A henpecked husband wants to spend some time away from his suffocating wife, but mysterious forces conspire to amplify his guilty conscience; by Benjamin Cooper.
Thinking back to that life changing evening, I am glad I was alone for the night, reveling in personal time long overdue. For months I had succumbed to a life of monotony. The cycle of eating, sleeping, and working awaiting my every morning. And it was all done with my wife at my side, literally. We worked at the same telecommunications company, a faltering business with sub-standard pay and benefits. Almost every moment of my day was spent with her. My father had warned me living, let alone working with a significant other, was a task requiring tenacity. In hindsight, I should have heeded his words of wisdom.
It wasn't just at home or at work that I was with her, it was everything in-between, which had recently become overbearing. On the bus she would idly peer over my shoulder to see what I was reading or whom I was emailing on my phone. In the break room she'd not so coincidentally saunter in, no doubt snooping to see how much sugar I was pouring in my coffee. Her laundry list of pet peeves was longer than I could count on my fingers, and every time I broke one of her countless rules I would either get a snooty remark or disapproving sneer.
The constant togetherness had given her the uncanny ability to get inside my head, curbing my conduct to her unruly standards. Was my behavior that predictable? She seemed to know my nuances better than I did. Sometimes she'd call me out before I had even done anything wrong. For instance, every so often at work I'd loiter around the back door looking to bum a cigarette from a co-worker. I'd sometimes end up sneaking a smoke from one of my pals in sales, and sure enough my wife would stroll by outside, claiming to be on power walk. She'd smile politely, and we'd all wave. But after she passed and everyone had gone back to chatting, I'd catch her glancing over her shoulder, shooting me the most disapproving, appalled look you've ever seen. The disappointment and contempt in her eyes was unmistakable. Did she want me to feel bad because she had caught me doing something I wasn't supposed to do? She would never mention these minor incidents, opting to let wallow in shame. She preferred to let problems simmer under the surface instead of confronting them head on, which was more frustrating than any large blow-up or screaming match.
Then there were the times when I was having some personal time, and she'd purposely encroach on my space, as if daring me to snap at her. She would snuggle up next to me while I watched Monday Night football for Christ's sake! She'd let out an exuberant sigh, almost mockingly as she read her US magazine as I did my best to concentrate on the game. Not even my study, my only refuge, was safe from her prying eyes. As if on patrol in the hall, she'd randomly yank open the door and stick her head in with piercing, judgmental eyes as if expecting to catch me committing lewd acts on my webcam. What I couldn't comprehend was that the times I preferred to be alone seemed to be when she wanted to be together the most.
Now it may sound like I don't love my wife, but that couldn't be further from the truth. If I woke up one morning and she wasn't there, I would instantly sink into a deep depression, withdrawing from the world. I was caught in a conundrum. The best I can explain it is life with her was miserable, but a life without her would have been unfathomable.
My bizarre ordeal all started right before one of her infamous interruptions. I was in my study on my computer after a draining day at work, sipping my mint tea, surfing through a music news website when I came across tour dates for The Steaming Milk Brigade. A jolt of exhilaration coursed through me when I saw they were coming to town, playing at a theatre mere blocks away from our city condo! Pure giddiness fueled me into clicking all the way to the Purchase Tickets screen before my better judgment stalled my progress.
A flurry of concerns danced in my mind. Should I go out on a work night? Would my wife approve? I sat there, deep in thought, doubts flooding my head. And then one booming voice rose above all the others: 'Do what you want. You are still your own man!'
Before I could change my mind, I clicked on the purchase button, entered my credit card information, and it was done! I was now the proud owner of two tickets to see The Steaming Milk Brigade at the Griffin Theatre. Strange name for a band, I'll admit. I had heard about them from my brother, an avid music lover. He had loaned me a few of their albums, and I must confess, he sure knew my musical taste; shredding guitar riffs and clever, sometimes whimsical lyrics. Their sound was neither Indie rock nor heavy metal, but a unique blend.
