Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation & Light
Furman Pivo believes he [plus beer] may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same and the rest is history or myth or delusion.
Beer Mystic Invitation: Participate in a unique literary adventure that will take you on the longest, rowdiest literary pub crawl ever. Follow the Beer Mystic’s story around the world through a global network of host magazines [next excerpt at end of chapter / cover by David Sandlin].
<< Beer Mystic #24: Bookbeat
#25>> The temperature was the same as on the night riots broke out in Watts in August of 1965, after police had arrested a young black motorist, precipitating an eruption of six days of smoldering rage, leaving 34 dead, 1,032 injured. For years, 103rd St. was called “Charcoal Alley.”
I sometimes hung with Jude along the Tropic of Mirth and Mire. 40°42′ latitude, 74° longitude. Around another 103rd Street. Her 103rd. On a Saturday, in a fit of morning local pride, she’d show me all of the bagelrias, coffee emporiums, the quaint storefront Baptist churches, Greasey’s, the glazed wings and ribs place, personal stereo outfitters, disco-terias with their Italian named sandwiches and their high-priced vinyl. The place was changing, being colonized. Whites liked it here because their comfortable lives could have that diorama patina of adventure. Say “hello” to the shoeshine man as you walk around your Hollywood set.
Manhattan: the place of mind where light bangs around like crazy in among the 23 square miles crammed full of loathing Mad. Ave towers of hazy mirror with their ad agencies, numbers crunchers, body bag designers, and money launderers. These towers cast dense, immense, and ferocious shadows across hollow sidewalks which teeter precariously on rusty splints, extending out into the grimy nowhere. And like Nice says, the shadows tell us we are nothing, not a thing, until we actually go shopping. Put plastic to words. That is the message, baby. Live with it. The honest people sucked into the dishonesty of their labor and the relation of worth to their purchasing power and credit extensions. Meanwhile, disoriented pigeons and gulls crash into the mirrored glass.
The vigilant light trails my transient shadow here, eats away at it like vermin gnawing through drywall. And I can hear my voice being mocked by its own echo and vice versa. And when you think thoughts they feel like the thoughts of someone else. And they probably are. When I say something, what I hear is something different. I hear the baffling defiance of our surroundings to conform to prescribed parameters of bliss. And I am this small. [I show you my pinkie.]
I met Jude in her Soho-goes-uptown Sang Froid where she guaranteed that management had set the Standard Pour at 150% of a regular shot. So, 50% more just because of who she was. Never mind that the prices are 200% of what you pay downtown. I was hesitant upon hearing the end of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” followed by “The Next Time I Fall” by Peter Cetera & Amy Grant. I hesitate, contemplate bolting. The peril of hyper-audio-sensitivity induced by [unpaid] employment as a fill-in DJ at a station that may or may not exist.
Jude’s sometimes severe look kept many bugs and guys out of her face. It’s amazing how a sneer and makeup can do so much of the work of esteem and attitude. Her brows were like crossed scimitars. Her eyes fixed, going nowhere except right through you. Until you get to know her. And then all is candy. Including her eyes. She is beautiful even when she’s frowning like a Sherman Tank.
But I really liked her. The way she’d lean over the bar with her skirt hiked up to reveal the sacral segments of her tailbone, ordering drinks based solely on the sensuous shape of the bottle and the aesthetic quality of the exotic labels, which was her consistent ever-ready remedy for writer’s constipation. I watched her squint to read one: “Jameson, established since 1780, sine metu… From the rich countryside of Ireland come nature’s finest barley and crystal clear water.” She had somewhere along the way abandoned her trademark Monacos and rum ‘n’ Diet Cokes.
“You can read that? I don’t even see the label.”
“My eyes get better the more I drink.”
“Me too. But I gotta have lots.” Then reaching way back bar, one knee up on the bar, she pointed to just short of touching the actual bottles. “I mean, you drink much more you’ll be seein’ that I am as erect as a hollyhock.”
She could, even with the dead weight of me in tow, pry multiple drinks out of any bartender – and indeed it worked here – armed only with her insouciant smile, clingy dresses, the sighs that emerged from her décolletage, and her witty repartee. This surgically precise extraction of drinks was a sight to behold. Was worth a week’s salary alone. Every gesture calculated and allusive, culled from the repertoires of Dietrich, Hayworth, and Dorothy Parker. Her actions seldom [but then more and more] involved a compromise of any someone’s character, at least back when Jude still benefited from that magical psychotropic state of liquor + hormones = enhanced vision. She was also proud that I was satisfied, nearly impressed, with their selection of beers.
“You’re almost a genius.” I said with my left hand clinging to goblet and my right to the stout bottle of Duvel.”
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
“Duvel’s a style of it’s own. They say it was made by the devil because it tastes so deceptively innocent but comes in at 6.2% served at 57 degrees. So, here we are, we live in the same city, have almost the same birthdays, we both like a good drink, I like breasts and you’re certainly in possession of two. Coincidence? I don’t think so.”
“Impure case of the human mind – although that may be stretching it in your case – to find meaning and significance where there is none.”
“What’s that song?”
“‘Greatest Love Of All’ by Whitney Houston. I mean, EVERYbody knows that song.”
“Is it a coincidence that I don’t.”
“You’re such a vinyl snob. Not too snobby to have me on your show though?”
“If we can ever find the station.”
With that I took the goblet and fit it, screwed it onto her breast. A perfect fit.
“You do that again and you’re in big trouble. Or maybe me.”
I, as opposed to Jude, try to find bars that offer respite from the cumulative insanity outside. Taverns with Coltrane and candles. Cafés with Goa jazz, pubs with music that is played on long long wet strings. Bowers of timelessness, quiet temples, Amsterdam’s “brown cafes,” Prague’s rowdy pivnices [Old One Eye], the neon-lineamented zinc bars of Paris [Bar Iguan], NYC’s outpost dives [Sally’s, Downtown Beirut, The Cool Mine] where clocks are all a mess [at Eike & Linde’s in Amsterdam, the clocks run backwards!]; where play time doesn’t pass so much as nourish; where one doesn’t age so much as beam.
It is the mouth-to-mouth, the intimacy, spittle entering the glass as beer enters you, clocks losing their tick, hearts losing their beat, a hum, the hum inside the humerus, that long bone in a human arm which extends from thirst to shoulder, to elbow, is linked to the ulna, radius, carpus, metacarpus, phalanx, and around the circumference of the beer glass. This is where the ruddy-cheeked smile embodies essential theories of ecstasy’s architecture. Where eyes sit in the smile’s crescent like warm eggs, oblivious to the idio-tautological, er, ideological tricks of the time-managers.
She comes back beaming. She’s the only woman not imitating the video and not walking like a Bangle Egyptian in the whole place as “Walk Like An Egyptian” booms out over an impressive sound system. Another round of freebies: her classic Jameson’s and Diet Coke [she had a goodly number of trademark drinks] and a Palm, which is properly poured into a glass also seemingly cast from the perfect breast. There it is.
“It’s Belgian too.” She’s almost gloating.
“I’m impressed.” I swallowed, leaving behind the classic “Belgian lace” remnants of foam.
