SAM SHEPARD & THE FILM SHEPARD & DARK.


I’ve had bar chats with Sam; many Santa Fe locals claim friendship; he’s our Santa Fe Shepard for independent thinking, accessibility, dust-bowl prolific honesty and still a flush hand of rugged classic looks. The last time I saw him, he was sitting next to me at Geronimo, writing in his little notebook and eating steak.  He put his fork down when I said ‘Hi Sam.’  He talked about his novel (Inside Man), his Kentucky ranch, and showed me his new cell phone. When he held it, it was like a man holding a gun for the first time. Nothing about him was robotic, on cue, or predictable. When he gave me his phone number and said ‘Call anytime,’ I resisted throwing myself into his arms; now I wish I had.

When Shepard & Dark opened in town for three days, I was out the door within hours. I figured the movie theater would be packed, so I brought earplugs. I take my films too seriously and refuse to be interrupted with slurping and munching. Into the first scene, my concentration was bulletproof; I would have protested if anyone said a word.

Beginning with the footage; incredible home-made movies and photographs of early Sam. You will see him as a youngster on the ranch where he is raised, and Sam leaving home as he kicked his way through puberty. Then we see that chiseled frame of masculine sensitivity as a young playwright in Greenwich Village where you meet Johnny Dark. The dialog between the two men and the dramatization of their adventures through home movies and collected letters they exchanged over a forty-year period broke my heart. I felt the pain inside of Sam as if we were best friends.

It is as honest and genuine a continuum of conversation between two men that I’ve ever witnessed. The subjects: their father’s, destiny, fate, women, writing, dogs, tragedy, and loss. It is a wrap of cinematography, humor, philosophy and a pool-of-tears-ending.

Yes, there is a dusting of emotions on Jessica Lange.

Several lines I recall, in particular, to paraphrase Sam:

We can change our lives, our work, our wardrobes, our women, but we never really change. Our essence remains constant. I’ve always felt outside the whole thing, sometimes more than others. As a writer, you have to be selfish with your time. I’m always moving, going on the road, I didn’t know that was how my life was going to turn out, but it did.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SNOW DRIFT TO DANCE


SMILEY’S DICE-ADVENTURES IN LIVINGNESS

White Wolf introduced himself to me when he worked Valet at La Posada Resort. He was the kool one with enough style and manners to attract attention. I learned he also provided private airport transportation and luxury limo service. A trip to Albany, New York was on my schedule, so I asked White Wolf if he’d drive me to the Albuquerque Airport.  When I told him my flight left at 6:30 AM, he didn’t flinch, ‘I’ll be at your house at 4:00 AM with Starbucks-what’s your drink?’

He showed up, loaded the car, asked me to select my own music, and off we went. I felt like I was riding with James Bond; smooth shifts, minor breaks, all the time engaging me in conversation. The combination relieved my pre-boarding stress and woke me up. From then on, I chose White Wolf’sairport service. When he picked me up from Albuquerque, he had Fiji water, Travel & Leisure Magazine, chewing gum, and he played Vic Damone. ‘Chill, sit back, tell me all about the trip.’

At my kitchen counter, on a twenty-below morning, White Wolf leaned back against a bar stool too petite for a swarthy 6’ 4” man. His Johnson & Johnson silky blond hair is swept back, and I want to touch it, but we don’t play with physical affections. White Wolf’s forty, looks thirty, and thinks like he served an attitude and values apprenticeship under a wise guru. He’s on a break; from plowing snow at Albertsons, the Yoga Center, and private homes. This is before he reports for work at Geronimo Restaurant, where he not only parks the cars, but walks the ladies indoors, keeps the Zapata’s outdoors, and directs traffic on Canyon Road until midnight. He’s wearing a sheet white Polo turtleneck and black slacks, his day look, and I’m about to serve pesto, prosciutto and feta cheese frittata for late breakfast.

White Wolf is sipping a sixteen-once Chai and unwinding his broad shoulders in a circular motion as he considers current consciousness of Santa Fe.       

