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Taking Scalps

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Supply will always trail demand for anything of human value in this world. That maxim is magnified a hundredfold when we’re talking about experiences, goods, and services that involve personal pleasure or the attainment of status. The market forces brought to bear on, say, a pair of 50-yard-line Super Bowl tickets, or seats that come with a waiter and kisses blown from the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, will typically cause a feeding frenzy among those who simply must see and be seen.

For a very thin slice of this sprawling demographic pie, acquisition of the impossible-to-get perks of life is never a problem. It comes with the last opening weekend record gross, or the ringtone that is beaming from every aluminum palm tree in LA County, or two degrees or less of separation from the Kevin Bacon/Donald Trump/Dalai Lama axis. The glitterati have their fixers and corporate enablers, the people who have put their own ethics or ambitions on hold to satisfy the whims of the deserving. But wait a minute—we’re all deserving! We’ve all been declared, over and over again by credit card issuers and the peddlers of creamy shampoos and creamier cars, to be the gilded kings and queens of all we survey. The thing is, royalty or not, most of us can’t afford to keep resourceful people on retainer to secure a hot seat on a Saturday night.

So you do it a la carte, buying from special resale representatives with darting eyeballs and bad posture. You enter the retail underground that has always bent to serve this market segment: you go to scalpers, the people who buy at face value and sell at smack-in-the-back-of-the-head value. That’s how you find yourself, in one vision of this extracurricular point-of-purchase, shivering in a windy parking lot 45 minutes before an important game, desperate to be a member of the privileged herd trudging toward the stadium. Suddenly, a fellow in a shiny nylon jacket materializes in front of you, as if he just astral traveled from some dingy economic dimension to the spot on the sidewalk where you stand ticketless, radiating blue waves of need. You try not to notice the lumpy slogan and the bad diction, or the scent that might make a bear pinch the bridge of his nose. You may wonder how life has been reduced to your worth being defined by the outcome of this transaction. While the seconds tick and the tenses get mangled, you stack yourself against this “businessman” and feel a tingling urge to horsewhip him with your college diploma. Or even your GED certificate. But the dude has manna in his pocket, and therefore the upper hand in the deal. For the moment, you dig deep and walk on.

Repeat this scene leaning over the counter of an agency, which is actually just a nice term for “den of thieves.” Here, the sacred obligation to collect as much money as the “market”— that’s you with your sob story — will bear is both a way of life and a matter of style. The “brokers” in this venue may have brick and mortar storefronts, and validate parking. With the overhead, the prices are going to rise like fumes from a vat of sour mash moonshine, but at the Stubs Galore Store, you have the assurance there will be reasonable English spoken if you need it. And maybe they hand out lollipops, or bottle openers that play the fight song for Whassamatta U. It’s a stark choice, but there you have it. The market works something like an oligarchy of ducats; as soon as tickets are announced for some can’t-miss cultural event, large blocks of them are set aside for discretionary distribution. Keystrokes are tapped, “ice” is paid, and tickets that might have been hypothetically destined for Everyman and his kin are quickly diverted by the quick, unobserved tugs and grabs of the black market. And unless your Uncle Charlie is a player in this game of keep-away, you’re on the outside looking in.

Anybody who is a true fan has a story about the time when reason and restraint were left wiggling on the side of the road, and whatever it took to get those tickets, that’s what happened. That’s once, maybe twice a lifetime, that such singular devotion is employed. There you were in a dank warehouse on the docks, being frisked by a gentleman named Whisky Pete, who performed the task with a pistol in his other hand while Mr. Big sat in his limo and hollered into his satellite phone with an accent you couldn’t make out. It makes for great stories that can grow legendary in the retelling, but we can’t indulge like that every day.  We’d go broke, or crazy, or to jail. But the urge to be somewhere, to belong, to overcome the sofa’s grip and be counted as one of the chosen, is a powerful one. It’s certainly more potent than the compulsion to fix the roof or save for a rainy day. Which is why, when we’re forced to confront the fact that our most fervent wishes make no discernable ripple in the marketplace, we’re willing to swallow a heaping portion of pride and be exploited. Sometimes, as the old declaration goes, “You hadda be there to see it,” even if the decision to be there was going to jeopardize the car payment. In the lore of a great event, all eyes are equal witnesses.

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