Sunday, April 13, 2008

On Set

Walking around downtown Sacramento on Saturday evening, I felt like I had walked into a movie set. Blame it on the heat, the dehydration or my general sense of exhaustion after working all day, but the Second Saturday Arts Festival felt like a scripted event.

Four of us walked in the humid evening past a closed hair salon, in front of which four tight-jeans-wearing dudes played thirty second songs at full volume with lots of screaming. For some inexplicable reason, I was reminded of movie scenes in which kids in Brooklyn break open fire hydrants to release the cool water on blistering summer day.

Passing the screaming rockers, we crossed the street to enter an antique store full of everything antique stores should have. Vaguely 1940's furniture, the smell of dust permiating everything, an overload of crystal-ware, packed aisles, with an item in every corner. Of course there was an old television that WG and Irene's boyfriend talked about turning into an aquarium. Why wouldn't there be?

After this, we were lured down an alley and up the stairs into a tiny, overheated apartment to look at teensy photographic prints, while a sweaty but clean guy sat on the sofa playing his guitar, with the amp not five feet away. The whole room was the size of my closet, and with a good fourteen people in the narrow room, it felt like a hot, musty, sardine can.

Down the stairs, we found an open garden area filled with the first real cast members of this art festival, those punk/country/rock kids, complete with a confused John Mayer wannabe in a red-checked shirt playing country music on his electric guitar. A girl with green hair trimmed in a pixie cut (could she have been a real pixie?), and a tight shirt and short skirt, shimmied and shook in front of him, but to a different beat than he played. The art down this alley consisted of pieces of broken mirror cemented onto tiles. The artist slithered around the brick pavement in a toga, with her red-tinted hair piled high on her head. We turned and walked out, past the bone mobile (who would hang that over their child's bed?) and the Metal "Love" sign, with its red, glowing heart in the center of the wheel-wagon "o".

A couple of blocks later, nearly panting with thirst, we were invited to view some art in a hair salon, and I barely resisted asking if this salon had air conditioning. It did. And we stayed a while in the cool, crisp air, sipping white wine from plastic cups and eating tiny little white-chocolate chip cookies.

Walking around and looking at the collages on the wall, I felt comfortable. I saw that I could make this kind of art, that, in fact, I already make something along the same lines as this art. All I was missing was a giant piece of wood as my canvas. The "cast" in the salon/gallery consisted of women with perfect, but quirky, hair - bobs with hard angles and harsh highlights - and fashionable, low-cut, empire waste tops and jeans.

Eventually, the four us meandered down the stairs and out into the now-less-oppressive heat to continue our tour of the galleries.

More people were crowding the streets, and I felt my mind begin to cloud over. As we passed through a large group staring at the fire dancers in front of a Mexican restaurant, I grabbed WG's arm and said, "I'm going all Vegas, and I need you to hold on to me." For, you see, in Vegas, I am overcome with the people, the crowds, the noises, the smells, and a part of my crawls up and goes away to a safe place, leaving the rest of me without much guidance. WG held on but also tried to talk me out of my crowd-trance.

We waited in line to get into a gallery that was so stuff I felt like I was breathing underwater. On the walls hung close-ups of cacti. We left quickly and went next door.

In the aisles of a magazine shop, we wandered for quite a while, flipping through pages, commenting on covers, laughing at the quirky magnets available for sale. I paused to gape at Paris Hilton on the cover of National Geographic but looked a little closer and saw that it was actually the Harvard Lampoon...sighs of laughter and relief all around.

Hoping to find a cozy spot for a drink or some dessert...or both, we turned back through the waning crowds to locate a restaurant with open seating. And ran into one more gallery, filled with the final group of stereotypical art gallery frequenters. Lured into a well-lit brownstone by the sight of visitors exiting with cookies in their hands, we found ourselves in a brightly lit gallery filled with metal statues of faces, splotchy but appealing paintings by pre-school students and one giant, wire goldfish. This place felt like an art gallery, and the aging hippies in Hawaiian shirts and women with carefully died blonde hair and thick-plastic framed glasses fit exactly into what I would expect to see.

I know that, of course, the City of Sacramento didn't hire stand-ins at each gallery, but I had not realized how possible it was for someone to look so much like they belonged just where they were at a given point in time. I think that stereotypes focus on extremes and rarely encounter someone who, on the outside, at least, fits right into my expectations.

I ended the evening feeling like a person who wants to both make and buy art. I was more than happy, though, to return to my own, beige apartment and revel in the fact that I'm not easy to pin down into any one stereotype.

You know, unless you're counting sexy librarian, because, clearly, I fit that one to a T.

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