The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game In New York!

20 Jun

“I have a colostomy bag. I’ll show you if you don’t believe me! It’s full and about to burst and if you don’t let me go in there, you’re about to have a mess all over your floor!”

– Inappropriate Avenue Q Patron upon being told that the bar and merch staff would not stop men from going into their own restroom so she could avoid the line for the ladies’ room.

Today I have decided to fill you in on some of the lesser-known, less delicate stories of working on Broadway. Now, I will preface this post by warning you that some of these stories are not appropriate for those of you with a weak stomach. Frankly, some of them are pretty darn gross.

I have a long history with vomit. When I was five years old, my family moved to a suburb of London, England, for my Dad’s job with KFC. Yes, the chicken. And yes, I met the Colonel. Just once, but I did meet The Man. I started school in England and, having been born a nerd, I loved it. I was reading at a fifth grade level by the time I left second grade. We wore uniforms and slip-on shoes call “plimsoles.” We had an annual Donkey Derby Day, which was exactly what it sounds like: donkey races. It was a grand affair on the school’s great lawn, complete with face painting booths and carnival games and Punch and Judy shows. It was a great deal of fun. Very civilized. Very British.

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One thing I never cared for at Eastwick First School was the food. And apparently it didn’t care for me, either. In fact, I spent the better part of two years vomiting my way across Europe in the back seat of my parents’ car, in the deli section of the local grocery store, in my uncle’s lap just after we’d picked him up from the airport. You name it, I probably threw up there. It was not civilized, and most certainly not British. We finally figured out that the cause of my malaise was the sausages they were feeding me at school on Friday afternoons. Bangers and mash, they called it, because they were served with mashed potatoes. Once we figured out what the problem was, the vomiting stopped.

Fast forward twenty-five years.

My first assistant management job doing merchandise was at How The Grinch Stole Christmas! at the Hilton (now Foxwoods) Theatre on 42nd Street. The schedule was grueling – 12 shows a week – and we had a ridiculous amount of merchandise to inventory, fold and sell. Lather, rinse, repeat. We had a built-in store in the lobby of the theatre, just off the main rotunda that led to the orchestra level seating. At the back of the lobby were stairs that led up to the mezzanine and down to the basement, where the restrooms were.

The concessions company who supplied snacks and drinks for the show saw it as a cash cow and made every kind of candy and soda available to the hoards of kids coming to see the Grinch. Green cotton candy, jelly beans, popcorn, lollipops, Skittles…you name it, they had it. And the kids ate it.

The show was about 85 minutes long and, almost like clockwork, you could tell when we’d hit the 60-minute mark because, without fail, the doors would swing open and four or five kids would run out, their parents with crazed looks on their faces running behind them, and soon, with a Seuss-ian SPLAT!, the marble floor in the rotunda would be covered in lime green cotton candy vomit. Or, sometimes, they’d make it to the stairs, just to hurl all over the carpet, leaving a trail behind them all the way to the bathroom.

Often, when a show offers a CD or souvenir program, a merchandiser will be assigned to walk the lobby before and after with a bag full of programs and CDs strapped across their chest. A “bag shift,” we call it. With Grinch, the bag shift at walk-out often involved straddling puddles of green puke to keep patrons from walking through it, all the while trying to be pleasant and sell programs. For some of us, it also meant trying to keep our breakfasts down and ignoring the smell.

Once Grinch closed, I was sent over to be a replacement manager at Avenue Q at the Golden Theatre. I remember thinking, “Oh, thank goodness! No more kids puking all over the floor!”

My booth at Avenue Q was downstairs in the lounge, directly across from the men’s room. The ladies’ room was so small and had so few stalls that often, about 5 or 10 minutes before the show would start, the theatre security guard would invite any women who felt comfortable doing it to use the two stalls in the men’s room with the understanding that the men could still come in and use the urinals. It was a constant issue for the 9 months I managed there.

On my first night managing, the show started and I started counting my inventory. The cast had barely started singing the opening number and I heard it. Coming from the men’s room across from my booth were the most horrific sounds, reverberating off the tile walls and floor. We had a puker. And he puked for the entire first act. His friend finally came to get him (shouldn’t he have checked on him earlier?) and they left. “Well, that was a fluke,” I thought, and I got back to work.

Two weeks later, during the second act, a woman ran to the back of the orchestra and tossed her cookies into the garbage can at the top of the steps. Not long after that, a man sitting in the mezzanine vomited his way down the stairs just before the end of the show, making it necessary to rope off that entire stairwell. Floors, walls, handrails…you name it, he hit it, and the smell that wafted downstairs was enough to make anyone’s gag reflex trigger.

I started to realize that Avenue Q was a drinker’s show, and therefore it was a puker’s show. After 9 months at the Q, I was transferred to the manager’s position at A Chorus Line, in a theatre where I was far enough removed from the public that I never had to know if anyone was sick.

After A Chorus Line closed several months later, I floated around from theatre to theatre, selling at whatever show I could, including Mamma Mia! at the Winter Garden Theatre. We had a small booth out in the tiny inner lobby of the theatre, and just around the corner was the wheelchair accessible restroom, which we all favored because it was a private toilet. During one Sunday matinee I came down to open the booth for walk-out and I stopped short in my tracks. There was an overwhelming smell of bleach with a hint of shit thrown in for good measure. My nose burned as I asked one of the ushers what had happened. Apparently, a very nicely-dressed woman went in and did her business and came back out to watch the show’s finale. Nothing seemed off until someone went in to find that she had projectile pooped all over the walls of the bathroom. It was so bad that the only way to clean it in time for walk-out was to mop the walls down with bleach. And she went back in to watch the finale!? One had to wonder – if the walls looked that bad, what did her clothes look like?

