Explain This One to Me

6 November 2018

The when, the where and the who…out of the blue,..events that align themselves, when most of life is so decidedly arbitrary that there is no other way to explain it, except that it’s a coincidence…a how can that happen head scratcher. It’s fascinating that disparate elements have to line up perfectly to enter into a Twilight Zone, when a few seconds either way, a few feet more or less and there would be nothing to see…no titillating what are you doing here moment. Amazingly, coincidence abounds, everyone runs into a friend when and where it’s not expected, though some seem more providential than others.

Many years ago, I was in Rome, sitting at a café near the Trevi Fountain, when I saw a family of five in the distance walking toward me, delightedly and distractedly enjoying themselves, licking cones of gelato. I called out to them…who expects to hear their names in a foreign city…and they stopped, ashen at the surprise, since they lived three blocks from me in Larchmont. How could it happen… a force of fate, putting us in that exact spot? The when, the where and the who…out of the blue.

Roberta, years ago, ran into a friend from her six years spent in West Virginia at a restaurant in New York, a friend she hadn’t seen in ten years. Nothing strange, so far. But the friend lived in Wisconsin and was visiting the city…a bit coincidental. But to make it a real full-blown weird moment, Roberta at that time lived in California and was visiting, too. Things unknowable brought them to the same place, as if supernaturally…to the same city, at the same time, at the same restaurant. What are the odds?

Which brings us to last Saturday night in the city. We took a subway downtown to see a movie… Working Woman, which is a must-see, if you have the chance and had dinner afterwards. A satisfying evening all by itself. We walked to the subway at about 10 o’clock. It was packed, as if it were rush hour and we stood for a couple of stops until we finally got seats. At the next stop a man got on. The seat next to us was empty and he asked a woman, if she’d like it. She declined, so he sat. There was a young man standing in front of us. The stage was now set for the coincidence to begin.

The man seated next to us was wearing a baseball cap with a logo that we couldn’t see. But the young man standing could and asked him…Did you see it…the show…The Band’s Visit? The man nodded. Great wasn’t it, the young man said. A friend of mine is the musical director, showing pride at having a connection to the show. It is great, said the man with the hat…I’ve seen it 26 times…I keep taking friends and relatives to it…my son produced it, after he got the idea to turn the movie into a Broadway musical. He went to Israel and bought the rights to stage it as a musical…and then won the Tony for Best Musical. There’s no coincidence so far, only a nice conversation, but Roberta and I were flabbergasted.

A friend of mine, going all the way back to junior high school, whom we had just been with two days before, celebrating an honor he received that day, also had won a Tony, also for The Band’s Visit…because he, too, was a producer of the show. Here we were, four people with no connection to each other, brought within four square feet of each other on a random subway car at a random time. There was no what are you doing here moment, since we didn’t know each other. We only had the when and the where, strands of a coincidence, so the hat became the who…out of the blue. If not for the young man, starting a conversation, there would have been no coincidence. The moment would have slipped by and no one would have been the wiser…or the more astonished by it.