Saturday, November 12, 2005

I AM KEEPING THIS SHIP AFLOAT

They were to perform a play written by an ex-pinball champ on the backs of 6 cocktail napkins laid out in a row. The script had never existed in any coherent state. At one point, one of them took the napkins and tried to make copies, but the copy shop was closed and the man inside unsympathetic behind the glass door and his unruly mustache. At another point, one of them was prepared to write the whole thing over by hand on a piece of paper at least, but by then, the others were opposed to that kind of practice, preferring instead to rely on the ancient tradition of oral storytelling. So they all sat in a row on old schoolroom chairs in one of their kitchens and recited the lines aloud while they sawed and wrapped caribou meat to be stored in the freezer for the winter. The room stank of wood stove and caribou blood and occasionally of tea when one of them bothered to put the kettle on. The ex-pinball champ, who had permanent callouses on his thumbs, was very good about giving artistic license to the directors, and in fact, the play had no director at all. His opinion was solicited a few times, at which point he would run to the nearby living room and demonstrate how, for example, a lampshade could be tilted toward one's chin to create dramatic effect. The pub where the piece was to be performed didn't have that type of lampshade, but the actors all took turns vowing that they would remember to bring it along. At various other times, they all also volunteered the aid of certain musical instruments: harmonica, recorder, a glockenspiel. When the meat was all sawed and stacked away, they went for a long walk around the back of the old outhouse. Of course it was dark by then, but they could see well enough because they left the lights on in the cabin, which glowed over the snow and created a clear bath to follow--a lighthouse in the middle of a meadow. Over minestrone and piles of sardines, they discussed the costumes, this time with the author being a trifle more vocal, interested in helping stitch and rummage to create the perfect ensembles. As is virtually always the case, grand visions dissolved to what was already around in their collective closets, but luckily, they were an eclectic crew owning a variety of unauthorized uniforms, bee's wings, cossacks' hats, and articles still faintly smelling of their original owners circa 1967. The only item unaccounted for was what was to be worn by Gorganzo, the warlord turned phantom sneak-thief who appears briefly in the second and third scenes. While they had nothing to signify either warlord or sneak thief, what they did have was a great deal of gray butcher paper, and thus decided to make Gorganzo into a shark, thus preserving the story's integrity all the while keeping the style consistent. On the night of the performance, they huddled at the roadside, awaiting a bus that never came. They were eventually picked up by a band of musicians returning to the pub themselves to retreive a pile of microphone stands forgotten the night before. The would-be bus driver beat them there and shrugged upon their arrival, complaining of flat tires and exhaust pipes that had frozen solid. It mattered little, for the owner of the pub was in great spirits and had even fashioned a sort of velvet proscenium over what was ordinarily the entrance to the back hall. The performance went well, shark and all, and the pinball machine in the corner was set to free play all evening.