A Night at the Opera

by Steve Olson

Circa 2000 A.D., when I was living in Charlotte and before I metamorphisized into a vagabond, my good friend, What's Her Name, called me on a Friday night to see if I would go with her the next night to see Phantom of the Opera. Don't let the title fool you; it's an opera. I informed her that I needed to check my social calendar. She informed me that not only am I not in possession of a social calendar but have no need of one, wouldn't know where to buy one and couldn't afford one anyway. She had a point; four to be exact. I put the phone down, grabbed an R.C. and a Moon Pie and then told the mouth piece, "As luck would have it, I happen to be free that night." The ear piece said, "Well, surprise, surprise!" If the truth be exposed, I had been waiting all week for Saturday night's Championship Bowling on ESPN but she didn't know and I didn't tell. Trying to sound casual, I nervously inquired how much tickets were which was answered fifty bucks. An immediate problem raised its ugly head as I had no idea how to come up with that amount of money on such short notice. Dan, propriater proprieratar preprietour owner of Dan's Pawn Shop, already had half my earthly belongings on display (for quite a while). "Is that all?", Mr. Trump calmly responded. I fell off the bean bag chair and knocked over the lava lamp when corrected that it was fifty bucks APIECE. Good grief, Charlie Brown, if I had ninety bucks to my name, I would have bought another tattoo, some pink flamingos to go in the fronchyard and a Dale Earnhardt (RIP) flag.

Miss Name let me off the hook and my sweating stopped profusing when she told me that she had already bought the tickets and she and her sister were going and her sister got sick and everybody else she knew had plans and she was desperate and she knew that I wasn't doing anything and I would go if it was free and it was a comedy about pitching horseshoes and Chinese buffets and pulling taffy and how the South really won The War and it was up my alley. Made sense. I accepted and would record ESPN that night if I could figure out how to do it. Mr. George Foreman Grill offered to cook us up some supper before we left for the big hoopla. She decided to pass. What's said she would pick me up at 6:30 and didn't want to go near my car which deserves its very own explanation.

A few months prior to this, What's Her Name and I were in my car going somewhere which I don't rightly recollect but it doesn't matter because we never got there anyway. She was yakking about something or other which I was barely listening to but I was fairly certain that the title of her monologue was not Men Are Such Wonderful Creatures. At the time I was deep in thought about where to hide my car to keep it from being repossessed. It's quite difficult to coast uphill, I found out when we ran out of gas. I theorized that the gas gauge was stuck. She theorized that I was too cheap to put gas in the car. She had a point. Mr. High Roller strategized, "Peach Blossom, I think it would be better for you to walk back five miles to the gas station and I'll stay here to protect all the valuables in the car. You'll be safe on the dark and lonely road and if you walk fast maybe you could shed a few pounds from the exercise. I miss you already and you haven't even left yet, Sweetums. I'll reward you with a kiss when you get back. Don't worry about me. If I get too cold, I'll just turn the heater on. Can I borrow two bucks for the gas and a lottery ticket? You caught me a little short this week but I'll go see Dan tomorrow and give him some eight-track tapes to hold. Try not to take too long and I'll make it all up to you. Next Thursday night I'll put some gas in the car and take us to Sylvia's Karaoke Bar and sing a song just for you and I'll even pay for my own drinks. I promise." She was fit to be tied and the promise did not make nary a dent in her disposition. When she was halfway out the car, I tippy toed, "Are you mad at me, Rosebud?". The car door almost came off its hinges which pretty much answered my question. Later the car door told me that I should time my questions and comments a little better as this was getting old and quite unnecessary.