We need convivial bars where barkeeps intuit your desires, know you don’t give a shit about the weekend’s football results, where you can stare at a wall and they can sense you are watching the filmstrip that is already threaded inside yourself and they don’t ask “what’s up buddy?” And never use the word “dude.” Where you manufacture your own fanfare, lean back into your own character, where you cannot depend on a logo-thematic backdrop [Harley Davidson Café, the DKNY Inseam,], festive psycho-diorama [TGIF at 12th and 2nd], or some simulacrum saloon [Hard Rock Café or Slim Jerkey’s] where MTV-enhanced waitpersons memorize jokes to “entertain” tips out of you and your wallet. Or offer you pithy correctives like “smile and the whole world smiles back.”
Jude’s Sang Froid Bar, although they got most of the beer details right – good selection [no Coors Lite!], proper glasses, correct serving temps. – was not one of these chosen cloisters. No, it looked like it had been designed by a tortured Finn with a hangover. It had all the atmosphere of an outpatient clinic dressed up as a pinball arcade and was filled with hunched-over chunky MBAs singing along to “Take Me Home Tonight” contemplating the killings they were about to make on a market ergonomically designed to accommodate their kind.
Another table of suits was engaging in ritualistic chugging behavior. Chanting like they hadn’t since the fraternity days. The beers of chugging choice were Iron City, Schmidt’s and Red, White & Blue. Especially put on the post-mod ironic menu for just such ceremonies. They were “blue collarin’” or “guzzin’” it as New York magazine has described it. Because when being upscale suddenly bottomed out and became passé, the going out crowd turned suddenly to white trashing it, which involved lots of rodeo talk, hick music, demolition derbies, BLTs, swearing, bad beer, and many references to Dukes of Hazzard and Smokey and the Bandit. We all just folks ain’t we?
The guzzler is adept at putting his head back so that his throat forms a vertical drain pipe effect. The beer is then poured directly down the open aperture. They say drinking in this way has a different effect on your head. Obscurity here they come.
This is, in fact, where she taught me how to “kill” a beer. That very night. The place was all about this kind of indiscrete showing off – GOD, I’m having a great time here! That kind of thing. Anyway: you open can. A CAN! Didn’t she and they know that beer is affected by its interaction with the metal? Didn’t they know that brewers send inferior batches of beer to the canning line figuring can drinkers are less discerning. God, read Michael Jackson already!
“Tip your head back!” We are both sitting, looking at the ceiling. Can on lips until back of head touches backbone. Now punch hole in bottom of can with a church key [supplied by Sang Froid management]. Beer floods down the gullet, her lovely neck fully exposed to over-watted tracklights. Some hockey fucks find this enough inspiration to hoot her up – Guzz! Guzz! Guzz! with clenched fists.
“Ten seconds or less. Killed. Cheap shotgun drunk. Courtesy of cruel gravity and some 60s noir film I saw with a rowdy boy I once dated outa Detroit.” Not that she deigned to ever drink beer for beer’s sake. This was performance. “He was in the revived MC5 for a while.”
“You’re so white trash.” She liked white trash-isms without having to be associated with them demographically. The thrill without all the annoyance.
“You bet. It’s one of the only good things about gravity. Gravity is cruel, causes jowls, causes your breasts to sag.”
“Not mine. Maybe yours.”
Oh, and did I tell you, Jude had splendid legs – slender and dramatic, aromatic, aerodynamic like a letter opener in Place Pigalle, like a missing part off a BMW. Much of her wardrobe seemed to enhance the linear drama of her limbs or her breasts in excelsis [I’m reminded of Gauguin paintings where breadfruit and breasts get confused for one another] served up so that elegies could more easily be written about them. I have sketched them and used a thesaurus to get at their… numinosity.
But when I began rhapsodizing onward and drooly about the firm and delirious cudgel lumps of her gastrocnemius muscles in her calves, she reacted in a most peculiar way; commenced to whistle, pound her fists, leap into the thick air, let the imaginary egg timer ring. Act II. Maybe she was still a bit jumpy from the hockey puck crew. Suddenly it dawns on me that she’s mocking my less-than-original observation with game-show hysteria. I’d been the l0,000th man to tell her just that – “I love your legs.”
“Which is a little like saying you like the toothpicks sticking in the hors d’oeuvres, which you have no opinion about.” And of those 10,000 only 100 had gotten any further [or so she claimed]. Figure it out; I had a 1% chance with her. But really, I had a much better chance because I had yet to factor in her own [disguised] despair. Which was easily recognized by how often she spoke about being a guest on my radio show. She had actually listened to my show where I read a piece about Nice, which she had mistaken for one about her.
“You like my haircut, you like my legs, you like all of me. It’s as simple as that,” she said. But it wasn’t. The simpler people say things are the more difficult you can expect them to be.
“How do you do it? I mean how does muscle make us dream? I mean your calves, just by lookin’ at them makes me hard…”
“I do a lot of reaching for top-shelf liquor.” I couldn’t take my eyes off her legs.
“Furman, you’re as subtle as a chainsaw staring down a birthday cake.”
“Is that a complaint or…”
My sympathy as part of all men’s sympathy for her [“the food stamps of emotion,” I think Djuna called it] crippled Jude with delusion. Be careful, even basic human gestures, a smile, or unscrewing the cap off her rum bottle could be enough semiotic signal to send her into reveries of swooning. What I mean is this: lust for her eventually becomes fascination, becomes sympathy. And somewhere in this process she would set out to convert her lust back to the illusion of your lust for her. What I mean is this: She would disguise her lusts, desperations, desires to be in swooning love and make it look like you are the admirer, the aggressor, the initiator. She hoped that mere swooning itself would hurtle her, hurtling you or me along with her ever further afield outside our desperate selves. See, it’s not simple.
With a night’s drinking you could witness the entire melting arc of dissipation: First came the mutual gestures of lust, then her obtrusive hoping it means more before it has even had time to mean anything, then her wishing, then her begging that may go even more desperately askew if you do [or don’t!] buy her another drink. If you do you are taking advantage. You don’t, you’re being paternal. The night of drinking collapses into her slinky gelatinous wankly high heel [one lost under a table] swoon. Her one wish is to be forever caught in Robert Doisneau’s “Kiss” captured at Hotel de Ville in Paris, 1954. That would be heaven because the swoon is the state of love prior to the emergence of relational minutiae and obligation.
And if neglected for an instant by a distraction of any sort – an “Ingres in skin” ambling by, yes, “walking like an Egyptian,” for instance – she’d blurt out, “Don’t pay ME any mind.”
“I wouldn’ PAY for it.”
“Do you really think she’s pretty? I can show you pretty.” And there in the next bar, Anatomy 101, we’d have it out. A full glimmering smooth leg of beauty slapped onto the bar for all of me and anyone else to inspect. “I got skin those girls have only ever seen in movies.”
“Where’s the Achilles heel again?” I asked. The entire bar a sea of dilated pupils fixed on us. I managed to shovel her out into the street and following a line of car doors along my hip, her makeup askew like a face in a funhouse mirror, we’d somehow stumble into her lobby. Where the teetotalling Dominican doorman in his stiff Romanian police officer-like uniform would seethe with the kind of helpless hatred only a father and a doorman can feel.
