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Countdown to oblivion in Lawrence Welk Village

Ah-one, ah-two, ah-three

The guard: a smiling bejowled grandfatherly type like a town father on The Andy Griffith Show, someone who’d’ve offered Opie an apple for the answer to a tricky math problem. - Image by Joe Klein
The guard: a smiling bejowled grandfatherly type like a town father on The Andy Griffith Show, someone who’d’ve offered Opie an apple for the answer to a tricky math problem.

..duh duhu…when I’m 64. Well I am. One old fart and a half. But I still ain’t got the hang of it. Being a geezer. An old fuck. A senior “citizen.” Citizen of what, I ask — the land of universal cancer?

A large canvas portrait, no, photo of the bandleader himself with grin and golf bag. Uneven brush strokes (acrylic gel? linseed oil?) give shine to the surface of an actual untextured photograph.

In the last ten months, aside from getting my back adjusted, my blood pressure modified, my specs upgraded and my hemorrhoids scraped. I’ve had my first surgical stroll with Mister “C.” Basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer. Well, sure, it wurn’t no melanoma — but fuh. Getting cancer avoiding the sun, meeting (but never greeting) the fucker only en route to the shade, marinating my façade in sunblock, wearing high-collar longsleeves (in summer) and wide-brim hats — and then this pal of mine gets lung “C” never having smoked a cigareet: if AIDS don’t get us first, “C” is our Destiny.

The fabulous exhibits of the Lawrence Welk Museum. Band photos like R. Crumb cartoons of fictional slicked-down bozos of yore; a band bus that looks more like a mobile beertruck home. The Champagne Ladies — Lois Best, 1938 (a hot one, didn’t last long, did Mrs. Welk insist he bounce her?) — her successor (Jayne Walton) not nearly as hot. Re-pro of a poster for a show at Lake Okoboji, May ’45....

Although, okay, maybe it was only Little “C,” this pearly molelike whatsit the size of a couple-three pinheads, one small hatpin, but to off it they hadda cut a three-inch slice above it, below it and especially to the sides, and when they stitched me up I looked like Raymond Massey in Arsenic and Old Lace, and eight months later it's a red three-inch worm crawling down my neck which I tell people I got in a knife fight with an editor. I don’t mind fictions but gee, to have to write ’em...you write ’em.

Guests: Male, not all of them bald, most remaining hairs grey, in V-necks, cardigans, crew necks (red, beige, white, green), no conspicuous jewelry....

And if I got it once, never going near the sun, I will damn sure get it again — a worm for the other side of my neck, or a centipede for my chin, a lizard for my cheek...my earlobe, they'll just clip it all off. And if I can get that kinda cancer, not having willfully or knowingly contributed to it causally, how can I miss getting cancers of the pancreas, liver, tongue, sinus and scrotum? Incisions, excavations, tissue down the dumper, tubes in my veins, chemotherapy, emotherapy...and I’m not talking fear of death, or even fear. I’m just talking normal wear and tear...

Lawrence Welk shuttle bus

I can see it all coming: young whippersnaps cussing me out for slowing things down on the goddam escalator...falling down nightly en route to the pisser and breaking my weasel...wearing a helmet to bed so I don’t smash my etc. on the etc.; a goddam diaper...prostate pills and constipation pills and Parkinson’s pills...what a dismal geezer call-it-a-life. Jack.

FOOD (cheap): chicken burger — not a burger but a broiled breast w/ ham and Jack cheese — spiciest non-ethnic, non-barbecue chicken item I can remember eating — on a seeded kaiser roll (very fresh).

Which, like I said, I just can’t seem to get the hang of...the orientation, the “attitude” — adequate “prep” for the fugging Inevitable. No shirker of duty, of unwanted chores — if I wanna see how it’s done, I might as well go where they do it in spades (and I don’t mean clubs): a wonderful weekend at the Lawrence Welk Hotel and Resort, Escondido.

A last look at the map before tossing it in the wildflowers. On Broadway Hill: Brigadoon Villa...Oz Villa...Gigi Villa. On Melody Hill: Moonglow Villa...Tangerine Villa. On Harmony Hill: Memories Villa...Volare Villa.

HORSE-ASS REALISM

Established in 1964 by famed orchestra leader Lawrence Welk, the resort began as a four-room motel with a modest restaurant and clubhouse bordering a nine-hole golf course. Lawrence Welk’s “little bit of heaven on earth” has since developed into a beautiful 1000 acre self-contained destination resort located at the gateway to San Diego’s wine country.

According to the Resort Property Owners Association, a national consumer information bureau, the Lawrence Welk Resort is one of only six resorts in the Southwest to have earned a top rating of “10” based on guest experience and positive consumer feedback, and it is the only resort in California to receive this top rating. In addition, the Welk property is named 14th in the ‘Top 400” properties nationwide by Lodging Hospitality magazine.

The Resort Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, and guests may dine in casual elegance overlooking the golf course fairway. The best in Southern California cuisine may be ordered from the menu, or one may prefer the tempting luncheon or dinner buffet featuring carved meats.

— Lawrence Welk Resort press release

The first and only time I ever in fact watched Lawrence Welk’s Saturday night whatsis was in New York like late ’56, early ’57, winter, my family had just been getting TV Guide.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. A multi-hour boat ride — from 5 to 78 to 15 to Mountain Meadow exit to Champagne Blvd. to...where the hell’s the road? — before me and the missus finally arrive, hungry as fuckshit, at 9:05 PM...all right, let’s eat. The desk broad, an overly cheery 18-to-30-year-old, regrets to inform us of the restaurant’s closing at 9. “The restaurant?” “Yes, we only have one. The closest thing open is in Escondido.” Rain, rain, rain, rain...enough to float the moon. I have drove my last mile of the night. In a painting behind the desk, a dozen horse butts stare out of frame as a dozen riders and 48 hooves make dusty tracks for sunset and food.

On another wall: a large canvas portrait, no, photo of the bandleader himself with grin and golf bag. Uneven brush strokes (acrylic gel? linseed oil?) give shine to the surface of an actual untextured photograph (rather than an image, photo or 4-color, printed on stroke-textured paper), producing, though inadequately at best, not so much the illusion of photo-realism, i.e., that what it “looks like” is a photo, as the illusion of its being a photo-realist painting. Art contriving — and failing — to appear more ersatz rather than less...far out. From beneath his coat of strokes the leader seems to say: “Heaven on earth, suckers! Heaven on earth!”

“You sure you got nothing here?” I ask. “Oh well, there’s a vending machine outside the pro shop — candy bars and cookies.” “That’s it?” “And peanuts or something, or chips, in the lounge — as long as it’s open.” Now you’re talkin’.

DANCE OF THE INFIDELS

And not simply peanuts: glucose-coated peanut matter. And sodium-rich pretzel bits, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, Pepperidge Farm Butterflies, salty toasty crouton things. Mike the bartender can appreciate our plight, and he refills our bowl with commendable dispatch...a fucking prince.

Three brands of crème de menthe, that geezer holiday treat, and two of crème de cacao. Wild Turkey 101, Stolichnaya, Bushmill’s, but no Carstairs, no Imperial — only high-booty hooch in this cozy den. Akvavit? Hmm...I don’t see Akvavit. “What kind of beer you got?” “What kind do you want?” “Oh, something like Bass Ale.” “Well, our imports are Heineken and Corona.” “What’s on tap?” “Michelob.” “Uh...okay, two.”

