Friday, October 14, 2005


The last couple of nights, I've been sifting through this year's edition of The Best American Short Stories. Edited by Michael Chabon, most of the stories I've read so far are surprising and even fun, much like his own writing. You can tell where his interest lies - not in the stuffy offices of academics and critics but in the vivid pages of comic books and among the darkened patches of the forest behind a child's house, where all variety of monsters and murderers live. I was particularly struck by 8 Pieces for the Left Hand, by J. Robert Lennon (possibly an incognito John Lennon?), a collection of vignettes that, when put together, hardly constitutes a short story. Instead, it reads like eight plausible but slightly absurd stories that someone read once, long ago, in a small town paper, then re-told later to someone else. I loved them! They reminded me of Jane Campion's short film Passionless Moments, a film that I humbly paid homage to in my own short film, Second Floor Living. Though, to anyone who has seen my film, I should point out that Jane Campion did not film herself taking a shit in a bathtub, as I so brazenly - and, in hindsight, unfortunately - did in mine.

Actually, Second Floor Living was merely a throw-away film, as I was at the time working on a film of much greater significance, Quarry - a film that solved all of my problems; a film that answered the lingering and proverbial riddle that faces us all: "who am I?"

"Well," I said with my film, "I am a man who makes films about decapitated deer's heads, Native Americans, and young men with severed limbs." If that film accomplished anything, it was the putting to bed of questions about The American Mastodon.

However, with Second Floor Living, the end result held much less importance to me and was therefore prone to the flippant changes of mind and heart endemic to the college student. It was intended, originally, to have the look, feel, and tone of Passionless Moments - that is, a stream of vignettes detailing the mundane, humorous, and somewhat profound moments that strike us all. Indeed, as I had originally intended it, the film would have been a complete and shameless rip-off of Campion's material. I soon realized, though, that filming 11 scenes would have been more difficult than filming four. Also, many of the scenes I had planned for the original film (which had the tentative title 11 Things People Do in Indiana) were to take place in the summer and I had only November in which to shoot it. Additionally, though I was stuck on the number 11, I could only ever think of about seven or eight things that would be make great cinematic vignettes. Finally, and most fatal, one of the scenes would have involved highly illegal and potentially very dangerous actions. I wished to show a scene of young men driving through rural country roads, smashing mail boxes with aluminum baseball bats. We cut to a farmer who has purchased two mail boxes, one very small and one very large. He places the small one inside the large one and fills the empty space between the two with cement. Cutting back to the boys in the car, they tear down the road and one of them swings at the mailbox. The bat ricochets off its hard exterior, flies through the air behind the boys' car and into the other lane where an old woman is driving her old Oldsmobile Cutlass, the bat eventually landing on and shattering her windshield.

How I imagined I could or would shoot that scene, I have no idea. You can see why I chose not to make the film, as other scenes were equally if not more complicated. Now, the reason why I wanted to film that scene was because mailbox baseball was something of an urban legend where I grew up - a "rural legend". I'd heard about it, friends had heard about it, but no one I knew had ever done it and I'd never really seen a shattered mailbox. The cement mailbox seemed like an urban legend as well, though in the story I had originally heard, the boy swung the bat, it caromed off the hardened mailbox and wrapped around the back of his head, knocking him out of the car and onto the side of the road, where he quickly died. Another mailbox baseball story had a boy squarely destroying a mailbox with his bat, turning his head to survey the damage behind him and then connecting with the neighbor's mailbox, a few hundred feet down the road, obliterating his head and killing him, obviously, instantly.

Were these stories true? I don't know. I'm sure someone died at some point because of mailbox baseball, but largely it seemed that the number and detail of these stories were exaggerations - bogeymen to keep the mischievous among us from destroying other people's property; their, if you will, "OPP".

So, why do I bring all of this up? Because one of the Eight Pieces for the Left Hand was precisely this story. The two mailboxes, the cement, the bat swung hard and connecting with the solidified shell, the bat (and here the story slightly deviates) flying into the backseat and killing a passenger, a young girl. It reminded me of my ideas for 11 Things People Do in Indiana, some of which I still remember. And whereas I once took inspiration from Jane Campion, I now realize that the screen might not be the best (or cheapest) arena to broadcast these ideas. So here I sit, considering the ethics of stealing from J. Robert Lennon this idea of intriguing vignettes, compiled together and forming their own beguiling shape, consider stealing his voice, replicating the tone of his dispassionate narrator, his style and his form.

Then, because I am thinking too hard, I fart.

Y'all best reck'nize


cna said...

Are you sure the fart was because you were thinking too hard? I'd give some consideration to the influence of the copious amounts of Metamucil you have been drinking as of late. It's like you're Dylan Thomas and that orange shit is whiskey. I know you are trying to purge your body of toxins and everything but seriously dude.

Mathis said...

To say that I am drinking too much Metamucil is like telling a man he gives too much of his time to the elderly; such claims point to a perversion of morality and an ignorance of what is good, and right, for both body and soul.

T.S. Farmhand said...

Your post has inspired me to think the following:

In a world full of people, only some want to fly. Is that not crazy?

King Koopa said...

"I'd heard about it, friends had heard about it, but no one I knew had ever done it and I'd never really seen a shattered mailbox."

Didn't I ever tell you about the time I played mailbox baseball with Albright and the Woodward brothers? We drove around out in the country in Will Woodward's newly restored Dodge truck, with a fresh green paintjob. I took a few "batting practice" smashes, and then swung for the fences on my next one. I think I caught some of the post because the bat recoiled and hit the side panel of the truck. I saw Will turn around in the cab when it happened, but I denied the whole thing. I was older, what was he gonna do?

Also, the Ransbottom's encased their mailbox in concrete after getting it smashed several times...they didn't put a larger one over it, but it was concrete-protected.

Mathis said...

TS -- Yeah, that's crazy. Real crazy.

KK -- I had no idea. You destroyed federal property, and you should be ashamed.

King Koopa said...

I'm a rebel without a cause. Always have been. Don't expect that to change real soon either.

Trevor Jackson said...

Why did middle America constantly dangle these temptations in front of us when we were teenagers? Mailboxes, front porches begging to be shat upon (dude, your tub? on film? whoa.), plate glass windows on homes. Just dangling, teasing.

I'm with Koopa, many smashed boxes. It was the cow-tipping that was the stuff of legend in my 'hood.

King Koopa said...

Trevor, I concur. Cow-tipping was a usually more legend than reality. At all of my campouts at my parents' farm, we'd get drunk beyond recognition and then go stumble over to the field where the cows were kept. We were usually too loud from getting shocked by the electic fences and generally just being drunk kids to sneak up on anything. The cows usually ended up chasing us around the field, which was just as fun, actually.

Mathis said...

One good thing about the Midwest nowadays, as opposed to when we were growing up, is the prevalence of meth. Lots of meth.

So why run around trying to push over a cow when you can do meth and sit on a couch staring into space, thinking about tipping over cows, and then throw up?

Kids these days have it easy.

King Koopa said...

AM - Not only can Midwest kids do a bunch of meth and think about tipping over cows, but they can do it for days on end, without wasting time on things like eating, sleeping, or taking care of themselves. Now that's what I call the "good life".