The Ugly Dog . . .

My son and his wife Kay own the Ugly Dog Pub in Highlands, North Carolina, a tiny town in the mountains above Asheville, with 2,000 permanent residents in the winter, swelling to 20,000 in summer.

We were there during the peak days of fall leaves, the whole world turned bronze, red and golden.

The Ugly Dog, Highlands only public house, is a cozy three-room establishment with a long zinc bar and red walls. The dog of the name appears on t-shirts with a bag over his head and the words: COME. SIT. STAY. Everybody in town apparently does.

The night before I read was Story-Telling Night at the pub. Local writers read scary stories in honor of Halloween (some in costume, with fake voices and communal singing).

Thomas’s scary story was how I made him ticklish by inventing the Big Black Hairy Spider (my hand), which would land on your bare back and skitter around, but wouldn’t bite unless you moved. I could only get within an inch of Thomas’s skin before, as he told it, he ran from the room, screaming like a girl.

I want to point out to my California students how much more fun it might be to read our stuff accompanied by pulled pork sliders and alcohol.

It’s a lesson in humility to read in a bar. Half the people are listening and the other half are yukking it up over their martinis.

My daughter-in-law Kay has a warm, engaging personality and Thomas styles himself as the family curmudgeon. I was supposed to explain why, and I attributed it to his forceps delivery, which might start anyone out with a pinched attitude toward life. At the word forceps, Thomas turned crimson and fled the room.

Highlands, like many towns has lost its bookstore, but Chris from City Lights in Sylva brought books up the mountain. Thomas made a batch of the whiskey sour punch, enjoyed by all, including the author.

During questioning, I had my first opportunity to use the John Dufresne defense. In class he once told us if anyone asks whether we created that image or metaphor on purpose, even if we have no idea what they’re talking about, the answer is “yes.” A woman referred me to page 56, line 5 in my book, a description of caramel cake. “Such wonderful alliteration,” she said. “Do you work hard on all your sentences?”

“Yes,” I said.

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