Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Proctical Magic

Last Saturday I went to the Capitol Region Wine Festival hosted at the rather regal Proctor's Theater in Schenectady, New York. I have never been to Schenectady before nor have I harbored a desire to visit there, at least until the film 'Synecdoche' came out. So I attributed this sudden burning desire to visit a burned out corpse of electrical manufacturing to having heard an interview with Charlie Kaufman, writer and director of that remarkably convoluted film, on NPR. There was something in his tone that told me that Schenectady might somehow be more than just the first island in the archipelago-connect-the-dots arrow-straight-trip along the Thruway toward Buffalo. (To give the devil his due, it was also coincidentally on NPR that I had heard about the wine festival.)

The name, 'Proctor's', does not inspire an especially warm feeling in me. It evokes either a hyperarticulate High School guidance counselor warning us sternly to 'put your pencils down' after the math section of the SAT or another kind of unpleasant exam where someone is shoving something like a #2 pencil up into what I like to call 'the English section' of my large intestine (yes, they give the SAT there too) and from whence issues all #2 .

So, despite the fact that the multiplying coincidences somehow suggesting all this was (much like a colonoscopy after age 50) somewhat inevitable, still, I was approaching this event with some strange combination of awe-inspired passivity (inspired by the aforementioned raison d’etre in this case) and terror, extracting this from what Carl Jung called 'Synchronicity', a series of inexplicable coincidences that inspire an unwarranted confidence in the operations of fate, a kind of ice cream sundae enema of karma, slathered with the whipped cream of trepidation, topped with a hemorrhoidal cherry marinated in my own 'free associative' reaction to the unpleasant name of the theater.

Accompanied by my lovely daughter, Julia, I arrived at the theater about 10.00 AMSaturday, aware that I was already late and also nagged by a feeling that I had somehow forgotten something. I parked in front and was directed by a smiling old woman to a handcart trolley to be used for bringing in the cases of wine from the car. As I exited the front of the theater pushing the noisy cart, gratified by this bit of considerate planning on the part of the hosts, I pushed open the front door of the theater with the cart and promptly snapped off the bright brass, expensive looking kick-down doorstop that was affixed to the strike plate on the door,  on which I had pinned all my now clearly vain hopes of doing no immediate damage to the premises. Ignoring the look of horror on the face of the woman, I sheepishly finished unloading my wine,-- asking Julia to take the car and park it in the back lot and meedly went in to face my fate which I expected involved a conversation with an insurance adjuster.

Proctor's, you should understand is not just a theater, it is a magnificently restored venue, a former vaudeville house with a full proscenium stage flanked by gilt embossed elegantly worked wood and plaster moldings. The plushly carpeted arcade houses a book store, a music store (a real music store with actual music), a coat check, various well appointed cul de sac lounges, it was added in 1979 to the National Register of historic buildings and was recently restored to its former glory at a cost of 2.5 million dollars. I took the evidence of my own inflamed guilt embossing and wedging it somehow between the floor boards of the hand trolley, not sure exactly in what manner to inform the officials of the event of my heinously anti-architectural act. I rolled up to the table set up for the vendors with my four cases of wine, denoted in black magic marker as 'Proc 1 thru 4', retrieving the bright shiny, now useless, doorstop from between the trolley boards, holding it up for all to see like a self-accusatory supernumerary digit or the severed head of a vicious enemy.
“Doorstop.” I managed to squeak out. Kaufman's dreamlike Synecdoche was already running a loop in my head, like 'Krapp's Last Tape',-- visions of an eight track nightmare of melted videotape, holding what to me represented the entire days profit and clear evidence of my crime, in my other hand.
“Oh Silver Stream, we've been waiting for you!” a smiling middle-aged woman with a bouffant hairdo effused, ignoring my ignominious trophy.
“There's a lunch set up across the lobby for the vendors.”
I let out a little sigh of relief, either they had not connected me with the assault on the architecture or they had chosen to write the entire incident off as an indiscreet destructive entrance, either that or they must have assumed that I always traveled with a snapped off, $150, bright brass doorstop in my hand. At that point I was just glad to proceed to the vendors area without hearing the words, ‘Ja, Cuse!!’ hurled at me like a corinthian acanthus.

As it turned out, (much like the dream sequence known to every college student of waking up late for an exam for which you have totally forgotten to study)  what I had forgot to bring with me was the wine!. Well, not entirely, but I had forgotten that I had offered to donate three bottles of my Pear Dessert Wine to the silent auction which now left me with only five bottles for four hours of voracious wine tasters. 'Give tiny tastes' my daughter admonisshed me. The hopes of this strategy working evaporated rather quickly. A thousand people had bought tickets at the door,-- there were booths serving cooked to order pasta, bruschetta, calamari, imported cheeses, the vendors lounge for Chrissakes was serving hand carved rare roast beef sandwiches and sushi, Opici, Charles Krug, Mondavi they all had booths there supplied with tons of sleek, handsome bottles of wine, --clearly, they were not about to run out, and here I was with my five bottles of dessert wine and a broken off doorstop wedged back guiltily in the slats of the hand cart, it was the SAT and I had a rubber pencil!, it was Charles Kaufman droning on about his dream states to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air! It was a proctological exam and I had forgotten to shower! In short it was a quickly becoming exactly the choreographed nightmare I had imagined! Then I looked up,----

Floating serenely high above the crowds, there it was, - a polka dot octopus with heart-embossed-satin sleeves and a chiffon sash. It was the Proctopus! Well really it was a ball gown with eight legs protruding complete with black outlined suckers, (if that makes any more sense).  Anyway somehow it assured me, everything was going to be alright, you'll get through it somehow. Don't worry sucker!

By 3:00 PM. I am out of wine. Not just dessert wine but all the wine. I am slumped disconsolately at the table while my daughter looks about nervously, hoping no customers will approach us.
"Hi. My name is Dennis."
"I'm sorry Dennis but I'm out of everything. Even business cards." I write my website address on a matchbook cover and hand it to him.
"Come on Ken! How can you do that!" (He obviously saw my nametag because I had never met him before.)
"I'm a bass player." I have no idea why I say this, I am reaching, reaching for anything, eight arms grasping desperately trying to hold on to... something--anything.
"Hey I'm a bass player too!"
A young nice looking woman with dark hair standing at the table adjacent to him smiles at me.
"Hey,-I'm a bass player too!"
"Wow! What a coincidence."
Well, all wasn't exactly forgiven and didn't exactly expect it to be, but there had emerged this unexpected quirky kind of camaraderie that momentarily trumped all the gaffes, all the mistakes and miscalculations. It was a brotherhood and sisterhood based solely on pure coincidence under the umbrella of a hovering ten-foot flying polka dot octopus.
"I'm definitely moving here." I say to the greyish-blondish-haired woman in the purple shirt sitting at the table when I exit the exhibition area.
"You're moving here?!" she asks incredulously.

As we drive away, I see the big circular GE sign rising majestically over Erie street, now un-illuminated and abandoned the hulking evacuated lightbulb factory squats below. Still, somehow it was beaming,-- all of a sudden, smiling, smiling right at me like an electric warming sun as it evinced the timeless, double entendre message, 'We bring good things to light'. I wave goodbye to Schenectady with my expensive new brass doorstop. 'Hah', I say, not meaning it.


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