This is Chapter 3 of the "Queer Identities" series.
The narrator is Brian Kinney, and features Justin Taylor, Dorian Folco, Pat Swayze, Charley Bouley, Clint Eastwood, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Cowboy Camp begins for Brian. Arizona, May 2003.
Disclaimer: You know the drill. This is for fun, not profit. Enjoy.
"There's many a strange impulse out on the plains of West Texas;
There's many a young boy who feels things he don't comprehend.
Well small town don't like it when somebody falls between sexes,
No, small town don't like it when a cowboy has feelings for men.
Well I believe in my soul that inside every man there's a feminine,
And inside every lady there's a deep manly voice loud and clear.
Well, a cowboy may brag about things that he does with his women,
But the ones who brag loudest are the ones that are most likely queer.
Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other
What did you think those saddles and boots was about?
There's many a cowboy who don't understand the way that he feels towards his brother,
Inside every cowboy there's a lady who'd love to slip out.
Ten men for each woman was the rule way back when on the prairie,
And somehow those cowboys must have kept themselves warm late at night.
Cowboys are famous for getting riled up about fairies,
But I'll tell you the reason a big strong man gets so uptight:
Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other,
That's why they wear leather, and Levis, and belts buckled tight.
There's many a cowboy who don't understand the way that he feels towards his brother;
There's many a cowboy who's more like a lady at night..."
I watch Justin walk away.
He has that cocky little walk. That spring in his step. Like he's not fucking afraid of anything, even after all he's been through.
It makes me feel like a fucking wimp. Because I can feel that vague anxiety creeping up on me. I keep thinking that if I could only have one drink, smoke one joint, or pop one Xanax, then everything would be all right. The sharp edges would all be smoothed away. I could take a deep breath and plunge ahead.
But that would mean giving in. Leaning on something outside of myself. Admitting that I need it in order to do what I have to do. And I don't need it. I don't need a fucking thing.
I turn around, but he's already out of sight. Heading off to do his own thing.
He's got his computer, his camera, his sketchpads. He's got a million ideas he wants to carry out. And he's got this strange, desolate, beautiful place as inspiration.
Justin will do fine. I'm not worried about him at all. He's like a fucking cat who falls from a ten story building and always lands on his feet.
But me... that's a different story.
I turn around. It's Dorian.
"Hey." I start to shake his hand, but then I reach out and pull him in my arms. Hug him tightly. I feel some of the tension bleeding out of me. Dorian won't let me fuck up. And Justin won't let me fuck up. Everyone here is on my side. Really. There's nothing to be afraid of. Not a fucking thing.
"I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to greet you last night, but the logistics of this shoot are a nightmare!" Dorian sighs. He looks tired. I can see the strain in his face and the lines around his eyes that seem deeper than the last time I saw him. Being the director of a multi-million dollar movie is a huge fucking responsibility and it's all on Dorian's face. "There are a thousand little details to attend to. And some of the equipment hasn't arrived yet. Luckily we have some leeway because of Cowboy Camp, but it's still taking a toll on my nerves!"
"You'll do fine," I reassure him. "I have every confidence in you. I'm the one I'm not feeling so certain about!"
Dorian cocks his head, inspecting me. "You look wonderful, Brian. I see you've gained some weight."
"Don't fucking remind me!" I roll my eyes. "I've done nothing but eat like a pig since I was sprung from Springhurst!"
"Nonsense," he replies. "You were much too thin the last time I saw you. And I'm so very glad to see Justin here with you. I mean -- your personal assistant, Mr. Taylor!" He laughs and squeezes my arm. "I knew you two would work things out."
We begin to walk down the rough path to the main corral where the cast will be working with the wranglers.
"It was iffy for a while," I admit. "But I came to my fucking senses. The last thing I need on this shoot is to have my personal life in a shambles."
"Are you all settled in your trailer?" Dorian asks. "Hooked up to the electric grid and everything?"
"Yup," I say. "We even have internet access. Justin was up late e-mailing everyone he knows."
