The following is the first segment of the initial interview session between documentary producer James Fairhaven (JF) and documentary subject Leonard Carlson (LC).
JF: Ladies and Gentlemen, I have Leonard Carlson here with me. This is our first of hopefully many interviews with Leonard and we hope to learn more about him. Hello, Leonard.
LC: Hi, Jim.
JF: So Leonard, I guess where we should start is with your childhood. Where did you grow up?
LC: Wisconsin. I was born in a small town in Wisconsin. Mainly just fished and hunted and tried to keep my body temperature in the 80s. That’s about it.
JF: What did your parents do?
LC: I just told you, fished and hunted and tried to keep from freezing to death.
JF: How about your mother?
LC: What about her?
JF: What did she do?
LC: This is going to be a very repetitive interview, James, if you keep asking me the same question.
JF: So your parents were hunters and fishers?
LC: Yeah, pretty much.
JF: Ok, well then why-
LC: Well, my father was an inventor sort of.
JF: Really? Did he invent anything we might have heard of?
LC: James, how do I know what you’ve might or might not have heard of?
JF: Ok, fair enough, Leon-
LC: Really. How do I know wh-
JF: Let me rephrase. I’m finding out you’re very literal.
LC: OK, remember that. You said I’m literal. Soon, you’ll say I’m loose or wild and I’ll remind you that I’m literal.
JF: Did your father invent anything that was marketed?
LC: Or by “literal” do you mean concrete? Is that some kind of insult? Is this really the way you want to start this project. Remember we have a contract and you owe me whether or not we finish this.
LC: Do you want to continue?
JF: Leonard. Ok. I’m sorry that-
LC: Damn right you are.
JF: I’ll try to pick my word-
LC: I’m giving you my time and I expect some respect from you.
JF: Absolutely, Leo-
LC: You need me a lot more than I need you, you underst-
JF: Absolutely, Leonard. My apologies. You’re right. It was a judgmental thing to say.
LC: Wait! You hear that?
JF: What? No, I don’t-
LC: Just kidding, James! ( laughs) I’m just giving you a hard time! (laughs)
JF: (laughs). Leonard! You had me.
LC: I just like take people into the unfamiliar. To see how they behave. You really see who a person is when things fall apart around them. When they have nothing to resort to. No memories to save them. No scripts to follow. That’s when their essence is apparent.
JF: I see. I hate to know what you just learned about me.
LC: I could tell you but I might not see you tomorrow! (laughs)
JF: OK, we’ll have to talk about that later. So we were talking about your father.
LC: You wanted to know what he invented, right?
LC: He invented a lot of things but mostly things for hunting and fishing. Nothing that was ever marketed or patented, he didn’t believe in that. But he created a lot of things that were helpful for survival. Both he and my mom actually. My mom made some incredible devices for fishing. These..horrific fish hooks that no fish ever got off. They would just dig into the fish, deeper and deeper. Just merciless.
JF: Your mom?
LC: Oh yeah. Fish hooks and animal traps. Just demonic things. They were around the house all the time and I got caught up in them more than once.
JF: You’re kidding?!
LC: No, no, no. I’m not kidding. They were amazingly effective traps. They might have been patentable, but maybe not. So dangerous.
JF: So, how old were you when you got caught in these traps?
LC: Oh, I don’t know. Six, seven, eight. I was always getting caught in them.
JF: Do you have scars?
LC: Scars? Oh I see. You want proof? You think I’m making this up, James?
JF: Some people like to show off their scars.
LC: Yeah, well some people like to eat the brains of monkeys. You’re gonna have to take my word for it.
LC: See, Jim, I’m not here to prove anything to anybody. You said you wanted to do a bio on me, and I agreed. Not because I want to be a celebrity. I don’t want any fame. Not because I want the money. Not for any of that. I don’t care about the past. I don’t like to go back like some voyeur and peer into these memories. They don’t belong to me anymore. They’re out there in the wind. I have no attachment to memories. That’s not who I am. I’m this bag of bones and jelly sitting right here in front of you. That’s it. This is Leonard Carlson. Right here and right now and that’s all I’ll ever be. Got it. If this is what you want to do with this then I suggest you find someone else because I got nothing to prove, alright? So we can talk and get to know each other and you can do your little website and try to make your life meaningful or we can call this quits. But I’m not going to try to make myself out to be some demigod. So you let me know what you want, James.
JF: This is not another joke is it?
LC: What’s it going to be, Jimbo?
JF: I’d like to continue, Leonard, but this won’t work if I’m walking on eggshells. I have to be honest, Leonard, there are a lot of rumors about you. Personally, I wanted to know what’s true and what’s made up. I was looking for some validation, because that was a wild story. I can’t imagine a young boy stuck in a bear trap or something that his mother made. So I was looking for proof.
LC: Talk or walk?
JF: Ok, Leonard. I guess we will take you at your word.
