by bart plantenga
Furman Pivo believes he [plus beer] may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same and the rest is history or myth or delusion.
Beer Mystic Invitation: Participate in a unique literary adventure that will take you on the longest, rowdiest literary pub crawl ever. Follow the Beer Mystic’s story around the world through a global network of host magazines [next excerpt at end of chapter / cover by David Sandlin].
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Beer Mystic Excerpt #9 & #10
Why am I not feeling very happy [relieved, triumphant, ecstatic, positive, festive, impressed, inspired…] about my move from Cosmological Messenger Service to Office Supply Inc. with its 4% pay increase on my way to Tin Pan Alley? It has something to do with the fact that 4% of nearly nothing is very much like almost nothing. A scraggly tree along the way stubbornly holds on to a few late autumn leaves: how the mind conspires to fuse a link between the image of a leaf holding onto a twig and me at the end of some kind of rope is not exactly clear. With a new job, a new sense of hope. They say you create your own reality, make your own fortune, set your own salary when you graduate college. Tell me more bromides or inspirational lies: the myth upon which the wingtips stand, is how Kelly put it. When you know too much [or act like you do] you end up knowing you know next to nothing. Sophistication and attitude hide this fact; an evolution in which you become the third person singular of yourself – a state of misapprehended limbo, where you painfully watch yourself bumble along through life as a voyeur who can get an inverted kick out of all this, this, this, downward mobility.
When I arrived, Lee Morgan had already found a table next to the jukebox. After three years as a foot messenger it was time to celebrate my migration from one incarceration to another with a rare boss-comrade.
“This is lateral movement, man. No yards gained. I’m gonna die at Cosmo withoutcha.” Lee lamented. He was probably being honest. I mean, the passion was there, but I don’t think either of us fully understood how ferocious the turnover of humans as employees is in NYC.
“I see it as diagonal.”
“You oughta be lookin’ up vertical.”
“I look up too long I get dizzy, bump into buildings and into people I don’t like.”
“We gotta stay in touch.” Lee insisted. This is tricky and always involves a calculus that crunches convenience, proximity, race, mutual contacts, common interests, compelling reason, and calculated expedience.
We exchanged some Cosmo reminiscences, the Elsa files, cocaine delivery to an ex-member of the Tubes, the Lauren Hutton delivery, some pithy advice from him consisting of two words – Coltrane, Mingus. We shared a warped gaze into the future, discussed jazz and punk jazz – he was polite enough to listen to Rip, Rig and Panic with Nenah Cherry, daughter of one of his heroes, Don Cherry – on the juke, was there a relationship between Brecht and Malcolm X. A photo in his wallet of a gal and a nephew and a father who recorded with Errol Garner… There were silences too, silences framed by the clink of glass, a guy falling off a barstool, the bartender who could whistle “Pirate Jenny.” We stared at the beer labels, tore at the corners, read the fading grafitti over the jukebox:
THE ARMCURVE OF THE SYMBIONT FAR OUTWEIGHS THE ANGULAR CLASH OF THE RIVAL = THAT VARIETY OF WORKING TOGETHER CALLED FRICTION = FRIENDSHIP, STRIFE, BOXING, DIVORCE, WAR
• The Blue Heron Yodeler
From the Piraat beer bottle label and cobbling together my understanding of broken French and hobbling Dutch I see that the French word for “yeast” is “orge.”
“So, you see,” I say to Lee, “beer yeast in French and orgy come from the same root.”
In the toilet I stand and stare and piss and piss and read and reread grafitti:
ÜBERMART DRIVES HANK’S DRUGS BANKRUPT
• The Blue Heron Yodeler
AT LAST! THE BIG BRAIN! COMIN’ DOWN THAT ROCK ISLAND LINE!
• The Glue Pheromone Teetotaler
I consult my notes as Lee heads for the toilet: The standard beer bottle size in Europe is 33 cl – 33 is the number of compassion – love your higher self. 33 is the age when Christ died – beer tastes best at 33 degrees F – the state code of NY is 33 – and add the grafitti
33.3% of the angels fell from heaven – lps s^in at 33.3 rpms
Yoga Sutra 3:33: thru keenly developed intuition everything becomes known
i am now drinking for the elucidation / illumination of others
• Beer Mystake
Walking home via Rudy’s, a real place somewhere between Heaven and Hell, its authenticity threatened by developers and those who crave the comforts that the simulation of actuality offer. The problem isn’t finding your way out of yourself [like outa trouble] but where it all wandered off to. Or something like that. Hell, I can’t even convince myself I know a way out of here – Rudy’s, a labyrinth of reasonably priced pitchers of beer that fuel conversations edging on madness, the shriveled wieners turning on the electric spit, Broadway vets in week-old pancake make-up, sagging knee-worn spandex, writers in suspiciously threadbare suits toting paperbacks they may or may not have written [or proofread], crumpled fedoras, happy flatulence amplified by balding, wobbly bar stools, and a juke full of high sentiments.