Dorian nods. "That's a given. We need the access to communicate with the studio -- and the cast and crew would skin me alive if they couldn't get online! It's not like the old days when a film on a remote set would be cut off from the studio for days on end. Did you know that the shoot for the original 'Red River'lasted from June to November? They had weeks of freakish rain that kept them on location months beyond the intended finish. They eventually gave up and wrote torrential rain into the script!"
"Christ! The thought of being out here for six fucking months... There's no way!" I pause. I'm not sure whether the news about my next film has hit the directors' grapevine. After all, I only found out myself on Wednesday. But this is something I need to discuss seriously with Dorian. "Besides the fact that I have to be finished before the end of July."
Dorian gazes at me steadily, his dark eyes hard to read. "I know, Brian. Let me offer you my congratulations. Brock Santo contacted me to verify that you would be available in time to begin 'The Eastern Front.' I assured him that, barring some catastrophe, you would be done with 'Red River' by the 14th of July."
"Sorry, Dorian. I would have told you about it, but they only contacted me about the part two days ago," I explain. I can read Dorian pretty well and I can see that he's ill at ease. These directors can be so fucking touchy! Both Ron and Dorian thought they 'owned' me to some extent. I'll have to see about Brock Santo. He's straight, so at least that element won't be in play. And he fancies himself a director of 'epics,' so he may well view actors as secondary to the over-all spectacle. But 'The Eastern Front' is essentially a love story, so it remains to be seen how he handles his cast.
"No need to apologize," Dorian says lightly, turning away. "I have no proprietary claim on you or your talent, Brian. I'm not Ron, after all." He pauses and takes a deep breath. "The Santo film is a wonderful opportunity for you. Of course, we'll have to reschedule 'Red Shirt.' There is no way you will be finished with principle filming in time for us to begin this fall."
Yeah, that's something I've been trying to work out in my head. The 'Eastern Front' shoot will be a monster -- it could last six months, and that doesn't include possible delays, retakes, natural disasters, and other fuck-ups that could extend filming well into next year. 'Red Shirt' is a small, indie picture, but it has to be filmed in the winter and in an urban location. We were planning to do most of it in Toronto, with a few key scenes on the Lower East Side of New York. But it looks like we may have to postpone the entire project until late 2004.
"What can I say, Dorian? I realize that this is going to screw with your whole schedule. You know that 'Red Shirt' is still very important to me. But seriously -- what would YOU do if they offered you that directing gig?"
Dorian looks up into my eyes and smiles coyly. Yeah, he's an attractive guy. And you can see what a little heartbreaker he must have been when he was a kid. But he's also a realist. And, like Ron, he understands the movie business.
"I would grab it in a heartbeat, of course! The same way I seized this project when it was offered to me after Ron died." He pauses to see how I take this. But it's all right. I know how he got the job. And I know that Ron is dead. That's the reality I have to deal with on this set every day. That ghost. "'The Eastern Front' is going to be a huge picture. I would be disappointed in you had you turned it down. An actor isn't offered such a significant role every day. You deserve it, Brian -- and I know you'll make the most of it."
"Hey!" Pat calls out as we reach the corral. He's leaning against the fence with the two guys he introduced me to this morning, Frank Painted Horse and Paco Romano. In the corral three wranglers are working with two large and balky horses. "Kinney! Get your scrawny ass over here! We got some broncs to break!"
"Looks like they need you." Dorian nudges me forward. "And I have a lot of work to do." He turns and strides back up the path towards the main camp.
I join the guys watching the men and horses.
"You better be careful," I warn Pat. "You're not supposed to notice faggot asses on a butch set like this!"
He makes a dismissive face. "Fuck it! I grew up in ballet, surrounded by faggot asses! But that doesn't mean I can't ride better than any cowboy here!" He yells out that last part like a challenge.
The head wrangler, Charley Bouley, squints at us. "Then you get YOUR ass in here, Mr. Swayze, and try out this horse, pronto! One of you bastards is gonna have to ride him. Might as well be you!"
"Busted -- as usual!" Pat mumbles.
But he climbs over the fence and walks purposefully to the center of the ring. Charley is holding the bridle of an evil-looking shit-brown horse with long ears like a mule. This animal is about as far from the delicate Arabians that Pat breeds as a deer is from a jackrabbit. Pat checks him out and then climbs into the saddle.
