Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hold me closer, Tony Danza

This past week, I was in New York for work:

That's me in CNN's headquarters, at the Time Warner Center. It was pretty damn exciting.

But CNN isn't what I wanted to tell you about. What I wanted to tell you was the fact that I met this guy, y'all!

And we had a 20-minute conversation, a highlight of which was hearing about his boyhood involvement in a rollerskating - rollerskating! - gang called "The Shade Brigade." Allow me to explain.

So my colleagues and I are at a book launch in New York for one of our authors. The party is at Robert DeNiro's newly-opened Italian restaurant Ago, in Greenwich Village. My work buddy and I had been tromping around New York all day visiting producers, agents, and publishers, and had literally just changed into cocktail dresses in a bar down the street. (Let's not talk about my hair.) We approached Ago's private back room, where a dark, medallion-ed gentleman was guarding the door. After brief introductions, we were let in.

"Remember: there are two confirmed mafiosi here tonight," said my work friend. "Look for the pinky rings."

I did. I spotted Chuck Zito instead -- close, but no cigar.

Now, I've always considered myself so-so at cocktail parties. I prefer to strike a balance between full-on "working the room" (an expression I hate anyway) and cornering one unlucky soul in the corner. The trick, I think, is to find a couple of things you have in common with a new person, and go from there. So a gorgeous woman named Jerry and I started chatting - Jerry, among other things, shares a mutual love for H&M and thick-hair products - when I asked her how she knew the author.

"Oh, he's friends with my cousin Tony," said Jerry, gesturing to a gray-haired man standing about 10 feet away from us. And then, with the good-natured tone of someone who's used to performing this small charity for strangers, and no longer considers it pushy or off-putting, asks: "Do you wanna meet Tony?"

Over walks Tony Danza. He's smaller than you remember. He looks past me as Jerry introduces us, already starting a new conversation with someone else halfway across the room. I smile, Tony leaves, and Jerry and I resume talking about shopping.

I think with most famous-people encounters, that's where it ends. But wait.

My stupid high heels are killing my feet, so I get another drink and trip over to a long, wooden table in the corner of the room. Our author is seated there among displayed copies of his new book, shaking hands with several close friends and family members. There's only one seat left: I pull up next to Tony.

"So how do you know Phil?" I ask. (Phil's our author.)

"Well, we was kids togetha, ya know. Grew up wit dis guy. Used ta ride around on rolla-skates, wit shades on our faces - we was The Shade Brigade."

This charms me to the core, since I know our author grew up next door to the Mob. I get a visual of Tony Soprano on rollerskates - priceless, right?

"If your mom was anything like mine," I said, "she made you wear the elbow pads, the wrist guards, the knee pads - totally dorky. Your mom?"

And then, we were off and running. Tony asks how long I've been married. "Newlyweds!" he cheers. I told Tony about R., and the fact that he's a teacher. "I wanna go back an' be a teacher myself," he said. And what subject? "American History." You don't say! My dad wants to go back and teach American History. "Teachers are the best people," he said. "Gotta way wit words, like my buddy Phil."

Do you have any writing projects you're working on?

"Actually, I do - a cookbook. I wrote a cookbook with my son." (And it's true, he did). "I also wanna write a book about fame. Bein' famous is so different now than it used ta be."

I nod "knowingly." It sure is, isn't it?

Twice, people try to take our picture. And twice, he refuses. I wonder why? Oh well. I resist the urge to ask for a photo myself, and also to ask him who in fact was the boss - him, or Angela? Thinking better of it, I excuse myself for another drink instead. "Hey, nice to meet ya," said Tony. I rise and walk away, as he brushes off a stray tear. (Just kidding about that last part).

I've been wondering if Tony Danza is the type of actor to Google himself. Because if he is, surely he's seen this awesome shirt:

A shirt that I will someday buy for myself.


Amber Childres - Publicist said...

Hold me closer tony daaaanzaaaaaa....count the headlights on the hiiiighwaaaay.

Breanna said...

OMG, as soon as I saw Tony Danza in your NY pics, that very episode of Friends came to mind. Could Phoebe Buffay be inadvertently responsible for the continuation of Tona Danza's career? Discuss.

Kitty said...

This is so amazing! I totally love this story.