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Homage to Terrence Malick

Homage to Terrence Malick
Credit: Sam Stephenson for TMN

My wife and I are vacationing at my family’s house on the Pamlico River near Bath, North Carolina, a coastal farming town of several hundred people, where Blackbeard supposedly anchored ship on a regular basis and buried treasures.

It takes a dirt road to make it to our house. We’re 15 miles downriver from where I grew up.

Today the population of the surrounding Hyde County is about half of what it measured in the 1900 census, the farming and fishing industries are nothing like they once were. What’s left are tabletop-flat alluvial landscapes and the beautiful brackish water, maybe healthier and wilder than they’ve been in a couple hundred years. Porpoises, rays and skates, bald eagles, blue herons, crab, jellyfish, mullets jumping every few seconds, Chuck-will’s-widows calling at dusk and dawn.

It’s 12:15 a.m. I tune into WFAN out of New York City. The first thing I hear is a woman’s voice, a woman maybe 35 or 40 years old: “Nothing is more stimulating to a woman than being with a man who is confident. You can regain your confidence in one visit to the Boston Medical Group. Call 1-800-289-5600. That’s 1-800-289-5600. If you suffer from erectile dysfunction, you will see results on your first visit to the Boston Medical Group. Your confidence will soar.”

Oh, the irony; folks from Boston can restore the confidence of impotent males in the tri-state area. Meanwhile the Red Sox beat the hated Yankees in one of that rivalry’s patented four-hour 2-1 games a few nights ago.

The next ad is for Conair i-Stubble electric shaver. “Super-smooth trimming that is guaranteed to get you more face time.”

The next ad is for something called Mercy College. A young female voice says, “I can earn a bachelors of arts and a masters degree in three years.”

In two days I fly to LaGuardia from Raleigh-Durham, my 138th trip to New York in the past 12 years. I’m working on a theater installation called Chaos Manor that will be part of the Brooklyn Book Festival in September. I wonder how many of the festival’s patrons have heard Al from Brooklyn, Scott from Manhattan, Bob from Patchogue, or Chris in Yonkers.

Sam Stephenson is currently working on a biography of W. Eugene Smith for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  He is also working on Chaos Manor, a theater installation based on his The Jazz Loft Project (Knopf, 2009). More by Sam Stephenson

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