Saturday, May 28, 2016
in point of fact,
i have changed my view.
from opaque scraps of information
i've extrapolated one
translucent mural. so:
all of the time. so:
you weep and wail and
all of the time.
all of the time.
all of the time
nothing new, nothing
day and night
night and day
rain and sun
and snow and lacerating sleet…
freakish overbearing night.
i've been changing.
(you've been changing, too.)
how splendid to see:
i can walk away from me.
let the rain fall.
Sunday, January 3, 2016
"Of course they're all bloody twits. That's the point. It'd be such a bloody goof! And it'll be a grand," she said. "Just imagine those Catholic kids trying to dance! They'll expect some nice little band, but it'll be us! It'll be such a bloody g-o-o-f, man!"
So it came to pass, Andy & The Ampersands occupied the stage for St. David's Catholic High School 1967 senior prom. Chalk it up to Andy's salesmanship, and some clever sleight of hand.
The Amps were rich kids from Chicago's posh suburbs, high school dropouts who spent their days getting stoned and listening to imported 45's, EPs, and LPs of their fave-rave UK bands: The Pretty Things, The King Bees, The Animals, Them, The Lower Third, The Yardbirds, The Mojos, et al.
Much time and energy was invested in The Amps' image. Onstage, a uniform: knee-high black suede boots, black jodhpurs, long-sleeve orange safari shirts buttoned to the neck, wraparound shades, and Brian Jones-style bowl cuts, dyed silver. The only variation, was drummer Andy's top hat. Even their instruments were art-directed: the guitar and bass were Mosrite Ventures models, repainted metalflake orange, with black pickguards. True to form, the Ludwig drums were orange metalflake.
The effect was Halloween on Carnaby Street with a twist of stormtrooper chic.
Long on image, yet short on aptitude and practice. Practice time? Perish! Forbid! No fun! Better to get high and listen to records.
Even less time and energy was expended on writing songs. They tried once, but, man, that was work! Less resistance to stick to other people's songs, the ones painted in three primary chords - five, tops - and let it go at that. Thus, psychedelic versions of "Gloria," "Tobacco Road," "In The Midnight Hour," "Wild Thing," etc. The Amps could squawk their way through a blues, even if their blues were learnt via UK vinyl, not South Side clubs a stone's throw away, so to speak.
Inspired by the Warhol Factory, they renamed themselves: Lincoln Davis became Link Raye Vupp (guitar). The rest were, Jan American (bass), Andy Anti (drums) and Vera Loverly (vocals).
They hung out together every single day, mostly in Andy's room, it wallpapered in silver foil, a Personality Poster of Theda Bara push-pinned over his unmade bed. "Keith is just so bloody cool, man," said Vera while listening to "December's Children," staring at the LP jacket in her hand, "but Brian's cooler..." She nodded slowly, agreeing with herself, stubbed out her Marlboro in an overflowing ashtray, shoved a fistful of potato chips into her face, took a long swig of Tab.
Andy said, "Hey! Watch what you're doin', ya maroon! Don't get no greasy crumbs or fingerprints on my record cover!" From a corner, Jan grunted. (Opining or just passed out? Passed out.)
Offstage they dressed in mod civvies, but always wore the shades, even at the movies. Once when they were leaving a Hammer double-feature, an old man with a cane who'd been in the audience approached them and said, "I don't mean to pry, but I couldn't help but notice, you young people wearing sunglasses while viewing a motion picture. Do you have optical problems? I don't mean to be a busybody, but to think that youngsters could have serious…"
They cracked up. "No, Gramps, we wear 'em 'cause it's cool to wear sunglasses in the movies! Haven't you heard the word, bird? It's cool, man... real cool..." They strolled away, laughing, leaving the geezer baffled.
The Amps' amps, two Vox Super Beatles, had been customized in a fashion, an icepick used to punch tiny holes in all of the 12" speakers, so every song, without fail, was totally fuzzed-out, guitar and bass. Jan just picked root notes, and Link slammed out barre chords. His leads consisted of grasping the strings all way up the fretboard, while havin' at it with the whammy bar, creating unearthly noise. Sometimes he'd zero in on a single note, bend and strangle it, throttle it in and out of tonal range. His technique rested volume and distortion, allowing the amp do the heavy lifting.
Andy was every inch as primitive. His kit was limited to a bass drum, a snare and a single cymbal. He kept a one-two bass-snare beat going, punctuated with an occasional martial roll. Once in a blue moon he'd smirk and hit the cymbal, just for the fuckin' hell of it, man.
They'd rolled into the St. David's that evening in the Ampmobile, a black metalflake hearse, their logo in orange enamel. They marched their equipment indoors, set up, then back to the parking lot to get high until showtime. The glove compartment stash included opiated hash, Sandoz, black beauties, and yellow jackets. Getting busted wasn't a fear. Their parents were influential, one dad very chummy with local pols, a mom a famously aggressive attorney. Any cop dumb enough to bust these kiddies would be looking for a brand new job, toot sweet.
(As for neighbors annoyed by the racket coming out of Andy's garage? Tough tarts. Just be glad that practice is more of a rarity than some of their import EPs.)
After stumbling through their first few numbers, Vera said, "This next one wowed 'em at the Vatican... Yeah, real swingin' crowd, they loved us... The dope - AH MEAN - the pope tried to lay some of his birth control jive on me, an' Ah told him, you don't play-a the game, you don't make-a the rules, Paulie baby! Hey... what'd Ah say? Are you tryin' t' tell me you fellas don't have condoms in your wallets for this, THEE BIG NIGHT? Yeah, it might rain - wear your rubbers! Ah think Ah just heard a pin drop..." Andy added a little ba-dump-bump, hit the cymbal, tipped his top hat to the fuming teens and chaperones.
"Anyhooooo, we'd like to send this next one out to all the brave soldiers in Vietnam. Yeah, this one's for the... VIET CONG!"
