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Monday, February 28, 2005

The Adventure, Part VIII: Show Me

I found my seat between a—how shall I say?--rather robust middle-aged gentlemen and a teenager who was there with his father and brother. Having spent the better part of my day scrunched into a series of airplanes, I instinctively assumed the position, shoulders rounded and hands in lap. I could see Mark and Bernie a ways off, seated with the upper crust. Still, I’m sure my seatmates would’ve turned out to be the salt of the earth had I spoken anything more meaningful than “excuse me” or “sorry about that” to either of them. Meanwhile, Mark and Bernie joked with each other and commiserated with the king, queen, and crown prince. Fortunately, I don’t have a jealous bone in my body, and I applied my excess energy into seeing if my program could be converted into a serviceable peashooter.

At length, the house lights went down and the show began. The Firesign Theatre came onstage, all in their sixties and looking much younger, to thunderous applause. Instead of going the route of being a nostalgia act, they kept the pieces from their classic period of the ‘70s to a minimum and concentrated on newer material—much of which came from “Boom Dot Bust.”

The four—Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor—were in great form, and the audience went with them joyously. In the past couple of years, I had made the Internet acquaintance of one of the four, Phil Austin, and I was particularly pleased with how well two of his monologues, “The Book of Me” and “Art of the Insane” went over. And they went over for the very good reason that they were both achingly funny. Messrs Bergman, Ossman, and Proctor all also had glorious moments in the sun, and all four worked together with precision and grace.

During the intermission, I relocated myself to the row behind where I had been sitting, putting my closest lateral neighbor about 15 seats away. For the first time all day, I really spread myself out and bellowed my approval throughout the second act. From what I could tell, a good time was had by all.

I had found out on the Internet that the Firesigns were going to autograph stuff after the show and had arranged with Mark and Bernie to meet them by the signing table after the show. It quickly became apparent that the former souvenir table was about to be transformed into the autograph area with the addition of one more table and some chairs for the performers. With my usual adeptness in crowds, I allowed a number of people to get in front of me and took up my position well behind both Mark and Bernie.

For some reason, in my pre-show fantasies of this moment, I had assumed that Phil Austin would be the first of the four that I would encounter. This would allow him to introduce me to the other members of the group, and they could toast me with champagne and pull my carriage through the streets as 19th Century New Yorkers did with Jenny Lind.

In real life, however, Bergman was first, with Proctor next to him and then Ossman and Austin acting as the anchor. I tried to readjust my psyche, but the line wasn’t quite long enough, and when I reached Peter Bergman I was overtaken with a case of Celebrity-itis, an ailment that reduces normal grey matter to the consistency of overcooked summer squash.

I laid the CD covers I had brought for inscription in front of him, and, instead of leading with the interesting and human fact that I’d flown in from Atlanta, G-A, just for this show, I blurted out something about how much he’d gotten out me in royalties since I’d bought these albums in different formats over the years. In my dementia, I thought this was humorous. Bergman, for his part, grunted something at me, signed my stuff and pushed the covers on to Proctor. A radio guy who had interviewed Proctor and Bergman started barking at him before I could come up with any way of saying, “Please let me apologize. I’m suffering from short-term dementia.” I moved on.

(In defense of Bergman, I have to say that not two minutes earlier I had seen him grab a flyer from the table for someone who hadn’t brought anything to sign and say, “We can sign this for you.” It was a genuinely nice gesture from one stranger to another. In our tête-à-tête, he was put at the distinct disadvantage of having to deal with a dope.—ed.)

The radio guy also horned his way in with Proctor and Ossman, so I moved along gathering only their signatures and not their approval of my existence. That left only Austin.

As Phil started to sign my stuff, I leaned forward a bit and quietly said, “Phil, I’m Len Cassamas.” Well, before I could get out my Internet alias, he was on his feet and shaking my hand, a big grin on his face. He tugged on the sleeve of a pretty blonde on the stairs next to him. “This is Len Cassamas,” he said. “And this is Bernie Splim.” It was at that moment that I realized that Bernie was now beside me. “This is my wife, Oona,” Phil said to both of us.

