Round Four: Sunday Forum, rePlay, and beyond, June 26, 2016

 

Round Four: Sunday Forum, rePlay, and beyond

 

These days I'm used to rising early. In the book The End of Illness, Dr. David B. Agus (and other physicians) assert it is healthier to wake up at the same time each morning, regardless if it is a weekday, weekend, or holiday. His book and website include a questionnaire one should answer before an annual physical. Right click to download the questionnaire. The thought is an annual check up is not enough to maintain most people's health. One should look at the questionnaire before and bring up any noteworthy answer(s) with your doctor. Following his guidelines prompted me to make an appointment with my physician, which led to an early diagnosis and successful treatment of skin cancer. I don't feel bashful about recommending the book and site to folks here.

 

On Saturday I woke up early and read. That was really the only option as I was up before John and had no way of leaving the house without locking myself out. By Sunday morning I had figured out how to unlock the door so I could leave and come back without disturbing anybody.

 

John and I were staying in the Richmond District at Susan's house. An insider joke is that we were in the county of San Francisco, not the city. Clement Street, my favorite street in San Francisco, was just a few blocks away. The mix of restaurants, shops, and proximity to Fun Flat (the apartment I first shared with Adrienne, and then early New-Games-supporter Susan) lies a few blocks past that. John moved into Fun Flat when I took a job teaching in France. The final office for the New Games Foundation was also on Clement Street. An early morning stroll was in order.

 

A Sunday market was setting up. While I have visited Clement Street several times in the past thirty years, it was not in the context of a reunion weekend. The memories washed over and in. Strolling past the Clement Street Grill recalled a breakfast with Robert Nelson, the Butterfly Man, a street performer whose outrageous shows helped build the popularity of Pier 39 as a place for folks to bring out-of-town friends. Sadly, Robert died—too soon—in his retirement in Hawaii a few years ago. In a strange bit of synchronicity, a prominent portion of the Butterfly Man’s act incorporated Boffers. Inviting a volunteer on to the stage for a friendly joust, Robert would let his victim get in the first blow. This was typically a mild tap, as the guinea pig was out of his element. Then Robert would wail on the poor chap. Remember that satisfying thwocking sound of a well-placed boff? Robert used it to full advantage.

 

A block away was the Chinese restaurant that once tried to bribe two gweilos (John and me) to stop scaring away potential customers and eat upstairs at a less-prominent table with an offer of free tea. Toy Boat, a playful ice-cream and dessert destination, is still there. So is Green Apple Books, among my top-five bookstores in the world. The Holy City Zoo (a comedy club that let many stand-up comedians hone their craft in the eighties) was long gone. Sadly, the Java House, a great, inexpensive restaurant was no longer there.

 

For far too many years I've falsely conflated my spring 1978, 20,000-mile, four-month New Games road tour with other epic adventures: the Pranksters' bus trip, Kerouac's travels On the Road, and Woody Guthrie’s numerous freight hops across the US. With a focus on reunions and remembrances, an old video clip kept looping in my head. Steve Allen once invited Jack Kerouac to read some text from his novel on his television show while the host accompanied the author on piano. At just under seven minutes, the clip is highly recommended. An uncomfortable poet begins by awkwardly answering Steve's questions. One has the sense that Kerouac is struggling not to stagger off of the set. Then he begins reading what—I believe—is the final passage of the novel, an attempt to summarize and understand what he has experienced. The recitation culminates in an emotional Kerouac intoning, “I think of Dean Moriarty. I think of Dean Mo-ri-ar-ty.”

 

That repeated phrase with the notable pauses became an earworm as I picked up a bao (steamed bun) from one of the bakeries and headed back to Susan’s.

 

John and I stopped off at a drugstore to add a few items to our stockpile before picking up Trina and heading off to the Headlands.

 

A by-now-standard silent greeting to Gary Warne—former NG field rep and co-founder of the San Francisco Suicide Club—as we drove under the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. Gary was another who died too soon, but not after letting his friends know that he wanted his ashes dropped off the north tower of the bridge on a sunny day. I flew down from Seattle for that event, joining Adrienne and other friends of Gary’s to be witnesses. Walking back from the Marin side we looked up and felt his ashes fall around us. Another friend had spent the night up at the top, waiting for us. Over breakfast he told us that he had mixed some of Gary’s ashes with some paint and applied the result to the tower. It is a bittersweet memory every time I see it.

