THE MAN IN THE BUSH
Synopsis of the screenplay
Brushy Bill is a muscular and hirsute writer who lives in the bushes of Austin's creeks with two pitbull dogs. He lifts weights at a friend's house or works out on bars in the parks. For grocery money he models nude at the University of Texas art department. Old friends of his on the coast of Texas, who do not have to endure his coming in out of the rain with his dogs or having him fix his morning or afternoon coffee (he haa a schedule) in their kitchens, irregularly send him twenty dollar bills, for they enjoy the autobiographical chapters he mails to them of his work in progress. All of Bill's friends are old hippies. Bill is fifty years of age but looks ten or fifteen years younger and his body is apparently in its prime. At one point he contributes this to twentyfive years of peyote and acid, at another moment he refers to himself as a mutant. His money goes for dogfood, beer, coffee, vitamine-C pills, and protein. He eats raw liver a pound at a sitting with his pocketknife, raw eggs a dozen at a time. He drinks a gallon of milk most days. Some days he does not get enough food. Sometimes he will splurge on a chicken and roast it on one of the barbeque gri11s on Austin's Shoal Creek, his dogs jumping for scraps. Normally his dogs are well behaved but he tends to keep the male leashed. He encounters other strange homeless individuals. One night he is awakened by his tied dogs and arouses to fist fight with a large young man, not a homeless type but perhaps a frat-rat walking home from a party, who had thought to disturb him.
By then he has met and become envolved with Veronica Ann (Vran), a lovely thirtyfive year old artist who has returned to school to get her Master's. She has a drinking problen, one afternoon after a binge she barely makes class and here is a bearded Greek god who is the model. Conscious of him, she quickly sets up her easel beside a thin male student she knows, Mark. Brushy Bill is doing minute long gestures, with presence. He is Greek mythology, though with a hairy chest, and very powerful. God, I hate this guy, smiles Mark. He has too many muscles. Mark, Vran says. He might~ be brilliant for all you know. Look at his eyes. Oh, please, don't say that, says Mark. When the professor has instructed Brushy Bill into a long pose, a standing one, Vran has had time to move her easel to a closer angle. During a break, Bill dresses to go to the bathroom, returns to see Vran seated on the edge of the model stand. He asks, are you an art major? Yes, she answers. Not too much money in that, he smiles. She asks, what do you do besides this, anything? Oh, I'm a writer, not too much money in that either, of course. Oh, well, I'm an old friend of the widow of James Jones. She is an editor at Doubleday, and she's told me to be on the lookout for new Texas writers. Well, says Bill in a roll of eyes. I am the best there is.
The bigger acting job is Veronica Ann. She is sweet and genteel, earthy Texas gal when sober, but she is a wild drinker, her Texas accent switching to black or British, like as not punctuated with short, bursting screams. She will smack Bill or toss a book at him or bite his hand. She tells him his ass is in the dirt, that the world is passing him by. Bill is in love with her and but for a few erotic scuffles he is easy going. He is the male figure but often no more than her straight man. (With the frat-rat fleeing from their engagement and Bill yelling that if he had not been half asleep he would have fucked him up, Bill is not very excited.) Veronica Ann will be wildly drunk looking for him, bothering his friends at four A.M., in a thundering rain storm, a sleepy friend complaining from behind locked door, no, no, godamnit, I'm sure he's alright, go try Fred, it is Fred's turn to put'im up, no, I'm not opening the door, I'm sleeping, go see Fred! If she locates Bill she will be rough and he will sit up with her while she paces and raves past the dawn, smoking, drinking beer (and Bill drinks), playing records. Eventually, to get some sleep, he will pull off her clothes and wrestle her into bed. He never wears anything in her apartment but maybe his pants. His pitbulls are tied outside barking, she is not supposed to have animals on the premises. She orders him to go shut them up. He does this, she has slipped on a gown and is pacing and ranting, elbows pumping. He pulls her out of the gown and trucks her back to bed. Sometimes the eroticism gets muscular, before she will sleep. If she had not located him, he will hear of her search and call her and go to her place. One day, she is up, angry, drinking, smoking (she only smokes drinking, then she smokes furiously), talking on the phone to her mother. Her mother foots the bill and does not want Veronica supporting men. But, Veronica, says the worried mother. Why are you acting this way? Because I'm mad as hell: But why, how - Veronica Ann,
why are you acting this way? Because I am in love! But why, Veronica Ann, how, if you don't stop this, I'll have to stop sending the money. Mother, I don't want to talk about that right now! But, Vran, how did you meet this person? He's a model, he's a nude model! A nude model? And I've been up all night trying to find him in the park! In the park! He doesn't have a home. mother! Veronica Ann, I can't take this, you're ging to have to stop this! Here he is right now, Mother, you talk to'im! Brushy Bill does not like talking to the mother, is nervous while worried about Vran and her dangerous binging. Too, he is a health fanatic. I know, he says. Yes, yes, she needs to stop, yeah, well, I think she's mad because I don't have any money, yeah, I guess so, well, O.K., do what you want to do. Vran snatches the phone back.
