I’m working on a story titled “Scar Lover” which is a direct lift of the title of Harry Crews’ 1993 novel that I re-read not long ago.
I was antsy about using it-and still might not. The story’s not meant as an homage because I don’t have the game to step on the field with Harry, no matter how long he’s been dead.
To my mind, Harry’s work was split. His later work calmed down and got a little…lighter in tone, befitting the aging college professor and respected author that he was. His early stuff though, like Car, The Gospel Singer, The Gypsy’s Curse and the ferocious Feast of Snakes were born of a particular kind of madness that I happily swallowed whole at a tender age.
Those books embedded these little writer prompts deep in my brain like earwig eggs that bloom usually as one of those 3 a.m. fever dreams when you start awake convinced you’ve just heard someone moan in the room.
I spoke to Harry once. I had written him at the University of Florida where he taught about acquiring the rights to Car his novel about a man who wanted to eat his car. At that time I was a terrifically, albeit deservedly, unsuccessful playwright but convinced, I let him know, that Car would definitely work well on the stage.
About a week later we were all at the house; my wife, the kids, some friends, their kids, children laughing, climbing out of windows, being lowered by ropes off the deck-more screaming than was probably allowed by ordinance or common courtesy, beer, liquor, football on the TV, football in the yard…It was pretty much a normal Sunday.
I was surveying the carnage from the deck when Theresa-not my wife then or now-came out and told me there was a “Harry Crews?” on the phone for me. I’m sure I said something akin to “Get the fuck outta here…”. I waded through the ruin of the living room and scuttled as far up the steps as the phone cord would allow. Yeah, it was that kind of phone.
Harry was bemused, I think, as I described my vision of his vision, how I saw the set etc. And the strange coincidence-that elicited a chuckle-was that I had a friend at the time who had once (need I say “when high”) discussed eating his car. It wasn’t a long conversation-fifteen minutes tops-that effectively ended when he told me that Sean Penn owned the rights at the moment and he “didn’t know what he had planned for it.” He gave me Penn’s agent’s name and told me to feel free to let him know we’d talked.
I never made that call. I’m sure Sean Penn didn’t do anything with Car and for all I know, El Chapo has the rights to stage it now.
Before we said good-bye however, Harry said something that stuck with me. The years have stolen the exact words but he allowed that by the cacophony of background noise he could tell that I had managed to surround myself with a lot of love and good feelings “up there”. “You go back and enjoy your friends and family”, he said. “Don’t lose that.”