Aileen Clark came of age in three places: Brazil, Nicaragua and right here in the Mission. But it was here that she wrote her one-woman show, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Lose My Virginity.” She was kind enough to talk with us about art, truth, beauty and the perils of taking mushrooms and then trying to order tacos. The last (and final) night of her show was June 27 at The SF Playhouse.
Mission Loc@l: Well, first things first. How did you come to write a one-woman show?
Aileen Clark: My friend Claire Rice helped start a small theater company called Amp. She told me, “I’ve heard all these stories you tell. I think you need to do a show. If you write it, we’ll produce it.”
And I said, “I’ll write it, but I can’t guarantee that it will be the same once it’s down on paper.” And so we wrote it this way: John Caldon, who is a playwright, would get together with me every Sunday and interview me. And then he would go through the transcripts and together we would shape it into stories.
ML: How long did it take?
AC: We did the first interview in February, and the first performance was November. So nine months.
ML: When did you first move to the Mission?
AC: I grew up in Brazil and Nicaragua, but my family has lived here since I was a wee lass. Then, when my mom got cancer, we moved here. I lived here for the seventh grade. I wouldn’t really count that — I was very quiet, and unpopular, and didn’t really have any friends to go out with.
And then my mom died, and my dad and I moved back to Brazil. And within five months of her death, he had a girlfriend.
AC: Yeah. I was like, “You are scarring me. I can literally feel you scarring me.” My aunt came and visited us, and she could see that I wasn’t getting along with his girlfriend, so she said, “How would you like to come and live with me in Nicaragua?”
ML: Is it any different to pretend to be people that you’ve actually met in real life?
AC: Well, I’ve always been one to imitate, and learn accents, and do impressions. And these are stories that I’ve been telling for years, at parties and things. It felt natural. It felt…it’s exciting to be my mom and then my dad and then a few seconds later to be my dad’s girlfriend.
Before my dad came to see the show, I told him, “Dad, don’t be offended, but I don’t say the nicest things about your girlfriend.” That was all I said. I didn’t say anything about pretending onstage that she was a gorilla. Which I did. But he didn’t say anything afterwards.
And then, that same night that my dad came, so did the guy I lost my virginity to.
ML: Woah. How did that guy feel?
I’d already told him “You’re in the show. I talk about you, but it’s not about you. It’s really a love letter to my dad. Here are the parts of the show where I mention you. Do you want me to use your name?” He decided that he didn’t. I wouldn’t have, if I was him.
Of course, that was the night that all of my cousin’s friends came to see it. He was a friend of my cousin.
ML: Did any of them know it was him?
AC: He said a few people asked him. He denied it.
ML: What are your cousins like?
AC: One of my cousins is very knowledgable about gang culture, and he’s often giving me advice. Like, he’ll say “Cousin: Don’t ever wear red on 19th. Cousin: If you are on the 14 you do not want to be wearing red crossing Mission Street. Cousin: I can’t do that because it’s midnight and I’m wearing a Giants cap.”
And I say, “Can’t you just take the cap off?” I’ve never had any problems wearing red on the 14. But I’m also wearing skinny jeans and Converse. I probably look like just some hipster.
ML: How did your parents meet?
AC: They met in Mexico. They were both staying at the same boarding house. My dad is Scottish — though now he’s lived in Brazil for 25 years and considers himself Brazilian. Even though his Portuguese is atrocious. And mixed with Spanish.
He was working at a mine. And my mom had traveled from Nicaragua to Mexico on some kind of scholarship so that she could become a better secretary.
ML: Because Mexico had some kind of secretarial technology that Nicaragua didn’t?
AC: It’s a mystery. The old woman who owned the boarding house kept trying to get them together, but my mom thought my dad was gross and dirty, and always drinking with the other guys that worked at the mine. She told me that and I was like, “C’mon Mom! He worked in the mines! Of course he’s dirty!”
He thought my mother was gorgeous. Which she was. But what he thought was especially beautiful was her long, flowing hair. He didn’t realize that it was actually a wig. Underneath her hair was really nappy and short.
ML: When did he figure it out?
AC: I’m not sure. In my show, there’s this reveal where she reaches up and pulls off her wig at their wedding.
ML: So why did you decide to live here as an adult?
AC: I moved here after high school to live with my cousin and her husband. I went to SF State, studied theater. It was a big culture shock.
ML: How so?
AC: I remember being impressed by really trivial things. Like being able to just walk into a store and buy really good deodorant — the kind that wouldn’t leave you smelling like old man. But also, riding on the bus, I would feel this isolation.
ML: How is that different from a bus in Nicaragua?
AC: When you’re on it, you’re on it for a long time. If you’re there for more than a few stops, people get to know you. And then people are bringing chickens onto the bus, and every time the bus stops people get on and sell you food. They go up and down the aisles saying,”Gallo pinto? Gallo pinto?” And no crackheads — the most crackhead thing that happens on the bus in Nicaragua is just some drunk guy.
But the Mission has always been my hood. I tried living in the Richmond for awhile, and I just couldn’t do it. I missed hearing people speak Spanisih on the street. I missed the food.
Living in the Mission is about as close as I can get to living in Latin America while still being in San Francisco. On a Sunday, walking down Mission Street with all those shops, and everything is out on the street — it almost feels like the mercados in Managua. Except for fewer live pigs and chickens everywhere.
ML: What’s the most Nicaraguan part of the Mission for you?
AC: My favorite restaurant to go to when I want to pretend I’m in Nicaragua is Managua on Mission at 30th. It’s a really teeny restaurant, and there are whales everywhere, and I’m like, “There’s no whales in Nicaragua guys. What’s up?” There’s just one guy who takes your order and one guy who’s the cook. He brings the food out of the kitchen and says, “I hope you enjoy this. I made it with lots of heart.” Which is so reminiscent of the restaurants in Nicaragua. When I go with my family, we order the nacatamales or the chancho frito plate, huge pieces of marinated fried pork with gallo pinto, fried cheese, fried plaintains. It’s so wonderful. You fall asleep immediately after eating it.
ML: And now you’ve just moved to New York. Why?
AC: Oh, you know the story…. I moved to New York to be a waitress trying to break into the acting business. In San Francisco I’ve been blessed with a lot of sidekick comedy roles. I’ve only been in New York for a few weeks, but it feels intimidating. You have to be able to tap dance and sing and I don’t know what else in order to get a job. My friends keep on telling me, “Just focus on your strengths.” And John Caldon and I are still editing those original interviews, and we have about 50 minutes of a sequel. We’re going to call it “How I Became a Third World Beauty.”
ML: Has your moving complicated that?
AC: Maybe. But the wonders of Skype and the Internet will help us through.
ML: Now you say “third-world beauty,” but from your description of yourself — the skinny jeans, the Converse — you sound like you’re more a hipster these days. Did you give up being a third-world beauty?
AC: I think I’ll forever be a third-world beauty. Seeing my mother get ready to go out, seeing my aunt get ready to go out…. As I speak to you, I’m getting ready to go to a wedding, which means sitting in front of a mirror and applying makeup and doing my hair so that I do not go out to this wedding looking like a hobo. And that is because generations of women have told me over and over again, “Do not go out there and misrepresent us by looking like a hobo.”
I went to charm school in Nicaragua. It was taught by a former Miss Nicaragua. We had to learn to walk in heels, learn to sit with our legs crossed, learn to walk while balancing books on our heads.
ML: Do you still know how to do all of that?
AC: Sure. Practice + pain = beauty. I definitely have times when I’ve almost fallen over from wearing heels for too long. It’s like a lot of things in life. You have to take what you’ve learned and incorporate that into who you are in the present.