Tag Archives: Street Theater

Award Winning Award Ribbons

Building a Better World One Award at a Time

Jane Cottonwood started lifting spirits as a coffee shop waitress in Beatty, Nevada. While attending horse shows with her little barrel racing daughters Jane came to find out there was a real shortage of award ribbons for those little winners she was raising.

‘Janey’ came to know how the world worked by living on Highway 95. North of town was the brothel, west the ghost town Rhyolite, and just south and east the atomic test site.

Atomic tests always went off at 7 in the morning before school. Shook the town to kingdom come, but nobody complained much. People who lived here owed their living to the atomic bomb experiments being undertaken in the name of defending our country from the communists.

Brothels and Beatty are practically synonymous. Friends worked there and most of the best gossip in town is about the married men who ought not to be purchasing services there. Still it’s Nevada and expectations of what any man may or may not be at his core has been revised considerably to fit this particular place on earth.

Jane gave the world her all. When I met her she’d already had six decades to practice this artful gift of giving. We met at the Rocky Mountain Fairs Association meetings. I’d sit with her at lunch, or we’d drink whiskey in the hospitality suite in the evening while we whittled away time smooth talking clients.

Rodeo's, Crafts fairs, Swimming Meets, State Fairs...awards, awards, awards...

I think some women are made to give young men a nurturing maternal kind of loving. Jane was such a person in my life. Told me I had to stop if I ever passed through Beatty. Put another notch in our friendship when I did.

Her business had grown to employ 90 workers. Award ribbons it turns out are made by hand. The workers do utilize machines in the process, but most of how a ribbon is manufactured comes from the labor a person puts into the thing. You stencil, you stapled, you cut, you sew. All those first place ribbons have to detail whether you won an award for a rabbit or a horse, for the Oregon State Fair or the Modoc County Fair. There was first place to third place. A big fair can require a whole truckload of ribbons.

The Late Great Jane Cottonwood

Jane died of congestive heart failure. She died back in 2001. Her two daughters have kept the business going. Her husband is still alive. When Jane sat down next to you and gave you the pleasure of her company it was an experience of the highest order. I can’t quite explain how good she could make a person feel, how welcomed, how supported, how happy and funny life could be when she was around, but that was her way. Making a business out of giving people a good feeling about how good they can do something turned out to be her work. Next time you see a ribbon hanging off a jar of best of show pickles you could be looking right at what Jane has left behind to mark her having been here.






The Atomic Cocktail Please… with a Twist

Wide Open and want to keep it that way

In 1951 the atomic test site began a series of over 100 above ground atomic bomb detonations. Our ignorance was bliss, bombs were entertainment. The atomic cocktail was served to customers who had come to the top floor skyscraper lounges of Las Vegas. Here they could enjoy the view of the mushroom clouds and a brilliant glowing flash followed seven minutes later by shockwaves that rocked buildings and cracked plaster.

Yucca Mountain is north of the test site. Here like a zombie it rests, scientifically proven unsafe, but that doesn’t dissuade the truly motivated from trying to place it back on the list of facilities we can bury the most nasty manmade heap of life unfriendly radioactive waste the world has ever known.

Now, this goes a long way of explaining how the mind of a rural resident of Nevada works. The nefarious outside forces of crony capitalists, bought off politicians, and nuclear industry stooges have continued to make trouble. They won’t give up, still want their way.

People who live out there come in all shapes and sizes. They think this way and they go that way. Different kind of people is a way to explain it. They tend to want to be left the hell alone. From far away you might think they have some kind of special bias. You’d think they just were born to have a bad feeling for government.

They’ve seen money poured down the throat of some pretty trustworthy types and then watch in horror as that very same person begins singing like a radiation spoon fed canary over the virtues of doing with their state the very thing they most do not want done.

They do not go by fancy labels. They don’t need them. Because the Great Basin and Mojave is desert there are visitors that do have not a cultivated appreciation for what is to be found there.

