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To be brutally honest, the year 1981 had never meant that much to me in terms of historic importance. In truth, I'd never given it much thought. After all, how many adults past, say age thirty-five, can look back at the year they turned twelve with anything other than blurred, fractured memories? I do, however, recall being forced to don my first pair of glasses around that same age, mainly due to the many varied nicknames attached to my person soon thereafter. Such creative gems as "Stevie" (as in Stevie Wonder ... get it?), "Mr. Peepers," and the ever-popular stand-by, "Four-Eyes," became the daily albatross wound around my pencil-thin neck, at least until around Junior High, as by then my tormentors had discovered new avenues from which to inflict mental anguish.
In terms of those aforementioned historical events, that particular year is most remembered for such bolded headlines as the shooting of then-president Ronald Reagan; the release of fifty-two American hostages from Iran after four-hundred forty-four days in captivity; the initial launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles. Sports headlines saw the Raiders win the Super Bowl over the overmatched Eagles from Philly and the Dodgers toppling the hated Yankees in the World Series. Don't get me wrong. It isn't as if I recall the aforementioned events from personal memory. In fact, let me give credit where credit is due. Thank you, Wikipedia on-line. As a twelve year old growing up in the northeast (central Ohio to be exact), my daily interests were more tied into reading comics (a huge vice until theage of fifteen or so, when girls began to emerge as something other than alien beings), pick-up basketball or football games with my neighborhood pals, or possibly catching my favorite TV show on that then-infant landscape known as cable TV. Local and world news were hardly a priority to this kid, as I'm sure is still the case these days amongst the junior high crowd, though the overall scene is undoubtedly more accessible in the new millennia, not to mention increasingly relevant. History in and of itself is a mere footnote while growing up, at least in my day, when names, dates, and places were simply something you learned for test purposes. Again, I get the feeling that despite such technological advances as the internet, worldwide cable TV and virtual encyclopedias, kids and teens will always treat history as nothing more than problematic footnotes to be studied and then quickly dismissed.
My initial interest in 1981 was more tied to a specific place than the year itself. A friend and business cohort of mine, Gil Thomas, who'd produced my previous documentary for FlickWave Films, had read an article while researching a separate project and brought it to my attention strictly by accident. We'd been eating lunch and discussing the poor DVD retail sales (pathetic might be a better word) associated with my second film, The Bone-Yard Necessity, when Gil had mentioned the southeast region as being the best in terms of overall rentals and disk sales. This had somehow reminded him of the web article he'd seen, more than likely due to Baymont being located in Northeast Alabama. The seed of curiosity sprouted forth from there, as by that afternoon I found myself doing some serious research of my own. Long story semi-short, less than three weeks later I found myself parked inside the office of the project manager at FlickWave, Miranda Olive, pitching a new project. Following the surprising success (4.6 million at the box office and an additional five point three in DVD rentals and sales) of my first film (American Oddities), FlickWave had signed me on to helm two additional documentaries. I'd had great hopes for Bone-Yard Necessity, which covered the myths, superstitions, and legends surrounding some of the nations' most noted graveyards. While Powerball Lottery winnings had allowed me to personally finance my virgin effort (Oddities) on a relatively shoe-string budget (just under 200 grand), the studio had happily doubled that total for Bone-Yard.
Unfortunately, the finished product had disappointed on several levels, both critically and financially. I had a feeling the powers that be wouldn't be so generous in backing my newest (and possibly final?) effort. Regardless, I was never one to hesitate when the urge to create overwhelmed all others. The juices flowed like white-water rapids, a condition I've found can only be calmed by the overall vision coming to fruition in the form of a completed film. There is nothing I can compare it to other than perhaps drug or alcohol addiction, though thankfully I've had no practical experience with either.
There is an unrelenting gnawing at the gut, to be accompanied by tidal waves of self-doubt and depression. The hunger must be fed; the fix sated, whatever the personal cost. From a writer/director point of view, there is eventually a feeling of numb acceptance that such a roller-coaster ride of emotions would not abate until the deed was done. Simply put, an idea is birthed, nurtured, and finally released to fend on its own, much like a newborn having aged past puberty and on to fledging adulthood. Perhaps the cruelest part is that until the present cycle is complete, no new ideas are allowed to birth.
As was my style (however woeful), I'd pitched the idea with the fervor of a carnival barker of old. The night before the actual presentation, I'd written (and drawn) out the draft outline and accompanying story-boards on eleven by seventeen posters with multi-colored Sharpees, emphasizing the point that budget costs would be substantially minimized due to the entire film being shot in one central location (as opposed to both Oddities and Bone-Yard). I'd even hinted, though not directly, of perhaps chipping in a bit of my own money if budgetary restraints became an issue. Anything to get my pet project rolling, you understand. Pride is one of the first things to fall by the wayside in the mine-filled realm of documentary filmmaking.
By the time my frantic, caffeine-fueled seminar had concluded, Miranda, a heavy-set African-American lady in her early to mid forties, had reached over and calmly patted me on one shoulder, her expression as stoic and unemotional as your basic Chia Pet. I tried not to let her lack of enthusiasm bother me, as in the two-plus years I'd known her, she'd displayed no other emotion that I'd ever witnessed first hand. Comes with the territory, I'm sure. The job description of Project Manager at a film studio no doubt reads 'Vulcan' under nationality. They simply can't afford to lean one way or the other until the headcheese gives the nod for either approval or disapproval, no matter their gut instinct. How much actual power such a title carries is a mystery. Sitting across from a writer slash director selling his wares with all the couth of a roadrunner hopped up on barbiturates, they can ill afford to spout a 'yes' or 'no' in fear of being overruled at the highest level.
"I'll run this by Barry by the end of the week, Matthew," she'd said warmly, sounding all the world like a high school guidance counselor, which I'd heard she once been in another life, "but like I said earlier, there are only three documentaries on the docket for this calendar year, and yours is the sixth proposal in the past two months."
Despite the positive façade I was barely able to maintain, I'd felt a stout wave of depression tap at the outer reaches of my subconscious, ever-weakening force field. Barry W. Jeter was a highly selective studio head who had supposedly green-lighted Bone-Yard with great reservation following several initial rejections, and who had no doubt felt both a sense of disappointment and vilification in its ultimate failure.
"Still, I must say it piqued my interest, though that may well be the subject matter coupled with my age groups demographic."
"Bingo," I replied with renewed vigor. "Anybody over the age of thirty could identify. Plus there's the mystery, crime-drama element that should appeal to both older and younger audiences."
Miranda nodded in agreement, resting her chin in both palms. I continued once I understood no verbal response was forthcoming.
