*Note: It is not my aim to insult any of the following groups of people: anarchists, socialists, women who pee standing up, sad hobo clowns, Puerto Ricans, people with unusual names or their parents, Franz Kafka, the city of Chapel Hill. You guys are all fine in my book. It's a big world.
"So we went to this puppet show in Chapel Hill tonight-"
"No, no." Ashley interrupted. "Sandra took me to a puppet show in Chapel Hill tonight."
She was right; it had been all my fault. I was the one on a mailing list about local puppet shows. I had said, "hey, let's go to this while you're in town," and I had driven us over to Chapel Hill. I had driven all around the block a few times looking for parking, and I had even paid the $20 donation to get us both in. But I didn't know! I swear, I didn't know. The show was at the Internationalist Books and Community Center, a tiny shop located on the main drag. A travelling puppet show in an independent book store. Doesn't that sound nice?
We came through the door a minute or two late and had a seat among the several rows of folding chairs pushed into cramped rows. I was shoved up against a display of local magazines, t-shirts, knitted goods, and some plastic funnel things that allow women to pee standing up. The stuff at the bottom was free, so I helped myself to a few of the more interesting pamphlets and stickers. The bookstore was clearly a haven for multiple fringe movements. It's cool that anyone with a Xerox can make a magazine and sell it in a real bookstore.
There were a few others already in the seats when we arrived, and more came in. There was definitely an alternative vibe. Some of the people were not regular bathers. Many of them had hairstyles that could be called pieces of art. They were all dressed unconventionally, some of them looking like they were intentionally clashing and others appearing more interested in comfort than fashion.
We felt a little out of place. I wished that I had worn something weirder.
An employee of the book store got up to welcome us and tell us about upcoming events. After all, if we had come to the puppet show, we might be interested in some of their other guest speakers. The very next Tuesday, there was going to be someone that she described as "an anarchist from the South," like being an anarchist was just like being a window washer or a knitter. As it turns out, the name "Internationalist" is not just a nice way to be inclusive, but a reference to a political philosophy. It's socialism on an international level. I'm not sure where the anarchists fit in. It's possible that the smaller groups have to stick together, even if their aims are different. Smaller groups also include travelling puppet shows.
There were two puppet groups that evening. Jawbone Puppet Theatre is a father and son act, the father being dressed as a hobo with a painted sad clown face, and the son being a five-year-old named Corn Snake. Poncili Company is a group of four puppeteers, who were relatively normal-looking. They all had magnificent hair and pretty accents, hailing from Puerto Rico.
Parts of the show were a bit like watching a child play-act with his toys. For example, one sketch was with dinosaur toys, as Sad Hobo Dad and Corn Snake manipulated action figures and made them talk to each other. But the rest of the skits were similar in that there was very little attempt to hide the puppeteer. I don't mind that. Puppetry is a wide open art form, which is one of the things I love about it. A lot of the puppets were plastic toys or stuffed animals, plus some that were constructed with paper mache or cardboard. My favorites were the little cardboard ones with hinged joints. They must have had magnets on the back, because Sad Hobo Clown Dad was able to randomly stick them around the room. He must've had some magnets sewn into his suit, because he stuck them to himself, too, as if he was the stage (okay, that is brilliant). He even had a tiny cardboard Sad Hobo Clown Dad, which rode on an empty coal bucket in an adaptation of a Kafka story. I'm not sure what it says when the Kafka story is one of the more coherent pieces of your act.
I am not sure, but I think that I may have done a poor job of hiding my complete and total confusion during the entire show. It was so strange. I understood some things, while others I couldn't tell if there was even anything to get. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy myself. I liked the puppets, I liked the sets built into battered suitcases, and I liked the sketches. I just didn't understand the point of all of them, nor was I entirely sure there always was one. Then again, I've never been good at symbolism.
At the end, as they were all taking their bows to our enthusiastic applause (Corn Snake held his nose while doing so, which was a nice touch), one of the performers told to us to feel free to stick around and come talk to them after the show, because "some of the skits are pretty weird." I laughed in relief. Thank goodness, it's not just me, this is actually weird. Behind us, a couple of high school kids had different reactions. One was enthralled, either because she is at a higher level of understanding than I am or because she automatically equates weird with deep. The other said the exact same words as his friend, but sarcastically. Either he was at a higher level of understanding than I am or he assumes that anything that he doesn't get is stupid.
I really have no idea. Some of it was really cool, much of it was confusing, all of it was fascinating. It has tumbled in my head since then, hoping to catch on some crag on my brain and find a connection.
Later, we chatted a bit with Sad Hobo Clown Dad. He said he came up with the outfit as a last-minute costume for a hobo party he was going to. For whatever reason, he decided to put on the sad clown makeup, and he said he felt his whole body sort of fall into it, as if he'd really been a sad hobo clown all his life and had only discovered it when he happened to have to go to this party. I wonder how many of us are really sad hobo clowns inside and don't even know it.
We left feeling sort of stunned at the strangeness of at all, discussing what kind of person a kid named Corn Snake and raised in a touring puppet show would grow up to be.
Who does this? Who travels around the country giving bizarre puppet shows? The touring aspect reminded me of Josh's band, but with a band, there is always the hope of getting rich and famous. With puppet shows, there's not really a precedent of someone getting famous from doing this, so these guys really have to be doing it for its own sake. They're just artists, and this is where their inspiration leads them. I cannot comprehend their motivations, but I am glad they exist. Maybe Someone has to be doing this, for our world to be as big and beautiful and strange as it is.