In her place, I sat on my hands on the arm of her sofa bed. Jude had no real lamps in her place except for the one over her word processor. Just some candles and about twenty two-watt night lights that made her place look like a forest full of giant fireflies or a small town planetarium. And as my prize for being the 10,000th flatterer she had decided to read me one of her very own short stories. It had won an award, she assured me, of some prestige. And the main characters may or may not have been thinly veiled versions of Lydia Lunch, Richard Hell, and Wendy Wild.
In the early 1980s, she had been tabbed as the Edna St. Vincent Millay of her milieu – fascinating, sharp, ebullient, red hair, flairful fashions, piquant, and a book with the ballast of much acclaim. This by her own reckoning but corroborated by others whom I trusted as well. That I had heard of it was a start. But that I had not read any of it was seen as a serious infraction and as a challenge.
But her eventual plunge from bon vivant to bonbon, from devil-may-care to devil-may-snare was a dramatic if avoidable denouement. Praise was high and sales were low and writing was suddenly not the way out of this hole she had dug.
“when your book comes out, the first thing others say is not ‘congratulations’ but ‘honey, don’t quit your day job just yet.’” And somewhere in this careening arc of almost-imperceptible denouement the rightful compliments and lusts that used to leap into her very midst suddenly had to be fished for, cajoled, and pried from the mouths of men.
In her heyday, her kiss was a devastating testament to ruthless abandonment and unrequited priapic throbs. But now her kiss might seem more akin to supplication, with the sucking action of a Dust Buster. Like it was a cool rendition, a nostalgic cover version of that famous kiss. Of a simple embrace, a kiss goodnight, she created Peyton Places in the cold chambers of her heart. And the men she could not have whom she desired so much? – well, she began instead to be fascinated by the possibility that she may be getting ulcers, which emerged as gastro-intestinal proofs of the profundity of her sufferings. Her very own stigmata. Because, after all, she was no ordinary romantic. She was epic, post-Victorian, tragic, tender passion, rapture, post-Jewish. She chose guys already in relationships so that her fate was comfortably sealed and so that her sadness would manifest itself in fiction that then subsequently corresponded to her basic philosophy of hope deferred.
“There’s no catches left to catch. It’s unfair, all the best guys are gay or already in relationships. It’s just not fair.”
I needed ale but she is a rum and/or scotch tippler and that spells trouble. In her fridge… one LITE beer [the brand of which I will not even dignify by ridiculing!] Which guy was that designed to keep overnight? And this, even its mitigating alcohol potential, did not derail me from my long spiral out of glorious priapism and into utter flaccidness. I am suddenly no longer taken by her, or rather, the part she has written for me to play – my erection as her spiritual prosthesis. [Ed note: the reliability of these accounts of his irresistibility to women is suspect because Furman Pivo’s level of veracity is adversely proportional to his level of inebriation.]
Our dynamic in close quarters forced from me inane niceties, compliments on choice of earrings, socks, rummy adjectives to insulate her fragile composition, that tenuous matrix of beliefs, hopes, and misconceptions. The kinds of accolades that would undo blouse buttons.
She could stare at one word on her processor screen all day, agonizing over whether that word was the perfect one. And the next day whether that perfect word was preceded by the perfect adjective. In 10 years she’d have another short story. A perfect story that would mean nothing in a stylish and admirably obsolete way. The words all attached to the proper emotions. And there the short story would lie like a cow heart on a piece of wax paper in a butcher shop.
Her parents had purchased a computer for her, but because the screen was so bright and upset the dusky aspect of her room she had unplugged it. She did not want to conquer its manuals and its disdainful illumination for fear it would conquer her. It had been a week since she’d unplugged it. She had heard about viruses that rewrite your writing so that the writer loses control of what s/he has written. She had almost decided to dump it.
“I dunno, its blank stare is a kind of contempt, I dunno, with all its substantial memory and all.” What’d I think? Well, I guess that all depended on how far I needed to flatter her [and convince myself how lucky I was to be here with her] to be able to negotiate my mindless fingers up the smooth flanks of leg.
“Thanks for the mammaries.” Is all I could come up with.
“You are like a toilet paper riot in a boy scout camp, aren’tchu?”
She confined herself, for the most part, to this garret that had been decorated to harass/torment her. Overwrought wallpaper, gruesome gnarly fixtures, dark olive-green office furniture that had been rescued from an old accounting firm filled with Burroughs adding machines. Overrun by a kind of neglect that baffled pride of place. Or accommodation to the scrivener’s muse. The weight of sorrow in this place plowed right into her face. Living here would mean having to constantly apologize to appliances or things for moving them around.
And she sat there, puffed out in her old heavy swivel chair, pretty as a worried bird on a broken twig, reams of tortuously rewritten words on her lap [red arrows and blue lines at crazy crisscrosses all over the pages], stories that “came from somewhere but went nowhere.”
She sat there like an empty vase on a shiny table as she described four boyfriends, all of whom flattered her [more articulately than I ever could] by sharing their fame with her. Some had been legends, others just fashionable addicts. I sipped the LITE without dirtying my lips on the can itself. This is done guzzler style by pouring it some inches away from lips right into the throat. This required a steady hand.
Something about a member of the Psychedelic Furs, the Tuff Darts, and an artist friend of Jean Michel Basquiat, the cartoon editor at the New Yorker…
“I know it’s weird but I read in bed with a miner’s cap on. Comme ça. My Welsh boy got me that. Don’t ask. But lately I’ve been reading myself into a really really bad corner.”
“I been there. Like where’s it all going? Like you’ll just end up in this big elephant graveyard for words.”
Her writing guarded its convenient delusion with intoxication of syntax. And addiction can sometimes sustain you with its own convincing raison d’être. Syntactical intoxication, the way words were strung together, sent her into inexplicable fits of reverie and this was the aim of the writing – to insulate itself from criticism, to the way writing ruled our every instant of reality. Let me put it this way: If you sit in a cafe all stylishly appointed, doing nothing, most of the onlookers will project and extrapolate incredible lives onto you.
So that, after a long kissing and body-rummaging session, I offered to demonstrate [a proper how-to – had no man ever done this for her?] the correct piston action of how the fist caresses and skins the prick of all its shine and spit. I could almost hear her manufacturing the appropriate phrases to properly convey her disgust at being forced to partake of the mechanics of auto-gratification and dovetailing this scene into some other locale. Can I say, at this point, in all fairness, that to her sex meant the alleviation of all responsibility, concern, and attention to the other? Sexual abandon truly meant that no one and nothing else mattered.
“I’m a romantic not a mechanic,” is how I remember her putting it after I had made a deal out of her being less than attentive to the finer tunings of amour. Like I was just a tree she needed to rub up against for long enough. Or something.
