It was hot, too hot for me. And there was not enough air in the room, either. I was backstage with my SF BATS buddies who were part of the Saturday night entertainers for the “stage” that was the area at the end of the hallway at the Doubletree in San Jose. We were waiting for Thalassa and for the start of the show.
Backstage is a funny place for players. We tug on our clothes, never quite sure if they are right and yet quite sure the overall effect will be, no doubt, a Show. David from Texas stood tall in his wizard…or was it swami? guise, a dramatic figure just standing there wordless. The sound man worked on the equipment. Lon Milo DuQuette sat quietly behind all of us in his impeccable white suit. Lon always looks like some deity to me, although the religion isn’t necessarily what it appears.
Peter and Jimmy are backstage with us, Jimmy in the best Fool costume with his yellow tights, green-sunflower tunic and green Robin Hood felt hat, Peter in his always-ready smile in the middle of us girls who were the first act.
Valentina had dressed as fall, and never a more luscious harvest than she with her great, broad-brimmed hat of fruit and whole dress the color of ripened pomegranate, a feast in herself with her dark hair and dark eyes. Rhonda made the most of her signature long white hair dressed in the charcoals-to-whites of winter, looking like the January that would never end, the frost, the ice, the snow, the wind. Beautiful Carrie was endless summer, bright in pinks and reds. And I was spring in my peacock green printed low-cut long gown and golden slippers. “Nature’s first green is gold,” I had quipped, mostly to myself as I had selected my dress. Now I was just hoping it would stay in place on my too-ample frame.
I was like a bud ready to burst in bloom (good) but I didn’t want to burst out of my dress (bad). I had abandoned the double-sticky wardrobe tape that they say Hollywood uses to keep actresses and their gowns in place.
“Duct tape,” I muttered. “I need duct tape.”
An astrologer had once told me that gravity was not my friend, predicting some 15 years before the event that I would suffer a great accident and injury to my leg. Well, I thought, gravity has done me more harm than my snapped knee and broken elbow.
I remembered a joke my friend Alice had told me. As we all fanned ourselves, waiting for the show to begin, I told it.
“At our age,” I began, “when they yell, ‘Show us your….’” And Peter dissolved into helpless laughter for minutes, gasping in horror at the thought of the ravages of gravity on tender lovelies as they drag towards the knees.
I said a few more things to keep the laughter up. It helps to laugh backstage. At least it helps me.
After a while and a few more crazy girl-jokes, Lon spoke up and said, “You know, this is exactly what my wife is afraid I do on these trips!”
“Give us the phone,” I urged him. “We can reassure her that you are safe!” He did not take me up on the offer, although it was sincere. Lon is a treasure of talent, musical and esoteric.
David handed me a plastic sword and I lent Carrie a cane. Suddenly, Thalassa came in and it was showtime.
Nancy, our director and principal dancer, directed covering us with white sheets so that our appearance would be revealed season by season. Lon and his ukulele went center stage, our Music Man. Covered in a sheet, I now could only hear the players move to the stage. And then it was my turn to be escorted to my mark.
Thalassa introduced us. The music started. I could hear Nancy dancing and suddenly, since I was Spring, I was first to be unveiled. I popped David’s plastic sword up like a jack-in-the-box with an equally bouncy smile on my face. Nancy danced. I mugged for the crowd, moving the sword in rhythm to Lon’s singing and playing. Laughter rose from the crowd.
Good, I thought. We all take ourselves too seriously sometimes. It was a relief to play the Fool for a weekend.
My life has been too serious this year. My workplace has been in upheaval. My job, along with all those of my co-workers, has been in question. Will it be there? Will I have to move to the Deep South and make the best of a hot and humid place, likely not to return to California? Will I be forced to get a job somewhere else in a time where jobs are not plentiful or guaranteed or often pleasant? Will I be forced to move all I have to continue to survive? Will I be able to make the most of another Tower event in my life, recreate myself one more time, find the Star in the rubble? Will I be able to rise above? And when will I know?
Finally, an indication of hope without a complete collapse has come. It looks like I will be able to stay in California. I have held back tears and screams and fear and panic since March, since first hearing of the possibility of great change. I know all reprieves are temporary, all respites brief, all comforts passing and all joys priceless. And for that, they are all the more precious.
So I try to laugh and make others laugh, to forget trouble for a while, a brief moment, as is the purpose of the jester, to make others laugh and to make the monarch think or feel. From within me, from my fears and sorrows and pain and anger, can well up the absurdity of our struggle to make things make sense. And from within me, a greater force arises out of love, to hold the plastic sword, to shield the principal dancer as she changes costume, to kiss the troubadour and flee to the stage door to exit, only to find it locked.
The show goes on while I pound on the door.
“Peter!” I cry in my best stage-whisper, my impromptu panic rising. “Peter! Let me in! Open the door!”
I expect it will be like that, knocking on heaven’s door. And Peter, helpless with laughter as gravity has taken its final toll, may let me in. Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll see most of my friends.
Best wishes from my BATS-termath!