where the fuck's my car?
don't even gotta be drunk
no more t' lose it!
Let it be known, to begin with, that I didn't ask for this, but was asked--
Assigned, in exchange for a sum equal to roughly a season's rent, the chore of composing a first-person account of the process of aging (heh heh), "growing old" . . . of copping in print to being old: an official GEEZER GIG.
My reluctance at first was natural. "I'm not there yet," I protested. "But I'll start taking notes, OK?" (Had an editor or two "noticed something" 'fore I did?)
Mainly, I felt, I've for damnsure got better things to do than write about my current writhe-and-squirm; more viable hoops to jump through than finding adequate voice to critique my ease or difficulty, for inst, in maintaining an unassisted daily bowel movement. At my age, who the hell's got time to waste on such twaddle?
Inevitabilities are a pisser to sidestep. Geezerhood comes when it comes--fuggit--but just as inev' as suddenly, finally being there, now!, on the cusp of fucking dotage, my time/left measured in thimbles not buckets, was that I would be invited--cajoled--roped into writing about it.
Writers are a vain buncha geeks, y'know? We don't always wear lampshades on our heads, but we do wear hats galore, funny and straight, to get our idiot-share of attention. A sucker for such bullcrap, I have worn one guise in particular, oh, a couple hundred times at least: the Naked Writeboy.
FULL-SERVICE nakedness! Wall-to-wall INTROSPECTION! A plethora of unembellished SELF: mind! heart! body! soul!--the whole burrito!
With so tacky a calling card, it was given that I would someday be recruited, for the usual mess of pottage, to stand naked in the freezing chill of geezer sempiternity, stripped of all warming, sheltering age-coded conceits: no more pretending to be old, or pretending to be young (for the sake of "narrative" fun & games!)...just being old and seeing old--with tired, squinty (as opposed to merely jaded) eyes.
What a dandy ultimate USE of the subject/object self: as a touchstone of Decline and Fall . . . mammal . . . human . . . universal! What sort of writer would I be to decline the invitation? Of all the cheesy stories I've wanted no part of, this would appear to have my name--well, one of 'em--all over it. The No-Insulation Kid at your service! Deeper than skin-naked, deeper than flesh-naked: come have a peek, see what's underneath . . . parts-o-me that age ain't touched, and those it's already trampled.
And hell yeah--independent of all this--I do have some copious THOUGHTS on the geezer "issue"...microminutiae to explore and explicate . . . lingering personal baggage, nasty and not, to get off my chest given so cheery a context.
Hey, I may not be quite there yet--a frigging "senior"--but time is definitely a-wasting, pottage needs to be procured, fiber to be ingested, and other stories to be writ . . . let's get on with it.
Tomorrow used to be another day, or so somebody said. It ain't no more.
You're an old fucking foop, it's finally kicking in, and things can only get worse. Dry patches dot your face. Your eyebrows grow out weird: trim them good, bub, or look like some German expressionist KOOK. There are hairs on your fucking earlobes back so far you can't see 'em, your eyes are so bad. Watch out--take care!--or you'll chip another tooth on a bowl o' banana flakes. T for Tuesday--don't forget--the day to take out the Trash. (Or izzit Thursday?) Oldfriends have had enough of YOU, and you've had enough of THEM, and on days like today you can't wait for them all to be bones in the boneyard. Be patient, it'll come, and in the meantime: clothing calls.
The first Bukowski title I ever noticed in a bookstore was The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. I was maybe 26, and it struck me as a tad corny. It wasn't that I didn't, um, appreciate the concept, the metaphor, this image of them galloping way off in a pack, leaving a mighty puff of dust, never to be seen again 'cept as tiny dots on the horizon, or that I regarded it as hokily "romantic" or some such--our common mortality in prewar cowboy-flick drag--it just seemed (and in some ways still does) like hambone literary caprice: a self-designated "old man" coming on "old and wise." He was like 48 or 49 when it was published.
At 26, I didn't think much about eventually being 49. If I did at all, it was simply in arithmetic terms--that it would take me 23 years to get there. Who'd've thought it would only take 9 or 10? In life, ha, 'rithmetic works existentially. Over the hills! gone! . . . fuckadoodle.
Today, seven years beyond 49, it hits me like a two-by-four in the face. The days run, they don't walk, and not just the days, plural--the YEARS--but each and every 24-hour day. A couple years ago I started quantifying what a day actually felt like, what its duration as lived existentially was, and the unit day, I surmised, was only four hours long.
It now feels about three and a half.
The compression doesn't seem so much existential anymore as corporeal. Strictly physical factors have risen to the fore. For a while I've been aware of an upswing in basic bodily fatigue . . . lethargy . . . enervation. Lately, howev, it's also impacting my ability to handle the specifics of my so-called job, one more ostensibly mental than physical, to focus on th'm or pay even semi-continuous attention. The body part of mind has taken command and thrown in the towel.
Shoot--I'm a privileged fuck who stays at home and writes, and I'm feeling this beat. If I worked on an assembly line, being 56 would be devastating.
What can you get done in three and a half hours? (Better not piss too much--that'll cut it to three.)
One afternoon when I was six or seven, I sat around with some neighborhood kids watching a purple crayon with the paper removed float in a bowl of water. When it didn't dissolve immediately, nor after an hour or more, we figured it must be a matter of days, not hours--and only when days had elapsed would we know for sure.
After five days, having paid no notice for the previous four, I emptied what water was left and put the crayon, none the worse for wear, back in its box. In ensuing playtimes with these same kids I never bothered to bring it up. (I was the only scientist, mad or not, the only stickler for empirical doo-dah in the bunch, and I knew even then that empiricists were saps, killjoys, and worse.)
A lot of things won't dissolve in anything, but it may take a lifetime to know for sure . . .
Love and loss.
Friendship and betrayal.
Forty-year-old used condoms.
The complete works of Judith Krantz.
The concept of a perfect blowjob.
"I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" as pure prosody.
Richard Nixon's stench.
Or maybe, just maybe, they'll dissolve in EVERYTHING . . . it jus' takes more than a single lifetime to see.
All we get is dashed hopes, mangled and bungled dreams. Is this good or bad?
TROPIC OF NIPPLES
In my spare time, when not busy being old or jerking off or worrying about my cat, I've been working on a nice little contraption to, uh, spank you with . . . and for you to spank me. It's kind of a composite of things, and when I'm done it'll produce a nice little sting different from any of the whatsits we used last time.
Hey babe, I can't WAIT to sting your funky li'l geezer butt with it!
Much as I like grocery lists, Jim Carroll beat me to "People Who Died," so I won't even list all my friends who are dead.
Every day, rain or shine, you see them, chugging down the avenoo--paunchy, stoopy, prune-faced, droopy, drooly--what a scene! Two and three abreast they come, clogging sidewalks with their arthrickety tortoise-dawdle: geezers on parade!
Indeed, there is much to be amused by in the street-face of geezerhood, but nothing more amusing than the shirts, skirts, pants, hats, jackets, socks, sneakers, and umbrellas they mix and match with no regard for optical or even seasonal suitability--pinstripes w/polka dots--team logos w/tie-dyeds--purple w/luminescent orange--Xmas plaids in June--what a scream!
Go 'head and laugh, they are a scream. Clowns and rock stars never dressed so funny. All your LIFE you've laughed at geezers and their clotting, make that clothing; made grievous light of their aesthetic impairment; gotten your jollies at their feeble expense. Well, laugh while you can, buddy, but don't laugh too hard...'cause someday soon the geezer will be YOU.
So listen up.
A recent survey by the Gerry Studies Department, Lewis and Bob College (Kliquot, New Hampshire), strips bare a prevalent MYTH concerning geezer clothes. The principal reason, previously overlooked, underestimated, or anyhoo underreported, for howcome they "dress so silly" is not so much their taste in attire is "alien or bizarre"--"f'r shit"--"up their ass"--as it is, simply, that these are the ONLY DUDS GEEZERS HAVE LEFT. Inotherwords, unless they are or were "total doofs to begin with," the report sez, chances're likely they once owned and wore not only sillystuff--hey, everybody needs some sillystuff--but one or more "neat" clothings (relatively speaking) which because they were neat got worn more frequent, thus wearing 'em OUT, leaving the geezer ultimately with his or her most undesirable garments, the threads they themselves cared for least--and now 'cuz of fixed income, Alzheimer's, immobility, or indifference, the hideous dregs is all they got left: their final apparel, their final "look." If they shop anymore it's at thrift stores, known repositories of the dregs of others live & dead, further prolonging the "cycle of dregdom." Hey, it makes sense.
Additional factors include: too FAT to wear yer own neatstuff no mo', dropping it from the active wardrobe, replaced by any uggle that still fits, or donning the former in uneasy "geezer defiance," running the risk--the study further claims--of "lookin' like an M-F'ing dipshit"; too skinny (same deal); bald or balding, in the case of formerly wearable hats and headgear, causing the 'gear to slipflop down, perching heavily on the ears, which flap out like turkey wings (hooty HAH!--'scuse my laffin' . . . it's just so funny); cataracts and blindness, requiring others to dress you, "often with sarcastic intent." It's not a pretty sight.
And what, for the merry love-o-Mike, might be DONE?
For geezers already there, very little. But for pre-geezers of virtually any stripe or stroke, a series of pre-emptive options, while hardly immense--and rarely pleasant--presents itself for P-G perusal.
What're those things they got in cars and watches, all sortsa machinery, they have these little protruding, those y'know they're like spines coming off a circle, um, a wheel...a wheel with levers, that's what the, uh . . . HOW CAN I NOT KNOW WHAT THEY'RE CALLED?!?!
They've shortened the playing field, see. Less time also means less space. No more 80-yard passes, that's for sure, and no screen plays, no pulling guards, no double reverses . . . nothing calling for much in the way of finesse. No plays to waste, nor time to review strategy. What follows each snap of the ball is much the same--in derisive 40s parlance, "three yards and a cloud of dust."
Just punch it out, hit the line, execute--leather helmets, no face masks. Oomp. Oof. Blppp. Kuh-fmmp.
Thirty years ago, when the field was the size of Montana, and a lifetime seemed a reasonable span for pulling off something akin to literary fame & fortune, I fancied I would average a book and a half a year for all the years I saw spread before me--the approximate rate I was writing 'em at the time. If all had gone well, that would've meant 45 books over these three decades--hey, there are people who've done it!