Ceiling: black plastic w/ flashing “stars.” Are they in actual constellation configurations? Dunno. 8x10 glossies of Lawrence on the wall. I ask Mike if he ever actually comes in, y’know this very room. “Not lately, because of his health. He used to come maybe once a month. Sometimes even brought his accordion.” “And played?” “Played.”

In the alcove behind the bar an unWelkish, not unjazzy amplified guitarist drowns out the rain playing/singing “New York, New York,” then a Willie Nelson song, then a Bette Midler, injecting a lick from (of all things) Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser.” A short, plump senior in a red V-neck yells out for six Black Russians. No response, he yells again. Mike, sensing provocation: “Okay—we’ll get to it.”

THE VARIETIES OF THE FATSO EXPERIENCE — Fewer than ten porkers, male, not all of them bald, most remaining hairs grey, in V-necks, cardigans, crew necks (red, beige, white, green), no conspicuous jewelry; an equal number of fatties, female, with 2-lb. earrings, hair recently in rollers, lightly teased and sprayed, some golden blonde, some silver-blue (but no pink), primary-color sweaters, decorated w/ embroidery and doodads. Underneath sweaters, both sexes, a shitload of Ban-Lon (does that still exist?) in lieu of current synthetics. No visible cancer scars. Everyone impeccably groomed.

On the silent huge-screen TV — an accident but dig it: a rerun of The Golden Girls. Featuring more, but not radically more, made-up versions of babes in the rm. “Pregnancy & alcohol do not mix” warning over the bar: nobody here has been pregnant in the last 40 years.

A feisty couple in sopping golf duds, 65ish, saunter in. All the way from Petaluma...two days on the road...reservations six months back. “We were thinking, hey, maybe we’d play thirty-six holes today...think again.” “Didn’t even bring an umbrella.” “Shoot.” “Double shoot.”

I WON’T DANCE — DON’T ASK ME. Michael Ventura — what a goofus — once wrote: “Our generation will never get old, because we dance.” He was talking about his generation, of course, but well here’s oldies dancing and they’re old. I myself, through every phase my gen has been through, have pretty much danced for one reason only — courtship. Strutting feathers for nookie, and right now I’ve got nookie — Gopi — Mrs. M. Three couples slow-dance the “old-fashioned” way, spinning and dipping and shit. The dames seem to be enjoying themselves, can’t really tell with the men. Fast dance, a dame dances with a dame, they giggle like KR-R-RAZY, the husband of one urges ’em: “All the way, all the way!” Gopi (I could see it coming): “You wanna?” “Uh...later..” Beer and pretzels, pretzels and beer — nummy nums!

IN ALL LANGUAGES

Welk is German for faded, withered; (of the skin) flabby, flaccid. Welk in English is an alternate spelling for whelk, not the one defined as any of numerous large marine snails (as of the genus Buccinum), esp. one (B. undatum) much used as food in Europe, but that which serves as synonym for papule, pustule; welt, wheal. Withered Lawrence Pus.

GEEZERS IN THE RAIN WITHOUT REMOTE

Reading Popeye comics with those funny looking hag people on an island.

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His sister was home but he didn't fug her.

A bath and a shower they did not take.

Green & purple motherfucking shit in the house.

Then it rained.

— W.H. Auden. “Nice Day If It Doesn’t Rain"

Gloomy Saturday. An under-50 couple across the way — youngsters — wave from their rainwet window to ours...nice friendly folks.

Rain rain go ’way, but in the meantime let’s play Got...Don’t Got with the contents of our luxury suite. Kingsize bed…got. Pillows...got. Pastel coloration...got. Legless cylindrical table...got. Twin night tables...got. Desk...got. Phone...got. Minor...got. Mirrored closet...got. Hookless anti-theft hangers...got. Uncomfy chair...don’t got. Comfy chair...got three of ’em. Trash can w/ Hefty bag liner...got two. Table lamp...got. Floor lamp...got. Wall lamp...got. Ceiling light above entrance...got. Stucco ceiling...got. Patio with lawn chairs...got. Carpet w/out bum holes...got. Rudimentary coffee machine...got. Complimentary coffee...got. Heat and A/C...got. Heat lamp in the crapper...got. “Santa Fe” bathroom wallpaper...got. Shower cap...got. Soap...got. Conditioning shampoo...got. Hand & body lotion...got. Tissues...got. Toilet paper...got two full rolls.

Framed triptych of shiny pebble photos...got. Pseudo-Paul Klee watercolor of palms and boots...got. “Abstract” painting of spread legs and lady’s pudenda...got. Individually wrapped lubricated condom...don’t got. Looks like, but it’s only a sewing kit. Safety pin, needle, buttons, black, brown, blue, pink, white, grey treads, make that threads...got. Writing paper...got. Writing implement...don’t got. Complimentary postcard...don’t got. The Lawrence Welk Show Musical Family News...got. Temecula Valley Magazine...got. Restaurant menu...got. Cable TV...got. TV listings...don’t got. Remote control...don’t got. Holy Bible...don’t got.

No bible, no listings, no remote, so we hand-crank the set and take what we get. Some Came Running on superstation WWOR, New York. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Martha Hyer, Shirley MacLaine. Vincente Minnelli’s third or fourth best (or is it his third or fourth worst?) film, an interesting sociological curio. Class struggle in Terre Haute ’58 (’46?) but not much struggle...“sluts” and poker...slumming...Frank finds his center of class gravity. Commercial: “If your wife says you’re a drunk...and your kids say you’re a drunk...and your boss says...friends say...dog says you’re a drunk...you’re a drunk. Call 1-800...” — a great New York commercial.

Speaking of which, or of what, the first and only time I ever in fact watched Lawrence Welk’s Saturday night whatsis was in New York. Wait, I take that back, there was a second, but the first was like late ’56, early ’57, winter, my family had just been getting TV Guide on a regular basis for a couple months. I was 10 or 11, and this one week I got sent out to get it, a candy store four blocks away, this was Friday, we needed it for Saturday, a v. urgent mission, Friday night in a snowstorm. It was 15 cents then, and I remember dropping a nickel and having to pull off a glove to dig it out of the snow, hadn't brought any extra change of my own. Last Guide in the place. The cover was tan or orange.

I didn’t usually read the TV “news items” then, text without pictures, but my mother did, and that week they had a bit about the “surprise hit of the season" — The Lawrence Welk Show. ’S always nice to spice up yer dreary life, family doldrums can always use dynamite, at least change, so she talks us into watching it — “It won’t kill us.” I remember it went on at 9? I can tell you also what we watched it instead of (Gale Storm and Hey Jeannie), I can even recall what we ate that night (English muffin pizzas), but I can’t remember dick about the show. No recollection, nuthin’. No, that’s wrong, “Champagne Music” — I remember the phrase and remember thinking (not having drunk the stuff yet) that champagne must be like lemon-lime soda left in the sun for a week. Enough experimental t-viewing. We never as a family watched the sumbitch again.

