|Image by yiftah-s via Wikimedia Commons|
The ballerinas wear gas masks, and I wish for one too. Someone sitting near had hit the garlic too hard, and tried covering it with cologne. A rotten spiciness mingled with peppery flowers causes my eyes to water. I can’t decide whether it is worse to breathe through my nose or mouth, and I wonder if I can get the usher to throw the offender out, or at least douse them with a bucket of something less offensive, like fish heads.
Of course, it could be a plant. Any director that would attempt interpreting trench warfare through ballet, with the prima wearing the spiked helmet of a Prussian officer would not be above gassing the audience. Then again, the production budget and meager cast can’t waste a warm body in the audience. Perhaps there are packets of garlic oil and gutter-quality Chanel under our seats. This is off-off-Broadway after all, dear. Kiss-kiss. Can you handle it?
I am the only accountant in the room. White hipsters living in the former ghettos sit in front of me, arguing if Samuel Adams is really a craft brewer or mini-Budweiser. Two haute couture designers to my left with gravity-defying asymmetrical haircuts whisper to an immaculately groomed black man so small that I believe him to be a Pygmy. To my right, three Eurotrash gay men in summer-weight scarves hold hands and twirl their feet in synchronicity. The masses of malnourished actors in black sit in either the front or back rows according to some pecking order I cannot fathom. I feel the collective gazes on me and the unspoken question: what’s he doing here?
If I had a notebook out, I could masquerade as a critic or a blogger. I can’t see why I should have to justify myself to them. I can blend into any background it seems, but this one. At work, no one notices me. At meetings, I always take a chair near the back, but not in the actual back row. I never make eye contact with the presenter, but stop shy of looking down. I usually stare over their heads. I wear glasses, and I shaved my beard down to a nondescript mustache. Lunches are late when there are few in the break room; white bread sandwiches only. I bring a book to read so no one bothers me. Two more weeks under the radar, and then I can leave the office forever.
Sometimes, bringing out a phone and pretending to text or play a game will put you beneath notice, but in the theater, it has the opposite effect. So would a steno notebook, as some may play a game where they try to guess which paper I work for, eventually leading to someone approaching and asking to verify the winner. I don’t need that tonight, just a bit of avant-garde theatre to scrub the corporate newspeak jingo-lingo from my head. The other day I caught myself using the VP’s favorite word this quarter, choiceful, in a sentence. If that continues, I’ll be ruined for life.
The stench is a problem. Breathing through the nose is torture, and I don’t know if I can hold down dinner if I open my mouth and suck in whatever molecules the fetid cloud carries. Draping my shirt over my lower face, bandito style, would only partially help the smell but it might also draw attention. Then again, a coughing fit or barfing over the floor would definitely do so. How can everyone around me stand to ignore it all?
What was I even doing here? What path of pretension and poseur-ness convinced my better judgment to come to this show when I could have stayed in and watched Netflix? Thousands of worthy movies, hundreds of cinematic masterpieces, a cavalcade of award-winning miniseries, and I choose to see a bunch of anorexics with bad toes cavort around a punching bag. This won’t make me a better person, or entertain my numb soul, and certainly won’t get me laid.
Get me laid. I should be in the bars and clubs finding a woman. I should be finding my soul mate so I don’t have to come to these things alone. Or at all. I should be having wild, guilt-free sex with beautiful girls instead of burying my nose in my shirt because my own BO is better than the outside atmosphere. Patience, I tell myself. In two weeks I can carouse as much as I want, but I need to stay focused.
A couple sits next to me and I suppress a curse. It’s my boss. His head jerks as he recognizes me, then smiles and elbows his wife. Clarice is an aging trophy, which to my boss’s credit, he has not traded in for a newer model. She has seen the surgeon’s scalpel, but it isn’t as obvious as it could be. Eyes and breasts lifted, though not sculpted or enhanced. A nose too straight to be natural, but most wouldn’t notice. She smiles at me as if we were old friends or more likely, as she would to a favored nephew.
“John, what the hell are you doing here?” he whispers. The Couture twins hiss as each covers the ear of the pygmy between them. My boss nods at them.
“Helen, Deliliah,” he says to them with an apologetic smile.
“Mister Pierquot, I had no idea …” I whisper as he sits next to me.
“I’m on the board of directors. Season tickets.”
“I’ve never seen you here before,” I say and instantly regret it. I’ve given too much of myself away.
“Clarice and I could only get late reservations for dinner, so we have time to kill.”
We watch the dance for about five minutes before he leans in.
“What’s that smell?”
“I have no idea.”
“Are these dancers any good?”
He gives a curt nod, the same one he uses in meetings when he comes to a decision. He leans over and whispers to Clarice, who shrugs, grabs her purse, and stands.
“Life’s too short to sit through this,” my boss says, “We’ll just wait at the lounge bar and go back stage afterwards. Would you like to come with us?”
Social interaction with someone I’d rather not, or sit in a miasma and watch bad ballet? In half an hour, I can leave the scents behind, but awkward conversation with the boss will leave a lasting impression I didn’t need.
My stomach twists as nausea spreads through me. My mouth waters, and all I know is that I have to get out. Blocked on one side by my boss and on the other by the Couture Twins, I nod and evacuate.
“Sure,” I say, “that would be fine.”
“Great! The first martini is on me,” my boss says. “Are you a Bombay or Beefeater man?” I sense he’s testing me.
“I don’t know.” Just keep moving, and I’ll like whatever you want, boss man.
“A virgin! Great! That’s just great!” He beams and shuffles along the seats behind his wife. “We’ll get you one of each, and you can do a taste test.”
At the top of the stairs, the usher avoids eye contact with my boss, but glares at me. In any other context, I swear the old lady would throw a right hook right at my nose. She would land it too, I sm in no condition to defend myself. My throat attempts to turning itself inside out. I push past my boss and Clarice and sprint for the bathroom.
The walls of the bathroom are finished in a wallpaper that had been maroon velvet paisleys over a gold background, some neo-Victorian theme that may have worked at the time, but now just serve as a way to collect more dirt and grime when the place runs out of hand towels. The first stall is occupied by a couple either negotiating for drugs or sex, the second locked without any apparent occupant. The sink, the urinal, or the locked stall, my stomach says, I don’t care which you pick, just do it right now.
I should have picked the sink. My sport jacket takes the brunt of the floor’s grime as I crawl under the stall’s door, and I wish for leather elbow patches to slow down the bacteria that are undoubtedly eating through the fabric on their way to my pristine, pink skin. I stand over the toilet and feel as if I were twisting inside out as my stomach empties itself.
“You okay in there, John?” says my boss through the door.
“Peachy.” I spit into the toilet and flush. I turn and discovered why the door wouldn't open. Some jackass wedged a screwdriver in the door latch and broke off the handle. I look at the smeared trail I made coming in and my stomach flutters.
“You going to be okay to come into work tomorrow? I really need those numbers on Project Quantum and the Platinum Initiative for the director’s meeting in the afternoon.”
I don’t work on either of those projects. Another John in the office babysits those helpless cases. There is hope yet, if only I can escape from the filthiest theater bathroom in New York.