Future Farmers of America

Albuquerque, NM: To celebrate waking up in a king sized bed with six oversized pillows and a day off from the Benise tour, I've ordered a pot of coffee with extra cream from the Marriott room service.

I pour a long drag of half & half into my mug and think two things: 1) Future Farmers of America 3) Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Last Monday morning I woke up on the bus in Fresno, looked out the window, and saw swarms of high school students in blue and black uniforms streaming down the sidewalk and into the convention center, clasping folders to their chests, carrying BRIEFCASES at their sides, and jabbering away. "What do we have here?" I wondered.

What we had there was the 78th California State Future Farmers of America Convention featuring an address by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. When I was outside asking Juan from the cleaners to please use a gentle cold wash, Arnold was inside taking back what he said in 1977 and trying to get on the good side of the 4000 future farmers in his audience who would be voting in a couple of years.

It occurred to me that I was in a different California than the one I'd left the night before. The future farmers being herded around the block all day long were an extraordinarily clean cut-looking group of youngsters.

While some of them may harbor secret hankerings for Reiki, hemp jewelry, and vegan cuisine, they all look very mainstream, as mandated in the official FFA Manual.

The National FFA Organization is all about positive differences in the lives of students blah blah blah by developing their potential for leadership, personal growth and career success blah blah blah through agricultural science education.

At public functions, members sport the FFA jacket zipped to the top with official FFA tie or scarf. Girls wear a black skirt of at least knee length, hemmed evenly across the bottom, with a slit no longer than 2 inches above the knee, and boys wear black dress pants. No jeans - blue or black - no leather, no pleather.

I know this because I skimmed the FFA manual and I have one thing to say: PLEATHER!?

I can't tell you how much I'd like to meet a little pleather-wearing future farmer and give him a handshake: "Son, you're really going to like Berkeley."

Zen driving in the East Bay

Seven of our first eight Benise shows were in California. Last Sunday in Oakland, I drove around the East Bay with the runner, a nice girl named Gabriella, to do errands.

We went to a Berkeley health food store called the Elephant Pharmacy and as we were pulling into the parking lot and Gabriella was taking her SWEET TIME finding a parking space, she told me that she practices the art of Zen driving.

She told me that she used to drive fast and get mad easily. Now she drives like a slow poke, doesn't try to make lights, and putters around parking lots, smiling and giggling. She puts the good energy out to her fellow motorists.

Gabriella explained Zen driving while performing a five-minute-long parallel parking job. I listened as closely as I could while also looking over my shoulder to check on/apologize to the guy waiting in a car behind us. I made some distracted comment to her like, "Wow. That's neat," so she'd think I was paying attention.

But I was thinking about how I can't drive five miles without saying, "Go, asshole," to someone. Intersections irritate me and I want to punch someone's lights out if they turn slowly in front of me. DON'T.

We went into the store and bought Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap made with organic oils - "Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Breathe deeply!" - and the way out we picked up free copies of CommonGround magazine. CommonGround, a conscious enlightenment publication, featured a photograph on the front cover of naked humans splayed out on the trunk and limbs of a giant tree with tits, pubes, and hineys in full effect.

The corresponding article, "Tree Spirits", was on the photographer's lifelong love affair with trees and his desire to "evoke a timeless quality without the cultural cues of clothing."

Gabriella and I made one more stop on the way back to the theater. We moseyed through another parking lot, drove the wrong way up the row, and pulled into a spot at such a sharp angle that Gabriella couldn't get out of her door.

She clambered over to the passenger side to climb out my door which cued giggling on both of our parts. Gabriella said to me afterward, "Thank you for being so chill. Some people might be in a rush and get irritated," to which I responded, "Oh, I think it's great."

I didn't let on that usually I'd be at the top of that rushed and irritated list. With a sharp object in my hand.

I was also thinking, "I like you, Gabriella. I appreciate you, I commend you, and I'm probably jealous of you. But I don't exactly know how to be like you."


Would someone please explain to me why this is not a walkway

I sat here and watched people walk back and forth. I myself walked back and forth.

I asked around but no one could tell me.

Uptalking in Sacramento

Sacramento, California

Yesterday morning I arranged for a cleaner to pick up our clothes and drycleaning at 6 am. This hour was his idea not mine, as I actually wouldn't have minded getting more than four hours of sleep. But since I was handing over 21 pieces of handmade professional costumes involving glass beads, fur pom poms, brocade, and velvet which were so dirty they could have walked off the bus and hopped into the cleaner's car themselves, I gave him the extra time to do an excellent job, thereby preserving the good name of Stage Matters.