In ’67 and ’8, deep in the heart of Psychedelia, I watched TV, when I watched it at ail, for one purpose alone: to accompany the taking of drugs. Sound on or off, no matter; when it was on, it was usually to supply an occasion for frontally “goofing” on things. This was, after all, when TV had momentarily lost its power and expertise to suck you in, plant a ring in your nose, connected by long invisible chain to...gotcha. (Drugs were a great, great liberator!) In the wake of which they sat down and decided — “think tanks” and such — that TV should and would never again relinquish its heart-mind-soul control over all us saps at sea...it hasn’t...(even drugs today have been totally stripped of their liberating function)… it only gets nastier all the time. So anyway, one Saturday, probably ’68, nothing better to do, I turn on Lawrence. He’s by now got a black tap-dancer...a rock combo that looked like something out of The Gene Krupa Story (that drug era!)...a light show. I dunno, maybe the rock band did “Last Train to Clarksville.” The look and feel of the whole thing I remember being no more fraudulent, no more anti-life unwatchable, than anything else on TV at the time — Mod Squad, Star Trek, Ironside...you've seen reruns, you know whatof I’m talkin'. Nixon was running for prez again then, and all these people, the musicians, the geezers, looked like they’d be voting for him — all except the tapdancer — 20-30 votes guaranteed. I’d like to be able to say I took acid to watch it, at least mescaline, but my girlfriend and I only smoked a small piece of hash.

Wait, oops — did I say 64? I must have got the digits reversed. (A natural mistake.) I’m 46. Which is old anyway. Hemorrhoids, skin cancer — the whole bit. I can’t tell a 19-year-old anymore from a 32. No diff, and no jealousy, I hate today’s “kids” anyway — talk about rings through the nose! (An old cuss.) Ain’t been old for long, though. Like the first 17 years were what you call it. Infancy. Diaper time all the way. 25 years, a quarter century of active Youth, and I was finally a Grown-up at 42. Right on time, glad to be growed, but wouldn’t ya know? — at 45 I was already Old. From maturity to dotage in a snap! And it don’t come easy. Takes me FORTY TIMES AS LONG to write a paragraph — I figured this out — as when I was 30. I only beat off every other day. Need near-lethal doses of caffeine to start the engine...mid-day naps...lower back pain...upper back...sensitive to cold...hangovers get worse...can’t see my hand in fronna my face...

I’m certainly closer to the End than even the Middle...or maybe my arithmetic is wrong. Dunno. In any event, I can say whatever I want about geezers. Call it self-hate. I’m allowed to hate myself. (Am I right or am I right?)

Color me Old but not my hair. 46 and I ain’t grey yet — what’s wrong with me? Should I maybe use talcum?

POSTCARDS OF WELKVILLE (1)

A road. A football-shaped green, green lawn. Distant and notso-distant green hills or mountains. Boring garden plants and stairs leading up to shingles or fake bricks or whatchacallems, light brown, crowned by four pointy roofs against a blue, blue sky. Sparse clouds. “Lawrence Welk Village Center Welcomes You to the Welk Theater Museum and Newly Opened Village Shops.” For inst the shop wherein this very card was purchased, along with beer and sunscreen, and those in which golf tees, golf clubs, Welk-logo geezer hats and sweaters, ceramic ducks and eagles, and miniature souvenir accordions were displayed, seen, touched and in some instances gently mocked during our not much of a shopping spree between downpours, along with that touting the Resort Restaurant’s “atmosphere of relaxed comfort” and ‘Tine food,” before proceeding to said grubbery for Saturday lunch.

EXCELLENT AFFORDABLE GREASE

Most handicap parking spaces ever seen in one lot (although none is in use today).

DECOR: an interesting cross between “fine restaurant” and coffee shop. Vinyl-upholstered booths with “Rousseauian exotic” motif outlined in black Rapidograph. Pseudo-silver tableware — stainless steel in “classy” patterns just like “heirloom” silver in Your Own Home — but no cloth napkins. Different species of cloth and plastic flowers at every table. A real palm in a pot, reaching almost to the ceiling, an umbrella dangling from one of its lower spiky juts. Shamrocks on pinecones at the window — All Holidays Celebrated Here? The real Holiday Inn?

The joint is clean — similar in pervasiveness to Disneyland’s cleanliness-is-godliness number. A menial carefully spruces the metal outside a currently inactive fireplace.

FOOD (cheap): chicken burger — not a burger but a broiled breast w/ ham and Jack cheese — spiciest non-ethnic, non-barbecue chicken item I can remember eating — on a seeded kaiser roll (very fresh);

Primavera Omelette — fresh vegetables, cheese and spice — nutmeg? cumin? cayenne pepper? — interesting mix;

deep fried battered artichoke hearts — like great big bull’s balls—ultra-greasy w/ sour cream inside — excellent grease;

fries — crisp to the max — same fine grease.

CLIENTELE: party of ten including a couple in their 50s (others: 70-75) — guy and his wife look and act like a congressman & spouse from Missouri stumping for the Senior vote;

a disgruntled golf couple about 40 — colorful non-generic youthwear;

one golden ager with the same shoes as I got; an old codger with red-white-blue suspenders, pale blue bowling shirt, gaudy green cardigan — estimated age, 75-80 — one great hepcat ’cept for his “born dead” 1930s look;

hardly anyone with a tan — either they’re from northerner climes or sunscreen use is now pandemic — these busters knew something ’fore I did (less “C” than me!);

just as last night, everyone spiffed to the nines — no “vacation casual” for these folks — as fastidious (or more) about their time off as their time on.

CLIENTELE: party of ten including a couple in their 50s (others: 70-75) — guy and his wife look and act like a congressman & spouse from Missouri stumping for the Senior vote;

a disgruntled golf couple about 40 — colorful non-generic youthwear;

one golden ager with the same shoes as I got; an old codger with red-white-blue suspenders, pale blue bowling shirt, gaudy green cardigan — estimated age, 75-80 — one great hepcat ’cept for his “born dead” 1930s look;

hardly anyone with a tan — either they’re from northerner climes or sunscreen use is now pandemic — these busters knew something ’fore I did (less “C” than me!);

just as last night, everyone spiffed to the nines — no “vacation casual” for these folks — as fastidious (or more) about their time off as their time on.

EXCITEMENT witnessed: two women, 25 and 75 — grandchild, presumably, and grandma. “But Mom says you love patty melts” —no go, she then suggests potato skins, no, soup — well, okay—“Low on the clams, please.” Older woman is stern, uptumed-nose-y — or possibly just troubled by indigestion.

THE KNOWER AND THE KNOWN

Only between the common logic and my work there is this difference, that my question is, — what can we hope to achieve with reason, when all the material and assistance of experience is taken away?

—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Spicy food aside, this place is bland, daddy. So bland that it’s difficult to really see much — “pay attention” — long enough to get a firm, functional read of any depth or import- especially re the particulars of explicit Human etcetera: a journalistic Black Hole. To adequately suss this biz out would require a real inclination to gawk and snoop, some genuine interest in all the faces and whatnot — both before the fact and by virtue of their fortuitous proximity — which is kind of hard to muster when the quarry truly is — on the surface of the surface of the surface — so bland. To peg these jackjills as retired smalltown bankers (and their sewing-circle wives), or neutered Republicans, or mega-squares w/out bite, is patently unfair not because such characterizations might be subjectively “biased” — which of course they are — but because even insofar as they might in fact contain kernels of “objective” truth they’re still only chickenshit “approximations”: as lame and hoky as the projected bottom line on any real-or-metaphoric hicks from the sticks (rubes from the cubes), as shallow and no-dimensional as can’t-think-of-the-metaphor. Hey, I’m lame, lazy, fuck me. But to actually poke beneath the surface, or even infiltrate prominent hatchmarks of surface, to “get real” about any of this...hey, Margaret Mead I’m not — sorry!