"Sentiment for the 'olden days' of the seventies and eighties is sweeping the nation. I hear collectables from that time are making a definite comeback on eBay. The me generation is slowly shoving Generation X right out of the picture."
"Stop," she chided, waving me off playfully, "I'm feeling older by the minute. After all, I flipped the tassel way back in seventy-nine."
"Eighty-six here," I said with a sly grin.
"Gotta admit, it's hard to think of those particular decades as being a golden era, but it has been over thirty years since the Bi-Centennial."
"Lord, don't remind me. I was still in middle school."
I laughed, and we fell silent for a few moments, ending the presentation phase of my project.
"Well, I appreciate any good word you can share, Miranda," I finally blurted, departing the office with a spring in my step and a gleam in my eyes, the multi-colored poster-boards tucked beneath my armpit no doubt resembling picket signs of some type.
On the two-hour plus drive back to Tucson, my scalp refused to stop tingling. If past intuition was any indication, this wasn't merely dandruff related but a positive omen for things to come.
"All right then, Mister Optimist, what makes you think Jeter will pluck your project from the slush pile?" Julia asked me that evening as we sipped steaming green tea from separate cups. It was just past ten p.m., and Matt Junior, age one year, two months and four days, was sleeping peacefully in his crib.
My wife of almost three years was normally the 'glass half-full' type, not I. It was highly probable that the blatant self-confidence I'd displayed had placed her in a mild state of shock.
"In terms of potential audience, Oddities had the sports theme while Bone-Yard that creepy-crawler, X-Files vibe with just a touch of black humor. What's the draw here? Sell me, baby," she concluded with a mock sneer.
"Number one, I'm under contract to them for the last of the Matthew J. Kirby Trilogy. Eventually they have to accept something, if for no other reason than to get rid of me."
"Gooooood point, especially that last part," she countered with a sly grin and a roll of her bright blue eyes.
"Okay, Miss Sarcasm. Number two, not only will the main storyline attract the most populated age group in the country, that being thirty-five to forty-five year olds, but the back story will also cover the younger and older set. Everybody loves a good true-crime mystery with just a tint of the supernatural tossed in for good measure, right?"
"Most populated? Been overdoing the old internet research again, I take it?"
It was my turn to roll my eyes.
"Julia, my sweet Iron Girl, there is no such thing as overdoing research. The World-Wide Web is indeed chock-full of vital, useable information on just about every feasible subject. That is, if you can weed through the Andes Mountain-sized mounds of made-up facts.
"Now, ready for the all-important third reason why my film will and must be shot?"
"I'm braced," she replied in mock seriousness, tensing her perfectly toned shoulders as if readying for physical impact.
"Oh, you're a card, you are. Pro athlete; mother of my only child and future heirs, not to mention unemployed stand-up comedian. Multi-talented, indeed."
"Please proceed with haste, MJ. I feel my pump fading."
I paused for several sips, still admiring the cut, chiseled shape of her upper torso through the snug-fitting white tee-shirt she wore. My lover easily read my thoughts and tilted her head seductively to one side.
"Earth to Matthew?" she said with a mischievous grin. "Come in, Mister Writer/Director..."
"Sorry. Lost my train of thought, honey-buns. I do wish you'd dress more conservatively at the kitchen table. I'm having a dickens of a time keeping perspective, you know."
"Point taken, you buffed-up seductress you. On to number three, which I term 'the kicker.' If push comes to shove, I'll offer to finance half the project and only ask for a small percentage of the overall take in lieu of an up-front salary. Saaaay, maybe five to eight percent. How's that for a deal sealer?"
Julia took a leisurely sip before staring at me through tightly-squinted eyes.
"In other words, you're not about to take no for an answer, right?"
"Pretty much, in a nutshell."
"Even if it means not only working for free, but actually paying to work, right?"
"As rain, my dear warrior-woman. This story simply has to be told and told correctly."
"Matthew, my sweet," she cooed through a thick-lipped pout, "then who better to tell it? Whatever insane endeavor you undertake, my support is, as always, unequivocally yours for the taking."
Rising calmly, I sidestepped around the table and planted a firm kiss atop her forehead.
"That, my sweet, was all these frazzled nerves needed to hear. Now all I can do is wait for the call."
As it turned out, the aforementioned wait was mercifully brief in coming.
Barry Jeter was definitely a member in good standing of the 'Big and Tall' set. Standing at least six-five with a barrel-chest, broad shoulders, and a midsection as thick as your basic walk-in freezer, he struck quite the intimidating figure. At six feet and a solid one-eighty-five, I was no shrimp by any means. That said, I could've stood behind the man and used his massive frame as a cloaking device.
Tack on the steely, unblinking gaze that was his trademark and a deep, gravelly voice straight from the set of a film noir mafia flick, and it went without saying that getting comfortable in Barry's presence was no easy task.
I'd received both a call and subsequent email from Gina Rollins, Jeter's administrative assistant, about meeting with the headman just four short days following the initial presentation in Miranda's office.
"I spoke with Miranda at great length, Matt," he remarked following the initial greeting, sitting behind an oak desk that was roughly the size of an SUV. "She seemed ... unusually intrigued by the storyline, more so than she's usually inclined to reveal. I'd heard rumors that at least three studios have fictional accounts on the docket, but of course there is that unwritten law that dictates waiting at least two to three years before such a ... controversial subject is brought to screen. The personal trauma suffered by friends and family is always taken into consideration. That said, a documentary on the subject is considered a different animal altogether. Less taboo, you understand. I skimmed over your outline. It definitely has a vibe about it."
Stroking the corners of my mustache with one hand, a nervous habit I've yet learned to control, I somehow managed to maintain a calm tone despite the shock waves of elation surging through every nerve ending I possessed.
"It's a winner, Mr. Jeter," I practically whispered, wishing I'd limited my coffee intake to less than a full pot earlier that day. "The story itself is fascinating enough, but it's the individual players that take it to another level.
"I've done extensive background studies on the town, as well as the four main involved parties. Each of them could easily warrant their very own case study."
The man's penetrating stare never faltered, even as he leaned back in the high-back leather chair with both hands tucked behind his head. Maybe it was the angle, but at that moment I couldn't help but notice Barry Jeter's eerie resemblance to James Doohan, 'Scotty' from the old Star Trek series.
"If I recall, the strength of American Oddities was also the individuals themselves, not just the freakish sports feats each accomplished."
I nodded in agreement, maybe a bit too enthusiastically.