There is no deal to be made. It isn’t a place where compromise holds much sway. There is little water. It was for most of the last 13,000 years a place where man passed through. It supported a few. Most found fairer climates and more abundant food in other parts of the west.

What we have here now is a band of people who know the truth of a sunrise and sunset; people who like quiet and want to be left alone. You want to go to a brothel? Not a problem. You do your thing and they will continue to do their thing. But, doing what you want and destroying what you have is where these folk draw the line.

I’d say a true blue citizen of Nevada is something akin to trying to define pornography, might not know how to define such a person, but by god you’ll know one when you see one.


You can find my book by placing my name, Dana Smith and Bankrupt Heart into the search engine at either Amazon or Barnes and Noble and it should take you right there.

“The Evil of Two Lessers….” Quoting Now from a tweet out of Iowa

Wild Mushrooms... what are you doing tonight

There are some dirty rotten scoundrels in this world. They get mixed in with all of us. Deep thinkers that I know propose that we are all potentially evil. They claim we have latent seeds of dirt and rot and scoundrel just waiting to break out

I suppose they are right. I lose my temper. I hate traffic. Things can get out of hand. I am prone to get upset and create my own personal hockey rink moment.

But this choice between the lesser of two evils where did this tradition come from?

I think a lot of the women I have dated were selected on just this basis. And to be honest I sometimes danced with my lesser angels when selecting between these two different candidates. To set the record straight, I was happy about it then and I am sorry for it now

Curiosity can be a doorway to a place we might not usually go. I had a lady friend explain how bored she was. She said she needed to find something that had been missing. She wanted it to be exciting again. She didn’t want any trouble just looking to make a little mischief. She wanted a man who looked like an outlaw on the outside but who had a good heart on his inside.

So, that made some kind of non-logical common sense to me. What it might mean is that one person finds another person that they think less of, while at that very same time that lesser person they found also thinks less of them too. It can happen, both persons thinking less of the other. Now, they both might be thought of as a couple, not so much hooking up with a person they call their better half, but instead their more rotten half, and so this is how it is possible that in this world we explain what it means when we say that they are involved with the evil of two ‘lessers.’

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God as Narrator

One of the Locations of the Primordial Soup

I’m looking to find the omnipotent voice of god. I’d like to use this voice, be it a man or woman, to be the narrator. I’m going to have god narrate the circumstances that befall a sleepy out in the middle of nowhere place inNevada.

Now, the trick is to channel this voice, pretend while I am writing that I’m god. It’s just a role and once I’m done playing this divine force I’m obligated by sanity to return to earth and live my mortal life along with the rest of you.

Of course I am both novelist and street performer and I want to tell you that there has been in the course of this latter work a temptation after shows to believe so much in the performance that it triggered this inflated sense of self, a sense that can much resemble the very likeness of the narrator I am trying to fabricate.

I have found certain kinds of men prone to this same temptation. Some military generals come to mind as one kind of omnipotent know it all’s. Some of our titan’s of finance qualify. Rush Limbaugh seems to have a sublime version having driven himself deaf from drug abuse and by some miracle of oracle can no longer hear but can still speak. These are what I call the false gods, for they generally worship at the altar of money, and any ten year old can tell you money is a lot of things, but unlike psychedelic drugs has never been known to be good at showing you where the great omnipotent voiced narrator is located.

It is a big job coming up with the voice of god as your narrator since among other things the thing has to be accomplished not near perfect, but absolutely perfect. About the only absolutely perfect thing I have any point of reference to is my mom. Now she was human and pretty much stuck at the same level as the rest of us here. But, when it came to loving her kids she was just out of this world perfect!

You know that old axiom, ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’? I thought John Huston did a good job of being a very bemused god. He conveyed a real sense of not caring about winning or losing, and I have to admit I’ll need some practice. I get upset with myself just losing at solitaire. But, then maybe that’s the whole problem right there. It might be hard if you were really and truly god to find some corner of the cosmos where you could go and enjoy a moment of unpredictability.

