My family and I were given three tickets to the Broadway production of The Lion King. Tuesday, 7pm. Only the tickets weren't there when we got there. The theater was sold out.
"We came all the way from North Carolina," I said in a final desperate plea. The man shrugged his shoulders sympathetically behind the bulletproof glass.
Mary and I had attended a yoga class in the wealthy little country town of Bedford, an hour north, earlier that day. There was no one to look after Rowan so he came with us. He got a mat from the office and rolled it out directly in front of the teacher at the head of the class. To everyone's amazement, the little five year old boy stayed on his mat for an hour and a half and did everything.
The teacher ended the class by saying, "Take an hour. Don't go right to your phone. Let this feeling last. Don't hurry off to the next thing you HAVE to do."
Pshaw. We raced home to change clothes and then down the Sprain Parkway to New York City, navigating around the tolls on my phone, dodging rush hour traffic. We threw a hundred dollars at a spectacular dinner and ate half of it on the subway. We had free tickets to The Lion King.
Only we didn't. I finally got the man who had given us our tickets on the phone at 7:15.
"WHAT!? This has never happened! I'll make a call and call you back."
"I don't want to go into the show late," Mary said. Rowan stood by holding her hand with, it seemed, no expectations. Standing there waiting for my friend to call me back, he brought me back to earth. I kneeled down.
"I'm proud of you," I said. "You're more together than I am."
My friend called me back and I asked him if we could take a raincheck. He apologized and said he'd try to make it right. He didn't really owe us anything. He'd just wanted to treat us to a show. A cheap seat for The Lion King is, by the way, nearly two hundred dollars.
We strolled through Times Square lit up like the day. We carried my mother-in-law's umbrellas and it never rained once. The moon rose over Radio City Music Hall and I tried in vain to get a picture of it. We caught a subway downtown and ate ice cream. Twice. New Yorkers saw Rowan in his paperboy hat and bow tie and smiled, then seemed embarrassed that they had smiled, and then laughed at themselves. New York City is, above all, deeply human. Then we drove back to Bedford.
The next morning, we packed up the car to drive home to North Carolina. I got an email from my friend. Two o'clock matinee. Three tickets. He had walked to the box office and made sure.
We hugged grandma goodbye. We left her umbrellas because we weren't coming back. We were driving at least halfway to North Carolina after the show. We found a garage on the West Side and paid fifty bucks to park the car so we could safely leave all our belongings in it.
It was garbage day. Piles of plastic bags and old mattresses gathered along the boulevards. The rain fell lightly as we walked toward Central Park and found the subway line to Times Square.
Our tickets were there. Orchestra, center. Not cheap seats. A man came and asked, "Are you Jonathan?" He apologized for the mixup the night before and gave us a bag of Lion King goodies. I gave Rowan the soft baby Simba.
"What's a Simba," he said.
"You're about to find out."
During the intermission, I stood in line for what seemed like hours for a bottle of water. In the crush, a young boy screamed to his mother from the merchandise counter. I looked over at him. He had Down's Syndrome, thick glasses strapped around his head making his eyes even larger and wilder.
"What do you want?" his mother yelled.
"A t-shirt!" he cried.
"Make sure you get the right size," she said.
"Maybe a small. Youth. Youth small," she hollered. He glanced wildly at the t-shirts and back at her. She held out a hundred dollar bill. He raced over, weaving the crowd. "Make sure you get the change," she said, nervous and hopeful.
He took the money back through the crowd, holding the bill over his head. He made the transaction, looking back at his mother every few seconds. She smiled and nodded. He came back with a plastic bag and a fistful of money. She counted it and smiled. He pulled out the t-shirt and showed it to her.
She held it up to him and said, "It fits you perfectly."
"I did everything right!" he screamed and jumped in the air, pumping his fists.
"I'm so proud of you," she said.
Parents, we see each other. We know the tragedy and triumph of this thankless love. We know the years of discipline, mostly self discipline, that it takes to get that one moment of grace.
As they walked away, just before they were out of reach, I touched her shoulder and she turned around. "That was amazing," I said. "Congratulations." She smiled and they disappeared back into the crowd.
After the show we walked out into the street, dazed by the magic we'd witnessed. A Broadway show, one that lasts, is truly one of the greatest human artistic achievements. I may be a country boy, but I know a lifetime of dedication to craft when I see it.
The rain poured from the gridded sky and shocked us awake. Waiting for walk lights seemed like forever. Commuters folded their umbrellas one by one as they descended into the subway stairs, like a flock of black birds folding their wings into the roost. We rode the clackety underground again, this time down to Chinatown for dinner. I paid eight dollars for a bottle of water. The food was delicious and honestly unlike anything anywhere else on Earth.
We talked about all the things we loved about the show. The ragged sun shimmering over the savannah. The bicycle of bones. The natural world worn on every actor. Their voices, God, their voices. Oh, to sing like that, all their lives traded for such freedom in sound.
And it rained. And it rained. The rain made garbage tea along the boulevards and Rowan slipped in it and sat down on the asphalt. I walked behind a homeless man who smelled like an old locker room and spat on the sidewalk. The garbage tea and spit and piss seeped into the underground and dripped on our heads in the tunnels. More homeless slept in the tunnels in sleeping bags and hung their jackets from pipes to dry. The liquid seeped through my boots. Business men stepped in puddles up to their ankles in their dress shoes and seemed not to notice. And what can you do but wade into the Ganges? And what sense does it make to live this way or to raise a child against all odds? To pay hundreds of dollars for a brilliant flash of light and sound when grown men sleep deep under eight dollar bottles of water and the moon shines lonely above the heavy clouds that obscure the highest heights the architects have to offer, and it all spun around in my head like scripture and verse, contradicting and paradoxing until it shattered logic into bits like all holy things and God resided there in the broken and empty space, the being not being, the being above being, beyond all comprehension and lost in a child's eye on the subway.
The door opened at Times Square station and a saxophone played, "O holy night, the stars are brightly shining..."
Mary said, "He's good."
The door closed. I said to Mary, "My favorite part of the show was the intermission."