"True, and the Baymont project has the same potential, though the framework is even more alluring. My wife Julia calls it a mix of Fast Times At Ridgemont High meets Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with just a smidgen of Tales From The Darkside tossed in for good measure. She's ... um ... we're both connoisseurs of classic TV and film, by the way."
"I see. What are we looking at in terms of shoot duration?" he asked after a moment's pause, and I swear my heart was doing its dead-letter best to pound directly through my rib cage.
"Thirty to forty days, Mr. Jeter. Principal shooting should be sewn up in late May, that is, if we get started by no later than the end of next week. According to my research, the majority of the involved parties still reside in and around the city."
"A single cameraman, if that's feasible."
"Without a doubt. Your wife going to assist on this one or is she previously obligated to the NFL, NBA, or NHL?" he asked through a wide, toothy grin that momentarily left me speechless. Up until that point, counting the other two face-to-face meetings we'd had, I'd never visualized actual proof that the man possessed a working sense of humor.
"I do believe Julia's docket is clear for the next few months. Gotta use her while I have her, though. For all I know, her future plans might include scaling Mount Everest or hiking across Greenland."
"That's one amazing woman, Matthew. I never tire of watching her segment of the Oddities film. Saw a spot on ESPN not long ago, come to think of it. Truly, an astonishing level of determination. Tell her I said congratulations on making the Sun Demons roster."
"You got it, sir, and thanks," I said, unable to conceal my pride at the mere mention of my better-half's accomplishments. No deep-seeded spousal jealousy here. In fact, I constantly find myself in awe of the woman.
"Well, then," he said, leaning forward and shooting me a cheery wink, "one cameraman you will have. Let me know if you decide an additional crew member is needed. I'll have Sandy in finance get with you on the budget issues. I take it you'd be ready to roll on relatively short notice?"
"Yes, sir. I've already completed the outline for primary filming. Still working on connected special projects, like DVD extras, that sort of thing."
"Excellent. Peter in pre-production will get with you on the extras once the budget is set."
I rose after a brief pause, reaching over the desk to shake the man's colossal hand.
"I appreciate the opportunity, Mr. Jeter."
"No problem, son. I've always liked your work, despite the financial disappointment of Bone-Yard Necessity. I still maintain it was a sadly overlooked, underrated film, and Oddities was indeed a low budget marvel. You have a unique way of telling and filming a story ... a natural instinct few possess."
"I'll do my best to bring in a winner, sir," I said before leaving, my knees having transferred to half-settled Jell-O.
Exactly six days later, Jules, cameraman/tech guru Rick Harrison, and I were headed south in a studio-rented 2006 Ford Uplander Van. All the necessary equipment had been procured, all calls made, and subsequent appointments scheduled. Julia's parents were more than happy (I believe the word is ecstatic) to keep Matthew Junior, though Mama Kirby had insisted she fly back to Walleye (that's Minnesota, Julia's former stomping grounds) at least once during filming to see him, more than likely around the midway point.
Rick, nicknamed 'Twig' by all due to his tall, lanky frame, was the perfect co-worker and companion for such a lengthy trek. A man of painfully few words (at least during the initial stage of the journey), he balanced our traveling trio perfectly. Between my nervous chatter and Julia's thrice-daily editorials concerning my outline, ol' Twiggy was the zig to our collective zag. Perpetually tanned and meticulously clean-shaven, with a wrinkle free complexion and long, curly blonde locks that hung from his ever-present Colorado Buffalos baseball cap, Rick appeared no older than perhaps twenty-five or six, when in actuality he had just recently turned thirty-two. When he wasn't taking his shift behind the wheel, our 'Thin Man' could be found lounging in the back seat with his headphones secured and either an iPOD or CD player balanced atop his bony knees. Following the argumentative, borderline obnoxious attitudes of my twin cameramen on Bone-Yard Necessity, Rick Harrison's laid-back persona and sense of professionalism were truly refreshing. Despite owning what appeared to be a very healthy appetite, Twig's outward appearance screamed eating disorder, as I feared a stout gust of wind might possibly hoist him airborne like a human hot-air balloon.
As our seventeen hundred mile trek had ensued, I'd felt the familiar twinge of birthing butterflies scurry about my midsection in ever-building waves, a sensation equally frightful and exhilarating. As the month-long odyssey in and around the city limits of Baymont, Alabama would ultimately prove, both aforementioned emotions would see equal and ample time within the mental confidence-course to come.
To backtrack a bit, the origin of my beginnings in documentary filmmaking some six years earlier was less life-long ambition than a mix of blind, stumbling luck and the desire to tell a specific story. Following high school graduation (a non-climatic event I'd attended as the stereotypical, ultra-bland B minus student with the lowest of expectations) I'd spent the better part of fourteen years working an array of dead-end jobs. My interest in all things slightly out-of-kilter found a fertile feeding ground in the five years I'd spent managing various video stores in and around my central Ohio stomping grounds. I'd made a point to view, study, and subsequently dissect any and all documentaries; the stranger the subject matter the better in terms of personal enticement. Also, although never a very skilled participant, I'd slowly become transfixed with sports and sports records. This love of statistics and all they entail would eventually plant the seed that would sprout to its fullest bloom as American Oddities, the third-most profitable DVD documentary of the year 2006. But to digress, no one, least of all myself, could have claimed that documentary director was in this young thirty-something slacker's future. I wasn't exactly your typical film grad fulfilling his or her potential after years of intense study or on-the-job training. Doesn't bother me in the least to admit I might as well have had 'NOVICE' tattooed on my forehead while shooting Oddities, a project that had been the ultimate in 'independent' filmmaking due to my personally financing the entire shoot using windfall from my Powerball Lottery winnings of some months earlier.
I'd shot using a Bolex Super16mm Turret, performing the majority of the interviews while simultaneously filming. Talk about directing by the seat of one's pants, I'd later discovered numerous shots suffering from a severe case of the shimmies, a great majority of which had to be sliced and diced into oblivion once inside the editing room. Sure, I'd taken some film courses and considered myself an amateur auteur following several short experimental films, but in truth it had taken one humdinger of a miraculous editing job to fine-tune the finished product into the surprise DVD hit it later became.
Julia, who I'd met and showcased in the Iron Girl segment of the film, was to become my wife less than six months after filming had ceased, later accompanying me to the Oddities premiere in Phoenix.
