Saturday, April 2, 2011

nobody's pluperfect

Johnny was hanging out the window again. We’d tried to warn him not to do it, that it’d be bad for business, but apparently he’d failed to read the memo. It was bullshit as far as we were concerned. Now there was nothing we could do about it. A slim chance for rescuing a moment from his clutches. We looked up and shook our collective heads at his dangling feet. Maybe he saw us down there on the sidewalk craning our necks. I doubt it though.

“Bastard's got it made up there.”

“Yep. He’s up there. What are we doing? We’re down here. What are we doing down here?”

“Don’t know. Standing around. Looking up.”

“Between things.”

“I’m going to eat a banana.”

“Got to do something.”


Johnny was in my living room. He got down on one knee. I noticed that he was staring very intently at the electronic equipment below my TV.

He said, “That’s not a DVD player. It’s got a rewind button.”

It was true.

His index finger was covered in dust. I told him to quit snooping around. He left shortly afterwards. They found him the next morning asleep on my lawn. The pirates had their man.

The counter of the luncheonette was jammed with insomniacs and dipsos and retired boxers. I was drinking goose milk from an ice-cold glass. The guy next to me had a lumpy, bee-stung nose. I was just hanging on to dovetailing threads of the past, mortise-and-tenoned to a mood that wouldn’t leave me alone. My nose hairs were out of place. The newspaper wasn’t telling me anything I wanted to hear. I hardly knew what to think next. Dissipation was my only occupation, and it was getting harder and harder to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Rain was my only friend. Courage wiped its ass on my shoes. Somehow the cars told their stories with sopping conviction as I wandered wired and diminished from one place to the next, just west of limitless-ways-to-hang-your-head. Differing in the ways one can hope, in the true classless testimony of delinquents and stool pigeons, claimed screams kinging plastic smiles, pastured out of time, later than now. Being home seemed mysteriously outlawed. The doors were all busted. People vomited coins. Fresh air wasn’t going to help anything. I glared at shoes and wished windows away.

Johnny lost a game of marbles to the butcher. They were playing for gives. A ventriloquist stopped by and said nothing. Men were fed to cows. The butcher told Johnny about marbles that could predict your past, and he also recounted, in his elegant raconteur-like way, how he had achieved thirstiness at a very young age. Johnny was pleased by this. He filled his pockets with all the marbles that had even a hint of green in them.

The werewolves are wise to me. They follow my mudprints. They institute bans on silver. On the moonless nights it’s like The Hanging Gardens of Babylon out there. Lucite reflects the noise I make in here, and I tongue click with my eyes closed for a glimpse of echolocation’s merits. Captain Crunch whistles to steal long-distance phone calls. Tin clasps. Worried envelopes. The skeletons of vipers. All by candlelight. It’s baby-making weather, something in the air, the sound of strollers, the aroma of diapers, a revolt of worry that lifts the hamper lid to let sadness out of time’s just nicking. I carry a tire iron in my back pocket.

Johnny slipped on a peach pit. He isn’t fit for days like these. The super’s been on him lately. Something to do with trash duty. Mars watches over us at night. Johnny told me recently that he’s lost his marbles. I have to admit, the green is gone from his grin. And every day he hibernates a little more, but, thank the lord, baseball season is coming soon.

I was writing an episode of the American sitcom The Office with my girlfriend when Johnny rang the doorbell and came inside our apartment before we answered. We had neglected to lock the door. This was anathema to our lifestyle. A clay figurine of Paul Reubens was knocked to the linoleum; dazzling lamplight pinned us in; a cockroach was sliced in two; I dropped my pen. Johnny had lost his job. He wanted a new job. There were no jobs for him. I asked him if he wanted to write a sitcom with us. He didn’t say anything. I had just written a great line for Dwight, and so was in high spirits, and I told Johnny to, “Come on over here and chat your brains out a teeny bit.” Johnny just stood there, thundering slightly, and his face looked like mother of pearl.

We’ve been referring to Johnny, around these parts, as Juddering Johnny. This name might have sticking power. It fits under most conditional qualifications. Something will surely keep him coming around, and this might as well be that something. Arrogating the name to him in this manner brings special and delightful--though fragile too--benefits to his role as a person. When it comes to me, well, I view myself as an apparition in the nature of our environment.

