Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the San Francisco Fog, Part 2

After getting our fill of the Renegade Craft Fair, Rebecca and I Ubered over to Fisherman’s Wharf to catch an early afternoon VW bus tour of the city. The well-tatted Uber driver was much nicer than our earlier driver. Then again, we had temporarily stashed the maize-colored ponchos and posed no danger to his moneymaker in the wet seat department.

In search of a California experience, R. and I had a bite to eat at In-N-Out Burger. The food was more fresh that fast, so I would be all for renaming the chain In and Plan to Stay for a While Burger. But it was tasty and the chocolate milkshake hit the spot in the way that my samples of Kombucha never did. However the Kombucha guy was a lot easier on the eyes than any of the people working at In and Plan to Stay for a While Burger.

I don’t know how I landed on the idea of a VW bus tour of the San Francisco, but it seemed like great fun especially since R. and her husband David are Volkswagen bus aficionados. As in, they actually own one. And no, they are not Deadheads nor do they smell of patchouli.

As far as I could see, there are three VW bus tour operators in San Francisco. One website shows plain buses, one buses painted a la Peter Max, and the third company uses plain buses but the headlights are accessorized with eyelashes. We opted for the eyelashes, aka Painted Ladies Tour Company. What could be more San Francisco that a possibly transgendered Volkswagen bus? As my mother used to say, “When in Rome, shoot Roman candles!

After lunch, we walked a couple of blocks to catch our tour. The driver, Antoine, greeted us warmly and we piled into the back seat of his orange bus. There were already folks planted in the middle seat.

We drove over to Union Square via Lombard Street (San Fran’s famous crookedest street) to pick up the rest of the tour group. Lots of Japanese tourists took our photo as we went by. "Look Yoshi! A Volkswagen bus! How cute!"

The three people in the middle seat were clearly from the sweet tea part of the country. However, I would venture to say that they did not enjoy good colon health since they were not even close to the life of the party. Even being photographed by Japanese tourists did nothing for their grim demeanor. They hardly said a word on the entire trip and they didn’t even get out of the bus at some of the photo op stops. AND they treated that middle seat as if were their church pew: Jesus himself assigned it to them and by damn, they weren’t moving. EVER.

At Union Square we picked up a honeymooning couple from Houston. He sat in the front for the rest of the tour, and she piled in the back with Rebecca and me. He was pleasant enough but sort of a knuckle dragger, while she was fun and amusing. We weren’t sure if she was pregnant or just big boned in the stomach area. She looked pregnant but she downed two classes of Antoine’s chardonnay before you could say Ernest and Julio Gallo, leading me to the big boned in the stomach area theory. Quaffing chardonnay with strangers is not something you typically see a pregnant woman do in the back seat of a Volkswagen bus. But, as we learned in Tales of the City, San Francisco is filled with all sorts of interesting folks doing all sorts of unexpected things.

Although the windows fogged up (weather happens) and it was sometimes hard to hear Antoine over the spinning hamster wheel that passes for a VW bus engine, the tour was fun, and a great way to get an overview of San Francisco.

It would be difficult for those other VW bus tour operators to top Antoine, our man about town. He had a French accent that would have made both Pepé Le Pew and Maurice Chevalier jealous. In addition to his life as a guide, he’s a linguist (presumably cunning in that department), translator, and rollerblader, who referenced Tex Avery (which he pronounced Tek Zavery) in conversation, seemingly certain that we would know who he was talking about. And, just a few years ago, he was the top crepe maker in San Francisco. He didn’t explain how he earned this this title, but it sounded better than being the top bûche de Noël maker in the city.

There were lots of Kodak moments and weather compromised not-quite-Kodak moments on the tour.

One of the first spots that Antoine pointed out was the former San Francisco Armory.  Nowadays, it’s where Kink Video makes its kinky pornos (It’s only kinky the first time!). This bit of local color elicited NO comment from the slugs in the middle seat. Had it been later in the tour when I’d had enough of their non-responsiveness, I would have mentioned seeing someone I recognized as a musician from my church in the trailer for one of their videos. (True fact!) Had I consulted Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (Freshly Updated) before the tour, I would have realized that this would have been an excellent ice breaker for chatting up the other folks on the tour.

