There are those that know magic exists, but don't know how or why it does, and those that do magic every day, but aren't even aware they're doing it. You could get stuck in a dichotomy between the two camps, unable to become an actual Beer Mystic no matter how much you guzzle between the lines, if you don't actually submerge yourself in the text beneath the head. Sorry to hype the almighty type here, but to dylanize the cannibal, the changes they are about timing, and no matter what dangerfield you've followed down the road of self destruction in the past, you probably haven't consumed anything with as much hidden gusto or as little secret kickback behind it as Bart Plantenga's still unpublished ineberotic end of the century confessions of urban transcendence since the first day you stubbed your reality on A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.
                        Though all similarities between Furman Pivo and Carlos Castaneda's journeys end with the discovery you've been transported to the next level of mutant cognition by Pivo's ballsy, yet elegant, street-wise hops, if you're stoked to the gills when that realization hits home, it won't help you hold on to what's right in front of your nose without drinking liberally from the language on a regular basis. Before you dive in, however, remember, there's a fine line between drinking liberally and drinking gluttonously, even from the words, and that's the reason that the brew that fills the Holy Grail has always been hidden right out in the open, in the tap on the bar in front of you.
                  Aye, let there be witnesses to the rise & fall of human dignity crawling around on the floor and puking its depraved guts out on our very feet. If you have to ask what's on the menu, we can't serve you. If multiple epiphanies were that easy to have, any drooler could drown in them, just like anybody can get drunk and make an asshole out of themselves.  Beer Mystics, however, are a different breed of cat.
                  Sons & Daughters of the spiral of high wisdom found in lowlife dives, Beer Mystics have the power within themselves to illuminate blackouts without reverting to neon proselytizing. There ain't no glitz on a Beer Mystic. A Beer Mystic doesn't have to prove they can drink the whole fucking keg in one sitting. In other words, when the warm secure glow of realization begins spiraling in the belly, a Beer Mystic recognizes the knowledge being handed to them for what it is, and nurses the symbolic fruition into their own experience of reality.
                  In the same way a keg should not be devoured in one sitting, this book, if you can find it, should not be devoured in one sitting either. It should be nurtured through the great spiral, one word, one sentence, one epiphany, one chapter at a time. It could take you one brew a chapter to get through, it could take two, it's as impossible to guess anyone's number as it is to label the brand they crave to reach the understanding of their own understanding, but there's no doubt, when they get there, when you get there, when I get there, we all know we're there.  And no one can tell us any different.
                  The sign of a true Beer Mystic, of course, is the ability to hold on to the spiral within themselves once they reach it. Most aspirants feel so good once they reach the Holy Plateau they have the overwhelming urge to feel better, and before they know it, the state of their consciousness is unconscious.  Even the memory of the moment has gone back to the ether, and will only come out the next time -- if there is a next time -- they reach the peak of understanding the condition their condition is in. More self-developed than naturally gifted in the psychic arts & crafts, Beer Mystics, are always in-process, so always aware of how fleeting the spiral's illumination may be. Like a zen archer, this awareness allows them to recognize the spiral and hold on to the illumination, long after the moment of cognition has passed. Obviously, Beer Mystics are a different breed of cat.

                  -  Mike Golden  / Rudy's Bar & Grill - Hell's Kitchen, NYC - 7/31/99 -

Installment 3 of Bart Plantenga's novel of Beer & Light & Light & Beer CONFESSIONS OF A BEER MYSTIC

Some days later: I close my eyes and I go somewhere else. When the beer closes my eyes I end up somewhere else altogether. Over the weeks that followed, this phenomenon of streetlights blacking out – poof, going on the blink – whenever I passed under them, usually in a state of at least modest inebriation, was to occur again and again and again until the unusual began to take on the characteristics of the uncanny and one instant of synchronicity informed the next, until suddenly I began to feel that maybe I or the beer or the beer plus me was the cause of these outages. And this is what led me to feel like more than just some lesser being for the first time in my life. [It is spooky, but some 8 years later, I received a postcard that had somehow managed to make it through two forwarding addresses. No, it is prescient and synchronicity is as close to faith as I come. Faith being the results of hope deferred, the human mind – as liability or as asset – is versatile in its ability to finding meaningful connections between things. I read the critics of Jung who claimed that coincidences are predictable but we give them meaning.

     Even if synchronicity between the mind and the world was verifiable, with certain coincidences resonating a transcendental truth, we would still need to interpret those truths. I received a postcard from Raden, who was studying radical architecture under Rem Koolhaas acolytes and Zen Buddhism in Amsterdam. The postcard is a painting by Adriaen van Ostade entitled “De tevreden drinker” [the satisfied drinker]. Painted in 1685, it shows me sitting under an askew cap on a wooden chair in a pub holding a genever glass and staring bleary-eyed right into the face of the artist.

