from my sketchbook: the party’s just begun, we’ll let you in

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you drive us wild, we'll drive you crazy

Aunt Nancy is awesome! In the thirty years since I was introduced to her, I have known her to be devoted to her friends and family (even family-by-marriage). She is a hard worker, reliable and dedicated to her employer. She is quiet and reserved. And, she is one of the nicest, sweetest, even-tempered people I have ever met. I don’t think I have ever witnessed Aunt Nancy raise her voice. She has always greeted me with a smile and always seems to be happy. On the rare occasion that she has uttered a cross word, it was in reference to a rude store clerk or a bad driver.

One by one, Aunt Nancy’s three children grew up and moved out of the house, into lives of their own. Nancy’s youngest daughter married and made her a first-time grandmother. Nancy’s eldest daughter will marry this weekend. Sadly, Aunt Nancy’s beloved husband of many years passed away in 2008. But despite that and a few health issues, Nancy has remained strong and determined and has maintained her cheerful demeanor. And I recently discovered the source of Aunt Nancy’s strength. Aunt Nancy loves her some KISS.

Last year, at a family dinner at my in-law’s house, Aunt Nancy revealed her affinity for the pop-metal masters of makeup and mayhem. She told us, with the bubbly giddiness of a teenager, of her experience at a KISS show that she attended. We were dumbfounded yet amused. My wife and I tried to imagine the usually-reserved Aunt Nancy thrashing about, arms extended above her head, fingers bent into rock and roll “devil horns,” squealing with delight as bassist Gene Simmons — “The Demon” — exhaled fire and spewed blood over the frenzied rabid throng. Aunt Nancy! In that crowd! Unimaginable! Still, Aunt Nancy enthusiastically related every detail of the concert, from the dazzling pyrotechnics to the spectacular lasers to the special stage-side section reserved for Rascal scooters (the demographics of the KISS fan base have skewed considerably over the course of their five-decade career).

We have since learned that Aunt Nancy has notched another decidedly unNancy-like  concert under her belt — Aerosmith. Although she dismissed the warm-up band as “a bunch of loud no talents I never heard of” (it was Cheap Trick), she was delighted by the geriatric version of Boston’s one-time rock darlings. Aunt Nancy passionately described the stage antics of sinewy vocalist Steven Tyler, fresh off his stint as judge on…. whatever that show he was a judge on.

But, it’s KISS that is the true apple of Aunt Nancy’s eye and the best was yet to come for her.

Last Friday, the leather-clad painted purveyors of lightweight heavy metal brought their “The Tour” Tour to Camden’s Susquehanna Bank Center (or whatever they’re calling it this week). Susquehanna Bank Center (or SBC, as it wants to be known) is one of the most poorly laid-out concert venues I’ve ever seen. Built primarily for summer festivals and hosting big name draws in months when the weather is nice, SBC is comprised of a semi-circular building (“It looks like a big Bose radio.,” observed my wife) that houses the large performance stage, which is easily viewed by those lucky enough to have purchased tickets for actual seats. Those opting for other viewing alternatives are relegated to the massive sloped lawn situated behind the building. The stage is (barely) visible through large square openings at the rear of the building and via dim images projected on off-white brick inlays just below the main building’s roof (once the sun goes down, that is). Adding to the displeasure, the lawn is accessible by a network of steep, narrow, winding staircases, each landing lined with ridiculously overpriced concession stands. But, Aunt Nancy would have none of the “concert-going-for-the-masses” nonsense. No, no, no. An ecstatic Aunt Nancy had pre-purchased her exclusive “VIP Meet & Greet” experience tickets and arrived at the venue ready to meet up with her on-site VIP host. The VIP Super Deluxe Once-in-a-Lifetime Soundcheck and Meet & Greet Experience Package includes: One reserved ticket located in the first 10 rows of the stage, Exclusive Meet & Greet with KISS, Personal Photograph with KISS, Autograph Session with KISS, Exclusive access to KISS’s preshow Soundcheck, Specially Designed KISS Tour Shirt, Custom Designed 18k gold plated KISS Ring, a set of Official KISS Guitar Picks (with custom case), Official Meet & Greet Laminate, Commemorative VIP Ticket, Crowd- free merchandise shopping and the aforementioned host— all at a cost of a mere $1250. No, I didn’t forget a decimal point. I’ll spell it out, so there’s no mistake — one thousand two-hundred and fifty George Washington dollars. I think that was the amount of the last installment of my son’s monthly college tuition payment. Maybe a little less. But, it was worth every last penny to Aunt Nancy and, Goddamnit!,  she deserved it.