Impulsively, I had purchased two tickets without knowing whom I'd be taking with me. I had doubts my wife would willingly tag along, but really, who would buy only one ticket to a rock concert? That would be like admitting I had no friends. It would be like telling the world not one person could even stand my presence. Perhaps I could convince her to go, if I desperately pleaded, as I had done several times before. She didn't care much for music, but she'd usually succumb if I took her out to a fancy dinner beforehand; appetizers, wine, dessert, maybe even Champagne. Blackmail! Still, the show always ended up being worth it.
But this wasn't some new Will Farrell movie or baseball game, but a concert I didn't want to miss a single minute of. I couldn't risk her demanding to leave halfway through the set complaining of an upset stomach or something bogus like that. Or there was a chance she'd agree to go then say she wasn't in the mood mere hours before showtime. She had agreed to plans before then cancelled at the last possible moment. Plans of all types had been ruined: barbeques, plays, drinks with friends. There was nothing more disappointing than planning an epic night out only to have it fall apart; to have commitments ruined as easily as hitting the delete button on an email.
I related the phenomenon to a warped societal perception evolving in American society. Instant gratification was a growing cultural trend, and my wife was caught up in the mix. A similar outlook can be related to America's views of prosperity and economic growth. Although I was no economist, policy almost always seemed to favor immediate economic growth and results, even if the long term affects were undesirable. From the dot-com companies that floundered in the late nineties to the American government waging war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, no one ever took into account the long-term repercussions.
No, I wouldn't have my wife ruin this one. Even if she said yes initially, I just couldn't take the risk. I couldn't ask my brother either. He lived in Boston halfway across the country. I was crossing my fingers that one of my few friends or co-workers would agree to come.
As I pondered whom to invite, staring into my steaming cup of tea, the door creaked open and my wife's head poked in, her neck craned to get a better view of the room.
"How is your tea? Is it hot enough? Do you want more lemon?" I glanced up, skeptical.
"I'm fine," I retorted bluntly. I smiled but it was perfunctory.
"Ok," she replied sweetly with a thin smile in return. She retreated from the room, closing the door quietly.
On several occasions we had discussed personal space, so the topic was not uncharted territory. But the talks had achieved less than optimal results, all ending in a screaming match. It was difficult for her; defensiveness was her first impulse. I believed some space would strengthen our bond and make our love stronger, more resilient. She had no concept of boundaries, and I constantly reminded myself it simply wasn't in her nature.
But as the years had passed, I'd given up on the concept of personal space. Naturally, like evolution, I had gradually adapted to the dynamic progression of our lifestyle. And our lifestyle was one of togetherness, period.
But never being away from her sphere of influence to reflect on these issues had muted the voice inside me crying out for excitement and adventure. I didn't want to be a hermit the rest of my life, a homebody afraid to leave the safety of his abode. Humans were social animals for Christ's sake! I had to branch off on my own, consequences be damned.
As I printed off my electronic tickets I decided that I'd ask an old college buddy, an acquaintance from work, just about anyone I could think of, to go see that concert with me. Anyone but her would do.
I was the only one on the sidewalk besides an older fellow walking a docile Pomeranian. It was eerie for foot traffic to be so light in the early evening. The city streets were always full of people shuffling here and there, even on the weekdays. I had checked the weather forecast several hours ago: seventy-five percent chance of rain. I had opted to leave my umbrella at home, living on the edge. Holding onto a cumbersome umbrella while standing in a jam-packed show would not be ideal. The air was cool and damp, but thankfully there was no rain as of yet.
"At least something is going right today," I muttered to myself. "Should have brought my umbrella, though, just in case it really pours." I habitually turned to catch sight of my wife's reaction, momentarily forgetting she wasn't there to ridicule my commentary. I chuckled to myself. I was so accustomed to her at my side that I actually had to remind myself I was alone.
She would have insisted on an umbrella. But naturally, I was more of a risk taker. Perhaps she was my voice of reason. And what was I to her? Did I offer a fresh perspective from her conservative viewpoint? Did I broaden her horizons? I covered an entire block without reaching a conclusion.
