This is Chapter 23 of the "Queer Identities" series.
The narrator is Justin Taylor, and features Brian Kinney, Paco Romano, Dorian Folco, Burr Connor, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Moving camp. Marfa, Texas, June 2003.
Disclaimer: You know the drill. This is for fun, not profit. Enjoy.
It's hot in Marfa.
I thought it was hot in Arizona, but now it's late June and West Texas is like an oven turned up to 'Broil.' The heat and humidity are inescapable, even when you're in an air conditioned building.
Which is too bad, because Marfa is a really cool place. A lot of artists live here and even though this is a small town literally in the middle of nowhere, there are a surprising number of galleries and interesting stores and restaurants. Even the hotel we're staying in, the Paisano, is full of cool history -- it's where the cast of 'Giant' lived when they were filming that movie here way back in 1955.
Of course the moment we arrive Brian demands to see James Dean's old room. Would Brian want to stay anywhere else? No way! He paces back and forth, head cocked, as if he's listening to something no one else can hear. He looks out the window. Thank God the air conditioning works, because it's a blistering day. Every summer day here is a blistering day. The sky in this part of West Texas is cloudless and a vibrant, glowing shade of blue -- that's one thing that attracted all of those artists: the clarity of the light and the huge open spaces of the landscape.
"Well, what do you think?" I ask Brian. "Would you rather be in the Rock Hudson Suite? Or one of the larger rooms? Dorian said there's a nice one right next to his."
Dorian is in the Elizabeth Taylor Suite, which is a bit girly, with a sitting room, balcony, and fluffy decor, while Eastwood is set to take the Rock Hudson, which is the biggest and has a wet bar, sunroom, and terrace on the roof. Dorian had offered us that suite first, but Brian wanted to see Dean's old room before he decided.
"No," he replies. "This is the room. I need to be in this room."
"Really?" I'm shocked that he doesn't want something more plush. Brian is nothing if not high maintenance, after all. The bed in the James Dean is only a double, not a king, the television is small, and the bathroom -- well, it's the original from the 1950's, so you can imagine. "Are you sure, Brian?"
"Let Clint sleep with Rock's ghost. Whatever was good enough for Dean is good enough for us." Brian turns to me. "Right, Sunshine?"
After weeks in our cramped and increasingly messy trailer, the James Dean Room, which is pretty much a glorified motel room with no fancy extras, is okay. "Right, Brian," I agree.
He smiles and puts his arm around me. A deep thrill goes through me.
And it is okay. More than okay. We're together and nothing else matters.
I think back to the first few weeks after I met Brian. I wanted him so badly. And, frankly, he was a shit to me. Cold. Dismissive. Even insulting. I loved him to too much and I was sure he hated me. But I kept going back, again and again. I wouldn't give up. I wanted Brian more than anything in my life.
And now we're together. Really together. Partners. Lovers. Whatever you want to call it. And I'm not going to let anything or anybody fuck us up ever again.
Now that we're in an actual town, staying in an actual hotel, it no longer feels like we're all on an extended camping trip. Pat says this is closer to what the usual location shoot is like -- less roughing it and more a business trip. But I don't mind. And Brian certainly doesn't mind.
"I can finally stretch my fucking legs!" Brian sighs as he wiggles his feet in bed. We're lying there after the first day of shooting in Marfa, at the set of a town they built out in the desert. Brian came back to the hotel hot and dirty, but also happy and horny. Apparently it was a good day on the set. "My ankle feels better, too. I don't think you'll need to shoot me after all."
"Good, because I'd hate to have to start working for John Henry James as his personal assistant."
Brian sniffs. "You'd be his personal assistant in your wet dreams, Blond Boy! He's already got TWO fucking personal assistants -- both female and both with gigantic chests! And Pat doesn't even have one. Neither does Sam Elliott for that matter. And both those guys were movie stars when Mr. James was still learning to wipe his large, but admittedly extremely fine, butt!"
"Very fine," I concede.
"Shut the fuck up." Brian wrestles playfully.
"You know what's great about this hotel room?"
