There'll Be No More Jimmy Deans
A Short Story by Ryan M. Akers
"Sight is bent to lick your heart
A liquid mouth dilutes my thought
Souls knit a nebula mat
We live here in every world
Secret life in azure habitat"
-Untitled verse by James Dean
Pete sat in the passenger seat of the dark green 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger. The car barreled eighty-five miles an hour down the highway. He looked over at the driver, Hack Thorne; busy watching his swerving maneuvers from lane to lane, criss-crossing the yellow lines in the path of the headlights. A clove cigarette hung from the driver's dry lips. Pete returned to humming a radio song, and then returned to studying the stranger behind the wheel. Every passing car in the opposite lane flashed long enough for Pete to see the driver. Flannel coat draped over the seat. Red T-shirt. Long sleeves from beige thermal underwear rolled up on his forearms. Rumpled khaki pants. Dark leather flat toe cowboy boots. A bleached blue tattoo underneath his left wrist. Pete scratched his head. In the dim light of the radio dial, Pete inched forward on the cold leather seat to see what it read.
"Can't read it much, anymore," said Hack. His voice rasped and gargled. Smoke trailed from his flared nostrils, crawling into his dark stubble silhouette. He looked at Pete. "Says Young. For Neil Young. Buddy of my older brother know a show shine lady in Kokomo who'd give you a tattoo for a few bucks extra… or a blow job, but being aces younger led me to the tat. Was nothin' to mind at age 14. By 16, I was trying to 'race it off in high school. Never really worked. No such remedy for bad luck… nor, bad origin in the fist place. Yeah, can't read it well anymore."
Pete nodded, starring at the tattoo. Hack pulled the cigarette from his mouth after inhaling deeply. He looked at the sticky resonated butt, and slipped it through the opening in the window, about an inch high. He looked at his passenger again, sitting with his arms crossed, dressed in dark blue jeans and a black leather jacket. He had funny, high hair and small eyes.
"Neil Young… didn't he tour with HORDE festival a couple of years ago?" asked Pete.
Hack looked puzzled at him. "HORDE festival? What the hell is a HORDE festival?"
"HORDE stands for Horizons OF Rock Developing Everywhere. H-O-R-D-E. Blues Traveler started the whole thing and it became a good concert tour…." Pete looked back at Hack, paused, and stopped.
Hack's expression didn't flinch. "Never heard of it. HORDE festival. Neil went along, on it?"
"I think so," answered Pete. He pulled a nylon satchel bag off the floorboards and wedged it between his legs.
"Well, good for Neil. Las time I saw him was at Farm Aid in Louisville…." Hack stopped talking, and froze. Pete watched him, sitting motionless for a split second, his eyes looking ahead but his mind on something entirely different. Hack looked at the radio.
"Oh, man! You ever heard this song?" grunted Hack. He felt around the bench seat of the old car, looking for his cigarettes.
"Sure. It's the Doors' The End. I've heard it a hundred times," said Pete.
"It gets better after a thousand, man," remarked Hack. He stopped swerving back and forth and reduced the car's speed. The cold air whistling through Hack's cracked window slowed to a purr. "Better cut the rush down. Can't hear the radio too well out here. Going slow will be better anyway. We're getting close to I-26, right in the middle of Point Isabel. By then, we'll lose the signal for the radio. Its too far north from Indianapolis." Hack looked at Pete. "You ever seen the lighthouse in Point Isabel?"
Pete played with the zipper on his satchel bag and shook his head.
"Just foolin' you friend. There ain't no lighthouses in the Indiana countryside!" grumbled Hack, then laughing. Pete said nothing, and Hack's chuckles declined to the sound of the radio again. "Need a smoke, Pete… right?"
"No thanks, man. I brought some reds in my bag with my other stuff," said Pete, patting the black satchel. "I can't take cloves."
"Really? They bother you?" asked Hack.
"Straight up," said Pete, slowly, "yeah. I can't get used to the smell."
