The Performant: An expedition report from the All Worlds Fair


A visitor to the inter-dimensional, pan-galactic celebration known as the All Worlds Fair has to be prepared to fulfill the bureaucratic requirements, which are, by Earth standards, unusually rigid. In order to enter this portal into a unique realm which contains all possible and alternate realities under one roof, travelers must fill out both a visa application and an immigration form and additionally agree to adhere to the more-or-less strictly enforced dress code (black-and-white) and no-digital device accord.

Ushered first into a tented holding area of the sort that will seem familiar to seasoned travelers waiting to embark on a voyage across international waters, travelers are urged to fill out an additional form, as a bevy of extraterrestrial functionaries in matching red-and-black dresses and pillbox hats topped with twitching antennae, scuttle to-and-fro, monitoring progress.

Travelers are then funneled through passport control and given that most essential of documents, embossed gold on red, with plenty of pages for exhaustive stamp collectors. Upon entering the portal to the Fair, aka the side entrance of San Francisco’s Old Mint, the route taken and wonders encountered by each explorer will be effectively unique, as a dozen different directions and dimensions become immediately possible in the cramped warren of small brick rooms that make up the first level of the historic “Granite Lady.”

I am whisked down to the far end of the hall by a brusque docent in a bellhop’s uniform who ushers me into a room full of giant plushy mustaches on rockers and urges me to take a ride. Just outside, a more titillating ride awaits—a trip on the “time-folding” massage chairs of Wrinkle Inc. The friendly proprietors offer me a handful of official AWF currency -- “genuine” Emperor Norton banknotes -- and wish me luck with me “upcoming appendectomy.” Clairvoyance, it seems, is a side effect of time travel, or maybe it’s actually appendicitis that is. A tentacled oracle further predicts my future, the Aixiodimensional Adventure company offers me brochures for the Planet Ckikyuu and Urataint, a destination recommended “only for hardy, experienced dimension-jumpers.”

I’m temporarily kidnapped by mermaids, challenged to a cardboard cutlass duel by a lusty wench, serve on the jury of the All World’s Court, and undergo the necessary formality of the Open Secret Cabaret, where all the esoteric and practical knowledge assembled by permanent Fair inhabitants is presented in lulling sing-song interspersed by manic outbursts of a caged studio musician. I’m told later of wonders such as a penny arcade, an endless tea party, and a Merkin Tile where Norton bucks can be exchanged for goods, but hustled up to the second level too soon, I can only hope to experience these in another point along the time-space continuum.

The Upper Floor contained, among other wonders, the splendid collection of “Wrongitudinal Flora” at the Botanarium, including the delicious-looking fried egg plant and a pair of comfy, deciduous sofas, an interactive “live sculpture garden” and solemn retelling of the horror story (and intergalactic bestseller!) that is the Book of Revelations, and the centerpiece of the event: a dance performance imported all the way from the Andromeda Galaxy, which combined familiar elements of earthly disciplines such as Butoh, polyrhythmic percussion, occasional throat-singing, and acrobatics in a strobe-lit, rooftop spectacle as well as a more intimate portion performed in rooms filled with clouds, enigmatic musicians, and writhing bodies dressed in their traditional garb of white-on-white layers (the Andromedans have no developed sense of color).

This energetic display regrettably marked the end of the All World’s Fair for another eternity (give or take a few millennium), and with hardly a moment to regroup, we were whisked out of the building and deposited back onto Fifth Street, where gravity and the Gregorian calendar conspired to anchor us firmly back to Earth. And thus concludes my expedition report, at least within this dimension.

*End Transmission*

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