People say dumb things sometimes.
Especially to celebrities.
But. … So what?
This is a question we have been grappling with for days on City Room, ever since we published a Metropolitan Diary entry from a man named Arthur Engoron who once spotted Art Garfunkel at an Italian restaurant uptown.
I walked over and said, “My name’s ‘Art,’ too.”
He smiled politely.
When I got back to my table, my friend Robert asked me, “Well, what did you say?”
When I told him, he replied, “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of.”
But was it?
This seeming piece of fluff drew an impressive range of responses.
Some readers wrote of their New York encounters with Mr. Garfunkel: swapping laughs outside a movie theater on Third Avenue on the opening day of “Dog Day Afternoon”; discussing the various scores of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” at the Patelson Music House; being asked for a match by the great man, only to come up short.
Other commenters, approaching from a different direction, expressed the opinion that Mr. Engoron’s utterance was only the tip of an iceberg of stupidity.
“Saying this is the second stupidest thing you could have done,” Perley J. Thibodeau wrote. “The stupidest thing was just now writing about it.” And then we had to go and publish it.
“That’s the stupidest article I have read today,” wrote Lou51 of Western Australia. “I have read this over several times,” wrote sue of Allentown, Pa. “I don’t get it! What was the point?” “I will never get this 45 seconds of my life back,” lamented That Guy of NYC.
All this stupidity, and meta-stupidity, were making our heads spin.
Then we thought: Let’s call Art Garfunkel!
A kindly publicist set it up. Mr. Garfunkel, who lives on the Upper East Side, would speak to us at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Be timely, the publicist advised. “Art’s a punctual fellow.”
2:30 arrived. What if we said something stupid? Too late. We dialed.
“Is it … Arthur?” said the surprisingly deep, honeyed voice on the other end of the line. He had us confused with the man who wrote the Metropolitan Diary item. We set him straight.
“I’m perplexed about how this conversation is now supposed to work,” Art Garfunkel said.
What was the point of the interview? Why did we want to talk to him about celebrity? Mr. Garfunkel said that when he was out on the street, “I like to be like an actor, who likes to see and not be seen,” studying the drama of human life from a distance.
We popped the question: Do you remember a guy walking up to you at a restaurant and saying, “My name’s Art, too”?
Mr. Garfunkel did not. But he said people did approach him, only to find themselves at a loss. At that point, Mr. Garfunkel said, “All you do is rush to save their ego like a nice guy would.”
They’re out on a limb — they know it. They want a savior. So you set them down easy and back into normality, because they’re in a nowhere place. How you do it comes out of the moment. You have a whimsical, wry agreement with them — “Why, yes, that’s true.”
But what, we asked, might have been running through his mind when the man said, “My name’s Art, too”?
Mr. Garfunkel thought for a second.
“I secretly must have felt, ‘That’s weak dialogue’,” he said. “I would have been judgmental in the secret part of my mind, trying to be tactful and nice.
“But I secretly would have thought, ‘All right, so what?’”