Up until the last week of April, the Marsh was located in the back room of an artsy little Mission District espresso joint called Cafe Beano. Patrons would walk in off Valencia Street, maybe get a cup of something or a health-foody hunk of pastry from the cafe counter, and head through a narrow door into a space the size of a one-car garage. The seating consisted of several rows of mismatched chairs, mostly dinette-set orphans and garage-sale stragglers. The cramped stage area looked just spacious enough to hold a single performer.
A theatre with space for only one actor? No problem: the Marsh, founded in 1989 and managed ever since by a determined young woman named Stephanie Weisman, functions principally as a solo theatrical gymnasium, a haven for one-person shows by San Francisco’s small army of storytellers, reconteurs, monologists, stand-up autobiographers and talky performance artists. With no grants from anywhere, scant advertising and only sporadic newspaper reviews, it has presented up to a dozen attractions per week–in progress works by seasoned pros like Corey Fischer, Josh Kornbluth and Merle (“Ian Shoales”) Kessler, and newcomers like Yehuda H. and Kate Perry–to very receptive audiences. The name “Marsh,” Weisman says, “is metaphorical–it’s where the gook is, and down deep the diamonds. Anyone who’s serious about solo work can get into our late-night series, and if they’re good they can go on. It’s survival of the fittest without having to eat anyone at the bottom.”
Recently the Marsh faced a sudden crisis: City building inspectors deemed Cafe Beano’s back room unsafe for public assembly and padlocked the place. Without missing a beat, Weisman made a few phone calls, gathered up the chairs and lighting instruments, and with the help of friends moved the Marsh to its fourth location in three years: an empty storefront next door. That same night, the show (Merle Kessler’s latest) went on.
The resilience of the Marsh offers one signal among many that solo theatre is thriving in San Francisco. At a time when most of the key local repertory companies are struggling with real estate woes, declining government funding, shifts of artistic leadership, or all of the above, the single dramatic voice is being heard loud and clear and relatively unencumbered all over town.
This autumn San Francisco’s third annual Solor Mio Festival will showcase two dozen solo performers from the Bay Area and beyond. But one could argue that the city is hosting a solo drama festival nonstop. One-person shows dominate the calendar year around at two other popular alternative venues, Life on the Water and the Climate Theatre–together they co-produce Solo Mio and have presented such locally based soloists as John O’Keefe, Brenda Wong Aoki, Josh Kornbluth and Susan Van Allen, as well as notable out-of-towners like Spalding Gray, David Cale, Karen Finley and Holly Hughes.
Soloists also pop up frequently on many other local stages: at Josie’s Cabaret and Juice Joint, Brava! Women for the Arts, Footworks Studio, New Langston Arts, the Cowell Theatre, Intersection, 1800 Square Feet, 21 Bernice, and (across the Bay in Berkeley) La Val’s, the Julia Morgan Center and 2019 Blake.
Bay Area repertory theatres are not ignoring the genre either. Last January, the Asian American Theatre Company hosted “Tsunami: The Next Wave in Asian American Performance/Art,” a series of one-person shows. Berkeley Repertory Theatre presented a successful run of John O’Keefe’s Vid in 1991, recently premiered Geoff Hoyle’s solo memoir, The Convict Returns, and has commissioned for its 1992-93 season Mother Jones, a monodrama about the famed labor organizer by singer-actress Ronnie Gilbert.
For the many writers, actors, visual artists, jugglers, dancers and yarnspinners interested in pulling together shows of their own, San Francisco is hospitable territory, with an array of ongoing workshops devoted to the solo art. Bill Talen, a performer-writer and co-artistic director of Life on the Water, teaches one; director David Ford, performance artist Nina Wise, and Corey Fischer and his fellow members of A Traveling Jewish Theatre (all of whom have appeared in one-person shows) offer others.
