Bonus: Here is Charlie Huston talking about his unique first line of Six Bad Things:
- Charlie Huston's Backstory
Two Bad Ears: The "Six Bad Things" Backstory
"I’m sitting on the porch of a bungalow on the Yucatan Peninsula with lit cigarettes sticking out of both my ears." That’s the first line of "Six Bad Things."
Unfortunately, I had to live through a similar experience before I could write that line.
My wife (then my girlfriend) and I were on vacation in Mexico. We were hanging out for a week in a little beach town with a simple plan to eat less, drink more, sleep late, loll in the sun, and have sex. Lots of sex. I abused this mandate to the extent of a little floating and splashing in the Caribbean. It was on one of my solo aquatic excursions that my problems began. Serves me right for going off the agenda.
All it was, was a little water in the ears. No biggie. We’ve all had water in our ears. But this particular quantity of water refused to be dislodged. Under normal circumstances this would have been distracting at worst. But I was already suffering from a mild head cold that had plugged my sinuses. Now, four of the five open holes in my head were blocked. So there I am in sultry Mexico, walking around, a slack jawed mouth breather saying, huh, what was that?, to any inquiry sent my way. It sucked. Worse, I was rapidly becoming miserable company and infringing on my girl’s drinking, sleeping, lolling, and screwing time. Something had to be done.
I experimented with Mexican eardrops and decongestants. No dice. Also, no interesting side effects. An utter waste of time. Sick of the whining noises I was making, my girl called a doctor.
Over the phone, the Doctor asked when he should come by. I told him he should come whenever was convenient. He insisted I name a time.
I looked at the clock. It was three.
-Is four OK?
A pause as he considered.
-Hmmmm. I’ll be there at six.
At seven he knocked on our door. The exam was brief. I described my symptoms; he smiled, nodded, whipped out one of those ear-scopes, and stuck it deep in one of the many places on the human body where the sun does not shine.
Narrow ear canals.
The water was trapped deep in these narrow canals, held at bay by a Hoover Dam of earwax I had created with Q-tips carelessly wielded. He had my girl take a look through the scope. Just in case she should come across a similar case and be called upon to diagnose it herself. She gave me a look, making sure I knew this was my fault for venturing away from our carefully conceived booze-slumber-sun-booty plan. I avoided eye contact, knowing she was right. Curse me for a selfish fool. The Doctor removed the scope.
Flush those ears.
Until you’ve had a beer can’s worth of warm water injected into each of your ears, you have not lived a full life. Nor have you been fully exposed to the true grotesqueness of the human body, until you have seen what is washed out of your ears under these circumstances.
My girl turned her back, now questioning our entire relationship. How could she have had physical relations with a man from whom such vileness could issue? I hung my head in shame and my own filth.
However, this was not the end. We had yet to discuss what was to be done should the problem reoccur.
Stick cigarettes in my ears.
The Doctor, jolly to the last, reaching in his little black bag (no shit, he had one), and came out with a fresh pack of Benson & Hedges.
And thus, as the Caribbean evening reached its full glory, I could be found on the terrace, a man desperately trying to quit smoking, with smoldering cigarettes gently twisted into either ear drawing forth the residual moisture trapped within.
For his services the Doctor charged us 1000 pesos. For those of you keeping count, that was about 100 bucks. That’s a c-note for a house call, treatment, and a full pack of smokes. Thanks, Doc.
Shortly thereafter, following a visit to our favorite mai tai bar, a good night’s sleep, and some sun bathing, my girl agreed I wasn’t all that gross and we got our vacation back on track.
So, how’s that experience end up opening a novel? Come on, how can a writer not use something like that?
At the time, I’d already written my first Hank Thompson book, "Caught Stealing", but that was a labor of love and was sitting in a desk drawer. Hank was retired after a very brief and un-witnessed career. He was somewhere in Mexico, right where I’d left him to unwind. Then one sleepless night, after a number of years had passed since I’d last seen Hank, I suddenly asked myself what he might be up to. In that same moment, I knew exactly what he was doing.
Hank was sitting on the porch of a bungalow on the Yucatan Peninsula with lit cigarettes sticking out of both his ears.
So I got up, careful not to wake my girl (my wife by then), went in the next room, and reintroduced myself to Hank Thompson.