Crew-cut and pimply Donald Jarzabek made a lunge for the stage, but was restrained by Brother Michael and Father McCoffin. He screeched, "YOU COMMIE PUNKS! MY BROTHER'S OVER THERE! GETTING SHOT AT!" It was an impotent screech,
mercilessly drowned by the bass and drums lurching into "I Can't Explain."
BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT!
The cinderblock walls shook as if a Brontosaurus was waltzing the dance-floor fantastic.
BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT!
Then Link jumped up, twirled in mid-air (to Vera he seemed to come down in slow motion), landing in front of his amp, holding his guitar flat against the speaker cabinet, creating a high-pitched feedback SQUEAL, a tea-kettle whistle magnified well beyond the threshold of pain:
BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT! BRAT! BRAT-DAT!
Vera was pretty toasted, and they'd only practiced this song once, so she ad-libbed some lyrics, a hand on her forehead, elbow jutted out:
"Got a feeling upside...
It's, um, Chunky wide...
Feelin' hotter 'n hell...
Yeah, whoa, wotta… smell...
"I said ... Can't 'splain!
I'm looooped now, yeah... Can't 'splain!
"Fizzy in the head and I'm feelin' sick...
The things you said, well, they sure sound thick...
I'm gettin' horny dreams again and again...
I snow when it skis, but...
(WAP! WAP! from the snare.)
I think it's lust...
When I see naked chicks…
I wanna BUST!"
Link's solo, five or six minutes of:
SKREEEEEEEEEEECHvzzrrrt-slpitzzzzzz-BGRRRRTTT!!! FzzzzZZZZittTTT! BreEEEEeeeT4#@TT!!!
"Woozy in the gut and I'm real bad...
The things you said got me psycho mad...
Somethin', somethin', hmm, yeah, real sad...
"Yeah, yeah, yeah... CAN'T 'SPLAIN!!!
I'm gonna need a trank!
Woop! I'm a worried skank!"
The Catholic boys - an army in rent-a-tux, reeking stench of English Leather - and the Catholic girls - a sea of satin gowns and shellacked Great Society hair - tried, vainly and desperately, to dance in their stiff manner to this noise. Tried! It was the prom, after all! The senior prom, dammit! They had looked forward to it! All four years of high school! But it was impossible to discern a danceable beat! Who was responsible for hiring these jerks?!?
Next, the band lurched into a ballad, "Sorrow."
"With your long blond hair and your eyes of blue...
The only thing I ever got from you...
Was sorrow! Sorrow!"
Vera placed a hand over her heart (was she playing with her nipple?!) and sang on:
"You're acting funny, try to spend my money...
You're out there playing your half-ass games...
Of sorrow! Sorrow!"
She strutted around the stage, danced a little, doubled over with the microphone stand, some of her moves copped from Jagger, and continued, mugging:
"You never do what you know you owt-tuh...
Something tells me you're the Devil's daw-tuh...
Sorrow! Sorrow! Boo, hoo, HOO!"
An electric current, buzzed and throbbed through the crowd, chaperones and teens alike. Anger, smoldering anger, waves of it… The precious once-in-a-lifetime night subverted, in ruins, Dresden carpet-bombed.
And you paid us a thousand bucks! Ha HA!
They lugged their gear to the Ampmobile, laughing, feeling blurry and smug and triumphant - until they saw it: tires slashed, windows smashed, broken glass scattered on the pavement, on the seats, glittering pieces glinting like diamonds on black velvet under the full moon. Then, emerging from the shadows, Jarzabek with a Bowie knife, and a half-dozen of his buddies, clutching tire irons, no adults to restrain their savage instincts.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Only two days after Brian met her at a cocktail party, he walked out the front door of his home on Cape Cod, left it all behind: the ocean view, the bank account, the credit card, the mortgage, the car payments, the wife, the three kids, the kit, the caboodle. With nothing more than the clothes he wore, he strolled down his street, a condemned man who'd slipped through the noose. At the corner he got in the passenger side of her Jaguar, she peeled away from the curb and they left prim New England; sailed Midwest cornfields and prairies like a speed boat; went up and then down the Rockies.
When they hit the far end of California, she took a sharp north, barreling up 101 to Canada, the Pacific on their left. It took his breath away: the Pacific, and the whole damn thing. He'd done it. He had balls.
This woman was everything his wife wasn't: gorgeous, smart, and rich - an heiress!
On their way west, they drove on two-lane blacktop, slept in rundown motels, ate at roadhouses, honky-tonks, taverns and diners: real America. At forty he felt like fourteen, everything was new. He was in love!
He'd fallen in love with her, he now realized, the very instant he saw her at the McKyvers. He marveled at how he'd been expecting another dull affair, then - bolt out of the blue! - he was having the affair of the century.
"So, what do you do? Or more to the point, what would you like to do?"
"Oh, I don't know. I teach. English Lit. Here at the community college. But I always wanted to write, really write. Real stuff, novels. The Great American Novel. But, I don't know..." Scratching his head, he took a quick swallow of the gin and tonic in his sweaty paw. Suddenly, the September's heat and humidity became oppressive. He loosened his tie, ran a palm over his damp forehead, removed his fogging glasses.
"It's never too late," she said, winking. "Provided one has balls." His gaze traveled from her to Joan across the crowded living room, yammering about recipes, no doubt, then back to this tall woman looking straight into his eyes with a stare that zinged his heart. Brian had never heard a woman say "balls" before. He liked it. "What's your name? You must be new around here."
"Louise Alverada, I'm a friend of the Baxters, visiting for a few days, we're old college chums, Yale."
"Harvard," he said. raising his drink, "I'm Harvard. Rah." She smiled. He dug her smile. Like the wink, it wasn't innocent. Something latent stirred.
