Curiouser and Curiouser: I was really excited about asking you questions, but when I sat down to make the list I sort of blanked at first, and couldn’t help but flash to that Eddie Izzard Dress to Kill bit when he’s trying to talk to a girl: “Do you like bread? I’ve got knees.” So I’m going to just go with my instincts on the bread thing. DO you like bread? Is gluten a myth, like unicorns?
Sheldon Lee Compton: I love bread. I tried a no-carb diet last month and went about a week without bread while cooking at this restaurant that served these buttery hoagie buns with their sandwiches and it nearly killed me. I’ve cut back on it, though. Carbs are no good for me, personally. As for gluten, I have no idea about what the dangers or benefits or even what it really is well enough to like or dislike it. I like the idea of it being a myth like unicorns, though. I much prefer myth to reality. In fact, I’ve told a lot of my friends they should build their own myths up as large as they can. Tell stories about things they’ve done, true or not, to everyone they can. In fifty years, no one is going to know the difference, and you get to stand out on the family tree, give ancestry researchers a little something to get excited about.
C&C: I very much agree about personal myth. The truth is really inconsequential when compared to good family legend to pass along. Are you cooking up any special myths about yourself that you want to stick, to be told long after you’re gone?
SC: I’ve told a few different versions of things to a few different people, sure. And did so with myth in mind. If I wanted one to stick, it’s that I was one hell of a fighter when I was a young man. The truth is, I fought a lot, but didn’t win very much. Or did I? Well, I fought, anyways. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s slippery. I have scars I attribute to those fights, old breaks in a lot of bones. I have proof. Of scars and old breaks, at least.
C&C: Do you like to go to the movies?
SC: I used to love going to the movies. I mean I was in love with it. Nowadays I go less. It started because I’ve had two back surgeries and just couldn’t handle sitting that long without being able to pause the movie and, well, I wasn’t going to miss a single second, you know? But beyond that, most of the movies that come out at my local theater are just shit. It’s tragic. Remakes of movies and those done poorly. There is no reason to ever remake Poltergeist, you know what I’m saying? None. It was perfect. There’s nothing that a remake can possibly add to that film other than introducing it to another generation in a diluted form. Let these kids watch the original. Don’t fuck them over. It’s just sad. I watch Netflix and Hulu now, and less movies and more television shows. Shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad and Fringe and True Detective. These shows are where you can find actual storytelling talent on-screen today.
C&C: What TV show would you work on, if that turned out to be your fate?
SC: I’d want to work on either the comeback seasons of either Deadwood or Carnivale. Not sure how much you know about these two shows, but one was a western historical about the town of Deadwood when it still an unincorporated mining community and not much law to go around. Great characters all around. I would like to put words in their mouths, write about that time when the west was still in formation. Carnivale revolved around a traveling freak show. Starred Michael Anderson and a bunch of other great actors. It was set during the dustbowl era and is a story of the fight between good and evil. The ultimate fight, like Stephen King’s The Stand fight between good and evil. But they turn everything on its head, and I would love to write for a show that’s willing to take that risk. Taking risks is what makes writing enjoyable for me. If there was no risk in it, I have no doubt I would have stopped a long, long time ago.
C&C: We come from pretty much the same area, I might be a little north of you, but we share a lot of culture. The culture and people as a whole get a lot of flak, from church to food to language – but little by little I do think we’re making some headway. In your opinion, what’s one of the most misrepresented customs in Appalachia?
SC: I’m honestly not sure. I spend so little time closely dealing with people outside of Eastern Kentucky that I couldn’t rightly say. I guess a lot of our funeral customs are misrepresented, though. The sitting up with the dead, the huge amounts of food that always line the tables, that sense of a jovial gathering of family during services, taking photographs of the dead. These are things I’m sure people not from here look at and must see as possibly disrespectful or, in the case of sitting up with the dead, a further indictment of our perceived lack of intelligence. Oh, they stay up all night at the funeral because of age-old superstitions. See, I told you these people were crazy. I could see people saying that about us, about these traditions. But they’re not looking closely enough and surely never getting to know the very people they are wrongly assuming things about.
C&C: I think one of the best things about funerals that’s still stuck around here is how all other cars still pull over to let the procession pass, and in the opposite lane edge over and stop, out of respect.
SC: I like that show of respect, the pulling over or slowing down. It can be tricky on the four-lane (what we always call any section of Route 23 where I’m from) because of higher speeds and more traffic, but I like it. I like it because of the show of respect, and how it is mostly an anonymous gesture. I mean, the procession can’t really see you inside your car and, let’s face it, they have their mind on more important things. People will act respectful when facing another person, that’s not much of a stretch. But to take the time to show respect when you really can’t be seen or have anyone really acknowledge it, to me that is a different level of courtesy and humanness.
C&C: Do you have any tattoos?
SC: I surely do. I have six. One on my ring finger of the letter “H” for my great love Heather, one on my right forearm of a phoenix, one is a band of trilobites around my left forearm, one of a four-leaf clover with my son’s name on my left upper arm, one of Raphael’s cherub with my daughter’s name on my right upper arm, and one in memorial for my brother with his name on a license plate on the back of my right upper arm. None of them are color, so I get that good street cred come summertime.
C&C: What do you have in your pockets?
SC: I have two cell phones. An old iPhone and a less older iPhone 4. On the one I can only make calls. On the other I can only text and get online if I’m around a place that has wi-fi. Why two? It’s a long story, but it has to do with changing phone plans and losing service on one and not being able to let it go. Unusual for me, not accepting change. So, two phones. One in my back pocket and the other in my front pocket.
C&C: Have you ever been punched in the face?
SC: I’ve been punched in the face several times, by several different types of people – women, men, best friends, enemies, strangers, a preacher once, a cousin once by my own request. Okay, I’ll tell a little more about the cousin one. Of all the times I’d been punched in the face I couldn’t remember sporting a nice, deep black eye. I saw a picture once of me with my brother and I had a big shiner in photograph, but I couldn’t remember the details of it, couldn’t remember getting to sport that prize around. So I asked my cousin to punch me directly on my lower eye socket once. This was about five years ago. He’s a legitimate third-degree black belt and he belted me. I wanted an Irish eye patch, one I could remember. What can I say?
C&C: What’s your favorite holiday?
SC: I like Thanksgiving a lot. It’s like Christmas without all the anxiety and traveling. Or at least less expectations. The general goal is to eat. And the food is amazing and there’s lots of it. I will say I’ve grown to like Father’s Day about as much though. It means I can make all the usual mistakes I make throughout the day without getting jumped on as much. I play the hubby and dad card on that day all the way. Also, I usually get some great gifts. I suddenly sound selfish and gluttonous. I suppose I am a little, then.