please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This Thing of Ours

Whenever I discuss what it is I do with those that I work with, or we are telling our origin stories, or just talking about what we love about this job...All of which happen a lot more often than one might suspect, I try to call it 'this thing of ours', or as the Italians might say, cosa nostra.

Nobody ever gets the joke (well, Renzo did, after a bit of translation), but that's okay. I recently was talking with the lady who does the scheduling for the small production company I've been working for this summer, and she was noting how stretched thin they are, what with having shows all over the state. I proposed that my friend Booty would be just the guy to hire.
Before moving up here, he had worked several construction jobs, which comes in handy, often, in this business. These days, he is supporting his family, such as it is, by slinging pizza at Saturday Market. That is to say; he makes a crap wage, two days a week, and I suspect that it is his girlfriend who is really holding up the financial end. They also have another kid on the way.

The thing is, I wondered exactly how quickly I could teach Booty the many things I have learned. The million and one things you need to already know, as I refer to it.

I suppose I'd start with what you must show up with: gitcherself a pair of Carhartt's or Dickies with lots of pockets. Own a c-wrench of 8mm or greater circumference. A Leatherman or similar multi-tool is necessary (although my union brothers in Seattle frown upon them: they suggest bringing actual pliers, adjustable screwdriver and wire cutter to every gig, and when I said that one might get around this by just bringing a multi-tool, they responded, "Well, if you don't mind being thought of in that way..." I believe they were just fucking with me).
On top of this, bring a blade of some kind. You will need it. I myself also make sure to show up with electrical tape and a Sharpie. Not mandatory, but these are the two things that everybody always will end up needing.

Your shirt should be black, although this is not necessary until show-time. If you're building a stage, you need a hammer, and it needs to be tethered to yourself in some way, lest it drop out of your hand and land on someone's fucking head. It would be nice too if the haft were not wood, but titanium or some kind of metal, so it doesn't break on accidental contact with steel.

Matter of fact, I have seen two of the more terrifying things I've ever seen in my entire career just in the last month. The first was at Crue Fest, where one of the riggers lost control of some sort of restraining system on high. The effect was more or less someone a hundred feet above your head throwing a piece of metal the size of your hand straight down, landing stage left, as I stood stage right.
Had it hit the guy it narrowly missed, he probably would have been severely brain damaged. Were he wearing a hard hat, he'd be picking plastic out of his skull for weeks to come.

Even worse, at the damn Luis Palau thing on the waterfront yesterday (or PalauPalooza!, as I've been calling it), we're knocking down the very tall towers that hold up your average stage, and this requires painfully belaying the damn things down into a supine position by the use of the very long chains that put them upright in the first place.
But the guy stage other (n. the side of the stage opposite of you, when you are unclear where stage right and stage left are, anymore) doesn't quite communicate so well, and before he has a chance to tie a bowline (BO-LEN; one of the two knots you must be able to tie) around the hook on the end of the chain, the guys on the other side of the tower start pulling on the chain.

At first, I noticed the hook heading skyward, slowly, and said, "Hey, there goes your..." But of course, as it ascended, it picked up speed, like the world's worst carnival ride, and I broke off, screaming, "SON OF A BITCH!", which caused the people underneath to start running, shortly before that big heavy hook and many feet of steel chain came crashing down on where they'd just been standing. That would have killed someone.

The more absurd the gig, the greater the potential for injury, as I've said before. Luis Palau is this schmucky televangelist from Beaverton, and this silly mixture of crap christian rock, "extreme" sports and pandering to the anti-realistic amongst us is his annual vanity-fest. It kept me busy for five of the last seven days.
So show up ready for anything, and bring your sense of humor. This too, I'd tell Booty, but that's also why I'd recommend him for this sort of work: he always does.

Everybody has different names for your basic tools and fittings. Fortunately for you, they will probably be over-explaining everything, assuming you are an idiot. This is actually professional courtesy, as opposed to over-estimating your knowledge, because you are a stranger and might damage their equipment.
But just to let you know: when they talk about the soca (also known as a 'multi', which is too indistinct, and most people avoid this usage; others call it a 'socko'), they are talking about that huge lighting cable with the many, many pin connections that you will be needing to connect. I will have to show you how to do this in person.

And although a soca (the real thing, not the lighting cable) is a snake, it isn't a snake, which both the lighting guy and the sound guy will have. This is a terrifyingly heavy bundle of cable that you will be carrying from the stage to the front of house, which is where people who are paid far more than you sit, controlling all this.
As to the many vagaries of the actual lighting equipment go -par, lyco, psych and scroller- I won't bother and can't bother. This also can only be shown. Delineating between the jesus nut and the fuck nut, likewise.

