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Dennis and Sumayah were on a mission, in fact.  But the shuttle for the Convention Center Marriott was busy with less important things, like getting guests to and from the airport, damn them. Didn't they understand the urgency of our dining needs?

We tried Uber.  We were clever. We had figured out that unlike on previous tours, the Uber app offered us a quick, affordable alternative to cabbing around. But this was Little Rock, Arkansas, where clicking on the FIND ME A CAR button crashed our phones.

We settled for a cab and, $25 later, made it to the Waffle House.  The world has never seen three people so happy for breakfast at 1 p.m.. Then it poured relentlessly, right about the time that we had cleared the plates.

Our waitress, Jusmary, who might have still been irate behind Dennis’ question early on about whether there was a “t” sound in there (even though there was clearly no “t” on the nametag), agreed to help us with  cab.  Thirty minutes later a cab showed up.

Since Dennis suffered the superfluous conversation during the first ride, he ushered me to Shotgun for this one. Wouldn’t you know that this yellow cab, whose backseat was clean simple leather, had shoddy upholstering in its front seat, which the driver had to clear of his personal items?

“Get comfortable,” he said, as if he could see that my collecting the collar of my Zara coat was a form of pearl clutching about gnawed seats, a junk food littered floor and an abused dashboard. "Where y'all going?"

“They’re sending us to Park Plaza Mall. Is it a good one?” Dennis asked.

“Yeah, I’ll get you there, it’s not that far.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Tim,” the driver said.  “But people call me Pac-Man.”

I was so afraid to ask why. And it didn’t matter. We were off to more familiarity.

Until, after a long country drive, we got to the OUTDOOR mall.

“Why would they send us to an outdoor mall on a day of torrential rain?”

“I don’t know,” Pac-Man said. “There’s another mall the other way, between the Waffle House and the hotel. Y’all say you staying downtown, right?”

We were crestfallen, our trust of concierges instantly gone.

Then the conversation began, the one Dennis wanted to avoid.

“So are y’all choreographers?” the Pac-Man asked, as I de-tangled my backpack from the exposed wires under the glove compartment.

“Something like that.”

“You definitely not from around here.”

“What makes you say that?”

“White folks buy up shit, own shit all over the world then come stay here.  Black folks come to Little Rock have to have a reason.”

“Um, sure.”

I could swear I heard snickering in the back of the cab from one of the other two, probably Dennis.

After a minute of silence, Pac-Man said, “I hear Cher is in town. Playing at the arena.”

When I relented, telling him we were with her, he nodded that knowing nod of the quiet, observant neighborhood mechanic who misses nothing.  His cell rang.

“Hello…I’m driving right now…no I’m glad you called me back, it’s okay…I lost your number, dropped it down the commole…hello…hello??”

I dropped my head.

“She’ll call back, whatever,” he said.

By the time we made it to the Dillard’s Mall, so called because Mr. Dillard of Little Rock had his store split on either side of the three-floor shopping rectangle, we had ratcheted up about $70 in cab fare.  The driver was kind enough to circle the parking lot so that he could deliver us curbside to the destination. 

Dennis felt better immediately; there was a Target down the street.

“You paying with a credit card?” the driver said.  “I hate credit cards.”

The statement vied with the tip top customer service a minute before. But I figured all would be revealed soon.  I passed the credit card to Sumayah to deal with it in the machine in the back.  Pac-Man then grabbed the receipt-maker by its back, as it would not function without his squeezing its parts together.

“Piece of shit,” he muttered, waiting for it to print.

"It's fine," I said. "We will be fine."

“Y’all have a nice day.”

There was a lesson somewhere in all of this. But unfortunately, nobody had the resolve to learn it without a cup of coffee, which could not be purchased in the food court or at Dunkin’ Donuts (there wasn’t one) or a Starbucks (also missing).  

We found out on the way out that in the bike shop upstairs, there’s a barista sometimes working in the back….




 We train our bodies for years and years to obey whatever challenging, sometimes dangerous instructions we give them. We fight to make things happen that should be reserved for other bodies, like those of cheetah or gazelles for example, or perhaps a snake/elephant hybrid, all so that we can manage simple and impossible things on stage for the delight and transformation of a person’s life/soul/spirit. 

            Unfortunately, props don’t invest in the same training. They do what they want, behave as they feel, mis-listen to our needs, fold their arms in defiance.   Investigations of how they work do not prove lucrative—for those of us not blessed with the good karma of prop handling magic, things go wrong.

            I am one of those people.

Photo Courtesy of  John Wren

            I’m not sure if Sumayah is hostage to my bad prop karma or sabotaged by her own, but what’s clear is that umbrellas are not her friend.

