Bart Plantenga, Confessions of a Beer Mystic, fiction excerpted from his novel of light & beer and beer & light.
Smoke Signals Literary Magazine Online


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haven't consumed anything with as much hidden gusto or as little secret kickback behind it as Bart Plantenga's still unpublished ineberotic end of the century confessions of urban transcendence since the first day you stubbed your reality on A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.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 -


fiction excerpted from
bart plantenga's novel
of Beer & Light & Light & Beer


Three-legged dogs. All of a sudden I’m seeing them around the sub-14th Street area of Manhattan. I’m seeing them and not believing them. And, no it wasn’t on account of the beer. I’m thinking you’re not going to believe the rest of this story either if I go on about three-legged dogs too long. But at the risk of undermining the fundamental truth of this story I need to go on about these dogs. I’m spooked, fascinated, you understand. White clumps of gauze around the stumps. Little contraptions and makeshift prostheses affixed to the limbs making my neighborhood look like scrapped Mad Max footage salvaged from the cutting floor.

I mean, when you see these 3-legged creatures you think: Civilization as a measure of the grace accorded the absurdity of the missing appendages. You think: Canine martyrs of some kind of urban psychotic strife brought on by the Dutch courage of drink [spiritual inebriation led astray by stronger spirits like cheap vodka]; the dog as martyred embodiment of everything that is wrong with the city. You think: Things gone wrong, asymmetrical, and wobbly. You think: Why am I laughing at these dogs and their proudly pathetic owners? You think: This is our twist through sophistication that makes satire of their pathetic hobbles, transforming our notions of responsibility into some kind of joke. A joke nobody laughs at but everybody seems to get. You think: Maybe coincidence is more than just coincidence.

You think all this too? Well, then you’re drinking from the same perfect-stemmed tulip glass as me. Like me, you will not much want to catch the culprits for fear we won’t know what to do with ourselves. Half my friends would no doubt videotape the perpetrator, so that another half of their friends could pay good money to come worship him.

Kelly Green [for years he wore only green felt clothing and described himself as a “good-ole Jew boy from Queens looking for his inner Joey Ramone”] called him a transgressive artist “who uses fear as a canvas.” Kelly’s sense of irony was the only sense many of us had left, most of us did not think he was being ironic. But you never know around here. People kidded when they were serious and were serious when they seemed to be kidding. This way we all get to be naive and smart, cynical and earnest, right and wrong, clueless and omniscient all at once all the time.

Meanwhile, the story is this one guy who pops in and out of #322, two buildings down from me, built a prosthetic right rear limb from an old wooden salad spoon wrapped tightly around his dog’s stump with string he’d salvaged from an unraveled hardball. His Chucha [Rattus Chihuaha] grows more jittery and bedeviled with every passing day, as it nervously lifts its wooden leg against every vertical surface until there just is no more pee left to pee.

Recently, some guys in a hair-wave band, the Sanitation Dept. [who play what the Voice called “stonk” or stinky white funk] took some photos of Chucha for the cover of their first album, Dog Years, enthusing on and on in the liner notes about what Chucha represented: “a scruffy, scrappy, scrawny pug, a REAL American-style survivor.”

Sometimes I can hear the TICK-TICK-TICK of Chucha’s wooden leg striking the hollow sidewalks of Manhattan, the underground passages and subway tracks serving as a massive kettledrum of sorts right under our feet.

This guy’s building — #322 — has actually been suspected of stealing our building’s garbage cans for some time now. The gossip is old. It’s just the victims’ faces that change. He’s done it more than once is the story! Calls for a unified mobilization of our building #316 has led to absolutely nothing other than Georg leaving behind various mid-19th century war maps from a campaign fought by the Prussians. #322 apparently took the cans early in the morning [the rumor of a rumor become fact] and the repainted cans were already dry with #322 stenciled on them before 9 a.m.!

My neighbor [is she apt. #12, #8, or #15?] had never spoken to me before today. Were we suddenly allies because of the provocations of #322? Had she also had enough of the trashcan scandal? The anti-316 grafitti scrawled across our front door?