     I wandered around with the postcard in my clutches for weeks – “Peripatetic, it rhymes with pathetic,” is how Djuna had put it – too money-lite even to actually stop in anywhere to grab a heady brew. The more I worked, the less money I seemed to have. And every few hours I would take out this postcard and reread it:

Dearest Pivo,

I am in Amsterdam and feel I will understand the world. I hope you have found your place in it. I had to leave “our” disinformation situation to study. NY is where “everybody eventually begins to distrust, demonize and diabolize everybody else.” Where the sane “begin to behave with all the irrationality of schizophrenics – just because they have been lied to in a calculated and systematic way. When the politics of lying becomes normal, paranoia, and alienation become the ‘normality’…” Buddhist/Maya = whatever reality means philosophically, our everyday experience is almost entirely self-programmed. Yoga + meditation alert us to new signals previously invisible but also how easy it is to deceive those who want to believe. Sorry, these are the words of others but I am in my little room near the Koningsplein and studying, wondering where and how you are.

Forever yours,


     I carried it through the streets with modestly priced beer reserves in pockets, following scents, tracing enigmas to their source and noting autumn sunlight imbuing jails and even chopshops with the ecstasy of collapsing light. I see the sad Animal Defense League posters of a 3-legged dog flapping in a grey breeze with the simple text; REPORT DOG BUTCHERS CALL 789-DOGS. The posters had slowly covered up the ones stapled to telephone poles by the distraught owners of lost dogs and cats. Pet-nappings [and executions? Then dumped in the Gowanus?] or just pets that got fed up and fled? I mean, don’t these owners wonder about the fickle nature of their pets’ loyalties? I mean I can shake a box of yummies or wag a bone and I can basically take these pets home with me. Doesn’t this perturb the owners?

     I removed the by-now ragged postcard from my breast pocket – no raised eyebrows, here he comes again, exasperated sighs of colleagues, bar-mates, co-workers here – from its envelope and re-read even further into the details of Raden’s text such as the “forever yours.” I mean, forever mine means she is forever mine, like for a really long time. But how to claim what is mine? Her toes like something exquisite the French only eat during holidays. OK, shut up.

     I keep walking, the heel-grinding mileage, loneliness + exhaustion reveries – a snowflake, a welling tear, a strange knot of regret in my stomach – until I am distracted by chance discoveries, scuffling through dingy snow. I return the card to the inside coat pocket next to my heart. I see hints of the roving ghosts of Stephen Crane, Henry Miller, and Hubert Selby – their presence like watermarks on forgotten stationery blowing through the streets. I face, I assemble, I try to make sense of things I wasn’t looking for – curious faces as familiar as barbed wire, objects [a lost hi-heel, panties caught on a dark wet twig, projectiles embedded in canine corpses, baseball cards of players long forgotten] that led to further morbid extrapolations into utter obscurity. When you walk down a really brutal Brooklyn or Manhattan dead end do you also get this big wad of dishrag dripping with tears welling up inside you?

     Anyway, when you’re new to a place like NYC you tend to explore, figure out how far you can wander from home before things get nasty or alien. Before you feel lost. Many of my NYC ramblings were random, instigated by curiosity, taking me off the vectors as prescribed by my daily routes as a foot messenger. I didn’t know what else to do; how else to spend my energy. I was like the recording heads of a tape recorder and the streets were the audio tapes.

     My résumé: delivering packages and envelopes, delivering misery to joy, profit to more profit, surviving. Dreaming entire novels that double as revenge scenarios on my rounds. I was daily reminded of legs and feet and even more so when there was one missing. For instance, Cosmo’s main competitor, AAAAAA Messengers, had a one-legged foot messenger in its employ. You are also eternally aware of the fragile nature of footwear, the porous nature of sneakers, your delicate nature in the face of inclement weather.

     But back then I didn’t worry about how I ended up in places only what they might have to say for themselves. I walked right through Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy, Washington Heights, Bronx Zoo, Jamaica, Hell’s Kitchen, Avenues D through G in the East Village, forsaken areas of Staten Island, and Harlem on a hot open-fire-hydrant night with naiveté/curiosity as my only guide. I got taunted but never assaulted, got labeled “Blond Jesus” because of my long blond hair, got given tickets for an Evangelical Church raffle  – “You should come” – got pointed the way out by those who assumed I had just mistakenly walked into their hoods. One day it was a rubble-riddled cloverleaf, the next, the lobby of a 5-star hotel.