Certainly, San Francisco isn’t the only city to embrace the recent tidal wave of solo performance. Artists from throughout the country have been attracted to this inexpensive, user-friendly genre, which offers performers maximum aesthetic control and promises the audience maximum intimacy. Experimental venues from Highways in Los Angeles and Sushi in San Diego, to the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis and the Painted Bride in Philadelphia, have aided and abetted the trend. And for solo artists in search of national breakthrough opportunities, New York leads the way with Dance Theatre Workshop, P.S. 122, Lincoln Center, the Kitchen, the New York Shakespeare Festival and an array of downtown cabarets. But San Francisco seems to have the greatest concentration of theatrical soloists, and one-person drama has a particular municipal resonance. The genre is somehow emblematic of the city’s personality, right in sync with its reputation as a haven for zaniness and eccentricity, and as a breeding ground for cultural misfits and counterculture experimenters of all stripes.
That image of the city dates all the way back to the Gold Rush era of the mid-1800s, when San Francisco went from hamlet to teeming, flamboyant metropolis virtually overnight. It revived in the 1950s, when beatniks Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were on the scene, flourished again during the phantasmagorical Summer of Love of the late 1960s, and persists today in a lively, youthful bohemia that thrives despite high rents, earthquakes and urban corrosion. In a sense, the city has spent the last 150 years living up to its own mythology of rugged but flashy individualism. Solo theatre artists–a breed which Life on the Water’s Bill Talen characterizes as being “like Mao in the mountains in a time when our individuality is utterly threatened by media saturation”–are upholding a regional tradition.
It is an apt coincidence that San Francisco’s first professional performance, given in 1849, was a solo show by Stephen Massett, a self-promoting New England songwriter, singer, monologist and mimic who barnstormed the globe as “Jeems, Pipes of Pipesville.” A century later, the city would play a crucial role in the careers of such inspired comedic commentators as Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Lily Tomlin and Robin Williams, all of whom honed their off-center acts in North Beach nightspots.
The new crop of soloists in the 1990s are more numerous, more ethnically various and more conciously theatrical and narrative in their approach than those who went before. They are also more aesthetically diverse, representing the great range of impulses that can lead to self-made, singular performances.
One of the most influential figures on San Francisco’s solo scene, even though he lives in New York, is autobiographical monologist Spalding Gray. Gray first appeared locally at the San Francisco International Theatre Festival in 1981, at an early stage of his solo career. He has returned with a new monologue almost every year since (most recently Monster in a Box, performed at the 1991 Solo Mio Festival) to face an increasingly large and enthusiastic following.
Gray’s unadorned art — candid, revelatory and entirely reliant on the direct bond between teller and listener–has been an inspiration to many San Francisco practitioners. Bill Talen, who began telling stories with a rock band accompanying him, remembers seeing Gray in 1981 and being moved to “start the process of taking away elements –music, lights, songs, paring things down to just telling the story, making a statement, giving a dramatic report about what you see, what you believe. That’s what Spalding, with his plain table and his little glass of water, is about. He relaxes you out of your alienation.”
Talen adopted the autobiographical report-from-the-interior mode in American Yoga (about a memorable car accident) and several other well-received monologues. (He’s since moved on to two-person shows, including the award-winning Political Wife, and beyond–joined by pick-up companies of local actors, Talen performed his Apple Pie with George and Jane, a ritualized parody of political fund-raising dinners, at motel banquet rooms across New Hampshire during that state’s presidential primary.)
The psychological memoir format has also richly served many others, including the up-and-coming Josh Kornbluth. Red Diaper Baby, which recalls Kornbluth’s New York-Jewish-Communist upbringing from a child’s perspective, was workshopped over a two-year period at the Marsh and opened in June at the Actor’s Playhouse Off Broadway following an extended run at New York’s Second Stage and has recently been optioned for film.
Like some other solo spielers, Kornbluth started out in comedy clubs but gravitated toward theatre after he saw Gray perform, and after he moved to San Francisco. “In also theatre there’s so much more lattitude in what you can do,” he explains. “Part of it is environmental: In stand-up, the venues range from the toilets to the really nice septic tanks, and the jokes are the excuse to sell drinks. Even the most sophisticated comedians run into a wall, because you can’t stretch people’s attention spans and aren’t allowed to do stuff that makes them uncomfortable.”
