Monday, December 6, 2010

The Fishbowl Theatre

For two years we had no drapes, curtains, window treatments or whatever you'd like to call them; nothing covering our sizable bay window that looks out onto the street. During the evening, while we sat in our living room with the lights on, it felt like we were living in a fish bowl. People walked by and waved to us, and some began to comment on our furnishings. Once, I bumped into Gina Torpe at the Bowl and Roll, and she made a comment about our easy chair not matching the couch and mentioned a place where they did reupholstering for a reasonable price. She, of course, was correct, the chair didn't match the couch, but what was more unsettling is that Gina had never set foot in our house.

I've been told I have no decorating style so my lovely wife was handling the drapery situation, but two years was an awfully long time to be playing Yahtzee with all the world watching. I dropped hints, big hints. Like one night, I wore a scuba mask complete with a snorkel, swim fins, and bathing suit while sitting in the chair, reading National Geographic magazine. My wife said, "Who are you supposed to be, Jacques Cousteau or something?"
"No," I replied, "It's just that if we are going to live in a fish bowl, we might as well dress for the occasion." The intention was to lighten the gravity of the situation, but the whole thing backfired when she stormed out of the room, and in my haste to follow and apologize, one of my swim fins got snagged in the carpet (those floppy fins are not made for walking; it's no wonder it took aquatic life so long to evolve onto land). I tripped and accidentally broke her Fred and Ethyl Mertz ceramic action figures. "Nice going Jacques," was all she said before going upstairs to bed.

Some say the next step was drastic. I didn't want to do it, but it was really one of the few alternatives left open to me. One afternoon while my wife was out shopping, I concocted a simple a sign with white poster board. It filled the entire window. The sign read "Drapes Wanted, Top Dollar Paid," and could be read clearly from the street. I checked to make sure the effort was not wasted. The clever strategy doubled as both a plea for service and a temporary privacy curtain.

The first call was from the people across the street, wondering if this was an effective strategy for seeking a service. Interwoven in their inquiry was the fact that they enjoyed watching us at night; plainly revealed when they mentioned that we'd almost become a part of their family and really enjoyed the skin diver outfit.

Upon my wife's arrival, her displeasure was noticeable. The sight of my poster-board being ripped from our picture window and torn into little pieces was unsettling. The "little pieces" part revealed how my sometimes-even-tempered wife felt about the advertisement. So nothing more was mentioned about it or the lack of drapery. We went on living as before, with the world as an audience. Only, once it became apparent that the Peepers across the street were watching on a regular basis, a new lease was added to my life. Little character sketches began appearing for them right in our very living room; after all, as they said, we're almost family.

My first costume was Zorro. It was pretty easy. I made the cape from an old black sheet and used a bandanna for the mask. I waited until way after dark before turning on every light in the living room and dashing feverishly around the coffee table, cutting signature "Z's" in the air with a broom-handle sword. Only when my cape occasionally blocked the TV, did my wife make any comment, saying things like, "could you please play outside with the other children." It became apparent that I married someone with no appreciation for the theatre (this is why it's best to live with a person before making any kind of commitment). But the Peepers loved every minute, revealed the next day when there was a finger-drawn "Z!" in the dust on my car door.

That little "Z!" was inspiring, and I began to understand the lure of the stage. It wasn't long before most of my time was spent thinking of new characters as well as sketches to go along with them. The costumes were put together in the kitchen, so as not to spoil the show by revealing them prior to the performance.

One of my favorites was "The Morton Salt Girl." It truly rivaled Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie, though Peggy Woolley, who walks her dog past our house every night, said the rubber boots gave the character a Gorton's Fisherman look. The big salt shaker was made from a plastic bucket, and the umbrella, well who doesn't have an umbrella. I waited for a rainy night to add a sense of realism to the show. It was a stellar performance and despite twirling the umbrella around the room while doing my best version of "Singing in the Rain," no furniture was damaged. Of course there were the sarcastic comments from my wife, delivered, while knitting, without missing a stitch, "Too bad we don't have a dog to pull on the back of your underpants; you're a dead ringer for that Coppertone girl." This thinly-veiled effort to insult my theatrical ability left me speechless and provided an insight as to how actors must suffer in silence when they receive bad reviews, despite what they consider the finest work of their careers.

The whole thing came to an end when, at last, drapes were installed in the living room window. Nice drapes, plain off-white, done by a woman named Annie, hired by my wife. So the Fishbowl Theatre is now closed and the costumes, Abe Lincoln, Tonto, Jiminy Cricket, Merv Griffin, along with several members of The Village People, have been put to rest. Many of the characters were historically significant, and my feeling is the Fishbowl Theatre was both entertaining and enlightening. I miss the performances, but frankly, the pressure of coming up with new characters that were believable, as well as possessing a certain amount of depth, was beginning to wear on me.

I saw the Peepers the other day, and they, too, seemed genuinely maudlin, staring blankly at the ground like they were searching for lost coins or answers to something. It's a little boastful, but I take pride in knowing that the Fishbowl Theatre, however brief its tenure, made the lives of the people on my block all the richer for its existence. We all mourn it's closing, but now at last I can sit in our living room in my underpants without fear of criticism from people other than the knitting theatre critic.