conversation, in which he told us that he had once been to Brazil and wanted to go back some day, to which my sister quickly offered to cover the event for free. We exchanged cards and my sister gave him a DVD with a few of her short films (whose original destination was Woody’s jacket pocket), to which I hurriedly told him of my sister’s traits as a director.
We said goodbye, we thanked each other and, finally, we walked out into the night. We talked, we got lost, saw the Houston river for the first time while trying to find the Central Park. When we couldn’t walk any further, a pleasant taxi driver from the Ivory Coast took us back to the hotel (“What? I don’t know if it still be dangerous to walk in Central Park at night, but I be not trying that too soon.)
Well, the lesson learned in this story is simple; drinking is not always such a great idea. Anyway, what’s left right now are memories of an amazing show and a very pleasant night, all the laughter that came out of connecting the dots of the tales and the jokes told afterwards.
Maybe a couple of years from now (trusting in the advance of the medical sciences), when the “War Brothers” (“Irmãos Guerra”) become something, my sister still have the possibility of, be it in that same showroom or in a Oscar (®) award ceremony, saying in polished English to an elderly Woody Alen that phrase that she rehearsed so many times while facing the mirror.
(check out the video here)