In San Francisco, Kornbluth felt he could “stumble around and find a voice, and people would be interested.” After Red Diaper Baby (initially titled Josh Kornbluth’s Daily World) came Haiku Tunnel, based on his experiences as a temp worker in a law firm, and last year’s The Moisture Seekers, a detailed, poignant account of his sexual initiation at the hands of an older married woman.
As a once-if-not-future center of the human-potential movement, San Francisco is perhaps unusually receptive to stage confessions filled with intimate details and psychological revelations. John O’Keefe wrote and directed half a dozen fascinating original plays before his solo pieces. Shimmer (about his boyhood experiences on an Iowa youth detention farm) and Vid (about his scuffling days as a Berkeley playwright) brought him genuine local celebrity and gratifying national recognition.
O’Keefe makes a point of insisting, however, that his monologues are only semi-autobiographical–and that he invents and embroiders his memories generously. (Vid, for instance, entwines two stories: one fantastic, the other realistic.) That creative flexibility helps him avoid one of the pitfalls of the monologue form, and one San Francisco is no stranger to: excruciating over-indulgence in solipsistic self-psychoanalysis.
Says Stephanie Weisman, “Every now and then I have to tell people, come back with a story to perform and not just a set of experiences.” And Kornbluth notes he has learned “to embellish a true story from the very first time I tell it. As I start to retell the story more and more, I change the real people it’s based on more and more, because I want to create a literary arc, like you get from reading a Grace Paley or Bernard Malamud story. The more I fictionalize, the more I feel free.”
In a city very concious of its ethnic multiplicity, the solo autobiographical monologue has also become an outlet for cultural self-definition and a mechanism for demystifying race and “otherness.” Bay Area soloists Lane Nishikawa, Wayne Corbett, Emily Shihadeh, Marijo, Albert Greenberg, Marga Gomez and Brenda Wong Aoki, for example, have fused reminiscences with meditations on larger sociological issues.
Shihadeh’s Grapes and Figs Are in Season, performed at the Marsh, rattles stereotypes of Palestinians by conjuring the sights and sensations of the author’s middle-class, Quaker-Arab childhood on Israel’s West Bank. Marijo’s Yonder Comes Day recalls one man’s bout with AIDS and its repercussions on his circle of black friends and relations; Corbett openly recounts his own struggles with the disease and his life as an “African-American homosexual radical.”
The experiences of a struggling Asian-American actor are fodder for Nishikawa’s I’m on a Mission from Buddha, and the sense of a Jew trying to fit into a predominately gentile society informs Greenberg’s Blonde Like You. Gomez details her life with flamboyant Latino parents who were professional entertainers in Memory Tricks. And Brenda Wong Aoki recalls her violet girls-in-the-hood coming-of-age in Asian Polynesian-Latino Los Angeles in her latest piece, The Queen’s Garden.
After years performing with small dance companies and theatre ensembles, and time spent studying Noh theatre in Japan, Aoki now makes a living performing her solo act. “At first I’d do solo work when I wasn’t getting other threatre jobs,” she recalls. “I did it just to keep my chops up, to keep up my nerve. Any actress, but especially an actress of color, can be out of work most of the time, even in San Francisco where awareness about mixed casting is pretty high.
“Then a few years ago I found more opportunities to perform and tour as a solo, and I got excited about creating parts for myself that were interesting and unstereotyped. I could play many roles I wanted to play that no one would cast me in, including men, and I could say what I felt needed to be said.”
In her autobiographical scripts, and her more folkloric programs of Japanese ghost tales, Aoki alludes often to her own mixed-race upbringing. (Her heritage is mainly Chinese, Japanese and Italian.) But she sees her multicharacter art as a tool to bridge differences, not deepen them. “Exploring your roots can be beautiful, but cultural diversity can also get very divisive,” Aoki suggests. “We’re such a big country and there are so many differences–could storytelling be a way to talk to each other across the great divides?