     I often find myself halfway between Downtown Brooklyn [avidavit drop off] and Park Slope [Elsa] in the Brooklyn Gowanus and Boring Hill precinct, where the surroundings are tearjerk sour and gruesome, where you see strange bones and shredded ligaments, LSD-induced benzine rainbows undulating across the water as you cross the Carroll Street Bridge. Where you could one sunny afternoon witness a hundred zip gun hunters laying what seemed like a million dead pigeons side by side – you cringe and someone says “it’s a fuckin’ ritual, you gotta respect it” – so that we can walk across the canal on this pontoon bridge of bloated bodies from one doubt to another. I hear a bass gasping for breath. I see the canal glow. I hear it crackle in the heat as organic matter mutates into something mysterious and associated with gonorrhea. I lean over the bridge and I am dreaming until I hear Djuna say: “Each dream is a step backward.” She hadn’t always been this calculating.
But now it is today and that is already yesterday. The passage of time is gruesome, cruel, mocking, at a blinding speed. Yesterday, I went to visit the site of the old Bedford Brewery on Dean Street in Bed-Stuy. Now just a tract filled with debris, discarded car parts, mangled baby carriages, bent needles, and a nine-foot mound of used Pampers.

     The brewer had once traveled all the way to the town in Czechoslovakia where they made Budvar/Budweis, the original Budweiser, where it was known as “The Beer of Kings,” which Anheuser-Busch later appropriated for American Budweiser where it became “The King of Beers.” It was impossible to imagine that a brewery had once thrived here. Some black teens scowled by in a pimped up shuffle, taunting me with their fix-faces, hard against despair, hard and brittle as the broken Miles Davis In Memoriam plates strewn around the lot. Hard and brittle as a Clyde McPhatter “Have Mercy Baby” 45 flung across the grey sooty ice. They couldn’t figure out what I was staring at – the mound of diapers in this collapsing Cyclone fence empty lot. I couldn’t tell them. And since I showed no fear I was a waste of their time. I had no map, no reason, no excuse for being here. Unless I was here to get cranked.

     I wandered past the Brooklyn Academy of Music where Emerson once lectured on transcendentalism, where if you wander past during a concert you feel the rub, the brush burn sensation of the velvet rope divide, the “us” outside, the “them” inside celebrating the “themness” of their lives with long-stemmed glasses in the pinch of poised fingers. And then back across Atlantic Ave. over to the Gowanus precinct to visit “my” Elsa Triolet.

     Take a good look, the Gowanus area girds both sides of the Gowanus Canal, a gash of water that refuses to heal. There are chemicals in there not even allowed in international warfare anymore. It’s sometimes referred to as the “Dead Pet Canal” because countless troublesome or hapless pets are put out of their owners’ misery here. You can hire a hitman. And on certain days, bloated clumps of gruesome fur can be seen floating in the murky poly-chlorinated-sulfur-cyanide-biphenyl-lipo-sucked-fat waters. Giverney has its lily pads and the Gowanus has its dead pets. Or as Elsa wrote “like a circle of Dante’s hell under your dull eyes” [from her single “Midwest Mideast” on her comeback Album Winking at Mannequins on Incorporeal].

     There is Elsa Triolet: mother, the kind who picks up her kids after school, the kind who’d lost the compass to just how beautiful she had once been – “People always say I look like Kim Novak – yea, plus like a hunnert pounds.” Someone who nursed the hope of a comeback. Prepared Winking at Mannequins carefully and then saw it fail as a result of mismanagement, of misguided aesthetics, wrong producer, and three failed gigs, which saw her triumph tumble off the stage and drown in a puddle of beer, whiskey and puke. And New York hipsters consider association with a fuckin’ failure as worse than AIDS, than shaking hands with a leper… And before she had even made it halfway through her second set at the Pyramid, the hipsters had baled, landing on the waffle soles of their purposefully scuffed boots running, escaping to a more successful opening [free drinks, “everybody” was there] and forever avoiding her like the plague and exiling her to an area of Brooklyn that Brooklynites thought was limited to chopshops, and tire retread joints.

     Elsa’s the kind of woman you meet in a club where she is no longer headlining, where she hopes at least one fan will recognize her, will ask her to sign an old single of hers or something. whether you consider this hope against hope or unequivocally hopeful is your choice. It could be irritating, standing with her in a bar, she always looking past you, distracted, expectant, imagining someone calling out her name… Elsa’s the kind who buys you a hundred drinks then gives you money so that you can both make believe you are paying for her. Liked you in the desperate hope that her liking you would lead you to liking her. She had a million good stories, and each one led to the conclusion that she had once been somewhere, been someone, and that in pity there is pride just like in a modest wine there is the potential for cognac. Elsa managed to chew the cud of her former glory over and over, getting mileage out of stuff others couldn’t even manage a foot and she tried to preserve this glory as best as she could in endless adventure stories. But in so doing, she suffocated it in the handsome scrapbooks and under the many layers of anxiously applied makeup – punk-goth-death make-up that only looks effective/attractive on faces beaming with emergent hope and sprightly expectation. Her makeup expressionistically zigzag saw-blade askew because her hands were now ruled by a bad case of the shakes. “Looks like Alice Cooper’s half-sister,” observed one friend in strictest confidence.
“It’s not neurological, it’s just nerves.” She kept telling herself and others, hoping.

