Closing time

“Studio closing, equipment for sale inside” says the sign, handwritten on an piece of A4 paper.

It’s a quiet end to a dream.

For more than ten years my friend has run a recording studio here, at 7th and Howard. He worked hard to make this dream a reality, by finding space, by saving money, by living in odd spaces to afford the building’s rent, by scrounging gear, by making trades and finally by meeting bands, by inviting musicians into his achievement, and helping make their dreams in exchange. He has worked odd gigs on the sides to cover expenses, and invested so much of himself in building what he hoped would continue.

Helping sort some boxes, pull down some lights, and throw out some small portion of the past ten year’s accumulation, I am glad to be here. Sad, too, of course, at the small failures. Sadder still at our approaching middle age that makes the failures real, makes us have to decide finally if this business is a life, or just a section of one. We are no longer twenty five, hoping to achieve things one day. Instead we have to look at forty and determine if where we are is where we want to be in another ten years. And if not, we have to figure out how to leave.

In a SOMA evening, the kind of breazy warmth rare to San Francisco, we carry trash cans out into the night. Bottles and cans, from clean-up crews of the week prior, are set aside for the scavengers who wait patiently at the other end of the block for us to close the door and give them space.

Inside, climbing a rickety aluminum ladder with a caution my younger self would not have shown, I remember so many other evenings like this, building or taking down, in so many strange spaces across the North East. Theaters, mostly, but also churches, bars, warehouses, and the occasional alley. In a sense, this is just one more show whose run is finished, one more set to be deconstructed in so much less time than it took to build.

Leaving later, down Howard on our bicycles in the night, I feel the post-show low too. I wonder where I’ll see my friend again, now that we’ll no longer bump into each other walking down the streets of the Mission or SOMA at odd hours. I wonder where we’ll get to build again.

And that question lets me smile, makes me happy. Because on our last parting, in Boston in two thousand one, I couldn’t forsee meeting at a friend’s house in San Francisco eight years later, to play Magic and Mario Kart again, as though nothing had changed.

Many things have, of course, and more will for both of us. Adventures are to be cherished, though. The freedom to say goodbye is hard to come by.

At the end though we don’t use that word.

“See you somewhere,” we say instead, after a hug. “Maybe Berlin.”

Where you are

In the first week of May I am again fully focused, spending every waking hour on a single project. The old advice, long in mind but rarely in practice, returns to my thoughts: “be where you are.” In the Exit Theater, putting up Giant Bones, I am. Email goes unread, phone calls unreturned save those from other crew members who call seeking lightbulbs, battery holders, wiring advice. They have been up for days. Together, in a single week, we erect a giant, hang curtains, wire chandeliers, hang them, position speakers, paint stairs and build puppets. As a theatrical load-in the week is both utterly standard and completely overwhelming. At eight each evening we stop, reluctantly, dirty and hungry, and watch as the cast responds to the space and our changes. Some days they are energized by the developments, excited by new scenery and costumes. Some days they are overwhelmed by the technical glitches, by the exhaustion, and by the unfinished props. Yet each evening, for two or three hours, we all believe, remembering why we are here, and have been.

When the run ends we resume work, we clean up, fix things, compare notes, and drive each other home. Some of us sleep in the theater, or don’t, working instead through the dark hours.

It is a tricky task, to be where we are. Often in life we are distracted by far away people and problems, disasters and politics. The challenge of remaining relentlessly focused and completely aware of our surroundings is too great, hence the element of mysticism associated with those who have mastered it. Sometimes though a constraint, a limited number of people and hours, a limited amount of space, can focus the mind and make magic. At sixteen and twenty that magic was my greatest love.

Wonderful, here at thirty, to have the feeling back again, if only for one week.