He looked back at Joan, and behind her, framed by a large picture window, the Atlantic Ocean: broad and briny, deep and always stormy somewhere. Wheels turned in his head, rusty wheels. As it turned out, they needed only a drop of oil.
The next day, Brian met Louise on the beach as they'd surreptitiously arranged. That's when he knew he had to start anew, to live forever in her hazel eyes, her raven hair, her raspy and wise cigarette voice. He could listen to that voice forever. They made plans, right there, sitting on the beach, waves washing across their legs. He kissed her under the orange sun more passionately then he'd imagined possible. An hour later, he scurried home after cooling off in the sea, up the back steps, into the kitchen, the screen door snapping behind him. Joan was making a pot roast. "Oh God," he thought. "Not one of her heavy pot roasts on a hot day like this. Is she an idiot or what?"
"How was the beach, honey."
"Is everything okay? You sound funny."
"Nope. I mean yep. I mean, everything's fine. Couldn't be better!"
Joan waddled a few steps to the sink, breaking wind on her way there.
"Ugh," he thought. "What a pig..."
The next day, before noon, he was on the road, gone like a breeze.
Good fucking riddance to Joan and her ideas. It was her idea to marry right out of college; her idea to leave Boston for her hometown on quaint Cape Cod; her idea to have children; her nagging that forced him to forsake literary aspirations, to get serious, to provide for a family. He hated Joan and he hated his kids.
The three boys were precisely the sort of kids he'd despised when he was their age: jocks. All year 'round it went: baseball, football, basketball, wrestling, weight lifting. A fortune spent on equipment and stupid uniforms that they outgrew in two months. And games to attend, surrounded in bleachers by insane parents screaming themselves into a purple lather.
The boys were, at best, C and D students who never opened a book, opting for Cliff Notes. Stan, Mick and Dick were 100% Joan's side of the equation, exactly like her shanty-Irish brothers.
My boys, he stewed: noisy, head-butting, brawling buffoons. Their idea of fun is punching each other out, seeing just how hard a blow one could withstand to the stomach, the head, the kidneys without yelping. Every so often while he was reading, really absorbed in a book, he'd hear an OW! Followed by, "You lose, dickhead!" He wished they were old enough for the draft, could get shipped off to Vietnam to step on a booby-trap or intercept a bullet. Friendly fire would suffice, just glad to see you go, don't let the door hit your ass on your way to the void.
As a teen, Brian was a bookworm, an egghead: Brian the Brain, the butt of jokes, taunts and pranks played by boys just like his boys. My three sons? Fuck 'em!
Brian dreaded the obligatory Sundays with Joan's family. Her four brothers, all middle-aged, still lived with their parents in the same ramshackle house they grew up in, two to a bedroom; the front lawn trampled to packed dirt by their tackle football games. Brian's first visit to the Delaney's floored him. Prior, he'd never witnessed a home devoid of books. In their bleak home, TVs were the coin of the realm: two in the living room (so they could watch two games at once if need be), one in the kitchen and one upstairs in the pennant festooned "den" created from Joan's bedroom when she shipped out to college, and one in the bathroom. Pop Delaney and his "boys" never missed a game, even on the crapper. If it were possible, they'd have TVs installed in their Chevys.
The male Delaney brains, however feeble, somehow had the capacity to memorize acres upon acres of sports trivia (stats, scores, winning plays, all-time award winners, disqualifications, etc. They'd recite it with an odd mix of pride and a shrug, a sort of victory lap with head bowed, one fist in the air, not two. Naturally, they looked down their sweaty noses at the pantywaist college-boy brother-in-law who had no interest in games.
Raised a Unitarian and currently a devout nothing, Brian was further shunned by the Catholic clan. Rolling with the punch of a wedding Mass, and paying for parochial school wasn't enough, especially for Ma Delaney. According to her, Brian was speeding toward an eternity in hell unless he joined the Church. And as Ma pointed out, eternity is an awful long time to burn. "A billion years ain't even a scratch on eternity's keister!" She dared him to hold his hand over a lit burner for one minute to see how that felt. "Just go and try it. And that's only your hand and only for a minute. Imagine that pain all over your entire body - for eternity!" One afternoon, Joan's oldest brother, Joe, took Brian aside at a family barbecue and said, "Why don't you just get with it? It won't kill you. Don't be a douche, join the Church. Heck, you'll go to heaven, for cripes sake. And it'd make Ma happy." He punched Brian on the shoulder and walked away, ending their man-to-man talk before baffled Brian could utter a word.
There was another time Joe attempted to relate to Brian, while a Bruins game blared on TV. Joe said, "I sorta see football like ballet, only not for ladies or homos." On one hand, Brian appreciated this clumsy attempt at bridging the Grand Canyon with a single two-by-four. But on the other, he was flummoxed, could only respond with a grunt before Pop Delaney shushed them.
And that morning Ma broke the customary distance she placed between the two of them, took Brian aside, and said through tight, dry, bloodless lips, "You know, me and the mister don't think we're all high and mighty 'cause we ain't got no degree. Hiram had to quit school to work. And I mean work. In a factory, not pushing a pencil. His father died when Hiram was sixteen, crushed by that machine! And all them kids! They needed food on the table. Hiram was the oldest. A degree don't make the good Lord love ya! We're fine! At least we don't walk around actin' like our you-know-what don't stink." With that she snorted and scooted away.
The first time Brian and Joan stayed at the Delaney's, shortly after their honeymoon, but before they'd bought their own house, they slept in the den, on the pullout couch, after brushing away stray peanuts and Frito bits. Still tossing and turning at 2:00, Brian turned on the lamp and tip-toed downstairs trying to find something, anything, to read. That meant The Boston Herald. He brought it upstairs and tried to make a meal out of this stale crumb. Disgusted, he tossed the rag aside, knowing the only reason that Joan's family got a paper at all was for sports, cartoons, and the advice column.
