Bart Plantenga’s
Confessions of a Beer Mystic #9

I tramp across the Brooklyn Bridge even though, during construction, defective wire was woven into the cables to cut costs. This is how knowing gnaws away at necessity of faith. Tonight the cables (made of 14,000 miles of woven wire) are vibrant, harplike, trilling with the febrile moiré music of hum and fray, stress and sway. A chill rattles the keys in my pocket. The East River looks brassy and unnegotiable. And I detect the tide, a biopsy scraping the ulcerated pelvic lining of the harbor, eating away at ancient certitudes in squalorous ’hoods. I have no one to be, I have no appointments to keep.

Is that jazz saxman Albert Ayler, missing 30 days going on 30 years, I see floating downstream in a white suit? Chained to a jukebox full of wailful tunes? Is it Nielle, my noctivagant mate, who told me she feels she is also missing and told me Ayler’s technique had ripped up thresholds so that pain seemed like pleasure and told me he’d pushed the boundaries of what jazz could be — his highest shrieks could put out light, smash crystal? Nielle has found the identity she can get lost in. Is that lost or found? Is that any worse or different from a secretary or biker chick?

Our moon in estrus I begin to sing. Over and over “Our moon in Estrus” which gets me to wondering where Nielle goes when I’m not around. She thinks we are night travelers, witches; the notoriety manufacturing a kind of pride she hadn’t known prior to meeting me. And the more we drink, the more the inertia of this inevitability drives us to calling all this love. But I don’t spell it out. And neither does she.

She receives a small stipend, calls it hush money, from a guilty and gone ole man. This allows her to float. She, I suspect, is a frugal squat punk with a bank account who keeps warm in the public library. She leaves notes to enamor me (nab me) with her research. “Noah listed beer as one of the provisions he made sure to have plenty of when stocking the ark.” She leaves messages on the answering machine, “‘All we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of holy ground to the next.’ That’s not me that’s J.D. Salinger.”

But now I’m up here suspended and swinging mid-breath in a hammock of some peace, lobbing wads of spit onto U.S. Coast Guard Cutter #721 as it emerges from under the bridge. This expectoration does me some good but certainly has no verifiable effect on present power dynamics. Power will remain, by its very nature, oblivious to the subtleties of service. But I did manage to get rid of one foul wad of spit and if life was a poem of vengeance this wad of spit would’ve burnt a hole into the cutter’s hull. I hold on to the bridge railing because I do not trust certain aspects of myself that I have lost touch with. These aspects seem to have a special predilection for the charm of vertigo and the thrill of auto-jettisoning oneself into the East River. My knuckles are white. My palms leave sweat on the railing to evaporate. We all want to make a spectacle of ourselves. The sweaty prints evaporate in no seconds flat.

On any given day you might find 400 foreign substances swirling around down there. This might explain the color. Its brassy sickly shimmer is psychosis made geographical. Could be the lights off the FDR too. Periodically they drag the river for missing bodies. Where is Burma again! Where’ve I been? Where’ve I ever been? I lift my bottled barley ode to the surrounding enveloping excitement, an environment defined as busyness driven by boredom with noise as its byproduct.
Cabs weave the bebop through the Mondrian patterns of light and brine and steel. Cars cross the bridge with big cardboard boxes sticking out of their trunks. All at such speeds that the drivers no longer appear to have faces, while their wheels sing harmony with the bridge. A dolorous symphony lamenting the forlorn fact that we subsist so close to the sea yet remain so landlocked by our own devices, which prevents us from ever being opened up by that sea. We are unhinged by the incongruity of living in a culture of speed, a place so fast that by the time you imagine something, somebody’s already gone and done it and somebody else has already marketed it. We can’t make sense of the primacy of speed in a place where to go 5 miles to the shore takes 90 minutes on a train that makes so many stops where nobody gets off. Sometimes you can detect a briny almost prickly scent in the New York air; it is the perfume of a siren, a siren whose crotch is lined with raw herring. When I partake of my flesh, suck on the pulse in my wrist, it is bitter to the taste.

I wander the darkness dear from womb to end, through fear. With brew upon brew, dark and stout, (Pelforth and Brooklyn) clutched in fist, I vow to not go in too early, I vow to hum the bridge’s fey tune, to obliterate all the dreams that harass me.

And as I piss in the monumental and pungent dark, I make mental the map of New York and make dark inside me the swath of land now mine. I wonder too, holding my glorious and bitter piece of fruit, whether others sometimes imagine this solipsistic intimacy important enough to document on celluloid. An entire film of people pissing. If you do it right you can feel how your dick is not attached to you but something else. You can feel how your nerves are strung to the rest of the bridge like just another cable and you can feel the entire elegant tension between mass and stress, substance and spirit, them and us… The dazzling strands entangle all mind, suspended there between Gothic arch and Gothic arch.

And in all this astonishing magnanimity I imagine what others have come to expect from me. And I try to see the sad lumps of human fecal matter deposited in the dark Gothic bowers of the bridge as offerings detached from any tragic significance. Perhaps me and Nielle were meant to be — she with her P.O. Box, me with someone else’s answering machine, she with her sleep where sleep can be taken, me with my beer where beer can be imbibed, she with her detached generosities, and me with my dependence on them. And since she has no phone except the numbers of those who perhaps will remember to pass my messages on to her (what makes me think that her ex-lovers will do that for me?) and since I do not know which door to which squat to slide my notes scribbled on scraps of 6-pak cardboard under, I write my heart out to many cracks under many doors and since I cannot locate her …

I call Elsa out of her fragile sleep from under the Brooklyn shadow of the bridge. But I say next to nothing. I just listen to her describe the beerwich she will make — “3 slices of rye, 3 eggs, 1 beer … arrange the bread in large baking dish …” — if I’d just come over right now.

