Why, it’s good old reliable Nathan –Nathan, Nathan, Nathan Detroit!
— Guys and Dolls
I have a long history with that song. An excellent history! It all started on a very slow cab ride to a play called, ironically enough, Full Gallop. I had the number, “Good Old Reliable Nathan” in my head, and I kept sort of bursting into song. My dad was mildly amused, but you know, it’s never a total joy when someone keeps bursting into song next to you. Until I turned it into a game…
“Oh my gosh,” I said, “guess who called me out of the blue?”
“Who?” my dad asked.
And I started vamping: “Good old reliable Nathan–Nathan, Nathan, Nathan Detroit!”
Chuckles! Score one for Jess. I should clarify that there’s nothing inherently anything about Good Old Reliable Nathan. He’s the guy who runs the Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York–the gambler who never makes good on his promise to wed his fiancee (hence another famous song from Guys and Dolls, “Miss Adelaide’s Lament.”) I don’t really care about crap games or gangsters; I wouldn’t even name Guys and Dolls as one of my favorite musicals. But that song just has a great swing to it, and I really loved singing it. So a game to give me the chance–well. Too good to be true.
Once the game was established, though (and the cab was still inching its way across West 45th Street), my dad and couldn’t carry on a real conversation. He would venture, “Hey, do you know who I — ” Sputter, sputter, sputter. We both kept veering into the obvious, and we both knew it.
He got me good at intermission, though, coming back from the bathroom. “Oh my gosh,” he said, settling into his seat. “Do you know who the assistant director is on this show?”
I was pretty knowledgeable about people in the theatre scene, and I was very curious to know who my dad thought was an interesting AD for the show. “Who?” I asked.
No! Walked right into it! “Good old reliable Nathan–Nathan, Nathan, Nathan Detroit!”
Fortunately, that was not the end of the game. Well–my dad and I didn’t play much after that. But a few months later, when I was a camp counselor, Good Old Reliable Nathan struck big-time.
That’s all we have time for today. Stay tuned for more GORN and the real pay-off, the thing that made me start this post in the first place — how a line from this storied song found its way into an RSVP for my book party.