No, actually she was still white hot from her arrest for breastfeeding her kid on a city bus last Friday. The driver radioed in the cops and just stopped there on 3rd Avenue and waited for the police to remove her. Most of the passengers didn’t even bother to look up to see what was going on.

“One guy says to me ‘I got 1 word for you lady — rubbers.’ Some lady actually called me selfish cuz I was gonna make her late for work. Lucky I can’t cry anymore or they woulda got what they wanted.”

“What’d the ticket say?” I ask.

“‘Indecent exposure and causing a disturbance.’ UGH! Infuriation is NOT where I wanna be. I mean, did they use to give Marilyn Monroe tickets for causing a disturbance?”

“How’d natural go and get so UNnatural? Did the driver say anything?”

“Tell me about it! He went on about Faith & Family Christianity and Reagan and protecting ‘our’ children from indecency!”

“Like skin into sin? I blame it on the decreasing ability to reason and on the Bible.”

“More likely those just loosely justifying everything by using the word of god. The driver says ‘God will hold you criminally liable.’ I kid you not!” We’re in the latter part of the 80s now and the New Morality has made mincemeat out of compassion. I won’t go into me getting beat up by 2 drunken yuppies for defending a homeless man panhandling on the corner of Houston and West Broadway. An eye for an eye has escalated into 2 eyes for an eye. Compassion is now classified as “weakness” and weakness is unforgivable. Treason.

Her college degrees don’t seem to make comprehending any of this any easier. She remains miffed by human endeavor that is predicated on the notion that “life’s the survival of harassment”; that all emotion should float on the open market to determine its value and return; that passion is nothing but a tool in a leveraged buy-out of a soul. She blew exasperated damp strands of hair from her flushed face. “I’m tired of it.” And then just stood there. Awaiting a sympathetic nod, hand on shoulder, hug, kiss, caress? I’m ready.

“When I’m not busy workin’ I’m busy dealin’ with insomnia. It’s like I’m 24-hour.” She repositioned her tarboosh. “Thinkin’ of putting cages on all my windows and figure out how to win back my sleep.”

“Aren’tchu on the fourth floor?”

“Yea, but they swing across from the other building with ropes. I kid you not. Anyway, I dunno whether I’m cagin’ things out or cagin’ things in.”

“Caged Heat.” I quipped but suddenly thought she might have thought I said “teat.”

A tri-legged canine hobbled by — we looked at one another with absurd smiles edging into pain; there was just no way I was going to be able to find the proper entrance by using the enchantment of a synchronous moment as a possible prelude to an amorous encounter with her. Yes, synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception may be the key; but where’s the keyhole?

You can see — can’t you? — how the dog owner [lover?] basks in the attention the tragic phenom affords him. With the disappearance of the illusion of the nobility of labor, came the evaporation of artisanal pride, came the notion that fame was the only way to redemption. If fame was not an option then others would make the most of becoming a victim, like a hero’s statue made of mud in the rain. This would be for most of us the last chance to forestall oblivion. But don’t think for a second that I’ve got it all figured out.

“They’re feeding on the suffering of these mutts to become celebs... They’re like — I dunno — like moving three-legged trophies.”

“It’s all so... so metampsychotic,” she said. “Like the weaker soul getting sucked into the more resilient one,” she added.

“I know that.” I didn’t and it must have showed.

“Like the soul of the 1 changes places with the other.” Her hair dark and damp like English Breakfast Tea, like a headless Guinness, or dirt eyes drowned in an Oude Bruin... Her face blank like someone who hasn’t had anyone do anything nice [without a rope wrapped around your neck] for her in a very long time.

“When I came to New York…”

“From where?”

“Normal, Illinois. Don’t laugh.” She warned. Tired smirk of an old joke. “I thought that I would thrive in NY’s famous anonymity. But you like swimmin’ you don’t need a whole ocean.” She’s hesitates before adding that she’s eternally clueless when a date decides to walk her home and then mopes and insinuates around, toe of shoe playing with a cigarette butt in a sidewalk crack, expecting some kind of amorous handout on our stoop. Right outside my window. We stand very still; the stillness starts to make our heights sway. I am not the height I am. No I am not.