Everyone is holding his breath, waiting for some kind of explosion. But there isn't one. The mule-eared horse bucks half-heartedly and then trots around the corral, snorting. Pat shakes his head and turns the horse around, neck-reining him. The animal is hard-headed, but he does what he's supposed to do. It figures that the wranglers wouldn't fool around with any horse that wasn't completely broke. The last thing they want is a bunch of expensive actors with broken necks.
"You would give me the ugliest horse you got, Charley!" Pat gripes. He moves the animal around the ring. He's got a jerky gait that looks like it would be hell on your ass over the long haul.
"Ugly is as ugly does," the old wrangler grunts. "You ain't no oil painting yourself, Mr. Swayze!"
"I was," laughs Pat. "Once!" And everyone else laughs, too.
Except me. Because that's the hard truth of Hollywood. Pat was once the hottest guy in films. I ought to know -- I jerked off looking at his photos, thinking about him, fantasizing about him, more times than I can remember. That body! And that tough, but tender face. Jesus! Now he's right in front of me and -- I don't feel a thing. I see an aging actor. A nice guy. Someone who will -- I hope -- become a good friend on this shoot. But an object of desire? Not anymore. That time has passed.
Am I fucking shallow? Or simply realistic? I know I'm still hot, but I also know that won't always be the case, no matter how much Mikey might believe that I'll always be young and beautiful. I won't be. I know that. I can even accept it now -- somewhat. The reality of the future is always right there, in front of me. But Pat seems happy. He's got a good life, his wife, his ranch, and he's still working. Still acting.
I hear a deep-throated laugh and turn to see Eastwood walking up to the fence a few yards away. He's with the cinematographer, Karel Jandl. Yes, Eastwood was a beauty in his day, too. You can still see it in his face. In his bone-structure. In the way he stands. A man with nothing to prove to anyone. And I'm going to have to act with the fucking guy! With all of them.
I feel a burning in the pit of my stomach.
"How do you feel with this horse?" the old wrangler asks Pat.
"I can live with him," Pat shrugs. "But this saddle is for shit, man! Can't I use one of my own?"
Charley sniffs. "I'll have to check it out. Can't have no fancy saddles on camera. Wouldn't look right."
"It's a plain stock saddle," says Pat. "But it fits my ass a damn sight better than this piece of crap!"
Charley's second-in-command, Gar Greenough, leads in two more animals. One is a tall black Quarter Horse with a long neck, and the other a big red chestnut with a wide white blaze.
"They brought in that black horse just for Eastwood," says Frank. "Trucked him down here from California. Clint's ridden him before. He doesn't take any chances with a strange mount, 'specially when we gotta ride with cattle. Horses gotta know what they're doing. All of Charley's stock are trained not to spook when they're surrounded by a herd of steers."
"Well, at least one of us will know what he's doing," I comment. I think about all those scenes on the cattle drive, which is a large portion of the film. Rounding up the steers. Herding them across the river. The big stampede. All those vital scenes where I'll be on a strange horse in the middle of a couple hundred mean-tempered Texas Longhorns. I must be out of my fucking mind!
We watch as Eastwood coolly strolls into the corral and checks out his mount. Like me, he's a tall man and he needs a tall horse. He talks to Charley, but I can't hear what they're saying.
And then they both look up -- directly at me.
"You! Kinney!" the old wrangler shouts. Eastwood's face is impassive.
"Fuck," I say under my breath. It's my turn in the ring. I climb over the fence.
"Good luck," Frank offers.
"Thanks. I think I'm going to need it."
I walk to the center of the corral.
"Kinney," Eastwood acknowledges me stiffly. We've been introduced, but he's still Clint fucking Eastwood. And he's intimidating as hell.
While I was in Springhurst I did some research on the original production of 'Red River' in 1946. The director, Howard Hawks, purposefully set the two stars, John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, at odds. Wayne was the veteran, a macho homophobe who didn't like to be challenged, while Clift was an insecure queer making his first picture. Hawks, to stir up trouble, told Wayne that Clift would probably make a pass at him, while warning Clift that Wayne was just waiting for an excuse to beat the shit out of him. That was his technique for getting an edgy performance out of both of them.
