What comes to mind when you think of Woody Allen? Brilliant? Talented? Reclusive? Funny? Those are the kinds of words that described him for me in my youth. As a teenager growing up in New York, no one captured the essence of being a New Yorker like Woody Allen. When I saw Sleeper, I laughed so hard I cried. The same with Bananas. His recurring role as the intellectual New York loser touched my heart, and that he aimed his humor at anything and anyone earned my respect. I spent half my youth in a dark movie theater, and Woody Allen was my hero. The voice of the people. Then he changed all that for me, face-to-face.
I was a 16-year-old ice cream scooper at the Sedutto’s shop on 72nd and Columbus Avenue in New York City. Because of our location and proximity to the Dakota, celebrities often frequented the store. Yoko Ono. Olivia Newton-John. Baseball great Phil Rizzuto, or “The Scooter” as he is affectionately known, tipped me $5.00 on an order for one cone. I was used to a parade of interesting celebrities, almost bored by it. So I wasn’t surprised when Mr. Allen came in with a group of people. But of all the stars, he was closest to my heart. He had been in before, alone, and was so docile he barely looked up to place his order, so I was unprepared for the Jekyll and Hyde transformation from funny talented geek to asshole with an entourage.
“We’ll take 6 milkshakes, 3 chocolate, 3 vanilla” he barked at me. As the store only had two small blenders so it took me some time to prepare the shakes. As I scurried about preparing the order with extra care, he and his group, which include Tony Roberts and Mia Farrow, bantered about with Woody clearly in command. I made the shakes thick because he was Woody Allen, and thick is better, right?
I nervously placed the shakes on the counter in front of him, and he took a sip out of a chocolate one. I was certain he would be pleased. “This is completely undrinkable!” he spat at me, “Do I have to come back there and show you how to make them?” The group cackled. Surprised and humiliated I took all the shakes back and proceeded to remake them, adding more milk. As I worked he continued to berate and insult me while Tony Roberts laughed loudly. “Leave her alone, Woody!” Mia told him half-heartedly while giggling nervously. At this point I was shaking more than the blenders. My mind flashed back to those classic films from the 40’s and 50’s with the quintessential bully character. What did they call his cruel buddies? Toadies, that was it. I was the bespectacled kid walking home with his schoolbooks who is tormented by the neighborhood bully and his toadies. I finished the shakes, gave Woody his, and placed the three I couldn’t carry in front of the cash register. I then rang in the order, pressed the total button, and the old-fashioned register’s drawer shot open, spilling the three remaining shakes to the floor. For a moment there was silence. I stood and stared at the mess with a comic open-mouthed shock. At this point, Woody really let loose with the abuse, and the tears started to spill out of my eyes unbidden. The owner of the store just happened to be walking by the office in the back, and came out. She took one look at me and at the nasty Howdy Doody look alike who used to be my idol and took over completing the order as I retreated to the walk-in freezer, sat in the corner and sobbed.
Okay, so 29 years is a long time to hold a grudge. But with all the publicity surrounding Woody Allen’s new film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I can’t control my irritation when I see his face and my mind catapults itself back to that summer afternoon. There is a part of me that wants to see the movie, but then that teenage voice in my head does the calculations: 2 movie tickets at $8.50 each, $17.00 is equivalent to the cost of a few shakes. So in not buying a ticket, I am doing my own small act of revenge for my 16 year old self, and for all those other clerks Woody may have abused in his sad, neurotic lifetime. If you want to see it, go ahead. But afterwards, go get a shake, and be nice to the kid behind the counter. Cause if Phil Rizzuto and Woody Allen were both drowning in Lake Champlain, who do you think I would save?