Wednesday, September 05, 2001

This Sunday I played Bumbershoot, Seattle�s titanic arts festival.

I actually worked at Bumbershoot a year ago, as the guy who checks out radios all day long and checks them in at night. I got the job through a friend who was losing her mind as one of the main organizers of the festival. She needed someone, and as I had been unemployed for six months at this point, I leaped at the chance.

If this opportunity ever comes to you, take it. Working for an enormous arts festival has a lot of perks: free food, free coffee and all the art you can swallow. The downsides are that the food is day-old cheesecake donated from Entenmanns, the coffee is paint thinner mixed with sewer juice and the art is happening so fast and in so many places that you absorb it in fractured pieces. Fire eater/cheesecake/hand out radios/juggler/cheesecake/poet/recharge radios/cheesecake/rock band/cheesecake/dancing girls/cheesecake. Four days of cheesecake does things to a man that should not be spoken of aloud.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience to do fucked up shit for pay, like making candles for Sandra Bernhard and calling a limo for Eric Bogosian. Impressions: Sandra is something of a prissy bitch (�the candle must be ADORNED in CINNAMON sticks and the WAX must be CLEAR�) and Bogosian is a pretty laid back guy. I didn�t get to speak with him, but my wife said he sounded nice, which counts as she is a great judge of character. I somehow slipped past her radar.

This year it had all changed�I was still working for Bumbershoot, but this time as a performer at the Seattle Rep�s largest theatre, which seats an ungodly number of people. When we had our technical rehearsal in the morning it was great�like a poor boy had come down from the mountains to see how city folk live. Instead of a garage we were performing in a vast cathedral. Instead of 10 lights I had to refocus every week because rock bands shook them there were 400 units, arrayed in perfect symmetry and ready to command. The sound system was not my stereo brought from home and juryrigged into an ancient set of amps�they have their own CD player! After living on the fringe for years it was a little like being welcomed back into heaven: the heaven of subsidized theater. Like most of my ideas of heaven it was too open, empty and austere for me to ever feel like I was really at home.

The techies were delightful, and showed Jean-Michele the intricacies of calling shows with union operators; normally she does it all herself, but in this space there are rules and regulations as well as computers, so that all her delicate and refined timing had to be translated into beats and numbered counts for the machines. For the most part it worked, and the crew was sharp, but at the end of the day you can�t beat the human touch�she knows what I�m doing before I do some nights.

The show went up at 9:30pm, opposite DAVID LEE ROTH. Yes, I had to compete with the inimitable DAVID LEE ROTH, Lord Of The Ninth Hell, for my audience. Luckily the show organizers were correct in their assumption that the Rothians, his worshippers and lackeys, would not be the same folks that want to watch some guy talk about his old job for 90 minutes. We pulled in a pretty full house, which amounts to around 500 people, I think�no one seems to know how big the theatre actually is. The website is woefully ignorant, and I have heard guesses from �around a thousand� to 400. In any event, it�s very large and the techies were impressed.

The show itself went splendidly, aside from one moment when I had this intense sense of vertigo near the top of the show and was convinced I would fall into the audience. I was in a very bright light and could see nothing, so this voice in my head kept saying, �Goooo ahhheeeeeaad�jump. You miiiiiiight as weeeeelllll jump�� Damn you, Roth! The siren call of that aged rocker did make me wonder what would happen if I just stepped off, dropping me six feet into the surprised faces of yuppies out for some culture-in-a-box. I do not think they would have let me body surf.

The show ended splendidly with a standing ovation, and as I left the stage I really felt different�like this experience, having moved from being a guy who labors to a main attraction at this festival captured a piece of what these last nine months have been like for me. I was content and satisfied to have such a neatly drawn example in my life�like the lines parents draw on the kitchen walls to track how much taller their kids are the next year. I felt like I had grown, in my work, my approach and my expectations. It was a very Jedi Master, now-I-have-learned-to-deflect-bullets-with-my-mind moment.

I trotted out to meet my friends and companions after the show, excited and ready to go out, to discover that no one but us had brought a car. So we loaded nine people into a my parent-in-law�s wood-paneled station wagon along with a 70 pound hardwood fire door and all the props, stacking people like cordwood in the back atop one another. We then rode around town, soon discovering that since my brother was under 21 we couldn�t eat anywhere because fascist Seattle cards constantly and with prejudice.

As we passed our fifth restaurant, I was so oddly happy. The aimless driving and searching, the underage problem, looking for something to do, the sinking despair�it had happened to me one more time. It�s high school, right in front of me. I am 28�it may not happen again. When it came it was so welcome and so unexpectedly perfect. It was youth, all miserable driving nights and cups of coffee and the constant wish that something would happen.

I don�t think I would remember the first experience with clarity if it had not been for the second. I never want to be young again, but it was important to be reminded why.