It's the day after Thanksgiving, a chill afternoon in midtown Manhattan, and the city sidwalks are packed with out-of-towners, some scurrying off to a matinee, others a bit off-track in their search for Planet Hollywood or the Hard Rock Cafe or whatever culinary themepark they're seeking. Many, it seems, are getting an early start on their holiday shopping, as am I.

The sign above the tiny shop, situated two or three doors to the north of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, reads K & L's Rock America. The emporium is a souvenir stand, offering t-shirts, postcards and knick-knacks of the sort one might take home to loved ones after a visit to New York.

Rock America also does a nice business in official (and not-so-official) Late Show with David Letterman merchandise. Two of the store's employees, a pair of gentlemen named Sirajul and Mujibur, have achieved a certain cult status, thanks to occasional appearances on Late Show. Letterman has, of course, made use of neighborhood businesses, and the proprietors and employees thereof, since his earliest days at CBS and these two easy-going Bangladeshis, along with Rupert Gee, owner/operator of the neighboring Hello Deli, seem to be Dave's, and his viewers', favorites.

On the show they appear at once eager to please and a bit baffled, distracted by the attention, the lights and the cameras, the cheering crowd. Mujibur, the more gregarious of the two, seems to fancy himself a performer; he seizes every onscreen opportunity and gives it his all. Like Calvert "Larry 'Bud' Melman" DeForrest before him, however, his best is never good enough and therein lies his charm. His counterpart, Sirajul, a bit stolid, if no less friendly, is more cautious, less likely to make a fool of himself. He is Abbot to Mujibur's Costello.

And he is, it so happens, on duty this day, planted on a tall stool in the back of the sardine can that is K & L's Rock America, behind a table that holds a pair of two-foot-high stacks of Tshirts, which commemorate the cross-country tour the boys undertook on Letterman's behalf a couple of seasons back. The shirt on the top of each stack is signed, with a felt-tipped marker, "Sirajul" and whenever one of the shirts is sold, Sirajul quickly signs the next one in the stack.

The tourists that fill the store are abuzz that a "celebrity" is among them. For his part, Sirajul looks uncomfortable, perhaps a little bored. He has that slightly pained, far-off expression one sees on individuals who make their living in a traveling sideshow, like the World's Smallest Man or the Bearded Lady, performers who have no act, no particular skill or talent, people who depend on the nickels, dimes and quarters of rubberneckers who'll pay just to stare. One gets the sense that Sirajul would rather be just about anywhere else in the world right now than here.

"That's him, that's Sirajul from Letterman," I hear one 17-year-old behind me say to his buddy.

"No way! No possible way!" his buddy exclaims in awestruck tones, as if his friend had just pointed out Cindy Crawford or Mel Gibson or Sharon Stone.

"It's him, I'm telling you. I watch the show, I recognize him!"

"I can't believe it! I can't believe I'm seeing him! Are you sure that's him?"

"I'm sure," the friend reassures him. "I'm positive."

I pick up a t-shirt, make my way to the counter to make my purchase and finally turn for the door. As I do, I hear the second young man continue to protest, "I can't believe that's him. You gotta be kidding me, I just can't believe it."

Read next article.
Return to the Table of Contents.
Return to BRETTnews.