Flaskaland
Thursday, May 04, 2006
 
"Yes, but is the record any good?"

this has nothing to do with music, but a post on another group that is dedicated to music about the current whereabouts of lily tomlin and everyone's instant association with her ernestine character reminded me ... (in a swirling way ... that hits me sometimes ... sometimes harder than others but this is just a little bip!) that

i once lived on an estate in the berkeley hills, which sounds splendrous or magnificent, i know, but it was not then nearly so grand as it once was nor as the description 'an estate in the berkeley hills' might first sound. i mean to say that place was weird by any standards. there were little cottages and houses on the acreage, and the large mansion at the top of the hill was inhabited by the owner of place. he communed regularly with flying saucers and space beings by going into a trance and singing to them, squandering his family’s corn fortunes running an unsuccessful candidacy for president on the ufo ticket. the cottages, separated by ferny paths and pyrocanthus bushes, were inhabited by an an actor, a jazz trumpeter, a geneticist, a professional muscle builder, Dr. Hip (an icon then in the Bay Area), and me, i was there, too, under the ballet studio, down the stairs, just slightly past the abandoned tennis court.

the large studio space above the geneticist was used as a rehearsal hall by a theatre troupe, and sometimes things being what they are, everything combined in a strange way, and the theatre group would produce and perform a play about flying saucers. or the theatre troupe would perform guerilla political skits in an effort to entertain and educate the public. i was invited to the premier performance of one of those plays. that drama seemed to be about the right of free speech all mixed up somehow with a social commentary on ma bell’s monopolism changing into a demand for not so much nationalization but free communications. fidel, after all, had provided free telephone service in cuba, at least for the local island calls. oh, yeah, this is the sixties now we're talking about.

i stood in the park (yes, provo park) watching the play right along with every one else. irritatingly, because my friend the actor/writer liked doing odd versions of this is your life, the protagonist in that play had the same nickname as i carried in my youth, back when i worked in my first nine to five (or seven to three) $1.63 an hour job for The Phone Company. the skit raced to its conclusion, and the heroine, a long distance operator, was revealed as a bureaucrat with a heart of gold in a pivotal scene. the characters on stage were a hippie guy trying to use a phony credit card number to make a long distance call to his political friends in chicago. the operator informed him she could not put that call through. she politely declined, "i’m sorry, sir, the telephone company credit card number you gave me is not a valid credit card number." he pleaded, he cajoled, and he finally broke down and said he just wanted to talk to his friend who was in trouble and he didn't have any money for the call. she went on to say, "i’m sorry, sir, if you wish to place a long distance call using a telephone company credit card, you must use a valid telephone company credit card number, and that number is ...." and she’d give out a a series of numbers that sounded like a real telephone credit card number for people to use to, well, maybe even call their political friends in chicago.

but, being a morality play, the actors playing the police or the f.b.i. would show up on stage and arrest her and there was a funny political commentary as a conclusion. at the end of the premier, after applause, the cast came on stage, holding hands and doing a theatrical bow. the play was over, but one of the actors went on to announce in a conspiratorial stage whisper that (and he used the protagonist’s name) was in reality a real long distance operator. so if ever you need help, just dial o for operator and you’ll get (and he used my name). then he went on to announce in the manner of an excited tv host handing out the door prize that (and he used my name) was in the audience.

the actors spilled off the stage and out into the crowd, while he teased the audience in ways i don’t remember as i was in a state of shock, and looking for an easy path through the crowd to make my exit. as the actors moved about the audience waving their open palms over the heads of different spectators while the actor on stage teased, and the other actors would shout out "Minnesota" which would prompt the actors to move elsewhere, hopefully getting warmer. Onstage, the emmcee continued pumping the crowd with "and the real (and he used my name) is in the audience ..." so they all eventually ended up circled around me and it was pretty funny when the actors turned to each other and began applauding each other. so i clapped, too, it was funny!

as my friend said to me at the time as we left, "don’t you love dell arte sometimes? it allows people to bring out the inner clown."

you can kind of guess what happened, can't you? the real f.b.i. came to a performance and one actually went onstage to arrest the actress. they provided real drama when the play was at that instant was timed for comedic relief.

well, it's all six degrees from nowhere, really, you see. what started this memory was my friend used to write for lily tomlin, but his humor was too angry and political for her tastes, so he moved on elsewhere to try to find work. my only claim to any reflected albedo kind of being in the vicinity fame was attending a class that robert altman was in some way associated with and going to one of his plays. so altman finally got an oscar ... i don't know what else to say. you know, i probably should have gone to a concert tonight (there was a good one in town) instead of wasting my time writing about any of this. that skit in the park, though, that was funny. and the weird street theater event that followed with the real gendarmes, well, i guess we can all laugh about it now.
 




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