The Sure Sign the Fiesta Has Begun

I've been slowly plowing my way through Astronomy Cast, a weekly astronomy podcast.  I'm not sure where I heard about it.  Jennifer Saylor sounds like the obvious culprit.  But I'm thinking it was off digg.com or just some serendipitous google search.  There are 32 episodes currently archived, each about 30 minutes.  I've gone through more than half of them.  Today, while listening to episode 11, about Dark Energy, someone hammered on my door.  I hit pause.

It was the mailman.  He had a package from my sister.  For filler, she had stuffed in the latest catalogue from Forced Exposure.  It had arrived at the bookstore where she works.  Forced Exposure is a music distributer in Massachusetts — it's the one-stop source for the most adventurous, innovative, and odd music you could hope to find.  On those rare occasions when I have money not needed by my landlady, utility companies, and collection agencies, I hop onto the Forced Exposure website and place an order.  It had been over two years since I'd seen one of their printed catalogues.  How exciting!  Over 60 pages of stuff, mostly of which I'd never heard of before.  But clearly the catalogue was an after thought.  Paula had also sent me two CDs.  Actually, two double CDs.

Roky Erickson, “Live! — Live at the Ritz 1987 / Live in Dallas 1979.”  It was put out in 2005 by a Paris-based label.  The Ritz is a theater in Austin.  And I had only a passing interest in this CD #1.  There are plenty of Roky Erickson live recordings from this period.  But CD #2 is Roky backed by the Nervebreakers, the seminal Dallas punk band.  I'm listening to it now.  It's pretty good stuff.  Poor recording quality.  But Roky's voice is clear and plaintive as he launches into such standards as “Two-Headed Dog,” and “Cold Night for Alligators.”

Also, Cafe Tacuba, “Un Viaje.”  Material from two days of live performances in Mexico (de efe) 2004.  I'm not a huge fan of live albums, but Cafe Tacuba's  live performances show amazing intricacy and depth.

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This morning I drove to the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) to meet with Nicole.  She and Katie now run the museum's educational department.  I guess I hadn't been to the museum since Rose and Deborah left (they had the jobs that Katie and Nicole now have).  Nicole took me up to the projector room at the back of the auditorium.  It was much as I remembered.  I dropped my DVD into the projector to test it out.  The damn thing froze up at the 30 second mark.  I ejected it and rubbed it some with a lens cloth.  It played better, just a small hanging glitch.  Nicole seemed unconcerned.  She suggested I burn a fresh one.  “It'll be fine,” she said, with a smile.

I can never seem to adequately convey my ire of home-burned DVDs.  And I'm pissed.  We had this format shoved down our throats.  Perhaps the technology is sound, in theory — but there is no standardization of encoding, compression modes and rates, burners, players, blah blah blah.  Fuck the DVD!

But I'll come an hour early Sunday morning.  See if a newly burned disk will work.  I'll also have, as a backup, my camera to use as a deck.  If need be, I'll play a copy of the doc on mini DV tape.  Now there's a stable medium.  I just need to remember to bring an S-video cable, as well as a mini to RCA cord.

And, again, I put out the invite.  Two screenings Sunday.  One p.m., three p.m.  It's free.  SAMA.  The auditorium off the big hall.  This will be the largest screen I've shown it on, as well as the biggest sound system.  So I'll be cringing as I see every poor editing decision.  So, come on — watch me cringe!

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Christy Walsh is a dancer / choreographer I met through Russ.  She wants to make a dance film, and had contacted him.  Russ brought me along to the first meeting.  That first day, I realized I'd seen her dance months ago at an event at the Radius Center I attended with Deborah.  After having spoken with her as well as having reviewed a couple of DVDs of her dance and film work, it became obvious that Christy is one of the true artists working in this town (a town with more than its fair share of dilettantes and self-important gasbags).

Christy invited me to the Cameo for tonight's performance of Cabaret.  She knew well my disdain for musical theater, but she persisted.  She'd seen the piece the previous week, and was trying to spread the word.

