George Singleton





So first off I have to ask George to forgive me for telling this story AGAIN, but it's too good not to share.

So a Publisher's Rep walks into a bar,............... no really.

Now you have to remember that George Singleton does have a certain reputation for knowing, first hand, the best hang-over cures in the world. He has spoken publicly on the subject, on more than one occasion.
I was to meet George for lunch at a bar just down the street from the fabulous Hub City Bookshop, in Spartanburg, SC.  We were to talk about his new book and his author tour plans. I walk in and there he is, sitting at the bar chatting with the pretty bar tender. He greets me very warmly and we seat ourselves at a table on the other side of the room. The waitress comes over and right away tells us how happy she is that we were there because there were so many strait-laced guys in the room that she was having to wait on, inferring, I presumed, that we were not of that sort.

You see, I learned pretty quickly that George Singleton has a way about himself that will put people at ease very quickly. This woman was certainly at ease with us. Very quickly.

Before long, after we both were enjoying glasses of beer from a fine local Spartanburg brewery, she came back and started telling us stories about her boyfriend and their latest bar experiences. She went on to explain how she slapped his friend as hard as she could because his friend had asked her to. And then went and on and on about that particular evening.  Near the end she started showing us the videos from her iPhone. Apparently the whole incident had been posted on YouTube. Finally, after we were finished with our meal, she came back again and very covertly, clearly looking around for her boss, asked George to do Jägermeister shots with her. Ever the gentleman he, of course, acquiesced (I did not BTW). I started wondering if this was an exceptional or completely normal dining experience for George. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the latter. It wasn't for me, waitresses tend to leave me alone for some reason, but I loved it none the less




George Singleton has been described as a "Classic Southern humorist of the first caliber", he is not only that, I have found him to also be a gentleman and a gracious human being.


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Calloustown, from Dzanc Books, is his the seventh collection of his writings. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says he is the “unchallenged king of the comic Southern short story,” and continues to say "George Singleton is at the absolute top of his game as he traces the unlikely inhabitants of the titular Calloustown in all their humanity. Whether exploring family, religion, politics or the true meaning of home, his stories range from deeply affecting to wildly absurd and back again, all in the blink of an eye."

Other incredible books by George Singleton include:

 http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51hPTdeoEFL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg   http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41gfjjyB8TL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg   http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41ppHQiMB7L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg   http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41xI0UK1TKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg


Here are George's completely serious, solemn and thoughtful answers to my interview questions.


Tell me about where you live and why you love it so much.
I live in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  I love the place, because four days out of the week, downtown, there are free hot air balloon rides, plus all-you-can-eat corn-dogs.  Everyone is brutally liberal-minded here.  It’s paradise.  Sometimes I wish there was the sound of automatic weapons being tested right down the road from where I live, so that I could feel a sense of danger, and thus conflict, and then have stories handed over to my brain. Sometimes I wish that a slew of fools would argue inexorably about how they needed that confederate flag flying so that they could feel a sense of “heritage.”

            Wait.  I might have gotten confused by this question.

Where were you living when you were 7 years old? Are they fond memories?
            I lived two months of my seventh year in Anaheim, California, and then the next ten months in Greenwood, South Carolina.  Oh, yes--very fond memories.  My father had fallen forty-five feet into the empty hold of a ship a couple years earlier, broken fifty-seven bones in total, became a morphine addict, then Darvon addict, then alcoholic over the years to deal with his righteous pains (those broken bones included both hips, his back, neck, arms in a couple places, both femurs, and so on).  Anyway, he was disabled.  (Aside: Over the years he had a number of operations and could walk without a cane the last years of his life.)

Anyway, my mother and father decided to move from California to South Carolina so that my father could work “under the table” for his father.  On the drive east--here’s where the very fond memory comes in--we stopped in Dallas to see his biological mother.  She played honky-tonk piano at a bar owned by Jack Ruby.  Grandma Nelta--whom I’d not met--said, “Little George, the Easter Bunny left you something here.”  Understand that Easter took place in April or thereabouts.  This was mid-July, in an un-air conditioned apartment in Dallas, Texas. 