This is my night, I had to remind myself. Stop thinking about her! There would be no bickering about which route to take to the venue. No begging to just stay out one more hour or pleading for her not to be mad if I had just one more gin and tonic. Yes, this was my night. It was a well-deserved night off from married life. She hadn't even seemed to care when I had walked out the door, only a spiteful glance acknowledging my exit. She had wanted me to go.
I came to a modest house with an ornate wooden porch and a white fence separating its tiny lawn from the public walkway. As I approached I carefully studied the prairie style house. My attention shifted to a dog sitting motionless on the top of the stoop; a small white terrier. It stared at me intently, its eyes following me. Besides its head, the dog remained motionless like a statue. As I came parallel with the canine, I stared back at it, lowering my brow as if thwarting off an advance. As I passed I expected the dog to react, but it did not. Not a growl or even wag of the tail. Nothing! It just glared back at me with its bulgy brown eyes bearing down on me, the way my wife had last Tuesday when I had burnt the casserole in the oven.
My attention once again returned to my trek. A block later I came upon on a lanky youngster with a bushy goatee sporting a black leather trench coat. He was holding a leash, but I didn't see a dog by his side.
"What the hell?" I uttered under my breath. But as I approached him, I spotted a slender animal slithering in the tall grass adjacent to the walk. "A ferret." I nodded politely as I passed. Who on Earth would take a ferret for a walk, and in the city no less, I contemplated. I wondered if my wife had ever noticed the ferret walker before.
Several blocks later I arrived at the Griffin Theatre, converted from a cinema in the late sixties. It was always stifling hot inside during the humid summer months and ridiculously chilly in the winter. Regardless, the acoustics were simply fabulous. Every note, every word sung, resonated with crystal clarity.
A rather long line of teenage burnouts, skuzzy hipsters, and assorted ruffians cluttered the walkway outside the majestic Griffin Theatre. Like clockwork, cabs pulled up to the curb, dropping off drunken fans by the bunches. I began to meander to the back of the line until I remembered the second ticket in my pocket.
Disappointingly, I had been unable to find someone to accompany me, so I had an extra ticket to get rid of. Of course, my wife didn't even know where I was going; I had left without a uttering a word and she hadn't bothered to ask. The deceit was already filling me with guilt. I was so accustomed to telling her everything that the secrecy seemed so foreign... so erroneous.
I headed for the ticket window. A blonde girl with a smug expression manned the booth, casually reading a magazine. No potential buyers were waiting for tickets. Waving the ticket above my head, I patrolled the walk. A nicely dressed couple approached. Before they could make it to the ticket window I intercepted them, offering the ticket at half the face value, fifteen bucks. The frazzled-looking fellow politely shook his head no. Perplexed that someone could turn down such a deal, I insisted, but still he refused. They proceeded to buy their tickets at full price.
Panic struck. Did he think I was a scalper? Was I shabbily dressed? Did I come off as untrustworthy? Was I a horrible salesman? Did I look like an undercover cop? Did I smell foul? Who in their right mind would willingly opt to pay more? I mustered up my courage, straightened my collar, and held my ticket up proudly, vowing to be more aggressive next time.
A skinny punk sporting an orange Mohawk approached. Frantically, I shook the ticket in front of his face. "No thanks," he droned before I could even get a word in. Were people that skeptical of strangers? Or were people so accustomed to panhandlers and scam artists that they steered clear of anyone who even tried to speak with them, no matter what the circumstance?
I sighed loudly, frustrated. The line was growing longer by the second, and I'd be damned if I'd miss a second of the performance. Determined to rid of my ticket quickly, I rushed up to a pair of cute brunettes. "Free ticket," I sputtered out in sheer desperation before they even knew I was there.
Shocked, one of them managed to say, "Free? You don't want any money for it?"
"Please... just take it before I throw it in the trash. No one wants it, they think it's a ploy or something," I explained exasperatingly, holding out the ticket.
"Umm... okay." The shorter of the two took the ticket. After a quick thank you, they continued to the ticket window. I sighed in relief before heading to the back of the line.
