No Exit

From what I can remember of Jean Paul Sartre’s play, it was about three strangers trapped in a room that is supposed to represent Hell. As in other theatrical pieces that tackle unnatural confinement (e.g., Tallulah Bankhead’s indelible performance in Lifeboat), the situation starts out friendly enough but rapidly disintegrates into unbearable friction. Everyone ends up wanting to kill each other. But are there any consequences to murder if you’re already in Hell?

My over-simplified take away was if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Try to make the most of something that can’t be changed.

That is the peace I’ve made with Fort Wayne’s Three Rivers Festival. Held every July it has no purpose other than to enjoy the nice summer weather and encourage people to eat crappy food. Which most of them don’t need.

The focal point of activities is Junk Food Alley with typical carnival fare of corn dogs, elephant ears and taffy. They always sound and smell appealing but never are.

I continue to hold out for something new and healthy and am quite gullible about it. Like the year they introduced onion blossoms. Huge fried onions served with a blue cheese dipping sauce, how marvelous! How greasy! I barely ate a third of it. Their idea of food preparation and mine are quite different.

The Festival started when I was in my teens and seemed hokey as hell at the time. In the days of Woodstock and Altamont, we got warmed over Norman Rockwell. Still, when you’re with young family members who have not yet been fully indoctrinated in my cynicism, it can be fun seen through their eyes.

The Festival starts with a parade on Saturday morning. My one memory from those 60’s events is of the cop from Indianapolis who toured the state doing his motorcycle schtick. As he beguiled the crowd with his riding tricks, a look of self-righteous certitude was frozen on his face. He was the law and you motherfuckers better obey.

The highlight was his signature move. Pulling his knees into his chest, he placed his feet on the seat and slowly pushed himself until he was standing completely upright. With his arms out-stretched he was able to balance the motorcycle as it continued to move forward. Like a Christ on Sugar Loaf, he ruled over the parade.

My brothers and I goofed on that pompous fool for years to come. Our favorite Mad Magazine scenario was of his  bike careening out of control, him thrashing on the pavement in excruciating pain, and the cycle mowing through the crowd of adoring school children. Good times.

Not the cop in question but an example of the technique. Without the sanctimony.

Despite his air of moral superiority, there were flaws in the officer’s thinking. Mainly the kids’ impression of how  terribly cool his stunt was. How easily you could be killed trying to do it was never mentioned.

Thank you for your service, Nimrod.

Howdy neighbor! Three times younger than me, four times as heavy.

As the popularity of Junk Food Alley suggests, portion control is a major issue in this region. It’s surprising one of my favorite restaurants, The Italian Connection, is still in business.

Their pasta is homemade, the sauces are thin but rich, the servings are modest and satisfying. You leave sated not stomach bombed. Occasionally, however, you’ll encounter a local being served an entree for the first time. An expression of “you mean for $12 I only get three ravioli?” comes over their face.

I had a delicious meal there again this summer. In addition to the epiphany of accepting what can’t be changed, as we walked through the restaurant’s parking lot that evening there was another stark realization about my life. Despite my old age I am never going to grow up. I mean, you can’t put a Shroud of Turin touring van in front of me and not expect me to react.

Even though my photogenic days are dog years behind me, the “show people” in me forced me to strike a pose.

 

 

Eviction Countdown: Day 4

Meet me at Henry's. With my newest best friend who I've known for 50 years.
Meet me at Henry’s. With my newest best friend who I’ve known for 50 years.

I spent the day visiting my brother who had just completed a brutal round of chemotherapy and then the evening with my best friend in Fort Wayne, Billy.

Billy owned the Corner House Salon where my Mother had her hair done every week of her life from the 1960’s until she died six years ago. She always called him Steve because that was how he was introduced to her. And she wasn’t one for playing games.

Billy’s first job in the 1950’s was at the city’s leading department store, Wolf & Dessauer, where the salon manager decided they already had one Billy and that his name would be Steve. It was like Upstairs Downstairs when Lady Marjorie named the new maid Sarah because she didn’t like the name Clemence.

Mother may have referred to him by his professional name but their friendship soon became anything but. Her visits to the Corner House were always at the end of the day so after closing she would go out for drinks or dinner with a  group from the shop led by Billy. Or sometimes it would just be the two of them There was a whole network of Rat Pack like cocktail lounges and restaurants around town and they knew them all.

For my Mother their excursions represented liberation from 18 years of living the nuclear family life. In this rock red conservative “City of Churches” they would do or say anything for a good time. When the first major porn movie came out, Behind the Green Door or I am Curious Yellow maybe, he took my Mother to see it. They laughed through the whole thing but snuck out a side door afterwards so they wouldn’t be seen.

When I became of age, I would occasionally go with them on their night club rounds. By then I was in living in Bloomington or San Francisco, however, and would only see him once or twice a year when I was home. If our schedules didn’t coincide we could go a couple of years without seeing each other. But I would hear about Billy every week when I called home.

Billy is the Andy Warhol of Fort Wayne, he knows everyone in town and never misses an event. And being of Warhol’s generation, both he and my Mother were somewhat starstruck. I think the movie star system was kind of the internet of their age, an innovation that marked them for life. But Billy took the obsession to the next level.

His house is full of memorabilia like his collection of autographed Oscar programs from the ceremonies he attended. Or his correspondence with Joan Fontaine and Lisa Gay (who, as everyone knows, was Debra Paget’s sister.) He’s always dropping interesting nuggets into the conversation, having dinner with George Cukor or being roommates with Mickey Hargitay when they were in art school. And he knows every B movie star of the 40’s and 50’s. His tidbits are always fascinating but I swear if I hear one more Sonja Henie story…

When my Mother died in 2009 Billy Steve said we should get together while I was still here. We had dinner the next week. Since then I’ve spent several months a year in Fort Wayne and speak to or see him every day I’m in town.

We share many interests and he’s always fun to hang out with. When we’re not laughing he’s someone I can confide in and tell anything to. He could care less. All he ever wants to talk about is himself.

 

At Zesto, our favorite ice cream place. Billy's mind is sharp as a tack although lately I've noticed some confusion with the concept of "seasons."
At Zesto, our favorite ice cream place. Billy’s mind is sharp as a tack although lately I’ve noticed some confusion with the concept of “seasons.”

Next: Eviction Countdown Day 3, The Whole World is Watching
Previous: Eviction Countdown Day 5, Je Suis Nobody
The Complete Countdown
The complete saga, From the Beginning