Men In Blue

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was standing on a rain-drenched street hunched under an awning near the 1 train entrance in mid-town Manhattan.  I had been waiting for about a half an hour and was starting to get a little annoyed.  All of a sudden, I heard a loud bellow emanating from a block or so uptown of me: “Hey, fat-boy” (I was fat then).  I turned and saw the sinister smile of my best friend, Todd walking alongside my other best friend, Mark.  We were all performing arts students at Ithaca College in the middle of summer break.  Me and Mark were B.F.A. acting students, me going into my Sophomore year and he into his Junior.  And Todd was approaching his senior year in the music school.  I was living at my mom’s in Wayne N.J. and both mark and Todd were at their respective homes in upstate New York near Syracuse.  We hadn’t seen each other in about a month and a half, so we made plans to meet up in the big apple for a day of fun and frivolity.  Unfortunately, it was now pouring out so the plan of simply traversing the streets of the big city window shopping and buying useless crap and catching the occasional street performer had pretty much fallen by the wayside.  We ended up sitting inside a Burger King with a copy of The Village Voice, turning pages, thinking we might be able to find a reasonably priced piece of theater to take in.

Todd and I had begun something of a side conversation as Mark continued to peruse.  He turned a page and said, “Holy crap!  What is this?!”  We both turned to view the page he was gesturing at to find a picture of three bald men who were blue.  I don’t mean they looked downtrodden, they were actually all the color blue.  They all had these ominous looking eyes staring straight ahead as if hypnotized and entirely swathed in what looked like some kind of latex blue paint.  “The show is called The Blue Man Group,” said Mark.  “What in the world is a blue man group?” asked Todd.  “I don’t know,” said I, “But I am pretty sure that this is our show.”

Bear in mind, this was 1991.  The Blue Man Group had just recently opened in a small off-Broadway theater and was the hottest show to come along in years.   But, having been lost in a haze of pot smoke and pizza grease in a small town near the finger lakes for the last ten months, we had no knowledge of this.  So we grabbed a cab and made our way over to the address listed in the Village Voice advertisement.  The show was scheduled to begin at 2pm and it was presently about 1:15, so we figured we had plenty of time to get our tickets scope out the lobby and find our seats.  We threw open the double doors and crossed the threshold and stared eyes-wide at 900 square feet of real estate strewn with plastic tubes and neon.  It looked like Willy Wonka’s laboratory on acid.  Actually Willy Wonka’s laboratory looks like Willy Wonka’s laboratory on acid, but you get the idea.  Todd proclaimed, “I don’t know what the hell this is, but whatever it is, it is going to be awesome!”

We strolled up to the ticket window and Mark requested, “Three please.”  The woman behind the small window asked for our last names.  “Why  do you want our last names?” I inquired finding this to be a strange request.  “So I can find your tickets for you,” she said sounding mildly irritated.  “Oh,” I said, now grasping the point, “We don’t have tickets yet.  We’ll take three.”  The woman laughed.  She actually laughed right in our faces.  And not like a little titter either; more like a guffaw.  “Honey, this show is sold out for the next 13 months.”  We were baffled.  Who were these blue men and how had they taken the city by storm without us ever having heard a word about it.  She looked upon our perplexed faces and took a measure of pity on us.  “Look, you can get on the cancellation line, but, I gotta tell ya, generally no more than two or three people make it through that way.  Just to the right of us was a man staring at us with a look suggesting, “Don’t even think about getting in front of me.”  He was clearly the beginning of the cancellation line.  Behind him stood about fourteen more people.  So, with no other options at hand, Todd, Mark and myself loped back and became numbers fifteen, sixteen and seventeen.  I should also mention that we had been getting high outside the Burger King and we were all starting to come down.  So, there we were.  Three haggard-looking college students standing motionless hanging our hats on a near-impossibility.  All of a sudden, Mark said, “Hang on a minute.  I have an idea,” and proceeded to walk off toward the front of the theater.

