That's the view from the back porch of our second show location.
Let me explain what we did: early this year Astrid came to Minnesota, and we drove to Kasson and Mantorville to scout locations for the show. She had, of course, done ten tons of advance work. We visited an old opera house in Mantorville and the Community Technical College, a large operation, in Rochester. This seemed all very remote and abstract at the time; I knew I would be doing this some day, but when? November? Hah: that was on the other side of the summer yet to come.
In July Daughter and I went to Walberswick, England, and while Daughter typed away or trampsed through the brambles or walked Mabel the dog, Astrid and I hammered out the outline of the show. Again, quite abstract. Sitting in the upstairs office,twalking out the show, then back to London: see you in November! Which was an impossibly distant date.
And then it’s November - how did that happen - and Astrid’s at the kitchen table, and we’re hashing out the script and selecting the sound clips. Now: I wrote the slideshow for this, a series of pictures, sound files, movies, all to be controlled by my phone. Laptop -> projector via an HDMI connector, which they assured me they had in Rochester. (No suspense intended; they did, so don’t think this is leading to that crisis moment where the Critical Dongle is missing.) (My next band name is Critical Dongle, of course.) We practice for two days, all looks good; we pack up props and scripts and head out down Highway 52 into Southeastern Minnesota.
It . . . it is cold. It is fully winter down here. The cities have no snow, but quickly after we left the metropolis the farlmand furrows turned white, and the sun had no strength to melt the early snow. In Rochester there are accumulations, actual drifts, hard ridges of ice on the street and sidewalk - it’s just too damned early. We check in to the hotel, and that was yesterday’s snippity conniption-fit Bleat. At the appointed hour we go to the theater.
I’d say half the people who were supposed to show up did not, including a critical mover-and-or-shaker who had been instrumental in getting this thing going in the first place. Students of the director of the theater who’d been offered class credit evaporated. In short, a dismayingly scant house. But! That doesn’t mean you don’t sell what you have, and when the TV shows played everyone laughed, and laughter can fill a house nicely.
Everyone who showed up was wonderful, and I can’t thank them enough. (Even a Bleatnik who read about it here - waving to you, bowing in appreciation.) The theater people - Ben and Jerry - couldn't have been more helpful or enthusiastic or fun to work with, so in the end, well, those of who were there had a great time. Better than 10X the audience and falling flat.
We went to Newt’s afterwards with some of the crew. Popcorn on the floor, Tiffany lamps, 80s music - it was like being back at the Valli. The menu: MEAT MEAT MEAT
Astrid, I should note, was deathly sick with a cold, and had relied on good old Dr. Footlights to get her through the performance. (Never heard that one before, but I understand it now.) Back to the hotel, her to her chemically-saturated room, me to my meat locker.
Breakfast at the Grande Grille or whatever it was called. One of two tables. Thirty minutes to get breakfast. She ordered French toast; they gave her pancakes. The other waiter was assisting a table of friends who wanted Bloody Marys, but he couldn’t open the vodka until four, most he could do was beer. He had an almost uniform dark stubble like Bluto, except he was lanky and thin, like some emaciated Bluto reduced to wiping tables and denying vodka to peers. Eventually he announced in a loud voice I’M SICK I’M GOING HOME.
The mood, as per the early scenes of the Stan and Ollie movie, was decidedly . . . mordant.
We pinned all our hopes on Mantorville. Surely we weren’t the first to say that.
Took highway 14 to Kasson, where Peg is buried. Time to visit the grave, but she didn’t have flowers.
“There’s a Kwik Trip over there,” I said. “They’ll have flowers.”
“What? Why? It’s a gas station.”
“They’ll have flowers.”
While I gassed up she went in, and came out with a bouquet. Probably from Chile.
Drove to the gravesite. Again, in the back of my head, I’m thinking: I found this radio show on the internet, fell in love with it, did some research, called up the aged creator, ended up at her house, ended up here when her grave was new, and now this is my third time at her grave, and we’re back to do a show about her work up the road, and I’m thinking of the last time I talked to her - she called me at the paper to talk, and tell a joke, and complain about something with her usual panache, then lament something and then she said well goodbye Jimmy I love you, and I said I love you too Peg, and that was that.
