Sunday, June 13, 2010

Where are the West Seattle Grouchos?

Ah, springtime, when the Grouchos bloom. Or at least they did for three springs prior to this one.

For three consecutive Aprils, 2007-2009, a curious sight popped up on my daily drive to and from my home. Soon after you'd hit the eastbound lane of the West Seattle Bridge connecting our neighborhood peninsula to mainland Seattle and downtown, and if you slowed down just enough to take a look into the woodsy area south of the bridge, there amidst the trees and the brush, you could spy — like a National Geographic photographer on a field assignment in wildest Freedonia — a guerrilla public art grouping of cutouts depicting Groucho Marx, each in full crouch as if foraging for wealthy widows among the greenery. (The spot is geo-marked at Wikimapia and wiki.worldflicks.)

They'd last about a month, then were gone as stealthily as they came. Who put them up every spring, and why, remains a mystery to us locals. But we loved them. Seattle generally has an out-there, quirk-heavy sense of humor, and it was gratifying to see that somebody in my own 'hood had a flair for the drive-by non sequitur — and possessed, evidently, a taste in movies similar to my own.

Fom matthetube's photostream on Flickr. Thanks, Matt.

What's the word for a herd of Northwest Forest Grouchos? (Latin: rufusis t. fireflyus.) Perhaps they're hunting for cocoanuts, animal crackers, horse feathers, duck soup, or just some monkey business. If you listen closely you might hear their mating coo: "Helloooo, I must be going...."

I remember one Friday after a particularly frustrating day at work. While driving home gnashing my teeth (seriously, there were sparks), seeing my friendly neighborhood Grouchos was just what I needed to start scraping the day off my skin. It's like that scene in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters: Allen's character — suffering life's slings and arrows to the point of despondency and suicidal musings — takes refuge in a movie theater. It's a revival house showing Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers' wildly funny comedy from 1933. Sitting there in the dark, with the Brothers' masterpiece flickering before him, Allen receives an epiphany: Is existence really so awful as long as it has the Marx Brothers in it?

Five minutes later I was home. Without stopping to check the mail or listen to any phone messages, I poured a glass of good-enough wine, kicked off my shoes, and headed straight to the Movie Room. There I turned on the big screen and went to my DVD shelves. From the shelf span holding movies from the 1930s, I pulled out a fat boxed set, The Marx Brothers: Silver Screen Collection. I slid Animal Crackers into the player, slumped like a bag of sand on the couch with my wine, and hit the play button.

Within moments the whole day's crappitude was brushed away by Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and sometimes Zeppo. Okay, sure, the wine helped. Nonetheless, by the time Groucho had gotten to "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas — how he got in my pajamas, I don't know," I was feeling good with a smile on my face. When he quips the line that, to me, is the funniest dirty joke in cinema history — "Signore Ravelli's first musical selection will be Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping with a male chorus" — all was right with my world.

But not this year. It's well into June now and the Grouchos haven't returned. Damn. Did the guerrilla artiste move on? Did he or she or they tire of that hillside climb through jungle foliage? Did the figures decide that they didn't want to be part of any underbrush that would have them as members?

Looks like I'll just have to watch the movies without them. I'm sure I'll manage. Miss those guys, though.