Feature Novel – Jay Passer
Passer born in negative space, California style, hating life from the dim age of nine, bespectacled, batting ninth in the little-league lineup. platooned to right. Please! Don’t this goof the damn ball! Poets dream of worse childhood fates. Buy his 2012 chapbooks from Crisis Chronicles Press and corrupt press, they are online oriented genius publications and you are a moron if you don’t support the arts. Passer’s first novel, SQUIRREL, will be available from Pedestrian Press in the year 2013.
Today Superman died. I mean the guy who played Superman in the movies. So he wasn’t so hot after all.
Superman dead? What a wuss!
Sirens in the street. . . Who’ll save ‘em now? I’m trying to sleep, but there are the neighborhood lawnmowers running. . . Plus yowling dogs, truculent crows, grinding garbage trucks. The usual.
Plus this insane heat.
Who can sleep? I’m in bed drinking beer; she’s looking at comic books. Fuckhead in the apartment above. The methamphetamine-fueled pacing pacing pacing back and forth getting on my nerves! I want to perforate the ceiling with a machine gun.
I drink a shot in the kitchenette.
It’s just the two of us.
That was so hot!
I must agree. I roll off, panting, practically dead. Usually I like to kiss and fondle after, you know, those little intimate acts sometimes keep them around longer, but not today. What, I’m supposed to pick up the pieces after a goddamn nuclear blast?
So now she’s gathered all her punkass-girly shit and disappeared. I drink a beer; think about that tight little ass of hers. And how it can’t last. So I fucked like Superman. Then I died.
Knife Fight. It’s her nickname. Since she pulled a knife at a show and got booted out. The truth is, she was showing me hers, and I was showing her mine, and it got a little out of hand, us grappling with cold steel against a wall. The truth is, we both got kicked out.
She’s a punk, Knife Fight. Her real name’s Joanne, she’s a little Jewess, I could be her father, but I am her lover. Not to mention the horrible, pulsating crimson welts cropping up around the head of my cock. Christ! Will she notice? She’s blind in her left eye; the slanted orb wanders off into space, a distinct, adorable flaw. I wear five condoms a night, I don’t let her suck it. . . Joanne, full of beer, hauls off and socks me in the stomach. Her hands are sweaty and she chews on her fingernails. Joanne graduated from high school just last year. Sweet little pissed-off Jew bitch, we’re Jews together, we fuck like brother and sister. Depraved, I wait for her call. She holds me at arm’s length. Keeps a distance. . . A day passes, sometimes two; then she latches on with a fury, with a vengeance. Rowdy, debauched! Then I have to go too far and scare her off, by being too kind, letting in some sunshine after the storm of our affair, but it’s too much. She’s sick of it. She’s tired of screwing her daddy. So she dumps me. Too close for comfort. But she’s not entirely sure; jeez, she’s still a kid. So one day, she calls. She calls twice, three times. She misses me!
Ego aside, supposing I have certain attributes. The whole poet, writer, artist scam-o-rama. The pseudo-rock-star gravity of excess, the psycho-aggravated malignancy of the drunken drug fiend, the lack of integrity, the running at the mouth, the degenerate don’t-give-a-rat’s ass attitude; all that is a banquet for Joanne, she stuffs herself silly! But now she’s moving to Europe.
We made it so good. So complementary in our destructive vision. Gleefully sucking away at each other’s nasty orifices. Wake up and scowl. Not another day of work for fuck sakes.
She wants me to get my nipples pierced. God no! Godless bitch! Goddesslessness! She tweaks my nipple as she mounts me, so I’ll do anything now. . . I get drunk as hell, say something wrong, perhaps several things. . .
But no. I made the mistake of giving too much, smoked her out too much, made her too many sandwiches, bought her too many tall cans of beer, and then the capper, a pendant to wear around the neck. . . A mitzpah. Token of our mutual heritage, reminder of everlasting affection. Whoops! Too deep! Too many strings! She ran like the wind, my cute-ass Joanne. Darling Knife Fight. . . Now I’m moving off the scene, in order to save my life, in an attempt to remember the days in order, to travel a bit of the world, with fuck-all in my possession.
Coincidence? So’s Joanne, packing it up for Ireland, where her mother was born; Jewish, Irish, Ishish. Just a waif blowing in a tumult; the fickle industry of transience.
Now she misses me. Three phone calls Saturday alone, now the day! Brighter than the inside of the sun. My cell phone low on power, the ringer barely audible. I got my ringer on a ring which is supposed to sound like an old-fashioned dial-phone, I can’t stand the pre-programmed sound-bytes, each one different to identify the incoming caller, so amusing to all those who disgust me, the fashionable ones who’re just a pack of posers, who can’t think at all for themselves, who have to have some novelty or another to make their lives seem plausible.
Problem is, I can barely ever hear the damn thing when it does ring. Maybe if I download the Rite of Spring, the kettledrum part. . .
I get the messages, Joanne wants a final romp. The finishing touch.
I was supposed to record with the renowned Bern Neesen. We get all lit up at the Kennel Tavern after hours. Bern Neesen likes to get wasted, he’s old school punk rock, we went and saw X, and Sonic Youth. Not back in the day, but recently, in this new century, old fogies trying to rock out. Well here we are, all older now, but wiser? Fuck sakes, hell no. Just a couple wasteoids, doing lines in the head and dwelling on the past. . . Bern Neesen’s longhaired, shambling, beer-thickened, and still wears the thick black Buddy Holly specs. Drummer; technician; recording-studio artist. I’ve got him sold on some prose pieces, some spoken word tripe, some idiotic ramblings penned at a time when I was either inspired or mad. Of course I was neither/nor. Bern Neesen’s of the opinion we lay down the tracks, maybe a train will come. But I flaked, since Bobo called, tempting me with an invite to a dinner party including the presence of a certain lady he once made out with. Kind of a ‘see ya later, Ivan’ affair. . .
She’s got huge tits, dude, Lyd told her all about you, and I don’t know why, but she seems interested. . .
I’m not sure I want to spread my little STD’s. The future of mankind depends on hygiene. Oh hell.
Well, I suppose.
I’m really just a bit nervous about the studio deal. Superstitious maybe. Something primitive. You know, like recording the spirit, the duplication could possibly lessen the original, and by what degree? Can such things be measured? One for the philosophers. . .
I call Bern, postpone. We’ve been at this for months. It sounds like a good idea when you’re all tweaked, you’re enthused, amped up about it, in fact anything and everything seems like a great idea, fucking awesome!
Then the next day you have a 5-star hangover and the last thing you want to do is attempt any stab at immortality.
Needless to say, the ‘party’ out at Lyd’s ends before it begins, but not before I get the usual requests to break out the weed. . . Hey, this shit’s expensive, and I’m doling it out like candy canes at Christmas. Your friends never seem to understand that drugs are a business. Say I sold microwave ovens, it’d be the same, all your friends would want some kind of deal, because that’s what friends are for, right? What a load of crap.
Whip out the shit!
Ya fuckin’ Jew!
Quit holdin’ out!
Now I take a look at this chick. She’s got a broken foot; it’s in a cast.
I steer Bobo aside.
What’s with the gimp?
Dude, she used to be a dancer.
So fucking what?
So she had an operation, something about her arch; it’s fucked up, they had to rebuild it.
So what is she now, bionic?
Lindsey Wagner! Now that was a good show.
Bobo raises his ferrety little brows for my response, which, no matter the subject, beholden to the prompt, is barked out:
Damn good show!
Turns out she’s got an eleven-year-old daughter she has to go pick up from somewhere. We’ve been over at Lyd’s all of twenty minutes. And Lyd’s kid, George, is running rampant, a two-year-old maniac. Fuck, Lyd, I say, that kid is murder!
How come you don’t have any kids, I?
I was neutered as a puppy.
Lyd’s gone typical, although she used to be quite the psycho. Motherhood’s made her practical. But so what? Her kid’s punk rock. We all play air guitar to the Melvins; it tires him out.
That’s some heavy shit, huh George!
Dude, can you cut out the fucking swearing?
For fuck sakes, Lyd!
All angles, is Lyd, long and lean, with crystal blue eyes and jutting tits, still good tits, damn good tits, and a sky-blue thong peeking above her jeans, creeping up her hips. . .
I comment, of course.
Ivan! I’ve been wearing a thong since I was thirteen! What’re ya looking at my ass for, anyway? How dare you!
Women, they’re perfect spy material. They conceal their wandering eyes brilliantly. Sublime. Us men can’t see past our own dicks.
Oakland, California. Hanging on Piedmont with my stepbrother Charles. Charles and I walk through the bright morning light stuttered with cool tree-shadows to the cemetery. The Jews, my people, are clustered in their dead doldrums on the flat street-surface. The sun at 9 a.m. glinting off the small smooth stones clustered atop the grave-markers, the humble headstones marbled, aged, eroded. As we ascend, higher up the hill, the change is significant. Headstones? Oh no. More like small homes. These memorials reek of old money. Crocker. Creed. Ghirardelli. . . Bay Area bigwigs from way back in the day. Marble angels eroding, high winds off Oaktown apex. Sweeping view from high vista. Foreground, the humble skyline of downtown Oakland, the cranes on the wharf to the left. . . Sprawl of West Oakland. . . It’s a bright, clear morning, you can see all the way to San Francisco, certain individual buildings, Transamerica, BofA, Coit Tower, through only the slightest haze.
Here I remember why I left California in the first place, nothing like the old ways leaping back at you, snarling and panting and threatening to annihilate you completely. It’s the air, the allergies acting up. . . Not to mention emotions on the prowl, lurking around every corner. . . Memories impossible to bury.
California. Joanne a memory, we last hooked up the day before my departure. At first she puts me off, says Ah, Ivan, I’m kinda busy Wednesday, I work till four and then they’re throwing me some kind of ‘going away’ thing. . . And I got a party to go to later, maybe we can meet for an hour for coffee so I can say goodbye?
The nerve of the child.
Ah, fuck it. Goodbye. Nice knowing you.
Wait, wait! Whoa! She sounds a bit desperate, which excites me. C’mon I, where are you?
I’m at the Flowershop. Joe’s picking me up. I’m running errands. Malaria pills. Battery for the camera. Mylar boxer shorts. The works! I’m busy with the last-minute details, you’ll see for yourself, Miss Euro-bound for life.
Ivan, I’m coming down. Twenty minutes tops! Okay?
I concur, but grumble about it. She knows I’m full of crap.
Of course, of course I want her with all my heart. But I have to fight, I got to make like I couldn’t care less- the opposite of how I feel. Doomed is the modern relationship, a cat-and-mouse affair, no rules, no truths, no compromise, no sacrifice, no vows, no romance, nothing but fuck-all drunken anarchy. . . Romper-room antics and a last look at her receding figure bicycling down the street, you can’t make yourself turn around, after a couple at the Flowershop where Fadi lets you bring her to drink, against his better judgment, his better interests. . . At the bar we slouch on stools. Joanne doesn’t remember a time when cell-phones didn’t exist. And then I had to ask, not what her e-mail address was, but if she had one.
Ivan, you live in the dark ages! I’ve had the same e-mail address since I was eleven years old!
She digs through her pockets, pulls out a fresh pack of generics, rips off the wrapping, pulls out the first smoke, reverses it while pulling out another, puts the first back in the pack upside-down, lights up the second, using my lighter, which she pockets. The ‘wish’ cigarette. The kids did the same when I was in high school.
Fadi pours me another Scotch. Joanne wants only coffee. Drink? Too early in the morning for this teenager. Like she can’t suck ‘em down after dark, at the Twilight on Madison around the corner from her rooming-house hovel. Her fake ID miraculously does the trick, especially considering the picture looks totally unlike her. . . But she’s such a cutie it rarely matters, a guy will not only chance a hefty fine for serving her, but jeopardize his goddamn life, for a chance to talk her up. That cute. I buy her a pack of smokes for the road. Her eyes are little slits, she’s so stoned, but she’s ruminating, since the time is here, I’m about to walk away from her forever, and that takes a bit of an edge off the high.
My cute little teenager. And what am I? Almost forty years old, fucking around like a gigolo with girls half my age.
Fadi is cool, while the lingering lunch crowd sneaks glances at the lecherous fiend sitting at the bar with a fidgeting adolescent. . . I hear them whispering.
He’s touching that young boy!
At first glance Joanne does appear boyish, as she styles herself in the punk fashion, always wearing black Dickies and men’s short-sleeve button-down shirts and a cheap vented brown-and-white NRA baseball cap pulled down low over her eyes.
I know better, under all that crap is a real live superhot woman. Fadi knows as well, so I tip well; mum’s the word.
We embrace outside the Flowershop, a final kiss.
Any last words? Joanne’s still holding my hand.
See you in hell.
She smiles, turns away. So do I. I don’t look back. Never look back, no matter the temptation, even to see that ass one more time. I set my face for grim reality and walk on up the early winter sunlit University Way, otherwise known as the Ave, the future a stain, hallucinatory, a mirage before my blurred vision, and I’m a wreck.
Such a sweet thing. My girl. . .
Goodbye! Sweet baby.
I don’t know, Ivan, I don’t know about that baby shit. . .
Je n’sais pas.
It’s all Chuck’s fault.
I’m drunk as a pig, fighting the demons; I haven’t even met Knife Fight yet. Lurching about my hovel, upset, scattered by every detail, a broken ray of light in the mind of a fallen hero. Why the hell bother? What the hell good is anything? The typical whine, bitch, and moan of the maudlin. Death! Come for me, already! It’s about fucking time! Can’t even jerk off, to relax for a half-hour nod, enflamed cockhead, the gift from the last little girl, that trollop, the gift that continues to give, even after the bitch is gone. Warts. My cock is a toad. Generous slathering of hydrocortisone pilfered from a veterinary clinic by a sympathetic vet-tech ex. Don’t forget Superman, or his weakness. Nietsche, bulge under the belt.
The cell phone inevitable, like a new appendage to my body. . . I wait for some call, as if to arms.
When it comes, it’s no picnic.
It’s my stepbrother, the one born in England, the Colonizer. Goes by Charley, Chuck, Chuckles, Chaz, Chuck-bucket. . . Charles.
How’s it going Ivan?
But to the point.
It seems Charles has inherited about half a mil from some limey great-aunt he’s never even met. Score! So he’s got an offer. Feel like traveling? Naturally, I want no part of it. But to putt around with Charles, well. . . He and I share a certain like-minded perversity concerning life in general. We could rip a gaping hole in any old country. Why not? I hear, through a depth-charge of alcoholic imbroglio, my own voice. Where to, Chawles? I drawl, it’s simple to titillate that naughty schoolboy inbred in his genes. . . I’m not going to make it easy on him. But he just laughs it off. That’s the nature of the privileged.
India, you bastard.
Naw, naw, how ‘bout Mexico, me habla Espanol muy bueno.
So it’s India or nada?
Oh well, I suppose. . . So, you pick up much Hindi last time you were there?
Ivan, I got school. . . You’re going alone.
Charles likes to live vicariously, financing my exploits, perhaps simply for the pleasure of hearing me tell the story of my failures at some later time, of course, at his convenience.
I’m speechless for a change, thinking fast, cutting out of the fog, sobering up despite myself. I don’t know, I finally sputter, I better sleep on it, think it over. . . Can’t just dive into this kinda thing. How ‘bout I call you tomorrow?
Ivan! What’s there to think about? It’s a free trip. On me! Five months. C’mon, where’s your vaunted spirit of adventure? You’re rotting in your own complacency. You’ll love India! Think of all those adorable brown girls with bindis on their foreheads. There’s millions! Fourteen-year-olds, begging for it. Waiting in line! Poetry of the Ganges!
Poetry of the Ganges? Try corpses and excrement. . .