Vran breaks it off with Bill twice a week, blames him for causing her to get drunk and go looking for him, telling him if she gets one more DWI she goes to jail. He reminds her she was drinking before she met him and at least with him she has something to do and anyway he loves her. But I can't find you! she says. He wants to move in, so far while knowing him she has not got that third DWI and if he can just move in she won't have cause to drive drunk. No, she repeats. You can't live with me, I'm not going to support you, Mother will cut me off, I've already spent about three hundred dollars on you, beer, pizza, feeding you, sending taxis for you, I can't respect you like this, no, if I have a man, my parents expect the man to support me! So I'm gving you your walking papers! This is it! You're a free man now! You're taking up all my life! I don't even see my friends anymore! You don't know how many men are after me, men who are successful, men who can take me out! All we ever do, is we go to bed, we kiss, we make love, and that's it! Well, you've got your ass in the dirt and you're barking up the wrong tree! All you do is you eat, you sleep, you fuck, you pump your muscles, you walk your dogs, you write a little bit! Well, I've had it! Now you're on your own!
The cycle will repeat itself with minor variation. Maybe she drinks early, catches him working his typewriter at a park table (so as not to disturb his old friend where he keeps his Possessions), a six-pack of Guiness or Shiner on the table. Maybe she finds him at the friend's tiny apartment while the friend is at work. Bill is doing one armed pushups with his feet on a kitchenette counter. A boxing match is on the Mexican TV station. Vran's complaint is where can he leave his dogs. The dogs, Lady, Beast, know her well and like her a lot. Don't any of your fifty year old friends have yards? she demands. Hell no, he says, panting from the exertion. They're all just a step ahead of me in the economic bracket.
Vran sees psychiatrists. She is in A.A., all advice is to get rid of the guy in the bushes with the pitbulls. First there is a pipe smoking Walter Cronkite type doctor, who tells her in fatherly manner she is looking into the abyss of her death. A great many Viet Nam vets have this syndrome, says he. You are attracted to your death, this is why you always flirt with danger. When you went out the third story window on PCP you stepped past natural boundary, natural fear. But now we must reverse your course. Now, this fellow in the bushes cannot possibly love you from his position. He needs a place to stay, but you cannot afford time for him.
Vran's mother is seeing how close the man in the bushes is coming and changes psychiatrists. The next psychiatrist is female. Bill is dangerous, she says. Stay away from him. Well, says Vran. He is passive, I mean, he says he is violent, but he never does anything. Ah, these quiet types, says the female doctor. These are the dangerous ones. He will be hearing little voices telling him to hit you, or kill you or something. If he says he is violent, then he is, watch out.
But he's never laid a hand on me! He says he fights an ancient war against evil but he's really passive.
Vran, Bill is obviously paranoid-schizophrenic. I envision him cutting your throat. Stay away from him, please.
Bill has a responsible brother, Lee, in Seguin, sixty miles from Austin, whose discarded clothing he wears. Lee will give Bill money and argue with him about his ways. Vran calls Lee, raving drunk. Do you know your brother is living in the bushes! Yeah, says Lee. A lot of People are living in the bushes these days. I guess he is a street person, he's a street person. No help from Lee, Vran calls Bill's mother at Port Aransas. It is late and Bill's mother is weary. Across the room from Bill's mother is Bill's old man in bed with cookies and a book, very pissed off. Bill's mother: Honey, just stay away from him. He's never going to do anything but write. He can't even support his own daughter. Just stay away from him, honey.
There is an incident with a swami, a palm reader. Bill and Vran have a couple of glasses of wine with a nice dinner she fixes - she likes to cook and is capable of drinking lightly. She's telling him about these interesting people she has met and this famous palm reader. Hum, says Bi11, looking at his palm. This guy in California told me I have no fate line. I would like to see what that means. Vran says, I want to have my palm read. It's twenty-five dollars. Do you want to have yours done? I'11 pay. Bill says, oh, sure.
