Monday, November 29, 2010

Patricided my self

I was just in a beauty pageant. Not just a beauty pageant but Trixie and Mr Gorgeous's Baltimore Beauty pageant. On a whim I entered an essay to the qualifier round and I was accepted as one of nine contestants out of like eighteen applicants. I was accepted along with a selection of director/producers from the water ballet and local burlesque stars who I know and admire like the stars they are on stage.

Truthfully, I was seriously out classed but I took it up as a challenge and immediately put off doing anything to prepare an act. I went to Boston with the band, took a vacation in New Orleans with the SO. Recovered from the vacation and birthday and rolled right into Thanksgiving which was only 2 days away from the show. I headed out on black friday to all the Goodwill Megastores and with a vague concept I just started buying anything that was Maryland flag colored. I airbrushed a jacket with all of Baltimore's slogans crossed out except for John Waters: "Come to Baltimore and be Shocked!". I died a pair of pants red and spray adhesive on some white painters tarp canvas cut up to look like the Crossland family cross (the red and white part of the Maryland flag). I bleach died on a stencil of the Natty Boh guy and adhered them to a vest over a yellow shirt and black tie. On the inside of the jacket I attached a crab mallet and a can of Old Bay. Not too shabby, lots of good knowing references to Baltimore and was a good evenings worth of sewing, painting, dying and altering. The pants actually kind of look cool and I hope to use them again.

The day of I'm still working on my talent. I do lots of things. I don't do any of them particularly well and very few of them are really good solo acts. The contest was for the most real and most weird so I had decided on a tuba recital for my talent, possibly a meddle of Daft Punk riffs. Practicing was not going well. 3 hours out while I was trying to replace some pads on my hellicon so the valves wouldn't clank I sheered off a key cap. I could have stopped and went with some epoxy and hope but I decided to grab my euphonium and try something else. I picked Miserlou because I can usually play it and people recognize it and I went on a limb with learning 'The Stripper' and doing a little tease because almost all the other performers are drag kings or burlesque. I gimmicked up a pair of tux pants to fall when I pulled a pin, letting the socks full of change take them down and sat down with a midi file of the stripper to cut down the parts and transcribe the notes to paper from the piano roll. I finish that part about an hour before I have to leave so I play through as many times as I can. My notes were still a mess when I left to make call time.

At this point I would like to mention that the last time I performed at the Ottobar it was opening for the Damned. That might not be true, it might have been opening for Voltaire or The Cruxshadows, which may or may not be more thrilling than The Damned depending on who you are.

So there I am. The venue is one that I really think is world class and the perfect size for seeing a band you really like. Hosting the show is Trixie and Mr Gourgous with Monkey. Trixie was one of the founders of Fluid Movement, the group that is responsible for this whole water ballet thing in Baltimore. Almost all the other contestants I know from around town and have worked with in small back stage rolls or directly with in the waterballet. All of them amazing performers and professionals. All of them admitting that they are nervous, even ones that are practiced and usually not giving in to stage fright. We walk though the program and then there is an hour before doors to get dressed and ready. I learned a new bit of professionalism for burlesque shows. The stage manager will poke their head up and give a call for how much time before doors or your act and to confirm you yell it back with a thank you. "30 till start" "Thank you 30!"

First up is the costume contest. I do my walk, show the mallet and old bay, turn and pause for everyone to see the mottos which gets a good knowing laugh for those close enough to read it. I went for the cheep crowd pleaser in my bio by mentioning growing up in Hereford (audiences love geography) and Trixie did a good job punching up the follow up jokes. I had plenty of time so I tapped out a line of Old Bay on my hand and gave it a good slow lick which was well appreciated from the crowd.

I hustle upstairs and change into my trick pants and then watch some of the show from back stage. It was almost a shame to be in it because the performers were excellent. The show has talent interspersed with interviews. You don't know what the interview questions are so everyone backstage really studies the format the best they can during that portion. I am up after a little break with a real burlesque act.