Not long after the Kink Video World HQ we passed a bakery so popular that it took down its sign—the line was out the door. I’m thinking everyone was there for the bûche de Noël. We went by the Mission Dolores too. I asked Rebecca if she'd seen Sister Act.
We stopped at the The Women’s Building with its murals of empowered Latinas.

We drove through The Castro, right past the Midnight Sun (aka the Midnight Scum) which Rebecca and I knew from Tales of the City. I remembered that when I went there many years ago I worried that I’d worn the wrong clothes. Some things never change.

Bad weather didn’t deter us from driving to the top of Twin Peaks, though there wasn’t much of a view, due to San Francisco Fog. Instead of admiring the view, Rebecca, the Texans, and I used the fully automated self-cleaning toilet at the top of the peaks.  These public toilets are so au courant (as Antoine might say) that they have their own web page.  My post-flush verdict is that the experience is better than holding it for three hours but not really worth of its own web page.

After Twin Peaks we drove through Haight-Asbury, where I saw a street guy, clearly influenced by Beat Poet Alan Ginsberg, sitting there with a cardboard sign that said “Hungry as Fuck”.

We made a photo op stop at Alamo Square, pronounced a-LAH-mo by Antoine. Seeing one of the houses there a bucket list item for the slugs existing in the middle seat. Someone told me that the exterior of the house was used in  some show that I didn’t watch. The famous postcard view of the houses with the city skyline in the background was not happening due to the bad weather.

Have I complained enough about the people in the middle seat? DO NOT GO ON A TOUR IN A VOLKSWAGEN BUS WITH THEM. If we’d been having an orgy, they would they would have brought the erectile dysfunction.

We made a short stop at the Palace of Fine Arts. In the distance two women were posing in their wedding dresses, being a threat to some heterosexual’s marriage someplace. The pregnant and/or big boned in the stomach area Texas woman mentioned that it was good luck if it rained on one’s wedding day. If that’s the case, those two women were going to be plenty lucky. Then again, perhaps they were just actresses filming B roll for something from Kink Video’s Supersized Supersexy Superslutty Girl-on-Girl Honeymooners’ series?

It’s hard not to like a photo op stop at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

At the end of our three hour tour, we dropped the slug family off at their Holiday Inn and Antoine took us back to Union Square. This meant another trip down Lombard Street. Perhaps it gets old if you do it all the time, but it twice in one day in Volkswagen bus with an award-winning crepe-maker behind the wheel was pretty cool.

After bidding au revoir to Antoine, I took Rebecca on a detour through the Westgate Mall on Market Street on our way to the BART station. I told her that I wanted to show her something there, but didn’t say what it was. Trusting soul that she is, she went along with my tomfoolery. As soon as we got on the “Up” escalator I said “TA-DA! America’s first curving escalator!”  I know how to treat a girl, don't I? 

While we searched for the rest rooms, we shared a Thorstein Veblen moment, agog at the temple of consumption. We both wondered who bought all those glitzy, flashy, expensive things that we seem to be doing semi-OK without. Apparently, even in San Francisco, there are tons of folks who aren’t interested in picture perfect artisanal free-range non-GMO heritage stuff but want something glitzy and flashy and marketed under the name of some designer whose name meant nothing to two old farts from Pennsylvania. 

After our day on the go, we were pretty tired by the time we got off the BART train back in the East Bay.  We walked into the garage and I had that WTF moment when you figure out that your car is not where you left it. We walked up and down the ramps of the mostly empty garage. Interestingly enough, this course of action did not make our car appear. Rebecca asked if there wasn’t another parking garage.

I scoffed.

Of course I was sure there wasn’t another parking garage.

Men who are a teeny-tiny part Native American don’t make mistakes about things like this.

I had actually considered calling 911 before it dawned on me we might indeed be in the wrong parking garage…which is what Rebecca had been saying all along.

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we walked back to the station and went out the other exit to the garage on the other side of the BART station, there was our rental car, right where I’d left it.

