Wednesday, April 13, 2011


After a combined total of around 10 years, I am retiring tonight. It was sort of forced on me; progress often makes people and things redundant. I love that word "redundant", more graceful than "useless" or "unwanted", but still ringing with finality. I don't think my "employer" even really noticed until I mentioned it yesterday when I agreed to work on Wed rather than Friday.

At least 4 times a year since around 1998 (minus my 4 years in St Louis and elsewhere) I volunteered at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City's "Ingram Room", an opulent, private lounge for the most generous of patrons. They could sip a glass of wine from fine gold rimmed, crystal glasses, indulge on hors d'oeuvres or sweets on elegant green and gold plates and chat amiably in the frankly small, over stuffed room.

For the most part, the high and mighty of KC society were a pleasant lot. The truly rich were usually the nicest, the younger working rich (bankers, lawyers, etc) were often the most pretentious and nasty. One lady, whose hubby is with a firm that sponsors some of the productions, is a nasty, royal, trashy pain in the ass. Hope to never see her again. I no longer do business with their business either and that makes me feel better.

It was fun watching the upper crust flit, flirt, munch and sip. Sort of like watching a display in a zoo; species Richius Americanius genus Kansasian Citianius. "Hello!!! how are you, so good to see you!" Yeah, right, I know they hate each other actually. More fun was herding them out at the start or at intermission so we could get on with the real work, enjoying the treats the caterer brought.

For my first few years, Donna was the coordinator. We called her "Angel Bitch". She was the nicest, kindest lady you could know, but her Ingram Room was done her way. Wine bottles were always in a bottle coaster, "labels forward" her demand. We were quiet during the opera, everything in its place. I missed the AB days, they were the best.

One performance found me in my usual place behind the bar when I noticed a couple of ants crawling on the counter. I reported it to AB but she did not want to believe me until she saw the little creatures scurrying around. DISASTER! I soon saw they were coming from a live orchid on the counter. So it was removed and the ants dispatched post haste. Unfortunately, the person who designed the room (in the style of Marie Antoinette's boudoir) was there and was not amused at the removal of the orchid. It was not until Donna showed him the plant crawling with the little critters that he believed it, but still blamed us for ruining the evening. I knew not who this person was, but now I do... nothing has changed.

One of the many people who passed through the Ingram Room was describing one of the hors d'oeuvre selections to a be-furred and glittering patron: "Crudités with a spicy penis..spicy penis....uh uh oh dear a pee sauce...." she stuttered totally embarrassed and tongue twisted. The gracious patron just said "dear, let's just refer to it as 'the sauce'." She was trying to say spicy peanut sauce, but it just was not to be. We laughed until it hurt.

You get to know people's habits when you serve them regularly and they, no matter their station in life, appreciate it. I endeared myself to many by remembering their drink of choice (we usually just had wine, soft drinks and coffee so it was not a big deal) and having it at the ready for their asking. Joan loved a bit of white wine with a splash of sprite on ice for a frosty spritzer at intermission. Evan, the Opera General Manager,usually asked for a Sprite at intermission. When I would hand him one with out asking, he was usually amazed. "I guess they know me here" he mentioned to a fellow patron when presented with the fait accompli. Another patron always wants red wine, so I have one ready for him. Mrs. Ingram always wants decaf coffee at intermission, half a cup please. Jim will always be the first to taste the evening's fare and pronounce his verdict.

Sometimes, I would sneak in and see the opera but often it was more fun just hanging around at intermission, eating the goodies and gossiping. I learned a lot that way, got to hear all the drama of mounting a professional opera and even got to meet some of the cast and composer Jake Heggie to boot. I so wanted to ask him about his life with Johanna Harris, but I thought not to pry.

This week marks the last opera in the old faithful Lyric Theatre. The new Kauffman Theatre at the Kauffman Center (God do those folks have $$$) will replace the venerable structure. There will be a patron lounge, but it will not be "ours". The Center will staff it and cater. The lovely items of the Ingram room were recently sold to benefit the Opera Circle. I got a gold washed brass basket in which we placed napkins or silverware for the desserts. I had washed, served out of, put away or handled in some fashion just about every item in the place so it was fitting that I take one home.

I am sure the Opera's new home will be a whole new experience, with better seats, acoustics and even monitors in the seat backs for the translations. But as much as the Lyric has become redundant, I will miss the more intimate feeling of a small family, sometimes a crazy, bickering one, producing art for the community to enjoy. In gaining a big, modern, state-of-the-art theatre, we lose a bit of a connection.

Me? I lose a job and the intangible benefits that went with it. Think they will present me with a gold watch?

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