I think you are getting where I am going with this. I mean if we knew everything that was going to happen before it happened hanging out at the level of life could get pretty darn predictable, especially since everything that’s about to come true turned out to be signed off by you. So, I’m just thinking this through. I’m going to fake this narrator god voice thing, forget about true authenticity. It would be nice to have really got him down here to reprise his role, but since that’s not likely I’ll just make to do with a facsimile. Close to god is good enough.



The Year from the Rearview Mirror

Mojave Desert Spring 2011

In June I completed the manuscript to Bankrupt Heart a project I’d been working on for some 21 months. This was the first of firsts, the vow to see to the end the finishing of the second novel.

Bankrupt Heart my second novel has a tighter plot, memorable characters, sharp dialogue, and unrelenting pacing. With all that in mind I’ve spent most of the rest of the year searching for an agent. That search continues.

I have been guiding my performing dog through the twilight years. She is 16 years old. She is mostly deaf and blind. She enjoys a good bowl of food. She is stiff in the morning. By the afternoon she enjoys warming her old bones in the sun. She’s a profile in dignity.

Show business was good to me this year. Tempe Festival of the Arts had staged me in the premier venue at their event and had kept me in that location for an unbroken twice a year appearance beginning in December of 2000. The show played to record breaking audiences for most of the rest of the decade, but between the financial crisis, housing bubble bursting, the recession and tepid recovery, and of course the retirement of Lacey in 2009 the show that had worked so well at this venue had somehow through all of those changes no longer suited the space. It was hard to let go.

Lacey flying in Tempe circa 2003

Still the year was full of new opportunities: appearing for five nights at the legendary Olympic Club inSan Francisco for Father-Daughter Night, the Stanislaus County Fair, the many library programs I had an opportunity to play.

This year’s favorite audience award goes to the Chocolate Festival in Berkeley, California where I was able to attract a rather cerebral-liberal-scholarly-sophisticated-urban-international-family oriented-clan of like minded people and be this years best street audience. What does that mean? It is the quality of their being with me, their surrender, their interest, their willingness, their getting it, and wanting it. This was one of those moments when I believe we all walked away from the thing feeling as if we all got what we always wanted from one another.

The Great Ones

I said goodbye to Hokum W Jeebs, Steve Hansen, Vince Bruce and Stuartini the Magnificient. We’ll leave the ghost light on for these great showmen.

The personal and fascinating dinner with the Tony Award winning choreographer Bill T Jones who had just come from rehearsals for a show that he is mounting on Broadway in 2013! Jennifer Bain a great painter and friend for showing continued artistic courage. The reincarnation of Steve Aveson who was a few years ago flat on his back now back on both feet! A daughter who seems to get any grade she wants now in her second year at SeattleUniversity. And the brilliant Uncle Milt Gonsalves who helped make all those last minute edits and bring grammatical elegance to Bankrupt Heart.

What is just ahead? Bankrupt Heart is just now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I’ll be trying encourage some thousands and thousands of you to read while I continue to try and find a literary agency that can help me take my work to the next level. Next week I’ll begin outlining the story to my next novel Hot Spring Honeymoon. With luck I’ll be set to begin drafting the manuscript by March.

And finally I want to express my appreciation for the love my wife Eileen gives to me each and every day. Whether I am alone on the road traveling from town to town presenting shows, or in my office with the door closed writing from early morning until late into the night. Nobody does it alone. Eileen sprinkles that magic fairy dust over my dreams…helping me vanquish doubt and firing up the torch that lights my way.

Sunset on Las Trampas solstice

See you all in the new year…

The Fine Art of Skinny Dipping

As Good as it Gets...

Magic is lost on youth. Everything is possible at the start. It requires some aging to realize we are not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Of course later if you know what you’re doing this isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Now the first time I stumbled upon a waterhole where folk were skinny dipping I was not well prepared. First off I was shy. Second I was with a new romantic interest. She wasn’t as shy and was fast about the business while I remained tortured about what to do.