I got up at 5:45 and called the cleaner. He answered the phone immediately and said, "Are those your big brown tour buses parked on the street?"

I frowned and said, "Ummmm, yeees?" in a slow uptalk.

Note: slow uptalk also works well as sarcasm, when you're pissed off but trying to keep cool. This was not the case yesterday. I was just tired and OF COURSE THEY'RE OUR TOUR BUSES!

I hate it when I'm like this. The power of sleep deprivation to negatively impact one's attitude and personality should never be underestimated.

"I've already circled the block twice," he said.

Mr. Cleaner, SETTLE DOWN.

"I'll be right out," I said.

After handing over the bags of clothes, I crawled back in my bunk to sleep until 8:00, at which point I got up to scope the dressing room scene. I found a room with a private shower and door that locked. Score.

Twenty minutes later I opened the door refreshed and ready to take on a new day of towels, hunting down strappy dance heels which are finally starting to not all look alike to me, chasing after tango hats and beaded bras that didn't make it to stage on time, and, of course, some serious shit-shooting.

A woman was standing on the other side of my door in the dressing room hallway. She stuck out her hand and shook mine.

"Hi. I'm from the city," she said. "How was your shower?"

Which, again, begged for some slow uptalk on my part because why is a woman "from the city" interested in my shower? 

"It was...great?"

"So it was good?" she pressed.

"Yeah. It was hot."

"Good, good," she said. "I'm just checking on everything."

I walked slowly down the hallway, smiling, and tossed my towel into the hamper that I'd put out earlier. People in Sacramento just really seem to like their jobs. Either that or I'm still delirious.


work hard and one day you, too, could wear a flesh-colored body suit

Show Day #3: Phoenix, AZ.

The last number in the Benise show - Carnaval - is a real whopper. This song and dance involves flesh-colored body suits snazzed up with wild splashes of paint, Mardi Gras beaded miniskirts, thongs, fluorescent hairpieces, African and Brazilian dance, and prolonged periods of booty shaking.

When I first saw the body suits during rehearsals, I was wowed - mainly, I think, by the IDEA of a body suit, rather than the BS themselves. I referenced the BS in an email to one of my Stage Matters bosses and he replied that he was thinking about instituting flesh-colored body suits as the new Stage Matters uniform.

I imagined myself performing my duties like putting towels in the bunks and pushing road cases to the loading dock. Then I imagined myself doing that in a body suit. And the rest of the roadies going on strike in protest.

Going through the line in catering, carrying big bags of laundry over my shoulder to the bus at night, even making the simplest phone call: All of it would be funnier in a body suit.

'BUT,' I reminded myself, 'it will NEVER HAPPEN.'

So when someone in wardrobe flung one of the spare body suits in my direction a couple of nights ago, I flinched and jumped back.

'Go ahead,' she said, 'put it on.'

'No,' I said.

'Just the top,' she insisted, 'and the hands.'


dirty roadie, dirty towels

Phoenix, AZ: Woke up this morning in my bunk wearing shoes, lanyard and laminate, pockets filled with wallet and last night's song list, and my hand wrapped around cell phone.

This, people, is what we mean when we say LIVIN' THE DREAM.

It's non-stop glamor out here.


copy that

Someone I've known for only four days bought me a coffee mug for no reason except that she felt like it and thought I might need one. We might be soulmates.

Meet Renee: wardrobe lady, seamstress, and user of iBook adorned with feisty BITCH sticker.

I took my new mug to the production office/laundry room and put it on my desk/washing machine and took photos, all the while experiencing an immeasurable amount of satisfaction that two of my worlds - LAUNDRY and COFFEE - had joined together so seamlessly.

Show Day #2: San Diego. Since first remarking on feeling the romance and living the passion, I've been passenger in a 1 am high-speed bus chase around Burbank's Bob Hope airport and surrounding streets.

This was high-ly entertaining because there is no reason that one should lose a GIANT tour bus at the SMALLEST AIRPORT EVER and then have to chase after it. Especially in the middle of the night when the streets are totally empty except for the two vehicles looking for each other.

And I remember why talking on a radio makes me smile. You get to say, 'Does anyone have eyes on....?' instead of 'Does anyone know where..?' and 'What's your twenty?' instead of 'Where are you?'

Fun! (copy that)


I feel the romance. I live the passion.

