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Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation & Light

bart plantenga

Furman Pivo believes he [plus beer] may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same and the rest is history or myth or delusion.

Beer Mystic Invitation: Participate in a unique literary adventure that will take you on the longest, rowdiest literary pub crawl ever. Follow the Beer Mystic's story around the world through a global network of host magazines. [next excerpt at end of chapter /cover by David Sandlin]

<< Beer Mystic Excerpt #5: Big Bridge

6 When I finally managed to finagle an escape scenario out of her house it was midnight. And then my pity for her started to sink in – her conversational tact, her seductions, her exaggerated smudges of lipstick stretching way beyond the furthest contour of lip, her former prowess, the way she clung to the few good photos of herself. You want to say: the more you lunge the easier it is to dodge you. You want to say: You suffocate what you love. And I wonder what the fuck I am doing. Oh, she had once been something to somebody. She had been on TV, in the press, had a style, a record or 22 – I know her rιsumι like others know poems. I saw those 45s with their intriguing labels [Pussyfoot, Chi-Tow, Firmament, Bean Me Up] she had even played them on her warped stereo unit, which made all music sound like it came from some deep, grey sea, like the songs had been carried through the Rockies, like they had withstood severe temperature changes in the trunk of a Ford Maverick. She had once had tits that everyone respected and called breasts. The kind you really want to fondle, go to town with… Yes.

            And then I’d find myself – or at least some kind of floor mop that reminded me of myself – walking the streets again, the misrepresentation of me that was just drunk enough to get nostalgic. To pity her; of course, in less than a week I’d want her pussy again, along with all the folds of skin that she would serve up as mock labia.

            Anyway, there I’d be outside on the plain of grime – “what saith deep midnight’s voice?” – amongst the pock-faced junkies and grunts, the paint fumes from chop shops where Elsa got lightheaded “and lightheaded makes me easy.” Pioneer of a New Promised Land, a substratum terra incognita, a neglected parcel of toxic land that could be re-colonized and in some respects already had been. The Gowanus smells like Turkish Taffy tonight.

            I found myself instinctively reaching for my only weapon – a pen. It had already jabbed a perp/mugger in the face. I mean, I think he intended to mug me. Although he could have merely been asking me for a light. You don’t stand still in these disputed quadrants of the Brooklyn dark because you quickly become their target. We don’t take chances in a dark that was designed by others.

            For instance, eventually I started carrying a knife, a Chinese knock-off Swiss Army knife, not because I felt safer but also because I felt more useful. At a party [I hadn’t even been invited to] I found myself with someone else’s Swiss Army knife, opening a number of foreign beers and uncorking Gamays brought by lithe mocha-epidermal women, who had voices like Eartha Kitt. And so by the end of the party [the good beers had all been sucked dry] I departed with it up my sleeve – a new appendage. It was as if my body had evolved to its newest level of functioning – to open foreign beers at parties. Open beers, open hearts, open legs [I didn’t say that!]. As if suddenly useful was chic, and prepared was sexy. And for beautiful women, I became a convenient godsend, a character, a dependable sentinel at their command – “Can you open this for me, sweetheart?” Yes, some cachet was squeezed from all this... down and out-ness.

            Yes, that is how I must think of it as I wander unto the strip girding the Gowanus Canal. There you cry tears that you cannot explain without some understanding of chemistry. I cry because the air above the water is sour and toxic – melted plastic, burning rubber, PCBs, rotting flesh. Or because the houses seem to collapse before your very eyes and the sad dusty Xmas lights are never taken down and the Italian guys ride around and around in their jacked up pony cars through their Carroll Gardens looking for something they cannot see. It is September – or is it? – and one must be brave when confronting the dark sadness at the precise location of where the sky reflects the pavement.

