Wednesday, February 18, 2009


On our way to Austin to start our new film on human guinea pigs for drug companies. Beside me on the plane a woman begins quilting – the needle poking with a glint through the cloth, rising, diving as we take off. Behind her, outside the window, a tilting patchwork of industrial parks and suburbs. Ghostly piped in country music fills the airport when we arrive. I see the walls are studded with metal plaques embossed with bats, cowboys, roses. Each one reads Texas, Mythology. Reality


In Oil Can Harry’s I watch a gorgeous, ferocious drag show. Ladies from all over the west. There’s no irony here, no deconstruction or fun and filth – this is glamour as a form of possession. At the bar, the bar tender chats on and on about the city. A liberal jewel he calls it, and tells how everyone who escapes the rest of Texas is so happy to be here. “It’s bad out there you know,” he says with a solemn nod, then prances off behind piled, glinting bottles. I think of the state outside this rising “jewel” city, music soaked and ringed by sagging neighborhoods. Beyond a long darkness stretches north up through Nebraska, west toward California. Mathew Shepard and his restless ghost kin walk the empty roads out there. Meanwhile on the stage, eyes, dresses, and heels flutter and glitter. Lips part making soundless air fill with song. It may not be Gospel, but it sure is revival.


Here’s Paul. One of our subjects. He calls himself “just another lab rat,” and lives by doing clinical studies. For the past year he has lived in hotels and clinics. In his room he tells us that he grew up in group homes and that the behavioral rules imposed by drug test-studies give him comforting, familiar structure. Outside the clinics he has nothing to work toward, nothing to keep him out of trouble. He tells us other, harsher parts of his life that I’ll keep private. He show’s his many needle scars from giving blood. Finally, he demonstrates making balloon animals. We leave him downtown, making hearts and roses, standing alone in the turgid flow of Valentine’s Day partiers on 6th st.

Downtown Austin is harsh under the winter sky. We are here but not because October Country made it into South by Southwest – we heard the programmers loved it but still it was the last film not to be chosen. To beat all, Lucinda Williams is coming but not till we leave. After the grim days of filming Paul’s stories and worrying about the future of October Country, Mike and I lost it one night. In good ol’ country fashion we stumbled home and had a blow out fight. Slams and shatters. Tears and kisses. The kind of fight that eventually leads to carefully spoken admissions of fears, worries, and finally the return of love – that sweet, toothy beast that it is. The kind of fight that is not with your lover at all, but with all the world that comes between the two of you, the world that can only be beaten back with shouts and good cry. Afterwards I lay there thinking of Lucinda Williams singing with that rusted iron voice of hers “I envy the wind.” Whenever Mike used to travel, I played that song endlessly, slipping images of his body into the lyrics, envying the wind, the sun, the rain that touched him when I could not. He lay beside me, sleeping peacefully and I envied the dreams that touched him.

In the morning hugs with averted eyes and guilty smiles, we hit the town, driving into sunny clapboard neighborhoods with weary wriggle-limbed trees and brilliant Mexican décor on everything. I saw a poster of Lucinda Williams, looking outward toward the severe world. Integrity schtick, but I bought it happily, thinking this time of Sidewalks of the City. “Hold me baby, give me some faith…give me some grace…tell me good things, tell me that my world is safe." A yellow elephant watched over us. A gigantic cupcake spun atop an Airstream trailer. Somewhere Kitty Wells was singing. Everything was safe enough.

P.S. "Settle down on a hurt as big as Robert Mitchum and listen to Lucinda Williams" *

* lyrics by Vic Chestnut

Portland Recently

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Portland Recently

I think it began with those windy days and nights, everything shaking, and the shake-up continues. So much change in a month or so. Snow, fog, sun, and the gloom returning. Neva is beginning to outwit her disability by learning her first word - placing her small fingers on my own and making a sign for MORE. MORE everything – food, music, play and MORE understanding. Last time I worked with her I left her crying in her mother's arms because I couldn't understand what she needed. Meanwhile there was scandal and protest and everyone on either side wanting MORE attention. Seeing the christian with his bullhorn, I wish we all spoke in Neva's manner - silently, gently touching. The fog came and quieted nights in the SE, making basketball hoops into strange necklaces, figures into shadows. Glowing all over the neighborhood is a sign showing a woman with an ecstatic expression that should illustrate joy over savings on home loan rates. But look at her, the teeth, the nails, the wide eyes - she's a sign of wicked times. I call her the Mortgage Witch.