What do you want most to do with your kids when they grow older? Bring them to Central Park to stay on line for Shakespeare in the Park, so you can get four tickets instead of two? Please, don’t tell me your answer. But that’s what I did with my oldest daughter, now almost 12. How did I know that the time was right for us to take a blanket and some books, a few tangerines and a hat each and hurry in a town car to make it on line before 10 AM on a rare Saturday morning when I could have slept a little longer?
That could be difficult to answer, but not for me. Only a few weeks earlier, I destroyed the peace of my Memorial Day Weekend and returned to the City from the wilderness of Connecticut so she could make it to a sleepover-dash-birthday party against her father and younger sister’s wishes. On the train back to the City we shared intimacies I never suspected we had or desired to share. My three-year old façade of tough-but-deadly wronged woman faced with vicissitudes few have had since Brutus stabbed Cesar in the back broke off. And we talked. We exchanged ideas and thoughts and giggled. And we corrected each other’s misperceptions. In other words, we enjoyed each other’s company.
That was Saturday.
The following Monday I learned that Friday evening, crossing the harbor to our summer house, she had dropped her iPad in the harbor. That Monday she would also forget her Surface in the train back to the City. Nothing about these losses – the Monday one for obvious reasons- transpired in our conversations either on our way to the City from Connecticut or our way back to Connecticut. Au contraire, from the little contrarian she had been for the previous few months, my pre-teen behaved perfectly. So, this is how I knew she was ready to share a couple of hours in the spring Saturday sun, when friends of hers were either asleep or slouching watching TV or maybe chewing on something in front of a computer, iPad, tablet, or who knows what: my baby owed me big time!
The wait started in some shade. It was 9:45 AM. But we were a long way away from the box office booth, so chances looked slim. It did not help that we saw quite a few later-comers stopping by the end of the line, us, and after a few-moment talk deciding against such an obvious waste of time. I wasn’t quite unlucky. Despite the rule of not leaving the spot in the line for more than 15 minutes, I was able to have my baby use the nearby swings – she was in sight of the lined-up people, thus technically still on line. Later on we took a trip to the toilet for exactly 15 minutes and another stroll to listen to the musicians playing for the bored crowed.
I don’t know whether her ennui made my two-and-a-half hour wait so pleasant, but something must have caused it. I was blaming my late 1990s memories of waiting on line on the side walk near the Public Theater, on Lafayette, and breathing the exhaustion gas of all passing by cars and suffering the hot summer sun in no shade at all, and perhaps the worst, the lack of rules: even if there were only a few dozens of people ahead of you, each one could have dozens of friends show up when the box office opened and grab all the available tickets. Now, with the new setting for the line came new rules. Only people who came at the same time could get tickets together. Each one could get only one or two tickets. The people we saw before we decided to stay on line were the people who would ask for tickets: one or two each. Yes, you read correctly, “ask” for tickets, because the wait is the price of admission. For decades, the Public Theater puts on two outdoor plays for free, if you are willing to wait online for the tickets. More recently, the Public added a new rule: people who would rather pay, can pay $200 for a front seat and skip the line. But thankfully, not all New Yorkers who can afford to spend that money like theater. After all this is Shakespeare we are talking about, and Shakespeare usually makes fun of those who only have money to speak for themselves. Despite the long wait, pleasant only for me, we did get four tickets, which meant our entire family could come, for all or some part of Much Ado About Nothing. “We should have a picnic,” my daughter suddenly added.
“Why not,” I replied, knowing we do have a picnic basket, and Citarella lobster meat in the refrigerator for lobster rolls. I did have a small bottle of champagne, too, just in case.
And we had our picnic. Then, right before 8 PM we went to take our seats. The theater is a real outdoor theater, with assigned seats and a real stage and theater setting – a bit disappointing if you thought you could have your picnic during the performance as my 8-year old thought. Otherwise, the lake nearby and the clear sky on a perfect night with the moon ready to shine down on all of us makes Shakespeare into a magician of life celebration. At intermission we were all getting ready to leave: 9:30 PM is late for everybody, or so we thought.
“If I stayed on line for two hours, I cannot leave before the play is over. I have to see the ending.”
It was not me saying those words. But hearing them made me very happy and proud: mission accomplished.
“Of course we will stay until the end. This play is your gift to us. Staying on line you made the money for the tickets and purchased them too.”
Fortunately, the man of the family persuaded the youngest one to leave us behind.
“Please, go home with your dad! He needs to sleep,” are words which still work with her.
And the working bees who made it all possible enjoyed the play until the very end.
“When I will have a boyfriend I will bring him here. This is so romantic.”
I smiled and squeezed her little hand. We rushed home. No taxi available. We took the subway and she slept with her head on my lap until we got off. She slept with a smile on her face while I was caressing her temples and soft ears.