November 28, 2010
Sheila and I faced a line of cops, big no-nonsense men who looked tired and impatient. We had told them we were bringing pizza to the Stones’ lighting crew and I was waiting for the cops to realize that we were lying, that my pizza box held nothing but a pair of jeans and a tee shirt with a Tarot card design.
The cop who held his hand in front of my face like a stop sign said, ‘Just you wait, sister.’ Sister: it was what men of a certain generation, working men, called women they didn’t know, who had asked for help, directions maybe, or who were in the way: You wanna move it, sister? It was a hangover from the war and the Depression, those times when everyone was in it together.
‘They gotta get these doors unlocked,’ he said. He tapped on the glass with his nightstick. ‘Here you go.’ The doors slid open and he used the stick to keep them from closing on us. ‘The lighting guys are on the top level,’ he said. ‘Look for the door marked staff.’
We smiled at him and tried not to run across the lobby. When the elevator arrived, six cops stepped out and held that door for us. We stepped in. The door closed. A more religious pair might have offered thanks to God or Buddha. We, instead, dropped our pizza boxes and screamed. We had made it in without a ticket.
The top level of the Garden was a hushed and empty corridor. We went into the nearest ladies’ room — also empty — and opened the pizza boxes. Clumsy because we were hurrying, we pulled on our jeans and tee shirts. The white waitress uniforms were crammed into Sheila’s fringed bag. Then we hid in a toilet stall and perched on the closed seat. We were playing 21, tucking the dealt cards under our feet, when a cleaning lady found us. She was old and black, a southerner, and she said something that sounded like, Where’s my Hersey, man? It turned out she wanted hush money. We gave her five dollars and she left us alone. People started trickling into the ladies’ room, first a handful of girls, then streams of them, loud and excited, putting on make-up and lighting joints.
We went out into the packed corridor, not sure what to do next.
But no one was checking tickets. There were no ushers at the entrance to the galleries, no one standing in the aisle with a flashlight and official tag. Either they had given up – there were so many of us piling in – or else they figured that with all that extra security outside the Garden, they didn’t have to bother.
The seating at the Garden was raked; you could walk from the top tier, the peanut gallery, all the way down to the standing area below the stage, face to face or, rather, face to feet, with the band.
That’s what we did.
People let us through, cleared a path when we told them how we had gotten in. They gave us wine and offered us dope, and a Greek chorus of Far out, man, followed our descent. By the time Stevie Wonder burst out with Superstition, we were at ground level, in a crush with the groupies and notables. Not that we knew who any of them were; odd couples such as Zsa Zsa Gabor and Andy Warhol were beyond us, and the likes of George Plimpton and Tom Wolfe were complete unknowns. There were the expected, and, to us, exotic men with flowing hair and embroidered waistcoats and beautiful wasted girls who smelled of patchouli and who danced alone, flicking their feather boas.
Jagger’s strut, Richards’ chords, courteous Charlie Watts, always incongruous, as if he had wandered onto the wrong stage and decided it would be un-gentlemanly not to join in: Who’s to say that Sheila and I, in our tee shirts and bell-bottoms that hid the tops of our white waitress shoes, didn’t belong? At midnight, a room-sized cake of papier-mâché was lowered from the Garden roof. There was a pop! and confetti fluttered down, a rock-and-roll benison, to cover us all.
What made us think we could do it? How did we have the nerve? Looking at it now, the only explanation I can come up with is that we were teenagers, American teenagers, which means we were extremely brave and slightly idiotic.
… was my waitress uniform, which was actually an old nurse’s outfit I’d found at the Salvation Army, my ugly crepe-soled waitress shoes and, in my arms, a pizza box. There was no pizza in it, just a pair of jeans and a tee shirt.
That summer, ’72, everyone was desperate to go to the Stones’ concert at Madison Square Garden, the last leg of their Exile on Main Street tour. But there was a catch: tickets were by lottery only. You sent in a postcard, and if — big if — your card was plucked out of the pile, you got to stand on line for half a day to buy two tickets. My friend Sheila and I had sent in stacks of cards. Not a single one was picked. I was resigned, but Sheila was determined. She called me after work one day – we were both waiting tables that summer – and said, ‘I have an idea. Let’s go to the Garden in our waitress uniforms and say we’re delivering pizza to the lighting crew.’ Sheila was cool. She was so cool she couldn’t be bothered with Mick Jagger. All the girls we knew (and a surprising number of the boys) were in love with Mick, his lips and his hair, but Sheila dismissed him as preppy. Keith Richards, with his slide guitar and caved-in body and his little raisin eyes, that was her guy. She said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s do it.’
Riding the bus into New York the day of the concert, we read about the tour in Time Magazine. That’s how big it was, how much of an event: stories in all the papers and glossies, semi-hysterical bulletins on the evening news. It was the final concert of the tour, Mick Jagger’s birthday, and they were predicting riots. Half the police force of New York would be out there with guns and batons, patrolling the Garden and 34th Street, pistol-whipping anyone without a ticket.
We stopped at a pizzeria near the Garden. When we told the owner what we were planning to do, he laughed and gave us two clean pizza boxes and a couple of empty coffee cartons. His customers – shift workers from the main post office on Ninth Avenue – gave us advice. Hold the boxes like they’re real hot, girlies. Smile at the cops. They liked us; they had decided we weren’t hippies, that we were working stiffs in uniforms, just like them.
But as we approached the Garden, we started getting scared. Two hours before the concert, and the place was already crawling with cops: cops in cars, cops on foot with their hands resting on black holsters and – most alarming of all – cops on big, shining horses. Sheila and I looked at each other and then we squared our shoulders and marched through them all, past the men and the thin, dancy legs of the horses. We stopped at the front entrance, a wall of dark sliding glass doors. Five cops turned to face us. I said, ‘Delivery for the lighting crew.’ My voice was shaking. I had forgotten to smile. The oldest of the cops, a man around my father’s age, held up his hand. He said, his palm in my face, ‘Not so fast, sister.’
… to be continued.