You’ll love it!
Amsterdam, blue balls and a million bicycles. I’m gonna pay Vincent a visit tomorrow morning, 10 a.m. sharp. I’m pretty excited, hell, it’s fabled Amsterdam, you can smoke weed on the old cobblestones without fear of the Law. It’s like a flat Frisco, and I can say Frisco, since I’m from Frisco. All the bikes, all the straight-backed women astraddle, the canals, the wrought iron arabesques, the tiny toy cars, the weird sirens, the alien buzz of the phones ringing, erh-ehrrr, Europeans clearing their throats, amazing, the fact there are still any old-school phones left anywhere. But most of all the van Gogh Museum, which I avoid, the anticipation is too great, like facing the sun, or God, or a bully in a dream. I go back to my room at the Quincy, a basement matchbox where I watch MTV, drink Scotch and rum, smoke copious amounts of green stank, and photograph various still-life studies of my traveling trinkets on the night table: drinking cup, flashlight, bottle opener, sunglasses, dental floss, stack of coins, rolling papers, bag o’weed, Zippo, passport. . .
I go by the building I don’t know how many times, I stand alone in the park, till I finally simply walk up, pay, and enter with all the other tourists. The collection on display is on the 2nd floor. The building, quiet in a church-murmuring sort of way. . . I take the staircase. . . I venture forth into a rather large room, the paintings way in the distance, tiny on seemingly vast walls. I inch up to investigate. In the back of my mind the wheels race through the big glossy coffee-table reproductions. . . A wheat field or two, self-portrait with bandaged ear, crows, cypress trees, peasants, boats, stars. . . Jesus! They look so small! And behind safety-acrylic, glare reducing the impassioned textures to shadowy murk. Plus the frames, cropping the edges of the paintings a good 1/2” around! What the. . . I feel ripped-off. All those years of pent-up anticipation; my Master, my Hero! In person, I don’t see what’s the big deal. Anesthetized by the art-world sell-out, I’m robbed of a vision of my own. . .
I’m drinking rum in my room. Chuck says get out of the room, go find a girl for god’s sake, carpe diem, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Go get yourself a fine-ass 250-euro whore. My treat!
I’m U. S. Pacific Northwest underdressed, Hawaiian shirt, sandal-loafers, khaki pants of no distinguishable color or even recognizable hue, navy-blue billed cap with gold-stitched stars forming the Big Dipper and the North Star, and under that the word ALASKA in gold embroidery. Tourist. American tourist. Marked! I eat some cheese and bread and mussels in chile oil and carrot sticks and pork rinds procured from the Chinashop on Overtoon. Taking it easy with rum and stink-bud from the hash-bar on Princedenstraat, where I e-mail stateside contacts, though I can barely see but for the clouds of smoke and my dirty glasses. Internet access, espresso, Heineken, and drawers and drawers of bud, graded in several categories, cache in the back bar. Reflection off the water in the channel, glistening silver-blue tinsel. Eyes ache from the assault of Amsterdam. Picturesque to every cobblestone. Heartburn from diet of fresh baguette brie olives ham and rum and Scotch and golden beer and Gauloises. Sure I’d be more willing to join the fray, say I had a damn scarf, or a decent jacket, but thanks to Chuck’s sage advice I kept my bedroll and rags to a bare minimum.
Naw, it’s moderate in Yerp this time of year, you don’t need shit. . . Be a man. That’s Chaz, smile three Valiums wide.
here in this quaint old city
cobblestone-arched bridge over smooth canal
wrought-iron curlicue pissoirs
cars you can fold up and put in your pocket
the Quincy English, my lavish abode
there’s a music school nearby
you can hear the faint plinking
and plaintive strings
murmur through the chill wind
you know, this place is pretty damn cold
I bundle up in several thin shirts
the music students ride by on their old rusty bikes
the kind with drum brakes and zing zing! bells and
fancy chrome headlights
powered by a little generator attached to the flywheel
a sparkling light
guiding you through the mists and fog
all your women ride straight-backed on their bicycles
seemingly in tandem
as on a merry-go-round
they are tall and fine-boned
bundled up against the chill
of December morning just after
St. Nick’s Day
all the discarded Christmas trees
out on the streets
by the curb or leaning in slumber
against cold wrought-iron
The ticket’s for India, that’s my ultimate destination, so I’m on the plane. Goodbye Europe, I barely got to know you. You’re like distant relatives I never knew I had and don’t really care to meet.
Ten 5-mg tablets Diazepan for ten rupees- fifteen cents worth. Ain’t India sweet? Wondering, can you chop ‘em up?
They call the pharmacist a ‘chemist’. These purveyors don’t even flinch. Just hand over the shit.
This one guy’s been tailing me, trying to pass off chunks of incense as hash. Can’t shake him. No matter where you go, no matter how saturated the mob, they find you, single you out, as if they can see into your mind, straight to the dim place where the pang of chemical longing quivers.
I happen upon a clean-looking shop on the Main Bazaar in Pahar Ganj, it’s where I buy hash from the dealer in silk, incense, computer-time and tattoos, Kamal. It’s close to the Anoop Hotel, where I stay. Rooftop terrace restaurant shared with statues of the gods and gigantic rubber plants. Green curry for breakfast. 360’ view of New Delhi, what you can see of it, pollution thick enough to cut with a machete.
Rama House: I have found the Jews, Habad House within, black orthodox hats and curled locks long beards and heavy black glasses, knowing smiles as I hesitate, glance in the door. . . He steps forward, hand upturned, saying, in the kindest manner imaginable, The door is always open, friend.
the death of love
most insipid and obvious
the kind which drives you
as a kid
from atop the world
mountain crumbled under
Black coffee, fried eggs, curried potatoes with onions and tomatoes. That’s what they’re eating, the Israeliac women at the table beside mine. I’m about to scurry but the two just sat, so I linger. One passable, but somewhat lumpy in a red woolen Mexican-style shawl, olive skin and black curly locks bunched close to her head. . . I maintain an aloof nonchalance, then her companion arrives, a real beauty, same type of shawl but a tighter fit, oh yes, and her face! Delicate, perfectly composed, Queen of Sheba type. . . Eyes obsidian, black dancing pools of sensuality. . . Not a flaw. Hey, maybe my luck’s turning, maybe I can use some of those Trojans Chuck encouraged me to procure for the trip. . .
All the Indians are watching cricket on the wide screen TV, incongruous in this courtyard decorated with potted ferns, rubber trees, ficus, marble terrace and wrought iron, brass sculptures of animals and deities. Buttered toast and coffee is all I can handle after two pints of whiskey, six valiums, a half-gram of hash and too many cigarettes to count, yesterday. Before I can muster the bravado, which normally comes so easy for me, some old, fat, chattering Nana sits with the duo of cuties.
I don’t understand cricket. Maybe I ought to buy a book on the subject.
stumps for legs he pedals with his hands
she peddles 9 yr old daughter
family of 5 on moped
eat better’n children
over the abyss
over Delhi rooftops
run over by 6 dozen rickshaws
flannel torn in 5 places same rickshaws
is your friend
trash piled up
mud and sloppy mountain
I slice thru pollution
machete of metaphor
bottled back in
An object lesson on time is in order. The end of the day, you sleep. At the end of your life, you die. Simple! Everything else happens between, isn’t it funny? In other words, nothing is on time in India.
Scheduled for Goa, Chucky talks me out of it, saying they’ll fleece me worse there than in New Delhi. Well, he’s the expert traveler, can I argue? Who can argue with five hundred grand? So Varanasi it is.
The train is two-and-a-half hours late.
When the birds fly in a flock, randomly? Why? Leaderless? The Indian pigeon. Collectively misdirected? Going nowhere but the next crumbling rooftop, black wing aflutter before glinting sunshine on soaring bellies and sleek undersides. . . Gliding. . . Maybe they’re working off their dusk swill of trash off the Ganges.
I am an American.
Endlessly circling, or as I check my cheap Casio watch, rubber wristband always either too tight or too loose. Many handy features however, 24-hour time, alarm, timer, little green light.
The birds have split into two groups of about thirty, the groups jammed together, then spreading, seemingly at random, one group tight formation, the other wider, spread out; is it a game? Territorial issue? A challenge? Indian pigeons, they must avoid the myriad colored paper kites whizzing and darting- dozens of ‘em.
I am an American.
What does ‘go fly a kite’ mean in Americanese? It means: Fuck off.
I have nothing to do, and all the time in the world.
I’m supposed to meet my ‘friend’ today on the way back from the G.P.O. A slim, black, oily-haired soul who doesn’t exactly look murderous, but close. It is fog city but sure to burn off. Sometime last night I lost it. My baseball cap with the Alaska logo, with the dipper and the North star. Cheap cap but sentimental. I am an American, Americans are sentimental. Little Big Horn. Hiroshima. On the other hand, gritty fingernails, feet perpetually hazed with a film of dirt. . . I go days not bothering to change clothes, going ‘native’. Yet all the white people in their immaculate attire, backpacks from Northface or REI or Timberland or whatever, perfectly groomed, preened, not a stain, not a smear, not a smudge, poised at every shrine, cameras clicking, every guru, gesticulating, every outdoor food stand, video rolling, every cow, rickshaw, monkey, goat, every chewed-apart skiff on the Ganges. I was told I’d never be alone but I didn’t expect to be the lone white trash. Is it because I am an American? Or is it just myself, urban slouch?
Suni is my new friend, or should I say guide? I’ve finally found help, among the natives, getting around. His array of uncles and cousins and brothers and aunts and sisters and nephews seems endless. Him or her’s silk factory, he or she’s chai shop. The bakery? In-laws! Uncle’s hostel. Auntie’s seamstress shop. Grandfather’s bidi-rolling stall. And best of all, of course, is cousin Shiva’s ‘bidness’.
What can you do? You’re in a different country, but the rules are the same. Respect first, money up front, no pyrotechnics.
Taking the bicycle rickshaw, still, I’m asking if we’re cool. . . I am an American! Ultimately paranoid! I’ve heard about these 3rd world prisons where they dump you in a fetid pit and you’re never seen again.
Oh no, my friend, you are like brother to me! I know! I know the American and you are like, different breed!
That is, I’m a customer, potentially a good customer.
Labyrinths, dank alleyways, chipped paint, broken masonry, piles of garbage and rubble, sickly pups huddling in the gloom. I follow Suni to a small room. Shoes removed, and for good reason, mud and cowshit everywhere. Natural resources. . . Some balance. . . Milk consumed from chai and curds and cheese. . . Versus the mounds of shit on the streets where the cow reigns supreme. And hey! Better watch out for those black cows! No touchy! Think it’s for luck? Whammo! Head butt to the hip, send you flying twenty feet!
The black ones you be careful, explains Suni. Bulls not like western in the movies. White are woman cows, very docile. . .
I wince for days, the little Indian children giggle at my disjointed limp.
There has to be five or six guys in the very small room. Suni points to a thin matt, I’m to sit and drink chai. The women are all upstairs cooking while the men sit in the small room drinking tea and getting high. Introductions. Two guys. . . One in western garb, silent, oily, sinister. The other, in saffron and spotless white robes, introduced by Suni’s cousin (or is it uncle?) as the guru, the Guru from the Northern Mountains. . . Crimson bindi, a piercing 3rd eye. . . Liquid black moustache. . . He looks at me quietly, disapproving. Reads me like one of those books with nothing in it, a nothing book. That’s me, an empty book. . . Shit! What’s a guru doing in this den of miscreants? Where’s the fucking drugs?
Where’s my friend, my brother, Suni?
And here he comes with the tray and the hot chai. Business time.
An hour later we’re back in another bicycle-rickshaw, headed toward the ghats, and all I want is to do some shit in my room, but Suni’s got big plans, more uncles, more brothers, more cousins, parties, whiskey, whores. . . Suni wants to fleece the very core of my existence. . .
Thanks, pal, I shake his limp brown hand. Gotta go!
Ah! I see you tomorrow, yes? Brother!
Yeah, yeah, maybe. . .
I hustle on into my hotel. Luckily the natives aren’t allowed in.
They tolerate the monkeys here, and the tourists love them until they get scratched or bitten or downright mugged. Smart monkeys! Hindus have a monkey god, Hanuman; they have a god for everything. So the monkeys run wild like everything else, man or beast. I find the monkeys a total pain in the ass. Worse than raccoons: since really, monkeys are just cut-rate humans. At least on raccoons, scientists don’t even bother experimenting, they’re still too animalistic, it’s not like humans evolved from them. Monkeys though? Junior heads-of-state. . . One snuck in my room when I wasn’t looking. Feral primate in the middle of my corner room, 250 rupees a night, the mice I don’t mind, the cockroaches, no matter, in this city of Shiva, my lonesome balcony room with old peeling blue paint and papaya-colored roof beams! My cold clay floor and bells and more bells ringing through the open-air windows and French doors! Squeeeeech! Is that me or the flailing-armed monkey? Matters not, the little ingrate splits lightning-fast, as I rush it like a linebacker. Spy a double-A battery on the floor in the corner, jet out to the balcony and one floor down peg the little cretin right on the nose. Nothing terminal, just a friendly reminder: I am an American!
I throw the fucker in the Ganges. Call it a sacrifice. Call it pissoffedness. The damn thing kept opening up in my pocket. Not that it’s any threat, the little fucking thing’s so dull it wouldn’t slice a slab of warm butter. My Smith and Wesson back home’d cut me apart if it knew I ever even entertained the idea of keeping such an infidel blade in my pocket.
My old Smith and Wesson would laugh. . .
Submerged, bottomed out in the murky, Christless, shitty depths; that shitty back-alley blade wouldn’t cut a rotten mango.
someone locked the guy in the from the outside
in the shit-and-shower
the Indian porter
I let him out from the decrepit shower stall
I’m nursing my own injury
right foot I turned playing badminton in Germanica
gimpy me shows the boy my camera
his eyes light up! New technology! He poses, muscleman stance, for a photo-op! I shoot a couple frames, he’s happy looking at the instantaneous results, and giddy as a kid at Christmas
then he shows me his problem
fucked up, like mine
but this poor guy! Oncoming leprosy? Broken skin, sores, horrible gangrenous splitting between the toes. . . toenails black, rotting off. . .
ever hear of shoes?
or washing your feet with soap?
he doesn’t understand English so well
he accepts his predicament
with a smile
it’s the inevitability of his condition, or conditioning, or karma
my foot doesn’t hurt so bad anymore
maybe the valium, opium, weed and fifth of Smirnoff
has something to do with it
The lack of abstract art in India is heroic in the face of modernity. What is modern art anyway but an indiscreet mixture of advertising and pornography? Here the art from primitive to contemporary India retains a constant theme. The gods. Their exploits. I’d like to say the same for modern Anybodies. Nobodies, they just don’t cut the mustard. Does a man who walks the streets barefoot treading through cow shit and a rain of spittle and firecrackers need art? Art? How about a dream cake, a fount of lemonade?
Just when you think you’ll explode with frustration and rage a small girl walks by and with absolute genuine affection smiles, says hello.
It’s like a lightning blast to the soul, this sheer honesty and purity of nature.
A sunbeam daffodil.
Where you going?
What you want?
Where you from?
What you need?
