For several months we've had tickets to see the ballet production of Where the Wild Things Are. This is a book Juniper has long loved. Several months ago I bought on eBay a dog-eared set of plastic Wild Thing toys that had previously lived in a day care. Each was gnawed on or missing a limb; her room looks like a Wild Thing VA hospital. For several weeks we have re-introduced the book into her repertoire of bedtime tales. For days before Friday's matinee, we talked it up: "You're going to see the real Max and the real Wild Things! Just like the real Elmo we saw." All of this led to a groundswell of anticipation, where Wild Things were seen in closets and peeking from the windows of Detroit's abandoned art deco skyscrapers. "Wild Thing, dada!" she'd shout, pointing into the tops of bare trees where no behemoth of terrible roar, tooth, eye and claw could hide. And yet I have no doubt she saw them. She saw them in the abstract masses of scribbled marker and colored pencil on paper she handed me all week. By Friday morning, she was adequately prepared.

It was a general admission show, so we walked over to the Detroit Opera House an hour early to find ourselves among the first seated: front row center again. The Opera House is a former movie palace built in 1922, less oriental than the Fox, but like the Fox its gilded gargoyles and gorgons and its Tiffany mosaics seemed recently renovated. At one time there were over 150 single-screen theaters in the city of Detroit, and several dozen palatial one-screens between the central business district and midtown. There were 26,000 theater seats around Grand Circus Park alone. Some still hide behind quiet moldering facades like this. Some switched to porn to survive before being demolished. The first Detroit theater I visited with Juniper was the Michigan Theater, which with much-commented-on irony, still stands at the location where Henry Ford built his first automobile and now serves as a private parking garage, with much of its architecture still intact. I could have stood in there for hours imagining men in top hats and evening jackets escorting women in flapper dresses to their seats, the screen lit with the gaze of Valentino, or the wink of Clara Bow. But after a few minutes, Juniper demanded a snack that I didn't have, so we snuck out the same way we snuck in.

On Friday, sitting in the front row of one of the surprising number of Detroit movie palaces that have been spared the wrecking ball, I was again moved to consider how different it was to experience entertainment long ago, to get dressed up and leave your neighborhood and take a streetcar downtown, to enter the ornamental splendor with thousands of your fellow citizens and laugh together at Buster Keaton's antics or be moved to tears by the Little Tramp's final silent gaze at the flower girl. This is an experience we will never be able to replicate in our own homes with any type of technology.

As curtain time approached, the Opera House remained empty. One of the ushers told us that there was a pile-up on I-75, the main artery from the suburbs, and that many of the patrons would be late. I spent the extra time walking Juniper around the theater, pointing out the lions, birds, serpents, and other creatures she'd recognize in the plasterwork. We chose to see the performance that would be attended by many of the local schools, thinking that two-year-old Juniper's ill manners would be insignificant among the throngs of kids. When the first students arrived, about 50 black 4th-through-6th graders marched silently down the aisle with the precision of a Roman cohort. They surrounded us up front, their teacher gesturing where to sit with her hands. Juniper grew concerned that the big kids were going to try to play with one of the Wild Thing amputees she clutched in her hands, but I told her she was being silly. Then I noticed that one of the boys about six seats down from us had grown angry: his lower lip had devoured the upper, his eyebrows were rumpled. Oh he was so angry, and silent, and he thrust his hands towards his teacher like a defiant maestro, telling her exactly why he was so upset. All around him, I saw other little hands moving, the other silent conversations that were taking place. Juniper and I sat at the front of a 3,000 plus seat theater with 50 other kids and the only sound was my daughter's voice above the rustling of air.

It was a beautiful moment, it lasted only until many dozens of busloads from the northern suburbs started to fill all the remaining seats in the opera house.

Wood arrived straight from work at the same time as the hordes, and she scooped Juniper up and took her to the powder room for some motherly pampering. I waited in our prime seats; eventually the volunteer ushers prepared everyone for the show to begin. After a third usher asked me if the two seats next to me were occupied, I grew a little anxious, and almost said, "Yep, just me and my two other child molester friends---they're probably still in the little boy's room! I wonder what could be taking them so long?" When Wood finally walked Juniper down the aisle, a curtain fell over the stage covered by a 40-foot-tall face of Moishe, the one I drew pooping, his eyes glowing purple from the beams of two spotlights. When the curtain lifted, Max pranced out in his wolfsuit, and Juniper jumped into my arms with terror and unsurpassed glee. When the fear passed, she sat on her mother's lap and I was able to watch her face, and the faces of the fascinated kids beyond her as they stared at the stage and the story they all knew so well, first through the fluttering of fingers and then through words they could see on the page, now come to life.

I knew this was going to be a ballet, but I guess I just assumed it wouldn't be a ballet with all the twirling and smothered nutsacks and stuff. But yes, there was a lot of twirling and plenty of smothered nutsack. Ballet is okay, I suppose, but it's hard to twirl in a 9-foot-tall Wild Thing costume, which was fine with me and the thousands of kids who screamed (in my case, with relief) as Moishe the Wild Thing peeked his head around the curtain for the first time, and we all clapped as the other three shimmied on stage. The deaf kids around us did not clap then or when Max discovered that his supper was still hot. They raised their hands, I guess as deaf people do, wiggling their fingers at the stage.

"It could have used more of the Wild Things," I said to Wood as we walked out of the Opera House, but later I regretted saying it. If Disney had anything to do with it, it would have been all about the Wild Things, but that's not the lesson of the book. After the G-rated bacchanalia of the rumpus, in the face of as much wildness and savagery as he could ever want, Max chooses to return to a mother who would tame him. Juniper is too young to appreciate that. She was one of the youngest kids at the show, and in my zeal to get her excited about it I had convinced her that the Wild Things were real, and even in the bright light of Broadway in Detroit she was convinced that what she had seen inside the theater was real, that Max and the Wild Things, like Elmo and Cookie Monster, live behind curtains in gilded palaces where she watches them from the front row. Max teaches us is that imagination is so powerful and amazing, but ultimately you must return to what is real.

And I think I will lament the day she realizes that is true.