As it stands today, I've had, I dunno, 10 or 11 books published, which still ain't too shabby. Since the last two are prob'ly the best I've ever done, it wouldn't totally shatter me if somehow they turned out to be the last two, period. But I imagine there will be more, although right now I'm not sure what shape, form, or flavor any of them might conceivably take. If I live another 10-12-15 years, considering how tough it is for me to write these days, how long it takes, I'm looking at another 3-4 books, max. Or let's just even say 3, or 2 . . . and I've GOTTA make those count--got to! got to!--not in terms of my "permanent record," my "legacy," but simply . . . between me and me. In some as yet unknowable way. Someday fairly soon I will have to decide: what the bleeping fuck will these books be?
Even less than 30, less than 25, the pipe dreams came fast and furious, and I actually believed, given proper exposure, that in due time I would cop a Nobel--well goodbye to all that. Goodbye to even that goodbye . . . what a load off my postadolescent mind.
I will certainly never be rich or anything close, but I wouldn't mind, just once, briefly, making what could pass for a middleclass income. (The guy who does my taxes has promised me the high sign the moment I threaten to knock on that door.) But even that is more "symbolic" than anything anymore--and of what, I can barely remember--a silly old-school notion I'm already half-set on letting go of f'rever.
Many waters under many bridges, and many letting-gos, great and small, present, past, and future . . .
Is it necessary, for ex., even once by accident, that I ever be slim or trim again? That I regain the muscle tone I last had when I worked out regularly, oh, like 15-16 years ago?
Between now and the final curtain, does it mean a ding dang duck dick if I comb my hair? Shower and shave more than three times a week?
How strongly does self-esteem (or is it egotism?) compel me to continue wearing contact lenses, to bother correcting my eyesight to 20/20?
Does it matter that I rarely know who won a given year's Super Bowl? That I can no longer recite the line of succession to the heavyweight title? Would it matter if I could?
Does it mean shit to a shithook if I answer even one letter in 10, one E-mail in 50?
If I never again hear the Zombies' "Is This the Dream"--does that matter?
Does anything absolutely, unequivocally matter?
Well yes, of course, LOVE matters, but how do you get it (how do you GET IT?) ('specially w/out grooming or shaving or muscles)--and how do you keep it f'r longer than it takes to brew a cup of tea? If I never get it, never find it again, I reckon I'll live . . . and if I die unloved, well, it's not like I've NEVER LOVED, y'know? My mem'ry is still pretty good in that regard--I could tell you old girlfriend tales till you puke. If I write another novel, maybe I'll tell 12 or 20.
A couple years ago, I had my hemorrhoids snipped, scraped, or whatever they do . . . something with a knife . . . the final surgical solution.
Though longer than I expected, as a hospital stay it wasn't so horrible. True, they botched their own estimate of when I'd be released, which threw a mean curve at my care & feeding. Instead of salad, fruit, and, I dunno, oat bran or something, they fed me roast beef, potatoes and vanilla pudding, hotcakes and sausage--there'd been no plan drawn up for feeding me at all. Don't wanna lay on the hyperbole, but a day later, at home, it was like trying to shit a football . . . with severely challenged equipment . . . oh well.
But the stay itself, hey . . . I had this really pretty nurse who gave me Demerol and changed my ass dressing. "This is gonna hurt," she warned, yanking the adhesive, "but nowhere as bad as bikini waxing"--she then apologized for being "superficial" . . . what a sweet, attractive person to have change your ass dressings.
Compared to what I'd envisioned, it was more like a weekend at a country club, a far cry from this scene in Wild Angels that had always plagued me, the one where Bruce Dern, strapped to a bed, lies dying with all these tubes in his arm. When I first saw it in the 60s, high on pot, I thought Sheesh, I do NOT wanna die with fucking tubes in my arm.
This wasn't anything like that, plus I learned that my blood pressure was high, but not dangerously high. I'd known for years it was high, and controlled it at times (in theory or practice) with exercise and diet. In any case, it was down from my previous reading, taken at an ER I dragged myself to when a spider bite got infected and blew up like a golf ball. (Maybe all the huffpuff I'd exerted in helping a bookstore guy move all his stock, loading and toting too many things myself, is what lowered it.)
Hey, I don't even know what exactly you GET from high blood pressure--heart attack? stroke? I don't know--honest!--and obviously I should; is it denial or stupidity (stubbornness?) not to know such shit at 56? But it was down, so good.
Or is it good?
Strokes I don't want--who does? But are heart attacks all bad? They come in handy sometimes--a quick end, unlike AIDS or cancer--but if they don't kill ya outright, a freaking hospital is still your destiny. Open heart butchery . . . quintuple bypass . . . sheesh-a-mighty.
But really, strapped down or not, I DON'T wanna die in a freaking hospital...hideous surroundings & lighting . . . mean or kind or indifferent personnel, with or without the bikini waxing . . . all variety of tubing in my arms. I don't!
Once you're dead you're dead, but still: why relinquish the calling of shots before that? So I should prob'ly do some homework.
bicycles slower than me
run over my feet
THE SHIT TOGETHER
I forget the title or the publisher (HarperCollins? Random House?), but a few months ago some 25-year-old kid--'scuse me--grownup asked me to contribute to a book he'd somehow scammed a contract for. Something on the order of "advice to the next generation." He invited me 'cause I seemed, in some conspicuous way, a representative of the previous (or pre-previous) (certainly not current) generation. Here's what I gave him:
Well, OK, let's get clear on one thing: there are no "generations." Maybe once, but no longer. Or, if you'd like, there is only one. We're all in the shit together. Period.
To cut to the chase, American Youth has never had fewer advantages--assets--resources. Not in all the time I've been around, and that includes the loathsome, despicable pre-rock 50s (when they banned comic books, and the best you could look forward to was wearing a tie every day of your life). Aside from the extra years you've got remaining, your lot is basic NOTHING. Youth is a dismal sick joke today: a consumer-demographic blip defined as maimed and retarded.
Quickly, you're gonna need to think for yourself (or perish!), come up with your own system (no cheating!): it's fucking compulsory.
And then, the long run. Though miracles do happen, it will in all likelihood take you longer than you anticipate--an unfair percentage of the time you've got left--to get much of anything right, to develop your own "chops," to arm yourself the way nurturing parents hypothetically did while you were (or at least I was) still wriggling in diapers...you have to factor in the LONG HAUL. (Writing, for inst--something I personally wouldn't wish on a dog--will take you 15 years, minimum, to even begin to get right.)
In the meantime, an early order of biz: unplug from the cyber lifeline . . . it's a fucking deathline: the bitter END of mammal life as any of us have ever known it. And encourage--by hook, crook, or outright subterfuge--everybody ELSE to unplug, y'hear?
And the next order, well, choice of poison. There's no getting very deep into this thing-called-life without the faithful assistance of whatsems that at least partially will also be killing you. For symptomatic relief, artificial energy, access to alternate universes, superficial kicks, whatever . . . there's no getting around 'em. Still, it would be hokey to impose my actual tastes on you, like you should drink, say, a lot of strong bitter ale with lots of hops--avoid red wine until a doctor orders it--whiskey will slow you down, put you to sleep--if you're of a mind to do tobacco, better to chew it . . . no, I won't do that. But if you're young enough, speed probably isn't such a bad idea. Heroin and the opiates, on the other hand, really aren't for kicks--they're for heavy grief reduction.
Speaking of which, from experience, I would say there's really only one viable program of low-to-mid grief reduction (don't laugh): the blues. Equip yourself--listen to everybody from Charlie Patton to Son House to Memphis Minnie to Robert Wilkins to Robert Johnson to Elmore James and Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker (pre-1960), Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter...all the way up to like Otis Rush, Albert Collins and, OK, Jimi Hendrix. (No Robert Cray.) (And no Stevie Ray Vaughan.) At its best, and I'm not talkin' semi-best, rock as a means to that desired end is a semi-reprise of the blues (never the full dose).
Buddhism? I wouldn't know, some Beats swore by it, but I've never tried it.
Speaking of Beatniks, don't read On the Road, not ahead of four or five other Kerouac titles: Big Sur, The Subterraneans, Tristessa, The Dharma Bums, and this one you never heard of called Vanity of Duluoz.
Otherwise, I dunno, see the movie Mesa of Lost Women--don't ask me why. (I'm sure it's rentable.)
That's it, so anyway, once again: 'tain't no generations. Any more than there are "decades." But some very deep shit. "If it ain't shit, it ain't IT"--somebody French said that. Get used to it.
How many people die having embraced and experienced one thing on their own terms for ten minutes? How many die having popped a pimple perfectly . . . once?
A position you'll never shake me from:
Even in better possible worlds than this one, to inflict the full slimy wrath of your being (and its ongoing shadow and stand-in, your neurosis) on a living creature more vulnerable than yourself is despicable. Or let's just say unwise.
As far as I know, I've had no children. The buck stopped with me.
VANITY AND CULTURE
Am I really and truly, by a stretch of anyone's imagining besides my own, a beatnik drunk, as I'm fond sometimes of I.D.'ing myself?
A philosopher on a barstool?
A philosopher at all?
A real drunk, even?
My buddy Nick always said if you can't drink through a hangover, you're no drunk nohow. Well I can't make it through 'em--they drop me in my tracks. Nor do I share with Bukowksi fans a fondness for the designation "old drunk" (ho hum) . . . what a quaint cartoon. But I do get a good portion of my kicks these days in bars, where two-three afternoons a week I'll sit and swill down pints as bitter as life itself--and if that sounds corny, well, tough. (Hey, people!--JOY is involved.)
I'd rather have a meaningful conversation with a stranger or friend in a dark, gloomy dive than most anything in this here life, and I'd certainly rather run an idea 'round a barroom than beat it to death on paper . . . turn it into a fucking essay.
I don't "get ideas" from drinking, and anything I write down drunk I usually can't even read later. Ideas as experienced, as groped and sussed out in vivo--in life--are of far greater oompah to me than ideas "themselves," and it ain't just the dialogue--the back & forth, the alcohol-accelerated fervor--that makes suss-out in bars so appealing, it's the alc-assisted finitude and termination.
No, I'm not talking finite in the extended sense, y'know, like mortality, death--the end of it ALL--but finite in the here & now, as a limit-line and cutoff to further (let's call it) intellection, intelligizing. Alcohol in real time can be my-t all reet for serving you the warrant This far is far enough. Twenty years ago, when I still occasionally wrote drunk, what it basically meant was an end to endless revision, especially simpy things like word choice. Pick a word, damn it, and we're done! (More "definitive" than this--why bother?)
