Times Square isn’t a neighborhood, it’s a fucking billboard (that just so happens to be attached to almost every subway line in the city). But in the month or so that I lived on W 50th and 8th in 2011, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was running, and that was a definitive experience.
One afternoon I sauntered into the theater and paid some, no more than three, tens of dollars for a rush ticket. I sat in the front row basking in first, the geeky exhilaration of a drama nerd who grew up in a cultural desert, and second, the smug glow of a student/tourist/person-of-transience with local pretensions doing what people who live in New York do. And third, the utter insanity of being within spitting distance of Robin Williams.
In elementary school we would pass around autograph books. At 9, I remember filling in the “favorite” column in candy electric ink that he was my actor of choice out of everyone ever. (The following year, he would be ousted by Tom Cruise, between the seduction of Mission Impossible and my mounting hormones, before giving way to Edward Norton who to this day holds the key to my heart.)
The darkness of a theater is an intense, personal one, especially if you go alone, as I do. Not just because I can’t find anyone interested enough to go with me, though there is that. Outside of the spotlight and your headspace, and the person/s on stage, everything else falls to black. And I have a memory of that matinee, of a tiger that was a man, lurid and seething, breathing as if bleeding out, and a mad manic energy that you could feel however large the venue, rows and rows and rows, a largeness and a quietness, the spit you can see with every damn word, the rhythm and vehemence echoing within you like a heartbeat. Alone in a theater alone in a city, always alone but there’s this, this, ringing that is as constant and unshakeable as the certainty of oblivion that you hear only when it moves through someone else. That afternoon in the dark of it, I felt completely, absurdly, and not at all, alone. So this is what it feels like to be alive.