My Celebrity-itis disappeared as someone I had encountered as an object became wonderfully, warmly human. The four of us chatted for a minute or two and then Mark joined in. (Fortunately, the radio guy was clogging up the works pretty good behind me.—ed.)

Oona slipped off to another part of the hall, and we said our goodbyes, not as Internet wraiths and celebrity, but as flesh-and-blood human beings. Mark had gone on ahead toward the exit, and Bernie and I sauntered through the nearly empty lobby comparing notes on the evening. We found Mark just outside the front doors, standing with Oona and a couple of her acquaintance. He was petting one of the Austins’ dogs, The Molimo. Bernie and I joined the conversation and laughter and the petting of The Molimo. The woman member of the couple insisted that I move my family to the greater San Rafael area.

We laughed some more and chatted and Phil came up to the group and took charge of the dog and led him away toward their SUV. We said our goodnights and drifted off toward Mark’s car, which turned out to be parked two spaces behind Phil’s. I thought about going to say a final goodnight, but he had an SUV full of dogs, and I doubted he needed any further complications.

We drove away pleased with our evening and finally hungry and looking for food. There had to be a restaurant somewhere in the greater San Rafael area, and we were just the ginks to find it.

Tomorrow, Part IX: What Goes Out, Must Come Back


Robert G. Margolis said...

When Fenton Hardy arrived, at a sprint, in the room of the Zeus family confrontation, just moments behind Penny Parnassus, he found himself in the cacaphonic midst of ten years of deception, recrimination, loneliness, disappointment, anger, fear, and sheer incomprehension. As the old blind man would later describe it, it sounded like a pack of drunken monkeys arguing about what was to be the first sentence in the Great American Novel. Satisfied that no harm had been done to anyone, including his sons Frank and Joe, he gently took away the spear from Dilemmachus with which he had been threatening his father and grandfather. Dilemmachus offered no opposition; having just learned several truths about his mother and father that he never would have believed possible, all he could do was stand, the fight drained out of him, and listen to more and more details of a bewildering narrative of the past ten years, which his parents told in tandem and punctuated with their tearful entreaties for his forgiveness.

It was going to be a long night of long stories for the Zeus family. It was time, at long last, for the head of the Zeus family to be properly introduced to his own family, the family he had but had never known he had. Mr. Hardy thought the moment, however awkward for he and the others, should just be allowed to take its course. Mr. Zeus, as best he could, followed the conversation between Penny, Odysseus, and Dilemmachus, with all its stops, starts, tears, and digressions. There was too much at once for him to understand it all, but this much he did understand: Odysseus was his son-in-law and a loving, loyal, devoted father; his daughter had become as mature and responsible as she was beautiful, and he had a grandson--he was a grandfather! Mr. Zeus tried to impose his will to calm the pantheon of emotions which contended for his attention: bewilderment, astonishment, remorse, sorrow, elation, and plain old garden-variety disbelief. It did not even occur to him to rouse his famous temper. From what Mr. Zeus understood of the tale of deception and double-lives, told by his daughter and son-in-law, it was because of him that his own family had been concealed from him.

Lightning of a kind had, indeed, struck twice; struck him twice, that is. The first strike had knocked him off his pedastal; the second strike had destroyed the pedastal itself. Mr. Zeus kept repeating, softly, "I have a grandson! My daughter is a wonderful mother! I am a grandfather!" The World of Big for the Sake of Big could quickly become a very small, petty thing, he found himself thinking for, maybe, the first time. And for the first time in a long time, his Castle, that monument to Big for the Sake of Big, again felt like home to him.

