Unicorn Steaks

Yesterday, I witnessed two things that I will never forget. One was harrowing and terrifying – the other inspirational beyond anything I have ever had the honor to have witnessed.

Bad news first

If you know me, then you’ll undoubtedly know the first event (the harrowing one) was watching #PresidentShithead’s joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki. After a week of setting fire to the NATO alliance and the Special Relationship, yesterday, #PS [aka Trump], with the whole world watching, willfully spread misinformation denying Russia’s very real cyber attack on the United States.

In doing so he went against, and publicly betrayed, our institutions of national defense and US law enforcement. He instead sided with the murderous, lying despot standing next to him. A dictator who is actively leading an attack on America, via cyber warfare, to undermine and corrode our DEMOCRACY and world influence.

We now add this offense to the list of impeachable offenses #PS has committed. Offenses the Republican congress won’t act on…but instead will allow to be forgiven and “normalized”.

I just want to take this moment to send a heartfelt message to my Republican brothers out there…Sorry. I don’t think we can give him a “mulligan” on this one, boys. This really is the end of the road and the end of this Presidency. Accept it, it’s over. As you like to say, “There are winners and losers”. Well, you picked a big fucking loser. Time to flush the bowl before you get any more shit on your hands. Kapeesh?

Nuff said about that for today.

Now the good news

SO YEAH it was the “worst of times”. But then something else happened yesterday that was maybe the most inspirational thing I have ever seen, in person, in my entire life. The most inspirational thing I have probably ever been a part of (even if only in a peripheral way). And I’m not fucking exaggerating! It was real life drama played out with real stakes and, when it was all done, it made be believe in America. It made me believe not that we are the best, but that we can be the best if we do our best. If we do our best for each other, especially when we need each other. If we can change our hearts through empathy, when it counts, we can achieve anything. I saw it happen right before my eyes and it was radiant, and I will, for one, never be the same.

[So I’m going to write my story about what happened…and it’s going to be long. With an exceedingly long tangential lead in . It will hopefully be goodish…but, fur sure, it’s going to be looong. If you just want to just skip ahead to the actual event, scroll down to “The Event”…but you’re missing out if you do…just sayin’. – Ed.]

I officially moved to Visalia, California to be with my wife, then my girlfriend, back in 2010. She, having secured a good job as an elementary school teacher, was able to buy a house in her lifetime hometown at a good price (it was bottom market, mid-Great Recession) and invited me to move in (Even though we were not married. A SCANDAL!). This was the beginning of the rest of my life. My life is with Jenny. And so I have adopted this new hometown, Visalia.

I grew up in Thousand Oaks, California, where my parents and siblings still live. When my parents bought their house in Thousand Oaks in the mid 70s it was a different place than it is today. My father had brought the family across the country from Farmingdale, Long Island, New York for a new job and a change. As an electrical engineer, his work and work opportunities were closer to Los Angeles, but he wanted to live in a suburb, like Farmingdale was a suburb to NYC.

He looked at buying in the San Fernando Valley, but thought the lots and houses seemed small, the communities dingy and packed together. He looked a little further out and found Thousand Oaks, sure it was a longer commute, but the houses and lots were bigger and, EVEN BETTER, CHEAPER. We ended up in a beautiful, idyllic home in the Wildwood development next to the Jewel of Thousand Oaks, Wildwood Regional Park.

I wish I could say my family story was altogether idyllic, but it wasn’t. That’s a story for another day.

I loved my hometown. But, over the years, it became strange to me. It grew in ways I didn’t want to see it grow. Between the influence of Hollywood Royalty overflow and the assent of pharmaceutical giant Amgen’s campus (along with many other factors) the cost of living in Thousand Oaks exploded. It became more congested. Also, the superficiality of the Hollywood-esque culture there, always a problem, became more and more pronounced, to the point that I felt no desire to kill myself trying to find the money for the high buy-in and the cost of living.

The Thousand Oaks I knew was gone anyway. Wildwood Fort gone. Geppetto’s gone. When I hiked in Wildwood Park, all I could see on the horizon was the encroaching housing developments metastasizing off of the Amgen campus. I remember developers wanted to parcel off the beautiful entrance to Wildwood Park, an open field under a majestic skyline of bluffs (made famous in many Westerns) to turn it into a golf course. And it almost happened. Thank God the residents rose up and put a stop to it…And that little slice of history kind of dovetails into yesterday’s events. Which, I swear, I’ll get back to.

Anyway when Jenny introduced me to Visalia it was kind of like someone turned back the clock on Thousand Oaks. It had that isolated and small, but well managed and bustling air about it that felt like home to me, much more than modern day Thousand Oaks. And there is no Amgen here, and our Hollywood overflow was miles away in Three Rivers (that’s a joke BTW). It just felt right.

Are there issues? Yes! We are in Central Valley ag-land so politics run red here. This area is a strong enclave for the racist tea party movement. We have a high percentage of Fox-News-watching, Limbaughtomized, water-rights-obsessed, gun-loving growers (their partners, advocates and allies) out here. Sure they don’t mind the free water, marketing agreements and subsidies that made it all happen for them, but they hate the “big government” that provides it.

