Sunday, August 31, 2014

An Urban Experience

In the late 1980s I lived in a efficiency apartment in Center City Philadelphia and was mere blocks away from the beautiful Academy of Music which was then the home of The Philadelphia Orchestra and The Opera Company of Philadelphia. I came home from work one evening feeling especially festive because I had managed to get a ticket to a production of Tosca starring Eva Marton and Sherill Milnes.

I entered the elevator. WHAM! In a heartbeat I found myself on the floor. I had slipped on some oily substance. The left side of my face was stinging and the left earpiece from my glasses had broken off.

I picked myself up and went to have a quiet word with the apartment manager.

“What the hell is on the elevator floor?” I shouted.

Carla, the young receptionist, wasn’t really looking at me.

“One of our tenants works in a big office building on Walnut Street. He said he found this great treatment for wood.”

“Did you tell him that the walls of the elevator are genuine faux wood and would not absorb whatever precious oils he rubbed on them?”

Carla looked up and gasped.

“Gosh, what are you going to do? The side of your face is swollen.” She looked closer. “Your glasses are broken. You can’t go out looking like that.”

“Just watch me.”

I put ice on my face for a while and, stuffing and two aspirin into my mouth, left for The Academy.

If the woman at the ticket office or the usher who showed me to my seat noticed anything, they didn’t mention it. I squeezed into my amphitheater seat. The gentleman next to me did a double take.

“You’re missing your left earpiece on your glasses.”

I just looked at him.

“I guess you know that. And your left cheek is bruised.”

“Yes, I fell.” I told him the story.

“These aren’t good seats,” he said. “I got them at the last minute because my wife took forever deciding she didn’t want to come.”

He got up from his seat and looked over the railing.

“You know the plot of Tosca?”


“That’s good because you’re not going to see much tonight.”

That was a bit of an exaggeration. I didn’t see Scarpia breathe his last, but I didn’t miss much else. Clearly many people had come to see Sherill Milnes because once Scarpia died, they headed for the exits. I said goodbye to my neighbor.

After Tosca threw herself from the parapet (though from where I was sitting it looked like she hopped over a fence), I left and walked out onto Broad Street.

A man fell into step with me. When you walk as slowly as I do, you have to decide whether to talk to strangers or ignore them. I was happy the guy wa walking to my right. I didn’t want to answer questions about my face or my glasses.

The man himself was a sight. He resembled an Elvis impersonator. He had elaborately coiffed black hair and wore a black jumpsuit that featured a sequined dragon coiled around his leg. I decided I would talk if he did, but not much.

“You limp,” he said.


“I had a girlfriend who limped like you.”


“Yeah.” He waited a beat or two. “She’s dead.”

I decided not to ask for details.

“Am I making you nervous?”

“No,” I lied.

“Oh, you live here.”

We had turned onto Spruce Street, the gay corridor of Philadelphia. There were always people out. The folks on the street made for an entertaining and very effective Neighborhood Watch.

“Well,” he said. “I gotta go.”

Relieved of my burden of vigilance, I asked a question.

“Were you at the opera?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Milnes sucked. Give me Gobbi any day.”

I was wrong about Elvis. He was not Las Vegas; he was La Scala.

Stephanie Patterson

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie, Loved your "quiet word." LOL I once had to make do with one stemmed eyeglasses. Took a red eye out of Portland and couldn't wear my contacts as I'd had them in all day. I simply pretended the eyeglasses were pence nez. Sort of. Great story!