 

Getting off of the bridge, John took a new route that wasn’t open to vehicles at the time of the first several Tournaments. Instead of waiting to go through the one-lane tunnel we drove up and around, past the site of the first New Games camp that was held in conjunction with the Fourth Tournament. John didn’t have a clear memory of this camp. Dale and Pam might.

 

Arriving at the site, memories of past trainings bubbled up as we began to prep for the day. I was handed the saddest EID (Earthball Inflation Device) I had ever used and was tasked with filling up the Earthball. Please let it be known that we tried, that EID and I. The result was a mostly round, not-quite-filled bladder inside of a limp canvas covering. It was going to have to do.

 

Having attended the potluck and Symposium the previous two days gave me an advantage when an old man pulled up, looking lost. I was able to recognize Jeff before he knew it was I. Brief reunion with Mr. McKay and then back to setting things up for the seminar and play event.

 

The Sunday forum surprised me by having more spectactors than panel members. This was a good thing. Robbie had arranged to show a 15-minute video featuring Stewart on The Dick Cavett Show with scenes from the first (and maybe second) Tournaments. Having never seen this footage before, it provided some illumination about the tension over the planning and schedule for the rePlay event that afternoon. Robbie kept asking for a schedule (and map) of when and where specific activities such as Tug of War, Parachute Games, and Earthball would take place. John, Bill, and I kept explaining that there would be multiple games and activities all going on at the same time. Watching the video helped put a perspective on how New Games has evolved.

 

After some introductions came the panel discussion. A few years back I was one of the organizers for MotionFest, an annual four-day workshop for variety-arts performers to get better at their craft. The main appeal was the opportunity to take workshops from specialists and leaders in various aspects of live entertainment. Our preference was to have individual speakers and workshop presenters, rather than offer panel discussions. Panels seem to be less-focused and go wide rather than deep. Putting personal concerns aside, I joined in. It felt a bit like being part of a museum display. Questions were asked. An ample amount of responses were provided.

 

Is it fair to say there was a generation difference (gap?) between the panel and the audience? (Is "audience" the appropriate term? Have had limited experience talking about New Games from a stage. In those infrequent occurrences the goal was to break that barrier as quickly as possible.) Is public a better term? Spectators?

 

A video crew was taping the seminar. I assume the footage exists somewhere. Suspect also that portions of it will be released at some point. You can see Jamie’s photos of the event here.

 

After a wonderful lunch we all headed out to the field for the rePlay. Can't say much about the play session. Jamie's photos of the day are posted here. This skin-cancer survivor had made previous arrangements to spend the afternoon in the shade of some eucalyptus trees. My low-key afternoon was quite pleasant sharing soap bubbles, various juggling skills (such as dice stacking and devil/flower sticks), and stories with the odd person who wandered into the zone. I would look out at the sun-drenched (at least to these eyes) and observe the fun. I noticed how careful Bill was at self-refeering. He had recently had knee surgery and was mindful not to put himself at risk. His caution reminded me how I chose to not attend the five-year NG reunion in 1978. I was on crutches at the time and did not trust my self-discipline to keep me away from any situations that would risk a re-injury.

 

At the end of the play session John called everyone together for a debrief. Even though it was not in the shade, the sun was low enough in the sky that I and my wide-brimmed hat were cajoled into joining the group.

 

Am I alone in thinking there was a noticeable shift in attitude of the people asking questions during the seminar and the same folks sharing their excitement about the play session after they had experienced it? Familiar “aha” moments were shared among the participants.

 

At one point John asked us to find a partner and share some thoughts. My partner was a fellow Canadian, so we bonded over two foreigners lucking into the good life on this lovely afternoon in Marin County (if only temporarily).

 

The final thoughts were thought, the final good wishes were wished, John announced it was time for everyone to get up and head home. Being sensitive to the different generations in the group, I made one last comment that, “Some of us could use some help getting up.”

