e comes alone now. He arrives early in his brown three-piece tweed, in through the revolving doors squeaking like a mischief of mice. He pats at his white laurel of hair and moustache, but nothing can tame them now. He can’t work the automated teller and he always buys his ticket with change, counts it out to the penny, even though they don’t take those anymore.
He doesn’t tip the greasy concession kid, whose pimples are the distant ancestors of the colony of acne that has lurked in the concession stand for generations.
He takes the stairs one at a time, holding on to the brass banister with all the might left in him. He’s Sir Edmund Hillary making his final ascent, but there is no ticket-taker to greet him at the summit, no torch-bearing Sherpa to usher him to his seat. He’s on his own.
He follows in the footsteps of others, etched into the carpet through years of pilgrimages to see opera singers, magicians, monologists and burlesque dancers. He stands at the top of the stairs to catch his breath. He feels the concrete blooming through the threadbare carpet. There’s no one to nag him on. He pushes through a veil of mothball and velvet and emerges onto the balcony.
He settles into his seat with grunts and groans like an old house in winter. The springs are busted and the fabric torn. The chair beside him sits empty.
He can barely see over the gold filigree edge. The theatre below is empty, except for a man snoozing in the front row and a pair of teenagers necking and fondling near the back. The stage has been surgically removed, a white screen stretched across where it used to be like a death shroud. They lobotomized the place and turned it into a picture house.
He looks down, but he can’t read his ticket no matter how close he brings it to his face. He doesn’t know why he comes here or what he’s here to see. Something loud. Something to fill in two hours of his day, like the first snow on darkened street. And when the thing’s over he’ll still be here. Still alone. No one will hear his complaints. Just an empty chair next to him, empty on the cab ride home, empty at the dinner table. A cavalcade of barren chairs parading past him. Left to wither like a joke without the punch line.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.