            When I got home it was 2 a.m. and I stare at the note Georg has tacked to my front door: DEER KOMRAD, THAT DREADFULL ODER? BODY PARTS IN BASEMEANT? WHO CALLS FOR INFESTEGATION. He cooks forgotten tubers, black potatoes at odd hours. Behind several thick but moist and semi-porous walls, painted a sour sanitarium green, I hear Pasha Georg playing Wagner on his old hi-fi set. I think it is “Siegfried” because that is his favorite. “You are like this Siegfried,” he has told me more than once. The Motive of the Valkyrs, the Motive of the Gods’s Stress, the Motive of the Dusk of the Gods. You can almost picture him Georg in his Lawrence of Arabia get up, conducting an imaginary orchestra with his vintage sabre. Something about the Boer War. Hear him bellow over the music “Waken, Wala! Wala! Awake from lasting sleep…”

            I stood there for a second and I now began to realize that Djuna’s old agoraphobic visions [no other word for them] were not all that wacked after all. She had been onto something and I never noticed – beer and pussy obscuring my vision! As they say. I remember her wild arms twirling like propellers, her hands swelled by the consumption of a great number of beers. Djuna would say things like: “Out there’s nothin’ but a big ashtray with teeth.” There was a time, you know, the charmed period, romance, do each other’s toes, flowers for monthly anniversaries, blow jobs in public, back when personal annoyances were amusing quirks … And then, and then, something gave. The roof caves in, the ice sculpture melts, her drug dealer [ex-lover!] disappeared without a trace. And suddenly doing nothing is no longer fun or alternative or creative resistance. It’s boring.

            This is all before she became so – how else to put it? – hopelessly realistic, so staunchly utilitarian, before function and purpose began snuffing out all flippancy and serendipity. I mean, she used to have vision and a sense of fun, shoplifting on a dare, running down St. Marks pillaging at random... slam-dancing at Soho art openings, no to-do lists... Those were the days! And get this, years later at parties she goes around claiming that we were the world’s first slam dancers when it became all the rage.

            She wasn’t even my ex yet and already we were living in the future past tense. Being clean, in Narcotic Anonymous [We played with the acronym at her expense: Neurotic Assholes, Nothing Accomplished...] had managed to give her the character of a snub-nose pearl-handled pistol of verifiable accuracy – at close range. God, and how I loved her back then, all 4 feet and 11 inches of her. Back then being before I moved into her place. Back when the truth about my being a “Pet Rock Repairman” or the highest paid foot messenger in the Five Boroughs was something deliriously curious and entertaining to her. These are the kind of jobs that make your later success [if it ever comes calling] all the sweeter. She believed me precisely because it was so unbelievable! But now the ridiculous had gone on for too long and it no longer worked in my favor. “Come on, get serious, get a checking account…” I was no longer surreal and entertaining; the ridiculous was precisely ridiculous now. And pathetic. And you get associated with pathetic and you go down fast in New York.

            “This ashtray’s also got a big powerful sucking action,” I remember her great resilient lips vacuuming me from chin to chest. “A whirlpool of screeching steel and splintered chicken bones.” Necklace of loving teeth marks strung across my torso. Which made hairs quiver in bodily nooks and shadowy undersides and orifices I didn’t even know I had. But, again, that was before. And now I have to ask myself: Was it love, me, or the drugs? Although drunkenness, reverie, love and memory all make a shambles out of now and then, out of plot lines and sequence and sense. Events go back and forth, get twisted like twine and if that matters you are in trouble – until you buy an agenda.