Jesus fucking Christ, how did a Wellesley gal emerge from this primordial ooze!?
Pop Delaney, Hiram, was the thick bottom layer of that ooze, the lord occupying his throne, a worn Barcalounger, in front of the twin TVs, pouring peppermint schnapps from a gallon bottle into a shot glass. His twisted and angry mouth swallowed the sweet swill while he pontificated about Joe McCarthy. "He rousted them DC Reds, busted him some State Department ass, that's why them bastards cut him off at the knees, 'cause he gave them commies hell! If you ask me, we should've made him the goddamn president! Hell, we should've crowned him the king of this once-fine land and called it a goddamn day!"
Why, Brian wondered, does the old turd bother with the formality of a glass? Why doesn't he just guzzle the vile slop straight out of the bottle? Or use a straw? Brian loathed that furious pink face, grotesquely wizened by decades of alcohol consumption and the eternal flame of a Pall Mall between his right index and middle fingers, his digits stained deep-ochre to the knuckles. Hiram would hack and wheeze, then light another cig, and prattle on about the great god, McCarthy. Or Nixon. Or Agnew. Or, oddly, JFK and RFK.
Once, trying to crack Hiram's armor, searching for a chink, desperate for some sort of entry point, Brian mentioned his own avid admiration for Bobby Kennedy. The old man simply stared at, or through, or past, or around Brian, said nothing for a full minute, before asking Brian which team he favored in the World Series. Dismissed!
There wasn't anything about Hiram that Brian didn't despise, from the top of Hiram's wiry red and white flattop to the soles of his scuffed black work-shoes to the whistle when he pronounced an S.
"If Tailgunner Joe was president today, we wouldn't have them looters and rioters running loose in the streets - or on the campuses! Burns my biscuits! We give them black bastards everything, hand it to 'em on a silver platter, and what do they do? They thank us, the hardworking taxpayers, by burning everything to the goddamn ground, that's what! Worse is these so-called students. I can understand the jungle-bunnies doing what they do. That's what they do. But these stinking rich candy-ass students is what really fries my ass! Send in the National Guard to bust some heads, goddamn! Shoot to kill, goddamn! Show 'em who's boss, goddamn!"
Often, at some point in the monologue, Brian winced to a CRASH from upstairs, his teenage lunkheads horsing around with the Delaney men, all in that sporting fun unique to muscle-bound morons and rabid hyenas. Ma Delaney, bunion-distorted feet propped up on an ottoman, would raise her Bud tall-boy, smile and quip, "Didn't need that vahz!" Or, "Win-der busted? We could use some fresh air in this jernt!"
How could she be such a doormat? She in her drab and ill-fitting dress, her home trashed by these apes? And she makes light of it? Looking at at Ma, Brian could see what Joan was going to look like in time, his stomach souring.
Sunday dinner at the Delaney's was boiled hot dogs in Wonder Bread buns highlighted with taxi-yellow mustard, served on paper plates, eaten around the game (or games) on TV, Hiram breaking wind often and loudly, each time Ma Delaney, smiling an idiot's grin, holding up her beer can, shouting, "Yeah!" To which Hiram raised his glass in her direction, eyes still pinpointed on the TV, yet gentlemanly enough to acknowledge her admiration of his prowess in effluvia. The dinner vegetable was a big bowl of Stateline potato chips, dessert an open box of Oreos. Help yourself!
He washes down hot dogs, boiled hot dogs, with peppermint schnapps. How? How can he do that?
In better weather, Brian would sneak out to the backyard and smoke a Tareyton, or go for an aimless walk around the weary neighborhood of clapboard houses in need of paint, maybe meander down to the shore, looking across the Atlantic, wondering if he should attempt swimming to Spain. The worst that could happen would be death by drowning. Or sharks. Not too shabby, considering. And if he made it? A lifetime of Mediterranean siestas, fiestas, and a female flamenco dancer in knee-high black boots, high-flung hands click-clacking castanets, breasts thrust forward, dark eyes closed, a crimson rose clenched in sharp white teeth, a haughty curl to her fulsome lips. A thought. Then he tossed his cig to the sand, trudged back to the Delaney dump, hoping Joan and the brood would be ready to leave.
Why did I marry Joan? Because no one else would ever have me. Me, Brian, the eccentric wallflower.
The pre-marital sexual life with Joan was limited, no "going all the way" permitted. Before her, he had managed to, at least, lose his virginity.
Athens, in the service, drunk, dragged along from the packed and noisy bar to a side-street cat house with his army buddies, he was a piece of debris in their tow. In all honesty, he couldn't claim to have enjoyed the experience. In fact, it was a sweaty, clumsy, confusing, if mercifully quick, bout. Yet the deed was done. He was, technically speaking, a man. And the Greek pro-girl, a few bucks the richer.
Joan. She was the best I could do. And early on, there was a magic, of a sort, a hint of romance, a fighter jet skirting the lower ionosphere of… love. (Or an intense like.) But if I had any idea of where it would ultimately lead, I would've remained a bachelor, turned gay, joined a Tibetan monastery. Or the French Foreign Legion. Anything but waking each day to her dull, insipid, kewpie doll face, and the incessant racket of our lousy offspring.
It was in a motel in Sioux Falls, Iowa, around one in the morning, Brian and Louise in bed, drinking red wine, sharing a joint, that he declared he was going to do it, he was going to write The Great American Novel. He smiled, "I have balls!"
Louise said, "You know what? Tomorrow morning let's go out and get my guy a brand new portable typewriter, a ream of paper, some carbons and a few spare ribbons. Then you can get to work! You'll be famous! I just know it, darling!"
