A long, long time ago I had my first teaching experience, at Universidad Católica Argentina (Argentina’s Catholic U, also known as UCA for its initials in Spanish). One of my students was particularly bright, and a great guy, too. As time elapsed we became friends. This was probably my first friendship with a student. His name was Gabriel.
A couple of weeks ago I landed at New York City’s JFK Airport very early in the morning. I was making a stop on my way to South Bend. It was so dark you could hardly see a thing but there was Gabriel, faithfully waiting for me right outside the terminal. His hair was now a bit snowy, although less grey than mine. He had likely awoken around 5 a.m. in his suburban home in Greenwich, CT, left his son at school and driven in the dark to pick me up.
As we headed towards Central Park in his car I reflected on the fact that I had not seen him for ages. Gabriel insisted we go for a long walk in the Park to catch up before sitting down for breakfast. He told me about leaving Argentina in the mid-90s, meeting Erin, his American wife, in the mid-2000s, and how they were now expecting their second child. He also sounded very interested in my own life.
While we wandered back to his car, after breakfast as his guest, we stopped by The Beacon, an important theater of which I, however, hadn’t heard.
“It’s the icon of New York’s pop music,” he said.
As I looked at the posters announcing what was coming, he probably noticed the excitement in my face, and recalled my love for musicals: In the old days, when our friendship was at its active peak, I had told him all about my passion for Broadway.
“You know, my wife’s company sometimes gets tickets. Let me call her.”
At this point I must confess that at the coffee shop I had picked up the Arts section of the New York Times as I always do whenever I happen to be in Manhattan, except that this time I knew this would be in vain, because—among other considerations—I would not have time to go to the theater, which depressed me a bit given that I hadn’t been to a show in the US for ages. In any event, for some reason I put the Arts section of the Times in my back pocket. So when Gabriel hinted that Erin might get free or cheap tickets, I instinctively pulled out the relevant page. Before I knew what was going on, my friend, who had Erin on the phone, was asking me:
“What would you like to see?”
My non-reflective answer was: ‘Once,’ the Tony-award-winning show based on an Irish production I love, because it is one of the few filmic attempts I am aware of that tackles chastity correctly—and the Academy Award-winning music is fantastic too.
Erin said she would look into it and come back to us. A few minutes later, as we were walking toward 70th St., where we had parked, Gabriel received a text message from his wife. It wasn’t about tickets or shows. There had been a tremendous explosion in an East Harlem building, the trains were down, Erin didn’t know whether she would be able to get a ride back to Greenwich, there was chaos … I immediately forgot all about my theater prospects. We drove north, deeper into the Upper West. When we parked in 105th St. in order to get me settled in what was going to be my house for a couple of days, Gabriel said out of the blue:
“Does your copy of the Times include Ticketmaster’s phone number?”
By now, after the news of the explosion, I had told my friend not to worry about any shows, given that I wouldn’t have time to go to one anyway. Indeed my only free evening in Manhattan was that of my arrival, and I would likely be exhausted. Nevertheless, and basically against my will, Gabriel called Ticketmaster. With the operator already on the other end of the receiver, he asked: “What show would you like to see?” and I immediately tried to find the one that started the earliest.
As you may have guessed, the main reason I chose it was that it started at 7 p.m. (instead of at 8, which was the case of Once, my first choice); thanks to this trifling and unrelated circumstance I ended up watching the best musical show I have ever seen.
In any case, when I answered ‘Wicked,” I thought this choice would be a moot point for two reasons: One, I thought there probably wouldn’t be any tickets left (not through Ticketmaster, anyway); two, because even if there was one unsold ticket it would be wicked expensive. And it was!
“One hundred and forty-four dollars? Sure, I’ll take it.”
As Gabriel was saying this I was shaking my head, trying to indicate to him that the price was out of my reach. Indeed, as I learned later at the Gerswhin Theater, my seat was virtually the best location, and virtually the most expensive ticket too.
But friends are friends, and students, sometimes, are friends. So I ended up harvesting something much better than I had sown. John Henry Newman’s words, “cor ad cor loquitur,” came to my mind. And I also thought: Wicked awesome!
Santiago Legarre is teaching a wicked awesome mini-course on Comparative Constitutional Law at the Law School; he is also a Professor of Law at Universidad Católica Argentina.