A New York Moment Revisited

by M.C. Antil on November 10, 2012

It was 1984, or maybe ‘85.  A friend of mine and I were in Manhattan, staying at the Hilton on Sixth Ave in the heart of Midtown.  At the time she’d been hosting an afternoon talk and call-in show on the local PBS affiliate in my old hometown of Syracuse, New York and was flown down to the City to receive an award from some group for something she had done to help promote their cause.  (For the life of me I can’t remember any of the specifics.)

Anyway, as she was readying herself for the evening’s banquet and awards ceremony, I sat there on the bed channel surfing.  Stopping at one of the New York stations, I happened to catch a local news story about some guy who was also in town receiving an award from some other group.  Seems he had served as the Canadian ambassador to Iran during the time of the 444-day Iran Hostage Crisis – which by then was still very fresh in most Americans’  minds – and according to the report had harbored six would-be hostages in his living quarters in the Canadian embassy before somehow pirating them out of the country, into Canada, and eventually back to the U.S.

I remembered the story, at least in the broadest strokes, but knew nothing about the specifics.

I remember how the guy looked on TV that day as he spoke to the news reporter.  Big thick glasses.  An unruly mop of curly, salt-and-pepper hair.  And a rather loud burgundy sports jacket.

Anyway, a few moments later my friend and I were waiting for the elevator to take us down to street level.  And as the door opened and we stepped in, I looked up and there standing before me in all his unassuming glory was the same guy. The very same guy.  Same thick glasses. Same curly hair.  Same sports coat.

When the doors slid closed and the car started moving, I smiled at him and said in earnest, “Thank you.”  He just kept staring up at the lighted floor numbers blinking our descent, cracked a small smile and mumbled something back in gratitude.  It, after all, was New York and he didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat.  But I wouldn’t let it go.  “No, I mean it, sir” I said much more stridently this time, reaching out my hand to him.  “Really.  I just want to say thank you.”

He turned, looked me in the eye, took my hand, and told me softly but sincerely, and with mannered warmth, “You’re welcome.”

A few moments later the doors slowly opened, we said our goodbyes, and he disappeared into the crowd in the bright, sun-drenched foyer looking out on the bustling corner of West 54th and Sixth Ave, which by then had become choked with people who’d just finished their work day.

My friend just looked at me and asked, “What the hell was that all about?”

Only in New York, I thought to myself as we walked on and I related to her what had just happened.

Just a few days ago I had that briefest of New York moments come rushing back to me as I sat in the dark watching the new Ben Affleck movie, Argo. There he was again; that guy. That same guy.  This time portrayed by actor Victor Garber, who ironically is also Canadian.

What I didn’t know nearly thirty years ago during that brief encounter was how the hostages actually got out of Iran, how close to death everyone involved actually was, including the ambassador and his family, and how much chicanery and sleight-of-hand were involved in sneaking those six Americans out of that powder keg of a situation and back to safety.  But thanks to Affleck’s edge-of-your-seat thriller, I now have at least a sense.

Because, you see, at the time I met that curly haired guy with the glasses in that elevator he was still sworn to secrecy.  It would not be for another seven or eight years, in 1992, that the information surrounding the CIA’s wildly outlandish ruse, the cooperation supplied by the government of Canada, particularly its ambassador to Iran, and the work done by a pair of most unlikely but deeply patriotic Hollywood insiders would be declassified and this whole incredible-but-true story would come to light.

And it wasn’t, frankly, until the release of Argo that it would become widely known.

And because of Affleck and his terrific nail-biter of a movie, I now know who that guy was, or at least what his name was.  It was – and still is for that matter – Ken Taylor.

So, wherever you are these days, Mr. Taylor, from that guy you met that day in the elevator in New York so long ago; again, thank you.  And this time – especially now that that guy knows a little more of about the incredible courage you and your family showed in behalf of his country and the extent to which you put yourself in harm’s way to come to the aid of six U.S. State Department workers you’d never before met or even seen in your life – he really, really means it.

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