a handful of amphetamines & a 9-dollar bottle of brandy
There were waiters somewhere. I’m not sure. Everyone had left except for a cab driver, some ravaged lady of too many horrible mornings, and me: an empty soup bowl of misgivings and desertion.
You were so small, just a passenger pigeon dying in a cage. What’s left isn’t so useful. Careful. The revisions you’ve halted are shredding all the no-good you’ve made into has-been rubble. I plot my sorrow like revenge, served lukewarm and spoiling on a summer Sunday with nothing much around to do except swat at flies and slowly smoke cigarettes. Shadows lurch and shade draws tight. There is everything to not see here.
Wiry, tough as a mule deer, a real scrapper and a head that’s not minding its height. Scooped-out love flung to the places where I used to be able to put things. Not now. Not in this barroom dark.
Ballgame’s on, low and static-riddled, high and inside: just the rumblings of ancient misunderstandings. I sit and pine, best I can, only way I know how to behave. Keeping with this not-dying business best I can.
All the blameless morons shuffling around by the shore, taking pictures of things, basking in their own idiocy. I sat on many a dull overcast morning, sulking on a concrete bench facing the water, rumpled and wasting away there in the temporary shade of a few nasty clouds. Alcatraz getting its haircut by the thin sheets of fog rolling in, pasting the day’s bright into evening’s overcast drizzle. I was always all out of ideas, drained and sapped, lulled into a routine of shiftlessness that led nowhere except back from where it came. Long-gone were the times of rousing toasts and boundless energy, and maybe even a hope that tomorrow would still be a bit better than today. Now? Now there’s just this swollen sore where hearts used to burst. Now I just roam around trying not to be noticed. I am not yet sufficiently fortified to express myself unequivocally on the subject of my dissipation. And so I chase off company and mull whatever comes my way over and over.
Just like that, a waiter appeared, eager to please, thin mustache gleaming in the candlelight.
Here I go, like being drunk in my socks, again, swatting at flies with my tennis racket, trying to forget the sound her name used to make in my mind, eyes drifting out the bay windows as scuds of cloud go caroming and clunking by and the wind terrorizes the palms, settled in, worries chased away with the taste of chalk still clung to my tongue.
This is the way nothing ends. You order something not on the menu. You get leftovers for a roommate, an olive for a date, and nothing’s the better for it. Even Ava Gardner had a few better days than nights. The cold run of summer’s chuck at willpower gets even with what you used to know better than smell. Not that loss is a thing that never creeps. Not that the drugs have worn off. All out of sense. Knots in the gut all untied for a spell. Clicked-together heels and all, the houses have all fallen on all the innocents. And we’re lesser folk to clean up after the worthless Takers Of Your Last Dime. This is it. Fork it over, Doris. Wretches like me don’t get what’s coming unless it comes easy.
Back to the bar. Back to the raiment of pieces and puzzles and noodles of classy instilled — if not lackluster — motivation. Back. Away. The music’s all too loud and everybody tells it all wrong at just the right time. A jaw drops. A drink gets poured. We dance like there’s still a chance to be someone. Back to the stool. Back to the way we’d sit lost in the darkest and dustiest corners we could find. Back to the worst times of downing doubles under a banner reading “GO GIANTS!” in the dimmest of train-station bars. We’d bluff if we still could, or at least I would, at least. Back to the desert and the blight of a strip mall off the highway late at night when even the streetlights have given up and just go right on blinking yellow right along with the ineffable lights going ape shit all over up above. Back to the way you loved all the things about me that I couldn’t stand. Back to a dingy hotel room, stark and repulsive and trashed, hunkered down in a rainstorm, awaiting nothing and whatever comes what never does. Back to shaving in a rear-view mirror. Back to mutually assured admiration.
So, we’re talking hunches here. We speak of concurrent things. We dabble in delving and hook the wilder troughs of thought with barely audible concerns. We trade in store-bought hankerings’ junk and other off-speed stuff. Here’s to people who stop on street corners, lean against the pole there, and just look around as the light changes, as summer ends.
