Monday, July 21, 2008

Priceless Envy, Absolutely Free: Classical Music and Fleeting Social Stratification

Yeah, I know. The Pigeon is guilty of full-fledged blog-neglect as of late. But that’s only because I am busy investigating all of Brooklyn’s great summer activities. Don't worry. I’ll report back to you about them sometime in September so that you can begin getting ready for next summer. In the meantime, I thought I’d give you some info about attending the free NY Philharmonic concert in Prospect Park. You know, just so you know for next July.

Well, I'm not usually one of those people who suffers from an excessive degree of real estate envy. But there is a one day a year exception to that assertion. Each summer, on the evening of the NY Philharmonic's Prospect Park performance, I usually find myself in the throws of the deepest, most heinous resentment of fellow concert goers who intentionally taunt me with their gourmet spreads, fine wines and, most importantly, their prime Longmeadow real estate.

Sure, they arrive much earlier and are much more prepared for the need for land, food, refreshments, insect protection and light. I bet they even keep an Excel spreadsheet towards this end. Still their organizational skill shouldn't afford them this shameless consumption of land and sustenance products. But it's clear that on this one night of the year Brooklynites can be transformed into these odd, backbiting, (however bucolic) homesteaders. A rookie might be surprised to learn that attending a free park concert can be an extremely competitive endeavor.

The first thing one needs to be clear on is that the most competitive aspect of these event is that of securing the most desirous plot of the Longmeadow – and doing so without guilt. Next, you must evoke the envy of your park neighbors by laying out the most enticing gourmet spread. Finally, your picnic is going to need a little pizzazz. So, you’ll have to pick up a few stylish citronella candles and a swanky, ridiculously quixotic picnic basket from Pottery Barn. In addition, you’ll probably have to take the day off from work to prepare all this stuff and to arrange to have all of your friends know exactly where to locate your precious parcel of coveted land. A single red balloon usually helps with this challenge. Of course, there will be forty-five other red-balloons displayed throughout the crowd but your friends will figure it out. They will show up two minutes before the show starts and will not have gone through the sweaty dash to the park at 4:30 to get a great plot. Why wouldn’t they? They’re invited guests of some of the Longmeadow’s landed gentry.

Perhaps, you're getting my drift; I’m not one of these people. In fact, I hate them and I enjoy hating them. Each year, I leave the park determined that I will be they envy of ALL next year. I contemplate:

I'll take the day -- maybe even several days -- off work next year to prepare for the picnic-to-end-all-picnics. I will invite only my most attractive friends. Everyone will desire to be invited to my blanket. They'll want to exchange numbers with me so that I can share some tips on how to prepare for summer concerts. I will reject them and I TOO SHALL BE HATED!

But each year, I take note of the NY Phil performance schedule several weeks before with some semblance of that determination but it fizzles out to a mere iota when the time rolls around. I usually end up getting to the park 10 minutes into the show with something like a bottle of tap water and a half bag of Fritos that's been sitting on top of my fridge for the past week.
I guess I’m just not cut out to be a hyper-camper. What’s worse is that neither are any of my friends.

Occasionally, though, our lack of preparation has some benefit. Sometimes the privileged few throw us disadvantaged patrons a few scraps...a cracker here, a grape there. (It's all apropos in my case. After all, I am a pigeon. I’ll eat anybody’s scrap.) Regardless, I do always try to bring something to the performance just to thwart my envy. However lowbrow, however non-nutritious, I must bring something even questionably fit for human consumption so that I can nervously gnaw at it while I disapprovingly glare at anyone who has the audacity to bring wine glasses and fill them with Cabernet. So, for me, watermelon is always a good choice because spitting the pits in the direction of my brie-eating neighbor affords me at least some malicious satisfaction.

There was however one occasion in my free Philharmonic concert history that should have wiped out all potential for all future resentment (It didn’t only because my revelry in hatred of humans is so enjoyable to me.) It was some 15 or so years ago when a few friends and I showed up with a greasy bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and, I don’t know, maybe some Gatorade. We unknowingly plopped ourselves right next to a crowd of Pinot Grigio-sipping, citronella-burning, caviar-consuming, havarti-sampling BASTARDS! We all looked at each other, rolled our eyes and attempted to enjoy the show…But that was too much for me. How could I focus on the show when there were such hate-worthy creatures right next to me? I loathed them from the deepest reaches of my psyche. I was distracted throughout the performance;

How did they pull all of these goods together on a week night? When did they have time? Didn’t they have jobs? Did stay up the night before preparing all of this just so that I could hate them? Did they adhere to the conviction to be loathed by the other audience members that they had when they left the park last year?

I was engulfed in the ugliness. I refused to even look in the direction of that attention-seeking party! They were dead to me!

It was probably around intermission when one of them had the nerve to tap me on the shoulder. My peripheral vision had confirmed that it was one of THEM! – One of the epicurean elitists had touched me! I was convinced…this meant WAR! I expected that this person would antagonize us by asking that we cover the fast food because everyone on their blanket was getting sick from our second-hand-fried-chicken-fumes –or something ridiculous like that.
I was aware of the real objection. Fried-chicken eaters in a caviar neighborhood deflated property values. I suspected that they would stop at no length to have unfashionable KFC patrons removed from their presence. But they weren’t going to torment me! So, I summoned my best scowl and turn toward the bastard to hear his request.

To my astonishment, “the bastard” appeared to be a meek, somewhat bumbling young guy who delivered on behalf of his party the most outlandish request. To this day, my prejudices have never been so challenged.

“Hey,..uhmmm…we were wondering, uh, would you consider trading some of your fried chicken for some caviar?”

You know, of course, I wasn’t going to let these people off so easily. They had to be chided! I mean, I did just sit through half the concert preoccupied with their ability to evoke my envy. Really, I did my best not to laugh but I wasn’t going to make this a piece of cake for him either.

“Yeah, you’re frickin’ hungry over there, right? See what you get for trying to be a big shot?

I summoned the compassion to plop a few pieces on to a plate and told him;

“Keep the caviar. Our palates were too saturated with chicken fat to enjoy it anyway.”

Besides, this “settling of scores” left my party fully satisfied anyway!

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