When I was but a wee lad at Columbia University in the City of New York as a freshly married, newly-out-of-college, first year graduate student studying theatre — I was pleased when a “Big Name” agent from a “Bigger Name” international talent agency came to one of the plays I wrote and wanted to “take a meeting” with me about representation. You live for moments like that in the hard life of the theatre.
Our “Big Meeting” was delayed about a month because of The Agent’s hectic travel schedule. When I arrived at the agency in Midtown Manhattan I took a seat in the large waiting room. I felt good and confident dressed in my best clothes. The young woman answering the phone was bored, rude and uninterested in answering the business phone because she was busy talking to her boyfriend on a second line.
The sound of a trilling phone was perpetual and never-ending. After a 45 minute wait for — The Agent — he finally emerged from from the suite of offices and when he saw me he did a double-take and stared at me from afar. He didn’t wave me over to follow him to join him in his office. He instead closed the door behind him and cautiously approached me. My gut alarm went off and told me that was not a good sign.
You were always “brought in” when you made an agent call unless you were cold calling — but this meeting had been set up for a long time. I stood — with freshly printed original script tucked under my arm — introduced myself and extended my hand for shaking.
The Agent did not meet my eye or take my hand. He fell into a lump in a leather chair across from me and limply motioned for me to place my script on the coffee table between us. I placed the script on the table and sat in silence.
I decided I would let him be the first one to speak. I glued my eyes on the script. I could hear The Agent repeatedly sighing. Finally, he spoke in a quiet, intimate voice.
“So. How have you been since last night?” I was still a bit of a country rube, a Big Bohunk, and a babe in a Big City — but I immediately did not like or understand his condescending tone. I looked up from the table and saw The Agent perched on the edge of his chair.
“I’ve been fine, thanks.” I replied.
“Oh, really?” His eyes became black buttons. “Fine, huh?” He was waiting for the response he wanted. His lips were quivering. I obviously wasn’t giving him the answer he needed, but it was the only answer I had.
“Yeah, fine. I had a great dinner with my wife last night. Lasagna.”
He was getting angry as he sputtered to find the right words. “So… so… so so…” I didn’t understand why he was getting so upset as his voice rose to a yell.
“So — so you’re saying we didn’t see each other last night, then?”
I was stopped. I had no idea what he was talking about and this was only the second time we’d seen each other. “I was with my wife last night.” I repeated.
The Agent popped up from his chair and started screaming and pointing his finger at me. “We weren’t together last night? Is that what you’re saying?” Now I was getting angry.
He obviously had me mixed up with some paramour or date or whatever he had the night before. I tried to remain calm in the midst of his emotional storm. I stood. I re-introduced myself. I reminded him of our previous meeting at Columbia.
I told him the last time we “saw” each other was at the performance of my play a month ago. I offered the possibility of a mistaken identity… The truth did not satisfy him.
“So that’s the way it’s going to be, then?” He placed his fists on his hips. I didn’t know what to say. I had no reply.
He crispy nodded at me — grabbed my script from the table and roughly folded it in half — and trotted back to the door leading to his office.
The Agent opened the door, looked at me over his shoulder, tossed my script into the trash bin next to him, and vanished behind the closed door.
I stood there frozen for a good 30 seconds as I tried to dissect what happened. The young receptionist was absolutely oblivious to the loud and curious conversation that played out before her. I wondered if I had been the subject of some sort of cruel joke.
I wondered what would have happened if I had played along with his mistaking me for someone else. I wondered if show business was the right career path for me.