A former Army infantryman, armed security guard, woman wrestler, and contestant in several 'tough woman' contests, Jules gave birth to our son Matt Junior eleven months after the wedding. A bit less than five months after giving birth, she became the first female to ever successfully make the cut on a male professional football squad, signing on as a cornerback slash special teams player for the Glendale Sun Demons of the Arena II league's Western Division. Fulfilling a decade-long dream, she had appeared, usually on kickoff and punt returns, in ten of the team's sixteen regular season games, making four tackles and causing a fumble along the way. Once the campaign had officially ended, so then had her pigskin career. Having achieved her goal, one that had seen injury delays, several failed tryouts, and a fair share of both public and media ridicule, Julia Kincaid Kirby officially retired from the gridiron a day after the season had concluded. It was a decision she made solely on her own, as I hadn't wanted to influence her either way. Secretly, I have to admit to breathing a deep, heartfelt sigh of relief when she decided to step away. Jules knew this without my saying so. It remained comfortably unspoken between the two of us. May sound selfish, but I had grown tired of sharing my loving wife and the mother of my son with what had become nothing more than a side note in a minor-league sport. In truth, once the novelty of her first few game appearances became old hat from a media point of view, the crowds had dwindled, and curiosity had waned. Determined warrior that she was, my better half had yet again proven herself worthy of the Iron Girl moniker, and had ultimately decided to step away from the game of football to pursue some as-of-yet undetermined goal. In the meantime, as with Bone-Yard Necessity, she would play the vital role of script supervisor, administrative assistant, and all-around roadie for the three-person film crew. Plus which, I had found her to be a natural at interviewing. She had a way of coaxing honest responses from people she'd only briefly met despite the camera's intrusion.
As a couple, Jules and I had many things in common, from a love for all things classic in entertainment to an inherent stubbornness to our faith in God. As overused and clichéd as it may sound, the term soul mate has never been so appropriate as in the case of Mister and Missus Matthew Jay Kirby. While the majority of married couples proclaimed working together as a minefield of negativity and constant strife, we were the exact opposite. Though she has many varied interests, I sincerely hoped Jules would become my permanent career partner in documentary filmmaking. She seemed to enjoy the overall process almost as much as I, while maintaining a much calmer exterior, as opposed to the worrisome, apprehensive, borderline maniacal frame of mind of yours truly. It was a good mix. I needed my wife and partner's soothing influence. As things would turn out on the shoot of my third film, titled simply Class of '81, her people skills, and talent for maintaining an even keel in the face of chaos was more than simply helpful. No, a more apt term would be downright vital. As far as I'm concerned, Julia's daily presence was what the military used to term mission essential.
At first glance as you neared the city line of Baymont, Alabama (population 3,675 proclaimed a green-shaded metal sign), one would think they were simply passing through just another in a seemingly infinite collection of small, rural southern towns trapped in a twentieth century time-warp of considerable magnitude. I'd spent several days in southern Alabama while filming the Rufus The Great segment of Oddities, so I wasn't totally unfamiliar with the terrain. However, as we were to discover, there was nothing at all typical about the township of Baymont. Weird as it may sound, it could've just as easily have existed on some faraway moonscape as in the Southern US of A.
Entering from the northwest edge of town, there was the aged, horribly dilapidated country-store ('Carl's One-Stop Mart') with the single petrol pump and a hand-written poster sign pasted inside a dust-covered glass window which read 'Catfish Bait--Ice-Cold Beverages'.
As we neared the aforementioned sign, the sporadic homestead could be spotted tucked away off the main road (a barely paved two-lane with sizeable potholes disguised as moon craters). Many of these homes and the surrounding acreage were cloaked by walls of overgrown shrubbery, having just recently sprouted due to mild April temperatures and the accompanying heavy rainfall of the season. The majority of these country estates were shrouded by the natural lushness of ancient oak, elm, pine, maple, and of course, Bay trees. Hence the town name. There would be the occasional mobile home fronted by scattered piles of car and truck husks with their accompanying parts tossed about the property like metallic fertilizer. Now and again a pasture would appear, complete with grazing horses, cows, or both. Lo and behold, we were even forced to pass a tractor and skip loader along the way, each filling the air with thick plumes of blackish smoke, their drivers (elderly men, one of whom wore the stereotypical faded-blue overalls) waving us around with casual aplomb. Rick, being Arizona born and bred, seemed to quietly marvel as each new scene swam into view, shaking his head back and forth in dumbstruck awe. He'd already confessed to never being further east than West Texas in his life and seemed genuinely fascinated as the trip progressed past that particular point on the map. As was the case with most folks who've never trailed south of the Mason Dixon line, everything he'd learned about southerners and their lifestyles had been via the television and film industries. Talk about an awakening, the Twig was truly in for a healthy dose of reality. Actually, we all were.
I felt it almost instantly upon cruising down Main Street Baymont. Something tangible but impossible to properly define. A change. A shift of sorts. I can only guess it's much like the heightened sense animals feel as a weather front looms near. It would be days later before both Julia and Rick would confess to feeling a similar surge of weirdness as we'd driven into and past the heart of the city, which included two blocks of commerce buildings complete with such eccentric names as 'Garrison's E-Z Hardware', 'All For a Single Buck General Store' and 'Danley's Odds n' Ends'.
At first, I chalked up the faint sensation of uneasiness to the stress of being in a strange place with such a daunting task ahead. It wasn't until we were halted at the last of Main Street's three red lights that the true origin of my jitters stepped clearly into sight. An elderly couple, both perhaps in their late sixties to early seventies, was crossing the street as we waited. As they shambled slowly by, each practically within arms reach of the Uplander's grille, they turned as one and shot me a searing, stony gaze I can only define as menacing. Their cold, unblinking stare had held no mere curiosity at an alien vehicle passing through their tranquil village. Such a reaction would have been completely understandable. After all, I'm sure we stuck out to most if not all the locals like the proverbial sore thumb, what with tooling around town at a snail's pace with Arizona plates. Yet somehow I knew, without a doubt, it wasn't that simple. I'd noted the same dead-pan, fish-eyed expression on numerous other faces, mostly among other drivers we'd met along the way. As the old couple reached the other side and the light turned green, their eyes never left us.
Despite having the driver's window rolled down to allow the springtime temps to slap the flesh of my bare arm, the chill I'd felt was of the full-body shiver variety. In a special features segment for DVD, I would later refer to the overall attitude of the locals as 'The Baymont Freeze.' This wasn't meant in a malicious way, as we'd come to understand their feelings of mistrust in strangers. It seems that a small minority had simply had their collective fill of attention from media types and the like in the past year. The town had been put through the negative publicity wringer, and then some. By the time our shoot had concluded, I couldn't help but feel a bit ashamed in thinking I hadn't exactly helped smooth over the grudge that still holds firm to this very day.
