Sunday, February 13, 2011


By M. Christian Heppinstall

Contemplating Mission Dolores, San Francisco, January 2011

Today is my 51st birthday. I was born at 11.30pm on this day 51 years ago in Miami, Florida   in Mercy Hospital to Allison Ella and Leslie Heppinstall. At that time there were already two sisters who now are really old in comparison to me: Brooke & Leslie.  Me: the Ur-young man; Me: a Peter Pan for his time; I just don’t think I’ll ever grow up.

As I write this I’m listening to TV show tunes that I grew-up listening to in the 60s. I used to love my Saturday mornings as a kid in front of the giant Magnavox that occupied a corner of the living room like the Monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I always ran to the TV when I heard the Bugs Bunny show music; he is still my favorite. But I liked the theme music to Lost in Space best although I thought Dr. Smith creepy. Now I realize how daring he was for those times; thank you Dr. Smith for introducing me to unabashed flamboyance, well, as flamboyant as one can be when acting opposite a smart aleck robot.

So, this morning I awoke in a strange house to a dog that isn’t mine. His name is Taz and I’m babysitting his Australian shepherdness while his masters are away. I spent most of the day shopping for clothing not meant for me; dammit. No, but for costumes for my star who will play Sally Bowles in my second production of Cabaret. We shopped all over Anchorage, hitting five thrift stores and a sexy, naughty lingerie store. We bought two items and unusually for me, I found nothing that caught my fancy.

I also bought twelve antique chairs because I want to stage Mel Brook’s Twelve Chairs. Just kidding, these are for the Mein Herr dance routine in Cabaret. I had searched all over Anchorage and San Francisco and dur, the last place I looked had them—and in Anchorage of all places.  The chairs are the Thonet bent wood cafĂ© chairs that were so common to European cafes in that Berlin of the 30s, the type of chair Sally Bowles would have sat upon all over Berlin.  “Konsumstuhl No. 14” dates to its 1859 prototype  and designed by Michael Thonet.  50 million were produced until 1930. It was the first chair—according to Wikileaks—that in the fashion of IKEA was mass produced and sent into the world in crates in pieces where upon delivery one had to screw them together with instructions. Hopefully the screws were included and the instructions not just in German. I own ten that look like this chair and a pair with a slight design detail difference in the backrest. Four are knock-offs made in Romania, which is cool. This is crazy but I want that detail on stage and none of the other theatres have that many. When I threatened to buy other chairs from Target for $39 apiece the antiques dealer caved and met that price and I got all of them. I can’t figure out who got screwed in this bargain, me or him, but as Cabaret’s Frau Schneider (imagine Lotte Lenya) would say to Cliff and Sally, “So What?”

I fielded calls from my two sisters. We all get along and rarely argue, which is nice. Mom gave me $100 hidden in my birthday card; it’s already spent. I got a gazillion wishes for a happy birthday on Facebook, which I really appreciated. I like Facebook for making these social networkings very easy.

In the post I got a box from a fellow who is sweet on me (take hits of oxygen here, if you must, but some people do romantically notice me; some, not many, and this guy has a pulse, so it’s all good). Each gift was carefully wrapped and not sloppily, either, I might add, a sure sign that he is gay. And each one made me smile and think how nice and unusual he is. It’s nice to smile about something like that.

The author at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, January 2011

In another shopping frenzy I attempted to buy a Sony Bloggie to replace my moviecam that was stolen from me at Devil’s Slide by Neptune. Actually, I got knocked down by a big wave and Neptune took my camera right out of my hand and I almost got sucked out to sea (no cheering, please). Anyway, I drove to CostCo to find it closed. Then I motored on to the nearby BestBuySomethingAsWell AsOurExpensiveAndUnnecessaryServiceContracts. The BestBoy actually performed and chased down competitive prices at CostCo and WalMart.  Thinking that CostCo had the same camera at $10 cheaper when I saw it the other day I declined to buy his since these are lean times and $10 is ten dollars. (FEB. 13th Breaking News: I bought the CostCo camera and saved $10).

Speaking of lean, I then fled to WalMart to see what they could offer. Upon entering the store I passed through police cars and security that were assembled around a passed-out person. I had hoped for a gangland killing but was disappointed at the lack of blood; intent on my consumer purchase I kept walking.  I passed a really large couple wearing floral prints that increased their largeness and who also sported those odd holes in their earlobes that pass for earrings or something. I just find them weird. Three blocks later I turned away from the camera department selections with disappointment; WalMart wasn’t cheaper than BestBuy or Target. Wasn’t WalMart supposed to be cheaper? My head was reeling from this marketing price deception and my head screamed “Do the Great Unwashed know this?” Panicking,  I stumbled into a huge cardboard box the size of a VWBug that was the $5 Bargain Bin full of music CDs. A quick glance noted Miles Davis of all people living there; he stared up at me like a dead fish on ice. Nearby lay Etta James, silenced. What the hell? Is this what American culture has become? Would Miles Davis recoil at seeing his art lying in the $5 bin next to The Eagles, Amy Grant and a bunch of Christian rockers? I shook my head and stumbled away in shame, thankful that I would never be famous enough an artist to receive such a shameful honor. And I thought to myself that I’ll never make money out of theatre so I’ll just direct what I want to from now on, money be damned. Who wants to join me for Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard? Or Martin Sherman’s Bent? Or Valley of the Dolls  or an all-male version of Clare Booth Luce’s The Women? On the way out of WalMart I stepped over the unconscious guy blocking the door. He had been left behind, obviously unimportant. I had shopping to do.