Of course in my imagination I had figured I’d just be tickled pink to take my clothes off in front of all of God’s good children and enjoy a good dip in the nude wearing nothing but my birthday suit. I’d prepared for this event in my mind. Thought it would be darker than the light of the middle of the day. Thought we might have been drinking a little, you know, get the chance to approach the thing, build up some momentum, and then plunge right into the affair without a second’s hesitation.

Then, was a long time ago, and I was young and fully clothed… a wild one… and somewhat less wild if the definition of wild included going naked. People seemed to all be looking at me and that was probably because I was looking at all of them. Now, I wasn’t interested in looking at everything, but by nature and curiosity my eyes seemed to want to get a good look now and again when I could at things I might have not had so much chance in my life to get a good look at.

Now looking around I noted that there was a great variation in the natural human anatomy. There were different shapes and sizes to things. I was kind of surprised to learn that in the light of day in the middle of the woods next to a swimming hole that the human body while it looked as it should wasn’t necessarily in all cases and from all angles particularly fetching. I’d say a lot of times it left something to be desired

Of course I finally had worked up the courage to take off my shoes. Took at least a quarter of an hour just to do that, and then I got my shirt off, that was easy enough, and my pants. I’d been in some kind of deep contemplation, lost in my thoughts so completely I’d found the best place to rest my eyes was on my new romantic interests bosom. This provided me with something I could do to keep my mind off of what I really didn’t want to do.

Wasn’t too long before my mind began to wander and I had come to see my new romantic interests bosom in a more positive light, in fact I’d say it was an inspirational frame of mind that overtook my whole being. Next thing I discover is that my mind has decided to communicate with my body sending out signals to places that until now had been not part of the situation, places I’d guess we might describe as remote yet important.

My romantic feels had migrated from my heart to some distance south below my belly button and well north of my knees. It might not have been the best spot, but it was an honest one. I reckoned it was going to be complicated and I was going to have to do some explaining unless I leaped into that swimming hole just as soon as was humanly possible. The romantic interest, she swam over to me, put her arms around me, and hugged me, looked me in the eyes, kissed me, and then she shook her head and must have laughed for what seemed like about as long as it took me to get into that water….

HIGHWAY HOME                            THE FIRST NOVEL

Leslie leaned back and stretched out on the blanket and put her arms up and closed her eyes and relished the warmth of the light on skin. The beads of water on her skin twinkled in the golden afternoon light. She shimmered as if dressed in sequins. Noel admired how serene and aglow she appeared. She had a smile that looked as if she was lost in a world of wishes that had come true. He tossed his arms up near his head and reached for Leslie’s hand nearest his and tangled his fingers into hers.

Highway Home Copyright © 2009 by Dana Smith

Tragic-comic reindeer eating

Might taste good, but make me feel bad...

A good street show is funny. You need to appeal to people’s better natures, they aren’t looking for Lear. They don’t want to know what the hell Congress has done now.

Of course the pantheon of the tragic-comic life is littered with many terrific examples: George Burns losing Gracie and then rising from his loss to laugh once more. There is the famous Lewinski fiasco that our recent President was unsuccessfully impeached for.

This is what I think was missing in Sarah Palins theatricality. She was too bellicose sexy and not big enough to laugh at her outlandish disguise. She was all glamour-puss and no wink-wink, nod-nod, look at me ain’t this grand even the Arctic bombshell can have a day in the sun.

I think a lot of the women I know would find George Clooney a great surrogate for Camelot. They could have a principled affair, surrendering to their lust and be all the better for it in the end. You never get that same vibe from Sarah. It would be like telling someone you buy Playboy because you really like reading the stories. Come on, who you kidding?

Lust, drugs, money, greed, thinking you won’t get caught and then you do, under certain conditions this can turn out sometimes as not too awful. A torrid affair with your wife (lust) after a sublime bottle of wine (drugs), while plunking down a fair chunk of cash for a hotel room with a spa on the balcony is benign, harms nobody. Do the same thing with someone you ought not to be with while using legally forbidden substances on an expense account you are not supposed to be using for such purposes and we have all the trappings of what we now seem to understand as an ordinary day in the life of corporate privilege of a kind.

