The other day I went up the holler to see Uncle Hant. I figured he could teach me to understand women, because he knows everything. Hant lives in a double-wide with a ’54 Merc on blocks outside, and a fuel-oil tank painted silver, and a three-legged coon dog named Buckshot. A couple of years back, old Buck stuck a paw under a lawnmower to catch whatever was making all that noise. I guess it worked.
I knew I’d find Hant working the moonshine still he has farther back in the woods. Everybody figures he makes the best shine west of Roanoke. Flatlanders out of Washington just about fight each other to buy it. Sure enough, he was slouched against the cooker, wearing that hat he has that looks like he found it in a cow pasture, and working on the condensing coils.
“Hant,” I said, “You know everything. I’m trying to figure out women.”
“Get along, boy. The Lord God Almighty hasn’t got that far yet.”
Hant doesn’t actually exist. He’s a Convenient Literary Device.
He went back to fiddling with some copper tubing.
“How’s that panther sweat selling?” I said to change the subject for a bit. He nearly went out of business a few years back. Then he started putting cocaine in the mash and a little LSD. Sales went up so much he had to double the price to keep from having traffic jams. On Saturdays a line of Volvos backs up almost to Wheeling. They could have bought good bourbon for half as much, but they thought they were getting something special. They were, too.
“I reckon I can live with it. Cept two damfool yuppies drank the stuff on the way home, like I told’em not to, and kilt theirself on a telephone pole.”
Yuppies are dumber than inbred possums.
“Guess you feel kinda bad.”
He got that smug look he has. “Nope. I guess I’m just a filter in the gene pool.”
Hant always was modest.
“I don’t know what’s got into women,” I said. I was determined to get some pearl of wisdom out of him if I had to drag it out with a back hoe. “You know, these days you can’t even get in a fight in a pool hall, and smack hell out of somebody with a pool stick, without some woman starts hollering about violence. I don’t understand it. Why else would anybody go to a pool hall?”
“I can’t imagine,” he said, looking sorrowful. “The female mind works in strange ways. They don’t like riding drunk on a motorsickle at night with the lights out either.”
“Like a big dog.”
You can’t teach a woman reason. I used to date this old gal in high school, pretty as a deer gun that’s just been blued, and smart too. She couldn’t have been nicer if she’d had a passel of angels to show her how. Only problem was she didn’t want me to shoot road signs with a twelve-gauge.
I mean, I was that close to perfection.
Hant cocked his head back and looked hard at the condenser coil. He had the air of a man who was starting to be satisfied with himself.
“I reckon you got it fixed,” I said.
“Then why work on it?”
“Marketing. Gotta look authentic. You know, like that old Merc by the trailer. I had to go all the way to Bluefield to get one beat-up enough. A yuppie won’t buy shine from anybody that drives a Toyota.”
That was Hant. Always figuring the angles.
I said, “Another thing I don’t understand is how come women always want commitment. Seems like just about the time you’re having a good time together she gets all lit up about it. How come they always want to get married? I wanna keep my trailer.”
It’s the lord’s own truth. First it’s commitment, and then it’s marriage. Nothing ruins a couple like getting married. You got no reason to behave anymore. Five years later you hate each other and she’s got your kids and satellite dish.
Hant must have been satisfied with the coil. He spat a stream of tobacco juice and sat on a stump. Nothing’s more authentic than tobacco juice. I saw a camel spit like that on the Discovery Channel. I reckon Hant had better aim, but that camel had him hands down on throw-weight.
“Nothing wrong with commitment, boy. I always thought it was good stuff. About an hour at a time. I wonder if I need more tube.”
I was starting to like marketing. “I got an idea…” I said.
“Treat it kind, son. It’s in a strange place.”
Never give Hant an opening.
“You need a stoneware jug and some Mason jars, I think.”
He pondered, like he always does when money is on the line.
“I guess you might be right. There’s this company in New Jersey, makes’em for the tourist trade. Maybe I’ll git some.” He pulled a bottle of Jim Beam from behind the cooker and sat on a stump. Hant knows better than to drink that rattlesnake poison he makes.
“There’s gotta be an answer, Hant. I was talking to Bobby McWhorter the other day. Sally’s mad at him again. She says he needs to stop keeping his crankshaft in his kitchen sink. Well, where else is he going to put it? The engine block’s in the bathtub. I mean, it seems like women just don’t know how to think. Bobby’s got a race in two weeks.”
“Figures. Well, I guess it could be worse.”
“I don’t know.”
When a man can’t keep his car in his own sink, something’s wrong, I guess.
“She says he ought buy table cloths.”
“What’s a table cloth?”
I was beginning to realize that maybe Hant didn’t know quite everything.
We gave up and got to talking about things that made sense, like bass lures and monster trucks and how to sell more shine to the yuppies.
“I’m thinking either Ecstasy or PCP,” he said. “Probably won’t be a telephone pole left between here and Washington. I never cared for telephone poles anyway.”
I gave up and went home. Hant’s pretty smart for a literary device, but some things are beyond him.