I had been running errands in my neighborhood, the Upper West Side. As I was walking north on Broadway, past the Northface store at the corner of 73rd Street, a middle-aged woman walking south said in an authoritative tone of voice:
Authoritative Woman: This used to be an Urban Outfitters.
My inner eavesdropper itched to interject:
Me: No, before it became Northface, it used to be the Gap. Urban Outfitters is still where it’s always been: on the corner of 72nd and Broadway.
I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for so long, before that space was Urban Outfitters, it was an HMV music store and before that, it was a Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust bank. But, as my late, great father would advise my inner neighborhood historian:
Dad: Don’t be a buttinsky.
So, I didn’t scratch that itch; I kept my pie hole shut and walked on. The woman’s know-it-all tone probably convinced her companion that she knew what she was talking about, assuming he was listening, because what a banal topic of conversation. What is so special about Urban Outfitters? It’s a store that would seem inclined to do reverse carding: if you’re over 21, you’re not allowed entry. If that couple had just had a meal heavy on carbs, he might have been struggling to maintain consciousness. But if he was lucid as they continued walking south, passing Urban Outfitters, he might have asked his mate:
Authoritative Woman’s Companion: Is this the Urban Outfitters store of your recollections, dear?
And today, she’s filing for divorce.
My first memorable encounter of someone speaking fact about fiction in an authoritative tone occurred thirty-seven years ago in my youth in San Francisco. Somehow, my brother Axel and I were selected to work a test screening of a film written by Neil Simon called The Goodbye Girl. The screening was taking place at the Northpoint, a movie theater on Powell Street. Our job was to hand out questionnaires and to collect them from audience members after they had seen the film. The stars, Richard Dreyfuss (who won the Best Actor Academy Award for this picture) and Marsha Mason, attended. Even Neil Simon was there (he was married to Mason then). This was a Big Deal test screening. We got to see the film and we collected a few bucks each. It was a sweet deal for us.
Axel and I, with about ten other people, met with the test screening organizers in an office at the theater. Axel, coincidentally, worked for a company located in the building next door, a business that gave him hunks of Jarlsburg cheese because someone there was cheese-connected. The test screening organizers were not familiar with the turf of the Northpoint. They were struggling to figure out logistics. My brother interjected in an authoritative tone of voice:
Axel: I work next door. Just walk left and then turn right; you’ll be right there.
That’s the plan they decided to follow. My inner skeptic surfaced.
Me: How do you know this? You don’t work here.
Axel: I know. I made it all up, but if you say something with enough conviction, people will believe you.
That is a valid point. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, odds are good that people will buy what you’re selling. Confidence is key, or in Axel’s case, conning was key. Axel was fed up with the organizers indecision about how to proceed, so he took it upon himself to be their unsolicited advisor. Fortunately for them, my brother did not volunteer to pilot their plane home. As for the woman speaking in an authoritative tone about the location of Urban Outfitters, she might have been surprised to see that she had misremembered the location of that store when she realized that it is still polluting the Upper West Side.
Somehow the screening worked out. I collected autographs from the stars and Neil Simon as they exited. Axel pounced on Richard Dreyfus to tell him how much he enjoyed his performance in Jaws. That memory still makes me die a little. Overall we had fun that night, but come to think of it thirty-seven years later, we were not asked to work another test screening again. Maybe someone caught onto Axel’s bluff, the directions he gave led straight into a parking lot and word spread to avoid hiring that obnoxious sibling act ever again.