     “Yea, but hope, that’s not medical treatment. That’s, that’s voodoo!” Ex-friend, poetess Anne Sextant pointed out.

     “You try to get medical insurance on my income.”

     “Oh, go play the victim, blame the government.” Without knowing it, hipsters (however self-described) had shoplifted shards of Reaganite rhetoric. People were sick and tired of compassion. And now it was time for the payback. The weak would be blamed for being whiney-annoying weak and their bloated bodies used as steppingstones to whatever top there was left.

     Elsa also had a tremendous assortment of grommeted and hood clamp corsets that had absorbed their own histories of stage sweat. She could hold one up to the light and recount a story, a tour, a city, an adventure, a forlorn sigh. The corsets represented a phase that had something to do with industrial cabaret, sexual innuendo and a makeover that made her look like a Menlo Park Shopping Mall version of Betty Page. I enjoyed watching her get excited squeezing into her accoutrements thinking I was getting excited too. Life is a series of distractions and religion is preoccupied with making meaning out of these distractions. I had to admit there was something charming bordering on sexy to see human foible like this. Each human imperfection as puzzle piece.

     “In 1980, I was religion.” Did she actually say that? “And I will be again. Mark my words.” Sadly, I did mark her words and her comeback was just another setback. And contrary to her observation, it was not anything like Marianne Faithfull’s comeback. The label she was on was just a front. A candy store with no candy in it. She had – it seems – financed the CD with the last of her dead father inheritance. And every time I saw her after those failed gigs you could see her eyes wanting to grab those around her, but you could see the (self-described) hipsters backing off with mortified looks, putting their coats on, leaving half drinks undrunk, like she and they were the wrong ends of a magnet. And with every snub you could see her retreating ever further toward an ignominious death, punched into a corner as far from how she wanted to go out with a bang and a sex scandal as one could imagine. Nothing, not even a two-year-old Belgian Geuze with its dry sparkle and notes of sour apple, could change this picture.

     And yet, there’s something retrievably tongue-and-cheek and perversely voluptuous about the tortured impossibility of her size 16 shimmying into these size eight confinements. A miracle. “Please stay, I’m gonna perform a miracle.” Oh, and how her cups ranneth over and over. Like a pint of beer in a shot glass. The tighter she tied the corset, the more like a former self she was able to identify with for ever shorter durations until the kick lasted not much longer than however long she could hold one breath – snap, shutter speed pose – there she stood blood-lipped pout, defiantly indelicate bosom, cover girl on a 1983 Disturbed. Her askew and rat-bitten Betty Page wig didn’t help much, however. Her beauty continued to crumble before her eyes. And the more she tried to prop it up, the more this decay of crows feet and cellulite mocked her.

     Whenever she looked right at you, you knew she really wanted my eyes to stay fixed on her. Like reel you in. Her Garbo gimlet gaze looked more like someone going through a post-traumatic seizure. And over time, the infiltration of useless knowledge, the belief in her own hype, rock ‘n’ roll factoids, and folk medicine had left her eyes unfixed, unfocused, gazing without seeing, agreeing without understanding – her mind flickering like a bad video with tracking problems, the glories of provisional fame having betrayed her.

     She was just so uncomfortably accommodating towards me – with me offering only the slightest hints of being even vaguely employed or functional [desire ÷ despondency has its own calculus] – OK, so I had a radio show. I measured her passion – and that’s what she wanted – by the number of impressive beers [Pitfield Porter, Red Stripe, Kwak, Gueze, Sleutel, Judas, Staropramen, Jenlain] she’d fetch for me at the Beer Depot Drive-Thru in Red Hook. It was far away, but by old Mercury station wagon always worth it.

     “You wanna catch a fish, you gotta bait the hook.” I’m sure she said this with me on my back, pants down to my knees.

     During lunch she opened her cabinet, which was now reserved for beer glasses as per my recommendations. This had meant some smart rearranging. Now certain glasses – the kids had been instructed! – would only be used for beer. I felt suddenly weird about being so insistent.

     “I wash’m with baking soda. Like you said. No towels.” She held them up as if her entire sense of self was being held up to the light. “I air dry’m like you wanted.”

     “Suggested! Beer’s just very sensitive. You gotta understand.”

     “Oh, I do, I do!” But she didn’t, but it didn’t matter that she only agreed with me to flatter me.

     “Cans, the aluminum, has an adverse effect on beer flavor.” [Now looking back at it all, gurus are a creepy fucking breed, indeed!]

     “I know, I know, dear.” As she played around with my nuts and rubbed my stem with the back of her hand as she dragged out the old casket catalogs. We flipped through them, pointed out our faves – again, her forefinger running furiously along the thick veins in my forearm, gazing longingly at page spreads splayed open, like we were looking at pornography.
“You shoulda been a Goth rocker.”

