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Austin Actors
Marco Perella

The Crystal Palace of Sin
by Marco Perella

March 2001

The limousines arrive at dusk. Texas limos. White stretch jobs, each with a set of longhorns welded on to the hood. They disgorge bawdy groups of revelers, already made stumbling and ridiculous from thirty miles of unlimited access to limo bar beverages.

The ladies howl in good humor, stepping out of the cars on to the grass of the cow pasture and staggering as their spike heels plunge into the soft ground. I signal my costumed minions to assist them. A score of actors have been hired to provide this service. Since the party is being held in a grove of live oak trees in a cow pasture south of Austin, Texas, the designated atmosphere is A Midsummer Night’s Dreamish. The greeters are dressed like King Oberon and Queen Titania and Puck and faeries and wood elves. A Renaissance band lutes up the country air.

I am nominally in charge of the proceedings as Master of Revels. My main duty is to make sure that everybody stays sloppy drunk on free champagne. I have been spared the period wardrobe and stalk the grounds in top hat and tails, an open bottle of Dom Perignon in either hand as I compliment each woman on her fabulous gown while filling glasses.

This is a fancy-dress affair. Lots of satined bosoms and spaghetti straps. And since it’s the 80’s, big hair with curly perms. And diamonds. As evening draws nigh, you can perceive each set of arrivals by the necklaces reflecting the light of torches that line the footpath. Glittering in the gloaming.

The men wear Texas-tuxedos. That’s a combination of tails and studded white shirts on top of boots and blue jeans, topped off with black cowboy hats. Yee-haw.

We’re talking mid-eighties Texas real estate boom. Movers and Shakers. All dipping their beaks into the bottomless font of Ronald Reagan’s gift to capitalism: the unregulated Savings and Loan.

Jefferson S&L is throwing this party for their prospective borrowers. They are quite eager to throw any amount of money at these strip-mall impresarios and spec-house entrepreneurs. Who cares if interest rates are at seventeen per cent? Austin is a boom town idn’t it? Oil is at thirty dollars a barrel last I looked. Let’s all get hocked to the hilt and let the good times roll.

No expense is to be spared. They’ve hired the top caterer in town to shoot the works. Virginia, fresh from her latest party triumph in Palm Beach, has created the ‘must go’ event of the season. In addition to hiring other worthy actors and myself to provide ambience, rumor has it that she has bagged one of the top musical acts in the country to entertain the guests. The identity of this act is kept hush-hush to titillate interest and raise the social ante, but Virginia intimates a bombshell.

The big-ticket item, however, is the Crystal Palace. Virginia has come up with an inflatable plastic bubble that blows up to make an immense ballroom under the live oak trees. It’s filled with generator powered electric chandeliers, and as the guests walk down the path in the twilight, they are treated to a view of this sparkling, translucent ball of light glowing in the trees. Their very own pleasure dome, beckoning them to an evening of decadence.

It’s good to be rich.

The party is about to commence, and to add an exclamation point of anticipation, a big black helicopter lands and deposits a group of VIPs. Bank presidents and State Senators, flown in from the very roof of the Jefferson building in downtown Austin.

Once inside the Crystal Palace, the fancy crowd starts tearing into the gourmet appetizers so bounteously displayed on the huge buffet tables. Red caviar and crab-stuffed pastries. Mounds of fruits and cheeses. Jellied goose liver pate.

Thousands of dollars worth of immense floral arrangements grace each table, and a matching bouquet is presented to each female as she walks up the ramp into the ballroom.

The floor of the palace is four feet above the ground to allow space for the compressed air tubes that keep the dome inflated. Carpenters have been working all day to put together the joist framework that will hold up the plywood dance floor.

The party starts out with the modest entertainment of the entire string section of the Austin Symphony, playing music to suck down caviar by. Soon you can barely hear the Mozart buzzing under the cocktail cacophony of the real estate tycoons.