“I’ve been increasingly impressed,” she continues, “with how solo theatre just wipes out the fourth wall. You’re talking to other characters and tend to place them out in space. Where? In the audience. And soon the audience willingly becomes those characters, and joins in your experience. Maybe the act of telling and listening to stories can help link us, and help us find the commonality in being human together, in being Americans together.”
While many San Francisco soloists are telling stories scooped directly out of their own lives, others see themselves as conduits for other voices–actual and fictional. Anna Deavere Smith, a performer and drama professor at Stanford University, acts as a kind of theatrical anthropologist. She conducts interviews and then creates a mosaic of portraits in words, voices and gestures to give the overall sense of a specific community. Her piece Fires in the Mirror, about the racially torn Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, premiered at New York Shakespeare Festival in May.
In the Chocolate Quarry and Jones, Stephen Rappaport offers Joycean, quiveringly intense glimpses of men on the very edge of sanity. The speakers in Rhodessa Jone’s Big Butt Girls, Hard Headed Women are based on female prisoners Jones met while teaching in the San Francisco County Jail. Anne Galjour’s shows center on a milieu that is most familiar to her: the Cajun Louisiana of her youth. But her tales are fictive, with a cast of characters as various and haunting as the imaginary people in Flannery O’Connor short stories. “I’m really fixed on the page,” says Galjour, a former school teacher who started her solo career years ago in Talen’s “Actors Who Write” workshop.
“I really consider what I do short stories for the stage, Galjour says. “My work comes from my culture, and it helps me remember my culture. But basically my own life is very boring, and I like making up stories about people, about passionate and colorful characters I half remember from my childhood. I’m not at all interested in spilling anything about myself up front.”
But when Galjour is asked if her stories are true, she thinks of what Marie Louise von Franz used to say about the fairy tales she collected: “I always say, yes, all my stories are true–whether they happened that way or not.”
The few categories mentioned in this article don’t do justice to the full range of San Francisco solo drama. There are also the so-called New Vaudevillians–Geoff Hoyle, Wayne Doba, juggler Sara Felder, former resident Bill Irwin–whose solo work often combines agile physicality with wordplay; there are monologists with strongly feminist and/or gay agendas, such as Terry Baum, Doug Hosclaw and Em; there are borderline stand-up comics, like Rick Reynolds, author of the long-running show, Only the Truth Is Funny; and there are others who don’t seem to fit into any proscribed niche, like the mime Leonard Pitt, the mystical sculptor-dancer Sha Sha Higby, and the singer-writer-actor Rinde Eckert, whose latest one-man piece, The Garden of Thomas D., was inspired by Dante’s Inferno.
What all of the above share is the fearlessness and chutzpah necessary to confront an audience alone, with no words except the ones they have written. This act of extreme exposure can be viewed as a form of psychic exhibitionism, a perfect entertainment for a city that has a reputation as a magnet for the flamingly exhibitionistic and the trendily self-obsessed.
But Talen prefers to see solo theatre as a more generous enterprise, a kind of vibrant public communion. He notes that last year’s Solo Mio Festival was dedicated to Lenny Bruce, and this year’s will be in honor of the “single voice, the brave voice, the voice of freedom” exemplified by Holly Hughes, Tim Miller, John Fleck and Karen Finley, the four solo performers whose grants were denied in 1990 by the National Endowment for the Arts. (All have been invited to participate in Solo Mio.)
“People want an individual to walk into that cube of space on stage to deliver the drama,” Talen contends. “The constant high-powered intimacy that comes from mass media turns out to be very alienating, and we get dulled by the onslaught. But when a human being comes out onstage to say this is what I see, this is what I believe, this is who I am, it becomes a political act. It’s heroic.”
Others underscore the mythic dimension of storytelling, endorsing anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski’s view that myth is “a vital ingredient of human civilization; it is not an idle tale, but a hard-worked active force.”
“We desperately need a new cosmology now that includes all of our experiences,” Brenda Wong Aoki asserts. “This is a depressed country in many ways, and people are very hungry for a new set of myths that they can believe in and share.” Her philosophy is shared by many in the San Francisco of the 1990s, where theatrical mythmakers are appearing nightly.