The power’s been faulty. It goes out in the room from time to time. Worst is internet- can’t get through to the States. It’s been days it seems. The bum foot inhibits serious travel, the stones of the street even making cows ascending steps an act of high comedy. I stay close to the room but the foot still throbs- there’s no ice. 250 rupees a night and no ice! I’m dying from being coddled all my life, even during ‘supposed’ times of adverse poverty. . . Face it, there was always a safety net. . . Goddamned ugly to admit, but I could always have called the old man. . . To help me out of a jam. . . Any crazy hypothetical problem. I never made the call. He resents me for it, for my lack of need, for my own fucking birth, the fucking bastard. . . Me? Him? My mother lying through her teeth, insisting she’s on the pill. . . Power! The power. It’s been a bit on the wane. . . I’m bitten on the wrists by mosquitoes, they find my skin while I writhe in sleep, jackpot! And here it is the cool season, what kind of inferno is it like the rest of the year? Most Indians seem weary except the service-industry types, they’re very serious. . . All they really want is to brag and boast, or piss and moan. The power. Surely a spent generator, non-central. Well good for them, fucking slackers. I could care less. Time here is of little, if any, importance. Provided, of course, you’re well patronized.
there’s hoopla around the kite festival
rooftop sky blue heat and shrill whistling
cheap chintz jobs the size of dinner napkins
purple with flipping black tails
maybe orange with lime-green skitteroo
purple half-crimson, avocado, lemon-lime, you get the picture?
the air itself, vibrant, an odd dance of scented delicacies
catcalls animate, chants indecipherable to the non-Hindu
el jefe, the pizzu
his garb, his stick, nailed to the end’s a long, dirty purple rag
he waves it about! In the air!
whistles and shouts! yahyahyah! yahyahyah! yah!
I look around, what the. . .
what the hell just happened?
the kites all seemingly performing the same dance, but for the little flock of flitting birds
remember? they look a lot like pigeons
are they all of a sudden
on collision course for the kites?
deep blue, cobalt, cerulean? the sky?
the screech and scream and chant!
flat-color skiff chugging through the muddy murk of the Ganges? thick brown water? some strange alliance with the birds?
these dark jeering shouting whistling men wrapped in rags waving sinewy arms walking around the high precipices of ancient crumbling edifices, built diagonally from the bank of the river, these men with the speed and agility of monkeys
the kites the boys the men the birds
the kites jerk like crippled butterflies
day after New Year’s up on the rooftop terrace of the Ganpati Guest House
the help is rather slow even though there’s gotta be 6 or 7 of them loitering about, basking in the baking sun
they’re always hanging around
whistling in dark ancient language
Will they sue me? How could they? If say, I appropriate a blanket for the trip on the train to Calcutta? I’ll leave them a fat tip, say a 50 rupee note. . . One of the ripped ones, I’ll tape it together. . . It’s not fear making me feel I’m becoming one of them. After only a couple weeks. Chameleon-like. . .
Morning tea at the GG Hotel, my favorite spot, invaded with the international traveling backpacker set. I sit too close to other tables but there’s little choice, the place is packed. I hear them talk as I stare at the hordes of flies settling about the dishes and small squirrels that run about the balcony railing and the hawks and the kites up in the sky. I don’t utter a word but I’m not contemplating, not meditating, just wasting away, counting minutes on my Casio wristwatch. . . Till I have to move to some other room down the street, they’re tired of me here. . . The international set flit about to different countries doing important volunteer relief work for the natives. . . They’re quiet enough till this old woman appears, a Spaniard, complete with flourishing Gypsy attire, all silk and bright colors, whose yap never shuts. . . Lived in Korea a spell. . . Just returned from Nepal by train. . . Isn’t it great, she intones, with a great fluttering of hands, being independently wealthy? I can travel all the time. . . But it was so sad, she continues, with flawless sympathy, I saw this little girl on the train here to Varanasi, she was so sick, and her parents, you see, were bringing her here to be burned on the Ganges, and the poor thing wasn’t even, you know, dead yet!
It’s a sorry state of affairs. When Charles says, You’ll give away a lot of stuff, you’ll give yourself away in India, I say, Yeah right, sure, fuck that.
Purple cotton shirt, why the hell I bought it, look the damn fool, then tried to wash it by hand, all the dye ran out. Already torn at the collar. I go to see the chai-man at the corner, D. 36/149 Dasaswamedh, directly across from what appears to be a major public watering hole. The poor and decrepit. . . Fakirs, Sadhus, male whores, goats. . . Bank of the Ganges, right down the ghat steps, dung-patties set out to dry, fuel for the old women’s cooking fires. Just ahead the marketplace is a jamboree loaded with mangos and eggplant, potatoes and peppers, brass vessels, brocade saris, garlands of marigold.
This old dude, I can’t understand a word out of his gnarled and betel-stained crimson mouth, but a couple of his four sons possess a smattering of English, though we don’t really speak, it’s more a pantomime than anything else. I sit in the sun on an old crate watching India in the morning, the spectacular color in direct contrast to the shit and mud and chaos of it. . . Somehow it relaxes me, sipping gritty chai in a chipped glass, smacking my lips to the delight of the chai-man. He still, in his gnarly, wasted-tooth, cyst-faced manner, goes for the kill. . . Maybe? 20 rupee? Tomorrow? You come tomorrow? The tea costs 5 rupees a cup, he wants a down payment for the next couple days. . .
I’ll never forget this man, patting the paint-speckled, worn down piece of board he sits on, an invitation, of course, for me to take the spot of position.
I humbly decline, follow with a sweeping gesture, arching my brow, How about another glass?
Old chai-man, and I don’t even like milk.
Old chai-man, needs a dentist bad.
Old chai-man receives gift of purple shirt. He is impressed, but more by my sitting with him, day after day, watching the traffic at the foot of the alley. Practically in silence. Offers me bidis. I tip him like an idiot.
That, that nice, shirt.
Extends his hand, fingers the fabric, a total purple embarrassment to me, yet for him, exquisite treasure. Or maybe he was bullshitting me the whole time.
I put the shirt in a bag for the chai-man. I save everything. I got the bag buying asswipe. A lighter shade of purple plastic.
His root-like hands and feet, his face a mass of red and yellow buck teeth and wild gray whiskers and dark creases, harsh angles. . . Four sons. . . Two wives. . .
a holy endeavor
pilgrims come from afar to burn the dead on the Ganges
the dogs fight in the mudcaked streets
the foodstuffs piled high on the antiquated pushcarts
limes blood-orange carrots round brown potatoes
phlegmatic cows grinning cripples auspicious mendicants
in the street the generators fart and shake on the verge of bursting apart
convulsing directly in front of a shop featuring ‘The Finest In Silk’
about to blow its top
sweet twisty donuts and lassi
plaintive singing beggars blind and woodsmoke
where the bodies at dawn recline
weighed against the sticks the old women squat to trim with dull precision
bent to their work, wooden caricatures a thousand years old
the true heartsong of the bells at dawn
kites jitter hawks squall a child shouts a bidi smokes in a fist
where and when
there’s fire there’s Marnikarnika ghat
bamboo stretchers swathed in orange and gold linen, festooned with wreaths of marigold
corpse doused in the Ganges
carefully weighed stacks of carefully trimmed sticks
join, the Infinite
devotees writhe and chant along the slow molten river
Shiva is the sun of this city on fire
mist pale chiffon
marigolds drift amidst floating candles and waft of sandalwood
the bodies burn while the living wait their turn
The demise of romantic love begins with Felicia. My love and the end of it I ponder in a city of beautiful death, Varanasi. Benares. So I recall. . .
Jesus Christ, the way she struts. A miniature Marilyn. I’m a bit appalled to see posters of Marilyn Monroe on the walls of her apartment. Too obvious. But her body makes up for it, and that jaunty toss of her head, that naughty pout. Least that’s how it seems at first.
At the Kennel. Gotta start from the beginning, where the roots take hold. Of the tree? Or the man hanging from the rope?
It starts with Felicia. See her at the bar, bleach-blonde, bouncy, quirky, just a new girl in town. Flirting with Uncle Nian, rhymes with lion, and king of beasts is he. . . Professional addict. You name it, he can get it, but it’ll take a while. Nian loves to make ‘em wait. . . He looks a bit stressed, I give him a bit of the old massage therapy routine. The girl gives me a quick scan. . . Ooh, I wish you’d do me. . . I touch her for one second, say Naw, you’d take way too long. . . Bright catty smile, then she’s gone into the melee of the Saturday night Kennel crowd. Tight, faded blue jeans, white tank top amply displaying supple upturned breasts. . . Bluntly put, a tart.
Oh yeah, she’s here, says Kennelkeeper Red, pointing back to the heads, yep, she was getting off the bus, reading a book, walked right-into-a-telephone-pole! Kinda ditzy, you know? But shit-howdy, what a bod!
I walk past her on the way to the head. Out of my mouth like a captive bird the fatal words escape.
She hesitates, barely concealing a hint of concern, her brain wheeling for the memory, this can’t be a total stranger, so forthright? She’s having trouble recalling me, my touch, one smoke-filled night, at a tavern. . . In fact, this very tavern. . . Where every man in sight wants to screw her.
Why do I hate this country so much? Why my own? Why hate? Black-cracked coal-leaded feet? Infernal baskets of midget bananas, determined blue-black crows? Nothing wasted, they save everything here yet everything else crumbles to dust? The lassitude of anything remotely structured? No hot nor drinking water? The constant scrutiny? The impossible-to-read faces of the natives? The constant runs? Hiccups? Cramps? Delirium? Wiping my ass with poems written on napkins?
I find a place, I like to eat at this corner stall, maybe once, twice even, after several exact orders (a simple sandwich of baguette, white cheese, cucumber thankfully peeled of skin and seeded, unmentionable meat, butter and mayo) they’re standing there, the locals, looking at something a wee bit out of my sight. Ahhh!
What? What? Fuck! Why are you microwaving my sandwich?
I slap forehead, argueless, pointless. . . Ruin of lunch, beseech me, I’m done.
The spider, in the corner of my little squalid room, I make a deal with. You eat the skeeters and I won’t murder you.
Why my own country? Born of riches and scorn? Can I ever return to?
The cars: Ambassadors.
The Kali temple, where they coulda stole my shoes. They insist I wash, scent my hands, and an offering for a small price, incense (I’m allergic), a small wreath of red blossoms, and this, and that, all piled in my hands.
I watch a steady stream of Indians crowd into the temple, a primitive swooping edifice lovely with mosaic, yet the sky seems to promise shitstorms of rain.
Fucking shit, I say, who’s gonna watch my shoes?
I’m that way about my footwear. Then of course, who in India would steal my shoes? Even though I’m relatively (American standards please apply) average of height, 5’10”, (sans mulish slump), my feet are a good 42 European fit, or size 12.
Yeah, well they’ll just rip ‘em apart and make four pairs!
No no! That man watches your shoes. This from another tiny man, apparently in charge of the removal of footwear, in accordance to temple decorum. I look, the old guy’s rheumy with cataracts, eyes spookily drooling pearl white.
Naw, forget it, I say. . . Settle for snapshots of mosaic and footworn marble etchings surrounding the temple, beat it, thankful for shoes, walk the interior market a bit, ripe for the fleecing.
As I first approached the Kali Temple I noticed these two guys perched in a huge tree sawing away at a particularly outlandish limb. Already trimmed, pruned, whatnot. . . Probably already sold for myriad uses.
A whole audience of Indians: watching.
So as I walk out of the temple and into the street I’m in the usual stupor of dreams and hangover and bewilderment when twenty Indians lunge forward yelling! Whoa whoa!
As I wander straight beneath the neatly sliced limb, now in slow-motion, falling.
They pull me back, twenty, thirty strong brown arms. . .
Sit me down, look at me, extremely lucky, or extremely crazy, or extremely stupid.
My heart like a jackhammer. Some nice old brown lady smiles, refills my chai glass. Yellow sari with red stitching. I realize I love her.
That fucking limb out to kill me!
Superman! Withered in his wheelchair, nobody caring a fuck about those stupid 80’s comic book fantasies. . .
I can relate.
old man all gimpy and askew
he’s just an old junky
honest he keeps insisting
prove it man
he can find me something
a hundred rupees worth
gets me 2 grams of pot full of stems and seeds
half chaff half dried snot
but I roll it up and smile to the corroded skies
maybe there’s a god
maybe there’s several
I see the guy every day since my hotel is on his street
our paths always seem to cross
informs me of every waking habitué
every stumbling intrigue
every whore on the corner
every kid on their jumbly way
toothlessly he points
pinpoint eyes jet with nervous shadows
One day I’m coming up the backstairs into the Kennel, daylight shrouded with each ascending step, forming a timeless cave-like gloom, myself some debauched spelunker entering the chamber, enormous cedar pillars, square beams thirty feet high supporting a blotchily painted blue ceiling vault. At once the very defiance of health. The hell with health! Good health is for animals.
What’s up, Red? I say, a litany repeated thousands of times.
Fuck’s up, Red nods, reading the paper over by the lone patron at the bar, an old, skinny black guy who smokes incessantly, and worse, smokes Kools. The guy’s fine, keeps to himself, until about midway through his third pitcher of Rainier he can’t shut up, and possesses no faculty for intelligent conversation. You want to hear about his menu for the week? What he limps over to the bus stop for? On his way to the store? Up in the U-district, the Safeway? You’ll hear it alright! Same menu every week. . .
I amble on over anyhow. John Hartt, Hartt spelled with two T’s; which he constantly reminds anyone with the misfortune to sit anywhere near him. Which is seldom, since he’s drunk by 4 p.m., limping back and forth to the head, one leg impossibly straight, bones fused at the knee, a list doubly embellished by his pronounced state of inebriation.
Stealthy, I am. Hartt’s got the full schooner glass up to his lips as I shout, Hey HARTT! WHAT’S UP BUDDY?
Fuck! bubbles Hartt. Now there’s beer all over the counter, and part of Red’s paper is soaked.
Hartt! Shit sandwich! The sports! Red dabs with his stained bar rag.
Hartt’s Kool is soaked. Slowly, somberly, Hartt shakes his head. His eyes glazed like a starved and rheumy St. Bernard.
Ivan, man, I may be fucked up, but I ain’t deaf! Now why you gotta go hollerin’ at a man like that?
At that precise minute, my life, once only a ruin, now completely vanquished.
A flash out the front door of the tavern, something, out in the youth of the sun, I see Red and John crane their necks, I glimpse a last-second ankle, maybe a calf. . .
All troubles aside now. All of us rushing to the door in a flurry; then instantly composed; just taking the air for a minute, you know? Just light up a little smoke; simply having an innocent look-see up and down the street.
And this ass going along, just shaking on a set of toned legs, moving pert under tight faded blue jeans, torn in precisely the right places, just above the thigh, but not exposing the ass, which you know you could bounce a fucking quarter off of; tight white t-shirt and suggestive, rollicking gait like her movement through space alone has the final say: follow me, or else! A girl on the move. . . Then she’s gone.
She’s flitted into the restaurant.
Look’s like you’ve got a customer, says Red.
Fuck. I’m not working tonight.
You are now!
John hoots, Red knows you too damn well, Mr. Ivan!
Now that was something, admits Red.
Red’s a decade or so older than myself, a frizzled leonine biker with pointy-toed western biker boots, old Levis, black leather vest, a bit of a reek, potbellied and bespectacled and as redneck as he is red-haired. Harley’s and handguns, cans of beer and I-won’t-say-no-to-a-little-toot. Sabbath. Zeppelin. Doors. Allman Brothers. All day long scratchily playing on the bar’s dusty LP player. All day long endlessly. Newspaper, ice cream bars, chips and all the various snacks brought in by daytime regulars expecting long, cheap pours in return. That and Hartt and the occasional fraternity galoots from the UW, the here-and-there office girls on their lunch breaks, looking to score for later, teasing, faintly hot in the dim lurking gloom. . . Hot enough to initiate a score? Red’ll make the call, first thing! Can’t find the phone fast enough!
I make my appearances; have for so long it seems natural. But I always check out early, a beer or two during the day; otherwise I have to endure Red’s steadily advancing state of inebriation; not a pretty sight.