So much for my partially native American incredible homing penis. 

Obviously that was enough cultural tourism for one day.

Since we had a few hours to spare on Sunday morning before the memorial service, R and I drove over to Berkeley to see Bernard Maybeck’s masterpiece, the First Church of Christ, Scientist. Yes, this was definitely an architectural history nerd thing to do. You're shocked, I know.

I tried to go on the spur of the moment when I was in the Bay Area in August but that didn’t work. This time, I emailed in advance and dropped the fact that my grandmother had worshiped there in the 1940s. After a week, I got a note that my email had been forwarded to someone, but that person was never in touch with me.

So, alas and alack, I was left with going to church on a Sunday morning in order to see the place.

Although my grandmother was an avid Christian Scientist—my mother suggested that she timed reading her daily lesson to conflict with doing the supper dishes—I’ve never been to a Christian Science service. This was uncharted territory for both Rebecca and me.  

Our GPS took us right to the church, which is just a few blocks from the University of California campus. We parked in a garage and my special homing penis took special care to remember where we’d parked the car. The steady San Francisco fog made think that our $44 investment for ponchos and umbrellas wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

There were some homeless guys sleeping under the eaves of the church, which was still locked 30 minutes prior to the start of the service. I noticed a woman come out of one of the doors and asked if she could let us in. She obliged right away. We chatted a bit—it turned out that she was the one who’d forwarded my email to the folks who never responded. We had some time before the service started and so we were able to poke around without benefit of museum docent.

Some of the backstage areas looked as if they hadn’t been touched in years.  There were original Maybeck presentation drawings framed and hanging on the wall. It was a bit like being in a museum after it had closed….thirty years after it had closed.

The building is so much more than a shelter from the elements for worship.  It’s a tremendous vote of confidence in both God and architect. Maybeck had a singular vision of what a church was, and the congregation gave him free rein to express it.  The church isn’t exactly falling it apart, but it does have its share of deferred maintenance. Someone could easily put big money into the place and no one would notice.

I kept expecting people to arrive for the service. I knew that there were not a lot of Christian Scientists but I still expected 20 to 50 people.  Berkeley’s a big place, and the church is a national landmark. California seems as if it should be a hotbed of Christian Scientists.

As it turned out, there were just seven of us. One for each cacti vendor at the Renegade Craft Fair. It was if I’d stumbled into a Shaker Village just before the death of its last residents.

The service was interesting in the same way that your last blind date had a good personality. Everything you needed to know was in a magazine that served as the church bulletin; the order of service was printed on the inside cover. A month’s worth of sermons, which seemed to come from the Mother Church (aka the home office) filled the rest of the pages. Every Sunday, all Christian Science churches throughout the world use the same sermon. 

The service started with a nice organ prelude including Elgar’s Nimrod, a favorite of mine. And then there was a female vocalist. She sounded classically trained and to my mind at least, WAY better than you’d expect singing to a congregation of 5 regulars and two guests.

There were two pastors. According to the Internet they were readers elected from the church membership to conduct the services. It was hard to believe that a church with such a small congregation could find two clear voiced readers, but well, there’s a lot of stuff about religion is hard to believe, like that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

The First Reader led the service and read from the Christian Science text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the denomination. The Second Reader read from the King James Version of the Bible, which, interestingly enough, seemed to have nothing to do with LeBron James.

When one of the readers welcomed those who were attending via the telephone, I wondered if stereopticon slides might be part of the service.

I don’t want to make too much fun of someone else’s religious practices in writing in case I am nominated for a cabinet post at some point in my life, but wow, I didn’t understand a word of the sermon. The extra bits, from Mary Baker Eddy, were called correlative passages, a term I can’t even spell. I noticed that they contained lot of hyphenated words, which made me wonder if MBE had gotten in on the ground floor of the hyphen craze in the late 19th century. Even the sermon wasn’t just the sermon, it was the Lesson-Sermon. This was difficult for a visitor-listener like me to understand-comprehend.

