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Name Dropper

by Duke Miller

I'm a name dropper. We're all name droppers here in San Miguel de Allende … barking on all fours at the feet of the well-known people, just like us except they're better looking, luckier, richer and probably more fucked up.

Name dropping is a way to apologize for being a bore. It's like giving a group of people $100 worth of counterfeit pesos.

I once made a documentary about Kinky Friedman, the singer-song writer and author who is perhaps best known for Ride'em Jew Boy and Asshole from El Paso. He was running for Texas Governor and we spent the day together. He was a nice guy, smart and kind. He asked if I liked his new campaign slogan, "How hard can it be?" I told him, sure, it's a good one, but can you put "fucking" right in front of "be," "How hard can it fucking be?"? I felt like that kind of emphasis would securely nail Bush's ignorance to the barn door.

I asked Cheryl Tiegs, the first US Supermodel (you remember her, right?), if she'd mind if I took my pants off to get a shot of penicillin from her sister, who was my nurse. I said, I don't wear underwear and please just relax, but she replied, no I'll wait in the hall. That was a real busted opportunity.

Just back from the genocide and the phone rings. I don't answer. Later I find out it's Julia Roberts calling. She wants to come over to discuss what I saw. A few days later a friend told me she had called, but by then she and Lyle had already left town.

Tipper Gore will be there and you have to show her around. I said, no way, I've got to go get some money. So she came and some other guy spent a few days with her tromping around in the piles of bodies. I could have been one of those people in the balcony introduced at the State of the Union by Bill Clinton. Instead I chose to get drunk in Nairobi with some rich fucker who ended up giving a million dollars to a disaster I was skating through. You wouldn't know him, but he was a legend among a handful of us.

I still carry Yuri Kosinski's bag. Among other things he wrote The Painted Bird and Being There. The bag is in the corner where Missa Him lies. Kosinski and I shared a three-day drunk in Bangkok. Kosinski gave me his bag, so I gave him a scarf from a Cambodian friend who hanged himself in the forest, a sacred green and black piece of cloth. He told me the story of the bag. He'd carried it for a good 25 years. It had made him late for the Manson killings at the Polanski/Tate rental in LA. He should have been there that night. Kosinski committed suicide in NYC, by putting a plastic bag over his head. His heart was beating too fast to suit him. I guess the otherworldly amount of electricity he had in his body finally worked against him.

The mother of my old girlfriend went on a date with Andrew Prine. She asked me to come along to meet Raquel Welch. My girlfriend told me I better not go or she'd kill me. Being an idiot, I didn't. I've regretted it my whole life. When the mother got home, she said, oh we had so much fun.

I'm pretty good friends with Robert Taylor's daughter. Her mother was once the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, or so said Life Magazine. She comes by to see me when she's in town for AA. She likes Missa Him. They're both gentle souls.

When I was having lunch one day in Peshawar, during the Afghan-Soviet War, I heard a bomb go off a few streets over. My driver took me to the spot. There were bodies hanging from the electrical lines above the street. Years later, I found out it was Osama bin Laden taking care of some of his Saudi rivals. He was allegedly working for a Saudi NGO. People said he was quiet, but insightful.

I once took Eli Wiesel up the Patuca and Coco searching for genocide along the Nicaraguan border. We never found it, even though he felt it was there. I guess he trusted the CIA.

I had a drink with Kevin Carter, the photographer who won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Struggling Girl of the Sudan". You might remember the photo. She was bent over with a vulture in the background waiting for her to die. The little girl was actually a little boy. In the Sudan lack of food and water tends to turn girls and boys into the same person. Dying melts gender and you're left with only the body of death. Lots of people criticized Carter because they said he should have helped the little girl, but she was at a feeding center and kids like her were numerous in that particular town. Too many starving, dying kids in the Sudan. Very unfair. He ended up committing suicide shortly after he got the Pulitzer. His friends said he felt guilty. We shared a drink in an expensive hotel in Nairobi and he told me about the photograph. It didn't make much of an impression on me at the time.

My father brought the actor Rory Calhoun up to his hotel room when I was a kid. I was only a kid, but I knew who Rory Calhoun was. He sat in a chair and looked at me for a while. Then he said, you know I have some glue and I'm thinking about gluing your head to the ceiling. He and my dad had been drinking.

Audrey Hepburn once made a surprise visit to a place I was at on the Somalia border. I shook her hand, then turned her over to one of the locals. I was sick of dogs and ponies. I'm sure she was nice and all that, that she did good work, but I just couldn't do cutout, smiley stuff anymore. Actually, I use that episode as the beginning of my slow-motion career collapse. I finally knew it was over when I gave a briefing to an ambassador in Washington DC and my zipper was down and, if you recall, I never wear underwear. I had a hard time with a lot of stuff after Hepburn. I was sort of falling apart. Too much disease, stress, dead babies. My friends laughed at me, but I was changing.

Do you remember Peter Arnett? He was a war correspondent and he found me once in the middle of the jungle in Honduras during the Contra Wars. He was looking for the Contras. The best I could do was give him a drunk Indian who was the bother of a commander.

John Wayne once made my wife cry. I've never forgiven him for that.

I sat by Daphne Zuniga of Melrose Place in Guatemala City. We were both eating the same kind of steak. I knew her roommate in LA but I didn't have the guts to talk to her. She looked lonely. As I was finishing, her father showed up and I left.

Ed Begley Jr. passed me in the hall. He was leaving an audition and we said hello. My friend was in the office of Steven Spielberg turning down an offer to be a production assistant. Years later my friend would say it was the biggest mistake he'd ever made. Instead of taking the Spielberg job, he'd taken the part of the father in the movie Weird Science.

I shared an airplane aisle with Sophia Loren. I was on my way to Bosnia and I guess she was going to Italy. This was in her confectionery days when her lips looked like gummy worms and her face was essentially a plate glass window of frozen sugar.

I've known a few famous people from a few wars. Mostly military types who went on to kill thousands of people. At the time I knew them they hadn't yet become totally crazy in the way that power and fear can ruin the best of us. Most of them had PhDs. Some of them are still lurking around, defining the pain they cause.

I just thought of Jimmy Stewart, Richard Boone, Tina Turner, and Tom Selleck but I really see no reason to continue. There was a chair involved, a barbecue, a beach, a dead bird, perfume, and talk of an earthquake. You get the picture I'm sure.

**************

Duke Miller: I saw a sign a few days ago on a wall. It read: we are better than this, not here. I wondered about that. I remembered all of the great people who never thought it could happen to them because they were somehow different. The world is filled with countries and cities where it could never happen (walk with me through the streets of Sarajevo and San Salvador and Aleppo) yet it did and leaders of different stripes rely upon the complacent mind, the hopeful mind, the kind of mind that waits for things to settle down ... for peace with the monsters.

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