My Second Soprano
Flash forward to the year 2009. The Sopranos concluded its six season run two years ago, and I've since seen every episode. On the last Saturday of May, I found myself in Queens with another Italian band, this time playing for a 3 mile walk supporting a diabetes research foundation. We gathered around the SUV of Johnny, the band leader, as he handed out Italian hats and t-shirts specific to the event. As we got organized and generally milled about waiting for the day to start, I spotted a flash of silver across the parking lot. Johnny and his cousin were posing for a photo, flanking a man with the unmistakable hair of one Tony Sirico, a.k.a. ”Paulie Walnuts”, one of my favorite Sopranos characters if not my favorite. If you're unfamiliar with the character or his mannerisms, check out this clip showing how he deals with gardeners moving into his friend's territory(some NSFW language):
That's Paulie. And there he was at the event posing for photos with fans, while my digital camera sat uselessly at home. I never have time to take pictures while I'm working, and prefer not to carry anything other than my instrument. Fortunately, since my father has had trouble walking and couldn't finish the last three parades he'd attempted, my mom had joined us to keep an eye on him. As I explained who Paulie was and lamented my lack of a camera, she pointed out that she had one in her purse and asked if I wanted her to take a picture. It was my old 35mm, but it would have to do.
We made our way through the crowd, where Paulie was now posing with some of the police officers chaperoning the event, gleefully snapping away with their cell phone cameras. Finally, there was an opening, and I shook Mr. Sirico's hand and asked if he'd mind taking a picture with me. “Playin' the horn, ah?” he asked, sounding exactly like he did on the show. My mom took two photos to be safe, one portrait and one landscape oriented. As I thanked him and began to walk away, he addressed my mom.
“That's a beautiful outfit you got on,” he said, “You wanna picture too? Come on, sweetheart...”
My mom was wearing typical “old lady” clothes, and a wide-brimmed straw hat I'd bought her for gardening. Hesitantly, she walked over, handing me the camera, and stood by Paulie's side. “Beautiful,” he repeated, after I'd taken the photo, “Thanks, sweetheart!”
And so, I've now met my second Sopranos star. I can't wait for the film to be developed so I can scan in the photos. I joked with Johnny that my mom wasn't old enough to have seen the show when he asked if she knew who she'd taken a picture with. He told us that Paulie was the only one on the show to have a criminal record in real life, and I verified when I got home that Sirico had indeed been arrested 28 times in his youth and had been affiliated with a real-life crime family before turning to acting. With credits like The Sopranos and Goodfellas to his name, he's clearly left that life behind and made a better one playing fictional versions of the people he once associated with. Now police and ordinary citizens clamor to have their picture taken with the star as he appears at charitable events. Every now and then, this Italian music thing opens up new doors. There's no telling who I'll meet next...