I Went to Hamilton on Mushrooms, with my Dad.
I was looking over an 8th of shrooms – their thin white stems, their booger tainted caps, bent twisted in a kind of chaotic contortionist pose – when my dad called. He had bought tickets for something and he was very excited about it. This was nothing new.
“I got tickets!” he kept shouting. “TICKETS!”
“Tickets to what?” I asked.
I popped half a cap in my mouth.
It was Saturday morning, my girlfriend was away at work, and all I had planned to do that day was whatever the hell I wanted.
They tasted bitter and tough, like manhandled recycled paper and tasteless beef jerky.
“Hamilton!” he shouted. “I got a great deal. Half off! It’s Hamilton man!”
I pulled the phone away from his shrieking and said from afar, “I had no idea you were so into historical musical theatre and rap.”
“It’s a great deal!”
“I don’t even know who the guy is.”
“We will after!”
I would later learn through exquisitely written raps and prose by Lin-Manuel Miranda, that Alexander Hamilton was born around 1755-1757 in the Carribean. Orphaned as a child, he was raised by a rich merchant and eventually brought to New York to pursue his education. He played an early role in the American Revolutionary War eventually landing himself as a senior aid to George Washington. He would go on to be one of the fathers of the United States, the founder of the nation’s financial system, the Federalist Party, the United States Coast Guard, and the New York Post. To put it plainly, the guy was not fucking around.
“Isn’t that shit sort of…cheesy?”
“Who cares! It’ll be fun! Don’t be such a snob!”
My dad is a victim of flashy marketing, of big, over the top performances that resonated on a national level no matter the medium. He was the kind of guy that had to have the newest iPhone but had no idea what was actually new with it. He once dragged me to an Alicia Keyes and Christina Aguilera concert in Paso Robles with my younger sister who was, to say the least, fucking ecstatic. Last father’s day, he guilt-tripped me into going to Waterworld USA in Concord California where, while cruising down the snake river, I got a stranger’s raw toe jammed in my mouth. My dad consumes with, and I say this with love and someone who has been around him for 31 years, very little concern with analyzing what he just watched, did, or ate. He gets a small salad with a full-plate of ribs. My dad is a capitalist’s wet dream for his taste, his desires, and his enjoyment can easily be calculated by pulling a few levers.
So I was curious why, some four and a half years after Hamilton was released, Pops had any desire to see the show. Democracy, what was left of it anyway, was being run by a tangerine bleached taint who thinks shooting nukes at hurricanes is a sound way to stop them while simultaneously trying to make America not great, but a white-ethnostate. If Hamilton had ever met our current president, I feel like he probably would have shot him. What would he have thought of the one and only, corrupt and creepy, Trump?
As I felt the cap start to blanket my brain, I began to think about how we had failed Hamilton’s efforts and the plays choice to show our history with a new spin replacing people of color in the place of white men was now being betrayed, ignored, and disrespected by a president who was an outright racist.
“Why do you want to’ go Pops?” Sometimes I called him that. I don’t know why. “It’s going to be crowded as shit and aren’t’ the tickets expensive? I don’t even know who the guy is.”
Pops paused and let out a deep sigh.
“Because I want to do something different with my son.”
A pang of Hallmark sentimentality hit me in my throat and heart, followed by, somewhat suddenly, the undeniable truth of that simple statement.
I told myself this soft truth was just the shrooms hitting early and acquiesced.
“Ok, ok,” I said brushing it off. “I’m down.”
“You know we come from immigrants right?” My father asked.
We were sitting at 1760, a newish restaurant with high ceilings with an annoyingly long black marble bar. Behind the bar was a Pollock of inebriants spreading from obscure high tier years of Japanese whiskey to beers whose names no one in the happy hour crowd would ever be able to pronounce. I felt like a stock customer at Denny’s as I pointed at something that had a P and ended with something like an -er. I assumed it was a Pilsner, but as my hands started feeling like my feet and my feet started feeling like nothing at all, the taste became unimportant as I was just trying to stay upright in front of my father.
“Right,” I managed to say. “From the south, Mexico…South America.”
I didn’t fucking know because no one had told me, not in a way that sunk in, that mattered to my day today. What was a culture without immersion? Without knowing the language? Without being affected by it every day, rubbing whatever that life was into the pores of my skin? Brought up half white and half Spanish/Mexican/Native American, who was I to say I was one thing or the other…and then claiming that as my place? My history? My story? It wasn’t, so Pops saying we came from immigrants was objectively true, but the pride I felt he had about that fact made me a little uneasy.
It made me feel like an imposter, but maybe it was just the shrooms kicking in.
