When most people hear my hometown’s name, Mannford, two things come to their minds: Lake Keystone and meth. Mannford sits on Lake Keystone, which rivals Norman’s Lake Thunderbird in its level of grit and grime, but the boaters still flock to the lake every summer. Meth comes to mind because Creek County is the meth capital of Oklahoma, and with the recreational lake, there is a demand for a cheap recreational drug. Meth fits the bill.
But, to me, Mannford is home. It’s haphazardly planned, poorly constructed, racist to its core, and extremely, er, not politically correct. Still, as I mentioned, it is home, and I can’t help but think back on the glory days of awkward middle and high schoolness, ruling the school with my iron fist of geekness, and learning a hell of a lot at my first job, O.J.’s Old-Fashioned Family Restaurant.
Sitting right off the intersection of Coonrod and Highway 51, O.J.’s Old-Fashioned was my grandfather’s restaurant. For many years, it stood tall and proud in the small lake community until my grandfather decided that it was time to pass on his legacy to his youngest son, known as Big D to many O.J.’s employees. Ignoring almost everything his father had done, Big D decided to reinvigorate and renovate the successful business.
The first thing to go was the tall wooden sign, which was replaced with a glowing green neon sign that towered over the lackluster Mannford skyline. The second thing to go was the outside’s sense of old-fashionness and decency, which came about when the burger joint’s exterior became a radiation, nearly glowing green. Most of the interior became a blindingly bright orange, and a smoking section was added to the back of the burger joint.
I became an O.J.’s employee in the midst of the turbulent changes that the restaurant went through. With the building and the menu constantly changing, work became increasingly more difficult, but, for the most part, I didn’t mind too much. It was interesting having my uncle as my boss. I was constantly trying to impress, not only him, but my grandfather who would stop by frequently. Still, it was mostly Big D that I was trying to impress. He was family, my elder, and I wanted to prove that I had what it took to work at O.J.’s. I wanted to prove that I could make my family proud of the work I did there.
For two years, I worked there. With Big D by my side, we flipped burger after burger and fried straight-cut potatoes after curly-cut potatoes. We scrubbed greased floors until they gleamed with cleanliness. We washed thousands upon thousands of dishes. We were a team, and all seemed to be going well until I began to pay attention to the real Big D.
Towards the end of my two year run at O.J.’s, mysterious women would call up and ask for Big D. He’d leave and come back a few hours later, never commenting on what had gone on. Every few months, O.J.’s wouldn’t have the money to pay its employees, and my grandfather would have to come and pay the employees from his personal bank account. When my grandfather asked me to start keeping tabs on my uncle and let him know when my uncle took money from the cash register, I was uncomfortable with the assignment, but I agreed to take it. And, after witnessing Big D take money from the cash register time and time again, I wanted no part of O.J.’s anymore and decided that it was time to move on.
I found a new part-time job in town and eventually moved on to college. My younger brother began working at O.J.’s and claimed that things were much better. My disgust and disappointment started to fade away. I was able to talk and joke around with Big D again. Our relationship seemed to be getting back to normal. Everything seemed to be going okay – that was until the cast and crew of the film The Isolation descended upon Mannford.
It was late August, during my freshman year at O.U., when Big D offered me a chance to see the first film set that Mannford had ever had. The film set was right outside of Mannford in a neighborhood that I’d thought was only occupied by run down trailer houses. On my way to the film set, I passed many run down trailers. Various cheap plastic toys filled their yards. Heavy oversized tires were placed on a few roofs to prevent the thin metal from blowing away.
Double checking the address that Big D had given me, I pulled my ’99 silver coupe into the driveway of, yet another, run down trailer home. The yard was disheveled. Clumps of waist-high weeds dotted the brown yard. A blue and pink toddler slide lay upturned near the wooden steps leading up to the trailer’s front door. Keeping my car running, I waited and looked at the house. It was long and narrow, like most trailer homes are. One of the screens from a window was ripped and hanging loose. The house itself was covered with loose plastic siding. From the looks of it, there seemed to be no activity coming from within the house.