     “I was born 10 years too early for that – I mean I did pioneer the look – but, then, I was way too late for Pre-Raphaelite. Maybe I’ll just get cremated.” Elsa mused. Kim Novak with 20 loaves of Wonder Bread duct-taped to her thighs and midriff. What does she or anybody see when they look at themselves in the mirror? I thought more like a Theda Bera cookie left in the oven a minute too long.
“I like the idea of an urn up on somebody’s shelf somewhere. Or better yet, have my ashes used as a foundation for eye makeup; this way I’ll be seen all over the world...”

     “I’m against it!” I mean, she was already digging her grave, climbing in… I mean – sheeesh – was death the only way she could figure to draw any attention any more?

     “Isn’t it weird that most of us will have a roomier place to live after we die?”

     “Yeah, OK, we all lived wedged into gloomy shelving units – studio apartments my ass! But that’s no reason to check out early!”

     “You’re so charming when you’re impassioned. I’m afraid I’m not going nowhere for a while.”

     “It’s just my instinct to be against it.”

     She shook her head “yes” not so much to show agreement, but to flatter me into staying. She told me the story about how Sarah Bernhardt slept in a coffin filled with fan letters. She had a pile of her own, by the way. Kept everyone of them, sorted alphabetically by last name. And then more beer and more of her hands rubbing any appendage of mine that was available.

     “I used to be compared to her when I was one mountain lighter. Do you like this one? Zlatorog – it’s from Yugoslavia.” Then came the adventure stories again about how difficult and far away this beer depot was and how the guy behind the counter always makes a move on her, throw’s in a Mickey’s Big Mouth as inducement. How she called around. How she was enterprising, loyal, youthful, hoping to accentuate the “co” in “co-dependency.” How all this catering meant love to her – or at least some semblance of occupancy. And she’d insinuate the precise aperture of her mouth to offer me the kind of fellatio that would render me immobile or comatose and thus spending the night. She hinted that there were burglars and peepers and that if I stayed... but despite her vigorous and enthusiastic actions gleaned from bad porn videos I was not capable of much because I’d been so turned off by the whole casket affair.

     “I only got an hour tops. Gotta call in…”   

     “What’s it all about that it feels so decadent to drink and fuck when it’s still light out?”

     “I guess you’re defying the guilt you’re supposed to feel about not being at work somewhere.”

     “Guilt doesn’t work on us no more, does it?” That was about right. She sometimes moonlighted at Connolly’s on Fifth Avenue, where you could drink in peace until slum junkies, trustafarian émigrés out of haut Park Slope came along and made it their dive, real dive as mere backdrop for the rhapsodic movie about themselves. So she would moonlight there and sometimes save on a babysitter by leaving her kids home alone. And maybe that is where we met.

     She might blow me then in a manner so casual as to not even interrupt conversation. Me continuing to flip through one of her scrapbooks marked “1982”. And then I’d just yank my pants back up without even standing up and we’d finish lunch and then I’d watch her rummage around for that tatter of infamous dress she wore back when she was a “punk diva” with a “congregation consisting of several thousand Bonjour Tristesse readers.” The Trouser Press review hung crooked in a plastic gold frame above her bed.

     “It’s like the color of Midori, don’t you think? I still adore chiffon.”

     “I dunno. It has somethin’ sickly about it. Like the color of pukin’ up cough medicine.”

     “Look at this one! I musta been 60 pounds lighter – that’s alotta Big Macs!” A whimpering rhapsodic sigh, like something afraid to come out of its hole. Eyes searching west, Midwest, Chicago, South Chicago, Lower Links, searching for her throne in her dreams. The throne for best indie performer in a pop poetry format [two years running].

     “I had a label, a real label, a label that got you gigs. I knew Belinda Carlisle. Performed with Lydia Lunch. Opened for the Delta 5. Was compared to Exene Cervenka.” And with that came another scrap book, neatly dated on the spine 1979-1981. And there were the headlines – OHIO PUNK DIVA HIT or POET VAMP RATTLES THE BONES or PUNK POETESS: OF CORSET MATTERS or OHIO FLAME SETS CHICAGO ABLAZE… And again, I had to admit, another very beautiful and thorough scrapbook crammed full of memories and beer labels and ticket stubs and muggy photos of spiky-haired dudes with Degas smudgy eyes kissing her pale vampy cheeks. Her posing in vampy mock blow job insouciance, guys faces squeezed in her ample bosom… But all of this press and fanfare came to an abrupt halt some little while ago. That we all knew. The more precious the details, the sadder I felt. And endless analyses of how and why – the changing nature of the record industry, weight problems, writer’s cramp…

     “It was a good solid indie label – Bean Me Up Records outa Boston. Jonathan Richman’s original label. And we were up for a bigger deal: Alternating Testicles was snooping around. They wanted us, loved our demos, but then alas there were drugs – and betrayals.” The lack thereof or excess thereof she wasn’t saying. This downfall at the very instant of snagging the Big Fish led to a denouement and this ex-from-hell, this Dave Stewart to her Annie Lennox, this Sonny to her Cher, this Herb to her Peaches… Here she was in the middle of the universe and totally out of it. The Big Come-Down over and over and over.

