Thursday, March 11, 2010

Holding Out For a (Public Radio) Hero

I was lucky enough to go down to the Providence Performing Arts Center last night, where I got to see one of my idols, Garrison Keillor, perform about 90 minutes worth of stories, some which I recognized from his previous works, others I was hearing for the first time. All together, it was a wonderful performance. I was afraid that I was going to have to go by myself, which certainly would have changed the experience, however my friend Mike, who is also a fan of the radio bard, was more than happy to come with me.

One of the perks of going with Mike was that he had worked in PPAC as an usher for quite some time, and he knew all of the ins and outs of that place. Specifically, he knew where the stage door was and suggested that if we wait by the stage door, perhaps we will get to meet our hero of Lake Woebegone fame. This decision led to quite an interesting evening.

As much as I wanted to wait by the stage door, my car was parked in a lot that was going to lock up within 30 minutes after the show ended, so moving it was more than necessary. Luckily, I was able to find a spot on the street near the theater almost immediately, and we soon hurried back to the stage door. There wasn't a crowd waiting, not one single person. Maybe it was a well kept secret, or maybe GK had left already. We wait a few minutes when a security guard comes outside for a smoke. Mike asks him if Garrison Keillor had left, and the guard informed us that he had. "He got here right before the show started, and then he left soon after it was over." Apparently those red shoes are used to be nimble. But who could blame the guy? It was just him doing the show. Why bother sticking around, despite the fact that he could very well outrun 90% of his audience demographic. Jokingly, I looked at Mike and told him "That's what he wants us to think." Little did I know that I would be right.

As we made our way back to the front of PPAC, we saw Garrison Keillor leaving out the front door. Mike and I then proceeded to lock our joints. We were starstruck and did not know what to do at all. Should we call out to him? Should we run and catch up to him? We started contemplating "What is the worst thing that could happen?" He thinks we are some crazies and gives us his autograph on a restraining order, or at least that was the scenario Mike and I figured. By the time we would have been able to do something, GK was long gone.

Mike then made a suggestion. "You know, if he is staying at the Biltmore, he might just go get a coffee at Starbucks." It was certainly a long shot, but we figured "what the hell", we could go for a coffee anyway.

Needless to say GK was not there, however we had some good conversation on various topics. One thing that did keep popping up, however, was the fact that we missed an opportunity to meet him. We even had books of his with us in hopes we could get his signature on them. But by the end of our drinks, I figured we had completely put aside the notion of spotting him.

We go back towards PPAC, looking to finally go home, when Mike exclaims "Oh my God, Garrison Keillor is eating at Pizza Queen!" Sure enough, there he was in the window of Pizza Queen, a small pizza place right across from PPAC. Here was this star of public radio, eating with the true people of Providence, RI at 11:00 at night. I looked and Mike and figured "There has got to be a reason for this. There is no way this is just a coincidence. We missed the first opportunity, and now God was saying 'Here is your second shot.'" I insisted that we take this chance and not extend a sense of disappointment.

There were a few problems, however. He was on his phone, for one thing. As theatre folk, Mike and I know that it would be very rude to bother a fellow artist and be an annoyance. We were tempted to be, but we had to think of something else. We also couldn't just walk in there as it was and not order anything. Besides, the show had been over for about an hour, and we would look like creepers. Maybe we were. So our idea was that we would go in, order something, and if the opportunity arose that we could say something, we would. All the while, we are once again pondering "What is the worst thing that could happen?"

This time, my imagination ran away from me a bit. I figured that maybe he would give a grim look and perhaps pull a gun on us, demanding that we put our books down and back away slow. If we wanted those books back, we would have to order them on eBay for over $100 a piece from the user name "GKeillor". Most importantly, we couldn't listen to his show anymore, and if he found out that we were listening, he would come back and sue the pants off of us. To me, that was the worst thing that could happen, and I was willing to risk it.

The plan fell apart immediately as GK rose from his table and was about to leave, still on his phone. Mike and I had to think fast. Our new plan was simple: act like we were talking, and when Garrison comes outside, Mike will say "Oh my God, it's Garrison Keillor!" That will get his attention at the very least. We were willing to commit to this insanity, and it was in this insanity that I realized we are swooning over a guy on public radio. While this isn't necessarily up there on the manliness meter, we swooned none the less.

