FST SEATTLE - 1999This article originally appeared on the late Lew Tebbets' site, tinydrtim.com.
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Doc Technical and I picked up our rental car in North Van as
soon as the office opened and were on our way to Seattle Saturday morning. It was Doc's
first trip to Seattle and my first since the 94 Firesign tour. Despite our suspicious
appearance, the US border folk waved us through and we were cruising, er, sloshing through
rain-soaked Washington State, listening to a great CBC comedy show from Newfoundland
called The Great Eastern while still within range of Canada, then the Big Internet
Broadcast of 1996 and David Ossman's Time Capsules, perfect preparation for the night's
show. Oddly synchronistic, the Great Eastern episode was about the mythical station's
creation as a steam powered radio station in Newfoundland in the 30s, while the Big
Internet Broadcast featured the Firesign's Steam Powered Internet sketch. I wondered if
the US still had Anchor Steam Beer.
The hail stopped, the sun came out over serious traffic going into the Big City. The website said the Hampton Court was at 115 Mercer, and there was the Mercer exit! This was easy! But it was the wrong Mercer. A "you can't get there from here" mentality seems to be in control of Seattle street planners As we're exploring the town's topography, circling toward the Seattle Centre, we came upon the Hampton, not on Mercer but on Roy! The royal road to the Kingdome? But there it was finally.
I found Westley through the lobby phone and then drove into our assigned parking lot, P2. The elevator took us to the 5th floor, but it had no numbers as low as ours. Back to the lobby: Oh, you need to use These elevators instead. But they don't go to the same parking lot, or one you can get to from there. A siege of construction.
We imagine that Brian Westley is the same person we'd "spoken" to on weekly IRC, and I wanted to thank him for his vocal contribution to my new play Red Shift, but we'd never seen the man before. He opened the door. Unless it was someone else and his doppelganger wanted to go to the Firesign shows this time. We went off in search of our never glimpsed before IRC pals awaiting us at the theatre, and the 4 or 5.
Tiny Dr. Lew Tebbitim described himself as "old and fat, with a good looking red head, both of us with firesign t-shirts" and we had to meet him at nothing left but the flag pavilion at 3. Some phone conversations tended to obfuscate rather than clarify where and when we'd meet, but it was near the theatre.
We waited by the flags for a while, as the theater was closed. We guessed which of the couples most looked like Tiny and his girlfriend Peggy as they were described. One couple was so promising looking, Doc went up to them and asked "Lew?" but it was not our target, and Doc was relieved he hadn't asked instead, "Tiny?"
I have vague memories of being at the site for the 1962 World's Fair. It had particularly good food. Brian and Doc went in search of Fish and Chips . . . As we walked into the food court, over a raucous din of live music through poor amplification, Doc and Brian softly called out "paging Tiny Dr. Tim" and strove toward the Fission Chips when a woman at the table I was walking by asked if I were Cat? Yes she was wearing a All Hail Marx and Lennon shirt, though the stamp, not the cover. She perhaps knew me from my picture on the web. It was indeed Peggy of the reddish hair, and her "old, fat" partner who looked remarkably like Jerry Garcia joined us shortly and fulfilled his promise to host us in his territory for the rest of the weekend with as much skill as Jerry ever showed on his guitar.
Seafood Chowder at the chips n fish place was amazing. Ivar's clam chowder is one of my fondest memories of previous Seattle visits, but this was better. Wished I had a whale rather than a minnow's capacity.
Bunnyboy aka David Shephard was staring at us as we hovered near the theatre in the fierce wind, and then came over. We had been trying to get into the theatre but were told the lads weren't there yet and we had to go around to a different door. Bunny knew that the stage door was actually marked "stage door" and not one of the doors behind the theatre we were knocking at. We id'd ourselves to the person in the booth as "friends of the group" and were directed to the right elevator. We descended.