Up the road to Mantorville, to the opera house.
It was only 6 hours to show time, so we were cutting it close.
Did an interview with the local paper, did a technical run-through to make sure I could run the show from my phone. In between two and six was something I will relate to you tomorrow as The Mantorville Interval, because it was quietly wonderful in a dozen different ways.
Seven: the show. Pre-show music off, flick thumb across iPhone screen to call up the first audio, then take the stage and start. In the first exchange I went off the script on a momentary flash of inspiration - the Mantorville Opera House was renowned for presenting, with utter conviction, old melodramas, so what the hell: I said I was Peg Lynch’s illegitimate son.
And the room laughed. I should note:
Every seat was taken. More or less.
It was a loose show - I found myself looking at a page of the script that had been mangled by the printer and vamped the rest; Astrid, gamely grappling with the grippe, had a coughing fit during our performance of “The Paradise Room,” but of course recovered and THE SHOW WENT ON; I swiped to the wrong slide once - but it didn’t matter. The audience was wonderful and warm and it was a complete joy to do. Cider and cookies afterwards, nice chats with the folks who had come from far and wide to see it (again, including Bleatniks! Pls feel free to note in the comments that I am recounting the audience’s appreciation with complete accuracy! Also that I am tall and handsome) (Or have your account banned!) Astrid stayed behind to have dinner with the local historical society, and she spent the night there - I shot home because I had to do - sorry, was privileged to be the MC for the Minnesota Youth Symphony concert on Sunday.
Barreling up the narrow roads in the dark, listening to a 50s R&B / early rock ’n’ roll playlist, full of fire, and happy.
We’d brought her work back to the place where she grew up. They saw it and of course they loved it. Flowers on the grave and laughter in the rafters. They say the Mantorville Opera House is haunted, and perhaps there’s one new shade in temporary residence, lording it over the others for a while. Every time we do these shows she comes to life, and even though I only knew her for a little while, every time we do them I miss her, and hope I’m doing her justice.
You owe it to yourself! An early and sturdier version of the “You deserve it” line that would later appeal to the boomers, who, of course, deserved it, by virtue of being, well, you know.
Three hundred dollars! I always multiply by ten when going back that far. The inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, but even then $300 was $7,700. That’s a lot of lettuce.
DO YOU? YOU PROBABLY CAN’T BUT THAT DOESN’T MATTER
You wonder if this was their way of making money on stamps, since it probably just cost 3 cents to mail whatever letter they sent back.
They didn’t stint, though - check out a 1913 reply to the inquiry, here,
Make your whalish limbs lean and dainty, the electrical way:
“Can take a pound a day off.” Well, if it kills, you sure.
“I say my good man, are women passing you by because your head seems to have shrunk a bit?”
“Yes. It’s the deuced thing, it is.”
On the other hand, she has three feet, so she’s not one to complain.
It’s like Virginity Prison:
You can find some pictures from an ancient photo album here. The school closed in the 30s, and the building was demolished in 1944. Which was, in retrospect, stupid as most of the demolitions of these archaic structures.
The School For Girls Who Are Going to Be Married Because They’re Societally Connected and Winsome and Will Probably Never Cook Because There Will Be Servants:
He seems to have the nail on the head: the key to stop forgetting is, indeed, remembering.
They advertised in Popular Mechanics and other places where fellows who had an itch for self-improvement might linger. It was a school! Probably didn’t have a graduation ceremony, and if they did, you wonder how many remembered to show up. HAR HAR
Sturdy people drink beer!
How about that - I used the word “sturdy” at the top, not knowing it would be in this copy.
How many words are necessary to convince people to drink beer? Did they really need to make this complex and lengthy an argument?
Doctors love it! Pshaw, but a trifle of alcohol. A mere trifle. You drink it for the barley.
Tomorrow: the Mantorville Interval.