Tuesday, December 6, 2011

something catchy

I am not Jay Gatsby. I am great, though. Don’t want to argue about that. I’m just not Mr. Gatsby. That’s what I want to be clear about. Am I Mr. Magoo? That’s another matter, and, if you can suppress your urge to compile gossip for your already replete stores of it, I’d rather not delve into those (or, as it were, these) things at the moment. So, so, so, so. Bear with me. Please. I implore you. It’ll be worth it. Promise.

Mississippi Fred McDowell was at my door the other day. He was shaking his head already when I answered. I opened the door, and I saw Mr. McDowell standing there shaking his head, holding his guitar out like a rifle. He wasn’t smiling. He sang, “Sir, my sir, well, you know, I’m not holding your baby’s hand tonight. Not tonight.” I invited him in. And he came into my home.

The wind was magic. It stripped everything bare. Howling was its business, outside. Not inside where Mr. McDowell and I were lounging. Maybe we were having tea. What’s the big deal about that, huh? I’m a credit-card-carrying citizen. I do my part. What’s it to you?

Sorry. That was unacceptable.

The wind defines things, shapes them, adds its own mindset to it all. These dusky days belong to the wind; we only borrow them with scuttling thoughts. It is parlous to do otherwise. Be gentle with me. I am not an astronaut, and, also, my front lawn is the greenest around.

Mr. McDowell and I lounged around and spoke to each other.

“Is it the first today?”

“No, it’s the last.”

“Very well. I am inclined to believe in such things. Things like this, or that.”

“Could I refer to you as Freddy Boy?”


“About almost right now.”


“We adapt to things, like ourselves, as we age, and we grow into our bodies as we once grew out of a younger man’s clothes. Do you find this to be the case, Freddy Boy?”

“You mean as to say well it’s a case of my hands getting the shakes so bad that I can’t hold my coffee a-steady without spilling much more than a few drops?”

“I mean what I mean, on average. And it’s a mean that’s not angry a bit. That’s it.”

“Well, I figure I reckon it’ll leave me grappling with cuddled circumstances, fretless strums, and my head’s still along for the ride. Time grows wild inside of me. Time. Time. Time. Shit. I could forswear it all, but I ain’t got that kind of mouth on me. Not anymore. Being older doesn’t just creep up, sidle you like a stuffed mouth, swerve blankly about your footsteps, nipping at your heels. No. It’s a beggar washed of his tears, ragged with surprising jolts of what you were and what you’ll never be. My memories are panhandled to the nearest unworthy taker. Time to skedaddle away from it all.”


“Nah. Makes my tongue bitter.”

“Speaking of which…”


“Oh, well, nothing. Stuff your shirt. Oh. Well. Care to sing?”

“Ah. Ha! Sure as Shinola. Uh huh. I’m goin’ a-ways darlin’. Honey, don’t you wanna go? Wash. Wash. Wash my trouble down, down, down. I knows my baby, and she surely don’t go treatin’ me a-alright. Hardly rest ‘til I shake, shake, shake ‘em on down. Uh huh.”

“Do you…do you…?”


“Wait. But, do you, believe in…me?”

“For sure I surely do.”

“I’m spying on myself.”

“Death sleeps above the covers.”

“We live slow and die old.”

We drank tea. We lounged. We watched pigeons choose a mate. Freddy Boy laid his burden down. It looked rather like egg foo young on the copper tiles of my floor. We grew old faster with each passing moment.

Over the next hill some church bells tolled. Through my partially opened parlor window we watched a doorman in the building across the street swat at flies. A TV was on in somebody’s living room in that building, and we both squinted at it, trying to decipher the flickering, soundless images emanating from it through the fritted glass. We didn’t listen to anything except our own personal racket.

“I guess I’ll always be just a bored teenager in love, at heart.”

“Does that sum us up?”

“Particularly yours.”

“My what?”

“Your yours, of course. Do I got to speak-and-spell it out for you?”

“A scholar of paleography once pointed me in an ancient direction towards the current events of my consciousness. This, my friendly enemy, is an acquired distaste, and you are missing out on my more monkeyish behavior when you slide yourself beneath the layers of my understanding. Get it?”

“What’s mine is…something, I guess.”

“Wait. Did you mean, perhaps, something-dash-something?”

“No dash required. It’s not like a one-horse open sleigh at all. Feels just like the second time, the very second time.”

“Sure. Sure. Tell me something you know…or don’t know. Just tell me something.”

“Well. Get this. This one night, well, I needed a drink. I don’t mean needed. I mean wanted. I mean had. I mean went to the bar a few blocks down the hill and had a beer. I mean scotch. I had a small glass of scotch, neat. I drank the scotch fast. I was not the only person in the bar. I was sitting at the bar. I wasn’t mingling. I had started off needing a drink, and now I had a drink, and now I was drinking the drink. I was not drunk. I was fully capable of getting up and leaving on my own. I am not a drunk. I sometimes have a hard time standing. I fall often. I get these dizzy spells. I need a drink sometimes.”

“When one is under-slept one often reverts to beginning all one’s thoughts with that good old first-person singular pronoun: I.”

“Shit on that. Shit. Poop. Shit. Can’t they invent a pill to replace sleep? You’d just take a pill and it’d feel like you’ve had a good night’s rest. Why haven’t they come up with that yet? We’d all be so much more damn productive.”