When Honey Snickums was almost out of sight, I hollered for her to come back for something. I wrote down the winning lottery numbers on the back of her hand so she wouldn't lose them and talked her into wearing a glove so nobody would steal my numbers and share my jackpot. Then I reassured her how much she meant to me and how cute she was especially when she was mad and how worthy of my affections she was and how she treated me better than any other white woman ever has and I could almost sense her goosebumps popping out all over the place. The suggestion was tossed out that it would behoove her to simply ignore the rampant rumor alot of women were spreading around town that I was "THE COMPLETE PACKAGE" as it was a bit of an exaggeration and not entirely accurate. I suggested that during her hike she could be thinking about what song she wanted me to sing to her on Thursday night. As an appetizer, I slipped into my Ricky Nelson persona and crooned, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. There's only darkness ...". The car door braced itself for the inevitable and I kept my trump card "Love Me Tender" up my sleeve for a more opportune moment. Twenty minutes later, Miss Fussy Fussy returned for the often-used but forgotten gas can. She took the liberty at this time to chew me up and down much like my boss did when I told him that I needed the day off to go to court again. Angel Face finally got back in nonrecord time and looked a little haggard. She was not real conversational and forgot to ask for the kiss reward as she handed me the lottery ticket which I immediately hid in a safe place. We headed out to wherever we were headed to, rounded the curve about a quarter mile away and pointing, I chuckled the obvious, "Well looka there, Dumpling. A gas station! You got any money left over to buy you some underarm deodorant and me some beef jerky and another lottery ticket? I feel lucky!". Ice-cold Mountain Dew is ice-cold when poured on one's head. Even though we were starring in our own late late show, this was not just like Bogey and Bacall ............. and we were at least a thousand miles from Key Largo ............. with no sailboat in sight .............

Arriveth, she did, sharply at 6:30. We're both dressed to the T's or so I thought. Next thing I knew Miss Name grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me to the closet for her unsolicited wardrobe critique of my clothes. Massaging my ego was not her purpose as evidenced by her comments which weren't none too flattering. The only changes she forced upon me was my shirt, pants, belt, and shoes. Miss Gloria Vanderbilt also thought socks would be a good idea, so I weaved my way to the box to find some that matched and jumping over the dirty clothes, I cut my foot on something. That morning I had finally been able to cut the nail on my "this little piggy had none" toe which had flung itself across the room onto the green shag carpet and never could be found until then. The large black leather Harley-Davidson billfold with an 18" silver chain on it had to go, so I stuck the three bucks in my front pocket. With little delay and much zeal, she fished out the three bucks, gave me one back and kept the two that I owed her. Mild paranoia crept in as I realized that her photogenic memory could compete with my mother's. What's took off my Jerry Springer hat and asked what happened. Beaming and with a shade of arrogance, I boasted that I had just given my bad self a haircut no more than two hours ago! "No. Go on. Get outahere. I never would have guessed.", saith she as she put the hat back on my head. Took the hat off my head. Put the hat on my head. Took the hat off my head. I fed the four dogs, three cats, two gold fish and one mouse and caressed the boa constrictor. Mickey Mouse XII was being fattened up for Baxter's feast on Wednesday night. I usually invited the neighbors over for the show and ordurvs. In terms she would understand and avoiding complex scientific theory, I learned her the logic and practicality of nature's food chain. I obviously did not go slow enough for her as she questioned where my place was in this supposed food chain and then uttered something about finding the missing link which was way off the subject. Star Student, she ain't and her future in academia weren't as bright as mine. Miss Know It All decided to pass on the Wednesday night extravaganza and led us in a prayer which dealt mostly with me before we shoved off to paint the town red.

