Connecting to banana peelin’

Social networking is so fun, isn’t it? Via a Facebook friend I found this website, Banana Peelin’: The Ups and Downs of Becoming a Children’s Writer that features interviews with people about embarrassing moments in their professional careers. And who doesn’t want to read people’s most embarrassing moments? Plus, she is a mom and writes kid lit, so what’s not to love? There are so many websites and blogs and vlogs out there, it can be overwhelming, but it’s nice to allow oneself time once in a while to check out some new ones. Check it out:

http://bananapeelin.blogspot.com/

Cartoonist turned essayist digs deep

I just got back from a reading at Books, Inc. in Berkeley. (Yes, Virginia, there are still independent book stores.) I had not actually heard of the author before, but the promotional tag on the store’s website intrigued me:

Combining the insight of David Foster Wallace with the humor of David Sedaris, Kreider asks big questions about human-sized problems in comically illustrated essays.

Now I happen to be a big fan of both David Foster Wallace and David Sedaris. (I love all the Davids.) Factor in that it’s a free event and close to home, and I’m there. The event was conveniently located near Tacobaya, a place I love but rarely go to; so we made it an evening. I had the asparagus goat cheese quesadillas with a side of their heavenly pureed black beans. Ah, but I digress…

It was a healthy turnout of an interesting mix of people. Older as well as younger, tattooed and pierced as well as unadorned and relatively hole-free, male as well as female—but certainly a rather left-leaning crowd, since, c’mon, this is Berkeley. The chairs filled pretty quickly and by the time he got started, it was standing room only.

Either because he was democratically inclined or just indecisive, he offered up two different essays for the audience to choose. Political or personal? A  preponderance of people preferred the personal piece, or possibly were just more prompt. (There’s your tongue-twister for the day.)Either way, personal trumped political.

The essay focused on the author’s friend, Skelly, who had died, and in doing so, revealed dark secrets. Describing his longtime buddy with great humor and fondness, Kreider painted the picture of a quirky teller of stories who managed to keep his friends, co-workers, and family members separate to such a degree that when they all gathered at his funeral, they found themselves comparing character traits that seemed to belong to at least two—maybe three—different people. The Skelly who worked for the opera had little in common with the Skelly who never had cash to cover his meal. But he had shared many of the same stories, stories his close friends had long ago figured out were not in the truest sense of the word factual. Although Kreider discovered Skelly’s secrets and wrote a lengthy essay about his friend, he did not reveal what he found the day he came upon Skelly’s dead body.

But ultimately the secrets themselves were not what the essay was about at all—it was about a man who had to hide a part of himself without admitting that there was anything to hide and the friends who allowed him to do so in exchange for his friendship.

Or, as Kreider himself summed up: everyone lies; but we can choose to label these not-entirely-true statements as stories because we all have versions of ourselves that might not match up with what others see in us.

It was a deeply personal and well-written piece that asked philosophical questions without easy answers.

During the Q & A, a youngish audience member asked Kreider what he thought of Star Wars: Episode I.

Was this guy at the same reading that I was at?

But Kreider did not appear to notice the randomness of the question.  Because this bright, articulate essayist was once a satirical political cartoonist with what appeared to me to be a cult-like following who knew each of his cartoons individually. He had depicted a scene he called his dream lunch at which he, Nietzche, Frank Zappa, and a few other notables were sitting around a table. Given this incredible opportunity, all he could talk about was Star Wars: Episode I.

On behalf of the birds…

I was walking my usual Saturday morning route at El Cerrito Plaza between Weight Watchers and Starbucks (Starbucks oatmeal with all the fixin’s is yummy, filling, and 10 points) when I saw an unusual sign. Most preprinted signs are either advertising a product or alerting you of some rule that you mustn’t violate, e.g., that if you park here you will be towed.

But this sign wasn’t asking me to purchase or re-park. It was simply an explanation, posted by someone who wanted people to understand why birds might be flying around in the area. And I appreciated that such an effort was made so that passersby wouldn’t mistake this behavior as a Hitchcockian uprising taking place between Trader Joe’s and the Shoe Pavilion.

And knowing that any avian swooping was due to maternal instincts rather than an aggressive strain of mall birds was indeed comforting.

But mostly what struck me is that someone cared enough to clue me in on this phenomenon. The fact is I didn’t see any birds whatsoever, so I never would have known that nesting was happening so close by in such a suburban setting. I would have blithely passed through, probably contemplating how many activity points I was racking up by walking across the plaza. (Weight watchers will understand that reference, and the rest of you can probably figure it out.)

But instead I thought about birds. And motherhood. And nature living harmoniously amid commerce. I smiled. Because there are worse things to ponder on a Saturday morning.

Chad Deity Makes an Elaborate Entrance

Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity was a breath of fresh air for many reasons. First, it was set in a world I knew nothing about—professional wrestling. And I’m guessing that most of the other audience members weren’t terribly familiar with it either. But to get us all in the right mood, Dave Maier came out before the play properly began and drilled us on the correct responses for various wrestlers so we’d know what to chant. How fun to be given permission to boo and hiss! And when Billy Heartland made his way to the ring, we got to shout “Yee hah!”—definitely not standard theater behavior. This was fun.

Second, the stage was transformed into a wrestling ring, where various actors climbed the ropes that defined the edges throughout the play. And flashy colored lights blinked in time to the deep bass of the music that accompanied each elaborate entrance. This was not Chekhov, Ibsen, or Pinter—this was a completely foreign experience for me.

The story is narrated deftly by Macedonio “The Mace” Guerra, played by Tony Sancho, who speaks directly to the audience for most of the play, all the while bouncing around with athletic agility on the ring’s ropes. He’s our tour guide behind the scenes of these scripted events, even revealing tricks of the trade that promoters don’t want you to know.

The funniest parts surround the ridiculous characters and their costumes. Beethovan Oden is priceless as Chad Deity, the world wrestling champ with a gleaming smile and dancing pecs. The resident fight director at Cal Shakes and an instructor of combat-related courses at the Berkeley Rep, Maier got to show off his many skills, including an amazing slow-motion knock-out that was itself worth the ticket price.

But between the laughs and the booming announcer are glimpses of childhood dreams, culture clashes, and hard-earned tears.

Kudos to director Jon Tracy and the Aurora Theatre for daring to produce a play so different from the standard fare. Entertainment that is this fun and interactive doesn’t come around every day.