She handed over a chocolate bunny.  It had turned white.  Its head was missing, and appeared to be gnawed off.  I was traumatized, slightly.  My father hit me in the back of the hamstrings with one of his crutches and said, “What do you say, son?”

I said, “Thank you.”

Thanks for allowing me to relive those fond memories, Jon.

Did you have a favorite teacher and are you still in touch with him or her?
 No. Well, yes, I’ve had some favorite teachers over the years, but they’ve asked that I not stay in touch with them.

Is there a book that changed the way you look at life?
Indubitably.  It’s Opthalmological Anatomy with Some Illustrative Cases, by J. Herbert Fisher, published in 1904. Man.  Talk about plot.

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Seriously, The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor changed the way I felt about writing.  When I first started out, I thought, “No one wants to read about small southern towns.”  


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Do you have a favorite children’s book and what about it makes it so?
I wasn’t a big reader as a child. I read sports books.  My father went and bought me, from this cool used book store in Hodges, SC--which moved to Coronaca SC, and now exists in Tryon NC--called Noah’s Ark Book Attic, a bunch of Bobby Blake books.  Bobby Blake was a precursor to Hardy Boys.  My father had read them when he was a child, in Dallas.  They were godawful, in my opinion.  By the way, Noah’s Ark Book Attic is run by a man named Donald Hawthorne, and his wife Marilyn was the only good teacher I had growing up.  She taught me to love Ethan Frome, by god.  I’m serious.

What are the funniest or most embarrassing stories your family tells about you?
This kid named Mikey used to beat me up. This was back in Anaheim.  He didn’t hit me so much as he slapped me in the face all the time. This must’ve happened right before my father’s accident, because I remember his taking a cushion from the couch, drawing a circle of chalk on it--oh, we kept chalk around, evidently--then teaching me how to punch.

Okay.  So my parents had some friends over to the apartment where we lived on Wilkin Way--across from a massive orange grove, just a mile from Disneyland--which is now a series of tract homes. I was in the bathroom, you know, with my pants around my ankles.  There was a knock on the door.  I knew it was Mikey.  I ran out of the bathroom naked, past my parents and their friends, opened the door, and punched that kid in the nose so hard it wasn’t funny.  My mother had to chase him down the street to say something like “Now you know how Little George feels,” et cetera.

Actually, I have about a million embarrassing stories my family likes to tell.


 

How did you meet your beloved? How did your first date go?
I was a visiting writer at the arts magnet school where Glenda worked, teaching ceramics. She was between relationships, as was I.  My little three-day gig ended on St. Patrick’s Day.  I got a check.  I said to the people working at the school, “Hey, I got paid--let’s go out and do some drinking.”  Maybe four or five of them showed up.  Glenda got hammered enough to not be seeing clearly--she should’ve read Opthalmological Anatomy with Some Illustrative Cases, by J. Herbert Fisher, published in 1904.  One thing led to another, you know.  Quit being so nosey.

How are you different now than you were 20 years ago?
Twenty years ago I was 37.  Back then I was bull-headed and idealistic.  I weighed twenty pounds less and had hair that wasn’t gray.  I had no tattoos back then.  I sported a couple of earrings, which I quit wearing on the day I turned forty. I trusted authority figures little back then, and I trust them less today.  Basically a nice guy, then and now.


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Here is George's first answer to the time travel question, then after I shamed him to do better, he reluctantly went back to the drawing board for me..........

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME

to any period from before recorded history to yesterday,
be safe from harm, be rich, poor or in-between, if appropriate to your choice,
actually experience what it was like to live in that time, anywhere at all,
meet anyone, if you desire, speak with them, listen to them, be with them.

