Heads We Win
Instead of this week's regular meanderings, this space will celebrate the holidays by running the following vintage Slap Shots column, not from the past, but from the near future -- specifically, March 1997.
Larry Lallenda sighs with a combination of fatigue and sadness, returning his late wife's head to the cryo-freezer overhead compartment. He is particularly sad -- not because of the loss of his beloved wife, Linda, but the fact that two nights ago in San Jose, he almost didn't get to keep her head.
"It took me half an hour to explain it to the cops," he says ruefully. "I had to say, 'Look, this is my wife, I chopped off her head, I deserve to keep it.' "
Larry is not just any husband of a woman with a severed head. Nor is he a psychotic, blood-drinking murderer. He is the new king of the underground freak scene, somber ringleader of the only touring show in the country that books itself as a family guillotine performance act. He is proud, and with good reason. This is his farewell tour, slated to end when there are no members left in the troupe. Which is coming very soon.
"I finally decided this is it," says Larry quietly inside his empty tour bus, idling outside the Mission District's Victoria Theatre, where the remaining Lallendas will perform later tonight.
"Everything else is boring to the underground audiences. Bondage, blood-drinking, enema sculptures, self-immolation, hanging by your nipples from a giant car battery -- we've done everything, and they're still bored. Me and Linda and the kids even closed one show by smacking each other with ax handles until we were unconscious. Nothing."
After encountering such petulance from jaded hipsters, and growing criticism from underground media, Larry and his family changed their name to the Lopping Lallendas and dreamed up a new gimmick. Each show on their farewell tour would close with a family member sacrifice, an old-fashioned guillotine head-slice, adding an exciting climax that leaves one wanting more, the way classic entertainment should.
But this is no happy chorus refrain from Oklahoma! Two nights ago at the Saddle Rack nightclub in San Jose, Larry chopped off his wife's head and sent the bloodied lump hurling into the seventh row, as per the usual finale. Unfortunately, stubborn fans refused to relinquish their souvenir. Larry called local police. Officers arrived on the scene and after a slippery scuffle with audience members, the head was returned to the Lallenda family.
"I don't want to talk about this," grouses a San Jose police sergeant regarding the incident. "Don't you people have enough problems in San Francisco?"
Kids in attendance that evening were horrified at the beheading spectacle, but many have already recovered from the initial trauma enough to purchase tickets for tonight's show at the Victoria.
"It was totally shay!" exclaims a young suburban girl with a silver spike protruding from her chin.
In current teen idiom, "shay" apparently is an abbreviation for "ricochet," which in turn refers to the high-pitched whine bullets made in '60s spaghetti westerns, when shots ricocheted off boulders and buildings. This nearly supersonic whine is also a sound made by fainthearted suburban youth when confronted with an informational stimulus that prompts an immediate moral choice -- at least according to Dr. Eugene Rather, professor of juvenile linguistics at Stanford University.
"Suburban youth who have encountered high levels of boredom refuse to let down their guard," says Rather soberly, "and so to hide their innate fear, they invent a laconic lingo to mask their feelings. But sometimes they make this funny little involuntary squeak. That's a 'shay.' The upshot is, kids intentionally seek out these 'shays.' It's like chasing the dragon."
"We started out as a family of jugglers," remembers Larry. "One night in Toronto we were tossing around a 10-foot logging saw, and the next thing I know, Linda's father is laying on the stage here -- and his head is sitting way over there. He's an old man, you know, and he misjudged his catch. When the crowd went nuts, I knew we were onto something."
At that time in 1995, the Lallendas numbered 15 strong. They are now down to just Larry and two children.
"It's a tighter show now," acknowledges Larry. "Things move pretty quickly. Little Jessica's going down tonight, and then next week in Vancouver, Jimmy and I are the grand finale, a double decap, with no foam!" He laughs at the cheap pun.
Unlike the proprietors of the Jim Rose Circus and other touring sideshows, Larry keeps his humor far offstage. A Lallenda show is akin to watching grass grow. Dressed in black unitard and exaggerated Alice Cooper mascara, Larry keeps his body stiff and rigid throughout the performance. His dull barker's patter is sprinkled with tedious quotes from medical textbooks. It's no wonder he turned to decapitation to save his show.
Each family member has signed consent forms, allowing his or her life to be extinguished for the sake of the show, which has kept the authorities confused for the moment. But why should anyone give it all up just for a nightclub act?