Christian Scientists say that the passages from Science and Health textbook are meant to help explain the spiritual meaning of Bible passages. Frankly, I thought the passages from Science and Health needed to be followed by an explanation from Science and Health for Dummies. Presumably the dim light under my bushel basket one of the reason why I’m a Presbyterian and not CS.

At the end of the service there were smiles from the other congregants and we had a brief chat with the woman who let us into the building. The readers never came out to speak-chat to us, as they would have in most Protestant churches. Perhaps they were lost in a correlative passage in the back of the church.

Even with some deferred maintenance the church is still stunning and if it ever passes to new stewards, I hope they will treasure it as fully as Berkeley’s Christian Scientists have.

After church, we walked over to the campus for a mini-jiffy (I’m channeling my inner Christian Scientist) tour. I thought we’d end up by Sather Gate but my incredible homing penis was still on the blink and instead we opted to go to the top of the Sather Tower, or Campanile instead.

The admission was $3 and no they don’t take plastic. I made a snarky remark about how unusual it was for a place near the center of the tech revolution to not accept credit cards and the student  worker gave me the who-invited-you look. Clearly she’s not in the running for anyone's Associate of the Year award. 

The cashier directed us to walk the three feet to the elevator, where an sullen elevator operator with a manbun took gave us a lift to the of his shaft. We walked up a flight of stairs to the observation deck.

The view is amazing. San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge were in the distance, and the Berkeley campus was spread before us. Hanging out in the campanile inspired Rebecca and me to try--in vain, I might add--to remember the actress in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

I looked up at the great set of bells wondered if they’d ever been used to play Lady of Spain.

On the way back down in the elevator, I asked the still sullen manbun sporting operator if people remarked that his job has its ups and downs. He groaned. People say it all the time, he said. For once in my life, I felt very mainstream.

We made it on time (barely) to the memorial service, the whole point of our trip to California.  All that tourist stuff was great (with the exception of the Slug family) but doesn’t even begin to compare to being with your closest friends at a time when you really need each other.  I believe that everyone deserves a great funeral, and Zan had one of the best. There was only one thing wrong with it: it came at least 50 years too early. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

In the San Francisco Fog, Part 1

The first time I went to San Francisco was 1979 with my friend Pat as she attended the annual meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

While she attended meetings, I rented a car and drove to Merced, in the central valley, to see an actual historic site, my grandmother.

This one wasn’t standard fare in the grandparent department, at least to my way of thinking. As a child, she'd moved with her family to Oklahoma before it became a state. She’d lived in the Far East. She was a successful businesswoman and an avid Christian Scientist. She had a waterbed. She outlived three husbands--though at that point she was still on her second, a pigeon fancier. While I can't say that I actually loved her, she was at least as interesting as a convention of preservationists.

The other highlight of that trip was seeing Ella Fitzgerald perform at the Venetian Room in The Fairmont Hotel. The tickets were $17 each and you got a cocktail with that....and of course free matches--they were everywhere in 1979. I still have two books of matches from the Venetian Room. Even with the drink and the free matches, I thought I might have to declare personal bankruptcy since the tickets were so expensive. Ella’s a legend, it was a great night. The brush with bankruptcy was worth it.

In the between 1979 and today, I’ve been to San Francisco a few more times. For an insurance convention (oh my), for Pride Weekend (oh my times a thousand), and just as a tourist, too.

This trip came about for a sad occasion. My friend Zan, the younger daughter of my friends Tracy and Rick, lost her battle with Hodgkins Lymphoma and I was headed west for the memorial service. Zan and her cool husband Todd had just taken me to dinner in August in Oakland at the tail end of my last California adventure. (Things have changed since Gertrude Stein's day, there's plenty of there there now.) It never occurred to me that I would be going back so soon, let alone for such a reason.

I flew out as a steerage passenger on Southwest from Philadelphia with another old friend, Rebecca. I was especially grateful for her company, since mourning is not something you should do alone.

Bearing in mind the airline's instruction "Literature Only", we passed the time on our flights west by reading Armistead Maupin’s novel Tales of the City on her tablet. I’d read the book a long time ago and hoped it would make an amusing re-introduction to S.F.  Written in the post Summer of Love, pre-AIDS, macramé era, its message about the meaning of family seemed especially appropriate for the trip.