I overheard someone behind me slur, "I saw 'em in Milwaukee last night. That was one killer show, man. They were playin' tight." I leaned back, eager to eavesdrop as the stranger elaborated on his review, but I lost the conversation in a stream of endless banter.
"Were you at Greg's last night, dude? Oh man, you missed out!" a baritone voice droned.
"Oh m'god, you didn't!" a high-pitched woman's voice exclaimed. "Ben was there with that skank Melissa? What nerve!"
Someone else said,"Yeah, I got some plenty of extra doses, bro. Killer stuff, bro, I promise. Pass it around!"
The line was picking up momentum, and the bouncers were in sight, patting each person down like they were entering a maximum-security prison. I had a vice-like grip on my ticket in my pocket. Soon the music would overtake the erroneous chatter. The music would demand complete attention. My worries would melt away. I grinned at the thought. For at least a while, nothing else would matter.
Off to the side a bouncer was in a heated argument with a scrawny high school kid about his driver's license. Apparently, he had tried to sneak into the eighteen and over show with a fake I.D. Why security was so strict was beyond reason. All the youngster had wanted to do was listen to some rock and roll! A shame, since he had gone to all the trouble to get a fake driver's license and everything. Rumors regularly circulated of strict rules and staff on a power trip.
A burly, bald-headed bouncer motioned me forward. "I.D." he demanded hoarsely.
"Sure," I mumbled as I reached for my wallet in my back pocket. Being thirty-six, I hadn't been carded in years. I found it amusing, actually. After I gave him my license, he held it up, frowning skeptically. He glanced several times back and forth from my face to the license until at last he handed it back. The guy was definitely on a power trip, in no hurry whatsoever despite the dozens of people waiting behind me. I took a step forward before he ordered, "Hold on, gotta pat you down."
Pat me down! Are you kidding me! Who did he think I was, a terrorist? He took his time feeling my pockets, carefully probing my cell phone. "Empty'em out for me." With a humph, I obliged. In my cupped hands I held out the contents of my pockets like a peace offering: my wallet cell phone, keys, a tissue, and pack of Wrigley's Spearmint.
"Gotta throw out the gum," he growled indifferently.
"Excuse me?" was my first reaction.
"My gum? What the hell for? What am I going to do, make a bomb out of the stuff?"
"Them the rules! If you don't like it, leave," he spat out, his tone elevating.
"You're breaking several laws here, including illegal search and seizure!" I protested extravagantly.
"We got all the right in the world, buddy. It's called the Blackberry Condition," the bouncer replied matter-of-factly. "It gives us the right to deny entry to whoever we damn please." Several security personnel in orange coats loitering close by took notice of the confrontation, and sauntered over.
"What does that mean? There's no such thing," I contested out of sheer principle. "This is wrong! You can't just take away a person's gum. How many rights do you think you can take from us! This is America and this Blackberry Condition you're talking about is against the Constitution, against our basic rights! Believe me, the last thing on my mind as I left to go to this show tonight was getting hassled for having gum! What kind of screwed up, twisted dimension am I in right now?" Several people behind me let out hollers of support. Security, however, was not amused, and they looked agitated enough to bash my head against the curb. But strangely, they did nothing but stare at me, amused. Reluctantly, I tossed my gum in the trash bin.
"There. Now was that so hard?" the bouncer teased sarcastically like he was scolding a misbehaving child. The cluster of orange-coated security guards immediately lost interest, and went back to talking amongst themselves. Hastily, I handed the ticket collector my ticket, and rushed inside before they changed his mind to grant me admittance.
Once inside I breathed a sigh of relief. I weaved through the crowd, passed the souvenir stands. Through a heavy wooden door, I entered the theatre. The lights of the chintzy chandeliers dangling from the domed ceiling were dimmed, bathing the room in shadows. The place was filling up, but it was still empty enough to maneuver without much trouble. It sounded as if everyone was talking at the same time, resulting in a droning muffle of noise. I gazed up, admiring the artwork on the ceiling. Spiral designs and murals of winged angels dominated the canvas, paint noticeably peeling and chipping in multiple places.