And then you have our US congressional rep, Devin Nunes, who works full time debasing himself in a campaign to protect the aforementioned treasonous President. If you think #PS’s behavior gives anyone in Central Cali pause know this, in our recent jungle primary Nunes defeated his democratic opponent Andrew Janz by over 26%. So yeah…there’s that. And that’s a problem…for me.

And, honestly, that aspect of the local culture has been getting me down about my new hometown a lot. Especially in light of the political and cultural divisiveness we are all coping with and hoping will end and not worsen.

The Event

So with a little bit of dread and in this mix, earlier this year, I became aware of the threat to our local children’s non-profit theatre company, the Enchanted Playhouse. They do a hell of a lot of good for the children of this community with very little. They are on the verge of getting kicked out of their home, the Main Street Theatre, which they leased from the city of Visalia, who seem determined to sell it out from underneath them. Without a dedicated theater, the Enchanted Playhouse company will not survive and without the central downtown location they will lose their prominent placement in the identity of the community.

Last night, the Visalia City Council meeting had on its agenda the vote that would determine the immediate fate of the Main Street Theater Redevelopment and, in so, the fate of its tenants, the Enchanted Playhouse Company.

On paper, it was not looking good for the Enchanted Playhouse. Basically, months ago a bid was accepted by the city from a developer to convert the centrally located downtown theatre landmark (somewhat rundown) into some restaurants. It was all “by the books” but it was also a bit underhanded in the way it was carried out (because the city was not reaching out to Enchanted Playhouse). Any way you looked at it, this was a situation where the city council, by law, had the right to move ahead with the redevelopment, and the theatre company would be hard pressed to do anything about it, without having to get into a big legal battle it could not afford. These are volunteers; no one is making any big time money off this deal. And it’s the money that seems to be the thing causing the confusion.

To keep the background short, there was a time about 14 years ago when the city and the city council went to bat for the company, big time, getting them set up in the location and fighting for it legally. The city spent a lot of money. In return, Enchanted Playhouse, did their part and produced, in a hardscrabble time (they got through the Great Recession) as unpaid volunteers, quality children’s theatre that incorporated local children into the productions. They did this and paid rent to the city. Did I mention that children’s theater non-profits don’t make crazy money? I did, okay.

They presented their productions to the public and schools from all around would bus their students in to see them. It spread culture and joy. It created a farm-team for local live performance talent. But most importantly, it was a haven for artistic children, an extended loving family for these creative, emotional, sensitive kids.

Take my wife [, please! – Ed.], she saw the plays as a child and started performing in them at 18. Knowing my wife as you never will, you can not measure the importance and influence this company had on her life, even as a young adult. How it built her confidence up and inspired her to do other things. How it connected her to new friends who shared her interest in the dramatic arts and who encouraged her to act more and “follow her bliss” (I stopped all that). And you can add her to the thousands of children, young adults and parents changed for the better by this local institution. It’s impossible for me to put into words what it means to so many. What the value of this institution is.

The Enchanted Playhouse at the Main Street Theatre is a unicorn. It should not exist. It can not exist on a purely capitalist playfield, and yet it does exist. It exists because it spouted from the dreams of a merry band of dreamers, of gypsies that found their home. This unicorn creates magic, it inspires the weary, it heals the broken, it saves children’s lives. Literally. Period.

Somehow, in the years that followed the initial support, this connection between the city and the theatre company became disconnected. Council members change, mayors change. Emotionally stunted “businessmen” on the council start to think,

“Do we really need a unicorn? Unicorn food is too expensive. Let’s slaughter the unicorn and sell unicorn steaks! We’ll hang up some flat screens and watch freakishly large men give each other concussions…What?! Some fragile kids can’t play make-believe anymore. Too bad! Have some unicorn steak. It’s delicious. It’s seasoned with salt made from the dehydrated tears of the children.”

It’s fucked up. The city fucked up. They forgot heart and soul makes this city’s downtown what it is. Visalia has a god damn unicorn there. PROTECT IT. Its value can not be quantified in dollars and cents on a spreadsheet. Sorry, mister businessman (aka Mr. Potter), you’re just gonna have to believe me on this one.

It is a family-friendly community hub. And in so, it is priceless and worthy of preservation.

So the people who know what’s at stake (unicorn steak) heard the call of the gypsies and determined to push back on the city. This city council meeting was last night and, under a lot of pressure from the community, the city council wisely made special rules allowing for extra time and moved the meeting to the convention center to allow for extra seating so the theatre company and the community could make a final appeal to ask the city to pause the redevelopment plan to give the Enchanted Playhouse non-profit a second chance to make a bid to keep their home.

Supporters meet at the Main Street Theatre. When we got there, I was disheartened to see it not exactly overflowing with people. Could this rag tag band pull it off? We were looking like the Rebel Alliance. It put fear into me. But somehow, when we marched to the convention center, it started to feel like an unstoppable army.

Then the discussion period opened on the subject. The passion of the people who appealed to the city, over the course of an hour and half, was truly inspirational. The testimony of the children, changed and healed by their experiences with Enchanted Playhouse, moved me to tears multiple times. A father and actor told the story of the memories he had performing with his daughter on that stage, a daughter he lost soon after to a tragic and sudden illness. His testimony and the testimony of so many others declared that stage sacred ground.

