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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Feb 24 1999
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Tales for Sale
"Welcome to the 'Sidewalk Shopping Network,' " says Domino, a squat gent with thick black hair and a double-five domino in his pocket. "We can offer the fine items on this street block for a limited time only. But we've got some great deals for you tonight, folks! If you act now we will throw in a complimentary gift at no additional cost to you. That's right! Act now and get this multipurpose teddy bear towel absolutely free. It's a dish towel, it's a hand towel, it's a fashionable hat. It does windows, cars, silverware, and babies' butts. That's like getting eight gifts for the price of one. I can see our phone lines lighting up now. Reese?"

"That's right, Domino," says Teresa Lanzas, poking her sleepy-eyed face out of an overstuffed, peeling hatchback "warehouse" with Minnesota plates. "The teddy bear towels are just flying out of here."

"But that's no surprise is it, Reese?" says Domino, with his canny eyes on the half-dozen people who have stopped to hear the spiel. "Because, not only do the beautiful booboisie get the boundless benefit of owning their very own teddy bear towel, they also get a fine piece of American craftsmanship, which is cheap at twice the price."

With a Vanna-like flourish, Domino directs everyone's attention to the wares spread at their feet on an orange and blue afghan.

"Like this state-of-the-art mailbox, direct from a single-lane road in Idaho -- that's real potato country, folks. Or this rubber-handled, dual-operating can opener. (It was made in Korea, but the ingenuity is 100 percent heartland.) Or this fine wooden bowl, handcrafted by an American Indian pal of mine in Arizona. (Don't get much more American than that, now do it?) How 'bout this fine brass tea kettle? (Nothing a little Brasso can't fix.) Or this basic and necessary nine-piece wrench set? (No one ever uses the quarter-inch, so I just threw it away. Saves you space, time, and trouble. That's why I'm here.) Now, here's a must-have item: a moose crossing sign -- cuz, you just never know. Moose are wily and mean-spirited creatures. They'll make small change of any car built after 1972 and not even stop to ask your name. Just a little insurance in case the Northern border patrol falls asleep on the job ...."

An indie-rock guy in a mechanic's jacket steps up to buy the Idaho mailbox, which Domino says nearly claimed his life. A young woman buys the dented kettle and a crusty brown felt hat with a "speckled hawk feather that just fell out of the air like a message from God." Reese runs out of teddy bear towels after the mailbox, but no one seems to mind. Domino makes two more sales before his crowd thins out again. He starts the patter: "Come on down! You're the next contestant on the 'Price Is So Right It's Gotta Be Illegal.' "

According to Reese, Domino has been on the road for six years, collecting debris in one town and peddling it in another. He's a tinker by trade and a yarn-spinner by vocation. That is not to say the stories associated with his merchandise are untrue. The mailbox did come from a one-lane road in Idaho where, after drinking a jug of wine, Domino's car came to an abrupt stop. For the price of two quarts of cheap oil, the indie-rock guy gained a memento, and Domino is left only with a dent in his front end.

"People are happy to pay for a good story," says Domino. "It doesn't really matter what you're selling. In cities, they'll buy anything, as long as they have something to tell their friends. It's all about the pitch."

"Tonight is about computers, community, and ... cosmetics," says Tony Parisi, the trim, clean-cut, attractive co-inventor of Virtual Reality Modeling Language. Parisi stands in the Jewelry Store, on a stage elaborately decorated to resemble FiraFari, the three-dimensional online boutique created for Fira Cosmetics. Fira-style images flash on a large monitor mounted in a faux brick wall behind him; digital cameras are lifted above the very-fashionable over-capacity crowd assembled for the launch of Fira's latest products: Freak Physique Bodypaint Pens, Freak Physique Body Jewels, Triple Play (for eyes, cheeks, and lips), and the highly anticipated Hair Raiser. Fira co-founder Ira Adler smiles from the audience while his partner, brother, and the Jewelry Store owner, Fred Adler, makes last-minute preparations backstage.

"Tonight is about the emerging web of beauty and bits, glamour and gigabytes, fashion and futures," continues Parisi. "Fira is defining the future of cosmetics: out of control, interactive, and globally connected. Tonight, we'll be getting our hair in the air, online, and in real time, and cosmetics will never be the same again." Parisi continues, invoking the Goddess and welcoming her to cyberspace. He speaks of boundary-crossing with virtual personas that attack the "Ego-sphere."

"E-mail addresses, personal Web pages, chat nicknames, and avatars join hair, makeup, clothes, and cars to create the psychic armor of the 21st century. ... Around the world, girls are raising their hair, and their consciousness. Join us as we enter new realms of interpersonal communication ... and the full-on makeover."

Fred Adler -- "performance artist, galactic emissary, and fashion terrorist" -- jogs onstage wearing an infomercial suit and a game-show smile.

"Years ago, performing as my avatar," begins Adler, "I did a scene that called for having my hair up." Funny because Adler is balding. "Qatar and his Mems needed to have their hair up because that was how they traveled between dimensions, with their UpDos. Anyway, it was very difficult to get the hair lift we needed, and believe me we tried everything ... hell, I even lost my hair pursuing anti-gravity research trying to find the easiest, best way to make Big Hair."

Then, Adler was struck by genius. Within months Fira had created a 28-inch-long, hair-wrapping thingy-bob with three holes, which Adler calls the "official hair accessory of the millennium."

Three lithesome models emerge from the wings with hair sculptures and half-shirts -- bare bellies amply decorated with Freak Physique Body Pens and Body Jewels. A volunteer from the audience is subjected to an official Hair Raising. She can now communicate interdimensionally. Adler takes everyone on a virtual tour of the online boutique, where young consumers can create new "digital and analog" identities, stopping at a virtual rave to chat with other avatars or purchasing new cosmetics to use in real time. The crowd is impressed. Fira and company have a story to sell. According to a sparkle-browed woman clutching a handful of Bodypaint Pens, it's definitely worth $5.99.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor

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