The Payne of It All

I asked her if the ad agency had copped the whole idea from New Times.
"It was in an article from California, in a newspaper out there. We don't remember what the paper was. It wasn't even about Nothing. Somebody was driving to Las Vegas from Phoenix."

Hmmm. My article wasn't even about Nothing. It was about driving to Laughlin from Phoenix. Plus it had that suggestive, seminal picture of Les Payne . . .

Emily admitted that she had personally never seen the article, so I asked if I could speak with the person who had. She got a bit hinkie.

"No, I don't think so . . . they're not here anymore."
I asked why they hadn't just used our man Les.
I will give you Emily's answer in full, just because it is so wonderful: "I don't think that he could have done the role, he couldn't have delivered the message. He's not real focused. I don't think he could have concentrated long enough to do it. And, ummm . . ."

He's a crusty old guy?
"Yeah."

Les is still at the picnic table.
He's about to spit.
Then he does.

Not focused? I'll tell you this, the man has no trouble focusing on the imitation Les Payne on the page in front of him.

"In other words, he's the double!" declares Les, hell-bent on taking this focus into hyperclarity. "That sure ain't me, but that's my name, all right. Leslie W. Payne. Evidently they used this guy as a double. There's no more to it. But that sure as hell ain't me!"

There are probably very good reasons I am writing for New Times in Phoenix and not making $5 million in Cleveland choosing supposedly earthy actors for ad campaigns. But, having said that, it's hard to believe that this sincere, charismatic man who lives in Nothing because he "got sick of fighting them cities, and I wanted to get a place that's halfway decent" wouldn't have been able to sell a water-purifying pitcher to an America that loves humble characters.

In the name of Capra, in the name of Steinbeck, in the name of Springsteen, listen to Les about Les:

"I can talk with anybody, even in spite of the way I look.
"I'm a topnotch sheet-metal man, and I drove an 18-wheeler 17 years, and I was in 14 foreign countries. I was on a carrier during the war, and I spent 11 months in Africa. In other words, I enjoy people, but I hate smart alecks.

"I know the Bible from cover to cover; I know the major stories, every one of 'em.

"That's my camper over there, and I can go anywhere I want to, far as that's concerned. I got plenty of clothes, dress clothes and everything.

"I've got lots of experience in general living."
And Les also has experience in front of the cameras.
"I lived all around Los Angeles and Hollywood for years," he reveals. "I belonged to the National Guard, and I was in war pictures. There was one with Franchot Tone, Gladys George--They Gave Him a Gun. They had a deal back then, they called it the Film Actors Guild--probably still have it now. It was very little to join it, but I was young, I met the first wife, I was in love, you know, and I didn't join it. But you get in the Guild, then you get bit parts. A lot of 'em start out in bit parts, and then they like who it is, you catch on, and you go from there right to the top.

"But I was in mob scenes. I wasn't no actor."
So maybe Les isn't an actor, maybe a little New Times story wasn't the catalyst for a multimillion-dollar ad campaign about water without taste.

But this is true: Les Payne knows things, and that ad has a picture of a guy named Les Payne followed by these words in bold print stating "I know nothing."

I point this out to Les.
Les spits.
Les laughs.

"Ha, ha, I see what you're saying. I'll be darned. That never caught my eye there. They never told me they were doing that, but I don't give a darn what they say. People that really know me know that isn't me, anyway. But I see what you mean, 'I know nothing.' That makes me sound like an idiot, sorta like! A dummy, anyway. Well, my heart is right."

If you wish to praise, bury or simply compare inseam sizes with Peter Gilstrap in an electron-based format, modem up our online cousin at: www.phoenixnewtimes.com. The bonus: features so hot they can only appear in a digital bitstream!

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