     “It’s a different kind of materialism. You really want it but you can’t have it. The most simple things; a toaster, a new phone, pinion wood–cause we’re cold–it’s so cold! The guy in front of the Homeless Shelter was near frozen when I drove by to drop off a bundle of clothes. Why is it so cold? Even the valet has to wear BMW beanies. These are some funny times.”

     “What’s so funny about not having money?” I snapped.

White Wolf breaks into a full body laughing recess. His sailor-blue eyes are just slightly turned up when he laughs. This transmits his effortless humorous pitch on life.

     “It’s different,” I said. I mean everything feels unfamiliar.”

     “Yea, its okay to feel,” White Wolf said. “Things are rattling around. That’s why the Gorge Bridge felt so stable the day I drove up to Taos.  I think it’s the most stable thing in my life right now! Hah.”

I had placed the frittata in front of White Wolf, but he hadn’t touched it yet. Even when he’s starved; he lets the food sit there and cool off.  I’ve never seen a man not eat when food is placed in front of him. I was already biting into the frittata; relishing a real meal.

 I found a momentary silent inlet and asked him if the food was cool enough. White Wolf looked down, touched it with his index finger, and then his appetite fired off. After a few pensive moments, as if he were saying grace, he took a proper bite. He takes the food seriously, intensely. He’ll make a remarkable husband for some woman. He talks a lot about marriage, and the songs he’ll sing to his bride’s mother the day of the wedding. He confides in me uninhibitedly, as if we were two teenagers, cutting class. I feel youthful when he’s in the house; the absence of masks, emotional camouflage, and exaggeration is how I remember adolescence. When you’re so much yourself, even the most serious student, is humorous in his self-absorbance.   

    “What’d you say Wednesday was–on your new schedule?”   he asked.

    “Wednesday… I forgot since you showed up. I know! It’s Gallery LouLou marketing.”

     “We have to give out two cards a week. I want you to pass out two everyday.”

I nodded my head and bowed.     

     “Geronimo been slow, no A-list celebrity types, no mothers and daughters; cause the daughters don’t want to come here anymore.”  

     “Neither do single me, I interrupted.  And if they do they’re from Los Alamos. Can you see me with a scientist or an engineer? I’d make them crazy.”    

     “Listen–someone asks you out for an Ecco latte, don’t be a bitch. Just do it! You reverse sweat it. If he’s a jerk; deebo him.”  Deebo is the guy who shows up late, and should have been on time. His quip is unabashed, and he handles himself like Sean Penn; smoking and all smiles while he reverses blame.      

     “Can we change the subject?” I said.

     “No! I want to know why you’re not even trying to hook up?”

     “Because I’m convinced the man I want isn’t in Santa Fe. The ones I’ve met are looking for a caretaker, a fly-fishing partner, or a biker. Look, there are two types of men: one loves a woman because she’s not a man, and the other one seeks a mother who he can bash around.”

     “I want to rat those guys out–like the ones that pinch and don’t tip. Give a name to that.”  

      “ Listen to this; the newly coined slogan for New Mexico is Truth.” I said.

     “ Truth. About what?” 

     “ Exactly! What truth are they referring to? How bout’ the naked truth? Picture a Native American woman out in the arroyo in a leather crop top, her black hair elevated in strands by the wind, dust on her cheekbones. New Mexico is naked, isn’t it?” I asked.

     “It’s isolated. If you can afford to come to Santa Fe and not blow your brains out, or go broke, you deserve to be here. Right?”  He is smiling. Even the painful truths, are reformed as tests of endurance rather than complaints.   He developed his own poetic rap dialogue that I suppose comes from growing up in two cultures: one in the hood, and the other in the wealthiest homes in Santa Fe. 

      “ Then it’s a good place for you. Like your friend that takes her poodle to Hospice. I really respect her for that. That’s what she’s doing with Santa Fe.” He said.

     “What do you do with Santa Fe?” I asked.

