When I moved to New York more than 20 years ago, I arrived jobless, so when I wasn’t sending out résumés and watching the Souter hearings, I did a lot of walking. I got pretty good at spying the quasifamous. One of my first sightings was Henny Youngman, shuffling down the same midtown block that the Friar’s Club is on. Once I saw Tony Bennett staring longingly at a garbage can. Another time, Fran Leibowitz enjoying a lunchtime smoke and a stroll. I sometimes wish I’d had a camera to document these sightings, but New Yorkers pride themselves on not reacting to the boldface names in their midst, so I had to learn to hide my natural Midwestern excitement. Eventually I turned it into a game. Whenever I saw someone who looked even vaguely like a celeb, I’d nod and say something like: Ladies and gentleman, Ms. Cloris Leachman. No matter whom I was with, heads would turn and hushed debate would ensue until a growing grin on my face would give the joke away.
Fast forward to March. I’m back in New York, this time with my wife and 6-year-old daughter, doing all the tourist stuff we never did when we lived there. Seeing the seal show at the Central Park Zoo. Exploring the Museum of Natural History. Going for dim sum in Chinatown. Dim sum—a glorious Chinese food-plosion involving waiters pushing rolling carts heaped with mysterious but delicious dishes—is something you’re supposed to do at least once if you live in New York, and I never had. This would be a great cultural experience for our daughter, we thought, even if all she ate were shrimp rolls (which she did). So we hooked up with two of our best friends in the city, Wayne and Monique, and took the subway to Canal Street.
Canal Street on any day is crowded but on Saturday it’s teeming with humanity. We wound our way to Jing Fong, a massive dim sum palace on Elizabeth Street, and as we approached the entrance, I saw this grizzled dude standing outside wearing a T-shirt that said “Bad Seeds.” It just so happened that Nick Cave (one of my all-time rock and roll heroes) and his band the Bad Seeds were playing that night at the Beacon Theatre, so I said to Wayne, “Hey, look. It’s Nick Cave.” Nick Cave is trim, has a dramatic swoop of jet-black hair, and is a natty dresser; this guy had a beer gut and a scraggly gray beard. He was definitely not Nick Cave. We chuckled and took the escalator up to Jing Fong’s vast banquet room. Half an hour later, I looked up from my plate of shumai and saw the bearded dude sitting in a raised banquette at the back of the room. Guess who was seated next to him, sipping green tea and flagging down waiters? No joke: Nick Cave. Like a bush league tourist, I grabbed my wife’s iPhone and snapped a picture. I couldn’t help myself.