The secret here in NY is to make yourself something in the eyes of others. “You gotta cast a shadow you wanna be in the shadow play.” I can’t remember who said it but it is fitting. There are many tactics and we knew them all. One involved being of a totally focused mindset, be obsessed with one subject and one only so that obsession makes you look like an expert. Another is to provide a service or stage for other people’s egos. While you take their expenditure of ego and use it for your own ends. Being on the radio – even if it was a station that others had heard of but never actually listened to [all the more so!] – served that purpose. People like to give you their singles, their cassettes, their PR in bars and then squeeze your hand suggestively. You tell them you will play it and then they try to tune in, listening with friends around the radio. There is something nice about that. With women you (or me) might get the wrong impression that this emphatic squeezing of your hand rapidly three or four times – wink-wink-wink – means something more.

You might protest to Elsa or others that you’re not even sure anyone listens or that XYZNO Radio FM is even broadcasting anywhere beyond the confines of the station’s clandestine/mobile downtown Brooklyn/Manhattan studio doesn’t matter. Others just chalk this kind of speculation up to modesty and pat you on the back and laugh along.

The heart is impure, desperation makes it that proverbial sweaty peddler of questionable pilfered cold cuts or of low-grade obscure nostalgia in a parking lot market somewhere.

     “I was on the map, in lights, in Creem, Trouser Press, Disturbed, but after the Big Come-Down I was desperate. Really desperate and my back prevented me from working as a chambermaid in JFK hotels. So I got involved in something they called house hookin’. Now they got a union and they call’m homeworkers. Don’t gimme no looks! But back then it was like a Jane-of-all-trades. You darned the guy’s socks and gave him blow jobs and he gave you a room in his house. There were ads for it in the Voice. After Chicago, this is what I did. I was like Cinderella in reverse.”

     “Sounds like marriage to me.”

     “You’d meet and agree to the arrangement – light cooking, no dusting, laundry and blow jobs. Or he might want you to talk about certain things when he is about to come. You know what I mean! It wasn’t bad. It’s like a little submissive, a little dominatrix, some chambermaid…”

     “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid.”

     “Led Zeppelin… You get invited back to his place, bring your three banged-up suitcases with the stickers of hundreds of bands stuck to ’em. Some corsets, some gear. Leftover copies of your singles. He likes it, you are a kick in his boring life. He’s slummin’ it and you move up four economic circles outa hell. He can write to friends in Iowa about the exciting life he’s got in the Big Apple. And as long as you don’t wear out your welcome, take up too much sleep and refrigerator space and kept giving the best head you could stay. Yeah, it’s like a marriage, I guess, without the hypocritical $50,000 wedding reception.”

     “With bad rap acts in tuxedos as entertainment.”

     “I did housework – OK, I did some dusting for lines o’ coke, for lifetime free admission to the Limelight... OK, Jake the Wall Street guy slummin’ it on weekends; I mean, the guy had a separate closet for his weekend punk outfits. But later I even found a Polish accent deep inside my genetic structure so that guys who hired me would feel more comfortable, you know, hiring someone from behind the Iron Curtain. They could feel like their fuckin’ laziness – pardon my French – was actually generosity.”

     “Whaddayuh do now?”

     “I went from boffin’ punk rock flops and Wall street zombies – the kind o’ guys that wanna hear that you were someone once too but only for a while before they launch into their own bios… so you’re a bit of a shrink as well. I moonlight at Connolly’s as you know and I’m trying my hand at illustration – don’t laugh! – I might get this gig illustrating children’s religion books. Adventure stories from the Bible. I do that now, that’s what I do now. Should I apologize?”

     “Survival is survival. Not noble, not embarrassing…” God, I need a beer right now. I’ll settle for a Sam Adams [and it’s cultivated hoppiness and floral aroma], even a Meister Brau… anything!

     During our conjugal thrusts atop sundry surfaces previously reserved for other chores [with her two full-length mirrors covered with sheets to mourn her passage into “plumpdom”] she’d encourage me with flaky references to my awesome thrusts-per-minute and that I was a far cry and moan from so and so, this famous ex whom she now refuses to dignify with a Christian name, had “fucked her into submission with his bitter little stub” and then gave her two kids, this “perp” who had “won” her and then fed upon her most intimate and fragile confidences. But she refused to delve further into this portion of her life-as-hell. Although he may have been a guitarist in a band that often played Max’s Kansas City. But by not going into it she was actually going into a lot.

