One Right Turn from Purgatory
The darkness at the heart of small towns resonates with many of us who spent our formative years in them. The dark underbelly of the urban landscape thrives, but the residents camouflage it better. My neighbors might deny it, but David Lynch’s portrait of small town culture is incisive and inerrant.
I won’t name the towns, but I spent elementary and middle school in a Texas coastal town where the only thing for teens to do was cruise up and down main street on Friday nights. I spent high school in an even smaller college town where drugs were brought into the high school through incoming middle schoolers. Abstinence was preached and, without fail, a handful of my classmates were whisked away to “visit their cousins” and returned with children. For every teacher that encouraged open thinking, three more cracked down on questions like a nutcracker’s jaws.
An Episcopal priest encouraged our drug use in an effort at “Christian outreach” (reminiscent of Dr. Jacoby in Twin Peaks.) My bisexual friend was routinely harassed by the police, and church leaders took out a two-page ad telling Christians to vote against making the country wet, while funneling money to the wet county campaign.
As expected, when the county went wet, so did their stores and restaurants.
During the time Twin Peaks aired, my wife and I organized a literary festival concurrent with a famous folk festival in a small Texas community town sixty miles from the nearest urban center. The town was proud of its expressed liberal values and confirmed conservatism. No one acknowledged my wife as an equal in our enterprise, nor did they show up for the female and black poets we booked. The elderly, male cowboy poet (who actually spent his career as a press operator) was well received.
The final night of the event, before we drove home, we went for dinner at the town’s flagship restaurant. The men drank beer and whiskey, the women iced tea. The few young people with them downed Coke by the gallon. Management was male, the hosting and wait staff all female. Many of the diners sitting near us sent their waitresses scrambling at every opportunity for refills, napkins and butter, ran up fifty to seventy dollar tabs and tipped a single dollar bill.
We took a wrong turn on our way to 290 and ended up asking for directions at a gas station that sold more weapons than gas. Our route back to the yellow striped highway took us past strip joints and sex shops with garish neon lighting that struggled to hold at bay the enroaching black clouds of midnight. The six block course correction drove home Lynch’s theme of small town darkness in Twin Peaks: Civilization disappears with one wrong turn and the shadows draw you in.
Some of us make our way back to safety.
 Don’t get me wrong. The real crime of drugs is the fact that they’re illegal. I used to tell my students that my only objection to drugs is that my consumption would support an industry tied to crime and and murder. The crime and murder being my comlaint. When, years later, Bush II’s people gave the same spiel, I dropped it. I didn’t want my views to be coopted by the Cheney war machine. But that’s a different story, which is why I relegated it to a footnote.
 Hippies and rednecks shared a venue once a year to appreciate and commune over folk music.
Carol commented: “It’s like we passed the Double R Diner and pulled into the Black Lodge.”