LC: So, my parents probably could have made a lot of money with their inventions but they didn’t believe in owning something like that. They believe that each mind is part of one larger entity, call it god, call it nature, call it, shit, call it a bag of cheetos, I don’t care. But they believed the product of one mind should be shared with all minds. And I believe that too.
JF: You do?
LC: Yeah. What are you getting at? You hinting at something?
JF: Well, aren’t you living on royalties from songs you’ve written?
LC: No, I’m not. That would be a violation of what I just described to you. I’m not a hypocrite, well that’s not true. I probably am a hypocrite.
JF: But you’re not living off royalties?
LC: Not at all. I’m living off money I made from the songs. I don’t get any residuals. I realized that I’d be forever tied to those songs if I held the rights and I saw how embarrassing that got for some people. Times change and songs that were really cool and deep and become really…well, stupid, a decade or so later. I didn’t want to be attached to the songs so I just sold the rights. Besides, I’m a good investor and I figured I could make more on the lump sum than I could on years and years of royalties. Besides, I don’t know how long I’m gonna live. In the sixties, I never expected to make it to my forties. I didn’t want the record companies to keep my money, I had no family to leave the money to, so I sold them.
JF: I see. So, you have some money, but you rent an apartment. Most people would buy a house.
LC: If I were like most people you wouldn’t be interviewing me right now would you, Jimbo?
Nah, I never wanted all that. I saw some friends living it up, just burning money and then they were left with nothing. All that crap, the cars and houses and boats . Nah. I’d rather just stay free and never worry. You know, I’ve never had a job. We’ll, I’ve worked jobs here and there, but jobs I took for fun. Usually to meet someone or learn something. I have never had a real job. In fact, do you know that I haven’t known what day it is for over a year.
JF: You don’t know what day it is?
LC: Nope. I know it’s been a year because I saw the fourth of July fireworks and the last time I knew the day was the fireworks the previous year. It’s a great feeling. Someone like you would probably panic if you didn’t know the date. I love it. What day is it?
JF: It’s Saturday. How do you manage if you don’t know the day of the week. Don’t you have appointments and things?
LC: Sure, I just have people call me and tell me when to show up. I tell them to call me the day before or the day of. I had a job at this law firm sweeping up the floors. I took the job to learn about patents and shit. I was looking for loopholes because there were some things I was interested in.
JF: Oh, yeah? You were going to try your hand at inventing?
LC: But they let me come in pretty much whenever, but I couldn’t miss more than two days in a row. So I managed to have a job without ever knowing what day it was. But you, Jim, you are making me a little nervous with all your scheduling!
JF: Hey, someone has to keep track!
LC: You try to schedule weeks and weeks ahead. I can’t live like that man. Do you know how diseased you are?
JF: I know, I know, Leonard.
LC: You’re even gonna die on time, I’ll bet.
JF: Hey hey hey. Don’t talk about death. That’s my least favorite topic, especially my own.
LC: No big deal, Jimmy. It really isn’t. You know what the fear is?
JF: No, tell me.
LC: The fear is not of not living any more, but of not having ever lived!
JF: Don’t follow.
LC: Okay. We are nothing but memories, networks of memories. These memories tell us who we are. We’re producers, or librarians, or janitors and we like the color red or fish sticks or whatever. Our memories tell us everything. They tell us who we were, but more importantly, they tell us who we’ll be tomorrow. We are literally slaves to our memories. And when that network of memories dies, well, there’s no trace of us having ever existed. Gone. Poof, Vanished into thin air. That’s why we have kids.
JF: So we have someone to remember us?
LC: You got it. Someone who keeps that network alive. Someone to say, my father was a fisherman, who liked Schlitz malt liquor and the Green Bay packers and once got trapped in a bear trap or survived a plane crash. See?
JF: Very interesting.
Comments Off on The Second Encounter – Part One
Friday morning. A few years back. Los Angeles. Cold as hell.
After the unusual first meeting with Leonard Carlson, I was fully prepared for the man this time. I had convinced myself of that fact as I stood shivering near the bus stop where Leonard suggested we meet. “How can it be so damn cold,” I asked myself. “I mean, the weather was perfect just a couple days ago. This is California for crying out loud.”
I arrived early, even though Leonard was late the first time we met. The time passed quickly since this was a busy bus stop and there were plenty of opportunities for people watching. Mostly laborers and nannies it looked like, with the occasional out-of-work stockbroker type thrown in for a nice balance.
As our meeting time approached, the area around the bus bench got quite crowded. I was pushed toward the wall of the liquor store behind the bus bench by the mass of people accumulating and jockeying for position near the front of the bus stop. The pushing wasn’t intentional, but I still began to get quite uncomfortable and anxious for Leonard to arrive.
A car horn was honking in the distance. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but after a moment I realized that even above the buzz of the bus stop crowd, the car horn had gotten much louder. There was a persistent and deliberate pulse to the honks so I stood up on my tip toes and craned my neck to see what all the fuss was about.