Or even how to properly coil cable, for chrissakes. There is definitely is a right way and a wrong way to do it, but explaining it doesn't help, and even demonstrating it doesn't actually work, the first twenty times. The only reason it's important is that copper has memories too, as I've often heard it put, and if you fuck up somebody's nice cable that is a couple hundred feet long that they then will have to put on a truck and ship, only to take it out of its case in the next city...
Oh, and about that shipping part? I need to teach you how to work a ratchet strap, which some truckers won't even let you look at. This, and load bars. Basically, you need to become the world's greatest truck loader, without anyone telling you how.

Standing around looking like a badass is a skill. Well, even more so than that, standing around when that is what is required of you but making it look like you are on task anyway is the real skill. When you are standing by, it is because if you were trying to do something, you'd be in the way. Don't be an eager beaver. Assume one of the Five Accepted Stagehand Poses, and keep your damn hands out of your pockets.
At the Wynonna Judd gig at Spirit Mountain casino, I had four or five hours to kill, and I don't gamble, thank gawd. We all stood there in the parking lot (after first going up to the hills and getting stoned, which makes this a lot easier), watching the sun set in the west while a full moon rose in the east. Wynonna took the stage twenty minutes late, and when she did, she required a car to escort her from her bus to the stage door, perhaps forty yards away.
I think she did not want us to look at her. Melissa Etheridge certainly didn't.

Running gags and song bombs will be the main form of communication. If someone is having a hard time driving a screw, or hitting a pin, make sure to say, "Hit it with your purse!"
The other day at PalauPalooza, the one I call Force Majeure walks up to me and randomly says, "Don't quit your day job," and walks away, equally at random. I chuckle, and the guy next to me says, "But this is your day job..." Then he gets it. For the next week, everyone walks around saying it to each other, often supplanted by me encouraging some people to not show up for their day job.

Which brings me to this: the other day, I had to kind of fire a guy. It was his third time calling in hungover. I was only crew chief, not a boss: this order came from on high. Dude shows up for the gig anyway, and I am the one who has to tell him to go home.
Dude in question is a highly talented stage hand, and I tell him frankly that I wish he could stay. But he understands that this is his fault; he didn't have to drink up his entire paycheck in one day.
After a few days away, he is allowed back to work conditionally: just don't drink as much. This, and the fact that there's a lady in the union with me who hit another woman with a chair and is still working reminds me that to get fired from this thing, you gotta be slashing throats, or something.

Sometimes they feed ya', sometimes you better not even look at the food. Generally there will be water provided, but I always bring my own. The thing is, all of this matters to a certain extent, but know that a lot of it is well-paid fun mixed with occasional drudgery. I am finally at a place where I can walk into any situation without fear that I will be asked to do something I have no idea how to do. It took a few years, but I'm there.
The only thing is, as previously mentioned, if you fuck certain tasks up, people will die.


Monday, August 25, 2008

To George

Hey there. Just to say it, when I said "kudos, y'damn fuckhound", that was actually a reference to something that happened to me, once.

I'm not sure why I was downtown. I think it was a job interview. So I sidle up to the bus stop across the street from Powell's, and set to doing the crossword, when I am beset by a tiny woman with tight blond curls. Although she is railing in a very loud voice against all present as well as society in general, it's pretty clear she isn't homeless.
Or at very least, someone somewhere was taking care of her. Her clothing seemed to be vintage; and by that I mean, her style, if I had to describe it, was a sort of fashionable Little House on the Prairie. All the way down to her perfectly clean white socks, which she was wearing as her only footwear on the pavement that day.

I just had to do it: I can't not look, which is something I know both you and I are completely guilty of. If someone put a gun to each of our heads and commanded us not to Observe and Report, we'd both be in serious trouble, especially on the Report part.
So, for just brief moment, I flicked one eye her way. This was enough. Probably lasted a lifetime in schizophrenic time, and the reaction it got was immediate: I became the specific focus of her tirade.

Somewhere in here, as I was doing that cowardly fucking thing people do -oh, well maybe if I just stand here and enjoy my crossword puzzle, maybe this other person who is less than a foot from me, screaming at me, will see fit to go away, as reason dawns upon them, what with me being so calm and unflappable- she crescendoes finally, completing the whole thing by calling me, " old fuckhound!"