This week I've been calling and talking to dry cleaners nationwide, learning about golf (please see following entry 'you know I'm your friend when I learn about golf'), and drinking more frozen margaritas and glasses of sangria than I will ever admit, even to myself.

This is me and Jimmy talking:

- Do you want a glass of sangria?
- You're getting into the sangria already?
- Well, it IS 3:00.

Yesterday I left Austin for Burbank, CA to meet the rest of the Benise tour crew. In case you didn't catch Benise's NIGHTS OF FIRE! special on PBS, I'll fill you in.

Ron Benise plays the Spanish guitar and plays onstage with ten dancers and a band who combine flamenco, samba, cirque performance, gypsy violin, African tribal drums, and Havana horns to create 'a fresh new level of originality, cultural fusion and passion.'

My role in the Benise entourage is that of Stage Matters representative and thus it is my duty to 1) make sure the artists and crew have fresh towels and clean laundry 2) make sure none of the pretty dresses melt in the dry cleaning machine and 3) make sure no one gets too thirsty or too sweaty on stage.

Those bottles of water you see performers sipping from and those towels they use to wipe their brows? Someone put them there.

I will hop off the tour bus early every morning and hand over the dirty bags of clothes to the cleaners. In the afternoon I'll run back outside to pick up the clean clothes and rush them off to wardrobe.

I've been informed by the production manager that my title has been upgraded from TOWELGIRL to WARDROBE UTILITY since I will also help the dancers backstage in quick change and will pull a bunch of red capes offstage after they have been dramatically struck to the floor in the first number.



You know I'm your friend when I learn about golf

I've never been the least bit interested in golf. I've been more the opposite of interested, even, and have long held a negative view of the sport, associating it with old preppy businessmen who, between holes, drink martinis and share tips on how to keep their underpaid workers from unionizing. Not really my gig.

So imagine my plight when I found out that not only does Jimmy play golf, but TALKS about it. I thought it was a mistake the first time he threw around the terms "bogie" and "birdie" in my presence. I reminded him that I had no idea what he was talking about and then, reaching deep within myself, asked what those words meant.

He gave a quick explanation using other words that I didn't recognize - like par - and continued to tell me about his game while I concentrated on making eye contact and nodding.

When he again pulled this trick of talking mumbo-jumbo, I said, "You do realize that when you talk about golf, all I hear is blah blah blah blah blah?"

Jimmy looked at me for a few seconds and said, "NICE" in a tone that suggested he felt my question insensitive.

Last Sunday morning in Columbus I was up early and drinking coffee in the living room when Rem shuffled out of the bedroom.

"What are you doing up so early?" I asked.

"I'm going to play golf," he replied.

He sat at the table to join me for coffee and I asked him why he likes golf. I also told him that Jimmy tries to converse with me as if I get it when I don't.

Rem told me, "What you need is a cheat sheet."

He went into the kitchen, found a takeout menu, brought it back to the table, flipped it over, and told me we needed something to write with. I found an orange Sharpie in my bag and we went to work.

Rem dictated and I transcribed, in between tittering and clapping my hands. "This is GREAT!" I said, "I'm going to put this on his fridge as soon as I get to Austin and then run over and grab it when he starts up. THANK YOU."

I took my new found open-minded approach to golf a step further on Friday when Jimmy asked if I wanted to walk nine holes of the course.

I heartily agreed to since I'm learning not to be a hater, like walking, and love sunshine. Grass and trees are also not the most unpleasant things in the world.

I put on my approximation of what one wears on the greens, bought a Bud Light at the clubhouse, and strode around the course for two and a half hours.

I wasn't sure how much had sunk in until yesterday when the Masters tournament was on television and I glanced at the screen. "He's hitting eleven under par?" I said with admiration, "HE'S GOOD."



Last week I met a photographer who told me about Barbie Live! in Fairytopia. A Barbie musical was opening in Columbus before New York and a New York Times reporter was flying in to cover it. He, the photographer, was taking photos for the Times. We laughed, imagining a campy Barbie revue that would highlight the roles Barbie has played since her debut in 1959. It would be full of adult jokes and irony. It would contain indulgent appreciation and/or gentle criticism of pop culture and the Barbie phenomenon.

I wondered what I should wear to a Barbie musical and decided my polka dot overcoat was perfect. I usually feel like an asshole when I wear my polka dot overcoat because it's extremely perky and doesn't match my personality in the least, but what is Barbie if not perky? On the day of the show, I drove downtown, headed for the Palace Theater, and was met with thousands of runners and blocked streets indicating that the Columbus marathon's route included a giant circle around my destination.

