December 1998
s m u g
Michael Leis

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Less Than Zero

Ever wear polyester pants so tight, you might as well be wearing speedo's? You think that's bad, but the waistband is about three inches thick with the phrase "comfort in action III" stitched in it. This painful ribbed band leaves treadmarks on your waist, and when you finally peel off the pants at the end of the night, you're left thankful that you never had the pleasure of wearing "Comfort in Action" series one or two.

Then, there was the industrial grade zipper that made every visit to the bathroom a 'safety first' experience. Throw in an equally tight matching jacket, uniform quality shirt and a tie so loud it hides stains (This is true. I once spilled an entire Pepsi on my tie, and could never find the stain, it was that ugly) and you've just touched the iceberg that was my part-time job as Premium level supervisor / concierge at the Corestates (First Union) Center. The most fascinating part of the job was getting to see some of the worst live entertainment created for mass consumption. Disney's Hercules On Ice was one of the most awful.

Veteran co-workers had been warning me about the string of dates for a month now. They would reminisce, sing songs from last year's Aladdin on Ice, and talk about the horror of yet another run. How bad could it be? I thought to myself. After all, my four year old nephew loves this Hercules incarnation. So it can't be that bad, right?

How wrong I was.

First, you have to think about this crowd in realistic terms. If you have any young relatives, say, between the ages of three and eight, you know how after about fifteen minutes of non-stop bouncing against the walls you're ready to call it quits. Now, tell that youngster that you are going to take him/her to a live performance of the movie they love, and let them simmer for a few weeks. Multiply them by ten thousand. Put all those kids in one big room together, mixed with the fewest required adults there (looking at their faces, it seemed like they were the parents who drew the short straw). All the parents walked in with a headache, and walked out poorer, with a bigger headache.

Now smile, because that's your job.

Needless to say, at 10:30 in the morning, I'm thinking this might just be the perfect time to start that crack addiction I've been considering. But I grin and bear it, putting it out of my mind, not thinking that I have another show to work this afternoon, not thinking that I have another five or six shows to work this week. After the crowd settles into their suites, I settle into an empty box to see for myself what all this excitement is about. And it is so sad.

Hercules on Ice can barely be called that. I thought that it would just be the movie soundtrack with skaters instead of actors. But it was worse. Disney, in their infinite wisdom, boiled the movie down to the kid's favorite parts (how I would have loved to been a fly on the wall at those focus groups. I can just hear the marketing weasel, with concern, asking three year-olds, "So just what is it that you find makes the villain pro-active?"). And this is just the start.

It's even farther from the story of Hercules than the movie. Okay. I can deal. The other customer service type people I'm watching this with can't even bear to stay through the first ten minutes. They warn me again to do the same. "You'll be singing right along by performance six" they insist. But I'm a trooper. They can roam the empty halls, but this concierge is going to watch the entire show, or fall asleep trying.

The pyrotechnics were good. Stuff exploded and the kids all screamed. Then, I had no choice but to watch the skating. This was the saddest skating I had ever seen. Not that I could blame them: they were skating two shows a day, six days a week. But the skating was so bad, these people looked more like a work camp population than a performance troupe. Sometimes, you could hear the soundtrack tape turn on, and then out would coast the performers. Jumps looked more like hops, and skaters only moved their feet if they were on a collision course with another character.

Day after day, show after show, the beat went on. The exact same tape played from overture to exit music and sleeping during the performances had become impossible because you knew when the explosions were coming. There were rumors that the guy who played Hercules was constantly arguing with the operations manager over the condition of the ice. Now, I know the ice there is crap, but come on.

Then, the real ice show came to town.

Appearing in the Corstates center immediately following the Hercules' run was the United States Figure Skating Championships. Over the last two days of Hercules, the future Olympians representing our country practiced just across the parking lot at the Corstates Spectrum. It showed. Like someone turned on a light switch, skates were leaving the ice. Sometimes, the skaters would even throw in the odd twist or loop. Feet were finally moving to generate speed (and, dare I say, excitement) and the few families who held out until the end of the week were treated to some decent skating. Until the championships moved in, anyway. That was, until irony bit Herc in the butt.

With a few performances left to go, the skater who played Hercules leapt for a double axle and came down both on the ice and one of Mt. Olympus's fake boulders. It's funny to me thinking that if he had just stuck to his boring routine, knowing the ice was bad, he'd have made it to the next town.

That night, I peeled off my polyester suit and relaxed, thinking it was all over. But to this day, I still can't go more than a week without the mundane "From zero to hero" burned into my brain like a red-hot Disney brand.

Does this story have a moral? Only to stay as far away from ice shows as you possibly can, until determined mandatory by your own unrelenting children. If you know kids who are begging you to take them, just realize their parents have already said no. For now.

in the junk drawer

and such
and such

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