Fiction: Tom McCartan’s “Tennessee Williams Is a Hack”

I used to think I invented this one word. One day I looked it up and it turned out that Mark Twain had used it in some damn book.

I keep trying to come up with these stories and everyone always says that they already are something, like a movie or a sitcom episode.

“You mean like that one episode of whatever?” they say.

Sometimes I try to write melodies. I’ll even spend a day working on one and recording it on this little tape machine I have. Some doofus always says it sounds like something else. Like Scooby-Doo or something stupid like that. Sometimes I’ll read these books where people talk about making art and history. They don’t ever seem to help much though. I have this friend who paints Nintendo games like Mega Man and Mario; he seems like the only one doing anything and he does it constantly. He uses a lot of bright colors and his wife has cancer. He just got into some fancy art school but he used to be a high-school Spanish teacher on the Upper East Side.

The word I thought I invented was “hain’t.” I guess I can see how it’d be a southern thing. Maybe coming from some strange sect of American history and some weird place where the people who lived there had lived there for thousands of years even though that’s impossible unless they were Indians. They’re not Indians, though, because they say “hain’t” which, no matter what, has white trash written all over it. I guess it could be from a different part of American history. Some antebellum-pseudo-aristocratic type of thing, where there are big plantation houses with Greek columns but if you get close to them you can tell they really need to be painted. Sort of what I always pictured Belle Reve to be like when it first started to decline. Although that’s hard to say because Blanche could have been making the whole damn thing up and Stella was just letting her do it. Who knows? Anyway, I could see “hain’t” being used at a place like Belle Reve, even if it was just a delusion of Blanche’s crazy brain.

I say “could see ‘hain’t’” instead of “can see ‘hain’t’” because this is the first time I’ve thought about it in years. I don’t remember for sure, but I’d bet that I actually did try to use it at some point. There was a time in college when I wanted to speak only in euphemisms, into which “hain’t” probably fit nicely. I was insufferable, for sure. I bet, though, if you really tried you could communicate just fine with euphemism alone. Especially if you’re one of those people whose opinion and advice is often sought. People like old sayings because it makes them feel like the bullshit they’re experiencing isn’t the first instance of said bullshit

As I was saying, I keep trying to come up with stuff even though I know it’s a mistake. Everyone who knows about these types of things says that you should just put it out there without trying to come up with stuff. So, these days I’m working on striking a balance between coming up with stuff and not coming up with stuff and it’s really starting to piss me off.

Sometimes a memory will strike me and I’ll think, “Maybe this thing, this evocative memory, is the thing to express.” Just now I heard an ice-cream truck outside. My first thought was that it had no business being on Dexter Avenue because it’s a dangerous street for children. It’s so close to 94 and people come barreling by at crazy speeds. There are a lot of hills and potholes. What business does an ice-cream truck have out there? But that line of thinking stopped because it turned down a side street and that made sense, there are a lot of kids over there because of the park.

The second thought was a straight-up memory. I used to live in Brooklyn and every once in a while during the summer I would hear ice-cream trucks in the middle of the night. I could never figure it out. People said they were selling drugs but that never made much sense to me. The line of logic would be that you’d drive your ice cream truck around in the middle of the night and the music would let those wishing to buy drugs know that you were around—the same principle, if you were trying to sell ice cream to kids during the day. The drug trade is a well-documented thing and I won’t go into defining it, I’ll just say this: one thing that seems to be an integral part of drug buying and selling, whenever it’s portrayed, and even in my own experience, is the clandestine nature of it. It’s very cloak-and-dagger and always nebulous. I never know what’s going on and it’s unsettling, everyone’s on a hair-trigger. So, ice-cream truck music seems like the last thing anyone would want to conflate with drug commerce.

Anyway, there’s the memory. I’m trying to figure out if I should construct a narrative around it for publishing purposes. The more I think about it, the closer I come to the conclusion that it was just a thing that would happen, and, to be honest, I’m getting pretty damned tired of making stuff up. I should have just written, “I used to hear ice-cream trucks in the middle of the night,” and been done with it.

I heard this great thing once. A long time ago there was a Mexican writer who, to this day, is still considered one of the finest of his generation. His collected works include only a short-story collection and a novella. The entirety of his literary production comes out to less than two hundred pages. He wrote his two works when he was young, and for the rest of his long life, as someone seated in the pantheon of Latin-American letters, he was prodded and harassed about why he had stopped writing. His answer was that he had an uncle who used to tell him stories, which he would then write down. One day his uncle died. With no more stories, and nothing much else to say, he just stopped writing. And with dignity, too.

***

Tom McCartan lives and works in Washtenaw County, Michigan. When not writing, he spends his time playing with the band Flatfoot.

Photo credit: simonfilm, morguefile.com

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