Southwestern Gothic

He talks about how wild the town was in the '70s, when the mine was booming. "If you'd come in here then, you'd have had trouble. They'd have looked at your earrings and your glasses and said to you, 'Get out of here, you fag.'"

Superior was built on mining, even to its name. It was called Hastings until the Lake Superior Mining Company began operating there. The mining got off to a sporadic start with silver and gold as its economic base until it finally gained lasting prosperity by mining copper ore.

But the mine closed in 1982, and things are quieter. People work in the mine at Globe/Miami, or else they commute to the Valley. There's little trouble for the town's seven police officers to deal with. Mostly theft and domestic disputes.

It's 7 p.m. and I get the sense that Los Hermanos is as busy as it's going to get. I ask Charlie about other bars, and he writes down some names for me. I head out.

The Triple X is on Main Street. There's only one other customer, an old man. The bartender talks easily with me, gives me a beer on the house. I ask where the rest room is, and she points to a door. I find myself outside in a yard, then see another door. That one leads to the rest room, which is incredible. The door doesn't lock, and the cubicle itself doesn't have a door. The biggest bluebottle I've ever seen--so big it actually has a face--is buzzing around in sanitary conditions that must make it feel like it's in paradise. But the toilet itself is so clean you could eat off it, though I don't.

Back in the bar, Jim, the other customer, makes fun of me because I keep forgetting how cheap the beer is and keep handing over too much money. He says I can crash at his place any time I want to.

Another guy comes in. I ask him about the movie. "I don't know," he says, laughing. "I was in jail when they made it."

I go and see the movie the day it opens. It's not as bad as Stone's earlier Natural Born Killers. But it contains every cliche of the noir genre, and it's so over-the-top as to seem like parody. Being a fan of noir, I was able to guess every single twist and turn. Stone isn't entirely to blame for that. The screenplay was adapted by John Ridley from his novel Stray Dogs, which is bad enough to make you laugh out loud.

But the novel isn't set in Superior. It takes place in a fictitious town called Sierra. When Stone wanted to use Superior as a location, the town insisted that he keep the name.

But that's all he keeps.
There's nothing noir about the real Superior. It's American Gothic. It's not the small town of Jim Thompson's novels, but it could have come from the imagination of Harry Crews or David Lynch on happy pills. At its worst, it's not sinister--just grotesque, sometimes arousingly so.

Next day, I'm standing at the counter in the town's public library, waiting for a book. The woman standing beside me, the only white person I've seen so far, fingers the gold bracelet around my wrist and says, "I like that. It's very nice."

When I leave the library, I walk to the burrito cafe on Main Street. The waitress touches my bracelet. "That's really nice."

In the evening I'm back in Los Hermanos. No sign of Melissa or her boyfriend. The bartender tonight is an old lady named Florence. She's been here for 46 years and had eight children. One of them, Angela, is 40. She comes into the bar and sits beside me. I ask her about Superior, but I have a strong Scottish accent and she can't understand me. She looks at her mother and says, plaintively and without irony, "Make him talk like me." Florence explains that she can't do that, that I can't help how I talk.

Angela seems to get it. Then she grabs my notebook and pen and writes furiously in it for about 20 minutes. She reads it aloud. None of it makes any sense. She's scrawled something about the children of Superior and their education, but what she's trying to say isn't clear. She rips out those pages she's written on and then gives me back the notebook. She talks about the movie, which she hasn't seen. At first she's really positive about it. Then, for some reason, she gets angry and starts damning it.

A guy comes in, having just been to see the movie. He hated it, hated its ugliness and distortion. He's lived in the town for 35 years, but there's no work for him here now, so he works in construction in the Valley.

I drink some beers with him and his cousin. "This used to be a hell of a town, a hell of a mining town," he says. He's a Vietnam vet. "I want you to write this, man--a lot of veterans came from this town. When they were called to duty, they went. Then they come back and people call them baby killers. A lot of them went mad for a while. I did." He runs a hand over his graying mustache. "I was lucky I had Superior to come back to."

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