Monday, March 15, 2010

'Gunplay Maxwell'

First to my mother: "Mom, I know as a mother it's not always easy to have come to light the stories that sons always try to hide from their mothers, I gave you enough gray hair as it was, but as I head into this next phase of my life, the remembrances are bubbling up to the surface, and so I don't want you to be to alarmed or grieve over some of these tales, I made my own road. I guess its best said though, that when you decided to live a rambling life while I was growing up, it did have its 'affects'. As one writer to another, I realize now with more clarity your own need to have your own adventure, and a life that was worth tellin' about. Now that I've lived long enough to have some perspective, I'm just gonna let em' rip, and hope you can enjoy the way in which I'll tell the stories, as I have inherited this writer gene from you." (Don't worry, many of them you have lived through or heard before).

Second to my mother: "I am enjoying reading your memoirs, as if we are both having some breakthrough experiences in the way we will approach the telling of our stories. I consider myself very fortunate to have several generations of adventurous and interesting people that laid a foundation for storytelling. You gave me theatre in life, and theatre in a building, and that combination isn't always understood but is always present and vibrant."

I know that there should be some cataclysmic story beginning this paragraph, so if I told you that in 1975 I went for a ride with Stacy_______ in his pickup truck with a forty-four magnum on the seat as he was going to shoot the sheriff of the small town in which I lived at the time you might think that I was telling a story right out of the late 1800's. Suffice to say, however, I was in that truck indeed, and perhaps, thinking about it all these years later, was maybe responsible for saving that sheriff's life as I talked to Stacy for a long time before he slipped that gun in the holster and tucked it under the seat. Now that I'm here writing about it—just a couple of years after Stacy was accosted by a SWAT team for making terrorist threats against law enforcement and is doing eight to twenty in North Carolina, I can tell you with certainty that Stacy might have really done it. At the time, it didn't really seem that big a deal, life was plenty out of control, and amongst the cowboys, rednecks, roughnecks, and party dolls, whisky and speed could fuel just about any kind of trouble, and did often enough.

I could start out telling you that Stacy was really a good kid, and I'd be partially right, because he was fun to be around and I saw him ride a horse once in a rodeo that bucked higher and more violent than any horse I've seen in any rodeo since. I think he made the whistle, see, that's the part I can't remember. In those rodeos, you could either get a horse that would walk out of the shoot or one that would jump over the moon, no one was really picky. There wasn't thousands of dollars at stake, just a notion to show your nerve or have a story that night on 'The Little Desert' where we would finish off the evening with some Old Crow and more than a few beers. It wasn't until years later that I realized why my mother and relatives worried so much about me riding during the rodeo days in Boulder and Escalante, my Uncle Max had been killed in the twenty-fourth of July rodeo in Escalante when he was just twenty-one. Of course, I suspect he was just like the rest of us, fueled on whisky, ridin' to have a good time and a story. Who would have thought that his story would go down in the history books? When they were strappin' me down on a bull or a horse in those days I wasn't thinking about my Uncle Max, I was thinking about that bull's head and sitting my butt as far up on my hand as it would go. Back then; you learned to ride in the shoot as you were getting strapped down. Usually, Dell______, would say things to you that I know he hoped would keep you from getting hung up or plunging into the bull's head like my Uncle Pole did, crushing his jaw. As my Aunt Annie says in a poem, "no one really talked about the courage it took to get on a bull or a horse, you just did it." (I'm paraphrasing you Aunt, but I loved that line in your poem! I think it was, "You didn't talk about such things.")

Stacy was just like all of us when he strapped onto a bull or horse, perhaps with a little more temper and a little more disrespectful of law enforcement. His brother Mason was somewhat the same in this regard; in fact as I understand it, several years ago, Mason threatened a woman sheriff into quitting the job and leaving the county. I couldn't really see Mason doing that, but I guess he grew into it. Now he's in prison too. I guess something could be said here of my mother's philosophy of 'getting out of town' when I got in to heavy with the 'bad boys'. There's only so many moves you can make, though, and we made em' all. Of course, we usually moved back to the same places, where I would once again find my band of bandits and continue on where we left off. In Phoenix there was Red _______, who eventually did his prison time, and in LA there was Casey and Greg______, Greg is doing ten to twenty for armed robbery. I don't know what happened to Casey. Like my Aunt's line in the poem, "you didn't talk about such things…" Why am I talking about them now? Maybe this was a code that I learned not to talk about these things. Maybe you didn't talk about it because this was whom you were. Or, perhaps as a man, you are not supposed to brag or expunge your exploits. Maybe for so many years I was conflictive and attempted to separate myself. Perhaps I saw a violent death or a prison sentence, perhaps in some mystical way, my mother saved both my father and I from this kind of death or cruel prison fate. Why did I survive when so many that I grew up with did not? Believe me, I'm still asking that question, for I was so often the leader of daring exploits and law breaking adventures. Why did I always have a pistol within easy reach for years, not telling anyone that it was always under the seat of whatever 'truck' I drove? Did I behave and grow up in a culture that conditioned me to be ready to meet violence with violence even though I kept these things so secret? Why did I know how to handle a pistol and feel a sense of security from knowing where it was at all times? Okay, Mom, now you can let out your breath, I just sold the pistol I've had for the last twenty years. For the first time, I'm free from the potential of violence from my own hand. The fact of the matter is, I saw these things growing up. I learned these things as something you just did and didn't 'talk about'. Grandpa had guns. Dad had guns. Uncles had guns. Friends and cousins had guns. Yep, there were guns. Stacy and Mason had guns. Stacy and Mason had the kind of guns you didn't hunt with. Okay, Mom, there were some dangerous characters around the house, and they often had guns too. As I'm going back to the majority of my plays, there is a gun in most of those plays. You know what Chekhov said, "If a gun shows up in the first act, it better go off in the second…" And maybe this is the key for me; I let the guns go off in the plays. I let the crime happen in the plays. I shot the sheriff in the play. I committed the suicides in the plays. I saw my own death in the plays. I worked it out there, in the theatre, and now maybe I can face this truth. I remember in the play, 'Blackout Blues', opening night, as the final scene happened, the death of the main character by gunshot, a cab driver walked into the theatre and down the hall yelling "Taxi! Taxi!" He happened to open the theatre door and look inside, and as fate would dictate, he was wearing a gun. The theatre critic thought it was part of the play. In retrospect, I suppose it was that strange twist of fate, when art really does imitate life. He left and the character died. Thank God for theatre.