“One guy I dated says to me, ‘I’ve made a formidable investment here — the flowers, the time, champagne, the sympathy — but dis investment just refuses to ante up.’” She sounds like she is imitating Tony Danza. I don’t know what to say. We shake our heads ever so slightly.

“Serves me right for going out with a guy who names his suits, and works in the Corporate Hostile Takeovers — CHT — department of some major financial institution, the name of which he did not dare divulge in case I tried to use information he may disclose to blackmail him. Drinking with him was always an adventure. When he got drunk on top shelf whatever — preferably from a country where he’s done some economic mischief, ‘rumble in the jungle’ he calls it — he’d start chanting things like ‘Reagan is rock ‘n’ roll!’ to see what the consequences would be.”


“Well, to my surprise, even in the Limelight there’d be hoots of ‘right on!’ and that was scarier than someone actually calling his bluff, which never happened.”

“What an asshole.”

“I thought so too. Until I just felt sorry for him. I mean he thought I was impressed that he took me to the very exclusive Bank Vault, which used to be a … bank vault and after 2 a.m. becomes some kind of S&M-lite dungeon. He ordered a cocktail that costs $885!”

“What’s it come with, a vacation?”

“As I remember — and I’m crummy remembering things like this, to his chagrin, no doubt — it’s a mix of Grey Goose vodka, Hennessy cognac and Hyptoniq, some kinda vodka liqueur, fresh-squeezed orange juice and pomegranate juice — and he’s inspecting the whole process. Gives me a wink, ‘quality control’s essential here,’ he says. I think there may also be some Dom Perignon involved. But the key ingredient is a 1-carat ruby. Like on the rocks. If you could have seen him inspecting the stone, squinting up into the light.”
“Is that the guy that use to…?”

“Oh no, that’s my ex. He’s another kettle of rotting fish entirely. He’s a famous gingerbread dancer, you know, as in go-go boy, Joe Boytoy; maybe you heard of him.” What is she getting at?

“This guy actually took a vacation to places where they mix the most expensive cocktails in the world. I am NOT kidding! Went to Chicago to gulp down a $950 cocktail — a guy takes photos and you get to pose with some local celebrity like a Chicago Cub!”

“What’s in it?”

“Same Grey Goose vodka and gold leaf and some kind of juice from a fruit I never even heard of. Then he went on a business trip and combined it with this quest and ended up in Manchester at some restaurant near the Manchester United football stadium. It costs an amazing £15,250 per glass.

“What’s in it?”

“Uh oh, um, maybe champagne and a bunch of top-shelf liquors but the reason for the enormous cost is what is found at the bottom plus a 6-carat pink tourmaline and diamond ring. Even he has his limits. He did not drink 1 although did secretly lick a glass and videotaped the proceedings. Needless to say I watched the whole thing…”

“Meanwhile, my ex, he dances with boa constrictors, but he’s not gay, mind you, but he is a certifiable sadist. But you won’t find that on his résumé.” The oil he used to make his skin gleam for audiences stank up their sheets, the whole bedroom — that much I know about them.

“How long were you... ?”

“I don’t even wanna... He now leaves these disguised messages on my machine. But, hey, I know it’s him. Two protection orders later and he continues to insist he ‘owns’ me, he made me. How do I, former glee club girl, second trombonist in the school band, get into these kinds of novels.”

“To me the guy looks like a cross between a young Ronald Reagan and Popeye?”
“I’ve never looked at him in quite that way. But, I can see your point. There’s these horror-movie laughs on my machine — you gotta hear them…”

Was that an invite? Did she mean now!?

“And the sound of sawing through bone or something. The guy takes the whole S&M playacting a little too seriously. I mean, the guy’s got an S&M performance résumé for god’s sake! I shoulda saved’m. Those recordings are gone and nobody believes me.”

“I do.”

“Yer sweet but sweet’s not enough. I think he’s getting back at me for having had Ishtar against his wishes.”

“She’s so cute.”

“She was born on the 29th of July and she’s named after the goddess of sexual love. She will by her very existence get back at him. As goddess she was punishment to those who would deny sexual love.”

“He live around here?”