The merchandise room was filled with firestuff and our fellow Hampton Court heads, Fred, Chris and Alan. Stuff was being unpacked. Tiny peeked at packages. People came in and went out on their unknown rounds. I noticed David Ossman and went out to thank him for his stunning work with Proctor as Father and Son on Red Shift. Proctor himself came in and invited us to hang around while pix were taken and stuff done. He mentioned that Oona was running the show and I'd spoken to her on the phone once but never met her so I introduced myself. I tried to introduce Doc, Tiny and Peggy although they did a far better job of it, but when I tried to explain that all these people had their oddly familiar names from our weekly IRC meetings, it seemed like such a ridiculous explanation for what was after all, utterly ridiculous. She acknowledged the existence of people and the many ways they clone and went off to other more productive tasks. We had to leave.
Tiny and Bunny knew a bar on the way, so Doc and I would meet them there after we took care of our room. "Your bed will be at your door by the time you get there. If not, call me," said the receptionist. It wasn't but we went in anyway. Time goes by. We call, and assured it's on its way. Doc decides to stick around a bit longer and I go off ("the bed's on its way" the receptionist assures me as I exit) to meet just-met friends in the nearby bar. Tiny had said on the way to Bunny's suggested bar that he needed a mixed drink, never touched beer after his experience as a saloon keeper, but there he was at the table with a microbrew in his hand. Not bad, he admitted. I tried the only cidre on the menu, and suggest in the future it remain on the menu, a mere paper promise, as opposed to actually in anyone's glass.
We bounce around between the hotel and some stores until show time. In the lobby we met Mark (Peltier) Time, who looks as much like Weird Al Yankovic as Tiny does Mr.. Dead. A man runs by in a multicoloured eyeball hat. That must be Sam Longoria, the lads' producer, deduces Doc and runs after him. Later when Sam comes down, I ask him if he's Sam Longoria and he asks how I know. Doc's Technical instincts or the hat? Nah, I'd seen him on a Firezine page. Who could forget that mustache? He dashes off.
The lads come on. I began laughing. The show ended. I stopped laughing, and started breathing again. Brian had said the lads wanted to go to an Irish pub near the theatre to hang with whoever wanted to lend them some old David Lynch films. Bunny knew where the pub was so Doc and I followed him in and asked for a room large enough for a whole gang. But that room's closed and the kitchen will close momentarily, we were told.
You'd rather pass up the money you'll get from lots of guests, we inquired incredulously. It was far from late on a Saturday night - not generally thought of as pub closing time. As the firehall began to fill, the pub people relented, but hustled us to order immediately, and complained when we asked for service.Throughout a day of such minor annoyances, they were an endless source of mirth. Every misfortune was an opportunity to say something funny, out of a firescript or original humour. With other funny people one can only get funnier. Thankfully the Firesign did not feel obligated to be clever with us, just slowly floated down from the high of their performance, and chatted with their wives and friends. Sam regales me with tales of his encounters in Hollywood. Seems like everyone from God's mother onward is a personal friend. He notices Monique's picture on my shirt and asks if she is a model. I tell him she was just getting into that. He says I look too young to have a daughter born in 1978, though he was born some years after I was. I am reminded of Doc's tale of a 50ish girlfriend who still gets asked for her ID. Many tales are told.
Phil Proctor asked us to all pose for a picture, something I've always known him to do. As Peter Bergman appeared in front of me, he complained, "Billy Rose doesn't pose for pictures for free," and I observed, "a rose by any other name would be as cheap"
Immediately after the show during the signing, Melinda and Oona had asked how I enjoyed the show, and I wanted to have a detailed response, citing each thing I liked on some sort of scale, comparative to other work of theirs or audience response; the sort of comment that directors could benefit from. Instead I just said I enjoyed it immensely. The detailed response will come. This isn't it. Melinda also asked how Monique, watching the show from my T-shirt, had enjoyed the show. She liked it, I said, presumptuously.