"What? Besides room service? Which you've made major use of since the minute we moved in."
"Now you shut up!" I reply. "Close -- I don't have to make the bed!"
Brian rolls his eyes. "Poor Sunshine! And you looked so cute in your French Maid uniform." He smacks me on the ass. "Now get up and get dressed. We're already late for dinner with Dorian."
Dinner is in the hotel restaurant, Jett's Grill, named after James Dean's character in 'Giant.' Everything in this hotel references that film. I know it's the town's main claim to fame, but you can carry even a good thing a little too far.
Dorian has a quiet table in the corner. But the entire hotel is packed with cast and crew members, so as we walk through the dining room Brian gets greeted and high-fived at every table. There are two other motels in Marfa -- both filled with the crew. But even that's not enough rooms, so most of the wranglers and stunt men are in trailers out by the location site.
"Hey, man," says Paco Romano, grabbing Brian's arm as we pass. He's sitting at the bar with a couple of hot-looking Hispanic guys who aren't familiar at all. They look like local pick-ups -- and they're obviously already stoked up to have a little fun. "We're having a party at the Thunderbird tonight. You're welcome to come out and join us." The Thunderbird is one of the motels were the secondary cast is staying. "These are my new amigos, Eduardo and... what's your name, hombre?"
"Chase." The guy grins happily. He looks a little like Benjamin Bratt. "And you're Brian Kinney! Wow!"
"Yeah," says Brian, raising an eyebrow. "I am."
"You both can come over," says Paco, at least acknowledging me. "We can all kick back and relax. Maybe go and look for the Marfa Lights when it gets real dark."
Brian frowns. "What the fuck are the Marfa Lights?"
"You know," I prod him. "I told you about them. Those weird lights out in the desert. They're famous."
"Oh," Brian shrugs. "Invisible lights. Kind of like submarine races on the Allegheny River."
"What the hell does that mean?" Chase asks, puzzled.
"No, man!" insists Paco. "These are real. Some people think they're UFO's. Other people think they're Indian ghosts. Come with us. They're supposed to be awesome!"
Yeah, I think, skeptically. Especially if you're high!
"Maybe another time." Brian turns away and I see Paco shake his head in frustration. He's been trying to get Brian's attention since filming began and he's still trying. I'm sure he wishes I'd get lost in the desert. Maybe looking for the Marfa Lights.
Dorian is waiting at the table, gulping a glass of red wine. He looks stressed. It's been a hard shoot and as it's getting close to the end he needs everything to go right if they're going to finish on schedule and within budget. "Thank you both for joining me."
"What's up?" asks Brian, pulling out his chair. Because it's obvious that something is going on.
"I'll give you the good news first," says Dorian glumly.
"Shit," Brian remarks. "Where's that bottle of Jack Daniels when I need him most?"
"Brian..." I begin, but he cuts me off promptly.
"Don't get your pretty little knickers in a twist, Sunshine. When I go off the wagon I'm saving it for a really big fucking blow-out! And I'm going to do it in L.A. or Palm Springs or Ibiza, not in Marfa, Texas!"
"Yeah, right!" I huff.
"Boys! It's not that bad!" Dorian yelps. Then he grimaces. "Well, depending on your point of view."
"Spill it." Brian reaches into the bread basket on the table and actually removes a breadstick and takes a big bite out of it! That's how potentially upset he is.
"Do you want to order dinner first?"
"No," says Brian. "I might not be able to eat afterward I hear your cheery news." Which is ironic, because he's chewing on the breadstick at that very moment.
Dorian takes another gulp of the wine to steel himself. "The good news is that I heard from the studio about an hour ago. They've signed up Walker Talmadge III to write the score for the film. It was quite a coup for them. A number of producers have been trying to get him to do music for their productions and he's always turned them down. But he is quite keen to work on this project."
Brian stares at Dorian. Then he looks at me. "Walker Talmadge? Are you shitting me?"
"I thought you'd be pleased!" Dorian says. "Not only is Talmadge an out artiste, but he's sure to come up with an excellent score, as well as some songs that may well be up for Academy Award consideration come February."
