It's been less than a week since James Gandolfini died. The night his death was announced, I decided, as per my last post, to undertake a binge rewatching of the legendary HBO series The Sopranos. I'm now in the middle of season 3, which I remember as one of my favorite seasons, and specifically to episode 32 ("University"), about the experiences of three college-aged women - two at Columbia University and one at the Bada Bing. At the time of its first broadcast, it was regarded as one of the most shocking and violent episodes to date. Juxtaposed against the recent violent rape of Dr. Melfi - this episode graphically showed Ralph Cifaretto beating to death his pregnant stripper girlfriend Tracee in the back lot of the Bing. The episode at the time caused quite a stir.
This episode also represents the one time my own life directly crossed paths with The Sopranos. That is not to say I didn't feel a deep personal connection to the show for other reasons. No, I am not from New Jersey, and I am not connected. But I had married a woman whose father owned a strip club in Minneapolis. The dysfunction of Tony and Carmela Sopranos' home was poignantly familiar to my outsider eyes. Strippers and fences, all friendly associates of my soon-to-be father-in-law, were invited to my wedding. Years later, I once asked my then father-in-law in a moment of sheer stupidity, "Are you part of organized crime?" and without missing a beat he answered me: "We're not all that organized."
But one time my life directly crossed The Sopranos. Not long after "University" aired a student came to my office. She wanted to take an adjunct course I wasn't teaching, but which I supervised, so my signature was required. It was all very mundane. Only after she got up from her chair and was headed to the door, I had to blurt out what I and some others of us already knew through the grapevine: "You were great in the episode 'University' - it was a fantastic performance."
"Thanks," said undergraduate Ari Graynor, who played Meadow Soprano's anxiety-ridden dormroom mate Caitlin Rucker.
Never spoke to her again.