 

My fellow Canadian enthusiastically jumped up and leaned over me to offer me his hand. Not expecting such a swift response, I reached up and took it. He apparently had no idea of how dense I was—years of rowing can make a difference—nor how to properly help someone stand up. Two mistakes were made. One, instead of a Fireman’s Grip with both parties grasping the wrist of the other, he offered me his hand, which I took. Two, instead of leaning back and away to counterbalance and help me get up, he stood over me.

 

After getting partially up, our handshake grip failed, leaving me to fall back to the ground. Well, unfortunately for Bill, not straight down. I fell down and away, on to his Bill’s still recuperating knee.

 

Talk about irony without humor. The last activity—attempting to stand up after the final debrief—of the last event—over thirty years after the Foundation closed—ended with me falling on Bill’s injured knee. He had been so mindful all afternoon. I would give a lot if it were not so. Bill, I am truly sorry.

 

Quite a few folks headed up to the Doggie Diner dog heads for photographs. (You can see some of the photos here. Scroll down to photos 166-169.) While these dogs weren't part of New Games, they were a part of the bay area zeitgeist of the time, and we were fortunate that John Law showed up to make them part of the afternoon.

 

After even more photos and final striking of the pitch the fellowship began to disperse. While some went there separate ways the party-to-the-end group had decided to rejoin for dinner at El Techo, a hip bar/eatery on the rooftop of a mid-rise building on Mission Street Thanks go to John for the recommendation.

 

While the reason is macabre, I got out of the habit of waiting in lines when living in Germany. Growing up in a baby-boom generation, I was used to being surrounded by peers in just about every stage and phase of life, from theater lines to class admissions to doctors’ offices. Got a new perspective when I lived in Germany. There was no baby boom in post-WWII Germany. Not enough soldiers returned to sire a booming generation.) I got out of the habit of waiting in lines and certainly do not spend Sunday evenings lining up on a sidwalk waiting to gain entrance to an elevator to wait again for a table at a crowded rooftop garden bar.

 

Think I mentioned before that I’m not used to participating in hip, trendy things with hip, trendy people. So, there we were, waiting in line on Mission Street with younger folks who were dressed much more fashionably than we were.

 

Mission Street in San Francisco has a special lane for taxis, Über drivers, and—I assume—Google buses to load and unload passengers. It allows folks to get in and out of vehicles without impeding traffic in the center lane. While we were waiting, John Law pulled up and stopped in this loading zone, hauling a trailerful of dogs. (See same photos referenced above.) He got out and started talking to us. The guy with the cool dogs stopped to talk with us! Wow! Instead of these older, unstylish folks who had come from a play session, we were now people who knew the guy with the hounds. It may have been my imagination, and I sensed a new bit of surprise and respect from the bright young things.

 

John Law went off to park his truck and put the dogs in their kennel for the night. Our party finally made it into the elevator and up to the roof. We found a table with a phenomenal view of downtown SF on one side and Twin Peaks on the other. The food was good, the conversation was great.

 

Admittedly, I'm a sucker for small, grand gestures. I still remember Johnny O buying us a round of Amaretto at the Trainers' Conference in Estes Park. Most impressive moment of this night was Lee modestly stating, "I'm having a pretty good year. Let me cover the tab." Thanks again, Lee (and John from 30+ years ago).

 

Finally, it was time to depart Lothlórien (oops, El Techo) and witness the continuing diminution of the fellowship. After many hugs and promises to get together in another three decades, Joe, John, and I offered to escort Betsy and Jamie to the BART station. Again, they wisely chose to not deal with parking and rode public transit into town. On the walk Betsy remembered visiting a great burrito restaurant, La Taqueria, that was in the neighborhood, so we walked the extra block to check it out. Fortunately, it was closed.

 

After goodbyes to our Seattle pair, the three of us headed back to John’s car. For some reason I still do not understand, Joe and John tried to get us seated at a different Mexican bar/restaurant. Again, good fortune was smiling on us, as that was also closed.

 

We dropped Joe off at the Fairmont. I don’t think I’ve ever had an opportunity to pick up or drop off anyone at the Fairmont before, so thanks for that. A late-night stop on Polk Street for some fresh donuts and back to the Richmond district. John gave me some feedback on a project of mine, Magic Squares, and off to bed.

 

 

Humbly submitted by Todd Strong

 

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