I heard Big D’s vehicle before I saw it. Big D’s small golden SUV, which was a poor imitation of the Jeep Wrangler, came lumbering down the driveway. Dirt and dust filled the air as the vehicle came to an abrupt stop. The doors to his SUV creaked as Big D stepped out onto the white gravel driveway.
Big D’s greasy hair had a bright glimmer in the sunlight, and his big white smile threatened to pull his face in two with his excitement. He was beaming. I exited my car, meeting him at his SUV. He immediately began to ramble about his role in the film as we made our way to the front door. When Big D had first met the director while swimming at the local public pool, Big D had been asked to help scout locations for filming. Now, he was no longer helping out with that. He was actually in the film as a pimp/assassin-trainer/drug lord in the next big indie hit.
I listened to Big D rant as we made our way to the wooden staircase leading up to the trailer. It looked sturdy enough, but I didn’t want to trust it with any extra weight. So, I remained a few paces behind. Arriving at the front door, I continued to listen to Big D, but I was never able to put my finger on what the film was about. It was a mixed bag of sci-fi, action, and, what seemed like to me, softcore porn.
Big D’s heavy fist pounded on the front door.
Ignoring any possible response from inside, Big D turned back towards me and stumbled over his speech with delirious excitement. According to him, this was it. This would be his big break. He’d finally be free of the small people. I looked about again. All I saw was a trashed out yard and a junky trailer, a typical Mannford home.
His balled fist rammed the door again.
This time the door was answered. I couldn’t get a look at the individual opening the door from inside because of Big D’s frame blocking the doorway. There seemed to be a bit of a heated exchange between Big D and the individual from within. Still, it must have gone somewhat well because Big D was now holding the door open and motioned for me to come inside with him.
At this point, I should have left. The whole situation just felt weird. I’d never seen Big D acting this delirious. He seemed almost too aware of what was going on, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how he’d react to me just skittering out on him. After all, he did invite me here. So, I decided to go inside.
Big D was already inside as I made my way in, shutting the door behind me. The room was dark with thick heavy fabric covering the windows. As I made my way inside, I saw a ledge had been built onto the wall, and sheetrock lay haphazardly around in bits and pieces. As we progressed towards the living room, I saw a large inflatable mattress lying on the living room floor. There were several blankets covering several large lumps, which I guessed covered at least three bodies. Two uncovered white mounds could be seen amongst the cluster of bedding.
Big D tiptoed around the clumps on the floor and opened the heavy dark green curtains. Groaning could be heard from the pallet on the floor. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I was finally able to tell that the glistening white mounds belonged to a thonged woman’s rear. Unsure of how to respond, I looked away. My eyes came across Big D grinning at the nearly nude rear-end. Movement from the floor caught my attention, and I heard groans as the bodies began to stretch and struggle awake.
The thonged woman seemed to have a new sense of modesty and grabbed blankets around her. I wasn’t entirely sure if she was wearing anything other than a black thong. My eyes were still adjusting to the new light in the room, and I couldn’t really make out her face. But, I could see her long black hair was a frazzled mess. She looked up to Big D and spoke in a thick, possibly British, accent. She asked if Big D had brought her any cinnamon rolls from O.J.’s.
Big D could tell that she was disappointed that he’d apparently forgotten her cinnamon rolls. Trying to make up for his absent-mindedness, he asked if there was anything else she needed.
In a demanding, yet sultry tone, she requested coffee and, almost instantly, collapsed back into her cradle of blankets.
Immediately Big D looked to me, and I could tell that it would be my job to help make coffee. I did my best to dodge the lumps on the floor because I was still unsure what was just blankets and what was a blanket cocoon containing a waking film crew member. As we made our way into the kitchen, the smell instantly caught my attention. Rot, spoil, and sour hung thick in the air. It was difficult to imagine that there was a functional kitchen underneath the mass of mess. Boxes, crumbs, and other bits of gunk coated the floors and counters. My eyes were lost in the sea of filth.