            The first time it went wrong in “Burlesque” during tech rehearsal, her prop umbrella, which is rigged to not close shut all the way (since there is no time in the choreography to fiddle with the sharp button on its stem), wouldn’t open either.   We both rendezvous off-stage right near the stairs, me to make an entrance, her to grab her umbrella and re-enter. During the tech, she couldn’t find her umbrella because someone we have yet to identify moved it to a position on the stairs.

            As planned, I had grabbed the other umbrella to give to Ryan as I enter, since she has less time, and I watched Sumayah in horror search for her prop.

            “Where is my—I set it right here before this run!”

            “It’s right there,” I said, mid Fosse step fluttering my hand toward the stairs.

            This helped her none, of course.

            Determined to be a better friend during the actual show in front of people (18,000 of them in Phoenix, to be specific), I grabbed both umbrellas out of the holster and handed one to her when she ran to get it. 

            In the hasty world of quick entrances and exits and props, there is little time for "Thank you."  So I accepted the general smile of her aura about this consideration.

            The split second was decimated by the revelation that her umbrella stem was broken. When it got broken, how it broke, whether it tried hara kiri because it was done with us, we don’t know.  Just that it was broken.  And that when she pulled the handle, it detached from the rest of the stem.

            Sumayah then proceeded to go out with her very abbreviated prop and work the short stem like a pro.  She kicked her legs over it, pretended it could actually provide the kind of shade it was really meant for vs. the kind it was giving.  She pushed it over her head as if it were “Wade in the Water” high vs. just off her ear...

       I had to stop looking. Because you see this is when the demon of laughter commences to take you out of your show.  All I could think of is how she had a shady umbrella. Ella. Ella. Eh, eh, eh.

        But then, the next night, I picked her up and swung her down around my waist, and my hat fell off, and I thought she maybe caught it in her other hand perhaps (desperation)...

            Karma. Prop Karma. 
            And an oversized hat with an attitude...




At the time, I could come up with no good reason to order a large popcorn instead of the medium or the small, especially since I had whisked myself solo to watch Roman reputation be torn asunder cinematically for the second time this weekend.  Who was I fooling? I had even less business seeing “Pompeii” than I did ordering popcorn to satisfy my inner FB - if you don’t know what that stands for in this case, it’s safer you not know it applies to me.

           The woman behind the counter must have known. Maybe she saw my desire, my instant recollection of the downtown Phoenix AMC’s version of butter from my gluttony with it during “300: Rise of the Empire” a few days back. Now, I asking if the butter was self-serve, as if I didn't know.  She said yes.

            A beat.

            “Would you like me to dump half of it out so that you can butter it through?” she added.

            I nodded, embarrassed about my transparency, and then had the nerve to be sparing in my application—twice.

            By the end of the 98-minute festive disaster flick, I took the half of the bag of popcorn that I did not (and knew I wouldn't) eat, gathered it by its neck and sauntered the five blocks back to the hotel.

            Downtown Phoenix is quiet at night.  It's lonely, save a light wind with no particular destination, nor hurry to get there.  Lovely buildings, unblemished pavement.  And absolutely nobody on the streets. This night, I saw not even a random homeless person, odd since there was no abusive weather to hide from.

             Then one particular homeless man in a wheelchair made me understand the rulings of my gut.

            He had a long, clear face framed by gray hair that looked less matted than simply age appropriate.

            “Do you happen to have any change?” he asked.

            There was a casual tone, nothing ominous, desperate, or duplicitous in it. He did not appear high, drunk or mad at the world for his circumstances. The whites of his eyes showed none of the dramatic hope I had just witnessed in “Pompeii,” but they lacked expectation.

            “I don’t,” I said. “But I do have half a bag of popcorn.” I grabbed one last handful of popcorn and then extended the bag to him, knowing absolutely he would take it. “It’s good.”

            “Thank you sir.”

            I understood in that moment why I ordered the large popcorn, and it relieved me to have listened to the divine instruction instead of shooing it as bad judgment. Turns out, it was not mine to make.  God had plans, and I was the executive vessel.

             I know, it's crazy, but go with me on this one for a minute. The payoff is often invisible: the times that the car doesn’t hit you when it could have, or when the brown recluse is diverted elsewhere, or when the cancer you never had the displeasure of knowing about dies first. Surely, these are balances for our right-doings. I am thankful every day for the thousands of times my life, my career, my loved ones are spared.  

           But rarer is the instant gratification in understanding my compliance with God’s good will had tangible, visible effect: this time a homeless man in a vacant downtown connected with the one passer-by who had food. Yes, he asked for money, but I'm sure it's because he didn't know I had food; Lord knows there is almost nothing open in downtown Phoenix after ten that he could have used the change for. 

           Other than perhaps popcorn at the movie theater. 

           The rest of my walk was slower, more relaxed even. And now it was okay for me to admit my appetite for disaster[ous] flicks. 

            And [fake]buttered popcorn.