Love in a time of Nutcracker: a night at the ballet
Yesterday was not a great day for me.
The last couple of weeks I've been stressed about money, again, after some unexpected twists meant that I went from having achieved something like an uneasy comfort at the end of November, to running to the bank before it closed because my rent check bounced and I needed to transfer funds out of a savings account I specifically set up so I would always have to transfer the funds in person, thus preventing me from spending it, and into which I had managed in the last month to squirrel away ... exactly one month's rent.
And so while I am okay, for the moment, I walked out of the bank with that heavy feeling which I progressively find I have to combat almost once a day now – the sense that I am trapped in a cycle which I will never be able to break, except when it finally kills me.
Which is a lot to carry on your back as you go from working at a Food Bank, to working at “The Nutcracker,” at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.
I work the back balcony, which at around $65 a seat (and worth every penny, this production is excellent) is sort of evenly divided between middle income families with kids old enough to no longer need booster chairs, and packs of middle aged women in tight dresses and statement necklaces. Rich folks get boxes or the dress circle, young professionals and families with toddlers tend to go for the orchestra (booster chairs can only be used in the orchestra), and folks on dates fill the front balcony, where the tickets are less pricey but the view is still good.
If you and I cross paths these days, it's because I am up where they keep me and God, and thus you’re there by accident or default. Recently, the ushers have stopped wearing formal attire in an experiment to see if it makes us less intimidating, so now we have t-shirts that say “welcome,” and while I get the idea, there is a part of me which preferred the suits because the t-shirts feel like a uniform, reinforcing the idea that we are cogs in a machine. While I happen to quite love the machine, and it’s actually been pretty good to me, the t-shirt work-wear does little to abate my ever-increasing fear that I am sliding into the very same impoverished obscurity that I spend 40+ hours a week at my other job trying to make some kind of headway against.
It is hard to brood on all that though once the doors open because people need you. I may be a cog, but I’m a cog who knows where your seat is, not to mention how long the first act is, where the bars and snacks are located, how long the intermission is, where the bathrooms and the bathrooms with the shorter lines are, how long the second act is, and if there is a program with pictures and the story which there is, it’s over here, and by the way it is BEAUTIFUL this year – welcome back paper programs, I missed you, you ARE magic.
On the night in question The Couple are the first (maybe second?) people to wander in, and in their defense, I did do something unintentionally invitational like say, “May I help you find your seat?” which then unlocked, from Her, a gush of “Oh My God It’s So High Up Here! We have no idea where we’re going! It’s our first time! Can you tell? We just came on a whim! The tickets were $65! Did you know that? We were like, YES! LET’S DO IT! I suppose you get free tickets? Can you show us to our seats! It’s our first time! Oh My God It’s So High Up Here!”
Through all of this I am getting them to their seats and then He is asking me if they have time for him to get a drink and I indicate the largely empty auditorium and he, probably on autopilot, asks me if I would like one, to which I reply that I MUST decline, and he’s off and I feel, well, obligated to stay. Partly because She keeps talking, asking me rapid-fire questions, one right after another.
But mostly I stay because I feel sad. And I don’t want to feel sad. Or really, anything.
Which is right when another couple in the section opposite mine has a meltdown and the guy is running to the door screaming, “Enjoy the ballet!” and the woman is following, sobbing, “Please don’t leave me!” and I am suddenly flashing back to one of the last performances my ex and I attended as a couple and thinking how sitting there I could feel him pulling away from me even if he didn’t run out the door.
She, the woman I’m waiting with, suddenly calm, says, “Oh, girlfriend is gonna regret those heels.”
I look at her. She smiles and asks, “So what are you watching on TV? ‘White Lotus?’”
“I’m trying to get through the fifth season of ‘The Crown,’ but I haven’t had much down time.”