This high capacity venue was the perfect platform for an artist to really create something special. Thousands of musicians had played here including such famous acts as Pearl Jam, Radiohead, and Phish. This was a stage for greatness. And for all I knew, this show would be the one to launch The Steaming Milk Brigade to the next level. A stepping stone from playing gigs at bars and theaters, to amphitheaters and stadiums.
The stage crew was tending to the instruments. Thankfully, The Steaming Milk Brigade had yet to take the stage. First issue of business: fetch a drink. Finding my way to the bar would be a hassle later on, so making sure I had a cold drink when the show began was key. I made my way to the bar in the back.
A girl with pink highlights in her hair, a nose ring, and too much eyeliner took my order. I ran my fingers across the many initials and words carved into the wooden countertop. I took a closer look. The etchings were the names of people I didn't recognize and phrases I wasn't familiar with. When had these strangers found time to carve such things, in the middle of a show? I pondered.
An attractive blonde with long curly hair sidled up next to me. A simple yet elegant white strapless dress clung to her body perfectly, emphasizing her every curve. Her sassy demeanor begged for attention. I smiled politely as she held out a ten dollar bill, vying for the bartender to serve her.
I turned to her casually, and asked,"Can I ask you a question?"
"You don't need my permission," she scowled, annoyed that I had wasted mere seconds of her time already.
"You ever heard of the Blackberry Condition?"
"Heh?" She had already lost interest in the conversation, scanning the sea of faces as if in search of someone worth her time. The bartender handed her a vodka tonic. I, on the other hand, was still left drinkless.
"Uhh, I got to go," she mumbled before abruptly rushing off in the opposite direction.
"Did you say Blackberry Condition?" an odd-looking middle-aged man standing to my other side interjected.
"Yeah, that's right," I replied emphatically as I turned to him.
"I know about that," the scraggily-haired man affirmed. "It's the downfall of American culture as we know it, an excuse to take away our liberties! Worse than the Patriot Act. Worse than anything. And nobody knows about it! Nobody except for them." The bartender finally took my order for a Tanqueray and tonic.
"Who are them, exactly?" At first, I thought he might actually know something interesting, but now I was leaning towards thinking he was mentally unstable. I glanced him over: uneven, sandpaper-like stubble across his coarse face, tattered Rolling Stones shirt, and a hell of an ugly smile. It was amazing that he had had enough cash to even pay for a ticket.
"The government, of course. That's who them are," the crazy kook grumbled. "The Supreme Court, specifically. Rumor has it they passed the law, almost in secret. No media coverage, no announcements, no nothin'!"
"Rumors are rumors. It would have been in the papers, and it wasn't, I read the Tribune every morning. And if the Supreme Court didn't officially rule on it," I declared arrogantly, "then it's nothing more than a urban legend."
"Ohh, noo," the oddball sang out hoarsely. "The Blackberry Condition is all too real."
"How would you know?" I asked, egging him on. I took a sip of my drink then licked my lips. A perfectly mixed drink! A tad more ice would have been nice, though.
"Because I voted against the measure... I was the only one."
"Huh?" The speaker system blared to life with a screech of horrific feedback. The crowd collectively groaned before the interference ended as abruptly as it had come. The sound check continued.
"So, you expect me to believe you're on the Supreme Court?" But as I looked back from the stage I discovered the man was gone. Momentarily I spotted the back of his tattered shirt, but he quickly disappeared from view.
"Crazy old bum," I mumbled.
The lights went off. The crowd roared in anticipation. I shuffled along the side of the aisle then sidestepped my way around a few tall college kids, careful not to spill my drink, until I found a decent view of the stage. I ended up in a tight but adequate spot next to a railing, not too close to the pit where I would be squished between smelly, sweaty people, but not too far away where I wouldn't be able to see the faces of the band members. I grinned triumphantly. I was in the perfect strategic place to enjoy the night's festivities.
