A few weeks ago, I ducked into a taxi along Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and instructed the cabbie to take me to Fifth Avenue and 50th Street. “You want the church side?” he said. Hearing vestiges of a lapsed Queens accent in my verbal request, he asked a question that only a native New Yorker could answer. His suggestion meant exiting in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, rather than the opposite side of Fifth Avenue, into a relentless maelstrom of shoppers and tourists at Rockefeller Center. I smiled, and answered yes.
I settled into the back seat. The cabbie and I started talking, and he told me about a movie he’d seen on television the night before, and which Anthony Quinn had starred in — about a thief who poses as a priest to hide out from the law. “My father would remember the film,” I said. I was surprised that I couldn’t recall the name of it. As a child, I spent years of weekends propped on my elbows in front of our seventies-era Zenith console television. Scenes from the weekly showing of “The Sunday Afternoon Movie” on WPIX, or of “The Million Dollar Movie” on WOR, were now spliced together in a disjointed memory reel for me. Gun molls in pin curls, Dead End Kids and dusty cowboys all played walk-on parts in my outerborough living room. I swooned over such leading men as Cary Grant and Robert Mitchum, Errol Flynn and James Dean. Such films were mostly lost to my young children and their generation now.
“He painted, you know, Anthony Quinn,” the cabbie said. “I seen him years ago,” he continued, “right before he passed. Lived on East End Avenue.” It had been at least ten years since the actor died, but the famous fare was still committed to his memory.
“Really? Anthony Quinn?” I asked.
“Yeah. He was picking up his kids somewhere. What a dresser. Somebody really cared about him, you know? Someone paid attention to his clothes. He was wearing a purple suit. The tie was purple, and the shirt was lighter purple, in the same hue. Everything, from the handkerchief in his breast pocket to the pin on his cravat, it was all put together just so. Somebody made a real effort for him.”
His own yearning revealed itself in our casual discussion. We both grew quiet, as the cathedral’s Gothic spires took shape in the windshield.