Waiting for Shakespeare

Drama, drama, drama…but enough about my personal life, I must tell you about Shakespeare in the Park. The end of the semester was beyond hectic and oh my dear readers, I have some gems from my students’ final papers to share with you but I will save their humiliation for another day for this post is to be about Hamlet and not to be about them (see how I snuck some Shakespeare in there for ya’?). Actually, let me revise my initial statement, while Shakespeare in the Park was fantastic, I’m going to let Sunny at CityLitNYC tell you all about that (Sunny, make haste with your Hamlet post!). What I feel is just as important as the Hamlet review is the analysis of the show before the show.

I don’t know how Shakespeare in the Park is done in other cities but here in NYC the tickets are free. Yes! It is possible to have fun in NYC without spending a dime. The catch is that they begin giving the tickets away at 1pm for same day performances. You can’t get tickets ahead of time for later in the week. You either get them that day or you go away sad and lonely to watch a terrible Netflix movie that neither you nor Mr. Dingo will admit to putting in the queue. Really, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby? I absolutely refuse to take responsibility for that atrocity being in my zip code much less my mailbox.

Shakespeare in the Park is very popular here, even more so when there are big name stars in the performance. This year’s Hamlet featurs Sam Waterson (every time he appeared on stage I heard the Law & Order “dun-dun” sound in my head), Andre Brougher, and Lauren Ambrose. Sunny and I knew that we would have to get in the ticket line early. Early means 8am. Yes, you read that correctly. 8:00 in the morning. Did I mention that the ticket office doesn’t open until 1pm? That may sound crazy to you but during very popular shows, people camp out the night before. We figured it was the day after the opening so the line wouldn’t be too bad. We agreed to meet at the theater at the crack of dawn.

Standing in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets is always an event. It is verboten to get out of line for any reason except to use the bathrooms – oh yes, they have line monitors. Think of them as underpaid customs officials. Do not piss them off. Anyway, people bring food, board games, books, sleeping bags, all kinds of things to pass the time. I packed accordingly: exams to grade, water, food, books, and a towel to sit on. I was prepared to spend my five hours as productively as I could. What I did not bring were items sufficient to launch an Arctic expedition. The day before was hot. HOT! So I wore a t-shirt but layered a sweatshirt and a light jacket over it. I just knew that as the morning wore on I would be peeling off the outer layers. Oh, how I wish that were true.

Sunny and I had perfect timing as we arrived at the line at the same time. We rolled our eyes and made snarky comments about the couple several spots ahead of us who were bundled up in their sleeping bag. “Tourists,” I muttered under my breath. Sunny laughed and we got in line. And hypothermia immediately set in. Day-um! It was cold! Not only were we in the shade but an errant El Nino wind whipped through the park numbing our extremities and freezing the snot running down our noses. Fortunately, Sunny grabbed a light sheet from her bed before heading out to the park. Being the good friend that she is, she shared it with me. It was either that or I was going to have to pull a Han Solo and use my light saber on the guy next to us and use his steaming carcass to keep myself warm. It was a twin sheet, however, and as much as we maneuvered and wrangled, we could not keep our feet and our heads warm at the same time. It was also an impediment to people watching.

And oh, the things we saw while standing in line. Wait, did I say standing? What I meant was, in between jumping jacks and running in place to keep ourselves warm, we saw some bizarre behavior. I won’t regale you with the entire five hour freak show that crossed our paths but I do have to mention one woman who captured our hearts. We called her Aerobics Lady although we weren’t sure if her physical exertions actually qualified as such. How best to explain Aerobics Lady? Well, she walked backwards. While slapping her stomach and her back. Remember as a child, when bored out of your skull because all your friends went off to a great summer camp (and you were stuck at home with your brother whom you would later disown), you would twist your body while your arms loosely flapped around your torso (like that center piece of the washing machine during the wash cycle) while waiting for the mail truck to come because that was the most exciting part of your day? No? You went to summer camp? Be-otches.