The provisionally so, the functionally so, is all you need in the way of an afternoon's so-ness . . . no carryover to next week (and phuck eternity). Another of alc's great gifts: the GRACE to embrace a bottom line of so-ness.
And this is even without delivering euphoria, or nirvana, or oblivion--it ain't heroin!--without actually blunting the ideational edge: an edge you're gonna need, right?, 'cause you WANT it to keep a-knockin' at your being, to "trouble" you enough to command your ongoing, if slip-sliding, attention. Hopefully, ideally, what you get in the process is a glimmer, as well, of an idos's own attrition. Discourse and disintegration in a single dose. (Did I say I wasn't pushing one poison over all others? Pardon me.)
There was a run of maybe 20 years where I drank for very ferocious reasons, then another 5 where I stayed at home, wrote, and drank hardly at all, but today it's one of the calmest things I do. Where once I behaved antisocially when even halfway drunk, I now behave socially. Sociably. (You could ask anyone.) Which could mean I've gotten calmer . . . or maybe just sleepier.
Rarely do I drink at home, and the only homestuff that might be lacking in bars is my own music. My goddam collection. You're not gonna hear New York Eye and Ear Control, or even "Ornithology," at the Snake & Weasel. But if there's any kind of jukebox, the difference between a very specific this and a that isn't gonna be the make-or-break of a couple-three hours on a stool. No Doors, no Stones before Black and Blue, but lookit--George Jones! . . . let's hear "Open Pit Mine."
And if there isn't a juke, and all you can reasonably expect from one of those crummy, nuthin' compilation-X tapes some barperson made is one tune in ten that even semi-works as soundtrack for the drunken moment, as expedient grist for a nuance of conversation or the random tweaking of your pliant mindset, that's a-plenty. Music in a bar is music in context, and one in ten is okeydoke.
In general, the whole basic shuck of cultural "choice" has lots more resonance, both volitionally and phenomenologically, in beer joint Z than a supermarket or record store, a multiplex movie house. Even if the options are this pisswater brew versus that (Bud and Hamm's, let's say, with no IPA in sight), or the yes/no/yes/no of maybe coming on to a new face down the bar you've got no chance in hell of doing the meat-dance with, not if you were the last bozo on earth . . . ha . . . at least you're eyeball to eyeball with the NOTION of getoff, in ballpark range of its being not some distant illusion (a cockamamie abstraction), but oboy, all the diff. in the world: a CURRENT ILLUSION.
To grab some jargon from the existentialists, with a couple-three Hamm's in your gut--hell: even Coors fucking Lights--potentiality begins to approximate actuality, starts behaving (in raw, wretched ways) quitelike it. 'Tain't even virtual getoff--rocks-off, a "real" beer buzz--of course, but something ASYMPTOTIC to it: curves stretching to languid infinity, or midway through a raingrey afternoon, can bring you close enough.
Attraction/repulsion, acceptance/rejection: with even 3rd-string ethyl enhancement factored in, such pairings no longer seem so either/or, so monochromatically binary . . . just a standard ration of flavors and colors from the same wheezy "interactive" gestalt.
Two bar-trains running. So some funkysweet babe says nuh nuh NO to your overture of whoopee, okay? Well, phoo, fie, fug a donut, but HEY!, without missing a beat, without really changing the subject (one "text" equals another), you can likewise reject Beethoven's 9th, "Be Bop a Lula," all the works of D.H. Lawrence--while you're at it, THE ENTIRE WESTERN CANON--or, conversely, you can accept NOTHING, literally.
Nothing! If there's enough sweat to the experience, total wipeout is as good as a score . . . it is a score. From gimme! gimme! to nada? I like it! . . . a most plausible leap . . . or maybe that's just me in my sleepiness. Or my geezer serenity. Or whatever.
I may fancy myself a thinker, but I never said I was smart. I was in my 50s before I realized barmaids flirt with you not 'cause they think you're cute or respect your wisdom, but to get a bigger tip. But I always overtip--usually a buck a beer, regardless of the act they do or don't throw my way--though it's possible I don't jack off thinking about them as much as I did before learning their cruel secret.
The culture of no-choice: the fetor of a men's room urinal is the highest--and lowest--and most median in culture-hands as dealt . . . the universal haps. Any bar, meantime, where the TV is never off should be NAPALMED.
Oh FUDGE--midnite and I'm outta Viagra! Wait . . . Walgreens might be open.
Be right back--don't go 'way!--and long as I'm there, might as well get some fresh Depends, I'm durn near outta them too, and what's that one you, uh . . . Prevail?
Ooh babe, it tingles my SHORTHAIRS to think it: you 'n' me mixin' the mature (the ripe!) and the infantile . . . the autumn (the winter!) and the not-even-spring! So effing WHAT if we can't control our functions? Weewee . . . doodoo . . . you can change me and I'll change you!
Oh darlin', let's really make a mess!
FROM R.D. TO U.S.G.
Ten years ago, I looked like Robert De Niro, the young Robert De Niro. I now look like Ulysses S. Grant.
My cat. Who is dying. Or not. Can't be sure.
For the time being, living.
He's 17 and his kidneys are shot and his thyroid is fucked and he's got the beginnings (at least) of arthritis. The weather stinks and the food stinks and he complains all the time.
He doesn't know he's dying, dig it, any more than he knows he's "old"--a notion both too abstract and concrete to be of any use to him. He does, however, seem all too aware that he's LOSING IT. A windowsill only two feet off the floor is now a difficult jump for him. He hasn't got the spring he once did, and unless his timing is perfect he'll blow it. This maddens him--he meows loudly . . . howls! . . . flashes me his what-the-hell-is-going-on? look. I rap on the sill to encourage another try, but he rarely goes for it. Too proud to suffer assistance, he'll promptly jump down if I lift him up there. Never chases moths or flies anymore--can't keep up with 'em.
Lately he's cleaning himself less . . . could there be too little saliva to spare? When it gets really hot he does no grooming at all, and by the time he gets to it, with all the accumulated sweat, his coat is stiff and matted. He picks at it with his teeth and gets nowhere, mopes and moans and sits around looking, oh--what's that stupid, cutesy cat-word?--scruffy.
Has his weight gone down because his appetite is failing, or might Fancy Feast, which was shit to begin with, be getting worse? Every time I open a can, a given flavor, it looks different, smells different, from a few weeks before--am I imagining things? When he walks away from Savory Salmon Feast, a former favorite, I defer to his taste and open something else, but in what LANGUAGE can I deal with his blaring bewilderment, his sense of world-gone-fucking-wrong? It maddens me that I can't 'splain to him the snuffout of quality control (they get their salmon in the sewer, see), the unregulated exploitation of poor contingent beings (they don't care if you live or die).
The depth of my feelings for the little beast tears me apart. My sidekick, my pal, the first and only pet I've had with hair (if pet is really the word--I've always thought of him as heck, an equal), he's also the last. I won't be doing this number again. Why oh why, I ask, did I allow myself to get so viscerally involved with a warm-blooded earthling who neither speaks nor understands a known human tongue, who can't be asked "Where does it hurt?" or even "How many fingers?," and certainly hasn't the means of volunteering such biz on his own? It tears my guts out that I can't tell him anything he'll understand 'bout how come he can't go outside no more.
The most colossal of his losses--by his reckoning, surely--and he didn't lose it, I took it. A tough guy, a fighter, he was getting in too many fights, which led to too many abscesses, which more than anything is what killed his kidneys. A bully when you get down to it, he could no longer take the measure of every new stray on the block, every dog smaller than a Doberman, and once or twice he came home mangled. For more than a year now, he's been confined to quarters, where I've been not only his keeper, his jailer, but worse than that: his torturer.
So much for equality.
Once a day, to flush out his toxins, I give him a dose of greenish fluid from an IV bag, 150cc dripped or squeezed through the hole I poke with an inch-long needle in the loose skin of his back. Every time I poke him, he yelps . . . betrayal, anyone? Some claim that cats/dogs "know" when you're helping them . . . dunno. While the months go by and he's still living and--who can tell?--maybe in gen'ral hurting less, he's yet to stop yelping, and after I release him he lunges from my lap and scampers to the door, where he sniffs at the crack and cries.
OUT THERE: where all the goodtimes were. Wild youth, wild maturity. Anything-but-mellow middle age. The long hot run of a life/lived. Where he lived it all 'cept for inconsequentials like meals in cat-bowls and sleep. This geezer had his run.
Besides all the fights, and he really was pretty good vs. dogs (claws to the snout!--first strike preferred), he did his share of mouse catching, bird catching, tree and phone-pole climbing, blind leaps down open manholes, dashes up/down schoolyard fences in thunderstorms, and I saw him one time scale a 30-foot ladder, the kind with narrow rungs, to a roof where hot tar was being laid down, emerging (much later) and descending unscathed. Fond of vehicles, he enjoyed splitting up a single urination and directing its stream at the hubcaps of three separate cars, though hardly ever the first three--he was selective--and crawling in windows of tall trucks to smell the upholstery and piss on the steering wheel.
And, shoot, he must've gotten some kicks (or he wouldn't've done it) from his afternoons just hangin' out with me--interspecies "male bonding," alright?--the zillion times I brought a chair outside and sat with him as I doodled over the morning's writing. I'd sit and he'd sit, an hour, two hours, after which I'd follow him on his prowl, see him terrorize the neighborhood.
Now it's like he's in a nursing home.
Perched up there in his window seat, he gets very agitated when he spots a sparrow on a branch or a cat, 'specially one he used to beat on, roaming free. Whenever visitors come by, he follows the scent of street grit tracked in on their shoes, nuzzles mini-blades of grass fortuitously caught in a rut in the floor. On bright afternoons, he finds a suitable patch of light on the rug and settles there--as if he were outside. His fur is dark and the sun fries him like a biker in black leathers, dehydrating him worse than he already is, undercutting the day's forcefeed of liquids. I could close the blinds, natch, but what sort of asshole would take such a treat away from him? ('Twould be like taking an 80-year-old smoker's pack-o-cigs.) I won't fuck with his dignity, not anymore, but for a while, if he also happened to be napping, I would sometimes move an object--a box, a large pillow--between him and the sun. When he woke to see this, he got extremely vocal, yowling in sheer exasperation.
