Brian Pera had given me a bit part in his movie, Only Child, and the shoot dates fell on Easter weekend. I had memorized my lines, but still felt worried. I wasn’t an actor and had never gotten over the shyness that had plagued my entire childhood. Why Brian asked me to participate, I still don’t know, but I said yes to conquer a fear of performing.
When I walked on set, I hardly knew anyone, but Alice put me at ease. Her job was to provide the costumes.
Her conversation included Northernisms, like pronouncing “both” with an “l” sound so it sounded like “bolth.” I liked her right away and decided she had to be from Michigan.
I played a maid, so she outfitted me with a gray uniform, a white apron, white socks and gray slippers. I didn’t look good, but as she surveyed me in my uniform, brushed the lint off and readjusted my apron bib, I began to feel that at least I looked right.
A few weeks later, I attended a party at her home in the Crosstown Arts district. The warehouse space she shared with her boyfriend, Michael, was vast, yet crammed with vintage furniture, stuffed monsters sewn from felt, building materials, artwork, tools and loads of LPs. It was fantastic. An old bowling alley had been plundered, the floor transformed into their bar countertop. This 5,000-square-foot space was their home, their art, their social outlet, their livelihood, their money pit, their everything. It even had a name: FiveInOne.
I sat with Alice for a moment in their outside space—an area between two buildings that she and Michael had transformed into a garden. They’d added plants and patio furniture and rigged the space with a chandelier. Michael had created a tiered water feature that reminded me of something from an old Pancho’s restaurant.
“This is a terrific space,” I said.
“Isn’t it great?” she said.
She explained the concept of “Social Club,” which was one of the five things they did with the space. Each Monday, she opened their home up to friends and strangers alike, and everyone worked on art. I loved the idea, but didn’t think it sounded like Memphis at all. It sounded better than Memphis, or like the Memphis of the future, now that we had things like greenlines and bike lanes.
Michael was from Houston. She was from Milwaukee. But somehow they’d wound up here in Memphis. Why was that?
“For us, the biggest draw in Memphis was all the abandoned buildings,” said Alice. “All I could see was potential.”
Next week’s post: Alice’s puppets