Big D said that he needed a coffee filter and that there should be one around here, somewhere. I scanned the kitchen looking for anything resembling a coffee filter. I saw bits of paper, plenty of crumbs, possibly a skittering bug or two, but no coffee filter. Yet, as I meandered through the stench, light caught my eyes. I glanced down to see a small mirror covered with a few lines of snow-white powder. There was a small plastic bag of the same powder sitting beside the mirror.
Now, I’m no expert in these types of things, but I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking at.
Still, I didn’t want to seem too judgmental. So, I pointed to the mirror and asked Big D, “What’s that?”
Big D scoffed at my question. He claimed that it was a prop.
I could tell that his coffee filter search was over. He’d found paper towels, which he said would be a suitable replacement for a coffee filter. He added that he was being resourceful.
After starting the coffee, Big D’s attention turned towards the random pieces of sheetrock scattered about the floors. He pointed at the sheetrock, and I could see that mousetraps had been attached to the backside of the wall. Big D explained that the heroine of the film was going to be shot at and the mouse traps flicking shut would seem like the wall had been shot by bullets. I simply nodded and tried to force a grin, but I was beyond ready to leave.
We made our way out of the kitchen and back to the living room. There were fewer lumps on the living room floor. My guess is that they had migrated to different non-bright areas of the house. Big D demanded to know what time the filming would commence because he’d promised me, that there was a major scene being filmed today.
None of the stumbling cast members had an answer. They seemed to laugh at Big D’s suggestion of any filming going on. From a remaining floor lump, a gruff masculine voice stated that they’d need about ten or fifteen minutes to get ready.
This answer seemed to satisfy Big D because his diminished smile was back to a full-on wide beam. He asked if I wanted to see the film’s script because as he pointed out, I was an English major and should have an interest in things like film scripts. We took our leave from the trailer home/crude film set. Big D offered to drive me to his place to pick up the script. I made my way to the passenger side, but it took several minutes for him to open my door because he had to remove an ample amount of trash, paper, a half cup of used dip, and scattered cigarettes from my seat. As soon as I could sit down, I shut the door and buckled my seatbelt, taking a quick note of his lack of a seatbelt.
I was ready to leave. This whole situation was too strange for me. The whole cast seemed to be in drug and alcohol-induced stupor. Big D’s behavior wasn’t adding legitimacy to the situation either. Still, I knew that if I would go to his place for a few minutes it would at least get me away from the faux film set and crew. I told myself that I’d see the script and then get the hell out of there.
Big D’s ride bounced down the pothole-filled road as we made our way to his trailer house. At a leaning yellow mailbox, we turned left down a windy wooded road. I offered to remain in the car while he went inside to grab the film script.
He left the car and headed towards the house. He wasn’t gone long, but the entire time that I was alone, I kept going over in my head how weird this was. It was bringing back old memories of everything that had happened at O.J.’s. All the joy and excitement that I had at first because I would be seeing a real film set had long disappeared, and now, disgust was filling the void where excitement had once been. This was not a situation that I wanted to remain in. Big D could claim that this was a real film crew, a real film set, and a real film script, but it felt too seedy – even for Mannford. At his front door, I saw Big D’s wife at the door as she kissed and hugged him. His hand held a manila folder, which I could only assume contained the film’s script.
After Big D’s frame seemed to collapse into the driver’s seat, he handed me the folder. I began looking over it. I’d never seen a physical film script before, and I wasn’t real sure what I was looking at. It seemed like a film script that had been read many times. There were many pages, but Big D made it clear that this was only part of the script. The missing pages were locked away, only to be seen on a need to know basis. The pages that were there contained thick black lettering. The font was centered on the page, and the text had lots of spacing. Big D began to back out of the driveway pointing at the script any time that he noticed his character’s name on one of the pages that I was scanning.
