We have a houseful every Halloween thanks to Janie.
Janie lives for Halloween. She likes me pretty well, and she adores Chloe, her pup, but she lives for Halloween.
The house is filthy with skeletons; human, rats, cats, and avian. Most of the bones twinkle, glow, and/or make noise. Any drawer, door, or toilet seat screams or plays Wagner (sometimes it’s hard to distinguish). The shower is defended by knife-wielding shadows. Books on shelves shuffle…by themselves. Doormats screech – witch’s hats flutter (be careful, they’ll putcher eye out).
It’s a feast of shrimp and sausage and potatoes and onions and eye of toad and hair of newt (whatever a newt is)…and a cornbread to die for (and you may – but hey, it’s Halloween)…and yes, a gluten-free-but-what’s-use-in-living version of cornbread which everyone tells me is wonderful and I will take their word…from a distance.
And then there’s the passing of Janie’s Treat Cat Box. You must reach into the razor-toothed mouth of the cat to get your treat – an unforgivable cruelty to inflict upon a guest assembly that has lived through Jaws and Banksy’s “Girl With a Balloon”. But it’s a foolish and brave group who’ve swilled more than a bit ‘o bourbon, and chardonnay, and prosecco, and cabernet; all of which are notorious courage-boosters.
And so the giant punch-balloons, and eyeball-rings, and head-syringes, and bloody saws, are deployed and depleted and, since thankfully no one requires a ride to the Emergency Room, we retire to the living room, de-activate the noise-makers and the stories begin.
Let me be frank about it.
It’s not a group of spring chickens.
They’ve done a lot, been through a lot, seen a lot, and thought a lot about what they’ve done, seen, and been through. They’re verbal. They have vocabulary. They’ve had wine. The stories are unhurried and ever-changing, eminently interruptible for on-the-spot “improvement”.
It’s a great time to live.
Chloe, the pup is in heaven. She thinks everyone came to see her and every story is about her wonderfulness. She drifts from lap to lap.
It’s a great time to live.
I could relate some of the tales…and get sued…or arrested.
Rather, I am struck by how much theatre has been collected this evening within these walls.
These non-theatre walls.
When and how often I have been enveloped by a concentration of theatre experience in a non-theatre space. How desperately magical some of those congregations have been.
Then it occurs to me I’ve actually lived in such a place.
I had a college-ghetto room in a house on Linden Walk about 1971. It was an old house divided into rooms for rent – six or seven rooms that couldn’t even spell AC, sharing two bathrooms (tub-no shower, hook-and-eye on the door for imagined privacy – hey, it was hippie days, let the fantasies fly).
I recall my rent being about $1.25 per day. For real.
It was a little over a block away from the Fine Arts Building on the UK campus, around which, in defiance of Copernicus, the universe revolved. Thus, it was unsurprising that, with one exception, every tenant of the house was connected to the Guignol Theatre. As far as I was concerned, this was Ground Zero for the future of American theatre…whatever Ground Zero meant in 1971.
Besides me, there were two fellow actors living together downstairs. One was gay and later became a monk (for real), one was Pan incarnate (at least to hear him tell it – O the glorious filter of memory!). It was a reality show in the making before we’d ever even heard of reality shows. The assistant costumer for the Theatre Department lived down the hall. Two actresses lived across the hall – their credits; Viola in Twelfth Night, Antigone in Anouilh’s Antigone, Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals.
It was a theatre-infested house.
Except for one room.
She was demure.
Lower-case letters can’t really serve adequately here.
Work with me…
…she was demure………
She might’ve been attractive. Who could tell?
She would emerge from her room on Monday mornings, head down behind her books, and proceed with mission out of the house until late in the day. There was no “How d’ya do”.
Until Saturday night…
On Saturday nights someone would visit her in her room. I never saw him, or her, or…
But I, along with the rest of the house heard…
It began as a plaintive sigh…
…and proceeded quickly to a; “whoop…whoop…Whoop…Whoop…WHOOP…WHOOP!…WHOOOP!!…WHOOOOPP!!!…WWWHHHOOOOOPPPP!!!!!”
It was stunning.
It was athletic.
It was humbling.
It was far more dramatic than anyone else in the house could produce.
I still don’t know who she was, but when I was 20, she was a God to me.
She still is.