“Take a cab. I’ll pay for it.” And where yesterday her neediness seemed like something to brag about at work, it now sounds so desperate like she’s some cat lost in an icy courtyard. Like she’s a junkie on all fours looking for a needle she’s dropped in the dark. She doesn’t know need from desire. I hang up and lose my way.

I sit on a ledge of the War Memorial, right under Justice in Cadman Plaza and stuff the wads of cash from my first Codger paycheck into a baggie into my sock, into my boot. The homeless man sleeping at Justice’s feet is roused from his “sleeping bag” and notes, “It’s a long way from Cad-man Plaza to Kat-man-doo!”

Some neighborhoods I wander through are so angry and dangerous that they are considered separate nations, terra vigilante with their own laws, their own hand signals, their own brain frying recipes, their own police forces, and their own misinformed mythologies (they can smell a faggot or a victim a mile away) upon which they mount the hatreds upon which they feed.

But I am not “perilized.” I have thoroughly investigated the logistics of muggers and hooded street Huns; I have observed the tics, the eye-to-baseball-bat coordination of the homebodies in Carroll Gardens who praise mom, wash the car and then get fucked up so bad on whatever to forget who it is they are not and will never be. They have gleamed their snarls and blades into my midst. And they are all just looking for what I have already found — the mechanism that will set them up off their knees, erect and tall. I have invited crimes against me, invented outrages, so that I can know crime like some know satori and others their PIN codes and I am thee.

The streetlights are out again down the street from 316 on the 500-block. I flatter myself to think I may have perpetrated this. Until I notice kids without bedtimes, dragging sad pink bears, oppressed by their absolute aimlessness and the fact that friends and family alike constantly refer to them as mistakes, knock them out with stones (and/or cheap handguns) collected from private caches discovered behind bushes in Tompkins Square Park.

Con-Ed has given up (cause or effect?) on this forgotten street of damp discarded mattresses, dusty chicken bones, littered with lumbering lumps of human rag more exhausted than desperate under billboards with new-day-mouthwash-success-smiles. This evening’s latter-day hipsters comb the set for a video backdrop of adequate mythological menace to make whatever lifestyle it is they are trying to market as heroic this week. Irony threatens to get away from us and live on its own accord, independent of our attitudes and intentions.

I want to ask this homeless woman eating out of trashbins whether she doesn’t have a son somewhere with a spare room. I see her “house,” a giant luxury refrigerator box with rags pinned to it for insulation. I see how she wraps herself in the old blanket I gave her, careful to cover herself from face to toe like she’s rehearsing to be a mummy — “my mommy is a mummy, hahaha.” I know the song but not the singer.

She sometimes rests on our stoop until the super shoos her off with a broom. And I have to think real hard to imagine her as a little girl playing, with screeches of glee, on the P.S. 43 playground. Or as a Brownie Den Mother. She crosses her legs. This simple act can take a good 15 minutes even with the help of both hands.

“If she suddenly stopped breathing would I give her mouth-to-mouth?” I ask as I try to imagine her sitting in front of me in geography class, tracing the coast of Italy with a colored pencil. Her ankles look like turnips horded in a winter basement. What was the secret to her undoing? A bad grade in physics? Chemistry? Altruism betrayed?

This is my neighborhood. Well, it’s not mine just yet. Were it mine it wouldn’t be mine, or anyone else’s. It’d be dark though, an aromatic bower of vespertine-faced violets, breeding-ground for fireflies and whispered confessions, a true black market.

But this is also where muggers with missing teeth hide in wait for smiles full of gold. Wrestle it right out of your mouth on the spot. They have the tools right there in the doorway. Professional stuff. Freelance dentistry. Glory is always fraught with a tinge of danger. They are just as keen to finger the piping on your jacket for private stashes of hash.

This is where they let you buy back your own stereo too. And if you say “I think that’s mine,” they nonchalantly reassure, “Well, then you know yer gettin’ a steal at this price.” And you feel embarrassed knowing it’s yours and you’re too damned awed by their audacity and too damn chickenshit to do anything about it.

Especially the guy with eyes twirling like a one-armed bandit full of cherries, bells, needles and with his gunbelt (festooned with live ammo) strung, bandito-style, across his torso. A pock-faced gargoyle, weatherworn somewhere between menace and reassurance.

Climbing my steps I saw a rat strung up hangman-style (as a warning to other rats?) on the chainlink fence that guards the sad rubble-filled park from ourselves. Its wet fur no uglier than our sky or pavement. The knot was perfect and reminded me of a Henry Fonda movie.

Things rust, fall apart around here as they do anywhere. Appliances stop working. Become arrogantly silent. Take up space. Get tossed. Make us think they have another, more insidious purpose — to unsettle us. And is it still somehow freedom we’re talking about when we no longer know what to do with it?

to be continued –
Confessions Of A Beer Mystic by Bart Plantenga #1 #2 #3 #4 – #5 – #6 – #7 - #8
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 @


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