“He doesn’t live so much as stalk and intimidate — and wait for the reviews in the Voice of his latest show. I think I humiliated him by getting my masters degree somehow. Like I did it to spite him.”

And furthermore, it’s HIM — she can tell by the expertness of the cut — who’s amputating the legs off all the neighborhood canines. And they hobble around, as souvenirs of his wounded pride, already too plentiful for any 1 of these canines to get the pity they seem to think they deserve. She is absolutely convinced.

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

This guy, this faceless ex who she refuses to dignify by naming, this jumbled heap of vengeance has always — now that she comes to think of it, now that she lays out his strange bio from end to end — despised dogs, dog lovers, and dog owners. The way they used to for doggie treats at his old man’s butcher shop. He has always despised people for even wanting to own dogs, dogs that barked, dogs that disturbed his sleep. I did not dare say that maybe here he had a point.

“But why?”

“He’s always had this bigger’n life phobic disgust for dogs in heat, especially the ones that hump your leg. Maybe it’s some childhood residue. His father was one screwed up brute. Hacked off 3 fingertips of some employee he suspected of stealing from the till. Kept them in a jar that he’d show his son when he wanted to discipline him, keep him in line. Or maybe it has something to do with being abandoned or betrayed by a dog in the Middle East.”

“Oh no! Come on! Really?! The Army always leaves thousands of man’s best friends behind in their messy retreat outa somewhere. And so you’re saying some of these dogs or their relatives somehow remember and want some kind of retribution?”

“No no no… NO! I’m not some Stephen King.”


“Sorry. I’m just so… P-E-E-ved. I mean, he believes genetic traits can be passed from dog saliva to humans. I mean, he DOES. Anyway, now I’m sure it’s him.” She declares, hanging her head in shame, as if she’s personally responsible for having spawned him. “I just have this nauseous feeling... And whenever I’m nauseous I know thoughts of him are right around the corner.” It’s as if he was still part of her and she was the cause of HIS problems. She knew this was wrong but couldn’t help thinking it anyway.

She swept the swishy tassel of her tarboosh out of her face as a departure gesture. (Not everyone was wearing the tarboosh but some of the right people seemed to be. Wasn’t there a Kim Gordon/Yma Sumac video featuring tarbooshes? Didn’t Don Was wear one on some music awards ceremony?] And suddenly she was off. No longer standing there. Just a ghost of a scent. Maybe I’d see her again — in 3 months. That neither of us had ever so much as talked to each other or even noticed one another before was strangely not strange to either of us. Too busy living to notice your not living. I looked at her mailbox. Her name, as a precaution no doubt, was absent.

I just stood there in the oatmeal hallways painted mental institution green and thought: I had been in New York for years now and had never ever felt a sense of mission about anything before — not even collecting like everything the Cramps had ever recorded or stealing bread from the pigeons to give to the homeless while others from the various animal protection leagues preferred an activism of the contrary. Well, yes, I had given some thought to the art project thought up by me and members of the Power Poets who had stopped writing and had begun doing. Our Adopt-a-Homeless-Person [aka Rent-a-Hobo] proposed that towns all over America adopt 1 certified real NY homeless person each and give him or her the personal care s/he needed to live a fruitful life. But that was just a chuckle. A conceptual distraction. But who knows, maybe the Power Poets pursued this thing.

Personally, I’ve never had a clear idea of the distinctions between mission, obsession, artistic statement, and a hobby anyway. Mission just seemed like a hobby with a makeover. In any case, the sense of mission I am about to embark on did not have the characteristics of some commandment from on high. Or did it? Anyway, it would somehow involve dogs [3-legged and 4] … and soon — you wait — other things.

These other things would end up driving the final nails into the last station of my cross, a perfect tritheistic constellation of concerns: Beer, Dark, Dogs. Doubt was about to evaporate from my body and become rarefied as exalted inebriation. Don’t ask how. Chalk it up to blurring of inner and outer worlds. Or something.

wReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3 ~ Amsterdam

Rudy Wurlitzer

Richard Golden

d.a. levy
Mike Golden
Luther Dickinson
Charles Bukowski,
Terry Southern,
Jim Harrison