But that's not the way it's going to be on this set. I know Dorian isn't into playing any fucking games with my head. Letting my emotions and insecurities get the better of me fucked me up on 'The Olympian' and threatened to do the same on 'Hammersmith.' Because I had no acting technique -- I still don't, really -- I thought I needed to live the roles. Get myself as screwed up as my characters. That's what I thought 'real' actors did. That's what I thought The Method was all about. I know better now. Doing that can fucking kill you. If I'm going to survive as an actor in this business, I have to learn to do it another way. Like a professional. Like Brian Fucking Kinney!
"This here red horse is Trooper. Should be a good fit for a tall fella like you," Charley says as he adjusts the girth on the saddle. "Mr. Folco said you already know how to ride."
Ron always told me that when in doubt, bluff. "I do all right. I know how to put my ass in a saddle and keep it there."
I see Eastwood smile slightly. What the fuck is he thinking? What are they all thinking? First impressions are a bitch. As long as I don't make a fool of myself, everything should be okay. Maybe.
Charley moves aside and hands me the reins. "Okay, then, son. He's all yours."
I gather up the reins in my left hand and grab onto the horn of the saddle. I need to get on this horse in one movement. And he's a big horse. I put my left foot in the stirrup. Trooper starts to take a step forward. I tighten up on the reins. To my relief, he stops, stamping his foot impatiently. I heave myself up. And I'm in the saddle.
No fucking problem!
I rein him around in a tight circle and then urge him forward. He breaks into a trot without much difficulty. We move to the end of the corral, then come back. Eastwood gets on his big black gelding and waits for me to come up next to him.
"Karel wants to see how we look together on these two horses," he explains, looking over at the cinematographer. "He wants a good contrast. That's why Charley picked that sorrel with the big blaze for you. He looks good next to Santiago." He pats the black horse's neck. "You're not a bad rider, Kinney." Eastwood pauses, that 'Dirty Harry' smile playing on his lips. "For a sissy city boy."
"And you're not bad yourself, Eastwood," I reply calmly. "For a broken-down straight old has-been."
He pierces me with his famous steely blue glare -- and then he laughs. It's a loud, booming laugh. "You've got some balls, Brian," he says. "And call me Clint."
Now I can breathe. That was the fucking test. If the Old Man accepts me, then so will everyone else. I can fall flat on my face and they'll pick me up and dust me off.
But I'm not planning to fall on my face. This is a good horse. I feel secure on him. And now that I know Eastwood isn't going to give me a hard time, I feel a lot more secure on this set. And if I don't get trampled in the fucking stampede scenes, I might actually survive this shoot.
"Are you going to Cowboy Camp?" I ask Clint.
"Naw," he says. "We'll be shooting the scenes with the kid while you poor bastards are out busting your humps in the desert."
I nod. Clint will be doing the sequence that begins the picture with Sam Elliott and a child actor, Bradley Frayne. Clint's character is Tom Dunson, and Sam playshis sidekick, Ned. Bradley plays my character, Matt Garth, the only survivor of an Indian attack on a wagon train. Dunson adopts Matt and founds the Red River Ranch with his own bull and Matt's cow, which eventually grow into the largest herd in Texas. The conflict in the film involves Dunson's and Matt's disagreement about how to get the herd to market in Kansas. Doesn't sound like much of a plot, but it's really all about character and how the two men represent different views of the West: Dunson, the unyielding and violent past, and Matt, the progressive and peaceful future. Tom Dunson and Matt Garth are at the heart of the film -- the love/hate relationship between two men, father and son, partners and rivals.
"Have you met this kid actor?" Clint asks. "I think he's about 12."
"No, I only got in last night. And we don't have any scenes together -- obviously, since he's playing the younger me!"
"Kid looks a lot like you," Clint comments. "Dorian says you got one of your own. Is that right?"
"Actually, I have two kids." As I say it I realize that there's pride in my voice. I don't know why. Any idiot can fuck a female or squirt into a plastic cup. "Gus will be three in September and Charity is two months old."
