Tales of Rapaport

Michael Rapaport is my coincidence. You know that tall African guy in I Heart Huckabees? My African guy is a tall redhead supporting actor with a trademark New York accent. Don’t think New York accents can be trademarked? Think again, Woody. Mikey Rap’s voice totally made Joey the Raccoon in Doctor Doolittle 2 (aka DD2). He's a regular Joe Pesci.

My favorite Rapaport performance is as “Paul” in 1996’s Beautiful Girls, partially because he was such a great walking contradiction character and partially because this guy can play “Paul” in his sleep. I don’t know Rapaport personally (although given recent events, it’s only a matter of time before we are drinking buddies), I’d like to think that he is Paul, and he drives a snow plow around a small upstate NY town, stalks his ex-girlfriend (fun “Paul”-esque fact, courtesy of IMDB: once upon a time Rapaport and Mystic Pizza’s Lili Taylor were an item. When they broke up, he took it so badly, he eventually plead guilty to “aggravated harassment”), cakes his wall with photographs of supermodels, and has conspiracy theories against the female sex. I can hear him now. “They’re all sisters,” he says to all his friends when offering them advice about women.

The snow plow in upstate NY may be too much of a stretch, given that we both work in sunny Burbank, CA on the Warner Brothers Studios lot, me in “industrial relations” (all smoked-up streets and abandoned buildings, the mafia rep waiting on the corner to threaten my family) and him on the set of the TV show The War at Home (doesn't sound fun to me, either), where he plays a family man, a complete 180 of the “Paul” mystique. My first Rap sighting came a mere week after I began working on the lot. My co-worker pointed him out as we waited in the sandwich line at the commissary, adding that he was “always here.” My initial impression was slightly disappointed in his height, kind of like that time I saw Larry King walk past my desk at the William Morris Agency and asked my cubicle mate if Lar had a midget body double. But unlike Mr. King, Rapaport always seemed to tower over his co-stars. I wondered: how does he stack up next to Will Smith in Hitch? Does he ever hang out with Will Smith, maybe play ball on the Smith Compound private court with Woody Harrelson, Justin Timberlake, and Dennis Rodman? Then I made a mental note to move Hitch up on my to-watch DVD priority list. By that time, I had gotten Will Smith on the mind, which is always distracting. Daydreaming about a Fresh Prince commissary sighting had caused me to forget all about the Rapaport of it all. Until, that is, I saw him the next week, again, on the commissary. I looked for signs of “Paul” but unfortunately I got nothing. Apparently, he was still in his The War at Home family man character. He was just doing his job…I could understand that as well as anybody.

But nothing prepared me for what I saw this past Monday as I waited in the checkout line at Amoeba Records. I wasn’t supposed to have gone to Amoeba that day. I was supposed to stay away. I had restraining-ordered myself from the place, shackled to a GPS ankle braclet tracking my every move. The alarms had gone bonkers as an unrestrained impulse took control of my car and neared the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga. I have no recollection of what happened next, until I found myself at the checkout line with new music. As I clutched impending purchases, the cops were scheduled to arrive at any moment and take away my debit and credit cards. Just as I started to hear the sirens, I looked up, and who should be standing right next to me, checking out the New Release section but the omnipresent Mr. Rapaport. Normally, with Amoeba celebrity sightings, I ponder what he/she is thinking about buying, but Rap was a different breed of celebrity altogether. Just like me and Leo DiC back at the Belmont in ‘03, we had history. Of all people, what is he doing here? He didn’t appear to be with anyone. Is he waiting for Lili Taylor to emerge from the Blues and Jazz section? Rap and I locked eyes for a second, nothing profound, just a fellow music fan acknowledgement. I get those a lot at Amoeba, maybe it’s because I’m like a kid in a sweet shop, so happy to be there, it makes everyone around happy about being there. As I turned to buy my candy selection, I silently hoped that Rapaport would find his own flavor of happiness on the rack.

When I predictably saw the man again today at lunch, I looked at him like an old friend who’d shared a moment with me at one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. Since now I officially see him more often than most of my friends, he’s now more than just an actor. He’s more than just a celebrity sighting. He’s more than “Paul” could ever be. And fuck if I know what that is…or what it means.


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