I heard them before I saw them, all of a sudden, like a car crash but, instead of twisted metal and shattered glass, they came with high volume cursing and the kind of directed, aggressive laughter that often precedes a bar fight—something they may have taken part in in their very recent past.
They were four women and, from the looks of them, around my age—late 50s—perhaps a bit older, and though they were together, it was hard to tell if that was by choice. They tended to yell at, and over, each other about a number of subjects, though most consistently about soup.
As with any car accident, I was bound to look; like any bad car accident, I quickly looked away for fear of what I may never be able to unsee, most especially, their gaze, which could be horribly misinterpreted as an invitation to join me.
I was sitting at the counter of Norm’s, you know, “We Never Close,” because, you know, they never close, and it was after 10 p.m. on Saturday and the options to eat at that time, while not none, become increasingly slim.
When I left the Long Beach Opera’s production of “The Central Park Five” I was so hungry, I was shaking. I had meant to eat before the performance but, at 3:36 p.m. on Saturday, I received this text from my son in San Francisco: “A D … What the f**k?”
This is how I found out the Lakers had traded for Anthony Davis. I played and coached basketball and have been a Laker fan since the ‘60s when, even as a child, I was moved by the star-crossed career of NBA icon, Jerry West.
Basketball plays a big part in a lot of my relationships, my son included, and what followed was a texting storm dealing with all aspects of the deal. The conversations, on numerous threads, completely engulfed me, including one that was especially gratifying because it contained a friend who is a Celtics fan and, to his credit, he was completely upfront about his utter devastation, something I rewarded by quoting Eric Cartman’s “Oh, the tears of unfathomable sadness. Mmmmmm, yummy!” because I’m classy like that.
The point is, I was deep, deep, deeeeeep into it. So deep, that it was only happenstance that I glanced at a clock and realized “The Central Park Five” curtain was scheduled to go up in an hour at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro.
Now, LBO director Andreas Mitisek will be on our arts and culture podcast—“Can You Hear Me, Long Beach?”—this week and we’ll get into depth with him about this particular production as well as the organization’s entire “Social Justice” season, but, some quick impressions of “Central Park.”
- Like any LBO production, this one asks a lot of its audience, not the least of which is to stick with something to which they already know the horrible end. As the boys and their families are being worn down by bullying, lies, fear and depravation—both food and sleep—we actually hold out hope that they won’t give the authorities what they want: a confession. We know that they will but, like watching a horror film, we sit, wanting to yell to the stage to not open the door we just know the monster is waiting behind. Speaking of monsters…
- Of course, one of the big draws of the opera was how involved Donald Trump became in all of this, fanning the thinly veiled flames of racial panic, eventually calling for the death penalty for the five boys, four of whom were under 16 years of age. Though Trump’s great facility for making any situation worse is evident, it is actually hard to call him the villain of the opera since he is presented in all of his buffoonery and is therefore hard to take seriously; which, of course, has proven to be his great strength.
- While the performers were in great voice, just as critical were their abilities to emote as the situation devolves. Pretty much everyone on stage contributed beyond their singing voices to communicate the utter and inevitable tragic end to all of this while leaving just enough hope to make that conclusion all the more devastating. In this regard, the performance of Jessica Mamey has to be noted. Mamey plays the “District Attorney” who is the actual villain of the opera given that, unlike the clunkiness of Trump, she knows how to work both sides of the emotional street.
I had intended to hang out after the performance and talk with LBO folks about it and ask them if they thought, or hoped, that Trump would tweet out something fairly demeaning on the matter? I did manage to ask one LBO staffer about that before the curtain and, without hesitating, they answered, “Oh, yes, that would be wonderful,” a negative comment from Trump having become the new “Banned in Boston” in securing free publicity and added interest.
But, as I said, shaking.
And that’s how I ended up at the counter at Norm’s which was packed because, you know, they never close.
I was still waiting for my food when the women walked in, still waiting when I saw their heads pivot toward where I was sitting and begin walking my way. I looked straight ahead, seemingly nonplussed, though in my head, I was plussed as all hell.
“No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!” went the music in my head, holding out hope they were headed past me to a booth. My one great hope was that there were not four consecutive seats at the counter though I noted, to my dread, that there were two sets of two to my immediate left and right.
“NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” was my brain song as they sat down, two to my left, two to my right. It is times like these that one becomes so grateful for the invention and development of the cellphone since, beyond the myriad remarkable tasks it can perform—for instance, tell you the cavalcade of restaurants not serving food at 10:30 p.m.—does nothing better or more useful than give you a reason not to engage with other human beings, especially those hurling insults across you at a friend(?) who seems so unfazed by the filth being tossed as to suggest she’s heard it before. Lots, before.
It continued. About wherever they had been previously, about that woman who thinks she’s way more all that than she really is and, yes, and about soup. Soup, as it turned out, was the cheese with them. So much about soup. Who would order the soup? Which soup would be ordered? Would the soup be eaten here or would the soup be taken home? Would the soup be ordered with the half-sandwich special and, if so, what about that sandwich? Could one item be eaten here and could one be taken home? And did you hear what I said? HEY, DID YOU HEAR ME?!?! HEY!!!
Not to be flip about it, but though I’d heard a host of raised voices this evening singing about disturbing events and history, it was now that they most directly affected me. My nose and my very being inched closer and closer to my phone’s screen as I pretended to be fascinated by the texts I had read multiple times more than four hours previously. The women continued to yell, thankfully, none of them ever asking me to weigh in on the Beef with Barley versus Minestrone controversy.
And then, as quickly as a curtain descends onto a stage, I had eaten, paid, and fled, nothing ahead of me but the comforting sound of silence and the disturbing memories of soup.
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