The Woody Watch



10th St. & Ave. A, NY, NY 10009

Neighborhood: East Village

Day 1

One day in 1999, an item in the New York Daily News noted that Woody Harrelson is in town and on the lookout for good pickup basketball. Sure enough, the star of “White Men Can’t Jump” showed up at my gym today for the daily lunchtime game.

This was not my first brush with celebrity; in my somewhat illustrious career, I’ve worked with numerous stars infinitely brighter in the fame universe than Woody Harrelson: Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Joel, Jay Leno, Joey Ramone and Divine, to name a few. This was, however, the first time I’d played a competitive sport against a star, and I was determined to make a good impression.

Let’s first review my basketball history. In spite of my impressive early height, I was not drawn to the sport until one summer in sleep-away camp when, as a spindly 14-year-old, I developed a serviceable turnaround jump shot. For the remainder of my high school career, I was a mediocre player for the Junior Varsity and then the Varsity team. My strength has always been my outside shooting. Under the boards, I’m what you’d call a “pussy,” that is, egregiously lacking in the fearless, animal instinct required of a good rebounder.

In person, Woody’s most noteworthy feature is his size, or lack thereof — he’s 5’8″, scrawny, and balding to boot. The silver screen does wonders for this guy’s physique; I recall him appearing downright burly in several movies. (Note to self: break into film so as to look bigger and buffer.) Equally striking is his playing ability; the guy is damned good. Not nearly as good, mind you, as he appeared in “White Men Can’t Jump,” but quick, agile, aggressive, and eager to use his broad arsenal of shots. And very competitive, which is where I come in. Let’s go the video tape:

Memorable Play #1: After scoring on his first two attempts, Woody misses an easy jumper and bellows, “God damned fucking shit.” This guy is cool.

Memorable Play #2: Woody takes a body blow from one of the regular cretins and hits the wood floor with a very non-movie-star-like thud. Although he’s my opponent and I’m pleased to see him humbled, I extend my hand and help him up. “Thanks,” mutters the star of “The People Vs. Larry Flynt.”

Memorable Play #3: Woody snares a rebound, turns, looks me squarely in the eye and, confused, passes me the ball. “Thanks,” mutters the star of “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” (that’s me). Woody realizes his error and howls, “Muther fucking sunnuva bitch!” Dig it.

Memorable Play #4: The man I’m guarding sets a pick for Woody, I make the switch, and Woody drives baseline on me. I don’t establish position, but I’m still able to bump him out of bounds so he can’t shame me for an easy lay-up. Woody calls a legitimate foul on me. No prob; he hasn’t scored on my watch.

Memorable Play #5: Identical play. I switch to Woody. This time I’m determined to defend him more aggressively. Again he disrespects me by driving baseline. This time I beat him there and establish position. Woody doesn’t give a fuck; he drives hard and pummels into me, but I’m expecting the hit so I’m able to hold my ground. The star of “Cheers” bounces off my chest like a quarter on a military bed and caroms out of bounds. “God fucking dammit!” he screams, and suddenly he’s veiny and bug-eyed and snarling and crimson and right in my face. “You gonna call a foul on that?” I asked calmly. And then he becomes a human volcano: “YOU’RE DAMNED FUCKING RIGHT I’M CALLING IT! THAT’S THE SECOND FUCKING TIME YOU PUSHED ME OUT OF BOUNDS. WHAT THE FUCK??!!!” My mental calculation was comprehensive yet instantaneous: He’s undoubtedly insane, at least momentarily, and he’s also a celebrity guest on our court. I’ve got the height and the reach, but he’s definitely got the quickness. Didn’t he kick someone’s ass in “Wildcats” with Goldie Hawn? I gave Hunt Kerrigan a bloody nose at sleep-away camp, but that was in 1970; my boxing skills may have eroded. And he may also be right; I may have shoved his wimpy ass a bit. I suck it up and back down, mute.

Memorable Play #6: Determined to demonstrate that I’m still a manly man to be reckoned with, I uncharacteristically yank an offensive rebound and muscle in a reverse lay-up. Game over. Woody fumes off the court toward the locker room.

The Aftermath: Later, in the weight room, a barely disguised Woody-in-a-floppy-hat apologized to me for his hissy fit. “Sorry… man. I was just frustrated about missing some shots.” As a peace offering, I gifted him with a flyer for my upcoming gigs. The upshot of this narrowly averted, international incident is a massive credibility boost for the Seanster in his daily hoops game.

