Bart Plantenga’s
Confessions of a Beer Mystic #16

At the San Remo on MacDougal after work and after Holcom Bayne had bid his aristocratic hobo adieus, I perched upon the edge of my seat, shellshocked into drinking extrapolatory numbers of elixirial ales, waiting for the ale to push me further back into my seat.

I was doing some battle with a waddling horde of voracious pilgrims of fame and celebrity. Their inflamed corpulent posteriors, an evolutionary development, cushions them from awareness — they do not even know we have done battle. This allows them to grow ever further away from the responsibility of themselves. They had so hoped that I would confirm what they had misheard and misread. In other words, celebrity’s inscription of significance on insignificant mindscapes. The maps they shove in my face are confusing and the guidebook, Walks of the Stars, is unclear.

“Where’d they film that Partridge Family segment where they end up in a park surrounded by hippies?”

“I think it was filmed in Berlin to look like NY.”

“We’re also looking for where the Fonz hung out before he got on Happy Days. The Purple Eggplant. You heard of it?”

“The Purple Eggplant don’t exist. It’s a fictitious club!”

“But’s it’s on this map.”
“Yea, and this map also shows 5th Avenue is blue and 6th Avenue is red.”

Also on their agenda: Cher’s old apartment at 14 East 4th Street, The Cafe Au Go Go where Bruce Springsteen made his first NY appearance in 1966, a Billy Joel shrine, Michael J. Fox, Christie Brinkley, Kermit the Frog … and tomorrow, out to Queens by bus to go through Archie Bunker’s neighborhood.

They fit uneasily into the rattan cafe chairs as their faces searched despondently for the blue light of television that would bring their facial features back to life. But when the sites of whomever they didn’t even know how to want seemed hopelessly lost to them they quit talking to me. They left behind some crumpled napkins and candy bar wrappers, an empty film box, a measly tip.

This is no longer the same San Remo where Dylan Thomas attempted gallant meldings of inebriation, gratification, and obliteration. I sat where I imagined he may have, trying to understand the dynamic of how his process of obliteration of self made him ever more eminently present. The more he killed himself the more alive he seemed to be for others. His friend Holcom Bayne put Thomas’ strategies this way: “The tactical advantages of clandestinity, the language of the heart … gives aesthetics its revolutionary centrality.”

Is this the secret alchemical domain of alcool? Does giving the wrong directions to tourists protect this domain? Frequent failure to attain proper gratification however, forced him to pursue what it was that clung so melancholy to the heart of his writing — which further encouraged his ferocious imbibery. I write and note how difficult, after a day of lifting cartons, it is to write in a handwriting I can read: “black eye #18: Corner of Great Jones and Lafayette, 10:30PM, I walked under it and light went dark. I think of a black walnut cracked open.”

I attempt over a “nip of Bass [Ale #5!] and a sam handwich please” some Thomasian versification: “firm in foam / I stand for falling / my soul in loam / and what I find galling / is how thoughts mark the whims I do roam …”

I wend home, O sad hovel with your crying walls and moldy cornered crowsfeet, and railed at how objects, architectural details, griffins and cornices, strange pudgy child saints all seem suddenly capable of lateral movement. Quick jaunty dodges, a little head jive, just to throw me further afield. Sills quivered, spitting down crumbs of cement, neon buzzing, flickering, a pulsation meant to distress me ever further. Signs in dark windows said: “YES WE OPEN.” Bad grammar and definitely not open. Baby carriages mangled and discarded in collapsing garbage cans.

Most of these thing are reparable — a new wheel here, some duct tape there — but how did we learn to unlearn tasks that might reveal our relation to things? Is it because this kind of willful ignorance allows us to feel more entitled to work at jobs that encourage the pride of tinker to give in to pride of smart-shopper. As if dignity was all a matter of negotiating a sale.

I once marveled at the techno-utopic predictions issued by Popular Mechanics. I was young and good at believing that some things would happen because they needed to. Back then when I read a word I believed that word; back when Popular Mechanics predicted monorails would ring cities sitting under huge Plexiglas salad bowls, protecting them from fickle weather patterns and missiles. By 1975 housewives were supposed to be made happy by convenience with hair flying wild, free to pursue their whims and artistic muses. But by 199-whatever vehicular transport STILL didn’t have brains or swimming pools. Maybe PM’s editors were more sardonic than I ever cared to notice.

Convenience offers speed and this speed carves out wraiths of space so that women of extraordinary beauty can sadly dart into chosen doorways to hastily arrive at their destination so they can be pissed full of distress for having been left with nothing to do with themselves. At Cooper Union I burp up a Bass to sustain me for the rest of my journey “home.” Things move at the speed of bullets and lightning but we still advance at our own glacial pace.

I found a box for a pistol in Marco’s garbage can. 4 spent shells on my stoop. It’s midnight and they could be anybody’s. I jiggle them in the palm of my hand. When I question them about the spent shells — did they hear anything? — they look at me as if I’m suggesting gang rape of Their Blessed Virgin! None of the lingering stoop marsupials even think it strange. They hoist up their pasty-faced veneers of indifference. I’ve broken vows of silence and this makes me the criminal; I am a criminal worse than any shooter because I have managed to push their faces from stoop to shit.

