Bart Plantenga’s
Confessions of a Beer Mystic #21

It was the same temperature as the night riots broke out in Watts in August ’65 after police had arrested a young black motorist, precipitating an eruption of 6 days of smoldering rage, leaving 34 dead, 1032 injured. For years 103rd St. was called “Charcoal Alley.”

I sometimes hung with Jude along the Tropic of Mirth and Mire. 40°42′ latitude, 74° longitude. Around another 103rd Street. Where light bangs around like crazy in among the 23 square miles crammed full of loathing towers of hazy mirror of Mad. Ave. ad agencies and money launderers that prevent sight penetration so we cannot know what they will make us think is absolute necessity tomorrow. These towers cast dense, immense and ferocious shadows across hollow sidewalks which teeter precariously on rusty splints, extending out into the grimy nowhere.

The vigilant light trails my transient shadow, eats away at it like vermin gnawing through drywall. And I can hear my voice being mocked by its own echo and vice versa. And when you think thoughts they feel like the thoughts of someone else. And they probably are. When I say something, what I hear is something different. I hear the baffling defiance of our surroundings to conform to prescribed parameters of bliss. And I am this small. I show you my pinkie.

Jude’s severe look kept bugs and guys out of her face. It’s amazing how makeup can do so much of the work of esteem and attitude. Her brows like crossed scimitars. Her eyes fixed, going nowhere except right through you. Until you get to know her. And then all is candy. Including her eyes.

But I really liked her. The way she’d lean over the bar with her skirt hiked up to reveal the sacral segments of her tailbone, ordering drinks based solely on the sensuous shape of the bottle and the aesthetic quality of the exotic labels which was her ever ready remedy for writer’s constipation. I watched her squint to read one: “Jameson, established since 1780, sine metu … From the rich countryside of Ireland come nature’s finest barley and crystal clear water.”

“You can read that? I don’t even see the label.”

“My eyes get better the more I drink.”

“Me too. But I gotta have lots.” Then reaching, one knee up on the bar, she pointed to just short of touching the actual bottles.

She could, even with the dead weight of me in tow, pry multiple drinks out of any bartender, armed only with her insouciant smile, clingy dresses, the sighs that emerged from her décolletage, and her witty repartee. This surgically precise extraction of drinks was a sight to behold. Every gesture calculated and allusive, culled from the repertoires of Dietrich, Hayworth and Dorothy Parker. Her actions seldom (but then more and more) involved a compromise of any someone’s character. Back in a time when Jude still benefited from that magical psychotropic state of liquor + hormones = enhanced vision.

I find bars that offer respite from the cumulative insanity outside. Taverns with Coltrane and candles. Bowers of timelessness, quiet temples, Amsterdam’s “brown cafes,” Prague’s rowdy pivnices (Old One Eye), the neon-lineamented zinc bars of Paris (Bar Iguan), NYC’s outpost dives (Sally’s, the Shandon Star) where clocks are all a mess; where play time doesn’t pass so much as nourish; where one doesn’t age so much as beam.

It is the mouth to mouth, the intimacy, spittle entering the glass as beer enters you, clocks losing their tick, hearts losing their beat, a hum, the hum inside the humerus, that long bone in a human arm which extends from thirst to shoulder, to elbow, is linked to the ulna, radius, carpus, metacarpus, phalanx, and around the circumference of the beer glass. Palm, the Belgian beer, is properly poured into a glass seemingly cast from the perfect breast. This is where the ruddy-cheeked smile embodies essential theories of ecstasy’s architecture. Where eyes sit in the smile’s crescent like warm eggs, oblivious to the idio-tautological, er, ideological tricks of the time managers.

Convivial bars where barkeeps intuit your desires, where you can stare at a wall and they can sense you are watching the filmstrip that is already inside yourself. Where you manufacture your own fanfare, lean back into your own character, where you cannot depend on a logothematic backdrop (Harley Davidson Cafe), festive psycho-diorama (TGIF), or some simulacrum saloon (Hard Rock Cafe) where MTV-enhanced waitpersons memorize jokes to “entertain” tips out of you and your wallet. Or offer you pithy correctives like “smile and the whole world smiles back.”

Jude’s Sang Froid Bar was not one of these cloisters. It had all the atmosphere of an outpatient clinic dressed up as a pinball arcade and was filled with hunched-over chunky MBAs contemplating the killings they were about to make on a market ergonomically designed to accommodate their kind.

This is where she taught me how to “kill” a beer. Open can. Tip head back. Can on lips until back of head touches backbone. Now punch hole in bottom of can with a church key. Beer floods down the gullet, her lovely neck fully exposed to over-watted tracklights. Some hockey fucks find this enough inspiration to hoot her up.

“10 seconds or less. Killed. Cheap shotgun drunk. Courtesy of cruel gravity. And a rowdy boy I once dated outa Detroit.”

Not that she deigned to ever drink beer for beer’s sake. This was performance.

“It’s pure white trash.”

