I treated myself to Hamilton tickets. Broadway was back, so I was heading straight there, as soon as my ticket allowed. I rode the bus. These days it even departs from outside my door. Now I roll out of bed and go (a flashback to college life!). Previously (pre-COVD), it cost $20 for round trip fare, but now buses are $70, and they are still packed. Despite the price hike, taking the bus is still significantly cheaper than riding the train. One ticket on Amtrak chips my theatre funds into fractions, so I avoid it. Besides, the bus is not even an hour longer, which means slightly more time for reading.
I arrived in New York early enough to have lunch with my sophomore year undergrad roommate. Funny thing about catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in 30 years. It’s not hard at all. We’ve changed, yes, but underneath, we are the same people as we were then. Trust is implicit, even after decades apart. We resumed where we left it, sharing personal stories, discussing our challenges, and wondering what our plans might be in the future. This dynamic of implied trust is a key ingredient for enduring friendships, despite massive gaps between them. I find this feature of the human psyche both fascinating, and somewhat magical, like it’s humans one big superpower.
After lunch we walked down to 46th St, parting ways. She headed one direction, toward her theatre, and I went the other, towards mine. Crossing the threshold into Richard Rodgers theatre, I imagined the splendour the children in CS Lewis’ novel must have felt, stepping into Narnia from a dark wardrobe at the back of a closet. The theatre was rich in red velvet with burgundy hues, slivers of black, forest green, and navy accenting it. But most of all was the ruby red. Chandeliers, hung like ballrooms for the sky’s constellations, cascaded sparkles and the shadows that danced with them over every surface, like rice tossed at the newly married skittering away from the church.
I found my seat. Sitting down, I gazed at the stage, and smiled. You really outdid it this time. If a perfect seat existed, at Richard Rodgers Theatre, I had found it. Level: Orchestre, Row: T, Seat: 108. It was the BaiHui of theatre seating. The single location where every energy in my body had the chance to meet at once. If you’ve never had a needle lightly screwed into that spot by an acupuncturist, I highly recommend it. But T-108 was a close second, my moment of “A Hundred Convergences” for the next three hours.
The theatre filled slowly at first, despite the queues wrapping back and forth, waiting to cross the entryway like I did. A lady sat down next to me with her son on the other side. I could tell they were New Yorkers. How? I just new. Soon two mothers ushered a gaggle of girls into the row in front. They were all dressed for the occasion in matching dark dresses, sparkling and glittery, their hair knotted in different configurations. The moms bookended the three girls between them.
I counted my lucky stars. First BaiHui, and now three ribby adolescents parked ahead of me. As they settled in, an usher sauntered up and down the aisle, waving seat inserts like powerball tickets. One of the moms, closest to the aisle, flagged her down and grabbed one. She passed the black pillow hand by hand down to a tiny girl sitting in front of the New Yorker next to me. The girl stood up, placing it on the seat, before flopping back down.
No, I like it better without, she said.
The girl in front of me cried, I wanna try it!
Oh here we go…
With those words, my BaiHui moment crossed swords with the omnipotent zen. She tucked the insert under her seat, waffling back and forth on top of it like a toddler trying to locate the hole in the center of the toilet, before settling down to have a pee.
I could barely see the stage before the butt lift, but now I was forced to sit at 9’oclock, peering between slivers of shoulders to garner a view. I was slightly annoyed. I wondered, Who’s raising these cockamamie twits who don’t consider any impact their expanding comfort might inflict on someone else’s discomfort? Hamilton is nothing more than a play within a play, which is a mimicry of the ongoing play known as America!
I didn’t say these things, but I thought them. I took a deep breath, settling down, grateful I could twist to 9 o’clock on my red velvet seat, watching beautiful art, all while the tween sat unencumbered like Helen of Troy on her throne.
After intermission, when the girls returned to their seats with their mothers, the tiny girl switched places with Helen of Troy. She took her seat in front of me. I thanked my crossed swords. Equilibrium was restored.
I felt a tap on my shoulder.
New Yorker nodded at Helen of Troy sitting in front of her.
Wasn’t she sitting in front of you?
A smirk trickled across my face.
Yes. She was.
What? They change seats?
I guess so, I said.
Helen had confiscated her butt lifter, tucking it below her.
New Yorker turned her head and stared straight at me.
I believe that’s a chair lift.
What? She have that with you?
Yep. I flipped through the program.
Well now I can’t see anything. Could you see?
Well, I turned sideways a little. I had to look between their shoulders to see.
Oh. This is unbelievable. This is not right!
New Yorker turned her head to stare at the side of my face once again.
You should say something.
Yeah. Go complain. Tell them this isn’t right. I can’t see anything.
I looked at her round face. New Yorker didn’t have a lot of laugh lines, like scrubbing her face with course soap for decades had left it hard. She had succeeded in rubbing all the emotions from it.
I said, “You’re welcome to complain. Want me to let you out.”
She pawed her hand in the air suggesting the conversation was over.
Well, you’re welcome to sit in the seat on the other side of me, I said. It’s empty.
She considered this for two seconds before picking herself up, sliding around my knees, leaving her son alone to fare for himself.
Reflecting on this chance encounter, I thought the old me would have made room for both the mother and son to sit together. But a lot has happened since then. Now I considered the fact we had all paid the same price for our tickets, and sometimes, who sat in front of you was plain luck, or not. Maybe had she been friendlier from the beginning, before we had exchanged any words, I might have made the offer so she could sit next to her son. My mother did raise me to consider others before considering myself. If this is how I turned out, I wonder what will become of Helen of Troy.