Interview by Jimmy James Bettencourt
It was dark and the streets were wet as I pulled out of the ER where I had seen enough carnage for the night and found the highway heading straight into town. Right away there was a sense of trouble and randomness in the air as police cars careened desperately across the on-ramp and onto the grassy median in pursuit of something a bit more exciting than a box of donuts. Their flashing lights caused most of the cars on the ramp to squeeze sheepishly to the side, allowing me to pull around them and get out onto the road five minutes quicker.
I was going to Saint Paul, Minnesota, but I was on the wrong side of Minneapolis. Well, most people I know would say that Saint Paul IS the wrong side of Minneapolis. But what I mean is that I was in the West Metro and I needed to go to the East Metro, and this time of day rush hour was operative in all directions. So I pushed my way onto the highway, and joined the never ending river of red tail lights of a few thousand hapless saps heading home from their miserable desk jobs to their boring little families in their ticky tacky houses in the suburbs.
As I drove off the highway into downtown Saint Paul about a half hour later, I cursed the proverbial drunken Irishmen who had built these crazy topsy turvey streets and alley ways. At the first red light, I pulled out my notes to check for the name of the hotel I was supposed to find. Oh. That one. I knew that hotel as a beehive of grungy efficiencies where people with marrow transplants went to die and businessmen from out of town got the clap. After parking the Humvee halfway on the sidewalk (I had a Police Benevolent Society sticker in the back window) I wandered into the infamous lobby of the X-Kaliber Suites with its faux coconut trees and numerous shallow ponds. Infamous for the time a disgruntled guest snuck down to the lobby at midnight and, covering the security camera with something that should have been in the laundry, fished all the koi out of the ponds. Their butchered remains and swaths of blood were found scattered across the carpets and furniture by the front desk clerk when he woke up at 5:30 AM.
I swear I had nothing to do with it. Nothing.
I went up a flight in the elevator to the VIP guest suite. It figures that Jason Page would reserve the VIP Guest Suite for himself. He was the kind of guy who lived off other people’s attention. I knocked on the door and in a few seconds it was opened by a broad I had met once before. She brushed her flaming red hair back as she gave me a look that reminded me of something that happened a long time ago on a dark night on a dark dark street in darker, much darker, days. She was just like I remembered her, with the same slim figure, the same painted on clothes, the same legs that went all the way to the ground and the same attitude that went all the way to hell and back.
“You here to see Jason?” she intoned in that low sexy voice that made most men melt but that did little more than remind me to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home, taking me in with her rusty green eyes and remembering, I could tell … dark things.
“Yea, baby, that’s why I’m here. But I’m not sure I could say the same about you, if you know what I mean.”
“Huh?” she said, as I walked past her into the suite’s main room to find Jason Page trying to make himself look important on the mildew stained couch.
“Jimmy James Bettencourt, I presume,” came the smarmy self important voice, with the almost imperceptible head wobble one finds on the super-egotistical, lights in his eyes that shine only for himself, a styling to his voice that displays a little bit of excitement … for himself.
“Page, you’re almost exactly as I remember you,” I replied, taking a seat at a right angle to the couch, watching him try to hide a sense of perplexity in his voice. I knew that he and I had met before, but just as I suspected would be the case, he apparently did not. Advantage Bettencourt.
“So, you’ve made a movie, and I’m here to interview you about it.”
“Well, yes, I’ve made a few movies, but you’re not here to interview me about one I’ve made. We’re here to talk about the one I didn’t make … White Man’s World.”
“Oh, right.” I had forgotten that little detail. Page had been hijacked by his cameraman. He attempted to make a film … about Native Americans in Minnesota … but it was an utter failure. His star walked out on him, the Indians revolted, his crew turned on him. If I remembered correctly, the mob, who had funded the operation, was after him. But, his camera man, a guy named Carl, had been filming the process all along. The original intent, I’m sure, was to make a “making of” film for a later exercise in self-aggrandizement. What happened instead was that Carl the camera man absconded with the footage and made his own documentary, with the same name as Page’s ill fated film.
But with a tacit subtitle that ran something like this: “Jason Page … Asshole” or maybe “Piss on you, Jason Page” or perhaps “Jason Page is an Egomaniacal Sonofabitch” … or words to that effect.
I had seen quite a bit, but not all, of the film, having been sent illicitly obtained rushes and partly edited segments by a mysterious intermediary, whom I suspect to have been Red Haired Girl. My information suggested that she had a bit part in this documentary, and that was not very complementary. Let’s just say a word that rhymes with halibut was used in that particular scene.
“OK, then, Jason, since I know from past experience that you like to sing, why don’t you give me a little ditty about Jason and Carl … what does this tell-all documentary say that you would prefer not be generally known?”
“Nothing, actually” he smiled, keeping up the smarm, but clearly wondering what I knew about his interest in singing. “There is nothing that I have to hide. It’s all in the interpretation, and Carl makes me look like an incompetent boob when its clear that I’m not.”
OK, I could do this. I could give Page all the rope he needs. “Well, let’s start out this way. What was your film about, what were you trying to do originally?”
“I wanted to make a film about the Indian community in Minnesota, around Duluth. These are an oppressed people, a people without a voice, a people with honor and pride and few beyond their community know of this.”
“Which Indians?” I asked.
“Which tribe? Lakota? Arapaho? Chippewa?”
“I don’t know, whatever. Indians. Indians are Indians.”
“OK, Jason, I guess that doesn’t matter. In the bits I’ve seen of the movie, I saw that you interviewed native activist and writer Jim Northrup. He is a major cultural and political leader of his people. What was it like working with him?”
“He is a wise and noble Indian, and provided me with much wisdom.”