You can have great conversation here if you got the lungs. Wear your galoshes if you plan on using the toilets. As I enter, I hear the tail-end of “Walk Like An Egyptian” [The Bangles], which segues into “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” [Aretha Franklin and George Michael], which I, to my horror, know some of the lyrics to, and am singing along to along with about 20 other patrons here [this is as close as you get to strangers!], as I spot Mike G., conspiratoriologist extraordinaire, Martin Luther King assassination buff and poet of the paranoid. The synchronicity of the fact that Lee lived on 125th [aka Martin Luther King Boulevard] and Mike’s preoccupations with MLK, conspiracies and on how they infiltrate every aspect of our lives including mixed drinks [black and white: Kahlua and milk; black and tan: a pale ale plus a stout]. He is not about to move from his stool once he’s in Rudy’s; do that and you lose your stool and your proximity to the bartender. Rumor has it that Mike wears a basic urine drainage bag of Malaysian manufacture to ensure his possession of his favorite stool between the wiener warmer and the jukebox. He does let me share his pitcher of Pabst Blue Ribbon – save the glass, I’m thirsty, I’ll just drink right from the pitcher.
“I’m weeding through MEMPHIS, TEN” he yells through the music, lovingly wiping the beer foam moustache from my upper lip with the sleeve of a coat that hasn’t been washed since 1966. Trying to solve the problem of the book’s smugness.
“I know too much. The book reveals too much to ever be published. Ten spent shells. People not already dead may die. I’ve accumulated a dossier of death threats. Brilliance is what they all fear. I keep pounding the phone lines until I get toxed, then roll over until I recover and start pounding again. But if I don’t get the novel out next year – on the 20th anniversary of the assassination – that’s that. I go back to selling encyclopedias door to door. I know it’s a long shot, but…”
Tom T. Hall was now singing – where else had I recently heard this song? In Sally’s? In the Po-Mo? WFMU? – in my head?: “Roll out the barrel / And lend me your ears / I like beer / It makes me a jolly good fellow / I like beer / It helps me unwind / And sometimes makes me feel mellow…” We sing along, others join us – the accuracy of the lyrics is not essential. We vow to get together, knowing very well that we want to but seldom do. some hearty and meaningful backslaps as he hands me a beer coaster upon which he has scrawled: SHORT NECK – O, MEDIOCRE GIANT – DIES UNWED – GENES WITHER – THE GOVERNMENT DID IT AND IT IS US. DON’T OVER-ESTIMATE THE POWER OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND UNDER-ESTIMATE THE POWER OF UNCONSCIOUS OR INVOLUNTARY PROCESSES.
I wander out and walk further downtown. Mike meant what he said, he did, really did; it’s no one’s fault that opportunity does not knock. Because, point is, although Lee bought the night’s rounds [Belgian beers: chosen by name and reputation – Folie, Piraat, La Moraal – beers so obscure and strange, they were almost revolutionary] and, although he shook my hand forcefully as if he did not want to let go, we never did keep in touch. Even though the Lexington Avenue line backbones its way up from my hood to his on 125th, near where Langston Hughes lived. On the going away card – an image of a pirate drinking beer – which I read only after I’d left the bar, he had written: “The night is beautiful, / So the faces of my people.” It was only later that Nice informed me that it was from a famous Langston Hughes poem.
In any case, there is something in how we all get bounced around the city, which keeps us from staying in touch. Where you quickly wander off the path of good intentions lost in a labyrinth of diversions of escalating distraction.
When I got “home,” I was greeted on our front stoop by a strange Rorschach puke splotch in the shape of a guitar. Somebody had stuck an hors d’oeuvre toothpick with an I LOVE NY flag into the mess. The droll gesture is one of eternal hope, of catastrophe overcome.
My job at Codger I got through a friend who acted like he didn’t know me when he chose me over three other candidates for the job of assistant warehouse manager at Codger Office Supply Inc. Robert, the husband of an ex-lover of mine – she never told him and neither did I – was the manager and he managed me. I was the assistant manager and I managed no one. That’s the joke. At $6.01 per hour with a title I was making 24 cents per hour more than as a foot messenger and what like 75 cents above minimum wage. Plus I could get my teeth cleaned and my colon vacuumed. The bosses, two brothers and a son, lived on Long Island and treated us like indentured servants except on Fridays when they would get a dozen donuts for the office. They thought they were the biggest philanthropists in the world when they personally gave you your paycheck plus a jelly donut.
