Story Time With Hank | The Donnish Deviant
I’m out with a friend at a bar that I hate. I mean I’m not really, not right now, obviously, but I’m in a present tense kind of mood so bear with me, please. I’m out with a friend at a bar that I hate. I’ve never been in this bar before today, but I know immediately that I hate it. The walls are black with purple trim and purple-framed pictures of skeletons and women in torn clothing and skeleton-women in torn clothing hang every two feet exactly. The bartenders are tattooed women in bikini tops. The ceiling fans are skeletons. In every seat is a middle-aged man in a Harley Davidson t-shirt tucked into jeans; in every parking space outside is a Nissan Sentra.
“So,” Sam says. “This place is nice.”
“We could go somewhere else. I could give you a ride back. It’s fine,” I say.
“No, let’s stay. It’s growing on me. I feel very in touch with my own mortality.”
So we find a couple seats and order up a plate of nachos.
A table with a white, plastic banner hanging from the front of it, suspended by untold yards of masking tape and pooling against the floor, has been placed in a remote corner of the room. On the banner, in black comic sans most of a foot tall, is printed the words, “Famous Pervert.” And beneath that the subscript, “'[John Morgan] makes Stanley Teak look like Frederick Stanley.’ -Derringer Poole, Editor of Questionable Activities Quarterly, author of A Suspect Luncheon.”
Further signage in the same textual motif is stood up at an angle on the table itself. “John Morgan will sign his Book today, and discuss his Process (NOT a euphemism).” And sure enough, there are books on the table, too, in four perfectly aligned stacks, spines facing out and screaming Penis Graveyard in lurid yellow, then mumbling something else in other text too small to read.
There is a chair behind the table, but no one sitting in it. It is immediately made clear why.
“Quiet, everybody, please, quiet. Can I have your attention for just a second, please?”
Two men are standing in a space set aside for their purpose at one side of the room, opposite the bar. One of them is unassuming in khakis, white shirt and blazer. He’s a bit on the skinny side, with thinning hair and over-large eyes and a copy of Penis Graveyard gripped in both hands. The other man is tall and bearded and wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt. A woman in cowboy boots and nothing else twirls a lasso over her head on one of his forearms. She’s flipped upside down without warning when he lifts the microphone back up to his face.
“Thank you. As you likely already know, we have something very special lined up for you folks today. This man is a giant in his field, a genius and a trailblazer and, not least, a close personal friend of yours truly.” Pause for laughter. “John Morgan himself is here today to read from his new book and answer some of your questions. So without further ado…”
He passes the mic to the other man, John Morgan apparently, shakes his hand briefly, then exits stage-left to the patter of applause.
“Now aren’t you glad we stayed?” Sam says. I don’t have time to answer.
“Thank you.” Morgan clears his throat. “Thank you.” He all but whispers when he speaks. Without the microphone he’d be inaudible; with it, he might be tucking us all into bed. He lifts his book to chest-level, opens it to a section he’s marked and begins to read.
“My daddy joined the Ku Klux Klan when I was six or so. He was not with them for long. He came home late at night after perhaps the second meeting, and he pulled me out of bed and sat me on his knee.
“’Son,’ he said, ‘everybody looks the same underneath a sheet. Seems to me what’s on the outside doesn’t matter so much next to what a person does and says. And those Klan boys sure say some dumb things.’
“That lesson stuck with me. I learned to look past the superficial differences that divide people and see the common ground underneath that makes us all the same. Sad to say, the other denizens of the small town I grew up in didn’t always share this quality, and the kids at school were not always kind. From a very young age, I was made to feel different.
“I found that I liked it.”
He closes his book, looks up at the crowd “You might say that that heart-to-heart in my daddy’s lap was the first step down the path on which I eventually became acquainted with my innermost self, the self I found well outside the bounds of traditional sexuality. But it’s also the path that put me here in this room to guide each and every one of you through the vagaries of self-publishing. Give me your attention, take note of the twenty-two simple steps of my process, and you will leave here today with all the tools you need to get your own work out there in the world as I have mine.”
He raises his book aloft. The full title, as it happens, is Penis Graveyard: One Man’s Fleshly Fight Against the Numbing of America at the Hands of the Internet.
Notebooks flutter open all over the room, and pens click to life.
“Wait, did he says twenty-two?” Sam whispers.
“Discipline. The first and most important step.”
“I don’t want to be here anymore.”
A waitress drops a plate of nachos on the table in front of us.
“Enjoy,” she says.
EPILOGUE: We stayed for the whole thing, all two hours of it. It seemed rude to leave. We didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. And you never know when you’ll want to self-publish, though I can’t help but think it would be quite a bit easier if you didn’t hate the internet on principle. E-books, if nothing else, don’t require printers.
When the talk was over, Sam and I finished our drinks and made for the bar to settle our tabs. Mr. Morgan was there, drinking the gratitude of his audience and thrilling them with tasteless tales.
“—so I said, ‘Officer, I would never violate that vulture. How could you think otherwise? He’s only here to watch me fuck the vagabond on yonder velocipede. I must say, though, that vole could be in for a bit of trouble.’” The men at the bar erupted.
“Well, that policeman, like most policemen in my experience, sad to say, appreciated neither humor nor atmosphere. He slapped the cuffs on me, dragged me from the veranda and helped me into the back of his car without even allowing me to remove my veil. Thus did my grand attempt at public education come to a premature end, with only four more letters to go.”
We quietly paid and left.
Hank Henry would like to thank John Morgan. Copies of his book may be purchased God knows where. Please send stories of your own criminal past (or present, or future) to hanku[email protected]