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March 26, 2010

Tess Yanisch ’13

This week was interesting, even by Oberlin standards. Testing weeks always mess with everyone's equilibrium a bit, and this time the allure of Spring Break on the horizon made concentrating on studying even harder.

Ohio's bizarre weather helped confuse things still more. Last week, we had a delicious sneak preview of true spring--the snow, which had melted off the sidewalks but remained in a cold, crusty blanket over the grassy areas, finally receded in the sixty-degree weather. People were strolling around outside in shorts and playing Frisbee barefoot. (This looked like fun, provided they did not stumble into one of the residual patches of snow stubbornly surviving in the shade.) I had a smoothie at DeCaf* and drank it while reading outside in the sun. It was blissful.

Then came this week: renewed cold, dreary skies, rain, and, on Thursday, more snow. I was particularly upset at the timing of this cold snap (or the ending of the warm snap, I guess) because wet cold is not good for sick throats, and I had lost my voice over the weekend.

I suppose it was partly my own fault, because I kept talking even after my voice dropped an octave or two Friday night. My throat didn't hurt, though--I just had a cough and figured my voice changing was a side effect of the cough drops I was taking. Besides, it was Game Night and I was busy learning to play Backgammon. I also won a game of Star Trek trivia against some of my geekiest friends. Having people whose intellects you deeply respect stare at you in awe for knowing Spock's fiancee's name is quite empowering. But I digress.

Anyway, I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday basically unable to communicate except by writing things down and shrugging elaborately. On Monday, half my French class was in a similar condition--at first, Professor An thought we were playing a joke on her. I improved gradually over the course of the week, and by Thursday did not need to write things down at all. At first, though, it was pretty amusing because I felt reasonably healthy but sounded like a walrus with lung disease whenever I tried to speak. It was in this state that I went to see the spring opera, Candide, on Saturday night, when my voice was at its worst.

Now, Oberlin has a general ticket office that's open at certain times each day. I had fully intended to go there early last week and secure a ticket well in advance, because the opera is very popular. However, I had forgotten or thought of it right after the ticket office closed during the week and was busy tending to my throat on Saturday. So I headed to the opera hoping there might be one or two tickets left in not-so-great seats.

I arrived at Hall Auditorium about fifteen minutes before showtime. (Hall Auditorium is named after somebody with the last name Hall. I wish they'd decided to call it Hall Hall; then it could join Carr Pool on the list of inadvertently humorous place names at Oberlin.) I ran into one of my friends there. She, too, was seeking a ticket and had just been informed they were sold out.

As the rest of the people were herded from the lobby into the theater, she and I conferred--if you can call a discussion in which one of the participants is either croaking or scribbling a conference--about what to do next. Suddenly, she was approached by someone who wanted to sell his ticket. She bought it, and, being a kind and generous person, started trying do come up with some way that we could share it: one of us could watch Act I, perhaps, and the other could go in for Act II. I appreciated it, but didn't think that that would work. I'd known getting in was a long shot and figured more tea and an early bedtime might be better for me anyway. "GO HAVE FUN," I wrote, waved her towards the theater entrance, and left the building. I was halfway down the stairs outside when she ran out after me, yelling, "Tess! Wait!"

Apparently, as she was waiting in line, one of the ushers had come through looking to see if there was anyone left in the lobby who wanted a ticket. Parents get free tickets to the really good seats at their children's shows, so they can take in their children's performances properly. The mother of one of the stars had an extra that wasn't being used and she wanted to give it away to anyone who needed it. My friend had heard this and had gone to catch me before I went home.

And that is how I ended up in the middle of the eighth row, physically unable to either laugh or groan aloud, watching Candide for free.

EPILOGUE: The opera was fantastic. Candide's horribly convoluted, idealism-shattering life story and the trials of his quirky companions unfolded in all their ridiculous, over-the-top splendor. I have read Voltaire's original story (in translation) and seen a recording of a professional performance of Leonard Bernstein's version, but this was live and immediate and vibrant. Everyone was very funny. They had added, as a topical touch, a reference to Oberlin's Drag Ball (which was canceled this year due to a lack of student involvement in the planning process, but the joke was still funny). I thanked both my friend and Candide's mother as well as I could for giving me this opportunity to watch it. Unfortunately, by that time my voice was really almost gone (as I said, I couldn't even laugh properly--apparently that involves the vocal cords too much), but I smiled a lot and croaked as politely as possible. I'd like to thank them again, properly, right here.

As I headed back to my dorm with another friend I'd run into at the show, I reflected that I could never have gotten such a seat if I had remembered to buy my ticket early, and that my enforced silence seemed to have made me more attentive. Perhaps Doctor Pangloss was onto something with that "everything happens for the best" theory of his . . . .


*DeCafe (DAY Caf-FAY), more commonly referred to as DeCaf, is a small snack food store-ish place located in Wilder Hall, the Student Union building. You can buy cereal, chips, cookies, etc. there, as well as delicious custom-made smoothies and sandwiches. You can pay for it with ObieDollars (money put on your ID card; works like a debit card at places that accept it) or with Flex Points, discretionary food money that comes with your dining plan.

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