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Homage to Terrence Malick, Part Two

Homage to Terrence Malick, Part Two

My wife Laurie and I are back at my family’s river house near Bath, North Carolina. The visit got off to a rough start the first night when a cap on one of my teeth popped off. Simultaneously, the landlines went out, and (of course) the pathetic AT&T mobile signal won’t reach anything but densely populated (blue state) areas. By noon the next day, however, my cap was replaced and the landlines were restored.

This morning I went to the Old Town Country Kitchen in Bath to get something to eat. Bath has a population of 268. It was the first incorporated town in North Carolina, and once even the state capitol. Today it remains one the most beautiful access points to the state’s coast, but its formerly proud Bath High School is boarded up, the farming and fishing industries nothing like they once were.

Deer season for guns opened here this week (for bows and muzzleloaders it opened earlier) and hunters were out and about. In the restaurant I saw three generations of males at one table—a kid about seven, his father about 30, his father about 60. The kid was dressed in pint-sized versions of the same gear the adults wore: camouflage with a bright orange hunting cap. He was having the time of his life. It might have been the first deer season he was allowed to tag along.

When I was growing up down here (actually 15 miles away in Washington, a town of around 10,000) there were three network TV channels that could be received with rabbit ears, and there was PBS. Unless it was an ACC basketball game, Monday Night Football or Monday Night Baseball, something unique like Ali-Spinks on a weekend, or back when CBS showed the NBA playoffs on delay at 11:30 p.m. (the NBA might end up back in that realm soon), the only sports access at night was on AM radio, from places like St. Louis, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

Today, you can get several hundred, maybe a thousand (who knows?) channels down here, in even the most remote spots, with DirecTV. You can also get the internet. I wonder if over the next 10 years, if the economy stays in the doldrums like some experts are predicting, people will begin moving back to places like this. That happened during the 1930s.

Last night it was 11:25 and I was lying in bed, my wife asleep next to me, listening via earphones to Steve Somers on WFAN, which broadcasts from Hudson Street in Manhattan. According to Google Maps it is 505 miles from our river house to the WFAN studios, but I can pick Somers clearly on my transistor.

The topic of the night is unusually entertaining. It concerns New York Jets cornerback Darrell Revis being advised by a Jets public relations hack to hang up on WFAN’s afternoon host Mike Francesca during a live on-air interview, because Francesca was pressing Revis to admit he’d committed pass interference (that went uncalled by the referees) on a key interception that he returned for a touchdown the previous Sunday. Revis actually seemed to be enjoying himself (to Francesca he said repeatedly, “I don’t care what you think,” almost singing the line). The topic plays to Somers’ strengths. He makes subtle comedy from topics others (like the daytime hosts) take so seriously. With his framing, Francesca comes across as a strident jerk and the Jets PR hack as precisely that. 

The callers—Wayne from Bloomfield? Jerry from Jersey City? Tony from New City?—I don’t think those guys are too much different than the deer hunters down here. Maybe that’s why I like them, although I’m pretty sure my voting record more resembles that of the crowd at a new music gig at Le Poisson Rouge this weekend. Two Americas.

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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