After reading a post that included a fun quote by Stephen King (Spoiler Alert by The Biblio Files), I realized that I have never gotten around to telling my Stephen King story.
Before you think that this is a mindless bit of star fucking, I would like to note that every Mainer has a Stephen King story. He does live there, of course, and when I think of all the people that might have a tale or two to tell on me when Open Salon propels me into literary superstardom—well, let’s just say it is a pretty long list. There’s also a great deal of local pride regarding Steve. It doesn’t matter that he mines Maine culture for his stories, or that he lives in an impossibly creepy house in Bangor. He’s ours, dang it, and if you are from a mostly forested state populated by the sort of people who make Alabama look like a bastion of intellectual refinement, you take what you can get.
When I was in high school, Steve came and gave a little talk, naturally because someone in the English Department had some connection to him. I don’t remember much about what he said, but I do recall his manner as being quiet, thoughtful, and rather genuinely nice. This might be enough to qualify as a Stephen King story, but maybe only if you moved there from away.
(A friend’s mom, whose family had lived in Maine for so long that they look down on descendants of the Mayflower voyage as tourists, had the ultimate Stephen King story: she dated his brother in high school. Unfortunately, she destroyed much of her Maine cred by marrying from away.)
One day, I was sitting with my friend Dice at the bar in Gritty’s, one of several pubs on Fore Street in Portland. Dice is a character unto himself. He’s a greaser, a poet, a local legend, and the nexus of an entire population of disaffected youth. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, especially music from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Seriously, if you want to know what was on the B side of any 45 released within those decades, Dice will have the answer faster than you can Google it. He will probably also own the 45 in question. Don’t even think you can put your hands on that 45, though, because while Dice hates everyone equally, he reserves his greatest antipathy for any one caught touching his records.
Dice is also my best friend, and while we sat in Gritty’s with our beers, we talked about the sort of thing best friends converse about: music, other friends, and impossible feats of derring-do. At some point I got up to use the restroom. When I came back, someone was sitting on my barstool. On closer inspection, I realized this:
Stephen King was sitting on my barstool.
Now, for those of you who think it could have been a case of mistaken identity, allow me to remind that no one else on the planet looks like Steve. I am not sure what happened to his originating gametes, but it is as if they knew their union would produce a horror writer and adjusted accordingly. Having seen him before, I recognized immediately his wide grin, blocky jaw, squinty eyes, and dark brow.
I quietly took a seat on the other side of Steve. He and Dice were in the midst of an animated conversation, and I realized also that Dice had no idea who he was speaking to. This did not surprise me, as Dice has no regard for celebrity. He will read King’s books but not pay attention to the image on the dust jacket. If Steve were a hot babe, that might be another story, one perhaps fit for King’s own telling. But there, at the bar in Gritty’s, Dice was just talking to some guy who struck up a conversation about oldies music because of Dice’s slicked back hair, sideburns, and leather jacket.
It was a meeting of the minds in that regard. Anyone who reads King’s books knows that he also has an affection for old cars, music and culture. And King was delighted to be discussing some of his favorite topics without ever once mentioning his writing.
A minute or two passed, and Dice, formerly engrossed, suddenly realized that I had returned.
“Hey Alix! Hey, that’s my friend Alix. Alix, this is Steve.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said softly as I shook Steve’s hand. I gave him an I-know-but-I’m-not-telling-if-you’re-not-telling look, and he smiled before turning back to Dice.
To be fair, this is more accurately Dice’s Stephen King story, as I was content to listen to a conversation that evoked rusting fenders lost to wooded dumps and the haunting sounds of doo-wop emerging from a decaying porch in the chill darkness.
After a while, Steve finished his final beer and excused himself. “See you around,” said Dice. “See you around,” replied Steve. He looked at me and said just, “Thanks.”
“No problem, Mr. King.”