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Photo: Davy Carren

Lighting his cigarette with a candle, his face all wrinkled like an organdy napkin, only in town for the weekdays, he solved his problems with agitated assaults on reason, funny as ever, still, the “something with so-and-so” of the occasion as always, and he told me, “Chinese cigarettes are only to be smoked while imbibing alcoholic beverages.”

Privileges and suggestions aside, contemptuously civilized, promising, sentient of every tiny detail that’s ever occurred. All this “me-me” time. Brahms for the masses to ignore. Tidier closets. Messier hallways. And pass the ease, Lease. A bowered borrower needs increase in shade. Then he disappeared into the curvature of the earth. White shoes and Chinese cigarettes. That’s that.

The easiest cull from the pack, an unfortunate lady stumbles on in, sleight of fingers, too, and that’s a rumination that you’ll never come to, probably.

The tone’s wrong. Get it? We’ve had sandwiches in better soup places than this. I’m absolutely almost sure. How’d they get out? Like this. Like that. And to sing so loud with headphones on, like you used to, something to never not get too used to. A ride never taken, that. Sure. That’ll be the night. Tell the trapeze artists to go to hell, like a train that’ll never wreck again. We ought to look farther away until the messes get the best of us. Wrong as the way you left: you know the way it all unfolds by heart by now. A rescue mission never gone on, all this. Try. You never do.

A burgundy vest and taupe pants, she went through the garbage like a pro. Separation isn’t always so natural, but she pulled the bottles and cans out so damn expertly, that night. It was something to behold. It was just a touch below triple-digits out. I was sweating something feverish, smoking those Chinese cigarettes and gloating about my bad luck, as always. Somewhat drunk, as always. Cheap as a dozen string beans. Perhaps. And a greasy old man sings, “The taxis come and go, peeling out better than any Michelangelo. A penny for the old guy, kid?” And then he falls asleep against the wall of a liquor store. Heaven has never been farther away.

“Quilt my suppositions into the hem of your personality, please.”

“Sure.”

There we were, in the sudden draft of an industrial fan, Cat Power blasting on a parked car’s radio. Nobody home here. It’s okay. We’re all suffering from the same condition of being alive and enduring all of this. Last rites, sung. Don’t worry; I used to be somebody better. Not so great, really. Back inside. Back to the same old dead romances of a bottle’s pour. Let’s put the trash pickers in charge for a moment here and get back to anything but the basics.

“Ah, well, you know, we should split before that Friday-night libido crowd sets in on getting housed.” It was a gimmicky parlance she’d picked up from the motor-mouth alcoholics she’d been running with as of late.

“Fine enough.”

“Then there should be truer things than that, too. A push that never pulls. Work without me here…baaaaaaaaby.”

“No more airplane rides. No more hot-plate cement to sleep on. The work’s in the guiding, not the play of light on the bands of dust in here. All those bars I’ve lived in, more than most ever do, I guess. Try it out sometime. You’ll never get it. So you, you just get the hell out of here.”

I’ve known plenty of rotten women who were great in their own way. I invited them over, but they rarely stayed the night. All the hassles, I’m rid of them now.

She said, “I turn into a whole different person when I drink.”

I told her, “Go on ahead and a have a few then. I might like her when I get to know her.”

“You? You must change your life.”

Everyone clapped.

She was a real Rilke aficionado, that one. Day-drinking was her favorite indoor sport. We blabbered through the weather’s steamy sizzle; wearing tablecloth faces; sporting stained, emotional tank tops; clanking visions in insubordinate toasts to annihilation.

“They say that just breathing the air around here’s as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes. So, you might as well smoke; at least it affords you the ability to have something to do with your time. Fill your days with having absolutely nothing left to say. But not too much sugar. Diabetes will come around and lop off a foot for you. Anyway, we’re all going to die. Might as well get drunk. At least you’ll die a happy camper, ambivalent about it all.”

“Why don’t you keep your prayers to yourself, huh?”

“The swimming pool is on fire.”

“The sprinklers are smoking.”

“And then, ‘My hate will burn you down.’”

“We’ve got much to go on.”

“Yes. On and on and on. It is not such a splendid thing.”

“Why would anyone stop drinking?”