The ravaged caviar platters are cleared away to make way for entrees of roast duck and prime rib and suckling pig. Scalloped potatoes shaped into clever little sculptured flowers. Vegetables and salads of all description. Chocolate mousses and fruit tarts for dessert.

Hundreds of empty champagne bottles testify to the diligence with which I approach my work. By the time the dance band takes the stage, the audience is liquefied. The tuxedoed swains nibble the necks of their swooning companions as they slow dance across the floor.

At nine o’clock the band strikes up ‘The Eyes of Texas’, the fight song of the Texas Longhorns, and the whole crowd holds up their fingers in the ‘hook ‘em horns’ sign as they sing along. The president of Jefferson Savings and Loan makes a brief statement affirming the value of free money, and now it’s time to introduce the mystery guest.

Virginia signals me to cue the spotlight as a black stretch limo pulls up to the door of the Crystal Palace. The audience seems to hold its breath. Now five young black men run up the entrance ramp and start strutting to the taped music that suddenly starts blaring through the sound system.

And then a sixth appears.

He’s very skinny. He wears a military jacket with shoulder epaulets, tight sparkly pants too short for him, and a derby hat over cascading oiled hair ringlets. He’s wearing one sparkly white glove.

The audience seems to comprehend all at once. The song playing is ‘Billie Jean’. Holy Shit! It’s Michael Jackson! Here to play at our Savings and Loan party!

Michael gives one of his bent-kneed pelvic thrust moves and moonwalks. And the audience storms the stage.

Instantly, everyone at the party is crowded on to a hundred square feet of dance floor right in front of the stage, screaming with the pleasure of their proximity to the King of Pop.

Somewhere back behind the generator trucks, a carpenter is drinking beer with his buddies. A carpenter who put in a long hard day building a dance floor for the Crystal Palace. A carpenter who had no idea that everybody at the party would choose this moment to stand on one spot on his plywood floor; a plywood floor supported by joists that are toenailed to each other with a couple of sixteen-penny nails because somebody forgot to load the joist hangars on the pick-up and it’s thirty miles back to town and oh what the hell, who’s going to know the difference anyway?

This carpenter’s relaxation is now interrupted by an awful groaning sound as these sixteen-penny nails surrender their tensile strength and lay their burden down. A groaning sound, followed by a crashing sound, followed by a screaming sound.

Inside the Crystal Palace, the audience sinks out of sight, swallowed up by a sudden absence of flooring underneath them. Now there’s a huge hole on the dance floor, with jagged edges of broken floor joists and plywood jutting out. At the bottom of this hole, real estate barons and their mistresses roll around in their Texas tuxedos and thousand-dollar dresses. They shout and curse as they try to extricate themselves from this awful booby trap, but footing is bad and they flop around like quicksanded actors in a bad movie serial.

Above, Michael Jackson grabs his crotch and thrusts his skinny pelvis at the pile of rich people wallowing there below him. A random diamond occassionally sparkles among the tattered dresses and torn flesh.

It’s an 80’s moment.

The music stops and Michael and his band are rendered thrustless and confused. They retreat into the safety of their tinted glass limo and speed off, check in hand.

Waiters, caterers and costumed hirelings pull victims out of the hole and tend to them. I welcome them back to tierra firma with fresh strawberries and more champagne, but it’s somehow not enough.

The party is abortively concluded.

The great Crystal Palace extravaganza becomes a debacle. The guests have not only been injured bodily, but their pride has been wounded. This because it comes out that our mystery guest, was, of course, a Michael Jackson impersonator. In their consummate vanity, our pampered guests had actually believed that His Gloveness would appear at a private party in Austin, Texas. Embarrassed, they turn their wrath on Virginia, who pays a steep social price, and soon repairs back to Palm Beach in a flurry of lawsuits.

The Crystal Palace disaster is a hot topic for months. But soon, other disasters overtake it. Oil prices crash, the real estate market crashes, and the savings and loan industry crashes. Texas tycoons lie bankruptured by the side of the road.

But Michael Jackson goes on and on.

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