But those yowls wurn't nothin' compared to the ones he did--and does--when the sun is down. A creature more of Night than of Day--for 16 years, it was when he was most independent, autonomous, most unimpededly animal--he's likeliest then to get mega-crazed about the fact of his imprisonment. Somewhere 'round midnight, the yowls become lonely wails--the volume goes up a notch, and the degree of urgency, until suddenly they're these ghastly, bloodcurdling DISTRESS SIGNALS.
Which wake me, twitching, like no earthquake, no smoke alarm, no human caterwaul down the street, ever has, and I'm forced to wonder: Is he dying? Has a dire wolf broken in? Realizing that neither is the case, I figure maybe the s.o.b. has got his appetite back, he needs a fresh can of slop, or I forgot to clean the litter box, but it never seems to be anything that mundane, or that specifiably doable, but something more on the level of Wake up, dammit! and hang w/me in another room! Or, I dunno, Be around for me--c'mon!--you're the only friend I've got.
Whether I comply or not (and usually I do), there isn't a night I don't lose sleep . . . as if I ain't tired enough. Theoretically--if he can take naps, I can take naps--I could occasionally, prob'ly, make it up. More unsettling is his waking me out of dreams and I lose 'em. THE THIEF OF DREAMS!--add that to the list of things he'll never know about himself.
The little guy persists.
A fighter indeed, he's lasted six months longer than the vet's most optimistic forecast. He goes up and down, up and down, but he hasn't begun to give up the fight. One moment he's lying there grim and wasted, and I see the labored crawl of all livingthings to the Abyss. I leave the room, return, and he's walking on the keyboard of my computer--having hopped on a pile of books, from the books to a chair, then a table, and finally my desk--writing:
I hope, when I'm his age, I write as well.
DEVO PLAYS MENSA
Some people I know, more well-intentioned than not, keep offering to help set up a Web site for show-&-telling shards of my writing to a "wider audience," instantly rendering me "less invisible" (as if somehow I've been hiding), but I always decline. The prospect totally, utterly revolts me, but who knows?--maybe my arm will be twisted (peer pressure is like that), and sooner or later I'll relent.
If so coerced, and someday, sure enough, I find myself stuck with a frigging home page, the message right up front, way at the top, will be: I've already lived life for real. How's about if I live it for fake?
As imitations-of-life go, have any, writ large, been shabbier than the Internet? Shabby but clean, like all these dot-com nerds, the yuppie cocksuckers who caretake the action, pay far more heed to cleanliness than content; as shabby as death and not even real death, just death by default, by virtue of not being life...a room of dead mannequins . . . or daytime TV.
At its utter bottom-line "best"--most arch--at sites overseen by some o' your more acid-headed yuppie idiots--it has the look and feel of Devo at a Mensa convention...how groovy. At its worst--or in general--the trickle-down "populist" version--it's the acrylic sock section at Kmart.
What a giggle pit! . . . what a seedy "public world" to have served on a plate.
Listen, folks . . . I have on-line access 'cause as a writer it's now mandatory. Editors want instant delivery of the fruits of your labor. I never graze the Internet for anything like fun & frolic. But so you don't think I'm totally out of it, The Man From Yesterday, no fun nohow, there's a cyberpit I do drop in on from time to time: the English-language site of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai, the governing body of sumo--the only sport I follow anymore.
Http://www.sumo.or.jp/index_e.html . . . check it out . . . six tournaments a year (the odd-numbered months) . . . y'might find it a hoot.
There is nothing that concerns me less than the decor of my own home.
Does 7 plus 4 equal 11, or does it equal 3?
Impaired mental acuity and memory miseries (short term and long) and all that crap.
Who was the "New Journalist" who wrote the Esquire article on Joe DiMaggio . . . not Gore Vidal . . . not Vidal Sassoon . . . what the hell was his name? Christ, it was famous . . . got reprinted . . . fuggit.
And who's that German vibes player, uhh, played some very out shit, had an album on ESP, lived in Woodstock awhile? One-syllable last name . . . or is it two? Definitely not Borah Bergman.
Or like I'll somehow remember the complete details of a story I heard the other day--or earlier the same day--but have trouble 'membering WHO told it t' me . . . can't put a face (or voice!) on it.
When I saw Matt Dillon in Drugstore Cowboy whine about how hopeless it can get sometimes just having to tie your shoes, I thought: whudda stretch! 'Taint under any circumstances that difficult. Well . . .hoo! . . . as somethin' to even just keep track of, 'tis! I can go a quarter mile without NOTICING mine're untied.
I'll be doggone if the GEEZER EPISODES hain't been piling up. I'll go for a pizza and totally forget where I parked the car . . . no idea. Circle the block, all four streets, both sides, nope, so I walk the next block, and the next: where izzzzit?! Then a few days later the goddam battery dies 'cause I turned the headlights on, not off--in midafternoon. It'd been dark and rainy, see, but that was the previous aft. Hey--I knew I was s'posed to do something on-off-wise (I jus' got it wrong).
Then there's this nail that I missed, I was clipping 'em. Fourth finger, right hand, is that the ring finger? You go nail by nail by nail, left to right, how do you MISS ONE? I don't believe I ever missed one before . . . but whuddo I know?
It drives me infuckingsane.
And I can't balance my checkbook anymore to save my life, even with a calculator. Used to be a snap. And I can't pay bills on time, can't keep on top of the chore of paying them. I put 'em in a stack and the stack keeps stacking. Gets so daunting it's scary. How long before they shut off my power--or my sorry ass gets evicted?
Some holistic guy I ran into in a bar thought there might be a left brain/right brain aspect to it, y'know writing and then writing checks, going from the "creative" to the "practical," and he recommended I try the Hawaiian Haaaaaa Breath. Breathe in through your nose, deep, exhale through your mouth...haaaaaaaa...then in through your nose again: do the whole thing five times. Or was it ten? Well I've done it five, I've done it ten . . . ha ha haaaa. (Could it be he was putting me on?)
On somebody else's suggestion, I've started taking ginkgo, which I find makes me about 5 percent more alert, more able to cop to operational details--hey, I'll take it. ('S better than 3 percent.) She also mentioned bee pollen, but I can't recall if that had to do with alertness or the immune system. I shoulda wrote it down.
What I've gotta really do now is write EVERYTHING down, and leave all kindsa notes to myself ("gas for car" . . . "rent due Monday") where I'll be certain to see 'em, like on a chair I'm gonna use or the counter next to the fridge or on the bathroom floor...write 'em as soon as I think to write 'em--no waiting a sec!--or it'll be "Duh . . . whut wuz it I was about to write down???"
And as far as the alleged creative rubbish goes, I'm not so adept now'days at navigating even one side of my brain. G-g-gone is my ability to write on lotsa subjects simultaneous, bing bang bing--and it once was one of my stronger credentials. Working whole-hog at only TWO PIECES, two separate assignments, at the same time: no can do! Shifting gears from one to the other, I lose the thread of both, shoot my wad just finding my way back to either one of 'em, and after five paragraphs I feel like scrawling "To be continued." And continuing..........later.
I call on more subsets of myself to write than in days of old 'cuz I NEED to mobilize more parts of myself. If the mind can't do it alone, the heart hasta pull some nasty weight. We'll find out soon what capacity my heart has for write-muscle shitwork. Gonad writing? Well, there's that too, eh? (Whatever it takes.)
Jeez--it's gotten to where I can barely hack worrying about more than a couple things at once. A return-o-call I do not wanna make to an ex-girlfriend who wants a bigggg, agonizing favor of me; date with the dentist after not having gone for seven years: to add a third vexation and a FOURTH would produce neuro-overload. My system short-circuits, there's a maximum stress point.
And actual crises . . . whew! If I lost my keys and my glasses, that'd be one godawful bummer. If on top of that I lost my wallet--or my left shoe--or my fucksucking computer broke--it would effectively DEMOLISH ME. There's no way I could live another 15 minutes.
SAVAGE MEAT, PUNGENT MEAT (UNDIMINISHED LUST)
the smell of a woman (any
woman) merely SUGGESTED BY
the smell (stink?) of me is
often sufficient to make me
Ageism? Heck yeah, it exists. Is real. Rampant, even.
In the town where I live, overt racism, sexism, and even classism, homophobia, anti-other-people's-cultural-et-cetera are fairly rare, which is to say that while many may harbor topical prejudices, manymost have at least become hep to the protocols of concealing and containing their public expression . . . but this does NOT seem so cozily the case with anti-geezer predilection. Lotsa folks, i.e., non-geezer folks, have developed no habits for biting their tongues in real-time verbal dealings with geezers, or even pre-geezers. When it comes to expressing, oh, certain particular point-blank things, geezers are still fair prey . . . they're open-season slow-moving targets.
As a pre-geezer, or a late pre-geezer, or an early geezer--whatever I am--I've been getting a taste of what's in store: a round of previews.
This guitarist I run into who always shamelessly sucks up to me, hoping maybe I'll write about him, egged me recently into telling a bunch of dumb stories 'bout my encounters with bands from before he was born, bands that later--through recordings--he got to appreciate (and steal licks from). I was feeling generous, and he kept begging for more! more! more!, when suddenly he lost interest and snapped at me, all but kicking me in the nuts: "Enough of the old WAR STORIES already"--say what? . . . like I was some grimsweaty Jack Lemmon or Jimmy Stewart getting weepy-eyed about D-Day. Then, to hype me on a new band he was getting together, he sez to me, with no irony whatsoev: "In your time, you'd have really liked us"--in my time?! Which you think is now all up? Well fuck YOU, shithead! (You also owe me 4 bucks.)
When I was 53, a 21-year-old stripper I'd been bouncing around with, and by bounce I'm talkin' mainly bar-hopping--I'd buy the beers, and sometimes she'd buy 'em--she told me at some point it wasn't "such a good idea" to chum around with somebody twice her age. "Shit," I said, cutting to the chase, "why don't you do the long division? I'm two and a half times your age--old enough, prob'ly, to be your grandpa." "Well, right . . . that's what I was saying." And therefore what--you don't cotton to the prospect of me DYING on you? Rather not be SEEN with a soon-to-be pruneface? Y'think I'm a fucking VAMPIRE sucking yer youth? (Well, honey, I'm not that nuts about yer youth.)