By noon, while Louise lounged poolside, Brian twisted a fresh piece of paper into a red Olivetti and said to himself, "Go! Do it, man! Spill! Ding-ding!" He commenced typing, loving the clickity-clack rhythm, like castanets in the hands of his mythical Spanish beauty, of the metal letters punching black into white paper. Let it flow, tell it! He would create a portrait of a man, a good man, not a saint by any means, but a good man, married to a flabby shrew, living in a sterile seaside New England town with their little monsters: a tale that would, although specific to its time and place, operate as a metaphor for the human condition, and slap a j'accuse to the face of the establishment. The shrew's name? Jean. The protagonist's name? Ben. No, too close. Well, just go with those names for now, this is the first draft. There's plenty of time to fussbudget later. For now, just write it, man! Tell your story!
He drank some good, strong, black coffee and took a toke.
He became both jangled and dreamy. He stretched, attempting to get his elbows to touch behind his back. Then he thought, "Go for it, man! Go for a thousand fucking pages! Go!"
A dust jacket swam before his eyes, something serious and abstract, maybe a type treatment, no corny illustration. Then he drifted into a daydream about his author photo. He'd glare at the lens, frown slightly, fist chucked under chin, maybe a pipe in his mouth, tweed jacket, paisley tie and of course, his trusty horn-rims. Actually, no pipe. Too cliché. And he'd hold the glasses, the end of a stem in his mouth, while he scanned the distance. And skip the tie, just a dress shirt with the sport coat. Or, better yet, a long-sleeve safari shirt, no jacket...
A title sprang to mind, "Repent, Said The Jester." Not bad, not bad at all... We're off to the races! Where do these ideas come from?
He took another toke, stood up, paced about the room and envisioned "Repent, Said The Jester" by Brian Stanton reviewed in The New York Times, The Partisan Review and The New York Review, backcover copy by a renowned author trumpeting it as the most important novel in a generation, the book that blows the lid off all the stinking suburban American hypocrisy and the meatheads in big chrome-mobiles who populate it while peasants around the globe struggle and starve and dodge our napalm…
Then he thought about his faculty pals back on the Cape. Boy-o, if those milquetoasts could see me now! He rubbed his hands together, then sat down and typed away, Cheshire cat grin plastered on his face.
Thinking about Louise and his intense feeling for her, he wondered if he loved her just because she was so beautiful. Then he thought, if she lost an arm, I'd still love her! In fact, she could lose all four limbs and, still, I'd love her! I'd stick with her, I'd prop her up, make her comfy with pillows, feed her, tend to her! Somehow, someway, I'd find the words to make her forget the pain, to make her laugh again. I'd kiss her and adore her!
For the first time in Brian's life, death was something to dread, and not his own mortality. A world without Louise would be like the Milky Way doused, as if the third pillar of the cosmos were yanked, infinity collapsing into itself. He'd known death. Both his parents were dead, and a good faculty friend, John Farrah, keeled over one day in class, smacking the linoleum with his face, dead before impact, the victim of a massive coronary. Those deaths left Brian sad and shaken, but life marched on. A world without Louise, however, was unimaginable. He planned to dedicate his first novel, all his novels to her. Each time it would read the same: "To Louise Alverada, with my profound and eternal love and gratitude." Why not? A kiss from this princess had turned the toad into a man, an author.
In a few hours he had five pages. He looked them over. Maybe it was due to his hangover, but the paragraphs lacked sparkle. They were okay, but... He crumpled them into a wad and tossed it in the waste basket just as Louise returned. She stood behind him while he sat before the typewriter, first kneading his shoulders, then running her fingertips through his thinning hair. "How's it going, my little Updike?"
"Great! Fine, just getting focused, the juices are starting to flow. Back in the saddle again!"
Brian loved the sex with Louise. It was wild, the other end of the spectrum from Catholic Joan and her rules about what the Church would, and mostly would not, allow. With Joan, sex was something tidy and tedious, ruled by centuries of decrepit Vatican City male virgins. In bed he could practically see black-robed priests in the room with them, peering through the dark with infra-red eyes, voyeuristic vultures. Louise, thank God, was an urban sophisticate from a long line of radicals and freethinkers. And she was raised in Frisco, not on Cape Cod! Most importantly though, she dug his jokes. The sort of sardonic humor Joan tsked or rolled her eyes at, made Louise bellow. He lived for that hearty lioness roar.
One afternoon, when she was out running an errand, he wept with joy sitting in front of his little typewriter.
They rolled into Laredo as the sun was setting, the sky vulgar with streaks of orange and purple, pink and chartreuse. Strolling the streets of the Old West, they marveled at just how gaudy Mother Nature can be. In a saloon they bellied up to the bar, ordered shots of whiskey and tossed them back like cowboys. He hugged her to him, close. They made out like teenagers.
Later, in their room, in the wee hours, Louise sleeping, Brian got up and crept out the door, walking the black streets of Laredo. Coming upon a park he went in and, in the deep empty shadows, found a spot and lay down, his face buried in grass. He inhaled deeply, intoxicated by the alcohol still coursing through his veins, his love of Louise, the clean smell of the earth, and the fact that he was here, so far from Cape Cod and Cape Codders, by himself, in a park, at night, precious Louise a short walk away, sleeping.
They spent a week nestled in Laredo, at the Sunnyside Hotel, and he'd managed to write nearly two-hundred really good solid pages, the first six chapters. It was inspired and trenchant stuff. He was delighted. The novel seemed to be writing itself, he was merely a conduit who sat at Mr Olivetti's magic machine translating the universe into something a 20th century intellectual could devour with joy. It was there, in Laredo, that he finally felt both confidant and eager for Louise to read "Repent, Said The Jester."
On the bed, lying on her stomach, feet pointed ceiling-ward, her first remark was, "Are we wed to this title?"
"I was also considering, 'Waiting For The Men To Die'."
The next evening, while he was brushing his teeth, he overheard her sigh, "Well, a good editor can work miracles..."