A long, black, Cadillac stretch limousine had pulled up at the bus stop and the driver was honking the horn like a madman with a mission. The next bus had actually pulled up right behind it and started singing bass in a duet with the limo. The bus driver did not look happy and the crowd of bus travelers was starting to stir.
Out of this developing chaos I heard a voice calling out “James! Hey James! Over here!”
The crowd parted just enough for me to see Leonard in his ratty clothes and unkept hairdo poking his head and shoulders out from the back of the limousine window, motioning for me to come closer. I carefully made my way through the increasingly agitated people and stood next to the window.
“Hop in man. Or would you rather take the bus?”
I jumped in the back of the car without a second thought and sat facing Leonard. As soon as I settled in I began to replay what just happened in my mind.
“How do you feel right now?” Leonard asked.
“Quite uncomfortable,” I replied.
“Even though you’re in this big fancy limousine?” he questioned.
“Yeah, those folks didn’t seem too happy that their bus was delayed. What’s with the limo anyhow? And why did you want to meet me at the bus stop? I mean you could have picked me up anywhere.”
Leonard stared out the window and was silent for a moment. A moment just long enough for me to collect my thoughts and start piecing things together. Here I thought this guy was a drifter or a transient and he just picked me up in a limo. My mind started racing. Is this guy some sort of eccentric millionaire? Did he inherit a family fortune? Did he invent Old Spice after shave or maybe soap on a rope?
Right then he turned around, looked me dead in the eye said, “It’s just a rental.”
to be continued…
Wednesday afternoon. A few years ago. Sun shining. 72 degrees.
Leonard finally showed up and sat next to me on the park bench. We agreed to meet at 3:30 p.m. and it was already a ten minutes to four. I wondered what a guy like Leonard could be doing that would make him twenty minutes late to our first meeting about the documentary project. I wondered why he wanted to meet on a park bench in front of the basketball courts. I wondered why he down and stared at the three-on-three game in front of us without saying hello. I wondered…
“There’s a rhythm to it. A constant, driving beat. Can you feel it?”
Leonard finally uttered those words about 4 o’clock, nearly ten minutes after he first sat down. I was fairly agitated by that time but I didn’t respond. I was there to offer this scruffy guy a decent amount of money to allow us to document his life, but I was told there were certain words & actions that could really set him off and I didn’t want to get this project off to a bad start (or get my ass kicked). So there I was, sitting silently next to him…watching some guys play three-on-three.
“Basketball is a lot like life itself,” he said. “You don’t have to know all the rules to play, but unless you know the basics you can’t even enjoy a simple pick-up game in the park.”
With that, he got up and walked away. I slumped back into the bench and tried to figure out what had just happened. It was 4:05 p.m. and as I looked up at the game in front of me I began to realize that I probably needed Leonard a lot more than he needed me.
You may have missed this one in the comments section of Microsode #1, but it was such a great anecdote from an old buddy of Leonard’s we just had to share. It’s truly amazing how many folks have experienced moments with Leonard and it seems everyone is willing to recount their tales.
Have a Leonard story of your own? Let us know!
“Let me tell you, as a friend of Leonard since I was only this big, I recall the trash truck inncident and believe you me it was a kick, a hoot. But the turkey inncident was by far the very best of Leonard. Imagine Leonard in Vegas playing black jack at one of those fancy poker playing places with his 32 pound frozen turkey sitting next to him.He would sit there and ask his turkey if he should hit or stay. And then berate it when he lost. Leonard was always pushing people that way, push them to react to an unusual situation like a man playing black jack while conferring with a 32 pound frozen turkey. Viva Leonard, touche!”
I took Leonard to the donut shop yesterday morning. In his own words, “I like a baked apple fritter and a cold chocolate milk on an overcast Sunday morning…and you can’t get a BAKED apple fritter just anywhere ya know.” I had a croissant and a latte and realized I only ordered those items because it was trendy, and there I was sitting with a guy that truly marches to the beat of his own drummer. I thought, is he just a bit nuts or could Leonard Carlson actually be a trend setter?
As we enjoyed our pastries under the cloud cover Leonard related a brief story about the summer he worked as a gardener for a wealthy family on some large plantation in the South somewhere. Apparently, he was walking through town one day (I couldn’t get him to explain how he ended up there or exactly what town he was talking about) and he happened into a conversation with a man named Mr. Brinkstone. As they talked, Mr. Brinkstone commented on the lovely orange flowers upon the vines clinging to the walls of the old train station. “Tecomaria capensis,” said Leonard, “better known as the Cape Honeysuckle. Best with southern exposure and when in bloom a great attractor of thirsty hummingbirds.”
Mr. Brinkstone was so impressed with Leonard‘s astute knowledge of the local flora that he hired him to his gardening staff on the spot. Since Leonard had never been on a plantation before he accepted the offer and made no mention of the fact that he had just read that Cape Honeysuckle description off his place mat while eating lunch at the local diner moments earlier.