Monday, March 28, 2005

Working Overtime

Dry earthy clay mixed with gritty gravel dust invades my nostrils and throat as I make my way onto the site. Mark has not yet come out with the water truck to wet down the rutted road. Bounce and jounce of car into Participant Lot is a familiar waking lullabye. Dry grass chafes at my legs, my feet as I trudge past pungent elephant camp. Gravel sounds beneath my shoes, twisting my ankles up the slope to Lyric Stage. Cinnamon and coffee greet me nearby, but I send my body onward to the breakfast booth, reveling in aromatic bacon, eggs, potatoes and syrup. The perfume of Victor's herbal tea floats lightly atop these heavier scents.

Stretching muscles warms and flexes me, tips my face up to the green and gold ceiling of leaf-filtered light. Muted conversations and gravel crunching feet pass by as I prepare my body. I open my case, am greeted by a puff of powder and familiar creaminess of white greasepaint. It slicks across my cheeks and nose, a kiss of protection against curious eyes.

The touch of rough stucco and weathered wood greet my naked palms as I climb onto the entrance wall, dipping my hands in slick soapy water to create monstrous bubbles for the shining eager faces below me.

Inadvertently trapped inside a group, a gaggle, I feel gentle press of bodies against mine, bumping, steadying, nudging, grasping, tugging at the tail of my hat. I break free and breathe deep, relieved to suck in grass and dirt along with air.

He carries two beers. He smells of sunshine, sweat and Old Spice. I frown at him, and take one beer. I run my tongue around the rich malty sip that I have stolen, and repeat the gesture with the other cup. They are identical, but I pretend to prefer one over the other. He grins and walks away, two sips lighter, as I furtively lick foam from my lip.

At the bottom of the hill, parents wait, but none for me. I ride the slick smoothness of the slide as much for scent of polished wood and feel of furry mat against my wrist as for the stomach dropping slopes and bump-and-grab by sturdy teenaged workers at slide's end.

Ladder wobbles reassuringly as I climb it, long cotton knit socks in hand to protect my smooth tights from snags and slubs inflicted by rough wood of unsanded stilt. I strap on my long legs, snugging them into hugs around my calves and ankles. Up, up I rise, looking down, down on little people, small as children. Off onto the site, battling branches and cobwebs that others, even the Smiths, never see.

Scent of smoked turkey legs reaches me on my journey; they must be cooking a fresh batch. The sweet cookie smell of newly baked waffle cones makes my mouth water, but no one will ever sell me just the waffle. By the time I’m ready for chill creamy sweetness of mint chip ice cream, the cones have cooled and lost their charm.

Rorik's forge makes creates a hot scent of wood and iron, distinctly different from the hot brick and glass scent of Foster's glassblowing booth. Neither of them hold the odor of elderly grease, which most of the food-booths do, despite acrid bleachey measures taken to assure cleanliness. Now sweetened spiced nuts assault my nostrils…I have a weakness, but no money and no way to carry anything up here on my stilts. The ground is spongy, and I tug at my leg to release it from the small rectangular 2x4 hole I've just created.

Disjointed notes from harps and recorders, bells and voices, waft around me as I walk. On very quiet days I can catch the whine-click-whirrrr of a camera with a powerful lens, but usually not. On days when it is most quiet, the wind whispers secrets into the leaves, into the branches. I bump onto the boardwalk, enjoying the thunk my wooden feet make against the board planking.

As the season progresses, the scent of leaves alters along with the change in their colors and sounds. When we begin, satin swish of green on green on green wafts rich lush perfume all around. Slowly, as days grow shorter and rays of light more sharply angled, the leaves release their moisture, rubbing papery against sounding bark.

A storm races up, whooshing and shushing. People rustle wildly as they gather belongings and hurry to the cramped perceived safety of their vehicles. Hard rain drums on shingled rooftops. Folk huddle together under eaves, creating sweaty steam, watching the work of Nature’s forces. I spread my arms and tip my face to the sky, catching fierce full drops upon the surface of my skin.

Call it sensory immersion, if you like.

I call it a typical day.

RenFest 9-11

"Will the Faire even be open?" was the Big Question. "Of course it will be open," I told less seasoned cast members. "We operated during hurricane Floyd, and just after Isabelle. Those were events that actually had direct impact on us. So yes, we will be open."

All that week, people had wandered around in a numb state of disbelief, our complacency shattered, our indomitability challenged. We performers had our instructions, however. We were not to refer to the tragedy or wear ribbons, as patrons had come to forget. If they wanted to remember, they could stay in front of their teevees. It was all terror, all the time, for twelve weeks, until George Harrison died.

Some of our attendees were less cooperative, wearing hastily emblazoned 'Never Forget' tee shirts, and handing out tokens and prayer cards. One well-meaning woman pinned a ribbon to me. I waited until I was backstage to remove it.

We did spiritual work that weekend, and for the rest of the season. If memory serves, the weather remained as bright and beautiful as it was that previous Tuesday when stolen airplanes drove into the country's most iconic buildings.

I did just what I always do, which is to bestow love from the safety of inside a costume. I did it with the same level of passion and commitment, trying to uplift each person, one by one, for a moment, perhaps a moment to last all day, or even beyond. Exactly the same.

People simply needed it more, and recognized that they were getting it.

Not only from me. From all of us.