Why are they still outside? Are their chambers so unbearable? Are they, with their mourning dove souls, being devoured by misgiving and worry? We live near some dull moaning edge of no return. There are dynamos and generators behind nearby walls.

But as life is supposed to get easier it gets proportionately that much more difficult. Recent studies show a direct relationship between the improved comfort of furniture and the incidence of acute despair; the exponential growth of choice in consumable diversions and pharmaceutically-treatable dread.

The parade highlights on TV sounded like a gun battle. Might very well have been.

“Hey, hon, what’s the holiday?”

“It’s no holiday.”

“What’s with the parade?”

“I’m watchin’ last year’s Mermaid Parade. I’m trying to see how I lost being Queen to Monika Beerle.” I sometimes call Djuna hon or wife to get under her precious skin. She has an ass the 3 Graces would tangle over, and knows it. When she used to pass out on the bed I often thought that she had strategically placed her naked loins in a way to absorb the light emanating from the electric candlelight. Like a buoy marking a treacherous pass into her harbor. And I could part her perfectly formed loaves by making my hand into the shape of prayer and then wedging the prayer in there. And I would lay my cheek on her thigh and just stare at her.

She claims an ex of hers once won a poetry contest with an allusionary ode to her “marbleous loin” (his phrase!). Puerto Rican kids — it’s true — on wild airborne bikes zoom by, grabbing her ass like the faithful might kiss the greasy plaster feet of a saint. Black men pushing racks of dresses on 7th Ave. have been known to praise the lord when she sashays by. Drunks, wending by, arm in arm one night, changed the words to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” to include a verse praising her haunches. I swear. I was there.

She was really beautiful and unstirred once. Laid out tickless in gin and milk. Back then when her hips still amused us as they nudged aisles, tipped over grocery displays, brushed sculptures on pedestals in galleries askew, and had so-called blind beggars singing, “baby, lemme pull up to your bumper.”

On cold nights she’d risk the chills to run across the cold stone floor, nude as an iris, to pour oil she’d warmed in the oven over my chest and then sleep skin inside skin. Or sing her lawdy arias to celestial bodies (of which she was one) in her psychedelic lava lava. In a sense the planets DID revolve around her because celestial bodies only mattered, like my body did, in as much as they affected her. The only thing she “knew” about astrology was how she thought the heavens should affect her. Or she them. In a sense, Djuna was right; I only mattered in how she managed to give me shape and movement in lieu of substance. I can’t remember her exact words.

[Djuna Scolanaski: “He’s a horse of many manures. He comes from somewhere, anywhere. You know, it’s never been made clear exactly where. Maybe 1/2-Lithiumanian and 1/2-Lowlandian? I don’t know. The vaguely oversized dome-shaped skull reminds me of a Gaelic cairn and it has been the object of much namecalling, usually with reference to beings from another galaxy, as seen on Star Trek. I always thought he looked like the younger Chet Baker with a doorstop nose and too much forehead, too much target for someone, like me, to cowpunch him a nice 3rd eye.”]

I never wanted to wreck this scene. I mean she even used to put toothpaste on my brush. Run her oiled pinky between my toes. Fever and heroic purpose seemed to be the kinds of things that kept us warm back then. But no more. Eventually her freckles turned to scurrying fleas and bugs and …

And late at night I’d have to come into her screaming room and slap her with my open hand or sometimes something more substantial. She’d point: shoulder, thigh, belly. And I’d be there, examining the body of a scream, her disembodied wail. See which of her beauty marks were aching … the mad bugs scurried in her ear … And then — A-HA! — it began to make sense. Boy banging her arm! Black and blue crusts in the weld.

This boy, with all the (neighbor’s) TVs was some disheveled piece of effete grunginess too. A Trustafarian follower of Hailme Asiselli (pronounced: Hail-me As-I-sell-I) with his scented dreads who was always fretting that his cover as junkie (in the image of that painting of the Marat Sade in bathtub) would be blown and we would discover he had a Volvo in a parking garage — he did — which he drove to Westchester — he did — to vote for George Bush — twice — he did! Bendro Corpuscle is what he came to be known, his nom de needle, in Goth-grunge noise circles. He lived for noise, attention, bendroflumethiazide and metams. And the vital signs he manifested when he mingled with drug entrepreneurs on street corners. Or rather the thrill of talking about it later. Or rather the satisfaction of being able to give Djuna a choice of TVs.

But sometimes Djuna would ask him to perform (I think before she met me, although who knows anymore) and there he’d be in the sad light of the flickering electric candle wiggling his twiggy wag to no effect at all. And this periodic necessity to perform his male function for Djuna embittered him to her and he set about to get her by cutting the ration he banged into her arm and messing with the false architecture of her soul. And in his midst — he had no arms to catch her — she collapsed at the toes of his shaved shrew leather boots, out and forever away from him.

