The “Fiction” section of my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book concludes with two short stories that present parallel road trips. The first is called “Expedition“, set in the Allegheny coal and strip mine country, and has a character like me about 28 years old; the second is called “The Ocelot the Way He Is“, and has me at my current age in present day, and is largely set on and near an “intentional community” in the Virginia Piedmont.
It would be natural to propose a two-part film based on this material, with each story taking 50-60 minutes. I might have called this film “On the Road”, except for the fact that such a title has been used for a film about Jack Kerouac. So I could call it “Two Road Trips“. Or maybe I could title the entire work “The Home Team Bats Last“.
The two stories in the book are preceded by a long chapter from my previously unpublished novel “The Proles” (March 25, 2014), depicting my 14-week experience in Army Basic training in 1968 after “volunteering” for the draft. That section does not lend itself to film by itself, because there is no rooting interest involving other characters actually on site besides me (the novel has external characters who matter outside this chapter). But the period of my military service is important to connecting the two “road trips”. So I pondered how I would present the relevant material in such a film. I first thought the entire feature should have a 30-minute middle section, between the two road trips, with my narration, and showing the experience of Army Basic in fast images with relatively little dialogue. But that setup would involve “author intrusion“. So I need a way to work the material back into the two real stories as flashback material. And in film, the flashback may show “reality” as the narrator really experienced it in the past, but it must be clear how the other characters “on stage” understand the flashback material, and it must be material in some way to the overall plot.
The first of the two stories is “Expedition“. In 1972, “Bill” (Me at 28) attends a going-away-roast for a coworker Mark, whom Bill has admired with “upward affiliation” (today’s post on DADTNotes). Then, to celebrate his own freedom from Mark’s influence, Bill heads (from a government Naval office in Washington DC) heads for Appalachia, where he will meet up with a former roommate from graduate school, Randy. The two will tour the strip-mine country together, scarred by mountaintop removal. But Randy will have a surprise for Bill, a fiancee.
The second story is “The Ocelot the Way He Is” is in the book (Amazon). starting on p. 281). It is slightly longer but more complex. In present day, Bill has put his dying mother (almost 100 years old) into hospice. (In actual fact, she passed away at the end of 2010.) That night, he goes to a piano concert given by a friend, whom he met at a local church, who is also a freshman in college somewhere in Virginia. (I guess he will major in music, and he may resemble “Shane Lyons” [played by Timo Descamps] from “Judas Kiss” a bit; he is charismatic and manipulative, but I wouldn’t say the negative things about the popular film character.) I called him Nolan, after the likable computer magnate [played by Gabriel Mann] in ABC’s “Revenge” — who is also charismatic, but quirky and manipulative. You get the picture.)
Nolan’s grandfather keeps a hideway cabin for him in the Blue Ridge foothills, not so far from college, where Nolan works in his music and technology. The cabin is near an intentional community, with its own cast of characters, just a short bike ride or hike from the cabin. There’s some interesting stuff there, and a gym on the border of the property.
Nolan invites Bill on the road trip out to the cabin for the afternoon Saturday. In the meantime, there is a threat of severe thunderstorms or tornadoes, severe space storms (like maybe a Carrington Event, with a coronal mass ejection expected to trigger northern lights all the way down to Florida Saturday night). Bill gets specific directions by email Saturday morning, and then a mysterious visitor knocks on the door (David Lynch style) and makes a threat, and a strange phone call comes. Bill finds that an computer flash drive has been left by the visitor at his porch, and wonders what is up.
Bill makes the visit, which involves some time recording his own music and making a visit to the intentional community, and, yes, the gym. In time, it gets more intimate (maybe with a bit of the movie “Old Joy” as a clue.) Nolan drives him home, where he finds his world in disaster, while he gets a call to the effect that mother has recovered. The national disaster and Bill’s own situation now get into stuff that would amount to spoilers.
The question, however, is how to weave all the other background material into the two film parts. And the best way is to work inside out.
In the first story, neither Mark nor Randy have themselves served in the military. And neither know that Bill had been thrown out of William and Mary in 1961 as a freshman for saying he was gay.
But there is a small backstory where Bill had visited Mark’s apartment a few months before (we’re back in 1972), and Mark had demonstrated his own workout routines with free weights in the apartment. (That’s in the DADT III book on p. 54.) There had been a hint of intimacy, but nothing like what will happen in the second story. At the going-away-bash, Mark remembers this, and recalls the section in Bill’s “Proles” manuscript where Bill had to work with very primitive workout equipment in Special Training Company while in Army Basic in 1968. That in turn justifies a flashback, 2-3 minutes, of Bill’s whole experience with STC, including passing the PCPT, his direct commission application, and eventual interview. Then later, after Randy surprises Bill with his fiancee and baby, Bill realizes he will have the motel room (in a small eastern Kentucky town) to himself. There are other flashbacks (like the one time Bill was almost arrested in 1971 for trespassing on a stripmine) but then there is a dichotomy that, while Bill hasn’t grown up in a way to get married while Randy has, Bill at least did serve in the military. Well, he “served without serving” and was sheltered away from combat. (That stimulates another little flashback about the period in the Pentagon.) Randy recalls how Bill dreaded the idea of being maimed in war, and how he had said he would never come back if that happened. Randy, on the other hand, has to admit that he himself sidestepped the entire experience by staying in grad school and being “lucky” enough to get a job in college teaching. Some more Army flashbacks occur, such as one where Bill learns that most of his Army buddies in Basic got infrantry — he’s practically the only one who escaped. And he also recalls he left Basic in reasonably good shape for the one time in his life (flashback to a church softball game right after where Bill hits a homer).
In the “Ocelot” story, Nolan knows Bill’s history, having read Bill’s blogs and books. The military issue has been fading somewhat from public scenery after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. But when they get to the intentional community, where Nolan has an invitation to bring Bill to dinner, the subject of the military comes up, because an older man (also gay but somewhat “retired” even from gay life) challenges Bill as to whether he was a coward in the way he handled his military service. The flashbacks here emphasize Bill’s transition from graduate school to the Army (the steps of losing your freedom), and then the periods after Basic. The period of Bill’s induction had a curious incident, which fits into the theme about gymnasiums and weight lifting (which Nolan also does) — he had spent a night in a hotel in Richmond (put up by the Army) before being sworn in, and had another “roommate” who turned out to have been horribly scarred in the chest area by a chemistry lab accident in high school.
There are other flashbacks, such as Bill’s own period of heterosexual dating, which is compared to Randy’s in the first story. Nolan has a relationship of sorts with a medical student named Brian, which is also (through videos at the cabin) worked into the story to make a point, particularly at the very end.
The film would require accurate makeup, to show Bill at different ages, not only in the obvious change over several decades between the two parts, but also the subtle changes in his appearance associated with his military service. In this film, characters are not easily interchangeable as to qualities like race, age, and sexual orientation, since some specific sexual tensions are present in the second story.
At the very end, when the national catastrophe is now clear, there is also another “trick” where Bill can look back into Nolan’s life and solve one more erotic puzzle.
Oh, yes, this could become a “franchise” of two separate indie films. At the “West End Cinema” the tagline is “All stories told here.”
(Published Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 11:45 PM, EDT)