I am most pleased by small tragedy to be followed by a larger more laughable comedy. Springtime for Hitler in Germany was Mel Brooks doing pitch perfect what I am talking about.

I find economics a great source of tragic-comic players. They do their deadpan so well. I feel like I am visiting a financial mortician sometimes, they are a kind of like the gay florist who pretends he’s straight. It would be so simple if we were all just one thing, but the biggest laugh isn’t who we are, but when our mask slips and the world gets a glimpse of not just our preferred self, but our whole self…the best of these disguised players it turns out are something less than half bad, and that’s about as good as it gets.

I used to worry I might turn out to be rotten to the core when in fact I was just a little too ripe. Most of what I am turned out to be not too bad, but still you have to be realistic. The half-life of tragic is still relentlessly in the hunt to spoil the punch lines of balance that is comic. Next time you flip out in rush hour traffic take a look in the rear view mirror. Who is that you see? I hope your answer is Daffy Duck….


Infinite Pleasures

Waiter I think someone put something into my drink...

Everything I thought I knew has been thrown into doubt. I had thought today could be much like any other day. I thought I’d go along and get along.

I made the mistake of listening to a physicist. It seems that this one universe we live in might be just one out of an infinite number of universes. Let’s make our basic units stars. We orbit around one. Next, depending upon who you ask and how they count there are 200 billion stars just in our one galaxy, the famous Milky Way, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. So, how many galaxies are there in the universe? Seems like a reasonable follow-up question doesn’t it? Here’s the number… in the visible universe it is estimated there are 125 to 550 billion galaxies, perhaps more!

I asked a math person how many stars was that? The answer: there are more stars in our universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on earth.

And then comes the smoke and mirrors moment. We have never actually been able to see an electron, or for that matter a second universe, or for that matter most of the galaxies in our universe. We detect them and infer their existence!

It is how things are done. They say inferring is reliable. I’m told by my sources that if your girlfriend has a vintage pink Cadillac convertible parked in front of her house that when you knock on the door and there is no answer, although you hear music and the sound of a headboard knocking against a wall from inside while listening with your ear against the door, that you would be accurate in inferring she was probably in that apartment doing exactly what your inference imagined she was doing. Worse than that it appears all the more probable that by visualizing this it is likely to encourage the very thing you are trying to avoid.

My sources tell me that it is possible that for each individual universe we might well have a god dedicated to just that one universe. Since there are possibly an infinite number of these universes there is likely to be an infinite number of these gods. Since in this system where there are an infinite number that this infinite number might best be expressed by use of a single integer. That what might be happening is that it isn’t just all for one, and one for all, but that one might be paradoxically the most divine mathematically succinct way to express the infinite! And since I am but one of 3.5 billion men on this planet the fact of whether it is me in that apartment or another man might not matter and the fact that I seem to care about whether it is me in that apartment or not is really a delusion and that on a quantum level this would prove to be an insignificant rounding error.

So, you can see this isn’t turning out to be a good day. Not only have I got to figure out how many gods there are, and if any are any better gods than we have thus far identified, after all replacing an existing god for a new and improved god seems a bit judgmental. And when I finally confront whoever that was who was having his way with my beloved, when I look into his eyes, according to this physicist it might just turn out to be me looking at myself. This is not my idea of a wholesome sexual fantasy. This is what science would identify as one potential sexual reality. And maybe that’s why we eventually die, because otherwise it would just be too much sex for us to get our imaginations around.

Change of Heart

Adrift in a sea of change....

It has been time to suck it up. You know the way. You get up earlier. You try harder. You mean to apply yourself. Eat better. Drink more water. Review the plan and then work it. More important try to enjoy it.

Having now had a good stint at doing necessary tasks I can put my shoulder into the next items on the list. I keep a list now. It was a less common habit in previous suck it up chapters of my life. There is nothing quite like the thrill of being reminded by your own list of what a good or dreadful idea you had.