The old blind man, meanwhile, had found a way to free Frank and Joe Hardy, Sallie Forth, and Joseph the K. from the room in the Castle into which Dilemmachus had forced them and then locked them in. Frank and Joe Hardy bound down the spiral staircase; they'd only heard the muffled sounds of confrontation and altercation and didn't know the meaning of the sudden calm. "Dad! Are you here? Are you alright? What happened…?" Frank and Joe, with Sallie Forth and Joseph the K. right behind them, burst through the door of the room where the others were, expecting the worst. Instead they found Penny Parnassus, Odysseus, and Dilemmachus seated on the sofa, their arms around each other, talking or sobbing quietly. Mr. Hardy was sitting comfortably in Mr. Zeus' favorite chair, with his eyes closed, enjoying a very expensive cigar. Mr. Zeus was busy preparing to serve refreshments he had just brought from the kitchen. The sight, so incongruous with what they expected to find, made Frank, Joe, and Sallie Forth burst into laughter.

Joseph the K. paced agitatedly along the walls of the room, his movements describing regular geometric shapes around the others. Due to the permanent strain on his nerves, which he experienced as a result of having endured so many purposeless interrogations, suspense, literally, could kill him. "Meaningless," he muttered, "this whole unexplained business has been meaningless to me. What was the point of it all?" Sallie Forth smiled patiently at Joseph the K. "Oh, I think I can help you with that, Joseph," she said in a sly, playful voice. I am in desperate need of a vacation after this ordeal, and the Bay Area is the ideal place for it. Come on vacation with me, and we can get 'better acquainted'. I trust you know the meaning of that!" Joseph the K., grinning stupidly like he'd just gone to paradise and then won the lottery there, gulped and nodded his head. With a toss of her famous wind fluffed blond hair, and a wink back at the Hardys and Mr. Zeus and his family, Sallie Forth took hold of Joseph the K.'s hand and then, arm in arm, and saying goodbye and thanks for everything, they departed.

"I think we could all use a vacation," said Mr. Zeus cheerfully, as he himself began to serve lemonade and sugar cookies to his guests, offering the first glass of lemonade and plate of cookies to Fenton Hardy. "I look forward to the benefit of your acquaintance and counsel, sir," said Mr. Zeus with a bow as he served Mr. Hardy. Listening to the talk and laughter of what now sounded like a family reunion, Mr. Hardy smiled at the thought of how many times his late wife had told him knotty, knotted problems, like snakes, usually just untied themselves.

The old blind man had been right: it was merely a myth that the Fates decide anything for mortals in this world.

Anonymous said...

Well, Now we see how this group known as "the Beatles of Comedy" coined by myself on around 1971 at Carnegie Hall a rfe more then an American Icon. This four or five crazy guys smarter then the average bear are one of a kind. I have met them a few times and Phil P. and I are pals of an internet nature. No matter what anyone says about TFT, they are the best of the best. Just remember, that radio guy is just that, a radio guy, but you my friend are you.That makes you have the one up on that loud mouth probably out of work radio guy.
Bob D Caterino author / writer / comic andnow blogger. I enjoyed your blog.

Len said...

Thanks for stopping by, Bob. You're right, they are the best of the best. Completely unique, which is no small feat in the day of mass production.

In the end, I didn't mind the radio guy and his used car salesman personality. He not only pushed me to Austin sooner, but he blocked up the line behind me and gave me a chance to have a great chat with Phil and Oona and Bernie the Splim.

Nick said...

Si I bought tickets for my four friends, my girl at the time and myself but three of the four guys didn't pay me for them so I gave the tickets to my sister and my mom. My sis was about ten and my mom was in her fifties. I then received the monies due to me and gave them the tickets. I felt bad for my mom and sis and thinking back I didn't know why, so I gave them new tickets. They were seated a few rows back and I remember turning around several times and seeing a joint being passed and my mother just saying, "No thanks," a lot of times. The pack I was with ate some laced brownies and we were seated in the front row tenth balcony. My girl was sleaping in the girls room on the floor while my other friends enjoyed the show. I remember the show because I was the straight poop at least for that night. Amazing was too slight a word for what I witnessed that night in New york City. Long live the Firesign Theatre.
Bob D Caterino