“…you must say the words, as long as there are any, until they find me, until they say me, strange pain, strange sin, you must go on, perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already…in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable.
The Dude, The Big Lebowski
Zarathustra’s Dragons stormed the stage like Cro-Magnon angels, a feral furry crew, too savage for Redemption, too innocent to Fall. Where their hair ended and their clothes began was painful to discern. The lead singer wore an ornamental bone through his nose. A necklace of human teeth, plucked sentimentally, the press releases claimed, from the jaws of one-night stands, hung to his navel. The band looked like they had been used to scrub a large, industrial kitchen.
Midnight at the Apocalyptic Pancake.
The poet, Buxtehude, impatient for a waitress, reached for my drink. The sting of Brain Death, the house specialty, a heady maelstrom of herb juices and spirits, put the light back in his eyes. The Dragons tuned their instruments, producing sounds like claws on flint.
“I’m lonely. My little lady’s left me,” whined the bard. “My woman dances for another.”
“There, there,” I consoled as best I could. “Now, now. These things happen. Other fish in the sea and all that.”
Our balcony table overlooked The Pit, a sunken dance floor nine feet deep, in which a hundred black-garbed dancers writhed in mindless torsion, bare feet pounding furiously, despite the conspicuous absence of …music.
Buxtehude was as drunk and depressed as I’d ever seen him.
When the tuning ceased, the dancers, sensing the imminence of art– or danger–
stopped briefly, and posed. Menace in the silence. As if the next might be the last noise. As if the Dragons had come not to entertain their audience, but bury them.
“I am become death…” whispered the poet.
“Oh, good grief,” I sighed.
At last the dark millennial minstrels, invoking the powers that spin planets and bend light, commenced to ditty:
“Eat the rich,
Eat the rich,
But don’t eat them all,
They’re too high,
“I remember her black negligee, no larger than a kerchief,” moped the poet, his voice tossed like a sparrow in a gale of sound. “The way she’d scamper across the kitchen on those infinitesimal white feet…”
Buxtehude was, like me, a year past thirty. His Beethoven ‘do evoked the lead gray chaos of a lake storm. Like nearly everyone else at the Apocalyptic Pancake, he wore black. The back of his leather jacket bore a meticulously detailed portrait of Shelley, sporting open collar and wind-blown hair. Instead of a quill pen, Buxtehude’s Shelley held a smoking gun. The bold red caption across the top of the jacket read “Don’t weep for Adonais…” Beneath the portrait were the words, “…avenge him!”
“I can’t live like you,” said Buxtehude. “Evading issues. Skirting time. A poet is supremely mortal. He needs a warm body beside him, always. He needs communication. He needs life.”
I crushed an ice-cube with my teeth. Buxtehude was an old acquaintance, and not a bad fellow, as fellows went, but poets in general bored me to near catatonia. They made me numb.
I sell antiques. The walls of my shop offer photos of a brownish time when even the sun shone sepia in a dull beige sky. Men in bowler hats and skin-tight vests, their mustaches like clumps of bear fur bristling with ale; women stuffed like sausages into dark, double-breasted bodices with wide skirts and Italy-shaped shoes; quiet scenes bracketed by leafy-looking frames of bronze and copper.
Among photographs and artifacts and my elegantly coiffed and tailored clientele I feel most at home. I do not like loud, angry music; superfluous drama; crowds.
I’d inherited the Time Capsule Antique shop and the basement apartment beneath it from my maiden aunt, Gertrude. Dirty Gerty– she had her own particular, if not downright peculiar, pleasures.
“People hate poets,” Buxtehude said.
I thought, “A poker face I haven’t.”
“People especially hate unpublished, spoken-word poets. How many times in one life can a man abide the phrase, ‘Oh, why don’t you just shut up?’ Try to communicate with people, try to reach some sort of accord, and they give you, ‘Oh, why don’t you just shut up!’ I won’t stand for it much longer. I won’t be silenced!”
“But who’s silencing you?” I asked.