            I remember one summer eve, under our bedroom window, in the relentless commotion, some girl is out there in the street and she wants to know; “What is all this? A wall of flesh or sumpin’!? I’m gonna join me a zoo! Gonna pose nude for all yooz, be the star of your thousand fuggin’ home videos!” She was the gargoyle that guarded our stoop. A pretty girl with a bark and a sweet snivel into a jazz sleeve. In any case, she added exotic verve to the ‘hood. The more she despised the tourists’ insatiable appetites for consuming all experience, the more colorful she turned up in their snapshots. The more they had to talk about their NY adventure in their homes in Clifton and South Orange. And, indeed, if you are bored with the life you have chosen, you can for a price live in a kind of inverted Disneyland, surround yourself with exotic creatures – many of them discarded anti-social misfits from the very suburbs and small towns where the Chamber of Commerce gives misfits one-way bus tickets to the Big Apple to rid the community of a social problem and eventually use the fact that New York has more crazies and uses more tax dollars to maintain them than the suburbs against it in order to show one’s indignant and insecurely tainted sense of superiority. Or you move there. Or you come visit and you see the crazy on the stoop and you have this strange sense of familiarity or dιjΰ vu.

            “I BE your porn star, BAby!” A man accompanied her on garbage cans laid on their sides. They sounded like Santana. I don’t know, and she sounded so right on, like some Nina Simone with a tornado coiffure. But I was afraid to admit I was agreeing with someone who was so far gone. I could’ve been all wrong about our stoop gargoyle. I never ventured some “amen” response out the window. Camaraderie – even simple niceties – are suspect around here. Take the lesbian woman living in “our” building. Eating macrobiotic at places where eating slow is religion hasn’t helped her mindset one bit. She does look like a fuzzy gray version of Anne Waldman or Diane DiPrima working as an assistant bookkeeper at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project or something. For months I said hello to her as we passed in the hallway. Finally one day she turns to me, aims her slender forefinger at my throat and says “Fuck off you piece of shit.” I am speechless.

            And now I fret, I breathe hard, put my ear on our front door, and I gauge whether the coast is clear. And like that, I’m now terrified to be out in my own hallway. Every sound I think its slow chewer or Georg or the Ukranian ladies. I mumble “Ja vas kokha ju” as I pass them. My declaration of love does not alter their wet dishrag scowls. I will have Pawel at work teach me to say “No, I do not work for the KGB.”

            Meanwhile, other fucked-up types – the kind, like you and me, who get fucked up trying to keep up with fucked-upness all around them – think you’re going to bum money off them if you’re nice. But they’re onto you; you can tell by that snide little wound of sneer they give you. They think nice is weak or a con job. The words in the dictionary don’t mean what they say anymore. I stopped saying “hello” because it sounds too much like “I want to knife you or fuck you or steal your dog’s bowl of Laddie Boy.”

            I cannot emphasize enough how back then, during our honeymoon season, me and Djuna were a happy fused WE molecule and we had no time for sleep. Wasn’t it the Maharishi who claimed we don’t need to sleep if we meditate twice daily for 20 minutes? I had imposed a regimen to see how close I could come to not sleeping: love or what comes beyond that [if love is marijuana, then whatever the cocaine equivalent of emotion would be], meditation, coffee, hyper-activity, beer, intense conversation where your dreams for changing the world suddenly become a likelihood. I mean, it worked for a couple of months, anyway. But you have to assume the consequences: a new – more poetic – syntax where speculation is equal to fact, levitation, dislocation, phantom hallucinations, hearing things…

            Notes I wrote down back then are hard to decipher when I look at them now. But it seems that at a week or so of no sleep I heard myself sounding like Charles Baudelaire in an argument with Rip Taylor and Louis Armstrong at 78 rpms. I mean, it sounds wacked but there you are in the Holiday Bar and your going at it, tearing into the conventional logic of the universe and they are all nodding their heads in unison in full agreement. Actually, we didn’t know anybody who really slept a lot. The idea was cocaine, No-Doz, caffeine and a LIFE TO LIVE because if you slept you might miss something, somebody might get something up on you. You might become the victim of a lapse in vigilance. Paranoia was the name of the pet we took for eternal walks. I kept the windows open to keep hot from getting too hot. We sweat the sweat you never see in Hollywood versions of tenement bohemias. There was no way to turn the radiators off – ON meant on, but so did OFF. I knew they – those theys that are not me – couldn’t get in this way unless they [the “they” inside all of us] used a helicopter or a catapult. Or astral projection. It’s all been done – Army surveillance copters “leased” to the city utilize infrared technology to detect privacy wrongdoings as well as the sophisticated windowsill cultivation of cannabis plants.