From Alligator Tales
Mae Anne: On the night of the Ball, the VFW Hall was the Magical Marsh. The posts turned to cypress trees, cottonwoods, then tall reeds that emptied into the waves of the Gulf sliding back and forth on the stage.
The Krewe of Neptune looked like fish dancing in the current. I moved among the maskers to the rhythm of the living till I saw Joe fluttering the leaves of the cottonwood above Mita’s head. Before he married her he only danced with me. He was the only man I ever gave my tongue to.
I rose up to him. Oh, to have a body. To dance and swirl from the treetops all the way down to the bones just to give him my tongue once more.
Camille: The front doors blew open and the Captain stood in his alligator headdress with his paws on his hips. He came in strutting his tail while he blew his whistle for the whole Krewe of Neptune to step aside. Two by two the maids and their dukes flowed onto the seaweed runway. The costumes Miss Mitra made would have rivaled the Krewe of Rex. First came the blue velvet herons with their silk capes fluttering behind them. Then came the nutrea couple in furry brown capes that tapered into satin webbed feet. Then the metallic shrimp, the egrets, then the bobcats, till all the couples met at the edge of the waves. Then in walked the King in his blue-green velvet tunic and tights. His train bore a sequined sailfish jumping out of the water. He stopped at the golden trawlnet and pointed his scepter at Rose.
Rose: I couldn’t feel my feet. The weight of my train kept me down on the runway while my soul towed me to my King. Pirates and sailors bowed before me. I stopped at the cottonwood and touched Miss Mita with my starfish scepter. I saw Indians and seahorses and a white pelican in the reeds.
Then I met my King. We looked at each other through the smiling eyes of our masks. The pages took our scepters. Then our masks fell with the drum and the net. “Dr. Cheramie.”
“Rose, you look beautiful. Too bad your mother’s not here to see you.”
“If it wasn’t for you she would be.”
Hand in hand we circled the Hall waving to the Krewe.
“Rose, how can you say that? I took care of her till she died.”
“Dr. Cheramie, you bought your crown with my momma’s ovaries and uterus. Your medical treatments plucked her head bald. You dried up her brain till all that was left was a glassy-eyed shell that blew out her pain on us. But I know you think you done your best.”
The waves parted. We walked up the steps of the stage. The oyster shell descended. The pages had such a hard time pulling it apart that two of the dukes had to shuck it open with their seahorse swords. We sat on the pearls.
From The Queen’s Garden
Narrator: It’s 1968. Kali and I are now going steady. The first day of high school, we’re bused out of the Westside. Across the bridge. Over the FLOOD CONTROL to: Long Beach Polytechnic High School “Enter to Learn, Go forth to Serve.” Poly–cyclone fence, huge concrete buildings–on the quad, 3,000 kids. Kali helps me find my class. Straightens my glasses. Kisses me good-bye and disappears down the hill.
Kali: (Westside whistle)
Narrator: I go inside. No Westsiders.
The bell rings. In front of me, this white guy. Not like Moorie Goldbaum or Big Mike but really white.
Steven: Hi, there!
Narrator: He’s handsome. With wavy brown hair and green eyes. Like a Kennedy!
Steven: I’m Steve Newcomb and his is my girlfriend Sherry.
Narrator: Sherry–sky blue dress, golden hair. She smiles at me.
Brenda: I wanna be her friend.
Narrator: Then the teacher walks to the front of the class.
Judy: I’m Judy, Judy Sloane. But in this class, I hope you call me Judy. Oh! Look at you! Look at you! You’re nervous! Of course! It’s your first day of school. You’re sitting here in Lit. 1, the gifted class, thinking, “Oh my god! Am I gifted?” Don’t worry. You are. Now, most of you know each other but there’s one person I know you don’t know because she just got here. Hai Nyugen from Vietnam. Welcome, Hai!
Hai: (With a French accent) In Vietnam, I read Cyrano de Bergerac, Les Miserables, et Madame Bovary. I look forward to reading the literature in your great tongue.