Now, a word on Mark.  Mark was the most skilled, devious, con-man I had ever met in my life.  He was a wonderful guy with a heart of gold.  But Mark had a mix of charm, magnetism and on-his-feet improvisation which could literally make just about anybody in the world do anything he wanted them to do at any time he wanted them to do  it.  So Todd and I watched Mark walked right up to the two ushers in front and began talking to them.  The conversation, which looked amiable enough, went on for about five to seven minutes before they took him through a small doorway just to the left of the entrance.  A few minutes later, Mark emerged wearing an usher vest just like the other two, standing in position, greeting people and ripping tickets.  After a few minutes, he shot a glance over his shoulder at Todd and I, giving us a wry grin as we shrugged our shoulders, trying to mouth, “What the hell are you doing?”

Well, while Todd and I would not find this out for a few hours, what Mark was doing was this.  He had approached the two ushers claiming that the three of us were a performance trio from Los Angeles who had a show which was garnering the same sort of attention as the blue men.  He further told them that we had flown out here specifically to see what the blue men were doing to get some ideas and give our brethren our support, having no idea how difficult it was to get tickets.  The ushers were, predictably, fascinated by whatever line of bullshit Mark was slinging.  They told him that, coincidentally, one of their ushers had just called in sick and that if he was willing to help them out they would see what they could for us.  Now, remember, Todd and I know none of this, so we are just watching Mark be an usher completely dumbstruck as to how this has occurred or what utility it may have.

All of a sudden, the woman in the window called the cancellation line to order.  She had two tickets for the first two people in the line and the rest of us were out of luck.  So while fifteen of us hung our heads in disappointment, Mark and the other two ushers came walking back toward the door leading into the theater.  As they passed us, Mark whispered to Todd and I, “C’mon.  Follow us.”  Todd said, “But…”  Mark cut him off, “Just come on!”  So we did.  It was dark.  The show was just beginning as a variety of sentences made their way across a digital screen which we had yet to give our attention to.  The ushers and Mark and I kept walking and walking following the beam of one ushers flashlight until we came to a stop.  The usher shone his beam on three empty seats which, clearly, were meant for the three of us to sit in.  We were fifth row center.  Todd and I didn’t know whether to be elated or to conclude that we were engaged in some sort of fever dream from all the pot we smoked.  We tried to question Mark but he said, “Shh… it’s starting.  I’ll tell you after.”  So we just shut up and watched.

