Here are some sample chapters from the beginning of Jack Matthew’s 1967 novella Hanger Stout, Awake! which is now for sale directly from this website and Amazon and BN. See also: the Cars of Hanger Stout Awake! (a photo gallery).
The first thing I notice was they were driving this Caddy and it was a new one. The big man stood and watch me while I took the flat tire off. He was half a head taller than me and he had sort of blond hair in the back of his head and he was bald in front. He took off his sunglasses and watch me change the tire and I could see two little dents in his nose where the glasses fit. His eyes were real light color.
The other one was over at the cigarette machine, juggling the knob, and he was kind of little. Not as big as me. He wore regular reading glasses with them sunglasses that clip over them. He looked a little bit like a teacher.
The big one kept watching me close while I am changing the tire. But at first I didn’t pay no attention because I was still thinking of Penny, who was away to summer camp, where she was a counselor, and she hadn’t written any letters to me. She had just finished her first year at college, where she is getting all A’s, practically, and naturally I didn’t go to college because I barely made it through high school and didn’t want to go anyway. But Penny and me had been drifting apart ever since high school. It wasn’t my idea, I can tell you that. She thought I wasn’t good enough for her because I was working in a filling station and she was going to college.
Right before this, I had just bang my knuckle against the tire rack when my hand slipped. It sliced a little of the skin away there, but I have bang and cut my knuckles up so much I do not ever notice little things like that.
I told him no and then squinted right at his face, which I don’t do very often. I don’t think I ever really once stared in the face of Penny’s father even though Penny and I went together about a year.
You probably want to know why I’m so curious, the big man asked. Well I tell you. How about coming over to that Dairy Freeze across the street and I will buy you a milk shake or whatever you want and I’ll tell you.
I figure this was just his way of giving me a tip, so I wipe my hands off on the grease rag and the two of us wait for a semi-outfit to go by, then we cross over the street and the little guy is about ten feet behind following us.
When he first said that I thought he said something like Comisky and it wasn’t until I got to know him better that I asked him, That’s some kind of foreign name, isn’t it? and he said, No, it’s Irish. Irish as Paddy’s pig. People frequently think it’s foreign, but it’s Irish.
Anyway when we was walking up to the Dairy Freeze window, I saw Phyllis standing there, all eyes because I was walking up to the window with two rich guys she had seen driving up to the filling station in a Cadillac.
The treat’s on me, he said to Phyllis. A strawberry milk shake and a Coke for Mr. Herbert and me, and Clyde, he said, turning around slow like he was a big stiff door, you just have anything you like.
But Mr. Comisky and Mr. Herbert just nodded seriously when I say this, like they had already figure I would have a name like that, so the three of us go over to the bench on the shady side of the Freeze and sit down. I know Phyllis is breaking her neck watching us, since she has known my mother for years and she don’t miss a thing. I figure she knows the license plate of every car that goes past, she is so nosy. Phyllis is about thirty-five and her husband has had two or three nervous breakdowns, and she supports him.
All this time, Mr. Herbert is just sitting there with his legs crossed in front of him, drinking his Coke without saying nothing and watching the cars go by. I saw Pete, over at the station, get in the Caddy and drive it away from the pump to make room for more cars.
Mr. Herbert hit the bottom of his Coke and the straw made a noise. I notice that Mr. Comisky was through a long time ago so I finish up my milk shake and we all throw the cups in the trash barrel. When we walk back to the station I wave to Phyllis, who was just dying out of curiosity, I could tell.
I was trying to figure out why they was talking to me so much. Mr. Comisky paid Pete for me fixing the flat lire. The tire bell rang and I went out to fill the tank of a ’63 Corvair. Its hood had waves on it, it was so hot. When I come back, Mr. Comisky was talking to Pete and then I hey both stop talking and look at me. Pete was kind of grinning and he nodded his head.
That’s right, Mr. Comisky said. Your boss said he don’t mind. So if you want to make five easy bucks, it’s yours. You can’t touch your feet or nothing. You got to hang free, with your arms straight. No shoulder shrugging or regripping. No pulling yourself up. Most men can’t hang over thirty or forty seconds in a position like that. Believe it or not. But if you can hang on for two minutes, I’ll give you a five.