We’ve all been through it. We want to forget but nobody in his right mind will let us forget. It’s moot strategy, empty leverage; buffoonery. It’s downright legendary. They come and they go, but the seat at the bar’s a vacant lot, ready for yet another wrecked car to occupy what? Another goddamned parking space. Wax sentimental all you want, you stay with a troupe and you die with a troupe, or you just mosey along since you’re a moron, trying to open doors that end up kicking your ass on the way out. You’re a bitch or a tout or a wannabe-hustler or a scumbag-user or a scammer or a dickhead mark or a whiner. And say if you stick around, well, what do you know, you die faster, but who’s looking?
I better go check it out, I say to the air once occupied by Red and John Hartt.
She’s headed my way. Nice face, alert, curious, compact, twinkling with the cosmetic glitter of the day. . . Nodding, and cleavage, and quick hands, and arms all pale mischief, all moving together, legs strutting and she knows I’m looking, and as I pass I say Hey Beautiful. And I keep going. She’s bewildered but keeps it in check, composed, but I’ve already smoothed on by. Let it sink in, the floozy wench. Sure, that’s my approach. Then! I recognize her. The one I couldn’t, wouldn’t dare massage. The other night? At the Kennel? Standing there at the bar, about to order a beer? Under her left ear, a tattoo, some Chinese character. What? Fire? Fire!
Ah yes, as the waters part. . .
Boss! I’m sorry! Whoa! Ivan my bro! C’mon, where she at? . . Hartt’s eyes a’glitter, ebony skin a’flutter. . .
Turns out, John Hartt has heart, heart. With two T’s.
That little girl, her name’s Felicia. I seen her gettin’ off the bus. Runs into poles and shit, lookin’ at a book. She lookin’ for a job. I tole you Ivan! You gotta have some little job for a looker like that!
I can think of a thing or two. . . Sure thing.
It’s good news in the room, back in Delhi. My style is more along the lines of four walls, window, cold beer and a mattress. The Rak, wrought iron, marble floors, high ceilings, hot showers, window with an air-conditioner installed; both perch and toilet for pigeons. But my toilet? Sit-down! Glory! Bliss! Even if the seat is cracked, snagging buttock! A bed, for to rest after the railways of India have debilitated me; the dark, somewhat sinister, worn out, smeared, stained, dented, oily, flyspecked, dingy, fluorescent-lighted traps of death.
Trains. The natives throw people off, like this kid a couple weeks ago, complaining about the smoke, these three soldiers were smoking in his berth, which is ‘prohibited’ on the Indian Rail. These three fucks throw him off the train. He lies in a ditch for twelve hours before anybody notices him.
Trains. Human anchovies. Memories of King County Jail. How, sadly, County seems actually superior. You get your meals in County. On India’s trains you gotta be quick and aggressive; yet respectful, polite. Those guys taking the orders for daal and rice don’t want to explain daal and rice to the American in the upper berth. They don’t want anything to do with the American in the upper berth, so I don’t get a word in, and depend on banana chips, which are quite salty. I’m laid out flat from hours of waiting, waiting, waiting along the filthy platforms. Cows on the platform, defecating openly, the shit steaming. Watch. If the cow halts for apparently no reason- staring placidly into space- keep your distance! A jerk of its neck and plop! What a mess! And the fucking monkeys! What about them? They’ll rob you blind if you’re not careful! Never mind the touts; watch out for the monkeys.
I attempt to resist the food at the stations, the hot sweet potato in curry; coconut cookies in garish packaging; hard-boiled eggs; peanuts, bananas, coconuts, oranges; chickpeas with tomatoes and onion seared in a pan, wrapped in rice pancake. And chai! Relentless chants of the chai peddlers, their cheap aluminum urns and buckets filled with unfired terra-cotta bowls. . . Pushers! Chai! CHHAAAAIIIIIII!!! In a ceaseless monotone. . . Trains. Sleepy-time, 10 p.m., another reflection of County. The Indians prepare, elaborately, for an overnight snooze. Taking great pains, as they did with their dinners; eating with their fingers or smearing with naan bread, smacking lips heartily, belching. . . County again. I get as far away as possible, on my berth topmost of three tiers, like a bunk, except County had a mattress of sorts, which you drag in with you when assigned a block. Here, raw planks wrapped in cheap blue vinyl. 12” headroom. I’m laid out. The snoring, County again, except worse, entire families in unison. . . It’s freezing, I have no blanket, I put all my clothes on, a real trick to mummify oneself in such a cramped space. . .The windows, falling open, you’ve got to shim the thing, try with a wad of greasy newspaper. . . No dice. . . The train rocks, interminably slowing. . . Cow on the tracks. . . Then up to speed again. Men farting in their sleep, the thin air filled with methane, smoke, curry and the cold taint of rain outside. At least I’m not camped out there.
Trash litters the floor in the claustrophobic train-car. A boy’s body twisted up in all the wrong directions, a human wheelchair with pretzels for wheels, goes sweeping with his brown handful of long sticks. . . Polio boy, brown hand turned purple with the juice of the sun, hand held out for service.
My teeth, held just apart, chatter from the vibrations of the train. The breath of men fouled with dark dreams; the women silent yet sibilant; the children restless and bright. Train ride destination New Delhi.
I decide to take a day or two off from the crazy ride- on my own terms?
Well, there’s this girl. . . Isn’t there always?
ate the poster off the wall
the poster advertising the guru
the guru’s cousin in Calcutta sells cocaine
the guru predicts how many years I have left
not too many
sunlight looks good against the choppy gray wake and terra-cotta sand of Orissa
tourists pose for photos
gnarled old women balance baskets of fruit on their heads
hah-low! hah-low! ba-na-na? orange?
nothing rhymes with orange
the dogs of Puri relentlessly scratch
midnight dogfight lunging feast of jet
dreams of hunger and feral chase
no guru needed to penetrate
the soul of a dog
a dog’s dream is love
Back in Puri, at yet another hotel. The Alka. Class. The room has white plaster walls and alcoves and high ceilings and it’s quiet, the boys surreptitiously sweep the red brick, always in the background, but if you say hello, they smile wide, with huge pristine teeth. Mosquito-netting around the bed and the quiet courtyard, the shocking color of the flowers, it’s appalling how little I know about the flowers. The cooler with the beer and the little dimestore ledger where you log in your purchases. Oh the poetry of the room, left alone to your devices, halfway across the planet from anything halfway approaching modernity. . . After a sandy road slightly downhill and the mosaic of low-shouldered buildings, faded, flecked from decades of seasonal re-painting, the Bay of Bengal is an immense gray-blue against the clotted red sun. On the beach itself, watch out for bones of fish, they’ll cut your feet. . . Indians out to picnic walk arm in arm, against the sun. Sea-turtle, tuna-boat, women with banana-baskets perched on their heads.
There’s a white girl barefoot in the churn and surf, walking along the curl and foam and broken shells and trash, chatting it up with the local boys, with whom she seems quite casual and uninhibited. Ah, I think, a veteran. . .
At the hotel, I’m on the computer, there’s four in a row, in a shambles of a shack, big fan blowing hot air nowhere. Writing to Charles, Bobo, somebody, some link from halfway around the world to remind me I’m not absolutely alone in this, that it’s a conspiracy at worst, a joke at best, a yawn, a rat’s ass. The ramshackle sheet of iron serving for a door opens and there she is, again, about 5-3, blonde, pale, clear skin, wandering blue eyes, nicely formed hands, hell, I’m staring. . . European cut to her clothes. Hippy-chic.
She’s typing away. Fingers a blur.
Hey, I say before I can stop myself, You’re a faster hunt’n pecker’n I am!
This comment is lost on her, untranslatable, although later I discover she’s fluent in English, Hindi, French, etc, etc.
Whassup? Howzit goin’?
Equally as lost. Half-smiling yet puzzled, she turns back to her screen. I slap at a mosquito.
Good one, Passoff, nice response. That’s what I think to myself.
In the night, the hotel boys lurk, sweeping with handmade broom, the red tiles, serpentine dance, sublime, yet all the same, irritating. There they are, constantly! Silhouettes aimed at my privacy. I’m trying to smoke grass without them calling in the cops. I take turns staring at the ceiling and the red clay floor, the floor turning my shoes, feet, clothes, self, into terra-cotta. Through the walls I overhear the soft, halting voices of fellow travelers, speaking in a passive, English-as-second language conversational tone. The typical questionnaire. And you are from? Yes? Which country? Japan? Ah. . . Hong Kong. . . Yes? Ah. . . It’s her voice; I can’t place the accent. Then she laughs. It rings a bell, the deep, hearty laugh of self-assurance, sensibility, an independent thinker.
Happily in my morning berth, so far empty, as the train hasn’t moved. This one’s never late, since it’s at the end of the line. Not too hot yet, leaving Puri and Orissa behind. . . Now for the heavily unanticipated 33-hour train ride to Delhi. The Shiva-Something Express. . . #2559. Sun beating down, 9:30 in the a.m., I’m ready! Going home! One more train, three days in New Delhi, then the airport.
I hear someone.
It’s her. Putting up her enormous backpack. I’m early, but so is she. White people. . . Sweating now, but for the rotary of 3 fans per berth, ancient things from prewar years. Which war? Oh, just pick any old war. Relics.
I glance up. She catches my eye.
Must’ve bought your ticket right after I bought mine, I muster.
Unless I bought mine right before you bought yours, she says, quite matter-of-factly, but without ice, no venom.
Ah, I say. You’ve got a point.
Nice one, Pass. Love-30.
At first the berth is quite empty, but as usual on trains in India, it fills up quickly. I’m not in my exact seat, looking out the opposite window. I wonder about this girl. . . Do I want to talk to her? Do I have to?
Suddenly the train is bustling with Indians. A group of half a dozen youths plop down laughing and jostling in our berth. I say ‘our’ because the Indian kids instantly assume since we’re both white, and in the same berth on the same train, we’re married. Too coincidental! They kid and poke and giggle and point at us. . . Embarrassing. These kids are adorably cute, bright and positive, clean, well-groomed. . . Turns out they’re Christians. The leader of their little pack is the youngest, Veronica. Her two cousins are off to arranged marriages in New Delhi. Veronica is outspoken, affable.
What about you? Who’s gonna be your daddy?
Not me! I’m only 14! I’m still very small!
Jesus, I think.
But aren’t you gonna get married someday? Like your cousins? Pre-arranged?
Oh no. I will not marry. She rolls her eyes dramatically. Boys!
Then what will you do?
I will become a doctor!
That’s the fact!
I ask her. Why the western name?
Don’t you know who Veronica was? From the Bible?
Uh. . .
Her tone turns authoritative. When Jesus was being led to the Mount, a woman came out from the crowd and wiped the blood from his eyes. Her name was Veronica.
My tone turns sickly-sweet. An apt name for a proud and ambitious girl.
Why thank you! And your name is?
Ivan? This is my new friend P., and Veronica smiles meaningfully, squeezing the Euro-hippy’s hand. . . You two be friends now, okay?
The boys don’t talk, just smile, bright gap-toothed grins. . . All these cute brown Christians want to do is match up the white people.
Suddenly they’re gone. It’s like that on the trains. You’ll be talking to someone, then, whoosh! They vanish. The pack of kids is replaced by leering Indian men, much perspiration and halitosis. They openly gape at P., which doesn’t bother her in the least. Her and I are engaged in small talk. Slovenian. Loves traveling Asia. Majoring in, guess what? Sociology.
And you? she asks.
Oh, I’m an unemployed cook and unpublished novelist.
Game point. She’s about to break my serve. The Indian men start jabbering at her, thank God. I face my head toward the barred window, wide open to the landscape; rice fields, cows, dirt paths, palm trees, pools of brown water, endless plains. A heron. A couple hawks. A piece of train in a ditch. It’s stifling now, the hot air rushes into the berth. P.’s talking with the men in Hindi. Oh, the advantages of being an open-minded liberal! I feel the gaze of a particular Indian upon me. I can smell it; it is not a pleasant aroma. What is it? Suspicion! It turns his face purple. By a bizarre twist of contrast, he’s bouncing a giggling cherubic baby girl on his lap. He stares, it’s a mean-spirited glare. . . And the inevitable.
Where you from?
Where else? I sigh. The U.S.
Ah! American! He juts an implicating finger at me, like at a witch trial. Jabbers in Hindi to his pals. They all laugh, looking from me to P. and back.
Cute kid, I say. Then rapidly, How-much-you-pay-for-it?
A little joke. Icy look from Baby-bouncer.
You like Saddam? President America! Yes? They in bed together! Yes? Yes?
A very short Indian woman in a purple and yellow sari comes out of nowhere and plucks the child from his lap. The man’s eyes grow with mischief and slander.
But the woman gives him a sharp look, the kind of look there’s no definition for, other than you better get your ass in gear motherfucker. The man is beaten; he deflates like a sad balloon. Without a look back, he rises to follow.
The train: clacking, coughing; shifting.
In the grueling night passage I fantasize about the train wrecking. The girl is gone. Everybody is gone. I’ve been thrown past the smoking carnage, to wake up bruised and bleeding in a ditch. The low moan of the trapped and injured. The horizon line ablaze, blue fire. Cold air as I hunt for a lever. There, a metal rod twisted off a coach railing. I approach the train. A car is hanging half-over the cliff-edge. The rest of the train is in splinters on the riverbank a couple hundred feet below. I hear a voice. It’s P., coming from one end of a partially demolished car, the end with the commode. The door is yawning open. She’s in there with the grinning, stinking Indian. He’s got her cornered. With a great bunching of his fist he rips her dress from throat to crotch.
I show you no American! I show you no fucking American!
With great stealth I creep as the bastard’s unbuckling. With great glory I raise the metal rod, whipping it hard against his skull. P.’s eyes are huge as the miscreant falls away. . .
Game, set; match. I manage to doze. . .
In the morning it’s the same carnival procession of wackos.
The chai guy. Ten of them. Two-dozen. Fifty.
Some old couple, eyes sunken, wasted away, heads at strange angles, singing acappella. Five rupees.
Polio boy, one handed, knees reversed, propelling himself like a crab on all fours. I find the window.
More singing, praying, stomping. I do a double take. What are they? Hijda. Transvestites. Faces smeared with paint, garish masks. Super-idealized. Cartoonish. One reaches out to me; I flinch. . . Great mirth in the coach ensues.
The white girl is going to Varanasi. She encourages me as well. Although not quite an invitation. What the. . . Hmm. . . I could use the stop to confirm my plane ticket. Rest a bit. Much nicer than Delhi. . .
But will I get any?
The chances look favorable. But the closer we roll toward Varanasi, the faster the skies darken. . .
backdrop for the ages,
soundtrack for eternity,
the perpetual tableau,
cycle of life
gripped in the dark
and sinuous hand
of the Ganges,
shards of lightning
jarring the primeval
bulls stamping and
deluge of rain,
The train slows, slows. I look at the girl. The men are staring at me, curious. What will the American do?
Ah hell, maybe it’ll clear up.
One hour later I am soaked to the bone, wandering the minotaur maze of Varanasi’s alleys, dodging the bulls, the bicycles, the mad gurus, the cow shit. Stranglehold of dripping color hanging from lines festooned across the rooftops and sky. No kites today.
Naturally, I follow the girl to the station, satisfied the men back in the coach are nodding to themselves, happy with my performance, that I left with the girl. Give ‘em some food for thought- enhancement for the rest of their journey. In the station the girl turns to me- her backpack bigger than herself. And here it comes. . .
I’d love to share a rickshaw with you, but our bags won’t all fit. Maybe I’ll see you around?
I stand there. With the thunder and lightning. Sheets of cold rain pummeling the cowflop mudstreets.
Then she is gone.
