“FRONT ROW CENTER”
We sat down in the playhouse. Second row, center.
The tickets were comped from a friend in the musical.
My girlfriend’s paper box of leftovers lay steaming
at my feet. The stink of pink sautéed shrimp
and canary garlic wafted up and over our well manicured heads.
The sign as we entered read, “No Food Allowed,”
and I was beginning to understand the rule
did not just apply to eating it.
Everyone acted excited.
A woman taking tickets tore them in half,
nodding the well dressed people along
to the gentle old fellow
handing out souvenir programs
from an antique milk crate.
Preoccupied concealing her steamy white box,
I hadn’t taken one and just passed him along.
“Besides, I like watching the people,” I told her,
as she flipped through hers, reading the bios.
Men in suit coats and women in dresses crowded
before the stage, putting themselves on display.
Everyone seemed to know someone else,
but nobody knew what that smell was,
lurking beneath my seat.
I suspected everyone suspected me,
but it was her stink that she wanted to save.
A woman who was having a very hard time
sat down in front of us. Front row, center.
It had taken her husband at least five minutes
to help her along, only forty-five feet from the entrance.
Her companion, a distinguished white haired man,
kept looking down at his tickets, uncertain.
They were to the left of a couple who had come in,
walker in tow. It looked like she could have
benefited from one herself.
And not long after, they came along.
The big white man in checkered tan suit
with his skinny, attractive man servant.
They were both assholes, but one played the part
better than the other.
They began a game of charades, flapping their tickets
in front of the woman
in front of us.
“It seems those seats belong to us,”
the pink collared creep said to the white haired man.
They compared tickets, as though it were possible
that someone would be
hocking forged tickets to community theatre.
“OKAY DEAR,” the white haired man said to his wife.
“HE’S RIGHT. WE HAVE TO MOVE.”
And then began the struggle. She could not
and would not be lifted from the seat.
The pink collared creep moved in
taking her right blubbery arm, while her husband lifted
with her left. Two inches up, her big ass
plopped back down, pluming between the armrests.
The couple next to this, both with walkers, just stared—
never offering to lend a walker
to the woman in need of one.
The big white man in the checkered tan suit
had gone over to the ticket taker, pointing accusingly.
The pink collared creep tried her again
and this time got her to her feet— ankles clanking—
and began another five minute parade
to move her five seats down.
It all seemed so unnecessary.
Five seats down from where she was
sitting, the pink collared creep patted her elbow consolingly,
as though that made it alright. The white haired man
looked even more pathetic now,
unable to stand up or stand up for his wife.
But after all, five seats down, they were right
and he was wrong.
The pink collared creep returned to his master,
the big man in the checkered tan suit.
His hair had been thinning for at least two decades
and he dyed what was left of it, yellow.
Not blonde. Springy shocks of straw shot up
from the mole and liver spotted skull.
They both stunk of cologne and each other.
Soon, the sautéed shrimp took a backseat to them.
Another arrival came.
Black. She was black.
Smooth black skin.
Silky black dress.
Shaved black head.
She was beautiful, black, and stinking.
She must have showered in perfume
or as her skinny frame indicated, eaten a diet
of petunias only.
Introductions came to the assholes, four seats down
from a blonde woman, roots waving, in her mid fifties.
I recognized her as once anchoring
a poorly produced evening news program.
She sat beside her inconsequential husband,
whose smooth hands only wrinkled by time
volunteered he came from old money.
“I love the shape of your skull,”
the woman news anchor said to her nigress.
“Some girls shave their heads and can’t pull it off,
but let me tell you girl, you got it going on!”
There was something very wrong
about the people, front row center.
They chirped back and forth,
volleying rich comments over their nigress guest—
as though they were playing keep away at recess
with their loud talk of horses and flower shows.
I commented to my girlfriend
that these were the sorts
of people who bought my paintings.
My disgust of them had been a reason I stopped
attending art openings. Soon, the lights
came down and a woman came out—
microphone in hand. She began thanking local companies
for their support of The Arts, admonishing that
productions such as this would not be possible
without the contributions of the well-to-do people.
I couldn’t have agreed more. “HERE-HERE,”
the big man in the checkered tan suit cheered,
clapping his big mitts of weathered old flesh together.
Flecks of tanning spray shot off like shrapnel.
This is when the lights came down, the curtains opened
and I decided to scoot with my shoes
the aging box of my girlfriend’s leftovers
beneath the seats, front row center.
And there they sat, reeking, in the right place—
while the music played, the dancers danced,
and the innocent were hung for crimes of the rich.
All that jazz made me miss Chicago just enough.
I was ready to go home
and the best part was, my ticket was purchased.