It was mind-blowing.  It was brilliant.  It was fantastical.  It was like nothing we had ever seen in our lives.  I think that’s all I’ll say about the actual course of the show, because by this point you have either already seen the show, and if you haven’t, shame on you.  See it.  See it yesterday.  It is well worth every dollar it costs you.  The hour and a half running time went by in, what seemed, like an eye-blink as the show ended with a flourish, balloons and tissue paper falling down in great streaming reams from the top of the theater.  The cast bowed, the lights went up and Todd and I turned to Mark and said, “Talk!”  And he did.  Having known Mark for some time and having seen him pull off some of the most impressive scams imaginable, it took a lot to surprise us, but this one did it.  “You are a crazy!” I said.  “You are my freakin’ hero,” Todd added.  Mark then told us that, as part of the deal, he said that we would stay and help clean up afterward which we were more than happy to do.  So for the next hour or so, Mark and I and Todd and the ushers and various others cleaned up popped balloons and tissue paper and many other forms of detritus and such from the floor placing everything into enormous garbage cans.  As we did so, we were laughing and joking and busting balls and having a generally grand time.  Suddenly, from the left of the stage came walking three men in jeans and t-shirts each carrying a gym bag.  They were clearly the blue men, sans blue.  One of the ushers yelled out, “Hey guys!  C’mere.  You gotta meet these dudes!”  This was unexpected and shocking.  Here came the blue men.  Here came the blue men with the express intent of meeting and talking to me, Mark and Todd.  We all shake hands and introduce ourselves and then the usher says, “These guys are a performance troupe from L.A.  They have a show that’s blowing up sort of in the vein of what you guys do.”  One of the blue men looked straight at me and said, “No shit?  What’s it called?”  What’s it called?  I don’t know what it’s called.  I didn’t even know there was a show until about an hour ago.  And the show that I found about an hour ago doesn’t even exist.  I was panic-stricken.  I was just frozen staring at the blue man trying to make words come out of my mouth.  But my mind was a blank.  I don’t know how much time went by between his question and the next time a word was said.  It was probably only seconds but it seemed like a month.  “Uh….” I stammered, “It’s called…” “The Minstrels of Anarchy,” proclaimed Mark proudly.  I took one of the longest exhales of my life.  A second blue man, now clear that Mark was our spokesperson asked, “So what’s it about?  What do you guys do?”  Now I was just excited anxiously anticipating what sort of horse manure Mark would shovel out next.  He said, “Well, much like your show, which is completely kick-ass by the way, ours is sort of hard to explain.  But, in short, we offer up fun and entertainment and social commentary through the use of anarchistic sound and movement.”  What?  That wasn’t even a sentence.  He had just said nothing.  He might as well have said out show is about nothing.  But the blue men ate it up.  The third blue man said, “That sounds awesome.  I think we need to find some time for a road trip guys.  I can’t believe we haven’t heard about it.  What theater are you guys at?”  Mark answered, “The Edison but we are in negotiations to move to a bigger space.”  I promise you that there is no Edison Theater in Los Angeles.  Blue man number two said, “Hey, listen, we were going to go next door for a drink with our girlfriends.  You guys should come join us.”  Yes.  Yes we should.  And so we did.

So there we were.  The blue men, three very lovely ladies, and we three, throwing down shots, laughing wildly and talking about everything from theater and movies to baseball and politics.  We had an absolute ball.  We shared and interacted like old friends for a good four hours before one of the lovely ladies said to her blue man, “I gotta get up early for yoga, babe.  We should probably get going.”  The waiter dropped the check which was a very large number.  A larger number than Mark, Todd and I could even consider covering half of using every dollar we had.  But before we could even consider how to deal with this, one of the blue men said, “No way boys.  You’re on our playing field.  When we come out to see The Minstrels of Anarchy, you can treat, k?”  We agreed wholeheartedly hoping against hope that this proposed trip never took place.  We all made our way out to the wet street.  I hugged Mark and Todd as they were heading off to take the train back to upstate.  As I embraced him, I whispered into Mark’s ear, “This is one for the ages.  You are so the man!”  And off they went.  Two of the blue men hopped into a cab with their ladies as I bid them adieu.  The other blue man and his damsel were about to cross the street, when I asked, “Where are you two going?”  “To catch the subway uptown,” answered the blue man.  “Screw that,” I said, “My car is right up the way.  I’ll take you.”  “But you’re not going that way,” said he.  “I am now.  No arguments.  Follow me.”

We got into my Toyota Camry and I turned the car around and headed for the cloisters.  As I drove, I pulled a joint out of the center console.  “Do you guys mind if I toke up?” I asked.  “Only if you’re sharing,” said the lovely lady.  So we had a delightful ride to the northern tip of Manhattan, passing the joint back and forth and continuing our easy chatting.  When we arrived, they said goodbye and thanked me as they exited the car.  Then the blue man (I think his name was Chris) came around to my drivers side window.  “Look, here is my card.  Anytime, and I mean anytime, you want to come see the show, you give me a yell and I’ll hook it up for you.  We always hold aside seats for friends and you are a friend.  You can use them as many times as you’d like.”  I thanked him kindly and headed off toward the George Washington Bridge.

For the next month and a half, every time I had a first date, I had two excellent seats to the hottest show in town.  I saw the show about fourteen times.  And the ladies I took there showed their appreciation (wink wink)  The summer of ’91 was a season to remember.

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