One by one the members of The Steaming Milk Brigade took the stage. First, the stocky drummer bounded out, waving his hands triumphantly over his head. Then the bald, bearded keyboardist followed. Next, came the long, dark haired eccentric bass player. He urged everyone to clap as the lead guitarist, a lanky fresh-faced twenty-five year old sporting a white t-shirt, bounded onto the stage, and snatched his guitar from its stand.
The guitarist smiled humbly as the applause continued. He strummed downwards on his burgundy colored Fender Stratocaster and most everyone, including myself, recognized the tune just by that single chord. The crowd roared its approval. The cheers subsided as the band continued on with the song.
Standing in front of the stage I noticed a mean-looking, overweight security guard. He was impossible to miss with his bright orange vest. He was feverishly scanning the crowd. I chuckled to myself as I thought about how he resembled a pumpkin. My smirk disappeared, replaced with wide eyes, when I recalled my trouble getting in. Were they looking for me? No, that wouldn't have made any sense. Maybe the guards had regretted the decision to let me in. Why was I still dwelling on the gum incident? My brutally honest wife was right, I was much too uptight. As much as I told myself I was just being paranoid, something just didn't sit right.
To the right of me the crowd suddenly parted. Two burly security guards pushed their way through. They were on a mission; they were looking for someone alright. As they passed in front of me, I turned slightly so they couldn't see my face. I distinctly heard one of them mutter, "The blackberry guy..." But the rest of the sentence was lost in the thumping music blasting from the speakers on the sides of the stage.
Blackberry, blackberry, I repeated incessantly to myself. Where did the name of the condition ordinate? Does it have something to do with the Blackberry PDA? What is the link? I pored through my memory banks in search of some clue, some memory of the Blackberry Condition. The pulsating, beaming lights distracted my concentration, so I shut my eyes.
Suddenly, a wave of nausea swept over me. The queasiness then gave way to sharp pangs in my stomach. My vision blurred, followed by dizziness. Am I losing my mind? Was it vertigo? Did someone spike my drink with acid, an insane idea of a prank? It was that crazy old man with the Rolling Stones t-shirt who drugged my drink, had to be!
I swayed from side to side, struggling to maintain my balance. The silhouette of a woman's head blocked my view. She swayed to the music in sync with me, as if mocking my situation. I raised my arms slightly and widened my stance to steady my wobbling legs. The lights flashed bright streaks of white, and I caught several momentary glimpses of the silhouetted woman. It was the girl from the bar, the one who had blown me off. The queasiness subsided. Licking my lips did little to relieve my cottonmouth. I took the final swig of my drink, momentarily forgetting that I had suspected it of being tainted.
I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath in hopes of composing myself. When I opened them the woman was glaring back at me, inches from my face. She had a distraught, almost perturbed expression. "You're in trouble. In big trouble!" she spat out apprehensively. "They know, and they want to stop you. Beg for their forgiveness!" I tried to respond, but I only groaned incoherently, my mouth gaping open like a fish out of water. I was so alarmed and shocked by her peculiar behavior that I couldn't think properly. The music grew louder, rising to almost ear-piercing decibels. She put one hand on her hip, pointed a finger in my face, and proceeded to rant, but I couldn't hear any of it. Unable to comprehend, I simply stared at her mouth as her lips formed word after word. I closed my eyes yet again to gather myself. When I opened them she was gone. Had it been my imagination, a premonition? I put the eerie moment out of my thoughts. Freaking myself out would do me no good.
I stood motionless for the rest of the song, fixated on the band and the mesmerizing light show. My cottonmouth was unbearable. A cocktail waitress scooted by. "Excuse me!" She turned. "Can I order a..." I stopped mid-sentence, realizing the odds of the waitress finding me again in such a crowd were remote. My eyes drifted to the lone drink on her tray. "What do you have there?" I inquired.
"Can't find the guy who ordered this rum and coke," she snarled.
"Sold!" I promptly dropped a twenty spot on her wet tray. Her eyes widened with a wry grin before she disappeared into the audience.
