Sunday, July 7, 2013

And Who Kills At The Finish Line?

By Martin Bemberg

The original hipster was called so for posture. He lay drugged somewhere last century and wore sunglasses. “An art form uniquely American,” he’d say of jazz. He’d smoke opium and it was his hip that bore the weight of his eyelids. I ponder her hip because it bears her. Postured here like this, she is the origin of hip.
It’s day two and day worst of her bout with ulcers of the mouth and throat. Hardly able to speak, she is a series of hummed sympathies. She winds like highways among the hills, which we call mountains. She’s a gorgeous slouch - languid, pitiful, and damned pretty but try telling her that. On Saturday, she asks whether The Enlightenment first caught fire in Denmark. I have the map in mind already, but the five-century timeline eludes me. I count backwards from Voltaire. Galileo to Erasmus, Luther, then Gutenberg.
         “Germany,” I reply. “The printing press set the whole thing ablaze.”
         Used to, I didn’t know to be flattered when she assumes I know everything.
         “Everyone in this film is so beautiful,” she says to me.
         She’s right – the Danes are beautiful. I haven’t watched any of the film yet, but the language is a thrill. I hear, probably from someone who heard as well, that they’re the happiest people on earth. If it’s true, I’d wager that the beauty of their mother tongue has something to do with it. If you’re like me, you’ve always wanted to hear English as an alien thing. Danish satisfied my curiosity. If you’re like me, - which I would not recommend - you ponder that we naked apes want to see ourselves as other naked apes do and hope to witness our own funeral. I used to wonder, how does the world behold my talents, my looks, my character. And then I married, and found that these traits are tolerable for at least a lifetime.
After chores and errands, I report back to her with this brief essay, which I penned for her on the backs of receipts I collected while emptying the car. I hoped it might quell her baby fever. For now, at least, we have no children and are each other’s.

What I Have Done Today

I have done some things today. The first thing that I did today was that I woke up. Next, I went to the drug store and to the grocery store. At the drug store I got medicine for my wife and at the grocery store I got food for my wife. I got split pea soup and I got ramen noodles. I got them for my wife because she is sick. I am sad that she is sick. But it is okay because Olive The Pug - cannonball bug, little black cub, bear you can hug - took care of her while I wrote an obituary for a magazine. It was for Owen Prater, who was a really great guy and a really great poet. I miss him a lot. A lot of other people miss him a lot too. I cannot wait to see what he wrote right before he died. After I got medicine and food for my wife, I cleaned the kitchen. It took a long time. Then I set aside all the clothes that we are going to sell. We are going to sell clothes so that we can buy more clothes. I need new clothes because I am getting bigger in my tummy. All in all I have had a really good day. I hope I get to have more days like this because I am happy. I like to be happy.
         I left out the part about swooshing her oral analgesic in my mouth. (I wanted to find out what smoking a cigarette outside a dentist’s office feels like. I was thoroughly underwhelmed.)
         Around 3:30 the Times sends me a breaking news alert e-mail. Two bombs have gone off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I balk at first, but end up watching the explosion on Russia Today. When I was a child, I venture to say that the notion of someone videoing such an event, and by coincidence, would be called a damned silly notion. How things have changed; if someone told me today, “information super highway,” or “Wash your hands after you touch your penis,” I’m not so sure I’d know what to say to them.
         I wonder whether we’ll look back on this and laugh. Of course, I can’t recite any jokes about September 11th, 2001 or April 20th, 2000. No one jokes about April 19th, 1995 – bombed a fucking daycare, the coward. And hardly anyone can remember December 7th, 1941 anymore. But here goes. ‘I finished the Boston Marathon and all I lost was this lousy leg.’ I don’t pretend to know what the doers deserve, but I personally would like to see a bounty hunter, or a clerk at the DMV, make the asshole run like hell. I hereby sentence you to death by wind sprints. Papa would have gone with ‘death by squats.’
         “Looked like a pretty wimpy explosion to me,” he answers.
         “No, I mean who do you think did it?”
         “Oh, some right-wing kooks,” he says.
         “Me too. It’s tax day.”
         “Taxachusetts, as they say.”
         “Marxachusetts, as they don’t. So far as I know,” I say.  
         I thank him for the money he’s sent us, and he tells me he is proud of me. He especially liked my homophobic, country & western anthem, “Straights Rights.” I borrowed the tune from “Sisters Of Mercy.”