In bed, the lights out, she said, "Sometimes one needs to look at everything from an entirely different perspective, like a 45 on 33. You know, like when you play a 45 RPM record at 33, a song like Rosie and The Originals' 'Angel Baby,' and, in the flick of a switch, that high lonesome voice becomes a world-weary basso profundo. And that odd hesitation in the instrumental break? It transforms into this vast gulf where you're suspended like some sort of trapeze artist without a net, the crowd holding its breath in fear and anticipation. Sure, they'll cheer if you make it to the end, safe and sound, but what they really crave, in the pit of their nasty little cobwebbed hearts, is to see you fall. They'd share a collective orgasm at your gruesome splat. Anyway, an entirely different perspective, Alice's looking-glass. The I Ching. You know..."
Brian didn't know. Not from 45s or rock 'n' roll combos or the I Ching. So he paused, a little too long, then said, "Well, I have been looking at everything - everything - afresh since I first saw you. What is it you mean, exactly?"
"Oh, nothing. Come here, you..."
It happened a week later, their first morning in Vancouver, around eleven.
Brian had gone out to get a paper and was loving the day. The sun, a dab of butterscotch, set high contrasts; a crisp breeze encouraged his step as he admired this city. All the buildings were so tasteful, whether modern or antique. The entire city looked as if it'd been art directed for a movie titled, "The Perfect-In-Every-Way Town." Canada! You won't find Canadians invading countries! Quite the contrary, they're only too happy to accept our true heroes, those boys who are brave and smart enough to bail on an illegal and immoral war. Canada! Our good twin!
Louise and I should settle here, an apartment in Vancouver and a place in the country, maybe get some horses, cats, and a golden retriever. I'll get in touch with Joan. And a lawyer, get the ol' divorce ball a-rolling. If nothing else, I should get my ID stuff. She can have the house, the bank account. Fuck it, I've got my freedom! I've got my balls!
He returned to the Barclay, humming as he took the stairs two at a time to their third floor room, a folded copy of The Sun in hand. He unlocked their door to find the white envelope staring at him from the ox-blood bedspread. Something was odd, he'd sensed it immediately, even as he shouted, "I'm back, darling, dearest darling!" There was no evidence of her except a lingering scent. He opened the envelope. Inside were ten one-hundred dollar bills, nice and crisp, and a note that read, "I'm off! It's been swell, but I may have misjudged? I find good-byes an unpleasant chore for all concerned. Here's a little something to tide you over until you find your footing. Cheers, Louise."
He drew back the drape and looked out the window, down on the parking lot. Her Jag was gone. He closed his eyes, shook his head, and looked again. But still no car.
That butterscotch dab was swallowed a big gray cloud as he sat on a corner of the bed, rubbing the envelope between a thumb and index finger.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
"Why do you call him Mouse? He's not a mouse! He'd like to eat a mouse!"
Sunlight poured through the picture window, glinted off cut glassware, glazed a coffee-table top, created a square of warmth that Mouse dozed in, one paw stretched, his tail twitching occasionally.
The television was on, a Western in progress, two cowboy pals riding horses, chasing after outlaws. An old woman and a little curly-haired boy sat on her sofa, watching. He liked it now, just them.
Initially, his older sister came along. Wendy's choice of programs bored him. At eight-years-of-age, she yearned for a sophistication of sorts: Art Linkletter, Virginia Graham, "The Edge of Night."
But her interest in these afternoons waned. Now it was just Mouse, Miss Gardner and her "gentleman caller." The phrase sailed over his five-year-old head, but he enjoyed being called that. And he enjoyed being doted on. Without Wendy, he got all the oatmeal cookies and his choice of the television fare: Westerns, "The Cisco Kid" at the top of the list.
Mouse was mouse gray with white paws and a white belly and a white vee on his face. He rose from a patch of sun, arched his back, lazed over for attention, then trotted to the kitchen, stopping half-way to shake a rear leg.
Miss Gardner wore flower print dresses and carried a scent of lilac; her was hair salt and pepper. She lived alone, just Mouse and her. Whatever the boy said, she weighed as if it bore great import. He liked that. He told her, "When I grow up I'll be the Cisco Kid. And you can be Pancho!" She nodded while looking into his eyes and said, "We'll have six-shooters. You'll ride a golden palomino, and I'll a spotted roan. When we see banditos, we'll shoot 'em dead!" She held up her hand like a pistol, index finger pointed, thumb cocked, and said, "Pow! Pow!" Seated on the couch, his feet kicked a little.
No one else ever had time to listen to much of what he to say. Wendy dismissed him as a pest. When his parents said mm-hm, he knew they weren't really listening. But Miss Gardner heard.
He came over almost every day until one day he didn't.
There was no formal break or good-bye. He was just a little older, suddenly too old to spend afternoons with an old woman, even if she offered cookies. Now he had friends his own age, new kids, right across the street. They chased after Indians or Germans, then cars and girls. From her living room window, as Mouse slept, she could see them.
He grew taller. His once-soft features defined a little, crept to adulthood. His curls lengthened. They'd see each other once in a blue moon at the market or the post office. One summer she hired him to mow the lawn. But they didn't talk very much; their era was of its time. Then one morning, getting the paper from her porch, she saw the moving van.
By evening it was packed, and the family, the boy, gone.
He swiped the plastic card through the metal slot, opened the door. Another Marriott room. At 61 he was sick of them; he'd hoped to be done with this. But the best laid plans of mice and early retirement went up in the poof that was 2008. That meant more conferences, more years. So be it. At least they had some money, and their health.
With time, his vitality was replaced with gray and sag, crease and ache. The curls displaced by a thinning business cut. He told himself, "I need to start exercising," but he knew he wouldn't. Before mixing a scotch and soda at the mini-bar, he stripped out of his suit, down to a comfy T-shirt, boxers and socks, set the AC at a gentle cool, thinking, "I'd prefer the option of opening a goddamn window."