As we parked and dismounted in the semi-paved parking lot of the Baymont Breeze Hotel some five minutes later, I did my best to shrug off negative vibes and focus on the task at hand. As it was, the hotel clerk's cool, off-putting greeting did little to ease my mind. We took the weekly rate for two single rooms. Total cost: $325 and some change. No, it wasn't the Ritz. Heck, it wasn't even Holiday Inn. More like Motel Six-lite, but it would suffice for our needs, that being sleep (however limited at times) and viewing the day's shoots via videotape. Within twenty minutes of settling in as it were, Jules made a quick phone call to the individual listed in my outline as contact number one, and away we went. After a quick bite to eat at the Baymont Dine-In restaurant (where the dull stare, cold shoulder treatment continued unabated), Jules remained at the hotel to make a few calls while Twig packed up his Canon Super 16 millimeter and accompanied me across town to Baymont High School, where the adventure truly began.
Gerald Butler instantly came across as the absent-minded professor of school principals. A balding, chubby man in his mid-fifties, Butler seemed to be haplessly preoccupied with a wide variety of distractions during our short interview, though he did manage to maintain a polite if not slightly distant attitude. It was past four p.m., so classes had long since dismissed for the day. Baymont's elementary, middle, and high schools were all connected by a trio of glass-entombed breezeways, the main structures made up mostly of badly faded red brick. Twig was especially taken aback at the school's isolated locale, which sat at the center of a dense, overgrown forest, noting that the distance from the hotel (and the eastern edge of Main Street Baymont) covered just under six miles.
"Hard to believe we're still in the same county," he remarked while negotiating a series of steep, rolling hills that seemed to be leading us further and further into a mountainous maze, but that would eventually land us at the steps of Baymont's sole educational source.
I'd hoped to use a four to five minute snippet from the high school to intro the film, but unfortunately the finished product wasn't nearly up to par for such a lofty expectation. Principal Butler's nervous grin (and accompanying facial tick) might have provided unintentional comic relief if not for several subtle elements that Julia and I later agreed were more along the lines of creepy than amusing. The man sweated profusely, to the point where his light blue dress shirt was literally soaked at the armpits. Also, he wore a strained, obviously forced grin that could only be labeled as cringe-inducing. Thirdly, and easily the most damaging aspect of the interview, Principal Butler displayed a blatant disinterest in the main topic of our film. It was as if he were simply going through the motions of a sales seminar while bypassing the main thrust of the lecture altogether. In discussing the interview as we'd departed the school grounds, Twig and I agreed that while the man seemed keen on the idea of appearing in our film, his personal well of information had run bone-dry on the subject we were actually there to discuss.
The one useable (and vital, I considered) bit of footage, which was later incorporated into the film's opening sequence, was Butler displaying the Baymont Wall of Graduates, whereas each graduating class's photo was framed on a massive wall outside the school administrative offices. Twig filmed a series of panned shots, covering the oldest class featured (1961) to the latest (2006) in all their 24 X 32 glory. He did focus, of course, extensively on one specific class photo. We also utilized several individual photos from 'The Sentinel '81', the school annual for that particular year.
Upon exiting the hallowed halls of Baymont High, which had smelled of freshly applied floor wax and bathroom disinfectant, Principal Butler had wished us luck, his left eye still twitching like mad even as a thick bead of perspiration hung at the center of his forehead like an overgrown blister.
"Take care now. Here's hoping your project can somehow shed a more positive light on our little community," he'd muttered with little in the way of actual sincerity, his handshake pathetically weak and clammy. "Make 'em understand this wasn't Columbine or Jonesboro, but simply an act of random violence and two very unfortunate folks caught in the wrong place at the wrong time."
On the drive back to the hotel, Twig and I discussed our own school days, both of us having graduated from high schools that held more students in grades nine through twelve than the entire population of Baymont.
Beneath the class photograph, the Baymont Class of '81 had listed a graduating class of fifty-eight. Twig and I couldn't help but marvel at this on several levels. If I recalled correctly, at least three hundred others had joined me the night I'd taken possession of my diploma. Might have been closer to four-hundred. I had an annual somewhere, no doubt packed away in our attic collecting spider-eggs in its aged, yellow binding. Twig, being several years younger than yours truly, had a more recent memory of his own escape from the clutches of the public educational system. The Twig was confident that the stats he divulged were correct to the letter. May thirteenth, 1992 he'd strolled across the podium with three-hundred sixty-eight fellow graduates of Union Central High, located in the south central corner of the Tuscon, Arizona city limits.
The differences between urban and rural, in terms of where and how an individual goes about acquiring an education, are staggering and require a detailed synopsis simply for impacts sake.
First, the urban side. Speaking for myself, graduating with such a large class meant that I only truly knew roughly forty or fifty of my fellow classmates, while others I might have occasionally acknowledged with a friendly nod and still hundreds of others I couldn't have picked out in a police line-up with a loaded revolver held against my skull.
Now, the flipside from a rural point of view, using Baymont high's Class of '81 as a prime example and more specifically the graduating class of fifty-eight students. Upon further research as our filming progressed, it was learned that only fifteen of those were transfers from other schools, six of which had moved to Baymont during their grammar school days, five during the middle-school era, and the remaining four during grades nine through twelve.
This means that forty-three of the graduates, a bit over seventy-five percent of the student body, attended grades one through twelve together. These kids didn't practically grow up together. They actually did grow up together. Mind blowing, at least from a city-slicker point of view.
From roughly the ages of six to eighteen, they shared the same classrooms, hallways, restrooms, libraries, gymnasium, et al. Talk about treading the same stomping grounds. And, once they had begun to come of age as young teens, they also shared the same traumas that all blossoming pre-adults face: first crushes, first kisses, first rejections, triumphs, dating, going steady, breaking up, and dejections. Acquiring driver's permits and then licenses as well. (to inject a trivial research note here, the average Baymont teen fails the driver portion of the test at least once). We all know and at one time experienced the same time-tested drills, the painstaking rituals that make up that hellish period known as puberty. The biggest difference between my own similar coming of age experiences and those of the typical Baymont teen? In a school the size of the one I attended (6A, I believe, was the state rating), one was fortunate to reside within a constantly rotating clique of maybe six or seven close-knit friends. If you attended classes at an institution the size of Baymont High (2A state rating), the entire student body was a clique all its own. I mean, with such limited numbers, how was it possible for all the usual clichéd groupings to even exist?
