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Drowning Woody

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What comes to mind when you think of Woody Allen? Brilliant? Talented? Reclusive? Funny? Those are the kinds of words that described him for me in my youth. As a teenager growing up in New York, no one captured the essence of being a New Yorker like Woody Allen. When I saw Sleeper, I laughed so hard I cried. The same with Bananas. His recurring role as the intellectual New York loser touched my heart, and that he aimed his humor at anything and anyone earned my respect. I spent half my youth in a dark movie theater, and Woody Allen was my hero. The voice of the people. Then he changed all that for me, face-to-face.

I was a 16-year-old ice cream scooper at the Sedutto’s shop on 72nd and Columbus Avenue in New York City. Because of our location and proximity to the Dakota, celebrities often frequented the store. Yoko Ono. Olivia Newton-John. Baseball great Phil Rizzuto, or “The Scooter” as he is affectionately known, tipped me $5.00 on an order for one cone. I was used to a parade of interesting celebrities, almost bored by it. So I wasn’t surprised when Mr. Allen came in with a group of people. But of all the stars, he was closest to my heart. He had been in alone before and was so docile he barely looked up to place his order, so I was unprepared for the Jekyll and Hyde transformation from funny talented geek to asshole with an entourage.

“We’ll take six milkshakes, three chocolate, three vanilla” he barked at me. As the store only had two small blenders so it took me some time to prepare the shakes. As I scurried about preparing the order with extra care, he and his group, which include Tony Roberts and Mia Farrow, bantered about with Woody clearly in command. I made the shakes thick because he was Woody Allen, and thick is better, right?

I nervously placed the shakes on the counter in front of him, and he took a sip out of a chocolate one. I was certain he would be pleased.

“This is completely undrinkable!” he spat at me, “Do I have to come back there and show you how to make them?” The group cackled.

Surprised and humiliated, I took all the shakes back and proceeded to remake them, adding more milk. As I worked he continued to berate and insult me while Tony Roberts laughed loudly.

“Leave her alone, Woody,” Mia told him half-heartedly while giggling nervously. At this point I was shaking more than the blenders. My mind flashed back to those classic films from the 40s and 50s with the quintessential bully character. What did they call his cruel buddies? Toadies, that was it. I was the bespectacled kid walking home with his schoolbooks who is tormented by the neighborhood bully and his toadies. I finished the shakes, gave Woody his, and placed the three I couldn’t carry in front of the cash register. I then rang in the order, pressed the total button, and the old-fashioned register’s drawer shot open, spilling the three remaining shakes to the floor. For a moment there was silence. I stood and stared at the mess with a comic open-mouthed shock. At this point, Woody really let loose with the abuse, and the tears started to spill out of my eyes unbidden. The owner of the store just happened to be walking by the office in the back, and came out. She took one look at me and at the nasty Howdy Doody look alike who used to be my idol and took over completing the order as I retreated to the walk-in freezer, sat in the corner and sobbed.

Okay, so 28 years is a long time to hold a grudge. But with the publicity surrounding Woody Allen’s upcoming new film, Cassandra’s Dream, I can’t control my irritation when I see his face, and my mind catapults itself back to that summer afternoon. There is a part of me that wants to see the movie, but then that teenage voice in my head does the calculations: two movie tickets and refreshments is about the cost of the six shakes. So in not buying a ticket, I am doing my own small act of revenge for my 16 year-old self, and for all those other clerks Woody may have abused in his sad, neurotic lifetime. If you want to see it, go ahead. But afterwards, go get a shake and be nice to the kid behind the counter. Cause if Phil Rizzuto and Woody Allen were both drowning in Lake Champlain, who do you think I would save?

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • Nice story. I can’t stand Woody Allen and have never found him funny or, indeed, anything other than utterly creepy!

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Why does this story not surprise me, Ann?

    Woody Allen is, to my knowledge, the most famous graduate of Midwood High School, my own alma mater. In the early 1970’s there used to be a huge photo of him next to the late Mr. Bernstein, the principal of the school who had died shortly after he retired, the year I graduated. I well remember the rich snooty bastards who used to go there forty years ago. Woody Allen was just like them, though he may have been as rich. He was funny all right.

    But he was a real asshole – as Mia Farrow was to find out. Unfortunately for her, you found out a lot earlier than she did.

    You were too young and insecure to give him the comeback that would have shut him up:

    “I made you a thick milkshake because I admire your work and wanted to do something special for you. If you wanted chocolate milk, you should have ordered it, Mr. Allen. It’s coming right up, sir!”

    Good luck with Sister Chicas.

  • Nancy

    No one should berate a young worker who’s trying their best – or an old one, either, for that matter. I concur w/#1: I’ve never found him funny, witty, brilliant, or any deserving of any other quality attributed to him, & I’ve always marvelled than people find a whining, jerky asshole to be funny, witty, or a “great comedian”. As for the rest of his toadies, shame on them: at least one should have had the guts to speak up to Mr. Nebbish. What a bunch of losers. But time has proved that, hasn’t it.

  • Barbara Younger

    OMG, Ann! I am mortified ANYONE would behave that way. Great story though and the others should have come to your defense.

  • Andra Krushenick Kisler

    Oh dear 🙁 What a terrible experience! I went to elementary school with Allen’s producer’s daughter, Nicole Holefcener, and met Allen once, at a birthday party. I just remember a quiet red-haired grownup who did not seem at all comfortable spending an afternoon with half a dozen seven year old girls.. but who knows?

  • Joyce Ray

    Superbly written! I agree. Pass on the movie. Order yourself a chocolate shake and compliment the server.

  • Will Baker

    Great story..about what I would e/pect from creepy Woody Allen

  • Julie L.

    Oh, Ann, how awful for you! And this is beautifully written. Maybe we should never meet our heroes, since more often than not they have clay feet, and that’s especially true of artists, writers, creative types in general. I cringe just remembering some of the rude poets I’ve met – misogynists, bigots, narcissists, take your pick. Over the years, though, I’ve decided to keep the artist and the art separate, because if I boycotted authors whose behavior I didn’t like, I couldn’t read the poetry of Ezra Pound (fascist) or T.S. Eliot (anti-semite) or the plays of David Mamet (anti-gay), or the novels of Jack London and Rudyard Kipling (racists) and Ernest Hemingway, who famously abused (verbally and emotionally) everyone around him. Add in alcoholics, and oh, my gosh! My bet is that Woody Allen is both a genius and an asshole – there’s no excuse for treating people like he treated you. But his movies? I love them and I’ll continue to love them. The man isn’t healthy – that’s probably where the humor comes from, no?