     “I didn’t see you there protesting the day it closed.”

     “I was there dahlink. 1981. I was a different someone then. I was hanging with horror punker Glenn D. of the Low Die as in Lodi, New Jersey. Later they went dark metal as Loaded Dice.”

     “I was dating a girl who looked just like Chrissy Hynde. That got us into some trouble and lots of clubs for free.”

     “You gotta get over it. You know, you’re the youngest I’ve ever done it with.”

     “What about high school?”

     “Hardy-har-har. I don’t wanna go back to those days. Let’s just say I blossomed after high school. I believe part of what drove me was to one day get revenge on the jocks and squeaky-clean debutantes… But I meant age difference.”

     That I wasn’t turned off by how she could grab ample portions of her tenderloin and squeeze it the way one might a pita into something like another pussy was something that allowed her to transform herself into a multi-orificular temptress. Like Coney Island, man! All across her epidermal expanse we kneaded and folded plots of her skin, discovering alternative labia in amongst her ample folds. Scars were explained like tourist attractions. And with baby oil rubbed upon my length I slithered in amongst these folds. Like that.

     Each thrust inspired from her cramped yelps – EEEeeh! – of gleeful surprise; each ejaculation posing as a declaration of love for her. Sure, she memorized delirious odes to my fortitude, and my enthusiasm for her plenitudes as part of her previous trade. Sure there’d be a bottle of beer in her hand behind my back. How did she do that? Sleight of hand? Ever just savvy enough to know the needs of my spiritual thirsts.

     “It’s Hell beer.” She was such a good-hearted, brittle soul.

     These “lunch” bouts would be a painting that looked something like this: her bent over the wobbly kitchen table, reminiscing about recipes she remembered they used to try to make in her Suzy Homemaker oven, while I drank her Hell beer in right hand while holding her hipbone in my left, and she’d always turn over just so I could ejaculate across her immense breasts at precisely the right moment. No more rubbers, no more kids was her motto.

     If résumés were made of other talents… I never bothered to tell her I did not like being called a “naughty boy” every time I ejaculated. All of this trysting activity meant hanging in there strangely removed, elsewhere, empty, without tales of past glory to nurse the open wounds of doubt, observing her as she wiped up the acrid pool of ejaculant from her chin and cleavage. It was as if my spirit had been strained through cheesecloth.

          Then more beer lessons – how to handle beer:

  1. Avoid dusty bottles or those exposed to the sun or extreme heat or cold
  2. Store beers standing upright
  3. Do not pour beer down glass sides; pour beer gently in center of glass to produce necessary head. Head enhances bouquet and allows CO2 to escape, preventing flatulence
  4. Drink good beers warmer – at some 50° F
  5. The beer should emit small bubbles, have a ragged full-bodied head
  6. Aroma should be fresh and clean; a skunky smell means the beer is old
  7. Taste beer slowly with some swish and swill. It should have a chewy thick aspect to it
  8. There should be a subtle bitter aftertaste to a good beer
  9. Draft often tastes better because carbonation levels are lower than in bottles; carbonation deadens the taste buds.

         10.The head floating on top of a beer in a glass should be 3/4 to one inch in height.

     Then I’d call Lee, boss-dispatcher at Cosmo, and if it was slow I could stay with Elsa and we’d clean up and walk into Park Slope to pick up her kids from school. Along the way she’d tell me how much she was fretting, doing bone-breaking research, calling, begging schools to get her seven- and nine-year old kids into a decent junior high school. It might mean four-hour daily commutes.

     Along the way she’d offer a brew – we were early – if I would along the way just sit with her in the Tarnished Kidney Stone, where everything reeks of cigarettes, flatulence, Old Spice, hold hands under the table, listen to more stories.

     “This is the way it’s s’posed to be.” Squeezing my thigh under the table. Then with a sigh, off we’d go to the school, passing Cal’s Boiler Repair and the various abandoned warehouse doorways that held the flamboyantly anonymous and gender-less prostitutes who could be had for less than two loaves of white bread, on past the South Brooklyn Casket Works, a place that smelled of success – frantic forklifts moving in every direction, trucks idling at all hours of the day out front, parked at odd angles, loading and unloading – business was good. She peeked in, as she always did, and we ventured in, she striding, dragging me along. Just for a second. Come on.

     “It’s not morbid like you think. And the guys don’t mind – IF you don’t get in their way. They know me.” Some of the guys tipped imaginary hats, squeezed uncomfortable smiles from their faces. “I just tell them my mom is gonna need one soon.”

     And there we’d stand in front of various coffins and caskets debating their respective virtues – roominess, classic design, portability, durability, kitsch-value humor. Her favorite was an elegant white one. Her hand guided mine along its contours. I thought I sensed the workmen staring, wondering. I heard a huge black fly collide with a window.