"I've got a little one, too. She's six years old." I remember that Clint's married to a much younger woman. And he has a slew of children from a number of different relationships. He was quite the stud in his day. And, apparently, he still is. "I've got them all ages. A couple are in the acting game. I warned them against it, but they didn't listen to me. Kids never listen to their old man! Remember that when your kids get bigger."
"I certainly never listened to mine," I admit. "Gus already has a mind of his own. He doesn't live with me and I don't see him as often as I should."
"I hear you." Clint frowns. "You do what you can. Being an actor is a rootless life, especially when you're younger. I was always away on location. Sometimes I'd come back and they'd stare at me like they weren't sure who the hell I was. It's easier now. I work less and stick closer to home. This picture is the exception. Could be my last hurrah."
"I doubt that!" I say sincerely. Clint strikes me as the kind of guy who will never quit. And who will never stop trying to top himself, no matter how old he is.
"I wanted to make this picture to work with Ron Rosenblum," he says quietly. "I saw a rough cut of 'The Olympian' well before it was released. Rosenblum sent it to me along with his script for 'Red River.' That was a fine piece of work." Clint looks away, out into the flat, desolate distance. "It's too bad what happened. I know Dorian Folco is a decent director, but... damn!"
I'm not sure what to say to that. So I tell him the simple truth. "Ron would have been honored to hear you say that. He wanted you for this part. I'm glad you decided to do it when Dorian took over. He's dedicated to carrying out Ron's vision."
"I never thought of bailing out," he replies. "This is going to be a fine picture. But I think this is definitely my final Western. It gets harder and harder every year to hoist myself into the saddle. My back can't take it anymore."
Charley and Gar get everyone mounted up and lead us out into the desert to try out the horses. It's mid-day and the heat is already intense. As the sun beats down on my head, I realize that I should have worn a hat. Sunscreen isn't going to be enough to protect me -- or my fucking skin! -- from the relentless glare.
Clint notices. He's wearing an expensive-looking wide-brimmed Stetson to keep the sun out of his face. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a red cap. "Here. I was going to give this to Folco, but he doesn't seem the baseball cap type."
I take the cap. The words 'Boss Man' are embroidered over the bill. "That you? The Boss Man?"
"Some joker gave it to me way back when I was mayor," he says. I keep forgetting he really was the mayor of Carmel, California, back in the 1980's.
"Thanks." I put the cap on. It helps -- a little. I'll have a hideous case of hat hair when I take it off, but it's better than burning my scalp to a crisp.
"You'll need a real hat of your own," Clint advises.
"I know. I imagine they must have one in the wardrobe trailer I can use for Camp. They tried a couple on me during costume fittings, but those are for the shoot."
"A hat's not just a hat," says Clint. "It's important. The right hat makes the part in a cowboy picture."
I'm not sure if he's kidding or not. He's so deadpan it's hard to tell. "If you say so. But I'll be a pretty lousy cowboy wearing a baseball cap!"
We spend the entire afternoon following Charley and Gar around the landscape. They show us some of the location sites, including the one where the Longhorns are being grazed. There are a fucking lot of them. And their horns really are long -- and sharp! We're going to be spending a lot of time with these fucking cows, so I better get used to them. The wranglers won't let us get near them -- yet. But we'll be in the middle of them soon enough. Maybe even tomorrow.
The stunt coordinator, Red Osmond, and his men are here, working the cattle. Charley introduces me to my stunt double, Jared Brooks. He's my height, lean and brown-haired, but much older than me. Or maybe he only looks a lot older. This fucking sun is a killer!
We watch the real cowboys work the cattle and then Charley moves us off again. This time it's towards the mountains. The land changes a bit as we get into hillier, rougher territory. Charley and Gar watch us, seeing who can handle his horse and who can't. I think I'm doing pretty well. Trooper is a big horse, but he's surefooted. I stick close to Pat and Frank -- they're the best riders I know, so I can't go wrong following their lead.
Eventually we turn around and go back the way we came. We've been out here for hours. Like a fool, I left my water bottle back at the corral in my carry-all. My fucking lips are dry.
"Here." Paco pulls his horse up next to mine and hands me his bottle of Gatorade.
I take a long swig. "Thanks. I needed that."
"Any time, Brian." Paco grins. "Any time you need something, just ask."