And well, it sort of made me want to say, it's like you know me, or something. Yes it's true; I've spent a fair amount of my life chasin' tail, and I've only occasionally seen something bad about that.
I mean, what the hell was our dynamic the whole time we lived in Oly? Me as serial monogamist, although utterly unable to not cheat, as was my steelo in those days, and you being a hundred per cent up front with people -I'm not going to be your damn boyfriend, and if you think I really don't mean that, that is your delusion. Consider yourself warned - with me wondering how the hell I could pull off something similar...And realizing that trying to be someone else was just never going to work, in my case. I'm me, goddamn it, whether I like it or not, and regardless of how many people thought we were secret cousins or something, we do our thing in different ways.

Somewhere in there, I learned that I was never gonna get whatever it is that I am afraid of losing from someone else. I might go on being afraid of losing it for the rest of my life, but at least I could see to it that I don't take it out on other people, psychological disorders being what they are, and everybody having them, far as I've ever noticed.

But I've left the girl back on the corner. Now, she is only a few inches from my face. I look her square in the eyes, and see that this is actually just a more or less okay person who has slipped off her meds, just this particular day. Probably the rest of the time, she is a hundred per cent manageable, and is just sharing her thoughts on this whole humanity thing with its members.
And what does she say to me, once she's sure she's got my attention? "Strange, isn't it?"

That's when I lose it. "No, no it's fucking not! Actually, it's incredibly fucking typical!" And I stalk away, with her screaming something I might have found interesting at my back. I only walked down to the next bus stop on Burnside, and hoped like hell I wouldn't have to continue my interaction with her on the bus.

But: you old fuckhound...Like I say, it stuck kinda nicely. I have found few people that genuinely don't like sex -but they definitely exist- and all that leaves is the other 98% of us. Still, a somewhat smaller number are...Well, stars of track and field, to borrow rather liberally from Belle and Sebastian.
Not to over-value that sort of thing -sport fucking for its own sake, and without shame- but it sort of stands as part of something that I hold as a pillar of my own belief system. It dovetails nicely with something you once said to me: let's not settle for Dissatisfied.

Matter of fact, I inserted that into a poem I wrote at the time. I followed it up by saying,
"and don't play that Me Good Chink Cholly Chinee shit with your captors. You don't even have any captors."
Because on one hand, every damn one of us has that thing that hunts and pursues us, and won't let us rest until we die, but only we can make ourselves truly despair.
Hm. That doesn't quite do justice to what I was actually trying to say on that one; it particularly does a huge disservice to those who literally are in captivity. I'll work on it...Something about how you owe the world your complete honesty, or something.

Meanwhile, while I was on day three or four of a seven-day work week, down at the waterfront, when I get that surprise text message of yours. I know that Kittie also -at first- had no idea what she was looking at. But then it all clicks; municipal building, two nicely dressed people tinily standing in front of it.
Ah, that's right. People I know do, occasionally, get married. I can offer, as a person who really thinks that the whole institution is a buncha shit, that you truly did not fuck up, in my opinion, in marrying this one. Quite the opposite.

Congratulations, and hope like hell I can make it out there next summer.


Friday, August 08, 2008

# 200

So my good friend, the Songdog of Vast Misfortune, got back in touch with me. He is one of the better story tellers I've encountered in my life (as well as the person who taught me more things of value regarding the proper use of a camera than anyone else), and that is good here, on this day of my two hundredth blog post.

Quotes from that letter include:

I moved into an apartment in which the previous tenant had set fire to the floor in order to obscure the hatchet marks resulting from the sudden and violent separation of his cat from its tail. Something about a waterbed I think.

To gain access to my grotto I had to go through the front door past a sign proclaiming:"It's Not A Crack House, It's A Crack HOME!", descend into the basement, go through a rusty, steel door, past the Laundry facilities, furnace and electrical junction boxes (all the while in a thin film of moving water),through another doorway then down an unlit hallway to an unnumbered, soot coated door. This was "Home". Cats came from everywhere to piss under my window. I have a rapport with animals .

I got an old dog from a preachers wife (She showed me her tattoo and gave me her husbands dog) and two cars that don't run, so life is full of potential.

Seems this sweet young thing met up with some exciting men who showed her that her Apt. could be filled with party people 24/7 if only she would let them show her how good they could make her life. And She did. As near as I can tell the space had a two functions: lying down and smoking. I guess they were multi-tasking while they were lying down, I found an ultrasound scan with the words "this is your baby, stop drinking" written on it in red ink.

And I wrote back:

"My girlfriend and I took up residence in our present joint because...Well, our landladies were insane, and then they disengaged from their romantic entanglements with one another, and so the house, which was going to be sold, suddenly turned into one of the landladies' new home, and we moved out under severe duress. There Will Be Lawsuit, but that is a much longer story.

