From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume IV, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 693-695.
THE GRAND OPERA
BY BILLY BAXTER
Well, I decided to get into my class, so I started for the smoking-room. I hadn’t gone three feet till some woman held me up and began telling me how she adored Grand Opera. I didn’t even reply. I fled madly, and remained hidden in the tall grasses of the smoking-room until it was time to go home. Jim, should any one ever tell you that Grand Opera is all right, he is either trying to even up or he is not a true friend. I was over in New York with the family last winter, and they made me go with them to Die Walkure at the Metropolitan Opera House. When I got the tickets I asked the man’s advice as to the best location. He said that all true lovers of music occupied the dress-circle and balconies, and that he had some good center dress-circle seats at three bones per. Here’s a tip, Jim. If the box man ever hands you that true-lover game, just reach in through the little hole and soak him in the solar for me. It’s coming to him. I’ll give you my word of honor we were a quarter of a mile from the stage. We went up in an elevator, were shown to our seats, and who was right behind us but my old pal, Bud Hathaway, from Chicago. Bud had his two sisters with him, and he gave me one sad look, which said plainer than words, “So you’re up against it, too, eh!” We introduced all hands around, and about nine o’clock the curtain went up. After we had waited fully ten minutes, out came a big, fat, greasy looking Dago 694 with nothing on but a bear robe. He went over to the side of the stage and sat down on a bum rock. It was plainly to be seen, even from my true lovers’ seat, that his bearlets was sorer than a dog about something. Presently in came a woman, and none of the true lovers seemed to know who she was. Some said it was Melba, others Nordica. Bud and I decided that it was May Irwin. We were mistaken, though, as Irwin has this woman lashed to the mast at any time or place. As soon as Mike the Dago espied the dame it was all off. He rushed and drove a straight-arm jab, which had it reached would have given him the purse. But shifty Sadie wasn’t there. She ducked, side-stepped, and landed a clever half-arm hook, which seemed to stun the big fellow. They clinched, and swayed back and forth, growling continually, while the orchestra played this trembly Eliza-crossing-the-ice music. Jim, I’m not swelling this a bit. On the level, it happened just as I write it. All of a sudden some one seemed to win. They broke away, and ran wildly to the front of the stage with their arms outstretched, yelling to beat three of a kind. The band cut loose something fierce. The leader tore out about $9.00 worth of hair, and acted generally as though he had bats in his belfry. I thought sure the place would be pinched. It reminded me of Thirsty Thornton’s dance-hall out in Merrill, Wisconsin, when the Silent Swede used to start a general survival of the fittest every time Mamie the Mink danced twice in succession with the young fellow from Albany, whose father owned the big mill up Rough River. Of course, this audience was perfectly orderly, and showed no intention whatever of cutting in, and there were no chairs or glasses in the air, but I am forced to admit that the opera had Thornton’s faded for noise. I asked Bud what the trouble was, and he answered that I could search 695 him. The audience apparently went wild. Everybody said “Simply sublime!” “Isn’t it grand?” “Perfectly superb!” “Bravo!” etc.; not because they really enjoyed it, but merely because they thought it was the proper thing to do. After that for three solid hours Rough House Mike and Shifty Sadie seemed to be apologizing to the audience for their disgraceful street brawl, which was honestly the only good thing in the show. Along about twelve o’clock I thought I would talk over old times with Bud, but when I turned his way I found my tired and trusty comrade “Asleep at the Switch.”
At the finish, the woman next to me, who seemed to be on, said that the main lady was dying. After it was too late, Mike seemed kind of sorry. He must have give her the knife or the drops, because there wasn’t a minute that he could look in on her according to the rules. He laid her out on the bum rock, they set off a lot of red fire for some unknown reason, and the curtain dropped at 12:25. Never again for my money. Far be it from me knocking, but any time I want noise I’ll take to a boiler-shop or a Union Station, where I can understand what’s coming off. I’m for a good-mother show. Do you remember The White Slave, Jim? Well, that’s me. Wasn’t it immense where the main lady spurned the leering villains’ gold and exclaimed with flashing eye, “Rags are royal raiment when worn for virtue’s sake.” Great! The White Slave had Die Walkure beaten to a pulp, and they don’t get to you for three cases gate-money, either.