     “I’m the union organizer for luxury limo drivers. Like, iron your shirt and shine your shoes, have CD’s in the car, and water. You know–like this is New Mexico but we can spell Burberry. On the weekends I’m the ladies traffic controller!”

     “ What is that?”

     “At the clubs. Some of the guys are okay, all suited up, hoping for a dance, but some are like, I’ll buy you a cocktail if I can follow you home. Someone has to protect them. Ladies can’t drive home cause they’ve cocktailed all night, or they can’t find their car keys, or they want to impress their friends with the Viking chauffeur. It’s chill; they’re good girls during the day.” 

The morning turned into afternoon, and now I was cleaning dishes, and watching the birds from the kitchen window. Every hour or so I stop responding to White Wolf, and let him talk. I can feel the rush of his life; how he sprints from limo driver, to Geronimo valet, then to Albuquerque, the gym, and his family. People who live intensely engaged in a variety of relationships; stir their surroundings like a human wind.  Every time White Wolf leaves, I’m bouncing through the living room and dancing.  

When I tuned into the conversation he was recounting his day in ardent animation. His laughter echoes; almost like he’s singing a song and it last a long time.

     “I don’t mind giving back to our greedy city tax roll.  I feed the meters at the Lensic; that quarter made a difference. Huh?”… more laughter and he repeats, ‘we’re down to quarters.’

     “Those meter guys were writing tickets like, here take that, and then on to the next car. Don’t bother coming back to Santa Fe, and it’s the weekend! That’s the barometer of my city—-hurry hurry write that ticket. Once it’s done it’s done.”  Suddenly he stands, positioning his legs a few feet apart, he leans over, picks up his keys, and his phone.

     “Come on let’s go for a quick creep.”

     “A what?”

     “Cruise the plaza, get you outdoors, come on it’ll make you feel better.”

     “I’m not dressed for outdoors..”

     “Put on a pair of low brow boots, and a jacket. Not fashioning this afternoon. You won’t even get out of the car. Come on.”

I listened because White Wolf is definitive in decisions. He doesn’t waver back and forth or want to argue. I rushed upstairs, zipped up my boots and grabbed a down jacket. He was standing by the window.

    “We have twenty-minutes.” He said pointing to his watch.

We hopped into his silver VW GTI and he told me to pick a CD. I shuffled through the stack, while he backed out. Just then I noticed a car pull out across Palace Avenue.

     “Wolf! Watch out!”

     “I got it.” He leaned back, shot eyeball calmness to me and asked what CD I wanted to hear. He didn’t scold me for my alarm and doubt. After that I knew my caution was unnecessary. You learn a lot about a man by his driving. It’s a graph of his responsiveness, confidence, and how he handles sudden movement. White Wolf cruised over the icy asphalt and into the empty Plaza, all white and brown like a two envelopes sitting side by side. He was now slouching back, one hand on the wheel, messing with something in the open compartment, and driving 15 mph. There weren’t a lot of cars, but I had the feeling White Wolf didn’t care if there was someone behind us. We drove past Santa Fe Dry Goods, and he stopped, “Empty– that’s sad. No one buying fuzzy boots or hats.”

He drove by every shop and looked in, as if he was monitoring shopping trends. His eyes swept the streets, the alleyways, and I mimicked him, because I knew this was for me. We went slow as a couple of tired horses, so the eyes could bring in the unknown: a homeless man on a corner, the Indian woman selling jewelry, the Mideastern jewelers smoking cigarettes, and a few locals trotting back to work from a break. I looked up to the sky and found a patch of blue, and pointed it out to White Wolf,” and he turned to me and said, “I’m happy you noticed.”

     “It’s two o’clock already.” I said.

     “How’d it get to be two o’clock?” White Wolf kept the engine at crawl speed all the way back to the house. “You have to go to Santa Fe Spa–at least go see people! And go after six.” I nodded my head as I got out of the car, went inside, turned on the Rolling Stones and danced.