BY BECKY NATHANSON
It’s 11:54 pm on a Sunday night. I’ve been swimming upstream for almost nine hours. At 3 o’clock, the text arrives, ”You’re coming to the Tucker Gala. I just got you a ticket. Wear something formal.”
This is the most star-studded, fancy formal event of the season in the opera world. At 4 o’clock, after texting everyone I know in Washington Heights with my measurements and coming up empty, I am steaming silk garments retrieved in desperation from the to-be-dry-cleaned pile. At 5 o’clock, I am desperately drying my hair, peering out the window as a thunderstorm rolls in; fifteen minutes later, I wave my arm in vain at every cab on Broadway—my other arm is clutching the long legs of my teal, waist-high gaucho pants, desperately attempting to keep the silk from sloshing about in the pouring rain.
In stilettos, I barrel towards the subway stop. The train conductor eyes me through the turnstile and closes the door to the last train before the onslaught of delays and cancellations. The concert is being streamed live; I switch it on my phone, searching for patches of phone service, attempting to catch snippets in between subway stops. I arrive, finally, and am twenty minutes late.
The show is enrapturing. Each featured performer is a star in his or her own right. These are the prima donnas and the masters, and I happily direct my attention for the hours-long intermission-less program. Afterwards is a whirlwind of hobnobbing. Is there a point? There is a lot of smiling, adjusting, ingratiating thank-you-ing, worshiping. Going, going, going. Moving on like bees pollinating.
And then the stars and their cohorts are whisked away to celebrate their achievements while the rest of us buzz away in the nighttime rain. I and another uncelebrated one are starving; we walk into the nearest restaurant and buy the soonest drink and pay the most outrageous price for being served with such immediacy. I’ve been putting off my needs for hours and the drink slows me down enough to remind me: Hello. You are starving and you didn’t bring a jacket. You had a plan for your day and you willingly upended it. I eat and drink greedily, hoping the distraction will last a few moments more.
Why do we distract ourselves? We’re out to dinner with our friends but buried in our smartphones. We step inside a taxi, trusting a complete stranger to carry us to safety at high speeds, and watch a city-approved tv show in the back seat. We disappear down the black hole exploring the photos of people we’ve met, and their friends’ photos, and then other strangers.’ It’s easier to do so today than ever before. A stroll down Times Square or the Las Vegas strip reduces us to our basest pleasures—flashing, scrolling lights reminding us we are alive.