Depending on how much of my blog you've read, you may have already surmised that I support myself in the wonderful world of show biz these days. I like being a stagehand even better than I enjoyed that ten years I spent working in restaurants. No, really: I like it, and I'm good at it.

Indeed, my employers like me. They made me crew chief of this ridiculous thing for Intel at the convention center: it took about a week and a half, and ended this morning. Now, it would seem that the rest of this month will be given over to endless amounts of steel building (cue that inevitable time-lapse sequence from every rock n' roll documentary where the ants make the stage happen), and handling of wheeled conveyances.

Like every job I've ever enjoyed, it is largely staffed with people who either cannot or will not do anything else.

Well, so, I don't know if Oregon suits you, but if it did, it'd be good to have you back. I occasionally work up in Seattle, too: were you to make the fatal mistake of moving back to western Washington, I'd see you often. But jeeziz, why would 'ya? Those depressive mud people who live up there chap my hide.

So much to think about . I'm going to be so busy this month, I'll think that salt mining is a lively option for the future. But I shall be rich, rich I tell's ya', and between my union work in both Portland and Seattle and the scab work that has largely employed me this summer, I think I might have found a way to make this thing last all year long. Most stagehands can't, but I suspect I cracked the code here.

Babbling. Look, keep writing. Or just fucking move down here already.

I do not need another computer, but thanks."

I spend wayy too much of my time commenting on the endless discussion threads of The Onion's AV Club blog. If you see anyone commenting as any of the following:

A Quiet, Small Town where, beneath the placid exterior, lies a deep, dark Secret
A seething mass of Something, anyway
Amusing Witticism Scrawled on Men's Room Wall
Another Fine Product of the American School System
Da Repeatah!
Eats the Sandwich
Elder Hamster
Frank Rizzo, Mayor of Philadelphia for All Time
Gene Shizlit
Harry Allen, Media Assassin
Hung Jury 2: Stiff Penalty
I love you
I too, am fond of this recording
Janine Turner in "Cliffhanger"
Jeff Bridges' retarded alien character in "Starman"
Jim Jimmerson
Joe Mantegna's Brow
Lawrence Tierney in "Tough Guys Don't Dance"
Li'l Ronnie Howard
Local Newscaster
Man-child voice-over from cereal commercial
Maverick Cop who doesn't play by the Rules
Moby Dich
Mr. Helpful
mayor of funkytown
Rear Admiral Dick Wheeler, U.S.N. (Ret.)
Rebellious Fuckup, but a Damn Good Doctor
Robert Loggia
Robot Animal Within
Ronnie James Dio
Some of my best friends are Token Black Characters
Steals from Firesign Theater
The Fellow who sells sundries at Sporting Events
The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Seventies
The two ladies in the lesbian bar in that one episode of 'The Simpsons'
The other Keanu Reeves
Walter Sobchak
Wanna know how much of a nerd I am?
Weeping Marine
What You Said!

or any number of other snotty cultural reference in-jokes, that's probably me.

200! That will be all.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Italics Mine

(From Jeraldine Saunders' 'Star Signs' for August 3, 2008, with needed addenda)

Aries (March 21-April 19) Enjoy your good fortune while it lasts. You'll be on top of the world for the rest of this week, but reality has a way of peeking through when you least expect it. To wit: you are constantly under the impression that you're running things, when in fact you are an insecure attention hound who is about as In Charge as anyone is, you delusional jackass. Stay Practical.

Taurus (April 20-May 20) You'll be the magnet that attracts others to your charms in the week ahead. Wait a minute; did I just say that? Oh, that was redundant and obvious. I'm so stupid. I mean, what other 'magnet' would attract others to my charms? Stupid! You'll thrive in social situations-and it is a good time for reaching out to old friends. George always said, "You can always tell the drunk Taurus at a party." I wonder what he meant by that... Maintain an even balance.

Gemini (May 21-June 20) Don't be left in the dark with the light bulbs going off in your head, even though that's pretty much always where you're at, as you're batshit crazy and everybody knows it. Make note of any ideas you may have for your intuitions are certain to be correct today, as they always are, since you live in a schizophrenic world entirely your own, so how the hell would you know if you were wrong? These notions may aid you later in the week when they have you in County lock-up, or the psych ward.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) Home is where the heart is. Actually, I can't make fun of Cancers at all. I like Cancers. Spend quality time with friends and family and enjoy a cookout or picnic today. Which they probably will. Your personality is glowing and you're likely to make new friends during the week ahead. Yeah, they probably will. Likable, friendly bastards.