And then it went to the five man (old white man) council to make their decision.

The Vote

Well that vote was high drama, too. The council was pretty hard in their opening remarks on Enchanted Playhouse board of directors for not behaving like businessmen (but as we’ve established they’re not businessmen. If they were businessmen they would have opened a sports bar. They are dreamers and unicorn wranglers).

It seemed like all was lost.

The first councilman said he was inclined to vote for redevelopment because the theatre company failed to make their bid in time which he felt showed a lack of responsibility. He asked, “Where were you?” to which many in the crowd answered “We’re here now!” (I think I might have been one of those people) But he deferred his final decision at that point.

We then heard from the second council member, who said he heard the children’s pleas and he would allow for a pause on the redevelopment. I loved this guy.

My heart soared!

Then it got to the third member, he was a hard-assed, old jarhead or jarhead wannabe. A Limbaughtomized douche…I will call him Mr. Potter. Mr. Potter said there are “winners and losers” and the market has decided to kill the unicorn (to paraphrase). He also added that 14 years ago he voted against the initial deal to set up the company at the theatre, as it went against his free market ideals, and he still felt good about that decision today (He probably thinks the NEA is a homosexual, socialist propaganda machine, too). It took a lot of self control for me to not wing my water bottle at his fat head…but I knew it wasn’t about me.

Let’s just say my soaring heart lost an engine and was tilting into a nosedive.

Then we got to the vice mayor who was also not moved by the children. He voted KILL THE UNICORN! I immediately regretted ever spending one cent in this “sweetheart’s” store before it closed (locals will understand). So I was doing the math.

1 undecided (but highly critical of the Enchanted Playhouse)
1 for giving the theatre company a second chance
2 unicorn steaks, rare

My heart was plummeting toward the earth, both engines on fire. The hydraulics were out. I was pulling on the flight stick to no avail.

So now it goes to the mayor. He tears up as he says he acted with his kids and he understands the unicorn. He hears the children. He wants to give the unicorn a shot.

I see a flashing light on the heart control panel. I hit it. One of the propellers starts to spin up again. But the altimeter is still spinning counter-clockwise out of control.

So it goes back to the undecided councilman to break the tie.

The suspense was a 10. He’d already said he was inclined to vote against the theatre. The tension was thick enough to cut with a unicorn steak knife. If he said “Kill the unicorn!”, it was gonna be real sad at the least, real ugly at the worst. He said he was still concerned about the viability of the non-profit to make an offer and that giving them a chance might be a waste of time, but ultimately that the pleas of the children moved him to give the Enchanted Playhouse a second chance.

The unicorn’s execution was stayed!

My heart stopped just before it crashed to the ground. Turns out it ran out of gas, Looney Toons style.

There was great applause and a feeling of sober jubilation. The Enchanted Playhouse was given 90 days by the city council to submit their plan to buy the Main Street Theatre.

Now the hard work and reality of fundraising the money and finding deep pocket backers to make it happen is real. But knowing it is real, knowing they have a chance to save themselves, gives me hope that things everywhere can get better. Knowing I live in a city that listens to dreamers and cares about giving creative children a home made me a believer in the system…for now.

I really hope it works out and I’ll be there if they ever need me to show up for them again.

Long live the Enchanted Playhouse at the Main Street Theatre!

Support your local theatre companies

Support your local theatre companies and children’s theatre non-profits. They need it!

See a local play, See a local musical. If you find a theatre company you like, go again, and again. They need you. Most likely, they killed themselves for months as volunteers with no pay to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime experience to you. They need you there. Movies and TV are great, but believe me, your community can entertain you just as well, if not better…and they want to. In supporting them, you become part of something. You are supporting creativity, expression, culture.  It’s not a fad, it goes back to the beginning of civilization. Civilization is not social media, it is “being there”. Plus, the more you support your local theatre, the better it will get. Experience, support, confidence, as in any endeavor, these things are the fuel of greatness. You don’t have to go to Broadway or the big city. You can witness greatness, right in your hometown, just by showing up. And you will feel the performances unfiltered and direct, a true connection between performers and audience sharing a space. Something that can never be recreated by watching recorded media. If you don’t show up, they can’t do what they do and everybody loses. Support your local unicorn…erm,  I mean theatre community.

What can we do for the Enchanted Playhouse?

I am hoping that a social media fundraising campaign will be launched to drive donations for the purchase of the Main Street Theatre from the city by the Enchanted Playhouse non-profit.

To light a fire under that campaign, I suggest they seek celebrity support, starting with approaching Ellen Degeneres, who has a great track record with these kinds of things. If not her, I have to believe someone with a platform will understand this story, the dire odds Enchanted Playhouse faces, the consequences of inaction, and will get behind making a happy ending for this situation.

Time is of the essence. LET’S MAKE IT HAPPEN!

[Jenny informed me that Ellen’s show came to Visalia  earlier this year to help Washington Elementary’s free dance class program. SHIT!… I mean, good for them… but SHIT! – Ed.]