Claiming that she wanted to be in control and not willing to take any chances, What's played driver and I played passenger. Barely pausing to intake oxygen, she took off on a soliloquy about something or other to do with my burgeoning financial portfolio but I was too engrossed in looking for "Help Wanted" and "Room For Rent" signs. I waved at Dan and half my earthly belongings as we sped past his shop. I like Dan. Without warning, she changed mental gears and hollered, " ... so you need a job and a decent place to live and you better act like you've got some kooth!!". "For your information, I've got more kooth than girlfriend Aretha Franklin's got soul and I deserve a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T and my sister's third husband's mother had a pink Cadillac!!", hollereth I. Only barely having the slightest notion what that twenty five cent word meant, I made a mental note to interview senior members of my clan to find out, once and for all, if we've got any of that and if not, could I pick some up at Dollar General. (The matriarch, my dear Aunt Polly, later confirmed that we got plenty of that there kooth but we just don't like to show it off to outsiders and warned me to stay out of Dollar General as they are open on Sundays.) The passenger suggested that the driver stop at CVS to procure some white shoe polish to rub on the passenger's nape to alter the color from crimson red to midnight pink. The driver smiled and acknowledged the brilliance and utility of such an ingenious plan but sadly reported that since the driver had to redress the passenger, we are behind schedule. I didn't even bother to ask if we had enough time to stop by Gold's Gym so I could fill out another five or six forms to win a free Jacuzzi. My pleadings to be dropped off at the front of the opera house fell on deaf ears and I am forced to walk with her all the way from the parking lot almost three blocks away. While we were strolling, What's tested me on my multiplication tables and I got all but two right.

Miss Puttin' On The Ritz and Mr. GQ sacrificed the two tickets on the altar to the opera gods as we voluntarily made our way into the bowels of the sanctuary to experience Phantom of the Opera. I felt like a fish out of water as I followed her to our assigned seats. We sat down. So far, so good. Then (and I'm not absolutely, positively, without a doubt certain of this and wouldn't attest to this under oath in a court of law) my ears thought they heard a dude two rows back whisper something about the cat dragging something in. Maybe it was my imagination kicking in or guilty conscience acting up or kooth showing off. Just to be safe, I looked around and didn't see no little kitty cat nowhere. I began to read the program thingy to try to make some sense out of the latest installment of What I've Done Got Myself Into This Time. I smelled trouble abrewing and got a little queasy as the discovery was made that the entire cast was a bunch of yankees from California. I began to get the very same exact Warm Fuzzy as when the dude at the transmission shop smiled and said, "We don't know how much it's gonna cost till we get in there and take a look at it.". Lights dim - SHOWTIME! Four minutes later I'm lost. Eight minutes later I'm clueless. Twelve minutes later I'm in a fog. Sixteen minutes later I'm beyond repair.

Six months later intercession came and my torture was put on hold. We followed the other fools out into the lobby to socialize and chit-chat about the merits/demerits of the performance. Mr. Cosmopolitan eschewed, "I understood Hawaii 5 - O but this show is challenging my oversized and overworked brain and I am in dire need of a little clarification, ceil voo plate. Who's the good guy? Who are we supposed to be pulling for? Why do they have to sing so much? Why can't they just talk like normal folks? Have you seen a little kitty cat wandering around?". Miss Uppity got all cantankerous and spat, "Forget it. I see my boss and his wife over there and if they spot me and come over here, I don't know how I would explain you. Go to the bathroom and try to do something with your hair. Hurry up!".

I waltzed into the men's room, checked to make sure the dollar was still in my front pocket, paused in front of the mirror to admire my haircut and try a few adjustments to my strut to see what it looked like from behind, took care of bidness and then attempted to wash my hands. The handles for the faucet were nowhere to be found which confounded me no end as I looked all over God's creation to find them. Bewildered and flabbergasted, I didn't know whether to wind my elbow or scratch my watch. Giving up and mad enough to spit nails, I proceeded to do what anybody from a family of kooth would do after taking care of bidness - wash my hands in the toilet. As my clean hands were being air-dried, I saw some dude put his paws under the faucet and the water gushed out with a vengeance! I was chomping at the bit to see if I could do it myself when dude left. I played with the durn thing for a couple of minutes, totally fascinated and grinning to beat the band. My buddy Clay Killeen would be getting a phone call about this even though I'm sure he would think that it was an April's Fool joke in March and call me a liar. I didn't bother to relate this to Not Star Student since she couldn't even grasp the concept of nature's food chain.

