Christmas Eve Cat food
I got a call one Christmas Eve to do an A/V gig for a club manager I've worked for several times. It was one of those; ‘no one else is around
’ calls, and I’m proud to say I’ve landed some pretty sweet gigs that way.
I was hired to run lights and sound for a private cabaret performance, typical A/V duties. The performer was a well-known TV and stage personality, whom we will call Ms. M. Rumor had it she’d been paid some big moola to make an exclusive appearance for some big wigs at a major network. Dark suits and evening gowns filled the room.
The event was held at a high-dollar, Russian-themed cabaret room—carpets and chandeliers type of place in the theater district of New York City. The showroom was hourglass shaped, long and skinny, with room for only a few miniscule tables in front of the performer. The majority of the crowd sat at small tables to the left and right of the stage.
The A/V booth was in the back corner the skinny room, facing straight ahead as opposed to facing the stage, leaving the technician--that would be me-- with a stage-right view of the performer. Not the best way to highlight a singer, especially since the lookout window was the size of a microwave, but I’ve definitely seen worse conditions. As usual, the booth was scrunched up in the corner with a cloth curtain for a door.
If there’s one thing I know well, it’s the routine of a substitute techie. Customers are already in the seats by the time you arrive, and the sound check is done on the fly. Before you can say Milly Vanilli, the show is up and running. Before I’d even cracked my knuckles. Ms. M was approaching the stage.
I have to say, though, when Ms. M. walked into the spotlight, she was pretty damn beautiful. The stage was only a curbs height off the floor, so up close and personal was a definite understatement.
She starts singing. I make a few adjustments. In no time at all Mrs. M is rocking the cabaret world. The gig couldn’t have been any smoother.
Right around third-quarter of the show, the piano player starts tickling the ivories to a tune called Send in the Clowns
. Okay... maybe it’s not the brightest Christmas song in the catalogue, but the lights are dramatic, the sound is clean, and the suits seem to be happy. We’re good.
Somewhere around mid-verse, a patron sitting at stage right lets out a puking heave that rattles the walls.
“Oh no,” Ms. M whispers, turning stage left to continue her song.
A closer look reveals the cat food has landed on a monitor in front of the stage. Fancy Feast is now covering the black speaker, captured in spillage from the stage lights. I had no idea cat food was so shiny.
The Maître D appears from thin air and a white tablecloth unfurls in front of the stage, blinding everyone for about two beats. He covers the cat food as inconspicuously as possible, but since this merry spectacle flew across the stage, well yeah... there’s no way to hide every chunk of Purina.
The speakers are about to squeal—I know they are, but I’m weary of playing with the volume sliders. As some of you veterans have discovered, a soundboard can shock the living be-jiggers out of you.
I can’t do much about the white tablecloth on the floor, now casting a Godzilla-sized shadow of Ms. M’s rump on the back wall. I quickly kill the profile beaming down on the cat food. The remaining teal lights are now projecting a blue silhouette on Ms. M’s butt, but considering the circumstances, we’re good.
I’m staring at Ms. M’s tucos, waiting… anticipating her next move. With my fingers harmonically resting on the light faders, I’m eager to cast a delicate, world-class
silhouette behind her lovely hair... if she would only turn my way. I have no idea what her facial expressions are, and since it’s all about drama in Cabaret, spelled DRAYMA, this is a deadly recipe for an A/V technician.
I then notice the customers at stage right--the ones with an awesome view of her blue butt--are beginning to stir and shift in their seats. They’re mumbling and moving about. White napkins rise and cover their faces.
What? Movement and commotion at a cabaret show? That’s simply unheard of. Not allowed. Definitely tabu.
Then it hits me. Holy black magic marker... did someone order rotten broccoli? No, wait; it’s Muenster cheese, and it's fresh? Oh God, I am so trapped.
I pulled out my trusty Halls cough drops. Black Cherry is my favorite, and I rubbed the sticky junk under my nose. That lasted about one measure, but it was one terrific measure of relief. I realized I needed more Halls. This was a redline situation. The panicking voice in my head tells me to shove the Halls up my nostrils. Say’s that’ll help for sure.
