Other Worlds Austin’s next Orbiter screening is the North American Premiere of YESTERDAY LAST YEAR on Wednesday, June 21 at Flix Brewhouse.
In the film, Michael, a driven research scientist working on time travel theory, spends all his time in the garage ‘lab’ trying to perfect a device. Sandra, his wife, is at the bottom of his priority list. Only his friend and associate, James, seems to get Michael’s full attention. But which version of his friend is it, and which version of his wife? A love triangle caught in the circle of time, YESTERDAY LAST YEAR is about the mistakes we make and how far we’re willing to go to fix them.
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In honor of the character Michael’s DIY grit, plus an added dash of inspiration from creepy Tom Waits tune “What’s He Building” (because obviously), the OWA team is sharing stories of other garage creations…
Next, OWA's beardy (and admittedly kinda creepy) Film Programmer / Tour & Transport Director Michael Thielvoldt weaves a tale...
I moved into the place about a month ago. It’s not bad: a smallish two/one unit in a housing quadruplex with a front porch and a shared grilling area. The neighborhood seems nice. There’s a little coffee shop down the road with a quaint outdoor patio. The baristas are cold but the coffee is good and hot. The local corner store is a gem with an extensive beer and wine selections kept incognito by its derelict exterior. Neighbors seem to keep to themselves. They come and go like any other part of town, say “hi” when they pass each other on the streets.
It was about three weeks ago when I first started watching my neighbor across the way. He looked like any other person in the neighborhood--maybe a little beardier than most--but a regular guy all the same. Normally, I wouldn’t have given him a second thought, only he crossed my sights more than the others. I’d sit on my porch, drinking my morning coffee and I’d see him. I’d take a nightly smoke and there he was again. Always shuffling; always lugging some new thing under his arm. He seemed to be in a perpetual loop moving random materials, wood, hay bales, long lengths of thin metal tubing. Once I swear he had a miniaturized Ferris Wheel. I asked around to the neighbors and word was that he was into movies, a professor of some sort who worked with a local film festival. How he ever found time to watch anything is a mystery to me considering how much time he spends moving stuff into that garage of his. Instead, I did the watching for both of us. He worked, I watch, that’s the informal relationship we formed with each other. But WHAT ON EARTH WAS HE WORKING ON IN THAT GARAGE OF HIS? I’d hear him at night and parts of the day when he was not out collecting supplies: the screech of a circular saw, the rumble of drill bits against metal and wood alike. At times, it just sounded like he was listening to music, though the decibels were much too muffled to make out the tunes. I saw him lugging welding equipment once. Seriously, what the hell does a film professor know about welding? I wanted to ask him, ask him what he was working on, what a grown man needs with a 1:100th scale Ferris Wheel. But I’d been watching him for weeks now, and--admittedly--it’d gotten creepy. I’m pretty sure he had noticed me watching him, once while I was on the porch and a second time--even more damningly--he looked straight at me as I was peeking through my window blinds at night. Why didn’t I turn off that light behind me? I’d have loved to ask him, but I feared that time was passed, or so I thought.
I was coming back from a little local grocery shopping. There was a recent craft brew release, real limited time stuff. High ABV. Lucky for me the Sunset Market had me covered, and, as a means of celebration, the clerk and I broke into a few bottles before my walk home. I guess it was the IPA talking more than me, but I saw him again that night. This time he had a bundle of wiring tucked under his arm.
“Whatcha got there, neighbor?” I belted out with only a slight slur.
I was as surprised as he was hearing the question. He stutter-stepped and turned to me.
“Uh...just some wiring,” he retorted.
“I’ve seen you.” I stuttered my step too as my toe nicked a raised part of the sidewalk. “Ha!” I smiled. “I’m Jeremy. I’m your neighbor across the way.”
“Yeah...I’ve...uh, seen you around.”
“Oh...yeah, look man. I’m sorry. I know I’ve been kind of a creeper. It’s just, you’re always shuffling stuff...and the noises at night...and...and...what are you doing in there?” I nodded my head toward his garage.
A flicker of a grin lifted his mustache, and he said: “Give me one of those beers and I’ll show you.”
A current of relief flooded my spine and I found myself smiling back at him. I lifted the six pack toward him. He grabbed a beer as we turned toward the garage’s side entrance.
“My name’s Michael.”
“So you said.”
He unlocked an unnaturally solid door and when it opened, still I saw nothing. An opaque, black tarp filled the door frame. Michael pulled it back and there was another just a few steps out creating a kind of pre-emptive entrance space to the garage.
“After you,” he said, motioning my path with a waft of the hand.
Once we were both inside, he locked the door behind us and turned to me: “I need you not to freak out when I show you what’s behind this next curtain.”
