Autobiography of an Usher: The Percival Higgins Story

Welcome to the exciting world of ushering. May I help you find your seat so you can sit back and relax while you read my autobiography. Welcome to the exciting world of ushering. May I help you find your seat so you can sit back and relax while you read my autobiography?

“Ushering is not a choice. I was born this way. I’ve always fancied people’s seats.”

Author’s Note: My cellmate says I should be careful in writing this “Sit and Tell” autobiography. He said if I expose the names of individuals I’ve put in their seats I’ll bring dishonor unto the House of Usher. I should point out, a “cellmate” is just a friend I speak with on my cell phone.

My Story Begins
I consider myself a man in full. However about 90% of that fullness comes from the stature I’ve gained in my career as an usher. I love ushering. Which is just another way of saying, “Aisle of ushering.” Either way I can’t explain my attraction to it. Early on I had a strong interest not only in picking my friends, but also in picking their seats. I’ve always wanted to be a professional escort, and ushering has allowed me the honor of being a paid escort.

While some people may have a Messiah Complex; my complex is simple. I have a Shepherd Complex whereby I derive profound gratification from herding people into tightly organized arrangements. In other words I enjoy flocking people. And as long as patrons are prepared to sit in their assigned seats, I will never “flock” anyone against their will. “No, I don’t want to sit there,” means “No, I don’t want to sit there.” I’m very solicitous of my clients and ensure that each one is flocked with courtesy and tenderness for the full 15 seconds it takes to seat them. I even keep the lights low on my little penlight as I professionally escort them to their seat, where chair and fanny become one. And then it’s over and I’m onto my next sit-down affair.

Thermal imaging cameras prove that seating people in a large auditorium stimulates the same pleasure centers of my brain that heroin does in an addict’s brain. Fortunately ushering is safe and legal. Not that ushering can’t be dangerous. I once OU’ed (over-ushed) while working the Hands Across America fiasco in 1986 – so many people, so little time. We did what we could with our primitive megaphones and the bulky laser pointers that, unfortunately, turned out to be Tasers.

 

A Brief History of Ushering

Back when Jesus started turning heads (and cheeks) in 0th century Judea, overflow crowds flocked to see him. Their yearning cries for salvation would often drown out his beautiful message (same thing happened to the Beatles millennia later). A few of Jesus’s wisest roadies (some of whom would later go on to become apostles) suggested organizing these overflow crowds into an orderly flock. Some of the more Jewish roadies even suggested charging a fee for attending the Sermon on the Mount; going so far as to suggest selling backstage passes for a meet and greet with the King of Kings. But Jesus refused to be monetized and commanded to his minions, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house and I’ll be damned if I’m going to charge anyone a convenience fee to visit them.”

The Apostle Matthew (then known as “the Roadie Matt”) submitted a plan where the Sermon on the Mount’s crowd would be organized by height, with the smaller people in front. His friend Thomas, as usual, doubted this would work. Judas suggested using some kind of ear buds, but Jesus was already in enough trouble with the Romans and didn’t want to explain the miraculous appearance of headphones at one of his concerts.

Bear in mind, organizing these crowds was being done long before the concept of seats and stools were prevalent. It was all standing room only back then. A chair was a luxury item and a stool was something you really didn’t want to sit on. If a preacher had even one person attend his sermon it was SRO. But back in the time before dentistry, Jesus could’ve filled amphitheaters if the Roman’s gave him access; which they denied him because he wouldn’t pay the Romans a 15% management fee. No, our Lord Jesus stood on principle and refused to charge his huddled masses one red cent (or Unum Cent Rubrum as it was then known) to hear his universal message of love. The Roman’s insisted “thou shalt not give away the keys to the Universe for free.” Not only did all roads lead to Rome, they also went through the Roman Counting House.  

Eventually the teeming masses who came to see Jesus deliver his Sermon on the Mount were organized according to hearing sensitivity. Those who were hard of hearing were given the prime locations down front. I said, “Those who were hard of hearing were given the prime locations down front.” And it was at this pivotal moment when ushering was ushered out of the Stone Age and into the Dark Ages.

 

In the Beginning

I was born in Delivery Room 2A in Woodlawn Hospital in Schenectady, NY and wheeled into maternity Room 212B where I was warmed under some 75 watt bulbs like a baby in a Kenner Easy-Bake Oven. When I was all pink and dry I was ushered into room 316 on the 4th floor where my mother was heavy with milk. As you can tell, even at the tender age of 1 hour I had a great sense of place – a faculty that would serve me well in my chosen career path (or did it choose me?). Not only did I always seem to know where I was, but also knew where I was going. Especially if I had a ticket and a flashlight in my hand.