And with this self-consciousness came its own moral tapeworm: the fact that we would accentuate our selves to elaborate into high drama every gesture to assure that each of us would figure heavily in one another’s roman à clefs. [I wasn’t really writing one so much as just tinkering with the idea.] And so writing was allowed to devour the very love we claimed to covet. The writing would precede us, set up the lighting, create the backdrop, seal the destiny of the scenario. And then we’d arrive. In fact, everything was subservient and nothing until put into words. The action resembling a carnivorous plant that devours the very bee that will ensure the species’ survival.
My total of less than two dozen visits to her garret could be likened to the way a priest solemnly enters the cell of a death-row inmate. She held up a manuscript one night she claimed she had been working on for months, ripped up this story that had never worked, and tossed the snippets up into the dead air. Flick-flick-flick-flick.
I wanted to say that her brain probably just craved oxygen, sustenance – open a window! – and that her eyes probably craved pure unmuddied light – wash your windows! – but I did not. And we sat there sadly in the sagging hollow of her couch as the confetti rained down on us. And then she confessed that maybe some of the junior high school kids she taught were “sources of insight and material, actual lines and everything. They’ll never know, but…”
I got down on my hands and knees and started to rewrite the story in a new way. She laughed and then as quickly stopped. That I wasn’t mocking her wasn’t clear enough for her to NOT throw me out. She scrambled about, in her lacy black bra, sucked-in gut and underwear that looked like they came out of an Anais Nin book, scooping up the snippets with a kind of epic form of regret she learned in the scene.
“You peeve me off so fuggin’ much, Furman Pivo. Just get outa my fuggin’ sight! I do not need a creative-writing teacher. I need to be swept off my feet. So just GET OUT!”
“No, whatchu really need is a brain enema.” I said no more. We just weren’t meant for one another – but that attraction-aversion is precisely what brought us together despite our own best interests. Evidence: I’d pass out just to get away from her agonizing methods of begging for “it”, for forever do us part. And the “never” in “I never want to see me again”, actually just meant a cool down period of a couple of weeks until the level of abhorrence was back to somewhere between inconsequential and insignificant.
In her elevator I looked in the mirror, buckled my belt, repeated the line I never got to use: “Jude, you can bait the hook but you cannot catch the fish.”
25a OK, so I’d been banished from Jude’s garret, cut adrift, cut astray in the chaos to explore but never figure out. I probably wouldn’t be back any time soon. If ever. Like a wanderer in search of a wandering tribe I negotiated my way down Broadway from her 103rd. It was 2 a.m. in the concrete sleep. I fumbled for my milk thistle tab. It should be where I put it but it was not. I tried to remind myself to remember to buy water. Water to reduce the internal toxicity and dilute the alcohol.
I stopped at a soda fountain stand. The girl is flanked by eight soda fountains.
“Can I get a glass of water, no ice.”
“We got no water.”
“I’ll pay for it. Like Poland Springs or Perrier.”
“We got no water. We got Coke, Diet Coke, New Coke, Diet New Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Cherry Coke, Coke Classic, Diet Coke Classic.”
“Uuuuuuh, regular Coke. Just a Coke.”
“New Coke or Coke Classic?”
“Which one’s just a plain old Coke?”
“I cannot decide for you sir.”
“Gimme a Classic Coke.”
“You mean Coke Classic?”
“You wan’ a cup wi’ dat?”
“Uh, yea OK, otherwise I gotta cup my hands and you pour it in there.”
“Like a cup that holds water, right?”
“Uh, yea… Unless there’s another kind. I mean, one that holds Coke, right?”
“Extra ice or regular ice?”
“No, you can’t get it wid no ice.”
“OK, regular ice then.”
Streets were still letting off steam and clutter was unraveling deliriously before me. Like a quivering arachnid in the corner of an insomniac’s eye the metropolis keeps moving, stays lit, quivering, vigilant, selling, never coughing up enough time for us to relax for a second and sag into deep breathing dream. OK, the subway. But then you have to chain your Walkman to your body. Convenience and service offered by squat Guatemalans on every blazing corner allows us small respites from the merest of survivals. Huh? Do we need a neck massage at two in the morning? A fruit smoothie is something Nice has reminded me to drink on my way down to prevent blood sugar crashes. Nice note in my wallet: “Don’t forget after drinking, drink water and fruit smoothie. Water is key to life. Eat something slice pizza to ensure body can fight effects of alcohol.”
The necropolitans, lightheaded from the toxic bouquets of fresh candy-colored car enamels, cross the street and disappear into the billowing plumes of steam. And I will follow them with their polyethylene shrouds. [The thought that my liquors and their hooded sweatshirts derive from the same ethyl molecules sets in awe our ersatz alliance.]
And when I walk I see her legs. I make words sing of her legs and words act like the dreams of legs. They are Parisian dreams. Pale Greek statuary in the Tuilleries. Legs in the Paris sun propped up on a slatted chair get up and walk toward me. What is the name of that drug of insinuation? Steel drums on the street meanwhile, bang out of jangled nerves a sweet Caribbean tune. I will get it right in words some day. Fruit smoothie. Had I just remembered Nice saying that or was it me saying it now?
I walk, and when I walk I think, and when I think I become a genius, and when I walk in the lucent light, a Bedouin celestial navigation-type of starlight, I feel like an alchemist approaching the knowledge of perfection. At this hour it’s not your average horrendous watt-overkill, households lit like sagging jack-o-lanterns, overlit to barricade the cellmates inside against all fear, all curiosity fostered by the dark.
[Jude Falley: “Furman stays skinny – damn him! – because he used to leg out hundreds of pick-ups and deliveries as a midtown foot messenger to earn extra subway tokens reimbursed for long hauls – 10 extra dollars to his pockets and 10 extra miles to his sneaks every day. I doubt if he knows I know this. In any case, it’s insane. Plus he only seems to own sneaks, hi-tops. They stink from sweat and cheap sour socks. Like a cheese you’d never wanna eat. So where’s the attraction you are asking? Well, let me tell you I do not know exactly? I seem to remember Johnny Rosen saying he was collaborating with Furman on some book and that made me think there must have been something to the guy I was missing. I wanted Johnny but since that wasn’t going to happen, I guess I went for Furman. Come to think of it, he does own a pair of beat-up black boots that make him feel big whenever he wears’m. He’s like a different guy. Like he’s in the Meat Puppets or something. To him they spell menace. To me they’re too beatnik. Except in snow and rain, I suppose, when they spell wet feet. But mostly it’s his hi-tops, which he even wore to bed – I know – claiming that he never knew when he’d have to hi-tail it out after making love, if that’s what you want to call it, if his words are to be believed. But you can appreciate his words without believing them. The lies were never meant to hurt me or anyone. I guess it’s his face and how it projects innocence and no malice. I don’t know, his face reminds me of a bowl I ate out of as a little Michigan girl. I could imagine that he was an editor, a radio DJ, a piss artist, a beer head, and a good lover but I never saw true evidence of it. OK, I was on his radio show eventually!!! But he was just filling in for the Bean. Oh, he was a great kisser and, well, I just don’t see him anymore. I guess it was this self-declared heretic thing. The lights thing just left him, well, less than ready and able to… satisfy all in me that needs satisfying. A piss artist, then. He had such a nice curlicue cowlick, such a nice set of arms, such a nice… shut me up before I say something I’m going to regret or begin believing again.”]