"Yeah, he's great," Brian grumbles. "I ought to know -- I was in rehab with him."
Dorian gapes at Brian. "Rehab? You mean... the two of you? Together?" Dorian glances at me and I shake my head. "You and Walker Talmadge?"
"We didn't fuck," Brian says flatly. "Although he wanted to. Badly. But he's not my type."
"He wrote a song about Brian," I confide. "It's not bad. But I don't think it would fit 'Red River.'"
"Is this going to be a problem for you, Brian?" Dorian asks. "Because it might not be too late to tell the studio to find someone else. Talmadge's participation hasn't been announced publicly."
"Fuck it," Brian shrugs. "He's not going to be on set, is he?"
Dorian makes a face like he's getting a bitch of a headache. Or that the one he already has has just gotten worse. "Probably not. Scoring the film is done in post-production."
"Then forget it. Maybe Walker's crush on me will get us a big hit. Do you want me to sing it on the soundtrack? Add to my greatest hits collection?" I begin to hum 'Baby Blue' and Brian reaches over and pinches my arm. "Can it, twat."
"Ow! Quit that, old man!" I counter. But Brian just gives me his I'm-warning-you look.
"That's the good news," Brian continues. "So what's the bad news?"
Dorian leans in, his voice low. "We found the leak."
"The leak?" I say. "What leak?"
"The person who's been leaking information to the press!" Brian hisses. "Who is it?"
"Actually, Avi discovered who it was. He suspected and was able to lift the man's cellphone. It was full of calls to one of the tabloid reporters who has been lurking around the area."
"Let me guess -- Rexford Walcott." Brian leans back and crosses his arms. "The creep who's been calling Justin. He was in Tucson, at the hospital and the hotel."
"Just so," Dorian nods. "The leak was one of our drivers."
"Jesus!" Brian exclaims. Then his face changes. "Was it Joe? It was, wasn't it?"
"Joe?" I look at Brian. "Our driver? He's the one?"
"Yes," Dorian confirms. "He's evidently been taking money from Walcott in return for information about the shoot ever since we went on location. He volunteered to be Avi's driver when you were injured. Avi became suspicious when saw the man making cellphone calls at odd times and obviously trying to hide it. That's when he began watching him. This morning he asked if Joe would drive him out to the town set. I don't know how he did it, but Avi was able to get hold of the man's phone. Avi immediately took it to Tom Packard, who brought it to my attention."
"Goddamn it! Goddamn!" Brian keeps repeating. "That fucking bastard!"
"What are you going to do, Dorian?" I ask.
"The man's been dismissed and he's on his way back to L.A. I doubt he'll ever work in the film industry again, but legally there's not much we can do. We have no proof of any real illegality. Selling what you see and hear is distasteful, but it's not a crime. At least not technically."
"That fucking sleaze!" says Brian. "I'd like to break the guy's balls!"
Dorian rubs his forehead. "You and all the rest of the cast. You aren't the only one he's been gathering information about. He admits to selling the story of Clint's birthday party, as well as general gossip from the set. Luckily, this has been a fairly trouble-free shoot. Your accident was the most newsworthy things that's happened -- at least so far."
"These guys are like cockroaches," Brian comments. "You step on one and another one comes out of the woodwork to replace him. I'd be surprised if Walcott and the other tabloids didn't have other informants on this shoot. With the kind of money they flash in front of these people it's hard not to be tempted." Brian looks at me and smiles grimly. "And if that doesn't work, there's always blackmail."
"You don't have anything to hide -- and neither do I!" I say, defiantly.
"Everyone has something to hide," says Brian. "And the dirt they could dig up on me would fill an encyclopedia. The only thing I can do is try not to let it bother me -- and hope that if they do print some shit about me, that the studio doesn't hold it against me."
"Or the fans," I add.
"I think the fans are the least of my worries," Brian states. "People, especially women, love a bad boy. And fuck knows I've been a bad, bad boy!"