As I grew up I became more discerning. For example I liked our babysitter Josephine because she’d make me Nestlé’s Quik without telling my parents. Grilled cheese sandwiches and baseball loomed large in my small adolescent world. I didn’t care much for church. Not because of anything religious, it’s just that the seating was completely random – you could sit anywhere you liked for Christ’s sake. Literally. How can one worship a God that would allow this kind of haphazard seating? Which leads me to my most passionate dislike: the game of Musical Chairs. This musically-accompanied sitting game repulsed me because, in my world, everyone should have an assigned seat. Random seating was not an option. Something as vital as where you sat, should never be trivialized or made into some kind of childish “sitting game” embellished by silly music. Clearly I was on a career path to “organized seating.”

And soon people began to take notice of my passion – my formidable “sense of place” – they suggested I either consider a career in ushering or see a psychiatrist. In high school I joined the band and was 1st chair trombone although I begged to be 3rd chair due to its favorable sight lines and optimal vantage point. 1st chair honors meant nothing to me. Sight lines and seat placement were everything. But we were a small high school and only had one chair for trombone so I was stuck out front, parallel to the stage.

It was about this time I began carrying a little flashlight with me everywhere I went. It featured an adjustable central beam whose circumference could be narrowed to just a few degrees thereby not disturbing nearby classmates. I was well aware of things like narrow shaft flashlights long before those so-called lightsabers ever crossed George Lucas’s mind. Classmates would often give me the old, “Are you happy to see me or is that a small-shaft flashlight in your pocket.” I learned from this and soon started carrying around a large-shafted flashlight in order to project a more impressive image. I wasn’t the best-looking boy in school. In fact my first girlfriend Sheila (2nd chair clarinet) said, “You have a face only a prostitute could love.” 

All this unfocused ushering energy coursed through my veins without any outlet. And then one bright and shiny day I saw it. A job fair flyer with a section on Ushering. My world went from before ushering to post ushering or from BU to PU. Part of this life-changing document is highlighted below:

 

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The Annual Putnam County Job Fair

When:       Saturday May 8th 9:00am – 5:00pm.

Where:      Moyers Corners Fire Dept. on Collamer Rd.

Details:     The job fair will begin with a Lions Club Pancake Breakfast and end with a Rotary Club Pot Luck Supper. Due to recently passed state laws, the Pot Luck promises to be a very smoky affair.

 

All are welcomed: Students, the unemployed and all sexuality-oriented acronyms (consonants only please). Come explore the many career paths being offered by some of these Fortune 500 companies that didn’t quite make the list. Job fair career booths include:

  • Trampoline Repair
  • Convincing Others You Really Believe in a Cause You Could Care Less About
  • Getting Over the OJ Verdict
  • Starting a Profitable non-Profit Company
  • Underwater Arc Welding
  • Ushering

Have you got what it takes to be an Usher? 

Since all our classes are online you'll never have to worry about wearing the same warm up suit 5 days in a row. Since all our classes are online you’ll never have to worry about wearing the same warm up suit 5 days in a row.

At The Ushering Institute of America we can help you find your place in the world while you help others find theirs.  

Get in on the ground floor, or perhaps the mezzanine level, in the exciting and growing field of Ushering. You may even be lucky enough to find yourself in the pits – the Orchestra Pits. Once you’ve learned our trademarked techniques for seating people, no longer will it be a case of the blind leading the blind – it will be the certificated leading the ticketed. At the Ushering Institute of America (UIA) you will acquire the online skills to do something very few civilians are able (or even willing) to do: take people to their seats. America needs qualified ushers. Right now too many undocumented ushers are steering properly ticketed Americans to the wrong seats.

Picture Yourself in this Heroic Scenario

The Broadway curtain is rising in only 10 minutes. A throng of ticketed clients are milling about the lobby pretending to enjoy a $25 glass of  white wine served in plastic cups while making sneering jokes about AOL and MySpace. They blithely perform their unintentional delaying tactics, blissfully unconcerned that the show must go on as scheduled. As a seating specialist, it’s up to you to impose methodical order on this jaunty chaos. Have you got what it takes to put these dilatory theater mavens in their place?

Soon a bewildered theater-goer peels off from the schmoozing herd and presents you with tickets for him and his date (his date might also be a him, so for Christ’s sake, don’t say anything OK?). Clearly this disoriented theater-goer is depending on you to escort him and his longtime male companion to their assigned seats. And remember; they might not be gay (Yeah right. They’re just there to see the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch because the Yankee game was sold out). But where is their seat? How do they get there? And why are their Raisinets so damn expensive?

