Come morning, early, I walked up the holler to Uncle Hant’s moonshine still. I wanted to ask him about American policy, because he knows everything.
You walk along the railroad, rusty now, past the old mine entrance that’s been closed thirty years, and turn right along the creek bed for a ways. Birds were hollering and eating bugs. The sun poured through the mountains like it was going somewhere and the dew gleamed prettier than sunlight on chromed headers.
Hant was standing next to the cooker, pouring brake fluid into the mash.
“Hant, you gotta tell me about our national policy.”
He kept pouring, like he was measuring in his head. He makes Authentic Shine for the yuppie trade out of Washington. Hant’s tall and scrawny with a floppy hat he probably got from Nate Forrest. He doesn’t really exist. He’s a literary tool, like a hex wrench.
I said, “Why you putting brake fluid in that panther sweat?”
He pulled a stoneware jug from behind the still and sat on a stump. Hant’s getting a few years on him. When he sits it’s stiff and from the middle, like a pocketknife folding.
“Gives it a kick. Tried paint thinner, but it boiled off in the coils.”
Hant’s always innovating. Once he tried using wood alcohol, but the yuppies went blind and couldn’t find their way back. He lost a lot of business. I asked again about American policy. Sometimes you have to kind of focus him.
“Radio said Hay-rabs are blowing up New York like they was dynamiting stumps. Said we shoulda, you know, been ready, or maybe thought about it. You reckon?”
He was quiet for a moment. He does that when he’s about to say something solemn and dreadful.
“Son, it’s just real hard for this country to be ready for anything. That’s a natural fact. We mostly can’t have a policy. Not long enough for the paint to dry on it, anyway. Democracies, like monkeys, can’t remember anything they aren’t actually eating.”
“That last sentence ain’t good rustic dialog, Hant. You’re getting out of character.”
“Aw shucks. Guess I was lunging for an apothegm. Like spearing a frog. I figure if we had a policy we’d forget it in a week.”
“Oh.” I puzzled a moment on it. “What if we wrote it down? Then we could look at in every morning. Everybody could have it on a little card maybe. Gimme that jug.”
He did. It was a genuine stoneware jug from maybe 1900. They make’m in Taiwan and Hant gets them from a jobber in New Jersey. A yup won’t buy shine unless it’s in a genuine jug.
“Gimme that back,” said Hant, sounding worried. He knows his priorities.
“Wouldn’t work,” he said, once the jug was safe. “We’d lose the card. Now I grant we can keep our minds on something that’s right smack dab in front of us. Like when all them Russians used to point their deer guns at us all day. It got our attention. Soon’s they went away, we went back to watching Lucy. Didn’t we? We gotta see it or we figure it ain’t there. It’s how we are.”
I wasn’t sure I was learning much about national policy.
He said, “You think about it. Fifteen years ago we were helping the Afghanistans kill Russians. These days the Russians are helping us kill Afghanistans. I saw it on the television. I figure somebody just forgot what he was doing one morning, like when you accidentally go into the ladies’ room. You don’t mean anything by it. You’re just thinking about something else.
“Now, I will allow it can happen to anybody. I remember I got drunk one night at Big Red’s and drove away in the wrong pickup truck.”
“I wouldn’t think you could get that drunk.”
“Judge didn’t believe it either.”
I took a big hit from the jug. It was Wild Turkey. Hant pours into a jug so it’ll be authentic. He knows better than to drink that snake venom he makes. He may be imaginary, but he ain’t crazy.
I said, “Well, it just seems like whenever anything bad happens, we ain’t ready for it. Way I figure it, we could have a real simple foreign policy. Like Smack Hell Out Of’Em. I reckon almost anybody could remember that, even folks up Colvin Holler.”
They’ve been marrying mostly each other for a long time up Colvin Holler. Some of them got twelve toes and don’t remember real good. A professor from some college up north came and said you couldn’t find more recessive genes in one place anywhere else in the country. Everybody was real proud.
“Naw. Folks won’t do anything that’s ugly until they have to, and then it’s worse. It’s like not getting your teeth fixed.” He passed the jug back.
“Smack’em” was my own foreign policy. Few years back, when I was dating this ol’ gal named Jiffy Lube, we used to go to Abe’s Pool and Beer. Her name was really Jenny Imidazole Fergwiller. I guess she had some Eye-talian in her. Everybody called her Jiffy. Anyway she was cute and all these old boys wanted to hit on her and I’d smack’em. Sometimes I got beat up. They got tired of it and went away. You just got to make it more trouble to them than it’s worth.
I told Hant, “Back in school that teacher lady we had told us about this president named Teddy Roosevelt. She said his policy was Speak Swahili and Carry A Big Stick. I bet he used to date Jiffy Lube’s mother. That’s why he’d need the stick, leastways if she was cute as Jiffy was. Anyway, I reckon people could remember that.”
I felt pretty smart for remembering about Teddy Roosevelt. I always did like school more than the other kids, especially lunch.
Hant thought about it. “That might work, I calculate. I guess if I saw somebody talking Swahili with a big stick, I’d leave him alone. You can’t tell what crazy people are gonna do. I used to know this ol’ boy, he’d get drunk down in Bluefield and start thinking he was a poker game. He’d sit there and bet and raise himself and call. Nobody went near him.”
He got up to check on the mash. I grabbed the jug. I could tell I wasn’t going to learn much about foreign policy. On the other hand, I couldn’t do anything about it even if I did learn. Might as well get a big jug, and sit on a good stump, and watch.