This painting is by Oona Austin and it ain’t half what she does.
We drove down from Mystery Island, Island of Mysteries, after dropping the kidz back with their Hopefully Clean Mom and her Hopefully Employed Boyfriend and tearful farewells in which the message that we had to go to work in order that we might pay their (now our) mortgage may or may not have struck a rational chord. When you’re eight, life extends five minutes ahead of you and about two days behind. Most of what adults have to say, good or bad, does not fit comfortably in that frame and so can safely be ignored. Off we go. We drive away from their little house that hopefully will not fill up with Meth manufacturing or witchcraft, in which the hopes and fears of all the years will not come in one night, in which – the only real hope we’ve got – some vague memory will cut through years from now that those people – that Philip and that Oona – were pretty much fun and always told me I was smart and yet a lot of fun but that I was smart and that it was fun to be smart.
The Big Blonde has not fully understood the huge burden she’s taken on (I’m writing this a year later) and she thankfully starts concentrating on the Firesign Theatre show, now that she’s sat through three of the shows without doing any of her usual jobs. She’s been so busy with the kids and buying their house out of foreclosure that she hasn’t been a part of this show. For years she’s either stage managed, directed, lit, merchandised or some other huge job for the FST tours and this is the first one where she’s a little like me, sitting on stage being reflective. She’s free to just think for a minute and as we drive down through Oregon, into Jefferson, heading for our favorite and usual motel at Mt. Shasta, she starts to turn her attention to the fact that we’ve got three California shows to do: the first at the Heritage in San Jose, the second at the Marin Frank Lloyd Wright theater in San Rafael and the third at the Cerritos Center in Los Angeles. She’s made notes and we laugh and talk down Rte. 5 through south Washington and North Oregon and into the imaginary State of Jefferson before we hit California truly, which is about Redding or Red Bluff.
Oona, of all the people married to one or another of The Four of Us, is the one allowed by All to walk into the middle of our sacred life, our writing. Melinda, who thankfully married Mr. Proctor, feels free to direct us in our limited acting skills and she and Oona have formed a team over the last ten or fifteen years to try and bring us into some kind of performing mode that seems reasonable by Normal Human Standards, but only Oona dares face us down on writing choices. We’re all so verbal and she’s used to movie sets and the result is usually her hopping up and down in place, usually on stage at an afternoon rehearsal:
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” she’ll say, literally hopping up and down in place, “but here’s what I want you to think about. Couldn’t you …? Why don’t you …? It’s just stupid and criminal that you don’t …” and so forth. For some reason that I think only I understand, everyone listens to her, everyone fills in for her, her love for the four of us so obvious that her points get made. She’s something to watch, that’s for sure.
Entering Jefferson, the Twilight State, its State Mascot the rusted Moodonna, the Iron Governor, who presides over a State House filled with bales of hay, heading for yet another spooky volcano, in this case Shasta. The Evil Volcanos line the Pacific coast, of course, from the Cascades down into the Sierras, each one of them more wonderful, more beautiful, more stately, more placid, more evil than the next. Only St. Helen’s has blown in living memory and if Tahoma or Lassen or Mammoth Lakes or Hood ever goes, we probably won’t survive, the lot of us tectonic travelers. The Bombshell and I stay regularly right under Shasta at a motel we’re booked into so often that we’ve made friends with the staff to the point of exchanged xmas cards and knowledge of families and friends. Meg, who works in the office, just had knees replaced and Connie, who works in the restaurant just lost her mom. Meg always gives us 214 and the dogs run in the thick snow out in back among the big trees and below the stunning white mountain. We always go to Lalo’s restaurant and get the same wonderful shredded beef tacos and talk to Lalo a little about his other restaurants in Weed and – I forget – not Happy Camp, but somewhere near and then eat back at the motel. We fall asleep watching the weather channel, happy if we’re heading north and anxious if we’re heading south. We make this almost twelve hundred mile trip at least six times a year and it’s become a large part of our life. We have side trips, like Gold Bluffs beach, when we have the time, but we’ve come to think that, in a way, we live in the State of Jefferson. We often fantasize that we’ll buy the abandoned Shamrock Bar and Restaurant outside of Yreka (it seems to be on Easy Street) and we always call Barry and Peg Conner (or they call us because they not only live in LA, but also have a home in Grant’s Pass Oregon) as we pass Moodonna and we all think how happy we are up north and how conflicted we are down south, down there in the film business and all it’s attendant concerns, the main one being that none of the four of us has made enough money in it to quit and move permanently north. The mystical State of Jefferson means a lot to us, and Oona and I regularly price land north of Shasta and think how much we like that country. We’re overstretched though, with two homes twelve hundred miles apart, the kidz up north and work down south, a love for the desert of Sonora and the mysteries of south Utah, the tenthousand east feet of the Sierras and ???. ah, well. We travel a lot and we love Shasta, whether it blows or not.