     “Quality is something you can touch. MMM, feel that!” Her stare attempting to wring the meaning from my last statement – did I mean her or the casket?

     “Funny, you likin’ this one. It’s my fave too. Reminds me of my dad’s ’63 Cadillac. MMMM. He’d polish it and touch up nicks with a very fine paintbrush every Saturday. Later on, when he couldn’t get the right red any more he’d use my mom’s nail polish.”

     “I think of those white leather shoe guys over 60 with their white belts.”

     “Look, the trim is guaranteed 14K gold leaf. I like that it hearkens back to, I dunno, the Victorian age or something with its Baroquey details and all. I’d put in a new lining. I got it all ready. Took the seams outa my old chartreuse velvet dress. I wanna use that as the lining. And now I lay me down in my ole punk dress. When I sniff it I’m right back in the thick of Max’s.”

     She knew the exact four songs – I can’t remember, a Roy Orbison song, something by Joy Division, a song by Sinatra, and one by Echo & the Bunnymen with the line “Everybody loves you when you’re dead” – she’d hummed them all. Although there was also one by the Misfits she was contemplating. She dreamt of the lavish funeral details and the exact circumstances of her death – in bed on the brink of being discovered for her musical accomplishments, her best friend [“You don’t want her,” She warned. “She don’t drink beer, hates it.”] holding her left hand, and her sensitive brother, the only family member to ever let her know he “understood” her, holding her right hand.

     “I’ll be fucked by you as I’m dying – I’ll be 55 and then there’ll be a wake – it’s corny, I know, but that’s how I’d do it – banquet tables serving ridiculously, sinfully rich food and sausage from the place my dad worked at, the Vienna Sausage Manufacturing Co. – even Valentine’s Day meant some meat product in the shape of a heart or a rose – and cake and egg rolls dressed like sarcophaguses with miniature likenesses of me inside. And the Village Voice will call me ‘Patsy Cline on acid.’ Although I’ve done drugs, I’ve never done acid.”

     From an unexpected somewhere her hand wriggled its way inside my pants because the atmosphere here gave her “the hornies.” I could hear her purring until I whispered, “Not here! Later!”

     She tousled my hair back into place and handed me breath mints along the way – she’d wear hi heels in the snow if that’s what I wanted.

     She knew everybody in the school courtyard and wanted them all to know that she was with me, clinging to the elbow of a man five years her junior, because that was, according to Cosmopolitan, status; as one article aptly called it, “role-reversal empowerment” and “an age differential high.” A smattering of lone, exhausted dads stood uncomfortably like trees planted in the wrong orchard among the pinched blond moms, the dour teens picking up their siblings and the West Caribbean nannies of the chosen. I’m guessing the dads are worried everybody’s thinking “loser, why aren’t you at work?”

     Over time, Elsa had amassed astute and wicked or sarcastic dossiers [imagined, projected, and/or overheard] on every mom she perceived as prettier than herself. To balance these assessments out, so that she would not seem like a “Scorpio bitch,” she’d reserve certain bonbon-like niceties for the other mothers, the ones she perceived as being non-threatening, nice mothers who had sacrificed their looks for their children.

     Her kids, two splintery kids in dour clothes and wielding high levels of mistrust, suddenly exploded into view out of the screaming horde.

     “Mom, whose this guy?”

     “He’s got a name, you know.”

     “Yeah, but what’s he some number hundred daddy-for-a-day?” Lucinda asked. We must smirk at the brutal honesty of children.

     “Show some manners. His name is Furman.”

     “That means like rat. I bet he ain’t even got wheels.” Dan chimed in. She gripped Dan’s arm, hissed some discipline into his ear, then explained why I had no gifts for them like all the others: “There’s gifts and then there’s bribery. You’ll understand someday. And no, he doesn’t have a car but he’s got a heart bigger’n a Pontiac.”

     “Yea, right, mom. No Mercedes, no Lincoln, not even a Subaru. And I betcha he can’t get us Knicks tickets like Sam could.” She lovingly gave him a swat to the back of the head.

     While the kids played with friends, my hand disappeared inside the slit in the back of her long gabardine coat where my forefinger wormed its way inside a hole in her tights while she said hello to some of the other moms, briefly discussing grades, and the upcoming fashion pageant and PTA meeting. Her quivering fundament gripped my finger, hungrily clutching the phalange at the first knuckle as her voice went up a full octave. I stood there thinking that if I removed my finger maybe she’d abruptly deflate with a horrible racket. So, for decorum’s sake, better not.

     When I closed my eyes with my finger strumming the tattered hole in her tights, Elsa became someone else, someone with proud bones I’d seen in Cosmo. Or Punk. Like Sally Scream, circa 1981, Queen of Gloom Glam. My eyes were clamped shut; I was in a Montparnasse café with Anna Karenina until suddenly I felt my balance go askew because I was – or my sense of self was – escaping through orifices I had forgotten about.