Sitting on the edge of the bed, remote in one hand, drink in the other, randomly clicking through the 500 channels, he happened on something that rang a distant bell, an old B&W TV Western featuring a heroic Mexican and his silly sidekick. "Huh," he thought, "I remember this show! I haven't seen it in a million years..."
It triggered memories: lilac, oatmeal cookies, a cat napping in sunlight.
The distant bell's chime grew louder, those afternoons with Miss Gardner. She'd seemed so ancient back then, older than his parents. But in retrospect she was only been 50 or so. "Younger than I am today," he thought.
What could've happened to her? She can't be alive. How did she die? I hope it wasn't painful. Was she alone? God, I hope it wasn't painful...
The program played on. Lost in thought, he wasn't conscious of horses galloping in a desert, saloon slugfests, breaking glass, bullets ricocheting off boulders...
Without realizing he'd been drinking, his glass was empty. He got up to mix another, but part way there, stopped. His shoulders sagged, his face contorted, mourning days that were leafy with promise, afternoons that stretched to a far horizon, a lost time when he was the center of someone's universe.
The show came to its close.
"Good-bye, amigos!" said Cisco.
"See you, soon! Ha!" said Pancho.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Donna, Patti and Deb were in this real good mood, singing, dancing down the hallway. It was real sweet and funny, them singing that commercial. They sounded good, they really did.
"Bee-oh! (Clap!) En-oh! (Clap!) Em-oh! (Clap!) Bonomo! Oh! Oh! Oh! (Clap!) It's Bonomo! Turkish! TAFFY!"
Of the three, Donna's the best looking. She's the best looking girl in the whole junior high, maybe even the entire world. I mean, name any movie star, and she puts 'em all to shame. She really does. Her hair's strawberry blonde, in a beehive. It always reminds me of the cotton candy you get at Coleman Brothers Carnival. And she's got these green eyes, like glass, and this spray of freckles across the tiniest nose. You wouldn't think a nose could be so cute, but hers is, and it hovers, like a hummingbird above a flower, over this easy smile. And her voice just sends me, it reminds me of church bells off in the distance, I swear. I love that voice.
Donna never wears makeup. All her friends do, but she doesn't. And she looks better than them, better than anyone, really. And today she was wearing a plaid skirt with suspenders, the hem short, above the knees, a white blouse with french cuffs and her really tuff little ankle-high black boots. I mean, she's just perfect. And the best part is, she's not the least bit stuck up, she's a really good kid. Some of the sharp girls are stuck up, but not Donna. I love that perfume she wears. All the sharp girls wear it. I should find out what it's called and buy a bottle someday, so I can sniff it whenever I want.
Yeah, I'm in love with Donna. I was from the moment I saw her, the first day of seventh grade, in home room, I'll never forget seeing her that first time. Sometimes we talk on the phone. I love her voice. After we hang up, I kiss the receiver, honest, I do.
If you saw her, you'd be in love with her, too. You really would. But Owen's her boyfriend. They've been going steady since, like, forever. Fifth grade, she told me. They'll get married someday, for sure. Still, I love her. I think about her all the time. I can't help it.
Anyway, the Bonomo song. That's how it began, the last day of seventh grade.
It's been quite a year, really, when you stop and think about it. I mean, it started off nice and fun, everything was Sugar Shack and My Boyfriend's Back, but then Kennedy got shot, and everyone seemed gloomy until just after New Year's. Then everything was Beatlemania, everyone was excited again with The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five and The Searchers and everything.
Just before Christmas vacation, though, there was one good day. Banjo Eyes, I mean, Mr. Gagliardi, cancelled gym class, we didn't have to suit up, and it was boys and girls together, he held a little dance right there in the gym for us. He said it was time we started preparing for sock hops and stuff. He played some 45's over the PA system: The Marvelettes, The Impressions and Major Lance. And Mickey's Monkey, I love that song, I really do. So we danced around, Twisting, Donna lost her footing, slipped a little, but caught herself without falling and said, "Woops! La dee dah!" never missing a beat. It's stuff like that that makes you love her even more, if that's possible.
At the very end, Mr. Gagliardi held up a 45 and said, "In my opinion this is the most significant popular song of 1963." He's a young guy, for a teacher, so he listens to WPOP and all, he's pretty sharp for a guy with banjo eyes, I'll give him that. Then he gave the record a spin.
"Deet! Dunt dunt dunt. Dunt dunt... Louie lew EYE aye... We gotta go now, yi, yi, yi, yi... LET'S GO!"
Marvin says it's got dirty words, but no one can understand most of them, although I can make out some of them, and they are pretty dirty. Anyhow, that was a real good day even if Kennedy was dead and all.
I don't tell people this because I'm not exactly winning too many popularity contests, but I felt sorry for Oswald, when I saw him get shot. Don't get me wrong, I liked Kennedy and all, he seemed pretty sharp, and I felt bad for his wife and kids and all. But when I saw Oswald get shot, that's when I got real sad. Like I said, I don't tell that to people, but it is how I feel.
After The Beatles hit, it was Beatlemania: Beatle hours, Beatle magazines, Beatle cards and stuff. One day, Lenny, this real weakling kid, wore a Beatle wig to school and got some attention for once, he was kind of a hit for once. But when he went to the boys' room, a bunch of hoody kids, eighth-graders, were in there, smoking. They yanked the thing off Lenny's head and tossed it in a toilet. He started blubbering, said his sister bought it for him, and Stanley, the leader, called him a crybaby and told him The Beatles were fairies and told him to get the hell out, go piss in the girls' room with all the other girls. On the way out, Stanley gave Lenny a kick, a hard kick, on his behind. I think that was really uncalled for, that kick. I mean, Lenny was already crying, how much do you want out of a guy?