While we stayed in the East Bay near the site of the memorial service, Rebecca and I arranged our trip so that we had a day The City. As in San Francisco. As so the day after our arrival in California, R. and I drove to the BART stop nearest our hotel. We parked in a nearly deserted garage, figured out the self-service BART ticketing kiosks, and before too long we were headed into The City. BART is similar to the DC Metro without the heroically cool 1970s vintage stations; both systems vintage down-at-the-heels subway cars make the same screeches and squeals. 

When we got to San Francisco, we got off BART at the first stop, Embarcadero. Upon exiting the station we discovered that it was raining cats and dogs. There was a special kind of weather my mother called San Francisco Fog, something she experienced firsthand when she and my father lived in Berkeley right after World War II. As far as I could tell, the term included everything from a light mist to sheets of rain just this side of Superstorm Sandy. We were in a big San Francisco Fog. 

We were clueless tourists with no raingear. At my suggestion, we walked down Market Street to the Ferry Building. Since it’s now a hip and chic marketplace filled with food stands, I thought there might be some sort of vendor selling umbrellas next the picture perfect artisanal free-range non-GMO heritage and organic rutabagas. Hey, it could happen, right?

The place was a sea of foodies and it immediately dawned on me that fighting the crowd to find the random umbrella seller was not happening. So, I resorted to my standard plan B….Ask a cute guy. 

There was a wine shop dead ahead. There were no customers and voila, the cashier was cute if tragically millennial.

R:  Hi. I’m looking for an umbrella. 
Millennial Cashier: We don’t sell those here.

R: Yes, I understand that.

To myself I muttered, I may be a rube from Central Pennsylvania but I can tell a wine store from an umbrella store at 30, maybe even 31, paces.

R: Well, I thought you might know where I could get one.

MC: This is my first day.
At which point, his older and less cute coworker came up to the cash register.

R: Rephrasing the original question,  Hi, I’m looking for a place where I could buy an umbrella.
OLCCW: We don’t sell those here.


Time to find someone less cute.

We gave a once over to a gift-y booth—no umbrellas!—before stopping to ask a helpful looking woman at the chocolatier next door.

R:  Hi. I’m looking for an umbrella.
WC:  We don’t sell those here.
R:  Yes, I know that.

Apparently I look stupid enough to try to buy an umbrella at both a wine store and a chocolate shop.

Around this point, Rebecca reminded me she’d seen a Walgreen’s near the BART station. It was time to opt for an umbrella made in a Chinese prison instead of something picture perfect artisanal free-range non-GMO heritage and organic from the Ferry Building.

We hustled through the San Francisco Fog to Walgreens. We bought two collapsible umbrellas and two maize-colored ponchos, perfect for the Michigan fan on your Christmas list. The bill was $44.00. They might not have been picture perfect artisanal free-range non-GMO heritage and organic but they were certainly priced as if they were. We put on our ponchos and walked outside as we called/hailed/summoned (what is the proper term?) an Uber to take us to Fort Mason and our first destination, the Renegade Craft Fair.

In two shakes, our Uber driver called us as we crossed the street in our new raingear. It turned out that she was parked just two doors from Walgreens.

As we got in the back of her nondescript Hyundai she barked “You need to take those ponchos off. I don’t want you to get the seat all wet.”  

We dutifully took them off.  We’d worn them all of about 100 feet.

I passed on the opportunity to comment to Rebecca that even in the age of Grindr, getting screwed in San Francisco usually involves more foreplay than that, but I sure was thinking it.

On the other hand, cranky Uber woman did drive past the outer layers of Fort Mason to deliver us right to the building where the Renegade Craft Fair was taking place. Perhaps she’s just not a 10:45 a.m. person.

After our visits to the comfort station, where I witnessed a hipster adjusting his manbun in his native habitat, we were ready to see what was happening and now with 300 “makers”.

We entered the drawing for a chance to get annoying promotional emails for the rest of our lives.

According to the RCF’s press release, we were to be treated to stunning views of the Bay. We missed most of that.