Buxtehude laughed, a harsh, empty cackle, like the rattle of a penny in a can.
A waitress appeared. I bought another round.
Buxtehude pointed to a table on the Lower Level, about ten yards from the stage, and not far from the precipice of The Pit. Around the table sat Bogvonian, the filmmaker, and two, young, gray-suited lackeys. Bogvonian was an older man, around sixty. He draped his girth in bright-colored silks. His rings and bracelets glittered, dense with jewels. The shiny skin stretched taut over his skull slackened to loose, thick folds around his collar.
The filmmaker said something out of the side of his mouth. The gray-suits nodded. He bit the foreskin off of a cucumber-sized cheroot and searched his silks for fire. The young men simultaneously extended Zippos.
“It’s Bogvonian, the auteur!” gasped Buxtehude. “He’s come to study Kim. He’s going to film her!”
“If not here, wherever. It’s inevitable. He’ll soak up every drop of her. Kim’s image will be his.”
“She must have quite an act,” I said.
“It’s why we’re here.”
“It’s why you’re here. Why am I?”
“To bear witness.”
“Buxtehude,” I yawned. “Why do this to yourself?”
“I must suffer– I mean, SEE HER. I must see her.”
The filmmaker’s obvious contempt for his surroundings caused him to expectorate a turd-sized wad of phlegm. He whispered to his men, then poked the air as if to tweak a passing fly.
When the Dragons finished their set, he left his table and stood at the edge of The Pit, gazing indifferently upon the young people who danced in silence. He flicked a cigar ash over the tangle of damp, swaying bodies and returned to his table to find that, in his absence, a waiter had heaped his plate with salad. Zarathustra’s Dragons exited behind a curtain.
“When I first met Tiny Kim, she was working as a promo-girl for MamaBubba’s Mini Donuts,” the poet said. “They’d decked her in a tiny, chocolate-dipped bikini. She wore bite-sized crullers round her ankles and a fried-dough choker. Her hair was honey-glazed, her cheeks dusted with sugar. She’d come to The City from out West, hoping to ‘make it’ as an actress.”
“Lemme guess. She only got ‘bit’ parts,” I said. “‘Small’ roles.”
“Not even in the City of Cities are there many leads for a woman two feet tall,” Buxtehude said with a straight face.
The poet had rescued the midget from the sweet exploitations of MamaBubba.
“I took her into my home. I educated her. I won her heart. Of course, I had to schmooze a little. Who doesn’t? I fed her a saucer of folderol about her being ‘pith personified, God’s platinum blonde Haiku.’ A tidbit of hyperbole, an hors d’eorve. Anyway, I meant it at the time.”
For months they lived the domestic life, sponging frugally off of Buxtehude’s modest inheritance. But Kim felt she was made for bigger things, and when the time was right, she pursued them.
“No one will love her like I loved her,” the poet wept. “No one will feel what I felt when I rocked that tiny body in my lap.”
I nodded mechanically. The poet turned away. He screamed at a passing waitress for more Brain Death. She gestured violently, and chastened, he implored.
A new band took the stage. The back-up musicians of Tiny Kim. Thick, cotton-clad men with black shiny hair down to their scapulae. They carried wooden Pan-pipes lashed with gut and sinew and sundry instruments hewn from the flora and fauna of Peru. They played: the cold breath of the Andes, fermented in deep, Inca lungs and mellowed through cylinders of ancient wood, lulled the audience to torpor, loosened eye-lids, lips, nostrils like the vapors of a precious brandy.
“This music is likeable,” I said.
“They’re from out of town,” Buxtehude said. “Kim plucked them from the Classifieds. The ink on their green-cards smears to the touch.”
A mountain of humanity lumbered to the stage, buck naked.
“Bruno has barely enough brains to zip his fly,” Buxtehude explained. “He worked in the Recycling Plant, made his living smashing bottles against a wall. After five years, he was still only an apprentice. Kim hocked a leather bound Keats and a hard-cover Novalis to afford him. I’d given her those books as gifts.”
