How I got to work on CatherineMarie Davalos’ “Oh, the Moon!”

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Oh, the Moon!, my collaboration with choreographer CatherineMarie Davalos, opens this week at Saint Mary’s College as part of their annual spring dance concert, Terrain.  The piece is 3-4 dances that include various styles of text, all riffing around the subject of the moon.  While I have written scripts for movement heavy ensembles, I’ve never written for modern dance.  To create text that would act as a score and inspire movement was an experiment not in how to tell a story but how to link words and create drama through a sonic landscape.

So, how did I get this job?

Let me explain.

The moon was full over the Chrysler Building, which I can see from one window in my Queens apartment.  I was on edge of a long day.  You New Yorkers know those days, when you feel like you lived four lifetimes, equally horrible and amazing.  You think, “I am so glad to live here” while at the same time thinking, “This place is hell.”

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CatherineMarie Davalos

Cathy and I have history.  She used to be my professor back in the unsure Angela artist days.  Then she became my boss.  Now she is my colleague.   So she sent me an email and in it she asked, “What do you know about the moon?”  She was looking for poetry to inspire her latest moon-based piece.

So at 1am, sitting in my bed, with my hair piled on top of my head, the day still jolting my bones, my eyes falling but still refusing to sleep, I responded.  It was a crazy list of all things moon, bullet pointed and written in a haze.  At the end I told her, “I could make you a pop culture/ myth/science poetry jam thing.” Took about ten minutes to write and I was basically asleep when she responded in glee at my rambling late night brainstorm. (She later told me she was at a dance concert with her dancers and in her joy, her phone with my email was passed along to everyone.  Awesome!)

One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was reading the entire transcript of the Apollo 11 mission to create a sonic landscape for a solo dance, I was writing couplets about Moon Pies and I was workshopping drafts via Skype as Cathy sat in her colorful patio in Oakland.

Moral of the story is…perhaps it is wise to send out spastic late night emails after exhausting NYC days.  They might get you gigs.  Like this one.  So stay up and answer your emails!  Do it!

I hope this piece develops into a full evening of dance but for now, if you are in the Bay Area go and check it out!  Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday, May 9–11, 8 p.m.  For more details visit SMC.

And read the transcripts of the Apollo 11 mission.  The space program is goddamn goddamn goddamn cool.  I am serious.  It’s the subject of my next play.  Mark my words.

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A little piece of nonfiction

I presented the following piece at Big Words, Etc, a monthly literary reading series that asks writers to present work based on a chosen theme.  The theme for this event was strangers.

 

 Pornographic Offerings:

 a Starbucks study

The Staring Men of Starbucks: a brief history

The men at your local Starbucks vary in variety and many present no clear danger to women, beverages, or other coffee house sensibilities.  Particular varieties of men include the newspaper holding retiree, the eyeglassed artist positioned over moleskin or laptop, the midday business man, the early morning business man, and then there are the staring men.

The staring men of Starbucks have tractor beam stares that sound off warning sirens that only women can hear.  Common qualities of staring men include a uniform of pants and nondescript shirt, they come armed with a beverage or they may be sans beverage and often have business cards they force your fingers to wrap around.

Staring men might smell of alcohol and ask if you are a good girl, if you are a bad girl, give you tips on proper Mac care, tell you they do not make “your kind” anymore and want you to meet their mothers.

Staring men have been found at Starbucks located in Astor Place, by Astor Place, California, San Francisco, and Concord California which is near San Francisco.   They are commonly attracted to women who sit alone and occupied with laptops, books, soy lattes, and iced coffees.  If a woman looks into the eyes or answers a single question from a staring man she will become a target.

In rare cases, the staring men of Starbucks have been known to make pornographic proposals.

Staring men of Starbucks: a study of pornographic offerings

Case #1:

Female subject is seated at a table located by a window and a prized power outlet.  Her eyes meet a staring man.  A siren sounds and he walks to her, stopping approximately four feet from her table.

You want to make a porn with me?

He stares and says:

You want to make a porn with me?

Subject responds with one or more of the following standard reactions:

#1        Go to hell.

#2        In your dreams.

#3        God no.

#4        Something far more profane than options 1, 2 and 3.

The staring man reacts to these responses by exiting.

Case #2

Same setting.  Female subject at table with power outlet.  Staring man’s beam is activated.  A siren.  He approaches her.

You want to make a porn with me?

He stares and says:

You want to make a porn with me?

Subject responds with the following completely logical illogical reactions:

#1        How do you know I’m even good at sex? [i]

#2        You could have a disease.  When was the last time you were tested? [ii]

The staring man responds by saying

My friend is waiting at home with a camera.

Subject says

Why would you ask me to do that?

Pornographic offerings:  a firsthand testimonial

I was 21 years old, a poor undergraduate and a recovering Catholic[iii]. I was at Starbucks in Concord California working on my laptop, listening to Modest Mouse, and trying to write one of my first plays, Red Umbrellas.