The ground as hard as what we’d find ourselves fighting through, handling whatever it was, mostly. Crooked as thieves of the heart machine. Now I only see her in most any stranger’s face, a little. Desperation sinks in. More to not think about. Colder. And the ground gives, too, though. When it’s least expected. And then we dive. And then we grope. Dimensions never gathered, drank my way to all of this, at last, at least. Things to say inside of closed car windows. Things to say I passed on and never really felt. And you? You’re never coming back. Me? I’ll just keep moving as long as I can. That’s what. Gather and hold on. Some things, once they’re gone they’re never going to just come on back, ever. That’s all.
Respond or relent.
I told the waiter, “I’m just taking notes for Fyodor Dostoevsky. Crackers, please. I’m most likely the one you’re looking for. Never mind all of it. Get me some heavily spiked pulque, on the triple. Take my manners, please. Refrain. I’ve drunk my whole summer away.” He doesn’t care for me much. I can tell such things. But he’s bullied his way through tougher times than these. I can tell that too. I could tell a lot of things if I wanted to. But I don’t. The leaves are all dying out there anyway. All I need is a little refreshment in this life. That’s all. I don’t ask for too much. I don’t answer much at all.
Pretend I’ve forgotten that we’ve ever met. We’ll need new names, of course. We’ll need a new way to say hello. We’ll also play the piano, maybe, in an oddball unteachable sort of way. Stride by, as well you can, and we’ll see if we cannot meet like this on some February afternoon when the roads are all clogged up with stuffy losers so unlike what we’d like most to be. The cats of peace are purring for me now, in the slice of pie we’ve got remaining in the colder wakes of longing’s first chances through its last licks. Let’s get funny. The bars and scales of seriousness just won’t do for a couple of lookers like us. Seeing’s what we we’re made for — that and seeing through too. And the moon’s on the mend. And the world’s kicking it into neutral for a bit here. We’d seek better mornings to sleep through if we needed to. I used to know everybody’s middle name. Now I just get by on bad manners and worse small talk. The rain just don’t mean what it used to. I mean, I guess. So, all told, I’ll keep on running on the fumes of you for a bit longer here. And the way I get to looking sometimes might just hold out until another miracle comes on around.
Resurrected. Yes. That about does it. This hardback chair will hold me. And on and on. I’m just another idiot to believe in something. The bullfighters are all laughing at me. The waiter’s gone and taken his only break of the year. Days made for dancing and imbibing ungodly amounts of brandy. Nights made for sucking down amphetamines like they were candies. Unmake my bed and call me a renegade playing softball under the brightest lights on the planet. Surer things have happened, I’m sure of it. Light the last candle in this place and let’s get it over with.
I keep bumping into the same old ghosts. Goes with the territory, or without it, I guess. Another loss to add to the tally. Another swiped bag without a throw. Everything’s turned a shade of blue I’d rather not know for the time being. The rest is just another thing I’d never take away from what we knew. The folks who ask me for change stay and stay. That’s all I’ve got. And the streets run with the way you used to. Uphill champions of the Richmond live on and on. That’s what we told ourselves during those rainy nights. That’s what I’ll never let on about now.
So. So. So. Bring me another, dear. I need a reason to keep this up. Scattered as it all is, as I am, and the crap I litter about is just bottles and bottles of nonsense, broken now, as I scrape my feet over it all. Why don’t you send me something? Anything would do. Anything would be better than all this nothing that I’ve got. Why don’t you just go on ahead and type me up some sort of dissertation on loan-lee-ness? Or just spell my name like you used to, so used to you, the way we were, the “us” that just so doesn’t happen to happen at all anymore. Much to be made of all this drivel, I’m sure, we could, or would, if we could. Damn dressers of despair I keep storing my wayward thoughts in, the door jammed, the handles gone, the worry in the woodwork there to stay. Shotgun duet’s sounded. Should’ve not known, or tried anyway. Plied and bested. The where and the how of it gone to why. Room’s let but still plenty vacant. Just the way it goes to show you. Wrong as a left turn on a red. So. So. Why don’t you just come on around for one last harrumph and have a coffee and a whisky with me by the Mediterranean sea? We could chat about seagulls and dumpsters and take the worst of us with a grain of pepper and shout out all the bored waiters in the world with a chump’s hidden courage. Dragged through the garden to end like this? No is the only way. Stinks of burnt cork too. Bloom, damn it. Just fucking bloom already. I’ve had just about more than enough. As you were, jerks. Just as you fucking were.