Hack shifted the pack up and down in his hand a few times, easing the unlit volunteer clove cigarette back in its slot. "Okay. God a red I can bum?" asked Hack.
Pete smirked and moved his head in small nods. He pulled the brand new pack of Marlboros out of a zipped side pocket on the satchel. He tore off the plastic wrapping and packed them tightly by smacking the top end against the palm of his hand.
"What are you doing?" asked Hack. "Don't pack you cigarettes. It caused the fiberglass in the filters to break up. You don't want to smoke that. It's not good for ya."
"Pete pealed away the aluminum packaging inside the box top. He pried two smokes from the top, and accidentally dropped his own while handing one to Hack.
"Thanks Pete. So you and Billy must be pretty good friends at college. I forgot he remembered my lore stories about Fairmount. James Dean. God."
"Yeah, Willi… Billy told me you know a shitload of stuff about James Dean."
"You and Billy in the same fraternity?"
Using one hand, Hack opened a book of matches and lit one. "Need a light?"
"No, I've got one," answered Pete, fumbling with a childproof lighter.
"Yeah, never made it to college. Especially some private gig like Butler University. Hell, I never made it south of Wabash from the lake county… no way I'd ever make it to Indy. Billy's older brother and I used to be damn good friends till he decided to join the Navy. Only hear stories about him anymore… haven't seen him in three years. Not even on the holidays. I guess he's got his way now, I got mine. But I remember for sure all the shits and grins I gave them with a good story now and again." Hack paused to light his own cigarette with the dying match and breathed a sigh of relief as his put it out the window. He kept his left hand on the form fit of the steering wheel. "Did you Ezra Pound, the renowned poet, was a Theta Chi at Wabash College?"
"What?" asked Pete, rolling down his window to ash.
"Ezra Pound, Pete. The poet? The Cantos? Went crazy in later years and kept revising Profrock in a mental institution?" offered Hack.
"Yeah, I know who he is… but he went to Wabash? Seriously?"
"Dead honest, straight up, he was a Theta Chi there. Got kicked out for having a girl spend the night in his room and all he did was read poetry to her all night. That's the problem in the first place… Wabash College, and all-male institution. Now, marriage, there's another institution. But an all-guy school is no way to become a man. There's more to be learned from ladies about life than old profs in lecture halls…" Hack mumbled off. Jim Morrison howled on the high treble speakers in the back window and front dashboard. Pete smoked silently, reading signs for cheap ricks of firewood and special salts for gravel driveways on sale.
"Man, I love The Doors. Kept my father kicking through one hell bent tour in Vietnam. Ever seen Apocalypse Now?" asked Hack before taking a drag.
"Sure. Martin Sheen. Dennis Hopper. Lawrence Fishburne…"
Hack interrupted: "Larry Fishburne. He didn't change his name until 1991."
"All right Larry. Who else? Frederick Forrest…. Oh! Robert Duvall…."
Hack interrupted again: "Napalm in the morning! Charlie don't surf! Ah, man…."
"Yeah. Another Coppola classic. Best movie about Vietnam. Based on Joseph Conrad's classic novella Heart of Darkness… it was hell on everyone during shooting in the Philippines… Sheen had a heart attack. Larry was only a kid, like 14 years old. Sets were destroyed by typhoons. Hopper and the whole crew were strung out on drugs. Coppola even made a documentary called Hearts of Darkness about his near-suicidal depression, the movie so far over budget and so far from completion. It felt like Jaws did for Speilberg… complete disaster…" finished Pete. Hack flicked his cigarette out the window. Jim Morrison screamed about his mother and father.
"What about Brando? What about that fat piece of shit? He gave Coppola the most trouble with his fee, asking for top-notch accommodations. Then he arrives late, so overweight he'd pass for a dead water buffalo in the shallows rather than bad ass Colonel Kurtz. Could you see James Dean, if here were alive today, playing such a part?"