            This all used to make sense. We had claimed a kind of inspired lunacy as a reprieve from the paranoia – every night the international [Grenada, Chernobyl, El Salvador, Reagan re-election] would invade the sanctum of the personal. Bed, bedlam, Bedouin were all related in my dictionary. And so you may remember me [or am I flattering myself?] as that slender boy with the beer in paper sack in left hand who might sleep walk with the remains of a waning six-pak in a rucksack until dawn made me feel like an alien in an alien world. That’s a clichι but it is a valid experience: Although you might stand on a corner and tell yourself that this is really happening and the next your wondering if your words are lying to your mind – everyone is tumbling out of the subways, off the buses, strange evasive eyes, hands struggling to straighten ties as they gallop past, all headed this way and you’re headed that way, crawling home.

            So, our insanity [that of our kindred spirits] was a kind of performance art that would purge us of the times, the times that would not have us – the us who were confined to this place here in Downtown Beirut or the Holiday or Sally’s and the them were everywhere else like McSorley’s where cops once beat Leroi Jones to a pulp for being an uppity Blackman who liked his beer.

            Sometimes Djuna made me stand before her recumbent splendor wrapped in the humid bed sheets so that she could shake my low-hanging testicles like fuzzy dice and stare at me with her gray dirty-glacier eyes. Her mind was like the ruins of the temple of Isis – filled with thousands of phalli. She had had older men in the palm of her hand and they had had her in the folds of their wallets. Ditto for younger. Her solace was an equation of being had that was always less than having had someone. She’d take one testicle as a lozenge and place it in the back of her cheek, back where the voice becomes something special, something to be heard. Then places the other in the right cheek and hums and hums and hums like a Tibetan Buddhist monk or soul singer dressed in sartorial silk.

            Then she’d place one in each of her eye sockets like one might delicately place [to not spill a drop] green olives in matching martinis. And she might have said, “Mine eyes have seen the gory.”

            I remember the odd spiral, the way my forefinger was fascinated by the seashell spiral of her earrings and the impression they left in the skin near my navel after she’d pressed her ear [attached to her brew-sloshed or psilo-silly nog] to my trunk for awhile. I remember this while standing in the doorway; the apartment suddenly feeling like a neglected diorama in a museum basement.

            We used to flick dying roaches [Thai or Jamaican] from the damp bed, aiming for the window, too drunk and stoned to even think of anything resembling an upright position [Upright and vertical meant the man, paternalistic, phallic…]. Sometimes these lit roaches got caught in the lacy curtains. And in no time they were pocked with a constellation of burn holes [which reminded us of the universe’s architecture, which only made us snicker some more] and from here we created our own constellations and charts, divined our future. Sometimes the embers got flicked out onto the people hanging out below. Maybe they thought meteors or smokestacks – you know, like the ones at the Con Ed plant where they burn tons of garbage [that’s the rumor anyway]. And the particulant-dense toxins tickle our flared nostrils when we least expected it. But that was so long ago – months, weeks, years, hours... I can’t keep track.

            More than once we worried about fire, still do. I mean, the lady in #12 used to have this wild dog. When she walked it she had to muzzle it. Everybody hates her because of this dog – doesn’t she understand this? – she gets rid of the growling beast she thinks she needs to protect her from those who hate her and – voila! – the source of hatred is eliminated and suddenly she’d have friends again… But that is not how the human soul is assembled. I mean, you used to be able to hear this beast a block away, its claws digging into the cement sidewalk, choking itself on the end of its chain, ready to tear the head off a kid or attack your ankles. And she’d turn around and blame you for being scared, which only encouraged him. “He smells fear,” she’d say.