Hey!--whoa!--I could understand if I were some kind of boring old nuisance or something, a fool spouting antique vernac like "balderdash" or "jiminy christmas," but these jerks wanted a whiff of my seasoned p.o.v., fallout from my vast (um) experience, and they got off galore on my knowing-more-than-them--more than I got off on any of their finer qualities--& then in the end it's like I was just a prop, a curiosity, an "other" in their midst . . . they would rather be with their OWN KIND. Well, fine.
'S not like I take such treatment personally--I'd rather not consort with geezers either--but I do still have a degree of vitality left, I've got fun fun FUN up the old wazoo, so it doesn't really make too much sense to me. By no means am I covered with even a thin layer of dust yet, and to cut to the only chase that matters: so the hell WHAT if I were (and what happens when finally I am?)?
Really, boys and girls, I don't wanna be in a room full of geezers, but to no greater extent than I'd avoid one containing a gang of lawyers, or PGA golfers, or high school gym teachers, or evangelical missionaries, or Hollywood coke addicts, or commodities brokers, or cops. Truly, I do not wanna be stuffed in dense with old coots and old farts--but I could certainly take 'em one or two at a time.
And like what's the score, anyway (irrational? rational?), on geezer anathema? How'd they get to be shunned like LEPERS, like homeless wretches outside yuppie espresso joints? What is it that compassionless cretins half their age (you know who you are!) have against them, f'r crying out loud?
Granted, in their endgame they don't move so fast, and to scuzzy judgmental types they might not look so fab, and they're fuck-hard at times to understand, and what about those eeky aftershaves they use? . . . but that don't begin to explain it.
Geezers are needy? Helpless, even? Well, much of humankind is helpless and needy...you ever see the band Cat Power, Chan Marshall? They're sour, caustic, and bitter? You shoulda met the late-great M.T. Kinney at 25.
Is it simply, or chiefly, the STAMP OF ENDGAME emblazoned on the surface of their being? Itchy-twitchy evidence to young louts of their own mortality, of the literal way of all flesh and all flash? A case of shoot-the-messenger? Or would that be a mite too metaphoric--and teleological--and mightn't there be a little too much denial on young'uns' parts for such a leap-o-logic?
Or, after all is said and done, might it boil down to no more, no less, than the creeping ineffable: COOTIES?
Geezer cooties! (The way of all all.)
MY OWN SKIN
Though it appears feasible, seldom have I been able to write my way out of it. Oh! would it suit me to scram the "me" scene! More than likely, you need to be dead to pull it off.
We would all, of course, be better off dead. Is that a truism or what?
No more pain, no more disappointment or responsibility, no more shit to fear, nothin'. The ultimate in relief and deliverance, the ultimate in slack-off. No more tumbling to the age-old con of "striving," no more lock-step or gimp-step to the fetish of "playing out your string."
Could death take your breath away with greater viciousness or greater efficiency than life itself already does?
If there's a problem anywhere, obviously it's not in the being dead--that part's e-z--but in the dying: the torment of having your action stamped CANCELED!...the cheap, vile drama of a useless bod tossing in the SPONGE...the perpetual fret over WHEN?, over HOW?...the white-knuckle wait 'til whate'er-the-bleak-fuck rounds the bend belching STEAM as it choo-choos straight at YOU to bulldoze you screaming in ag' every INCH of your last sleazy mile.
No: death ain't no-way the "great mystery" that dying is, and with suicide as an option, a tool--the anodyne in your pocket!--y'even get to specify the when and the how.
Don't know 'bout you, but I've thought of killing myself a good quarter to a third of the mornings of my life, faced with yet another day of IT, and my fair share of noons and nights as well, in direct response to unbearable obstacles (to sundry whatev) falling, lurching, wobbling in the way, for instance DEMONS. There's no living through them (it's inconceivable!), so why not blow everything that's blowable away? If you can't put out the fire, eliminate the matter. (They dynamite oil wells, don't they?)
Methods I've considered: bullet to the head, right side (I'm a righty); bullet through the eye (no preference left or right); jump from a tall building (the kind Superman used to leap in a single bound); normal hanging w/rope; hanging w/barbed wire 'round my neck. I've never entertained thoughts of cutting my throat--it has a nice ring to it, though--nor of slicing my guts. These would require some finesse, and if you muff it, where are you?
Poison, f'rinstance cyanide? That can't be too pleasant. But pills, y'know, like Valium or Seconal--yeah, why not?
I've also fantasized a good shortlist of undoable scenarios--things you couldn't verywell do yourself--like an arrow in the face from 50 paces. (Wouldn't it be great to be both archer and target?) A railroad spike through the heart'd probably take more than one whack--plus you wouldn't exactly have the right angle--but that's definitely one I could feature. And it sure would be neat to throw your own severed head under the wheels of an oncoming truck...alone, you'd have to make it an unsevered one.
HERE'S a nifty, baroque end-dream: to be poked through the heart by a spear weighted down by a TWO-STORY HOUSE. The inhabitants wouldn't have to leave. With so much weight, it would slide through you like a tusk through butter.
All that said, I must confess I meditate on suicide less than I used to--way less. Could it be that the concept has less reverb, less bombast, when you're actually near (or nearer) the end? You'd be surprised, but when it comes to putting the big gilt-edged frame around all this shit, life is quite a bit like wrestling--bombast plays a huge fricking part. Bombast and Romance.
Y'know, I'm as romantic as the next a-hole, but capital-R Romance as a NOTION, as an all-accommodating vehemence, has its time and its place, its stage and wardrobe, its dance and its tune--and the bub-strut of this Romantic number is the proper toss-off of, oh--you guessed it--Callow Youth.
Unless there's an immediate something to urgently deal with--an inoperable nose tumor, let's say--suicide, like Trix, is indeed for kids. As a fast-food solution, an objective to aspire to, it's for people still in chapter 1 or 2 (no later than 3): grandiloquents young and vain enough to imagine they've got SO! MUCH! MORE! to erase. (Been there, ahem, so I know.)
In the later chapters, life on its own does a bloody fine job erasing every massive slab of the dang shebang that genuinely counts. All that's left to efface is the declarative sentence "I am living."
Can anybody out there please help me?
Who (or what) is (or ever was) DOGGY JULIAN--or possibly Doggie Julian?
Early to late 1960s.
(Possibly in a dream.)
"I am a soldier, big and strong. To some good boy I'll soon be-long."
Or it might've been "sailor."
The earliest clump of text I even half remember...jeezus.
No, it's not some army/navy pedophile thing--or is it?--but a line from a Christmas play in the first or second grade. I was playing a toy, see. That would be 1951 or '52. The Korean War was on.
Wait, let me . . . uh . . . first grade.
Did I wear a soldier or a sailor suit?
Could it have been white? Blue? Khaki doesn't ring a bell.
So where were we? Ah, yes.
When we suspended our seminar on "geezer clothes," we were pondering the issue of solutions--stopgap or otherwise--sensible paths for pre-geezers imminently faced with the Wearing of the Ug. In a nutshell, what it oozes down to is not one but TWO hot categories of direct action: P.G.D. and P.G.R.
But before we get there, some general comments:
First and foremost, and once and for all, let's quash the rumor that the more clothes you have, the longer you live. That's the bunk!
INCENTIVES to live long??? There are many. But what higher inducement than to outlive one's ugs? Outlive your ugs or your ugs will outlive you! In short: dress ugly now or dress it later--the choice is YOURS--but here's the kicker:
While an increased wearing of unfavored items will extend the life of the favored--and you surely have your work cut out for you--it would be a grave mistake to lose sight of the, uh, precariousness of your P-G predicament. Increased frequency ups other probabilities as well, including the prob of croaking while ug-attired. You may only be at the first fork in the geezer road, no further, and still it could hap any minute: you could die like a DAWG in that Disney World sweatshirt in what is it, ochre? mauve?, and be terminally known as one who dressed repulsive. It'll forever be your lot, your reputation, the final embarrassing entry in your GOOFUS FILE.
No, you'd be better served keeping it part-time. Designate a Pre-Geezer Day once, twice, three times a month. It would be helpful, natch, if Congress established it by statute--a public Pre-Geezer Day--but they haven't even legalized fucking yet...you can't depend on those stiffs. "Self help" (in the v. best sense) is what this is about: a P.G.D. of your very own--as personal as your P.I.N. Mark it on the calendar (don't forget!).
Every night, meanwhile, can be Pre-Geezer Night. Unless you've got a special date, wear your worst as pajamas or underjamas.
But even FOUR days a month might not shake a dent in your stash. You can't just toss unwanted wear'ems (didn't your mother tell you?)--you'll need a workable policy of P.G.R.: pre-geezer recycle.
And by recyc I don't mean pass 'em on. Don't think for a sec about inflicting your unwanteds on the clothesless! Would you give tainted food to the malnourished and starving? Would you have the homeless live in Port-a-Potties?
Your unsightly outfits are part of your karma; to pass them on is to bypass the hallowed ORDER OF THINGS. It is garbatorially invalid, not to mention flat-out rude.
No--we're talking legitimate ALTERNATIVE USES here, not pass-alongs. A starting roster of justifiable recycs would include:
Medical emergencies. Wrap a burn, bandage a bug bite, apply pressure where the roof of your mouth was gashed by broken glass in a tuna sandwich.
Towels. With global warming, you may need sweat towels more than you currently 'spect. Be my guest: wipe your brow with the ugliest sock in the house.
Curtains. For those sew inclined, a needle & thread will join up sundry g.g.'s (garish garments) real good. Too garish to wear on the street--but dandy cov'ring a window. When the sun comes shining thru, it's just like stained glass!
Pillows. Geezers need naps. Fill one oversized shirt or T-shirt w/seven others. How comfy!
Speaking of naps: nappies. Washable, reusable monthly absorbers for those still menstruating, or f'r menstruating someones-U-know. Rig cut-to-fit apparel strips with tape or safety pins, or just stuff a handful in your undies. Never spend a DIME on napkins again!
Hankies. Is there any real diff between noseblow on a pants leg and noseblow on an "official" handkerchief?
Beverage enhancers. Shred 100% cotton-wear, plop in a blender w/fruit juice or soy milk for a deelishus high-fiber drink. Chill in the icebox for healthful, flavorful popsicles...mmmm yum! First check labels to ensure there is no polyester, nylon, rubber, or fiberfill. (A fine use for rayon as well.)
