Ding, ding, ding, ding
I was the first to launch out of my seat.
“That’s the fire alarm! IT’S A FIRE! WE NEED TO EVACUATE!” I yelled. I looked around myself, panicking, why was nobody moving?
We had a substitute teacher that day, maybe I was doing it for her. I mean, she was a substitute, she obviously did not exist outside our classroom. When our teacher returned, she would return to substitute teacher planet, where fire alarms didn’t exist.
As the alarm whined away, my classmate’s laughed shrilly at me, while the harridan substitute snorted derisively. I sheepishly sat down again and waited for the teacher to usher us calmly from the classroom. It was 1997, I would have been 9 years old but sometimes at night I still hear the shrill laughter.
Since the fire drill incident I have vowed to just go with the crowd. I mean, if I was in the film Spartacus, I would eventually get up and say “I’m Spartacus,” I just wouldn’t be the first guy to do it. I’d also be perfectly happy to not stand up if no one else did. If the guy who first stepped forward to say, “I’m Spartacus,” chose instead to point at Kirk Douglas and say, “That’s Spartacus,” I could have gone along with that too.
The point is, since 1997, I have never been the instigator of crowd action, simply a participant. This includes Mexican waves, spontaneous clap alongs at musicals, flash mobs and standing ovations.
But when you are travelling solo you have an opportunity to recreate yourself. You lose your context and you are able to shed your hang-ups. So, while I am travelling, I have resolved to shed my crowd-following tendencies.
A prime opportunity arose while I was in New York. I had a ticket to see ‘Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ at the Booth Theatre on 45th Street. I had never read or seen a production of it but, naturally, I pretended I had (mainly to make my more erudite friends on Facebook jealous).
I took my seat in the mezzanine, a space otherwise occupied entirely by old women. The one next to me smiled and asked, “Are you as excited as I am to see this?”
“Oh, yes,” I replied. “I love everything by,” I glanced at my program, “Edward Franklin Albee III.”
“Really? What other works by Albee do you like?”
“Oh, you know, all of them, I like all the works.”
She waited expectantly; I had to guess something, “Um… like… American Werewolf in Paris?”
She gave a furrowed expression, “Oh I haven’t heard of that one.”
The lights dimmed and the curtains rose to reveal a living room. The protagonists, Martha and George entered and I realized that it was not a horror-musical about a werewolf from Virginia, which was the reason I chose this show.
As I sat watching the characters get progressively drunker and angrier, I began to drift off. This always happens to me at shows, I’m like a narcoleptic clock. It’s not because the plays are boring, it’s because the theatre is warm, my seat is comfortable and the scent of lavender wafting off all the old women makes me sleepy.
I fought the drowsiness. Must. Stay. Conscious. My eyes drooped, I battled, rocking backwards and forth, shaking my leg and lightly slapping myself. But it was all for nothing. Stay. Awake. Denton.
Ding ding ding ding.
I am first to launch from my seat. “That’s a fire alarm! IT’S A FIRE! WE NEED TO EVACUATE!”
My classmates look frightened.
“A what?” The teacher yells over the klaxon, “I have no existence beyond this classroom and we haven’t got these things on planet substitute teacher.”
“Never fear! Follow me.” I kick down the door and lead everybody outside to safety. I carry the substitute teacher (a Freudian thing probably). “Thank you, you saved the school through your incredible fire-alarm recognition. But. What is your name?”
“I am,” I look up at the sun heroically, “Spartacus.”
I woke with a start to the sound of Martha yelling at George. I looked around to make sure nobody noticed but the old woman had fallen asleep too.
Energized by my courageous dream, I was seized by a sense of resolution. Something had roused inside me that I had not experienced since that fateful day in 1997. I felt the courage of Kirk Douglas within me and I was going to capitalize. It was time to stand and lead the crowd once more. God bless you Mr. Douglas.
I could no longer concentrate on the play I could only focus on my comeback. I would lead a standing ovation and the theatre would love me for it. I imagined the actors blowing me kisses, the audience turning to applaud me for leading so well. Like Spartacus himself, I would be immortalized.
The moment arrived. The lights dimmed and the curtains dropped. I launched from my seat and shouted, “BRAVO”! I applauded wildly. “ENCORE!” I tried to do that whistle thing with my fingers but only sputtered. Nevermind. “BRAVO!” I whooped once more.
Gradually, I began to notice that nobody was joining me. My clapping slowed. Why was nobody joining me? My clapping stopped. Then I heard somebody shout from below, in a distinct New York accent, “It’s only the intermission ya putz!”
A ripple of laughter emanated outwards and upwards from the heckler. Soon I was engulfed in a storm of guffaws. Sheepishly, I sat down again; I could hear the old woman next to me snorting derisively. I buried my head in my program trying to ignore everything. But there, printed across the back page in big bold typeface were the words
SPARTACUS THE MUSICAL: STARRING MICHAEL DOUGLAS
Below them, staring straight into my eyes was a black and white headshot of a laughing Michael Douglas.