Letters at 3AM: SXSW: Let Me Guess

Rio eyed Shreveport. Shreveport eyed Rio.

Letters at 3AM: SXSW: Let Me Guess
Illustration by Jason Stout

"Leave the room if you don't smoke and drink."

"I smoke. Also drink."

"Then do stay." With that, Rio opened a beer while Shreveport watched suspiciously. (Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

"We haven't," Shreveport hesitated, "met – or anything like that?"

"Anything like screwing? Not that I remember."

"That makes two of us."

"Meaning we haven't met or we're equally unmemorable, forgetful, or devious. But screwing? You don't remind me of anyone in my family."

"That's good?" Shreveport was tentatively interested.

"If there are no incest echoes, there's no charge, no sparks. A relationship can't thrive without incest echoes. I thought everybody knew that."

Rio and Shreveport had wandered separately into the backstage band room of a club that had just closed. During South by Southwest, you find a bed, floor, sofa, the backseat of a car – anything upon which sleep is possible. Separately, these two figured a backstage band room would have a lumpy sofa, and it did. But only one. As for the floor, it was sticky. But there was beer, leftover foodstuffs, graffitied walls, funky smells: a homey aura of rock & roll.

Rio eyed Shreveport. Shreveport eyed Rio. Their genders were obvious but not definite. Rio was wondering if Shreveport was in the state Rio preferred for 3am conversation: drunk enough, but not too drunk. Shreveport wondered if Rio was worth Shreveport's time: weird enough, but not psycho. Each decided in the affirmative.

Like a mirror-image bit in a Marx Brothers movie, each pulled a cigarette pack at the same time. Rio, from a back pocket; Shreveport, from the space betwixt belly and jeans. Was it a good or bad sign that both smoked American Spirits? That was, after all, a brand neither could afford.

Rio was a pacer. Shreveport was a sloucher against walls – good at it, too.

"So," said Shreveport. "You were saying? Incest echoes?"

"The party of the first part" – the Marx Brothers again – "may resemble the mother of the party of the second part. First Part (for short) may manifest the negative aspect of Second Part's father, from whom Second Part futilely attempts to wrest approval-by-proxy. Second Part may seem the opposite of First Part's mother, but is, deep down, a psychological double. Second Part can be like First Part's father, but saner or less sane, smarter or less smart, possessing the usual father gender or not. First Part can be like the dream lover that Second Part's parent fantasized about but never found, transmitting this longing through transgressing Second Part's boundaries during a boundary-porous childhood. You following me?"

"Perfectly. Haven't we all been in therapy? But you're emphasizing only shades of parental Eros. Second Part may be like First Part's brother or sister, and it may have less to do with Eros than with familiarity. Friends may wonder, 'How can they stand each other?' But First Part, regardless of gender, behaves like Second Part's brother or sister, with whom Second Part survived well-intentioned but pitifully botched child-rearing. Sibling familiarity may free them up for Eros in ways that have nothing to do with incest. They don't want to fuck their sibling – at least not very much – but they dig mixing with a sibling substitute, and, voilà, a fruitful relationship!"

"You interest me." Rio stole the line from when Dorothy Malone eyes Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, though Rio didn't manage Malone's coaxing conviction.

Beers were sipped, cigarettes puffed. Shreveport said, with convincing enthusiasm: "It's all about – performance! Not sexual performance, personality performance. It's all about the range of personality performance one can have with another."

Rio scowled. "Performance? Or poses, lies?"

"We're all liars, baby. I mean, we all describe ourselves in imaginal terms. Our descriptions of our days and hours are highly selective. For things we don't know, we fill in the blanks – while also not knowing half of what we think we know. That's just daily life."

Rio eyed Shreveport up and down, somewhat to Shreveport's enjoyment, but only somewhat. Rio had reason to be suspicious of relativistic people.

"So," Rio said, exhaling smoke, "all I can believe of what anyone says is that it describes their imaginal state at the time that person is speaking. With some people the facts are more dependable than with others, but ...."

"Take people as they present themselves, and don't count on anything."

"You gotta be tough for that. 'Cause that only works – I mean, it seems that only could work if you did it without judgment and without expectation. Who lives like that?"

Shreveport tried to smile like a cross between Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne, whom Shreveport thinks actually shared the same soul (not that Shreveport would say that aloud to a stranger – if Rio were a stranger; there was something too familiar about this meeting).

"You're one of those people," Rio said, paused, and continued, "you're one of those people who've pieced themselves together from bits of old movies and odd songs."

"Takes one to know one. A friend named Lima says that what the 20th century made possible was that one person could live many lives."

"There's so much to select from," Rio enthused, "so many images, so many performances. And one is always working out one's costume. We don't dress anymore; we dress up, we costume. Didn't RuPaul say that we were all born naked and the rest is drag?"

"But we have a problem," Shreveport observed.

"Just one?" Rio inquired.

"Just one sofa," Shreveport smiled.

"Is that a problem or an opportunity?"

"Don't disappoint me with the obvious."

"We're remembering each other, aren't we?" The way Rio said it, it wasn't a question. "I'm afraid we are." "We've met." "Oh, I believe so."

"Let's say, in another life." "Let's not." "Let's stay up all night." "Let's."

"Shake on it?" "No touching. Not yet."

"Ah," sighed Rio, "but as the poet Cid Corman wrote: 'No one is content –/for every breath/another breath is wanted.'"

Shreveport was suitably impressed.

"You are" – Rio was about to make another ride-my-ego pronouncement.

"Cid," interrupted Shreveport. "Cid Corman."

"You know Cid Corman!"

"We've exchanged letters. Sort of."

Rio was suitably impressed.

Just before a loud, coplike knock upon the door, Shreveport had time to quote a Cid Corman verse:

"'Don't tell me/who I am/let me guess.'"

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Eros, SXSW, South by Southwest 2011

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