Lifestyle

How to Sit Courtside at Madison Square Garden


Madison Square Garden went very quiet when my face appeared on the giant screen above center court. The silence was noticeable. A few seconds earlier, Kenan Thompson’s face had brought down the house.

It wasn’t like anyone gasped or got angry — no one seemed taken aback. It was just that no one knew who the hell I was. And why should they? I’m not famous. I had no right to be up there in the first place.

Still, it was hard not to take it personally. Eighteen thousand people — New Yorkers, no less — had decided to silence their cheers. Eighteen thousand people had agreed, as one, to reject me.

The chyron below my face on the GardenVision screen read: “Actor.” That hurt, because I no longer think of myself as just an actor. It also hurt because the subhead read: “‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow.’” Solid movie — I mean no disrespect — but it’s just that I die within the first three minutes.

At 4:45 p.m. that day, my manager, Harry, sent me a text: “Is boyfriend still here?”

I thought he wanted to hang out with us, which I didn’t feel like doing, so I considered lying. I let my typing bubbles go … and I let them go away. Harry texted again: “I have two extra courtside tickets to the Knicks game.” Honesty is the way, etc.

I’ve done my fair share of sitting courtside. I know that sitting courtside is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I can’t think of a more annoying fact, but I’ll come clean: I’ve sat courtside upward of 30 times. What can I say? I’m a good guest.

But this time, I wouldn’t be a guest. This time, Harry told me, the tickets would be under my name.

My boyfriend and I arrived 10 minutes late. A group of string players was in the throes of a gentle version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As we waited in the tunnel, an old-timer scowled at us for not keeping still while the anthem played. He had his hand on his heart; I put my hand on my heart. I wanted to fit in. I was anxious.

A guide led us to our seats. He said he worked for the Knicks, but when I told him that two players on the team had been college roommates, he couldn’t believe it. He also couldn’t believe that the pair of empty seats next to Kenan Thompson, the beloved “Saturday Night Live” star, were actually our seats. As the Knicks and the Memphis Grizzlies stepped onto the court, the guide disappeared, telling us that his supervisor would help us get it sorted out.

My boyfriend and I were standing there like schmucks as the game got started. I sent a text to the “contact” that my manager had given me: “Should we leave?”

The contact texted back: “oh my god no.” In a follow-up, he wrote that the seats next to Kenan were indeed ours. So we sat down.

Although I had a serious case of dry mouth, of absolute parchment, I tried to make small talk with Kenan. I wanted him to know that I was there for the love of the game. I’m not one of those girls who’s there for the clout.

It made no sense for me to try to prove this to Kenan, because it wasn’t true. I’m not not a Knicks fan, but I’ve been a dedicated follower of the Los Angeles Clippers for years. And I do like clout.

Anyway, I mentioned the roommate thing. Kenan quipped back: “That’s why they play so well together.” And I realized that my fun fact — the one I had brought along for this very purpose — was old news to a real Knicks fan.

I was parched. I was parched as hell. I rummaged through my bag for anything I could put in my mouth. I needed to prompt the fluids inside of there.

In the middle of my rummaging, a young woman came over to me and my boyfriend. She crouched low, smiling and looking only at him. I tried to hear what she was saying, but I couldn’t make out a word.

I was the ticket holder. But my boyfriend is an actor — and he had been on a big show this past year, so I understood. When you’re on Celebrity Row, the guy on the big show doesn’t count as a mere plus-one.

A camera crew hurried over. My boyfriend whispered in my ear, “I think I’m about to be on the Jumbotron?” Just then the woman who had refused to look at me shouted: “Annie! You’re on B Cam!”

I didn’t know what “B Cam” meant. Maybe it was something like: “Be a good girlfriend and look adoringly at your man, so we can get B-roll footage of your undying support.”

Before I could get into character, Kenan leaned over and sweetly gave me and my boyfriend a piece of advice: “Grab your drink. Pick something to do.”

“It’s not me they want up there!” I shouted.

Kenan looked momentarily startled. But when the cameraman homed in on him for his GardenVision cameo, he looked so at ease. What a pro. The place went nuts.

The cameramen swung back to my boyfriend. I heard cheers. I looked up. A montage of my boyfriend on the TV show was on the big screen. And when it ended, there he was, on the GardenVision, for all to see.

I saw a sliver of myself next to him. I managed a brief “Woooo!” and slithered away. I didn’t actually want to be projected to the Madison Square Garden crowd as a girlfriend.

Then the young lady moved the camera crew closer to me.

“OK, Annie — let’s go!”

I didn’t understand what was happening. What was happening? Had I not done a good enough job of supporting my boyfriend? I tried another “Wooo.” Nothing came out of my mouth. I froze.

“Smile, Annie! Smile! Smile and wave! Smile and wave!”

On either side of the young lady were four angry cameramen. One of them shouted, “You could look up!”

I thought it would be embarrassing to look up. I didn’t want the people of Madison Square Garden to see me checking out me. I didn’t want the people of Madison Square Garden to see how vain I could be. I didn’t want to be seen.

A still photographer, crouched at the cameramen’s feet, was chuckling. He chuckled and chuckled. It was sweet, actually, and it was all I needed to come back down to earth. I smiled. I waved. I did my “huh” face and waved again. It was done. I’d get an Instagram post out of it. Embarrassment is important to me.

As the game went on, I couldn’t take my eyes off the Real Housewife who was sitting next to Julianne Moore’s husband on the other side of the court. She looked happy. She looked happy when she was on the big screen, and she looked happy when she wasn’t. I wondered how she did it.

Annie Hamilton is a writer and performer in New York.



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