"No worse than most," says Dorian. "Here's the waiter. I think we need a good meal right now."
We all order steaks -- we are in Texas, after all. But I think that when we get back to L.A. I may go off meat for a while. I've seen enough steaks -- and enough cows -- to last me until the end of the year.
We're halfway through dinner when Dorian looks up and waves to someone. A tall man with short gray hair ambles over to the table. He looks vaguely familiar, but I can't place him. I know he's not a member of the crew. But there's something about him...
"Brian, Justin -- I'd like you to meet Burr Connor," says Dorian, offering the man the fourth chair at our table.
Brian immediately jumps up and shakes Connor's hand. "I'm really pleased to meet you! I was hoping you'd come on board."
Burr Connor doesn't smile at all. His face looks sad and tired, the lines deep between his eyes. "Clint convinced me. You can't say no to Clint, can you?"
"I certainly can't!" Dorian jokes. "I'd be afraid to!"
Connor sits down and the waiter comes over. He orders some green tea and nothing else.
"Would you like something off-menu, sir?" asks the waiter. But Connor shakes his head.
"I never eat in restaurants. Too many toxins." he explains after the waiter leaves. He glances at our plates of Texas beef and sniffs. "I'll make something cleansing for myself back in my room."
Brian gives me a look as if to say: "Get this guy." But he doesn't stop scarfing down his bloody rare steak. So I keep eating mine, too.
"I read that you're a Buddhist," says Dorian, trying to make conversation. "That's very interesting. Have you been one long?"
Connor stares back at Dorian. "I'm always seeking the truth. I've traveled widely in Asia and Eastern spiritual practices appeal to me, but I don't call myself anything as specific as a Buddhist. Religions are only labels, like other labels. I don't label myself."
"No labels at all?" Brian probes.
Connor turns to Brian, but his face remains impassive. "I don't believe in calling myself one thing or another. I don't limit myself that way. Some would call me an actor, but I don't. I don't call myself anything."
"So you're saying that you aren't gay?" Brian says bluntly. Dorian almost chokes. Burr Connor's sexuality is one of the 'Big Secrets' in Hollywood that everyone knows, but nobody talks about. And especially not to the guy's face!
Burr Connor gazes at Brian intensely and that's when it hits me -- he reminds me of Ron! Not in his looks exactly, but in his manner, his intensity. And in his deep, penetrating blue eyes.
"What is gay?" Connor replies. "It's just a word. A meaningless word. Who really knows what's inside another person? People think they know you because you're in the public eye, because you make films, appear on television, show up in their magazines. But what do they really know? Nothing. It's all an illusion. It's all acting, whether you do it in front of the camera or every day in your so-called life. An illusion."
Brian catches my eye and then shakes his head. I know he thinks Burr Connor is more than a little freaky.
"Well, then," says Dorian, as the waiter brings the tea. "Shall we have a little toast? To finishing up 'Red River' and having a great success?"
Dorian holds up his wine, while Brian and I hold up our glasses of water.
But Burr Connor doesn't pick up his cup of tea. "This film will be what it is, no matter what we do," he intones.
"Um... rather," says Dorian. He clicks his wine glass against ours and drains it. Then he finishes the rest of the bottle all by himself.
Poor Dorian. I think he's going to need more than wine to deal with Burr Connor!
That night in bed I ask Brian if he noticed anything... um... familiar about Burr Connor.
"Familiar? What do you mean?"
"I mean... does he remind you of anyone?"
"Remind me of who?" Brian rolls over and looks me in the eye. "What are you getting at?"
Maybe I'm imagining any resemblance to Ron. Maybe it's just paranoia about the tabloids and Rexford Walcott and all the stuff he claimed to 'know' about Brian and Ron's death and all the fucking trouble he could cause that's making me see Ron lurking in places where he isn't. Or maybe it's sleeping in James Dean's old room every night that's making me dream of ghosts of all kinds -- Ron, James Dean himself, the Indians that live in the Marfa Lights, all of Brian's tricks, past, present, and future.
"Nothing," I say. "I was just thinking about stuff."
