Dasad arrived ten minutes before the curtain rose. Luckily I had anticipated my friend’s dragonboat practice and emailed his ticket earlier. Nearly all seats had filled by then, stuffed with men and women in varied degrees of pain. I remained seated as we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
“Sorry dude, but this is the least uncomfortable contortion I managed in the last half-hour. If I lose it, I might begin to cry,” I said pointed to my knees tightly wedged under my chin. Behind my ear, my left toe twitched miserably.
“Seriously, I’m this close,” I said pressing my thumb and index finger together, “to sawing off my feet until this thing is over. If you think I’m kidding hand me a pen-knife.”
My friend digs into his pocket and pulls out a pocket Swiss Army knife. I fumble with it for a moment, flipping between corkscrews, pocket scissors, screwdriver and wrench with my teeth before handing it back.
“Screw the blade. I’ll chew my way through. No way I’m going to sit for the next three hours folded like a Chinese acrobat.”
The Baltimore Hippodrome employs some of the most uncomfortable seats since the Inquisitional chair. Seriously, the architects must have been midgets or children to conceive that six-foot men could sit comfortably. At the intermission, my bones literally snapped back in place. The rest of family – all fifteen of us nearly taking up the entire row at the theater – appeared in varying degrees of pain, with the sole exception of the boys who used the tight spaces to snuggle with their girlfriends.
“Hey, the Asian Sensation is here,” shouted Kevin down the line. Bree, Katie and the remaining boys waved and hurled a few catcalls in Dasad’s direction. A few ladies in the rows ahead of us turned and smiled.
“They missed you, man,” I whispered. “For some strange, inexplicable reason, they’re all quite fond of you. I still think you’re a bastard, of course, but the kids . . . ah, so young, so naïve . . .”
“Why did you invite me again . . ?” he started when the lights dimmed and the overture began.
For those of you who have never seen Phantom before, or perhaps only seen the movie version, the opening overture is truly the best moment of the night. I saw the musical down in D.C. once when I was twelve or thirteen, and the whole theater seemed to shake and shudder as the chandelier rose above the audience to the beat of the kettle drum, crash of violins strings, and frenzied dance upon the organ keys. In hearing, it’s very difficult to avoid the musical’s spell.
Of course, I had no idea how Dasad felt about the whole matter. I take to epic scores and melodrama like a pirate to brine and rum. Dasad . . . well, he’s a little more reserved. At least outwardly. Inside he might be a ticking time-bomb of excitement and enthusiasm, a boiling volcano of eager emotion ready to explode like Krakatoa and annihilate all who stand within earshot, deafening those unfortunate onlookers with gleeful showtunes. If such a storm resides within his soul, I have never born witness to it. Nor will I ever. For if that molten mass of ecstatic effluvia was released, rising to the surface like some cacophonous choir from the pits of Hell itself, those that witnessed it never lived to tell the tale.
“I’m mysterious,” he said afterwards. “That’s what keeps the ladies from coming back for more. Tack on good-looks and fine clothes and we’re talking about the full package.”
The chandelier fell and we all stood up to stretch. Gradually, the audience filtered from the auditorium to join the ever-increasing outside the restrooms; others piled around the bars for refills. Beside me, one our family friends, Rodney, ‘regaled’ us with his impression of Christine: “Laaaaaa!” Soon the whole upper section had vacated — or escaped — leaving us alone with Rodney and his . . . um, singing.
As my bones and tendons knit back together, Dasad gazed around the upper balcony, his mouth and eyes wide with apparent interest. The audience crowded together, blending black shaws with white collars, red purses and gray jackets. Even the kids arrived dressed in suits and ties.
“Jesus, it’s like a Joseph A. Bank commercial,” he muttered.
“Well, it’s not a rock concert,” I smiled. “What are you complaining about anyway? You throw on an unstained office shirt, done. You might’ve gotten away with jeans too.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that when I texted you?”
“You would’ve freaked if you had arrived not lookin’ half as dignified as half the people here. Then I’d have been the asshole. Never hear the end of that.”
“That’s not true,” he pouted.
“Hell it is. You’re a closet metrosexual, man. An office monkey tailored in Armani and Parisian leather.”
“Like I would drop a grand on a suit. You’re just saying that because I iron my slacks.”
“That is pretty gay. I mean, dude, you carted a travel iron across the continent to California last summer. A luggage space better reallocated for the storage and transport of delicious Napa Valley wine.”
“So what? My clothes get wrinkled after the extended flight. I-”
“To iron out the crease in your jeans? That’s illegal in some states,” I assured him. “In Texas it’s like practicing witchcraft. Did you ever seen John Wayne or Bruce Willis pull out their Black & Decker WUS2000 before sluggin’ horse rustlers and German terrorists? Fact: real men don’t iron.”
“They do if they want to get laid. Fact: James Bond.”
I considered this.
“. . . touché, mon ami. You win this round . . .”
The ‘repaired’ chandelier rose above the audience once again, and the lights dimmed again as the second act began. For most of the shows on Broadway or at the Hippodrome, the songs and numbers prove all-too-often to be forgettable. In the case of Le Mis for example the ‘songs’ are more prose set to music, and thus difficult to recall or sing in your car. Phantom’s score on the other hand we all remember and enjoy thoroughly. Everyone has their favorite song and regardless of age, rarely do any of us – siblings, parents, or otherwise – miss a show. Ghost stories are like that, I suppose.
After the curtain fell we piled outside in the atrium, collecting all the kids and women as they visited the bathroom. Everyone used the opportunity to trade reviews and some complaints:
“That was much better than the last time . . .”
“So you’ve never seen the movie . . .?”
“. . . and when she kissed him, Rodney shouted ‘Whoa!’ . . .”
“. . . not only the acting, but the music too. Last time all they did was shout . . .”
“What?! Are you serious? Gerard Butler! No way . . .”
“. . . still the chairs. My knee feels like it’s been broken and reformed.”
“. . . ‘All I Ask of You’ was definitely the best . . .”
“She was seriously making out with him, which is pretty impressive considering he has no lips . . .”
“Mom, can we go home now . . .”
“Hell, I don’t mind. If I’d go gay for anyone it’d be either him or Mark Wahlberg . . .”
Dasad stood by and waited listening to our usual chatter, trading the occasional greeting with a sibling or parent seated further down the row. We laughed and shouted, earning a few stares from the crowds, clearly jealous of the noise. Finally Kevin emerged waddling from the bathroom. Dad counted heads, and all thirteen of us shambled into the streets – a laughing, screaming mob no East-side mugger would dare affront. After a block, Dasad pointed around the corner to the parking garage. I shook the bum’s hand.
“Thanks for coming, G.Q.,” I smiled. “Hope you enjoyed yourself. And the sights as well.”
“Right, and your French? Totally homo, man.”
“Yeah, I guess . . .” I said, choosing that particular moment to scratch my nose with the third finger on my left hand. He chuckled and ambled off. My mom shouted after him.
“Stop on by, hon! You don’t have to be afraid of us anymore. We’re a fun kind of crazy!”
He waved embarrassed and disappeared into the night. Off to solicit favors from well-dressed men perhaps . . . touché.