Saturday, June 03, 2006

this is where i work

the theater i'll be performing in sits snugly in emerson park, on the edge of lake oswego. all of it is breathtakingly gorgeous. the river that runs through the city takes you all the way to canada, which is surprisingly nearby. when the sun is shining, this is a lovely place. no wonder this was a stop on the underground railroad. no wonder harriett tubman went to canada, retrieved her parents and brought them back to live here, in a house that's right up the street from where i stay.

auburn is a weird place. wierd, wierd, wierd.

there's a 24 hour wal-mart, there's a taco bell and a wendy's and a mall with a food court and a bass pro-shop. there's even a 24 hour wegman's for good measure, to give wal-mart a little competition. rite-aid. mc donald's. lots of stuff i glimpse and recognize from someplace else. that kind of stuff carries it own sadness, for the way that it's destroying communities and the general health and welfare of the populace. mostly, there are a neverending parade of old buildings and houses that i've never seen before, with their bay windows and turrets and elaborate verandas and massive back and front yards, that make everything seem worn and strange. and haunted. if it's true that things carry the energy of the person or the thing that was there before, these edifices are weighed down with so much history, they practically glow with an ethereal presence that shimmers with otherworldliness. and so i am fascinated. and because i love history as much as i do, i am intrigued and entralled and genuinely curious about this little town and every victorian house i see. but there is a lot of sadness here, the kind that permeates you from the inside out. it feels like somebody died.

welcome to the northeast, my friend wisecracked.

he arrived on monday to see wednesday's opening night performance. although i was at the theater most of the time doing ten out of twelves (scheduled for two days in a row), we managed to spend some quality time together at emerson park where the theater is located, walking around oswego lake and sitting and taking in the day. he said that i sounded like a five year old because everytime i saw a bird, i thought it was a duck.

Funny thing. There were inmates from the local prison tending to the grounds at the entrance to the theater when we were on our way to the lake. I forgot my camera and went inside to retrieve it. One of them said hello to me as I passed by. I smiled at him and spoke. He was smaller than the others and brown skinned, with long kinky brown hair. I expected him to say something. why shouldn't he? it's our black thing.

As i exited the theater, another one pulled his shades down to the tip of his nose with one finger as he held a weed trimmer in his other hand. I had shades on, so I could watch him watching me. He looked like the kind of hayseed I’d seen a million times over: skinny legs stuck underneath a round belly that made him look like a bullfrog standing up; greasy hair that was a little too black, with the kind of white skin that tans a little too easily; rolled up sleeves, an upturned collar and a tilt in his walk. Prison wasn’t going to kill his style. Oh, no. He gave me a long slow stare, like i had him hypnotized, just to let me know that he was looking and he liked what he saw. When I got within 3 feet of him, he said hello politely, and I smiled and greeted him. All of the prisoners stopped working to watch this exchange. Even the guard in the car was paying attention. I had absolutely no idea why.

My friend says they’re from jail, not prison, for stuff like bounced checks -- but there is no jail here. I guess he was taking the bite out of us walking through the park with them drifting around and tending the grounds, and the strong possibility that I would see them again. As it turns out, Becky the wig lady told me that when she got here, she was told that she'd probably never see an inmate because most of them are in prison for life. I couldn’t help but wonder what each of the inmates that I saw working quietly in the sun did to end up there.

My friend and I can't seem to agree as to whether or not we're in the suburbs. he thinks we are because the countryside to him is when you have to drive for two or three hours to get to a grocery store and you shop knowing that you're stocking up for the next month or two. he cites his favorite locations in new mexico as examples. i think we're in the countryside because although there are houses and backyards and such, there is farmland and farm equipment everywhere, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and space. i cite my uncle's place in walterboro as an example of what i mean. semi-rural? semi-suburban? i can't tell from here. when i think i'm in the suburbs, something around me feels like the countryside and vice versa. Back and forth.

my friend was trying to say that this was our first visit to the suburbs together, the suburbs being a bastion of normalcy and decorum that we don't have in the city and certainly not a city like our fair metropolis. the truth is, new york city is basically a monochromatic strip mall, filled with college students, fashion victims and dilletantes posing as musicians and actors, almost all of them anglo and almost all of them from somewhere else. there is no multicultural explosion of ideas and politics and cool. take a walk through the lower east side on a saturday night. it's like a portal from somewhere in the midwest opened up at the corner of stanton and ludlow and let out all these screaming drunken white twentysomethings that are living the new york city that they saw on sex and the city. not that there's anything wrong with that but who else could possibly afford it?

auburn feels wierder than new york city ever did. more authentically wierd. new york city is where people go to affect the kind of wierdness that's in a place like auburn on an ordinary day. i used to believe that the real freaks and wierdos lived in new york city but now my theory is that they've either retreated to small towns like auburn because they know how bogus new york city really is or they’ve never left those places to check any of it out because the new york city that they’re imagining is way more dangerous and edgy than the one that actually exists. That’s the reason why a lot of people I know never left home to do their art. They were completely intimidated by everything they’d seen in the movies or heard from the people who returned home because they couldn’t cut it.

my friend says that sometimes he wants to disappear to a town like this and live in a big cool house and do his art. i think that's the right idea. famous people do it all the time, mostly because once you establish yourself with what you do, you can live where ever you want. when carole king was at the height of her fame with the album tapestry, she moved to idaho with her second husband and raised her two kids. oleta adams lives in kansas city. julia roberts lives on a ranch in new mexico. and everybody knows where demi moore lives.

i would love to live in a big old victorian house here but my friend says if i can't take the cold weather in the city, i definitely couldn't take the snow upstate.

Today is another 12 hour tech rehearsal – noon to midnight – but hopefully we’ll wander through emerson park again and then to green shutters cafĂ© for a cobb salad. My friend is convinced that they make the best food in town. He's right, so far.

So many ducks, so little time.

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