GATEKEEPERS

We have to get past a lot of gatekeepers these days. Most are necessary, but they do make our lives more complicated. We once enjoyed easy access to places that are now off limits to anyone not meeting strict entrance requirements.

I used to go out on the Newark Airport tarmac to wave goodbye to a friend boarding an Eastern Airlines twin prop plane. Now I wave goodbye as he waits in line to be Xrayed, metal-detected and unshod. If he’s packed a penknife he’ll have some explaining to do.

When I was a kid, the entrance requirement at amusement parks, circuses and movie houses was the presentation of a purchased ticket, but there were exceptions for those of us able to climb fences, crawl under tent flaps and outmaneuver ushers.

Once, not having the required 35 cents for a James Cagney prison break movie, I entered the theater through a faulty emergency exit door. As I slinked along the inner wall in the dark desperately looking for a seat to slip into, I noticed James Cagney, up on the screen, was slinking along an outer Sing Sing wall, desperately avoiding sweeping searchlights and machine gun bullets. I’m sure it was just my kid’s imagination, but I thought then that Cagney was looking down at me and whispering, “Good luck kid”. We both made it. He escaped a bum rap and the electric chair and I saved 35 cents.

Little kids are still given some latitude for sneaking past gatekeepers, but when we grow up we shy away from these adventures. An adult, caught in the act, would be publically humiliated and his chances for a political career would be ruined, or maybe not if he pleads guilty to a “mistake” instead of trespassing.

Now and then my old spark gets rekindled. One day long ago at the Tavern on the Green in Manhattan, my wife and I were corralled behind a velvet rope with a herd of hungry tourists waiting for the noon opening when a waiter trotted up to the nearby maitre de and reported, “Pierre, the dining room is almost ready.”

A minute later, I caught his eye and said, “Hello Pierre, another busy day for you old friend,” He looked at me quizzicaly, trying to place my face and wondering if I was someone important. (I wasn’t and I’m not.)

“Oh, hello,” he said. “So good to see you again. (This was my first visit to the Tavern.) Let me show you to a table.” He lowered the velvet rope for me and my wife and escorted us into the dining room while the rest of the herd muttered resentfully in the corral. As we departed with Pierre I heard one woman whisper, “I think I saw those two on the Letterman Show this week.”

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