Beer Mystic Excerpts #15 Two-hundred-twelve thousand accidents occur annually in the home; I’m better off lying in the middle of a street or heading to the Holiday or the Black & Blue or Bar Nickel Bill against First Avenue traffic. But even though I’ve ordered a thousand beers in Bar Nickel Bill I might as well be from Planet X, Y, or Z as far as they care. And when you order a foreign beer – even if its Canadian! – they look at you like you just ordered caviar from Mars. You look at the bartender after three years of coming here and he looks at you like you’re a hole in a wall. Of course, if you’re a generous $1-per-beer tipper you’re suddenly royalty – but actually just desperate to win his approval, a smile, and a “beer on the house” every – I don’t know – sixth round. The guy suddenly get a personality. Complains that Black Monday has really “had a negative sales effect” on his new record. Some people think this freedom of nobody caring is modern, liberating and they come all the way from Bohunk wherever, where they were known and maybe even appreciated, to here, NYC, where they will be ignored with a special fervor – I rehearse what I must tell Elsa, and myself – where sometimes ignoring someone with more care and cunning is the only way to even the score of you yourself being ignored. I came to NY Beverly Hillbillies-style in an orange Datsun 510 with my Chrissie Hynde-lookalike girl friend, from Flint, Michigan. The bartender wants to know where my Chrissie Hynde is tonight. This is as close as he gets to sensitive. My drinking partners are dusty fixtures glued to swivel stools. Like bowling pins in an abandoned bowling alley. They stoop to vicious prayer over shots of phlegmish amnesia or Rusty Nails Piels on tap, cracking their
bulbous knuckles with the ballgame on, tell you to shut up if you’re whispering too loud. They complain better than most, more than most; they complain about everything. Fuckin’ Mandela released from prison, no fuckin’ increase in the minimum wage after all, fuck’m – yelling at the TV “Reagan, you give them bureaucrat rascals hell – fuckin’ condom commercials on TV, fuckin’ garbage pick up these days, fuckin’ mayor, fuckin’ wives, fuckin’ kids these days, fuckin’ Yankees, fuckin’ Mets, fuckin’ Giants, fuckin’ Jets, fuckin’ Knicks, fuckin’ Nets, and how about that fuckin’ Cicciolina, the whore in the Italian Parliament and we ain’t allowed to see her fuckin’ tits on TV, and there’s five fuckin’ billion people in the world now. It’s getting’ too fuckin’ crowded.” Flatulence is sometimes the profoundest thing you’ll hear in an entire night spent in Bar Nickel Bill. “Bring back the fuckin’ death penalty and put it on fuckin’ nationwide TV. That’ll learn’m.” They come in early with their rolled up New York Posts, lay claim to their chunk of bar, their stools, their piles of sharp objects and musty misconceptions. Some have dreams, they are full of revenge and Rambo, they are the dreams of others, of hunting trips, the hunting trips of others. The rest, aged somewhere between 40 and 80 just sit there, dusty in mid-swivel, mid-puff, mid-sip, mid-simmer, mid-regret. I am a stranger to them, them to me. You’re not the first to ask why I come here then. I don’t know. Habits don’t know from why. Convenience? I don’t know. There’s no reason, no excuse, no explanation. Except maybe I consider this place a microcosm of the world – and this is stretching it – if I can understand and conquer this place I can do the same outside. Nice used to stop by but they don’t know what to make of the only black chick with a Mohawk the color of a Van Gogh sunflower who has ever ordered a foreign beer other than Heineken here. And when she does they act like they don’t understand her accent. They hate it that she’s foxy, young, unattainable, incomprehensible, has a whole life ahead of her. Four strikes and you are out. Nice does not go into Bar Nickel Bill any more. That suits them all just fine. And when they wanna get under my skin, they talk about me like I’m not there. “He drink any more he’s gonna turn into a goddamn beer bottle.” Like it’s a private conversation and I don’t exist. “Better a bottle than a can.” “Whose talkin’ to you?’ “GOBlet.” I hear one say, guffawing at his own wit, as I get up to go to the john. “Better yet, a BULL-et, BULL-et, like POWPOW! HAHAHA.” I turn my head and see one of them aiming his fingers in the shape of an M1911 Colt .45 aimed at my back. In the toilet I think tea set, regret, bimbette “Frenchette,” [David Johanssen, first solo album], Rockette, “Warm Leatherette,” [the Normal, greatest minimalist punk single ever], the Corsets [great live, their records suck]… Remember, don’t flush the urinal, the water comes gushing out onto your crotch and sneaks. Major embarrassment. Grafitti on the john door: “33% of the angels fell from heaven, the rest staid in Jersey.” “As in BIM-bette,” I think I heard myself mumble. Two of the regs, Dick “Duckie” Vance and Tom “T.T.” Torrida, are exrock ’n’ rollers who’ve grown bitter and hunched over like Freak Brothers
balloons with some of the air leaked out, ever since their youth finally caved in at age 40-whatever. And now here they were, left holding nothing but a bunch of old 45s with their photos on the picture sleeves and two scruffy rat’s ass ponytails. Pretty much everyone in here patronizes them with pity or tolerates them by periodically spinning their 45s on the juke, even sing along a bit, fucking with the lyrics that don’t matter anyway. I refuse to play their singles on the juke: C12 and D12 – must-to-avoid! They were in this band – what were they called? Lieutenant Duckie’s Horny Hardup Club Band. Just look up and there’s an old poster. I’m getting the feeling the owner is their old man. They played mostly North Jersey, Jersey Shore and parts of Long Island. Did mostly cover versions, which they mangled so bad half the time you didn’t recognize the songs they were covering. Some call that improv or genius. Like they were jazz! Some put them in the same league as the Godz, as predecessors of Sonic Youth, as Son of Shaggs… Duckie has a forehead like a bunker you might see along the Normandy coast – gloom waiting to happen. All pocked and chipped from many a barroom brawl. T.T. is always calling his ole lady “battleaxe” except when she’s there, and then he calls her “darling.” But other than pick away at me once in a while, they mostly ignore me, especially with the ballgame on. They are content to pick lint off their threadbare garments or sell their black market videos of bad movies out of a battered cardboard suitcase. I get to study Duckie and T.T. more than they ever get to study me. This gets me absolutely nowhere except through the night. This is what they mean by peaceful coexistence. We are each of us profound for one instant, that snap of your fingers between too sober and too drunk and then it is gone. The spark lost to the dark. Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber elbow each other as a punky girl in knee-high boots, a cast on her arm, and black pants that are more grommet and hole than material, strides in with a blond robbed from an Ivy League cradle and together they press F-16 on the juke box, which is a song by Abba covered by Joan Jett, to which her and her girl friend begin to dance and sing along like they’re on a thick cotton candy cloud in heaven. “That’s shit,” Duckie declares, making what he thinks are lesbo gestures with his hand. “Hey, it’s on the box. You got somethin’ against fun?” “I got something against your lesbo kinda fun.” “I could easily just rip my cheap-ass panties off and put my periodblood stained panties right over your fuckin’ face and beautify America ever so slightly!” There is chuckling from the rest of the fat-knuckled crew. A dribble of brew down the chin – one of them can’t control his laughter. “Oooh girlie, you don’ gotta get nasty.” “Guess your mama never taught you about girls. Gimme two Spatens, please,” the punkette orders up. It’s adorable how she pronounces them “Spaytens.” “Right.” “Why you carry that Nazi piss, Hal?” One of the stool monks yelled over. “It sells to a discerning crowd,” Hal responds with an obsequious tiphunting smile.