“You bet. It’s one of the only good things about gravity. Otherwise gravity just causes jowls, causes your breasts to sag.”

“Not mine. Maybe yours.”

Jude had splendid legs; slender and dramatic. Much of her wardrobe seemed to enhance the linear drama of her limbs or her breasts in excelsis (I’m reminded of Gaughin paintings where breadfruit and breasts get confused for one another) served up so that elegies could more easily be written about them.

But when I rhapsodized onward and drooly about the firm and delirious cudgel lumps of her gastrocnemius muscles in her calves in the Sang Froid she reacted quite peculiarly; commenced to whistle, pound her fists, leap into the thick air, let the imaginary egg timer ring. Mocked my less than original observation with game show hysteria. I’d been the l0,000th man to tell her that — in fact. And of those 10,000 only 100 had gotten any further (or so she said). Figure it out; I had a 1% chance with her. But really, I had a much better chance when I realized that I had not factored in her own (disguised) despair. Which was easily recognized by how often she spoke about being a guest on my radio show. She had actually listened to my show where I read a piece about Nielle which she had mistaken for one about her.

“You like my haircut, you like me. It’s as simple as that,” she said. But it wasn’t. The simpler people say things are the more difficult you can expect them to be.

“How do you do it? I mean how does muscle make us dream? I mean your calves, just by lookin’ at them makes me hard …”

“I do a lot of reaching for top shelf liquor.” I couldn’t take my eyes off her legs.

“You’re subtle as a chainsaw staring down a birthday cake.”

“Is that a complaint or …”

Sympathy (“the food stamps of emotion” I think Djuna called it) crippled Jude with delusion. Be careful, even basic human gestures, a smile, or unscrewing the cap off her rum bottle could be enough semiotic signal to send her into reveries of swooning. She was always hoping the swooning itself would hurtle her, hurtling you or me along with her ever further afield.

First came her hoping, then wishing, then begging as the night of drinking collapses into her slinky gelatinous swoon (like a studied movie still) to render her more pliable, more palatable. Like — do I dare say? — sad meat loaf on a cheap china platter. (If I claim I’m quoting someone else here will that relieve me of blame?)

And if neglected for an instant by a distraction of any sort — an “Ingres in skin” ambling by, for instance — she’d blurt, “Don’t pay ME any mind. “

“I wouldn’ PAY for it.”

“Do you really think she’s pretty? I can show you pretty.” And there we’d have it out in the bar, Anatomy 101, a full leg of beauty slapped on the bar for all of me and anyone else to inspect. “I got skin those girls have only ever seen in movies.”

“Where’s the Achilles heel again?” I asked. The entire bar a sea of dilated pupils fixed on us.

Back at her place I sat on my hands on the arm of her sofabed. Jude had no real lamps in her place except for the one over her word processor. Just some candles and about 20 two-watt night lights that made her place look like a forest full of giant fireflies or a small town planetarium. And as my prize for being the l0,000th flatterer she had decided to read me one of her very own short stories. It had won an award, she assured me, of some prestige.

In the 1980s she had been the Edna St. Vincent Millay of her milieu — fascinating, sharp, ebullient, red hair, flairful fashions, and a book with the ballast of much acclaim. This by her own reckoning but corroborated by others whom I trusted. But her plunge from bon vivant to bonbon, from devil-may-care to devil-may-snare was a dramatic if avoidable denouement. The rightful compliments and lusts that used to leap into her very midst suddenly had to be fished for, cajoled, and pried from the mouths of men.

In her day her kiss was a devastating testament to ruthless abandonment and unrequited priapic throbs. But now her kiss might seem more akin to supplication, with the sucking action of a Dust Buster. Of a simple embrace, a kiss goodnight, she created Peyton Places in the cold chambers of her heart. And the men she could not have that she desired so much? — well, she began to marvel at her ulcers. They emerged as gastro-intestinal proofs of the profundity of her sufferings. Because, after all, she was no ordinary romantic. She was epic, post-Victorian. She chose guys already in relationships so that her fate was comfortably sealed and so that her sadness would manifest itself in fiction that then subsequently corresponded to her basic philosophy of hope deferred.

I needed ale but she is a scotch tippler and that spells trouble. In her fridge … one LITE beer (whose brand I will not even dignify by ridiculing!). Which guy was that designed to keep over night? And this, even its mitigating alcohol potential, did not derail me from my long spiral out of glorious priapism and into utter flaccidness. I am suddenly not taken by her, or rather, the part she has written for me to play — my erection as her spiritual prosthesis. [Ed note: the reliability of these accounts of his irresistibility to women is suspect because Furman Pivo’s level of veracity is adversely proportional to his level of inebriation.]

Our dynamic forced from me inane niceties, compliments on choice of earrings, socks, rum adjectives to protect her fragile composition, that tenuous matrix of beliefs, hopes, and misconceptions. The kind of accolades that would undo blouse buttons.