GK comes outside, on his phone, and I look over. I looked at him straight in the eye and did nothing. I didn't know what to do. I may have given an odd smirk, I am not sure. But in my head, I thought "Oh crap, he knows the plan!" Mike then went on to say "Oh my God, it's Garrison Keillor!" He said this, however, in his lowest voice possible. GK, meanwhile, turned and walked off. A man, taking a nice easy walk back to wherever, which we could clearly outrun, got away for the second time that night.

I don't know why we were so starstruck. I am not sure how we let this happen twice. Yet what I do know is that it made for a very interesting evening. That, and I learned that Garrison Keillor is surprisingly quick. It's got to be the shoes.

High School Lunch, Part 2: Origins

The simple things are very fulfilling when you are young. When I was really young I love Guy Smiley. At my grandparents' house, they had a chain curtain in front of the fireplace that I would pull open, as if it were a stage curtain, and I would have my mom or aunt go "It's Guy Smiley!" Then I would take the pulley of the curtain in my hand and use it like a microphone. "Thank you, Thank you!" I was odd. I don't know how I became odd, but it worked for a while. I know it worked because in kindergarten...I was cool.

There I was. Walking into PM kindergarten at Monsignor Bove like I owned the place. I was cool. Confident. Well-liked by all of my friends. We had races in the playground. I would win those races and the other would cheer. They girls went wild for me. Especially Jeannie. Jeannie Riley, with her big poof of hair and wide grin. She had the hots for me and everyone knew it. But that wasn't my scene, man. I had to break her heart. Didn't want to, but a man knows what he wants. But Desiree? Desiree Hamilton was a different story. The cute, quiet, blond girl that kissed me at graduation, me wearing my little grey suit, her wearing her white dress, both of us in paper graduation caps. I had no problems there. Life was good, my friends. Life was good and then we moved. Out of Providence, from the little duplex where my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived right below us for a time. We were only a little ways away in Cranston. Nicer house. Nicer neighborhood. And no kids.

People take kindergarten for granted. It's where you meet your first friends. I had to start my first year of Daniel D. Waterman School in the first grade. This is the worst possible grade to start. My sister was lucky enough to start in third grade, but I didn't realize she was lucky at the time. You see, by the time you are in third grade, there is a good chance you know most of your classmates and you are sick of them. A new student is a breath of fresh air. A new student in first grade is an intruder. In my case, a weird intruder. "Does he honestly think he is funny?" "What's wrong with you?" But it's ok at that time, because no one is smart enough to start little societies yet. It's not until the leap to middle school where things begin to change. That's when The Rules take effect. We don't know who created these rules. We have men working on it. But I do in fact know the story of the first person to write them, and I'd like to share that now.

In the beginning, there was Kent, England. And within this town lived two boys, Michael and Steven. Michael was a creative young child, Steven was a studious pursuer of academia. It was perhaps for this reason that Steven found Michael unlikeable. So he would tell Michael "Yes, you can sing and draw, but can you name everyone in the Queen’s bloodline? I didn’t think so? No one wants to hear from you. Just shut your stupid mouth." The masses didn't know what to think. Is Steven right? Does Michael have a stupid mouth? There were no societies. No order. Chaos reigned in Mrs. Wilbur's seventh grade class. Michael didn’t like the fact that Steven simply didn’t like him because he was more creative than academic. He thought that Steven wouldn’t like it if things were flipped. Until one day, where Michael had a vision. A vision that would provider order in the midst of destruction. He envisioned...The Rules. He wrote them, and brought them to the class. He presented them on two stone tablets, and there was a fire in his voice as he proclaimed these rules of society. The class was in awe, and they parted two different sides of the room. They knew where they were supposed to be now, because Michael would lead the way. From that day forward, Michael had the world at his fingertips, while Steven was nothing more than a crapface. And just what happened to Sir Michael Phillip "Mick" Jager? I think history tells us the rest.