Well the gays and the homos and queers ain’t afraid to be gross.
And the fact that they’re married and proud
Ain’t the only thing their shovin’ down my throat.
And now that they’re married,
My wife and I we’ve got it so tough.
How’re we supposed to make babies
When they’re doin’ their icky butt stuff?

Well, lovin’s just for procreatin’
Ain’t no such thing as lovin’ for fun
And while my wife, she’s got one in the oven,
These queers do something different with their buns
Well my mind’s an open one,
But I won’t close my mouth when they come.
No butts about it, we’ve hit rock bottom,
It’s a bummer, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Well where I come from browntown means
Colored folks are livin’ next door,
And where I come from, takin’ a poundin’
Means you’ve got more touchdowns to score.
But I left for the city, and what do you think that I found?
Huntin’ bears here means somethin’ different
Than it did in the woods outside my hometown.

Well my boy sucks at manly stuff
Sometimes he can’t get ‘er done.
And my boy sucks at a lotta man things,
But another man’s thing ain’t gonna be one.
And this chip off the block,
My pride and joy, pretty boy son –
While he’s one the grass, he can’t catch a pass,
But he sure thinks the locker room’s fun.

While he’s on the grass, he can’t catch a pass,
But at least he thinks the locker room’s fun.

         “All right,” I say.
         “Okay, son. Bye. Love you. Okay. Bye.”
         I’d called him in 2008 when we elected a black president, I have to inform her, and called him when Cairo, of all places, seemed the most hopeful on earth, and I can’t believe I’ve never shared my first memory with her. Max and my father both know that it was the fall of the Soviet Union. Papa told me I’d always remember it. Really, he told me not to forget it. Think what could have happened had he not told me that. My first memory might be of Terry Pendleton’s sixth inning triple - the first time I saw a man hit for three bags, the hitter and I were in the same stadium. Maybe I’d remember snowflakes melting on black construction paper, or lima beans on a red plastic plate, scratched white by forks older than I. Her first memory is the birth of her brother. She remembers nothing of her childhood thereafter, save the Masonic rite she witnessed through a stained glass window. “There were men in dark robes,” she says, “and a child.”
         Hammered, enamored, I demand a child, but I cannot come. Alas, and where’s the beer? It’s in Springdale, because it’s Sunday. For all the jokes about slaughtering chickens and Mexicans – excuse me, despite what people south of the lake say about Mexicans and slaughtering chickens - at least they are savvy enough to accept money seven days a week. To reciprocate for this kindness, Sundays I drink and drive on their roads. Today it’s two tall boys, gone for good by the time I’m home and coaxing her into a picnic.
“Get your sundress, Beebs. We’re getting loaded in the park.”
         We ‘ran into’ one of her children not long after we arrive. In truth, she springs and sprints like Blitzen, the reindeer, in heat. When the little blonde creature - somewhat humanoid in its third year - and its mother appear some twenty yards away, I’ve been a naughty boy, chiefing on a very conspicuous spliff and necking cup after cheap plastic cup of bargain-bin pinot noir. “I’ll see you on Thursday, Nicholas!” she cooed. The mother and child ambled on. To my surprise, she informs me that the ‘running into’ was in fact a close call. I am becoming a liability and so we show the scene our backs. Stumbling, I offer to drive us home.
