Sunday, December 9, 2007

Tickets, Please!

Back in the days when I was becoming a heavy duty culture vulture, I made the acquaintance of a young man whose interest in theater bordered on the obsessive. "Intense" would be a polite way to describe him. Michael could quote (for any show you named) the price of each seat, the color of the theater rickets, the opening night reviews and how many performances the show had played in which theaters.

Over the years Michael's enthusiasm for the " the-ay-ter" never dimmed. He magically flew past doormen on nights when he thought he could find an empty sear. He was known to approach patrons leaving the theater at intermission to get their ticket stubs and wing it for the second half of the show. Over the course of many seasons he amassed boxes full of ticket stubs which were his pride and joy.

A few years back I visited him in New York. By then in his thirties, he looked like a cross between Bullwinkle the Moose and Snoopy in a three-piece wool suit, As soon as he got out of his work clothes, his eyes lit up and his furry eyebrows clustered together in fetishistic delight.

"I've got something to show you - we're going to play a little game," he chortled.

He reached into a closet and took out an innocent-looking shoebox. "Okay, Georgie, I'm going to pick up a ticket stub from the box. You tell me what show it was, and where the seats were and how much the top price was on weeknights, matinees and week¬ends," he commanded, his face aglow with the challenge of finding a poten¬tial worshipper at his shrine.

The game was interrupted by a phone call which had been forwarded to me at his number. Michael leaped up to answer the phone.

"Box Office," he blurted into the receiver, then, "Oh, it's for you," his voice losing its fever pitch.

I grabbed the phone from his hand and heard a befuddled recording executive ask, "Where are you, anyway?" But as soon as the call was ended, Michael insisted on playing at least one more round.

Shortly after our visit, he and his roommate moved into a new apartment. As is often the case, closet space was at a premium. Both men had extensive wardrobes to squeeze onto shelves, onto hangars, into any nook and cranny they could find. Finally, the verdict came down:

Michael's boxes full of ticket stubs were headed for the incinerator.

It was a big shock, but he acquiesced.

He sadly placed a few favorite colored stubs into a small box which fit under the bed, so they would be handy in case of insomnia or acute withdrawal symptoms.

Two years went by, and I had a chance to visit New York once more. As usual, dinner at Michael's turned into an uproarious evening as we traded stories about our theater-hungry college days. We told his roommate how I had slept on line for opera tickets in the tunnels under Lincoln Center, sometimes staying on line for 72 hours at a time. Michael boasted of crashing the second act of one particular show 40 times during the first year of its hit run.

As we discussed the changes in our lives, he confessed to me that the world around him had been difficult to adjust to. People in the business world didn't seem to share his love of the theater. They were more interested in golfing than the Great White Way. Given a choice between Broadway and booze, they reached for another drink.

Michael's Peter Pan innocence about the real world had never faded. He had always insisted that his mind was completely pure, even when his friends teased him that it was probably the last frontier.

At an office party not long ago, a female co-worker beckoned him to follow her into a small hallway just outside the main dining room of the restaurant. The lights were low; they had each had a few drinks before dinner.

"Come here, Mike," she whispered seductively, "I have something I want to ask you." A bell went off in the back of Michael's mind, and he thought that maybe, just maybe, he had finally found a kindred soul. Had someone tipped her off? He knew she went to the theater every now and then. Did she know about his fetish for ticket stubs?

She nuzzled against him, her long hair tickling his nose. "Tell me something, Mike. Are you into cocaine?" she cooed.

Poor Michael was shocked. After a moment he tried to regain his composure and muster an answer. Leaning forward with intense concentration, he stared into her loving eyes.

"Sorry," he whispered. "I'm into playbills now."

* * * * * * * * * *
This article originally appeared in the September 25=-November 7, 1981 issue of Houston's "Tonight!" magazine.

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