All this talk about quarantining, stockpiling, social distancing, travel restrictions, remote schooling, canceling games, parades and large gatherings, oh my! I’m not going to let the, ahem, dare I say it?, let’s just stick with international pandemic, weigh me down. I’m not going to live my life out of mass hysteria. But even now my calendar is reminding me that I was supposed to be going to see Come From Away tomorrow on Broadway. We had planned a group trip and we had to postpone it. It reminds me of when you lose electricity and your routine is upended and you do stupid things like forget to brush your teeth. All these sweeping reforms in our lives have put us all over the edge, even the most well-intentioned of us.
But all I need to know I can learn from my three-legged dog. And before you think she’s that smart, I’ll remind you she did some soft tissue damage to her hip while she was outside chasing the deer–on the other side of the fence. Putting aside why she did it, take away one leg and she hobbles around expertly on three. She feels no need to curtail her walks because she loves them so. I’m the one pulling her to come back home. If only I could keep living my life, too, and not make decisions based off of fear but off of love.
But I had no decisions to worry about. I wasn’t one of those poor people stuck quarantined on a cruise ship. And luckily we hadn’t made travel plans for spring break to have them canceled. We were going to be in Twelfth Night instead. I was grateful that I wasn’t impacted in the least.
When we tried out for Twelfth Night in November it was the same time we started planning to take our local community groups to Broadway to see Come From Away. Both were to come to fruition in March. And here we are, it’s March, and both events are postponed.
What makes it all the worse is you can’t look backwards or forward with this thing. If we had a crystal ball back in November and it showed us life right now, we would have laughed ourselves silly. Do we still even believe it’s happening? And if we look into the future, it just seems so grim.
Even last week I wouldn’t have believed that my kids would be home today because the governor ordered all schools in our county to be closed. I couldn’t have even made up the buzz words of today: “remote schooling” and “Google classroom”.
We’d shake our heads in disbelief that colleges would be doing the same thing. That this thing would be shaking us up and down and right and left, on a micro and a macro level. And, never, ever, ever, ever would we imagine that there’d be no NBA, no NHL and no NCAA. It couldn’t possibly happen to me let alone them, too?
How did we get sent to our rooms and grounded and have all our sources of entertainment taken away from us? But that’s not the worst part, we’re not allowed to hug anyone or shake hands and we have to keep our social distance.
How did life turn upside down in the blink of an eye? We didn’t even have a chance to argue our point. It just happened. Decisions just started making themselves for us.
There was Twelfth Night, it was just Monday night and we were at our last practice, unbeknownst to us, and we had reached that stage when you don’t think you can possibly get good enough to pull it off. Every show has that moment. A good director uses it as that turning point where everyone realizes they have serious work to do; they shift into first gear. It plays particularly well with the dread of embarrassment. Get your act together. We had committed to doing a double practice this Sunday. And then, early Tuesday morning we got the notice that the school, where we rent the auditorium, had canceled our show. They even canceled their own show. It’s merely a postponement, but it hit so hard because how do you stop jumping in mid-air?
It all seemed so ridiculous. Why would they cancel? Maybe they hadn’t done enough deep cleaning or special spray aerosol? There was still plenty of hope because, thank goodness, we could still go see Come From Away this Saturday. It could lift our spirits. Broadway never closes unless the government makes them do so. They had only ever closed for 9/11.
We didn’t think of ourselves as the ones who had to make a decision. We had our group of 54. It’s not like we had anything to worry about. We’d have minimal exposure. We’d be on the bus, then we’d be in the broadway rehearsal space and then we’d walk (not take the subway) to the restaurant (we’d bring our disinfectant wipes and use them there) and then we’d be right across the street to the theater.
We were beginning to field questions from people who were leery of going so we told everyone as a group if Broadway was open, we’d be going, but we understand that money is not worth your health and if you feel you cannot go, honor that inner voice.
We had nothing to worry about, right? Ok, we were beginning to worry. Was it fear based? We were too close to tell.
Some schools were already streaming concerts without audiences. Could you imagine having a play without an audience? It seemed like the kiss of death. But this was life before the NCAA announced they’d play the game without fans and a lifetime before they canceled the games altogether.
It was Wednesday night and the NCAA made the announcement they’d play without fans. It seemed like a slap in the face. All the energy comes from the fans. Without fans, was it really even worth playing? It was painful to even think about, but less painful than thinking of them not playing at all, we couldn’t go there yet. It was only Wednesday, remember? We still had to mourn the loss of the fans. Think of the stadium near empty. Hear the talking in the stands among the family members who’d be the only ones allowed to attend.
We had to start sobering up to the idea that life isn’t really the same. It’s not what it was and it’s not what we expect it to be. Somehow it’s different, whether we’re fearful or not.
And I woke up Thursday morning and it was all starting to feel surreal. I was the person in the dream who had to make a decision to get me out of it only once I made that decision I was still going to be in that dream. People were advised not to go on our trip, people were getting scared. I knew beyond a doubt that we had to call the box office as soon as they opened and beg to get our trip postponed, so the group wouldn’t be out any money.
The three of us group leaders had already agreed to do that the night before, so it’s not like it was a new idea, only by Thursday the idea was screaming at me so insanely loud it had to be dealt with. I no longer had time to feel sorry because life was somehow so drastically different than I wanted it to be.
