Behind the Scenes
This past Thanksgiving break, I rented a car to drive home to West Virginia and see my family. Also, I was supposed to meet up with Scott McClanahan (author of Stories I and Stories II), talk about his manuscript, and then go try and visit the grave of Breece D’J Pancake with him. It was the promise of this bonehunt that got me to walk to the rental car place, to rent that car, and to play all of that music so loudly and for so long in the car to get home to. Not that I didn’t want to see my family. It’s a long story. There is a shorter story.
Scott drove into Charleston from Beckley, stopping by my aunt’s house to meet up. We talked about his book for a bit, then got in my rental car to head off to find Breece. His grave was thirty minutes outside of Charleston in a town called Milton. How romantic were we being? Borderline-fucking-gay romantic is how romantic we were being, but Scott and I don’t care because we’re from here. This is our place as much as it is Breece’s. Not like we were going into some foreign land to find his grave, or disturbing his home. The state of West Virginia is our backyard river rope-swing too.
We filled the car with gas, got a six-pack of cheap beer because Breece would want it that way, and we drove. We had the name of the graveyard and location logged into my iPhone. (There had been clouds but they broke on us and the sun shone for the drive.) We were the blue emanating blip going down that line from green dot to red dot. But when we got to the red dot, there was just a neighborhood where there were two college girls walking down the street. We stopped to ask them about the cemetery. They had no idea where it was. We drove off, giddy with finding Breece, and joked about how lucky those girls were that they didn’t end up in the trunk of this fucking rental car for not being able to assist us. Stopping by the local library, we found inside a whole display case of Pancake’s shit: portraits, books, a VHS tape (which we should have watched), and a stack of slips with directions from the library right to his grave up the hill. The librarian who helped us told us Breece’s mother worked there for years and she had written the directions. The directions were baffling.
When we got to the cemetery, there were several entrances and the directions were no longer of use. I never know what Go east means and when someone says that I always answer, “Is that like left or like right?” I’ve never been a compass for anything besides left and right. Once in the graveyard, we had to scour with our own four feet and four eyes. “Let’s split up.” I asked Scott if he knew that whoever found the grave first, that something special would happen to them. That whoever found it would turn out really lucky somehow. Or at least that’s what I was thinking. But I’m sure I voiced it. Not sure I put it quite like that though. I was running, spilling beer over my hand, looking at each name on each plot like mad, going as fast as I could. Name after name. Family after family. Lots of Pancakes. No Breece. I wanted to find it. I had to be the one to find it. After I just said all that shit?
I heard an ahem and looked up the hill to see Scott standing, smiling and looking down, rubbing his chin. Shit.
It wasn’t ceremonious. We stood there for a second, and I tried brushing the overgrowing grass away. It was coarse and wasn’t budging. I pulled up the last line of Pancake’s story Trilobites on my stupid iPhone. I knew the line by heart but I didn’t want to fuck it up.
I feel my fear moving away in rings through time for a million years.
After taking a few pics, we left the cemetery. There’s a dog track on the way home to Charleston where my dad hangs out. We stopped in there and had a drink with him. After that, we headed back to Charleston and Scott went home to Beckley. It was a good day. A real laster.
Scott’s writing is a special kind of storytelling. It grips me because of the West Virginia in it, but also because of the honesty, the simplicity, and the floral bursts that he shows himself capable of doing without any forcing or showboating. There are moments in Scott’s writing that I would hang up there with some of the best I’ve ever read. We’ve signed no contracts, made no deals, but hopefully Tyrant Books will be putting out a Scott McClanahan title. Wouldn’t that be tits?
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Giancarlo DiTrapano lives in New York City.