            I think: 3-legged dogs. I think: On her death bed will she wonder how much better would my life have been without that beast? It barks at anything even contemplating movement. And I can still picture it up there on her stove, her screaming for help, me scrambling up the stairs, it barking at rats with wings, it catching fire, igniting the fake lace, and sending this whole rat trap up in smoke. Me putting out the flames in a fit of heroism. She later blaming me for hurting her beast and causing water damage and stealing some of her silverware.

            Tentative and tenement may have the same Latin root. This will have to be checked at the library. Our apartment was an illegal sublet you never knew what the super, who did some time for a crime we can only guess at, might perpetrate: He might try to burn us out or like 6 months ago, try to flood us out with a broken water pipe “accident.” He may be subsidizing Georg’s rent to keep him there and drive the rest of us out. It may be him or Georg, for that matter, who is dragging large maritime chains across a wooden floor. Or percussive thumps at all hours against my front door. Like a warning. When I leap to check, there is no one there, only a weird cord swaying ever so slightly under the sick rancid butter-colored light. And I can see the catastrophe before my eyes, a whole life full of love letters, photos with writing on the back, Cramps records, and knickknacks from great adventures – POOF! – gone like that, tossed out on the street, charred at the edges, running ink…

            I asked one of the gargoyle Ukrainian ladies one day what that cord was for and they looked at me as if I had asked them whether they masturbate to the image of the almost-naked Jesus. I believe they believe that you pull that cord and the whole building falls down. Ok, so I won’t touch it but only in deference to their belief system. I sometimes stare at it precisely where the cord goes into a small hole in the ceiling.

            “It’d do everybody good to lose everything every couplea years.” I swear I’ve heard Djuna talk like that. She was not sentimental about stuff, the past, mementoes. It’s this type of calamity scenario that actually resuscitated Djuna – a Phoenix thing – still does. She’d be sitting pretty because all my past(s) would be lying there in a small pile of smoky ash, no longer able to lurk and linger – and drive her crazy. I once caught her scrawling snide and snippy comments in the margins of old high school love letters she’d found buried away in my part of the closet. I mean, I didn’t even unpack my bags – see relation between tentative and tenement above.

            Any remnant of sobriety can breed this kind of linear sophistry. Thus I reach for another beer [a metaphysical one, perhaps one brewed at a Trappist monastery, perhaps a Chimay White – pron. “she may” – a brew of dry hoppy finesse, one that goes down satisfyingly although not without a battle] in an attempt to reverse, in some small way, the spin of this earth.

            I’m on the ground floor, Djuna is gone, so tonight I’m alone again, and when I turn down Joy Division and really listen, I can hear the howls of the half-dozen guard dogs that, according to Georg, Marco the super keeps hungry in the basement.




7 “I remember the dark heads in our red Rambler,” I tell Djuna. “Me and my brother counting seas on the moon, drawing’m on my Etch-a-Sketch like faces with eyes and mouth. So that faraway places could look more like us. I remember thinking brown cows, like the ones at the farm museum with their butts aimed back at us, made the chocolate milk served to us at the end of the tour. My old man would say that all we needed to do was pump the tail to get my own glass full.”

            “I remember you used to be interesting.” Djuna, being close at hand, moving around, folding things, putting them away, made cringing attempts to taunt me out of these childhood reveries that irresponsibly never included her. Ah, when we were young [Eric Burdon & the Animals], those honeymoon dog days when I could do no wrong with her – literally! – I could do NO WRONG. That is freedom. But that feeling died and I could now do no right even if I was Gandhi, Cary Grant and Joey

Ramone rolled into one.

            “If I can’t be included in these filmstrips I will keep you from letting them take you as far as they would take you if they could.” She was young then: pixy, brash, part of the Young Artists Take Manhattan group that included Clutch, Samo, Constant I, and Krazy Kat. Her nom-de-flourish was “Lil Dude” because she was a tomboy who thrived on dares, threw herself out of a cab going 45 mph after the man who wished to keep her forever – as in kept woman – had posted a Valentine to her on the Times Square text “zipper.” That’s right, tossed herself out to see if he was man enough to deal with dares. He wasn’t although he remained obsessed with her [or at least the memory of how he wished her to remain for all time]. When I met Djuna, she was living somewhere between faith and paranoia.

