1979. I'm 30 years old and back in the Ozarks, after a 12-year absence, crashing on the second floor of a redbrick 18-room downtown hotel which has been empty for 35 years. My father owns the building along with his portrait and wedding photography studio downstairs. He's letting me stay here though he finds the situation embarrassing and wants me to regain the proper path that I was never really on. His wife offers to buy me a one-way bus ticket to anywhere I want to go. I'm not working but I know an editor at a porn rag in Los Angeles who buys nasty pictures so I'm on the lookout for models. I'm fueled by substance and drink and touches of mania.
One night I find myself in a bar that happens to be the place where a bunch of my old high school friends hang out. A guy I used to know named Bobby, spots me. "Scotty Sothern," he says. "Fuckin' yay, man. You're Scotty fuckin' Sothern."
"I'm sorry but no, you're mistaking me for someone else. My name is Bobby."
"No, uhuh, you're Scotty fuckin' Sothern. I'm Bobby, not you. You're Scotty Sothern."
"Sorry, but I'm afraid I'm someone else, not Scotty."
"Wait there, don't move." He goes off into the crowd and then comes back with a guy named Bubby. He points at me and says to Bubby, "That's Scotty fuckin' Sothern, isn't it?"
Bubby says yeah, that's Scotty Sothern and hey Scotty. I say hey Bubby, how you doing? Bubby says he's doing OK and then goes back to wherever he was. Bobby tells me, you always was funny, Scotty, and can he buy me a drink?
I join Bobby and two girls at his table. One of the girls is his girlfriend and the other is her friend. She is tall and skinny with chiseled cheekbones and short black hair and she's wearing a thin thigh-high kitty-cat tee-shirt that says Hang in there, Baby. She's gorgeous and my heart is a cartoon valentine beating out of my chest. She tells me her name is Claudine and I lean into her zone and sniff her perfume.
"Gorgeous women make me stutter," I say. "So if I act like an idiot you're the one to blame."
"I never heard that before. You're kind of a smart-aleck, huh?"
"Is that OK?"
"I like smart alecks."
"Great, that's good. You're from someplace other than here, aren't you?"
"Kansas City. You look like you're a photographer."
"I am. You look like you're a model."
"I am. Do you ever take nude pictures?"
"I only take nude pictures. You ever do any nude modeling?"
"I only do nude modeling."
"I have a photography studio downtown. We could go there right now and take pictures."
She's close to me; I can feel her breath on my face and I want to stick my tongue in her mouth. I want to go to Kansas City and move in with her. Her eyes go out of focus and the mood shifts. "I'm really drunk," she says then pukes up a fifth of booze and a réchaffeé of spaghetti with marinara sauce. Her eyes cross and she passes out with her face splat into the pool of puke. I tell Bobby maybe I'll see him again someday but I never do.
I venture from Hotel Paradise one night and end up in a little school bus on cinderblocks tucked away in a field of weedy urban rubble. Inside, at the driver's seat sits an American aboriginal, named Charlie Bump. He has long black hair and a baseball-sized bump on his forehead. He charges a dollar to enter and then sells cans of beer from a cooler. In the back of the bus a record player and speakers are set up, colored flashing lights and a little round stage where a stripper is dancing. I see it all in a drug-induced stupor and it's more like a surrealistic dream than a here-and-now. The stripper is not very friendly, nor is Charlie Bump. I drink myself into a blackout and the next day I wake up and my life is the same as the day before.
I've rigged a doorbell downstairs at the front door to the old fire alarm and when it rings at 2 AM, I'm speeding, smoking, drinking, and writing bad poetry. I go downstairs and it's the stripper from the bus. She tells me I told her I want to take studio pictures and I'll give her a couple of prints for free. She has a Missouri twang and she is serious to the point of no fun. I see Charlie Bump across the street sitting on the curb watching us. Her name is Dara Lynn Roundtree and I invite her into my pop's studio and load the Hasselblad with Tri-X. She tells me she will strip but won't do anything nasty. She signs a release and we take pictures but neither of us is getting into it. I ask her to look a little bit happier and she starts laughing, saying the word, Ha ha ha ha ha. When I ask her to remove another article of her stripper uniform she tells me I'd better not try any funny business. I tell her no problem I'll stay behind the camera. I shoot a 12 exposure roll of black and white and I know these are images I'll never sell to the pink-seeking magazine in LA so I suppose I'll have to call it art. I tell the school bus stripper thank you and she can get dressed now and I'll make her some 8x10s later in the week.