Upon fighting my way out of the WalMart parking lot I pondered Target and WalMart and Costco. Such different shopping experiences.  I rarely go to Target. There are only a dozen cars in their airport-sized lot at any one time. Inside their Rhode Island-sized warehouse you could shoot a canon across the vast store and not hit a salesperson. Note: I had found the rival chairs to those of the Thonets I purchased later on from the antiques dealer. I needed to know how many of those rivals Target had. Not a salesperson in sight. With my aching back—my back always goes out in these three stores—anyway, I shuffled the two blocks back to their customer service desk. The polite clerk looked like I had asked if she was selling sex toys when I asked if she could look to see how many of the rival chairs they might have in stock. “But sir, there’s a callbox on that aisle (there wasn’t when I went back to see).” “But can’t you just look in your computer to see how  many of those chairs you have in stock?” “I need information off the tag on the chairs. You can go back…” “No, you can get a salesperson over there to do it, okay? “ My Inner-Madame Svetlana was boiling now. “I’ll call someone to meet you there,” she purred with steely eyes narrowed to vicious slits. So I walked the two Manhattan-sized blocks back to the chairs and met a pimply teenaged guy who efficiently deduced from his IPhone that in all three stores there were only ten of this model; “Of course, “ I thought, “why would there ever be the number I need.” I thanked him and stumbled the four blocks back to the car. Where the hell were the other shoppers? It felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone only with a lot of bright red. I got out of there as fast as I could.

On my car’s radio I heard Lady Gaga’s new song that is a new gay anthem as well as an anthem for anybody with flamboyant individuality: “Born This Way,” in which she instructs “Don’t be a drag; be a queen.” Okay, it’s silly advice but it’s still anthem-ish. I kind of like her. She reminds me of Madonna only with more makeup and a Jersey accent instead of Madonna’s “skinny, organic-mummified” look and faux Brit accent. I wonder if God speaks to us through pop songs playing on our car radios when we are shopping. Speaking of God…

… WalMart, now here’s a difference from Target: I got stuck in a parking jam trying to enter their lot. I parked close, though, since I cut someone off and then iced them right on the spot; when your back is out while shopping you steal the closest parking spaces and beat back those who disapprove; let them walk; all WalMart customers evidently need more exercise anyway.

CostCo is nice, though. Like WalMart it is full of salesclerks. And those fattening though yummy food samples; this couldn’t be done at WalMart as it would cause a lemming-like stampede resulting in heaps of crushed torsos in floral prints and stained sweatpants. Costco shoppers are smaller than those at WalMart since CostCo shoppers have more money to spend and so, I assume, buy better food to eat. I mean, the difference can be boiled down to WalMart offering Goldfish at the check-out to CostCo’s organic, free range chocolate from Ghirardelli’s.

CostCo’s parking: the lot from hell. Tiny entrances full of ice and idiots. Never a spot near the front. Large shoppers pushing heavy rolling carts loaded with absurdly enormous packages of toilet paper the size of a Fiat to their car that is located somewhere among the sea of large, shiny crew cab trucks and soccer mommy vans loaded with picture-perfect yellow Labradors, bitter children and the like.

Anyway. I drove home from not getting my Bloggie cam in order to bake Ghirardelli’s brownies. Those are for the birthday party tomorrow at my sister’s house. And now I’m sitting on my ass writing this observation.

My life these days is surrounded by performing artists, musicians, dancers, and family, which is nice. These lives encompass healthy youth all the way to those elderly about to pass to the Great Beyond. I learn a lot from them every day and am blessed to move among them. The Life and Death Juxtaposition visits me daily. My 90-year-old mother is living with returning lung cancer that will take her sooner than later. My cast members are mainly young, ranging from 16 to 27-ish, with a few oldsters filling-out the cast. Daily I see an old person gracefully struggle to move through her cancer ordeal toward something better, an end more peaceful than the old living that brings such discomfort. Nightly I am awed by the young with their vibrant energies and fresh thoughts. It’s a lovely current to be caught up in. Both teach me what Grace means. And all of this happens outside of Sundays in church, which I hate anyway since I like to sleep in on Sundays, plus, as I’ve noticed over the years, one doesn’t find Jesus in them. I mean, if he were there I’d probably go just to hear what he has to say and all. But he isn’t, so I’ll keep looking.

Anyway, that’s a day in my life on this day—my birthday—at fifty plus one. It’s time to walk the dog. “Here, boy!”

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