I sat in traffic and glowered at the runners, conveniently ignoring the fact that I usually advocate walking, cycling, public transit, and even running over driving. I thought uncharitable thoughts about each and every runner who ran past, including the ones in Team in Training shirts which I knew meant they were running to raise money for kids with leukemia and which I suspected made me a bad person.

Eventually I found a side street and a parking spot and I, too, started running crosstown in cowboy boots and polka dot overcoat, against the flow of marathoners. "Where's your number?" A couple of construction workers called out. "Ha!" I yelled over my shoulder.

I darted through an intersection, dodged appropriately-dressed runners, sprinted up a sidewalk, skimmed closely past several families and picked up my tickets from will call. Because my adrenaline hadn't yet abated, I also ran up the lobby's majestic and sweeping staircase. I saw a little girl in tiara, leotard, and tutu bawling her eyes out on a sofa while her mom talked to her in undertones. I showed my ticket to the usher and then ran up, two steps at a time, another staircase to the mezzanine. Once I found my seat, I wiped the sweat from my forehead and looked around.

Every single other person in the theater was under the age of ten and accompanied by a parental-looking type. The usher came over to me and said, "I don't think you got one of these," and handed me a temporary tattoo. "Thank you," I replied and continued to scope the scene for clues as to what I'd gotten myself into.

Five inches behind my head, two girls played pattycake. Kids skipped through the aisles and bounced in their seats, wailing to the adults, "When is it going to staaart? I want to see Baaarbie!"

I observed a potential showdown on the stairs when a girl wearing gauzy fairy wings passed a girl holding a Barbie. They stopped and fixed a look on each other. I leaned forward and tried gauge the intensity of the standoff but the adults hustled the girls on and the moment passed.

I remembered my own brief history with Barbie and how, even then, I had no business going to Barbie Live!, much less now. In 1982 I declared that I wanted a Pink 'n Pretty Barbie. My mom wouldn't buy her but if I saved my allowance she would permit Barbie in the house.

I saved my quarters and went to Kmart with $9.00, brought PNPB home, brushed her hair, fiddled with her shoes, and put her down. I didn't touch her again until I could play with someone who also had a Barbie and we could make them have sex. Even that titillation wasn't enough to keep me interested and I forgot about Barbie forever.

If I HAD maintained even the slightest interest I would have known that Fairytopia is a Barbie concept whereby Barbie is named Alina. Alina lives in the Magic Meadow. She doesn't have wings and feels bad about that. She has a puffball friend named Bibble. Some fairies make fun of her for not having wings while other ones are nice and she learns that FRIENDS ARE PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU. FRIEND DON'T TEASE. FRIENDS LIKE YOU THE WAY YOU ARE.


Sing this out loud 30 times and you'll understand what I went through.

The only adult joke in Barbie Live! was the fairies trying to use their cell phones in the woods and complaining, "We never get service in the woods!" (Knowing chuckle from the deeper voices in the audience). I want to kill myself.

At the end, after the evil enchantress was foiled, after the fairies made up, and after Alina got wings, I glimpsed the Barbie Live! potential. The cast came on stage and danced to a song I'm sure I've heard in a gay club. It was the first energy I'd witnessed on stage that wasn't simpering, exaggerated, and pukingly instructional. The fairies CUT LOOSE and finally made my day by clasping their hands in front of their chests and doing the wave.

"THIS is what the photographer and I were talking about," I thought. At the very least a peek at what could have been.


"Fuck you, Rene Descartes, I need to sleep"

Two weeks ago I signed up for a philosophy class.

On the first day of class a lot of the students said they took The Mind and its Place in Nature to get out of a history requirement. I said was there because I wanted to be and that was enough to make two students ask me after class what my story is.

My story is that I want to understand why things are the way they are. I want to know why we think about ourselves the way we do. I want to know how this relates to the ways we govern and educate and behave. I want to know more about our assumptions and our judgments and want to look closely at human nature.

But during the first day of class I had some moments of "Uh-oh...."

Maybe I DO want to know this stuff but don't necessarily want to hear people TALK about it. I wrote in the margins of my notebook There is an awesome conversation happening about PINK ELEPHANTS. Do they exist just because you think they do? After class I kept smiling and thinking, "Goddamn kids. They are some argumentative motherfuckers."