Judy: Thank you, Hai. If there’s one thing I want us all to learn, it’s how to live together in peace. (Cross) So this semester we’re going to study Utopian literature. Utopia. Does anyone know what that means? Tommy? A ride at Disneyland? No. That’s Autopia. Utopia is a place where people live together in harmony. By the end of this semester I want each of you to come up with your own model for a perfect world. Your first reading assignment for the semester: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Class dismissed! Brenda? Can I speak to you for a minute, please?
Brenda, I think Hai could use a friend.
Brenda: Why me? I’m not Vietnamese.
Judy: But you are Oriental! Put yourself in her place. You’re in a new country. No friends…
Narrator: So every day, I sat next to Hai trying to dress and talk so that everybody knew I was not like her–F.O.B. Fresh Off the Boat.
John Lion invited me to join him at a national conference on Buddhism and the Theatre in Boulder, Colorado, hosted by Chogyam Trungpa, a guru who was one of the major spiritual leaders from Tibet on the run from the Red Chinese. John joked about eating brown rice and sleeping on a straw mat. The major theatres and performers from around the country were to attend.
When we arrived at the airport we were greeted by a famous playwright, Jean-Claude van Itallie. At last, I thought, I’m going to meet some famous people. I could use some spiritual grounding, too. Things were looking up.
When we got to the ashram we were welcomed by a good 250 avid Buddhists. We were treated to a huge feast of Tibetan delicacies. I was gratified to find wine, beer and whiskey in abundance. In no time at all we were becoming inebriated. But still, no guru. People were getting “zealous” about each other when I heard someone whisper, “He’s coming!” Two young women came in, one carrying a cushion, the other a small table with a large bottle of sake and a glass. I was seated in the front. Everyone went quiet.
A short man with a jack-o-lantern face entered. He had a shriveled arm that dangled lifelessly from him. He sat down on the cushion, the two lovely Buddhist nymphets on either side. One of the girls poured a glass of sake, handed it to him. Trungpa sipped his sake and smiled at us. He welcomed us in a strangely high and innocuous voice.
It seemed everything he said had a double meaning. He was welcoming us and yet he was challenging us; he was gracious almost to the point of servility and yet he was our judge. He introduced several members of his “staff.” They had a kind of “gung ho” casualness. Suddenly he said, “Now–go dance!”
Trungpa retired, followed by his handmaidens. The lights were dimmed, the doors in the hall were opened and rock-and-roll music was sent over the speakers. Instantly the acolytes were dancing. The theatre people almost immediately followed suit as if they had read some itinerary that had slipped my attention. I was too drunk to remember much of what followed. There was a lot of making out and screaming and finally several fist fights. The art luminaries seemed enchanted and perplexed with it all, as if perhaps what they were witnessing was some sort of secret Buddhist ritual.
The next day, several theatres displayed their wares. Robert Wilson took an hour to walk across the room while a teenaged girl counted from one to ten. The Open Theater performed American Indian chants, shaking big Indian rattles and intoning things in Brooklynese like, “We are separate from each other. We should be one!” Jerzy Grotowski was supposed to come but he was delayed in Europe having his blood changed. Andre Gregory filled in his slot by taking members of the audience and whispering instructions in their ears, creating a kind of personal mystery play between him and the performers. I was nodding off when a group from California came and improv’ed everybody’s dreams. It all ended with a two-hour critique in which they slam-dunked each other unmercifully.
Later that night Trungpa gave a lecture. I heard during the dinner break that he had bunged up his arm in a fit of intoxicated inspiration. He thought he could drive his car through the side of a mountain. He tried. It didn’t work. After that he switched from Seagram’s Seven to sake.
From Red Diaper Baby
My father, Paul Kornbluth, was a Communist. He believed there was going to be a violent Communist revolution in this country–and that I was going to lead it. Just so you can get a sense of the pressure.
And anything my father told me I would believe, because my father was a physically magnificent man: He was big, and he had this great potbelly–not a wigly-jiggly, Social Democratic potbelly; a firm, Communist potbelly. If you bopped it, it would bop you back. It was strong.