“Jason, I hear a bit of snark in your voice. What’s that about?” giving him a knowing wink…
His snark delivered with a straight face now transformed into a smirk… “Man, that guy was so full of shit. He tried to mislead me so many times. He had me going for a while, but I was on to him.”
“Northrup told you to go to the Reservation to learn about the way of life of the Indians in the area. What kind of experience was that?”
“It was a truly awakening experience for me … spiritual, even. The way of life of the Native is truly close to the Earth, pure, enriched, sacred.”
“Seriously?” I captured his eyes in an incredulous stare.
“What, are you kidding? No, it was not! These Indians are living in condos. They get their damn food in grocery stores! They don’t hunt or gather … they wear regular clothes, they have a college that anybody can go to even if you are not an Indian with classes on totally un-Indian topics like literature and science. It is unbe-fucking-lievable. There was only one teepee and it was in the frackin’ museum….”
“It wasn’t a teepee…” chimed in Red Haired Girl.
“It was a wigwam. These Indians don’t use teepees. They are Woodland Indians….”
“Shit!” cried out Jason, quite exacerbated and bouncing up and down on the couch, “These Indians don’t have shit! I wanted Indian Shit! There was no Indian Shit at all! Hey, what are you anyway, an anthropologist or something?”
The Red Haired Girl smirked. Jason smirked. We all smirked. Anthropologist indeed.
“OK, Jason, let’s get back to the topic: The desecration of your good name by your camera man. I understand that he documented a lot of embarrassing moments …”
“Ha!” he interrupted. “I can shoot 12 weeks of a person’s life and pull out 120 minutes that will make the person look like a saint, a devil, Gandhi or Hitler. The only thing that needs something of an explanation is that while I know I could do this, as an A-list film maker, I’m a little unsure how Carl pulled it off.”
“Well, maybe it was easy for him because he had more material to work with. I mean, seriously Jason, you are known for being a bit hard to work with. I happen to know one of the judges in that dance contest…”
I knew this would be a sore spot with Page, and I admit I brought it up to lead him on. He had talked his way into a celebrity dance contest in Duluth, had spent weeks with a hired choreographer and a professional dancer learning the Tango, and actually in the end performed pretty well. But he was beaten by a local clown doing a mock Russian Kalinka dance. And when I say “clown” I mean clown… the clown from one of the local cable access shows. The irony was that Page was always insisting how great he is, and has had moderate success, about what he deserves. This time he probably deserved to win but he lost to the clown. I wish I had been there.
“I don’t want to talk about the dance contest. That is of no importance, and besides, I got the Judges Choice. I. Won. That. Contest.”
“OK, whatever. Back to the Indians. In the end, Jason, you used Indians for only bit parts or parts with a few lines. Your star, playing the role of a young Indian man in conflict with his family and his tribe, was a Caucasian actor you’d worked with before in … red face. What’s up with that? Other than blatant racism, that is.”
“I beg to differ.” His nose went up, and a bit to the side, out of joint. “This was not a racist movie, I am not a racist film maker.”
“But there were no significant Indian actors in the movie ….”
“They can’t act for shit.”
“They can’t act for shit. It is not in their genes. The Thespian gestalt never emerged in their evolutionary history. Indians can’t act any more than they can hold their liquor. They can spear a fish with their eyes closed, they can tell you which way a herd of buffalo is moving and how many there are by listening to the ground. But acting? Forgetaboutit.”
I had had enough. Enough to write my story, enough to tell my editor that I’d put in my overtime and more, enough to justify driving to this stinking town. So I stood up to leave.
“Jason, I have to go. Unlike you, I’ve got a deadline.”
“Wait … I have a question for you. You mentioned singing back when you first got here. What exactly was that about?”
Ah, he noticed that. Yes, I had mentioned singing. This goes back a few years, before Jason Page made his first movie. He had been in an entirely different business back then. He ran a Bible Camp outside of Ely, Minnesota. It was private camp with extra high fees that catered to the troubled offspring of the Rich and Famous of Duluth’s lumber barons and ship builders. Saint Edmund’s Way of God Bible Camp. They were famous for putting together a singing group every year, and one year they entered a Biblical Battle of the Bands. They lost the contest, but Page won some infamy when he was caught in flagrante delicto with two of the three judges for the contest. The third judge, the local weather lady, is the one that caught them and gave the story legs. Everybody in the newsroom knew about it, but the status of the two judges in local society kept it quiet. But quiet is not the same as “it never happened.”
“Oh that,” I replied, fixing his gaze. “Forgetaboutit. That’s a little tidbit that we used to call a Felata back in Frisco where I got my start.”
“Felayta?” … it was Red Haired Girl asking.
“Felayta.” I said. “I’ll put it in the back of my notebook and save it. Felayta.”
And with that I walked out of that stinking hole.
On my way back to the newsroom where I would be expected to turn this absurd conversation into copy suitable for the 6th grade reading ability of the paper’s prurient but fully Christian audience, I thought about that dark dark time back in Saint Paul’s sister city, Minneapolis, the first time I laid my eyes on the Red Haired Girl. It was dark because there was a blackout, and I was drinking a warm beer lit by a candle in my favorite joint on Eat Street. She came in from the rain looking for a place to dry off, and I offered to buy her a cup of cold coffee. Remember, there was a blackout. So the coffee was cold.
“I don’t drink coffee, stranger. But you can fix my car if you want. I just got into a fender bender.”
“I wish I could, sweetcakes, but I’m out of work, out of money, and I just lent my rubber mallet to a cousin who never returns anything.”
“OK,” she said. “Then I’ll take the coffee. And to make things right, I’ll bake you cookies. If you want.”
And ever since then, there’s been cookies.