softening hard experience

I am waiting for a bus, trying to get home before I freeze to death

So I am in town, clearing the final details before I finally move here, and the city is locked in ice and snow. It has been gruelling so far, with lots of work, lots of socialising with friends old and new, unexpected drinking, and pained long-distance phone-calls from dripping phone booths. I seem to have found an apartment through friends, at least for the first month, which is a relief.

After an impromptu evening – over which I cast something of a pall – with new friends in the East Village, I head back towards Brooklyn and bed. The L turfs me up at Bedford Avenue, from where it is just too cold to walk back to Greenpoint, so I huddle in a doorway to wait for the 61 bus. Another man is waiting a few feet away, and after a few minutes, he walks into the middle of the empty street, cranes his neck, and pronounces to the freezing wind:


He turns to me and says, “It’s fuckin’ ridiculous, you wait 30 minutes and then three show up all at the same time… It’s fucked. Pleased to meet you anyhow. My name’s ******* *******, I’m Basque.”  Let’s call him Euskal Etxea…

I introduce myself and tell him I am from London. He immediately reels out an uncanny Terry Thomas accent:

“London, eh? Jolly good, old chap!”

I ask whether he is an actor, and, bizarrely, he is. He is on his way home from rehearsals. He tells me about the various plays he has been in, about how he came to know Gary Sinise and Harvey Keitel, and about his acting mentor at the HB Studio, Austin Pendleton.

The bus arrives, we pile in, and during the ride, Etxea mentions that he has only been acting for around ten years. I ask what he did before.

“I was an undercover cop, narcotics.”

“Like Donnie Brasco, you mean?”

“Donnie Brasco? Pah! Much deeper than that…”

“What else?”

“I was a sniper in Vietnam, a construction worker, and later I was a union official. Now I’m doing a play about a Russian poet. Do you know Anna Akhmatova?” He pulls out a battered script, but we are pulling into my stop, and our conversation is cut short. He hands me a card, and mentions that he gives acting classes too.

We part, and I head home to a particularly frustrating Google session, involving Rutger Hauer.

I think I am going to enjoy it here.


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