Thursday, January 20, 2011

angels do the strangest things

a: I don’t know. We’d gone out a few times.

b: And then she springs this on you, and you’re like, “Okay. Sounds good.”?

a: Well. Kind of. I mean, I thought I’d give it a shot.

b: But a poetry reading? Shit. That’s a fucking red flag waving its ass off.

a: I know. I know. But it was at a bar so I figured I could at least get drunk. And maybe, well, maybe I just wanted to give her a chance. She was not what you’d call vapid or showy. There weren’t the telltale signals that’d like register in your noggin, “Abort all operations,” you know? She seemed ironical and jokey, playful even. Not out-of-touch or bubbled in her own fluffy makeshift reality. Not that overly serious, sense-of-humor-less type. Not from what I’d seen. Who knows? Maybe it’d be enjoyable.

b: Enjoyable? A poetry reading? Are you fucking kidding me?

a: I know. But anyway. The full moon’s plastered up above the buildings, yellow and big and hunting down the skyscrapers, almost close enough to kiss. Kind of a crisp and clean feeling night. I’m out busy-bodying around doing some bibulous solo work. It’s like somebody’s taken an enormous broom and swept the city clean. It’s not too cold or anything. Traffic is light. And the sidewalks aren’t very crowded. A beautiful night to be alive in the world. Me? Well, I haven’t slept in a week, you know, ragged and delirious, and I’m clanging and battering from bar to bar anyway. So, well, I end up going out to this thing. I get there, and it’s pretty packed actually. It was one of those places with a stage where bands play and stuff up in the back, and the bar runs along the side, and then there’s all this open space where people can mingle and hold their drinks in one hand and strut around trying to look hip and smart. I see her roaming around, all nervous and jittery and talking a yard-a-second to some wienery-looking dude with those black-frame Buddy-Holly glasses on that people wear to look cool, and it seems she’s like invited a bunch of her friends to come witness this spectacle.

b: Oh lord. Don’t tell me it was an open mic.

a: Yeah. Oh lord is right. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

b: Oh lord.

a: We chat a little. She’s prepping. Getting herself amped. Pumping herself up. Going into some histrionic hopscotch to warm the oven of her performance’s tone.

b: I get it.

a: So I leave her be, give her a quick lip-to-lip peck, and repair to the bar, where I proceed to down beer after beer while plenty of these odd characters keep parading up on stage and doing these very serious and faux-emotional readings. All stilted, un-edited splendor. It was beyond horrendous. It was unendurable. I just kept getting more drunk and more drunk, and it wasn’t even close to cutting the ketchup. The bartender was laughing at me and shaking his head. He was very amused by my suffering.

b: Man. Like being held hostage or something. Tortured. Death by recital. Shit. That sucks. So, how did her reading go?

a: Well. That’s just the thing. I had to stick around and wait. It seemed like there were like fifty people up before her. I kept waiting and she kept not going up. She kept telling me just a few more, almost. It seemed interminable. And I had to keep clapping along with everybody after each asshole finished with their Namby Pamby hokum. Nothing but whining piffle and poached self-pity.

b: Oh lord.

a: But finally, after eons of humdrumming through pints, her turn to read comes. She’s up on stage, all nervous and shaking under the bright stage lights, sweat beading in rivulets down her forehead from her dyed-blonde bob. And she’s squinting and holding out this notebook in front of her, adjusting the mic stand, testing out the loudness of her voice. And, after some stalling and a few small coughs, she starts reading this poem about The Toastman.

b: The Toastman?

a: Yeah. I’ve got no idea what the fuck that is. And she’s going on and on about this Toastman frolicking in the woods with her.

b: The Toastman frolics?

a: I guess so.

b: Is he like the Taxman?

a: Ha. Maybe. I’m the Toastman. Yeah, I’m the Toastman. And I’m working for nothing but butter.

b: Don’t ask me what I want bread for. Toastman! Yeah. I’m the Toastman. And you’re toasting for no one but me.

a: Trust me. It was nothing even close to that. It was very serious and dark. And super fucking weird. Something to do with animal spirits and gathering nuts in the woods, and how The Toastman was always waiting for her in a shady nook.

b: Holy lord mother of god and mary fuck.

a: And I’m sitting there trying not to look at her. Trying to pretend I’m just there all by myself. And I aggressively nab the bartender’s attention and order a shot and a beer, and down them as fast as I can, and then I just sit there and try to wish it all away, but I can’t. This chick is really going nuts about The Toastman. She’s going on and on about this frolicking bastard.

b: Man. You needed to make an exit. Like right then.

a: I know. But for some reason I couldn’t. I just kept sitting there and trying not to pay attention to anything going on around me. All this shit about The Toastman. It was insane. It went on and on, and she’s getting all excited about it, and she’s raving and getting louder and louder. As if the microphone isn’t amplifying her annoying, nasally voice enough. There was something cloying about the whole thing. You know how those poetry readers do that cadence thing where they like leave dramatic pauses between words, and emphasize things with breathy blurts. She was pulling out all the stops, in spades, and jiving on about this Toastman the whole while. But, I mean, I didn’t want to sit there and like judge her based on this performance. That’d be shallow and mean, right? But I hardly knew her at this point, and there wasn’t much else to go on, and it was, I thought, very telling of her personality, her inner life, or something. It wasn’t like she was making fun of serious poetry reading. There wasn’t an ounce of satire in her recipe. Actually, there was something downright dismal about the whole thing, like she was trying to be naked without taking off even one article of clothing. I don’t know. I was fucking freaked out though.