The truth is, she didn't have to twist my arm over-much.  I adore Anne Gerber.  She's one of the great actors I've had the opportunity to work with.  The film I directed which featured her, barely took advantage of her talents — and I'm chagrined at the wasted opportunity.  In fact, I've seen her in a lot of bad films.  And a few good ones.  But she always stands outs.  And everyone loves to work with her.  As far as her stage work was concerned, I kept putting them off.  I love theater, and try to get out there when I can.  I knew I would have to go see her, even if so much of her stage work has been MUSICALS — the very word causing my sphincter to begin snapping like castanets.

My problems with musicals is that the songs are usually bad.  Kitsch, but not in a fun way.  There are, occasionally, perfectly valid story-lines which are pulled to a jarring stop as some smirking asshole begins to launch into some asinine sing-song bit of narrative exposition.  I don't like expository dialogue, so why should I like it when it's accompanied by music?

The musicals I tend to find palatable are where there is some framing device that allows for the musical interludes.  The campier and stagier the better.  Rocky Horror, Hedwig, and all of that tribe.  Great stuff.  About half of Cabaret fits into that category.

When I showed up at the Cameo, Christy could only manage to rope in two other people.  So we were four (not enough for a group price break), yet that still allowed us to have a table up close to the stage.

(I was there a bit early, so I was hanging out on a bench along the side of the building.  A couple of very attractive women walked up to me.  This is something that, as a general rule, just doesn't happen to me.  “Erik?” one of the women asked.  I looked up.  It was Evie Armstrong.  I forget what a stunningly beautiful woman she is.  I stood up and and she introduced me to a friend of hers.  I expressed my disappointment at missing the table reading of Dora Pena's up-coming feature, “The Dream Healer” (an unfortunate title).  Evie is playing the evil aunt, I believe, of Gabi Walker's character.  I think the last time I saw Evie was also at the Cameo, where she was one of the lead strippers in Kerry's feature, “Garrison.”  I did sound for that film (and I'm sure they're still cursing my name), and we turned the Cameo Theater into King Tut's Titty Bar.  It was a tiny role, but Evie put in a flawless performance.  She's great.)

Cabaret was a great show.  The best thing I've seen at the Cameo.  Because I've been working on a feature film where I've been designing most of the lighting set-ups, I found myself looking at the lighting arrangement for Cabaret.  Very nice.  And then I saw in the program that Jesse Arenas did the lighting.  Hell, yeah.  Jesse knows his shit.

All the performances were solid (though some accents slid in and out).  I was very impressed by Amy Sloan as Fraulein Schneider.  I suspect she was playing significantly older than she really is, but she never wavered with the German accent (even in song), and gave a deep and nuanced performance.

But really the show belongs to Anne (as Sally Bowles) and Rick Sanchez (as the MC, AKA, “Emcee”).

After the first act, we had an intermission.  I scrambled for the program.  Why had I never encountered Rick Sanchez in local films or theater productions?  He's fucking amazing.  He is so over the top in every scene, but it's clear he remains in complete control.  As Emcee, he functions more often than not as a one-man Greek chorus.  This is a wonderful device that allows him to chew scenery like a brigade of beaver.  I mean this with the utmost respect.  He's playing this iconic character representing the pure id.  When things are going well in the world of pre-war decadent Berlin, he's randy and ready with winks and leers.  But as the city — the nation — falls under the shadow of repressive fascism, he begins to falter, a little bit more with each scene, like he's becoming drunk or ill.  And as I skimmed his CV in the program, I understood why I had never encounter him before.  He's mainly in musicals.  Ah, I see ….  Those damn musicals.

And then there's Anne.  I knew she's a great stage actor and singer even though I hadn't yet seen her on stage before tonight.  She gets all the plum roles.  And the critics seem unanimous singing her praise.  Probably I should have dragged my ass out to see her in Chicago, but I didn't.  She's just amazing.  The penultimate song starts off slow and lifeless and boozy.  Sally is in the eye of the Nazi storm that is about to lay waste to the giddy decadent freedom of the Berlin club scene.  The song moves from an off-kilter elegy into a heart-breaking condemnation.  That's when Anne is belting out the lyrics clean and big.  Wow!  At that point I can't imagine that anyone in the audience thought that he or she was sitting through some small town dinner theater bullshit.  One more night.  You gotta go.

