PEANUT GALLERY

Alvin knew from experience that this type of performance could go on for hours. Prelude to Allegro to Molto, Adagio, Comodo, back to Adagio, Poco adagio, Vivace — Poco meno mosso, intermission. He always remained in his seat during intermission, but tonight Alvin decided to put a stop to the habit once and for all before it became so firmly entrenched in his role that only a standing ovation would release him. “This feels great,” he said to the man next to him, as they walked up steps toward the men’s restroom.

The problem that cropped up on the way to the restroom was small. A woman fell backwards near the second landing, which caused Alvin to fall back as well, knocking other people down until he landed at the bottom.

An usher ran to help Alvin. “Are you all right?” the usher said to him.

“Never been better,” Alvin said. “Yes,” he continued, “that was some spill I took..."

The bells signaling the end of intermission rang. Alvin returned to seat YY19. Over the sound system a man told everyone to turn off their mobile devices, which gave Alvin a small sense of accomplishment because his was still off. In fact, after giving it some more thought, he remembered he was the owner of a one-way beeper.

“This guy looks like a whack job,” Alvin said to the child in seat YY21. He was pointing at the conductor’s headshot in the program.

“I don’t think people call them whack jobs anymore,” the child said.

“Cuckoo clocks or whack jobs,” Alvin said, “they’re all the same to me.” The performance began. “Ah yes,” Alvin said, tearing through the program notes. “Here comes the ‘Allegro Maestoso,’ I better listen.” He looked at the violinists and tried to count them, but they were blurs shaking at a fast and lively tempo. He struggled to see a percussionist smack two cymbals, a gong, lightly pat a timpani, or do something, anything, but this was a decidedly anti-percussive movement. The only reason Alvin came to this performance was because it was free.

Not knowing what to look at, Alvin began counting the exit signs, but he could only see one side of the symphony hall. After some quick mental math, he felt confident that there were 232 exits. “Everywhere is an escape,” he thought. “But an escape from what...? From those psychopaths standing behind each of those doors holding bundles of TNT, prepped and ready to blow us all to smithereens...”

The conductor led his orchestra into a final Allegro, a thirteen-minute bore, after which Alvin clapped the hardest he clapped in weeks. His bogus enthusiasm was utterly transparent, even to that little boy in YY21. Oblivious, Alvin lifted the boy with joy, like it was a home-run ending to a baseball game, but dropped him a few seconds later by accident.

Alvin left and took the subway. He stared at a man in a wheelchair for too long, and then at an old person for too long, and then at a woman who looked just like his dentist.

Outside, a cab pulled up to a part of the sidewalk where Alvin had been practicing his high sign. “Excuse me sir, but I’m lost,” the cab driver said. “I am looking for Ocean Parkway.”

“Ah, yes, I suspected as much,” Alvin said, feeling his heart rate increase by the second. He thumbed a tiny dagger in his front pocket. “I have several nieces who live there, all extremely near and dear to me, the lights of my life, and I’m not going to have the likes of you patrolling their streets at night. No way, buddy.” The cab driver looked at him with some confusion and drove away. Phew.

“Home, home, home,” Alvin said to himself, for a second thinking it could work, provided no one else was around. But there were taxis everywhere, always, looming in the dark corners of neighboring buildings and inside parking garages, and don’t forget about those global terrorists operating microscopic cameras that can float in zero gravity. He crept home and began humming a steady hum for the eyes and ears still trained on him. He turned a corner and walked head first into a wall. The wall wasn’t supposed to be here, but there it was — and so he knocked three times.