I listen, and obey.
Are my eyes burning, or just watering? Yes, they’re burning. I can feel them swelling. Is there a eucalyptus tree nearby? Ouch.
Oh yeah... the show. My eyes are blinking like a strobe light at this point, but between the spastic flutters I can still see her blue butt. Can’t breathe, and my fingers are a little sticky, but I think we’re good.
Lo and behold, Ms. M decides to come see us at stage right, but in an unheard
of stage move, she faces the back wall to make her sluggish turn. She doesn’t seem eager to face this side of the room.
Whoa... what was that? Did someone throw a bucket of water on the floor! Nah. It can’t be.
Oh, but it is.
More cat food.
Ms. M’s gentle turn comes to a screeching halt, and there she stands, motionless, facing the back wall. She seems kind of shaky and her shoulders are a little droopy, but she continues to sing her song. It’s true; the show must go on. What a trooper!
I wish I could see her face.
“But where are the clowns… please send in the
No way! That’s it. Somebody call 911; this is outta’ control.
Ms. M finally completes her dramatic turn and faces us at stage right. Now I’m really confused because I never use green lights on a performer. Her eyes are low and saggy. When did the Grim Reaper climb on stage?
Her vocals are faint, but I can’t raise her volume without causing feedback. Even if I could, I’m not touching the volume slider on the soundboard.
Man-oh-man... am I gonna’ hear about this one.
Through my gushing tears, I can vaguely see her face. She doesn’t look the same. Not as beautiful as I had first thought.
All of a sudden Ms. M raised her head in an astonishing display of showmanship. Are you kidding me? Is she really gonna’ keep singing? I’m in awe. She is truly a professional.
Wait. She’s not singing, she’s slinging, as in bringing the microphone to her backside. What the...
The Gowns sitting in front pressed their backs to the wall; they knew what was coming, and their expressions said it all as they leaped from their chairs. I can’t decide what to watch at this point—the time-lapsed scattering, or a singer about to heave. Ms. M suddenly dropped the microphone and it hit the stage floor with a thud.
Mrs. M covered her mouth and joined the glittery gowns in a mad rush for the door.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
The upscale club either ran out of tablecloths or just gave up, ‘cause cat food was suddenly everywhere, even on the walls. I saw the shine. It was distracting.
Was that a woman sliding across the floor? I can’t tell. My eyes are on fire and the blinking has gone into overdrive. It’s messing with my vision.
Customers knocked over small tables and bolted for the exit in a panic-stricken frenzy. Most were puking on the way out. Never in my life have I seen a private event wrap up like this one. The crowd couldn’t exit all at once, though; it seemed there was bottlenecking at the door. That’s when a few Suits and Gowns came running back my way.
Still in the tiny booth, the voice in my head spoke up again. It was clear as day when it said, “This show is toast.”
I grabbed the curtain and tried to leave when the cloth curtain came alive. I could have sworn it attacked me. Truth be told, the sticky Halls had become a gluey mess and the smelly black curtain had seized my face. I was certain a force from beyond was assaulting me, determined to hold me hostage. I tried to pull it away, but the cloth stuck to my fingers, my face, and my nose.
Like a prayer had been answered, the curtain rod snapped and fell from the doorframe. The black cloth landed on my head and covered most of my body. I tried to remove it—I did, but the more I struggled, the more tangled I became.
That was it. I morphed into Keanu Reaves and did a Matrix maneuver, flying from the tiny booth like a shadowed banshee, which put me face to face with one ticket-holder in a white gown, who I barely saw through the fabric.
I’ve never scared the teeth out of someone, but hers literally came flying at me.
I dodged the dentures and ran to the front door, and there I squeezed my way through the traffic jam on my hands and knees. Then I ran, fast, down the street for a good ways, peeling fabric from my face and bouncing off parked cars until I was far away from the demonic assault.
I don’t remember much after that, but I’m sure I went for a shot of whiskey somewhere.
I was never called back to the upscale establishment, and come to think of it, I’m not sure I ever got paid for that gig.