Standoff With Sam Shepard at Ten Thousand Waves: Guest Blogger Elizabeth May's Brush With Greatness

Standoff with Sam Shepard at Ten Thousand Waves

On a recent trip to Santa Fe I took my mother to Ten Thousand Waves, a gorgeous, serene Japanese spa located on Hyde Park road. I first read about the spa when I was a college student, coming west every summer with my friend Butch Barefoot. At the time, we didn’t have the kind of money to go such a chichi-poopoo place but wondered what kind of people did.
So, when twenty years later I finally treated myself to a soak and massage at Ten Thousand Waves, the first person I saw was Sam Shepard. Swaggering out of the men’s room, his right-eye-squint so characteristic his eye was practically shut, he stood like a cowboy in a Buddhist temple. I wore a torn cowboy hat and a sunset purple and orange sundress that my daughter chose from a catalogue and told her daddy to order for me in the dead of winter in Pennsylvania. I was ready to wear that sundress and wear it well. Standing before me, still in his tracks, as the employee was trying to orient us to the spa, Mr. Shepard gave me a look, with his good eye, like a bandit scrutinizing his victim before drawing his gun. A look that made me feel like I’d robbed the train and gotten away with it. Like I was Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou.
Ruffling his hand through his spiky gray hair, he walked away and the moment was gone with the wind.
Thank goodness for hindsight and blogs because later of course, I wished I’d been cleverer. Wished I’d said something as smart and witty as the dialogue in his fiction. Something like, “You’re not leaving so soon are you? We just got here.” Or flattery along the lines of how inspiring and influential his plays, short stories and films have been to me, but how corny and cliché. Maybe a simple, “Konichiwa.”  Or I could have been gutsy, given him a wink, and lassoed him with, “Whadaya say we take a Xanax and go shoot some starlings?”
Beggars can’t be choosers but I wish I’d seen Jessica Lange on his arm. I remember discovering both of them in a jewel of a video rental store called Dod’s Video when I lived in Denton, Texas. I remember watching Frances, True West, and a rare recording, with bad sound, of Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which I watched over and over with my college-friend Geoffrey Schroeder, who turned me on to every Jessica Lange movie in existence.
On the drive north from Santa Fe to Westcliffe, through the bright buttes and hoodoos of Georgia O’Keefe country, I was still as high as and as puffed-up as the cumulonimbus clouds rolling over the shamelessly-blue western sky. Joking about the Sam Shepard encounter, Bill said things like, “We’ll be home before you can say, ‘Sam Shepard.’” The rest of the ride, my mother, daughter, and husband creatively worked his name into our conversation just to taunt me. “I wonder if Sam Shepard likes prickly-pear juice?” “Hey, doesn’t that rock look like Sam Shepard?” “Let’s eat some Sam Shepard’s pie when we get home.”—Elizabeth May

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