Yeah, I remember you, Paco. One of the boys from the Poolhouse Follies. He was a bartender at some party I went to. A hot fuck. But that was then and this is now, as the song goes. Then he was a trick. Now we're working together and that's something else again. The past is a fucking blank slate.
By the time we get back to camp it's after 5:00. I get off Trooper slowly and carefully. I can feel my legs wobble. I look over and see Rowan Conley literally slide off his saddle and onto the ground, unable to keep his feet after the long ride. A couple of wranglers pick him up and get him some water. This is going to be a bitch -- and it's only just beginning.
"Listen up!" shouts Charley. "That was just a little sightseeing tour we did today. Tomorrow the real work starts. I want you fellas here at 8:00 a.m. sharp. No stragglers! Get up, get some food into you, and get your asses down here to saddle your horses. And I mean it about the food. Fuel up good at breakfast. You're gonna be working like real cowhands, so you're gonna need some real grub in your bellies to make it through the day. We'll have an hour break at noon for lunch and then go on until 5:00. Anyone got a problem with that?"
No one says a word. What the fuck can we say? Charley Bouley's got us all by the balls for the next week. It's not just Cowboy Camp, it's Cowboy Boot Camp -- and we're the grunts.
Everyone trudges back up to the main camp. I can't believe how fucking hungry I am. Even the catering tent looks good as I pass it on the way to the trailer. I smell grease. I'm reminded of the Liberty Diner on Friday Fish and Chips Nights. Well, it's better than nothing. A few of the guys go directly there, but I want to clean up first. And get Justin.
But when I get to our trailer I stop short. There's a big awning open, shading one entire side of the RV. And a couple of lawn chairs set up. And a table set with plates and a pitcher of pink lemonade. An ice chest. A gas grill a few feet away. And music playing on the RV stereo system. It's my CD of Miles Davis' 'Sketches of Spain.' Justin isn't a big fan of jazz, but he knows how much it relaxes me.
And there's Sunshine himself, lounging in the shade on one of the lawn chairs, his feet up, glass of lemonade in one hand, pencil in the other, sketchpad open on his lap.
"Hey, Brian. Can I pour you a glass?" He puts down the pencil and reaches over, opening the ice chest and filling another glass with ice.
"What the fuck?" I say. "What are you? On vacation?"
"Yes, actually," he smirks. "I AM on vacation. You're the one who's working. Remember?"
"Where the hell did all this stuff come from?" I drop myself into the chair next to him and pull off my boots. My feet burn like a son of a bitch.
"Some of it was in the trailer," says Justin, pouring the lemonade. "These chairs. And this table. I brought the CDs with me. The grill and ice chest I got in town, along with groceries. I drove there this afternoon. It's kind of small, but there's a supermarket, a hardware store, and a couple of restaurants on the main street. Avi, that assistant AD, went with me and then helped me set up the grill."
He stands up and hands me the cold lemonade, which I gulp down. It's the best fucking thing I've ever tasted. "Jesus. I needed that."
Justin grins. "Are you ready for your steak? I bought two big Porterhouses. I also made some salad and have two baked potatoes in the microwave. I thought that would be better than whatever they were serving at the catering tent."
I lay back on the lawn chair and put my feet up. "Yeah. A nice, juicy steak. And make it rare. I'm fucking starving!"
"I thought you would be." He leans down and whispers in my ear. "I have a few other surprises in store. For after dinner. To celebrate our first day on location."
That's it. That's what I need. I have a feeling that tonight I'm going to be tasting something even better than this lemonade. And better than that big steak.
He kisses me gently. That's a start. But only a start. We'll eat dinner. Then I'll have the main course.
"Well there's always somebody who says what the others just whisper,
And mostly that someone's the first one to get shot down dead:
When you talk to a cowboy don't treat him like he was a sister,
Don't mess with the lady that's sleepin' in each cowboy's head.
Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other,
Even though they take speed and drive pickups and shoot their big guns;
There's many a cowboy who don't understand the way that he feels towards his brother;
There's many a cowboy who keeps quiet about things he's done."
Thanks to Equusentric for the photo of K-Lee.
Continue on to "India Ink".
©Gaedhal, October 2006.
Posted October 20, 2006.