The advantages of this job: 1. The bosses are often out of the office, 2. There’s a radio we can tune to what we like and sing along to as loud as we like, 3. we drink beer furtively with lunch on Fridays, 4. I can walk home.
Home: The voices are like breezes whistling through bullet holes following me as I entered my tenement. From behind my door, I hear the old ladies whispering, “There’s always strangers on these stars,” in English, not their native Ukrainian. Polish? Hungarian? Just loud enough for me to hear. Like the hiss of a radiator or moan of a patient in intensive care, tearing me away from Celine: “The people you meet are so loaded with cries that you feel embarrassed on their account.” Celine protecting me from out there. I open Celine like a parachutist opens his chute. Like a patch kit for the spirit, like a musty trenchcoat against the elements.
Maybe they said “stairs,” but I distinctly heard “stars.” It’s just more gossip misheard as cosmic. Their faces like sour socks on a frayed clothesline while their belladonna dresses blend into the drab wallpaper like moths pinned to velvet in a dusty museum display. This wallpaper, by the way, is expected to hold the crumbling plaster back as does the piss-green paint. Peel the wallpaper away and watch the whole thing collapse like a cake in McArthur Park. I mean, that’s what I hear. Thus far it has succeeded – this is, by the way, representative of the state of many minds – I mean THINGS!
Are these old ladies going to confront me about the puke on the stoop as being mine? They don’t apologize for nothing, not for their cats throwing up in the hall, nothing! I mean, the puke is old, but this doesn’t make it any more palatable. At first, the glob looked like shoestrings dunked in a tomato-like glue. Goo, whatever. Or tapeworm in a bloody clot. I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, not a vet. Although I had plenty of time to make up my mind: It took the super three weeks to “find it” and clean it up. And you can’t or don’t dare blame him! I’m amazed I can no longer even muster surprise at these blatant acts of terror – the contempt, the noise, the gossip, the puke, the piss…
When I say “hello” on the stairs they look at me like I just said “I want to suck the wax from your Old World ears.” I don’t! I really don’t! I would love to hear your stories about how you hate Jews and how they robbed you of your wealth and how the Nazis weren’t as bad as people said…
And one day these ladies, these muttering beehives, in their sour housedresses, knitting needles in their fists, decided to blame me for the hall light being on the blink. They did once catch me staring up at that dangling cord that disappears into the ceiling. As if life is a series of incidents that needed to be blamed on someone. As if everything in their lives was OK until I moved in. As if the world’s Diasporas can all be traced back to me. But I knew what they were up to. I knew they coveted my/our apartment for their kin. They saw me as an invader, painted me as an illegal subtenant, an illegal alien from the Midwest or something. Made complaints to the super and the super, a failed hit man with a family in Weehawken or Bensonhurst – take your pick – now knew my number.
If they were to ever re-institute the military draft, they’d make sure my number came up first. They and their diabolical schemes! I make the sign of the cross with my swollen forefingers. But I get it all wrong. I hiss at them the way Christopher Lee might from behind his fangs. But they are the vampires who leave their ugly bruised clumps of rotting Ukrainian tuber on my smiling welcome mat. Even the welcome mat is an affront to some of them.
One guy [apt #7?] – not Georg – brain-dead from toenail to dorsal fin, one day asks, “What’s he got to smile about?” He nods down at my mat with his high flat forehead, so flat I suspect he was made to wear a church pew tied to his forehead in his youth. “People’s always steppin’ on his face.”
“That’s Booboo, Yogi Bear’s sidekick, he’s a beerocratic Buddhist,” I’m wise but none too smart. Dazzle someone like this with second-hand witticisms and in no time your seen as a cruel arrogant fuck. You see? Now he shoves small clips of stale paper with tortured ballpoint block letters indented deep and resolutely into the paper’s fabric stating such “faxts” as: MAN IS MAID IN THE IMAGE OF G-D, TO HALF DOMINION OVER THE REST OF CREATON (GEN. 1:26). Should I introduce him to Georg so they can communicate with each other in their own language?
“And if mankind stinks this way, it’s meant for us to notice!” He intones. I press my Celine against the back of my door, over the peephole to protect me during this day of fretful [thus far] beerlessness. TSSSH! – the sound of beery disburdenment and a simple Rolling Rock pleasure. I am “home,” a diminished and anti-climactic tale of swollen feet and hard knots of muscle. My new job description is basically 1. lift boxes, 1a. inventory, 1b. fill orders, 2. resentful supplication, 3. donut gratitude, 4. get away with listening to clandestine radio especially “Stormy Mondays” now on Fridays on WBAI.