I pounded the drink in several large gulps. The drink energized me, revitalizing me from my groggy state. Maybe it was the kick of caffeine from the coke, but suddenly my senses were heightened. The band started up with a fan favorite, and I cheered with approval. I bobbed my head to the beat, grinning ear to ear. I mouthed the words of the song, as did most everyone around me. Momentarily, I had forgotten my altered state and the string of bizarre altercations. For the time being, I was content.
This newfound energy coursing through me was undeniable. All my inhibitions disintegrated. My insecurities dissipated, the music fueling the change. I felt empowered; a quasi-sense of invincibility. I felt great! I tapped my feet to the rhythm, just as the music picked up, and the crowd got in the groove. I was dancing! I had never done that at a show before!
A green glow in the audience caught my attention. Was my mind playing tricks on me again? The bright green glow seemed to rise above the bouncing sea of heads. I squinted incessantly until I realized they were glow sticks! Someone was wielding at least ten glow sticks, twirling them around their head as if performing some primitive tribal dance. The music intensified. The lead guitarist played higher and higher notes. The guitar solo gained speed, and he played faster than I thought was humanly possible. And, at the perfect time in the song, at the exact peak of the feverishly frantic melody, the glow sticks were launched upwards.
The security guards were not amused, to say the least. The staff had done their best to keep foreign objects, even gum, out of the theatre, but somehow a box of glow sticks had been snuck in. Must have been an inside job, I concluded. A glow stick fell at my feet. I scooped it up, dancing with it momentarily, like a rambunctious kid on the 4th of July.
Others were throwing them up high, and some even ricocheted off the chandeliers. I did likewise, chucking mine up to the balcony. At the same time, someone close to me also let one fly. Their throw darted like a missile straight at the stage, barely missing the bassist's head. He didn't seem to notice, but the security guards sure did.
Two sour faced guards bolted through the crowd, yelling into their headsets, determined to detain the assailant. They fought their way through the jam-packed audience, heading directly for me! They must have thought I had been the one that had thrown that glow stick at the bassist!
My paranoia got the better of me. Instinctively, I dropped my drink and bolted for the nearest exit. If they caught me I would be done for. They would never believe I was innocent, especially after fleeing. They would just assume I was some drunken fan, out to start trouble. I bumped into a cocktail waitress, spilling several of her drinks all over her tray.
"Hey, buddy, what the hell are you doing?" she exclaimed, but I was already past her. I pushed my way through until I got to the back of the venue.
"Stop now! It's gonna hurt!" one of the burly guards hollered from behind me, huffing heavily from the heated pursuit. Frantically, I yanked open the wooden doors. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a third guard closing in from my right side. But I was too quick. I blew past the unaware ticket collector manning the entrance, and stumbled out to the sidewalk under the glow of the veranda. Fresh air wafted across my face. I was out! I was free! The exhilaration of the chase had seemed to sober me up a bit.
"HALT!" Suddenly, I felt a tug from behind. Someone had a hold of my collar! My head snapped back, and my momentum had me flailing about like a trout at the end of a fishing line. An agitated police officer held on to me as the three guards caught up.
"Arrest this guy, officer!" a wheezing guard spat out before bending over, resting his hands on his knees to catch his breath.
"What did he do?" the cop demanded to know as he spun me around to face him. Trusting I was through running, he let go of my collar. My heart was thudding inside my chest. I had never had trouble with the law before, and I was praying I could talk myself out this. I pulled my shirt taut, and proudly stood up straight with my chin up with as much dignity as I could muster. The cop was lean and stone-faced, and he glared at me intently.
"He threw an object at the band. That's assault! The Griffin Theatre has strict rules against that!" The other two guards chimed in with a chorus of yells and curses.
"Settle down!" he rumbled. "This true, son?" the veteran street cop demanded to know. "That why you were runnin'?" What I wanted to say was, Why are you worried about one measly, law-abiding citizen? There are a million different ways you could be more productive with your time right now. You could actually be doing something that is, god-forbid, beneficial to the community you're obligated to protect! But I bit my tongue, opting to mitigate my involvement.