“Doesn’t he realize where he is, and that he’s naked?”
“Irrelevant. The man’s an idiot. In previous versions of the act Kim had had him enter in a three-piece suit. It took too long for him to free himself. His struggles broke the rhythm of the dance.”
Tiny Kim appeared, a pint of Aphrodite scuttling across the stage. She danced her tiny dance with vigor. The pace of the music accelerated; the pipers’ bronze cheeks glistened. She orbited Bruno like a moon, moving closer, closer, until the music stopped and she stood, arms spread, before him, wearing nothing but Jesus, who died, gnat-sized, on the copper crucifix that dangled from her quadri-pierced left ear.
Bruno’s monstrous member loomed above her like the bald branch of a Red Wood. He lifted her in hands the size of hubcaps. Even the most callous ruffians in the audience gasped as he lowered her to his impossibly enormous bone.
The audience watched, fascinated, as the muscle-bound behemoth, grunting in frustration, turned Kim every which way in search of entry, attempting even to twist her onto himself like a bottle-cap.
Finally, he set her down. Kim stepped backward. As if on cue, the giant’s ponderous erection lost its wind, drooped earthward, hung limp, like a narcotized ferret, from his loins.
Bruno, the Apprentice Bottle-Smasher, lowered himself to his knees. Awkwardly, bearishly, he groped for her.
He bellowed to the Heavens:
He nuzzled Kim’s belly, and licked her tiny triangle of pubis like a stamp.
“I’ve seen enough,” I said. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“Not yet,” said Buxtehude. “I have things planned. It’s not too late for me to DO.”
Tiny Kim, having acknowledged the audience’s wild applause, allowed Bruno to lift her onto his shoulder. She rode the giant down the steps of the stage and straight to Bogvonian’s table. At a nod from the filmmaker, the gray-suits rose from their seats and bowed.
Kim’s lips molded the word “sit.” Bruno, knees bent perpendicular, naked ass parallel to the floor, made a chair of himself. The midget descended to his lap, pulling a cigarette from behind his ear on the way down. Bogvonian lit her smoke with the smoldering end of his cigar.
“I offered her, what, beauty, truth?” said Buxtehude. “She opted for…image.”
The former Bite-sized Cruller Queen reclined against the giant’s stomach, which was flat and steep and cut with muscle like a grid.
“The…uh…CONTRAST between the two of them is striking,” I said.
“She doesn’t really love the giant. He’s an idiot. She’s using him to impress Bogvonian. She needed an image, or rather, counter-image, worthy of the Master’s lens. She wants to be preserved, that’s what’s behind it all.”
I sensed where the poet’s talk was headed. Perhaps I should have done something to stop it. But I knew from experience that such manias as Buxtehude’s must be allowed to wind themselves to completion.
“I’m going to raise a commotion,” he said, grimly. “I’m going to smite the giant, tear him limb from limb. I’m going to carry Kim up to the stage and triumph where that lumbering behemoth so miserably fucked up. I’m going to earn my moments in amber, secure a place for myself in Bogvonian’s oeuvre. I’m going to– ”
Without warning, Zarathustra’s Dragons occupied the stage again and blitzed the Pancake with their second set:
“Ain’t got no love–
Ain’t got no love–
Ain’t got no love–
Ain’t got no love–
It all seemed so ridiculous, so unnecessary, so…disappointing. One minute Buxtehude was pontificating across from me, the next he was staggering across the beer-and-vomit-sticky floor of the lower level, bumping into tables, pushing waiters, waitresses and patrons from his path, until at last reaching Bogvonian’s table, he stood before the midget, arms akimbo, legs apart, expectant.
Tiny Kim wrinkled her brow. She snuffed her cigarette in the ashtray Bruno had made for her of his palm. The poet launched into a tirade, waving his arms, stamping his feet. Kim looked to the filmmaker for assistance.
Bogvonian rolled his fat cigar slowly between nut-brown teeth and eyed the impassioned wordsmith with distaste.