I have discovered the knowledge of perfection like an alchemist might with a 6-pak coursing through my alimentary canal – colon and rectum – ancient phantom stops along the Rockaway-bound A train. Brew is the sextant, the elixir, an alchemy that transforms sharp objects, projectiles of control, architectures of neglect, and belligerent light strategies into a soft contoured womb, spinning everything of mind and blur, of environ and reverie, into its non-spatial and non-temporal delirious core. This state [migration inside stasis, daydreams of the stone face] is attained, some say, as we move from light beer to dark, as the blood becomes aqua vitae and the conscious will becomes flooded with personal lumen naturae or psycho-magnetic bio-luminescence.
And with that I uncap a Lambic, something special [from Belgium, where Lembeek or Lime Creek refers to the limey character of the soil] – from the clandestine confines of a paper sack! A paper sack because they, they who own the city and supply the uniforms for the police, they want to contain vision so they can tinker it into the shapes that will flatter themselves.
Don’t ever guzzle a Lambic. It is simultaneously forthright and enigmatic, charming and dangerous. Sip and swish and let this most unusual beer linger on your taste buds. This is what I do – I walk, I sip, I swish, I swallow, I smile.
The Lambic aligns itself with anarchist thought because it invites wild microflora to spontaneously ferment. And its surprising taste is capable of convincing me to totally rethink financial priorities – I spend rent money on it after all! Fall behind in the rent. Owe two – or is it 3? – months.
The longer I walk, the more adept I become at synthesizing knowing and being. And dodging the waddling troops of the corpulent and bludgeoned with cheap furniture in their eyes. Walking is free but not without its hazards, so I carry a drawn knife in jacket pocket, ready to protect my freedom, ready to carve deep, expressive scratches into auto-transport missiles from nose to tail. The knife-handle fits neatly in my palm.
Insanity is just a norm with a little more inexplicable action careening off and around it, which had long ago begun to suck me in. Like a crash at the Indianapolis 500. Or swirling tornadoes bloated with dusty circulars, bottle caps, and shards of glass rising up and suddenly collapsing. I find my vestments twisted as if I’m about to be screwed into the earth.
At 97th St. workers in blue yell at crates full of cans in a basement. And The Dynamic Emptiness is playing in Cinepolyplex #1, 2, 3. Deep Six is in #4, and Three Girls Unchained is in #5. Let out of carpeted family homes by 7. Raising standard kinds of hell by 8. It’s all attitude and that’s enough makeup for the psyche. They hang with their grey vanishing tribe, spurning the indifferent world, in a nod they swig and swivel, hula hoop in heels on car hoods at 10. Jiggling around in thick fits of air by 12. Big bracelets. Moist napes at 1 a.m. Full of the glum swagger that becomes them. Anxieties about merging traffic at two a.m. Scrawls of “FUCK THIS” and “FUCK THAT” on every pillar, cliff, and dead end.
The Caligula Theatre meanwhile has a triple feature: A Taste of Beefcake, The Destroying Angel, Six Studs With Sweet Cakes.
Urchins [are they 11 or 13?] meanwhile bark around in a language foreign even to their own ears. So adrenaline-sloshed that even their hair is barking as they lean against dumpsters shoveling slices of pizza down their gullets, using the dumpster as makeshift dinner table; pizza grease slithering down their wrists. There is this overwhelming compelling need to be outside.
At 88th and whatever I come across a scene common to our day: the contents of someone’s life tossed onto the street because the landlord has threatened, killed, or bribed this person so that he can renovate it to make a killing on the place. Landlords have been known to move in junkies, gangs, turn respectable buildings into crack houses or frat houses. And then you see the result, the remains of someone who has died and not left a will or next of kin [or maybe that was all conveniently lost] on the street. And there and almost everywhere everyday you come across a kind of museum in collapsing cardboard boxes where one may find photo albums and love letters, and small collections of buttons or ribbons or rubber bands or L. Ron Hubbard books or religious pamphlets or strange electrical devices or books about steam or baseball cards from the 1959 season or coasters from Aruba or a book on how to teach your dog tricks or weight loss books or Ukrainian songbooks or colorful postage stamps from countries that no longer exist or 101 ways to fry a hot dog or dog whistles or bones in a velvet-lined box or 1965 ticket stubs to the NY World’s Fair or various hair pieces or false teeth or Mexican comic book porn or postcards from Ohio and Switzerland or cigar boxes full of savings coupons for cereals and detergents I have never heard of or journals full of imaginary new mathematics or mysterious bladders and enema equipment or dusty silk roses or Esperanto or the 1961 Mets or a felt hat from a Swiss yodel choir in Australia or yearbooks from Bituminoustown, Pennsylvania 1951, 1952, 1953 or worn 45s of Frank Yankovic or videos of exotic fungi or three pairs of size 7 loafers with lifts or entire technological contraptions whose functions are no longer known by anyone alive today or 1962 bank statements from the Yorkville Community Bank and people rummaging through these boxes of memorabilia and junk in search of salvage, in search of stories, in search of identity in search of profit. There have been stories of people who actually took into their lives an entire discarded life to assume the identity of that otherwise forgotten being. This is how we go around with death, with history, with memory – if you can’t sell it or use it, then chuck it and fuck it. There have been other stories of people going to the rummage markets and discovering photos and details of their own grandparents’ lives.
In a shoe store window I spot a blue loafer with a strap of dark elastic spanning the bridge of the foot. A sign next to the shoe proclaims, “IT’S EXCITING!” Another gruesome hybrid of topsider and wingtip declares, “I’M COOL!” Will the real shoe please stand up and kick some ass!
A girl with the pallor of a cheap murky pale ale in a pizzeria tells me she forked over $90 to see Madonna “tromp around in underwear I got in my drawers at home. $10 I show yuh.” I too shall die tepid like a bird in a cage of noise and sad amber streetlight. I eat the slice, watch the grease slide down my wrist. I will be OK.
I thread further through disillusionment. Sleepy staircases. Bloody noses. Spilled brandy. Sneers of glimmering beer glass under foot. Dreams tucked into slender tourist flyers. Broken china. Pedestrians with open shirts. Glazed onlookers. Grackle-suited men, loosened ties. Begging noises. Women with shiners of love behind shades. Or fat bouquets. Fur-bound objects festooned with fool’s gold in yawning cleavage. Just going, just going. Streets littered with news and glazed fishheads – a stunning dismay of wealth.
The blind black man has a satchel that says I LOVE NY and a splinter of crutch that he bangs against things – Tkuh-Tkuh-Tkuh. His swollen foot is wrapped in black garbage bag. He drags that foot. And the scraping of foot and the tapping of crutch creates a compelling kind of percussion – Tkuh-Tsssh-Tkuh-Tsssh. Had he played the Sturgeon Club in his prime? Who were you as a child? What is your last nice memory? He moves on, feeling the edges of windows, door jambs, corners of buildings. His world is one of contours, trust, and topography. I want to ask him more like whether he knows when it is night. But don’t.
