I’m a Cozy Conspiracist

Who would have thought the cigar-smoking garage-saler with a shaved head and black combat boots would be a conspiracy theorist?

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Last summer I was looking for movies to show in my fall semester film class, so I visited a few garage sales. Early in the day, I scored copies of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, The Brothers Grimm, and Miami Vice (great night cinematography), all for a dollar each. (When I got my course evaluations back, I found out that for many of my students Ocean’s Eleven wound up being the only good film I showed all semester. And who knew they would hate Stalker so passionately?)

After combing though acres of baby clothes and flipping through endless permutations of The Land Before Time on VHS, I found a sale in St. Paul which promised DVDs.

When I walked up to the house, I passed a man in a tight black t-shirt, black pants, and black boots. His head was freshly shaved, his goatee well-groomed, and his cigar was smoked with precision. His whole appearance was so trim and disciplined that his cigar seemed less like a bad habit and more like a purposeful statement. I wondered whether he was a bored husband, a smoky loiterer, or the neighborhood watchman.

On the sidewalk in front of the house stood a woman with a baby in a stroller. She was talking with another woman who poked among the flotsam of life that covered the porch, poured down the front stairs, flowed across the yard, skipped the sidewalk, and picked up again on the grassy strip on the other side.

I found a shelf of DVDs right away, but what attracted my eye were the burned CD-Rs of Alex Jones’s radio shows on a blanket beside scores of wooden cigar boxes ($5/ea.) Near the CD-Rs were books about WMDs and NWOs and inside jobs and how much did Bush know and is Obama a Muslim and so on and so forth.

When I finally edged up to the militant-looking garage-saler (so that’s what he’s doing here) with Peter Hyams’ 1977 conspiracy thriller about a faked NASA mission to Mars, Capricorn One (starring James Brolin and Elliot Gould!), he made a comment about what a great movie it was, and I told him that I’d just watched Hyams’ 2010: The Year We Make Contact a few days before and was interested in seeing more of his work. He squinted at me and wanted to know if I, you know, went in for conspiracies. Taken aback, I said that they made for good entertainment, realizing after the words had left my mouth that I was devaluing an important part of his life. I wish I’d said yes and struck up a conversation. I could have been inducted into the St. Paul Prison Planet Society or something.

I know it sounds like I’m making fun, but you should have heard the way he sounded when he asked if I liked conspiracy theories. He wasn’t paranoid or crazed or fearful, just interested in meeting a fellow enthusiast. Considering how much I enjoyed Capricorn One, I should have just said yes.

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