I'm sure there were ample nerds on hand and, of course, the jocks and the snooty rich kids. But what about the various subspecies normally spawned from what I refer to as the big three? What about the stoners or the Goths? Did the Class of '81 contain a certified psycho or two? How about the purposely-underachieving eggheads or the class sluts? And what class would be complete without the 'Cheech and Chong' set? Those who donned Panana Red tee-shirts and seemed to be afflicted with a permanent case of red eye. You knew the type; those guys or girls that never seemed sober ... ever. Speaking of stereotypical mainstays, how about that proverbial favorite, the mysterious loner? You know, that enigmatic breed whose lips seemed permanent sealed while avoiding eye contact at any and all costs? Why, it just wouldn't be a graduating class without the class mute. Another class mainstay, especially within rural communities with a mostly Caucasian population, would be the class token, be he or she African-American (colored in my day), Hispanic (Mexicans, sad to say), American Indian (Injuns) or Asian (Orientals).
Point of order: Baymont certainly qualified as such a community, as the latest census (2004) had declared the town eighty-nine percent Caucasian, six percent Hispanic, four percent black and one percent other (never quite understood that ... are we talking Asian, islander ... extraterrestrial perhaps?).
As far as class stereotypes go, was it even possible that all categories previously listed be present and accounted for from such a small graduating class?
From the rather narrow viewpoints of former urbanites like the Twig and myself, the notion was downright inconceivable to the point of being Sci-Fi weird. To guys like us, and later Julia as well, it evoked wholly fictional memories of the one-room schoolhouses such as the one featured in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House novels (and later, of course, the TV show, which incidentally is Jules' all-time favorite).
That evening, as a cool, intermediate shower began to fall, we had dinner at the Pizza Barn, a small town variation of Pizza Hut with less quality but similar pricing. To understate the obvious, our choices had been a bit on the limited side. It was either the Sonic Drive-in, Mickey D's, the Dine-in with its second-rate Shoney's vibe, a thus far unknown eatery with the unfortunate name of The Pot Belly, or the already mentioned Barn of Pizza-Pie fame. Alas, it was less than forty-eight hours later that Julia insisted we purchase a medium-sized fridge (as opposed to the 'mini' one already provided) to keep stocked in our hotel room. From there on out, we made daily trips to the local Big Star grocery store.
Side note: The hotel management only agreed to allow the larger fridge within our temporary domicile once Julia promised them first rights to the appliance upon our permanent departure from Baymont. Even then, they seemed less than enthralled by the whole idea. Southern hospitality where for art thou?
We spent the next morning (starting at around six a.m. ) viewing the dailies from the Principal Butler interview and had pretty much decided on the spot that no more than a brief snippet was apt to make the final cut, possibly even only the shot of the Class of '81 photo itself. As for the quality of the shoot, Twig had proven to be from the Jack Webb school of film when one-on-one interviews were on the menu. The shots were quick and without pause between vocalizations; a smooth, cut and mark style that definitely agreed with the outline I had mapped out. There were no meandering pace segments that served no other purpose than to fill precious seconds, and since we were looking at a final cut (studio request) of no more than one-hundred minutes, this was gonna be a must.
Around noon we ventured from the dank, stale catacombs of the hotel room in search of fresh air, warm rays, and a hot bite to eat. Less than an hour later, it felt more like we'd leapt feet-first into ... be warned; here comes the well-worn cliché ... the darkest corner of ... The Twilight Zone. With apologies to Rod Serling ... a classic TV junkie I will always be. In this particular instance, however, I couldn't think of a more appropriate analogy.
"Am I right or did one of you spike my morning coffee with mushrooms?" Twig exclaimed in a high-pitched shriek, pulling over and parking at the first available space.
Julia practically stuck her head out of the passenger's side window, craning her neck like a stork.
"They're both the spitting image all right. Much younger versions, for sure, but that's downright creepy. Matt, you seeing this?"
We'd just departed the local Mickey D's drive-through, where the local rush hour had found us parked and unmoving for a full half-hour. I'd barely taken two bites from a horribly over-saturated Big Mac, having been fortunate that the napkin draped around my neck had caught most of the overspill and was hardly in the mood for sightseeing.
"Jeez, guys. Could we just get on with..." I'd began, darn near choking on a chunk of dill pickle once the objects of my cohorts' attention caught my wandering gaze.
"Talk to me, chief," Twig said, wearing a warped grin I'd later grow quite fond of, but at the time I labeled borderline deranged.
The couple strode casually up main street Baymont, hand-in-hand and weirdly in-step, as if they were marching to the same silent cadence.
With his ink-black, perfectly manicured mustache, meticulously coifed hair (which I couldn't help but think had that sewn-on rug appearance), skin-tight blue jeans and cowboy boots, it seemed the man had literally stepped out of a time machine, circa the mid-to-late seventies.
As for his partner, with her puffy blonde locks, shapely hips and Double-D bosom, one would have thought they were watching a taped episode of WKRP in Cincinnati from the same previously mentioned decade.
"Burt and Loni, as I live and breathe, heavily in her case," Twig croaked, sounding every bit a pubescent teen.
"Definitely the Smokey and the Bandit era," Julia added between sips of Dr. Pepper from a straw.
As we watched the two Hollywood look-alikes saunter on by from across the street, I noticed we seemed to be the only ones within the general vicinity who even gave the pair a second look. In fact, a plethora of Baymont citizens had strolled by the eccentric pair without a hint of notice, excluding a middle-aged couple who'd passed them by with no more than a casual nod.
"Well, it's obvious Burt and Loni are town regulars," Julia said before sipping noisily.
"Either that or nobody around here recognizes 'em," Twig replied while still chewing a mouthful of fries. "I mean, those two haven't looked that good since old man Reagan was in the White House."
We meditated in awed silence as the pair of cloned seventies icons turned a corner by the Hildebrand Feed 'n Seed and vanished from our line of sight as if they'd never truly existed.
I had just taken my first sip of a badly watered-down chocolate shake as Twig navigated us slowly back onto main street.
"You know, come to think of it," Julia said, turning to face me with her forehead creased in thought (an expression I always found strangely seductive), "didn't the hotel clerk bear a striking resemblance to Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction?"
"Jules, my sweet, I never knew Dr. Pepper had an hallucinogenic property."
"She's right, man!" Twig practically screamed, snapping the fingers of his free hand as his other steered us unevenly past the Red Bird Gift Shop. "I saw an old lady that looked just like Granny Clamplett scampering down the street in front of the hotel last night. Didn't mention it 'cause I figured you guys would have me wrapped in wet sheets and tossed into the nearest rubber room. That old man did look damned familiar, and I don't even know what a Pretty Coke Junction is."
Shaking my head in a bizarre mix of bemusement and frustration, I discarded my watery shake and leaned into the front seat, waving my arms in delirium.