The lights flickered and everybody thought the power was about to go out so we all began to shuffle back towards our pens like a herd of cattle being led to the slaughter. While still queued up in the lobby, the fat lady in front of us fumbled her cute little triangle ham and cheese on rye with no crust onto the Berber carpet. "Don't even think about it.", What's commanded as she grabbed my arm. Miss Priss found our seats for us and the torture began where it left off. I went to the men's room three times to play games with the water. Unneighborly neighbors complained to What's who made me stay put so I tried to cop a little shuteye but can't get comfy. I started humming "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and got treated to an elbow in the ribs. I grew a beard waiting for the curtain to fall which finally did and served as yet another example of God's everlasting love and bountiful mercy. I found myself beyond ecstatic and couldn't have been more thrilled if I had just pulled into the parking lot of Dunkin' Donuts with a gift certificate in my hand.

Needing a ride home, I followed Miss Don't Act Like We're Together all the way back to the car almost three blocks away. Just to get the ball rolling, I threw out, "So, what was Phantom of the Opera all about?". She threw back, "Consider yourself lucky if I give you a Goodnight Handshake and the plot was way over your thick meathead and you don't have the emotional capacity to be overwhelmed and captivated by the snow-white virgin purity of an enchanting, vintage sonata perfectly arranged by a young, faceless French prodigy and subjectively interpreted by a veteran Italian soprano coupled with a seasoned Spanish tenor who collectively act as uncompromising proctors worthy of veneration for The Final Exam of Life and as you surrender your hardened soul to their mocking, cruel playfulness which seductively leads to your being devoured and consumed as fallen and defenseless prey and you are compelled to intrinsically experience defined and undefined human emotions, determined to fight for survival as a fragile Yellow Daisy of Innocence in some vague and abstract pasture which paradoxically predates The Flood is toyed with and then ultimately and violently flailed about by unknown, relentless, unpredictable, turbulent and unforgiving Winds of Fate whose sole purpose is unquestionable subjugation, conquest, carnage and annihilation as time and space outgrow their usefulness and exquisite torture relents to tortuous exquisiteness camouflaged as dancing, teasing love and then when you find yourself about three inches past the point of diminishing returns and the oscillations in and around your thalamus gland approach infinity, you are unexpectedly and mercifully granted a glorious reprieve and hurled back towards prenatal memories and eventually what is commonly categorized as "the real world" and the final reverberations tickle the depths of your satient being and you collapse. Utterly exhausted.". Heavens to Mergatroid!!! Something must have happened when I was playing with the water. She definitely had a point. More importantly, Miss Highfaluting, getting huffy puffy, stopped so I could retrieve a hubcap trying to hide behind a bush - three down, one to go! Everything looked safe and secure and tucked in for the night at Dan's.

I don't remember if it was before or after the nonexistent Goodnight Handshake that she spewed, "blah, blah, blah and I'm getting tickets to see Nutcracker Suite but you're not invited even though you are about average cute.". I retaliated, "Oh, yeah? Well, if you want to play hardball, I just won't show you where my new deer stand is and I don't even like yellow daisies. Would you say that would be a little above average or a little below average? Wanna come in for some catfish stew and play a couple games of Twister and help me study my new correspondence course Yes, YOU Can Be A Reverend! and go sit in the fronchyard to look for UFOs? Huh?". She decided to pass and kicked the front fender of the Maverick before departing the premises.

I retrieved the house key hidden under the Iain'tgonnatellya, went inside, put on my pajamas, grabbed an R.C. and a Moon Pie, finally found the remote in the fridge, plopped on the sofa and rewound the tape to see how many strikes were thrown by my hero, Mr. Norman Pflug from Lincoln, Nebraska. The chances of you bumping into me at the opera house anytime between now and the day I croak are as slim as me saving the last piece of German chocolate cake for tomorrow. Midnight pink?


thad "T.C.P." sneezler


I never did go out with that pretty little red-headed girl again but I did see her once at Kroger. She didn't see me because she was running in the opposite direction. Baxter licked his chops for three days after Wednesday night's banquet. No, I didn't win the lottery. Or the Jacuzzi. Yes, Clay Killeen called me a liar. I'll let you wonder about the veracity of the washing my hands in the toilet scene. She had a blue Cadillac.

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