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.



Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

Great, interesting post, Rich man! :-)

Re, "a lot of it is well-paid fun mixed with occasional drudgery" -- I think this is the description of the closest most of us get to a dream job. Fits my situation pretty closely, too.

Today, Monday, Sept. 1, 2008, remember the Oklahoma State Motto!

11:38 AM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Well, and now I'm noting all the things that I didn't get to, like the proper use of spans sets and shackles, how to build a truss, the proper hanging and focusing of a lighting rig, circuitry, how to construct your average video screen, the proper use of the twofer...You see what I mean.

10:00 AM  

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