July 5, 1991 [Slacker]

It’s pretty tough to be in your 20s these days. Just think of the nervous energy needed to get through the ‘70s--and the nerve to take over the ‘80s with steel-reinforced thighs wrapped in lavender leggings, headbands and wristbands tight like Danskins glued with sweat--and the nasal thump of the music cornering you, forcing one more set of reps, one more point of light to flash in that city on a hill, the whole pack of buns packaged snugly--but still bloated, too many goodies in the fridge, too many opportunities to indulge--or bystanders mowed down, some innocent but all unwary, chased by a Big Virus that forces you to let down all your defenses--literally, until you flatline it straight to the end of the decade.

All too much, better to let go of the line a little, to be a Slacker wandering with what’s left: young adults hiding in plain sight, moving just aimlessly enough to be ignored except by each other. And there, on the safer streets of Austin, these alternate-universe Texans turn their backs on the shining city and remake history--or make a new one, a meandering thing like the dream-worlds of the young man giving himself the luxury of a cab ride. He tells the driver--more likely, us in the theater; the driver remains uninvolved, simply patient (then again, that may be us in the audience as well)--that dreams are glimpses into the countless other lives you’re living right now, separate realities based on every other choice you could've made. As he rides to his own promised city, he thinks of Dorothy and the Straw Man in The Wizard of Oz going one way rather than another on the Yellow Brick Road--and there’s a whole other movie out there, the one where they turn left instead of right and never meet the Tin Man and Lion, where maybe even the Wizard and Witch don’t matter. Slacker is a movie about Oz-times-x, shrunk into a little world made, if not cunningly, then circuitously, somehow amiable despite the outer limits its characters inhabit, their strange conspiracies and unexpected claims infinitely less menacing than the plotting plots they’ve been told, stories so horrific, so Reaganesque in their smiles, and smiles, and smiles that you realize you’re being eaten only when the smile clamps down on your own.

No, these Austin kids know better: They lounge in efficiency apartments and hang out in seeming innocence so that the fit-n-trim smile passes on, a Blue Meanie Flying Finger that makes its way to leaner meat tenderized by regular habits and a desert storm.


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