The next day I read about how Rene Descartes (1596-1650) studied with Jesuits, got a law degree, and joined the army. Descartes really liked travel and wanted see the world so he threw himself into the good life and partied, presumably with this smirky look on his face.

In his 30s, he realized how uncertain he was about everything he'd been taught. He left France, went to Holland, and sat around asking scientific questions all day long, trying to empty himself of everything he thought he knew. Oh, and he wanted to prove that there's a unity to knowledge that had been lost and that there's a God and a soul that's separate from the body.

You know, the usual.

I'm totally into this. I don't care right now if I agree with Descartes; I just want to know what he thought. Descartes isn't the easiest person to wake up to and it did take me three hours one morning to read 17 pages of his book but I liked doing it. Yesterday morning, however, was different. I'd stayed up late reading the night before and had been thinking I didn't know where Descartes was going with it all but I'd figure it out in the morning.

Unfortunately my morning and night were separated by only four hours and when I woke up, I had a sick, shaky feeling in my gut. I started to read and became quickly enraged, due more to lack of sleep than anything else. This guy is making me CRAZY! I don't care if he's the father of modern philosophy! THIS IS BULLSHIT.

I got up from the couch, poured another cup of coffee and said out loud, "Fuck you, Rene Descartes." We made up yesterday when I stayed after class with some other students to talk about him. FOR FUN. Bring on the pink elephants.

Don't make me read Descartes outloud

Last night on the phone, Carl was pestering me and I tried to make him stop by threatening him, "Don't make me read you a sentence of Descartes. BECAUSE I WILL."

He challenged me.

I opened my book, Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), found my sentence and said, "This one's perfect. It makes no sense at all."

In the words of Rene Descartes, "The first is that, from the fact that the human mind, when turned in on itself, does not perceive itself to be anything other than a thinking thing, it does not follow that its nature or essence consists only in its being a thinking thing, such that the word only excludes everything else that also could perhaps be said to belong to the nature of the soul."

Carl hooted, "What worries me about that is what if everyone in the seventeenth century read that and thought, 'Well, sure, that goes without saying...'"

I began to cackle uncontrollably and Carl asked, "Is this the point in our conversation where everything deteriorates?"


Writ in potato chips

I have, until now, resisted writing about my birthday but Cathy changed all that when she sent me this with the message SAW THIS AND THOUGHT OF YOU.

I wrote back, "What do you mean you SAW this? SAW THIS? Where would you SEE this? Who made this? Talk to me."

I thought perhaps the universe had ensnared me in a wormhole whereby my spending my birthday arranging a potato chip display in Maryland sparked other potato chips to manifest themselves in different locations. This peculiar delusion of grandeur was squelched when Cathy owned up that she was the culprit.

On March 16, I woke up at 3am and drove to the Columbus airport armed for a business trip with six baskets and three steel basket stands. Some baskets fit in a giant suitcase and the rest were stuffed into/falling out of cardboard boxes I found in the basement the night before. I incurred wrath from the check-in lady who looked down her nose at me and said, "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BRING YOUR OWN TAPE." What I thought was, "Bitch, I wouldn't be standing here with bootleg cardboard boxes and shit falling out of them IF I HAD TAPE TO BRING." What I did was look at her plaintively until she produced a roll from behind the counter and handed it to me.

I flew to New York and then to Baltimore and got on a shuttle. My sad looking boxes and giant suitcase blocked the aisle, rendering me immobile, and the only way I could get off the shuttle was to push everything out the door in front of me, climb out after, and pick it all off the pavement.

I picked up my rental Hyundai and focused on my mission's destination: a travel plaza on the side of the Maryland Turnpike. More specifically, a deli within a travel plaza, a deli which wanted a stylish new way to display their chips. And that's where I come in because I may not be good at long-term planning or saving for retirement but am excellent at getting by with random jobs and opportunities.

Once I started driving, I noticed how unbelievably tired I was. I was so tired I wanted to hurl. Tears were shed. Yes, I wept as I drove north, letting my calls go to voice mail and cursing my 31st birthday. I definitely showed up at the travel plaza looking blotchy and in need of Visine. Somehow I managed to kick it into professional high gear and shook hands, chatted, filled baskets with chips, and took photos. I even managed to smile and looked serious or concerned when appropriate.

Note: This is not easy when the subject at hand is the display of potato chips. "Concern" was impossible to feel and really, really hard to fake but I did it because I'm a visual merchandising trooper. I left the travel plaza in good spirits, however, feeling successful. Time to celebrate! By having dinner alone at Ruby Tuesday.