I can't see James Dean being so fat in the first place. If he played Kurtz, it would be an entirely different movie. Think about how Dean would take any plot in his movies… they didn't really matter once you saw him. He'd melt the plot to a sublime element…. The rest was just him, onscreen… as himself… angst on the set. Some say that doesn't make for stellar acting, but Dean was different about it. Dean as Kurtz? The final showdown would have been bullshit. No way in hell Sheen could take Dean's Kurtz. Only a fat has been gets hacked…"
Hack looked at Pete with a funny stare, and the passenger continued talking.
"Only a fat man gets butchered when he's not looking. No way… Dean, no way," sputtered Pete. Hack continued to stare at Pete, then slowly raised his deep brow. He smiled and laughed. Pete laughed along with him until hack stopped in mid-chuckle.
"I like your attitude. I often thought Jimmy wouldn't pass for a militant psycho. Mastermind, sure. Rebel, no problem. But Kurtz, maybe Brando was meant for Colonel Kurtz. Dean idolized the man from the get-go, mimicking his white T-shirt shrugged off look in New York as a starter. It's what got him noticed by Eliza Kazan in the first place. But Dean's immortality rests on the fact that he didn't truly breakthrough until he was dead. What a curse, man."
Hack pointed to his tattoo. "Like Neil sand years ago, and reigns most true in this case, 'It's better to burn out than to fade away.' I don't think Jimmy Dean would've had it any other way. He loved death, infatuated by it… once it found his sullen heart, and it silenced his drums. Better to burn out in a Porsche like a little bastard in the hot California sun than fade away to a dying career and Hollywood standards. Gold lining. Red carpet. Luxury at his fingertips. Dean wouldn't succumb to that. Can't see it happening. Here's I-26…" said Hack rapidly, gradually getting louder. Pete began smoking another cigarette as they took a steep right turn. They slide back and forth on the old seat, and Hack eased off the accelerator again. Pete ashed out the window, and pulled his leather jacket closer across his chest.
"Better slow down. All I'm sayin' is Brando lost out. He might as well have, able to relax after Jimmy passed away. Didn't have any competition to steal his career. Look at the facts: Dean has been a god of pop culture for the last forty years. You see him hanging on bar walls or walking down the street everyday. He's a complete mystery. No one knows the real man. But there's the evidence, and the conversations , and the curse of not taking a drink from the chalice of success. Maybe he wanted death. Maybe he wanted life. Maybe no one will ever figure him out. But he'll always be an idol for America. And he came from here… Indiana… just about, oh… twenty minutes from here. Fairmount… where cool was born." Hack smiled and turned down the radio when The End reached the end, and wise voice deejay crackled into static while talking about meeting Ray Manzarek at a New Year's Eve party in Indianapolis. Within a few seconds, the crackle buzzed into pure fuzz. Hack turned down the knob. The radio clicked off.
The car rumbled on the two-lane highway between high trees and open first. A radio tower beacon blinked a red light far away. Silos and red farmhouses were visible in the far distance of the closing night. Only a hint of gray light could be seen out the side mirror, looking back westward toward the remains from the daylight. Pete laughed at the far away lights on the wavering fields sprinkled with glistening traces of snow and ice. The full moon hung like an ornament high above the low ceiling of cloud cover to the southeast, yet not fully bright.
"Looks like the beginning of a good night," mentioned Pete.
"I agree there. The moon's on our side. Mind if I have another smoke? We're getting close. Ever been to Fairmount before?"
Pete handed him a cigarette and waited until he lit the match with one hand and sparked the tobacco end of the smoke. "No, I'm from Tennessee. I didn't even know James Dean was from Indiana until last semester." Pete turned his body toward Hack to face him. "See, Billy and I were in the same film studies class and we came across Rebel Without a Cause and he told me all about Fairmount. This semester, I have to write a report about James Dean's influence from the 50s through the 90s. It's for my studies in recent literature requirement, and I can't write or research worth a dime. I talked to… Billy… and since the semester is winding to a close and the report is due soon, I asked him if he knew anyone who could show my more about Fairmount or Marion…."