“I’ll have one too, with a glass.” “Oh, our man from Lesbos is gonna have one too.” I consider instructing the two about the advantages of pouring beer like this into a glass to let it breathe. Let the beer breathe in a glass, I want to instruct, and you don’t get beer flatulence. Maybe next time. The punkette now did something even nastier, she simply and totally ignored both Tweedles. The news is on but we are not learning a lot: “Black Monday, a tragic day in American stock market history, took many analysts by surprise. Many blame a combination of so-called ‘program trading’ and the shelling of an Iran oil platform by US warships in the Persian Gulf in response to an Iranian missile attack on a US-flagged tanker off Kuwait’s coast. In any case, we are looking at a financial headache that will take some time to rebound from – maybe years. We will be right back after a message from our sponsors to answer more questions about the most dramatic one-day drop in prices in stock market history. So stay tuned… For real refreshment. Coke is it! ” “Fuckin’ dickwads! Only one who is gonna get squeezed is Joe Schmoe…” An argument had meanwhile ensued that rehashed the raging twoyear-long controversy between fans of New Coke, Coke Classic [“plain old Coca Cola as we have always demanded.”] and Pepsi. There were also a few who insisted they only drank Diet-Rite or Royal Crown. But they don’t count. I slipped out into a light sour rain. The rain brought me halfway back to consciousness. You shiver in October and that shiver reminds you that you’re still alive. I go home and adjust the bottles on my shelf. A shelf I had built at about 9 feet up, all the way around the living room to display a – by now – elaborate collection of beer bottles. Current faves: a vintage St. Pauli Girl with a joyous creature bursting out of her bodice, a Rosé de Gambrinus, the label of which shows a naked voluptuesse on the lap of Pan, and a metallic blue Delirium Tremens label on a clay bottle showing pink dancing elephants cavorting with jolly dragons. “You didn’ even ask my permission but I don’t give a shit.” Djuna, ever the generous one. “I’m halfway outa here anyway.” “Hello to you too. Whadda you doin’ here anyway?” “Don’t worry, I won’t be long. Are you lookin’ for a new place by the way?” “I’m lookin’ but I’m not findin’.” “Well, income like yours, maybe we can find you a closet somewhere.” “I guess you haven’t been here in a while. ’Bout a month?” “Somethin’ like that.” “It’s not a matter of likin’, it’s more like will I get my deposit back when I finally move out of here? Sublets are tricky at best.” I was distracted by my beer bottle museum, by the way I thought I could rearrange them my in a beer-bottle constellation – according to whim and mood, theme and various curatorial strategies. One week I arranged the alphabetical, then came a United Nations theme, types of beer. The curating strategy told me a lot about myself, more than astrology or therapy ever could. “Won’t the beer bottles stink and attract even more roaches?”
She thought it was all “cultish behavior that is part of the recrudescence of irrationalists, holy warriors, nocturnal hacks, and antiscientific emotionalists…” She was quoting from her own Masters thesis. Maybe I should have consulted her first. OK, but what’s done is done. Or maybe consult the part-time New Yorker guy she sometimes sees. You know I mean quote-sees-unquote. He, with his oarsmanship, his preppy insignias on his preppy sweaters, who feigns amazement at her historic art world antics – such as her Striperama featuring ugly men stripping and her line of jeans with the back pockets replaced by clear vinyl as a statement on “ass culture.” Flattery as the shoehorn to her pussy. In any case, she’s just his red badge of courage as far as I can tell. And then I get defensive about my general lack of education and go way overboard compensating. “Djuna, whatever happened to you, me and beer. I mean we were so… cool and the French word for alcohol, alcool, contains the word cool. You can’t get around it.” “There is no cool to be had here. You and your pathetic, I don’t even dare call them friends creating your own little caste system of cool. Like your anti-clubbies to the Limelight clubbies. Like your anti-beautiful to their beautiful. How exhausting, how futile, how pathetic!” “How much you were a part of it all just a couplea weeks ago!” “People move on, learn from their mistakes.” “You’re right, Djuna, I gotta solve my own riddles now. Jump in and outa my own pants.” I vow in the mirror. Not even noticing that she has already slipped out the front door. I look like a member of the Knack trying to look like Gerard Malanga . And with the flick of the light switch I notice I can obliterate myself. See on. Off gone. Totally wasted. That’s how light works on us. But our light switch jiggles, flickers and if I flick a certain way there’s a blue flash and the light pulsates. And there I stand looking at my body: pale, withdrawn, both coming and going, pulsing, warping in the lighting effects brought on by defective wiring. I see poisoned wells of insomnia digging deep dark sockets into my skull. I watch the bottle change shape in my hand. “I gotta go back out. I’m wasting