By: Davy Carren
The last of the lamplighters were swearing like Little Willie Makepeace Thackeray in the musty confines of a dark bar, and the weekend wasn’t close enough away to consider, so I took out a four-by-two aluminum smile from my breast pocket and planted it on the dregs of my worn-raw hesitation. Unutterable, the things I got myself thinking, then, while I scratched pinwheels in the dirt with my shoes, while I hurled just-minted pennies at guppies in the murky fountain water, while I shaved with my pocket knife, and then used it to stir my aquavit-spiked coffee. Nobody was calling me Pal.
A proof of order — called ready by the made-for-novel movie makers — came out of being, in a harlot’s wink, and with the brush of lilac bloom on my shoulders I reached out for testier avenues of change, but only got less of the same.
The laudanum addicts take their dose in public, or were for the time, and it made the loonies and the Game-Over Sayers put more or less stock in the spreading of mayonnaise on white bread, which was less of what mattered to me. A run, a riffle through, and I am not jumping over any inconclusive dirt that’s been spooned to life by do-badders or worse. It got me silly in the gut and the thighs, and I mooned a row of mailbox-watchers who leapt from their lawn chairs at the sight.
Fatter faces, grim still though, and syrupy light mapled through scattered showers of leaves, and the sidewalk’s guts are the fading silver of a used Mazda Rotary. I thread my way through bumpy weed growth and stones balding with moss, and I don’t scratch any itches for almost a whole minute. That’s more of how I see it now, but then? Then it was just a task to be lost in, to be trampled by and over, burnt to be caught and let go, again, by the ones who saw it fitter to be less than eager with achieving lucky fits of growling at the cloud-hidden sun of it all. Then, I was tired.
After spotting some boil-and-rash guys loitering beneath the overcast drip and slunk of fulgurite-lined eaves, I blended-in beneath a stained-glass canopy’s bright shade and started singing to myself an old Daughters Of Lenin song that for some reason had just popped into my head: “Baby, you got the blues for me. Well, Baby, I got some news for you. It’s dressed and dragged and Heimliched all to hell. We’ve got nothing left to spell except ourselves. Yeah, yeah. Baby, and now I’ve got the blues for you too.”
Nobody heard my singing except a Lesser Blue-eared Starling perched on a nearby fire hydrant. I squatted before it, in a bid at what could possibly transform into genuflection at any moment. The starling quickly darted away into the watermelon mush of daylight. A tufted mewl echoed without much effect down and down the humped boulevard. I was not without compassion. I was not completely with it, though. An air of lilt-and-spin logic wafted from me that day; I’m sure of it. And so it was — gushed with grainy blurs of smashed purple seeds below me as I trod — that I came upon a man in a pigskin hat whom I would later learn to be one Hartford Butterthumbs, who was cooing and cawing at spiders on a park bench. He seemed of the stately sort, and so I approached him, though with some misgiving, and made a slow, steady haste for his acquaintance.
“How later or soon, my decent sir? Bruno’s the name. How’s yours?”
“Mine?” He somehow bristled his whole countenance while maintaining a completely calm and peaceful demeanor. “Who?”
“There’s a there I know. Yes. Yes. Of course.”
I circled him mildly. He didn’t move. His cooing did become a bit agitated, though his cawing remained evenly spaced and steady.
After I’d circled him twice he bowed his head and spoke again: “I am wary of other’s awareness. I am not old enough for this.” He tapped his shoes to the tune of Gloomy Sunday on the concrete. There wasn’t much rhythm left there for me to guess at. I gave up. I lost interest. I headed towards the fountain I’d been hurling pennies in earlier. Dusk was hastily approaching.
I took off my shirt, without unbuttoning it at all.
I ran around the fountain as fast as my legs would allow.
I felt as crumby as I can ever remember feeling, and stopped running, and then shouted as if on cue, “Reproach the goofiest tailors who make leather suits for orphans to wear at funerals. It’s Allergy City, Baby!” Then I got winded and bent over at the waist while putting my hands on my knees, and I huffed and puffed and then some.
Soon I was strolling again. I meandered. I sauntered. I hoofed it and almost broke into a trot. I was almost contemplating the knell of some arbitrary bell ringing in the belfry of what I’d thought was an abandoned church when the man in the pigskin hat approached. I bowed. He did not.
“No. Not. Nor.”
I was just mumbling things, I do believe.
“I have not been rude, as of yet, though our meeting was unannounced. So, here is my hand. Glad to know you.”
I shook the hand he proffered.
“Name’s Butterthumbs. Hartford. Harty Boy, if you will.”
I nodded and probably mumbled some more. It is hard to know for sure what transpired on my end of the conversation. I am not sure why.
“Luckily, as you might have guessed, I am here to linger and chat; to run up the tab of socializing’s face-saving gradual diminishment of personality’s best just-pressed suit. Let us not begin.”
A few trees, I recall, shook with a cagey furor.
“You are shitty with remonstrance and compassion’s wheeze, I take it? Good. That’s a blessed horror in itself. Over the course of shinier capitulations we can run these figures again. But bend both ears this way. I want to relate something to you, something you might as well consider some cruel advice from a familiar stranger such as I.”
I don’t recall most of what he said. I was pretending I were in a bunker during peacetime, waiting out the humdrum and dull world outside, counting my canned-food cans, playing Taps on my oboe, sketching maps of the ocean floor on the cement walls with charcoal briquettes. I do remember the last of it though.
“Well, let me tell you: the wind was howling like Big Al Ginsberg, and the weather didn’t even know my name, and all the ranchers and retired or off-duty cops were over at Mikey Ironing Board Tyson’s wasting their spending money on slower pigeons and faster handshakes. I wasn’t there but I heard it all from the hostler’s kid, and he says that the old police chief finally screamed before the end, ‘Every dot’s coinciding with a dash, and all the marble’s turned to bland stone. We are only gambling here with what’s cannonballed our way by hit men and Ponzi schemers and drain-clogging experts and those who would have us believe that we are worthy of our own mistakes. I do not fall prey to such prissy tooth-pulling. My antiseptic presence is disgusting even to the surgeons and their nurses. Being lovable will not do. King Nine will never return — a morose question mark with broken wings. Get me to a monastery bathroom and tip God the rest of what’s left. I’m through.’”
He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet-size photo of Charles Ponzi, which he handed to me. Then he turned and ran very quickly away. I stood there for quite a while, staring at the sidewalk, wondering about the gum stains and the guano stains, and the pleated way it cracked here and there between the grooves. I decided that the wind and I were never going to be friends.