The Bay Area is a mixed problem, I always think. I used to live there, I grew up in Fresno where, when you say “The City” you don’t mean Los Angeles, two of our best friends in the world – the Alexanders – live in Tiburon, the Firesign Theatre has done many shows there and in fact lots of people think we’re a product of KPFA wheras in fact, we’re out of KPFK and the densities of the South. We head first for a beautiful theater in San Jose.
The best thing about this performance is the appearance – in line in the autograph signings we do at the end of shows – of two people I haven’t seen since high school, veterans of the first grade at the Fresno State Experimental Elementary School; (Dr.) Les Naman and Jack (formerly Jackie) Globenfelt, now director of a prestigious theater in Carmel, California. First grade. Yikes.
(This is actually our class in second grade and I’m not in it, of course, but there they are, there we are. Can you find Jack and Les? I can.)
I’d been corresponding with Jack for a while and he’d been nice enough to send me pictures of our gradeschool days (see above) and share a bit of his interesting life with me, but still, I was completely flummoxed to see them. First grade. Yikes. Do I need to repeat it? First grade, Yikes. I’m sixty- four and they’ve got to be about the same. What the hell happened?
First grade friends are much like third-grade friends and although my whacky mother made me skip the second grade and moved my third-grade ass to a new school, I still get the willies seeing Les and Jack. And today Oona and I got the full third-grade treatment because on the first day after the ten days of Spring Break in which we’ve had the kids – the boys only – for the entire time, we volunteered to chaperone the third and fourth-grade class field trip to the Most Depressing Museum in the Northwest. Let me ask you this: when’s the last time you rode on a school bus for an hour going and an hour coming back? For me, it was this day, a year or so after the performance at San Jose in which I was performing for two people, it turns out, two guys who used to play out Winnie the Pooh stories with me under the hedges that surrounded the Elementary School of the Insane in Fresno, California in the late Forties of the lamented Last Century.
Our twins, Ben and Carter, got us up at six, off to school, onto the school bus with sixty or so kids and ten or so adults. Up in the morning and off to school, the teacher is teaching the golden rule ???. or so said Chuck Berry back in the days when Les and Jack and I were first-graders. Except, what happened to teaching the golden rule on the same day that Nick, our teenager, had to go to a school that, the week before, had been the subject of national news stories in which four kids were booked on suspicion of plotting to burn down the school and murder teachers and students? Nick and I had been on the internet, got Sara Green who writes for the Seattle Times to tell us everything she knew, were vaguely reassured that at least this day would be safe for him, but still ???.you’ve got to worry that the doing to others as they might do to you might have dire consequences here in the Bush Age.
The object of the field trip was the Naval Undersea Museum on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, about an hour away from the Minter Creek Elementary School, and a more grey, windowless, spooky environment couldn’t have been dreamed up by even Artists of the Insane. Like all museums, however, it had a couple of surreal moments and these were my favorites: in a room devoted to the onship life of the poor trapped submariners, between the sinkings of Japanese ships, presumably, you sleep in something called a Berthing Compartment. In the demonstration of what a submariner might store in his tiny womb, there lay a copy of Tony Hillernan’s “Skinwalkers.” Great reading for a berthing. And in another corner, in the section devoted to the wives and families who wait in fear that something might leak in their husbands’ and fathers’ compartments, was a notice that read, in bold type, “After the euphoria of homecoming, husbands and wives face the intricate task of re-establishing relationships” and another detailing the “7 emotional stages of deployment.”
Wow. After the euphoria of murdering your classmates, you face the difficult task of re-establishing relationships. And we got back on the bus and third-graded our way back home, presumably the eighth or ninth emotional stage of deployment. Don’t get me started. Stop me.
I suffer from Turing Syndrome, which I define as the inability to ignore your own revelations.
The cure is to listen to Ben and Carter. Here’s Ben: “The sky is right up to my face,” and Carter: “I can’t get any happier.”
The school bus glides through the tunnel in the tall green trees, the kids shriek and laugh with Oona, Les and Jack are sitting with me, I think, behind Donna the bus driver. We are kind to one another, in my berthing compartment, back in Fresno, pulling the honeysuckle flowers off the vines that cover the fences around the school, biting off the tips and drinking the sweet nectar and inside the classroom there’s a big model of an Anasazi village and a teacher upset that I’d brought a rubber lizard to school, earnest college students observing us little guys, a tape recorder where I first learned that my voice and my ability to read could get me onto the radio. Under the watchful eyes.
Not underwater. Thinking, though.
We took the boys first-time snowboarding the week before. We got up on the mountain twice that week. The snow was wonderful. The Bombshell, as you can see, was happy. The kids flew down the hill and almost learned to turn. The water was frozen, the skinwalkers were absent, the revelations were immense, the sun shone.
Next post I’ll continue on with the last two shows.