Back in February of this year Nat and I ordered tickets for the next Stephen Kabakos show – Elvis: Aloha – in October. Performing at the Greg Frewin Theatre in Niagara Falls and having been to two of his previous shows, we were both excited to see yet another fabulous performance. Needless to say we were not disappointed, at least in the show itself.
Our activities have been, how shall I say it, exhaustingly boring of late and, with the arrival of Friday night we were anxious to get out and enjoy an evening of great entertainment. We drove into Niagara Falls and arrived at the (dinner) theatre just as the other guests were finishing their coffee. While waiting to be seated, a friend, former co-worker and huge Elvis fan, Roberta, passed by. It was certainly nice to see a friendly face, as Nat and I were alone this time around; the rest of my family would be attending the Saturday night showing.
It looked like a packed house and once seated we introduced ourselves to the other folks at our table. Three friendly couples who had travelled down from Fergus, Ontario to see the show, stay the night and then travel home for Thanksgiving. Being at the end of the table, Nat and I both felt like we were intruders, but at least we had a fairly unobstructed view of the stage. As the three wives were at the far end of the table and conversing amongst themselves, Nat and I were able to chit chat with their hubbies and soon enjoyed a laugh or two. All three gentlemen were familiar with the Niagara Region and the conversation went full circle from reminiscing of days of yore, GM, car dealers, politics and back to Stephen Kabakos himself.
Trying as best I could to talk to the gentleman beside me, it was apparent that he would dominate the conversation. It wasn’t long before I pretty much knew his whole life story. This big, stalky man had been in the Canadian Armed Forces, served a stint in Viet Nam, been shot in the leg, killed a few enemy himself, had that leg amputated six years ago, spent time in the Brig for back-talking to his CO, became a butcher and oversaw the meat departments for Dominion Stores in Central Ontario, went back to Guelph University, received his degree in Meat Sciences three years ago, retired, then talked his way into driving a taxi despite the fact that it’s his right leg that’s amputated, and now drives people out on bail and other accused back and forth to Court via his taxi. Whew!!! Did I get it all in?? I’m sure there was so much more in between each event but my old brain couldn’t take it all in. He began speaking of his adventures shortly after Nat and I took our seats. It was difficult for me to ignore this obviously good person who’s experienced more of life than I could ever do, but it was also difficult for me to come to grips with the amount of information he was spewing out. Serving in Viet Nam alone, took me back to an era that I’d pretty much ignored. Having dropped out, so to speak, I spent most of those years with only one eye on the news, not wanting to face the realities (or gruesome pictures) that were being splashed across my television, albeit still aware of what was going on. How do you respond to someone who tells you his leg had been amputated after being shot almost 50 years ago. He was even about to proceed with the gory details when I had to stop him. Laughingly, I said, “please dont’ go any further”, as I was about to pop some really yummy buttery popcorn into my mouth. He reassured me it wasn’t that bad and that he could, in fact, go into even further detail regarding the gangrene that had set in and thus the reason for the amputation. Finally I put my hand on his shoulder and said “No! I’m sure you suffered, but I don’t even like the sight of my own blood let alone someone else’s!!” With that he understood and stopped, but soon found other adventuresome tales to spin regarding his butchering days, his time at Guelph University and how he travelled around Ontario for the Dominion Stores. I soon began looking at the table behind us. Roberta was sitting there with her friends and I was wishing I could join them. So far this whole evening wasn’t looking too good for me, and I then turned my head toward Nat, who, by now was engrossed in conversation with his side of the table and ignoring the hell out of what was going on across from him. I’m thinking at this point he was figuring if I could hold this gentleman’s attention then why on earth would he get involved!!
Managing to get through the first half hour of the evening, I sighed a huge sigh of relief as the lights began to dim, the curtain rose, the band began to play and Mr. Kabakos entered from stage right. At last I was being entertained. I started to clap to each song, sway back and forth to the rhythm of the music and even mouth the odd words I could remember. My chatty-chatty buddy was silent. He’d close his eyes and look as if he was drifting off to memories of long, long ago when he was young, free and an obvious rebel rouser. Did I mention that my little buddy also played in a band with his brother and pretty much knew every piece of music going?? It was evident he, too, was enjoying the evening’s entertainment and I couldn’t help but smile as he lip-synced to every song.
With the first set over and the star of the show off for a well-deserved break, suddenly the lights came back on and there I was again. Alone with this old soldier whom I could never relate to. I listened intently again as he spun a few more tales and watched as his eyes began to glaze over. At this point in time one of the wives left for a few minutes, but on her way out noticed my buddy’s wallet, credit cards and other records had fallen from his pocket and were strewn about underneath his chair. Once back on the table and trying to gather everything back into his pocket, he turns to me and says “I can’t feel a damn thing in that leg”. I’m now thinking he’s at least got a sense of humor about the whole affair, but then again, I guess you’d have to.
The second half of the show was the Aloha special tribute and, as always, Mr. Kabakos pulled it off without a hitch. I’ve probably said this before, but if you closed your eyes you could swear that Elvis himself was in the building. This guy is that good, as is his back-up vocals and band members. It was also during this show that we learned just a little bit more about the man (Stephen Kabakos) himself – albeit only a snippet. Not wanting to reveal too many secrets, I’m sure he keeps his personal life private and I’m in complete agreement, despite the fact that he always leaves you wanting more. Nat and I have yet to be disappointed in any one of his performances and may he continue to prosper.
With final bows taken, the lights were turned back up and the curtain pulled down. Nat and I were up and out of our seats in a flash. Not wanting to actually insult our table mates, we both knew we wanted to get home and not linger. We turned to each man, shook hands again and wished them a Happy Thanksgiving and safe journey home. I’m sure my new found buddy won’t remember me as much as I’ll remember him and yes, I wish him all the best.