Sunday found us all around the hotel breakfast tables. Good fruit salad, something good I can say about the place. Doc's ring fascinated Melinda, and Phil spoke so much it must have been hard for him to eat. We returned to our rooms and reassembled in the reserved video room to watch Alan Gross's great archival footage and Fred and Chris' just-taken footage. While we're all laughing at the lads in Jack Poet TV ads, Phil came in for a sort of business meeting with the Firezine twosome and also talked about the coming new album, of yet indeterminate name, and how much they were into writing it. We were thrilled. Then he spoke of David Ossman's poor health of late, and the possibility of the Firesign evolving into a group with other members carrying on. I'd been cold ever since coming to Seattle but at that I was particularly chilled. Still, the energy he generated from the borning sun of the new album brought the room temperature back to survivable and he left for the theatre. "I was 22 when I did that TV commercial" he commented as he'd entered the vid room. Well he certainly looked 22, and time's elasticity expands with his imagination. On the phone with Bergman, Proctor relayed the message, "think DVD." I was already thinking of David.
I'd spoken to Peter Bergman on his phone-in show so long ago it is outside of time, but for the first time physically encountered him in the lobby of the hotel that afternoon. "Who are you?" he demanded, walking up to me. I identified myself, and my daughter Monique, peering at Peter from my shirt. He spoke with an unexpected compassion, seemingly from his own beliefs and experiences as father and fellow life form. I was greatly moved.
Back at the theatre, Phil Austin comes in to talk to me, He'd just seen a great show of native masks in Portland and revelled in someone he could quote Haida carver Edenshaw aesthetics to (later turned Doc on to a wonderment of native carvings at the museum of anthropology in Vancouver, so he too will know what to talk to Austin about when they meet again). Of course, we spoke of our dogs. Nearing the end of their days, and the necessity of imminent puppies. Austin seemed so thin, wraithlike- I wondered if he were healthy, but no thoughts could persist long after watching Phil and the others leap about in the show. "Must be a vegetarian," deduced Doc. I suspect creative energy fuels a healthy fire in them all, and that fifth guy too.
The highest point of the weekend occurred a few minutes later. Brian and I were leaning against the wall outside the Merchandise room when Austin and Ossman approached, deep in invention of their new album. We were flies on the hallway while they debated and created their new work. Imagine being "every Turk in a Teaneck diner" (to quote Duckman) while the lads penned their Turkish language lesson at the next table.
Sunday night's show was just as brilliant but appreciated by far fewer folks. Where were all those people not filling those empty seats? Should the lads try to compete with The Simpsons and The X -files? Will the firemen be able to fill a New York theatre for an extended run as they plan? If not, will they give up? It seems less likely considering the depth they have again plunged into their own ever-renewable creativity. Will they become as famous as, for example, Fred Willard? Will continued obscurity occlude their interest? Stay tuned-same firetime, same firestation. Does anyone's creative activities deserve such scrutiny? Have I released the dogs of Heisenbergian hell upon the lads - to observe, with hungry canine eyes, is to alter- rrrriipbut they have always been observed, risen from the swamps of eyeball hats and autonomous ears. Carbon recycling.
The non-Willard Freditor and Chris Pallindromic told us more than we could digest about the business of selling and not selling Fireproduct, Alan Gross turned into a Zeppelin before our eyes, Brian kept his eyes glued to the video camera, and like Dot Duncan, everyone laughed and laughed. Finally had some Ivar's red clam chowder on our way out of town. Not as good as I remember it nor as good as the seafood chowder at that place in the centre food court. Also had a quick slice of Pagliacci's pizza near the theatre before Sunday's show. Seen them sponsor local Seattle comedy show Almost Live for many years, but finally tasted it. Different! Also lots of bad bar food and expensive salads about town. Much colder than Vancouver. Wish I'd brought my Tuque.
As we approached the Canadian border on Monday afternoon, I pulled into the far left hand lane to wait in line. The same spot in the border line up Monique and her friend Kim Brooks were in when a woman from Seattle ran into their car at 100 miles per hour last May 30th, blowing them into atoms, but doing no harm to herself. The flowers we had placed on the spot on the day before we went to Seattle still appeared in good shape. The car fumes haven't wilted them yet.
For all the merriment and joy at seeing the lads in top form and many friends I'd only known through electrons suddenly turn into flesh and melody in Seattle, I could never stop being conscious that Kim and Monique's murderer lives in Seattle, out on bail since last June; could well be at the next table in the restaurant, or in the next row at the theatre, laughing at the same jokes, having just as much fun.
- Cat Simril