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.



The Conformist

Fascism can be so lonely.
Fascism can be so lonely.

As I wait for the judges gavel to fall I’ve been watching 70’s movies on Netflix. Last night was Bertolucci’s classic and it was as good as I remembered it being 40 years ago. In addition to the drinking, disco, drugs and drag back then, the other mainstay in our lives was movies. And there were so many good ones.

We saw “Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom” and “Swept Away” at the Lumiere; “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” and “Grey Gardens” at the Clay; and “Metropolis” and “Now Voyager” at the Castro. There was also “Chinatown,” “Taxi Zum Klo,” “Amarcord,” “Shampoo,” etc., etc. etc.

When my Mother visited in 1974 we took her to a little flat on South Van Ness where they screened movies in a converted front parlor. We sat on recycled living room furniture and watched “Lifeboat.” Mother was more intrigued by our Tallulah fixation than by the movie.

The movie's most vivid colors are in the party for the blind scene.
The movie’s most vivid colors are in the party for the blind scene.

We also took her to a midnight showing of “Pink Flamingos” in North Beach. John Waters’ films did not go into general release in those days so when they were shown in the City it was a major event. Lines queued around the block at the now demolished Palace Theater. We saw “Desperate Living” and “Female Trouble” there too.

Being fresh out of college, steeped in the Socratic method, we were very critical. Lesser titles like “Barry Lyndon” or “Tess” were dismissed as quotidian. When I watched them recently on Netflix, however, I was surprised at how lush and entertaining they really were.

In the 80’s, going to movies became less social and a drop off in quality began. I blame Nancy Reagan for that. She bemoaned the fact that films no longer had happy endings like they did back at MGM. With the advent of mindless mall movies, she got her wish.

The spontaneous conga line coiled around the inert protagonist.
The spontaneous conga line coiled around the inert protagonist.

I tried to stay current by going on my own but it became too emotional. I cried through “Footloose,” I cried through Madonna’s “Truth or Dare.” It wasn’t the movies that got to me, it was the isolation of being in an audience. It was more fun to be on stage.

Most of my friends could not be bothered with mainstream cinema but I convinced a few to go with me on the pretext of examining cultural phenomena. We saw “Jaws” and the original “Star Wars” at the mammoth Coronet Theatre out on Geary. One “Star Wars” turned out to be enough for me.

It was also at the Coronet that I saw “Grease.” Musicals were not my thing but my friend was wooing a young German “pen pal” so I went along when he visited the States. The kid was obsessed with Americana and the 50’s nostalgia craze. There was a vicarious thrill in watching the film with him. Plus, there was just something about Travolta. (He reminded me of my closeted first boyfriend.)

The naughty chauffeur recycled as a peroxided troll.
The naughty chauffeur recycled as a peroxided troll.

In my role as pop anthropologist I went with Mark to see Streisand’s latest vanity project, “A Star is Born,” in 1976. It was at the Northpoint down by the Wharf. We knew what we were in for so we smoked a joint beforehand. I was high enough to become engrossed by the cinematography and ignored the transparent plot.

About three quarters of the way through silence fell over the theater. The soundtrack had been a constant of dialogue, ambient noise, soaring strings, and Babs. Now there was this sudden hush. We could hear a woman sobbing somewhere behind us. Without a word Mark and I burst out laughing.

I have a feeling she was reacting to the coniferous sap on the screen and not the desire to be on stage. But you never know.

No green screen here. Back when they spent money on films, characters were enveloped by the scenery not standing in front of it.
No green screen here. Back when they spent money on films, characters were enveloped by the scenery not standing in front of it.

Next: Landline
Previous: The Copycats Are Out
The complete saga, From the Beginning