I recently saw this cover from a new Sam Shepard collection and I was reminded of a photo (which I cannot find) of me, about the same age as the boy on the cover, riding around in a circle on a pony. Riding around in a circle on a pony. There’s a metaphor there somewhere. Growing up in south Florida (which was a little bit rural at the time), renting ponies for birthdays was very popular. Geez, I wish I still had my Roy Rogers hat (although it wouldn’t go on my head at this stage of the game).
On second thought, it wasn’t a photo at all. It was an 8mm home movie. Although my mother had a few “portraits” done of the kids (my sister Carol and I, like the one of me above), my father was into silent films of the family. He had the whole works: a pull up screen, a Bell and Howell projector, an editing splicer – even a title board with letters to explain the action between scenes. He even wrote his own mini dramas, which he put on film. One Christmas, he staged the whole ‘Twas the night before Christmas…complete with a hilarious “and I in my cap” scene and the goofiest “visions of sugar plums” perhaps ever committed to celluloid.
The most (in)famous one, was at the beach – Haulover Park in Miami. Scene opens with my father swimming out in the surf. He begins to struggle. His hand is waving. He goes under. A friend hauls him to shore and tries to revive him. Alas, he’s gone. A hole is dug in the sand and my fathers body is placed in it. I didn’t know people were buried at the beach with their head angled toward the perfectly cloudless blue sky. A little cross is placed in the sand on my father’s chest. My mother is so distraught that she plunges a knife into her breast and collapses on my fathers grave. Throughout all this, I’m watching in horror. My bottom lip is stuck out a foot. Tears are streaming down my face. Now I have no parents. I understood this much. I turn around and run out of the shot. Fade to black.
Some of my father’s films were of the documentary type, however. “Charlie’s first bike ride with the raining wheels off”. I ride away from the camera and turn back around. Too sharply, as it turns out. I fall off and crack my chin against the pavement. There’s blood on the ground, on my hands, on my shirt (I still have a tiny scar on my chin). My father’s mantra, being in the biz and all, is that the show must go on. As I run towards him, he backs away to continue the film a little longer! What a character.
My sister starred in one as well. She’s swinging, slowly, slowly on a hammock. Slowly, Slowly she begins to tilt back – but just a little. Continue filming. This is like an Andy Warhol film for chrissake. It’s fascinating to watch this. You can’t take your eyes off it. I’ll never know if he’d have let her fall completely backwards and fall out of the hammock. My mother graciously rescued her from mutilation and possible brain trauma. I can still hear my mother. “Bill!!” She had a certain way of saying it. Just the one word, but contained within it was a sharp reprimand, and a scent of incredulity that he could be so absorbed in the making that he forgot about the undoing.
My father really wanted to be an actor, I suspect, instead of a musician. Or should I say “thespian”? He idolized John Barrymore and could quote verse upon verse from King Lear. He considered Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin the greatest film ever made and would go on and on about the famous massacre scene. But he settled down, came off the road, married and had a family.
Little dramas rather than oversized ones. I’d like to ask: Was you life fulfilling? Was it all you wanted it to be? If you had it to do over again…? But I can’t bring myself to ask these questions. And I’m not even so sure that self-examination wasn’t put away somewhere along the way. Life takes a’hold, don’t it?