            “That swaying chest-high grass – warm and full o’ crickets – like whispers at dusk as I romped around naked through a field with no end.”

            “Oh, is this gonna be like Little Hubby On The Prairie? Oh, God, leave me alone!”

            “Commentary ignored. I’d sit up on a tree limb with the setting sun on my dick. I thought of how many times my mother had told strangers and neighbors alike how long she’d been in labor – 42 hours. Or somethin’ like that. How everything about me drove her crazy right down to the flap of uncircumcised skin. Scrubbing under there like there was no tomorrow.”

“I hope this is not a come on.”

Maybe this was her way of keeping up with the general inflation of disbelief like there had to be a logical, understandable reason why she felt so… alienated from her life, her surroundings, her neighbors... And I remember how my mother said the midwife supposedly said I didn’t really want to come out, that I was holding on to the inside of the womb, ‘like a scared cat hangs onto a sweater like he knows something we don’t.’ I jumped off the branch, hid my dick between my thighs in the fields to be the girl.”

            Djuna was all ears – and orifices – and made me get out of bed to demonstrate. And kneeling before me on the bed, she caressed me the way a girl might caress another girl. A tender, satirical ham was she. But that was long ago. Did I mention that already? Long ago.

            Did I tell you she was so light that I could carry her around like a bowling ball with one finger in her asshole and one in her pussy? Well, it’s true. You can ask her. She liked it too.

            “I imagined being a girl, sun beating down on my theoretical rearrangement of genitalia up in that tree in the pasture, counted the cows like they were clouds and waited in the limb’s crux for my body to start doing something.”

            Djuna began rolling her eyes, rolling them the way a steamroller rolls down a street. She just had no patience for what she called “revisionist innocence.”

            “At sundown in the campground, tiny lights hung suspended in the big dark like Xmas lights in a roadside tavern. Lit tents and trailers in the darkness full of insects and their predators and the predators of those predators. And what good is light? All it does is attract smogs of blood-sucking mosquitoes. I remember I wasn’t gonna talk for a week on that camping trip as a protest or something – like if I didn’t talk I couldn’t sound stupid and then maybe girls would like me.”

            “Sounds like a fine strategy to me.”

            “OK, OK, but my parents put a stop to that, they got really mad and forced me to make friends in the campground, dragging me around by the hand and introducing me to groups of kids. ‘People are not people, Furman, unless they talk.’ My ole man used to say.”

            “PuhLEASE! Spare me! I vote for inhuman, then.”

            “‘Talk! TALK!’ M’ole lady started screaming, as they shook me and shook me. Then my ole man tricked me into responding by ridiculing my favorite rock bands – Lovin’ Spoonful and the Rascals – called them homos or stewpots or... That got me going. And, yea, I defended those bands! In the campground we caught fireflies by the hundreds...”

            “This is as cute as a Disney flick.”

            “We put’m in a jar, then held the jar like a lantern to illuminate us doing these wild, hammy scenes from movies. Casting crazy shadows against big outcrops of stone. I did a kissing scene and then a choking scene. You know, like in early silent movies. Henrietta walked the pirates gangplank. Helen struggled with a knife-wielder.”

            “How thoroughly heart-rending.”

            “I sorta liked them. The glisten of a front tooth like Helen’s still gets me going. It’s easy to say, but really, these days it’s not. Like me, they did not want to squeeze fireflies between their fingers to see if the juice, the blood – if that’s what it was – was phosphorescent. Or swing toads by their legs over their heads like they were twirling lariats until the centrifugal force drove their guts inside out like Jamey and Paul used to do.”

            “Awh, yer so sensitive!”