"Stop thinking so much," Brian says, yawning. "I have to get up a 5:00 a.m., so let's cut out the chat and get on to the main event."
He moves his mouth southward towards my dick.
He's right. I'm thinking about too much stuff.
Less thinking and more doing. And being done.
And that feels fucking great!
Filming has moved to the set of an old Western town built way out in the desert, about a 45 minute drive from Marfa. After the first two days it's obvious that Brian's ankle is doing fine and he doesn't really need his personal assistant to keep an eye on him 24/7, so we agree that I don't need to sit around in the 100 degree plus heat while we wait for him to do his scenes.
"Find something to keep yourself occupied," he tells me. "I actually have to do some acting in these scenes and I don't need your plump, juicy ass distracting me while I'm trying to concentrate."
"Sweet talk with get you everywhere!"
"I've already been everywhere... at least on you," he snorts. Brian has been in a good mood ever since we got to Texas and that reassures me. "I'll see you later, alligator."
That makes me laugh. "Is that James Dean Fifties jive talk, Brian?"
"No, it's get-your-ass-out-of-here-and-let-me-work talk." He sticks his tongue out at me and heads back to the trailer to get ready for his first scene.
I drive back to town and get my camera from the hotel room.
The downtown area of Marfa is about two blocks long with only a single stoplight. I take some pictures of the hotel and the Courthouse and a place called El Cheapo Liquor, which isn't really much architecturally, but the name is funny. There's a little building on the edge of the desert with a Prada sign on it, but it doesn't seem like a real store. I peer into the window and realize it's an art gallery. Or a piece of art itself. Or both. I take a few pictures from different angles. Then I move on to some of the other galleries.
There's something in town called the Judd and Chinati foundations. They were founded by an artist who came here in the early 1970's and opened a studio, encouraging other artists to follow him to this crazy little town on the far edge of Texas. Now there are a bunch of galleries, the two foundations, which fund and encourage young artists, and even a film festival here. Pretty impressive for a place that's basically one stoplight in the middle of nowhere. The Prada installation is an example of the kind of avant garde work they're doing here. It's very situational. And very cool. At least I think so.
I see a long, low building. It's nondescript and I almost pass right by. But something makes me stop. I'm not sure what it is. I get a prickly sensation at the back of my neck. I want to turn around and walk the other way, but instead I go to the door. I look. I hesitate. And then I'm in.
It's quite dark inside because the installation is called 'Marfa Lights.' And that's what it is -- a series of blinking, moving lights against a swirling blue background that looks like the desert sky at midnight.
I stroll up and down the length of the exhibit, watching the lights move and change. Now I want to go out into the desert and look for the real Marfa Lights, but not with Paco and his pals. Just Brian and me. And a blanket. And a flashlight so we don't put the blanket down on my scorpions. Or iguanas. Or whatever else is crawling around.
I'm thinking about Brian and the Marfa Lights and the desert and that's when I bump into someone. I look up and realize it's Burr Connor. The gallery is dim, but it's definitely him. I guess he isn't filming today.
"Oh, excuse me, Mr. Connor."
He sneers at this dimwit who crashed into him, but then he recognizes me. "Oh, hello. You're Brian Kinney's friend, right?"
"Yes. Justin Taylor. We met at dinner." I smile at the man, trying to be friendly. After all, Brian has to work with him. "I like this piece. It's a perfect fit for the town."
"Hm," he murmurs, which I take for agreement. "Are you familiar with the artist? Griffin Sutherland?"
"No, I just wandered in. I was looking at the Prada building at the end of the street and then I saw this place. I like the work people are doing here. I'm a student at the Institute of Fine Art in Pittsburgh. I work mainly with photography and computer graphics, but I did a found art piece last fall. I really enjoyed doing that. And I had some things in a show at the Warhol Museum earlier this year." I want this guy to know that I'm not just some moron who doesn't know shit. I may only be an art student, but I know a little bit of shit!