Final Score: Aspiring Rock Star — one; Established Film Star — zero. Hah!

Day 2

Woody Harrelson returned to my hoops game today for more punishment at the hands of the regular thugs and hackers. As I entered the gym, the front desk clerk warned me “They said you can’t play today ’cause Woody’s back.” I was grateful that my last run-in with him had already become legend.

Proving that last week’s explosion of vitriol was no aberration, Woody berated one opponent so venomously and unnecessarily that I had to step between them and play Kissinger in shorts. A simple argument over who last touched the ball escalated into Woody calling the guy a “fuckin’ asshole” and a “fat piece of shit” to his face.

Minutes later the teams were recast and, ironically, Woody, his latest “hoop rage” victim and I were now squad mates. Suddenly all grudges were forgotten and the Woodmeister and I were wheeling, dealing and high-fiving like Jordan and Pippen. With Woody’s help, I nailed several buckets and even managed to haul down a few offensive rebounds. In a remarkable David-and-Goliath feat of overachievement, we squeaked out a victory against a vastly superior team. Hearing the echoing shout of “Good hustle, Sean!” from one of the regulars is gratifying; hearing those same words from the star of “Natural Born Killers” is downright inspirational. Plainly, Woody and I had bonded in a uniquely male fashion, the way fox hole-bound soldiers meld under the deadly hail of shrapnel, pledging their mutual, eternal loyalty.

Pulse pounding and sweat-drenched at the water fountain, I let my mind race with possibilities. Would Woody come to my upcoming gig? Would he get me cast as his sidekick in a film? Would I have to move to Hollywood? What about my NYC apartment? Would I thank him at the Oscars? Would he introduce me to Christy Turlington at the after-party? Would Christy fuck me on the first date? How many days after meeting Christy Turlington and fucking her on the first date should I wait to call her? How could I most efficiently allow my ex-wife to find out that I was fucking Christy Turlington?

Yes, the new Woody Harrelson-enhanced world seemed bright indeed; that is, until the next game, when my scatterbrained play caused several turnovers and we lost in a flash. Woody grumbled crankily as he headed to the locker room, shooting me a sideways, annoyed glance.

Damn. I guess Woody and I might not become fast friends after all. It’s for the best, I suppose, since he’s a tempestuous loon. Oh well… at least I got to fuck Christy Turlington… didn’t I?

Day 3

I may have rushed to judgment on Mr. Harrelson and, thus, treated him unfairly in the previous commentary. Today he was a model team player: passing, setting picks, hitting the open man, exuberantly encouraging his teammates, and apologizing for his occasional errors. His favorite deafeningly loud self-flagellations included: “FUCK! My bad, guys!”, “OH, WOODROW! FUCK!”, “FUCKING SHIT! THAT WAS SO EASY!” and just plain “FUCK!”

Woody has an easy smile and an infectious laugh. These, in combination with his celebrity, make it impossible not to be drawn to him. And then there’s the obvious bragging rights; I’m surely not the only lunchtime regular who’s boasting about his new gym hoop-mate, although I’m likely the only one with an internet audience and the endless free time afforded by pop stardom.

Woody’s Broadway debut, “The Rainmaker,” opened to generally positive reviews last week. With the expectation, then, that he might be our “pet movie star” for months to come, we working stiffs seem to go out of our collective way to ensure that Woody has a good time. His better-shooting teammates constantly feed him the ball, and his opponents try not to butcher him too severely when he drives to the hoop.

Off the court, we chat him up about various topics. I’ve learned that his rigorous Broadway schedule has rendered him sleep-deprived (poor millionaire). When he asked where I was gigging, I made sure to mention that his fellow movie star Milla Jovovich’s band also plays at Arlene’s Grocery.

Life with Woody has thus entered a new, relaxed phase.

Day 4

12:43 pm

Botched 8-foot jump shot: “FUUUCK!!”

12:45 pm

Flubbed 12-footer: “FUUUUUUCK!!”

12:48 pm

Perfect bank shot (silent, toothy, trailer-park grin)

12:50 pm

Dribbles ball off foot “GOD DAMNIT!!!”