With the skills you’ll acquire at the UIA, you’ll be able to professionally focus on their seats and not on their matching feather boas (but for Christ’s sake, don’t say anything about the boas – it may just be a coincidence). Your duty is to help them with the first 2 questions of where, and how they’ll be seated. Questions concerning the outrageous cost of Raisinets should be referred to the theater’s Price-gouging Services Dept. Your mission is to take those 2 raw tickets from inseparable theater-buddies Leon and Caspar and, armed only with a narrow-band flashlight, professionally conduct them to their seats before things get catty. Seating Yes. Drama No.

You can do it! UIA can help.

No experience? No problem.

Within the clearly marked and easily navigated confines of our 500 seat online learning habitat, you’ll practice the skills needed to handle real-world ushering situations. In our dimly lit virtual demonstration theater you’ll practice efficiently seating hundreds of non-judgmental animatronic theater-dummies – all within a nurturing and supportive online environment (touch screen computer helpful, but not required). In no time you’ll be effortlessly guiding a speechless mannequin to its proper seat using only your finger or mouse.

After attending master classes in Broadway Ushering taught in the online learning habitat, team members and team leaders will breakout into Skype demonstration booths where they’ll be guided through a series of instructive labs designed to give them the tools to arrest or improve a host of vexing situations unique to Ushering. Such as:

  • Client hands you a bag of urine. Remedy: May I check that for you?
  • Client is wearing a suicide vest. Remedy: May I check that for you?
  • Low battery level on your mini-flashlight. Remedy: Switch to iPhone flashlight.
  • Client is not wearing pants. Remedy: Remove your pants too.
  • Client returns from intermission with a Czech. Remedy: May I check that Czech for you?

Ushering Institute of America: Serving Putnam County and Greater Bug Tussle for over 36 years – most of them consecutive. 

Behold the many benefits of the UIA:

  • Our support staff is there to help make you the best usher you can be. Whether it’s turning on your flashlight remotely or demonstrating the difference between your ass and a hole in the ground, we’re there to wipe up any messes you might make.
  • Enrolling qualifies foreign nationals for student visa extensions
  • As a side benefit to pursuing a career in Ushering, many graduates report an improvement in remembering where they’ve parked their car or left their cell phone.
  • Most graduates of the Institute find employment immediately by tapping into our vast network of virtual alumni. And even though most graduates make less than minimum wage, they can easily triple their income when factoring in the entertainment value of the show they watch for free every night and twice on Sundays. Admittedly this boost in income does tend to diminish after the fortieth viewing of Cats, but you’ll still be miles ahead.
  • No experience is needed. In fact no experience is preferred because the less ambitious you are the better it is for all parties concerned.
  • With a degree from the UIA you’ll be able to say, “You’ve got a very lovely seat tonight madam,” without getting slapped.
  • So if spit & polish and glamour & glitz are what you’re looking for in a rewarding career, we suggest another profession. But if putting things in their place is a way of channeling your ADD, have we got a $57,000 mostly-accredited certificate for you.
  • Come join the brotherhood of professional ushering where even in retirement you’re assured a choice seat in The Home for Chair Bound Ushers and Usherettes. Remember, in our brotherhood, there is no such thing as an ex-usher.
  • Our motto says it all: “Once an usher, always an usher. The few, the proud, the ushers.”

 

The Ushering Institute of America PO Box 638 Cayman Islands www.UIA.edu

Not affiliated with the singer Usher or any of his posse.   

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This flyer hit me like a precisely guided thunderbolt. Not only was this my calling, it was my answering. It also didn’t hurt that I’d read in People Magazine how Jennifer Aniston had a “thing” for ushers. Hello sweet world of ushering, just call me Ross. After clearing up some well-earned bench warrants, I attended the Ushering Institute of America and graduated first in my class – summa cum epaulet. The fact that I was the only one in my class may have helped my standing. The Ushering Institute of America taught me the Dewey Decimal System of seating. But they also taught me a deeper lesson – to be content with the seat I had. And while it may not have been the best seat, I never suffered from seat envy. Degree in hand, I was now ready to meet the world and put it in its place, one person at a time.

 

House of Usher

I wasn’t always this successful though. As a young man I thought I’d be one of those underachievers who practiced maybe 2 of the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. I was aiming low and I knew it. However I wanted to amount to something more than Charles Ponzi and that’s when the job fair flyer’s siren call inspired me. There was no turning back. I became irrevocably drawn to the inherently ordered world of ushering. I initially viewed this narrow compulsion with shame, but soon came to think of myself as a kind of trailblazer or pathfinder like Kit Carson or Tenzing Norgay. Maybe someday Marvel Comics will create a Superhero based on my character whose special power is to “put people in their place.”