The delivery truck is playing “No Pity In The Naked City” by Jackie Wilson. Bundles of newspapers fly out the open door. Radio is always better at night. When nobody is listening. I have done 18 fill-in shows now at XYZNO Radio FM. Still no one has ever heard of the station [despite praise from the Voice] or been able to even tune it in – 97.2, you try.
A man wearing 20 pounds of jewelry is selling postcards salvaged from a dumpster. They are all the same and show a man burning a coil of nautical rope – $.50 each, three for $1. It’s 2:39 a.m. and I’m at 86th St. trudging across this tundra of sagging pavement. Everywhere the desperate are laughing at the incongruity of the dreams they’d read about in civics books and the everydayness of that betrayal. At 80th and Broadway the dog shit truffle steamed on a pile of discarded fake snow. The hooker danced around the steaming truffle singing “Happy Super Bowl, Everybody!” The summer streets glimmering from the water illegally released from a fire hydrant by a man with a secret wrench. The kids have just gone home.
At 72nd I pass the Dakota, where Lennon caught lead. The spot marked by memory the way a shiver of moth wing clings and melts to a hot bare bulb. I think of Rita as I tromp over Strawberry Fields where I used to feed the insomnia squirrels that are so big they sometimes mug children of their bags of candy. These bribes as a foot messenger used to buy me weeks of safe passage. I cross the park and the absorbed imagination of horror movies and headlines has me jogging. Once I’m out of the park I walk over to Bloomingdale’s to stare and mill around for a few minutes at the site of the Elias and Schmitt brewery that stood there in the 1860s. What the hell, I have the entire insomnia night to kill. I leave my empty Lambic bottle there as a memorial at the corner of 60th and Lexington. A man dressed in plastic super market bags, shakes the bottle and manages to squeeze a drop out.
A mnemonic pilgrimage to St. Patrick’s Cathedral [site of the Schaefer Brewery in 1849] drags in a flood of beery-eyed memories. I used to be so lazy back then, and in no hurry. Motivation as a foot messenger working just above minimum wage had few incentives. Being named “Messenger of the Month” three times did not lead to career opportunities. I remember a quote by Lee Morgan: “A culture of disappointment precariously balanced atop a luxury market of hope.” I wonder how Lee is. I think to call him, I fumble for the paper that I cannot find. And here on the side of St. Pat’s I used to lie in the spring sun against the stone wall. Watch the Sak’s shoppers, listen to the devout brag about how many wafers and candles they got as souvenirs. I was content to flip through the portfolio of a blond Ford model listening to the Fall, Television, and the Legendary Pink Dots on Djuna’s discarded Walkman with a short in the jack. I jiggle it enough and it’s OK. I imagine me and model Amandine Dupin together, picked from the throng outside Studio 54. I remember taking one of the extra head shots from the back of her portfolio. I imagined what it would have been like to introduce her at parties. I slipped the glossy inside my shirt. Pout against chest. Walked around with her the rest of the day. Meanwhile, the portfolio, full of her face, was already long overdue at a scent-imaging corporation. Later, I would take this glossy to show off my French girl friend at parties. When that no longer worked I spent my wad in her visage, crumpled photographic paper crucible, and watched the ejaculant dissolve her face. And then I had no choice – I crumpled Amandine up into a ball and tossed her.
And now this wonderful private bower is covered in coils of razor wire and spiked wrought iron to prevent respites from being discovered here and slackers from slacking, people just resting and pissers pissing.
At 47th St. I’m dogged by epileptic chiaroscuros like rodents darting out of the corners of my eyes. I tip back the substantial Lambic #2 bottle and see the wraith of myself swallow the final sips. After a 6-er I am no longer able to believe in gravity. But give me four more and I’ll be contending with gravity in all its horizontal pervasiveness. You can dig your own grave with enough of these bottles.
A hobbling man in rags at 44th is mocking my limp – I swear – with a big smirk on his face. My limp’s barely perceptible anymore but I’m still sensitive about it. I’m not going to go into it here but I will say I was tossed onto the elevated tracks of the J-M-Z train when I refused to give a gang of hooded perps my bag of records after a late-night radio fill-in show.
Right away I’m wondering is he the guy that gave me this limp. Couldn’t be but what do I know, I’m delirious. So I accosted him, shook him hard just in case. Shook loose a frying pan from under all his layers. It dropped to the sidewalk with a clang. But then I noticed his smirk was really a veiled grimace and that his sleeves were lined with old New Yorker pages to insulate him from the cold [but it’s summer]. And as he turns I notice his limp is real, very all too real, more real than mine ever was. “Fuckin’ loony!” he hisses. I imagine a big-toothed factory gear had gone right through his leg on some assembly line. I offered him a dollar’s compensation.
“I don’t fuckin’ accept money from loonies,” he proclaims with a pride usually spent elsewhere. And the dollar floated to the sidewalk. And the weak-eyed street abeerigines now call for my death. They are his allies and they follow me. Throw beer bottles at my head. Nobody sits still in NYC unless they’ve passed out. Last and only respite from speed and movement is the blackout.
I flee into Times Square, where hope rubs up against hopelessness, one looking more and more like the other. The despised dress more and more like those doing the despising. Whores look like receptionists, and businessmen like pimps. In the Electro-Lux shop window, a new TV is broadcasting a repeat of a “Montel Williams Show” where he interviews people who treat their pets as children: a lady with a large dog in diapers, a lady who has potty-trained her cat, an iguana wearing a bib. A woman says “Why can’t I treat my George like a child? It’s a free country! My George is a child born with a fur coat who eats cake off a plate with all the manners I have taught him!”
I visit the site, from which a tangle of cement arteries now rises out and beyond the deceased calm at 529 W. 41st. St., where once stood the cathedral to ale, the V. Louwer’s Gambrinus Brewery where up until 1948 anyone could come in between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. and receive two heady brews free!! I leave empty Lambic #3 in front of Port Authority.
A stretch limo was nudging insistently through tight clots of scurrying peds. At 3-something a.m.! I see his squinty eye, amazingly enough, framed by the limo’s hood ornament which performs a function not unlike that of an aim sight. So, to get the chauffeur’s craw, I bent down to tie a shoe, to become for a microsecond a counter-friction against those made comfortable at the benefit of our discomfort. He laid on the horn. So I planted a hopsly gob on his windshield. His window went down with a hum. Requested I stick my head in. HUH! What, so he can kiss me to death with a crowbar!?
When I suggested several intimate orifices where he could stuff it he emerged from the car the way I’d seen the barrel-chested genie emerge from the bottle. He removed his jacket, hung it in the open car window and gave chase, leaving the limo idling among an audience of thousands of noctambulists, those who are afraid that if they sleep they will miss something.
I could have easily outrun and ditched him. But I decided to toy with him, play picador, use finesse. He was corpulent and chugged along like a snowball on fire, wielding an ax [a baseball bat with a railroad spike punched through it]. In front of a Times Square restaurant I dodged his first lunge, leaving aghast diners in mid-bite. I have for one second made life worth talking about again. He lunged again. I dodged him easily and he barreled full weight into a tangle of prickly shrubbery planted in barrels.