Underneath the ugly flutter of halogen lamps, I just want to sit by the window and watch the rain come and go. Spirited? Not in the best of them — spirits that is. Ransacked hauls by and by and buy back what’s never been gone anyway. The guarded way I hold this mug of hot spiced bourbon isn’t what it was. Nothing about me is, though, so just take a peek and move on, shufflers. I’m up to nobody’s business. Listening to the news. Assaulted by boredom. Cramped by weakening knees. It’s a real hassle, all this staying in place.
Never mind me. I’ll just be here falling asleep to the sound of 1950s radio news broadcasts. A rare pause in the present’s constant onslaught. A meager burp in the face of pressure and poise as gurgled mumbles come through the phone. Nobody sounds the same anymore. It’s all crescent-shaped yawls dissecting the distance that I can’t smell through. No coffee, just the grounds. Hey, I’m not chewing the thin here, but almost is as ready as I get. Just another ineligible bachelor suffering away his time stuck in idle. Rich with inconstancy. Poor with dread.
Bourbon, hot water, a slice of lemon, and bit of honey in there too for luck, my highball glass sits on the grimy window ledge, staring back at me as the rain falls behind it. A bit heavy in places that used to be tread so lightly, I’m stunned out of recklessness. Control’s just something to be out of. The hot toddy’s sweeping my head back to the clack and clunk of wistful corrosion: the cranky stuff of memories shoved beyond all deepness. I sip, remiss in my reminiscence. The thoughts I’ve got they just scurry by, hamper my instincts to shove off, and trundle along without direction or care, leaving me to the somber affair of my imbibing. There’s a little kid in there just dying to break out of the jail of his own demise. I pick up my only copy of the bible and balance it on my left palm, as if I’m carrying John the Baptist’s head on a tray, or maybe just a Kelley Blue Book listing all the prices for various souls. It’s heavy enough to matter, I guess. I give it a hurl up and over my shoulder. It lands with a thud on the carpet. All is well.
These little gives I take, maybe that’s all the comfort I’m going to get. Pass the coffee shop. Wait for the light to change. Put a nickel on the fire hydrant. Pretend to say a quick prayer under your breath. Preen your mustache. Rub your eyes. Be as civil as you can. Cross the street. Look at the old man selling fish under the awning. Spin your umbrella. Watch the rain gather in the streets. Step over a puddle. Be mindful. Walk away from the old lady spitting into the tree well. Walk up the steps to the library. Think about the librarian there who just might be in love with you. Count backwards from 89 to 61. Open the door. Furl your umbrella and cinch it closed. Walk in.
All this incessant pounding. We are who we turn into on a rainy day with nothing to do but sit around with a baseball game on mute and drink bourbon. I remember a guy who broke into a parked Cadillac to steal a candy bar. At least here I can drink my bourbon in relative peace. It’s these things that get me through the afternoon.
Walked out of so many bars I’ve lost count. But who’s counting? That’s what they say. I’m just another tweak that won’t break. Starry with ordinary wonder. A crate that’ll never get carried. A broken-down cardboard box. It wasn’t God who made shit-soled suckers like me. Perhaps there’s a letter out there with my name at the top of it, one that says, “Dear,” or, “Love,” — but I doubt it.
I down the last of my drink. The rain takes no notice. It just falls and falls. Like some Hank Locklin song or something. I’d move out of this hovel, but it’d just be to move into another one. Right away I might phone the mayor and tell him to hightail it out of town. Or maybe I’ll just make a list of girls I used to be in love with. It’s a tossup, really. Maybe I’ll wear a top hat around and take stock quotes from beggars. Or, then again, I could just refill my glass. Decisions.