At the swami's, Bill sits on the floor talking to a couple of the swami's disciples. My horoscope is all in abstract thought, he tells them. In the next room, the swami is embracing Vran in a series of strong hugs. Now breathe deeply, he says to her in a mid-eastern accent. We must carry you out of your troubled position. Vran is hyperventilating, dizzy. The swami takes her to a cushion and sits down with her. In the other room, Bill says, I dunno. I was told I am a spiritual leader myself.
Next, says the swami in a big smile, leading out Vran. He grasps Bill's large hand. Ah, a fine hand.
When Bill comes out Vran asks, what did he tell you? I'11 tell you out in the car, Bill says. What was yours? You tell me yours first. No, you tell me yours first.
Driving, Vran says, he told me my father and I were married in England in a past life. I always knew I had a connection with England. This makes sense, about my father. Once, we were out on the boat, and he told me I would have been a better wife for him than my mother. But tell me what did the swami tell you? Look, Vran, Bill says. The swami is only human. There is always human error. He is intuitive, and he has a good method, but I didn't show'im anything at first and he fucked up. Well, what did he say? Bill wipes his hand over his brow. Well. He said I was a woman in Germany in my past life. So? What's wrong with that? Well, hell, I said to'im, look, my past several lives I was in the Americas. There's been mucho bloodshed. And the swami said, no, all that was before your past life you were this woman in Germany. If you wait till you are fifty-three, when you are over your bias, you can go to Germany and find your grave. He's right, Vran says. You have a lot of feminine gestures! You swish when you walk! Ah, naa, says Bill. It doesn't figure. I haven't been a woman for a hell of a long time. I asked him why I don't have a fate line. He said I don't need a fate line because my will is great. He said I have the will of the Germans. I said to him, do you believe in racial differences? He said, no, but that I have this perseverence of the Germans and I will be making money by age fifty-three. I said, why do you think I was a woman? He said, because it shows right here you like to nurture and you are maternal. You have a lot of feminine tendencies, says Vran. Hell, vran I wouldn't even want to be a woman. You don't respect women! she hollers. Goddamnit, Vran! Now why do you say this? Hell, being female is just not my trip.
They are in the neighborhood of Bill's nest in the bushes and the friend's apartment where his dogs wait. He says, hey, aren't we going to your place?
No, she says, calm. Isn't this where you wanted to go?
Huh! Naw, I thought we were going to your place first!
No, I 'm not in the mood.
Well, goddamnit, look. I just don't understand women. Now, I'm in
awe of femininity. I don't know what it is, exactly, but so what. I wouldn't care if we had matriarchy. Why should I.
Vran has stopped her car at the apartment complex where Bill must retreive his dogs. Aggravated, Bill gets out, trys to not slam the door. I don't even understand women and I was supposed to've been a woman in my past life? Jesus Christ!
Vran goes to her apartment. She lifts a big jug of white wine, their dinner wine, from her refrigerator, has a glass. She is thoughtful. When the jug is more than half down she is edgy. Presently the jug is nearly finished and she calls up the swami. I need you to come over here and talk to me, she says. I'm just not in any condition to drive and I've had two DWIs this year, but can you come over here? Great.
The swami enters, accompanied by a disciple.
In the first place, declares Vran with a sweep of arm. You don't know anything about what I've been through, or you would've brought up some of that! I'm not just some little college girl who doesn't know shit from shinola! I have met with extraterrestrials - what do you know about that! Not a thing, you don't know shit! When I was drunk I took some PCP because they said it was cocaine and I went out a third story window. What do you know about thgt! Not a damn thing! You don't know shit! It took me years to get my face fixed back! But you don't know what rough trips I've been through! You don't know shit! How dare you tell me my father and I were married in a past life and my boyfriend was a woman! Just where do you get off! If you knew anything at all you would've had at least some idea of the many, many hard, very hard trips I have been through! Now you look here, I don't want you to ever come to my house again! Don't you ever, ever come to my house again!
The swami stares, mouth ajar. He takes to repeated bows. He scurries. He flees. He is trailed by his shocked disciple.
