Saturday, November 5, 2016

Interview



“Before we start—I’m sorry, toots—what’s your name again?”

“Beekeeper.”

“Okay, Mavis. I just want to tell you that I’m not gonna talk about my marriage. Y’know. To you-know-who...”

“Banana?”

“Because I’m not here to provide material for the gossip rags. It’s nobody’s goddamn business. Hedda Hopper can go pound sand up her ass—pardon my French.”

“Dishwasher savings.”

“I know she’s dead. It was a figure of speech.”

“Clinical sergeant trombone.”

“Good. Thank you. By the way, you look really nice in that outfit. Those colors really bring out the green in your eyes.”

“Puff. Hazard bakingsoda.”

“Okay. Shoot.”

“Death sacrum unicycle. Waterlizard under the empty clean. Pinch. Pinch goldfish sitar?”

“Um, let’s see. I came to Hollywood in the spring of 1946, a few months after I got out of the army. I couldn’t go back to my family’s little farm after my adventures in Europe. It would have suffocated me, stuck out in the middle of nowhere with Ma and my little brothers. Fields of endless spuds. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I loved my family and all that but I wanted more. I thought maybe I could make it in the pictures, based on my looks. I was a fairly handsome fellow in those days. Plus I had done some acting in school.”

“Cream investigation? Abide beguine?”

“Rendon, Idaho. The most boring place in the universe. At least that’s what I thought. But remember, I was still a kid, barely twenty-one. And boy, I was dumb as tree bark.”

“Epeirogeny, repeat Dictaphone?”

“Well, after pounding the pavement for a week or so, I landed a job at Universal as a shit-shoveler.”

“Pinecone rubberize?”

“Ha! Not literally! I mean I was a gopher, a flunky. I did everything from lugging props to picking up lunch to sweeping the stages. I toiled. It was a long, tough workweek I can tell you, and I was a wage-slave, barely getting by, and I got no respect but I’ll tell you, I loved every minute of it.”

“Ginger gigolo. Ephemeral pons?”

“Well yeah. I suppose. I don’t know...”

“Dormant hurry? Imploding jellyroll?”

“Well, I worked hard but that didn’t keep me from schmoozing with the actors and the studio higher-ups when I could. The guy that really changed things for me was Lou Costello. A lot of people talk about what a royal pain in the ass he was, and maybe he was—I never worked with the guy—but he always treated me square, treated me like a real-life human being instead of a lowly peasant, y’know what I mean?”

“Loam brusque maskingtape?”

“I don’t know. I never really got to meet Bud Abbott. I watched Lou work though, without Bud, on The Time of their Lives. Bud was in the picture, but for some stupid reason they didn’t work as a team and I just didn’t see his scenes being shot. I’ll tell you who I fell in love with on that picture, though. Marjorie Reynolds. Man oh man. What a little cutie. I wanted to fuck her so bad...”

“Monochiamydeous stint?”

“Heh. No, I didn’t. Thought about it a lot though. I mean, what the hell, I was twenty-one and the last time I’d been laid was, like a year before, in France. That was my longest dry spell until old age finally shriveled my pecker. Anyway, Lou had a pal named Brodsky who worked over at Monogram and he introduced us and Brodsky hired me on the spot. No audition, no screen test. I had one line in an East Side Kids picture called The Lucky Kid. I say, ‘Will that be all?’ See, I play a waiter and Leo Gorcey says, ‘Ain’t dat enough?’ I think The Lucky Kid was called something else when it came out. I forget. Anyhow, that’s how I met good old Huntz Hall and he changed everything, thank God.”

“Rampion sixteen confused kelp?”

“Huntz Hall? Best goddamn friend I ever had. He taught me everything I know about comedy.  Introduced me to a bunch of great people like director Bill Beaudine, Bebe Dupree, the famous burlesque dancer, Shemp Howard. Those were my salad days, for sure. With extra croutons.”

“Kitchen predisposition? Soft chancre recognize?”