Anywaaaay, she walked up and down the line slapping herself silly for about twenty minutes. I think this was a regular occurrence with her because you could see the faded patches on the stomach and back area of her 1980s denim shirt. Either that or she compounded her looniness by wearing stone-washed denim. The cheap kind. The kind you made yourself. With bleach. Did I mention that her hair looked like Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos and she was sporting glasses that would make Larry Holmes jealous? And this woman was a machine. You got out of her way or you were steamrolled. She had a path and she would not deviate. Babies cried. Dogs ran away in fear. Even the line monitors stayed away from her. While others were warned that if they didn’t return to their place in line they’d lose their spot, they steered clear of Aerobics Lady.

When the slap happiness stopped, Aerobics Lady decided to feel up a nearby light pole. I was already feeling the ill effects of the weather but watching an 80 year old woman pole dancing almost made me hurl my granola bar. I don’t think she intended it to be a pole dancing exhibition so I will just say she was admiring the texture of the light pole, lost her balance and struggled to right herself. For 15 minutes. Sunny is a great person and she has a good heart. She made all kinds of excuses: Aerobics Lady was trying to stay fit and limber, she was lonely and the line was a captive audience, whatev. But when I asked Sunny to explain the shiny spandex leggings she was at a loss. And rightly so, you can never, ever explain shiny spandex leggings. You should not wear them in your house, you should not wear them with a blouse, you should not wear them, oh no m’am, no spandex leggings, Sam I am.

Aerobics Lady stopped her gyrations for a few moments around lunch time – lunch being 10am for those of us who had been there for hours. Believe it or not, there’s a deli that will deliver if you tell them where you are in the line. After several hours in line you tend to bond with the people around you, particularly if they have warm weather gear they are willing to share. Or if they are cute. Or if they share your amusement about Aerobics Lady. But particularly if they are cute. So we went in on an order with several people in line around us. Lunch was a jolly affair of hot chocolate, coffee, and other winter time treats. We probably would have broken out into Christmas carols but the sun, the sun!, decided to make a guest appearance. We could see it basking lazily on the boulders just across the path from us. Line monitors be damned! We headed to the rocks and lay down on them soaking up the reflected heat while giving praise to the sun god. We had to take turns to make sure we didn’t lose our place in line so while Sunny was absorbing heat, I was doing the Electric Slide and the Cotton-Eyed Joe to generate enough heat to keep my water bottle from turning to ice. I was tempted to use the exams I brought with me to start a small bonfire but then I wouldn’t have anything to make fun of in a later post.

After lunch Aerobics Lady needed a nap. As Sunny and I sat in line warming ourselves with thoughts about what good friends we were to stand in line to get tickets for her Boyfriend and Marian the Librarian, Aerobics Lady took up residence on the rocks. And didn’t move. After about ten minutes of no movement whatsoever, I asked Sunny if Aerobics Lady was dead. I was willing to get out of line to sun on the rocks to prevent frostbite but not to go see if the 80 year-old denim and spandex legging pole dancer had ceased to breathe. Sunny, being the kind person that she is, decided to make the call. She went over to Aerobics Lady’s boulder and stood behind her watching for signs of life. I don’t know which was more bizarre, Aerobics Lady stretched out, mouth open, spandex shining in the sun, or Sunny standing there watching her like some creepy stalker. Don’t give credence to anything Sunny says about this incident, particularly if she says I advised throwing rocks and sticks at Aerobics Lady to see if she was alive. Sunny is a great friend but she lies. Lies, I tell you! When Sunny gave me the a-okay that Aerobics Lady was breathing and got back in line, I was relieved. I love Sunny, but I wasn’t going to miss that night’s performance of Hamlet to bail her out of jail for stalking old people in the park. There are some things that you just can’t ask of a friend.

The line opened at 1pm. We had our tickets by 1:10. I went home to nap. There’s nothing like shivering for five hours to make you tired. Later that evening we met up with Sunny’s Boyfriend and Marian the Librarian who raised their eyebrows at our paraphernalia. We warned them to dress warmly but they mocked us. Sunny and I had come prepared. I had a stadium blanket, a jacket, my winter coat, a large scarf, and cookies. The cookies were to make sure we had enough calories to burn to stay warm. By the intermission, Marian the Librarian and the Boyfriend were snuggled in our blankets and we were all one big warm family.

We saw all the people we stood in line with earlier in the day including the Sleeping Bag Tourists and our Lunch Time crowd. Aerobics Lady was nowhere to be found. She’s probably still sleeping on the rocks.