“Write what’s under your nose” – William Carlos Williams
When he woke up from the night before, always to the new day, to the next dawn until tomorrow would rise again, the first thought that bubbled up from the back of his throat was an acrid burp that mostly got filtered through his dental bridge. The bilious mixture swelled his cheeks. Still too drunk to get out of bed and make it to the bathroom. Instead he swallowed hard.
A few years back he got his front teeth knocked out with a beer bottle. Uppers and lowers. New Year’s Day morning at 3 am. A red stoplight. A green bottle of Heineken. A fresh muted gray snow on the ground.
He picked up the receipt from the Chinese place and tried to discern the garbled notes. He had taken to putting a pen and paper on the nightstand to record his somnambulist sonnets, little odes he composed in the nether states between and betwixt sleep and awake. But he never could recall them. He hoped this would help. But that bottle. Shit yes. He felt the teeth breaking jagged and sharp in his mouth. That moment was encased in that early below freezing Pennsylvania morning. But who was interested in that? He’d forget it. He just couldn’t.
The sonnet itself was nothing. Paint by numbers. The meter, the rhyme, the couplet. A subtle tweak to make it obscure. Who the fuck read sonnets anymore? People who wrote sonnets, that’s who. And they’re all willing to pay good hard-earned attention to them. If only he could pay for his groceries with such attention. When he ran out of funds would he have attention deficit disorder? He wasn’t broke or bad with money, he had ADD.
Love is like a bird a light on a wire
Love’s like a bird a light on a wire
Love is a bird alighting on a wire
Love’s a bird alighting on a wire
Goddamn he was hungry.
Then the dog nudged open his bedroom door and eyed him with a doleful, beseeching look.
His dog said in that faux British accent You’re going out of your mind You realize that, don’t you? Now take me out. I have to roll a stogie. The Browns are heading to the Super Bowl. Gotta drop the pups off at the pool…so to speak.
Oh Bartleby, “When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my attention?”
He could understand the first two but the last one always gave him trouble. Meh, he said to himself, I guess I just don’t find Commie Jew Fags sexually attractive.
What, think I do? Asked the mutt rhetorically incredulous. There was that time in the rescue kennel but one does what they can to survive, you know? Hey, I really gotta go.
Don’t we all? And he fell back to bed.
Hey, Plato, you’re the one who downgraded me to Soylent Green Puppy Chow. It’s your security deposit not mine.
Bartleby did his business. He picked it up with a blue velvet bag from an old bottle of Royal Velvet his father had given him on his deathbed while imploring him to pour it down his feeding tube. He did as any good son would and feeling particularly magnanimous and shined on by the light of a soon-to-be-disbelieved and refuted God let his father sniff the cap afterwards since it had taken the express into his gut. That was years ago. Now he used the bag to Stay Green and tied it off on the way to the dumpster. The big, blue dumpster.
Absent-mindedly he began cataloging all the colors he had seen that morning. The few that had managed to slip through the gray so far. Lost in the reverie he didn’t notice that Bartleby had scrounged a chicken bone at the dumpster. Ah, poor people and their dubious meat. They sure ate a lot of bone-in chicken, drank a lot of light beer and ate innumerable sacks of chicharones. No wonder he’d see buzzards settling on the big, blue dumpster. Scavengers loved the poor. Buzzards black as night.
Buzzards black as night a-light the dumpster…
Down on the corner they were lining up the speakers for the day. It was Sunday and this was the new religion. The cathedral shined brightest on the cloudy days. When the sun made its rare appearance one could see the paint flaking. The Purveyors of Truth were heralding a new epoch: “Post-Patina” they called it. The paint flaked nevertheless. Small children gathered the detritus and sprinkled it on their corn flakes. When they ran out of corn flakes they sprinkled it on the bottom of their bowls. When they ate through the bottoms of their bowls their parents slipped them over their necks like e-collars.
The cuddled masses were huddled together breathlessly in the January chill. But the cold weather was a dry cold. The only evidence of any respiration was the indeterminate collective metronomic rasping in and out and the occasional muttered whimsy of perdition allayed for another day. The morning smelled of pennies.
A man approached the podium. Stood on a soap box for verisimilitude. He exhorted the crowd with gestures of a man making shadow puppets in a darkened room.
Put your hands on your hips.
Now swing like this.
Give your selves some space.
Now remember the people who touched your elbows.
They’ll be dead one day.
And so will you.
And though Heaven is our Great Reward who amongst us doesn’t want many miles to go before we sleep?
Perhaps that person next to you?
Get your lottery tickets here…
Just another shill. He bought one anyway. Bartered the Blue Velvet bag for it. The tickets were Scratch and Sniff. Had to smell like money to win. His smelled like the room where they found his Grandfather dead in his recliner, redolent of True cigarettes and his Ike Jacket pock marked with holes like a many-eyed monster in a child’s nightmare or pissholes in the dirty snow.
Fuck it. If life is just a copy of an idea time to flip the script. He and Bartleby headed back to the hearth.
He returned to the sonnet. Birds and wires. Love. Love was a kick in the nuts at 2 a.m. as it crawled into bed smelling like oil-based deceit after a night out with “the girls, painting sunflowers and drinking chardonnay…what you don’t believe me?” Love had the canvases to prove it.
No, that’s not love. Never was. Love is looking till you find it. Then not knowing what the fuck it is when you do. Ah, shit, hangovers made him hungry and cynical, terse.
He turned over the sonnet/ receipt. Picked up the phone.
China Garden how may I help?
He cupped his hand over the phone and whispered to Bartleby Thank god for the Chinese.
Taiwanese most likely.
Taiwanese. I was reading online the other day…
That’s it, I’m changing all my passwords.
How many combinations of our birthdays do you think there are?
Returning to the call he said King Kong plays ping-pong in Hong Kong with his ding dong
Cupping the phone again he turned to Bartleby All these fucking questions.
Bartleby licked his balls.
No. No MSG…Wait. Yes! Yes, please lots of MSG, on a scale of 1-5 make it a 27!
Ok. King Kong plays ping-pong in Hong Kong with his ding dong. MSG 27.
You got it pardner. He sniffed the empty bottle of Blue Velvet on the nightstand. They had buried the cap with the old man.
Ten fifteen minute?
He wasn’t sure he could hold out that long. But what the fuck. Did he have a choice?