Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rest Ushered

I began working as a theater usher recently. The job requires that I wear a black shirt, black shoes, black trousers and a black tie. I have long wanted to buy a black tie, but the risk of being mistaken for an Avril Lavigne fan was, prior to now, far too great.

On my first day of work, my co-workers were all either new and excited or seasoned and content: always encouraging. The enthusiastic, librarian-voiced veterans strongly suggested that I examine the seating lay-out of my assigned section before the patrons began flooding in. Unfortunately, the pre-show usher meeting ran long, and I did not have time to best determine how the seats were arranged.

The crowd entered in, hurriedly but dignified: the American noblesse and their radical opposites, theater critics with tall foreheads, various other associated individuals. A sagely, older usher noticed the look of apprehension on my face as I was at a loss to direct people to their proper places. She ran over to me and gave me a tip about the seating lay-out: "note the numbers in the corners," she advised. Seats on the left go above a certain number, and seats on the right go below that number. This tip proved extremely helpful. Essentially, she was that first-day-of-work savior who shows newcomers “the ropes," lest first-timers accidentally hang themselves, I guess.

Two of the people I seated were anarchists, judging by their all-black clothing, printed with left-wing slogans. One was wearing an anti-stop-and-frisk pin. I examined their tickets. “Just down and to the left,” said I, quite happy to seat activist-types.

“To the left! That’s our life,” quipped one in response, thereby winning my heart.

Another patron was quite unpleasant. After I rather clumsily directed one woman to her seat, correcting myself twice, this patron put her hand on my shoulder and said, with mock-sympathy: “you’re directionally-challenged, aren’t you.” I laughed it off. However, my corrected directions turned out to be faulty, and she returned to tell me so, sarcastically adding “but you’re doing a great job!”

“It’s my first day,” I apologized, and with eyes downcast, I tried to keep my convivial, customer service smile from becoming a “fuck you” smile. Well, I’m sorry to have offended your middle-class sensibilities, making you walk a little bit more than you’re comfortable with. Do you realize that you went out of your way to walk even more, just to tell me I was wrong? Of course you didn’t.

The performance started. In the unfortunate event of having to deal with this rude patron a second time, I spent the first half of the show thinking up a comeback:

  • “Yeah? Directionally-challenged? What a great joke! I hear some people are empathetically-challenged; ever hear of such a thing?”

Alas, wit was risky, and should this haughty gorgon complain, dismissal was the likeliest outcome. Jewish roots intact, evoking guilt was certainly a possibility:

  • “That’s really hurtful, but perhaps you’re having a bad day. Are you enjoying the show?”

Happily, that mock-empathetic response eventually began to make sense to me. Maybe she really was having a bad day. The bitter feelings began to dissipate.

During the intermission, a different audience member with kind eyes and an accent I couldn’t place (perhaps somewhere between Italy and Argentina?) told me that she was enjoying the show and asked if I was as well. We conversed for a bit. She reminded me that I was lucky to work at this theater and get paid to see critically-acclaimed, sold-out performances like this one. She was quite right. I spent intermission chatting with a few other pleasant patrons about the show, and eventually, I forgot about the snark attack altogether. When intermission ended and the stage darkened again, I returned to my position and let myself get pulled-in by the wonderful performance. Lucky I am indeed.

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