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The Jerk Store: It Called.

June 12, 2012

Several weeks ago, I decided for the second time in my life to break one of the cardinal rules I live by: No outdoor music festivals. They’re hot, I’m pale, port-o-potties are essentially giant boxes of AIDS. It’s just not a good scene for me. However, when Bruce Springsteen decides to play Jazz Fest, exceptions are made: Sunscreen is heavily applied, money for overpriced water is withdrawn and bottles of hand sanitizer are procured. Because if The Boss is punching in for work in the New Orleans humidity, then so am I. And while I couldn’t talk my wife into accompanying me on this adventure, she did agree to drop me off at the gate and pick me up afterwards so I didn’t have to worry about parking. I married a team player.

A little background: The first time I broke this rule was also for Springsteen. It was the first Jazz Fest after Hurricane Katrina and it was one of the most moving performances I have ever witnessed. When he played “My City Of Ruins” and debuted his version of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” grown men cried. That show is now part of New Orleans legend. And while it was definitely crowded that day in 2006, and despite the fact I arrived only an hour before he was set to take the stage, I was nevertheless able to maneuver through the crowd and find a decent spot on the grass from which to take in the show. See, not bad…

Not Courtney Cox close, but good enough.

So, this year, I figured I would be able to roll the dice again and get away with the same thing…….and I was wrong. Upon entering the grounds, I asked a lady working the event for directions to the Acura Stage. After she pointed me in the right direction, I asked, “And that’s where Bruce will be, right?” “Yeah,” she said, “along with 10 million other people.” She was only slightly exaggerating. I’ve seen disturbed fire ant mounds that were less crowded. After circling the field for almost half an hour, the best I could do was eight deep on the dirt track that encircled the grass. I brought binoculars. I needed a telescope.

Just out of frame to the right is the Sphinx.

And it was back here, in BFE, that I found myself in one of those situations where you are forced to consider the question:

JUST HOW BIG OF A JERK AM I?

Let me explain. After finally finding a spot with a decent sight line to the stage, I unfolded my chair and struck up a conversation with a guy from Dallas named Gary. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a woman who appeared to be in her seventies accompanied by a man appearing to be in his fifties. I was standing at the time and she asked me if the chair behind me was mine. I told her it was. She said if I wasn’t using it at the moment, did I mind if an old lady sat in it for a while and rested.

Being a relatively nice guy, I said, “Sure,” grabbed my $3 bottle of water from the arm rest and moved over for her to sit down. I figured she’d rest for a few minutes, get back up and be on her way. No big deal. I go back to talking with my new friend, Gary. After a minute or two, I notice out the corner of my eye that the she is already getting up…..to pull the chair up to join the party in the row in front of me. Several people immediately converge to fill in the gap where my chair used to be. Then, looking around, I notice that the guy that was accompanying her is now nowhere to be found. Awesome.

As for Gram Gram, she is busy cozying up to some ladies in the group camped out in front of us like she has known them her entire life. Gary tells me, “I think you just lost your chair.” Gary is right. SON OF A #@$&!!! She does, however, turn back briefly from her conversation with her new-found best friends to say, “Just tell me when you want your chair back.” I know this game, Grams. That is old lady code for, “This is my chair now, bitch.” She’s definitely banking on the hope that a thirty year old man will not risk looking like an insensitive douche by taking a chair from a senior citizen. Well played, old lady, well played.

I was obviously dealing with a pro.*

Twenty minutes roll by and this chick is not moving. Neither has her escort returned. The time for Bruce to take the stage is drawing close and I’m getting progressively more pissed by the second. Now, I know, I know, I’m young, she’s old and this is really just a minor inconvenience, what with children starving in India and whatnot……BUT IT’S MY CHAIR!!! I PLANNED AHEAD, SHE DIDN’T AND I’M STILL GETTING SCREWED INTO STANDING FOR TWO AND A HALF HOURS!!! AGHHH!!! And just in case you missed it, I’ve already spelled out my general dislike of standing at concerts here. Only this time, instead of having to deal with a drunk girl constantly stumbling into me, it’s a little old lady conning me out of my seat. Green Day was right: Nice guys do finish last….right behind the drunk and elderly.

You know, sometimes, when I find myself in awkward situations like this, I ask myself “What would Jesus do?” But given the fact I had the feeling that Jesus would have just let her have the chair, and that not being the answer I wanted to hear, I thought I would ask a much better question: What would Gary do? So I ask Gary, “On a scale from one to ten, how big of a jerk am I if I ask for my chair back?” I figured I should probably give a scale because, let’s face it, taking a chair back from a senior citizen is not going to cause someone to accuse you of not being a jerk. But just HOW BIG of a jerk does it make you? If it’s less than five, I can live with that. “Zero from me,” Gary replied, “It’s your chair and you’ve let her use it for twenty minutes. She should have brought her own.” I like Gary. Gary is good people. Now, granted, that was just one opinion out of the thousands that were there, but it was plenty good enough for me. And being that the instrument techs appeared to be wrapping up their pre-show duties, it was the only opinion I was going to have time to take before the show started and I lost the chair for good.

So, moment of truth: Do I take back my small oasis in the middle of Jazz Fest purgatory, or do I just swallow my annoyance and let it be? Oh, I kicked Grandma to the curb. I didn’t feel great about it, but let’s look at the facts. This isn’t a crowded subway; it’s a music festival. There is no public seating provided to the general admission public. It’s bring your own chair. And you didn’t. And then when someone lets you use their chair, you grab it and drag it off to join a different group of people. I don’t care if you lived through two world wars, that’s just rude. And rude people stand. Even grandmas. There was a notable shock on her face when I asked for it back….and if I would have thought about it too much, I could have let it really get to me….but I was too busy….sitting in my chair.

Why, yes, that is an angelic chorus you hear.

And, as it turned out, this was only a minor speed bump for Granny. She almost immediately turned to the guy sitting in front of me and asked if the chair next to him was taken. He told her it was his fiancee’s. To which she replied, and I quote, “Well, is she here?” Grandma has got some stones. I’ll definitely give her that. And she sat in that chair for at least half the concert, until her mystery man finally reappeared and they wandered off. Where the guy’s fiancee was for over half the show, I have no idea. Perhaps she didn’t realize that Bruce $%@&ing Springsteen was playing. Or maybe she did and chose to skip because she has horrible taste in music. But I can only speculate. Whatever the reason, that crew left before the show was over anyway, which is another pet peeve of mine, but that’s for another day.

Anyway, the concert finally came to an end (but not before Bruce broke out “Saints” again, cleverly sandwiched in the middle of “Rocky Ground”) and I packed up my chair, shook hands with Gary and hiked back to the entrance and up the street, where my wife dutifully picked me up and brought me home. Looking back on it now, it was definitely worth breaking my “no music festival” policy for the second time. Not only was the concert phenomenal, but I also got to see Bruce & E Street perform a song with Dr. John, I had a nice conversation with an out-of-towner and I got to put a senior citizen in her place….kind of. All in all, not too bad of an afternoon. And the cherry on top of my Jazz Fest Sunday:  The sanitation level of the port-o-potty I used was actually okay….I’ve got to say it was a good day.

* Artist John Wagner created Maxine in 1986 as a new character line for the Shoebox Greetings™ card division of Hallmark.

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