When would you go?
Where would you go?
Who would you want to meet?
And most importantly, why do you think you chose this time?

I would like to go back to a day in 1979 when I first started writing fiction.  This happened to be a semester when I studied in France, during college.  I would like to have met Jean-Paul Sartre, had him shake me to my senses, have him tell me, “Do not start writing fiction, you fool. Never become a writer. Do something meaningful.  Farm.” 


Answer number two:


Okay, so I don’t cotton to “time travel” wonders, seeing as such hypotheses fall into the realm of “the insane,” seeing as they more than likely exist in a notion called “impossible,” but I’ll play along. 

            The prompt asks “When would you go?

            Do you mean, like, “At noon”?  My answer, then, would be six in the morning.  If you meant “To what year would you like to transport?” the answer is around 300 BCE. I would “time travel” to Athens, Greece, in order to meet Diogenes.

            Here’s why: Diogenes is also known as the “dog philosopher.”  He once said, concerning his relationship to canines, “I fawn on those who give me anything, I yelp at those who refuse, and I set my teeth in rascals."

            I would want to hang out with Diogenes, seeing as he’s a kindred spirit, of sorts, I suppose.

            He was known to walk around Athens with a lantern, lit, in daytime.  When asked why he did so, he responded that he searched for an honest man.  One time Alexander the Great came up to him and asked if there was anything he (Alexander the Great) could do, and Diogenes said something like “Yeah, move over a couple feet so you can shade the sun from my eyes.” And then good old Alexander the Great said something like “I want to be Diogenes the Dog Philosopher!”

            I ain’t making this up. 

            At one point Diogenes carried only a small wooden bowl of sorts, for which to scoop water.  Then he saw a boy drink water from a trough with cupped hands.  Diogenes understood that he didn’t even need a bowl any more. 

            He considered himself a “citizen of the world,” not merely an Athenian, or a Greek.  One time Plato said that Socrates said that man was a “featherless biped.”  Diogenes went and plucked a chicken, then said something like “Look, a man!”

            He lived in a gigantic fucking clay wine jug to escape the elements.

            There are some other stories about Diogenes.

            He is considered one of the founders of Cynicism. Basically, a wonderful human being.

            So I’d go at six in the morning because Greece is about six or seven hours past EST.  That means I’d get there mid-afternoon, just in time to see Diogenes walking around with a lamp, looking for an honest man.  And I’d go up to him and say, “Hey, Diogenes, look, man, my name is George and I’m living in a weird time twenty-three hundred years in the future, when people ask you about time travel.”

            And he’d say, “What?”

            And I’d say, “I know.  Hey, pass that ouzo over here, please.  One time I was in a pizza joint with Jon Mayes and this waitress made me do shots of Jägermeister right after she showed us YouTube video taken on her cellphone of her slapping some guy in the face during a fiasco of sorts that I couldn’t quite figure out.”

            I image that Diogenes would then go, “What?”

            And then I’d say, “Man, it’s not good in the future.  Publishers have these PR people that want writers to do the Facebook, and the Twitter, and the Instagram, and all of this social media crap. Book reps are crazy, having to deal with a non-reading public.”

            And Diogenes would ask the waitress to pour his ouzo straight into his cupped palms!  He might say to me, “In Greek, your name would be Georgios.”

            “Yeah.  Georgios.  You can call me that.  I don’t mind.”

            Then maybe Socrates would idle by and Diogenes would say, “Hey, Man-Who-Thinks-People-Are-Chickens--come meet my new buddy from the Future, Georgios.”

            Socrates would come over and say, “You want some hemlock, brother?”

            And I’d say, “Ναι σας ευχαριστώ!” because--according to one of these online translation dictionaries--that’s what means “Yes, I would!” in Greek.

It was a true pleasure George, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Don't forget Asheville is known as "BEER-TOWN USA" for a good reason, come on up and sit awhile.

           
           
           


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