FORCE ME to look, however, to guess, and I’ll come up with SOMETHING. These are (by and large) a generally robust lot of old'uns we got here. Geographically, culturally, none among them could pass for the seed or the spawn of the Dust Bowl — except maybe foreclosing Dust Bowl bankers. Even if their having been bankers, and thus exercised power as an end in itself, is the reason/root/source/cause, most males do seem to behave as if still empowered (unlike some their age you might encounter who appear w/out enablement or decisiveness). In at least one crucial area, these people are not Disneyites — there’s alcohol everywhere. (So they’re not, arguably, anti-pleasure.) When the music’s over, turn on the tap...

THE THREE HILLS OF WELKVILLE

Harmony Hill...Melody Hill...Broadway Hill. Two of Music, one of Bigtime.

The sun at last emerging, we treat ourselves to a hike, a stroll, making use of our one-color complimentary map. Where to start...what to see...hmm...got it: the 9th Hole Snack Shop. ’S always fun to see golfers get loaded. OK, that's north, let’s see, take Lawrence Welk Drive to Camille to...

What th-? After not quite forty paces a guard gate halts our progress. Not the gate, the guard: a smiling bejowled grandfatherly type like a town father on The Andy Griffith Show, someone who’d’ve offered Opie an apple for the answer to a tricky math problem, then withheld the goods, cackling, ‘Trust no one, my son, trust no one!”; different from the guests only in magnitude of jowls and the fact that for him there is no vacation, no moment’s respite, from the job of smile-driven intimidation. “This is time shares.” “Okay. Yeah.”

Time shares.”

“Right. And we can’t look?”

“No — this is private. ”

Oh. The divine right of their class. Why not just mark the map with skulls & bones?

“You could walk over to the sales center and arrange a tour. They have them every —” Thanks — I’d rather walk my rat.

A last look at the map before tossing it in the wildflowers. On Broadway Hill: Brigadoon Villa...Oz Villa...Gigi Villa. On Melody Hill: Moonglow Villa...Tangerine Villa. On Harmony Hill: Memories Villa...Volare Villa. This is what they want from the rest of their lives???

SHAKESPEARE FARTS

The L.W. Resort Theatre presents: Kiss Me Kate, Cole Porter’s immortal adaptation of the also immortal Taming of the Shrew. Former greats who have played here: Dorothy Lamour (Barefoot in the Park), Forrest Tucker (Captain’s Outrageous). Lucky for me —lucky for us — I’ll be attending with actress Gopi Montenegro (credits include: On Golden Pond, Star Trek III, Driller Killer), whose critique will be invaluable you can be sure.

But first, dinner — in Champagne Room #1. A full house, very full. Lots of San Diego Rotarians. At our table, a father-daughter combo from Point Loma discuss plays, (Phantom, Les Miz)...belly dancing...the Unknown Eater...noise from Lindbergh Field. Dad’s seen the Kiss Me Kate movie with Kathryn Grayson and he can’t recall the actor... was it Gordon MacRae?

ALL YOU CAN EAT, “...but the law requires you take a fresh plate each time”: roast beef, lasagna, baked ham, mashed potatoes, rice, broccoli, cauliflower, rolls, champagne sherbet.

The 45th anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Peterson is announced, scattered applause, where are they? They don’t stand, everybody looks around, wonders — maybe they’re too old to stand. In the men’s room, at adjacent urinals, one Rotarian to another: “There are some things not for public performance”...pause...he farts.

In the lobby before curtain: the fabulous exhibits of the Lawrence Welk Museum. Band photos like R. Crumb cartoons of fictional slicked-down bozos of yore; a band bus that looks more like a mobile beertruck home. The Champagne Ladies — Lois Best, 1938 (a hot one, didn’t last long, did Mrs. Welk insist he bounce her?) — her successor (Jayne Walton) not nearly as hot. Re-pro of a poster for a show at Lake Okoboji, May ’45 — “Look, Lois — Lake Okoboji!” A pair from Sioux City know the place. Actual poster from Ruthven, Iowa — Lawrence Welk and His Honolulu Fruit Orchestra. The Farm Years — “Born March 11, 1903 in a sod farmhouse near Strasburg, North Dakota”...the Welks taught their 8 children “to work, to share, to love God — and to honor this country”...in 1920, his father bought him a $400 accordion, which to pay off he hadda work the farm till he was 21, meanwhile forking over all earnings from bam dances and weddings: a $400 accordion?!! Which is like what— a $10,000 ukelele today?

Curtain up, I'm game, but the play is just a blur, like a junior college version of Pirandello, a Neil Simon caught outdoors where every distant motorboat sound, every mosquito, is not only distracting but more interesting. I try to focus, to stay focused, but all I pick up is the snappy line “Brush up your Shakespeare, and the women you will wow.” The pit band consists of four pieces including synthesizer — Lawrence always had a thing about unions.

GOPI EVALUATES

Saturday night—why not?—neither of us has got AIDS that we know of, let’s have sex. Okay. And then...

“That was okay, but there wasn’t much ebb and flow. The sand and the sea is a good example — of the sea reaching out and licking the sand, pulling it into the sea, and the sand being part of the, as the wave retreats, okay, what happens is the sand is lying there, the wave gets ready, and as it’s getting ready it pulls back, and when it pulls back it takes the sand with it as the wave builds its arc — this big arc. And then as it’s pulling back it goes forward in this huge licking of the sea, well, splashing over into, this huge — I mean of the sand — this huge licking into the sand. This arc. And the sand is part of its ident — if it didn’t have the sand it wouldn’t have the pliability. It couldn't do this very well on rocks.”

“What does the sand do?”

“If the sand wasn’t doing something, it wouldn’t be there. Whatever it’s doing — it’s there. It’s part of, it’s all one. No, it’s not passive. Did you ever feel the sand? Maybe it lies dormant until the sea comes along. When the sea comes, it lives with life, it vibrates with life — all the little particles, it contributes — the sea is doing it for the sand. The sand motivates the sea.”

“Didn’t you ever see ocean hit rocks?”

“Yeah, it just goes off and goes away. It’s nothing. It doesn’t, the ocean does not have as good a time with the rocks. I’m telling you. Have you seen it? It just goes and beats against it and goes back. I’m talking about the communication between the sand and the sea. The communication between the sand and the sea is much more special than the communication between the ocean and rocks — it is! The rocks just are immovable, they’re not pliable. To have pliable sand is a great gift. If you could pull sand — just think of this as an analogy some time — if you were capable of taking sand and pulling it with that kind of power and then building at the same time and then splashing it — I mean that’s quite a wonderful thing to be able to experience. I would think. Whereas if you’re just splashing on rocks...”

“How about slamming in a pot of stew?”

“That’s nothing. Richard, I’m talking about the beauty and the power of this kind of communication as opposed to just splashing pudding. I’m talking about a, you know, heightened experience.”

“You seem to be talking about depths.”