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After the play, I came home and found one of Cara's friends standing on the sidewalk in front of the house talking on his cell phone.  It was about ten-thirty.  The frufru gingerbready house on the corner was having a dinner party that was just wrapping up — people were hugging on the porch and walking away to the half a dozen cars parked on Guenther and Constance.  Across the street, Hope was on her porch, hanging up Fiesta decorations with some friends and family.

Just another Friday night in the King William neighborhood.

I went inside to check my email.  Nothing.  So I grabbed my copy of Phil's house key and walked outside.  As I approached Cara's friend (still chatting away) he fell back into her driveway.  Two houses down, I let myself into Phil's place.  Cutesy stopped scratching herself and looked up at me.  She rushed up eagerly, and I took the leash off the inside door knob, made a loop, and offered it to her.  She pushed her head through.  We went outside for an evening walk.

As we moved to cross the street — I was moving at Cutesy-speed, as she has to sniff everything — I watched a middle aged woman in a white knit cap and a layer of skirts and jackets walk down the middle of the street towards Brackenridge High School.  When me and the dog were halfway across the street, the woman stopped.  She whipped around.

“Sir?”

I stopped in the middle of the street.

“Yes?”

“Where is it that I'm located right now?”

I knew this could become a very long and tedious exchange.  But I decided to take it bit by bit.

“You're on Guenther Street.  In the King William Neighborhood.”  She wasn't looking pleased with my response, so I pointed in the direction in which she had been heading.  “That's Brakenridge High School all the way down there where the street ends.”

“Do you have a cigarette?”

“Oh, no.  Sorry.”

She moved in a bit closer to me, closer than strangers tend to stand.  She asked: “Where's Travelers Park?”

“You mean Travis Park?” I asked.

She made no response.

“It's downtown.  Just walk back to Alamo Street and turn right.”

“I've been walking around in circles.” 

“Sorry.  Um, but you just walk towards the big tall buildings of downtown.  You can see them from Alamo Street.  Remember, turn right, and then you–“

I don't know if my suggestions irritated her, or if maybe the vehicle coming up made her think it was a police car, but her eyes suddenly lost focus on me, and she turned and walked away, back towards Alamo.  That was great for me.  I didn't have to talk to her any more.  So I gave a tug to the leash and brought Cutesy over to the sidewalk in front of Chip's house.  I heard the car buzz behind me and then bump over a curb and slide to a stop.  There was the sound of a sliding door rolling open.

When I looked across the street at the front of my house, I saw a taxi cab van up on the curb and angled into my driveway.  A young man in brown brogans and a long sleeved black pullover tucked into black slacks tumbled out and he began retching violently onto the grassy parkway between my sidewalk and the street.  I mean, he was going to town.  Plunging and heaving.  I just stood watching in amazement.  The woman in the knit cap was long gone.  I could hardly blame her.  There was an ugly moment when I thought perhaps this was some guy who I knew, who had rented a cab to come visit.  But no.  I heard the cab driver say: “You probably should just starting walking.”  And another young man — this one dressed in white — stepped out.  I guess he paid the cab, because it drove off.  Man in white helped man in black to walk down the street, toward Alamo Street.

When me and Cutesie came abreast Hope's house, she came up to the fence with her daughter.

“That was disgusting.  He ruined my perfect moment.  I was hanging my Fiesta decorations, and I heard that taxi go up over the curb. And then it was a bunch of upchucking.”

(To those readers not native to San Antonio, a brief explanation is in order.  Fiesta is a ten day bacchanalia of parades, street fairs, parties, masquerade balls, and on and on.  The city plans for months, and when April hits, every thing takes it to the back-seat as Fiesta eclipses all, if you'll excuse the mixing of metaphor.)

I suggested she just put it behind her and try as best she could to salvage the rest of her evening.  “It's Fiesta, babe” I felt like saying, a la Chinatown.  And as tonight (Friday night) officially begins the ten days of Fiesta, I can think of no better line of demarkation than one's first sighting of vomiting connected with public intoxication.  And as that young gentleman anointed my lawn with his half-digested late night dinner of margaritas, peanuts, and light beer, I felt like walking out into the middle of my street and addressing the imaginary camera crew: “And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, it is now officially Fiesta.  Let the festivities begin!  And back to you in the studio, Gwen.”

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