I soak in a tub of hot salty water [I have discovered that there is hot water to be had between 5:30 and 7 p.m.]. I know I am in glorious shape because my body aches at every juncture of cartilage and bone. At the warehouse today, I made eight neat stacks of ten 50-pound cartons of copier paper. I’m proud of my accomplishment and this irritates me. The only respites me and Robert have at work is derisive humor at the expense of the bosses and listening to “Stormy Monday” and having Ida, the accountant, assure us she will NEVER be fired because of what she has “knows about the boys.” The books are her key to a decent pension. “You mark my words,” she winks at us. “You have a problem with these geezers, you come to me.” OK, and now we’re singing along to Blondie or the Kinks or 1960s Stones or Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” on WNEW-FM. The boss [affectionately called Dickbrain] in an effort to force us to focus more on our work, has proposed a system where each task has a different color and we will wear a tee shirt of the color task we are performing so that management can get a better grip on our task management.
And now I’m home and can’t even bribe myself to switch TV channels. The zapper don’t work. I can’t turn up the volume to blot out, out there! My body burps instead of breathes. A second beer as a third person singular in a fourth-world generic-plural. Brahms’ “Lullaby” comes flickering into my mind’s ears: “Let angels of light / spread wings round your bed…”
It’s so humid in here that Djuna’s shedded hair [which is always every-fuckin-where] sticks to my torso as I go naked dripping to turn up the TV sound – personal noise fending off public noise. I feel primitive in this coat of fur.
The difference between me now and me back then, say three years, before all this streetlight stuff, is simple: I used to be on people’s HIT lists and now I’m just on people’s shit lists. I mean, this is what they mean by the incremental crawl of self-esteem. I’ll be totally rehabilitated come the Millennium. Guest list to the funeral will happen next, I suppose.
Talking to TV used to make a difference like I was the co-host on every talk show. But now I just clam up, go blank because lately the true nature of our relationship has become all too clear. It’s not intimate by a long shot. Not give and take. Not I-play-your-knobs-you-play-mine. No, it’s all one way. It never takes MY advice. They act like you’re their friend but don’t give a shit and they never stop laughing. They have more money than me, which ultimately makes them more able to afford a more influential kind of truth. And they’re always trying to sell you shit.
Me and Djuna kicked in the TV one night a year ago. OK, BAM! BAM! – like that. Sanity should always be this kind of instantaneous craziness; a craziness which will seem inspirational if framed in the appropriate manner. It’s a kick that takes your breath away and always should. Sanity should be appliances that work for, not against, you. But instead, even kicking in the TV becomes a second-hand gesture, like something off TV. Like a movie about the evil of TV I saw on TV.
By week’s end, Djuna had acquired an old set from an old ex, probably the Times Square tycoon, a man exhausted by the management of his own wealth – imagine that. Destruction is just a moment of temporary heroic insanity, a spectacularly photogenic instant to fully document but not actually live in. Someone eventually translates it into politics or lifestyle or biographical gunpowder anyway.
Everything lingers, chooses its own time to mock me. Bit into a cockroach in my breakfast cereal for dinner? Write it down. You never know. All this confusion began with lights, streetlights mainly, doing the ole “black-eye” – THAT’S MY NAME FOR IT – snuffed, give or take, at the rate of one a night!
And eventually we drape an explanation over our confusions. So, that is probably how I began to see that these strings of black pearls – let me call them constellations of black holes – could guide me through my crepuscular sojourns. “…And guard you from dread…” But things still conspire to confound, to become utterly autonomous – where’s the ON-OFF!? Where’s the caption under all this that will explain it away? I flip furiously through old bound journals: “Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of the links and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena…. heated debate about whether noticing unusual experiences are symptoms of mental disorder, or if mental disorders are a consequence of such experiences, or if people with mental disorders are more sensitive to or even looking for these experiences.”
The ferocity of things and mysteries banging into each other escalates simply because it escalates. It’s physics. I’m sure. Or hyper-physics or macro-chaos or… like the inside of a bomb. Like an avalanche. Or alcoolisme. And the Mona Lisa is, by now, merely famous for being famous. And I’m drunk for drinking…
Beer Mystic Excerpt #11: Istanbul Literary Review
bart plantenga is also the author of Wiggling Wishbone and Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man. His book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World received worldwide attention. He is working on a new novel, Paris Sex Tete and a new book on yodeling Yodel in HiFi. His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air on WFMU [NY], Radio Libertaire [Paris], Radio 100 and currently Radio Patapoe [Amsterdam] since 1986. He lives in Amsterdam.