Shoes: bang nails with 'em. At least knock tacks in cork and particle board.
Ties. Ties?? What're you, some kind of fop? Ties you can just throw out.
A note on RAG CONVERSION. To gratuitously turn garments into rags before they are rags is for spudheads. If once in a longwhile you need a rag, that's one thing, but don't overdo it!
The byword in any act of recycle: to thine own geezer self be true. Be aboveboard in your search for alternatives--no arts & crafts for its own sake. That's for hobbyists, and dressing is hardly a hobby! An alt use should be as essential as an original one, i.e., the covering or adorning of human flesh in accordance with legal, practical, and aesthetic conventions and pretensions.
Even if others don't know you've exceeded your sanction, you would know: you'd know you are a GEEZER AND A PHONY, and, well, they don't give out medals for THAT.
In days of yore, I was quasi-famed as a bloke fond of burning britches--pardon--bridges: torching them with extreme malice on the flimsiest of provocations.
If my age-peer crowd was once very hip to the activity, I was hipper. I gloried in it.
So how is it I'm not burning them TODAY?
Well, it isn't 'cause the onrush of years is starting to scare me; there are times lately where I'm scared shitless, but I can't say they've made me an advocate of bridge safety.
Nor am I refraining because I'm less of a firebug, or even 'cause there probably ain't too many personal bridges left to burn.
I simply can no longer TELL a bridge from the water--can't distinguish one from the other!--or dry fucking land. Or which end is "my" end. I wouldn't know how to target a bridge if you put a gun to my head.
Be that as it may, it's entirely possible I am in fact still burning th'm--burning 'em royally!--only I couldn't tell you with any certainty. Couldn't begin to guess the where and when.
THE COPENHAGEN STORY
I've never smoked cigarettes. There's supposedly some Russian doctor who says that if you're over 50 and have never smoked, go ahead--it's good for you. The nicotine will rejuvenate a whole host of mental processes, it'll make you perky, on the ball, et cet., and since you're on in years, you most likely won't LIVE LONG ENOUGH to develop lung cancer. Sounds good--I love nicotine--but he's talking cigs, and I've never been able to get past the taste of the burning paper.
It's too bad I've instead used up (already!) my life quota of the form of tobacco I've gotten far & away the most mileage from: chew a/k/a chaw--my most odious intake at a time, like 20-25 years ago, when I really was something of a self-destructo.
And to boldly claim I ain't one still, well, that might ordinarily be the plan, but no sooner am I caught up in a writing project than old habits and old intakes walk right back and make their presence felt: cigars, rotten food, enough caffeine to stun a wildebeest. Beers? Not too many while writing, just as a "reward" for getting somewhere page-wise, and as the age count goes up, the page count goes down down down. Even short to medium things take long these days, leading to sieges like this one (six months! no end in sight!): a protracted rampage of screw-my-health, whatever it takes to crawl to the end.
Writing full tilt like I am, I can't bother with cooking--ya kidding?--so what I'm eating right now, my dinner!, is a jumbo bag of bar-b-q chips containing (let's see): sodium caseinate, sodium diacetate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate--a li'l bit o' sodium, huh?--in addition to salt and MSG. And food dyes, well, there are three yellows, a red, and two blues--BLUE?--if this was paint, you could do a fucking seascape. Which, take my word for it, I would not be eating if I weren't writing, and I wonder, d'you think (do ya do ya?) any of these ingredients could give you "C"?
'Cuz I do fear "C," OK?, and not simply on account of the little practice brush I've had with it (pinhead-size basal cell on my neck nine years ago). Every time I puff on a little-c cigar and my heart races like Secretariat (so I know, inhale or no, it's damnwell there in my SOMA), I'm all too conscious of the "risk," and I thank my lucky STARS that a timely bum experience ended my dance with the biggest and nastiest of tobacco C's: Copenhagen. I gag just thinking about it...
Somewhere in the late 70s, when I was flirting with some really yugsick chew-bacs like Red Man and Days Work, I saw an ad in the back of Sports Illustrated--fill out this form and Copenhagen ("the smokeless tobacco") will send you FOUR free tins: what a deal. They weren't all Copenhagen per se--there was also Skoal, and I vaguely remember a raspberry version of the same brown ammoniated stuff--but a tin wasn't cheap, and their giving away so many should've made a ding-dong firebell go off.
As it turned out, four was exactly enough to get me hooked, ooh boy, and I mean DEPENDENT. Well, maybe not textbook dependent--it wasn't like I needed it to get through the hours, the day, or else feel actual physical withdrawal pangs, but I needed it for fucksure to write. It was very speedy, and right away. I could almost wake up on Copenhagen alone and be writing, full throttle, immediately. My mind felt incredibly mobile, darting back and forth, up and down, like a goddam Pac-Man thingie . . . how remarkable. Once I realized its effectiveness, how could I (why should I) stop?
For five years I used it every day, a pinch between lip and gum, refreshed and supplemented by mammoth fingerfuls as required. Ammoniated? Dunno. But something caustic and corrosive was part of the mix, 'cause in no time flat my inside lip was being corroded. Eaten away. I'd go a week, two weeks, corroding the right side, then switch to the left, and on and on back again, back again. Craters formed and healed, only to be dug anew. When I spit there would often be blood. Which told me pretty early on this was BAD JUJU--if it wasn't how you got cancer, there was no such animal. (This was before they painted chips blue.) Periodically, I would resolve to kick, I'd throw out my last tin, then as soon as I had to get a paragraph done right!now! I would run out and rummage through the dumpster . . . yowee.
What finally did it for me was one night I was at the typewriter, two teacups on my desk. One held cold tea, no milk, the other served as my spittoon. Two cups of dark brown liquid, and at some wee hour, bleary-eyed, I gulped down the cup of TOBACCO SPIT. I have not taken a pinch of C since.
When I was in high school, I didn't know anyone in a band. It was rumored that an original member of Jay & the Americans, someone not on any of their records, had once gone to our school--some blond guy a couple of classes ahead--but seeing his pic in a yearbook, I didn't recognize him.
The summer I was 20, a group of my friends formed a band, an imitation Rolling Stones, that played one chaotic bar date.
In '67, when I was 22, the "scene" mushroomed exponentially, and through my 20s I stood face to face with hundreds of people in bands, and was actual friends with several--I'd hate to call them celebs--known quantities of rock rock rock and roll.
By the time I was 32, I'd already been in two bands myself . . . big deal.
Today, membership in at least one band, however briefly, seems a rite of passage for practically everyone. How many people do you know, menwomen 30 and up, who've never been in a band, or tried to be in a band, or thought of learning bass because of an opening in some band that didn't care if their bassplayer could even play--they just needed somebody by Friday?
A rite, yes, and one that becomes more benign all the time--no longer on a par, as it once was, with selling dope or part-time whoring or joining the marines.
Ironically or not (now that rock qua rock has ceased to be a bona fide universal solvent), in your average case it's more like a calisthenic, a strut...nothing wrong with that. The problem comes in when the calisthenic gets out of hand, starts calling for more and more reps, and lofty forethought or no, suddenly finds itself a MISSION.
I should talk about missions!
Fortunately or unfortunately, writing was not a rite of spring for me. It wasn't remotely anything I thought about as a kid, or an adolescent, or a postadolescent--it was one of the last things I'd ever 've wanted to grow up and do. I had no writing "heroes" whatsoever. I didn't like reading.
Yet at some point: BINGO. I was hooked.
Except for the ones I take in my mind, I haven't had a vacation in possibly 20 years, and I haven't taken too many weekends off in the last 30. If it's a day of the week, my nose is to the grindstone.
"Every day is Saturday," said Jack Kerouac and Handsome Dick Manitoba. For me, every day is more like Tuesday.
Which may be funny in a way, but I honestly don't always know what day it is in the "world out there." To occasionally be off by one day is understandable, but lately, with alarming regularity, I'm getting to be off by two or three.
There are times when I wish that a week as practiced by everyone else had only six days, or five...seven is just too many to keep track of.
THE GREAT JAZZ BOOK THAT ONLY I COULD WRITE
I'm not gonna write it.
Biospherically speaking, as complexes of protoplasm, as machines operating at their uttermost efficiency, we humans have such pitifully limited use, and when our workings go a-clunker . . . phew!
When all we are is a pathetic waste of cells, how can you blame the directors of the factory for taking us out back and STEPPING ON US?
Harry Rademacher is the only guy I know with an eye patch. For a long while he didn't wear one. Though his left eye never looked where the right was looking, he never mentioned it--so you didn't either. Then one day, voila! "How do you like it?" he asked. "A present from Edna"--his 46-year-old sweety. "She thought it would make me look distinguished." Indeed: a distinguished, ponytailed Captain Hook.
Harry is 63. A year ago, he quit his job as a dishwasher to work full time on a book he'd been painstakingly researching, and slowly but surely pecking out, over nights and weekends of the previous 16 years. Before the dish gig, he worked as a Spanish professor, a library supervisor, assistant to a minor league hockey exec, until a wind change convinced him Enougha this white-collar b.s.!--better to bus tables.
The first friend-o-mine living on social security, he opted to start collecting at 62, not 65, when he learned he'd have to live to 77 to come out ahead by waiting. "I'm crazy for longshots, but that feels a smidge beyond my reach." Maybe, maybe not, but he does--fuck yes--expect to survive long enough to complete the book, and he's only on the first draft. The most singularly motivated buzzard I know, he'll let nothing stand in his way, including auto insurance. He's been driving uninsured for six months now, and is about to let the bank repossess his Nissan. "Sure I love driving places"--the track, for inst--"but there's NO TIME for it. All there's time for is the tome."
In addition to the staples of his diet, homemade goulash and saltines, he limits disbursement of his s.s. pittance to rent, laundry, gasoline (but not for long), cheap cigarettes, and bargain-basement beer, well, sometimes he'll splurge on Lucky Lager.
Every few weeks, we get together at his pad and talk it up. He shows me some pages and I give him feedback and help copy-edit. I tell him what reads clunky or unclear, and I challenge and encourage him to keep at it. Since generally speaking I wouldn't advise my worst enemy to write, in current parlance I am his "enabler." All of which may seem even more unlikely when I tell you that the volume in progress is a work of ACADEMIC SCHOLARSHIP.
