Monday, January 28, 2008

Sentimental journey

My job in high school and summer job in college was one I'll always remember fondly; I worked in the ticket office of a concert theater with outdoor shows in the summer and a nationally renowned opera company in the winter. I started there when I was sixteen: although they usually preferred to hire college kids, it was early spring and they needed help with the mail order rush. For several mornings a week I'd address postcards letting customers know their order had been received.

Aside from the salaried, year-round staff, my part-time companions in this task were two elderly British men (coincidentally--they hadn't known each other previously). They sometimes lapsed into a sort of code between themselves but one day, overhearing, I can't recall, a reference to "Bluebottle" or "Neddie" or some such, I suddenly interpreted and called out, "Oh, I love the Goon Shows!" They were astounded that an American teenager would ever have heard of these 1950s BBC radio shows, much less be able to quote from them (the explanation is that my dad had cassette recordings our family listened to on road trips), and after that I was one of the crew.

In late May the college employees began arriving and with them I was trained on the (ancient) selling software run on IBMs from what seemed the 1980s. Two or three years later, I became a supervisor, and even after I graduated college, just before I moved to New York, I worked there for one final month. By the end--well, let me be honest. By the middle--I, with my three or so fellow long-term alumni, liked to gripe about the shabby trailer which housed the offices, the inane stupidity of the customer service phone calls we fielded, the crankiness of the Peter Paul & Mary audience, the fact that Riverdance was on the billet again. But the fact is I loved it; I loved knowing exactly what I was doing, I loved being in charge, I loved the feeling of being behind the scenes. Working there made the experience of attending a concert, there or anywhere, somewhat less pleasurable in that to this day I can't walk up to a box office without analyzing the display or battling the compulsion to identify myself to the seller as a fellow veteran of the trenches. But both in retrospect and at the time I thought I had the best summer job of anyone I knew.

This morning* I fell back asleep after disabling my cell phone alarm, into a vivid dream. In it my contemporary self returned for a ticket-selling shift. I was no longer a supervisor, of course, so they put me out in the window with a college kid who was faceless and voiceless in my dream. To my eager small talk he responded in monosyllables and buried himself in his book. As I'm writing this I'm remembering how I used to watch the schedule in terror of getting stuck for a four-hour shift out at the window with an incurable chatterbox; and how later when I drew up the schedules various things had to be taken into consideration, like when "Michael C." came to me in private and begged me not to schedule him with "Marissa S.," who had confessed to him her (unrequited, as it turned out) love.

In my dream I was trying to sell a pair of orchestra tickets for a country star named "Kevin Mardus" (???) to a middle-aged woman. I knew exactly how to pull up the show: select "Calendar," move over four spaces, type the date, numeral first, hit enter and control-x. But for some reason "11JULY" wasn't bringing anything up. I began to feel panicked; had they implemented a new system since I'd been gone? I looked over at my anonymous colleague, whom a moment before I had been bossily informing, "Don't give them those seats, there are two in center Row D open;" but he was busy with his own customer; in horror I saw a line developing. Soon our shift replacements came and were forced to stand to the side in the narrow aisle, holding their metal cashboxes to their hips as I frantically tried to complete the sale.

The dream skipped ahead and everyone else had finished and departed. I printed out my ... what were they called? Impossible that I can't remember now. At the end of each shift you pulled up your sales history; they printed out on ticket stock which you took back to the office for the supervisor to count you out.

I had a pair of tickets in my till that I'd accidentally "sold;" these would need to be released back into the system by the manager and torn up. Once upon a time that had been my job; now I was a 25-year-old ticket selling has-been. I was beginning to wake up. In my dream I grabbed a pad of paper from the counter. The trailer looked exactly the same--battered wood plank walls, green countertops, musty beige carpet, mismatched stools with duct-taped vinyl seats. It was important to my dream self that I get every detail written down to tell you about, so I moved through with my pad and pencil. On the back wall hung nearly a dozen mirrors with ornate frames: some black, some gold, one reddish, differing sizes, all with intricate molding. It seemed very natural for them to be there and for me to describe them to you, but of course as I came fully awake and groggily climbed out of bed for a pen, I realized that anything so elegant had never been present. In real life, the back wall hosted a lightbox with a blown-up photo of a picknicking lawn audience at sunset. We liked to pick out our boss in the photo, recognizable by his pot belly.

One of those original British coworkers died a few years later--not so elderly, it turned out, but cancer took him quickly. My other English gent was the one who told me, when he heard. We were both silent.

He himself has become a grandfather three times over since then, and still works there part-time, as far as I know. I owe him a postcard.

* I dreamed this Saturday night and scrawled this post down upon waking Sunday morning, but haven't had one second to type it up until now. Work has been rath-er busy; but I hope for it to calm down (ish) soon.


the other lion said...

Thank you so much for sharing that. It was lovely. I miss you.

Traci said...

I just finished The Small Rain. Ms. L'Engle's got nothing on you.

Laura said...

Thank you to you means a lot coming from two such talented writers.