That’s when the panic set in: What the fuck did I just do? I just locked myself in a garage with a lunatic and any number of his custom-made torture devices. That’s what you just did, YOU FUCKING IDIOT! The door was locked behind me. No way out that direction. Plus, he was there blocking my path. And who knows what kind of sadism waited for me on the other side of the tarp. What could I do?
I said, “m-huh,” threw back a heavy swig of beer and swallowed HARD. I pressed close my eyes and waited to feel that wire pull against my neck. I’d all but given up when I heard the tarp pull back and felt Michael graze past me. The sound of a switch and the wind up of a carnivalesque tune. A kaleidoscope of colorful lights started bouncing on my eyelids begging them to open. And open they did, one then the other, to let in a sight as impressive as it was uncanny. There was the Ferris Wheel in full tilt. A merry-go-round as well. Little games kiosks, a tea cup ride, even a quaint wooden roller coaster rattling along. All illuminated with string lighting. All miniature. A big top by name only lay in the center with its tent pulled back revealing a full three rings setup. Smaller platforms in the center ring bookended by two much higher platforms, one in each of the outer rings. It was beautiful, to say the least. So intricate and vibrant despite its palpable emptiness.
“So, you’re a miniaturist?!” I barked in relief and awe.
“Something like that,” he said and then whistled a brief sequence of singsongy notes. “I’d like you to meet my homunculi.”
What I thought only moments before to be impressive pales in comparison to what I saw then. People! Little, teeny tiny perfect little people started stepping out of the shadows. One, a ballerina, vaulted onto the thoroughfare and proceeded to oscillate between twirls and bounds in perfect grace. An RC ambulance, an obvious custom job that looked just like the wagons driven by medics in the 1930s and 40s, raced to the center ring. Out of it tumbled five clowns, each smaller than the next. A miniature muscle man worked his way over to a two-pound dumbbell and started pumping it above his head like he were Sandow the Strongman shoulder pressing a barbell of impressive weight. An archer, dressed in Robin Hood attire, took aim at a blueberry set atop a blindfolded lady’s head. He let go the bowstring and the arrow ripped through the air landing dead center of the blueberry. Berry juice dripped down her face as she cheeped and peeked out from under the blindfold. A man with a curled handlebar mustache, a top hat, and tails followed in the clowns’ wake. He carried a small wooden chair, a doll house chair, and a whip. He cracked the whip on the big top’s flour chirping out unintelligible commands. A kitten pounced into the ring and they encircled one another briefly before the little man cracked the whip once more and the cat hopped itself atop one of the low platforms. The man smiled up at me, squeaked again and took a deep bow. The kitten then stepped forward off the platform, the man mounted it, and together they scurried off to make room for the next act. There was a firebreather, a contortionist, a ventriloquist who was no more comprehensible than the “lion tamer” or any of the little people who had by then flooded the circus.
Michael stepped forward. I’d almost forgotten he was there.
“This is for the highwire act,” he said as he stretched a snipped bit of wiring across the two high platforms, “It’s their new act.”
A spotlight hit center stage and into it walked a slender, dark-haired couple stitched in nylon. The woman carried an umbrella, the man a long balance pole. They spoke out, but again their words came as peeps to me.
Michael leaned forward to my shoulder and whispered into my ear: “They thank you for being here. It’s so rare that they have a new audience.”
“Peep! Peep! Peep!” mouthed the little man.
“Tonight is a special night. One for celebration. For tonight we defy the heavens!” Michael translated.
The pair split along with the spotlight as each traversed the stage toward their own high platform. The man hitched his pole to a belt around his waist and the woman hooked the umbrella over her shoulder. They proceeded to climb the rope ladders to their perches that stood both impressively and comedically at around four and a half feet. They then walked out onto the wire where they defied gravity, challenged it by walking forwards and backwards. They threw themselves into the air. Rolled forward, did cartwheels! At one point the woman climbed atop the man’s shoulders and flipped off. Yet, still, they did not fall. They were four and a half feet above the ground but they might have been a mile, even ten, for in those moments they were gods living outside the laws of physics. When their routine wrapped they even took their bows out on that wire.
My hands thundered with approval. “Bravo!” I yelled. “Bravo!
A minuscule ringmaster made his way below the wire and barked tiny bleeps at me through a megaphone.
“What did he say?” I inquired to Michael.
“He said: Spectacle is a hungersome business. And, we thank you for playing your part’.”
I remember I furrowed my brow as I tried to decipher those words. Almost didn’t hear Michael exit out the back, save for the click of the door locking behind him. And then a sharp sting in my cheek. From the pain, I plucked a tiny arrow. The faint twitters of those little monsters grew into an audible war cry as the mass lurched forward. Terror set in as it did before. My beer crashed on the garage floor and I tried to scream, but one of them was already to my mouth burrowing its way down my throat. Utterances were impossible. And even if they weren’t, I doubt I would have been able to hear myself above the whistles of calliope music and the sounds of chewing.