Our waiter’s face came into view. As they took our order of a Little Gem Salad drizzled with buttermilk-wasabi and watermelon radish, grilled port ribs with peanuts, and seared scallops, couscous pearls, sorrel cream bedded with savoy spinach. Fancy, I thought. Usually, Pops was content with a triple cheeseburger from some dive bar. I guess it was a special occasion for him and for me. Leaning in, I remember feeling an effortless contentedness that, seeing my ongoing existential anxieties that the world was on fire, whole cities were sinking into the ocean, countless dinosaur killer meteors were looming, and something called a Y-curve was rearing its ugly head, surprised me. It felt good to feel good without trying.
This is what it must feel like to have total faith in God, I thought.
I nodded at my beer like it had asked me a question. I took a sip of it like it had told me to. It tasted alive like it had a name; like it was created, existed, and died just for me. I looked at my dad. He was smiling – a strange face to hold waiting for the rest of an answer.
“That’s right,” Pops said. “That’s what I think the show is about.”
Cool wet from my glass punched at my fingertips. I could hear every fire flick in the kitchen; each chuckle over a plating; the waiters sweat as it toppled from their over-nervous head onto the floor.
Dammit, I thought. I took too much. Drink some water. Take a little more. Sometimes more is better than a little. Lean in…that’s the American Way.
After we parked, the two of us were thrust into a rushing horde of people, every one of them white-knuckling their paper tickets and cell phones. No one was missing Hamilton. The mushrooms were wearing off, so once I got inside I b-lined for the men’s bathroom. Pops would find the seats, I hoped. There was a line waiting for the toilet (there was no way I was going to gobble them up at the urinal) but eventually, I got in there and devoured. Just as I finished eating the other fourth, my legs started to tingle and my vision swiftly slanted. It felt as if the whole bathroom was being turned upside down.
“Just the drug…” I whispered. All around me a symphony of toilets flushing, piss hitting white ceramic, and the tapping of feet on tile rang in my ear. “Just get…to your seat.”
There was a moment of pure terror when I thought I had lost my paper ticket standing in line to go in. Luckily, it was just in my hand. For some reason, I hadn’t seen it. Pops was waving at me to come to him. I stupidly waved back, walking toward him, as the house lights fell.
The Orpheum was jam-packed and the musical was, well, just that: big complex dance numbers with complex lighting cues and set changes; unbelievably talented actors that could act and sing, some of them even able to do fucking acrobatics; all with a script that was precise and void of fat. Nothing felt unnecessary or sentimentalized. I found myself enjoying the show. Usually, I was so critical and over-analytical but I was laughing as every joke landed, every note hit, and every twerk – there were a few twerks. When the line, ‘immigrants get the job done‘ came, the crowd cheered not because it was one of the most famous lines in the play, but because it was true. Yet, I couldn’t help but think about the policy the current administration was putting forth, the one about keeping asylum seekers and immigrants caged up indefinitely.
Would those cheers sway their cold, dead hearts? Would our clapping laughter help those truly in need? Would our joy embolden us right there to say no more of these for-profit prisons? If I’m being real, no, it wouldn’t and it made me seriously wonder about the real objective benefits of political theatre and art but, that’s another essay.
Near the end of the show, *spoiler alert*, Hamilton’s son is shot in a duel. There is sorrow, there is much grief, and a few scenes later, Burr, Hamilton’s long-time nemesis, kills Hamilton the same way. I was about to turn to Pops and whisper something stupid like, heavy. Instead, he took my hand and squeezed. I froze, unable to do or say anything. I wasn’t even able to squeeze back.
Afterward, splitting from the masses, the shrooms dissipating into a fine comfortable mist over my entire body, I asked him how he liked it.
“Loved it,” Pops said. “I think it made me think about.” He paused and looked up at the sky. “I don’t know really…like we failed or something.” He shook his big head as if that was going to bring forth some kind of answer and chuckled. “You’re the masters student here. You tell me. I loved it though.”
I felt somewhat lost, a part of the reason why I didn’t have much desire to go in the first place. What was a political musical like Hamilton really good for? Did its entertainment change the minds of diplomats, senators, congressmen and women, of vice presidents, of presidents? No, I don’t think it did. Like Dylan once said, Nobody’s going to be changed by a song. Seeing where the country is at the moment and unfortunately, where it may be heading, Hamilton felt like a burst of hope to fight against that tyranny. Yet, when the applause ended and the crowd thinned out, I found myself right where I had left the world.
Of course I didn’t say any of that to Pops.
“It was great,” I said. “Really glad I went.
“Love you, son,” he said. “Thank you for coming with me.”
Maybe that is one of the uses of art: for these tiny reminders of connection and love that can be shared so we have hope, while we’re overwhelmed in the chaos of the world.
But maybe all these thoughts, revelations, and airs of optimism were just the shrooms talking.