Today I was passing TKTS, the place on Broadway where they sell half price same-day tickets. As usual, the line for musicals stretched around the block, while the line to see straight plays was pretty much empty.
Out of curiosity I looked at the electronic board where they post what performances are available for half priced tix. Out of the dozen or so shows listed, three of them were marked with the letter “P”. A helpful note at the bottom of the board explained that “P indicates shows that are not musicals”.
It took a moment for the significance of this statement to register in my brain. Gradually I realized that they were trying not to use the “P” word itself, presumably because its very utterance might scare off the valuable tourists who had come to the city to spend their money for an evening of dancing ogres or singing cats or whatever.
For a moment I was offended. And then I realized the logic. Imagine the poor unsuspecting tourist, hoping for an evening of mindless revivals of big-hair bands from the eighties, or winsome cartoon mermaids come to life, who accidentally wanders into a theatre only to find, um, well, theatre.
Seeing “Waiting for Godot” or “Exit the King” or “Death of a Salesman” could totally screw with this hapless tourist’s brain. Unwanted ideas and cultural connections might start to be made, as long unused synapses inadvertently begin to fire.
Once you’ve been exposed to this kind of stuff – tasted the poison, so to speak – you can’t really go back again. The next evening you turn on the TV to settle in for a cozy night of “American Idol” or “Desperate Housewives”, and suddenly it all just seems like mindless crap.
You find yourself avoiding your television. You begin to lurk in sections of bookstores you wouldn’t have been caught dead in a week earlier. You pick up a collection of stories by John O’Hara or a Saul Bellow novel. You start to work your way through “Gravity’s Rainbow”. Old friends start to avoid you, a vague look of fear in their uncomprehending eyes.
Now that I understand the logic of avoiding the dread “P” word, I think we should extend this concept. We can employ the letter “A” to safely denote pictures that aren’t secretly trying to sell you either a car or clothing, and the letter “L” for books that cannot be read within three sittings on the toilet.
The letter “C” would warn you if you are about to pick up any book with a publication date earlier than the date stamped on the milk carton in your refrigerator. And of course we must not forget the “T” word, warning that the customer might actually be required to – well, you know.