Night Crawler

A friend recently wrote that April 1 marks the beginning of the Cruelest Month of the Year Week. I have to disagree. In San Francisco, at least, April 1 marks the beginning of the Most Absurd Month of the Year Week, and I can prove it. Tuesday afternoon three men in pinstripe suits step out of their office building for a bit of lunch and a quiet smoke. Within moments, six colorfully clad yet slightly sinister clowns descend upon them, covering their suits in brightly colored dots. The men are good-natured San Francisco sorts; they laugh at first. Then, noticing the strange, unclownish accouterments (skulls, small paddles, and beer), their humor turns to unease, and finally to concern. Fortunately, the clowns' attention span is on the short side. The ringleader places an orange dot on the tip of each office worker's nose and announces that their work is done. The motley gang hurries off toward the Embarcadero Center where a group of 60 or more like-dressed madfolk wait.

"Hail Bob!" shouts the wildly colored menagerie as police officers begin to gather on the fringes of the square. "Hail Bob!" wails a man with a tattooed face riding a 6-foot-tall bicycle.

"Who iz zis Bob?" asks a German tourist as she snaps through the film in her disposable camera. "J.R. Bob Dobbs of the Church of the SubGenius," explain two women on stilts. A dog approaches, covered from tail to snout in dots. "Hail Bob!" sings a small child who dots the German's kneecap. Clowns with body piercings and tattoos curtsy in bright tutus and striped tights. The din grows. The crowd grows. Balloons and tattered material flutter through the air. Garish makeup is smeared and shared. It's a David Lynch vision without the film budget.

"No, it's the St. Stupid's Day Parade," says a cop through tense, pursed lips. He crosses his arms and spreads his feet slightly wider. "I don't know why they do it."

The parade founder, Bishop Joey of The First Church of the Last Laugh, mounts a platform and leads his still-growing congregation in a special St. Stupid's Day prayer. "I pledge my allegiance to the illusion and the pyramid scheme for which it stands. One nation in delusion with terror, excess, and denial for all." Joey smiles at the crowd, his white beard twitching, and shouts: "On to the First Station of Stupid." The clowns turn and begin to make their merry way through the Financial District, sprinkling paper clips as they go, police officers in tow.

On Saturday night, at a space that shall remain nameless, a strangely familiar clown offers a roulette wheel instead of a ticket price. "Who knows? We may end up paying you," he says slyly through his white face. He's wrong.

Inside, the audience sits on the floor, enrapt in a brilliant, but evil-minded, multimedia rock opera presented by the Danny Girl Puppet Theater. Not surprisingly, it includes TV images of Bishop Joey as a news anchor. Near the door, the Veg-O-Matic -- a 20-foot-long, "four-person, pedal-powered, quadramatic vegamaster that shoots 100-foot flames and, more importantly, acts as a blender" -- roars into life, supplying icy-cold, blended margaritas for all.

The Organ Grinders From Hell, a jazzy house band that travels with Circuss Redickaless, begin a jaunty tune and Chicken John enters the "ring" wearing a rumpled top hat and tails. With sideshow panache, he introduces a number of freaks including Insecto, a tall, double-jointed, blond woman who feasts on living goldfish and (gasp!) night crawlers; and the Mad Cow, who performs a profane rap about milk while slugging down beer. It's cheap but humorous entertainment that does not try to hide the true nature of the sideshow act as a grand grift. While the crowd finds itself slightly nauseated and a bit damper after the show, everyone is pleased.

During a brief intermission folks are asked to move to the perimeter of the room. A stealthy group of all-silver humanoids from the Cyberbuss (a mobile chronicler of all things weird) infiltrates the room and attempts to blend in with the audience. They are successful, as all attention is directed at the armored members of the Hard Times Bicycle Club, who joust atop bikes similar to Tuesday's 6-footer. Despite several spills into and on top of the audience, everyone escapes unscathed.

And soon it is time for the grand finale: The San Francisco Squares, a 30-foot-high tic-tac-toe playing board illuminated with huge, neon X's and O's. Chicken John is host and Dr. Reverend Howlin' Owl (radio personality Hal Robbins) acts as the voice-over, dishing out a hysterical melange of commercial poetry and consumer farce from a plush seat in a nearby loft. The celebrity squares are filled by singer Stark Raving Brad; monologuist Michael Pepe; Bill the Junkman, who supplies materials to Survival Research Laboratories, Burning Man, and the Seemen; Defenestration mastermind Brian Goggin; "Jack Napier" of the felonious Billboard Liberation Front; Dashiell Hammett expert Don Heron; Big Rig, whose zine's motto is "Better Living Through Alcoholism"; master art-car builder Harrod Blank; and Michael Michael, the spiritual leader behind Burning Man and the San Francisco Cacophony Society. The contestants are Brin O and Kim X of Space Cowgirl Clothing.

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