Go ahead, Pete said, and he was grinning so hard I knew he couldn’t wait to tell everybody I done it. Pete has got a bad natured wife and he gets in all the kidding he can down here at work. He works about seventy or eighty hours a week. That’s what happens when you’re in business for yourself, he told me.
Well, they wanted me to and I made sure it wasn’t a bet because I didn’t know how long I could hang from that rack. Pete says, Go ahead. I’ll lower the rack and then raise it up and you won’t even have to jump for it. If that’s okay with you, sir, he says, checking with Mr. Comisky.
Mr. Comisky said sure, so Pete lowered the rack and I put my hands around the rim and then I hear the hydraulic lift make a whirring sound and feel my arms pull up and there I am hanging right up in the air, my feet off the cement a couple feet.
A little while later, Mr. Comisky says, Thirty seconds, and right about then I feel like my arms are about to come out of their sockets. It don’t sound like much, but just hanging there like that gets tiring very fast.
Pete explains everything to him, and I can tell he’s grinning so hard he can hardly talk. I wish his wife was a nicer temper woman. It would make things a lot easier on us down here at the station sometimes.
Anyway, Bo Thompson is just another attendant. I could hear him chewing and snapping away at his Spearmint gum while Pete explained why I was hanging from the grease rack. Then I smelled cigar smoke. I guess it was Mr. Comisky who had lit up.
Things got a little better, maybe, right about then. I mean, my arms got numb. Another half-minute, I was thinking, and I won’t be able to let go even if I want to because my hands will be curved around that rack like two pieces of hammered iron.
Then things got kind of dreamy. I was hurting all the way down my sides and all I could think about was Penny and why she hadn’t written me a letter and if this was the actual end between her and me. I closed my eyes and saw her face when I did. My arms felt like they was being stretched way out like you see some kid stretch bubble gum out of his mouth. That’s the way my arms felt.
It’s pain, Mr. Comisky said. It’s the pain they get in their shoulders. Because the shoulder wasn’t meant to stand up under the strain of that constant kind of pulling. Not only that, the blood goes out of the arms. Also the head after awhile, and I’ve seen boys have hallucinations when they are free hanging from a bar. Yes sir.
Well, I didn’t know what he was talking about and I didn’t think nothing about what he had said. What I did was take that five bucks and get in my ’56 Chevy (which I rebuilt a transmission for and put it in last winter) and go downtown. It was about ten-thirty and a slow night, so Pete got tired of kidding me about hanging from the grease rack and he said, Hanger, you go ahead and take off, because I know that five dollars is burning a hole in your pants.
First thing I thought of was I would buy gas with it because my old Chevy isn’t very good on mileage, but then I got this other idea, so I drove up to Hillary’s Drug Store, which is the only one stays open in this town after nine o’clock. You get sick after nine o’clock in this town and you either go to Hillary’s or else you die or wait til eight the next morning.
Anyway, I go into this store and it smells like face powder and things like that. And it’s empty because they are about to close up at eleven o’clock. After eleven o’clock in our town, it’s every man for himself, sick or not.
I saw this woman who’s about forty or fifty and her first name is Annabelle. I don’t know her last name and she’s always got this kind of make-up on that looks like dried sassafras tea, and she wears great big earrings.
And she said that was all right with her, so I went outside. Some big hairy bug landed right on my arm, and I jumped. Then some crazy guy come roaring through the square, doing about sixty in a ’53 Mercury with twin carbs.
We just got one bookstore in our town and it is in the back of a gift store where they have little cuckoo clocks and ashtrays and cups and things like that. There was a little fat man there, smoking a cigarette in a cigarette holder when I come in the next morning. I don’t know his name, but I seen him around a lot.
He said that would be fine too, so I started looking over the books he had in the shelves. First, there was a lot of cooking books, and then there was some books on mending furniture and buying a house and one book of poetry by Edgar A. Guest.
I thought he was going to get the book by Edgar A. Guest, because I seen that was poetry, but instead he reach around and got a lot thicker book, called Singing on the Wings of Time, by a man named Farad Karaji.
The little fat man held the book and just stared at it with his eyes almost closed, and then he laid his cigarette down with the holder part on the counter. It was right next to a little ashtray shaped like a Mexican hat, and I wonder why he didn’t put it in the ashtray.
(Copyright Jack Matthews, 1967. Book can be bought here).