“Andy, It’s ‘Therapetic’”
By Terry Barr
A grad school party at the Married Student Apartments. I’m standing in the early spring darkness: a day-for-night scene in the vein of those “Andy Griffith” episodes when they wanted to portray Mayberry by night but you could see the sun shining through the dark filters anyway.
Our hosts are hoping for “hip” as they’ve provided a couple of kegs of Busch and are keeping the late New Wave tunes cranking. Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” has segued into Wang Chung’s “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight” into Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?”
I don’t know a lot of these people even though they’re members of the English Department, like me. But then, I’m beginning my dissertation, and so many of them are thinking only of whether they’ll take Master’s comps or write a thesis. I see my friend Steve talking to the woman he loves and who maybe loves him back, but then, she’s married so “who can it be now” indeed?
Like usual, I invited my roommate, Sean. He’s a second-degree Architecture student, a wild and worldly guy from Pittsburgh who spent the previous two years in Senegal under Peace Corps auspices. I didn’t know him before last fall, but I needed a roommate, and he seemed harmless. But he’s caused trouble at other parties, hitting on already-taken girls and causing one boyfriend to confront me:
“You better tell that roommate of yours to leave Joanna alone. She’s mine.”
As if Sean were “mine.”
Still, I like Sean; he’s a good late-night companion, and I don’t care whom he hits on as long as he leaves my face and body out of it. So I invited him again, this time, out of a sense of fraternal bonding. Or spite. And in any case, in another month I’ll be moving to a basement apartment across town and never see him for the rest of my life.
So as I’m observing Steve and listening to Van Halen’s “Jump” and wondering just who has taken over this time in my life, I see Sean coming, followed by a twerpy-looking guy whom I’ve encountered before. A short guy with a combo peach-fuzz beard and upper-lip sneer. An obnoxious jerk even when he’s not drunk which, of course, he is now.
I give Sean a look.
He shrugs, half-grins, and whispers, “I couldn’t help it. He followed me.”
After downing a plastic cup of increasingly dreggish draught, this guy steps up to me, sneering, looking up at something on my face. Then he pokes one of my sideburns:
“Hey, dja know they’re not even? Why aren’t they even? Looks dumb.”
I just stare at him wondering why I’m the one who always attracts the trolls.
“Hey, talk to me!” And then he comes even closer and curls his finger up under my chin.
“You think you’re cute, right? Yeah, you’re cute.”
It’s a dumbfounding moment, and I’m feeling like I’m in first grade, confronted by the famous bully of the schoolyard.
I knock his hand away, and as I do, Steve walks over.
“Hey, TBarr, what’s going on here?”
Troll-face stares at both of us and says, “Oh, you know, we’re just talking, but there’s no problem.”
And in that reassuring manner, in that voice that I’ve heard rescuing Barney Fife from hot-headed boyfriends and vendors practicing on the Mayberry streets without a license, Steve nods,
“That’s good, that’s good.”
The homunculus wanders off then, and I find myself hoping that he’ll end up tonight under the Gay Street bridge, swimming with the polluted fish.
“You all right,” Steve asks me.
“Maybe, I think so,” I say, as someone a few feet away spits up beer. As someone else crashes into the keg. As Loverboy blasts out through our field of ears.
“OOOOOhhhhh, I just love Loverboy,” a girl in a headband cries, before crawling away with a guy who must have considered himself lucky.
It was just that kind of night.
Terry Barr lives in Greenville, SC, with his wife and daughters. His work has been published in such journals as Hamilton Stone Review, Construction, Fat City review, The Museum of Americana, and Scissors and Spackle. Melange Press will soon publish his e-book, Secret Santa, and his work will soon appear as well in Blue Lyra review and Sport Literate. He teaches Creative Nonfiction and Modern Novel at Presbyterian College.
Why do you write? I’ve always written and so asking this question is like asking me why I love The Beatles, or Alabama football, or Barbecue. I didn’t always think my writing was good or that I could be a “writer,” but aside from helping raise two children, writing is the deepest, most satisfying experience I know. And like raising children, it’s extremely hard work, but at the end of each day I’ve accomplished another part of my dream (which I can also say about the children even though they’re grown now).
Where do you draw inspiration from for your writing? First, from reading other writers. But as importantly, I listen to music from my past and recall what those past times were like. Then a story rises, a story about a little girt I told on to my teacher in 4th grade. A girl who had never done anything to me and who was sweet and economically poor too. I remember her crying, not understanding why she was in trouble. But I had been appointed classroom monitor and was feeling my power. Weirdly, whenever I hear “I Saw Her Standing There,” I think of her. Inspiration comes in bursts like that.
How did the essay “Andy, It’s Therapetic” get started? It started as a prompt that I had my Creative Nonfiction class respond to: a time of conflict with at least 3 people and a song playing in the background. I always write with my students, and before we started, I really didn’t know what I would write about. But then I saw the image of the little troll guy. In my life, there have always been individuals who have singled me out to “bug.” He was simply one of many, and when I heard my other friend intervene, then I thought of The Andy Griffith Show, because my friend’s voice is patterned just like Andy’s.
What has your writing journey been like? Off and on. I had some success back in the 90’s, getting published in American Literary Review and Elysian Fields Review, and then several years of dormancy until I placed a life story in an anthology called Half-Life: Jew-Ish Tales from Interfaith Homes. I thought that was my breakthrough, but then another five years went by with nothing to show, so I signed up for a workshop in Prague, figuring that the ghost of Kafka or a Golem might inspire me. That was one of the best decisions of my life. I got to work under the direction of Patricia Foster from the University of Iowa’s creative writing program. Afterward I’ve worked steadily, faithfully, but it still took a couple of more years before the acceptances started coming.
What are some other writing projects you are currently working on? Books? Blogs/websites? I am working on a book-length collection of essays concerning my life as a half-Jewish man married to a Persian woman who herself is half-Jewish. I’ve lived in the South all my life and have heard every racial/ethnic slur you can imagine. Once an old friend referred to my wife as a “Sand-Nigger.” Coming to terms with pain, friendship, and loss because of who I am. That’s what I’m writing about in the collection.
Who are some of your favorite writers and authors? Michael Chabon, Domenica Ruta, Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, Dave Eggars, Allison Bechdel, and Art Spiegelman.
What genres do you write (if other than nonfiction)? That’s it. Every time I try fiction, I think: why turn this into something unreal when the “real” is so strong and funny and disturbing?
Anything else you would like to share with the readers of HIP Literary Magazine or that we should know about you? I’m in my late 50’s, so writing/publishing has come late in my life. I think it will always be there too. So it’s really never too late. I write a column on music and memory for culturemass.com, and my most recent essays have looked back on Dylan, Jackson Brown, Kris Kristofferson, and Glen Campbell. Check it out!