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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

On Going For It

By Steve Kemp

1999 - Off Broadway, my first visit to Manhattan, going to see my first play there, my son Jerry had bought tickets for us and now we were standing around in the lobby drinking glasses of wine, watching the people.

Most everyone was dressed very casually anticipating an unusual, offbeat performance. After a while, we started to file into the theater, looking around in some small dismay - the place was standing room only.

By that I do not mean that all the seats were taken. Rather, there were no seats. It reminded me of San Francisco's Fillmore West in its heyday when the psychedelic concerts played for the hippies. Except here, there was no bandstand and no favored place at all for a person to stand. In fact the place was totally bare.

Presently the lights went down, the mystery commenced, colored lights shone down as the two of us stood in the middle of the crowd there in the performance space.

Above us a hung a fragile ceiling of white paper which slowly came to life as colored lights came up, shifted, turned and became colored shadows, shapes of people flying above the ceiling there.

Music played softly. Droplets of water started to spatter like rain on the paper over our heads. The music got a little faster. The rain started to pick up.


Suddenly, soundlessly, upside-down, through the paper ceiling, a man slid head first wearing a mountaineer's harness attached firmly to a rope attached somewhere above.

An excited murmur ran through the crowd and all eyes turned to the inverted man as he flailed and twisted and then disappeared feet-first back up into the ceiling through the hole he had just made.

The music started to become a bit louder, a little faster. Now the audience was getting stirred, restless, looking around above and at each other, chattering softly.

Then with a distinct rip another upside-down man dove through the paper down into another corner and snatched up a woman who seemed to be almost protesting, arms and legs flailing, he was pulling her up, up above the ceiling. The last thing we saw of her was white panties flashing up and out of sight.

So it went during the next hour - the water spattered, poured, gushed, the paper ceiling finally melted altogether into tatters around our feet. At one point, a mass of eight or ten people appeared, hanging together in midair swinging, a pendulous glob of humanity, arms and heads and legs jutting out in every direction, dangling from the ropes.

Cast members would somehow appear amongst us, embracing onlookers, gesturing emphatically, spitting out animated staccato gibberish. Rhythmic music captured the wet atmosphere, great sheets of colored silk wafted in the air amidst the flying people who chased each other, running sideways in midair, defying physics, inverting gravity, fooling our senses, defying reality.


People were dancing now as the music had become a crazy raging orgy of melody wandering drunkily through the frantic drums beating insistent rhythms. The floor was covered with the slushy remains of the wet paper ceiling and the atmosphere had turned steamy and sexy.

Then a beautiful young woman, one of the cast members, appeared out of the crowd in front of us and strode purposefully toward me, wet and sexy and pretty!

But she passed me by to stop in front of my son, sizing him up, poking him in the midriff, glancing upward toward some unseen accomplice who was working the ropes above, looking for the okay to proceed.

Then the okay came and she looked him in the eye and started untucking his shirt for him, wordlessly suggesting that he take his shirt off. But he was having none of it, shook his head and started tucking his shirt back in.

She tried again, soundlessly, pleading with her eyes, but his mind was set. I yelled at him through the cacophony that enveloped us, "Go for it, do it!"

He just shook his head.

I yelled again, "You'll always regret it if you don't go for this."

He shook his head. So, finally she gave up and pressed a little toy dolphin onto his tongue and closed his mouth, teasing him, suggesting a rite of communion.

She turned to the man next to him, a more daring soul who grinned and lost no time peeling off his shirt - but then we got distracted by more flying people as the flying acts got more and more fascinating and outrageous.

Later on, after the show, my son seemed more than a little wistful when he mentioned that he never saw that man again.

Now this particular lesson I myself had learned on a two-day train trip home from Salt Lake City many years before as a teenage boy. The girl on that train was so beautiful and I was so bashful. She and I had looked at each other several times but I could never bring myself to say a word to her.

She got off the train in Pasadena and as the train pulled out of the station, through a vestibule window, I could see her standing on the platform looking at me and saying something. But through the glass I could not make out exactly what it was.

Later, a helpful friend just had to say, "It was probably her address."

De la guarda villa

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I once had a friend who claimed that she always said "Yes" because she didn't want to miss anything. Your son will never know what he missed, nor will you. And, just maybe, that's a good thing.

Great comparison between your son's feelings and yours. Very good story telling, keep writing for us all.

Great story. Reminds me of "The Happenings" of the sixties. Also it left me with the thought of "what if" of so many things in my life.

Ah! It's the old "For all sad words of tongue and pen-
The saddest are these,
It might have been."

J Greenleaf Whittier

Nice writing...Good story.

Great story, bigger than just a New York story too...ah, what might have been..always glad I had the nerve, and finally the dough to travel and take chances..you are a great scene setter, great writing...thanks...

That was great. Thank you.

Loved this! Who hasn't been up against that fear of an unknown via an invitation by an unknowable...and declined? Thank you.

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