         I plumbum on out of the passenger’s side and into the house, where a vicious game of keep-away ensues. Papa’s turkey chili, of course, is the kept-away, and I, poor I, the hammered, hungry sap. Her arms may be half the length of mine, and her crown may be a full foot closer to the ground, but today it seems the God-given just won’t take. No motor skills, no recourse is I guess how it goes. We find ourselves sol-sodden on the back porch; whereto I likely have been wormholed by a universe that knows a hungry boy when it sees one. I reckon if we jostle, she and I, we do it like a couple of sissies, as my lunch and manhood are hostages both.
We reaching, tussling fools are nearing the stairs. I am about to discover what I already know – that this is not at all a clever place for the reclamation of snacks by force. Stairs – these at least - are made of wood, which is hard and hurts to fall on. These stairs descend into a yard-shaped, patch of weed and bramble. But who are we not to descend, together, into our yard-shaped patch of weed and bramble? At the bottom of the stairs, I’m already blaming her for pain not yet palpable. Youngest sibling syndrome coming now to the fore, she laughs something so hearty that I can feel the thick of that poor turkey chili. Its bowl, microwavable, is about three shards now, scattered, but in no comforting pattern. There is nothing linear about this trail of dead.
“Damn it, woman! The invincible bowl has been vinced! That piece of plastic was a testament to the fortitude of Chinese industry and now it’s just more shit for bare feet to avoid.” My heavens, the nude sting of a bramble-bed is naught compared to the painful notion that my drunk-by-mid-afternoon snack is nothing more than fodder for the lawn urchins. She lies there laughing with me in the milk thistle and the spiky gumball things, whatever they are. We’re looking for our lungs and our reasoning  atop the childproof gate, which our combined weight, hunger, and cruelty have collapsed onto the ground. The baby slammer, toddler trap, etc., had been a part of our porch longer even than it’s been ours. And yet, we only first question this structure when the (wholly worthless) collection of right angles has been so brutalized by my horrible balance and ardor for lunch.
She stands and helps husband to his feet. He sobers far too rapidly.
With each fresh eyeing of the havoc comes a new wave of giggles.
From the tree house, we take vista of all three downtown steeples. I see her gazing down now at the yard, where playthings are decaying and visible of a sudden. I cannot for the life of me tell you why we’d never noticed them before. And The Lord said let there be swing sets? Nor could I tell you, really, whether these ruins are anachronism, or ruins that foreshadow.
“What was it, slide of yellow plastic, that finally made you crack?” she asked.
“Once-orange basketball, rotting unto vintage pink: how are you really?”
“My dear, dangling fellow,” she wonders finally at the rope, “did you happen to catch the Hogs game last night?”
Atop this backyard fort, we are far enough from ground to be afraid, and yet the pain and the markings say that we are fallen still. But at first clang of twilight, no gashes in arms, nor pending bruises, nor snacks aborted in vain are audible
“Good thing you’re not packing heat.”
I give her belly one pat for each hour past noon, as another and another of the bells says to us that light is leaving. My twenty-dollar nautical watch beeps in weird harmony.
“When the time is right,” she says.
Her hand bloodied covers a smile.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Twin, Chapter 8