After a few months of floating around at various shows, I was given the assistant manager position at Shrek: The Musical at the Broadway Theatre. It wasn’t long before we had a little girl who, stuffed with candy and scared to death of Shrek, puked all over the back of the head of the woman sitting in front of her. One day I was working the bag shift and I looked over to see my co-worker Rachel working my regular booth. She was shrinking away from a woman in a wheelchair who had her head buried in a trash can at the end of Rachel’s booth. The pukers were following me. Was this punishment for the countless times my parents had to hose me down in the bathtub after another disastrous night of food poisoning?

Almost a year later, I was sent to manage four shows at once. “Satellite shows,” we called them. I would manage from one location, and the employees at the other three shows would check in with me at the end of the night. One of the shows I was managing was Love, Loss and What I Wore at the West Side Theatre on 43rd Street and 9th Avenue. The West Side is an old church that’s been converted into two separate theatre spaces – one upstairs and one downstairs. Love, Loss and What I Wore was in the theatre on the first floor.

The show was written by Nora and Delia Ephron. You probably would know Nora for her movies: “Sleepless In Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia,” for example. In other words, Nora Ephron was a big deal, and so she was able to get pretty much any cast she wanted. The plan for Love, Loss… was to have a rotating company – every month and a half or so a new group of actresses would come in, and boy, did Nora get some actresses. Tyne Daly and Rosie O’Donnell were in the original cast. Kristin Chenoweth, Jane Lynch, Rhea Perlman, Rita Wilson, Carole Kane, Janeane Garofalo, Fran Drescher, Melissa Joan Hart, Brooke Shields, Loretta Swit and Marla Maples all eventually swung through the cast, as well. It was kind of a big deal for a 250-seat venue.

According to the story I heard, one night Rosie O’Donnell came offstage after the first curtain call and told stage management, “Someone has shit themselves.” Around that time, the doors swung open to let the audience out, and a smell like nothing I’ve ever smelled before came through the lobby and made my eyes sting. The crowd rushed out of the building as if the place were on fire, but a small crowd remained in the theatre. This was nothing new – people always waited there if they were on the list to go backstage – but something seemed off about it that night.

See, what had happened was…there was a woman sitting in the front row whose colostomy bag had come loose and had leaked down the leg of the woman sitting next to her. It also leaked into the nooks and crannies of the seat in which she was sitting, and a whole section of seats eventually had to be removed and thrown out because they couldn’t clean it out sufficiently to get rid of the smell. It was awful. I can’t imagine what either of those women must have been feeling. On the one hand, you have the woman who unwittingly shit all over another woman’s leg due to a mechanical failure, and on the other hand, you have the woman who’s been shit upon. I mean, it just brings up so many questions. How do you bring it up? “Um, excuse me, but I think you’ve leaked shit down my leg…?” What do you do with that?! How did she get home that night? What did she wear? Did she wear the shitty pants, or did she send someone out for a clean pair of jeggings? And if she did wear the shitty pants, what kind of woman is she?!? Did she burn them when she got home?? Will she ever go to the theatre again?? Will you ever go to the theatre again after reading this?

Aren’t you glad you started reading my blog?

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17 Responses to “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game In New York!”

  1. Ariela Morgenstern June 20, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    Hooolly crap (no pun intended 😉 I had NO IDEA…

    • jasonhbratton76 June 20, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

      You can’t make this stuff up, Ariela. I had someone last night come ask for a plastic bag for her friend to puke in.

  2. Gherrriey June 20, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Reminds me of working with that museum in Columbus before I moved out to NYC. We did traveling science shows for elementary school kids. I always took the instances of kids vomiting or peeing themselves as a sign that they so loved what I was doing, they didn’t want to leave! Of course, that wasn’t the case, but I liked to believe it!

  3. Natalie Buchenberger June 20, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    Life is most definitely stranger than fiction!!!

  4. Natalie Buchenberger June 20, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Oh and yes, you were/are adorable!

  5. Farin June 20, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    We had epic pukers at Spamalot. I’ll never forget the woman who puked in her purse and insisted on staying for the rest of the show, or the woman who got drunk at a holiday party and had a few more at the bar and then proceeded to puke down the bannister to the mezzanine, or the person who hurled over the mezzanine and into the orchestra.

    I could go on…

    • jasonhbratton76 June 21, 2013 at 1:26 am #

      Farin…I may ask you to do a guest blog entry at some point. Would you be open to doing that?

      • Farin June 21, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

        Absolutely! Just say when and what about!

  6. Eck June 21, 2013 at 1:38 am #

    The most pukers I’ve ever experienced were at The Rocky Horror show, though yes, Spam did have quite a few.

    • jasonhbratton76 June 21, 2013 at 1:41 am #

      I can only imagine how bad Rocky Horror was. That was before my time. I don’t remember ever seeing any pukers at Spamalot, but I do remember the night a man was arrested for sexually harassing a woman on her way back to her seat after intermission. That might’ve been the first time I’d ever seen someone taken away in handcuffs…

      • Rachel June 21, 2013 at 3:46 am #

        Hey!! I made it into the blog 🙂 Spamalot and mamma were the worst. However, I do recall an epic spew fest at the Broadhurst during Enron….

      • jasonhbratton76 June 21, 2013 at 4:20 am #

        Oh, so you’re the one who worked Enron?!? 😉

      • Farin June 21, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

        So, for some reason WordPress won’t let me reply to Rachel, but I’m the one who worked at Enron. First preview was puke fest!

      • jasonhbratton76 June 22, 2013 at 5:34 am #

        It won’t let me respond to her, either! Weird.

        Do you think it was the show that made everyone sick? 😉

  7. Michelle Darnell June 21, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    It’s so horrific, I can’t look away…

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