King Of the Paparazzi

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 Coming home from work one lovely still-bright Manhattan summer’s eve in August of 1983,  I exited the 72nd Street subway stop in front of John Lennon’s old mammoth gingerbread digs The Dakota and walked along Central Park West toward my block.  As I reached my corner, I saw a little knot – actually, something between a big knot and a little crowd, so a clot I guess – directly across the street, standing in front of another elegant old apartment building and looking at something or other, I couldn’t tell what or where.  People seemed fascinated.  For some reason, I thought they were looking at some cute little dog, not ordinarily a big interest of mine at the time, but there was something about the excited state of these onlookers that made it seem worth walking the extra 12 feet to cross the street.

 Turned out they weren’t looking at anything.  They were looking for something, or rather someone.  There was no doggie.  And everyone was lined up on both sides of the entranceway like at the red carpet leading into the Oscars; quite a few of them had cameras, in fact.  One of the gawkers excitedly revealed to me that at any moment…upstairs in that building…Paul Simon was about to get married…in his apartment…to Carrie Fisher.  I knew Paul Simon lived there, but I didn’t know he’d been seeing Princess Leia; apparently this relationship had been conducted with a great deal of discretion, if not secrecy, and now these pop icons were attempting to tie the knot below the radar of public scrutiny.

 So why were all these other people standing around the sidewalk?  My gawker-guide explained that everyone was waiting to see if, after ten years of limited contact with his old friend and former singing partner Garfunkel, Simon had invited him to his wedding and whether, if he had, Garfunkel would in fact attend.  Apparently they were in an “on” phase of their famous on-again-off-again estrangement.  The supposedly bitter feud between childhood friends who had become huge sixties music stars together, combined with romance and the leading lady of the still-hot original “Star Wars” movies constituted, it seemed, a tantalizingly heady mixture in celebrity gossip terms.  Most of the cameras, in fact, were being wielded by gossip-page/tattler-rag photographers.

My helpful guide elaborated.  “See that guy standing right across from us?  He’s king of the paparazzi.  He takes those pictures of celebrities looking totally weird that they put on the cover of the Enquirer, the Star, all those tabloids.”  I had, of course, marveled during my own time in supermarket checkout lines at the uncharacteristically distorted expressions and awkward positions the famous and glamorous were often shown sporting, as if reacting to the shocking headlines about themselves.  I’d even wondered whether they heavy-handedly retouched the photos to make them so ridiculously unflattering.

I looked across at the “king”.  He was a heavy, slovenly guy with a dull expression and some serious camera equipment draped around himself so that he looked kind of like a bandito who’d fallen off his horse, hit his head on a rock and wandered aimlessly out of the desert.   I doubted my guide knew what the hell he was talking about.  Little did I know I was soon to observe a master at work.

After a few minutes of uneventful loitering, I was about ready to head home when somebody yelped.  There, loping up Central Park West, arms swinging, head down, came the object of curiosity himself: Art Garfunkel, his tall, lanky figure and trademark (though perhaps thinning and receding) Einstein-with-his-finger-in-the-socket hairstyle instantly recognizable even from a distance.

He probably would’ve greatly preferred invisibility at that moment.  He’d undoubtedly spotted the unwelcome welcoming committee arrayed before the building’s entrance.   His pace picked up.  His head stayed down.  As he ran the little gauntlet toward the safety of the lobby within, many voices – particularly those coming from the het-up photographers (with the noted exception of the silent alleged paparazzi king) – called out, “Art!  Artie!  Look here!  Art!  Over here! Art! Smile! Art!!”

No reaction.  The prey was escaping by determinedly not acknowledging anything around him.  Eyes to the ground, gait elongated, he reached the doorway.  His feet touched the one raised step leading up to the door, which the uniformed doorman dutifully began opening.  At that nanosecond, with the casual precision attained only by those who have truly become one with their craft, the king of the paparazzi called out, “HEY BALDY!!!”

The gentle folk-rocker never stood a chance.  As reflexively as the leg kick that follows the doctor hitting your knee with that little triangular hammer, Arthur Garfunkel’s head spun fleetingly toward the sound, face contorted into a twisted, enraged, horrified glare.

Click!    

Just one shot, from just one camera, timed just perfectly.  Over in an instant.  The other photographers looked on in awe.

And that, boys and girls, is how it’s done.