Budding Writer, 1979: ‘The Heavenly Hash Slinger’

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Strawberry shortcake is in season on the first day of summer, June 21, 2023, at the 1754 House in Woodbury, Connecticut. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

This was a story idea about a humble waitress who was a messenger from God to share a message of universal love.

I got the idea for this title character for a short story — or series of stories, or a novel — on a drive from New Jersey to New Hampshire. The first stop was usually a Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Queen Street in Southington, Connecticut.

The building is still there, but the HoJo’s is no more. The once-ubiquitous chain, with more than 1,000 eateries from coast to coast, eventually collapsed. The last HoJo’s restaurant, in Lake George, New York, closed in 2022. The name lives on as a division of Wyndham hotels.

HoJo’s restaurants became famous for their 28 flavors of ice cream. That was an unimaginable variety when Howard Deering Johnson launched his first restaurant in 1925.

As far as I can tell, Heavenly Hash — a mixture of fudgy chocolate, vanilla marshmallow, and almonds — wasn’t one of them. It’s a Breyers thing. (If the original Ben and Jerry’s had invented it, the recipe might have been quite different.)

That’s a long way around explaining the Heavenly Hash part of the title. You don’t hear much about hash-slingers or hash slingers these days. It’s mid-20th century slang for a waiter or waitress in a cheap eatery. Ironically, for the context of the story, it’s usually a derogatory for a rude or uncouth server.

I should have known that context when I started in on the story back in July, 1979, but I went ahead anyway because the title was just too tantalizingly clever. For whatever reason, I chose to start writing the story on a three-hour bus ride from Hanover to Boston on a spontaneous visit to my friends Tex and Larry.

(Retro) Hanover-Boston
Trip was not too bad; interesting travelling by bus again. Much spent in suspended animation — too dark to read and too bouncy to write, although I did start on “The Heavenly Hashslinger” — and it’s pretty good, especially considering it was written on a bus.

Journal, Volume II
13 July 1979

[Note to self: You will eventually learn that it’s traveling, not travelling, and that hash slinger is two words.]

Some rain, crowded bus. I did write some on “The Heavenly Hashslinger” — it’s developing well, but I’m only writing tiny bits at a time. I should sit down with it sometime and work it out. Also, an idea for another Tau Tale: “Disco Tex.” Perhaps he gets one in a commercial venture or something. The possibilities are endless. …

… Tonight I watched the President’s speech about our running out of moral, social, and physical gas. He’s right.

15 July 1979

“Disco Tex,” like “The Heavenly Hashslinger,” was more pun than plot. I would pick it up later.

… The rest of the day was wasted; I did, however, start in further on “The Heavenly Hashslinger” and start typing it in first draft. Stopped at a logical point where there wasn’t much more to write.

17 July 1979

As far as I can tell, I was right. There really wasn’t much more to write. I don’t think I ever returned to that story. If I find that draft, I’ll let you know.

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