some good looks on some ugly walls,” I say to the mirror. Sitting still in this place drives you nuts. I tip an imaginary hat to Djuna and warn her: “I got only one word for you, Djuna: sun stroke.” I bring my journal and before the end of my night I have two new black-eyes to write about – one in Stuyvesant Town and another that had once poured light over the old St. Marks Church Cemetery. It is out stone cold. The darkness accented by each outage gives my snuffed streetlights the characteristic glow of mica, like black gold, like equatorial eyes in a daze, like whispers hugging a dark window. Like dark is a thing worth applauding for. Soon the city will be saving on energy costs on my account and I will want a cut of these savings. My neighborhood changes overnight, so fast you don’t even remember what used to be in the now empty storefront. Nobody wants it. And yet the deli’s now a tanning salon that sells balloon bouquets, all occasions. The hardware store is now a Manicure Mall with hair extensions, all colors, half price. There is a discount Indian video store that also sells weird picture
frames. The bodega is full of screaming pink confections and the only health food it carries anymore is beer. The new spin put on the world leaves me dizzy. Tenements and condos cut up our loyalties. Smiling realtors and faceless absentee landlords with PO boxes in Florida “drag us around like potato sacks full of anxious locusts” [that’s from a poem by Runckle Köln]. And then us locusts with our high school diplomas in pathetic Woolworth’s frames are tossed into crumbling little Alamos; each Alamo will get further subdivided by loyalties to a particular floor. Tenants on any particular floor will see differences – features, characteristics – between themselves and those who inhabit the other floors. This is a universe that we are told is expanding like crazy, like we can’t even believe. Like before Black Monday the Yuppies were coming into the building bribing the super with a wad of money and suddenly managing to break rental contracts to find themselves a steal. Meanwhile our living spaces continue to implode, collapse, whittled down to alcoves and cabinet space. People sleeping under sinks with its builtin charm as character building detail as the only ones bragging about these hardships are the ones who are already using what is left of Bohemia as a colorful backdrop for the adventurous lives they will temporarily lead and be able to describe in vivid detail after they have been made partners in the firm. Man, when I lived in the East Village... This is not living space; it is either an off-beat and picturesque movie set for those who are treating the Village as a sandbox or a holding cell where people stew and smolder, for those who actually have to live here. Where the flimsy walls don’t do much to keep thing out or in. You can see how each apartment on every floor on every block in every hood in every city everywhere is further whittled down into compartments that contain solitary beings molting their bitter armors of misconception and oppression. Reheating bitter disillusionment over a gunkcovered stove. Here inside, this is where the strong stuff, the rot gut snuffs the weaker egos, the way Drano eats big globs of gunk and the drain sucks it up, down, and away. The mind of each inpatient in each compartment holds a blueprint of his or her particular living chambers, a template of oppressive isms, of big swaths of invading arrows pointing to repressed energies, locked drawers and retrenched desires. Each body manages to acclimate itself to, and becomes loyal to, its own cereal, own spoon, own solar system of petty irritations, and stashes of pilfered junk and tourist trinkets: Fort Ticonderoga, Luray Caverns, Wall Drug, a picture of the “famous” shoe house, along highway 30 outside Lancaster, PA. And even within the confines of the so-called sanctity of our bodies, various confederacies are being renegotiated. Various organs secede. Bitter and ravaged, the kidneys, bladder, lower intestine, mucous membranes, the heart-shaped prostate, the sympathetic nerve, and the lactiferous ducts of the breast were the first to mutiny. Some remain loyal to the heart. But there goes libido [organ or just a mood]. Is that an accurate assessment of the current state of compromised super-modernity? A state where the very gadgets of convenience and symbols of modern progress satirically mock us all because they do not lift us out of
the inconvenient truths of our debasement and flawed existences. In fact, they dig us into deeper holes and you can almost see the mocking laughter reflected off the impenetrable shine of these gadgets. Progress is an ironic acceleration of history, the shrinking of space, and the individualization of references, to create a personalized claustrophobia, the cruel knowledge that we have ever less psychic time to enjoy our ever foreshortening stay here… I write all this down frantically on a piece of cardboard as if writing down leads to more knowing and that knowing will somehow lead to satisfaction. Tomorrow we go to Djuna’s parents’ place Upstate. I forget why. I reach for another beer, for beer speaks a paragraph of triumph in the language of defeat. ~•~