I get introduced with my real name (only one other performer used their name) and my tag line of "Resident" which gets some applause. "TAKE IT OFF" a friend yells from the back just before I start out the crowd clapping the back beat for Miserlou and they pick it up pretty strong, and I manage to hit most of the notes and only flub parts a little bit because the crow are actually clapping in time and I'm used to using the bass to cover up my swing in tempo. Solo euphonium is kind of a sad empty sound I decide as I'm playing. The stripper slowly jogs peoples memory of what the song is. I steamroller through it knowing that my phrasing sounds like a deaf person who has learned to speak but just getting through reading my last minute arrangement on paper. I get up to the part where the bass drum goes "boom bop bop boom boom" and usually there is stripping. I reach up to my neck, and discover that I forgot the scarf I wanted to toss off. I try and smile like it was a purposeful tease and go into the second round of it and do a little tie straightening which had the polite laugh as people clapped along. I get to the merciful end of the song, straighten up to pull the pin and the pants flop open but don't quite fall so I take a half step back and they hit the floor showing my petti pants with golden fringe on them and I cover with the euphonium and back off the stage where I then discover that I can't safely go down the steps with my pants around my ankles. I hand the horn to the stage manager, swing my legs down and but scoot off. All through that, I didn't explode or die. I didn't feel like people were embarrassed for me so it was a small victory. I wouldn't do it like that again, though I will try and work falling pants into any thing I possible can now.

With relief I drop off my stuff upstairs and head out to the crowd to see the other talent and get a drink. I'm out through intermission and see lots of friends who got a big kick out of my performance.

Shortly after the break is the dreaded interview. After a second of disorienting banter about my shorts and fringe where I think I said something about the Calvert Colors they start off with asking if you want to say anything to the judges and audience or if you have a poem to read. I start to ask if everyone enjoyed the local tradition of sauerkraut at thanksgiving. That isn't what came out. I ask "Turkey?" and startle my self with my voice in the monitor and loose any other thought what so ever. I had prepared this question as a way to stall if I needed and I knew that I would forget the word sauerkraut. I shouted SAUERKRAUT! to my self as I drove over to calm nerves and hone the muscle memory of how that word feels and sounds. There I was, aphasic (I can always remember the word aphasia) in front of lots of friends and strangers with a hole in my memory shaped like the word and general concepts behind sauerkraut. I recover slightly blinding my self with a stage light and manage "What did you have with your turkey?". I can't swear that I had all the words in order but it was enough of a cue for the audience to start shouting things to me and being good Baltimoreons (said with love) got to sauerkraut pretty quickly. "Thank you! Sauerkraut! It's a Baltimore thing!". About this point my mind had recovered enough to notice that I was holding a microphone in my hand. I have been around microphones lots of times, set them up quite a few and recorded with them where the number 1 rule is don't touch the microphone. Now I have this thing in my hand that makes my voice sound weird and causes me to forget things. I am in front of people and I think any nervousness is sure to be telegraphed through this foreign device in my hand to be seen by everyone. Actually I am not nervous, my mind is zen like blank and the lights are blinding detaching me on stage from the audience, judges and host. My question: "What is Baltimore Beauty?". I had actually thought about this when I wrote my essay and had refined my answer after it was submitted. "Baltimore beauty is waking up from a bender, and finding with the beer googles off that despite missing a tooth, and being a little older than you that the stranger next to you in bed is still kinda hot and is actually a lot of fun to hang out with." Cheering! Cheering enough that I got to collect my self enough to hold up a hand "But you still are going to go get tested for a STD after breakfast, this is Baltimore you know". I don't remember exiting. Not until close to the end of the program I realized that I described one of the other performers stage persona in my answer.

I did not win king of crabs. I didn't really expect to. I did some things that I know as a performer almost always lead to disaster. I didn't prepare or practice and I changed things literally at the last hour. I am not a good enough performer to get away with it and make it work.