I never had money for Beatle records, but when the old lady's out of the house, I'd listen to them on the radio. I love The Beatles, not as much as I love Donna, but I do love them.
I remember when Mr. Deros intercepted that note Owen sent to Donna. He read it out loud to the class. And this is what it was, Owen had written out the lyrics to PS: I Love You. That was so tuff. We laughed and all, even Owen and Donna, especially the way Mr. Deros read it, all lovey-dovey, but, really, it was pretty tuff for Owen to do that. They'll get married someday. I wish I could hate Owen, but I can't, he's a real good kid. Actually, I'd like to be him, if you want to know. He has it made. I wish I was Owen.
The thing is, after school today, I got this real bright idea to skip the bus ride home, I'd walk it. My report card was real bad, one C, the rest D's, even worse than last semester. I was in no hurry to get home. So I walked, all the way down the long hill, around the corner, past The Pizza Palace and all the gas stations, stopping at the one with the '51 Ford custom, I love that car. It's candy apple green, so tuff. Then I got going again, along the factories, over the bridge - the air smells so good up there on the bridge, and spitting in the river is real fun. Then into town.
From town to home is one long walk, and I'd already had a real long walk, I was beat, but like I say, I was in no hurry to get home with this report card. My old lady's been the Creature From The Black Lagoon ever since the old man split. It's just the two of us in that crummy little house. There's times I've wished her dead, I swear. She's always on my case. It can drive me nuts. And with this report card, I knew I was done. Order the tombstone.
As long as I was in town, I figured, why not go to Woolworth's, thumb through the records? It don't cost nothing to look, as my old man used to tell me. I made a beeline to The Beatles bin, and when I saw Meet The Beatles, I just had to have it. But I don't have money, I don't have an allowance. My old man don't send us nothing, we're on relief, the idea of an allowance is a joke. Now, I know what Joey said: No one, not even him, has ever shoplifted even a 45 out of Woolworth's, let alone an album, on account of The Witch, this old bag who watches all us kids like a hawk, like we're mice for her to eat or something. But that made me want it all the more. And I remember seeing, on this TV show, that if you walk out a door, backwards, they won't notice, they'll actually think you're walking into the joint. And it was warm out, all the doors propped open. So I picked up the record, like I owned it, acting real casual - even if I was sweating icy bullets down my ribcage and my knees were flubber.
Anyhow I did it, just started walking backwards out the door, whistling. That's when I heard The Witch. "What do you think you're doing?! Come back here with that record, you little punk!"
I was shoving people out of the way, running down Main Street as fast as I could, as fast as you can run in these shoes. I mean, pointed toes, cuban heels - with cleats?! Try it sometime - in tight pants! My heart wasn't in my throat, it was in my mouth, I could practically spit it out on the sidewalk. Then I started skidding along on my cleats, slammed into a fat man, sent him sprawling. I heard his pants rip, he was cursing, but I had no time to learn some new swear words, I just kept going, sprinting, past McCann's Hardware, I knocked over a mom and her little boy, saw Bondi's Barbershop go by in a flash. Then a hard right, down Bank St., a left, up that hill, the big one, to where all the dormitories are for the college kids, until I knew I was safe. My sides hurt SO much, and I was gasping for air, like a drowning guy, but I was safe. And I owned Meet The Beatles.
I tore the plastic off the cover, a gust carried it away. Then I decided to lie on the lawn, face down. The cool grass felt so good, so refreshing, like Coca Cola, so I just stayed like that, holding my record. I could hear the college kids walking near me, one laughing, "What's with that kid? Did he die?"
I fell asleep.
I woke up, all groggy, it was getting dark and chilly, and I had a forty-five minute walk ahead of me, my legs were all shaky and I was thirsty as anything, no dough for a soda.
What a drag it was getting home to that dump with the peeling paint. I was dead tired, dying of thirst, my feet were blistered and killing me and I knew the old lady was going to slit my throat. I was scared. Exhausted and scared. Actually, I guess the word is dread. I was filled with dread.
I tried to sneak in, but she was at the door in a flash. You wouldn't believe a fossil could move so fast. She'd been in the kitchen dicing onions, chopping them to bits with the knife, the big one, but there she is, in front of me, yelling at me. I hate it when she yells. It drives me nuts, it really does, I can't stand her voice - even when she's not shouting.
"Where have you been?! Why weren't you on the bus?! Where's your report card?!"
Then she spots the record and says, "Where'd you get that? You don't have no money! Where'd you get that?!"
"A kid gave it to me."
She called me a liar, ripped the report card right out of my hand, sent my record flying, slapped my mouth. When she saw those grades, she exploded all over again, said I was no good, just like my old man, the drunk. Then she remembered the record, started in on that a second time. She knew I boosted it, she can read me like a book, she's like a gypsy fortuneteller. She slapped me across the face again and again. I screamed, "STOP IT! STOP IT! YOU'RE HURTING ME! WAIT A MINUTE! WAIT A MINUTE! WHAT'RE YOU SO MAD ABOUT?! AT LEAST I PASSED EVERYTHING! I WON'T HAVE TO REPEAT! A KID GAVE IT TO ME!"
I shielded my face with my hands, but then she slapped the back of my head so hard I saw stars, I swear to God.
She kept whacking me, screeching, calling me a liar and a crook and a retard.
I ran into the kitchen - but still with the hitting and the screaming.
All I could see was red. I can't stand being yelled at. Why couldn't she just, at least, have shut her trap?! That voice of hers drives me crazy, it's like it's all out of tune or something. Why couldn't she have just hit me, but kept her yap buttoned?!
But no, she kept at it. And at it... I tried to make a break for it, but she was stationed in the kitchen doorway, blocking me like some kind of Green Bay Packer, shifting left to right, on her toes, left to right, on those little feet, snorting like a beast.
Officer (deep breath... exhale)... that's when I picked up the knife, the big knife she was chopping the onions with...