b: For good reason. Please tell me you jetted and never talked to her again.

a: Wish I could.

b: Oh lord.

a: Yep. I mulched around and stewed at the bar. I couldn’t move for some reason. My body felt heavy. My mind was dull and numb.

b: Well, you maybe were like a sponge sopping up shitty water.

a: I was as lonely as I’ve ever been in all of my years.

b: Figures.

a: But that Toastman.

b: The Toastman.

a: Yeah. That fucking son of a bitch. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. He was playing a trombone. He was chucking apricots at squirrels. I imagined him taking a shit, his toastpants around his ankles, butter running like sweat from his crumb hair. Then I thought of his crust. Toastman’s crust.

b: What kind of bread do think he was made from?

a: Riga-style rye bread. At least that’s what I’d like to think.

b: Wow. That’s quite a bread for Mr. Toastman. Starting to like this guy.

a: Yeah. I was too. He was like a superhero to me.

b: Would he have a cape?

a: Yes. He’d definitely have a cape. A red, yellow, and blue cape made from Wonder Bread bags.

b: I’m imagining a plain white suit. Like Mark Twain used to favor. Maybe a red bow tie.

a: And his shoes would be dusted with powdered sugar.

b: He frolics over hillsides!

a: He hurtles small animals in a single bound!

b: It’s a slice. It’s a loaf. NO! It’s Toastman!

a: Of course this was not the way this gal’s poem was leaning. She was very earnest about this Toastman. He was some kind of savior to her. Some kind of, I don’t know, Jesus figure or something.

b: And you’re just sitting at the bar, taking it all in, dreaming about this superhero-like toasty guy you’ve conjured up, and you’re getting more drunk and more delusional.

a: Yeah. I was really swaggering around in some uncharted territory. Felt like a real fancy pants at a hoedown. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do. She finally finished the damn thing, and, well, I don’t remember. People clapped. They gave her some polite applause. I felt miserable.

b: What did you say to her?

a: Say to her? What? I couldn’t talk. Remorse was cheapening the watered-down music of my life. I was slumped there, dead to the world, and hating everybody and everything. Nothing was going to be okay.

b: What?

a: I don’t know. It was really depressing. She was a nice girl, and really attractive too. It seemed like such a waste. I really wanted to like her, but now she’d ruined that. How could I possibly become romantically involved with a girl who read poems about some Toastman.

b: Not too cool.

a: All she wanted was toast, and all I could offer was crustless emptiness. I felt so vapid, so sapped. Nothing could lift this lethargic dullness from my head.

b: Brooms and batons, my friend. Maybe it was just about a guy who liked to raise toasts? Like at bars. He liked to say, “Cheers!” and clink glasses before imbibing.

a: Loopy, deranged nonsense fluttering indistinctly from…

b: There’s nothing subtle about dying, right?

a: No. It’s more like instincts getting their own goat.

b: Who?

a: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It don’t.

b: But it does. It does matter. You can’t suspend your judgment. You can’t impartially observe your life from a safe distance. You might mimic attachment, attempt to be burdened by things you feel should be burdensome, concrete your own guilt into a theatric bumbling where you always end up the victim of circumstances, “beyond your control.” But you don’t know. You don’t ever know what’s going to happen to you, except that you’re going to die.

a: I’m suggesting otherwise?

b: You’re playing dumb with this effeminate munching.

a: What the…?

b: It’s being soft and easy, a chaise longue for others to take comfort in, something that’ll always be there, a sort of break from the hard reality of their lives.

a: Reality is easy.

b: Really? You think so, huh? But you don’t really put an honest effort into your empathy, into your “so caring and loving” personality that you present oh-so-humbly and graciously to all takers. You sitz bath your emotions. I don’t even think you comprehend, at least not consciously, what a charlatan you’ve made of yourself.

a: Nobody can come close to imagining what it’s like to be another person, to dress yourself in the clothes of another's tribulations and tsoris. You will always be you. That’s it. Until you’re dead. Then you’ll be nothing. Until then though, you’ll always be you. It’s all you’ll ever know about what it’s like to be alive.

b: You’re nothing but a mess of cliché riddles and trite fatuousness

a: But things happen to me. I’m alive. Things are happening. All I can do is go along with it. That’s what being alive is: having things happen to you.

b: Or having you happen to them.

a: Exactly.

b: Bullshit. Whatever. So. Did you hang around? What happened?

a: Nothing. Nothing happened. Nothing ever happens.

b: Blah, blah, blah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Get over it. Come on.

a: I got drunk. I passed out in a cab. I don’t know. The moon was low and big, and it was like the clear coffee-black sky was staring at me with a gargantuan jaundiced eye. It doesn’t matter. What happened? What were the events that occurred? I vomited in a cat’s food dish. Woke up at 4 am in the dark, in a strange bed, and didn’t know where the hell I was or how I’d gotten there. She was snoring. I wandered around, befuddled, and ruined my shin on a bedside table. I mistook the closet for the bathroom. I climbed back into the warm, safe womb of the covers and held her close in my arms.

b: Wait. You didn’t…No. No way.

a: Yep. Sadly enough. I am a weak man.

b: Oh lord.

a: Just call me Toastman. I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation. Oh no. Not me.

b: Oh lord.