He came at me again, and this time I waited an extra half-count, stepped aside, agile, unscathed. Floating like a butterfly, stinging like Ali, because I too was helping sport – in my case, urban jousting – transcend mere pugilism. My foe again goes careening across the sidewalk with all the grace of a wounded pelican. I’m beginning to believe he suffers from Mad Cow Disease, anyway, I’m ready for another round. Months of pent-up vengeance had my adrenaline gurgling, extremities tingling. Some bystanders sided with my foe because they too were motorists who’d had it with pedestrians. Some yelled, “Get Him!” But he’s dazed, a mess. And the betting game never gets untracked.
I leaped onto the limo hood, up and across the roof, down the trunk – I was gone. I’ll never forget him wielding his ax, face beet red, in Times Square. Three-something in the night of morning. He fit right in. Above his head on the faux brick a sprawl of graffiti declared: “BREED WHITE GIRL! SAVE YOUR NATION!” And it was then that I realized I’d been branded, initiated into this particular hypnotic cycle of urban insanity. And behind the jolly sign is where they keep the evacuation sirens.
The Circus Cinema shows four new movies a week. Just $2.99 – if you don’t snore and cum all over the floor. Although the snoring makes some of the movies more entertaining. It’s open 24 hours even on X-mas and the marquees read like haiku:
WET SLUTS FILTHY ORGY SEXY
SOPHOMORES SHAMELESS SUMMERS
HOT TEENS CARNAL SEX
NUDE STEWARDESSES TORRID TITS
CROTCH SHOT SWEET CAKES
STRANGE DESIRES TEEN HOOKERS
POMPOM GIRL SOFA SLUTS
WHIPPING WIVES WHORE DREAMS
SECRET SLURPING SOUNDS
THE PSYCHIC BIMBO SENSATION
I remember when I took Jude here once on a dare to witness a suck-epic, She Swallows It Wholesale, and she managed to bury her discomfort of seeing such enthusiastic fellating by criticizing the mattress actress’s grammar! This is like criticizing Einstein’s theories because he had a bad haircut. And for the record, I did find life in her crotch and despite her airs she was wet.
I searched the noctambulatory hordes [their eyes the size of donut holes], half-expecting to see the beet-red guy with his ax. Mnemonic stains trigger emotions thick with the grief of forlorn standup encounters down dead ends.
In Greece, on treacherous mountain roads, they place white memorial crosses where people have swerved and plunged to their meaningless deaths. If NYC were to paint a white cross at every spot anyone’s ever been knocked off – accident, murder, or otherwise – the entire city would be white-washed. I keep moving – not quite invisible, not quite imaginal – somewhere between hoax and a place to piss.
I sit on a piece of garbage that feels sturdy off the Broadway rapids and I write full of myself, the fullness that only a near-death experience can evince:
We have to come to terms – car lover or not – with the notion that the hood ornament’s development parallels that of the aim sight. The placement of the ornament [the Lincoln, Mercedes, and Cadillac hood ornaments are particularly reminiscent of decorative versions of early aim sights] is centered the way an aim sight is centered on the gun barrel. The aim sight and hood ornament both help focus the vision of the protagonist. And when use is made of the phrase “the car shot past me,” this is not idle coincidence.
There is an ineluctable association between the use of bullets, bombs and automobiles. As Paul Virilio pointed out: “light is the soul of gun barrels.” Since torches have lit the way to allow late night torture and flares have lit up the sky to make night time killing possible, new developments, which I can feel need to be destroyed, make killing more efficient using light. inventions Such as photon accelerators, light intensifiers, laser weapons, directed beam weapons, charged particle guns, sidewinder missiles with infra-red guidance systems, even an automobiles bumper-mounted fog lamps where “ballistic projection has been succeeded by the projection of light” make our existences more tenuous, small, expendable.
OK, it’s time to walk: There’s the fur joint where one night, while trashed on Southern Comfort and seconals, me and Djuna had changed the FURS FOR LESS read FURS FOR THE HOMELESS. A girl got knifed here – 28th and Seventh – and they didn’t even bother to wash down the blood that night. Was there rain in the forecast? Somebody said she was just a nobody. And the accused I remember later stood behind the Bible in court. Didn’t do too bad either – four years, got out in 2.5. His motive according to his Bible: to not only squelch temptation [the miniskirt meant she was asking for it] but the SOURCE [i.e., woman] of all temptation as well.
I too, have turned to the Bible to justify my actions. Matthew has made it very clear: “The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”
Above the doorway of PS 40 someone had scrawled ATTICA in big red letters and RIP DONNY HATAHWAY, 33, MURDER OR SUICIDE?
I stop in front of a store window, flip through my journal, find this: “Stephen Crane broke up all his furniture and fed it to his fireplace to keep warm. When that died he went out and walked around the city to stay warm in the winter – for three years!”
At Union Square a woman in an ugly tie-dye tee-shirt wandering around deliriously until I notice her blouse is drenched in blood. Baby on her back in a papoose of blood-soaked double-knit fabric. The baby full of wrinkles – a breadfruit Gauguin might’ve painted. In a slur she said that she couldn’t take it kicking in her belly no more – it had made her ugly and useless.
“No man will fuck me!” Couldn’t take guys being too afraid to fuck her, afraid the baby thing would “bite it off.” And now here it was on her back. Calm. Hardly breathing. Later the News said she’d given herself an abortion. Coat hanger. In Bellevue under observation now. Her hair was nice. And the baby had never been breathing. And her father may have been some big shot something or other.
I am precariously walking now between two very different ‘hoods: One to the West, with the Cedar Tavern at its center, had named Lenny Bruce its patron saint. Meanwhile, If I head a block east they are still arguing about the rumors about whether the Archies were ever a touring band. Those who believe this also believe that two members of the Archies were actually the co-founders of the Velvet Underground.
Graffiti at Second Avenue and First Street: WHO DOES GOD THINK (S)HE IS FOOLING?
Fires blaze from rusty barrels and when the men bang out rhythms on the barrels they send up odd funk-filled signals, and a thousand wounds languish in our minds like petunias in September.
At Bowery and Delancey I’m just barreling forward when I see a bespectacled man writing something down in a notepad under a streetlight.
“What’re you writing?”
“Well, here goes: ‘At night sometimes streets are so forsaken that the past can be seen as if through a smeared window. Night has its own hierarchy, composed of those who hide or go unnoticed in the daytime.’”
“Pretty good. You writing a book?”
“You could say so.” And with that the light under which we stood, the light that reflected off his broad forehead, suddenly departed. Black-eye.
“Night is the corridor of the history of the marginal.” He struggled to read his own writing.
“I’m pretty marginal.”
“At night, everybody’s naked.”
“You prob’ly don’t believe me but that light, I prob’ly put it out.”
“Any place where the lights have gone out brings us back to 1900. Where drunks walk at their own peril.”
“Good night to you too.” The bespectacled man with broad forehead moved to another streetlight and continued to write. Maybe I would be a line in this book.
I make a megaphone with my hands and yell in his direction: “We can feel the snuffed lights, we know that people have lived and died here, we suspect far worse things, our repose is jolted by a nervous trepidation that we may be trampling upon the forgotten memories of people who departed without trace, uncomfortable with that fact, people whose pleas, creations, inventions, nice meals, were all ignored, neglected and now gone.”
