Only “Guys and Dolls” in the Building

July 21, 2022
Posted by Jay Livingston

I saw on a local news site that Nathan Lane is moving into the Dorilton, an elegant building on New York’s Upper West Side just a few blocks from where I live. Lane and his husband are paying $4.1 million for the seven-room apartment. 

I have been inside the Dorilton only once, and it was the site of one of the more embarrassing moments in my life.

In May of  1992, my son was invited to a birthday party for twins who were turning two. They were a half year older. We knew them and their parents from the nearby playgrounds, mostly the Elephant Playground in Riverside Park but in cold weather an indoor playground,  a large open space on the upper floor of a church. The family had an apartment in the Dorilton. There were only two apartments on that wing of the building. When you got off the elevator, if you turned right, you were in their apartment; if you turned left, you were in the other.

I knew some of the other people at the party — playground parents — but certainly not all.  At one point, I was passing through the foyer, and I came face to face with a man who I was sure I had seen before —  good looking, dark hair, 35-40. “You look familiar,” I said. “Do I know you maybe from the playground?” I thought he might have been an uncle who sometimes took the twins.

“No,” he siad, “I just live across the hall.”

“But I think I’ve seen you someplace,” I said.

“Well, I’m an actor, so maybe that’s it.”

Maybe so, but where had I seen him? On TV? A commercial?  New York is full of actors, and most of them are, to put it euphemistically, between roles — waiting tables and going to auditions. So not wanting to embarrass him, I asked as tactfully as I could what he was doing these days.

“I’m in the new production of ‘Guys and Dolls’”

I was too embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing about this production — the staging, the stars, etc. — except that it had opened just a few weeks before to rave reviews. I guess this guy had gotten lucky and landed a part. I didn’t want to reveal my ignorance, but I did know the show pretty well, so I asked, “What role do you have?”

“I’m Sky Masterson.”

Oh my god. He was the star of the show – well, one of the four stars.  Peter Gallagher, and he looked familiar because two or three years earlier, I had seen him in the movie “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” where he played one of the four main characters. I said something and slinked away. OK, it probably didn’t look like slinking. It looked like moving on, mixing, coffee in hand. But it felt like slinking. In the same way, the questions I’d asked him proabably didn’t seem offensive or denigrating to him, but in my mind, I knew that I was treating a Broadway star as though he were merely one of the thousands of unsuccessful hopefuls.

Eventually, the Gallagher family moved out of the Dorilton and went back to Los Angeles. But here is where we come full circle. The other important male character in “Guys and Dolls” is Nathan Detroit, and in that 1992 production, the part was played by Nathan Lane.

1. Here is the sociology I cropped out of the above narrative and have relegated to this long footnote:

Why was that incident embarrassing?

 Embarrassment, says Goffman in his famous essay on the topic, is about identity. “Identity” may be too grand a term here – “being a certain kind of person” would do — but “identity” is the term Goffman uses.

In a social situation, people must act in accordance with the identity they claim so that others will ratify that identity. If there’s a glitch on either side, you get embarrassment. Often, embarrassment disrupts a situation when a person does something that casts doubt on their “projected identity.” It’s hard to project an identity as a person who knows the norms of dress and decorum if you’re standing there with your fly not zipped.

But embarrassment also happens when we unwittingly fail to acknowledge or ratify someone else’s identity. This includes mistaken identity, like greeting someone warmly who turns out to be a total stranger, or making a remark to the “wrong” person. It also includes not knowing the relevant aspects about the other person’s identity, like the fact that they are the star of the biggest Broadway hit of the season.

2. Peter Gallagher made an appearance in this blog a few years ago (here) in a post with a video of him making the cast recording of the show.
3. The title of this post alludes to the Hulu TV series “Only Murders in the Building.” Nathan Lane will be a regular in the cast next season. The fictional building in that show is The Arconia. In real life, across Broadway from the Dorilton and two blocks north is a building called The Ansonia. It appears in several Hollywood films. Walter Matthau lives there in “The Sunshine Boys” as do Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda in “Single White Female.” In real life, I live there.

Gun Possession Law: I, the Jury

July 15, 2022
Posted by Jay Livingston

I thought that the Supreme Court decision in the recent gun-possession case was a bad decision. I still do, but as I listened to a recent podcast — Lulu Garcia-Navarro’s “First Person” (here) — my thinking about it changed. 

Sharone Mitchell Jr.  is a prosecutor. He’s Black. He grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He knows the dangers of guns. When he was in middle school, a classmate of his was shot. Another kid he was friendly with had a gun.

And yet, as he says on the podcast, he supports the Supreme Court’s recent decision that allows people to carry guns. His reason is that gun-possession laws are used mostly against Black men who are not criminals and who are merely trying to protect themselves.

There is just the random threat of violence growing up in the neighborhood, right, this idea of gangs and getting jumped, getting jumped for your Jordans or getting jumped for your Starter jacket. I think people had an interest in keeping themselves safe. My friend who showed me my first gun was of that same mindset. Like this is what I’m going to do to make sure that I protect myself.

Mitchell’s experience as a prosecutor provided him with more evidence to support that view.

As I became a more experienced attorney, more and more of our cases, my cases, involved guns. . . actually gun possession cases. They are people who are accused of illegally possessing a firearm. That was the vast majority of my cases.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: And just to be clear, that’s the only crime these people are being charged with a quarter of the time, just having a gun?

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Illegally having a gun, yeah.

I remembered my own encounter with gun laws. In the 1980s, I served as a juror on a gun-possession case. The defendant was a young Black man, and the case sounded very much like the ones Sharone Mitchell prosecuted.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: So can you talk me through the circumstances in which people are being arrested for gun possession not involving another crime? What typically draws the attention of the police in the first place?

Sharone Mitchell Jr.: Typically a search, you know, an encounter. Police could pull people over in a car. They could stop people on the street. We know that certain communities are policed very heavily. There’s lots of contact folks will have with police. So we’re talking young Black men in very particular neighborhoods.

That was my case all right. Harlem, one a.m.. Three Black men in a gypsy cab, two in the back seat, one (the eventual defendant) in the front passenger seat. The driver too is black. They make a brief stop for cigarettes, and as they pull out from the curb, the cops pull them over. They say that the cab had pulled out from the curb illegally, but that was clearly a pretext. The real reason was what Mitchell says: Black men in a Black neighborhood.

The driver, the DA’s main witness, testifies that when the man in the passenger seat saw the flashing light, he said, “Oh, shit,” and put something under his seat. The cops searched the car and under the seat they found a gun.

It seemed like a strong case, and I wondered why it hadn’t been pleaded out to some lesser charge. I knew that in New York illegal possession carried a mandatory one-year minimum sentence. So my first assumption was that our defendant was a bad guy, a criminal well-known to the police, a guy with a string of arrests and maybe a few stretches in prison, but that the gun charge was what they would get him on. At least he’d be off the streets for a year.

Instead, he seemed much more to fit Sharone Mitchell’s typical case. He took the stand in his own defense, and while the DA could not bring in any criminal history, she could ask about employment history. But our defendant had no long gaps between jobs that would indicate prison time. Even the DA allowed that the defendant was carrying the gun for protection. He had been mugged recently, and he was going to Harlem at one in the morning. But the law is the law.

In the jury room several people asked pretty much the same question that Mitchell raises: Hey, this is New York City.  Murders, robberies, assaults. Bad people doing bad things. Why are they wasting our time with a case like this?

We deliberated for about an hour.

Not guilty.