A willow tree brushed lightly against the windowpane. It made me think of a feather duster being mistreated, the barbules worn-out, the former ostrich plumage torn and sad. The sound was harsh and unforgiving against the glass.

“There are no more somber cities. Places get devaluated. Then rents hike up. Then neon blisters the pavement. Then we strive to be ordinary. Then we parry and thrust with chopsticks. All that’s left is a curtailed mushiness that does much less than compensate us for living the lives that we’re told we should be living. Gosh God, I’d love to get my grubby mitts on some earthquake pills.”

“Another Hopalong Casualty. Hop, hop, hop a long. Rather…casually, getting the short end of the broadsword.”

“Think about it. Modern dispositions tend not to dwell on the curious cases of hats mistaken for hats. And husbands abound. We tell ourselves, ‘Be nice. Just be nice.’ But being curious, well, we go shit-silly with vacillation. We reclaim certain landscapes just to make them more our own, to bend them to our ends-- what seems necessary and unavoidable at the time.”

“Drink more hooch.”

“No way, my fine sir. It’s all pruno to me.”

“White lightning?”

“Not in the sweetest of senses could I lead this bewildered, occasional, that’s-all-my-fault, unsteady burp of a guy to the hunches and happenstances of the almost-great whisky-made-me-drunk beyond. Goddamn, you know, it’s obdacious! Isn’t it?”

“If it ain’t, it’ll do ‘til the real thing shows up.”

“I’m sure there are softer tones we can live through in the meanness of this season.”

Outside the trees were all whining about their predicament: twitching and fluttering on towards death. It seemed, if you looked hard enough, as if a few of them were giving us The Finger. I envied their lost leaves. I’m not sure how Mr. McDowell felt about it. He flapped his lips and almost hummed Come All Ye Faithful, but not quite.

Look, I am not joyful. I am not triumphant. I am merely working on a strategy to outwit the most derisive ganzfeld experiments of our times. Don’t look for me sleeping on the lawn. Don’t try to catch me stepping out for a smoke, clinking glasses with armies of idiots, or spatula-ing flies in the kitchen. I’m off the clock. It’s all come down to get-it-while-you-can’t productivity, and my mind wanders. The wind is steam heat.

“What would you sing for me if you were going to sing something for me?”

“Whiskey and water and sleeping pills.”

“Don’t be careless to care too much.”

“Man, just a thimbleful of rum will make the sorrows go on and haunt away some-a-where’s else. Any old-a-where.”

“A scratchy tune to sleep with for a while.”

“She’s my 44th Street baby. She’s my hokey-pokey gal.”

We talked on and on while the trees trembled and quaked, almost annihilated by the ways of wind. Pity was dispensed to mankind, busily.

“I can’t go to funerals no more. I’ll get a wild case of the giggles. Almost anything will set me off. The eulogist’s accent, the strange shape of a mourner's face. I don’t know. A parasol opening. Really just nothing. And then it’s hide-the-smile time, hand-over-mouth, turn away, and all the likes and dislikes of it all. Nervous? Jittery? That kind of a thing? Maybe I’m just…shit. I don’t even pretend to have an idea about any of it.”

“Shoot. Golf dag-it! That’s what I’d say to it. ”

“Sure. Sure. Yessiree! Sure. Yep. Ah! Ha! To all ye gathered, beloved or no, here or below, well, sheet! I run my business out of a horse stable.”


“Well, buffalo my bill. I’m off to nothing. It’s…strange. You see, there’s a sloppy woman who comes into my store with asshole eyes and a bloodthirsty wince about her. She traps pigeons and sells them for meat to the soup kitchens. She makes me cry. Every time I see her, shit, it’s the waterworks.”

“Confusion’s the new sanity.”

At this point in our tête-à-tête, Mr. McDowell stood up. He pulled his guitar up like sagging pants over his belly, and he began to sing: “red’s the new read, better than rad, more awful than harpsichord scales, we are dashed off and rude, and our first kisses make everybody puke, there’s a typewriter next to a whisky bottle, there’s a hole in our tugboat, best’s the mess we made in this or what’s reading aloud, feet resting on a lobster-claw balloon, on a couch longer than the night, and a bus ride that’s always too close away, felled to drown, and we don’t need cigarettes, and we don’t need strangers, we’ve got the wind when it’s warm, we’ve got lots left in the tank, we’ve got trains, very’s the new how, almost as good as a wish that doesn’t make the cut, never cool, and always off cue, we’re training to take a year or two off, we’re helpless in our likes, but pleases don’t bother us, not as much as they should, gosh goes for dang’s jugular, and the seagulls play serious, for a west of no east that secures all the wrongs of what’s left of me and you.”

The sun wavered in its playful scouring of the horizon for a moment. I cracked my toes one by one.

There was nothing else left to do or say. I began to wish for the mailman’s arrival. The complexities of my situation were drab and ordinary.

I am not Jay Gatsby. I believe in red lights, the humdrum past that hour by hour climbs behind us. It catches us now, and that’s what counts--yesterday we walked slower, huddled inside ourselves less…And on numerous stuffy evenings--

So I silently frown, back float with the riptide, dying onward once out of the future.