“At least with drugs I stayed thin,” she said in a tone too casual to be really her. Although, now that she was clean she’d deny she ever said that, ever romanticized the abuse of soul with narcotics. And it was only much later that I realized it was her full rich tan that ultimately obliterated her “bugs” (i.e., freckles). That and drying out.

But after she dried out she became intolerable in a new way. Or maybe it was me. Djuna was now driven by the misplaced clairvoyance of clarity — call it aerodynamic delusional certitude.

Now it’s more on the order of: “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink and then the drink takes the man.” Her mouth like a pair of dull scissors gnawing through coarse fabric. TV special in the background: “Bring Back Topo Gigio!”

I was no longer her surprise, the smiling bed, the stone that floats, a pocket full of rose petals. I was just a bag full of bad habits, put on this earth to bug her. A lot like her father she’d say. The more you live with someone the more you need to lose track of them. It’s courageous just knowing this.

This woman, Djuna, who I find myself next to — the spite of fate! — says “Booze is TOO effective as birth control.” Sometimes I tell her my penis is on fire.

“That’s not desire,” Djuna says, “that’s disease.”

Drinking is like tightrope walking. One night we drank an entire continent of beer watching a Bette Davis thing on TV. That was then and now is now. We haven’t slept in the same bed for over 2 weeks.

It was just something in the beer that catalyzed her resentment toward me that night. I just ended up as some generic guy while she did this tassle dance, a vestigial gesture from her old go-go days, up on the kitchen table. Nothing was simple. Everything was drenched in gestures that mocked the very notion of straightforwardness. The mockery here just mocked some other 2nd-hand mockery from someplace else. There she was twirling a banana peel over her head like a lasso. A dance stuck somewhere between self-hatred and the hatred of my vaguest tic of trouser arousal. She taunted me with “Flacido Domingo” displaying contempt for any signs of flaccidness or tumescence. So I could not win. This way all emotion could remain perpetually murky and negotiable.

I remember she once said, “love is slitting your throat and then feeling your last spasmodic pulse beat through your blood.”

I can’t sleep — paranoia, is a way to dress dysfunction up as vision. It can be a very reliable focus however. Maybe it’s a movie I saw once. I don’t know, but I have these strange dreams of cutting all her hair off, killing the beauty. Make her look like a Nazi collaborator who they paraded through the streets of Paris with shaved heads. I hear Bette Davis say, “Shears are scissors with blades longer than 6”.” I climb into crawl spaces, see dirt, forgotten plates, gleaming appliances, sharp objects, lint and shed skin. And I see her coming back with Aztec prescriptions for carving out my heart.

I discovered a book, Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation, which explains things about our captivity: “When the weapon is stuck into the body the edge has a cutting action, so that the surface wound is considerably longer than the width of the blade, and when the weapon is withdrawn it usually assumes a different position so that the wound is enlarged even further … With a stab wound to the heart death may not occur immediately … when there is only a little blood in it, it may be a while before the individual dies.”

I also found an article photocopied from Transactions of Functional Control, “Computerized Employee Monitor Device Deployment,” that Djuna had apparently been studying for her new job. She had highlighted significant passages: “To put work within the reach of Computerized Performance Monitoring and Control Systems (CPMSs) the ability for unbiased tracking of employee performance via CPMSs has made them attractive control devices for management in that they make workers more visible to measurement systems. Control Theory entails the process whereby systems restrict, constrain or direct the freedom and discretion that individual employees can exercise in performing a task. Reports of increased stress, deteriorating health, poorer working relationships among peers, privacy issues, and a lower ‘quality’ of work life should be overlooked when one takes into account the cost-effectiveness benefits that far outweigh these as yet, inconclusive claims.”

Suddenly I shivered. The bed felt like an alien spacecraft. How quick and slippery her slither from discord, her fashionable glorification of chaos, to an almost totalitarian belief in the ecstasies of control. Maybe it was just a job.

In the morning, late for work, still drunk, I collapse in Union Square, in among the hedges. Most 12-step programs consider the “blackout” one of the advanced signs of alcoholism. My program does as well, although I have replaced the word alcoholism with alchemy. The “blackout” for the alchemist is the first phase of his Great Work, not an advanced phase as it is for the alcoholic. The conjunction of fire and water, “firewater” becomes a helpmate, a sort of living metaphor or wetnurse in the alchemist’s search for the Great Elixir of life. The blackout is a time when all elements mundane are refined out of memory, leaving only pure consciousness. When I return out of the voluptuous black I am 2 blocks from work. My nostrils are flared by the primordial symphonic scent of soil, grass, and canine urine as I watch people go to work, from the squirrel’s point of view, fascinated by the efficiency and thrust of their walks like grey birds who’ve forgotten how to fly. I’m in a new time zone.

to be continued – #1 #2 #3 #4 – #5 – #6 – #7 – #8 – #9 – #10 – #11 – #12 – #13 – #14 – #15

How to become a Beer Mystic – by Mike Golden


Bart Plantenga – is the world’s foremost Beer Mystic and authority on yodel-ay-ee-hoo!

Sharon Mesmer interviews the old Beer Mystic @
Confessions Of A Beer Mystic by Bart Plantenga



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