“No, I’m talking about the height of that wave. The higher the wave goes, the deeper the girl, uh, the experience.”

“Girl is sand?”

“I would think, even though I think traditionally ocean is...”

“I think that’s not politically correct.”

“I don’t know, because traditionally they’ve always said water is sexual, but I don't know if water is woman sexual. I don’t know if it’s politically correct or not. I’m just talking about primal sexual feelings. ”

“Oh, it goes beyond politics?”

“No, I mean — yes, it does! In a way it’s like the play if it had been done well. Y’know that’s really, you could look at, the production we saw was really so horrible that you could see how bad the politics of the play were, are. But if that male character had been cast correctly and had sexual charisma and stuff, where you wanted it, then it would be a different story. I mean people would have all sorts of different feelings.”

“But what you call sexual charisma might be what others would consider unacceptable male posturing.”

“No, they might at the same time, but if it was cast, like for instance when they did Taming of the Shrew with Richard Burton —"

“What, you’re saying everybody wants to fuck Richard Burton?”

“Well, I’m saying there are universals." “There aren’t variants of macho behavior that are universally acceptable.”

“I’m saying you can only get away with that if the person has got that kind, if there’s that kind of chemistry involved.”

“But it still has to be acceptable. It’s not just that it’s there."

“What do you mean by ‘acceptable’?”

“The sand has to want it.”

“Yes yes yes! Well that was the element —” “The sand might just say, ‘Leave me alone.’ ” “Or beyond that, ‘Leave me alone. I’m not at all attracted to you. I’ve got no need to be with you in any kind of way.’ ”

“ ‘I’d rather be sand in a pond with salamanders crawling around.’ ”

“Yeah, ‘than be with you,’ which is the case that it was in the play. But what I’m saying, if it was cast with a character that did have a complicated sense of, you know, that was, there was an attraction there, then it’s a difficult issue. I guess what I mean, not politically acceptable but understandable, palatable.”

“And by ‘universal’ you probably mean something like conventional, urn, conventional variables.”

“Yes.”

“Okay, and what if still, you’re just sand on the bottom of a pond and you’re used to it being quiet there, and you don’t want storms stirring it up?”

“Well, you have that right.”

“You have the right as sand?!"

“Yes! I’m talking about passion, though — passionate, passionate energy.”

“Passionate sand!”

“Richard, I'm just using this analogy. I don’t want you to use this in the piece.”

“What piece?”

“Ha ha. Oh, I didn’t tell you about this woman I met in the ladies’ room after the play. She must’ve been 75, brown hair, 5’ 1” or 5’2”, round but not exactly fat, fake eyelashes, very long and curled, she’s putting on lipstick and she says, ‘Colorful costumes, weren’t they?’ ‘I guess so’ — trying not to sound too enthusiastic. ‘Did you like the show?’ I tell her, ‘I liked the music. ’ She tells me she saw it once before in Philadelphia. ‘Oh, who with?’ ‘Alfred Drake.’ ‘Well, it needs an Alfred Drake. Somebody with some passion’ — she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. ‘Well, he’s a good actor.’ ”

“That was the third or fourth worst play I’ve ever seen.”

“Well I don’t think Kiss Me Kate is a bad play — I mean traditionally it’s a bad play, it’s from an era that, well — personally I was looking forward to seeing it, okay, because I knew exactly what it would be, and never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to have every ounce of fun drained out of it”

“What fun?”

“You see. that’s the point, if it was cast well, if it was done well, you could enjoy these characters, there’s the sexual thing, the songs, the stupid jokes, just for whatever it, as a relic from another — but you can only get away with that if it’s cast well. It wouldn’t have even been bad in terms of direction if everybody didn’t suck, especially what’s his, Petruchio. I suppose the acting is the director’s responsibility, but these actors were so beyond it — nobody in this production had a clue. I suppose for a high school production it was okay, but even as that it was Ham City. While we were watching the play it felt like you had to imagine which members of the cast were related to the management, like of the theater, you know, the niece of someone — nobody could sing or dance except on the most mediocre of levels, they were all doing only what they were told to do. Like the lead woman did everything like ‘Look at me. I’m doing it — I make this funny face, they laugh’ — they were all very prideful that they were ‘doing it right,’ being prideful about the mediocrity. They manipulated with pride, that’s what putting on a show is for them. As a professional, and I never look to see anything bad about fellow actors, say anything. I’m sure they felt they did a good job — so their standard is wrong. Their idea of what is good is an extension of high school — actually children’s — performance. It doesn’t have to have reality, but it has to have some sort of truth to it. I mean these people could’ve been puppets. What made me feel sad was I don’t think they know the difference.”

“Was it all just sand?"

“Yeah, I guess, if you want, but you have to have both. I suppose if you only have one — sand...you know what aspect was missing in the analogy? The moon. You know how the moon pulls the tide?”

“Yeah.”

“And there’s a force that is bigger than the sea or the sand, so the sand, the tide, the moon makes the force — there was no moon in this play. I guess you could call the director the moon. He wasn't very much of a moon.”

FEAR OF MUSIC

Lawrence and Fern are bursting with pride these days and well they might! Their beautiful little great-granddaughter Kate Elizabeth is giving indications that she might turn out to be a musician! Says Lawrence, "I just love this picture of her sitting at the piano. She’s about 7 months old here, all dressed up to go to a costume party. None of our other children or grandchildren showed much interest in music, but judging by this picture, perhaps our little Katie will carry on the musical tradition. And wouldn't that be nice!”

The Lawrence Welk Show Musical Family News, spring quarter ‘92

Where one culture uses as a main thread the vulnerable ego. quick to take insult or perish of shame, another selects uncompromising bravery and, so that there may be no admitted cowards, may like the Cheyenne Indians invent a specially complicated social position for the overfearful.

— Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies

What’s this — “POPULAR TV BANDLEADER DIES AT 89”?!? —fuh. Shit. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to write these things, you know. (Spend too much time selecting epigraphs, and next thing you know you’re writing epitaphs.) I’m not gonna go back and revise, though. I’m almost done. You want tenses changed, you want a less mocking tone (out of respect for etc.)—you change it. You be the author, it’s okay with me.

I’ll just come to terms, right here, right now, with the dead man’s music. None of which was in the air during my two nights and a day at his resort.

Like there were big absurd bronzes of him conducting, silly shrines with quarter notes and G-clefs, an entire bandstand — with instruments — reconstructed in the museum...so many references to music: why no music? The only sounds at all were in the lounge, the play — all non-Lawrence. No music on the grounds, at the check-in, none in the museum, the shops...hardly an ambient peep...the whole place was really quiet. Hmm.

Theories? Perhaps, as God’s was for Meister Ekhart, the Welk oeuvre’s presence may in fact have been in its absence. I.e., the quiet somehow was Lawrence. To wit: the man’s music, by acclamation sonically “harmless” — non-assaultive — was as hazardous and compelling as vanilla pudding. Anything therefore less assaultive, i.e., tending functionally towards silence, would be at least as acceptable—and possibly more so. (Theory #1: Turn it down.)

