The people of Mantoloking were coming back for the first time, en masse, for one night to light up a Christmas tree and have a little potluck. There was a brass band, lots of wine, cheese and craft beers, and then all of a sudden, this huge hulking man in a trench coat.
"Holy s---," I think I said aloud. "That's James Gandolfini."
Gandolfini's sister, Leta, owns a house there. She's a sweet, warm woman, who cried when we talked about the storm that destroyed her home. Outside, when I finally got the nerve to approach her little brother, he was wary. I reached for a handshake and got nothing but rain. He just kept palming the glass of wine in his monstrous mitt, eyeballing me.
But he was nice enough, realizing I was there to document the rising spirits.
"Hey, listen, we'll bounce back," he said to me. "This is New Jersey. We're pretty tough here."
Then one glad-handing local tried to crack a joke: "Hey, James, I think the mayor's worried you're stealing some of his spotlight."
And in an instant, I got one more moment out of Tony Soprano beyond that infamous black screen that ended the series.
"Oh yeah?" he said back, clearly annoyed. "Too f---ing bad."
DN Members Only : Gandolfini wouldn't have liked Tony to go out that way.
On Twitter: @JasonNark