“I love humanity – It’s people I can’t stand!”
-Charles Schultz, via Linus
How sweet! The lady next to me brought her exhausted toddler to the performance. To her credit (the toddler’s), said toddler kept her whining to a minimum and mercifully fell silently asleep.
The toddler’s mother, however, continued to check her email, and even her voicemail, cellphone glowing at full brightness, ten minutes into the performance – while the orchestra was playing, the dancers dancing and the LIGHTING, WHICH IS PART OF THE EXPERIENCE, WAS SUBTLY ALTERING THE APPEARANCE OF THE STAGE.
I tried deep breaths, I tried holding my program up between myself and this woman to block the glow.
I thought about how I wanted to be a nicer person, to show love and respect to everyone. I waited, hoping that my non-verbal signals would get through. I imagined that maybe she had another child, sick at home, and was checking on that child. I imagined she had some other family crisis which required her to use her cellphone, but that she didn’t want to make a fuss dragging her toddler over me (I was in the aisle seat – I always choose an aisle seat in case of the need for a quick exit, or in cases like this, escape to another seat) out to the lobby to take care of it.
Then she started scrolling through photos on her phone. That didn’t strike me as something you do in an emergency. Why the hell would you spend a lot of money on a good seat to attend the ballet and then SPEND THE WHOLE PERFORMANCE WITH YOUR FACE IN YOUR PHONE? That’s one damn expensive way to get your toddler to go to sleep.
I eyed the open seat across the aisle, a stand-alone seat that I thought I had purchased in the first place – my fingers must have slipped on the keyboard during the online purchase. But the balcony of that old theater is like a carnival funhouse – sloping and tilted, with unexpected ledges and steps in odd places. I didn’t want to create an even bigger disturbance by falling down the steep stairs while trying to shift my coat and purse over to it during the performance.
There was nothing for it but to wait for intermission. So I waited. A little longer.
About a minute longer. Nowhere near until intermission.
From the moment I noticed her scrolling her photos, I didn’t think at all about a nice way to ask this RUDE UNCULTURED CRETIN to STOW THE DAMN THING BECAUSE THE GLOW OF IT IS DISTRACTING AND AFFECTING MY ENJOYMENT OF THE PERFORMANCE.
Nope. I went straight to bitchland.
I turned to her and said, “Do you have some sort of ongoing emergency? Are you a doctor on call or something? Because the glow of your cellphone is very distracting.”
Fingers poised above the face of the phone, she started to say something, but then she stowed it. Both the phone and whatever she was about to say.
And wouldn’t you know it, she and her toddler, now sleepily riding piggyback, were right behind me in line for the ladies’ room at intermission.
I smiled and held the door for them.
When I successfully shifted my seat as we were all settling back for the next act, I stepped across the aisle and thanked her for putting her phone away.
“Wasn’t that second act lovely?” I said, smiling.
She glared at me and said,
“Your words to me were more distracting.”
Here I was, trying to make amends, and she was holding on to it, claiming that my asking her to put her phone away, the phone she was continuing to use, brightly glowing, DURING THE PERFORMANCE, was more distracting than her use of said phone. If she was moved to defend herself for such behavior, RATHER THAN ACKNOWLEDGE AND APOLOGIZE FOR IT, then clearly I had hit a nerve.
At least I was able to freeze my smile in place and say, “I’ve just moved over there (pointing to the seat across the aisle) and that will give us all more elbow room.”
“Good,” she muttered.
I let it go, and had another cranberry mimosa at the next intermission.
The nice women in front of my new seat were taking a selfie of themselves (DURING INTERMISSION, OK? At least these women understood time and place. They stowed their phones when the lights went down).
When I told them I hoped I hadn’t ruined their photo by returning to my seat just at that moment, they said not at all, “especially with that fabulous dress.” (The dress was one of my 1950s style “fit and flare” dresses, a black one with a white collar, worn with a white crinoline and black stockings).
“Thanks! This is my Swan Lake outfit! Odette, (white swan, flashing white crinoline) Odile! (black swan, swishing black “flare” skirt).
“It’s fabulous,” they said. Ah, civilization! Just over here across the aisle!
I counted (silently, of course) Odile’s 32 foutés, which were expertly performed, and admired the extraordinary long lines and ability to hang in the air on leaps of the guy who danced the Prince/Principal Dancer, and enjoyed the rest of the performance.
But that didn’t stop me from feeling guilty about how I had failed to find a way to ask nicely.
Because even when someone else is behaving like a jerk, I’m still required not to.
The good news is that from my view in the balcony I spotted at least two additional seats in that house that are stand-alones – one seat making up its own tiny little aisle at the back of a section, where I can sit entirely by myself, see around the people in front of me, and be far enough away from
SELFISH, RUDE, UNCULTURED CRETINS other people to enjoy the performance without the danger of landing in bitchland again.
Until then, I remain,
Your overdressed, ashamed but determined to do better next time, while hoping more careful seat selection will guarantee there won’t be a next time,