HECTOR SCHECHNER, FATHER MARTIN TARTAN and I have been taking lots of drugs in a crappy hotel in Amersterdam or Wellington. The confusion as to our whereabouts is partly due to our having taken lots of drugs before we got to our hotel, before we got to the airport, and before we got in the cab that took us to Burbank, Long Beach or LAX.
The phone book on the nightstand here says Wellington, but everything else is in Dutch. We arrived this morning after a layover in London or Honolulu. Schechner and Father Tartan are on a six-week tour of churches and comedy clubs in Western Europe or New Zealand and Australia, beginning here, tonight, in Amersterdam (or Wellington) and concluding in Dublin or Sydney. As Schechner’s authorized biographer, I’m the roadie.
Wherever we are, it seems to be the third floor of some hotel. I suppose we’ll have it figured out by 8 p.m. local time, when Tartan opens for Schechner at Wellington’s Comedy Underground at Bar Bodega on Ghuznee Street or the English Reformed Church at Begijnhof 48, Amsterdam.
Father Tartan’s a very large man — 2 yards high and 1 across — who normally eschews air travel, owing to the inevitable overabundance of 7-year-olds of all ages, boarding and unboarding, making snickering comments about his girth. Look at the fat fatso who’s so fat that he’s fat. How fat is all that fat, fatso, with all the fat, and heh-heh-heh. Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh. This is Tartan’s first tour abroad since 1985; apparently it’s paying enough to offset the emotional cost.
Back at Savory Dock, Tartan’s semi-isolated cabin on Lake Shelbyville, Illinois, Tartan gets around in a 1959 Nash Metropolitan, the only car he’s ever owned. Doesn’t use it much anymore — mostly just on Saturdays, when he heads into Shelbyville to drink beer at T-Mac’s Lounge. The rest of the week he spends fishing, masturbating and writing banter routines for broadcast journalists and corporate-circuit comedians.
FOR THE PAST FIVE MINUTES or hours, Schechner’s been pacing and rambling about all the government-sponsored wiretappings, bombings and other religious projects. Father Tartan’s out buying panatelas, to add nicotine to a collection of toxic alkaloids, psychoactive chemical compounds, glandular extracts and herbal remedies that surely rivals the most revered caches of Raoul Duke: diazepam, lorazepam, cocaine, clonazepam, alprazolam, lisinopril, adrenochrome semicarbazone, methylphenidate, oxycodone, processed sugar, sertraline, bupropion, cephalexin, meclizine, benzedrine, hydroxyzine, methylprednisolone, marijuana, mushrooms, mescaline, LSD, Lipitor and Dilaudid. No telling when he’ll be back.
Schechner seems pretty happy. “Not in a good way, of course,” he says, “but you’ve got to admit it’s exciting. If you’re a Christian, at this point you must be convinced that Bush is the Antichrist. If you’re a bomb salesman, you must be sporting some serious wood. And if you’re anyone else, you must be pretty goddamn tired of the whole thing. More?”
“Sure.” Coffee, he means. Schechner’s offspring, Carlos and Olivia, run a coffeehouse in Las Pulgas Beach. When traveling, he always packs a few pounds in his carry-on. And a high-tech portable espresso machine.
The door opens. Father Tartan enters in a cloud of smoke.
“And why the hell not?” shouts Schechner.
“Why the hell not what?” says Tartan.
“Did you find out where we are?”
“Was I supposed to?”
But at least now we have cigars.
IT’S A VERY NICE HOTEL, for a shitty hotel, if you’re on drugs. Tartan and Schechner have known each other since the early ’60s, before Tartan dropped out of standup to become a licensed associate of God, via divinity school at Seton Hall.
Schechner’s into his 70s now, and Tartan’s more like 80. Not that it’s my place to judge, but I think they take too many drugs. I can’t help bringing it up.
“Nonsense,” they reply in unison, in harmony, in defense, with identical, almost cultlike intonations. It’s a set routine. Schechner turns to Tartan. Tartan lifts his massive shoulders in a slo-mo shrug that pulls a roll of gut up and over his belt line, audibly, and delivers the next line, to me: “What about Bela Lugosi?”
“What about him?”
Schechner’s line: “Lugosi was a junkie for 15 years. Then he finally kicked it in rehab, and died.”
“Yeah, but lots of people die,” I point out.
“What are you?” says Tartan. “One of those compulsive survivalists?”
THE FOCUS OF TARTAN’S RECENT “sermonperformances,” as he calls them — sairre-mon-pair-for-MHAWnss — is his purportedly compelling theory that President Bush is the Christian Messiah, sent back from His Easter Vacation to save the world by redressing His Father’s neglect. It’s a 40-minute show called “The Glory of Jesus in 2008 With Father Martin Tartan.”
In the States, Tartan somehow maintains a more or less evenly mixed audience of religious psychotics and agnostic psychotics. Split down the aisle, each among his own, family of the bride, family of the groom, each side trying to exceed the other’s volume. How his stuff will go over with Kiwi or Dutch audiences who are paying top dollar to see Schechner . . . we’ll know soon enough.
“LIKE I WAS TELLING KEN RUBAY,” says Tartan, now sitting cross-legged on the floor beside the bed, tossing back another dry gram of psilocybin mushrooms with 28 grams of Lagavulin single-malt scotch stirred into 8 ounces of tepid espresso, “the Good Book says that the president can spy on whomever he wants. He’s the Messiah, moron.”
“Who’s Ken Rubay?” says Schechner, who’s doing some kind of mime routine at the window. “My grandfather?”
“No,” says Tartan. “The guy who runs the cigar shop.”
“Which cigar shop?” Schechner hurls an ashtray, which lands harmlessly in Tartan’s enormous gut. They laugh until Schechner passes out on the floor. Tartan rises and, with much ceremony, extracts a battery-powered, rotary nose-hair trimmer from his carry-on and heads for the bathroom. “I take drugs,” he shouts over the grinding whir, “because the Messiah has an IQ of 50.”
I figure I should probably get back to my room. “I should get back to my room.” So I can write this down. “I should probably go write this down.”
Tartan waves me off.
Schechner lifts his head. “My grandfather still beats us telekinetically,” he says, “from the grave.” And he passes out again.