Epilogue: I talked to Stacy's mother this last summer and she told me the story of the day when Stacy was arrested and 'Big Dave' was shot through the side. She was bitter, but more bitter as she talked about the high blood pressure medicine Stacey was given in prison that she says, "Destroyed his kidneys…" Stacy was transferred to North Carolina where he undergoes dialysis three times a week and expects to die in prison. His brother Mason just returned again to prison after a parole violation, don't know what this last sentence was. We were supposed to go fishing on the Boulder Mountain a week after he was returned to prison. I went fishing anyway, in his absence…

Postscript: Although I sold my pistol to pawn shop here in Austin, Texas, (a thirty-eight revolver mach II police special, circa 1963) I still own three guns. Two thirty-thirties and a single shot .22 that I bought when I was thirteen without my mother's knowledge. I somehow know how to load and shoot all of these firearms, I don't remember learning how, I just know. I don't hunt with these firearms, nor do I expect to do any violence with them. However, I do still have a sense of security with them loaded and in my closet. This is the fact of the matter, and I'm just beginning to explore the reasons why. Almost everyone of my major plays has a pistol or rifle appear in the first act, and true to Chekhov's theory, they do fire in the second act. I'm not an advocate of carrying or condoning violence with weapons, however, it was a part of the culture that I grew up in and observed.


Gerry said...

And I am just getting ready to write a chapter of my memoirs about your grandfather when he threatened to shoot his former best friend who had rustled his cattle. Lazy 11. That was his brand. I don't know if his friend picked out the cattle branded with the Lazy 11 or what, but I was scared to death, and it caused me not to ever tell my dad anything that might make him madder than the guy did who rustled his cattle. I considered the west I grew up in just alittle more civilized than the days when cowboys packed six shooters on their hips, but you found the wild guys in Arizona after we left Utah, found them everywhere we went, because I think the legends of the wild west fascinated you and you wanted to find a way to live in the spirit of those days and so you did it with theater because people said that was impossible, too! said...

It was Uncle Max that was killed in the Rodeo, not Cousin Stewart who lost his life in a fire..both so reckless and drunk. If your mother isn't alarmed by your tale, I am! Thank God for theater to channel these true characters of the Wild West today for you. Keep on making your characters live on stage. Who could believe one person could even find so many wild friends in this day and age?
I feel bad for Stacey and Mason too. The outlaw life is not easy.
I hope the musicians in your life can help fill in the loss of outlaw friends. Maybe you might help them find a different way to think.

Chuckh said...

Funny, I hung with a wild bunch myself. I thank God I survived those crazy years. I am not sure what happened to any of them, but I know at least two of them were drunks and a third went to prison. Another left town after hitting a guy with a baseball bat. Another had scars all up and down his arm from playing "chicken" with cigarettes. He was very proud of being the champ. Another lost his arm in Vietnam, used to pass his hook around the room as a roach clip. Another lost his mind over there and came back a complete wacko. I knew a guy lost his arm on a motorcycle, a guy who lost part of his leg, and a guy who lost his hip. All on bikes. Crazy times...thankfully, I was smart enough to get out and find a decent life.

vooman's voice said...

Until Movies, plays, games and gangs stop glamorizing violence, I doubt this is going to change. The gangs up here in Richmond are killing each other every few days, the mothers are at wits end...they have lost so many kids, especially the black women. Also, the advertizers who want to sell these guns and other weapons are responsible for influencing their sale...and use. I think there has to be revolutionary change in peoples ideas of what is strong and glamorous for any changed to be made. I think people should protest the national defense budget. Healthcare is a good way to start....exerise, sports, competitions,and kids getting involved with growing food, lessons in mother and fathering is neglected in schools. There should be classes in how to handle anger and violence at home, Exposing molestation, bullying in church, school...and everywhere else stopped, Let's change the world.
If the black man could find job in America he might buy a house and stop relying on drugs to get money. There should be a law that banks can not charge more that 50% flat interest above the price of the house. All people could then pay for their house much faster and go on to use their money for other things....Why should banks make THAT MUCH money on someone house. It is a form of slavery. There is so much bad shit going on around the world you just can't get to the end of it.