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Saturday evening saw me and some friends all decked out in sleek dresses, smart shirts, fancy suspenders, a couple of very nice hats and one truly fabulous vest. We were four or five levels of email forwarding down the food chain from a vague promise of unique San Francisco fun: some kind of performance centered around a giant Rube Goldberg
style machine powered by bowling balls. The instructions directed us to be ready as extras in an Al Capone style film. Uninformed, we charged ahead. . .
You wouldn't think that San Francisco has a middle of nowhere, but it actually does, located right next to the bay and near a PG&E station. At least that's what it seemed like as we sped up and down dark and deserted roads, cheering with delight whenever our novelist-driver executed another thrilling U-Turn. Finally we found the promised landmark--a large headless papier mache horse, unfortunately too flimsy to be climbed on a dollar's dare. Nestled in a hollow at Hunters Point, right up against the bay, we found our goal--the Lifesize Mousetrap. It's an impressive structure.Bowling balls make their way through the various improbable obstacles before finally causing a giant safe to drop on a piece of "cheese."
The show itself could have used some sharpenning, and the MC droned on with an impressive but somewhat monotonous drum and accordion one-man-band for accompaniment. Being short and wanting a better view, I scampered up the hill, "behind" the Mousetrap, and promptly froze. Next time I'll probably try basking in the body heat of strangers. ( "Shivering? Why, not at all. I'm just chilling out.") The MC just kept talking and talking with routines about protesting mice (some very cute little ones came up), about a fake Houdini who hadn't paid Union dues, about rats, about Al Capone, etc. etc. There was a large burning lamp that seemed to be part of the machine but with an inexplicable role; we finally and correctly determined its sole function was to look cool. "They just got back from Burning Man. They having a Burning Man hang over and need to have fire around," one woman opined next to me in the dark. I wish their hangover had been stronger and they had employed more such flaming devices. I reminded myself about how I spent Valentine's weekend interviewing Manhattan bouncers and doormen outside their clubs, in barely double digit weather, even though I had to dress to go dancing inside. Then the cold wasn't so bad.
When they actually ran the machine they didn't make much of a noise to indicate that they would stop talking and start doing. I think one friend missed a bit, and a second said an audience countdown would have been good. "It would have been more fun to build, than it was to watch" quoth the first. Still, it was pretty thrilling to see a bowling ball slide down a gutter and be lobbed through the air, and I would have liked an encore. Ah, the joys of watching gravitational potential energy convert into kinetic energy. My own suggestion was that they paint the bowling balls some sort of brilliant phosphorescent green. Slipping down the hill in heels, without an escort, proved to be an even more persuasive lesson in the conservation of potential energy, and I almost ran right into another woman who sportingly laughed it off. I rejoined my friends, and I think the consensus was we'd like our forays into San Francisco performance art to be more mechanically intense and less verbal. But it was a worthwhile adventure, and I greatly admire the builders for making their improbable dream a reality.
I got interested in reading about these things after I interview Bill Holzapfel for one of my first articles, almost five years ago now. He reminisced to me about his graduate school extracurricular activities: building duelling robtos for Survival Research Laboratories. I'll have to visit more such shows--Laughing Squid looks like a good page to watch.