Fuck! I’ll never find her. Fucking rickshaws, fucking natives, fucking Charles, fucking mothers of anybody, fucking India.
And what now? Watch out! Here they come! Black! Menacing! Bulls! Just across the boulevard, twenty, thirty of ‘em! Spooked! A goddamn stampede! Pounding down the street with lightning cracking, and these menacing black motherfuckers are really bellowing, eyes wide, terrified! Of something! Let loose from the heavens, hammering!
The magnetic compulsion to flee for their lives is great motivation for the bulls, on this day. I must agree.
That fucking bitch! The last time I ever follow a woman anywhere!
Walking the old streets, though, even in the rain, I feel a tinge of familiarity. The bidi rollers, their stained fingers. The bindis on the foreheads of the women, their solemn beauty. The chai pushers, there it is, history, their broken benches and stone-age cutlery, chopping up coal on the ground, in the dirt and shit of life for how many millennia. . .
I get a shave near the main ghat by the post office. The natives find it great fun, the storm. What do they care? They’ve been here two thousand years! Myself? I’m just a leaf blown off a tree. I hail a rickshaw and let the rain blanket me. You have to, you have to let go, or the elements will simply destroy you. At the train station I wait interminably to purchase an ‘emergency ticket’, to New Delhi at 5:45 p.m. 150 rupee service charge. It’s 10 in the a.m. and nowhere to go. I wait in the waiting room, or along the platform, watching the rain fall in buckets, wheelbarrows, I’m soaked, the place is flooded, nobody cares, they skate barefoot right through the muddy water, laughing.
In room #105 at the Rak International, New Delhi, I’m sitting on the old broken-down bed, where I recall, I ruminate, I record, and I listen to the generator outside the window, shuddering on and off, on and off. . .
You know if you play pool by yourself in an empty bar long enough some bastard’s bound to talk you up, I say, approaching with two cans of frosty cold Pabst. She smiles, and if it’s not sunny out, it is now.
My name’s Ivan. . .
Felicia. Her grip is firm, yet warm. Nice ta meet‘cha. Do you always tell perfect strangers they’re beautiful?
Only on Tuesdays.
But today’s Monday!
Consider yourself exceptional.
The smile again. Winning. We play some pool, she’s piss poor but I don’t give her any breaks. Watching her bend over the table, I exfoliate lust. Not again. Yes again. I’ll love you to death. Trapped.
Felicia has a degree in Sociology but is putting that on the back burner to pursue her career as a jazz singer. Um-hmm. Felicia’s breasts, free and easy, hip bodice, jutting as she struts like a teenage panther. Snow cat, her complexion milky white, the fairest skin, blonde to the core. Felicia is new in town and though fiercely independent, a sugar daddy wouldn’t necessarily be out of the question. The cedar siding of the Kennel vibrates in a tumult of aqua neon. Bottles faintly clink; Felicia bends to shoot.
So what do you do?
Moi? Communications. Consulting gig up at Xylogenetics. Cellular cerebellum-chips. Corporate telepathy. If you know what I mean.
She’s staring perplexed. Do her eyes cross just a little bit? Blonde! Young! And leggy! A bit naïve, but not too much. . . She catches on quick with a quick twinkle, turns on her heel, face upturned in a bogus pout, cute curved nose in the air, purses her lips, a picture of prim insouciance.
And here comes my old pal P.D.
P.D. strides our way like some kind of retarded hammerhead shark. Mid-thirties Norwegian Sven-type with blank blue eyes and long blonde hair he constantly flips back with a toss of his head, usually to accentuate a cry of
P.D., in the flesh.
We got the lingo down.
Felicia, ignored even fractionally, becomes instantly aloof, sighting her cue ball very, very carefully. . .
P.D. steals a glance at her cleavage, looks back to me and winks with such clownish enormity even Felicia has to chuckle. Then without any hint of conspiracy, P.D. does me a fine brotherly favor.
So Ivan! I was sitting on the pot the other day, reading your book, whatsitcalled, Dumb Dog Daddy?
You idjit, I hiss. The title is Very Bad Dog. . .
Oh yeah! Good God! P.D. nudges me sidelong. Whoo-hoo! Super-bad doggie! Eh Ivan? Get BACK!
P.D.’s wasted. Everybody’s wasted. It’s four in the afternoon and the light’s just slanting in. P.D. flips back his hair. His face is raw-beef red and his eyes are little blue slits. A doll face watching the house burn down. He nods towards Felicia, leering lecherously. Oh shit.
I roll my eyes. P.D., this is Felicia.
My pleasure, P.D.
Hot damn! Howzit goin?
Helluva lot better now! Another wink. Then under his breath, If you know what I mean, sister! Hay!
I get us all a round of cold ones.
Whoo-hoo! P.D. jets off with his beer. . .
Why didn’t you tell me you’re a writer?
Cuz I’m just a hack. What ol’ Pietro’s referring to is a collection of failed limericks. . .
Oh, so you’re a poet.
C’mon, I just jot down notes. . . Nothing serious.
So what are you? Other than just a man. Felicia cocks her head with a jerk, a kind of tic I have to get used to until it becomes an irritating mannerism and finally, potential grounds for a good hard slap.
I cook, for a living. So I’m a cook.
When were you planning on telling me you have a book of poetry published? She seems genuinely hurt.
Hey, baby, we just met. I was saving that line for some future perfect moment, to impress you.
Felicia is just about ready to object to my use of the term ‘baby’ in context to her physical presence, when here comes another old pal, Sammy.
Sammy’s my jazz-enthusiast buddy. Neither of us know shit from breakfast cereal about the real dialogue of the professional jazz buff or even the actual extent of the repertoire in general, but as drunken sots slinging ‘em back at the bar all night and with nada else to blather about we get by on what little we know. . . Sammy, regular at the restaurant bar. . . Sammy. . . A fixture, like furniture. . . Squat, fat, bald, black, bespectacled, beefy, no neck, no eyes, his fat face squeezing his beady little eyes completely shut. . .
Effusive gesturer, is Sammy. Gin and tonic #5. . .
Introductions. . .
Sammy Felicia Felicia Sammy.
How do you do.
Fabulous! And yourself?
Felicia extends her hand differently than with P.D., coy with a touch of authority; while with P.D. she settles for his drunken wag; rolls her eyes and promptly disengages. A chameleon, a PR chick, a ham.
Sammy looks at me. Ivan I got these tickets to Nina, you know. But my buddy from Olympia can’t make it. . . Missed his train. . . You want to go?
I hear Felicia’s sharp intake of breath, like a hiccup. As if I planned it! Every dog has it’s day.
Nina Simone? Nina Simone! Felicia’s gushing. You are so lucky to have such a good friend! In admiration for my luck with friends she takes my hand. With a little-girl voice she pipes: Please let Sammy take Felicia to Nina Simone!
You little minx! I’ll reiterate! We just met!
So you’re in? Sammy’s retreating.
Why not? What time?
Meet, say, six at the bar?
Felicia is beside herself. Nina Simone is one of her heroes. It’s because of Nina, Billy Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, etcetera, that she, Felicia, is a jazz singer herself! That’s the explanation. And I ought to count my lucky stars! At the Symphony Hall, no less! Posh! Dress-up! What she’d do to be in my place!
What would you do?
That stops Felicia. Cats her eyes at me. Wouldn’t you like to know! She flashes that winning smile and I know it, for the artifice is so complete, it’s fascinating. I want to fuck it. I have to fuck it. It’s a challenge.
Sammy ungainly, maybe not so steady on his feet, but he’s been thinking, he’s been gossiping at the restaurant bar two doors north, Sammy feels a sense of sacrifice like a lamb at the oracle, Sammy the Good, Sammy the Saint, Sammy the Barstool Martyr. . .
You’re back! Felicia shouts.
Sammy smiles, the effort forces his eyes shut, so fat is his face. He takes me aside, palms me an envelope. Just take her and no questions. But I want details later.
What’s all this whispering?
At the news she leaps in my arms. That tight body, I’m holding her up, my nose buried in her belly. Whoa there! Alright!
Felicia: I just need to hose off and, her eyes twinkling, make myself beautiful.
Six o’clock rolls around, I’m dressed as best I can, my flight jacket over a somewhat clean flannel, and khakis, the ones without rips and tears, the ones with only minor stains, black loafers, my only pair of shoes anyhow, haphazardly spit-shined. Viola! Capped with the olive green stingy-brim I go back fifty years easy. Retro. I’m waiting for the bewilderment on their faces, the regulars at the bar; when Felicia flounces in, and yet even I am not prepared for what’s to come.
She’s about ten minutes late; she strides through the door in a pearly-white gown showing flesh flesh flesh. Her nubile form amply displayed, topped with a fraying, ridiculous cowboy hat. Every male in the bar is victimized.
She grabs the barstool next to mine. How do I look?
The question is how bad are you making everybody else look.
No questions concerning Ivan’s virility here. . . The physical proof literally bursting from her gown. . . Firm round ass, milky-pale skin, erect posture and jutting rack. . . Felicia is a stone-cold fox.
Bourbon. Try a sup?
She scrunches her face, sourpuss. Then she sings:
I WANT A FRUITY DRINK!
It is an explosive statement; the entire establishment empties of conversation, all eyes on Felicia, now goggle-eyed and little-girlish:
Tom Rong grins maniacally as he mixes up a strong one. Extra-strength for the floozy.
As God shapes a new sun somewhere.
Rong: Electric ice-tea! Drink up!
Is there tea in it?
No there’s booze in it!
And lots of it, I think, knowing Rong just wants to see the girl’s cleavage, and the more he gets these type of girls drunk, the more he gets to see, till finally they’re wasted, taking off their shirts, with the merest hint, and then they’re flashing their tails, and here’s our boy Rong with his Polaroid, snapping away, meat for endless hours of future speculation at the bar with his cronies.
We’re the envy of happy hour.
Dusk and the bus ride downtown where I am offered several glimpses down Felicia’s front. As well as the rest of the men on the bus, the drooling, frothing rabble. I’m shaking my head, bewildered at the way of things, the strange magic that takes over every once in a while, to pull you through the rest of the garbage. What demon-luck. Of course, there’ll be consequences.
I pull out of my funk.
We are a couple gorgeous people for a night, decked out at Peniroyal Hall, the plush carpet, the champagne glasses, feel like we’ve known each other for a lifetime, all the subtle mannerisms admired with a smarmy sense of self-indulgence. . . Innuendo. . . Newly-born love electric at first touch. . .
For the umpteenth time.
The death of love, the shock of the 3rd rail, oncoming train hurtling, goodbye, goodbye.
In the lobby of the opera house downtown Seattle, tall windows glorifying a full view of Elliot Bay, liquid emerald, West Seattle beyond and beyond that the Olympic backdrop, looming. Slightly southwest Mt Rainier, crown of the region.
Buy me a drink!
The auditorium at Peniroyal Hall is swanky enough. Nina Simone ambles out leaning on the arm of a band-mate. Nina is tremendous and imposing, her gravel-honey voice is whiskey for breakfast on a terrace overlooking the river Styx.
Felicia. . . She’s looking for a job. (I could be a tow-truck driver! Or a fireman!) She walks into trees while nose-deep in philosophy. (I just love the Greeks!) Her wardrobe is larger than a Hollywood dressing room. But she wants a Halloween costume on a budget. I’m stretched out in bed next to her. Languid times, maybe a shot at love. The phone rings. (Shhh! It’s my father!) Ten in the morning, silenced like a schoolboy, my fury mounts. My little broke girlfriend parties all night. Flies to San Diego on a ticket bought out of the stash I front her. And it’s been time to pay the Man for almost a week. No worries! Just call Daddy! I pay for drinks at Murphy’s, a movie at the Guild on 45th, $5 popcorn (get extra butter! And extra salt!), large Sprite (can’t just wash it down with water! And no ice! Make sure those sneaky bastards don’t put any ice in the Sprite, okay? I gotta go pee!) Couple bottles of wine, some videos, cigarettes. . . She’s on the phone with Larry the drummer, Franz the motorcycle mechanic, Adolf the preschool teacher. Franz rides her on the back of his crotch-rocket, she holds on tight; this guy’s got blue balls verging on magenta. (Thanks for the ride, Franz, my dear! It was so. . . Exhilarating!) Then what? She calls me on the phone. So what? I’ve given up on young ivory goddesses. I’m somewhat reluctant to speak. But I want another taste. (Ivan, what do you think I ought to be for Halloween?) (Why don’t you go as a motorcycle?) My little joke whisks over her head. (You know, so Franz can ride you!) Whoops! That certainly was uncalled for! When you know she loves you! She can’t even imagine anyone else even touching her! (Okay, okay! I didn’t mean it literally, baby!) She sniffles, she pouts. There’s silence over the line. Pregnant lovesick silence, the disgusting kind. (I was going to come over, but you’re being so mean to me!) The first day we met over pool and cans of Pabst. Life stories contained in an 8-ball rack. She doesn’t like mayonnaise. Father has an apartment in Paris, France. Sociology major but really a blues singer. At the moment: unemployed. Brief histories against staccato clack, poolroom nostalgia. New love, pale hands, she’s leaning on the edge of the table watching me with disdainful admiration as I sink the 8. (Hell woman, I been playing ten years, can’t just let you win. . . Another Pabst?) She’s so coy, so convivial, so flirtatious, so fickle, so enthusiastic, so dreamy, so pert, so insatiable, so alive. The bus downtown is empty but for us, the bus is ours. The world is ours. Yet she makes me wait weeks and weeks. I give up and not only on her. On my bladder, my kidneys, my liver, my intestines. I paddle down a river of alcohol. My birthday arrives, age sneaking up to mock me. She cooks me breakfast. Arrives at the door with a stein full of mimosas. Showers me with gifts, a cookbook, a volume of poetry, scented stuff, exotic incense, strange cheap talismans. (Just because I’m being so nice now, Ivan, doesn’t mean I can’t be a bitch!) and with that she bestows a little kiss. We both know all the old standards, we hog the jukebox at the Rendezvous, the Nite Light, Earl’s on the Ave, the Owl and Thistle, the Mars Bar. (You make me feel so young, you make me feel so spring has sprung, and every time I see you grin, I’m such. . . a happy. . . individual) ensconced in the backseats of taxicabs we duet in harebrained cacophony while the old cabbies shake their grizzly heads in disbelief (how do you kids know the words to all those old tunes? I’ve forgotten how most of ‘em go myself. Hell, maybe I never knew ‘em to begin with!) We’re old in each other’s arms, two in the morning lurching through the dark alley behind 42nd to her door, the door I tattooed the fateful words I love you circled with a heart. We’re young in the morning at breakfast, she concocts her specialty, gashouse eggs; a slice of buttered bread with a hole cut out the middle, fried with an egg cracked into the hole, flipped for a minute and viola! I add plenty of Tabasco. She prefers hers straight, yet plentifully salted. Sea salt. Kosher. (But you can’t overcook the yolk! Never! It’s a crime against breakfast-time!) Karaoke on All Hallow’s Eve with April, May and June. With Franz, Fritz, Frankie, Joseph and Vlad. But am I invited? Yikes! Trivial things like this aren’t supposed to bother me. I’m battleship proven! A storm-torn island! I hold my tongue. I have to work, anyway. Since I have a job. Since I’m ultimately intolerant of the frivolous antics of the partygirl mentality. (I’m sorry, Ivan, I guess I’m just more laid-back than you are! You’re just so serious all the time!) Meanwhile I am broke. Since I just got paid. I scrape, I scuffle, I pay for the wine, the taxi fares, bowling, pull tabs. . . At Sunset Lanes deep in the doldrums of Ballard I get the drinks, pay for the lane, the rental shoes. . . Another couple pull tabs. . . I give her one, a little handout. The little minx wins $50! (I’m a winner, you hear! WINNER!) After that it’s cool if we fuck. We fuck in the top bunk of her bunk bed, my head hits the ceiling after each thrust. We assemble the bed one fine day after waiting hours for the delivery guy, she’s furious, calling the company dispatcher, who can really do nothing to help her, and letting loose, a tantrum! Better bring the thing and double quick! Or else! She’s analytical, I’m practical, and still it takes us three hours to set the damn thing up. Then I want to screw. The damn thing’s like to crumple with every thrust, fueling her ardor. (Harder! Oh!) We’re on a roller coaster, racing a tornado, surfing the tsunami. But the phone! Bling-a-ling! What now? It’s her Daddy on the line and I’m to keep quiet. I don’t take orders; I can’t keep quiet. It’s 9:30 in the a.m., people are streaming into her apartment. Incense burning, cigarettes burning, coffee perking, maybe there’s still a swallow of wine from the night before. (I don’t know if I want Cabernet or Merlot! But I like Spanish wine too! And will there be enough for April? Plus May and June are coming over with Fritz and Franz! Maybe we could get two bottles? Please? Oh, not those; get the magnums!) I crawl over her, over the rail of the upper bunk, almost flopping head first five feet down to the wine stained carpet. I’m naked with a fleshy blunt instrument waving in the chill air. (Get down boy!) (Shhh!) Her face a moon in the sky of the ceiling, her fist clenched over the receiver, harsh whisperer. (It’s my father! He’s gonna lend me $500 for the rent! I don’t want him meeting you this way!) Tsk tsk. I mutter. Phtt. I shake my head. I get dressed. I get undressed, gotta use the head. I use the head, heaving. Wavering between miserable self-sacrifice and why don’t I just get the hell out of here for good. She pokes her head in as I’m washing out my mouth. (Ivan? Halloween’s tomorrow night! What am I going to be?) (How about Charlie Chaplin? You know, the Little Tramp) (Huh! You bastard!) She ends up dressing as a Pregnant Prom Queen. Complete with inflated balloon for a belly. Hot.
