In 1998 I was enjoying a two-week run of Cabaret at the Clarence Brown Theatre. This was a University production (not to be confused with the professional company on the campus of UTK) and I was excited for my mom and stepdad to see this sort of naughty, sort of sexual, very-much-in-the-vein-of the Roundabout’s Broadway revival that I was a part of. I was playing a Kit Kat Boy.
I was backstage but knew my mother had arrived because the box office confirmed she had picked up her tickets. She had though left one behind. My stepfather was running a little late.
My mother, already nervous for me (she always got excited to see me in plays, art shows, print… like a good, supportive mother should) was doubly nervous because she had not heard from my stepfather by the time the show began.
She fidgeted in her seat, anxiously checked her watch, then her beeper (neither of them had cell phones yet), hoping that there would be some signal as to his whereabouts. Nothing yet. Partway through Act One the Emcee and Sally began their rendition of “Money”. If you haven’t any coal in the stove and you freeze in the winter…
Soon Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz began “Married”: How the world can change, it can change like that…
Finally, after “Meeskite” and a confrontation with the impending threat of Nazis, Act One ended and my mother scrambled out of her seat in the desperate hope that she could get to a pay phone before any lines formed. (Note: My mother was still under the impression that lines formed for pay phones.) But her scrambling was for nothing because seated next to her was a tiny, frail, little old lady with cotton-candy hair. This old woman creaked as she stood up, pushing herself to her feet and then shuffled herself along the row toward the aisle. My mother, a kind and reasonably patient woman, briefly considered carrying the old woman just to get some speed going but relented as the audience bottlenecked toward the doors leading to the side lobby.
Now, to leave the theatre and get to the side lobby, one has to climb approximately four steps (depending on which row you are seated). As the bottleneck pressed up the stairs and through the door my mother became increasingly concerned that she would not reach the pay phone in time and, as a result, miss part of Act Two which would begin in just fifteen minutes.
“Go, go, go!” she thought to herself as the little old lady reached for the handrail that led up the steps.
The little old lady took one step up, balanced herself, reached forward with her other hand, grasping the rails, and took another step up. Two steps to go. You can do this!
As the little old lady reached the penultimate step, she teetered, then tottered and, loosing her grip on the handrail she sailed backward into my mother’s ready arms. The bottleneck being what it was, my mother was cushioned against the fall by the mass of theatregoers behind her. This was lucky. She was not, however, cushioned against the disaster that was happening in front of her. This was unlucky.
At the end of the show my mother, and stepfather who had arrived partway through Act Two, greeted me at the stage door, congratulating me on a job well done at which point I noticed the tinted stain that ran down her white jeans and on her white Keds.
She glanced down, “That? Oh, a little old lady fell at intermission and, well, she just lost control.”
“You were peed on?” I asked. My stepfather grinned. He was enjoying this.
“Yes, can you believe it? And she ruined my Keds!” She stood there, fuming quietly, annoyed that her white Keds were now a pale yellow.
“You sat there through Act Two with old lady pee on you?” I had to ask. I wasn’t sure that this could have possibly been true.
“Well yes!” She was astounded by the question. “I’m not going to miss your show!”
My mother taught me three lessons that night.
- Someday we will all be old and frail and need the assistance of another human being.
- We should carry cash at all times so that we can compensate people after we ruin their Keds.
- You never leave your child’s play, even if you’ve been peed on by a little old lady.
Lessons learned Mom. Lessons learned.