While at the resort, however, I picked up a copy of Lawrence Welk Live at Lake Tahoe (Ran-wood RC-10001), which having since played I find not harmless — far from it — my life feels at serious jeopardy as I listen and take notes. Guy & Rona’s cloying version of “You Light Up My Life” is like a duet between Linda Ronstadt and the partner she's no doubt been waiting (if not praying) for, the one and only Pat Boone. Joe Feeney’s “Who Can I Turn To?” has all the spine-tingling excitement of a performance by, say, Dennis Day. Emotionally, sexually neutered, as a singer he makes Sting — Jerry Vale — Doublemint commercials — seem expressive and mammalian by comparison. Semantically neutered: Kathie Sullivan's read on “The Way We Were” as a — no joke — “happy” song. Arthur Duncan tapdancing to “Wait 'til the Sun Shines, Nellie”...the frog-voice bathos of Larry Hooper... Basically, this is music by and for people who don’t even shit.

Which doesn't maybe assault some people who do, maybe some indeed are “comforted” by it, but sheez — I find it excruciating. (Vanilla pudding with razor blades.) Look, I'm not claiming “universality” for my own squalid taste, but if I respond that way, others can and may as well. (Anything’s possible.)

Giving rise to Theory #2: a certain percentage of the Welk audience finds the music as troubling as I do — a minority, let’s say. of husbands, wives, family members otherwise along for the extended Welk “trip.” The Welk organization knows this — that while some may harbor Welk values in general, they can't hack the music nohow — so to avoid taking any chances, to be demographically safest, there is simply no Welk music at the resort. (Theory #2: Turn it off.)

Although maybe, a further listen tells me, it isn’t even music. It evinces nothing, after all, re the physics of feeling and sound, it aspires to evince nothing, and by nothing I mean less than Wayne Newton’s does, than Liberace’s did ...that kinda nothing: nothing without even the resonance of nothinghood. It isn’t “bad” music — it’s simply not music.

So many genres are namedroped — “Hawaiian music,” “Irish music,” “Latin,” “Dixieland,” “disco,” “country music,” “film music,” even “nostalgia” — but none’re actually delivered, performed, with a commitment, a vigor, that might — even as concept — differentiate one from another. Everything, by design, is attenuated, weakened, to the point of being but a neutral component in what...“One Music”...“World Music"? No: Homeopathic Music! (Microdilution with ground-zero overkill.)

Heck, the motherlode of this is Amateur Night at the O.K. Corral — Joe Blow trumpeting the legs out from under “You Made Me Love You”; Jacques Bag o’ Donuts frothing up “La Vie en Rose”; the Jill St. Cardboard Singers whining a soggy path through “Cottonfields” — which might (with luck) be its only saving grace, its one true shot at being Music at all, of being about Accident even if by accident — but it’s polished and perfected amateur night, amateur drained of its innocence and working for scale. Amateur cut to size, mounted, and nailed to the wall, which all but eviscerates that possibility.

At its most arch, its most “successful," this is produce handcrafted as if for doting grandparents by favored grandchildren (“Ooh...how beautyful!”), as if no element or aspect could matter beyond its being by-the-numbers dealt and done with. The polar opposite of something created and lived like “your life” — or anything — “depended on it,” it’s over before it’s over, long before it’s even begun: no present-tense being, no musical now, no potential musical now — or musical ever.

PLUS: for that segment of the audience (and, who knows, maybe the band itself) for whom virtually all music qua music is the devil’s handiwork — naughty stuff! — smart demographics would again dictate playing it safe, deftly subjecting all parties concerned to No Music.

And the closest space-time counterpart to this non-music, this nothing, is the non-music, the nothing, of the Lawrence Welk Hotel/Resort itself — natch — independent of all external sonic considerations. Already the bleeping EPITOME of non-music, it surely needs no sonic non-music, no musical non-music, to bolster its “case.” The foundations of Welkhood require no such gratuitous reinforcement. (Theory #3: Don’t bother — no need — to even in the first place turn it on.)

Anyone’s death leaves a wake — no pun intended — of silence. Lawrence of Strasburg’s death leaves us with 10,000,000,000,000,000.000,000,000,000,000,000 units of SILENCE....SILENCE MUFFLED...NOTHING (NOT EVEN SILENCE OR MUFFL

POSTCARDS OF WELKVILLE (2)

Lawrence (in closeup) between two tree trunks in a bright red synthetic-fabric shortsleeve shirt, white lace-up front, white trim on collar and cuffs, wide white belt holding up what look like red and blue floral-pattern pants, a 5-iron sticking into frame like a bent metallic dick, inane “can’t keep it down” smile not quite snappy or complacent enough to be labeled fatuous, photo posed in (a good guess) early '70s.

In the course of my now concluding search, I have learned nothing new from this gentleman about growing old, or being dead. I’m a slow learner...but c'mon.

Once cardboard-in-flesh, now a thinner paper product minus all corporeal intimation, this dozo’s graceless bub-strut is NO MORE.

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Cassie and crew at the Las Vegas Sphere.
Cassie and crew at the Las Vegas Sphere.

Basketball great and San Diego icon Bill Walton died on May 27. The next day, sports commentator John Canzano posted an interview clip on TikTok in which he asked Walton how many Grateful Dead concerts he had attended. “Not enough,” replied Walton, before recounting that his first Dead show had been when he was in high school. “I was 15. I’m listening to FM radio and the disc jockey, it had to have been Gabriel Wisdom, that was the guy that everybody listened to, and he said, ‘Boys and girls, that last jam you just heard, that was a new band from San Francisco, and they call themselves The Grateful Dead.’” Wisdom then said that so many people had showed up to the Dead’s recent show in San Francisco that everyone got in free, and that maybe the same would hold true for their upcoming show in Los Angeles. “We said, ‘Yeah, that’s us, let’s go chase the dream!’ So one of the guys stole their parents car for the weekend, right? Nobody had driver’s licenses, nobody had any money, we just went up there in our shorts and our tennis shoes and a T-shirt. We just went up there, got in free somehow, went right to the front, and our lives were never the same.”

“Not enough” Grateful Dead concerts translates, in Walton’s case, to somewhere north of 850. Many of the stories written after his death made mention of his devotion, sometimes to the point where his storied basketball career seemed to be secondary. What were two decades on the court compared to more than five decades in the stands — and on the stage? (Walton famously joined the Grateful Dead offshoot band Dead & Company onstage as a white-bearded, rose-crowned Father Time for its 50th anniversary celebration in 2015.) Drummer Mickey Hart recalled that his dear friend Walton would “regularly send messages that said, ‘Thank you for my life.’ He was the biggest Deadhead in the world and used our music as the soundtrack of his life.”

Three days after Walton’s death, Dead & Company paid tribute to him during a performance of his favorite Dead song, “Fire on the Mountain.” The biggest Deadhead got the biggest sendoff: his image, name, and player number 32 splayed across the gargantuan curved screen of the Las Vegas Sphere, where Dead & Company are in residence until August 10. They started their run in May, after finishing their farewell tour in July of last year, and my wife was in attendance opening night. When she returned, she insisted that she needed to go back — this time, with me. She insisted that Dead & Company was not simply a glorified cover band, rehashing old favorites with the help of relative youngster John Mayer. She insisted that the band was revitalized, in an almost literal sense: the Grateful Dead were alive again, somehow, lo these 30 years after the death of founding member Jerry Garcia.