Y'might by now have a rough idea how I feel about academia--and academic writers--but Harry, though one serious prick, ain't one o' them in the slightest. Declaring himself an "academy of one"--a "non-spectator scholar"--he's taken on the task of composing a "secret intellectual history," one that crosses the bounds between shitloads of academic genres and sub-genres, and a sprinkling of non-acs as well. Even that may sound like standard fare--what the hey--but I've read most of the damn thing, and it's often terrific.
And how is it terrific? Well, for one thing, it is really all over the place. I've seen 300 pages, sardine-packed with references to hotsos from Herodotus to Sappho to Boethius to Bernard of Clairvaux to Cervantes to Voltaire to Ludwig Feuerbach to Sacher-Masoch to William James to Giuseppe Verdi to Alfred Jarry to Babe Ruth to Joseph Campbell to Robert Mapplethorpe to Rasputin to Max Weber to Lash La Rue (I kid you not) to Edna St. Vincent Millay to Edna Vitaliano, Harry's womanfriend--a former underwear model. "I'd like to also have her on the cover"--he winks, showing me the pic he has in mind . . . ah ha.
All over, that's one, and for another--hey--it's a big, sprawling, jolly mess of SMUT.
"The Chi-Psi-Omega Hypothesis: The Search for a Collective Pornography"--that's the working title. Harry cautions me, however, about labeling it smut. "Don't get carried away. 'Pornography' is just a buzzword to pique the reader's interest. Yes, by all means, I'm concerned with the evolution of sexual thinking, that is, human sexual thinking, and from what you've read so far, you know that on an anthropological--scratch that--on a zoological level, we as a species have a neocortex--do we ever!--but do the dendrites in our genitalia perform a less libidinal function than those in the genitalia of goats?
"And therefore?? Well, I could just as easily have subtitled it 'The Continental Divide Between Inorganic and Organic Thinking' . . . an allusion to a prevalent dogma among professional academy thinkers. All I'm trying in my humble way to do is undivide things a little." He shoots me a stern look, then winks. "Smut! You're absolutely right! I like it!"
There are times when I worry about my friend's health. Though he hasn't seen a doctor in years, he swears his heart, liver and lungs are "not half bad, well, not three-quarters." A few months ago, when a strange tingling sensation visited both forearms up to the elbow, he refused medical attention. "It isn't really that unpleasant," he insisted. Although not knowing what was going on was unnerving, the worst part, before it subsided, was losing a week's work. "Time ain't on my side, Jack! I need every last nanosecond."
Pop another Lucky!
A simultaneous mass exit, like the whole world going down in one fell swoop--"Armageddon," "holocaust," "nuke time U.S.A.," whatever you wanna call it--is terrifying in no small part because it would make all of our individual deaths irrelevant, rob them of their uniqueness--a bogus uniqueness, to be sure, but one forever seen as crucial to the projected end gestalt. (You're born alone, you die alone--that old chestnut.)
"See here how everything lead up to this day," sang the Grateful Dead in 1970, speaking of an old man's day of dying, his lying in pain (for passersby's amusement) as his sole final anything. With world snuffout, personal agony has no moment, and nobody lies dying, everybody just DIES...ceases to be...is and then summarily ISN'T ...and nothing else is, or was, ever again, ever...even words aren't, and weren't.
The thought of dying young--"before your time"--in such a universal termination is one grimly unacceptable excruciation. To be over 45, let's say, or 50--to already be in the "death zone"--and be faced with imagining that same annihilation is quite another. To have toiled and moiled through a lifesworth of delusions, for an approximate-minimum full-life's duration, and have it add in a flash to undifferentiated molecules on the slag heap of undifferentiated nothing--now THAT is a frightening outcome to grapple with.
If for no other reason than to serve as an exemplar, let me get fatuously personal: to be forced to surrender the concept of FUTURE, and of strangers not yet born, their grandparents not yet born, finding delight (or finding anything) in my silly writings; to in the same breath abandon, after so long and foolishly embracing, something as absurd as the notion of works (and words!) that OUTLIVE MEN . . . well . . . fuck shit piss godfuckingdammit . . . tell me about it, OK?
I should probably take acid at least one more time.
In Guided by Voices' "Have It Again," Robert Pollard poses the question "What would you give to be 9 or 10 again?," then the same Q re "19 or 20," and finally "49 or 50" . . . oh, priceless yrs! oh, precious past!
Yeah, yeah . . . right.
Y'gotta believe me when I tell you I wouldn't wanna have it, and would hate to have to have it--to be any of those ages!--again. They all have their work and their woe, and the work and the woe outweigh the jollity and the joy.
Sheezus--I pity the poor 19-yr-old stuck living NOW--on this planet--why the hell would I wanna be one? Nor would I 'zactly wanna revisit being one THEN.
To get there from here would mean toting a 12-pack (min.) of, oh, call it insight--you can't not bring it. Perspicacity? Or worse: a small working replica of my current late-model shit detector--a laptop s.d., if you will. You would only hafta crank it halfway for it to do its dirtywork. Which on time-trip turf would bring out some of my more GEEZERESQUE TRAITS, like my stick-in-the-mud tenacity at "seeing through shucks" (oh yawn). The balmy things we oldtimers take pride in!
Now of course I wouldn't mind being younger in body, you betcha--but a younger, less up-to-speed psyche? No thankyou! Innocence, relative or otherwise, is really not something I would care to recapture. As it is, I'm still a fairly innocent schmuck, and it wouldn't appeal to me t' be MORE SO--certainly not at the expense of all the oceans of sweat I've bled getting to "know better," becoming even marginally less of a dumb-ass fuck.
If innocence, or non-disbelief, emotional benightedness, whatever, be the key ingredient in getting off on a full range of hands-as-dealt, well, that's completely, totally objectionable. There might well be more pleasure, and hotter and cooler kicks, to be had being more-dumb as opposed to less-dumb, but at this advanced date, something in the emotional ecology of the situation disposes me towards the latter . . . and if that makes me an old fussbudget, hey, so be it.
It takes all (as they say) kinds.
John Cassavetes once said there are no great films . . . only great scenes. Well, I'm not sure I even do miss all that much about any o' these old temporal turfs, epochs of ancient self, even from AFAR, but yes (ah me): there were certainly moments!
does my dick have scales?
(many miles since last checkup)
rust or barnacles?
With the triumph of the CD now complete, none of this has any currency anymore, but it once was a semi-big deal to reach a record-speed milestone in one's own life--to turn 331/3, for example. Though it hardly meant as much as turning 30, 40, or 20, it was something you were sure to be aware of; it was good for a giggle.
By the time I turned 45 it no longer meant zip in the contempo promenade; and if I make it to 78, whether or not I still have my wits about me, I don't anticipate even thinking about it.
Hey--I'm already at an age where I can look back on major occurrences of my life, of my adult life, that happened 331/3 years AGO.
Just before my next birthday, in fact, it was 331/3 since the release of my all-time favorite 331/3'er, The Beatles (aka "The White Album"), and one of the most happily recalled nights of my life.
One Friday afternoon, November '68, the FM affiliate of WABC, New York, announced that "the new Beatle album" would be played in its entirety that evening. This was at a time when it wasn't even for sure there would be another Beatle album. (Their previous LP, Magical Mystery Tour, hadn't really been an album at all. True, it contained the A and B sides of some great singles, but the new stuff, what little there was of it, included arguably their worst cut ever, "Your Mother Should Know.")
An actual new album, and a double album yet: yay! At the Long Island home of a band called the Soft White Underbelly, with whom I was living off and on, aiding and abetting and writing lyrics, everybody was STOKED.
As zero hour approached, we smoked some very potent hash and ordered a pizza. We: the band, my girlfriend Roni and I, the drummer's girlfriend Helen. I don't remember Eric ("Manny"), the soon-to-be singer, being there. Les, the vocalist of record (who still lived in the house and was all but ignored), definitely wasn't, but all the others were: Albert, Allen, Andy, Don. That night, we would be something verymuch like "family," or "tribe"--oh, even "household" would do--in that late-60s maxi-kinship sense--though no such unanimity of connection would ever come close to rearing its head again.
Bob Lewis, one of the more bearable, and less hyper-obnoxious, deejays in New York, began by announcing: "First I'm gonna skip around and play things in a sequence that means something to me. Then I'll play the whole album in the right order." Twice!!
Beginning with "Bungalow Bill," we heard cut after cut of what the Beatles at their best always did best--an ur-rendition of Hybrid Music in extremis: "Back in the U.S.S.R." (the Velvet Underground meets the Beach Boys, overseen by their common ancestor Chuck Berry) . . . "Sexy Sadie" (doo-wop meets diva madness) . . . "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (the Beau Brummels do "Greensleeves") . . . "Long, Long, Long" (the Byrds' "Get to You" as rethought by Procol Harum) . . . "Helter Skelter" (Larry Williams visits Dion & the Belmonts' "I Can't Go On, Rosalie," with bumpkinized Jimi Hendrix accompaniment). Having musically stripmined so mega-much terrestrial acreage, was there anything left for the Mop-Tops to mine but the sky?
We flashed insane grins and shook our heads, muttering WOW after WOW. To call the experience "religious" is to understate the awe we felt in witnessing the most cornucopially profuse, most abundantly generous band rock-roll had known, all but given up for dead, suddenly returning with its greatest and most bountiful work. When the bogue-Caribbean "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" came on, we rose as one, danced round the room and hugged each other.
After the second play of "Good Night," Ringo's neo-Mantovani masterpiece, we scampered out into the cold, high on more than the hash, and kicked up our heels, feeling (for prob'ly the final time in the 60s . . . or ever) a distinct sense of UNLIMITED POSSIBILITY. Even Allen, a mocker who until then hadn't even liked the Beatles, was driven to say, "Well, I guess the object is no longer just to listen, or even memorize--it's for everybody to internalize this shit and SPEAK IT."
We taped the whole thing on an old reel-to-reel recorder. When I woke the next morning, Don, who when the band became Blue Oyster Cult would be known as Buck Dharma (little mister Heavy Metal!), was rewinding and playing a portion of the tape, trying to learn the chords to, of all things, "Mother Nature's Son," playing them back on his guitar. What a beautiful little coda to the occasion . . . event . . . happening.
(That's right: an Old War Story. If the world ends tomorrow, at least I've taken one last hike through it.)
