An acquaintance who’s a stripper in the hardscrabble Merrimack River valley north of Boston recently invited me to her club to meet a man called Devin Wallace in the memoir “Townie” by Andre Dubus III, son of the esteemed short story writer, now deceased, and himself an author of three novels and a collection of short fiction. The younger Dubus has created penetrating portraits of his life and those of his parents and brother and two sisters. All except the father, who romanced pretty female students at Bradford College and deserted the family, had to subsist in a series of grim neighborhoods where Dubus and his younger brother Jeb were frequently beaten up. His eldest sister was raped. His bicycle was stolen by a local tough who pedaled by Dubus and looked right through the skinny kid. He and his brother continued to be pounded. Ultimately, Dubus begged the soldier brother of a girl Jeb had occasionally kissed to please stop hitting Jeb. Since the enraged soldier had hurried home for this honorable task, he kept punching. And Andre Dubus vowed to fight next time and never allow himself not to fight and to always be ready. He lifted weights and did pushups and sit-ups and hit the heavy bag in a local gym and sparred with competitive amateur boxers. Then he began letting “pus out of a wound” by swinging on many who deserved it and quite a few who didn’t.
The most formidable of his opponents, according to Dubus, was Devin Wallace, a tall beefy man now sitting next to me in a dim and ominous place, stinking like hot panties and stale perfume, near where Wallace fought the future author thirty years ago. I turned on my tape recorder.
George Thomas Clark – Dubus writes that he changed everyone’s name except those in his immediate family. What’s your real name?
Devin Wallace – None of your business.
GTC – Okay, no problem. Have you read “Townie?”
DW – Obviously. That’s why you’re here.
GTC – Why’s that?
DW – To let people know what a prick Dubis was.
GTC – I believe he pronounces his last name Duh-BYOOSE.
DW – We don’t go for that French shit around here.
GTC – I can see why Dubus decided to get ready.
DW – Ready for what? To become the biggest sucker puncher in history. Even Dubis admits it, the half that isn’t fiction. He says he ran over and hit a guy sittin’ behind his steering wheel and who wasn’t even lookin’. And he kept hittin’ the guy. Come on.
GTC – The guy’d been nudging the bumper of a limousine where Dubus’ girlfriend was riding.
DW – Girlfriend? Sounds like he went out with her four years and didn’t get anything. Or he’s lyin’ since she’s one of those Muslims.
There was also the time in a bar he threw his beer in the face of a guy who’d just glanced at the ass of his friend’s girlfriend. He did the same kind of thing at a restaurant, I think it was Sambo’s.
GTC – Three guys had pulled a knife on one of his friends.
DW – Only one guy pulled a knife, a sixteen-year old punk who’d just belted his muscle-bound friend.
GTC – Sam.
DW – Yeah.
GTC – Wouldn’t you want to get a guy like that?
DW – Sure. But look what Dubis did. He ran into the place where they found the guys, and smashed a cup into the knife guy’s face and another cup into another guy’s face and then started hittin’ the big guy closest to him who was pinned into the booth and couldn’t defend himself. Even when the big guy was out cold on the floor he kept kickin’ the guy in the head with his work boots. And nobody in a packed place did a damn thing.
GTC – That wasn’t long before you two guys ran into each other.
DW – Don’t you love the way Dubis spends pages settin’ up his excuses? He claims he spent the day paintin’ inside a closed room and his brain was stewed and his balance was so bad he shouldn’t have been drivin’ and he could barely see.
Then, in the bar, he says a pretty lady named Hailey told me to fuck off ‘cuz I was hasslin’ her and had “predatory” eyes. That’s bullshit. She wanted me and Dubis was jealous.
GTC – Dubus says if he hadn’t been so intoxicated by the paint fumes and beer he would’ve nailed you with a right cross instead of telling you to step outside.
DW – Look, I was ready for that. I weighed at least two-fifty and he must’ve only been about one-sixty. When we got outside, I went right after him and stuck my head into his chest and drove him into the frozen sidewalk. He couldn’t lie about that with a hundred witnesses around us, yellin’ for me to kill him. I punched his face until he grabbed my wrists and then I grabbed his hair above each ear and started slammin’ his head into the concrete and he was lucky the police came and pulled me off.
GTC – You’re lucky too. You might’ve killed or seriously injured him.
DW – Maybe. Just like when Dubis was kickin’ that guy on the floor at Sambo’s, people probably would’ve just stood there with their thumbs up their asses.
GTC – What would you do if you saw Dubus today?
DW – I’d tell him time to get it on again.
GTC – Would you hold back if he hired you as a technical advisor for the movie?
DW – Fuck you.