            “OK. I mean they were my friends so I had to act like it was the greatest when their guts came out. It’s what gets us in trouble later in life. Isn’t it? Boy scouts, football hooligans, bullying, armed forces, good ole boys network... ”

            “I’m gonna meditate now…”

“During mating season, the female firefly hangs around on a fat, bare twig, responding to signaling males flying by. Her responses allow them to establish range and recognition. And the attractiveness of her flashing backside, her pale winking light guides the right male with the right lighting code in for a landing like she’s some amorous air traffic controller. Each firefly emits a unique signal that proclaims its species, sex, and excitability. I remember the burning itch in my crotch area that night after my romp through the fields.”

“OK, maybe tell it to National Geographic.”

I remember in the tent having to show my father where it itched. And, while Henrietta and Helen sat with my mom and brother by the campfire, my father sterilized a razor blade with some rubbing alcohol. He then made me lay down on the cot so that he, sweat dripping off the end of his nose, Coleman lantern hissing, could carve out the tick from underneath my scrotum. I later joined the girls at the campfire wondering what they were wondering. Was my limp noticeable? Did they even care?”

            “Or me for that matter!”

            “Adrenaline is what stimulates the ass of the firefly.”

            “I wish it was that easy for us humans.”

            “For you its venom.”

            “Oh, yea, I’m poison, Furman.”

            “You said my name!... The firefly’s generator – I’m rememberin’ this from when I was like 14 – is apparently like some compact honeycomb churning with swirls of cool but intense radiance. Fueling the light is luciferin, or “light-bearing” substance, which oxidizes with luciferase, an enzyme produced in the stomach, when air is let in through small breathing ducts.”

            “Oh yea, those sexy breathing ducts.”

            “My body, at 14, was all fucked up with awkwardness and self-doubt. ‘Don’t sit too close to the fire with all them combustible hormones.’ Body parts conspiring to betray my best interests.”

                        “Gag me.” As utterance of disgust or as provocation to extreme sex? Djuna simply ignored me as much as possible. But then later she doused me in dark beer and drank of me to drain my flesh of all toxins and memory. I do not know to this day how she did it.

            “Just shut up,” She whispered. “The less you reveal the more attractive you are.” Her flip-flop moods, from fire to ice, from ire to nice, was both vexing and challenging. Love and hate, fire and rain. [In my odd circles of not-quite friends, my ownership of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain was still being used as an argument against my full membership.]

            “Seventeen says a guy reaches his sexual peak at 17.”

            “It’s all downhill from there, a 60-year slide.”

            “I imagined for a long time that all happiness was contained in the glistening, graceful arms of Helen swimming in the morning lake.”

             “That’s what makes you so charming, always telling me things I don’t wanna hear...”

            “While women – I’m harda hearing! – have hormones that keep them waiting till their 27 or 28 even.

            “Or forever in our case.”

            “Listen, I can get letters of recommendation from...”

            “I doubt they’re even old enough to write.”

            “Ouch. ‘What’s god tryin’ to do,’ Henrietta says, ‘make it difficult before we even get started?’ I sometimes still see those lips, their sculptural butterfly perfection flitting before my eyes lit by the campfire. I always associated lip and the “lep-” prefix of the lepidoptera order of butterflies, so that when I saw a butterfly they were really the lips of Henrietta, a physical manifestation of a spiritual state.”

            “Please! Spare me!” Djuna’s jealousy disguised by contempt or vice versa was as becoming as a beached transparent jellyfish revealing all its pockets of poison. “Just bury it in your next book that won’t get published.”