Burr Connor makes a grunting noise, like he could give a damn that I'm an artist or what kind of work I'm doing. But then he shrugs and nods, as if he's decided that talking to me won't completely ruin his day. "Found art is an interesting concept. I saw Sutherland's installation in Seattle last year. He incorporated sound with a large light board and some concrete images. But I like this better. It's more organic."
That's exactly what I said a minute ago, but I don't point that out to Mr. Connor. Still, I'm surprised he knows so much about contemporary art. It's not what I expected from a old cowboy star. But Brian would warn me about making assumptions about people, especially actors. Acting is image, not reality. Unlike Sam Elliott and Pat Swayze, who really live a Western lifestyle similar to the roles they love to play, Burr Connor isn't a cowboy at all. And he must hate people thinking he's one. No wonder he went on that rant about labels at dinner!
As we look at the 'Marfa Lights,' he tells me more about Griffin Sutherland and some other situational and concrete artists. I find that I'm learning a lot from him. The he starts talking about Japan and China. About martial arts and mediation. I think Ben Bruckner would enjoy this conversation, but it's a little 'zen' for my taste.
"I've seen many things in my travels, but I only collect what really moves me. Mainly small pieces," he continues. "Ceramics. Jade carvings. Scrolls. Tangibles. Things you can hold in your hand. Things you can see in the blink of an eye. But I enjoy looking at larger works. Meditating on their meanings."
"Can you suggest any other galleries in town that I shouldn't miss?" I ask. "I'd like to broaden my knowledge."
He looks down at me -- he's almost as tall as Brian -- and smiles slightly. It's the first time I've seen him come anywhere close to a smile.
"Just look, Mr. Taylor," he says. "Keep your eyes open. Your mind open. Sometimes the things you need to know can't be observed with the naked eye. They must be seen in the mind's eye." Burr Connor looks off at the light installation, like he's thinking of something else. Like he wishes he were someplace else.
Brian told me that the word in Hollywood is that Burr Connor caught his lover, Rod Sebring, fucking another guy in his trailer when they were making a film together way back in the 1980's. Connor was so angry that he got Sebring fired and then outed his own lover to the tabloids. It destroyed Rod Sebring's career. He began drinking, drugging, and fucking around, and he ended up developing full-blown AIDS. He died a few years later and that's when Burr Connor stopped making films and became a full-time recluse. That's also apparently when he began traveling around Asia and studying Eastern religions. Maybe he was looking to escape from fame. Or looking for an answer to some question that was plaguing him. Like how he could do what he did to someone he loved. Or claimed to love.
I wonder what ghosts are still haunting him, because he has that haunted look in his eyes. Good thing he didn't end up sleeping in the James Dean Room! I can only imagine what kinds of nightmares he'd have in there.
"Be ready, Mr. Taylor," he says suddenly. "Always ready. You're going to be needed. More than you can ever imagine."
"Needed?" Jesus, this guy is scaring me! "Who's going to need me? For what?"
"You've seen things, Mr. Taylor." Burr Connor's voice is low. "Other paths. I can see you walking those other paths. You and your lover. You know what I'm talking about. But it's the main path that's important now. The path you need to take."
Shit! The Alternate Streams. Fiona and her visions. It's almost like he can see inside me and knows about Fiona and all of that crazy stuff. Or maybe not so crazy after all.
"Yes. I think I know what you mean." I swallow and try not to waver. Try not to let this guy know how much he's freaking me out! "Is there... something specific? I mean... about this path?"
His blue eyes look down at me. I get that prinkly feeling at the back of my neck again. "Something only you can find. Something only you can provide. Something inescapable. You'll know what to do... when the time comes. Don't fail your lover, because then you'll fail yourself. And you'll never forgive yourself. I know. And I can never make it right." And with that Burr Connor turns and strides out of the gallery.
"Hey! Wait!" I stumble after him. "What the fuck does that mean?"
But when I get outside he's gone. I look up and down, but he's nowhere in sight.
And I'm standing on that hot, dusty Marfa street at noon, feeling like I've just seen a ghost.
Continue on to "Primitive Man".
©Gaedhal, August 2008.
Posted August 29, 2008.