What the fuck. I am speaking in tongues. I know nothing. I have returned from hell or India. I call up Felicia announcing my arrival. She is not impressed. We went through 9/11 together. Together that morning we’re in bed. Nine in the morning in the front room, warm and tidy, in the sleeping morning sunlight. Since I’m allergic to her little room with the bunk bed I helped her build. The dust. The must. Her cross-eyed cat Arthur Guinness.
Arthur Guinness! ARTHUR GUINNESS! That’s Felicia singing off the back porch, waking the whole neighborhood. She’s devoted to her little ‘man’. . . Black-and-white tom, in his feline glory days, his hissing prime. . . Totally spoiled. . . Just like her. If not for his youth, he’d be fat and lazy. . .
Just like her.
I’ll never get used to that voice.
That’s Felicia, a couple drinks and she’s quivering with song, belting out blues in the tavern, any tavern! At the bar! Any bar! LOUD! Am I with this woman? Why yes, is there a problem? Well, she just can’t help it, it’s a nervous condition. Actually, we’d like to stay and finish our drinks. Okay, okay, for fuck sakes.
Ivan! YOU ARE NOT LEAVING A TIP FOR THAT MAN ARE YOU?
There is nothing as perfect as slumber in the morning arms of your lover and the sunshine. All negative considerations, her perpetually bitchy attitude of late, the feral cat, the roommate with the annoying cackle, the daily hangover, the lack of pot, the scammers who owe you money, the bosses who should be lined up against the wall and shot, all negatives subside, considering your luck in the arms of your lover.
we’re entwined in the front room on the futon couch
warm with sunshine
in the early a.m.
like a missile slamming into the backyard
the radio blurts
death in the thousands
Manhattan skyline reduced by two
from the other bedroom, the clock-radio going off
the chortling roommate is snoring through the dire news, repeated over and over
over and over for a little taste of hell, domestic emergency, sit-up-and-take-notice kinda shit
think Pearl Harbor
my father doing a back-dive into the swimming pool at the Ben Franklin Hotel on 3rd Avenue in San Mateo California
I claw out of sleep to a new shock deeper than any nightmare could illicit
I claw out of sleep!
I prod Felicia awake. She is not happy but when I tell her she gets real quiet. Wide-eyed, naked, beautiful and stunned. A shooting shock like impacted tooth, sciatic nerve, stunning, and me beside her.
The death of love.
Lest I forget.
Dressed to kill, diva of enormous grace at the grand piano.
Felicia rapt, decked out in pearls and sequins at the Peniroyal Hall jazz recital, I want to touch her, I hold back, I can’t help myself, I reach out, tentative, with a bit of nostalgia.
Don’t touch my face! Never, ever touch my face!
There’s no television in her house.
I don’t give a damn.
Witness to 3000 deaths.
They’ll re-run it a million times.
The whole country’s gone to shit in under an hour. So has my love life. Or any life at all.
You shoulda seen her face. When she found it. She was moving to Fremont, I borrowed somebody’s car to help her out. All these fucking clothes, two closets full. We were at the Market. There was this shop, some trendy thrift-shop. Fucking shit, she sees this cowboy jacket, tassels, turquoise, raw leather, beads. She claps her hands to her mouth. She wants it but fuck, it’s 200 bucks. Are you crazy? Let’s just get some lunch and get out of here. Let’s get a drink at Lowell’s. She kept looking over her shoulder towards the shop as we walked over the tiles. The little minx. So a couple weeks later she’s moving, and I just got paid, and I borrowed the bosses’ car and drove down to the Market and threw away half my check on the fucking jacket. Snuck it into her wardrobe, stood back as she was packing. Then there was this sharp intake of breath. Ohmigod IVAN! It was just like at the Kennel the first time. You shoulda seen her face, it lit up like a headlight on a freight train
Waking up with Felicia, courtship by fire. She keeps me at a distance, gabbing rapid-fire into the cell phone glued to the side of her head. Wherever we are, restaurant, bus, the street, at some bar, in bed, when the phone rings, she simply must answer.
Felicia is a pale flower shouting ARTHUR GUINNESS!
How long does it take to finally get into her pants? How much longer yet to make her come? And when she does she turns into a length of electrified rubber.
Felicia needs a job; she’s wringing her hands, naked in the top bunk of the bunk-bed she’s in a bad way.
Hates to call and ask Daddy for yet another loan.
I take her to Murphy’s on 45th for shepherd’s pie and a Guinness and a double Jameson for myself.
Of course the bartender ignores me, even though I hold the bankroll. Felicia flirts his pants off; he offers her a job on the spot.
See how easy it is? Ivan? I’m talking to you!
You can’t help looking at her. . . You can’t help staring. It’s the walk, the blonde strut, those apple-ass cheeks twitching; she puts real emotion into it. Felicia knows you’re looking; she’s got eyes in the back of her thighs. Even the women are looking. They’re looking envious. Like they want to lynch her, stone her, burn her at the stake. Felicia.
At the Public Market, holding my arm as we pass through the hardwood hallways, after a couple drinks at Lowell’s, peeking in the tourist shops. Felicia spots a faux-Western leather jacket with tassels and beads and embroidery. Bride of Daniel Boone. No. Billy the Kid. The fool thing’s $200.
You want me to steal it for you?
Ooh, would you? It’s simply adorable!
Okay, I’ll distract the guy, while you snatch it and sneak out. . .
Ivan, please! Jail is just murder on the complexion!
I sweat and cringe; I wait for her call.
I work hard to romance her.
She represents the love sapped away from my soul per ill-guidance, misdirected egoism, selfishness, redundancy. . .
You name it.
We sit up in bed together as the planes on the radio hit home.
Nothing is ever the same.
Felicia and I change.
And get drunk and drunker till a river of disdain, a sea of regret, an ocean of triviality overcomes us.
Lost at sea, in our tiny lifeboat.
In the front room, paint still wet on the walls, door ajar to the light of day beyond, and she pulls me down to scramble amidst the blue tarps, barely undressed we do it on the floor, in the splashes and spills of wet blue paint.
It’s the last time.
Halloween I drive her home and at her door she offers me a twenty-dollar bill, telling me to keep the change; she’s so drunk she thinks I’m a cabbie.
That’s real panache.
She blows me as I wash the dishes.
I have recurrent dreams of nuclear annihilation.
Felicia you tease the vicious disregard I cultivate for the enemy.
Felicia why bother loving after you?
I can never possess you.
Say I could?
I would torture you.
And our children would be screwed.
It’s been a couple years. Enough for the wounds to have healed a bit. We meet at Dante’s. The place is pretty close to my apartment, maybe close enough for a quickie. That’s what I have in mind, but with Felicia, I’m not so sure. But she’s looking savage in a tight short dress, showing off ample thighs, bursting cleavage. I’m supposed to meet Knife Fight but not for a little while yet. Felicia’s in my face; she’s almost in my lap. We drink; shoot some pool. Feed the jukebox. Dante’s on Roosevelt, sure thing. She bends over the table, flashing milky meat; but it’s not the same. Felicia catches on quick.
Maybe I ought to let you fuck me! Something to remember me by while you’re off in India!
Knife Fight shows up and the catting about is over. Felicia’s overwhelmed, for a change. . . Outdone by youth. She’s squirming as I do a little jig with Knife Fight. We all play a friendly bit of air-hockey. Back at the pool table, I’ve practically forgotten Felicia. . .
Next day, and the one after, I call. Felicia’s not answering. The silence has a power to it. When she finally answers, she’s speechless. I smile into the phone. Wicked!
Felicia, c’mon, what’s the deal?
I don’t know, she simpers. That girl, she’s so young. . .
Heh heh heh. . .
Felicia despondent; nullified by the one fragile thing about her: vanity.
I smile. I’m wicked. I’m done with her. I have my memories. It’s enough. Anyway, who needs memories? There’s always the movies, or sports. Or a shot and a beer.
Shotgun poised at the temple.
A blast and night forever.
What about all these women? It’s as if my very being is attempting to procreate without my personal blessing. Perhaps I’m dying, and my seed knows it better than I do: wants to keep the party going, so to speak. So I move on, from one woman to the next, like a marionette in a puppet-show of attrition.
Say hello to Bitchy. That’s K., from Hungary. Our relationship, in theory, is purely carnal; K. is small-breasted, with harsh Slavic features, brown almond eyes, practically alien! A real exotic beauty, hair ink-black sheen, hands petite white, ankles carved stalactite, shaven pussy. . .
Not just shaven!
It’s a Brazil, dummy!
Fucking airhead. Mother of a 2 year-old boy. K. insists. . . Just hot sex, right?
Well, okay. . .
I notice my pot supply dwindle, and we put away the wine like champs; see my kitchen floor littered with bottles, no space to walk on the clammy linoleum; bouts of inebriation, a quick screw.
Bitchy lights up a bong toke, takes off to pick up her kid. Kiss goodbye? Yeah right.
Bitchy of course is a healer. She works at a clinic in the Broadway Market by Gold’s Gym. Massage therapy. She knows the hunks. They’ve all got small dicks, she says. That’s Bitchy. Small dicks or limp means Bitchy isn’t coming to the party, unless there’s narcotics involved, of course. Bitchy’s always calling asking if I’ve seen Leo. Trying to piece together some kind of deal or another, some transfer involving my cool participation, when all I want is her ass, and she damn well knows it. Bitchy wants to make a buck or two and get high doing it, my apartment a perfect way-station, plus I got a digital scale, Japanese. The chain-smoking Hindi at the smoke shop on the Ave tells me not to trust the Chinese scales. I got one Japanese model nobody complains about, he says. $110. Sold to the man. Peddling dope usually on the front since ol’ Ivan’s a pushover, but he’s still the man. American man!
Everyone’s out of weed, and I have a bit of layover. . . I get a ring-a-ling from Big D.
What’s been happening, I-van? I hear word on the street! Ain’t nobody got nothing. ‘Cept for a young man named I-van the Terrible. Saying goes he the man t’see.
Meet at the Kennel, where else? The place hasn’t been shut down yet.
Glassy-eyes on a bear of a black, loose threaded grey dreads on massive black skull, graying and swinging, old D’s got sixteen grandchildren and a couple more on the way. Denim sweat suits, gangsta-lettering, funny how he wears that shit to our neighborhood while we won’t even drive through his. Destroys me playing dominoes, Kennel after hours.
Big D, is it a jail thing?
You know, ruling at dominoes. . .
Ivan them fuckers kick my ass.
Alone in my apartment out by Ravenna Park we entwine, later she gets comfortable in the hospital wheelchair I found in the alley. I push her around the small apartment, getting hairy, wheeling around; wild! Kicking wheelies! Foreplay. . . I wheel her to my makeshift desk, a drafting table procured from the flea market of the U-District’s fraternal alleyways. Where you could furnish a house. I know I have.
Bitchy. Pussy shaved into a ‘Brazil’, thin, black hairline straight up from the actual slit.
Bitchy: looming in my mind. Eggs. That’s what we talked about at the bar, initially, her current state of fertility. Three grand for her fucking eggs. . . Side of bacon. . . Toast.
While later, at my place, her hand on me:
If you put that thing anywhere near my pussy, I swear to God, I’ll end up with triplets!
Head cocked to her shoulder, svelte brunette, hair just flowing and those peculiar European angles, kicking back in my old wheelchair she’s comfortable. . . She knows I won’t hurt her.
There’s history, I’m both friend and foe of her ex-husband Leo. Who she never stops mentioning. Musical genius. Pervert. Originally meant to father her child, when everything went wrong. When he locked her in a closet while she was peaking on acid. Threw her wedding ring down the garbage disposal. Lit her bed on fire. With all her clothes on it.
Ex-husband. The ex-wife spread out naked over the hood of a black ’78 Camaro. When he’s higher than hell he shows it to everyone he knows, this photo from ages ago. He shows people he doesn’t know, sitting at tables within lurching distance from the bar.
SEE THAT? THAT’S MY EX-WIFE! NOT TOO SHABBY, HUH?
It embarrasses even myself. Hey, I’m screwing this girl!
No scruples to Leo. His apartment trashed, home to the desperate, the jonesing, the homeless. Porn videos going twenty-four hours. Leo. The disarray of his old man’s recent death turns his mind to addict gel. Crack smack no way back.
Then the condom broke. That did it, in the end. . . I broke the damn thing fucking Bitchy after her return from Hungary. The trip made her develop a quivering lip, a slight tic to the left eye, and some new frigidity. . . Before she’d been so free and easy! It’s never the same.
Then again: how about those desperate calls out of King County? I wait in line for the phone. . . I talk to Bitchy for ten minutes, but the calls have to stop. Her parents, you see, the ‘old country’ morals, uh-huh. . . A criminal just can’t be calling up every night to say hello. . . Sure. Fuck you too. All due respect. It’s no wonder the blacks have the phones in a monopoly. It’s because white people only know how to insult each other.
First thing out, I call Bitchy. First thing? Three straight shots of Beam three blocks down from the jailhouse at the first bar I find. Then I get the number wrong, so I call the guy I got the number from, get the right number; call back. I can’t get through. I get through. It’s her voicemail. I’m at some crack-encrusted phone booth in the dark, talking to nobody.
I need a cell phone.
She’s partying somewhere, her cell turned off or inaudible to her. Another shot, find a bus, the bright corridor trundling along, the faces all quiet, ready for home and a hot meal and a cozy room all to themselves or their lovers or their families or whatever, at least it’s not in a concrete room with twenty other men.
Back in the U-District I try another pay phone. Bitchy! In the background, a pulsating gay bar. She’s out dancing, wasted on ecstasy.