And unless he was playing at frequencies that only dogs could hear, we also missed the “live sets by DJREDLite”.

Before we even made it to the makers, we stopped at a sponsor booth to sample Health-Ade Kombucha. It’s a probiotic (whatever that is) that promises to build strong bodies twelve ways. No wait. That’s Wonder Bread. Kombucha promises to make you fun faster and jump higher. No wait that’s PF Flyers sneakers.  How about it will keep you in skinny jeans, willing to spend $7 on a chocolate bar, your pork pie hat perched at a jaunty yet ironic angle, AND will make you receptive to the idea of anything picture perfect artisanal free-range non-GMO heritage and organic? What’s not to like, right?

Well, whatever the promises, Health-Ade Kombucha tastes just a bit like something you left in the refrigerator a bit too long, only effervescent. And depending on what you left in the refrigerator that’s a tad off, Kombucha can taste pretty good or just south of meh. 

I asked the super cute and effervescent—like Health-Ade Kombucha—sampling guy if drinking Kombucha would give me three floating bowel movements a day. He was taken aback: clearly he does not wait on a Bryant every day of the week.  But seriously, how can you pass out sample of a probiotic (whatever that is) and not expect people to ask about, well…Number 2?

I explained that I’d learned in a sponsor booth at my county fair that the key to good health was to have three floating bowel movements a day.  Three. Floating. Bowel movements. Truly. Unimpressed with my lower GI tract worldliness, the Health-Ade Kombucha guy wouldn’t make me any promises about the frequency or buoyancy of my effluvia. However, since I identified myself as a blogger I got a coupon for a free bottle (The coupon expires 12/31, call before midnight tonight!) and a photo too. Then again, perhaps he just thought I was a creeper and wanted to get rid of me.

So there were indeed 300 “makers” at the fair. And a few of them had cool stuff. But mostly it was rose to the level of underwhelming.

The Japanese crazy paper tube animals were cool, but hardly DIY. I am sure they were made in the giant factory of Amalgamated Japanese Crazy Paper Tube Animals, LLC. No makers were involved in the product.

We learned all about a startup called Maven which was a car sharing service like Zipcar but is even better since you don’t have to purchase gas and the cars are picture perfect artisanal free-range non-GMO heritage and organic. (Just kidding!) Even though neither R nor I lived anywhere near where Maven was available—it seemed as if it covered only a few neighborhoods in San Francisco--we listened politely to the booth babe (a term I mean in a non-sexist gender-neutral yet still objectifying way) since he was cute and had a cool black Maven logo tee shirt. And since we were there early in the day, we figured he needed to practice his spiel.

We did all 300 booths and that gave me more than my fill of the maker/DIY scene.
"Dad, is that you?"
We met an artist with great greeting cards but as far as stuff that I would buy with my own money, that was about it.

So that “emerging female-owned-and-operated creative studio producing a wide spectrum of useable objects including home goods, lighting, and wearables”….? Um, me not so much.  And the “artful notebooks and paper goods for the curious, creative, and bold”?  I gave at the office thanks. As for the “high quality, organic, chemical-free” skin care products? I prefer a daily chemical peel with low end crap I buy at Sam’s Club.

My take aways were:

Most of the stuff wouldn’t have made it past the jurors for the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.  The stuff was nice enough, but the jewelry, especially, bordered on the rudimentary. It seemed as if it were OK to stop thinking once you had your first idea.

The audience was young and overwhelmingly straight. For yet another episode in my life, I was an outlier.

A minimalist booth is de rigeur, especially if it comes from the minimalist maker/DIY craft show booth section of IKEA. In a pinch, makers make do with chicken wire as an intentionally ironic substitute.

Square business cards, from MOO, are where it’s at. Rebecca filled me in on this. Makers are onto something here. They are cool.

Wherever possible, signs should use the Roz Chast hand lettering font.

Cacti and succulents are back. We saw 7 booths of cacti and succulents. This means that spider plants are the NEXT BIG THING.