Buxtehude lifted the nude midget from the giant’s thigh– not without her protest– and set her on the table beside a bottle of Bordeaux. He pummeled Bruno furiously, cursing at the top of his lungs– the music absorbed his every syllable.
Though the poet’s doughy fists could hardly hurt the giant, Bruno’s eyes churned huge tears which tumbled bluely down the parking-lot-sized surface of his face. He remained in position, like a marble couch, immovable, while the midget pleaded with the filmmaker for action.
Bogvonian, mouth stuffed to capacity with tobacco and escarole, nodded to his lackeys. They rose, dabbed their lips with napkins, folded the napkins neatly on their plates. Nostrils dilated, cheeks crimson with instant rage, they converged upon the poet, who was now trying desperately to strangle Bruno, his wiry arms enveloping the giant’s tree-trunk neck like vines.
“I should do something,” I thought. “But really. Truly. Honestly. What can I do?”
The gray-suits unclasped Buxtehude’s hands, twisted his skinny arms behind his back and pulled. The pop of humeri wrenched from their sockets reverberated through the Pancake, causing even the lead singer of Zarathustra’s Dragons to grimace, mid-lyric, and touch a finger to his heart.
Again the music sucked the life from Buxtehude’s screams. I stared down helplessly into the futile darkness of the poet’s mouth.
Swinging him by his long legs and stretched, useless arms, the gray-suits, with a syncopated “Heave! Ho! Heave!” tossed the poet high over The Pit. He hung for agonizing nano-seconds before falling.
The disappearance of a human form into the jungle of dancers, the spectacle of a body swallowed whole, had its predictable effect upon the audience. Heads turned desperately to Zarathustra’s Dragons. The Apocalyptic Pancake became all eyes, ears and mouths which pleaded for the band’s electric succor.
Tiny Kim dabbed the giant’s egg-sized tears with the fringe of a silk cape proffered by Bogvonian.
Out of some vestigial sense of duty, or more accurately, pity– the weakness that had coaxed me to the Pancake in the first place– I descended to the lower level and stood for almost an hour at the precipice of The Pit, searching for a glimpse of Buxtehude, or Shelley, in the misty, churning swamp of flesh, leather, cotton. But the crowd was so dense I couldn’t see the dancers’ feet, much less what was under them, and I resigned myself to never drinking or conversing with the bard again.
Bogvonian’s table was now empty. A busboy peeled a partially eaten lettuce leaf from the filmmaker’s plate and slipped it into a small, clear plastic bag. A souvenir.
I navigated asphalt gullies of the City under strips of navy sky, breathing, reluctantly, the dense air of metropolis, cluttered as it was with particles of soot and rot. I was impatient for daylight and watching customers stroll among the escritoires and funnel-mouthed Victrolas; the cut-glass bowls and crystal cabinets; the gadgets, knick-knacks and no-longer-relevant machines; the musty detritus of strangers’ lives.
I entered the Time Capsule Antique Shop, and locked and bolted the door. I shook the City from my coat, and descended to the basement.
Alone– at last!– in bed, I gazed upon the bronze-framed photograph of the Flapper, circa 1922. She wore a sleeveless frock; a string of pearls; stockings rolled thickly at her knees. A glittering cloche hat capped her shingled hair. She clamped a virgin cigarette between her teeth, head turned opposite her outthrust hip, forever young and waiting for a light.
The usual fantasy. It never changed: she dances on a table top, wild under the stars, pearls orbiting her pretty head like moons. I pull a lighter from my white flannel suit and offer her a light and utter lush, erotic sentences inspired by her gyrating buttocks and the boomerang contortions of her limbs.
The faster she danced, the faster the music played, the faster and harder I plunged myself into my fist, until with genuine release, I gushed, and whispered “Love,” and twisted my head against the white oak bed board, and stoically experienced hiatus, landing. Not Romantic ecstasy, exactly, but not all bad.
Afterward, the cooling, clammy goo. Oh, and sunrise.
ADAM ENGEL probably needs to get away for a while. If you know anyplace cheap but sunny and spacious, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org