Leo (July 23-August 22) Deviate from the norm- which shouldn't be hard for you, huh? Always being so charismatic and out in front of the rest of these sheep, huh? They just wish they could be you! Try something new or exotic as a change of pace. Wayyy ahead of ya', chief, right? You live on the edge! That's where your summer cabin is! Don't tell you not to try something exotic or new because...That's just not gonna happen! The week ahead might be filled with ups and downs because everybody in this sign is manic/depressive, and it doesn't help when there's so many people out there who fail to pay adequate amounts of attention to you, huh? It kinda hurts, and sometimes makes you cry, and lash out at those who love you, huh? But you will have the stamina and ambition to hang on to whatever is worthwhile. Damn right you got the stamina, right? I mean fuck those people who wouldn't listen to you when you had the most interesting story to tell, and they just wanted to talk! 'Whatever is worthwhile' is whatever you say it is, and don't ever let any son of a bitch ever tell you otherwise!

Virgo (August 23-September 22) Your appraisals of situations and judgments of others will be right on target this week , but don't go getting a big head or anything. They're still all laughing at you, and besides, when was the last time you cleaned behind the cabinets that don't move? As correct as you may be, however, it would be wise to keep these insights to yourself so you don't stir up opposition. Because one of the worst things that can ever happen to a person is to have others disagree with them, as we all know.

Libra (September 23-October 22) Play to win. Er, I mean, you're so much more adult than other people, you're certain to win. You wouldn't stoop to such petty tactics as those other people employ. Mingling in social situations may seem just a pleasant folly and you're big enough to be understanding of the inferior coping skills of others, certainly, and can turn a kindly blind eye to their addictive behaviors and obvious dysfunction- but there is much to be gained from being in the right place at the right time-not that you would ever fail to do exactly what is right and proper, and for that matter, more profitable and mature-er than those friends of yours. Stay on your toes and don't miss an opportunity this week- well, I don't even need to tell you that, do I? I mean, it's right there in your sign's symbol: you're the most balanced out of all of us, of course.

Scorpio (October 24-November 21) Avoid getting bogged down in routine. Go fuck them before they fuck you. You know they're going to. Don't let those bastards hurt you again, like they always do. Follow a friend or loved one into new and uncharted areas -no, fuck that. They're just like everybody else. If you can get away with killing them, do it: you'd be doing everybody a favor. An open mind will gain you valuable experiences this week that help you achieve major ambitions. For instance, think even harder about how unfair everybody else has been to you your entire life, and make sure to go out and never ever let them do what they always do to people as obviously nice and good as yourself.

Sagittarius (November 22-December 21) Listen to your inner voice as this week unfolds. You are a magical being, and ever so divinely blessed. Whatever shit your brain is pumping out this week is twelve times more interesting and -hello!- more True than all the rest of these idiots. You're a wonderful child of God, and don't ever forget it, my special little one. Follow unerring instincts -as if you have any other kind!- to arrive at the right decision -or you know, whatever. Whatever you think is fine - and don't be afraid to heed good advice, although, the rest of these people spend most of their time being wrong, as far as I've ever noticed. Have you met most people? See a fleeting relationship for what it really is, i.e. something to throw all your belief behind, and make sure to completely overreact when it falls apart.

Capricorn (December 22-January 19) Don't be afraid to swim against the current , you brave soul, you. They'll never truly understand you. It may be fashionable to yield to peer pressure, but you'll achieve better results going your own way this week. It's just so- I don't know, people just always want you to be exactly like they are, you know? And I have all these ideas that no one has ever had before, and it makes me so mad that I can't just be completely different, but also have everybody like and respect me! I want to not be like anyone else, but have everybody appreciate that for the wonderful and truly radical thing that is! Is that crazy? Answer me! Stand apart from the crowd. As if I have a choice. Sigh.

Aquarius (January 20-February 18) Keep your mind on the task at hand...Wait, what? What'd you say, dude? Once you choose today's task, stay focused to the finish and don't let idle distractions great, great...That's cool. Cool cool. Heh. You're really funny, you know that? get in your way. Rewards will follow if you spend wisely this week. Dude, seriously, I have no idea what you're talking about, but it's all good.

Pisces (February 19-March 20) Shine on, you crazy diamond. You'll stand out from the rest this week, and could become the center of attention. Ensure you retain your newfound status by keeping in touch with friends. Or, you know, you could just sit around whining all week long about how hard your life is, too.

I apologize in advance if you are an Aries, a Taurus, a Gemini, a Cancer, a Leo, a Virgo, a Libra, a Scorpio, a Sagittarius, a Capricorn, an Aquarius, or a Pisces. No offense. Kidding.