Write By Me

I'm a storyteller from Oklahoma.

Note: I’m committing this entire post to one story because, well, just read it.  

Note, part two: I also came from a small town — a very, very small town. Perhaps that is why this story cut through layers I forgot existed.

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Whether one is from Nashville or the Upper West Side, one’s hometown means something that often outstrips our ability to explain what. Small hometowns, in considerable ways, tend to mean even more. A young woman with a mohawk becomes immeasurably more intriguing when she claims Portage, Wisconsin, as her birthplace rather than Westport, Connecticut, and one can safely assume that the young urban striver who hails from Winner, South Dakota, regards himself differently from his fellow straphangers from Westchester.

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The first day of deer season is actually a school holiday—Deer Day, it is called—and the entire place is a hotbed of gun crazies and gun-craziness. Despite this, there were, in 1997, in the Upper Peninsula, a land mass larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, and which contains a population of 300,000 Schlitz-drinking, deer-slaying yahoos, a grand total of eight murders.

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Even Daniels, in my interview with him, was quick to point out that he “doesn’t hunt,” and that the film is really a love story. Let me say that, as an erstwhile Yooper, I am not especially fazed by the script’s deer-murdering aspects, even though I do not hunt either. Hunting occupies an elemental chamber within the consciousness of rural Americans, for whom the semantic schism between pig and pork and deer and venison is harder to justify. More to the point, deer are the stupidest terrestrial mammals the planet has so far known. They are essentially locusts with hoofs. When not eating or breeding, they like to launch themselves into traffic. If hunting in Upper Michigan were abolished, thousands of deer would starve during its brutal winter, and its highways would be a living obstacle course.

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I remember the final game of the catastrophic season I spent as a hapless nose guard for Escanaba’s Catholic junior high squad, the Holy Name Crusaders, a massacre commenced upon this very field. After being bulldozed by the opposing fullback, I walked to the sideline, removed my helmet, and fainted. It was my third concussion of the year. When the emergency-room doctor informed me I would never play football again, I nearly wept with relief.

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Daniels is bearded, flanneled, clad in long underwear, and convincingly rural, which is by way of saying he looks terrible. This is the first film he has directed, and each twenty-hour workday has etched some new crag into the topography of his face. 

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Rosy’s Diner is a small, sensationally yellow building found a few doors down from the bank where my father works—the kind of place that serves Coke in glass bottles and where lunch for two rarely vaults into double digits.

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One gaffer smiles, walks over to me, and explains that movie-making is 10 percent good lighting, 10 percent production value, and 80 percent standing around and eating Gummi Bears, of which he offers me several.

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The Movie People arrived with the thought of using a tranquilized farm deer for the hunting scenes. But a tranquilized farm deer proved difficult to procure. A mechanical deer was thus obtained from the local branch of the Department of Natural Resources, a notion so oxymoronical I swoon at the thought of it. Why, I ask, does the DNR have a mechanical deer? “To catch poachers,” Doug replies. Robot deer are patrolling the forests of Upper Michigan, and clearly I am here covering the wrong story.

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Daniels’s co-star, the unfairly beautiful Kimberly Norris Guerrero, most famous for an appearance on Seinfeld, waits nearby with her unfairly handsome significant other. 

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I realize, then, that this film is not intended for these men. Or for Escanaba. Or for any small town. It is meant, instead, for that know-nothing American monstrosity, the target audience. Although I understand the pressurized financial contingencies that make this necessary, I do not, at this moment, much care. Loyalty is the small town’s blood, and assault from without is its transfusion. I work myself into such a lather it occurs to me only gradually that I am a potential bull’s-eye in that target audience. My own private Escanaba shares some crucial denominators with the Movie People’s: both are vessels of studied triumph over the inadequate past, both are backlit by the glow of the irrecoverable, and both are utter fabrications. Our Escanabas exist, but do not remain.

- Tom Bissell 

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-mcsweeneys-books-preview-of-tom-bissells-magic-hours

2 years ago