"No, sir," I stated confidently. "It was someone next to me who threw the glow sick at the band. I threw one too, but I threw mine straight up." The officer frowned, his forehead wrinkling in thought.
"You wouldn't be runnin' if you were innocent," the cop decided. "Put your hands behind your head." I frowned in defeat. The guards grinned arrogantly.
"I was running for another reason!" I protested. "These guys have had it in for me all night, ever since I questioned why I had to throw away my gum at the door. They've used the Blackberry Condition as an excuse to do whatever they wanted!" Reluctantly, the policeman put the handcuffs back on his belt.
"Wait... did you just say Blackberry Condition?" he questioned, somewhat confounded. The guards were quiet, staring blankly at the ground like children caught misbehaving.
Someone further down the sidewalk yelled, "Fire! A fire has broken out in the back of the theatre!" The guards immediately took off for the alley that led around the building. The policeman relayed the information into his handset on his shoulder. The alarmed man was hysterical, and making quite a commotion. I gave him a closer look. It was that crazy man with the Rolling Stones shirt!
The crazed loon gazed at us intently. "There's people back there! They're trapped... please help!" That was enough to get the officer's full attention, and without uttering a word he took off for the alley.
After the cop was out of sight, the crazy man grinned and winked at me. "The Blackberry Condition is unconstitutional, after all," he yelled defiantly. "It's a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense!"
"You're right about that! Thanks!" I called out appreciatively. I assessed my surroundings for the most suitable escape route. It would not be long before the authorities discovered the supposed fire was a hoax. Suddenly, a cab pulled up to the curb next to me. The passenger door swung open. My wife was inside, frantically waving me in! My jaw dropped in utter disbelief. How did she find me? Maybe I was still drugged because there was no possible way she could have known where I was, I hadn't told her. "How did..." was all I could muster to say.
"Don't just stand there, get in!" she urged. I hurried inside, and slammed the door shut. As the cab pulled away I looked out the window to see the cop and the guards emerging from the alley with perturbed expressions, victims of the crazy man's lie and distraction.
"Whew! You saved me! I was about to be arrested," I exclaimed happily, wrapping my arms around her in an exuberant hug. She just smiled affectionately. In that moment, my love for her came rushing back. Her contagious smile was infectious, and I found myself grinning ear to ear.
"How did you know I was in trouble? Why did you come? I don't understand!"
"I called your brother, he told me you were going to the show," she explained. "I had this weird feeling that you needed to see me. I was going to wait outside the theatre for you and ask if you were in the mood to grab a nightcap. But when I saw you arguing with that policeman and those security people, I didn't get out of the cab. I told Pablo to park a block up the street and wait. Isn't that right Pablo?" she called out to the driver like they were longtime friends.
"Yes, for an extra twenty dollars, I do what you say Miss," the foreign driver obediently replied.
"Really?" I remarked.
"It was so strange. It was like a force was calling me to you. I was sitting in bed, reading a book, when this overwhelming voice inside me head was screaming that you needed my help."
"Good thing you came! I'm so lucky!" I said, exhaling in relief. "I should have asked you to come with, or at least told you where I was going."
"I do wish you would have at least invited me," she admitted. "But I know you've been having a difficult time lately," she said understandingly.
"It's nothing you did. I'm sorry." I found myself apologizing, the words flowing out of me like a torrent flood. "It's all my fault. I feel so bad about giving you the cold shoulder lately. Let's go grab that drink, we can talk it out."
"Alright! Pablo, can we go to the Lantern Pub on 35th, please?"
Elated, she implored,"I want to hear all about your adventure! Knowing you, I'm sure it was all some big misunderstanding. You probably let your awkwardness get you in trouble again!"
"You know me and my idiosyncrasies all too well. What a bizarre ordeal! It was a lot more exciting than our normal Thursday of HBO and a bottle of wine. But still, I definitely want to stay in for the rest of the weekend!" I admitted with a chuckle. "Have you ever heard of the Blackberry Condition?"
"The what condition?" she asked with a quizzical look.