“Lemme tell you a story. One day, after work, Huntz and me go over to the Coach and Horses for a couple highboys. We sit at the bar and order our drinks and no sooner than they arrive when this gorgeous blonde, I mean gorgeous with a capital EVERYTHING sits down next to us. She’s stacked to high heaven, okay? And neither one of us can take our eyes off her. She glances our way a couple times and then orders a martini and a glass of water. When she gets her drinks she turns to us and says, ‘Are you boys looking at me?’ in a voice that could melt frozen shit. And Huntz leans on the bar, trying to act suave—which was impossible–and says, ‘Why yes, you’re so fetching it’s hard not to.’ He actually said that! Fetching! So she laughs and says, ‘Mind if I look at you back?’ And Huntz is caught a little off guard by this but he says, ‘No, we don’t mind.’ And this broad, and she was fucking incredible, reaches up, pulls out one of her eyeballs, drops it in the glass of water and slides it over toward us! Haw! A glass eye! Our jaws hit the floor and the bartender’s cracking up and what she says is, ‘Here’s looking at you’ She says that! Verbatim, swear to god! Anyhow, we spent the whole rest of the night with her, drinking and laughing and telling stories. That kind of stuff used to happen all the time in those days...”

“Flyblown cucumber paradox.”

“Yeah, well. That was Hollywood. It was a crazy town then.”

“Talcumpowder goon fest. Mushroom pagoda.”

“No, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.”

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Briarpatch



In July of 1968, eleven full-time members of the Briarpatch commune, as well as several itinerant hippie drifters and various hangers on, were gathered around a bonfire, singing a favored song by the psychedelic combo The Crystal Asparagus. Lydia, (sometimes called Gossamer) a frail, beautiful nineteen-year-old girl was watching big Goran Muth smoke a joint. The joint had been poorly rolled and was canoeing rapidly, twists of smoke escaping into the acid-charged atmosphere. The smoke curled into shapes as vivid and ceremonial as cave paintings, and Gossamer tried to memorize each one before it turned invisible in the dark air. She saw faces and bodies writhing together as if squeezed from a tube; swirling cartoons with a sweet aroma and a two-second lifespan. And the stoned folks around the fire sang:
       
       Inhale the sonic waterfall
       Sweep up the crumbled rainbow
       Sprinkle the cosmic colors
       On ancient ivory gravestones
    
