Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Night at the Church of Elvis

I don't normally dedicate posts on RoundSeventeen.

But today is hardly normal and if you will permit me, I will explain why this one goes out to a friend and former colleague Kara O'Neill.

Kara was a producer at Chiat/Day. Recently her husband was diagnosed with cancer and is in a fierce battle while undergoing chemo. I don't do the God or prayer thing, but I do believe in the recuperative powers of laughter.

And so I'm hoping this piece can put a small smile on Kara's face and tell a story that might make her family chuckle.

Years ago, Kara drew the short straw at the agency and was assigned to produce a small campaign for me and my equally-obnoxious partner, John Shirley. We had big egos and an even bigger proclivity to make the life of TV broadcast producer a living hell.

The campaign was a series of cheap animated spots. And after the dutiful triple bidding of animation houses, we found ourselves in Portland working with the Will Vinton Studios, who you might remember from the California Grapes or the more current M&M's.

Animation is a slow, laborious process, so we were in Rip City for quite some time.

Kara, being Kara, scoped out all the best restaurants and attractions, including the notorious Church of Elvis. This was a seedy storefront museum dedicated to Portland's eclectic art community. A nice way of saying it was a warehouse full of crap. And the museum docent/operator was a character keeping with Portland's reputation for weird.

She would gather the bewildered museum goers in a circle and begin her awkward lecture. Then she would purposely provoke the crowd in order to elicit rude, inappropriate responses so that she could ceremoniously and quite theatrically "throw them out."

Well, rude and inappropriate was right in the Siegel/Shirley wheelhouse. And John and I wasted no time dishing it out.

We were escorted off the premises so fast we didn't have time to see the collection of hand embroidered Elvis Dish Towels.

That would have been enough for one night, but fueled with free alcohol, and the promise of even more free alcohol, we decided to take the party over a few blocks into the downtown red light district.

Kara had done her research and knew of a tiny little place called Mary's. It was Portland's oldest, and sleaziest, strip bars.

We, John, myself, Kara and diet-Coke guzzling Mikey Collado, a bright eyed, bushy-headed writer who could write more in a day than a dozen of today's copywriters could produce in a month, saddled into Mary's.

There, we saw strippers. Not the kind popularized on TV or in film. These were working class strippers who couldn't afford silicone. Or professional tattoos. Or even hairspray.

They smoked on stage, if you could call it a stage. When they wanted a certain song they simply shouted their request to the DJ/busboy. And they drank. Not beer. Or Chardonnay. They drank highballs of rot-gut authentic Arkansas whiskey. In glasses that were older than anybody in the bar.

One stripper, and this is the one I can never forget, stood over 6 foot tall. She was tatted on one entire half of her body. And she sported a long biker's keychain. One end of the chain was attached to her earlobe. The other draped beside her long, statuesque body and was attached to her…er, "key."

Holy shit, did we laugh that night.

If I didn't thank Kara then, I'm publicly thanking her now.

Those were good times.
I know her husband will beat this.
And there will be even better times for Kara and her family just around the corner.

1 comment:

Kara Harris said...

Still some of the favorite spots I ever produced. Thank you for the smile, and so many smiles over the years!