She knew just what to say. Like many fans, I had thought the Grateful Dead era ended when Garcia died. My wife understood my feeling, if only because she was a little like Walton and other devotees who talked about the Dead — and Garcia in particular — in tones that bordered on the religious.

Garcia was a reluctant high priest — he saw himself as a working man — but that didn’t stop the true believers, even if the best they could offer to explain themselves was, “They are a band beyond description,” one that provided, through their music and the community that formed around it, the closest thing to a religious experience they had ever found. “I am the human being that I am today because of the Grateful Dead,” Walton once said. And like converts, it wasn’t enough for them to attend; they had to tell the world, convince them to come along. “You’ve got to get on the bus, man!” They were friendly, wide-eyed, hopeful you’d join them. But for many, including myself, it felt like they were trying to describe a rainbow to a blind person.

On May 5th, 1990, I got on the bus — or tried to. My best friend at the time was a drummer named Steve Harris. He know I was into progressive rock: polished bands delivering tight performances of frequently complex music. He did not care. He insisted that the Dead were something I had to see, “a band beyond description.” He bought me tickets to see a set of weekend shows in a field at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He proudly declared that these were his first Miracles. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he had a sincerity that was hard to resist, and it seemed important to him that he share this experience with me. Besides: free tickets.

We wound up sitting on the grass, fairly close to the stage. It was extremely hot. A lady seated in front of us said, to no one in particular, “I wish I knew somebody who was at their first show.” Steve quickly let her know that I was just what she was looking for. “Here,” she said, handing me a tiny square of colored paper. “Eat this.” I looked at Steve for reassurance. He was happy to provide it. That set us up for a 16-hour psychedelic ride. But before the acid kicked in, the band strolled onstage and spent what seemed like five minutes tuning their instruments. I had never seen that before, or heard it. It sounded…disorganized. And when they started playing, they kind of fell into the song. The vocals seemed sloppy. I didn’t hear any of the songs I had heard the band play on the radio. The rest of the crowd seemed to approve, but I didn’t get it.

Then they took a break, and when they came back, well, only the drummer came back. The drummer played for what seemed a long time, and when the rest of the band came out, they started doing the strangest thing I had ever heard musicians do. It seemed like they were playing badly on purpose, making sounds that did not link together in any discernible way. By this point, I was thoroughly altered, and the discord sounded weird and even ominous.

By way of consolation, Steve leaned over and said simply, “Space.” I was not consoled. I was annoyed. I had heard so much hype about how good these guys were. Then, finally, they started in on a song that the crowd seemed to recognize, and it was like the whole audience exhaled and relaxed in unison. Then this guy who looked more like somebody’s grandfather than a rock and roll star started to sing something about needing a miracle every day. Steve leaned over again, and explained that a miracle wasn’t just a free concert ticket — it was a gift.

By this point, the LSD had taken hold. I had never experienced it before, and after an hour, I found it close to overwhelming. When we left the venue, we were in no condition to drive. So we sat in Steve’s car, and he played his current favorite Dead song on his car stereo — a slower number called “Box of Rain.” He explained that the song was about the bass player’s father dying of cancer. I remember still not getting it. I remember saying that they sounded like a low-budget Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with passable but loose harmonies.

Later, my friend Steve died of cancer. Now, when I hear the song “Box of Rain,” I am taken back to the good times we shared before the sickness blossomed in him like a poison flower, and invariably, I will weep. The song has become a time stamp for a moment in my life. It hits deep. But even so, and even though I saw the Dead again a year after that first “miracle,” I did not become a Deadhead until I saw the band’s current iteration at The Sphere. The Dead are an acquired taste; it took me three decades to acquire it.

My wife kept showing me videos taken of Dead & Company at The Sphere. She told me it was a must-see event, that the venue was as much a part of the show as the band, and the internet seemed to share her opinion. Okay then. But our flight out of San Diego was delayed, and despite skipping dinner and making a mad dash to the venue, we arrived after the show started. I should have been soured on the whole experience, but the experience was too sweet for that.

Trying to describe The Sphere makes me sympathize with Deadheads trying to describe the Dead. I will say this: it feels like the future. There are something like 40 individual speakers per seat, and the sound is focused like a laser beam. One section might receive audio in Chinese and another in English, and there would be no confusion. Despite the sonic excellence, it was hard at first to judge the band’s music, because the visual experience was placing such a massive demand on my attention. The curved screen behind the band was enormous; the graphics, all but overwhelming.

But as I settled in, I found I couldn’t help but be impressed by the musicianship of John Mayer (and the rest of the Dead’s new blood). He was doing Jerry Garcia’s guitar licks, but taking them further. And while he got all the words in all the right places, he wasn’t trying to sound like Jerry. He was doing his own thing, and it was working. In short order, I was dancing along with the rest of the crowd.

Back in my younger days, when the band did their “drums and space” thing, that was bathroom and beverage time. No longer. This giant contraption with dozens of drums and assorted instruments was played by three members of the band — and that’s when I noticed the haptic seats. When the drums hit certain notes, I could feel it through the chair. The sound seemed to be three-dimensional, at times bouncing noticeably off the front, back, and sides of the Sphere. But it wasn’t like panning a speaker left and right; it was all around me. And then Mickey Hart did something with an instrument called The Beam that triggered light effects that were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. A one-hundred-and-fifty-foot brain appeared on the screen, the nerves pulsating as if stimulated by whatever it was he was doing. It was incredible! I would pay the ticket price just to see that one aspect again.

As it was, we came back for the Friday show with better seats, and again on Saturday. Each night, the emotional impact grew. The old favorite songs were new again. I started to get it, to understand why the Dead got so big, so ongoing, and why the scene is still so vibrant today. It’s something profound, something beyond music. After the last show, while we were doing the exit shuffle, riding the escalators down, we found ourselves face-to-face with people on another escalator. Our eyes met, and we started cheering, not for the band, but for each other. That’s the kind of love and goodwill I encountered.

Back home, I sought out the local Dead cover band scene. To my amazement, I found around a dozen. Does any other band have a dozen cover bands in one town, or 1800 nationwide, with at least six being full-time touring acts? Dead & Company called their Sphere residency “Dead Forever;” given what I saw and felt, it does seem like the long, strange trips will be going on for a long, long while.

— Albert Barlow

In 2023, Dead & Company announced that their current tour would be their last. They hadn’t played San Diego since 2021. I had to travel to Los Angeles to see the second show of that last tour at the Kia Forum and then to San Francisco to see the very the last one at Oracle Park. But just because they’re no longer touring doesn’t mean they’re no longer playing, which explains their residency at The Sphere. Or helps to explain it.

I frequent a bar in Coronado. One of the bartenders there is Cassie. She’s tall, with dusty blonde hair, the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve ever seen, and she’s drop dead gorgeous. That aside, she’s got heart and soul and is a Deadhead. One day, I went in for a beer. Cassie gave me a wide smile; her eyes sparkled. “I just got a bunch of tickets for Dead & Company shows at The Sphere.”

My interest was piqued. “How do I get in on that action?”

“I got tickets for the first weekend and second weekend. I think we’re going on the second weekend.”

“That’s the weekend I want to go!”

Buzz began to build within the local Dead community; people wanted to know who was going to which show. It intensified when the first clips hit the internet after the opening show on May 16. I didn’t want my experience to be spoiled, so I resolved to avoid them. But the thing about spectacles is that you want to look at them. Happily, they didn’t lessen my excitement about the real thing.

