Quinceañeras Still Give Color to Our Guantanamo World

For some reason, the newest neighbor in my little triplex house has fled. And I never learned her name. So, once again, it's just me in this building. She'd mentioned something about a job offer in another city. I guess she took it. This situation allowed another opportunity for an unanticipated alarm clock to prod me from bed. Earlier in the week it was the street crews from the City of San Antonio. This time it was some outfit called Half Price Movers.

My neighbors, as well as those driving by, got a chance to see this woman's furniture while the movers were Tetrising her belongings into the most efficient configuration within the moving van. She had pretty good taste. I pity those poor thieves driving by who had to get a taste of what could have been, but too late. Burglar's remorse.

“Chet, slow it down, man.”

“Yeah, Jasper, I'm seeing it too.”

“Damn! Looks like she's moving out.”

“Fuck me, Aunt Fritzi! Is that a Tiffany lampshade?”

“Good eye, Chet. Close. It's Stueben — and it's sweet.”

“Should we make a grab?”

“You crazy? Those Half Price Movers are tough hombres. They'll fuck you up. Just drive, man.”

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She took her dryer with her. Dammit. However, the washing machine Alejandro and Lupita left behind for me is still working well enough. And actually, I prefer to hang my laundry out on the line.

So, this morning, as I waiting on the wash while catching up on Democracy Now via the internet, I heard a knock on my door. It was George Cisneros inviting me to Urban 15 for lunch. “It's just tacos, but we need to catch up.”

I never turn down lunch with the Cisneros. They brought me up to speed. There are definitely things in the works over on the southside. I don't know how much is ready for public disclosure, but I'm glad to see progress within the arts organizations in one of my favorite neighborhoods here in San
Antonio.

I was honored to be included, even peripherally, with this work.

But the main reason I was invited to lunch was for us all to talk about the best way to move the Josiah Youth Media Festival into its second year. The idea is to expand it. And to do that, we need to start early.

I keep trying to tell people that I'm not good at this sort of promotional crap. And I don't enjoy it. However, what makes this different, is that I believe in the work that George and Catherine are doing. They're wonderful people, and I value their friendship. I'll keep working with them if they see a reason to keep working with me.

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I now know my most recent former neighbor's name. She's didn't forward her mail, so I can peek at what's spilling out of her mailbox. Valerie. I knew it began with a V.

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This weekend I shot a Quinceañera. It reminded me of when I first video-taped a wedding. It took me a while to get the swing of things because I'd really not been to a wedding before (leastwise, not a church wedding), and as such was clueless what goes on, and when. Quinceañera? I treated it like a wedding — just pointed the camera on the most over-dressed girl who is getting the most attention. Isn't that also the key secret of the paparazzi?

At least it got me out of the house. I've been obsessively running through hours of video lectures on the TED.com site. People like Wade Davis, Jane Goodall, E. O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett, and their ilk. Two of my favorites were Erin McKean, a disarmingly witty lexicographer (editor in chief of The New Oxford American Dictionary) — and then there was James Howard Kunstler, author and social critic, whose talk, entitled, The Tragedy of Suburbia, viciously points out all the vapid, soulless nausea of contemporary trends in American architecture and city planning, such as suburbia, and other “places not worth caring about.” For those with slow internet connections, it appears that these short TED talks (each averaging 18 minutes) can also be accessed as audio files.

The Quinceañera didn't end until midnight. There was lots of nothing to do. Like shooting a wedding, pretty much. There's the ceremony. And later, the reception. The reception usually has a program of little, scattered events. But for the Quinceañera, like all those weddings I video-taped, the final two hours is nothing but people dancing to some lame DJ (but isn't that a redundancy?). The first hour or two is kind of fun. Video-taping people dancing is a good cover for introverted social cripples (such as myself). You really have to get in there with the folks, move around with them, and not step on anyone's feet. Because you're the video guy — hiding behind an exotic camera rig — no one notices that you're behaving like an ass, 'cause you're making them all stars. But after you gather, say, an hour of folks dancing, it doesn't really change. So, it's time to stop. And wait. Wait for the whole affair to end.