I remember I had to gather change around the house to afford my iced tea.  The Starbucks was a half a mile from my first apartment that had a horrible futon that ate your ass whenever you sat down and a huge fake pot tree my mother bought in Venice Beach because the vendor convinced her it was a Japanese eggplant. [iv]  I remember I drove to Starbucks with my gas gauge on empty and I wasn’t wearing much makeup.

Alan was my first staring Starbucks man.  He came into the place and didn’t even buy a drink.  He flirted with the hot barista at the bar and she refused to give him any.  I looked at them, he caught me looking, and he came to my table.

Alan was all disorder.  He had unsettled eyes, blonde brown hair and older than his years tanned leather skin that hung off his face.   No hot tamale ripped man wonder but ragged.

He came up to me and said

You want to make a porn with me?

I said

How do you know I’m even good at sex?  I could be horrible at it.  Are you going to ask me to audition?

He said

Make a porn with me.

I said

I could have a disease.  Aren’t you going to ask me if I’m clean?  You could have a disease.  When was the last time you were tested?

He got very serious and said

I want you to make a porn with me.

He didn’t know me, I didn’t know him, I was in awe by the audacity of the whole thing.

I stared at him and said

Why would you ask me to do that?

He looked at me and said

You got big tits.

Alan then sat down at my table and we talked for twenty minutes.

Other girls have done it with me.  My car is in the parking lot.

Why would you ask me to do that?

I won’t pay you, but you’ll have a good time.

Why would you ask me to do that?

My friend is waiting.

Why would you ask me to do that?

You have big tits.

I know.  Why would you ask me to do that?

Eventually, Alan undressed at the table, but only partially, only shirt pulled up, his chest staring at me and a scar, a roadway from his belly button to his heart.  It was one inch thick, pink, fresh, maybe a couple years old.  I showed him my scar, it circled my left eye and was still pink, it was four years old.  I hit a steering wheel and busted open my eye, Alan’s motorcycle hit the pavement and he needed to be cracked open.

Alan told me he spent three months in a coma.  He woke up to a torso scarred and his moods scrambled.  We both knew about brain injuries but I recovered and Alan couldn’t.

His wife left him, she couldn’t handle a scrambled man.  He was hard to live with.  Said he had mood swings all the time.  He used to have money.  His wife took custody of his girl.  He used to have a lot of money.  He hadn’t talked to his daughter in a while.

He stared at me and said.

I don’t know why I’m alive.  Why does God want me to live?

I wasn’t qualified to talk about God, especially mid afternoon at a Starbucks.

I don’t know.

I said.

I really didn’t know.

Then I said

But I think it has to do with a little girl who would love to hear from her Dad.   Do what you can and give her a call.  

I can’t describe the face of a man who cries from rock bottom.  It’s bigger than metaphor, it bites an angry thumb at simile.

Alan never met a playwright before, he hoped to see a play of mine one day.

He said

Who knows, maybe a character will have my name and I’ll say, ‘I met that girl at Starbucks on time.’

He said he was glad he met me, then he walked away.

Staring men:  a conclusion

Staring men are creatures of explicit attention.  However, explicit is not just sweaty torsos, grinding limbs, unwanted caresses, or slimy stares.  Explicit is also the cracking open of the self, bearing witness to a man being ripped apart, and the shocking intimacy of a moment that is instantly heavy with significance.  It is easy to identify the dangers associated with pornographic offers, those that lead to nudity and a guy holding a camera, but the dangers of pornographic conversations, the kind that lead to profane profundity, are never discussed.  And perhaps should be.

Staring men at Starbucks happen.  They are a common, but not an every day, occurrence.  They lead women to butcher their napkins as they sit nervously chanting “please go away.”  Their business cards are unearthed from rarely used purses and a cringe instantly happens.  They are barked at, evil eyed, and sometimes women talk to them.

In one rare instance, a staring man was written into a play and the character he inspired walked onstage thirty eight minutes into an opening night performance.[v]

The role was small and involved the following:

The Man Who Says His Name is Alan walks up to a barista and says

See that car out there, it’s mine.

He asks

Do you have a boyfriend or husband?

She responds

I got both

The audience laughed and The Man Who Says His Name is Alan ordered a decaf and exited the stage.[vi]


[i]  While this response opens the door for further conversation and may be an error in judgment, it remains a good question.  The concern of sexual performance, even the follow up question of “Are you even going to ask me to audition?,” reflects a sincere inquiry into a rather daunting and highly demanding task that requires commitment, acting ability, muscle memory, and knowledge of camera angles.

[ii] The professional porn industry has a checkered past involving sexually transmitted diseases but such statistics in the amateur genre are not as documented.  However, looking at general public healthy statistic deems this question not only worthy but intelligent, regardless of its context.

[iii] Inclusion of religious status is not important now but will be a useful reference for later parts of this testimony.

[iv] The pot tree was later given away via Craiglist to a history teacher that wanted a “conversation starter” in his high school classroom.

[v] The character was played by an undergraduate SoCal beach god and bared no resemblance to the actual staring man.  The show was called Red Umbrellas.

[vi] It should be noted that Alan never saw himself onstage, as he never attended a performance.