Scene 2: My first time…

by Memoirs of a Seatfiller

New Stuart Weitzman shoes.  Check.  Black Laundry evening dress.  Check.  Any clue what I’m doing…oh crap.  On February 23, 2003 my friend Sarita and I prepare for one of the most exciting nights of our lives.  We have no idea what to expect.  Sarita and I have been chosen to be part of a prestigious group that would give us a free ticket to one of the most glamorous events of the year, the Grammy Awards.                                            

It’s a Saturday afternoon, butterflies in my stomach, dressed to impress, and on my way to Madison Square Garden.  As we approach the back entrance, several hours before the show would begin, we can see a mass of people collecting outside the stage door.  I turn to Sarita, “What’s going on?  I thought there would only be like 20 of us.”  Clearly that was not the case, at that time I could estimate about 100 people.  So we jumped on line and waited for directions.  After a while of standing there, clueless, a man in a tuxedo stands on a box and loudly shouts,  “People.  We are gonna start bringing you in a few at a time.  You must have your confirmation letter in hand, I.d.’s out, and don’t even try to come in this door if you don’t have either one.”  Oh shit.  Here we go.

We filter in.  Next a table with some ladies furiously flipping through pieces of paper.  I step forward “Honey. Name?”  I say my name.  She flips, flips again, flips some more.  I start panicking.  Oh my god.  I’m not on the list.  I knew this was too good too be true!  “Oh here it is…Nicole Psomas?”  I scream, “Yes!!!! That’s me!!!!”  She looks at me “Okayy relaxxx.”  She hands me a little green ribbon and tells me it’s very important I pin it in a visible spot.  “This is how people will know you are a seatfiller.”

We then filter into this big room, and a sea of black dresses and suits were standing around…just waiting.  We had been instructed that we must wear black so we don’t pull focus on camera and can blend in.  Now it’s been about two hours and my feet are starting to hurt.  What’s next?!  My nervous butterflies have emerged from their cocoon and morphed into nauseated impatience.  Then I hear the following:

“Okay everybody line up, we are about to begin.”  At this point there had to be 200 people.  “This is how it’s gonna happen.  We are lining you up in the hallways and you will wait here until the audience is in their seats.  This is Madison Square Garden, there are thousands of seats, so we only need to make the ones on camera look good.  When the guests are all seated we will send you in a little at a time and you will fill the empty ones.  Then if someone gets up to go backstage, use the bathroom, or leave – sit in their seat.  Understand this – you are only to move during a commercial break!  Your butt must be in a seat by the time the commercial is over.  We don’t want you meandering around on camera.  Butt in seat! Got it.”

The chunks are rising in my throat.  Here we go.  The music sounds and an announcer speaks “Welcome to the 45th Annual Grammy Awards.”  The crowd roars.  Everything goes dark.  Then in the distance ahead I see the lights of the stage.  I just want to be out there!  When is it my turn?  Sarita grabs my arm and says “Can you believe this?!”  So little by little the crowd of seatfillers move forward.  It still feels like there are so many people in front of us.  We can hear the music start of a live performance, the crowd goes crazy, but we can’t see anything.  Thirty minutes go by and still its not my turn.  I can’t take this anymore!  Will I not get a chance to go out there?  Are there too many of us?  Then the next group goes.  We are next!  I start to assess what’s happening.  The usher sends a group of about 10 people in… then, anarchy.  Seatfillers everywhere.  The seatfillers who were escorted in the beginning were in the prime seats, down on the main floor, with all the celebrities.  The groups entering now were being escorted to the balconies.

Balcony? Balcony?!  Hell no.  Nobody puts baby in the balcony.  I want to go down there.  Where the action is.  Our turn is next.  The usher says, “Get ready girls.”  Then….it hits me…I have a plan.  I grab Sarita’s arm and say “Listen to me. I have an idea.  Just follow me, walk like you mean it and don’t stop.  Don’t let go of my hand!”  She sees the fire in my eyes and simply says “ok.”  Action!  I take off, something just comes over me and I start hauling ass.  We enter from the back of MSG, on the first tier, and before the usher can give us directions I book it for the front.  Sarita is just holding onto my hand, trying not to fall out of her Choos.  I get to the front section and head down a set of stairs.  “Hold it!”  I scan up and see this 6’3” man with an ear piece.  “Where do you think you’re going?”  Without skipping a beat I state emphatically “Excuse me, do you see this green ribbon.  Seatfiller!  This is my section 1A.  If I am not in my section when that commercial break is over, it’s gonna be your problem.”  Radio silence.  He just looks at me.  Breath held…. “Ok. Go ahead.  I have no idea what you people do.”  Oh Em Gee. That was such bullshit. That actually worked?!

Ahhhhh!  Success!  We step onto the main floor of MSG, three rows from the stage, and I can barely breathe.  Sarita is speechless, and if you knew her, that would be a feat.  I turn around and look at her and we begin feverishly walking and next think I know… Bam!!!!  I smack right into someone.  I’m almost knocked off my feet.  I look…it’s Dustin Hoffman.  Speechless.  I’m utterly speechless. I almost just took out Rain Man.  I stammer “ss..sss..sorry.”  He just looks at me disparagingly and keeps walking.  I’m such an idiot! Ok keep going.  Next thing I know I hear “Seatfillers!  We need you two over here!”  I’m stepping around giant cameras, wires, following the man in the black jacket.  “Sit here.”  Then I sit.  (It was my first time…blush). Before I can even process what’s happening he says, “Queen Latifah just left and we need you to sit here for the rest of the night.”  Holyyyyy. Shittttt.  I’m in the front row.

My cherry was popped. I was having a full on celebri-gasm.  I scan left: Cindy Lauper (my teen idol).  Look over my shoulder: No Doubt (so rad).  Three seats away: Faith Hill (so gorgeous).  Let the name dropping begin:  Britney Spears, Elton John, Eminem, Norah Jones, Avril Lavigne, James Taylor, Pink, Sting, Dave Matthews.  Then I see him: Jon. Bon. Jovi. I died.  He’s every girl from New Jersey’s slippery when wet dream.

Then 2 seats away form me I see Tony Bennett.  So adorable.  I tap him “Hi Tony!”  He turns, looks at me and smiles  “Why hello.”  Then my diarrhea of the mouth kicks in “So my grandmother just loves you!”  Just what every man wants to hear.  His smile slowly fades. “Thanks.”  I thought that was bad then I overhear Sarita squaking  “Who are you? DJ Clue?? Never heard of you. You must not be that famous.”  I wack her on the leg.  This coming from the girl who slammed the door on Nas when he came to potentially buy her house.

My attention was then pulled to the stage.  The lights dim.  Then the announcer simply says “Coldplay.”   Chris Martin at a grand piano with a full blown orchestra behind him. Politik. It was one of the most chilling, mind-blowing performances I have ever seen.

Until… a little later when a tribute performance is done. Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Steve Van Zandt and Elvis Costello do the Clash’s “London Calling.”  Again.  I died.

It was official.  That was the night I was reborn… a Seatfiller.