Aunt Nancy began making her way to the designated meeting area to be ushered in for her great KISS encounter. Due to recent surgery, Aunt Nancy uses a cane when walking. As she negotiated an uneven walkway, Aunt Nancy tripped on an errant rental chair and fell flat on her face. Her glasses were smashed and pushed into her forehead where they tore a large gash. Attentive medical staff arrived at the scene quickly. They began to wipe away debris and clean up the blood now flowing profusely from the wound. The EMTs insisted on taking Nancy to a facility better equipped to handle such a serious injury, but she would hear nothing of it.

“I have to meet my group for the Meet & Greet!,” Aunt Nancy protested, “I am not going to miss it!”

The workers managed to clean and dress the injury, instructing Aunt Nancy to apply pressure with the wet cloth they supplied. After the briefest of recovery time, Nancy got back on her feet and the medical crew carefully led her to the Meet & Greet entrance.

“No!,” Nancy asserted, “Not here! This is the Motley Crüe line! I paid to see KISS!”

The startled workers guided Aunt Nancy over to the correct entrance. By this time, the small exclusive group had filed in to the meeting area. Aunt Nancy took the one seat that was available, right next to the imposing Gene Simmons. Gene’s attention was instantly drawn to poor Aunt Nancy, a coldpak pressed to her bandaged head.

“Oh my God!,” the bassist gasped, “What happened to you?” His concern seemed genuine.

Aunt Nancy explained the details of her mishap, trying her best to remain serious, but was losing out to her excitement. She had dreamed of this moment, but not exactly in this way.

As part of the VIP experiences, attendees were permitted to bring two items to have personally autographed by the band. (The 2012 version of KISS includes original members Gene Simmons, rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley and two other guys who replaced founding members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley some time ago. But, under a thick layer of theatrical makeup, what difference does it make?) Aunt Nancy happily presented her aluminum cane to the band for an inscription. Gone are the glory days of nubile, young ladies pulling down the skimpy necklines of their tops for a signature scribbled across their breasts. A smiling 60-year-old with a piece of orthopedic equipment is the best the band can hope for at this point in their career. Aunt Nancy was reminded that she was entitled to another autograph. She rummaged through her purse and produced a blank letterhead from her current place of employment — a Jewish elementary school (where, years ago, she was the assistant in my son’s classroom). The letterhead, emblazoned with a logo proudly proclaiming the school’s Jewish heritage, was examined by Mr. Simmons, after which he turned to Aunt Nancy and, noting the appropriate time of year, wished her a solemn “L’Shana Tovah!,”  the traditional salutation for Rosh Hashana,  the Jewish New Year. (Gene Simmons was born Chaim Weitz in Haifa, Israel. His mother, Florence, is a Holocaust survivor.) Gene turned to a KISS crew member and explained “I just wished her ‘Happy Jewish New Year'”, then whispered confidentially to Aunt Nancy, “They don’t know! They’re goyim.”  (A playfully derogatory term that Jews call non-Jews.) Then, Aunt Nancy posed for a picture with the band. The grin on her face is so wide, she looks as though she will burst!

Aunt Nancy dutifully reported to work on Monday. She stood at the front of the classroom of youngsters, as she had done thousands of Mondays before. To them, she is “Mrs. K.,” but, how many of those kids know how cool Aunt Nancy really is?




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