Sunday, July 22, 2012
In May of 1986, early on the around-the-world journey that took me to Fiji and Burma and back to Turkey and Europe, I was traveling through parts of Thailand, riding on one of the remarkable long-distance “night buses” that carry folks up, down, and across the Kingdom, from Koh Samui in the far South, to Bangkok mid-country, to Chiang Mai in the North.
So we're barreling along, blasting down the night, when suddenly the driver stomps
And then we wait... nervously... because the roadblock may be manned by bandits, or rebels--or the Thai Army looking to capture bandits or rebels. Though the driver tells us later that there were bandits on this same stretch of road just the night before, we’ve come upon a patrol of soldiers, and in the low-power lights aboard the bus we see they are mostly nervous young conscripts carrying rifles and machine guns. A few Thai men must show their papers, and a couple of hippie tourists have their carry bags inspected.
This was right in the time frame when pot smokers caught on the nearby Malay Peninsula were subject to quick execution. But no illegal substances or suspicious citizens are found in this search, and after some threats and flashlights shown into sleepy eyes, we are told to get on down the road. Our driver knows an exit line when he hears it. He maneuvers around the slight barricade, and on we roll.
Soon he is talking--a Thai man near me translates--mocking the kid soldiers and making us travelers feel less threatened; and about then he reaches up above his view mirror to a small-screen TV set I hadn’t really noticed, turns it on, and shoves in a
Murky darkness on the set and a narrator speaking Thai cause my attention to wander, but loud stadium rock draws me back. “Hunh… sounds a bit like Queen,” I mumble. Then: “What the…?”--we’re witnessing swords brandished in a vast parking garage, and a fight to the (very weird) death--and suddenly it's Scotland
“Now what… gee, that guy in the fancy clothes looks like… wait, it is, it’s Sean Connery! What in the world is he doing in this sword-totin', time-hoppin' obscurity?”
After a while I was starting to believe I’d dreamed it, fitfully asleep after the roadblock. But late that fall, when my future wife and her kids had come over to
Whoa back, Buck! The weird night came roaring back: this sounded too similar not to be possible, and too possible not to be viewed, so off we went, driving 20 miles east to Albufeira, stocking up on hot popcorn, and settling into the plush seats. And there it was at last,
I didn’t care. I was vindicated. If the film later turned out somehow to be more significant than the sum of its crazy parts, well, so be it. Here’s what I mean… some of what I’ve learned since:
Highlander was released in March 1986 in the U.S.--after I’d left the country--and then not until August in Europe; I don’t know the Asian release date but there couldn’t have been legal videocassettes by April. Director Russell
A quarter century later, the sequels and TV versions and cult-film write-ups and long-threatened remake of the original... none of them
There can be only one.
* * * * *
(...except when there are four--Spivey Bros. Barbecue Sauce; next time!)
Monday, July 16, 2012
Now in the scorching late summer, he works among wraiths. When he moves, the humid air clings to his flesh; and when he is still, his spent breath and rivulets of sweat condense on the burned glass plates overhead. He sees coils of shadows drifting within
grays of shifting shades… hears always the clamor of guns and terrible cries of the wounded, the proud insistent voices of freed slaves calling out: “Freedom! Freedom will reign, come heaven or come hell!”
And Jefferson finally shouts, “Let be! Yanks nor Rebs got no truck with me!
“I was true free then, me an’ thousands other black folks, could tag on after Sherman man-army. Call us Contrabands ‘cause we could join on in, burn an’ loot some ourselves, tie those Yankee rails into ribbon-bows.
“But I ain’t that--I quit an’ I walk to here. What I want with some dam’ war now?”
The shadowed, sullen plants rest, listless in the heat. And one night he dreams…
The many voices blend one into another, a chorus puzzled, angry, mourning: Where is this? Who am I now? What did we die for? No one remembers. Our graves lie ill-tended. Our only memorials are glass. Discarded.
And he wakes to a crisp fall morning.
VI. Clear Glass
Ghosts and memories gone silent, he cuts away dead blossoms, prunes sagging stems, tends the mulch of summer’s end--chopping old beds, turning the composted heap. As he labors row on row, he speaks softly to the stilled growths: “Crop field or
He takes a deep breath. Autumn’s rich, ripened smells rise fresh in his nostrils, and he imagines the final breath of every soldier fallen in the War, collecting in drifts of cloud, changed to air again by the Lord’s own greenery. Squinting up at the blurred glass, he lets black loam slip from his fingers. Saying:
“This the light too, the darkes’ part. See, life be only what the light make of it, and every kind of pain melt in the sun. Jefferson Spivey, free man--that’s me. And when I pass, this earth here remember you, your scars and hurt come to clear at last.”
He re-turns the soil.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
* * * * *
Late that summer he became aware of shadows, ghostly figures flickering, blotches of black and gray stippling the lilies and hothouse blooms.
The glazier’s man had come, knocked out the cracked greenhouse panels, and replaced them with panes of glass so strangely patterned that Jefferson finally scaled the garden ladder to learn their secrets. The streaks muddling the glass, the marks and
It was the War again.
A man free and whole, he had walked all the way north from Georgia, shedding each clot of red clay as it dried, clear on to Baltimore… where he just stopped. Saying right out loud to no one: “This’d be far ‘nough.” Thinking: Lord hab mercy, some Union towns look close-on South.
Thinking: But I was actual born that first day, January 1863, when Mist’ Abraham reckon every one of us, house or field the same, free forever. An’ I know it right then. I could read some an’ shape my slave name letters too. But be free? I dassn’t yet. Bossman dogs speak louder.
“Our conservatory is rich with promise,” said Mr. Caldwell, “and my wife’s gardens annually blessed with God’s bounty. We cultivate order, Mr. Spivey; we ask that you
“Yessuh, it surely is.” But thinking, surprised: It don’t come up to home.
He buried that notion in moist loam, to toil among beech trees and roses, attending each summer’s inclinations and, within the glittering hothouse, shaping off-season riots of color from roiling orchids and flowering japonica. He made each early morning his green-up time—hard at work before the heat inside turned all hellish, and while the light (“my Southun light,” he’d insist with a grin) was all a glory. The glass magnifying yet attenuating, he’d chase that changing light day by day, packing dark soil down to the roots, snipping bits of green shoots and buds, grafting plant upon plant in unusual pairings, growing bulbs and exotics… and older, seven years almost, his life as ordered as the gardens in their cycles.
Now in the late, scorching summer, he works among wraiths…
(To be continued)