     Their voices were ragged and overlapped but they adhered to the beat. Three Briarpatch men pounded out a primitive rhythm on a hollow log, using thick sticks. The driving, percussive sounds that emanated from the dead wood seemed to match Gossamer’s nervous heartbeat and she started to worry about what would happen to her if they stopped. 
      Big Goran Muth noticed Gossamer staring at him and he extended the joint to her, now reduced to a smoldering roach. Gossamer shook her head. “No thanks,” she said. The acid she’d eaten was more than enough. In fact, it was too much. Big Goran Muth moved away. Without smoke to look at, Gossamer looked up at an active sky filled with spilling stars. They looked close enough to scrape her scalp. The peek of infinity they surrendered left her breathless and awestruck. And just as her mind had made crooked sense of the smoke, it now assembled the stars into complex patterns and designs of immeasurable mathematical complexity. And then the stars began to move and she saw horseback armies galloping across the galaxy, clashing against opposing forces with swords of white light. She saw crustaceans scuttling and floating through seas of milk, pursued by primordial predators. The visions were strong and Gossamer felt distressed by their violence. What did they say about her nature, her essence? Did she have a violent inner self? Was the LSD unleashing a warlike spirit? She took a hesitant step backward, afraid to continue looking and afraid to turn away. The stars were too much, the acid crawling up her spine was too much. She moved her gaze to the bonfire and thought she was dying, turning to liquid and pouring into Hell. Hell is also something the mind cannot measure. She slapped a hand over her eyes, but the churning monstrous faces that she saw behind her eyelids were even worse. She gasped and turned away from the heat, finding solace and safety in the blind darkness. The music, the beating of the log, ceased. Then started up again. This time the assembled throng sang “Blue Children of the Mushroom” also by The Crystal Asparagus.
     “You okay, baby?” someone said and Gossamer turned toward the sound, still lost in darkness.
     “Who’s there?” she said and with the question came sudden clarity of vision. There was a man standing in front of her, his bearded face disguised by flickering, splashing shadows cast by the fire. The shadows were black eels writhing.
     “My name’s Bob, baby.” He was holding a can of beer.
     “Hi Bob. And my name’s not Baby. It’s Lydia. Gossamer.”
     “Are you all right, Lydia? Gossamer?”
     “I think so. I just freaked out for a minute there.” Bob moved closer and she saw his face in sudden, excruciating detail. Shifting sands of expression.
     “But you’re okay now? What freaked you out?”
     “This!” She waved her hand, indicating the Universe. “I
feel like my dreams have seeped into the world.”
     “Maybe they have.”
     “Yeah, maybe...”
     “I’ve been where you are,” Bob said. “Many times.”
     “Oh yeah?”
     “Yeah.” Bob stepped closer and placed his hand on her arm, his fingers were tentacles. “One time I dropped acid in the rain and I saw the face of God in every drop. And then every raindrop showed me a snapshot from my own suicide.”
     “You’re suicidal?”
     “Sometimes. Sometimes the world is so full of heaviness and woe it breaks my heart...” He slid his hand to her shoulder and tried to lean in for a kiss.
     Gossamer pulled away from him and said, “I’m sorry Bob, I can’t fuck you.” And then she walked away, disappearing into the folding dark.
     Bob returned to the bonfire. He’d heard from The Underground that the girls at the Briarpatch commune were loose but Lydia’s was his second shootdown of the night. He didn’t understand it, his raindrop suicide rap usually worked on stoned hippie chicks. He eyed his next prize, a pale, blackhaired chick staring at the fire as if hypnotized. He approached her and said, “Pretty far out scene, huh?”
     He didn’t get anywhere with her either.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