“An ‘Out Of Service’ sign’s flashing on my imagination. Something too telling to go on about. A glumly stuck gear, or something turned off for good, a blame placed in the ignition. A wanted need gone spoiled and dumb. Dizzy enough?”

“Surely, Shirley. Hand me over them keys now.”

“No. No. No. Base what hits on what never does. Look. Totter. Nice, I am just shaping up not so.”

I do not think that she drank with joy. She drank because she had to.

“Told off too many Wednesdays at a time. Pay off the drafters. Remind the clock watchers to not be so shell shocked. Put a benign spell on something more happening than all of this. The music here doesn’t rock and it is not so fine of a thing.”

“Being you is not such a fine, fine thing.”

“There’s nothing going around. No. Nothing.”

“A public citizen privately ill with buying and being bought.”

“A most cautious individual, here. A commercial for herself.”

“And now what’s left is a blurted goodbye through your ambition’s ivy’s selfish coil. A twist in the gut. A mind’s leftovers. Just don’t do as you’re told. Drink away the murk around your eyes with a sly twist and a coy shake. Best of enemies, peepers all misty under influence’s draught. A manila folder’s being exchanged through heavy weeping. Nobody’s over a thing. Where’d the sandy stretches go? Who stinks of cheap brandy and boysenberry? Accordion thieves get what’s coming in the swaying chandelier light. That’s what. Crooks. All of ’em, anyway.”

There weren’t even any windows to open. The sewers were boiling. We sat across from each other, bathed in sweat, trying to hook ourselves like bait on the thin line of our cursed and blessed existence.

“Traded in the wind. Left off at the start. It’s like stirring wet cement, this stuff. Grueling. Trying to grip around the edges. The soft fragility that gathers around all middles, it gets you too up and less down to believe much, in or of or about.”

“Gummy drips of who you’d be without all these flashed ads corroding up the works.”

“The dollar sign’s lost its distinct flavor, for you. And with a pleased kisser you mug for the live video stream. Nowhere left to be abandoned in, to be left alone.”

“I dreamt about my late father the other morning. Some other morning than this or that one, over there or here. About how he held that pistol to his ear and screamed one last time, bellowed all he had left at his own face in the bathroom mirror. Alone at last. Done. I dreamt about my father, wallowing in self-pity and doubt. So cavalier in his despair. I dreamt lastly about my father as of late. He always woke up to be just who he was. And then he woke no more. A temper finally quelled. A symptom of intersecting lives left to dwindle out and on away. He went out strong and wild, alone, still dripping from his morning shower.”

“I haven’t had one in years.”

“A shower?”

“No, a dream. My fantasies have grown so tame. I grow old. I grow lame.”

“To the laugher go the plunders of peace.”

“Sure, just because the grapes of pity have grown sour, it doesn’t mean this bored, disaffected monster called mankind will not stomp them into anything but — kind that is.”

“Listen. I forgot my mantra last Thursday. Apparently it had escaped me and fled to poorer quarters. I vowed to seek it out, to degrade it into submission and drag it back to where it belonged. And when I found it I put it on a T-shirt so I’d never forget it again. Now I’ve lost the shirt.”

“And leads?”

“Passed on purpose. Guessed the stars to sleep. Lived in a bottle. Lived for another. Let the chords get away with the verse. I am not made of anybody else’s thoughts. Changed to this, born into any other glimpse of what’s not ever here nor there. Bubbly or thoughtful? Just a sipping sound selling you out at just the wrong time. Really. Come on. The battle’s not what you get from being simple around the ones who are around. Bounded by these made-up bonds, never so in the clear like here, surrounded at all times. I am nervous and misdirected by nature. Disoriented by choice.”

“Lose the gimmicky bit. Choosing’s all we’ve got. People used to say to me, ‘Well, at least you’ve got your health.’ And I always thought it just a load of platitudinous drivel. And it is, until you don’t have your health anymore, and then you realize that having your health is really all that there is. You really do have absolutely nothing without it. So, take care of yourself, goddamn it. All the rest is eyewash.”

“Yes. That’ll do. To colder and colder thoughts.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

And then the indefatigable fog, that deus-ex-machina savior, finally came rolling in to rescue us all from the terrible, terrible heat.

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