After receiving my certificate from the UIA (or more accurately, once my check cleared), I went from theater to theater shopping my resume. I discovered all usher jobs were entry level and the only chance for career advancement was going from the balcony (cheap seats) to the loge (pricier seats) where you might seat clientele who were higher on the socio-economic scale. I finally got a job with Second City Ushering where we all aspired to seat the snootier patrons because the tips they gave us were outrageous. For example one lady gave me a huge tip I’ll never forget: “Keep your day job.” Another theater maven advised me; “Don’t play with matches.” Great tips from the know-it-all class.

I see myself as a shepherd and the theater patrons as my flock and I’ll never forget my first flock. Who does? I was only 16 and ushering for the Broadway smash Oliver at the David Belasco Theater. It was 1964 and I was feverish with Beatlemania. Because of an usher job action, my section was overrun with over 300 seat-starved geriatric theater-goers bussed in from the Mineola Senior Community Center. It was a sea of blue hair. They were impatiently standing around just itching to get into their seats after a 2-hour bus ride in from Long Island. I don’t know how I did it, but I sat over 200 of these once erect seniors in only 20 minutes. I was barely 16 and had just been gang-ushered by an unruly mob of blue-haired smurfs wielding plastic cups of cheap white wine as I shuffled them to their seats. And when it was all over, I have to admit it, I loved it. I was completely exhausted but profoundly satisfied when the house lights came down and the curtain went up and there was my flock all organized from rows A to Z and seats 1-32.

That evening something very special happened to me. Because of my meritorious service the theater manager bestowed upon me The Order of the Golden Flashlight; given to ushers who gave all so others may silently fart in their seats.

 

Percival Higgins: Usherer of First Resort

Eventually I became an experienced and dedicated usher. But not just any usher. I was a jet-setting usher of international reputation who has “ushed” both royalty and rabble alike on all 6 continents (7 if you count Antarctica where I “mushed” instead of “ushed”). That I, Percival Higgins, could have achieved so much with just a penlight and a keen triangulating sense of alphanumerics is astonishing. In my long and storied career I’ve seated monarchs (Queen Latifah), amputees (John Bobbit) and even divorcees (just about anyone over the age of 40 who’s been in a relationship). My continent-hopping ushering is legendary. At the Cannes Film Festival I’m Marty Scorsese’s personal usher. I’ve been an usher at all 8 Larry King marriages. And I was present (although I didn’t ush) when Michelle Pfeiffer was Married to the Mob.

 

Ushering: A Way of Life

The truth is, I love ushering so much, I’d ush for free. Theater owners wouldn’t have to pay me. And they don’t pay me. Being a trust fund baby I have no need for an outside income and so in exchange for choice assignments, I have done it all for free. The pay may be been non-existent, but my reward comes when the lights go down and the curtain comes up and my little flock is nestled cozily in their tidily arranged seats waiting to be entertained. That’s my time for serenity. Except that time there was a crazy lady lurking in the wings with a gun. Fortunately it was just Reba McIntire in Annie Get You Gun.   

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you a juicy anecdote featuring the matchless Nathan Lane. I won’t share the story because I always wanted to see what it was like to feel remiss in a story. Hmmm…being remiss is not all it’s cracked up to be. But what I will share with you is how the First Lady of the Theater Helen Hayes once said to me, “Percival, you’re almost handsome.” To which I responded, “Thank you Miss Hayes. That was almost a compliment.”

These days I look rather like a doughy nutcracker resplendent in my colorful usher uniform. My late- onset paunch detracts a bit from my ramrod posture, but my introduction of glow-in-the-dark usher gloves assures my legacy will redound brightly throughout the ushering fraternity – and a probably few adult book stores too where they became a popular novelty.

Although in the twilight of my career, I’ve now dedicated myself to curating gently-torn ticket stubs and superbly preserved show programs for eventual inclusion into the Percival Higgins Ushering Library which will be housed at the Ushering Institute of America’s Seating Annex in Lincoln, Nebraska and superintended by the National Park Service as a resource for all Americans interested in the organizational art of ushering and run-on sentences.

 

The Remaining 10% of My Life

As to the other 10% of my life it has been spent profitably administering the vending machines in the Doctor’s Lounge at the Sloan-Kettering Institute where, incidentally, I’m a Board Certified Neurosurgeon who pioneered innovative methods in combatting CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Not playing football was one method and limiting your boxing to Christmas presents was another.

I met my wife Ellen Tasman at Radio City Music Hall where she rocked as a Rockette and I strutted as an usher. Our 3 girls (Monica, Rachel and Phoebe) not only have their own rooms, they each have their own chair.

If I have any regrets at all it’s that I didn’t spend more time focused on ushering.

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