She could stare at one word on her screen all day, agonizing over whether that word was the perfect one. And the next day whether that perfect word was preceded by the perfect adjective. In 10 years she’d have another short story. A perfect story that would mean nothing in a stylish and admirably obsolete way. The words all attached to the proper emotions. And there the short story would lie like a cow heart on a piece of wax paper in a butcher shop.

Her parents purchased a computer for her but because the screen was so bright and upset the somber aspect of her room she had unplugged it. She did not want to conquer its manuals and its disdainful illumination for fear it would conquer her. It had been a week since she’d unplugged it. She had heard about viruses that rewrite your writing so that the writer loses control of what s/he has written. She had almost decided to dump it.

“I dunno, its blank stare is a kind of contempt, I dunno, with all its substantial memory and all.” What’d I think? Well, I guess that all depended on how far I needed to flatter her (and convince myself how lucky I was to be here with her) to be able to negotiate my mindless fingers up the smooth flanks of leg.

“Thanks for the mammaries.” Is all I could come up with.

“You are like a toilet paper riot in a boy scout camp aren’tchu.”

She had confined herself to a garret that had been decorated to harass/torment her. Overwrought wallpaper, gruesome gnarly fixtures, dark olive green office furniture that had been rescued from an old accounting firm filled with Burroughs adding machines. Over run by a kind of neglect that baffled pride of place. Or accommodation to the scrivener’s muse. The weight of sorrow in this place plowed right into her face. Living here would mean having to constantly apologize to appliances or things for moving them around.

And she sat there, puffed out in her old heavy swivel chair, pretty as a worried bird on a broken twig, reams of tortuously rewritten words on her lap, (red arrows and blue lines at crazy crisscrosses all over the pages) stories that “came from somewhere but went nowhere.”

She sat there like an empty vase on a shiny table as she described 4 boyfriends all of whom flattered her (more articulately than I ever could) by sharing their fame with her. Some had been legends, others, just fashionable addicts. I sipped the LITE without dirtying my lips on the can itself. This required a steady hand.

I read in bed with a miner’s cap on. Comme ça. My Welsh boy got me that. But lately I’ve been reading myself into a corner.”

I know. Like where’s it all going? Like you’ll just end up in this big elephant graveyard for words.”

Her writing guarded its convenient delusion with intoxication of syntax. And addiction can sometimes sustain you with its own convincing raison d’etre. Syntactical intoxication, the way words were strung together, sent her into inexplicable fits of reverie and this was the aim of the writing — to insulate itself from criticism, to the way writing ruled our every instant of reality. Let me put it this way: if you sit in a cafe all stylishly appointed, doing nothing, most of the onlookers will project and extrapolate incredible lives onto you.

So that, after a long kissing and bodily rummaging session, I offered to demonstrate (a proper how-to — had no man ever done this for her?) the correct piston action of how the fist caresses and skins the prick of all its shine and spit I could almost hear her manufacturing the appropriate phrases to properly convey her disgust at being forced to partake of the mechanics of auto-gratification and dovetailing this scene into some other locale. Can I say that to her sex meant the alleviation of all responsibility, concern, and attention to the other?

“I’m a romantic not a mechanic.” Is how I remember her putting it after I had made a deal out of her being less than attentive to the finer tunings of amour.

And with this self-consciousness came its own moral tapeworm: the fact that we would accentuate our selves to elaborate into high drama every gesture to assure that each of us would figure heavily in one another’s roman à clefs. And so writing was allowed to devour the very love we claimed to covet. The writing would precede us, set up the lighting, create the backdrop, seal the destiny of the scenario. And then we’d arrive. In fact, everything was subservient and nothing until put into words. The action resembling a carnivorous plant that devours the very bee that will ensure the specie’s survival.

My visit to her garret felt the way a priest solemnly enters the cell of a deathrow inmate. She held up a manuscript she claimed she had been working on for months, ripped up this story that had never worked and tossed the snippets up into the dead air. I wanted to say that her brain probably craved oxygen, sustenance — open a window! — and that her eyes probably craved unmuddied light — wash your windows! — but I did not. And we sat sadly as the confetti rained down on us. And then she confessed that maybe some of the middle school kids she taught were “sources of insight and material, actual lines and everything. They’ll never know but …”

I got down on my hands and knees and started to rewrite the story in a new way. She laughed and then stopped. That I wasn’t mocking her wasn’t clear enough for her to NOT throw me out.

“You peeve me off so fuggin’ much, Furman Pivo. Get outa my fuggin’ sight! I do not need a creative writing teacher.”

“No, you need a brain enema.” I said no more. We just weren’t meant for one another. Evidence: I’d pass out just to get away from her agonizing methods of begging for it, the very it of it she did not even really want or know what to do with. But I had really liked her. If she had only let liking develop its own dynamics of fulfillment …

In her elevator I looked in the mirror, repeated the line I never got to use, “Jude, you can bait the hook but you cannot catch the fish.” #1 #2 #3 #4 – #5 – #6 – #7 – #8 – #9 – #10 – #11 – #12 – #13 – #14 – #15 – #16 – #17 – #18 – #19 – #20

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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