What makes weddings different (well, most of them) is the alcohol. Maybe some kids were sneaking in some cough medicine this weekend, but it was mainly the slices of heavily frosted cake passed out around ten that kept them dancing until midnight.

The people were wonderful, but I don't think I can do this sort of stuff any more. Ultimately, just like weddings, it involves me attending an event that I would never consider were it not presented as a job. And, really, I'm just not that driven by a buck. There was, for a time, an added component to the weddings. I was working for a local company. And there was always another video shooter at each gig. And often the company also provided the still photography. So we were there as a crew, and could more easily handle the down-time. For awhile I was actually fascinated by this subculture of the wedding industry. The veterans would be chummy with photogs from other companies. They also seemed to know all the local DJs. And often they were on first name terms with the pastors and priests of the local churches. Well, I think I managed to squeeze the fascination out of that peculiar industry after working in it — off and no — for about a year and a half. I did not want to become one of them.

There was a guy at the Quinceañera who I'd seen before. Well, not actually him, but his type … his tribe. It seems that every wedding (and perhaps Quinceañera) has a mentally handicapped relative who really loves to dance. I mean, when the music starts, these folks can't stand still. They are great. They help to shame others to come up and dance during those more boring songs.

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On the drive home I stopped to snap a photo of this neon sign advertising an extermination company.

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Tonight I dropped by the Jump-Start Performance Company for the last performance of “On the Island.” I've drifted away from reading the San Antonio Current (our free weekly guide to the local arts and cultural events, as it seems to have lost its edge and its relevance (if, indeed, it ever had these qualities)). And so, I manage to keep on top of local events through San Antonio bloggers from within the arts scene, email blasts, flyers at local coffee houses, and word-of-mouth. In fact, I knew about this Jump-Start show from a postcard displayed at Jupiter Java on S. Alamo. So, yes, this sort of promotion does work. It didn't hurt that it was advertised as “written and performed by S. T. Shimi.” I'd seen Shimi at the Jump-Start's anniversary party at the beginning of the year. She did a short ariel dance piece. And she also served as one of the Mistresses of Ceremonies … in the guise of Nicole Richie.

I'd almost forgotten all about it when I got a call from Russ. He read something about the piece and was interested in going.

Monessa Esquival (Jump-Start house manager, and one half of the Methane Sisters) was taking tickets. It was dead in the Blue Star Arts complex. And there were only two other people in the audience when me and Russ arrived. But by the time the show began, the audience beefed up considerably.

Michael Verdi sat down in front of me. I mentioned that I thought he was living in San Francisco. He said he was spending a lot of time traveling back and forth between these two San cities.

The show begins with Shimi behind two falls of drapery. They hang down from over the stage as a single loose rope. When doing the aerial parts of the piece, she can climb up, using it as one rope or two; loop the drapery around herself to swing in suspended contortions; or she can open up the cloth and use it as a flowing counterpart to the poetic narrative piece.

The “island” is, of course, Guantanamo. But Shimi breaks that theme open so as to play with greater concepts of isolation, subjugation, and incarceration. She often returns to a major narrative thread which features a playwright whose work (and the performance of that work) has become inexplicably subjected to torture (or, euphemistically, if you must, “stress positions”) … all played out to an audience of none. Much like our country's torture chambers that apparently don't exist. That tree falling in an uninhabited forest, making no sound.

It was a very powerful piece. Shimi's athletic, graceful, and a great writer. I'm always impressed with one-person shows, because the performer is burdened with such a mountain of material. Shimi only faltered on one line. And that, only barely. She was climbing a bolt of turquoise Rayon at the time, as I recall.

I've said it before, the Jump-Start is the only San Antonio theater that consistently programs real art. Sad for San Antonio, but great for Jump-Start.

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