He had powerful legs, from running tract at City College. And he had these beefy arms. And he was naked–virtually all the time. And all over his body he had these patches of talcum powder–you know, Johnson’s Baby Powder–I guess, because he was a big man and he would chafe. Particularly around his private parts.
He had me on the weekends, and I would’ve liked to have slept in late on the weekends, but I couldn’t because my father would wake me up. This is how he’d wake me up: He’d come bursting into my room and then he’d stop in the doorway; when he stopped, the talcum powder would come bouncing off of his balls–it was like the entrance of a great magician. And then he’d come running up to my bed, and looming over me he’d sing:
Arise ye prisoner of starvation
Arise ye wretched of the earth.
I didn’t know that was the “internationale”; I didn’t know that was the international Communist anthem. I thought it was my own personal wake-up song. Check it out: “Arise ye prisoner of starvation”–it’s time for breakfast. “Arise ye wretched of the earth”–it’s five a’fucking clock in the morning and I’m being woken up!
And if I didn’t show the proper signs of life right away, my father would lean down over me–and his graying long hair would straggle down, his beard would flutter down into my nose–and he’d go, “Wake up, Little Fucker! Wake up, Little Fucker!” That was his nickname for me: Little Fucker. Nothing at all pejorative about it, as far as my father was concerned. For my dad, calling me Little Fucker was like calling me Junior…Beloved Little One. Little Fucker.
I knew from a very early age that one day I must grow up and become a Big Fucker. And I assumed that that would be about the time that I would lead the Revolution. ‘Cause my dad had told me over and over that all of the great revolutionaries were great fuckers. But at this time I was just lying there in my bed, and my father would be looming over me with his–to me–enormous penis swinging around, spewing smoke, powder, whatever…while I just had this little, six-year-old…training penis.
From The Chocolate Quarry
I work part time in a slaughter house. I get there…oh, ’bout 6:50 a.m. |Bout the time when the cattle, thousands of ’em, are filing out of the boxcars into the plant…which is basically a concrete box. Black Angus. Real friendly critters, minding their own business as usual…just chewing their hay. No problems. When it comes their time, they walk right into this wooden structure upon which stands a guy with a sledge and a spike (some kinda kosher way of killing, I think it is) and he places the spike and BAM…legs buckle, flop down, dust fly. And let me tell you that’s it. I mean that cow isn’t quivering or flappin’ round like a fish or nothin’. We’re talkin’ dead…We’re talkin’ big-D, little-e, little-a, big-D DeaD. And the next in line doesn’t move an inch, it’s not soundin’ off or rolling its eyes or wiggling its ears…it just walks right up and the guy with the spike and sledge places it at just the right juncture and BAM…legs buckle, flop down, dust fly…two outs bam bam goodby mu moo. And then the gaf comes down and hooks her under the jowl, hoists her up, she’s spinnin…and then we got this amazing clamper tool… clamps up on round her neck and shoulders and rips that hide right off. And then the conveyer brings her to…(ta da!)…and I take my little knife…like an exacto…real sharp, and make a cut from her neck to her anus…and her guts just basically fall right out. And I take my pressure hose…cleanin’ out the cavity. And there’s usually some flaps of stuff hanging onto the spine, so I have to get in there and scrape it out. I step inside…and…let me tell you when I’m inside we’ve got a totally different story. It’s warm…I mean out there its cold, gotta be kept at about 43 degrees farenheit for obvious reasons, and it echos. But inside…it’s warm and quiet…and the colors. The complexity of design. The detail…the silvery membrane and the purple veins and arteries, the red muscle and bone and fat and membrane. It’s a phenomenon to behold. And I stay in there as long as I can…sometimes I take my knife and cut a fine little slice off the tenderloin and lay it on my tongue and suck on it till it disappers. I mean, this is my own little….And the steam is rising like spirit….
Misha Berson is theatre critic for the Seattle Times and a frequent contributor to this magazine.