Inauguration At The Apocalypse

“So here’s what I’m thinkin’,” Phillip began, eyeing his audience of two. (A certain pedestrian was missing.)
This is not how they had intended to spend the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration. But it was good, cold and confined fun. And tenuous, for the tree limb fatalities and collapse of power lines, seemingly occurring everywhere but where the trio were. Massive generator explosions, vanishing electricity, and much chaos elsewise. Deaths, even, as at least they’d heard (somehow radio had survived).
Bruce Dvorak and Jon Daniel Pilgrim sat studying the empty coffee can. They’d heard from somewhere warmer that you could turn one into a space heater.
“Parker Farkus,” Phillip proposed.
“Naw, man,” said Jon Daniel Pilgrim.
Unimpressed. The gang had been playing their version of the name game since before the storm, but the stakes grew higher as names like Kurt Turley, or say, 
“You can do better than that.”
Jondie gave up on the husbandry project and looked to Bruce for approval. Bruce caught these eyes and said,
“Meh. I don’t know, Boodgie. ‘Parker Fucking Farkus’? Pretty good.”
“Naw, guys, we can do better,” Jondie insisted.
“Well you fucking think of one, Boudreaux!” snapped Phillip.
“Game. The fuck. On, baby boy!” Jondie accepted. “Let’s see...” Jondie surveyed the items in the room. He swigged violent at a bottle of red wine, as if to prove something. With his forearm he wiped the drippings clear of him.
He screwed the lid back on.
“Rand. Fucking. Hammer,” he pitched.
“’I’m Rand Fucking Hammer, bitch’?” said Bruce, trying it out. “Naw, I think Parker Fuggin’ Farkus wins that round.” To meditate, he tossed the empty coffee can from one lanky hand to the other. The method had produced some decent monikers.
“But Brody!” Jondie said (to Bruce) as he depicted a small child. He reached, and yanked at one of Bruce’s curly locks, blond and shoulder length. “It’s the fucking hammer!”
“Damn it, Boudreaux,” Phil intervened on the Bruce’s behalf. He knew Dvorak was too kind a lion to swat flies. “Leave ol’ Brody alone. You’re bein’ a god damn Brendan,” he said. The name gave him pause. It gave Bruce pause.
It gave Jon Daniel Pilgrim an idea.
“Hey, what’s Brendan’s last name?” Jondie asked, thinking it might could make for a good round.
“Uh, Bruce?” said Phillip, “You’ve known Mount Saint Big Fella longer than either of us.”
“Turley,” said Bruce, looking up from his lap. His eyes had retreated there at first ‘Brendan.’ He squinted, as if the sun were in his eyes, and fidgeted into a ponytail his golden hair.
With a yank, Phillip revoked Jondie’s bottle priveleges.
He frothed deep and mild, “Way to ruin that snow day, Jondie.”
“What?” Jondie shot back. “It was you who asked him.”
“But you’re the one who actually said his name,” said Phillip sharply. He’d begun to overheat.
“Oh, dude! That was totally you who...”
“Fellas,” Bruce cut in. “Ladbros, gentleguys, come on noooow. It’s not like he’s dead.” He reminded them of this a bit singsongy, as if speaking patiently with a stranger’s errant children. “And even if he were,” Bruce continued, consistent with the pattern of dropping the last word’s pitch before pausing, “we’d still call his name.”
“I mean,” Jon Daniel Pilgrim explained, “all I said was ‘Brendan.’ Actually...” he said, pausing to make sure he was being truthful. “Actually it was Phil who said ‘Brendan.’ And that’s just his brother’s name anyway, not his own.”
“Half brother,” Bruce corrected.
“Oh for reals?” Pilgrim squeaked. “I thought they were full on bros. With a ‘z’.”
“No way, man,” answered Phillip. “Different Dads.”
“Oh, well they look just alike, don’t you think? Brendan and ol’ Junior?”  
“They totally have Paquita’s face,” Phillip agreed. “You know, we might as well laugh about it,” he suggested. “If bestie-since-birth Brody doesn’t mind.”
“Naw, dude. Go for it,” Bruce accepted.
“James!” sang Jon Daniel Pilgrim in his constipated rock n roll voice. “I’m gonna say your name! But you got so many fuckin’ names! Like Mount Saint Big Fella and fuckin’ Junior,” he continued, drumming on his lap and passing the song to Phillip with a nod and goofy face.
“I hope your,” Phillip sang, strumming vigorous on an open E major, “cell has a fuckin’ computer!”
