The Fantastic Mr. Old Man

October 13, 2014

After arriving, Partner and I discovered our assigned seats for The Fantasticks were in the first row, four or five feet away from the stage.

“Ah, shit. Really?” was my response to this as sitting this close to the stage is not only awkward for the actors performing but for us, the audience, as well. This meant I was now responsible for pretending to enjoy the show. As someone who once performed on that stage, I was aware of how the stage lights illuminated the first row. I was also aware of how irritating it is to give a performance of a lifetime only to see some jerk in the front row physically portraying that he would rather experience a deep cavity search than live theater, and I didn’t want to be “that guy.”

I groaned as Partner and I took our seats at the far left-side of the auditorium’s center section, making an unspoken proclamation forbidding him from ever ordering our tickets again. As the house lights dimmed, I made a quick survey and noticed four other schlemiels also planted in our row: two women in the middle, and an older couple on the far right. This left many seats in the dreaded first row empty.

At intermission, Partner and I left our seats, returning about ten minutes later to find a crop of old people had sprung up in our absence. After taking our seats, the only vacant spot left in our row was the one to my left. I noticed that even the once-empty seats in the second row were crawling with elderly. As I turned back to the front, my heart jumped as I found an old man leaning towards me.

“Any vacant seats up here,” Mr. Old Man yell-asked me. Before I had the chance to reply that our row appeared to be full for some reason, he pointed at the empty seat to my left and barked, “Is anyone sitting there?”

I paused but eventually answered by nervously shaking my head.

“Good,” he grumbled as he shuffled towards the empty seat. “I can’t hear worth a piss.” Mr. Old Man punched that last word so hard that I flinched. I assumed this explained the sudden influx of seniors in the first two rows. Maybe they couldn’t hear worth a piss either. Of course, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to test this assumption as the patrons would surely been offended had I asked, “Excuse me, ma’am, but are you here because you can’t hear worth a piss?”

The lights dimmed, and the second act began. The piano and harp accompanied the actors as they sang ‘This Plum is Too Ripe.’ I thought it was charming, but close to the end of the song, Mr. Old Man apparently thought the song was better served with his own signature flair. As if attempting to swallow a peanut through his nostril, he began rapidly snorting like an angry, hyperventilating bull, one quick snort following another. I casually leaned towards Partner, hoping the actors on stage weren’t associating me with this crude embellishment to their music. After all, they could see me.

During ‘Round and Round‘ I began to wonder if Mr. Old Man was in the program for he accompanied the mico-orchestra with his squelching hearing aid. I enjoy it when theater is a little experimental. It keeps the material fresh. I get it. But this was a bit too avant-garde for my taste. Take it from me, it’s hard to express how much you are enjoying a show while, at the same time, cowering away from a feisty hearing aid.

After the curtain call, the house lights rose and the audience herded themselves into the lobby. Mr. Old Man stood, complained about it being too cold, and sauntered off without a proper farewell (seriously, I’m not making this up). For some reason, I wondered if he was driving himself home, worrying about the safety of pedestrians in the path of what I imagined to be his 1979, brown Buick Century. Did he live alone? After all, I couldn’t imagine somebody sharing a dwelling with him for very long without the aid of alcoholism and/or drug abuse considering he was someone who complained to complete strangers, someone who never bothered to apologize for the disruption caused by his hearing aid or nasal activity, and someone who was unapologetic about his vulgar language.

That’s when I realization slapped me. I wondered, ‘What if I was sitting next to my future self?’ To this, I replied, “Ah, shit. Really?”

 

by Cary Vaughn (2014)