THE JOHNNY STOMPANATO FAN CLUB
for all the Bobs,
Robs, Randys, Mandys,
Maggies, marrieds, Marys,
Garys, Gabbys, crabbies,
Babses, Sabus and Beaus
as they all
Joe Callicott, "Fare You Well Baby Blues" (on Mississippi Delta Blues Vol. 2, Arhoolie CD 402)
Skip James, "I'm So Glad" (on She Lyin', Edsel EDCD 379)
Coleman Hawkins, "Time on My Hands" (on Sirius, Pablo/Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-861-2)
In early 1930, after cutting two sides--a 78--including the kiss-off classic "Fare Thee Well Blues," Joe Callicott returned to a life of sharecropping punctuated by appearances at Mississippi fish fries and, occasionally, Memphis frolics, not recording again for 37 years.
By then he'd missed out on the "country blues revival" (culminating, for better and worse, in the 1964 Newport Folk Festival), during which a number of long-forgotten blues players were exhumed as "folk artists" by entrepreneurs of varying exploitational bents. Not on the "A" list of targeted "rediscoveries," Callicott had to wait until the summer of '67, when he was 65, to record nine songs, six of them released while he was alive, most notably a remake of "Fare Thee Well," this time entitled "Fare You Well Baby Blues."
Slower than the original, its picking less nimble, it's nonetheless a v. passable account of the tune. A snatch of old lyric is dropped ("You got more men than a two-ton truck can haul") and a new line added ("What is you gonna do when your trouble get like mine?"), but the vocal is every bit as strong, with the identical balance of anguish and resignation. There would be no further recordings, and between two and four years later Callicott was no more. (So relatively insignificant was he to even his rediscoverers--and their "folklorist" compeers--that nobody kept close enough tabs on him to know with any accuracy when he died.)
An "A"-lister all the way--he'd cut 18 sides in 1931 (including two--"22-20 Blues" and "Devil Got My Woman"--commonly assumed to have influenced the young Robert Johnson)--the 62-year-old Skip James was one of a dozen-plus bluesmen to play Newport '64, which afforded him access to what biographer Stephen Calt has called "the dreary coffeehouse circuit." It also led to Cream's recording of James's "I'm So Glad," which earned him a larger fistful of coins than sales of his own two albums for Vanguard . . . the royalties from ALL of which would be devoured by his final hospitalization with cancer (ain't life sublime?).
Four weeks after Newport, just before his body started hurtling down the drain, he recorded the first post-'31 version of "I'm So Glad," and probably the best. (Though superior to the Vanguard take of '65, it would not be released until '93, when he was already dead 24 years.) His guitar work is no great shakes, but he sings some really impassioned shit, maxing out the misery, the distress, in the non-falsetto parts, nearly reversing the intensity flow of the '31 original--no mean feat. Has there ever been a performance of a song, any genre, more ABOUT (and from) exhaustion and confusion? (What a thoroughly worldbeaten guy.) And hey, don't "sad" and "mad" rhyme with "glad"? While emotionally scattered, the original had some gladness--this has NONE.
Adolphe Sax, a Belgian, created prototypes of the various members of the saxophone family somewhere around 1840, but it wasn't until the second and third decades of the 20th century that anyone anywhere would figure out how to play more than imitation animal sounds, and other comedic "circus" effects, on a single one of them. Somewhere before 1920, New Orleans jazzman Sidney Bechet performed the deed on soprano sax, followed in the 20s proper by Coleman Hawkins on tenor.
For the next 40 years, Hawkins would be known for a sensuous (often dangerous) muscularity of tone and phrase, a signature warmth emanating from the chest and belly. He had a "sense of the ballad" as advanced, and as simple, as any hornplayer's ever, and was a majestic improviser. According to lore, he was the chronological FIRST to "tell a story" on a saxophone, and as time went by the stories got longer and more intricate. (Check the '39 "Body and Soul," the '45 "Talk of the Town," the '48 "Picasso.")
In 1966, at his last studio session, the phrases at his command for storying are fairly short and unmenacing, and not always perfectly formed (or even sturdy), and they end as often as not with an almost gauzy vibrato like that favored by his acolyte and rival Ben Webster. You can just about hear columns of toneless, pitchless air vibrating, and ceasing to vibrate . . . sound unto silence.
A minute and a half into "Time on My Hands," the rhythm section drops out, and for the next two minutes-plus, which feel to the listener like five or six or ten--time as perceived being so palpably molded, so altered--the 62-year-old Hawk delivers not so much a story as a valediction. So little breathing time remains, yet time is his . . . micro-duration is macro . . . all time is NOW. It's not always such a great idea to lean heavily on metaphors, but astro-time implodes, matter too, and Sirius, brightest star in the heavens, becomes a neutron star . . . a campfire . . . a matchbook aflame in a skeleton hand. All entropy, all destiny compress the final recitation to a throaty whimper...a final peep.
A poignantly MAGNIFICENT peep, but a peep . . . then neverending stillness.
Nothing I write--no sustained episode of writing--feels like a winning fight anymore. 15-rounders, all of 'em, and the best I ever do is lose by a split decision.
Sometimes one judge will score it for me by a point or two, if only because he remembers when I had all the moves--and still digs seeing them in flashes--even though they're only simulations now. I shrug when they read his scorecard 'cause I know it's just old sentiment speaking. (If you're not up on these things, I was once a cross between Willie Pep and Cleveland Williams.)
The worst thing about it is I never get KO'ed. It would be a lot healthier: fewer overall punches taken, fewer eyes swoll shut and noses broken, fewer witless displays of "courage" trapped on the ropes before miraculously clinching. Seems like 20 years since a ref last stepped in and stopped it.
Ooh my soul, do I wish I could fight a 4-round prelim once in a while.
With every sigh, every sneeze, I feel every body shot I've ever taken.
I always stoop down to pick up worms after rain or the runoff from watering lawns or washing cars has trapped them squirming on the pavement, unable to make it back to safe sod whence they came. If they show any signs of life, I move them to a patch of dirt or grass or a cozy heap of wet newspapers . . . anywhere there's less chance of them being stepped on or dried up by the onslaught of sun.
For as long as I can remember I've done this, and I'm confident I always will.
At this late stage of things, all previous statements aside, it's important to me that I continue to write for one reason alone: BECAUSE IT'S ALL I KNOW. So important is it that if it should kill me, well, that would be OK, at least as causes-o-death go . . . as long, that is, as I've finished whatever I was writing in the process.
Writing has micro-squat to do anymore with "glory" or "craft" or "expression"--none of those are even elements. It's simply SOMETHING THAT MUST BE DONE, again and again and again, to certain vocational and avocational specifications, something no more significant in and of itself than brushing my teeth, or shopping for groceries, or changing a light bulb . . . a grander version of those things, perhaps, but really only the eensiest jot less prosaic an ACTIVITY.
Whether being so fixated, so hooked, on something so wearing and tearing--and at the same time so intrinsically not-much--constitutes a good habit or a bad habit is of no concern to me, though I'll concede that "objectively" it's prob'ly a verrry bad habit (worse than Copenhagen!) . . . 's merely my habit. My filthy, dirty, bloody TERMINAL CALLING.
SOMEBODY'S FAVORITE SONG, EVER
The Del-Vikings' "Come Go With Me."
Image of a tombstone on my left forearm: I'm now complete. Tattoo for each forearm, one for each shoulder--complete for now. A finite, if prolonged, work in progress, begun 8/69, finished 10/99. Should a falling piano land on my head, I'm set.
If only in this one regard, right now I feel something quitelike peace--and a sense of life-mission accomplished--far more than if I'd had another ten books published. As Hegel said somewhere down the line, the Absolute unfolds itself--and all my writing put together, Absolutely, as both mission and accomplishment, becomes as nothing beside my four tattoos in equilibrium.
Since I drilled none of these into my skin, nor did more than suggest slight changes in the design of a couple (a nail-polished hand reaching upward from foliage beside the stone; full genital peek-a-boo for "Ruby," babe-in-residence on my right shoulder), I'm more their canvas than contriver, their consumer than author, yet they comprise the sole body of work I will take, literally, to the grave with me.
For the moment now my body, as home, as baggage, as tabula no-longer-rasa, feels stable, and I feel whole and undivided. This will change soon enough, when the death of my cat impels me to have his likeness, or some generic cat-face w/teeth fiercely bared, drawn and drilled on my inner right forearm, thus requiring a symmetrical follow-up toot sweet . . . before, anyhow, the baby grand flattens me.
Now that I'm no longer a Platonist, nor any kind of monist or especially an idealist, I wonder: why does such hoohah obsess me?
I absoposilutely do not wanna live forever.
If I somehow got to live a THOUSAND TIMES, ha, it'd take some weird, unforeseeable lunacy (at age 56 and up) to make me fantasize stretching it even ONCE beyond the bounds of a single lifetime, a time-coded unit existence.
THE ATTICS OF MY LIFE
I've lived in plenty of buildings with basements, but I've never had an attic.
Back when I was a really, really, really stupid kid, long before I ever got laid, I used to dream of kissing a girl, on the lips but dryly, in an attic.
The first gal with whom I had even rudimentary sex, and would go on to have full-boogie intercourse, invited me to play with her one afternoon, while her parents watched TV, up in her suburban attic. It was summer, and so hot it made perfect sense to take our pants off, and she let me finger her, but she wouldn't let me stick my finger in . . . that other place.
Have I given this torrid day a moment's thought since?
Why do I now?
"THE GOOD FIGHT"
All good fights, so-called--"gallant endeavors"--are good or gallant only as long as you want to endure them, as long as you in some sense enjoy fighting and/or endeavoring. Once the whambang ritual itself gets to be superfluous or pointless or exorbitant, it becomes a futile waste of breath like any other . . . a bullshit masochistic RIFF . . . a birthday-suited chump's aerobic convulsion. Nobody needs more scar tissue.
Well, maybe scarification artists need it, but the universe doesn't need one more work of high-booty art, or one more conscientious artist.
JOSETTE. Pass the potatoes.
LOOOOIE. Yeah, sure.
JOSETTE. ...(Glares at Looooie.)
LOOOOIE. Fuck you.
JOSETTE. You're a big fucking dope.
LOOOOIE. You're a pig-fucking dope.
JOSETTE. I said "big fucking dope."
LOOOOIE. You're that too.
JOSETTE. Actually, you are a pig-fucking dope.
A large clear-glass bowl of potato salad on
LAST WILL 'N' TEST
if the flies want me
let the flies have me
if I stink too bad
take drastic action
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/Damon Locks.