The days I get day seats to a matinee are some of my favorite days. I get my ticket, work for a couple hours, get sushi takeaway and eat in the park, then enjoy the show. Today started out well. I’ve been dying to see Stephen Merchant in The Mentalists. It was supposed to run until the end of September, but it’s closing at the end of August instead, so today was the last Wednesday matinee. It did not get great reviews and there were reports that people were still able to get day seats at noon, so I didn’t go super early to queue. I got there 10 minutes before the box office opened, just enough time to eat the overnight oats I packed for breakfast. Things were going well. I got my front row seat, then headed to the museum cafe to get some work done. I ordered some tea, cranked out some work, and the productive, positive day went on.
And then I went outside. It was London on-and-off-again drizzling all morning, and I was prepared for that. I wore my rain boots and brought an umbrella. Not even thinking and because it’s what I always do, I ordered my sushi lunch to go. I walked to the park I usually eat in and it was empty. This was because the skies had finally opened up and it started to pour. Every single bench was exposed and soaked. So I ended up eating my lunch while standing under the shelter of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It was not my usual magical day seat lunch. Things were starting to go down hill.
My second mistake was basing my schedule on the usual 2pm or 2:30pm matinee start time when today’s show was at 3pm. I finished my lunch around 1:20pm, so I had time to kill. I decided to go to the National Gallery to look around and use their free WiFi. The rain was really coming down and I had to maneuver through hoards of tourists who acted like they’d never used an umbrella or seen rain before, which instantly put me in a bad mood. I came upon the National Gallery from the back and hurried up the ramp, only noticing once I got inside that I was at the National Portrait Gallery, which is next door. But at that point I was too wet to care — they had toilets and free WiFi too. As I stepped inside I was stopped for a bag inspection. They do this at many museums, and usually they just take a cursory why-even-bother glance. I’m assuming it’s just to make sure you don’t have any weapons. It’s a museum after all, not an airport or government building. I opened my backpack, showing the woman my laptop, water bottle, wallet… and Tide stick.
“You can’t have this,” she said. And suddenly I was having Heathrow “You brought too many liquids” flashbacks. Just as I was about to ask for a clear zip-top bag and insist that it was under 100 ml, she explained that she would hold it for me to pick up when I left.
“It can destroy the paintings,” she clarified.
You heard that right: my Tide pen could wreak havoc on priceless art, most of which is either behind glass, behind a rope, or under the watchful eye of plenty of employees.
I could hear Adam Carolla’s voice in my head shouting at the woman: “You’re a hero!” the way he does to power-high TSA workers enforcing trivial rules. I know her job is unbelievably boring (she doesn’t even get to “sit and look at the paintings” like Mr. Bean’s character did) and she was just doing her job, but the whole thing was just so, so stupid. For one, you know what else I had in my bag? An entire jar of peanut butter I had just bought at Whole Foods. I bet that could destroy the paintings more than my Tide stick. She didn’t even look at the bottom of my bag, where I easily could have had Sharpies or a lighter, both of which would do way more damage than laundry detergent. Did she think the stick was pure bleach? Even if it was, did she really think my intention was to rub it on the paintings a la Mr. Bean?
Maybe she was just taking extra precautions because of what that 12-year-old Taiwanese kid accidentally did to that painting recently.
Still, the rain had already put me in a bad mood and I was feeling really beat down. I almost said “Forget it, I’m just here to use your toilet anyway, I’ll go put the Tide stick on the bottom of my bag and use a different entrance, or go to the National Gallery like I initially intended,” but of course I didn’t. I let her confiscate my Tide pen and then had to meander around the museum for a half hour so it didn’t seem like I was just in it for the free toilet.
Thank goodness The Mentalists was hilarious and the sun was shining when it was over, but I guess if the worst thing that happens in your day is it rains, you have to eat sushi standing up and a power-tripping guard temporarily takes your stain stick away, your life is still pretty good.