TODAY’S MOSTLY TRUE SHORT STORY: Coconuts
Anyone who knows me understands that one of my most important credos is: Life is too short to wait on line. So, you’d better have a pretty damned good reason for making this hyper cowboy waste time standing around playing pocket pool.
But, there are exceptions. I will wait a short period for a Sicilian slice at L and B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn, an audience with the Pope, a Carvel vanilla twist ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles, and little else.
That’s why it was so remarkable that I actually waited for hours — willingly — just to see a movie. But, this was no ordinary movie. No. It was the world premiere of Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the Paris Theater in New York.
It was the Spring of 1975 and the English based sketch comedy troupe that invaded the States the year before was set to launch an entirely new madcap venture with a movie loosely (and, I do mean LOOSELY) based on the Arthurian Legend of Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table, and their search for the Holy Grail.
I was in college and hooked and their series Monty Python’s Flying Circus from the very first time I saw it. In my mind, their comedy was so much more than just zany. It was socially aware, timely, and outrageous in scope and execution. It may not have been for everybody but it certainly was for me. I remember rushing home from my part-time job every Sunday to be glued to WNET in New York at 11 pm for the latest 30 minute episode.
And, they never disappointed. Some of their sketches are the stuff of comedy legend.
So, when I heard that not only would the American premiere be in New York, ALL the members of the troupe would be appearing in the lobby of the theater chosen: The Paris Theater at 58th and 5th. One of my best college buddies was also a huge fan so we decided to make the trek together from where we lived in Fort Lee, NJ to the Big Apple.
As I recollect, the day was chilly and the lines around the theater long. But, that could not dampen our enthusiasm. We were committed to being there. After all, we had an opportunity to meet the men who made us laugh uncontrollably. We also understood that Monty Python can be an acquired taste. Their brand of comedy could be so outlandish that many people simply did not get it. In fact, their largest demographic were college-aged men (like us). Most women simply hated them! We didn’t care. They were OUR guys.
After what seemed like an eternity (and, may have actually been as long as 2 hours), we were let into the lobby. And, just like OUR Holy Grail, there they were in all their Pythonesque glory. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam all stood there ready to greet their legion of adoring fans.
As I surveyed the theater lobby, I noticed that the Pythoners were all positioned in front of large wooden crates of — coconuts. Yes, coconuts. As Graham Chapman was my personal favorite, I cued up on his line to meet him. When I finally got to the head of the line, I marveled at how tall Chapman was (6'5") and just how “British” his manner was. Then, he reached back into the grate, pulled a coconut out, and placed in my hand saying, “Enjoy the show!”
I was flummoxed.
What the hell did a coconut have to do with the search for the Holy Grail?
There was nothing left to do at the point but take my nut, find a seat, and hope the meaning for it would be revealed during the course of the movie. Little did I know just how important a role coconuts would play in a film about ancient England. But, then again, perhaps, I should have known. After all, this was what Monty Python humor was all about — expect the unexpected. Or, as they made famous in one of their legendary sketches, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition”!
Monty Python and the Holy Grail went on to both critical and commercial success. In fact, in time, the movie took on an almost legendary status, cementing the Pythoners’ image in the Pantheon of Eternal Comedy. Despite losing Graham Chapman, they continue to practice their unique and still outrageous brand of humor.
As for my coconut, I kept that thing as a souvenir for YEARS. In fact, I kept it until I simply could not any more — it rotted away! So, that coconut is gone as is Mr. Chapman and the friend I went to see him with that day (he passed of a heart attack some years ago). But, those memories cannot be erased. AND, I’m reminded of them every time that I see a coconut.