I want to sit on a fold-up chair in some Tennessee multipurpose room while Kitty Wells plays and people dance, with a flask of whisky in my coat pocket and a cigarette waiting to be smoked dangling from my lips. Maybe I‘d lean back during a Tennessee waltz and let a slow, ruinous smile overtake my face, wink at a lady in a burgundy dress and scratch at the back of my neck, and make eyes at the ceiling fans while the band takes more than just five. Passed by and done. Left there like that. That’d be just fine with me. Trap’s been set since before I’ve ever known what being around was. The bait’s all that changes. The “since” is all that’s ever made any sense anyway.
Forgetfulness follows. A cramped resistance to it is the attrition I make up around these clogged drains and overflowing trashcans and empty bottles. Get me to an armory. Parking on a hill in a heavy downpour, the mid-sized sedan stalls and slips, parallel to everything, a bit too far from the curb. A lurch and then a copacetic click of the motor turning off. Everything’s favorable for all current circumstances. Nothing to ruin your clothes over anyway. Nothing to have to sleep off or make amends with. Nothing to have to fall out of love with. Nothing to seem stupid in the light of day. Just a ruby in the eye of a bandit named June. Just weeds pulled from the spleen of the matter. I’ve been made short work of enough to know better, but I still don’t. I just don’t.
Sloppy and sopped, and supper’s gone by without a bite. Ballgame’s still hanging around. The world’s blasting the West Texas right out of me. But the bars will survive, even without me around to keep their business steady. Guess I’ll follow the weather’s lead and just move on. Over the breaks in the scenery I take what never should’ve been mine in the first place. The last place you’d look for me, here in the center of nobody’s attention. I walk the barns and the furrowed fields and the farmhouses, and the burnt licorice scent rises and gives way to an openness that never ceases to close.
I am closed to all comers. Take your pleasant smiles elsewhere. My name has nothing to do with who I am; it’s just who you’ve come to believe is me. Can’t properly explain myself in this weather. Cats and dogs. Dogs and cars. Rats and pigeons, sir. There’s only one letter that separates our names tonight, and I can’t place the blame on the order.
Market Street all decked out in fall glory after a brief rain. Sidewalks less occupied than usual on a Saturday afternoon. The sun scampering in through the flimsy prospects and conceit of cloud stubble. Trees clumpy and swayed to a lilt, gold-yellow leaves shuddering to the gutters, traffic just an idea of noise and clutter swept briskly off to more lurid quarters. No screech of BART trains. No pigeons to speak of or contend with. Thin strips of one-ways shoot off at odd angles from Market’s steady pull, shadowy lanes bulwarked by high-rise concrete and glass. Pedestrians furl their umbrellas and take stock, sallow and disregarded on street corners, biding their time in slickers and glistening boots. Nobody’s checking my pulse for me. I’m musing off kilter. I zigzag the grid, taking the as-the-crow’d-never-fly method home, eyes shifty in the sky’s cursive streaks and loops, and then lost in the innumerable fenestration of a skyscraper, that spotless glint that gives whatever prayers I should be saying a bit more oomph. I stare and state, and get nowhere.
I’ve been making speakers out of toilet paper tubes and darning all the holes in my wardrobe with duct tape. Yapping my own ear off while the pigeons misbehave on the jerry-rigged scaffolding just a foot out my window. Last licks? Maybe. But who’s coming around to count my blessings for me? Not any bathroom attendant or out-of-work umpire, that’s for sure. A rest-assured restlessness that dekes the curvature from the earth. Creatures of unsustainable habits — that’s what we all come down to.
There’s a coronet blowing in the courtyard. Off-key to the masses. Waltzing on someone else’s dime. Rec-room coffee and folding chairs. Some chatterbox mugging it up for the small screen offers no resistance to the plunks and plops of indifference’s rain. Not chasing any smiles or eyes away just yet. Just another nostalgia addict out for a worse time. The great foolishness of the human condition. Nothing to get overly romantic about. Nothing to care or bother over.