First and second place were easy choices I think, third place was the hot contest and I think their pick was right. I don't know how I would rank my self with the rest of the cast, I know what I liked in everyones performances and what I thought didn't work.

My own performance was a little flawed to win, I was playing my self and that Justin wasn't big enough on stage to stand against the studied distilled character and actual performing talent that did take the prizes. Studying your self is a good practice and I'm glad to be me, beautiful, real and weird.

I was asked why I entered as I started to panic the days before hand and I didn't have a good answer besides wanting to see if I could do it, round off some sharp edges and use the rolling momentum to get into something else awesome and fabulous. The other reason is performing is telling an intoxicating joke to your self. Academics say that jokes are the process of building up and relieving tension in a narrative. Getting ready, waiting at the show, and then the actual on stage time is almost like an out of body experience and the punch line at the end of the night and you can look back is a punch the air and cheer sort of laugh. Thank god thats over! I can't wait to do it again. There is a clean mild buzz the next day where colors are brighter, air is crisp, you walk a little taller and smile at strangers as you pass them on the street. As with any drug the law of diminishing returns sets in leaving you searching for a bigger show.

My next shows are 3 Tuba Christmas concerts, 4 holiday spectaculthon ambush theater performances, unsilent night and then next year some stuff with the band before pre-planning the water ballet. I'm addicted!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Have you ever been so angry you soldered a USB cable to something?

I have the SAD. This isn't so much LOLcat speak but admitting that between September and late February being me is kind of a roller coaster. I'm fine, I'm fine I HATE THAT PERSON WHO DID SOMETHING TO ME MANY YEARS AGO COMPLETELY INCONSEQUENTIAL IN THE OVERALL FLOW OF LIFE AND I NEVER MENTIONED IT TO THAT JERK FACE, I'm ok, etc etc. In March I'm usually back up to having a great time and picking up and doing lots of stuff, I feel that if you know me through September/February and still want to talk to me by March I owe you a drink, or a cupcake.

My private brain care specialist recommended a SAD Lamp because it couldn't hurt. The latest theories are that the more expensive really bright full spectrum bulbs mostly cause your iris to constrict, which cuts down on the amount of light coming in the eye. The tilting of the earth changes the angle of decent for the rays of light from the sun causing them to travel further and filter out some wavelengths which are more or less described as blue. (I recommend the chapters in Bad Astronomy for a good explanation of why the sky is blue and the seasons). Blue (more or less) LED's are now pretty cheep so more affordable SAD lamps that are less bright are available. I was shown one that was "cheep" and "small" which was $150 and iPad sized. I found one for $40 that was iPod sized.

It was of course a piece of junk. Out of the box the buttons made the clock dim and I don't know if it was by design but it would turn it's self back on 10 minutes after turn off. Then it stopped working as soon as I threw out the original box.

My SAD light made me ANGRY. I wasn't surprised though. I know how cheep electronics are. I was kind of expecting it, just not so soon.

So instead of wallowing and blaming un-named engineer, I ripped the board out and plugged the LED array right in to my most available 5v power source: USB. And then the bad solder job on the board broke, so I'll have to hit it with my iron tomorrow.

The board is kind of neat now that I know a little bit of what I'm looking at. There is a mini inverter for an EL back lit display. There are 4 smt resistors that go to some transistors right before it goes in the LED array. I think they are a R2R digital to analog converter that control the LED brightness. Most of the solder points have blobs and components are snapping off so I know that it wasn't long for this world anyway.

I want to next cut some traces on that board and hook up an arduino to have some features and control. After that I want to build the spectromiter from MAKE and see if the LED wavelength is as advertised and then what the intensities of wavelengths are during the season.

And with that, the joy of a simple hack and some daydreaming has gotten me though another day.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


I don't know If someone put this there or if the out of control squirrels did it but it is a nice touch.