Cassie, her friend Fil, Evan and I were the Coronado Tribe, headed for the May 24 show. Unlike Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we opted to fly instead of drive. (Cassie let me know which flight to book and already had a hotel lined up.) Like Duke and Gonzo, we had plenty of drugs to keep us company: eight hits of LSD (4 microfiche and 4 liquid gels), five infused joints with kief and rosin, one pressed Ecstasy pill, sixteen Molly caps, four cannabis pens, one bottle of 1000 milligrams of THC tincture, and a quarter of mushrooms.

That Friday morning, Evan came to pick me up in his golf cart. Golf carts are not uncommon on the streets of Coronado. Evan is 26, and is in the Navy. The Navy promises one sort of adventure; our journey promised an entirely different sort. We met Cassie and her roommate Luke at their place to catch a Lyft to the airport. (Luke was heading to London and his flight was around the same time as ours.) Fil was already inside the airport bar, waiting for us and drinking a beer. Cassie and Evan opted for Starbucks, but I stayed with Fil and ordered a $14 Tito’s & soda on the rocks. I’m not a big fan of flying, so a stiff drink was in order. Fil is 43, svelte, and has eyes that pierce into one’s soul. That gives him authenticity.

We arrived at our hotel around 1:30. Fil had arranged for a suite at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club. After unpacking, it was time to change into our Dead attire and head out to Shakedown Street. For non-Deadheads, Shakedown Street is the designated vending area set up in the parking lots of Grateful Dead concerts. Vendors sell clothing, jewelry, arts and crafts, food, drinks, and illicit items. In this case, Shakedown Street was at Tuscany Suites & Casino, less than a mile away from The Sphere. We arrived at 4 pm, and after we had taken a couple of laps around the lot, we concluded that it wasn’t as robust as others we had visited. (I recently learned that the vendors eventually moved inside the hotel due to the heat.) Fil noticed something odd: “I don’t hear any tanks or see any balloons! Headshops sell tanks here in Vegas, though.”

Cassie bought a hoodie and we decided to walk towards the Sphere. Along the way, we passed by Lawry’s Prime Rib Steakhouse on Howard Hughes Parkway. I was telling my crew that the place was an iconic restaurant when I noticed something else: “There’s a headshop!” Inside, we learned that 2.2-liter nitrous oxide tank prices ranged from $45-$99. We all pitched in for the $45 tank and some balloons. People sell nitrous balloons for up to $20 at shows.

We found a staircase at a shopping center across the street from the Sphere to do our balloons. But we got kicked out by security immediately after doing our first round. We decided to head into the Sphere parking lot to see if there was a space for us to do our thing. First thing we saw were police officers getting ready for their concert shift. We needed a different spot after that encounter. We looped around and found an abandoned parking lot. There, we were free to do our derelict activities: inhaling balloons, smoking joints, and playing music.

After our frolic it was time to march to the Sphere (but not before hiding what was left in our tank in the bushes). We found the line to the entrance. While in line, I saw fellow wordsmith Emily Elizabeth Allison from San Diego. I went to say hello and get her thoughts. This is what I got.

Dead Forever

Giant round belly

against the sky,

an egg, giving birth

within itself

to itself.

Outside-in

swirling dervish

calling across dry sun,

an unforeseen spectacle

so full of nothing

but offering something…

spiraling dreams

in a bubble

that no dawn can burst.

You are a memory

of past desert days

and simpler times.

You are the magic ball

of the future

telling fortunes

in rapid blinks,

sensory reminders

of parts of ourselves

that had been forgotten

and now beg to be

remembered.

You are a balloon

with its exhale

catapulting itself

against hopeful blue

sky water.

You are my bucket of joy

and then my hollow of grief.

I never could have known

how I would be swallowed

into your orbit

and spun within your cycle

of a million stars.

You remain for me

a single planet

unmoving

like a gift

with no corners

or ribbons

and seemingly no end.

Perhaps,

like Christmas,

your smile will subside

and you’ll start a new list

of naughty and nice.

But for now,

you are the wizard

behind the curtain

showing all the love

and unexpected tears

are my own.

Decades ago

I never could have imagined

you are rolling up to my gaze

like God’s spaceship,

offering a portal

that demands no vehicle

but breath.

You, round star,

watch my arrival

then spin behind me

as life pulls me away

back to the sea.

You are indifferent

to my comings and goings

and still, I see your wink

inviting me back

each week

to swim in your sphere.”

Our seats were in the 300 section. Once at our seats, we ingested our LSD. The information I was getting on social media was that the 300 and 400 sections were the best for catching all the visuals of the show, and the floor was good for dancing, spinning and being up close to the band. I haven’t experienced the floor yet. (I stress “yet!”), but confirmation can be provided that the 300 section is good for the visual aspects. Viz: the doors opened to the Grateful Dead House in Haight-Ashbury while the “Music Never Stopped” and then everyone was floating up into outer space. Not to mention standing underneath a waterfall, letting the water run between my fingers and catching the rain with my mouth, only to arrive at that cathartic moment viewing Jerry’s silhouette during “St. Stephen.” The crowd on the floor looked like amoebas moving in their pseudopodal state.

The show ended and it was time to find our tank. Cassie had a pin on it, but wasn’t confident one of our brains would work enough to get us there. Good thing I’ve had children, because my fatherly instincts for finding the child kicked in, and we found our parking lot and continued our derelict activities. There was enough in the tank for two more balloons, and we smoked a joint. That was night one.

Next day was recovery by the pool, drinking beers, hitting the vapes, putting tincture under our tongues and relaxing. At one point, Cassie sat up from her lounge position and declared, “We fucking deserve this! I know all of us work so hard!” After sufficient relaxation, the plan was to get cleaned up and head to the Venetian for the Dead exhibit they had there. When we arrived at the Venetian, we learned the exhibit was (and is )at the Palazzo. Exhibits about the history of the Grateful Dead; I probably don’t need to recommend that. Cassie, Evan and I started eating mushrooms at a microdose pace; we didn’t want to trip out too hard before the show.

The Palazzo connects to the Venetian, and the Venetian connects to the Sphere. Because we were in Vegas with some time to kill before the show, we all splintered off to do some gambling. We set a meeting spot, and after meeting at our designated rendezvous location, we shared our stories of being up and down and happy to lose only around $60. We all considered that a win.

Time to go to the show. Night two was not as intense and I was able to grasp and capture everything better because I was in a more stable state of mind. We all opted to head back to our hotel after the show because we had to wake up at 7 am for a 9:30 flight. Our flight back only took thirty-six minutes, but we were stuck on the tarmac for over an hour because there was a plane with maintenance problems stuck at our gate. That was the worst thing that happened on our trip.

There were firsts for each one of us. It was my first back-to-back shows. It was Cassie and Fil’s first indoor show. It was Evan’s first Dead show ever, and the first time he did LSD. He had moments of going deep inside himself, trembling and being confronted with moments from his youth. He made it out with enlightenment. None of that can explain, nor can anyone explain what happened. As Cassie said, “It’s inexplicable!” Our own experience is the one we have. I got to share and rejoice with my sister and brothers.

As the late Bill Walton (Rest In Power) once said, “We all won, and everybody wins.”

Gabriel Garcia

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