He waves in a manner as if to simultaneously say “I agree” and “now leave me alone.”
In a Chinatown store the smooth-skinned girl smiles languidly from rows of exotic magazines full of off-register color and nubile tits staring back at me. I wonder if the Chinese text is a love story or something about how to operate a fax machine. She sits on a stack of bundled newspapers, wrapping her long black hair around her forefinger, watching her dad balance figures with a pencil he’d grabbed from behind his ear.
I buy an 8X10 glossy of Dick Clark [I don’t ask why they have pictures of him] and some cold Heinies from a clandestine cooler under the counter. Don’t ask why Clark. It was either him or Sylvester Stallone. Outside I look at Clark’s smile and haircut. They are proof of eternal life. I look up to see the little girl staring at me. Wondering what planet I am from.
On the Staten Island Ferry I sat down and popped my Heineken, stared over Jersey and then autographed Dick’s face for Djuna: “For Djuna, Forever young. Never stop dancing, Dick.” A French-German-accented mädchen leaned over and wanted to know who he was or was it me. How could I explain American Bandstand? to someone from… where you from? Switzerland. I’m from wired, uh, wired. Couldn’t sleep. She wanted to know who I thought I knew I wasn’t. She couldn’t sleep either. All of us insomniacs bound together in our isolation by our relentless internal busyness.
She’d been here just 10 days and hadn’t REALLY met anybody yet. Well, sort of; she had managed to meet the wrong guy more than once already. She thought NYC was “le place to become an opera singer, no?” She wondered if I knew anyone in Carnegie Hall. And whether one can sleep there. Whether they had boarding rooms.
“I’ve never thought of NY that way.” She sang me something I didn’t understand. It was from Don Juan or maybe Carmen. She already knew NYC was “no enchanting fôret.” I could sense her clamoring for the proper American pronunciation.
“It might be a nice day later for a picnic in the shrapnel. Kick around the flotsam washed ashore. Pour the libation, 100 proof, into a helmet!”
“I am not understanding you in total.”
“Don’t worry. It’s just words.” I gave her one of my beers “Here. This generosity screws up my feeding schedule. But what the hell.” She shook her head in agreement to things she did not at all comprehend. She wiped the top of the beer with her sleeve.
“I have seen the dirts that is inside yours NY.”
“Maybe you’re shaking your head ‘yes’ to things you should be shakin’ ‘no’ at.”
We rode forth and back and forth and back. At 6 a.m. the ferry fills with short dark people marching off to sweatshops, scrap yards, cramped knitting factories, and the vineyards of Long Island. We watched them stare into emptiness as the sun rises over Red Hook. She stares into the water as she tells me she was living with her husband in the Alps, outside Fribourg so he could further his studies of mountain flora. Their “medicament properties.”
“Yes. You have maybe seen The Shining?
“Well, I have been The Shining. That we lived. In a montagne cottage. He suffered from me. My existence. Finally everything I do upsetted him. So much as a sigh. And so he took a pistolet. Something heavy from his father collection. And took three shoots at me through the door of the bathroom. I was crouch, like this, under the small water sink. And he leave me for dead. And I leave him. I take the pistolet. I have it. In Switzerland. Sometimes I hold it. It is heavy like an arm.”
“In some gospel songs, men are compared to worms.”
She told me she met a trouser model – if you could call it that – who she slept with – if you could call it that. And when he awoke he found her asleep on the floor on his shirt, the shirt he had been planning to wear to the day’s “photograph shoots.” She’d wrinkled it. And so he slapped her and slapped her. And then flushed her halter top down the toilet. Hid her pants and pushed her out the door in only her jacket and a towel.
“Here I am to wonder if this is the world, the way it is.”
“No, some are even worse. Some woulda shot you – or married you, whichever’s worse.”
“Not even my shoes I get back. Lucky a black taxi chauffeur from Jamaica, he takes me to a store and he go inside and leaves his motor running. He come back with funny clothes. I will pay him back and invite him to hear me sing. And now I think some humans are good. He asks where I go. I say to Carnegie Hall. And we go there but it is too early and it is all locked. He take me to Martha Washington Hotel for Ladies and that is where I stay now.”
We parted company at about 8 a.m. And promised to meet over beer “sometime.” I smiled as she departed and I wrote in my journal: “The honing device is desire” and wandered “home.”
When I got in – yes, Djuna buzzed me in – I told Djuna I had run into Dick Clark. But she didn’t care. Or wasn’t listening. She’d been sleeping with an entomologist. Or was it the guy who wove hair for actors? Or Mr. Times Square Valentine? Humidity had tamed her perm. She wasn’t herself. Neither soup nor sky looked very good that morn.
The entomologist [they never have names; a tactic of hers like farmers who don’t name barnyard animals they’re fattening for slaughter] had taught her an African method of keeping houseflies out of the apartment. First you must kill some. Then place them in a halo configuration around your head or, if there’s enough, your whole body. The anguish – certain chemical messages – of the dead is broadcast to them. Or so he said.
At the kitchen table over reheated coffee she looked at the glossy. Noted that she’d always liked Dick Clark. Had always wanted to be a spotlight dancer. Suddenly she was impressed by the autograph, and for weeks thereafter, at the oddest moments, I’d catch her staring at Dick’s 8×10. Asking me what he was like. “He’s really genuine.”
She made me show the glossy at parties. Everyone seemed so convinced, impressed, entertained. No, really. But then these types of ruses began to take hold. And I was suddenly required to uphold their fragile ability to replicate realities, and isn’t that the very nature of Faith? And just as suddenly, possibilities for a new career began to arise.
“Did I tell you, I met a REAL lady a while back?”
“Sounds like beer delirium all over again.”
“Beer’s a tool, Doll. Drinking’s a sacrament. A drink a day keeps the doctor away.” She almost made a lunge at me with a clenched fist when I called her “Doll.”
“And two drinks?”
“Keeps the doctor and priest away.”
“Add the writing teacher.”
“Add the mortician.”
“You’re just bullshit waitin’ to stink. Every word out of your mouth is just a steppingstone toward my freedom.”
“Gonna use gluestick as lipstick. Shut you up one day. And #5? It keeps you away.”
“Is that a threat? OOooh, Mr. Tuffcat’s gonna sleep in the lap of the scarecrow again?” She said things like that to baffle me.
It was the year of the big heat when people said things they were not held accountable for. “AND DON’T FUGGIN’ CALL ME ‘DOLL’!” It was the year only 66% of the subway doors were working. This meant massive adjustments of mass expectations.
And I will go to work, brag about Jude, her mouth, her sucking action, because at places like work the story as entertainment is more important than the story as truth. A lie is just the truth making a wish. Afterwards I’ll doze off [the bosses are in Bermuda] among the 50-pound boxes of Hammermill white xerographic paper. My Personal Identity Number, Social Security number, home phone number all drained from the hard labyrinthine entrails of my memory.
Beer Mystic Excerpt #26: SANDLIN >>
Mini biography of bart plantenga