Bitchy actually tries to find my apartment building, fucked up as she is, a complete fiasco. Ringing the wrong doors to the wrong buildings, bleary and staggering. Cop-rape-fantasy: cute, drunk, drugged-up little snatch, what’ll it be? Facing drunk and disorderly, public indecency, trespassing. . . Or we could take a little ride, just you and me. . .
The cops, they like a little extra attention.
So it goes on, the sex less and less, the mule service more and more.
She calls me at work. Have you seen Leo?
Why what do you want me to do just give fucking Leo my cell phone so you can have constant access to nefarious illegal undertakings? Dirty stinking perversities? Without an ounce of honor integrity or humility! Yeah sure baby! I’ll sport him his very own plan! Nation fucking wide!
He’s around, I say. Why do you always ask me? He’s your ex. This block is Leo’s living room. Or should I say dying room. . .
Okay, okay! What are you doing?
I’m at work. Remember? You called me. I’m working.
Oh. Maybe later?
Though it takes hours of driving around waiting for sleazeballs to show up at skuzzy north-end dives, nameless narco-rathskellers, windowless, red button-tufted vinyl booths, walls plastered with smutty vinyl beer-banners. Bitchy complaining about the weight, it’s always light she thinks, when if only she had half a brain she could fatten the deal considerably with just the minimum of effort. Why don’t you just be nice to the gentlemen selling you the drugs, I offer.
What, you want me to suck their cocks?
She’s pulling off the road, picking the most conspicuous of tree-lined suburban streets, right in front of some fancy house, on a cul-de-sac, for fuck sakes . . To indulge in a little taste. On the house, after all, she’s earned it! Not to mention the token blast at time of delivery. . . Then it’s back to Leo for more deception.
Finally I coax her to my place, a couple bottles of Merlot I have stashed away, but drinks first, cozy booth at the Galway. Oh there we are, finally, pressed together in the torn vinyl booth in the half-dark, vibrating, getting nice and lubricated.
Surprise! Guess what?
Not the eggs again.
Bitchy serious. I have to go back to Hungary for two weeks. I got to bring the kid. Nobody back home has ever met him. I haven’t been back since my mom died.
Oh, I say, two weeks?
Think you can hold out?
You bitch! You’d rather do a fat rail and yabber about the tenets of spirituality than fuck anyway!
Guess I’ll have to tough it.
Love is the killer of it all, evokes all the sins. But family is worse, by far. Family means RESPONSIBILITY. Even though all I want is Bitchy’s ass, there’s the familiar ache, the tug of familial emotion. I write a poem about it. The poem goes, She made me promise / To protect her forever / She made me a / Liar.
If the Europeans had just taken a wrong turn, maybe Iceland or Greenland, and stayed there, I’d be happy. As it is there’s a Starbucks on every corner that isn’t a McDonald’s. But compared to the Subcontinent. . . Pissing off train platforms, the man who cuts off his hand in order to beg with the other, the eye-socket crone like a withered piece of wood and so stooped she’s only three feet high, puckered hand outstretched, hand to mouth, blessed be, five rupees, cows, cows, and more cows, boys that can’t keep their hands off each other, monkey in the hotel room going through my pack, 200 rupees for hashish, beer like bottled piss and just as warm, bars lit with a single naked bulb, walls peeling, cocktails served iceless as if in a prehistoric cave, and when the power goes down, which is hourly, by quiet candlelight, the barkeep, just a kid, stares at me until I waggle my fucking head and screw in a smile, and now grinning happily he goes to fetch more beer.
cheap, smeared newsprint
eggs, gas, rash
no hot water
asswipe on premium
diazepan crushed between two spoons, snorted
bottle after bottle of Officer’s Choice
the dread of washing my body in a dungeon
brown water gurgling through the tap
two-day bout with hiccups
rats, monkeys, goats, bulls, dogs, flies
liquid bowels and bathroom ruled by foot-wide spiders, light bulb burned out, stained tiles
painstakingly slow registration at the hotels, miniscule writing in ancient ledgers, careful notation of the smallest details
the constant caw of blue-black crows
Bitchy would love it here, you bet, every man would stare and stare, her Slavo-exotica, her final maturation a suture upon the wound of youth she’ll cling to till death divides the spoils. Which would be better sooner as she has said. Yeah, well what about the kid, I casually point out.
He’s a good kid, he’ll make it alright.
Hey, Bitchy’s eyes wide, unwavering, piercing, it’s my kid, remember?
Yeah yeah yeah. . .
Bitchy’d love it in India, there’s every drug you could ask for indiscriminately available and she’d use all her earthly beauty and cutesy charm to procure whatever the hell she wants. . . She wouldn’t have to step on the shit of the cows. . . with her dainty little feet. . . They’d lay down a carpet before her. . . Carry her to some vaunted mount. . .
Charles said! You’ll live like a king! Now even he’s thinking twice. Desperate calls in the middle of the night. I can’t negotiate the price of a rickshaw. I’m just not built in the manner of a cheap-ass bitch. I like to see the brown face waggle in astonishment at the 20 rupee tip.
Bitchy, however, is in a world of a worse state, traumatized, visually jittery, develops a twitch of the lower lip. . . That East-Euro glow, that sharp animated illumination; facing defeat.
Jet lag, she says. I had to put the kid under and I thought I OD’d him!
It takes days and days, but finally Bitchy comes over, and then it doesn’t take long at all.
But at climax!
What? What’s wrong?
I rip the broken thing off my cock and fling it somewhere.
Oh nothing, it was just, you know, uh, so fucking good. . .
No it wasn’t you bastard! It broke! Didn’t it? It fucking BROKE!
It wasn’t good?
She’s on the floor searching for the sticky, nasty proof.
That’s my Bitchy, selling her eggs one day, groping for broken scumbags in the dim quarters of a sleazy poet’s lair the next.
Time, as it will, relentlessly churns on, and just enough of it passes to find out, at least, at last, thank God, she isn’t pregnant. . . After a short period of uppity indignation, she starts calling again.
Hey! What’s up? You seen Leo?
All ‘I seen’ lately is this new little hot chick on the block, works at the funky coffee shop just down the street, she’s coming on strong.
Get in line, I tease.
But I know we’d be good together!
I’m trying to cook at the job, exhibition style. Anyone can just walk up and start jabbering away, and you can do nothing, you’re stuck there, like a robot. Like a machine. But you’re not a machine. And this sweet cherubic angel flashing her eyes at me. . . Short, Germanic, strong, well-toned, 21 years old, another could-be daughter. . . Eyes like an elf. . .
Age doesn’t matter! It doesn’t! Let’s just go out once, you’ll see! Someone told me you’re a Virgo! I’m a Virgo too!
Meanwhile there’s this guy she’s sitting with, completely ignored and wracked with jealousy- unfounded. I could care less. Despite myself, I miss Bitchy. That Slavic allure. Those perfect ankles, those sweet little hands. That Slavic ass. The way she lowers her knees to the carpet and unzips my pants, all the time looking teasingly into my eyes. Memories. . .
Hey, fuck it, one night this new chick and me are drinking at the Kennel. One thing leads to another. Beer. Pool. Cigarettes. Taxi. My place.
Another ride around the apartment in the wheelchair. . .
This bold girl, supportive of my art.
It’s all new to her and fascinating. I’m reminded of myself at her age. Of certain mentors back in San Francisco. How I’d clamor for their attention! Because they were artists! They were heroes!
My peers are a bit more skeptical.
She’s just a kid. . .
Pass! You don’t shit in your own bed!
You’ll be sick of her in two weeks. . .
You know, I heard she slept with Leo. . .
I thought you hated patchouli!
That last line bought the farm. The poor girl adores the fragrance I abhor above all else.
I lay down the line.
Look, it’s either me, or that fucking patchouli!
But I love patchouli!
The shit makes me sneeze. And stinks of unnatural deeds. Rites chanted before the sacrifice!
Darlin’, it’s not a choice for me. I’m allergic to the stuff.
Two months pass. She smells like a girl again.
Still, Bitchy never leaves my mind, even as I pummel the girl, her clenching and writhing and grimacing. . . Her cell phone ringing. . . She jumps off! To answer the damn thing! Her friend Jack, her friend Joe. Donald, Steve, Peter, Stan, Fred. 3-fucking-a.m.!
Baby, never do that again.
What? Perfectly honest. . .
I hiss. . . We were fucking – we were – fucking. . .
Can’t we still. . .?
Get out. Leave me alone. My life is a routine of pristine indulgence. On my terms! Fucking cell phones! Who cares who it is? Or how long it’s been since you’ve talked! You are so young you might as well be an insect! It’s 3 a.m.! I am fucking you! It’s insulting! Maybe I oughta stuff that fucking phone up your ASS!
I sigh, get up, take a half-hour shower. The girl’s gone before I finish toweling off.
I lock the door, eat some kim-chee, some cold rice, chug down the last of the wine. Sleep. . .
Next thing, my cell’s ringing, ringing.
So I hear it’s over between you and what’s-her-name?
News travels fastest where there’s nowhere to go.
Not much at first, just a few meets to score weed for her Hungarianese friends. Sitting thigh to thigh at the Irish, just around the corner from my hovel. 15th and 55th NW. U-district. The Outrigger Apartments.
Bitchy and I are just friends now, since I could really care less about her anymore emotionally, a point on which she was null and void from the start. So we’re even. Just hot sex?
A couple of meets. It’s nice out, summer I think. It’s gotta be, the rest of the year stank. Pissing down rain. How I love it. My glorious wasteland. No insects, no pollen, no dumb dogs. Just Seattle, my wet city, glistening diamond.
Hot, it gets hotter. Her thigh against mine. Bitchy’s. Loose talk, a banter of tongues and whiskey. Bound by some shapeless force we circle like flies in a quiet, dark room. . . Non-entities fucking on the wing. . . Nature’s employ at minimum wage.
There’s nothing on the line anymore, no rules, obligations, conditions or expectations. In typical fashion, the less I care, the more interested in me she becomes; or in my business, being drugs of course, an ostensible extension of myself. Since we get wasted together now, she’s back in my room, weighing shit, measuring up the situation. Back to the Irish, for drinks with one of her fellow countrymen: a small, squirrelly, black-bearded fellow who just married an eighteen-year-old American girl with so-called ‘Hungarese descent’. They try to keep it in the family.
Bitchy calls every day, sometimes twice. . .
Then I get another call. Bitchy curious.
So what’s the big deal?
I gotta fly to S.F. for a week. My brother, he got me a contact. An agent. Maybe an advance. Maybe something. . . You know, plus I can see the family, play with the niece, you know. . . Fucking hate flying. . .
What a crock. . . Bitchy suspicious. . .
Who’s gonna cook lunch for me while you’re gone?
Do I detect? Some genuine concern?
Hah! Not likely.
Oh I’m sure you’ll find someone. . .
Bitchy, mischievous, Bitchy, not a care in the world, Bitchy, whose father she insists I’ll never meet, Bitchy, she shows me a picture of her mother who is dead, same angular posture, slim, attractive, like Bitchy, the little scamp, Bitchy, gets her stepmother to baby-sit while we cruise around, smoke dope, drink wine and snort blow.
Bitchy gives me a little kiss, presses my hand. My erection is painful, but I resist mounting her on the spot: to do so might spoil future liaisons.
Call me from the airport when you get back, she says. I’ll pick you up.
It’s all a load of crap. The ‘contact’ turns out to be some chick Chuckles flies me down to fornicate with. The poor wench. After her ‘I write poetry too’ line I’m straight into the whiskey. She reads a page or two, pure fluff. To keep from laughing I feign a coughing spell.
Hey, not bad. . .
Nothing’s bad when you’ve yet to get in their pants.
Say! Let’s go shoot pool.
Alright. . .
I always feel more relaxed around my stepbrother; his inner resonance, in contrast to my high-strung anxieties, has a calmative effect. Charles. Whatever he puts his mind to he excels at, be it playing pool, painting, karate, photography, traveling. . . I can jot down a line or two, sweep the floor, hard-boil an egg, but it’s only because I’m four years older that gives me any edge; an edge I’m falling over. Charles likes to live vicariously, that way he doesn’t have to wake up flat on his back on the floor, fully naked, nose full of blood, searching blindly for spectacles, like me. A little valium, a couple beers, maybe a smoke. That’s Chaz. While I take anything in my path and mangle it.
Neither of us shoots much pool anymore but it’s still a good game. I keep scratching on the eight. Chuck thinks I’m doing it on purpose.
Yeah, just to impress the gals. . . They sure love a loser!
Grace is tall, full-bodied, and docile. Subservient to any if not all of Charles’ whims: because he pays her. They live together in harmony: Charles hoofs the bill and Grace’ll take a twenty to wash the dishes.
Her friend Greta, I’m afraid, is an absolute knockout. Chaz sent me a Polaroid of the two of them sitting side by side on a bench, laughing in their short-shorts with their bare legs up. . . Legs, and more legs. Miles of legs. I’m baffled by legs. Give me a beer, some whiskey, and I close in, a starved hawk. . .
The girls are no good at pool. So what? Who cares? Drink up!
Greta is headstrong, throaty, but she’s got a bit of charm. Schoolgirl mentality with the body of a supermodel. When she first got out of the car and I took a look at her I could tell she’d dressed up to meet the notorious Ivan. Just a bit of a print summer dress, light blue, maybe yellow, whatever. . . Very tight, extremely revealing.
Jesus Christ Charles.
Not bad, eh? Heh-heh.
How much is she?
Heh-heh. Just buy her drinks, bro.
It takes nothing to talk her up. She’s basically a complete moron with the shape of a Greek goddess. I give her the works.
Sure, I been published! First time? In a past life, can you believe it? With Eddie Allen Poe, Minotaur #3, Paris France, 1850! Just after my ‘stint’ with the Confederacy. . . Lost a leg, it grew back funny. Joined up with the Royal Navy, shipwrecked in Atlantis. . .
Greta hangs on every word, she has her own secret music:
Buy me another drink! Make it a screwdriver! With Stoli!
Now we’re touchy-feely, strutting around the pool table in the greenish light. Greta’s breasts are all over the place, reflected in the lecherous eyes of every man, envious of me, of every scowling woman, envious of her mammarian superiority. She’s behind me as I bend to shoot, she pushes them against me as I follow through; I sink a combo.
Charles nods sagely, another score for brother Ivan. The Belvedere in Santa Rosa, total dive, and everybody is drunk, even Chaz is a bit tipsy, as we pile into the moonlit car and head for the house.
In the morning I hear Grace give a little yelp.
Goddamn you guys! That’s disgusting!
I’m in bed in the spare room, with Greta, caught in the act of pulling the sheet, up till then so carefully, off of Greta’s body, gazing at her amazing ass as she snores, noticing for the first time the broken-heart tramp-stamp tattooed just above her crack. . .
What’re ya doing? Pervert!
I get up. Unsteadily maneuver into the living room. Grace, not happily, points.
What the hell, Ivan?
It’s a half-empty wine bottle, with a condom stretched over the fluted end. The condom looks like perhaps it might have been used. The flowers from the bottle are strewn all over the carpet.
Heh heh, you know, uh, we were just playing around, heh heh.
At least you coulda cleaned up a little!
Sorry, Gracie. But she’s your friend! I believe it was her idea of art.
Shut up Ivan!
The kitchen’s a shambles; broken glass, pools of beer, scattered flower petals, smears of butter and cigarette butts sticking to the bottoms of our feet. It’s where we started, Greta and I. Where everything starts. In the kitchen.
That night I get obliterated. No match for Greta, who picks a fight for me with some random linebacker at the Belvedere. Suddenly I’m lying on the street. Glasses broken, bloody mouth. Greta running off into the night..
She runs off for good.
