As a teenager, he played high school baseball for the Cascade Cadets, washed dishes at a local café, and worked at a Kroger grocery store where, in 1987, he was named bag boy of the year. Like his sister, Dawn, Scott attended the University of Southern California, where he took sociology and film classes. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1998. Back in the Midwest, he landed a research/policy job at the Illinois Attorney General’s office. The feeling of being an “outcast’’ came roaring back. “I had to check my soul at the door too many times,’’ he said.
Scott doesn’t have that outcast feeling when he’s in the Brickyard. He told me there are two places in the world he feels truly at home: the Brickyard and New Orleans. He owns a house in the Big Easy, in fact. He loves the seedy bars, the juke joints, and “the old voodoo lady down the street feeding folks out her back kitchen window at two dollars a plate.’’ As for the Brickyard, that makeshift village of the dispossessed, Scott recalled in his radio essay the time one of the Brickyard regulars told him that he was “every bit the freak that they are.’’ The man said that everybody in the Brickyard had their own thing: some smoked crack, others preferred heroin. “Your thing,’’ the man told Scott, “is telling stories—that’s cool. We need somebody to make our home movies for us, to get our lives on tape and share it with the rest of the world. Otherwise, man, we’re gonna die invisible.’’
Scott is a family member in such good standing that he has a street name, Two-Thirty Dirty, or Two-Thirty for short. Mike-Mike, a loquacious member of the Black Souls street gang, gave Scott the name in honor of the time of morning Scott typically showed up at a gang apartment to do research and shoot dice. Scott was also always “dirty’’ when he showed up, Mike-Mike said, referring to his bag filled with syringes and other harm reduction equipment.
Two-Thirty wasn’t Mike-Mike’s first choice for Scott’s street name. Initially, he christened him Big Red, a subtle slap at Scott’s slight frame. But when the original Big Red came home from the joint and objected to some egghead using his name, Two-Thirty was born and no one had to die.
In the Brickyard, one hot late summer day, I watched Scott as he filmed an interview with Jamie, a fifty-three-year-old grandmother, prostitute, and heroin addict. Jamie, who grew up in the suburbs, was illiterate until her forties, when a group of fellow addicts taught her to read from a Dick and Jane children’s book. Scott’s wife, Erin, handled the audio. She works with him on most of his films and is his fourth wife. He first got married at nineteen, after his freshman year of college. “That’s what everybody does in Indiana,’’ he said. He says he has finally gotten marriage right, although it still amazes him when “people who know me well ask me for relationship advice.’’
Scott asked Jamie, the subject of the interview, to describe herself without any reference to drugs. “A very understanding, caring person,’’ she said. “I’m a more positive person than a negative person. I love to travel, meet people. I like to horseback ride. I believe in love.’’
Then he asked her what she wanted the world to know about drug addicts. “Drug addicts are human beings,’’ Jamie said.
Scott spent the first days of the new year fixing, lining up interviews in Junkieville for Drugs Inc. and for a project about sex workers he hopes to do for public radio. With a few minutes to kill, he sent me a short e-mail:
“I’m in the parking lot of an hourly rate motel delivering honey roasted oats cereal and a half gallon of milk to a prostitute with whom I’m trying to build rapport for an interview on sex work. BEZ series. It was her special request. Waiting for the trick to leave. This line of work isn’t always glamorous eh?’’