PEOPLE



After three anxious months of prideful sobriety I started seriously thinking about beer again. Smooth announcer voice: Wouldn’t a Nice Cold Beer taste great right about now? Wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it? The thought was an earwig burrowing into my brain. There were greasy fish swimming in my peripheral vision. A lot of things don’t seem real, true anymore. When did my thoughts become hallucinations? Or are my hallucinations merely thoughts? And what’s the difference?
     I have to admit up front, I am not a fun person, whether drunk or sober, I am not fun. I am not a barrel of monkeys.
     I had to go to Walgreens to pick up my prescriptions: Paxil and Abilify, Lithium and Thorazine. I set out walking at 10:32 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The weather was fair, warm, what most people regard as a “nice day” but every time I venture outside I feel like a war correspondent. I always expect to encounter gaseous, flyblown corpses on the road, bullets like gnats whizzing by my dizzy, confused head. A world full of murder.
     See how not fun I am?
     I walked quickly, my mind in a state of nervous chaos. I was thinking of beer again. It would calm me down, dilute the hallucinations. I would no longer feel as if I were darting through a mental minefield. It would crystallize my thoughts, you see, filter out the cruel pollution in my brain – that was me trying to convince myself. I needed convincing because guilty AA-type feelings made me question myself. My aims.
     By the time I reached the Walgreens I had halfway made up my mind about the beer. I entered the cool, bright fluorescence of the store. Places like this give me a feeling of heightened highspeed lucidity. I headed straight for the pharmacy, trying not to look at things. Products were painful.      
     There was a beautiful young woman behind the counter and I immediately wanted to be affectionate toward her. She wore a too-big white coat. She was adorable. Her nametag said, Kelly. She smiled at me and said, “May I help you?” She had large blue X-ray eyes.
     I told her my name. Facing her bright, perky, efficient appearance made me feel doomed. She looked like a taste, a flavor. Something to be savored, like sorbet. I really needed that beer.
     She looked at the computer screen and said, “Four?” meaning four prescriptions. I told her, “Yes.”
     We traded money for drugs. Her practiced warmth and benevolence shook me to the root. I was the same way around nurses and dental hygienists.
     I stuffed my prescriptions in my jacket pocket and then got the hell out of there. Across the street was a delicatessen that sold beer and wine. I headed there, feeling guilt like a blood-soaked bearskin; a symptom of my abstract disease. You’re going to do this thing, I heard myself think and I entered the deli. The ruthless air conditioner made the place icy. I almost expected to see frost on the floor, my breath coming out in vaporous trails. I went to the coolers, selected an 18-pack of Budweiser and then made my way to the register. The guy behind the counter knew me from before. I had the acute impression that he didn’t like me.
     There was a guy ahead of me also buying beer. He was tall, thin, with long gray hair. He was buying a twelve-pack of Heineken. He paid with a handful of crumpled bills that the guy behind the register had to straighten and smooth before he could file them away. I thought to myself.
     Then it was my turn. I thumped the case of beer on the counter and he rang it up and I handed him my last twenty dollar bill.
     Then I was one of those pathetic alcoholic guys you see walking down the street carrying beer because they lost their driver’s license.
     Beside the deli stood a crummy-looking duplex and I saw the long-haired Heineken guy opening the front door with a key on a huge, crowded key ring. He looked at me and saw me looking at him and said, “Looks like we both got the same idea, hey buddy?”
     I shrugged. “Yeah. I guess so,” I said, the timbre of my voice transmitting (I hoped) reticence.  Meeting people causes me despair.
     Guess so nothing! We’re gonna get fucked-up, buddy!” He was wearing a Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band T-shirt, gray sweatpants decorated with stains, and flip-flops. I felt absurdly kindred, don’t ask me why. Two aging drunks reflecting each other, I guess. “Hey, y’wanna come in and drink a couple brews with me?” he said.
     “Oh, no thanks. I have to get going.”
    He frowned at me. His face was craggy, heavily-lined. Rosacea was there, probably due to late-stage alcoholism. He looked about sixty. His gray hair was greasy, dripping down to his narrow shoulders. “No you don’t.” he said. “C’mon in and have a beer with me. Don’t insult me.”
     I pretended to think a moment. “Well, okay. Just one.” I have a really hard time saying No. It’s a problem I’m working on, mentally.
     “Yeah! There you go buddy!” He opened his door and held it for me. I entered his house. It smelled awful. Like feces and sour milk. I’d stepped into the dank belly of a foul and dark dimension. It took my eyes a few seconds to adjust to the meager light inside, all the shades were down.
     “Take a seat buddy!” he said.
     There were two seats, a kitchen-type wooden chair and a car bench-seat (green). I chose the wooden chair.