As we made our way back to the film trailer, Big D asked me what I thought of Nikki. I wasn’t sure who he was talking about, but as he started to describe her, it was quickly made clear that it was the woman whose rear I’d seen. Before I could give a decent answer, Big D proceeded to describe to me, in great detail, his hard-on for the lead actress and that if it wasn’t for his wife he so would have banged her already. Fortunately for me, the trip back to the set was short, so I only had to put up with a few minutes of his vivid and sexual description.
The golden SUV pulled back into the drive of the film set/trailer home, and I practically leapt from the car. I explained to Big D that I needed to get back to college. I did have a legit excuse; it was Sunday. Class was the following day. I didn’t really have homework, but I used it as an excuse anyway. The beaming Big D that I had been around for the last forty-five minutes frowned. He wanted me to stay and see how a real film crew made a movie. He made his way to the front door of the trailer, but as he went to knock on the door, it flung open revealing a halfway-dressed man that had clearly just woken up.
Big D quickly inquired if they’d be ready to shoot in a few minutes; the man simply laughed and went back inside. From the man’s laugh, I could tell that it belonged to the gruff voice that had said they’d be ready to shoot in ten or fifteen minutes. Big D followed the man back inside.
I felt the urge to leave. I should have gone. I didn’t want any more of the weirdness inside. I wanted out, but for some reason, probably curiosity, I followed Big D back inside the trailer. There were no longer bodies on the floor of the living room; instead, these individuals walked around in a zombie-like trance. The stumbling crew appeared to all be dressed. From what I could tell, there were at least six people in the trailer, three women and three men.
One man, the man who had answered the door the second time, turned out to be the director. Big D was giddy with excitement and kept badgering the shirtless man trying to bring the filming closer to a reality. I tried to find a place out of the way. The black haired woman, who had demanded coffee and was apparently named Nikki, asked me if I’d ever been to a film set before and if I wanted a role in the film.
Before I could reply, Big D asked me if I could give him a hand moving some furniture. As it turned out, the shirtless director needed a particular room in the trailer to film a scene for Big D’s pimp/assassin-trainer/drug lord character. I followed Big D and another stumbling man, who I hadn’t noticed before, to the back of the trailer as the director showed Big D the room that needed to be cleared. The room, like every other room in the trailer, was filled with junk. There were bits and pieces of furniture, a mattress, and piles of trash all throughout the room. I began to help move the room’s junk into the living because I had determined my best course of action would be to help then leave as filming commenced.
As we continued to clear the room, the heavier man helping us left and returned with the director, who approved of the room’s new status. It looked good to him, but they still needed a few props in the room. The director and Big D moved a large green chair back into the room as the heavier man leaned against the hallway’s wall.
Big D grabbed my shoulder and asked for my help with a small project to help get the room ready. I agreed simply to help facilitate my leaving. We made our way out of the trailer. The balding heavyset man that had moved the chair with Big D followed carrying several cartons of cigarettes. Big D explained to me that they needed to start smoking these cigarettes so that they would have enough butts to make the scene look authentic.
Asking if I would help, Big D grabbed a handful of cigarettes, lit them all, and began puffing on them rapidly. With his other hand, he went for another handful and gestured for me to take it. This was too much. I had never smoked a cigarette in my life, and I was not going to start now.
I reached for my cell phone in my pocket to check the time and made an “Oh, look at the time. I gotta go” speech. As I turned around to leave, Big D’s cigarette holding hand gesticulated wildly. He was shocked that I was leaving. They were just about ready to film the scene. Frantic that I was leaving, he went for the front door to ask if they’d be ready to shoot in a few minutes.
I could hear the laughter from inside. That was it. It was time for me to go. I couldn’t take the insanity of the situation anymore.
I made my way to my car. The leather seats were hot and burned the underside of my legs as I sat in the driver’s seat. I didn’t care at this point. I was leaving. Ignoring any pleas from Big D, I backed up my car and drove away, leaving dusty clouds of dirt in my wake.