Affirmations are everywhere. For one thing I am happy to eat an apple just now. Perfect! Having just completed my second long fiction project I was heartened to read that the next thing to do ought to be something different. Just buckle up into that desk chair and put that imagination into gear and if you were driving slow and carefully this time go fast and carelessly.

There is nothing quite like being your own obstacle and it has been my great fortune and curse to be unable to stop myself. I’m speaking of writers block. It isn’t to be confused with the pain we go through to write well.

Sucking it up is approached from the best and worst directions. You try and close in on the one thing. You’ve got to try and not try. You have to guard against flab. You must have the courage to poke your deepest weaknesses. Great! Just what I want to do.

I’ve been annoyed today by a formatting dysfunction. I haven’t lost any time, yet! I’ll try it again. I’m busy right now. It was on my list. Post something for the holidays. Get with it Smith. I’m entering the dangerous sink where like most of you two days will be used for ritual. I’m grateful. I need the break. A good sucking it up comes into better view alongside a good patch of sloth and excess time at the table where I’ll put the sucking it up into some kind of jujitsu reverse gear. Merry Christmas…….


Free to Play the Game

Couple of Old Dogs Caught in the Act

To celebrate the first day of the rest of my life I had oatmeal. For dessert I took my supplements and finally to get the start of the day off to a rollicking hilarious start I just completed ninety minutes on my recumbent bike.

Add to my writing chores I also continue to perform. The show is mix of circus arts stunts, most of it juggling, some interactive audience material, and then the odd nut of this or bolt of that. It isn’t just standing up in front of an audience.

Three shows per day are physically and mentally challenging. It is fascinating how some days our mouth just doesn’t work. We can’t get the words out. We blow the rhythm. When we improvise in a situation our inventions can land with a dull thud.

For the longest time it seems static. It seems that who we appear to be on stage is much the same as the person we were last week, two months ago, or even two decades ago. I think where things get tricky is when our act is derived from a point of view that might be entirely against what we might really seem to be. Power solo juggling acts often are too often based upon wise-cracking, smart aleck, juvenile points of view. There is nothing wrong with that! But, it will only get you to that same place and it will take you no further.

There/Then Here/Now Where does the time go?

That’s what all this oatmeal eating is about. It is about doing what is necessary to stay in the game, to remain on stage, in front of audiences. But, performing isn’t art unless you act like it is and do something about it. What we can do is keep our minds open to not just what we’ve been, but what we are. Vaudeville is legend for trapping an entertainer in the act. It becomes a straightjacket that they cannot escape from.

Flying a plane is a skill taught by a teacher. Creating a show is an accident, a coincidence, a lark that lands on a good idea that is played out over time. Then, one day we reckon with the reality we are at an entirely new circumstance and that if we want to treat ourselves to the full thrilling creative ride that is a life in the creative arts that we must shed our skin, climb out of whatever and all of what we’ve done and begin again.

Most of what stops most of the people I know from remaining on stage is created out of the fear of letting go of who they were. As the lyric in the song says, “The road gets rougher, it’s lonelier and its tougher…”


“So, Mike, tell me when was the last time you were talked down off of a limb you climbed out on, you know what I mean? According to my understanding on these matters, a man has to do what’s in here,” Nick pointed to his temple, “and down there,” he pointed somewhere south of his belt buckle, “they both get to have a say so, they get to speak their piece about what a man has to do, and then, once its settled, just let the chips fall where they may.”

            “You know, Nick, I’d say of all the men I’ve counseled, Ry is among a handful that has never needed any coaching. Of course, he wasn’t in circulation, and even since he has been back out, he hasn’t been able to jump off that bridge, at least not yet.”

            “Well, I’d say the time has arrived. And this could be it.” Nick said. “Now, the only question that I see remaining to be answered is, if our friend here has the god-given courage to act upon the truth running through his veins. And I don’t mean tomorrow, or two weeks from now, I mean right here, tonight, at the reception.”