     He came over to me (standing way too close for my comfort) and handed me a green bottle of Heineken. “Let’s trade for the first one, Buddy! Gimme a Bud!”
     “Oh, okay.” I opened my 18-pack and handed him a can of Budweiser.
     “Cool compadre,” he said. “Here you go!” A bottle opener had materialized in his hand. I took it and opened the bottle. I stashed the cap in my pocket, handed him back the opener and took a sip of beer.
     “So what’s your name, buddy? I’m Gale.”
    “I’m Henry,” I told him, looking around at the emerging details of the house.
     Here’s what the place looked like: the carpet was light green, worn, and stained. Beer and soda cans and clothes and various wrappers littered the room. I noticed several mysterious crumpled balls of plastic wrap. Microwave meals? There were no books but there was a large collection of LPs stacked on metal, industrial-looking shelves. The kind of shelves you store tools on. On the bottom shelf was a stereo, two huge rock concert speakers stood like sentries on either side of the shelving unit. I looked at the albums. A Chicago album faced me. The walls were lime green. There was a torn Eagles poster on the wall opposite me. A mangy-looking black cat dozed by the shelves. It looked at me, yawned, and then went back to sleep. 
     “So, you from around here, Henry?” he (Gale now) asked after a slurp of Bud.
     “Uh, yes. I live just down the street. Just around the
corner.”
     “Yeah? How long?”
     “How long?” I couldn’t make sense of the question.
     “How long you lived there?”
     “Oh. Three years.”
     “Huh! It’s weird we never ran into each other before now! I been living here for eight!” He spoke in yells. I wanted to flee. I drank the Heineken, taking a long, rushed pull from the bottle.
     “That’s it Henry! Drink up, dude!” He went over to the shelves and started going through the albums. “You like The Allman Brothers, man?” he asked.
     I didn’t but said, “Yeah, sure.”
    Gale pulled out an album. “Fillmore East, dude!” he said, putting an album on the turntable. There was already an album on the turntable, he just plopped The Allman Brothers on top. He moved the needle over. The music filled the place, punctuated with hissing whispers and pops. An aged, well-played record. Gale collapsed into the car seat. “You married, Henry?”
     “No,” I said, then finished the Heineken.
     “Ever been?”
     I shook my head. “Where should I put this?” I held up the empty bottle.
     “Look around Henry! Just drop it on the floor! Ha ha ha!”
     I placed the empty bottle on the floor by the chair. For the first time I noticed peach pits and pistachio shells on the carpet.
     “Crack a Bud, dude!”
     He jumped up, reached into my 18-pack, and handed me a can. I was just about to say “Goodbye” too. Shit. I cracked open the can instead. “Thanks,” I said.
     “Dude! It’s your beer! You don’t have to thank me!”
     I shrugged. “Thanks anyway.”
    For the first time he seemed uncomfortable. I felt buzzed already. The long hiatus from drinking had lowered my tolerance. I took a guzzle of Bud. He returned to the car seat. “So what’s your deal, Henry?”
     “My deal?”
     “Yeah, you’re not married. You work?”
     “Oh, yeah. I work at FedEx.”
     “Yeah? That’s cool! You a driver? A delivery man?”
     “Um, no. I’m a just a package handler on The Sort.”
     “That sucks dude! I’m on disability myself! Bipolar!”
     I thought, This is my punishment for drinking. The deadening thought that now that we’d done this, we’d have to stop and talk whenever we came across each other. We had set a dismal precedent. I prayed he wouldn’t want to exchange phone numbers because there was no fucking way. I didn’t need a friend.
     I nodded and took another long swallow of Bud. My best escape was to get drunk. Then maybe I’d have the courage to leave.
     Gale’s eyes were closed and he was moving his head to the music. “Don’t you just love this shit?!” he asked, meaning, presumably, the music.
     “Yeah, it’s good,” I lied.
     He drained his can and then tossed it on the floor, opened a Heineken. 
     “Hey, dude,” he said, eyes closed again.
     “Yes?”
     “Wanna see a magic trick?”
     Silence gathered around the question.
     “Wanna see a magic trick, dude?” he said again.
     “Okay,” I finally answered, already fearing the worst.
     The worst was what I got. He placed his beer on the floor and then stood up, facing away from me.
     “Abracadabra, dude.” He pulled down his sweatpants, mooning me. My buzz evaporated fast. Then he leaned forward and spread his buttocks apart. I heard him grunt and a glob of shit came out and plopped on the floor. He grunted again and one of those little armless, legless Fisher-Price Playskool people came out. It hit the floor; the green, balding “dad,” figure. I stood up, horrified.
     “Wait! There’s more!” he said and then grunted again. This time, the little blue “mom” figure with the blond bun came out. This was followed by the little pig-tailed girl figure. He kept grunting and pushing.
     It was then that I decided to get the hell out of there. I was halfway to the door when I heard him yell, “Dude! Wait! I’m gonna levitate next!”
     I darted out the door, thinking; The farmer, the dog, the
freckled little boy, etc... I was down the street and almost home before I realized I’d left my case of beer behind.
     I didn’t go back for it.