The Terrors of Tinytown

by

03/16/2006

311 W. 34th St., NY, NY 10001

Neighborhood: Midtown

If you are of the runty persuasion (for our purposes let’s say 5′ 2″ or shorter – ceiling-skimming 5′ 3ers need not apply) you likely know the terror that is the general admission rock show. You may – as I did for years – swear off the concert hall forever, foregoing its unforgiving expanses for the more amenable terrain of the tiny dive bar. You may – as I often do – find yourself seeking out those sweet spots that are the salvation of the height-impaired music lover: the platform near the sound booth, the perch at the front of a balcony.

I had no such luck at last week’s Strokes show. There we were, short and tall alike, packed into the dusky reaches of the cavernous Hammerstein Ballroom like Ikea furniture in a Manhattan jr. one bedroom. It occurred to me during that first song, when I had yet to catch a glimpse of the actual stage, that being short at a show does at least make for an interesting sensual experience. The five-footer can’t count on her eyes alone, and I found myself focusing exclusively on the music itself; the sound of it, yes, but the feel of it, too. Bass pounded through my chest, hot and darkly green, rattling throughout my lungs like a rhythmic croup. The floor heaved up and down with the weight of people jumping. The leather-clad fellow beside me repeatedly slammed his boot upon my toe. All right! This was rocking! This was part of the experience! If nothing else, I thought, I will come away from this with a little more empathy for our blind brothers and sisters. One’s sense of hearing, I can tell you from experience, really does become uncannily catlike. Above the music clamored the gum-chomping of the hundreds of gathered preteens.

But by the third or fourth song, the crowd began to stir itself. The short show-goer is truly at the mercy of the crowd’s seismic shifts. It’s a kind of chaos theory writ small – somewhere near the front a ninth-grader faints from joy and pilfered potsmoke and her friends carry her away, a series of spaces are created and filled and created again, and before you know it we have drifted due east and in front of me things open slightly. Well, there are people up on the stage! The Strokes! Who knew there were five of them?

The true struggle, however, had only just begun. Because the vantage is vulnerable, the placement precarious. The littler person must be aware at all times of the movements of neighbors. And on this night the ante had been upped, for while I could see the stage through a neat triangle of space, it was an opening guarded by the excruciatingly tall.

Just in front of me and slightly to my right: a hearty lass in the 5′ 7 range. She was maybe sixteen, sturdy as a show horse. Approximately once a song she’d whip her head to one side to face her equally tall friend and shake her fists in what I assume was some giantess show of happiness, and when she did so, her glossy ponytail would lodge itself in my mouth. By the third or fourth taste I’d started to enjoy its shampooey flavor, its blowdried sheen, and found myself feeling rather protective towards the ponytail, and when the girl grabbed it suddenly and ran her paw through it I felt like grabbing it back from her. But I couldn’t risk angering her, for were she to move a mere inch to her left, my view would be irrevocably obscured.

The same was true for the dancy guy in front of her. Now, I either see this same man everywhere I go or he is part of some top-secret city-wide cloning experiment. You likely know who I mean– he is maybe 5′ 8, bull-dog build, sausagey fingers, a shining hairless head, golden chains, chubby cell phone lodged in hip-riding holster. The back of his neck resembles a stack of folded towels, and he is vaguely Italian or Iranian or something but talks like the character from Brooklyn in a late-night cop show rerun, and he has large eyes rimmed with incongruously delicate eyelashes, dark and curled as Minnie Mouse’s.

Here at the show was a One-of-These-Guys who really, really, really loved the Strokes and was ecstatically bobbling around in front of Tall Girl. As this fellow sang along he would make overly-literal gestures with an outstretched arm, as if he had been designated to signal in a kind of half-sign language/half-semaphore the lyrics of each song in case the singer were to forget. For “you and me”, he gestured to one side and then the other, mixing the invisible lovers together with a deft swirl of his stubby hand. For “I don’t wanna feel this way,” a complex series involving 1) a thumb jabbing towards himself, 2) the same hand flattening into a back-and-forth, no-more-coffee-thanks kind of wave, 3) an outstretched palm indicating a heart being offered, and then back to 2). All this was accomplished with only one hand as the other swung recklessly to and fro, clutching a smoldering joint the size of a burrito. Honestly, I would’ve liked to nominate the guy for some sort of award recognizing Accomplishments in Signing or Excellence in Choreography. Unfortunately, the wild pendulum of the very expressive hand jerked back now and then, as if preparing to lasso a bull, which caused Tall Girl to whip her head back in avoidance, which caused the ponytail to come tumbling back into my mouth, effectively gagging me.

So you can see, it was a situation that demanded some vigilance. Each time Tall Girl jerked backwards I was treated to unpleasant visions of the collision of her mammoth shoulder into my teeth, and the dental work that would ensue. When the Man with the Very Expressive Hand limited himself to the six-inch diameter allotted him by his neighbors, my view was clear, and occasionally I could even catch a whiff of fresh air. So I was happy. I was enjoying the show.

But I was not out of the woods, for standing slightly in front of me, staggered to the left, parallel with Tall Girl, was a Giant. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say we had a 7-footer on our hands. What someone this tall is doing attending a general admission concert is beyond me. If you ask me, a person so greedy as to think he deserves seven feet of vertical space on this overcrowded planet should have to apply for some kind of special permit. At the door of a concert or movie, the ticket takers could simply check the permit and escort the permit-holder to a comfortable space against the back wall, where he or she could peel things off the ceiling and suck up all the oxygen in peace before lumbering back home to Brobdingnag with the rest of Gulliver’s giants.

Luckily my Giant stood very still, enjoying the show by nodding his cow-like head demurely in time to the music. But while I enjoyed my view, this enjoyment was tainted by the lingering threat of this Giant. If the Giant decided to shift a few inches to his right, or to really cut loose and start shaking those 4-foot-long arms to a particularly catchy beat, I was done for. In a situation like this, one suddenly understands how ancient peoples must have felt – plunked into an incomprehensible and uncontrollable world, utterly at the mercy of a close and yet unapproachable consciousness. All I could do was fear, and hope, and pray.

But then, during a bouncy hit number, the Giant turned towards me and with a gentlemanly swoop of his platter-sized hand indicated that I should move in front of him. I thanked him. He acknowledged with a dip of the foot-long neck, and for the rest of show he protected me from the crowd with the benign benevolence that certain strangers in this city sometimes embody. The Giant had become my shelter from the storm, my anchor, my rock. In fact, I came to appreciate the Giant more than the band we had come to see, who themselves, let’s face it, had scarcely acknowledged my existence.

By the encore, I was overcome with the satisfaction of having survived yet another show. My companion and I smiled at each other in our post-music bliss and let the crowd inch us towards the coat check, where, this being a winter show that had summoned many New Jersey Transit trains-worth of commuters, the lines were atrocious.

“Ugh, what is this? Like, the line for the coat check?!” someone behind us exclaimed.

“I don’t know,” her short friend snapped. “I can’t see a fucking thing.”

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