We arrive, as was our habit last year, an hour early for the first Metropolitan Opera broadcast of the season. This year, though, the theater decides to open its doors an hour and a half before the broadcast, so well over 100 people are already in line when we get here. This does not bode well.
I’m selfish. I want a seat at the theater. I don’t want to sit in my wheelchair for four hours, neck cricked, staring up at the big screen. And I’m more selfish. I want to sit next to my husband. So I want two of the accessible seats set aside for disabled movie goers and their companions.
When they let us in, I see one seat by itself. I tell my husband to grab it. I continue on. A space for a wheelchair, or two, if they’re narrow. Four seats, all taken. Another space. Four more seats. You and your friend sit in the middle two, leaving the ones on the ends vacant. I ask you if you are saving all of them. You say no. I ask you if you’d be willing to move over one, so that my husband and I could sit together. You hesitate. You pick up your coat, smooth it with your hands, put it down on the same seat. You say, “We can only sit in these middle ones, so we’ll move only if you’re willing to explain why we’re in those.” I look at the middle ones, and at the ones on the end. The ones on the end have the wheelchair guy stenciled on them; the ones in the middle don’t. I realize that you genuinely think that it’s ok to sit in the middle ones, the ones without the stencil. You think this even though we are surrounded by many dozens of frail elderly people using canes and walkers; elderly people carefully climbing the steep stadium stairs to other seats, so they won’t take the ones intended for the disabled.
I say, “I don’t care about semantics, I’m just looking for somewhere to sit.”
You draw yourself up. You turn away. You say, “Well, with that attitude…”
I am confused. I should have said, “Look, I’m not asking you to give up these seats you obviously don’t need, just asking you to move over. Why do you have scruples about which accessible seat you take?” I should have said, “I’ve got ten seats in this theater from which to choose. You and your friend have 800.” I should have said, “Why should I take responsibility for your decision to sit here?” But I don’t think of those things until later. You say, “I was willing to move, but now I’m not.”
So I go back to my husband, and I sit in my wheelchair in the space next to his seat, until he notices that my neck and back hurt, and he offers to switch. The opera is very long, and I’m crying, but not because Tosca has betrayed Cavaradossi and Angelotti.