12:51 pm Steals ball, easy lay-up (pumps fist, mischievous eye twinkle)

12:52 pm Bungled bank hook “GOD FUCK DAMNIT, WOODROW!!!”

How could the scraggy, rinky-dink Woody Harrelson on this court possibly be the ripple-muscled specimen I just saw on screen in the trailer for his upcoming boxing flick? I complimented him on how buff he looks in the preview, and asked him when the film was shot. “Last spring. Yeah, I was really cut back then.”

A devoted performer’s body is just another tool with which to enact his art. Like Bobby De Niro in “Raging Bull” and Minnie Driver in “Circle of Friends,” Woody sculpts or de-sculpts his body to suit the role at hand. I perform similar physio-wizardry on my own body; subsisting on roots, bark and dust for days before each gig, so as to achieve the coveted Karen-Carpenter-on-smack look, at least for my 45 minutes in the spotlight. After that, fuck it; it’s back to schmaltz, ‘smores and smorgasbords.

In a tender moment at half court, Woody admired my Beatles t-shirt: “Man… I love those guys. I hung out with McCartney. He was real cool.”

“You met Paul? Wow… I never met a Beatle.”

“Yeah… I’ve also met Ringo and George, but I hung out with Paul for long time, man. I mean we really hung out! He’s a neat dude.”

“You mean you…?” I mimed smoking a joint, recalling that Woody and Paul are both celebrated hemp advocates.

“Oh yeah… we smoked some. Sure. Yeah, man… it was great.”

That bastard met three Beatles and got high with one. Prick. I’m the one with all the Beatles tchochkes and the original repertoire of Fab Four-inflected powerpop! I’m the one who stubbed my bare toe walking across Abbey Road in London! I’m the one who made the pilgrimage to Liverpool, played in the legendary Cavern Club, rode the pathetic “Magical Mystery Tour Bus” and got mooned by jeering teens. I would give my smaller-but-rounder left nut to get high with a Beatle – even Pete Best, the pathetic kicked-out Beatle who makes sad-sack appearances at fan conventions. Hell, I’ll even hang with Yoko, as long as the wailing bitch doesn’t make me pose nude and keeps her bony ass off my amp.

But no. For now, anyway, there’ll be no Beatles for Sean; just a semiweekly hoops game with a potty-mouthed movie star whose Christian name is slang for “erection.” FUUUUCK!!!

Day 5

Today the Woodster and I squared off head to head on the hoops court, and Mister Hollywood whupped my former-mid-level-kids’-TV-star arse. Problem is — and I’m not proud of this pussyness — I’m scared to guard him too closely for fear of being known as the guy who accidentally busted Woody Harrelson’s celebrity nose or cracked his celebrity rib.

My brown-nosing strategy is simple: Let someone else pulverize him as he drives to the hoop (believe me, there are plenty of takers). Why should I, after carefully nurturing a cordial relationship with a bona fide film star, risk it all for the sake of a lunchtime hoops game? Might Woody ever come to one of my gigs were I to blacken his eye with an errant elbow or bloody his pasty cheek with an unmanicured fingernail? Fuck, no.

The upshot is that, for the one game in which we guarded each other, Woody outscored me five hoops to one. To my credit, I yanked many rebounds and racked up an impressive number of assists, but I still feel like I was Woody’s bitch, and my tuchas stings in concurrence.

After my one heroic moment — a graceful 15-foot jumper over his outstretched arm — Woody smiled hempishly and dubbed me “The Titan.” I encouraged him to use that moniker often, in the hopes that it might stick. Suddenly, a spectacular 6-foot brunette model entered the gym to watch her boyfriend — some unassuming new guy — play, and, amid the fuss, my spanking, young nickname was somehow forgotten.

Still, the bonding continues. I invited Woodrow (his unofficial on-court name) to my upcoming gig at Arlene’s Grocery and gifted him with a copy of my CD. I expect he’ll soon reciprocate with invitations to various obligatory jet setters’ rituals:

“Yo Sean… come hang with me and Puffy tonight at Moomba.”

“Hey Seanie… let’s go snort coke from Heather Graham’s butt crack.”

“Come on, Titan… we’re gonna find DiCaprio and maim him with a bat.”

“Hustle up, dude… Christy Turlington wants some Jew cock.”

It won’t be long now….

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