"You're both cracked. Burt and Loni I can almost understand, well ... not really, but who in their right mind would purposely go out of their way to resemble a minor sitcom character from forty years ago?"
"Remember darlin'," Jules countered with a forefinger raised into the air, "Uncle Joe was also on Green Acres, and you can't exactly call Irene Ryan a minor star ... them there hillbillies were big-time celebrities in their day."
"Oh jeez ... what was I thinking? You two may have stumbled upon the greatest conspiracy of the new millennium! A small, southern town populated by washed-up celebrity look-alikes! Holy nip and tuck, Batman ... get Dan Rather on the hotline!"
As my rather enjoyable rant continued unabated, Twig and Jules began to giggle hysterically, both facing front to ignore my maniacal gestures, though I saw each of them sneak a peek or three through the rearview. It was to be the first in at least a half-dozen such stress-relieving performances as filming progressed and days turned to weeks. If I do say so myself, I considered this first rave my very finest in many aspects. Seriously, it had it all: the crisp, witty, skillfully ad-libbed dialogue, the hand gestures straight from a Shakespearian play of immense tragedy, the contorted facial expressions that one would associate with either grave horror or a really intense bout of intestinal gas. Easily a three and a half out of four-star portrayal of a man skimming the very edge of hopeless insanity.
"Hey Twig ... what say we just tool about town and see how many more TV-land clones we can spot? Heck, make a contest out of it even. First one to point out Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke, or Barbara Eden gets a free one-year supply of Aqua-Velva cologne!"
"Dear..." Jules attempted to inject in-between giggles.
"Better yet, let's focus on dead celebrities only! Dibs on Johnny Carson, Bob Denver, John Wayne, or Don Knotts! Theeeeeerrrrreeee's Johnny."
"Sweetie..." she mumbled, though her efforts were pathetically half-hearted. My Iron Girl knew the importance of such unintentionally comic outbursts in terms of stress reduction for yours truly. Barely into our second day of pre-production and I was already a basket case. Not exactly an uncommon occurrence by any stretch, however. I'd spent many a joy-filled night dry heaving my nervousness into the nearest toilet while filming both Oddities and Necessity. Having Julia aboard the working train was a major crutch, no denial, but I still required a more proactive release when the old noodle felt a bit overloaded. As both my loving better half and I knew from experience, weekly monologues would soon transform into a daily stand-up routine. It would take some adjustment, but Twig would grow accustomed soon enough. At that point, he was alternating between raucous laughter and the occasional worrisome glance.
"How 'bout kid stars of old? First to lay eyes on little Ronnie Howard, Gary Coleman, or Rodney Allen Rippy receives a week's worth of Pez dispensers!"
"Point taken, honey-pot," Jules concluded, raising both hands in surrender, a gesture almost immediately imitated by our combination chauffer/cameraman, who must've been steering with his knees. "We get it. On to the business at hand. Oh, how were the burger and shake?"
"Don Knotts died?" I heard Twig whisper timidly, receiving a light sock on the kneecap from Jules for his troubles.
Leaning back against the backseat's padded headrest, I huffed and puffed as if I'd just ran a ten K uphill with fifty pound lead weights attached to each ankle. Physically I considered myself in pretty good shape. Man's got little choice when living with a woman nicknamed Iron Girl, but nothing seemed to wear me out quicker than several minutes of what Julia had once labeled ranting in tongue. A five mile jog or hour spent in the weight room couldn't hold a candle to three or four minutes of mindless, anxiety-fueled psychobabble, believe you me.
"Equally soggy, thank you. Think I'll stick to Ramen noodles from the microwave next time. So the meeting with Miss Childers is set for two p.m. sharp?"
Jules sighed, shaking her head from side to side as she shot Twig a wry glance. Girl didn't call me Captain Nick-pick for nothing. She'd come up with that little nugget during the filming of Dead Necessity, wherein I'd been forced to cough up a buck each time I asked the same question more than once. Final tally following thirty-four days of shooting: one-hundred eight dollars even.
"For the sixth time since we left the hotel, Matt, yes. Two p.m. central daylight time. Keep it up, Chuckles, and I'll break out the ARQ board and warm up the old pocket calculator."
Point of note: ARQ stood for 'Annoying Repeat Question' within the Kirby family vernacular.
"Sorry. Won't happen again," I insisted as she eyed me with a sneer from the rear view. "Scouts honor."
"Sure, uh-huh," she scolded as Twig drove us past a used car lot with the unintentionally comical title of Mann's Pre-Owned and Post-Wrecked Wonder-Lot. "You were never a scout either, smart guy."
According to our map, the office of the Baymont Breeze newspaper was less than two blocks east. There we were to converse with Miss Maggie Childers, editor and publisher of the town's one-and-only weekly rag.
Not only could Miss Childers prove to be a vital cog in the information wheel concerning the overall case, but she was also in possession of what I considered the single most important element in terms of a visual hook for the film. In the grand scheme of things, it was our Holy Grail, the Hope Diamond, the Golden Fleece. I could only hope it was as she'd described to Julia when they'd spoken just weeks earlier. If so, my apprehension level might well be persuaded to decline to a more stable reading, thus eliminating the possibilities of an impending stroke or similar debilitating condition.
We arrived at the newspaper office (actually the Childers residence with an attached office built strictly for publishing purposes) at exactly one-fifty-seven p.m., proving we were at least as punctual as we were unstable.
"Miss Childers, while Twi--um, Rick is readying the equipment, let me ask you something totally unrelated to the subject matter."
"What might that be, Mr. Kirby?"
"Mind you, I query this mostly to abate the insatiable curiosity of both my wife and cameraman."
Miss Childers, a bespectacled, portly, rather homely woman in her late thirties to early forties, handed me a cup of steaming black coffee before taking a seat directly across from us behind a colossal oak desk. The tiny office, consisting of several small presses and various-sized filing cabinets, was kept meticulously clean. A stack of back issues sat on the left hand corner of the desk, as if strategically placed to help balance the weight of a large metal file box taking up space on the right side, each book-ending a computer monitor, tower, and attached printer/scanner. The room reeked of stale tobacco smoke, and I could sense Julia's inner cringe.
"I'm game. Go on."
"Are there ... hm, I must word this carefully," I began, feeling for all the world like a Grade-A jackass. "Is it commonplace in a town the size of Baymont to spot ... celebrity doubles?"
Miss Childers cocked an eyebrow quizzically before responding.
"That is to say ... look-alikes."