Vran's and Bill's affair is back to normal. Her tensions take her through school, A.A., her psychiatrists, to all night binging and need of sexual release and rest. She brings Bill to a house her parents own, in neighboring New Braunsville. She begins the day Texas gal calm, they have a big meal of catfish in an all you can eat place in San Marcos. You don't eat much, she says in a little sneer. That night, Bill is tired of beer and wants to go to bed. But Vran finds whisky. They argue over definition of evil. Bill thinks evil is unconscious global telepathy on only the planet earth, creating demons and the like. Vran argues evil and good as being polarity with which otherwise the universe could not function - that black holes in space are a product of evil or the devil. At her urging, Bill has a couple of shots of whiskey, and hears her out, and then tries to sleep. She screams in his ear, slaps at him, kicks the bed. I'm afraid of you. she screams. He pulls her into bed, a few times. He gets up and goes after her, and she wads into a little ball on the floor, and he hauls her back to bed. Goddamnit, I hurt my back that time, he says. She will get up to use the bathroom, or whatever, and by dawn he is given up and dozing. She rousts him to take a shower with her. She won't let him fix coffee first. They shower a long time, and the shower light goes on and off by itself, every few minutes. She wants him to make love on the bathroom rug, rather than in the other room because they had quarreled in the other room. Two light switches, the one for the shower, and the one for the bathroom itself, go on, click, and a few minutes later, click, back off. The switch itself moves. See, says Bill. The evil spirits don't want us to be together. But together, we make power, we can beat them.
But Vran carries onward in conflict. She fights the relationship and does not permit Bill to keep daily contact. She gets drunk and goes looking for him but parks her car somewhere and gets picked up on a PI, and awakens, in jail, horrified. When she is back home, in bed, Bill calls, she says she doesn't want to see him ever again. He is aghast to hear she has been in jail, yet he argues his case, that she got two DWIs this year before meeting him and two PIs, and now she has got a third PI but only because she won't get organised and let him be in constant touch, and she's going to come looking for him anyway and this is good because she needs an objective - he is blurting this out and she slams the receiver. He is at a pay phone, uses another quarter, she answers sweetly, hears him - now, please, Vran, listen - she interrupts: I'm going to a clinic, I'm sick, get away from me! She hangs up. He tries again, last quarter, her telephone is on it's recorder. He has to go model. He and dogs trudge toward UT, pedestrians going wide around the dogs. Two young college girls trill and bend to pet his tail wagging pitbulls. They favor Beast, pat-patting the great head, feeling his neck. Lady is running about nose to the ground, and Bill whistles at her, concerned she could locate a cat to kill. Aw, naw, pitbulls are friendly, he is telling the girls absently. They're easy to steal, Lady's been stolen twice.
Modeling is a chore. He goes to a friend's house, gets a quarter, goes to a pay phone. The mother answers. Mr.. Baughtnight, may I spesk with your daughter? Whom may I say is calling? says Mrs. Baughtnight, though she knows who. Mrs. Baughtnight, he mays, damnit, I'm sorry, there's all this noise out here, this air conditioning machine or whatever it is and all these cars, look, Vran shouldn't go to a thirty day clinic - she's done that before - it's bad on her self esteem - these doctors don't know anything - uh, as I've said, I'm fairly disenchanted with all this modern psychiatry, uh. We will be the judge of that, says the mother. 0h, well, let me speak with Vran, please. She is not in right now, the mother says. She has just stepped out, oh, here she is. Vran: Bill, I don't want to talk to you, your own mother says stay away from you, I don't need you for anything, I don't need you protecting me from demons or bringing LSD or marijuana into my house, you can't help any woman until you can help yourself, you've got more problems than I have! She hangs up.
Last scene, Bill, and Lee, sitting at a cement table by Shoal Creek. A young derelict's guitar and half emptied bottle of MD-2020 and a small bag are on a near second table. The derelict is drunk and trying to roast a piece of meat with too large a blaze off a small barbeque grill between the two tables. He is smacking lips on a joint. Don't you guys want some? he says. His arm extends with joint in fingers. I ain't got no disease. No, the brothers say. We're doing fine already.
Lee is dressed like Bill, jeans, T-shirt, except his clothes are new, he wears them first, and his hair and beard are trim. Still, the family resemblance is strong. No, Bill, Lee is saying with his hand. I can't handle Lady's pups, and I wish you would not drop her on the parents. The old man can't take anymore.
I could cut her throat, says Bill. Otherwise, I got no choices.
Bill is fingering a twenty dollar bill Lee has given him, hunched, staring grimly. But he is very used to all this. He smiles.
Lee gestures heavily: The old man is tired of you not having any choices. We're all tired of it. These vibes are going to carry for generations. Yeah, maybe your stuff will sell someday, who can say, maybe it's even great. Maybe like Van Gogh it's going to do something after you're dead. Maybe it can feed your grandchildren, who can say. But right now you're hurting a lot of people.
Bill, dejected: I got no choices. I can die, that's all. I could walk off down the road. But right here, I am only doing what I can.
Lee, grits, shakes head, gesturing hand droops helplessly: Shit.
Derelict, burning his dinner, sitting at his table plunking his stolen guitar he cannot play: Hey, bros, I ain't got aids or nuttin.