“Oh well,” sang Bruce, “even if you are in jail, won’t you...”
“Protect that tail,” Phillip completed the line for him. It allowed Bruce to join the laughter. “Stay away from the big, black cock!”
“And if’n ya knocked Grace up,” continued Jondie, the gold standard in theatrical, cock-rock voicings, “well I hope that it was worth it for your cock, yeah I...” he trailed off, losing the flow. “Fuck, what rhymes with cock? Cell block? Soap in a sock? No...” he said, stumped.
Phillip was strumming still the most recent chord, waiting though for someone to complete the verse before returning the guitar to a rockin’ volume. He looked to Bruce. Bruce simply turned his palms upward. He said, “I don’t know - hope you enjoyed the walk?”
“To Little Rock!” Jondie and Phillip belted in unison.
“Man, I don’t think I have a chorus in me,” said Pilgrim, reaching under his coat to pull a Parliament from the fresh pack in his dress shirt’s breast pocket. Noticing the despondent gazes that suddenly surrounded him, he put the cigarette in his mouth and removed two more. He opened the two remaining oversized bottles of wine. Jondie placed one in front of Phillip and one in front of Bruce. He handed them also each a cigarette. He tapped his own smoke on the bulging shaft of his giant green bottle, the elegance and spoon-clank imagined; experienced regardless.
Jon Daniel Pilgrim cleared his throat.
“All right, guys,” he said. “I wanna make a toast now, to the man we’re all thinkin’ about. He’s got a tough road ahead of him, a lotta challenges to face. Y’all know who I’m talkin’ ‘bout,” he said, nodding at the others. “’Lotta mountains to climb,” he continued. “Buncha damn mountains. And it ain’t gonna be easy. Cimbin’ ‘em sucker’s is a bitch. So fuck mountains. But you know what?” he asked rhetorically, and taking his eyes off of Bruce and Phillip at last to gaze blankly, as if in a despondent trance of his own - a sudden smile. Punctuating the grin was a short burst of breath from his nose, like a nasal sigh. Gratitude. With both hands he hoisted the bottle into the center of the circle.
 “Aw fuck!” as the lit cigarette fell into his lap.
He attempted to dance himself free.
With both of Jon Daniel Pilgrim’s hands enlisted by the bottle, Bruce plucked with care the cigarette from the toaster’s lap. He returned it in jest and dainty precision to the lips of a persevering Jon Daniel Pilgrim, Pilgrim the undeterred.
Fuck it,” Pilgrim said through the cigarette. “To Barack Hussein Obama. Black is beautiful, y’all.” And he shot up to his feet.
A fricative laugh from Phillip, looking up at Jon Daniel Pilgrim and then into the wine, which he drank as if it were leaving him in the morning. He stood and brushed off the legs of his acid-washed denim.
“That’s the spirit,” said Jondie, mistaking this for ovation. “Come on, Brody.”
“Here, here,” Bruce replied, referring to the book of matches.
Phillip tossed them underhand. Bruce, with labor on his face, began to punish one into flame. Thinking the angry path to ignition doomed to failure, Jon Daniel Pilgrim volunteered his purple Bic. Good will, aloft too late, as Bruce was sighing out a steady stream of smoke through rounded lips. Phillip bent himself at the waist, in a reach for bare toes still damp from their poorly shod walk. Half an hour ago, through the ten inches of snow that had appeared over night, they’d trudged to Washed Out, Washington Street’s shack of a liquor store. Joining the aerobics, Jondie himself stretched one slender arm with the other.
Through recessed filter he asked whether the gang was ready yet to fuck some shit up.
“In honor of Mount Saint Big Fella!”
Phillip blew out another stream of fricative laughter, replied that he’d rather sit some shit up, get himself some fucked up - before moving on to the frigid, slippery dangers out there in Tundratown. Jon Daniel Pilgrim attempted to explain the enormity, the unique nature, and the once in a lifetime-ness of the fun they could be having, romping out there in the frozen grid, which their city had become.
“Still, I’d rather get me some fucked up than mess with the apocalypse goin’ on out there.”
“Ya gotta take care a yerself first,” Bruce explained.
Classic Dvorak - wise as ever, in the face of the apocalypse.