Monday, November 13, 2006

One Night at the Opera

Ah, the opulence and grandeur of the opera, one of civilization’s most ostentatious achievements of art and music. A night out on the red carpet with tuxedos and corsages, champagne and those little jewel-incrusted one-handled binoculars for the ladies of society in the box seats. The house lights flicker, signaling the start of the overture, and the orchestra begins to flutter, while ushers gently clear their throats to remind you to take your seats.

The show is about to begin: Madam Butterfly, La Boheme, Carmen… Mötley Crüe.

I haven’t been to a concert in more than a dozen years, not since Oingo Boingo’s farewell tour in the mid-90s, and for this, I’m sure my liver is most thankful. I had always convinced myself that I couldn’t appreciate live modern music, and you know how much I hate crowds of drunk people… well, that is, unless you are one of them.

What defines a rock concert of the ilk of Mötley Crüe? Loud, sure. Obnoxious, you bet. A visual display of fantastic lights and sounds with idolized rock stars bringing to the masses the great songs of the long-dead hair-band days? Not so much.

Now, regardless of what you read here, I did have a good time. Seriously, I think it was just what I needed, something that got me out of the house where I wasn’t reading a book, trying to write one or mulling through the mindlessness of some inane project for a client. Perhaps I was a suffering from a little touch of cabin fever, but it felt good to be outside in a parking lot with the smell of burgers wafting through the air and a cold beer in my hand.

At least it felt good for a while.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my office on the beanbag in the corner, watching Natalie play a video game, one of those educational games for first graders that she’s really good at. On one of the shelves was a promotional copy of a book called “Idiot’s Guide to Tailgating” that I got while at the magazine. I had never given it much thought before, but, with very little to do at the time, I took it out and polished through it in about two hours. It was filled with little gems on how to best experience the fine art of tailgating at a sporting event or rock concert. As luck would have it, a few days later, Jason asked me if I wanted to go with him and the guys to see Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith at the Glen Helen Pavilion. Sure, I said, thinking of the book and how it must have been fortuitous that I been so prepared.

We all met up at Jason’s house on Saturday afternoon, Scott, Max, Jason and I. In the back of my truck were two coolers full of beer, hamburgers and the sundries associated with tailgating. It was cold and slightly sprinkling when we found a spot in the parking lot, somehow skipping out on paying to park. I broke out the barbecue, opened a beer and began the night.

The beer flowed freely, as did conversation about all things rock and roll. To my utter amazement, Scott proved his prowess at opening beers, a skill I didn’t know he possessed. While I was struggling with a regular bottle opener on mine, he whips out a disposable Bic lighter and with the edge easily flips the top off of his Corona with all the slight-of-hand of a smooth magician. Amazing. He said, “I can pretty much open a beer with anything.” “Like what?” I challenged. “How about another beer bottle?” Like a chain smoker who lights his next cigarette from his last, Scott pulled out a fresh beer, and, with the empty in his hand, pops off the top of the new beer. Upon doing so, the bottle broke and he sliced a razor-thin cut on his finger that started to gush blood, everywhere. So, being the Boy Scouts that all four of us were (and lacking proper first aid equipment), we fashioned a nicely absorbing bandage out of parts from a spare diaper I had in the truck. The adhesive straps of the diaper proved to be a great bandage. By the way, trust me when I say that the powdery stuff inside a diaper is not salt—thank you Max.

Once the bleeding stopped, the hamburgers were ready, darkness was setting in, and the freaky people started to come out of the woodwork. There were two guys straight out of 1985 in the truck next to us—part of a cover band, replete with guitars, and two aisles over, a faux Mötley Crüe band was rocking on top of their van with wooden guitars, wigs and full hair-band regalia.

After a couple of hours, I was feeling great. Tipsy, sure. Stupid drunk, not even close, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to safely operate heavy equipment. The gates opened and the exodus of fans commenced to file into the pavilion. Surprisingly, the four of us didn’t get lost in the crowds, as we handed out tickets over and headed up the hill toward the lawn. Max stopped and bought all of us a beer at one of the stands… $28 bucks for four beers, which cost more than all of the food and beer I had brought with us.

Apparently that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.

I am going to admit that there were a few forces at work that led to my inevitable illness that night. One, I wasn’t feeling 100 percent to begin with, as I was complaining of stomach issues on Thursday night and all day Friday (I still say it was Kara’s homemade peanut butter), and second, I haven’t had multiple beers in a long time and I think my body wasn’t really in the mood for it. Then there was the cigarette smoke, everywhere, and the very smell of the burgers was no longer appetizing.

I had figured on taking it easy—that was the plan—as I didn’t want to get three sheets to the wind and do something stupid like get hurt or pass out in the parking lot face down in a puddle of water, so I regimented myself to eight or nine beers. I think I was close to my target, and I figured over the course of eight hours, that would be a good pace.

Once we were up on the lawn, I lost everybody. I was standing there by myself, until I saw Max’s t-shirt in the darkness. He was talking to a woman who was also standing there by herself, crying. She had lost her husband… or her husband had lost her. Max wandered off, so I stood there for a while, telling her about my kids and she told me about hers. And sure enough, about 10 minutes later, a very upset husband showed up and yelled at her for getting lost. She cried some more, but thanked me for waiting there with her.

That was the excitement, and it was at that point that I didn’t really understand why I was there. Looking at the stage from where I was standing, it looked like I was watching a 13-inch television from down the block. But it was very bright and very loud. I held up my fingers to see how tall Mötley Crüe was, and they were tiny, barely a half-inch, so I walked around a little bit. Max was gone. Jason was gone. Scott was gone. I was by myself again, but I didn’t mind…and this might sound silly, being at a rock concert and all, but it was quiet and peaceful for me.

I walked up toward the top of the lawn and sat down where I could watch the people go by and listen to the bands play. Most everyone around me was drunk (the lawn doesn’t bring out the upper crust of society). Just then, my stomach began to turn on me. Damn traitor. You know the way it does, when you start to feel the individual bubbles percolating deep inside you, and you realize that the evening is about to take a turn for the worse. I longed for the comfort of my truck, and as I walked out of the gates toward the parking lot, the security guard said to me, “If you leave, you can’t get back in,” to which I replied coldly, “I’m not coming back.”

I fell asleep in the front seat of my truck, still listening to the concert through the open windows, and I felt good. It was cool. I was warm and comfortable.

When the guys all found the truck again, I don’t know how long it had been, two or three hours, maybe more. It was 1:30 when we left. Then it got bad. I climbed over the front seats and nestled my head against the open window and prayed for it to all be over...but it was just beginning. Then my stomach gave up on me, and thank God we had what was affectionately referred to as the “chum bucket,” a plastic bucket I brought with us just for that purpose. But I didn’t think I’d be the one that would have to use it, as the last time I went to a concert with Scott (Jimmy Buffet, 1992 or 93), he cleared out three rows in front of us with projectile vomiting. So, I thought I was doing them a favor, as I wasn’t the one that was going to need it. Ironic, ain’t it, but let’s just say that I got most of it in.

Long story short, I spent $62 and two hours on Sunday afternoon at Lenny Dykstra’s, getting my truck washed and detailed, paying special attention to the backseat.


So, I had a good time…I really did. That is, until I saw the hamburgers for the second time. Then, not so much.

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