People not only buy macramé, they wear it. Seriously. Macramé jewelry is a thing. I don’t know that Martha Stewart would call it a good thing, but it’s definitely a thing.

Not everything was made by hand—but if you are young and cute enough and wear monochromatic and somewhat asymmetrical clothes that look as if you bought them at an art festival—you can count as a “maker” too. 

With our fill of maker-ness, we called/summoned/hailed another Uber and waited in the San Francisco Fog for our ride to materialize.  I passed on a $4 cup of food truck Joe and the rest of the “exciting lineup of local food and drink options” while I was waiting. As any hipster can tell you, it’s hard to fit into skinny jeans if you eat actual food.

End of Part One

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Halloween at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

A couple of weeks before Halloween, I got an email from my friend Michael Rosman. He’s a comedy-juggler (as opposed to a tragedy-juggler) slash agent slash all around good guy. He’s performed at both the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and at First Night State College.

Through the magic of cut and paste, I quote:

I need some people to help with giant puppets at the White House on Oct 31. Want to be a part of this?

I don’t think Michael knew how much quality time I have spent with the Festival’s giant puppets, loading them in and out of a rental truck. Toting them here, toting them there.

Being annoyed by their "Aren't I cute?" looks.

 Being watched by them.

They’re cool and creepy but the public loves them.  Then again, the public hasn’t fumbled around in a panic in the dark for a half an hour on New Year’s Eve looking for the keys to the rental truck which is loaded with puppets and parked in a no parking zone when he was cold, tired, and hungry and had to be three places at once.  But that's not the puppets’ fault….or was it? They are creepy after all. Who knows what they really do with that negative energy...

Even though I have no talent in the puppetry department —other than toting puppets around—I told Michael to count me in. It was the White House after all, not Epworth Manor in Tyrone, PA, right? 

In a few days I got an email from the producer of the event asking me for my security info: name, date of birth, social security number, and so on.  And then in a few more days she emailed instructions about where to be and what to wear. We were also told to keep our traps shut about the job. As it says on the propaganda posters, loose lips sink jack o’ lanterns.

The gig called for basic black. No logos.  I had black socks. And sensible black shoes. And even a black shirt or two and a black fleece.  But my black trousers had shrunk in the closet since the last time I’d worn them. So, one trip to Walmart later, black trousers in hand, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up

Since my call (show-biz talk for when you need to be at work) wasn’t until noon on October 31, I spent that morning in Washington with my favorite (OK, only) niece and treated her to the finest breakfast that Au Bon Pain had to offer.

We walked around The Ellipse and then over to the Washington Monument and had a fab time of family bonding.

At the appointed hour I was at the appointed gate, dressed in civilian clothes, but with my all black duds crammed into my European carry-all.  I had to pass my ID through the fence, and then when the Secret Service confirmed that I was on The List, the officers let me in. I then went through security at a level someplace between that of an airport and a Turkish prison.

By this time there was a cluster of performers at the gate and we were all sent up the driveway to the backstage area in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. (It's lovely at this time of year.) I checked in again, and then began the most arduous part of the day. Waiting. And more waiting. We were to stay in the area, so it wasn’t as if I could go inside to check out the Blue Room.  The waiting felt endless.

I had plenty of time to check out the outdoor décor. I wondered if the pink flamingos were a subtle John Waters reference.

After an interminable wait. My fellow performers and I met with a Secret Service officer who gave us instructions about evacuating the grounds in the event of an “incident”. He also filled us in on the “shelter-in-place” order, which, to my mind anyway, sounded way worse than running for one’s life.

I thought, Holy Crap, what if I’m at the White House when there is a terrorist incident and I’m wearing trousers from Walmart?

I could see it being the lede in my obituary.

When the security briefing was over, we had a cast meeting. The cast was a mixture of actual professionals and students from the North Carolina School of the Arts, with a few of us untalented schlubs thrown in for good measure. We were advised to put our phones away and to save the social media postings until after the event was over. We scrunched together for a cast photo.