The mayor of NYC had spoken that morning and said they didn’t want to shut down Broadway and they’d be taking more careful measures. That was great, but what measures were we taking to ensure everyone’s money didn’t get lost in the shuffle? We had a duty to preserve everyone’s money and not sit around and act like sitting ducks waiting for Broadway to make a decision. We had to make our trip still worth something, even to the people over 60 who could be severely compromised if they went. Fear or not, we had to postpone. So one of our group leaders made the call. I told him I had faith in him, he had been the one who had made the contact, it was best if he did it alone. If they refused him, I’d try calling as backup only. It wasn’t hard for him; he didn’t have to convince the dear man on the other end of the call at all. He arranged it so that everyone lost nothing.
I never came closer to understanding how hard a decision it is to make these tough calls. But somehow you just have to come to that place where you rise above the crowd, to that place where there are no fans, and in that quiet, you finally know what you have to do because the quiet will be replaced by a ruckus inside of you is far greater than anything going on in the external world.
I was disappointed about it and couldn’t shake it even though so many in the group wrote and supported our decision and thanked us for saving their money. It was a choice that made itself. If I had my way, it wouldn’t have been what I would have wanted and that’s what I was grappling with: the loss, everyone’s losses. What we all have had to endure because life is somehow different now and we don’t understand why.
And hours later Broadway went dark. How do the curtains close on Broadway? And think of the difficult decision they had to make. But then it happened in sports and on our very own small stage and in our schools. It’s happening not just in my corner of the world, it’s happening everywhere.
And in the midst of all this craziness, there was hope. Another kind of hope. You see, even with quarantines and travel restrictions and mass confusion and trying to make sense of this surreal world, there’s always scammers. Even while we’ve lost our footing and don’t know which way is up, they haven’t lost their game. But if ever there’s a story of hope, here it is.
Our dear friend, she’s worked for the family so long she is one of the family, she knows better than anyone who calls the house. She picked it up and it was this voice she’d heard before. Usually the person says, “Grandma” and she says, “You have the wrong number” and she hangs up. But on this particular day, she decided she’d play with him.
So when he said, “Grandma”, she said, “Yes, how are you?”
He said, “Don’t be upset, I was in a car accident.” So she laid it on thick, “What? You were in a car accident? When?”
He must have been thinking how easy could this be when he said, “Now” and she then asked with such concern she was even fooling me, “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I just broke my nose.” She said he didn’t sound like he had broken his nose because he would have been talking funny, but she stayed her course of the non suspecting Grandma, “But what happened?”
So he said, “I had been to my friend’s funeral over in Jersey and I got in a car accident, I broke my nose, but I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.”
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” she said. Her voice was practically piercing; it had gone up an octave. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, but someone else was involved.”
“Oh God,” she said. Near hysteria, but the sarcasm cannot be lost. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Oh God.”
“I hit them, but it was a pregnant woman.”
She continued saying “Oh God” this time only twice. She sounded so concerned as if it really was her grandson.
“Grandma,” he said. Maybe even touched by the love she had for him. “It’s okay. It’s okay. But the police came and they locked me up.”
“Why would they lock you up?” She asked incredulously even though she remembered the exact story from the news a few nights back. A lawyer had gotten nearly scammed with the same story; but with him they had found a way to mimic his son’s voice and he actually believed he was talking to his son.
“At the funeral, I had a couple of drinks so they gave me a breathalizer. Of course, I had the alcohol on my breath so they took me to jail.” He was playing on her emotions, he could have come up with any story here and if she was truly worked up to a point of hysteria she would have believed him.
“What? Oh God. What do I need to do?” She had him like putty in her hand, while he thought it was the other way around.
“Grandma, calm down. Calm down. Calm down. They’re gonna need money to let me out.”
“What kind of money?”
“They’re setting the bail for $10,000.”
“You mean I have to give you $10,000?” but she paused, as if she was quickly doing the math. “You mean, 10% of the $10,000?” This should have set him off guard that this was no ordinary Grandma. But she did the math wrong because she was thinking about the lawyers numbers and calculated 10% of $10,000 as being $2,000 not $1,000 but her mistake would be in his favor.
He’d take that, “Yes, $2,000.”
“How am I supposed to get this to you?” She sounded flustered.
“Grandma, this guy is going to call you.”
“He’s going to call me? But where are you calling from?” Ah, again, he should have detected how smart of a question that was.
“Oh, it’s a pay phone, but he’s going to call you back on this number.”
She had never even looked to see if the number said scam on it when she answered it. It most likely had. “Ok, but you know what,” she said in her high-pitched voice, “This is the best scam of all because I just heard this two days ago.”
So then he started calling her names that I don’t need to repeat here and she answered back, so calmly, so matter of fact, “Your mother.”
And that’s when he screamed at her, “Why’d you keep saying Oh my God? Why’d you keep saying Oh my God?”
Kind of like the role reversal at the end of a mystery when the detective solves the case and the bad guy who’s been caught finally falls out of character and asks the questions. We never laughed so hard, but finally when she could speak again, a bit hoarse, but that’s when she got serious. “It’s not a game what they’re doing to unsuspecting people. They’re playing with people’s lives.”
She also acknowledged that for her performance she should have won an Academy Award.
So just when we’re thinking all the fun and games are cancelled, we’re going stir crazy because it seems like all our entertainment has been taken away from us, there’s always a game we can play. And we don’t always need to have a stage just so someone can act. We don’t have to be ruled by fear but we do need to play within the rules because the people making those rules are making them in our best interests.
Let’s take it from Holly, when we get knocked off of one leg, there’s always three more!