‘When a Guy’s Got That Kind of Control, You Gotta Admire It.’
Seven questions with Ted Elrick, co-writer of the 2014 dark comedy North of Hell starring Katherine Heigl, now offering his stories at Liberty Island.
April 16, 2014 - 10:00 am
Editor’s Note: This is the thirteenth in a series of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island. The first eleven can be read in this collection here and the twelfth and thirteenth are here and here. Find out more about Liberty Island’s new writing contest here, running through the end of April. Please check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow here to learn more: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.”
Ted Elrick is a freelance writer for the International Cinematographer’s Guild’s ICG Magazine and co-writer of the 2014 Darko Entertainment feature film North of Hell starring Katherine Heigl, Patrick Wilson and James Belushi.
1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?
Robert Louis Stevenson, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl (children’s and adult fiction), Ernest Hemingway, Jack London and John Steinbeck as well as John D. MacDonald, Jim Thompson and Jack Vance. Favorite movies that impacted me growing up were The Time Machine, Zulu, Guns of Navarone, Lilies of the Field, The Man Who Would Be King, Dirty Harry, Where Eagles Dare and Fahrenheit 451. If I’m channel surfing today, I always seem to stop if I notice Big Trouble in Little China, Dodgeball or Galaxy Quest.
2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?
Many consider me conservative. I reply that perhaps they’re further to the left, so anyone to the right of them is conservative. I think I’m middle of the road, but from the era when there was an actual middle to the road. But roads aren’t what they were.
3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?
I vividly remember watching Firing Line with my father. I also remember having to look up quite a few of William F. Buckley’s words. The Firing Line discussions were always civil. I do not see any forum like that today, unfortunately. Reading Churchill’s history of World War II, beginning with The Gathering Storm, was very influential, as were many of the Civil War books by Bruce Catton. And I am an Eagle Scout, so the Boy Scouts was also influential as was my drill sergeant at Fort Dix. I remember his commentaries quite well.
4. Where are you from/currently reside?
I was born in McKeesport, PA, raised in the wonderful woodlands in and outside of Pittsburgh, as well as West Virginia. Today, I reside in Los Angeles where autumn occurs on February 17, the day the green leaves instantly turn brown and drop.
5. What are your writing goals?
To write as quickly and as well as I can. Hopefully, if it makes me laugh or cry during the writing process, it will have the same effect on others.
6. Where can people find/follow you online?
I really need to set up a web presence. You can Google and find many of my non-fiction articles.
7. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?
I love to get in car, or jump on a bus, and take turns or step off wherever it looks interesting. You meet a lot of people and see a lot of things that way. You’re never lost if you don’t care where you are.
Life is full of the bitterest ironies.
I was working in the Social Club. Most of the guys were out and it was just me and Mr. D. I’m there behind the bar so I can cover the door, keeping my hands out of sight because you don’t know who’s gonna come walking in.
Mr. D is at the back booth, the only booth in the place, with his back to the wall, and he’s looking at me once in a while so I can get any signals on the Q.T.
So we’re just hanging out. It was nice. Mr. D’s back in his booth doing a little reading. He’s a big reader, Mr. D is. He’s always got a couple of magazines or books on him, and not paperbacks either. Hardcovers. He gets these plastic sheets that he puts over the covers to protect ‘em. He says a book is valuable because it’s got somebody’s heart in it.
Don’t get me wrong. Mr. D is tough. But I’ll tell you, he’s got a big heart. Many’s the time he’s been reading one of these books and I hear him weeping, tears coming down his face, and he ain’t ashamed because he says this is from somebody’s heart and the world would be a lot better off if more people read books. And he’s always quoting poetry, too, everything from like Jack Frost to that Angelo Mayan or Mayan Angelo. I don’t remember what his name is.
So it’s a quiet Saturday night, and Mr. D’s reading one of his literate magazines looking for the latest writers and poets, and this guy comes walking in. I could see right off he’s in the wrong place, not because he looks dangerous or anything because then he’d be in the right place, but because he’s like middle class, maybe some kind of investment guy who’s never done any real scraping on the streets. But you never know because even that Jeffrey Dalmer looked normal, and he was a real nut bag. So I keep my hands under the bar and say, “Hey, this is a private club.”
But he keeps walking over and just parks it on one of the stools. “I just need a drink. It’s been a heckuva night.”
“Look, buddy,” I say again, “this is a private club.”
And he looks around, and says, “I know, I know. I just need a drink really bad, and it’s not like you’re busy or anything.”
“You gotta be a member.”
“You lose your liquor license or something if you serve non-members?” This guy either had guts or he was a real dummy.
“Yeah.” And I’m really ready to show him.
“Okay, I’ll join your little club. How much are the dues?”
So I start to come around the bar, but then I see Mr. D who does this little flick with his hand and so I guess it’s all right to give this guy a drink. He must have noticed Mr. D because he nods at him and Mr. D holds up his hand saying it’s no problem.
“What’ll it be?”
Middle class or not, he was old school Pittsburgh.
As I’m pouring a shot, then drawing him a draft, he says, “That the owner?”
“Yeah,” and I set the shot and beer in front of him. And what happens next, I swear, is true. He picks up the shot glass and depth charges it, dropping it in the beer so the beer foams up and spreads the whiskey bottom to top.
Now ninety-nine out of a dozen times that’s gonna cause the beer to come foaming out like one of those science experiment volcanoes, because when that whiskey hits the carbonatin’ it usually means you gotta chug the whole thing, and if you don’t chug it, you look like a wuss. But he knows how much to chug so that some’s left, and the way he does it he don’t look like no wuss, like he could chug the whole thing but didn’t want to. When a guy’s got that kind of control, you gotta admire it. And if he had that kind of control, I got to wondering, and put my hands back under the bar.
He pulls out a twenty and hands it to me, but I don’t take it.
“It’s on the house.”
“No, I appreciate it, and it’s Saturday and with the crowd you’ve got, looks like you could use the cash. This is kind of an out of the way location. If you were down on the Strip or South Side this place would be packed.”
“We were down on the South Side.”
“Got squeezed out when it started getting trendy?”
“Our members like their privacy.”
“Well, keep it anyway. Call it my dues.”
“You’re only getting one.”
“That’s all I want. Like I said, it’s been a heckuva night.”
And he takes another drink, but this time it’s a sip, so I get the feeling he’s one of those guys who wants to talk and I’m wondering if I should put on Sinatra, maybe “One More for the Road,” cause whatever it is he wants to talk about, it’s probably got something to do with a chick.
“I hate to say it, because it’ll date me. But in my day, people had respect. You know what I mean?”
I don’t want to know what he means but I see Mr. D’s listening because he’s put down his copy of Ploughshares.