            “At Lake George, one night a thunderstorm carved a river out of the road and sent forks of light crashing through the hemlocks. It sent mom, head full of curlers, dragging us in ‘jamas through a downpour to the car. We faked sleep in the backseat, watched her wipe the steam from the window to gaze at the tent. She cracked the window to curse nature or the pact my ole man thought he was making with it. A car, she told us, is the safest place, because it’s grounded by the rubber tires. The ole man lingered in the tent, determined to ride out the storm. Lightning lit his silhouette shaking a fist at the heavens. Tipping a bottle back. Hunched over his transistor radio, drawing in stations from far away. Mom, through a crack in the window, yelled for him to get his reet in the car. That’s Lowlandian for ass. She only swears in Lowlandian when she’s outta control. He raged back, his defiant knuckles punching the inside of the tent. I think thunder reminded her of air raids, as a teen, in Amsterdam back in 1944. Even today we kid her when she heads for the basement, where she sits and waits out the storm in darkness in the middle of Pennsylvania. That morning...”

            “Oh, please don’t stop, I’m almost asleep.”

            “...the sky was clear and crisp. Campers wrung out their wet clothes. My father asleep in the tent. Wet floor. His hair wild on the damp pillow. The branches of the trees totally black with rain. And when I went to visit Helen and Henrietta I found their campsite abandoned, empty, disappeared. They were gone. No goodbye, nothin’.”

            “They were smarter’n I gave’m credit for.”

            “I scoured the site, kicked the pine needles around, looking for clues, secret messages perhaps contained in the way they had left a neat pile of kindling. And I was just going to ask them to be my pen pals. And it was in that instant of discovering that empty campsite that I discovered where self-loathing meets regret.”

            “Heavy! I can show you plenty of other places you can look.”

            “You know, a firefly’s foreplay and reconnaissance maneuvers dampen under a bright full moon. Don’tcha get it? Fireflies shy away from urban auroras of too much light that muck up the purity of the night’s darkness and messes with their signals. The darker the night, the greater the connubial activity.”

            “Tell me something I don’t already don’t wanna know.”

            “Later I’d figure out the same at necking parties – the girls’ arms were never as lithe and perfect as Helen’s; the lips never as magnificent as the butterfly lips of Henrietta – like at pool dances and spin-the-bottle circles.”

            “Tragedy of the romantic womanizer.”

            “The amount of necking and tongue-kissing was always inversely proportional to the number of watts, the interior’s brightness. People just don’t make out under thousands of watts of floodlight. Like at a mall: You never see people making out at a mall cuz light equals crippling self-consciousness. The more darkness, the greater the surge toward liberty.”

            A curious piece of light sat tauntingly off to one side in Djuna’s left eye. Like a stiletto made of light. Sleep deprivation, beer, horniness, the killer heat, doubt, synaesthesia. Did it mean she was about to pounce?

            “Don’t you see what I’m getting’ at? I had a revelation. And every once in a while, ever since those firefly and necking nights discoveries, I’ve wanted to live by a campfire, have that be the illumination of our lives, and I think ‘less unbearable wattages,’ shoot out the massive lights like at the county fair – Bing! Bing! – that illuminate shopping-mall parking lots to undo what doing had done. I take it you don’t see what I’m drivin’ at.”

            “Nothin’ like biographical revisionism … I see you reachin’. Amen – ugh – aah men.”


Beer Mystic excerpt #8


bart plantenga is also the author of Wiggling Wishbone and Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man both published by Autonomedia. His book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World received worldwide attention. He is currently [not] working on a new novel, Paris Sex Tete, which lies around like an apathetic, half-clad, dissheveled paramour while his new book on yodeling Yodel in HiFi, will no doubt be a bread-winner of epiglottal proportions.


His life has been defined by women, undignified employment [not unlike 98% of the rest of the world’s population], migration, lack of money and writing. His writing focuses on inequity, unempowerment, insatiable desire, the unentitled, the under-regarded, ignored and ineffable, which has led to a life of luxurious suffering and indellible indifference to profit.

His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air since 1986, first on WFMU [NY], then Radio Libertaire [Paris], and finally Radio 100 and now Radio Patapoe [Amsterdam], the world’s most untamed and oldest pirate radio station. He lives in Amsterdam.





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