Boy Meets Merchant

I’ve been a Natalie Merchant fan since the mid-80’s, back in her 10,000 Maniacs days. I’ve seen her perform dozens of times, and have collected nearly every recording she has ever released. My former wife used to assume I had a “thing” for the artist, but that was never true. I simply am drawn to her music, the thought-provoking lyrics and of course, that unforgettable voice.

The Historic Yost Theater in downtown Santa Ana

I’ve played her songs all the time, so it’s not surprising my kids have come to appreciate her too. My son, though, has become such a fan that he at times has played her music to the point where even I have asked him to play something else. He, much like me, has fallen under the spell cast by her one-of-a-kind voice.

A few days ago I learned she was playing in Santa Ana on May 9th, and instantly bought tickets. I didn’t tell Hayden, I left it as a surprise. I took both kids to see her in San Diego two years ago, and he has wanted to see her again ever since. This was going to be nice surprise.

I had no idea how surprising the night would be. Read On

I Fought the Law

I enjoy taking my kids to cultural events, no matter what kind. Anything that will get them out of the house and away from television, computers, video games, or other passion-killing devices is something worth sharing with them. In the past year in which I have discovered the challenges of single parenthood, I have taken my kids Hayden, 10, and Makena, 6, to museums, the observatory, a string quartet concert, art galleries, aquariums, not to mention all manner of nature outings like hiking and swimming in actual rivers and lakes. In the spirit of full disclosure, I hope that these outings will create some lasting memories of joy for them amidst the turmoil they experienced this last year as their parents separated.  But I also hope is that they will learn appreciation of the wider world around them that they would otherwise not be exposed to sitting in front of a screen.

So last night, I took my kids to a concert in San Diego. One of my favorite artists, Natalie Merchant, was performing, and both of my kids have really enjoyed her latest album, which is a collection of poems about childhood. The poems were written by other authors, and Natalie composed and arranged original music for them and created a remarkable album, “Leave Your Sleep”, which is a unique literary and musical mash-up unlike anything I have seen before. My kids played it so much when it first came out last spring that even I – a die hard fan of the artist for two decades – was growing weary of it. When the concert was announced, I asked them if they were interested in going, and both said “yes”.

Arriving at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego, my kids were nervous. They were in an unfamiliar town, going to an unfamiliar venue for an unfamiliar purpose. While my son had experienced two concerts before, one was when he was 3 and the other when he was 5, so his memory of them is minimal.  My daughter, on the other hand, was going to her first concert so her apprehension was understandable. The Spreckels venue was ultra-convenient, however, because parking was directly below the building, and a short walk up some stairs had us in the lobby. We were seated in no time, 14 rows from the stage, and on the very left side of the ornate theater.

My daughter was worried about how dark it was going to get when the show started. I assured her it would be fine. My son was worried about sitting next to a stranger. I pointed out to him it was just like being at a movie – something he’s done dozens of times. They finally began to relax, and we settled into a comfortable period of anticipation for the show to begin.

We were on the end of the row, and there was a young male security guard standing just to our left. I had the inspiration to have a picture taken to commemorate the event, and asked him if he would mind taking our picture. He smiled and said “Sure” and I handed him my phone. I knew there would be no flash but figured there would be enough light to get an idea of what we were doing. He had to take it four times before he got it right, but after the fourth picture we got one that worked. He handed my phone back to me and I thanked him for his help.
Just then, a short, round woman with a bad do-it-yourself-hair-color job and a perma-scowl walked up to us. She wore a white jacket that indicated she was part of the usher crew. She got between the friendly security guard and the place where we sat, and she said in a tone of haughty annoyance, “You know, you really shouldn’t be taking pictures in here. It’s not allowed.”
She projected the air of someone who has a small amount of authority and enjoys wielding it whenever possible – I picked this up instantly. Here she was, part of the elite group of super-humans known as Event Staff, and she was getting in our face about a little family photo.
My kids both tensed and turned to me, and their faces – each one displaying a “what did we do wrong?” look – made me realize I had a teaching opportunity on my hands. Namely, an opportunity to teach my kids that there are people everywhere who would want to victimize them, harass them, control them – and that they can speak up whenever such people do so. Not to disrespect others, but to stand up for themselves. This woman was giving my kids the message that they had done something wrong, when they had not. I chose not to ignore it.
I smiled at the woman and politely said, “It was just a quick cell phone pic, no harm done.” I spoke in a friendly, clear tone of voice. “I wanted to get a picture of my kids and I at their first concert.”
She replied unphased. “You still shouldn’t be taking pictures in here. It’s against the rules.” She had the look of a tired woman with some sort of chronic ailment that caused her to constantly frown in discomfort. Despite this, I chose not to let it go. My kids were still looking anxious and I did not want to have that be their memory of this concert experience.
“Ma’am, I’m here with my kids. I wanted a picture of the three of us. There was no flash, the show has not started, I’m not taking a picture of the artist or anything. And I didn’t see any signs posted that said I can’t take a picture of my kids here. Surely there’s no problem with this,” I said, still smiling, still friendly.
She chose to press on. “I know but it doesn’t matter, they’ve deleted people’s photos before,” she said harshly. I didn’t ask her who “they” were, and I doubted she could have told me anyway. She started to walk away, and I was not finished. I turned around in my seat and called after her.
“Ma’am,” I said, and she turned back to me, clearly annoyed but also a little uncertain, sort of surprised. I still spoke calmly, and there was still a smile on my face because I felt she was in over her head. She did not seem used to being challenged in all her white-jacket authority. “I am here with my kids. We are enjoying a night out. The picture is not a problem for anyone else here. You seem to be the only one that has an issue with it. Why is that?”
She did not look me in the eye, and instead gestured to the room in general, and said “I’m just saying, I’d hate to have them delete your photos.” With that, she started to turn away again to walk up the aisle to the lobby.
Knowing this was the last she was going to say on the subject and to press it further would just be me antagonizng her, I said, “Well, if they want to delete my photo, you can just let them come and see me. Thanks.” And she was gone.
The friendly security guard who took the picture observed the whole thing, and said to us, “She’s always like that, she seems to always have a problem with what people do and she’s always getting in their business. Don’t sweat it.”  I nodded and thanked him again.
I turned back around and settled in my seat. My daughter had gone back to playing with the stuffed duckling she brought with her, but my son was looking at me with a “What was HER problem?” look on his face. I spoke with him a bit then, pointing out to him how I was able to assertively communicate to her without getting in her face and being angry, and how the only reason I did was because she was blindly and unconsciously enforcing a rule that made no sense. I pointed out that the “no flash photography” rule is important in some places, but that our little picture didn’t fit that description – nor was there any posting that prohibited photography in the first place. He had a few choice words for the woman himself, and I reminded him that it is not our job to judge others. We had a few chuckles about the exchange, and when the lights went down, our attention went to the stage.
It was a fine concert. My son loved it, my daughter grew bored once the poem-songs were finished and the evening progressed into more of the pop / folk tunes with which she was not familiar. But it was a memorable evening all around.
At one point during the final encore, I saw Ms. White Jacket Enforcer come walking up the aisle. I couldn’t tell if she saw me or not, but in the event she was looking toward us, I whipped out my phone and took one final picture of the stage. The phone has no zoom and it’s almost impossible to tell what I was shooting at, but it’s okay. I took the pic anyway.
Sure, it was a big F-you to authority. But my kids weren’t looking. And sometimes I can be pretty childish myself. I’m okay with that.

Breakin the law, breaking the law...