In the early 1970’s I had my first taste of Madison Square Garden in New York City.
There were rows of doors for the public to use; and there were hidden, private doors that were not for the uninitiated. One particular door, hidden in a sort of alcove, was of stainless steel. It was a private elevator, for use by the top brass, the big shots, the favored few. Definitely NOT for a First-of-May such as yours truly.
But I desperately wanted to impress my New York girlfriend, Alice.
So one bright spring morning as we strolled around the Garden, taking in the citified fresh air, such as it was, and examining the gelato stands prior to making a purchase, I casually guided her over to the discreet stainless steel door. There I offered to take her up into the bowels of the Garden for a personal and, I hoped, intimate private tour. I knew the elevator operator would not come on duty until noon, and had observed carefully the number pattern he used to unlock and operate the contraption.
We entered without incident and scooted up several stories to where clown alley was situated.
I handed her out of the elevator and demanded a kiss prior to starting the tour, as down payment for the delights to follow. She obliged. A few minutes later, after coming up for air, we went over to the blue-curtained area that passed for clown alley. I went in first, to make sure the coast was clear. It wasn’t.
Three fellow First-of-Mays, Rob, Keith, and Buddy, were huddled in a corner, angrily buzzing like hornets.
The show had been in the Garden for 3 weeks, and had another 3 weeks to run before heading west across the country. These three were native New Yorkers, and coming back to their hometown had not proven to be the triumph they thought it would be. They were bedeviled by New York girlfriends who demanded to be made showgirls so they could travel along, old pals who wanted free tickets, and family members who wondered out loud why they had not been promoted to management yet. Rob, Keith, and Buddy were also disgusted with the living conditions on the clown train car, nicknamed “The Iron Lung”, and with working conditions and the pay. As I came over to them it was obvious they were planning a mutiny.
They gave me a sullen nod as they filed out of clown alley.
Relieved to be rid of their unromantic presence I quickly invited Alice in for a look-see. But the first thing she saw was a rat’s nest squirming with young, pink, hairless rodents, nestled inside the bottom drawer of one of the steamer trunks we used for our wardrobe and costumes. That abruptly ended the tour; she commanded me to take her out of that horrid place immediately.
Back outside, we parted uncomfortably; she didn’t have to tell me that any man who associated on such close terms with rats was not the man for her.
But soon enough a crisis in clown alley put all thoughts of her out of my mind. Rob, Keith, and Buddy went AWOL, their trunks disappearing with them. The boss clown, Levoi Hipps, had to scramble to plug the holes their departure left in our clown gag roster. I suddenly became a rabbit in Spec, an elephant rider in the Manage number, and was saddled with the killer kangaroo – a Mark Anthony original, made out of foam rubber with a large, inflated latex ball inside that propelled the rider around the track at breakneck speed. The exertion of riding the killer kangaroo made climbing Mount Everest seem like taking a nap.
I never saw those three straying First-of-Mays again; but eventually I found out what had become of them.
Rob became a noted Broadway costume designer. Keith wrote romance novels anonymously for a publisher that churned them out by the dozens each year. Both Rob and Keith married, had families, and moved out to Long Island. Buddy stayed single, grew alcoholic, drove a taxi, and was killed in a bar fight in Queens.
I heard from Alice many years later; she was married, worked as a nurse . . . and doted on the white rats her twins had as pets.
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