Los Angeles Times
Letter to the Editor---February 1, 2003
Re: Theater Etiquette
I am a senior citizen volunteer at the Los Angeles Dorothy Chandler Music Center. What has happened to and where have they gone…those courteous canons of etiquette for those who attend formal classical concerts? Sadly, many of the current patrons have either never learned or choose to ignore the accepted cultural decorum: veracity, punctuality, sobriety, and discretion.
For instance: I was helping out in the ticket office at noon yesterday. A man called and blabbered about press-comps; that he was an iceman and must hear Bruckner. Iceman? There ’re some left? I thought they were gone, deemed useless in this age of electric refrigeration. But what did I know? So, I cleverly quipped that Bruckner was not a Rap star. I was ready to disconnect. He was shouting and persisted in demanding verification that his press comps would be available for the evening performance.
Who did he think he was? And who did he think I was? His con was such a common ploy, so it was easy to turn him around for the purchase of some cheap seats in the junk section at the top of the auditorium. I found the worst of the worst. He rattled off his credit card numbers. Security verification indicated that he was not the holder of the card. It was in a female’s name. When I politely confronted him with this discrepancy he transferred the phone, a woman came on the line, obviously his keeper, who gave me the required identification. I validated the transaction, and thoroughly explained the importance for arriving at the box office thirty minutes before the performance. He hung up without as much as a thank you.
Be patient with my narrative. It is out of public concern I am compelled to detail this, all too typical behavior that has made our fair city a laughing stock.
That evening this disheveled man and neatly attired, stately woman arrived at the auditorium. I first caught sight of them from my station at the closed doors at the third balcony. The performance had begun. He was leaping and limping up the stairs, she following more decorously. He kept favoring his right hand, which was bundled by a dirty wrist brace. This was a man who had taken many a fall and was undoubtedly heading for another.
I could not allow them to enter. He persisted. He identified himself as a press reviewer, The Iceman. So? He was still too late to be seated. He would have to wait for entrance at intermission.
I escorted them down to the lounge level. He could cool himself there. He and his date dashed to the bar. There he began his performance. I was at least fifty feet away and still heard him demand a double scotch. I watched as he leaned over to his companion and mumbled something to her as he downed his drink and ordered another. After his second double scotch, he scrutinized the direct circuit 19" TV, complaining boisterously: the speakers were inadequate, the sound was distorted and that the picture was blurring. Then he commented imperiously on the fine performance of the violinist, Sayaka Shoji as she concluded the Mendelssohn violin concerto and began an encore. He began bemoaning his lot and his overwhelming desire to hear the soothing cellos of the Bruckner stately 7th Symphony and their somber Wagnerian travail, the Bruckner connection with his Wagnerian idol, and further comments on the adagio as one of the loveliest evocations of the late 19th Century.
His voice was so forceful that none of us in the immediate vicinity could help but hear his references to how the Esa-Pekka conducting adaptation would be spryer of step and bring fresh insights to the evening’s concert. When we heard this we all looked at one another, it was such a bizarre observation.
Then he made an unbelievable vulgar remark about the last time he was at the Dorothy Chandler the "old Indian fart" Zubin Mehta conducted the same program and how it was dreadfully presented.
Good grief, somewhere in the 1980s - the Reagan Era. That told me a good deal. And he most certainly had not read tonight’s program.
The more he complained the more he drank and the more he drank the more he complained, he was raving and each downed drink raised the decibel level of his resonate voice to an embarrassing intensity.
I climbed back up to my post by the third balcony door. It was intermission.
The so-called Iceman did not turn up at my door for seating. I closed the doors. The performance began. I went back down to the lounge. There he was, obviously, he was on his third double. Then he must have noticed that the intermission crowd had disappeared.
He looked at his black clad arm again, a very strange tic, gulped down another drink and rushed toward the balcony stairs. I had to intervene and escort him back to the lounge where his date had remained.
He had another drink and for about a quarter of an hour he just sat, watching his ice melt, nodding his head and repetitively checking his arm. I figured that he was planning a move. I watched as he whispered to his lady and motioned with his finger pointing to the stairs leading to the lower Founder’s Circle level.
I decorously moved to that level and positioned myself at the elite’s balcony door. And there he came dragging his now embarrassed and reluctant date. He took one look at me and reached into his pocket and handed me a dollar. A dollar? I just looked at him. A bribe? I shook my head. He then nudged his date and she discreetly handed me ten dollars. So….
I drew the curtains that were between the outer and inner doors. I peeked in and decided that there was just enough of a lull in the performance to allow their discreet entrance. I stepped aside and watched as they felt their way, stumbling along the aisle: disturbed patrons gasped, coughed, wheezed as their feet were crushed, hair and garments rearranged.
An hour later the concert ended. Once again this peculiar man came to my attention. He was pounding his one fist into his open hand, and then he threw his arms into the air, his face became a bright red, and now his limp was quite severe.
He was shouting. Tears were streaming down his cheeks as he cried out "It wasn’t Esa-Pikka Soalonen! It was that old Indian fart Zubin Mehta."