E 31st St. & Madison Ave., NY, NY 10016

Neighborhood: Midtown

There are some things you do purely for love. Or I should say there are things you do purely for sex with the one you love. You do things not because you are in love but rather because your significant other withholds sex and bothers you about them so much that finally you simply cave and bend to their request.

This Christmas season I was burdened with the responsibility of getting my girlfriend and–by association–myself tickets to “The Nutcracker.” The classic children’s tale told through the confusing and often boring form of dance called “Ballet” “The Nutcracker” has been a staple of Christmases past and present. As long as young men openly defy their fathers’ demands and actually become ballerinas, they will still need jobs and so “The Nutcracker” will be a staple of Christmases future as well.

I remember being forced to go as a little kid. I wore a tie and a sweater-vest on a Saturday. That is enough to send a 10 year-old to the brink of mutiny. I hated it. I complained during the performance and tugged at the sweater-vest that held me gentlemanlily in place like a straitjacket knit for a juvenile psychopath. The one quote my mom always pulls out when I was asked about the performance is that I liked it “except for all the dancing.” Both my parents thought that was hilarious, although I didn’t get the joke.

What I remembered most about that day at the Raleigh Civic Auditorium is that there was an intermission with no snack bar. As a kid this was considered sacrilegious. What kind of theater would tease you with an intermission, yet when that time came, serve no sugary sweets or soda that would ensure you stayed awake for the rest of the performance? That day in 1986 I vowed to never see “The Nutcracker” again.

All of these memories hung in my head as I googled “The Nutcracker” and came up with numerous websites dedicated to cracking nuts of a different sort. Most of which involved teenage girls and a guy in a beefeater costume with what may or may not have been a fake beard. After weeding through the porn spam, I looked for the most official sounding dance company performing “The Nutcracker.” The New York Theater Ballet Company sounded like the real deal. I entered my credit card and the deed was done. Sweet! I thought. One classy Christmas present down.

Now all I had to do was attend this snoozefest and she would think I was the most romantic guy in the world. I was sure to get laid that night, maybe even twice. The ballet! I thought. It is so grown up. Maybe I should rush out and get a silk scarf or maybe an ascot. I was feeling special, like I had just bought myself a ticket to the upper crust of society. Then I looked at the time on the ticket. 11 am Sunday morning! That’s pre-football time. Hell, that’s sleep time.

That sounds like a time when there would be only children in the theater. I panicked and tried to get my money back. It was too late. I couldn’t exchange it. I was stuck, bound for the romper room of theater experiences early on a Sunday morning. It was the last thing I wanted.

When the day came for our date with the Nutcracker my girlfriend and I awoke early on a Sunday and got ready for a true Christmas experience. As we entered the theater, the ushers gave out plastic gold crowns. My girlfriend, who must have escaped from Never Never Land, took one and proudly displayed it on her head. I saw that there were only one other pair of adults besides us without a kid between them. They happened to be sitting behind us. A mother and a young woman who looked to be about twenty who also proudly donned her plastic crown.

She smiled at my girlfriend and me as we took our seats. Thankfully our seats were on the aisle in the back. I say thankfully because the scene in front of us was like the Vietnam War of child-rearing. Kids dressed in Sunday best with Ziploc bags of snacks knelt in the theater seats turned away from the stage and stared into space like they weren’t really sure what they were doing there. Kids were already unruly and before the performance even started there were some fathers who exited the theater with a hysterical kid under arm and wife following behind with coats and assorted bags. These people were giving up. They had probably been up since 6 am and planned this outing for months, but a screaming 3 year old made them pull the plug right there on the whole deal.

Good, I thought. Let the kids who can’t behave take their Ritalin at home and have a time-out for the rest of the day. Now I could relax and get some shut-eye while all the dancing is going on and this tired pseudo drama featuring men in tights plays out for the thousandth time. If I hold my girlfriends hand, she won’t even notice I’ve checked out for the next 2 hours. The lights dimmed and the narrator came on stage to introduce the performance.

Just as I was about to settle into dreamland a voice from behind us woke me up and brought our attention at once. “I can’t see! I’m sorry, I can’t see! I can’t see!” Some kid probably stabbed themselves with the pointy end of the crown. But this was no kid’s voice. The voice was deep and desperate. Like a transvestite asking you for a date at 3 am. I turned around to see where it was coming from and the twenty year-old was reaching out with grubby hands and a blank stare to grab the plastic crown off of my girlfriends head. “Oh my God,” I thought “the only fully grown person in the theater, without a kid who also happened to be wearing a crown has Down Syndrome.”

What does that say about my girlfriend and me? What does that say about the performance we are about to watch?

Right then I made a vow to frame my college diploma and hang it on my wall. Just to reassure myself in the morning.

The girl with Down Syndrome behind us, bless her heart, was the funniest part of the entire performance. She had a way of verbalizing everything that I was thinking without showing any regard for how loud she said it or whether it was appropriate about it. That is just pure comedy, no censor. I could tell from the initial panic to get my girlfriend to remove her crown that the best entertainment today was definitely right behind us.

The narrator who was introducing the performance asked the audience what they were there to see. On cue 200 little kids screamed out “The Nutcracker” so loud was the shrill of their voices that I held my ears to stop the pain. I thought, “Here we go.

Just then the girl behind yelled out, “Tha Nutcrackah!”

I stifled a laugh and my girlfriend gave me a nasty look. I played it off like I was coughing.

Making fun of people with disabilities is not in good karma and I understand that, but in this situation, if I didn’t laugh I would cry and that would make the children upset. We watched the rest of the performance through constant queries from 4 year olds, wondering aloud “Is it over yet?” These were my sentiments exactly. The girl behind us was with her mother, and when she would get too loud I guess her mother would pinch her, because every so often she would yell out “Ouw!” This brought more cough chuckles from me and more nasty looks from my girlfriend.

Screw it, I thought. At this point in my life I have laughed at so many people with disabilities that God, in his infinite sense of fair play would likely make sure I was destined to breed a whole family of disabled kids. Then I would have to endure abuse and chuckles from teenagers when my 15 year old son shits himself at Space Mountain and they make me clean it up while they stop the ride.

If this was my punishment for a few laughs at Maureen’s expense, so be it. At the end of the performance, the narrator came on stage to give away a book about “The Nutcracker.” I didn’t really want the book, but took pains to remember my seat number anyway, so that I could claim the book if they called mine.

I was trying to repeat our seat numbers in my head as they fished around in the bowl of stubs for the luck winners’ seat number. L102 and 103 was all I could think even though I didn’t like “The Nutcracker” and had no idea what I would do with a book about it.

Perhaps I saw a re-gift opportunity. There was a moment of silence just before the winner was announced. Everyone played close attention. I don’t know if everyone wanted the prize, it was more a desire just to win something and actually gain from the 2 hour ordeal. Right on cue the girl behind us blurted out, “I want that book.” Once again perfectly verbalizing what we were all thinking with no regard to volume or timing. I stifled a laugh. “Ouw!” said Maureen. Those were my sentiments exactly. We didn’t win the book. Neither did Maureen.

My girlfriend and I got a great gold plastic crown and a 2 hour lesson on the importance of checking your tickets before you buy them and the wonderful miracle of birth control.

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