As American as Coca-Cola, that is how I would describe Johnny; and it would be a vast description, a taking into account of all pockets sewed into the fabric of his personality. He is the type of individual who would test out a new pair of gloves by slapping his own face with them multiple times before he put them on. I spotted him once using a bicycle pump to cool off some hardboiled eggs. Obviously there is something sneaky to his character. Asking him questions is like swimming in a drained pool. When it comes to muckraking facts about Johnny’s private matters, I refrain. Bad timing comes in handy though, gregarious as whole/initial concepts may be in the “Johnny discussion,” there really is not room for improvement. Sometimes I belittle him by calling him a frustrated fiend. There is little room for error in this area. Johnny knows this, and he never laughs at my cracks about his surreptitiousness. Sometimes he sings, in a deep, rich, and vibrant baritone, “Lonely! Lonely as I! Loooooooooo-en-a-lee!” There is never a reason for him to do this.

Intercepting all communications was first on the to-do list for the many who’d stuck around. Johnny was standing on one leg on the hood of a parked police car with no police inside of it. We surrounded him with movie projectors. Somebody shouted, “Roll it!” and we aimed for his carefully balanced body. The lights made him lively. It was soon clear that we should’ve respected him more. It had gotten to the point where now he had it in for us. I whispered to my buddy, “Consider my eyes peeled.” He thanked me. Johnny became worn-out, and he lay on the police car’s hood breathing heavily. I didn’t blame him. The boss had gone home.

“Do your silliest. End up clothespinned to a bag of nuts.” This was quickly becoming Johnny’s mantra. We mistook it for banter, which, as you might suspect, was the apex of dumb. Johnny would run in squares around tiny things, like missing buttons and horoscopes.

I asked Johnny, “What do you do to do this particular doing of yours?”

He looked at me. He was standing in the street. His eyebrows were diminished by starlight. “It’s the kind of thing you would put in your pocket, a thing to save, a thing to get out of the way, to remove from the landscape of the world and put into your safe keeping. I don’t want to plant. I want to grow.”

“That’s universal,” I told him. “There’s a connection, always, between your brain and the world brain. To see things through instead of with it. That’s a neat thought.”

Johnny gave me the look of absolute unadulterated boredom. It was worth watching. It was barely distinguishable from the look of complete and utter wild-abandon enjoyment. Actually, I’m not sure if there should be a different look for those two states.

Johnny recited some things: “Connect the dashes. Hurt with joy. Smell the sound that supermarkets make. Take no-thanks.”

A plane purred overhead. Things became mushy. A chorus of gophers sang a different new song, but they were out of tune. My mind was unmade. “Johnny. Johnny. Why do you hang so low?”

“My feet are untouchable around these parts. I am higher than trees.” His voice was just serious enough to not be funny. “Look at me.” I remembered gazing up at his shoe bottoms while he was hanging out the window. They were highlighter yellow. “I hang on. I hang here. I hang around. As the windowsill is slipping from my gripping, miss me. My name was Johnny.”

I told him to go down instead of up this time. He said dropping would involve an inbent spiral climbing towards a pale king of terrors. That was when I saw him last.

What I should be doing and what I am doing keep not being the same thing. There’s an involvement there, a gluing of me to the mobility of others, and it’s high time I started believing in my silence; but all anyone does is make noise. Johnny is up there again, hanging out of the window. His shoe bottoms are black this time. He is smoking a cigarette while he hangs there. Sure cool of him. I can only see him with my own eyes, think about him with my own brain. Seeing him in this small way of mine is all I can do. When it comes to being human there are certain limits; often these restrictions go unnoticed. The ash grows and grows from his lips. When will it droop and fall to the ground or be carried away by wind? We all look up at him hanging there. It’s still bullshit, only now it’s a different kind of bullshit, and we all agree, down here on the ground, that his is another in a long line of splendid failures to do the impossible. No joke will do. It’s a hanging, and we’re all uninvited, but we are here anyway, ogling Johnny’s shoe bottoms, not talking amongst ourselves. Hang. Hang on. Johnny. We have lifted our spirits for the likes of you. Drink our breathing through a story’s straw. Wear our closet clothes. The days are not the same. Hang out the window, Johnny. Hang. Don’t worry. We are nobody. Hang on.