Local Syndrome: Prime Seats

By on July 25, 2018

An overworked, debt-ridden local infiltrates gala season

(Ryan Stolp)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – I just learned there’s a hole in my good shorts, another in the sleeve of my favorite sweater. My Subaru Forester is losing oil pressure, which means soon I must turn it over to a mechanic who will emerge from the garage with a clipboard to tell me that the money I’ve been carefully saving up belongs to him now. By the time I dig myself out of my automobile recession, without fail, some lower left molar (which was doing absolutely fine up until this weekend) will surely require immediate extraction, depleting my uninsured mouth of a week’s worth of income. This event shall conveniently launch me back into nervous poverty, as if fate were a sentient trebuchet intent on pitching my exhausted, aching 31-year-old body into the furthest reaches of the forest, only to call out: “Sorry! Make your way back. I promise I won’t do it again.” 

But, hey, at least I live in Jackson Hole, right? 

People use the term “the boomerang effect” to describe the coming-and-goings of Jackson locals, but it has far more significance in relation to my financial security. Like other residents here, my enjoyment of Jackson’s amenities is limited to a strict budget fueled by a leaking bank account that I must constantly replenish by working seven days a week. Having a bartender hold my debit card and ask me “Leave it open?” fills me with the most unnecessary, comical anxiety that it takes every ounce of me to offer a polite “no,” rather than snatch the thing out of her hand before she can ring up my first drink.

This is all to say that I am not the kind of person who can afford to attend local nonprofit summer galas. I have never owned fancy linen pants with a matching blazer, so even if I wanted to crash the party (not that I ever would, of course), I am too recognizable and would be utterly out of place. 

Last Sunday, as I sat folding calamari napkins at the Rendezvous Bistro, I received a text from a local acquaintance asking, “Would you like to go to the Dancers’ Workshop gala on July 18 as our guest?” I gave an emphatic “yes!” So last Wednesday, I got off work and outfitted myself in the best khakis and fishing shirt Eddie Bauer could offer. (Important side note: You are free to criticize my cargo shorts the moment you open a men’s clothing store in Jackson.)

I swung by the ATM before the event in case I needed cash for the bar. Upon learning that my guest spot was all-inclusive, I thanked the catering employee (possibly in an English accent) and enjoyed my first of seven-ish drinks. I sat in the audience chamber of the Center Theatre (sixth row, just off center) during the fundraising portion of the night as hands shot up around me—$2,500!, $5,000!, $10,000!—contributing to Dancers’ Workshop. Since I got the ticket for free and only spent $60 on my imported clothing, I almost raised my hand to donate at the $100 level. However, to me, $100 had a lot more worth than it did to the gentleman next to me, the woman in front of me, the couples behind me, etc. Guilty for not contributing, I enjoyed the Hubbard Street dance performance that much more, so thankful for the opportunity to see this level of talent on the very stage where I too had performed countless times.

The following day, I received a text from another friend: “I have an Audra McDonald ticket for you tonight. Can you make it?”

The Grand Teton Music Festival’s fundraiser was hot on DW’s trail. My fancy outfit was down at my house in Hoback, but perhaps my current outfit—oh, shit. That’s when I found the hole in my good shorts. So on my lunch break, I went back to Eddie Bauer and, yes, bought another pair of khakis to look somewhat presentable in front of the affluent Jackson populous. I sat in my seat (second row, just off center) and cried as a Broadway icon performed on a stage where I too had performed countless times. 

Yes, last week I attended two fundraising galas free-of-charge (by invitation! Not because I had to work them!), and spent $108 on clothes just to make myself appear that I am not a middle-class citizen of Jackson, but rather someone who fits the mold of an upper-crust gala attendee. But such moments are rare for me and hence, I have that much more appreciation for them.

The woman who sat next to me at Audra McDonald sighed and told me she “had better seats when [she] saw her on Broadway,” and asked if I had seen McDonald before. I shook my head and noticed I’d left the XL size sticker on my shirt. I discreetly peeled it off and enjoyed the rest of the performance with tears in my eyes. 

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