My last night we’re sitting at the kitchen table. Charles suggests we take some liquid morphine. Greta’s father dying of cancer, she pilfers from his supply. Why not? I take mine the way Charles takes his, in a shot of Jagermeister. Almost instantly I am sick, I lurch to the toilet, non-stop vomiting. Hours pass, I’ve got the dry heaves. I feel death sniffing around.
Charles, I gasp. I think I’m dying.
Charles smiles. He’s higher than hell.
No really man. . .
I fall out of my chair.
Next thing Grace is holding me up in a plastic chair in the emergency room at Santa Rosa General. A waiting room full of sickness and hatred. . . Who’s first? Charles, despite his amplified feelings of peace and well-being, charges ahead.
My brother! Is there a doctor around here? My brother is dying!
I’m thrown on a gurney. Blood checked for every chemical in the book. IV, liquids. . .
I wake up and waltz out of there.
$1000 for lab tests: expensive night. And the morphine never even got me high. I still owe on that bill.
Charles drives me to the airport.
One day, I observe, I will perish, but in your garage, conveniently wrapped in a blue tarp.
Don’t say I never gave you anything, says Charles.
there’s more than one kind of jail
a warped mind spinning out of control
a car, the job, ten thousand mosquitoes and the world a sodden swamp
asshole on fire, out of smokes, out of Kingfisher
ants carrying away the last raisin
ants marching in victory
With a dose of ignoble restraint, I don’t get drunk on the plane. It is, granted, only a 10 a.m. flight. Fairly uneventful despite my natural fear of the disaster resultant of a plummet from the heavens and the inescapability of an explosive, fiery death.
I call from the airport phone booth. Bitchy sounds excited. I am excited. The world is suddenly exciting. Only a vague breach of etiquette is felt as I formulate a complex series of lies. . .
There she is! I see her in a car that I can never tell is hers, yet another sleek gray shark. All the new models look the same to me.
Bitchy catches my eye, pulls to the curb.
Just like in the movies.
I stoop, peer through the window. She’s in there, smiling, waving, a very pretty lady, her long black hair thick and glossy, her dark wide eyes full of depth and mischief; she’s glowing. She’s wearing a flimsy backless top, tight designer denims and open-toed sandals, toenails enameled cherry-red. Yow.
Bitchy is ready to go.
So did you get your book accepted? Am I in it?
I answer the second question, hoping she’ll forget the first.
How could you be in it? I just met you.
Am I in the new one?
Of course, my dear.
Am I hot? Or a fucking bitch?
I wave my hand. That’s up to you. . .
Bitchy laughs, puts on Janis Joplin. After a song or two, ‘I Need A Man To Love’ comes on. Bitchy looks me in the eyes with that meaningful obsidian glint as she floors it on the onramp towards the city.
Want to smoke some pot?
Pipe’s in the purse, go ahead! How is that California weed?
I didn’t smoke any. Took morphine instead.
Bitchy, instantly interested. Did you bring any back?
I ended up in the emergency room.
You took too much!
I load the pipe, we toke and small talk, decide to get a drink, maybe a bite to eat. I suggest Aqua Verde on Boat Street, north end of Lake Union, right on the water. It’s a perfectly cloudless, windless day, sunlight streaming down, just after noon, resplendent. We’re seated on the outdoor patio at a wrought-iron table, overlooking the lake. I admire Bitchy’s naked shoulders; we drink margaritas and nibble at delicious fish tacos, the soft kind, with green salsa.
Bitchy utters her signature small grunts of pleasure. Happy! Lubed up! Okay!
A couple more drinks and we’re floating around like corks on the lake. Hey! How ‘bout we go to your place? She’s invited herself. For bong tokes.
No preliminaries this time, Bitchy just strides into the bedroom and lies down on her back. Call of the wild. Uh-huh, I nod, and she smiles.
It’s a good one. Reconciliation always starts out with a bang. Then, of course, degeneracy follows. Especially with the crude affairs, the fuck-buddy types, wanting for nothing but a stiff ride and then see-you-later. Carrot on a stick. Proverbial mule.
Bitchy on my lap, kissing.
Whispers in my ear:
You do me good. A short pause. . . Can I use your scale?
Seems she scored a rock off some wetback in some slag-ass North-end dive. . . Wants to weigh it out for sure. . . I got my own little practice. My scale’s Japanese, impressive, no?
Ivan, you want a little toot?
Here we go again. I keep my yap clamped shut since the sex is rather consistent this time around. She works five minutes away from my apartment by car. Lunch breaks, I make sandwiches, burritos, stir-fry. A quickie, then she’s gone . . Bitchy stops by when I’m at work, makes a date for when I get off. . . We’re practically seeing each other! It’s getting ugly.
Leo’s jealous of course, yet again. He takes out his spurned passion on moi.
Use your cell for a minute? Then he disappears for two hours. . .
Got a twenty you could loan me? Never see it again. . .
Got a smoke? It’s Leo’s way, his descent.
I try to keep my distance emotionally but I feel myself falling again, for Bitchy. I can’t seem to help it; I haven’t been fully disgusted yet. But it won’t be long. Bitchy’s developing a nice little habit. Less sex, more of the old, Can I use your scale? Even though the gloss is wearing off, becoming routine, I still want her more than ever. Late August, and my birthday approaches. I haven’t seen Bitchy for almost a week, and I’m restless. I want some! I give her a ring; we end up driving to the North end, couriers of the illicit, waiting for the man, in this case a roly-poly Latino, with tears tattooed to the corners of his eyes, named Manuel. I am not amused. There’s agitation in the air. I get off my barstool for a couple games of pinball. Bitchy’s in another world, she’s got the sniffles, a bit under the weather. . . It’s the nose candy! Still, I shut up. But I’m feeling nervous, I want out of this sleaze pit. The bartender, a pudgy blonde with bad acne, doesn’t seem to mind the obvious drug dealing. The more they snort, the more they drink, and the more they drink, the more pull-tabs they buy, hence the good chance of a fat tip on a winner.
I order a beer without offering Bitchy one.
There’s this big black guy, Bambi. Lives somewhere in the neighborhood. Works at Harborview; pilfers pharmaceuticals. Bald-headed, queer, a gentle sort, but wounded, a real victim. The world is out to get Bambi. They don’t like him on the job, and he blames it on gossipy secretarial hags spreading vicious rumors concerning his sexual orientation. Hey! Who wants a black faggot nurse with AIDS?! Occasionally we make trades, say an eighth for some percs or something. But tonight, the night before my birthday, Bambi’s got some brown ones, the good brown 50 mg.
Percocet, percodin, vicadin, valium, opium, morphine, cocaine, meta-amphetamine, codeine, demoral, seconal, heroin, E, pain cocktail, cannabis, alcohol, tobacco; and when you’re beat there’s always the option of a four o’clock in the morning Quick Stop run for a bottle of NyQuil.
But nothing beats oxycotin.
The brown boys, baby, the good ol’ brown boys. I crush one up with the edge of my pocketknife, chop-chop, snort half a line, locked in my hovel, listening to Mahler, Coltrane, Sonic Youth, anything that soars.
Poetry and song, I dance with my eternal self. The brown boys are something else. . . Feverish, percolating, inspired, I spin around, I hit a wall, I fall down!
In the morning I’m a bit messy when the cell beep-beeps. . .
Bitchy. The first voice I hear on my 39th birthday. Another year of life! What a fiasco; what a petty theft of the Infinite; thwarting of the Ideal. . .
Ivan? You okay?
Happy BIRTHDAY! Can I come over?
What time is it?
One o’clock already! Sleepyhead!
How about later. I can’t move.
It’s your birthday! Don’t you want your presents?
Ah, at last! Pussy.
Okay, but not now. . . Later. . .
How ‘bout around six?
Any fatal day becomes a wretched man in his prison of stars. The soul soars, the soul wails. The sun in your eyes, you are a slave to the rhythm of heartbreak. But the birthday is the worst of all days, reminding one of the beginning and hence setting in stone the last day, when all the world reckons, and ceases to exist.
It’s not Bitchy. It’s others, calling themselves friends, want to share the miracle, the date of birth.
How ‘bout let’s go bowling?
We all converge upon the Kennel.
There’s someone new, a girl, feisty, a bit drunk, just getting her hands in the door, cracking it open a bit, for a quickening of light. She has a wandering eye, cute as hell, a brunette, a nymph. And this supple, sleek body beneath tomboy togs. Youthful, obdurate. . . She likes to shout obscenities.
I react accordingly.
I’ve seen this girl peripherally for the past few months, rimming the edges of a phenomenal Seattle summer with bright hot energy. Drinking at house parties, smoking bowls at beach campfires, slouching around all-ages pizza-parlor punk rock shows.
Who’s that, I ask nobody in particular. Who? Joanne? Where the hell do they all come from? She’s cool? For only eighteen? Her birthday’s when? The 30th? That’s five days after mine! She’s how old again?
It’s Starlet, she and Joanne went to math class together last semester at Seattle Central up on the hill. She fills me in.
Twenty years. The span that parts the two of us, bridged with a clothesline of burning clown-suits. I shake my head to clear out the dreams.
Playing the old pins on 2nd Avenue at the pizza joint, waiting for the band to start. . . Waiting for Bitchy.
Yet! Can’t keep my eyes off this charmingly obnoxious girl! Jesus! Eighteen! I prod further. . . Starlet, quivering, her big hips sidling against me, her carpet of red hair, her farm-girl milk-fat, gushes:
Joanne told me, she said if you weren’t so old. Joanne thinks you’re pretty hot, if you just weren’t so OLD!
I suggest a little party, maybe later, just the three of us. . .
Beep beep! It’s Bitchy. She can’t find the place. I could care less, I’m riding the wave of the brown boys. I step outside, attempt to direct her through the confusing maze of one way streets that is Belltown, trying to relate landmarks she can remember. The noise, the sun, the traffic, the malady of flesh. Hey, fuck it.
Bitchy. What a bitch.
We get to my place and I have a surprise, more brown boys.
What are they?
Umm, snorts Bitchy, the professional; a pile for each nostril.
So, I say, reaching over.
Ivan! No! I have a leedle infeccion. . .
Are you kidding me? I’m aghast, deprived of my gift.
I’m so sorry! It came out of nowhere! But here! Look!
Bitchy’s got a token present, a tiny pewter figure of the goddess Kali. And some weed.
Hey, thanks. Nice. Now how ‘bout some head?
No! Bitchy turns away; but accepts another fat rail.
I can see nothing’s doing. I decide then and there to extricate myself from this mess by finding a new mess. But now I need to use Bitchy for once.
Look, I say, we’re going bowling. We’re picking up my friends at the Kennel. Then bowling.
This shit’s really good! Can you get any more?
First, bowling. Okay?
Oh alright. Bitchy’s flying, a kite puzzling in the wind.
We pick up Starlet and Joanne at the Kennel. Somehow Leo has ingratiated himself into the vehicle. Hey dude! Gotta smoke?
Piled in the car we make for the Sunset in Ballard. It’s a miasma of fiends. Everyone jabbering at once; nobody listening.
Suddenly there we are, all in our rented shoes. . .
Joanne sucks down my beers faster than I can order more. Sly, impish. . . Aggressively, she stares into my eyes. She’s a goddamned punk-princess. My response? More beer! How ‘bout shots? Whiskey! You! Do you work here? Shots all around! That’s right!
I slip the server a twenty, with a grin and a wink. He looks the other way. . .
Bitchy and Leo disappear for a while.
The brown boys are shouting! Champing at the bit, frothing! Somebody’s yelling into my face, Starlet. . .
Isn’t Joanne cool? She’s Jewish, too. . .
Bowling ball holes too small for my fingers. Bright light and top-40 pop music. Kids everywhere while we stagger and howl. Bright colors, pins crashing, fun-fest of meaninglessness. I forget about Bitchy. Joanne and I raise hell. She tackles me from behind as I’m trying to roll. . . Somebody has a camera. Bitchy will not pose with me. The final stab. . .
Karaoke. Joanne’s age status prohibits her from entering the bar area of the bowling alley. Suddenly she’s gone.
Where’d she go?
Starlet quizzical. I don’t know, her ID’s kinda like, questionable. . .
Leo’s attempting to sing some Sinatra:
. . .you make me feel so spring has sprung
and every time I see you grin
I jump up, Bitchy’s eyes like the Spanish Inquisition as I charge out. Outside in the parking lot Joanne’s pacing like a caged panther, but when she sees me, rushes into my arms! Frantic! Impassioned! Smooching!
Oh baby! Wait a second! This is, this. . . smooch! is kinda. . . smooch! a delicate. . . smooooch! situ-. . . smooch! -ation. . .
What’d ya mean?
Completely in the dark.
Well, K. drove us here, and, uh, we need to get back somehow, and, well, her and I, we’re kinda going out. . .
You’re seeing her?
Well, I suppose. . . Not anymore!
We enter the bowling alley, alliance defined, any hesitation leaving me surely as if I’ve fully recovered from some horrible sickness. I rub Bitchy’s face in it, don’t bother to obscure the obvious. Joanne’s charmingly, yet alarmingly, wasted, she doesn’t sense the subtle machinations of me and Bitchy’s love gone to shit.
picking up lots of forget-me-nots. . .
Back at the Kennel, Joanne on my arm, she’s accepted as my ward. Bitchy knows the score. Bitchy hastens to steal away.
I’ll walk you to your car.
Don’t bother. . .
Joanne: Did that bitch finally leave?
Another chapter in the book opens, as the page turns on the last. Life, a book thrown on the fire. I’m 39 years old and five days later Joanne turns 19. We celebrate with a 12-pack and a furious rut.
Baby, I say.
Don’t call me baby!
Aw, baby, I coo.
She’s dipping into the bag of weed, loading the bong; she can have whatever the hell she wants.
My blessed princess where has love gone Where has love run to Where has love hidden I take you into my hands I shape you from the clay of the molten earth In turn you give of yourself Your mouth on mine Then you punch me in the stomach We plunge together to the Resurrection of Mahler You say the magic words Put on Mahler The dingy space between my four walls reverberating with solution As you fall asleep Within hands-reach my girl in the buff Part butterfly Part shotgun A child princess Though you sleep like a babe Your face contorted With unrestrained abdication I watch over you and know I am alive and native to your dream Crowned I stand tall Soon you will awaken And you will ask Who is this man This old man in old man’s clothes and old man’s shoes What’s he doing Flipping an omelet? I HATE EGGS! And I hate flowers You say Old man, shape me a planet Show me the unconscious worship of a dying dog Out with the garbage Out with the both of us Bottles of wine no more Bong tokes no more Havoc in the apartment no more Cringing to the cries of the neighbor’s infant screeching in Chinese no more Crashing of speed-maddened footsteps from the apartment above no more No more punching holes Throwing knives against the walls Dancing to Gustav How we thrash and fight while making love Despite the mockery of our peers The hysteria of thrift store grandmothers The bewilderment of the Koreans who reluctantly sell us beer at the corner market You hidden deep in the aisles We drink and the waters part for us Then you are Gone Racing away on your bicycle Driven by youth I am apoplectic Shaking to the core Bold as a wildcat you Smiling you Screaming you I HATE FLOWERS! Pale tattooed skin Black pigtails pulled tight Baseball cap just askew You peer up to me Embrace in the twilight of my life I have a reason To shoulder the burden of the rest of our lives apart She is gone to seek oasis au courant New plains Elysian To conquer the shimmering mists Newborn no longer Bride to the world of man and his minions no more How I adore you How I’ve connived to possess you How I struggle to admit forfeiture To deny it To burn the wings of it Wings falling in ashes Freedom to fall Upon plateaus of cloudbank we stagger We slash clouds Make rain with sharp knives Our time is near Our time is up The death of soldiers of horses of kings and of eagles The ultimate crushing vitality of love erased in an instant The instant I saw you The instant we part Parting the waters