"Oh," she sighed, smiling warmly to reveal the darkened, yellow-shaded teeth of a lifelong smoker, "them."
"So we weren't flipping our lids after all," Twig chimed in while scanning the room for the best possible angle for proper lighting. The office was virtually window free and lit by a series of overhead fluorescents.
"No, you weren't, though you certainly wouldn't be the first to jump to such a conclusion."
Standing up, Miss Childers began to pace the cramped confines while lighting a slim, plastic-filtered cigarette she'd pulled from a middle desk drawer.
We all shook our heads politely, though I knew Julia indeed did mind. My wife couldn't stand the thought, much less the actual aroma, of any and all tobacco products. Not only did it sicken and disgust the athlete and health conscious parent in her, but there was also the fact that her father had been a three-pack a day man who'd casually forced second-hand smoke into the lungs of his entire family on a daily basis during her childhood and teen years.
"One of the only benefits of owning a business inside your own home," Miss Childers said before lighting up. "No one can enforce the rules but yours truly."
"Now," she continued after a deep inhale, blowing thick trails of smoke from her slightly upturned nostrils, "about the ... phenomenon you spoke of. No, your minds are not playing a collective hallucination. Baymont is indeed the home of record for several celebrity impersonators."
Twig reached over, warped grin and all, and gave my left shoulder a playful jab while Jules remained expressionless, her eyes already reddening from the building smoke.
"Well, that's a relief. We were beginning to think we'd driven into some alternate universe," I cracked, eyeing a select few of a dozen or so framed articles that hung about the plywood walls, though unable to clearly read the accompanying headlines.
"Why, Mr. Kirby, don't brush off such a wild thought so easily. As you'll soon discover, Baymont does kind of exist on its own irregular plane, especially since the ... incident last year. Many before you have departed scratching their heads in utter befuddlement."
In her thick southern drawl, the word befuddlement had come out bee-fud-dile-mant.
"Um, I'm certainly getting that vibe as we go along, Miss Childers."
She smiled kindly yet again, though this time there was a hint of sarcasm in the gesture.
"Oh, it grows stronger the longer you stay, believe me."
After a brief, rather uncomfortable silence, Twig began pacing the room in search of the perfect angle while framing various shots.
"Not to sound condescending, but why do they ... the look-alikes I mean ... take up roots here?" I asked, peeking around Twig's bony frame to see Miss Childers take a final draw before mashing out the miniscule remains of her smoke. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but this isn't exactly a Hollywood Mecca."
"Oh, you'd be surprised, Mr. Kirby. After all, here you sit, right?"
"True, but I'd hardly count us as players in the entertainment world."
She turned and pointed to the wall directly behind her desk, which was littered in both framed and unframed newsprint.
"As you can see, Baymont has been quite the hot bed in recent months, from both a serious and fluff media point of view. Since mid-July of last year, we've played host to news crews from as far north as New Hampshire and as far south as Miami. Heck, even Dateline NBC paid us a call last fall. Hey, it all adds up to a human interest gold mine that someone will eventually attempt to pan."
"But still, I don't ... that is, we don't under--"
Miss Childers lifted a hand palms up while retaking her chair behind the desk.
"Why the impersonators? Mainly it's due to Pete Vincent. I'm sure you've done your research on ol' Vinnie and his delusions of grandeur. The one and only true Mouth of the South."
"Pete W. Vincent," I acknowledged with a nod. "Yes, he's on our interview docket next, as a matter of fact."
"Hope you brought along a case or two of extra film for that camera. Pete ain't exactly known for a lack of words."
"Class clowns rarely are," Twig injected, giving me the high sign that everything was ready whenever I was.
Miss Childers shot the Twig a skeptical glance before turning her attention back to me to further elaborate. Breathing a concealed sigh of relief, I could already tell this particular interview would bear significant fruit compared to that of Principal Butler.
"Pete sent out an ad through his agent, calling for celebrity impersonators and look-alikes for an independent film he'd written and was supposedly executive producing. I say supposedly due to his track record. I swear the man's plotted out two dozen such projects in the past five years, and nary a one has turned up on screen to this day, least none that I know of. He kept bugging me about writing up the story in the Breeze, so on a particularly slow news week 'bout a month ago, and I'm talking dead as the proverbial hammer, I caved and granted him an interview.
"Seems it's one of those horror/comedies where a slew of impersonators get waxed by some demonic creature from the pits of Hades. Unless something's changed since our interview, it's supposed to start filming in a few months around some abandoned National Guard base outside of Mobile. Talk about your shoestring budgets, I can only bet ol' Vinny is paying the actors off in IOU's."
"Who's financing it, do you know?" I asked, growing increasingly enthralled even as Jules arose and headed out the single glass-door exit.
"Some fly-by-night cable flick company called DreamWeaver Productions. Think they're an off-shoot from Universal. Vinnie never mentioned the budget and seemed genuinely embarrassed when I'd asked. He just kinda hop-scotched the subject 'til I dropped it. No doubt he's still waiting on budget approval. Anyhow, I have to admit the man did manage to recruit an impressive batch of clones. Obviously you folks must've spotted a few of 'em strolling about town."
"Burt and Loni, among others," I began, clearing my throat like an embarrassed grade-schooler forced to admit a wrongdoing only after being caught red-handed.
"Granny Clampett made an appearance, I think," Twig injected excitedly, "and that dude from the Depot Junction that Julia ID'd."
"He means the hotel clerk at the Baymont hotel ... my wife thought he looked like the actor who played Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction."
Miss Childers peered to the ceiling in deep thought, as if I'd just presented a rather complicated algebra problem.
"Burt, Loni, and Irene Ryan I know about, but the Uncle Joe thing..." She paused, grinning ever wider. "Wait a sec! That's Burt Jackson down at the hotel. Naw, old Burt was born and raised here. You know, I never thought about it 'til now, but you're onto something there. Add a few pounds to his gut and he'd be a dead ringer for Uncle Joe at that."
Julia re-entered the room just as the woman had paused, still looking a bit piqued but not quite as green around the gills as when she'd exited.
"Have they all become permanent citizens?" I asked as Jules pulled up a chair beside me. I glanced at her while speaking, and she nodded as if to acknowledge she was indeed okay.
"Oh no, nothing like that. The Baymont hotel couldn't house 'em all, so some are bedding down at the old deserted nursing home on Cedar Road. I hear they're paying less than fifty bucks a month in rent. Seems filming got delayed yet again, so they're all just waiting for financing to come through. Knowing Vinnie, he's playing internet poker just to raise funds. Strange, you'd think all the free PR from last year's tragedy would've paid instant dividends in his line