Following the cast photo, my fellow giant puppeteers and I met with Kate, our instructor and we learned to make magic with our giant Mylar puppet. My co-workers Nic (yes, Nic with just a "c"), Joseph, Khalil, and I took turns getting the hang of the thing.  They were expecting crews for two giant puppets but two of our fellow worker bees were no-shows. Can you imagine blowing off a gig at the White House? I can’t.
While Kate, the chief puppeteer, called him an Ice Giant, I thought he looked more like origami after a nuclear accident as imagined in a 1950s Japanese black and white sci-fi movie.

The puppet was constructed of PVC pipe, Mylar, nylon cords, and some battery-operated lights, all mounted on a backpack frame. The guy wearing the puppet moved his legs as if he were walking, running, or leaping, and the other two puppeteers were in charge of the arms. Kate made it clear that the puppet emoted with his arms.

He took some getting used to, but gradually the three of us got the hang of it. And by the time the kids arrived for trick or treating, I would say that we were taking not only small steps for man and giant leaps for mankind, but also were fully in touch with our feelings. For a giant puppet at least. I emoted better operating that puppet than I do operating my actual feelings.

While we wanted to roam hither, thither, and yon with our puppet, we were assigned a patch of lawn along the driveway between the 15th Street Entrance and the South Portico. All of the performers had his or her assigned spot.

At the appointed hour, the customers, as in families with kids in costume, went through security and then, walked up the driveway where they were entertained by clowns, storybook figures, jugglers, circus performers, and best of all our GIANT PUPPET.  Once the kids got the South Portico, they would get their candy from the President and First Lady (while the parents immortalized the occasion with a photo) and the families would continue down the driveway enjoying more performers before they would exit the White House grounds onto 17th Street.

There would be two batches of kids and families—the first group, cleared to meet POTUS and FLOTUS (in DC speak) and then the sans-culottes who would suffer the indignity of getting candy from people who were not POTUS and FLOTUS.

Since we were to put our phones away and work at what we were invited there to do, as in performing, I didn’t take tons of photos. I took some when I was on break, and that was it. Fortunately, I’m old enough to know that something is still real even if it’s not immortalized with a cell phone photo.

Most of the kids were in store bought duds. There were the usual superheros and princesses by the boatload. Khalil was excellent at identifying by name both superheroes and princesses; I was better at identifying our Founding Fathers.

Khalil:  Look! It's Captain America, Ariel, and Jasmine

Rick: There's a Thomas Jefferson and he's with Button Gwinnett and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney!

Alexander Hamilton was well represented—one kid was even carrying a giant version of The Federalist Papers with him. The crowd was ethnically diverse but I didn’t see a family that looked even remotely like a family with same sex parents. Perhaps they all had a better offer in Dupont Circle.

When I was on break I walked up the drive and to see if I could see the President and Mrs. Obama.  There they were, as plain as day. They’d been handing out candy for the better part of 90 minutes and they still acted as if each kid was their first trick-or-treater. I know that after the third trick or treater at my house I’m pretty much over it, so their performance was impressive.

In the second group of trick-or-treaters, the sans-culottes, one of the mothers dressed up as Jackie Kennedy in a pink Chanel suit, complete with pillbox hat. This, as you know, is the famous outfit she wore to Dallas on November 22, 1963 when her husband was shot. While the trick or treater’s mother didn’t have blood and brains splattered all over the dress, it wasn’t what I would have picked to wear to the White House. To a Halloween party someplace else, sure. But to the White House? No way.

Around 7:00 pm, all the kids had come and gone. Nic, Joseph, Khalil and I took our giant puppet (which began to look much better once it got dark) back to the staging area. I walked by the South Portico on my way to the 17th St exit and saw that the President and Mrs. Obama had left but staffers were still there handing out candy to the last few trick-or-treaters.

I was bushed from all that emoting but was sure to thank Glinda the Good Witch as I walked to the gate to hand in my security badge. I headed to the Metro without passing Go or collecting $200. Before long I was in the suburbs where I'd parked my truck.  

It was great fun, the chance of a lifetime, really. 

However, in the unlikely event that the next guy who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania calls about Halloween, I’m pretty sure I'm busy washing my hair. Halloween is scary enough without worrying about running into him.