Beyond the Valley

Shenandoah Breakdown presents an excerpt from bart plantenga’s novel, Beer Mystic.

Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation & Light
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 this chapter / cover by David Sandlin.]

<< Beer Mystic #15: Paraphilia

Beer Mystic Excerpt #16

Painting by David SandlinDjuna gave me a crash course in table manners with one hand on the wheel, up the Sawmill River Parkway with one eye left on the road as we drove through the phalanx of emerald and maize landscapes.

“But why we doing this? I mean, I thought you hated me. I thought we were kaput and through.”

“I don’t hate you, I pity you. It’s supreme benevolence. It’s hope against hope. It’s last-ditch redemption time.”

“Oh, you had me worried there.”

“Listen, I’m determined to make something out of you.”

“Like a manhole out of a molehill.”

“Like a real man who can balance a checkbook – for fuck’s sake – OPEN a checking account.”

“I thought I was the fuck of your life.”

“Yea, but a fuck quickly becomes a fuck-UP if something else doesn’t happen with it.”

“We fucked ourselves into a corner.” When I act naïve it sounds scarily convincing.

“OK, if you say so. Now, some subjects to avoid: Republicans, both my parents’re kneejerk Republicans. They’re hopin’ that if they just keep voting and working for the interests of the entitled class they will some day be recognized and allowed into the club. New subjects: Black Monday, Oliver North, a true American hero in dad’s eyes. Don’t talk about wars – Iran, Nicaragua and otherwise. Dad says wars’re necessary for peace and low unemployment. No sex. They think it’s a topic designed to harass them. Alcohol – they’re teetotalers but will permit one glass of wine or beer. Don’t complain if it’s Coors. Don’t lecture them on Gallo. They don’t wanna hear about the blood of the workers. If it’s Coors, remember just one beer and your sense of superior taste can just deal with it. So don’t go filling glass after glass. Don’t even bother to go looking in the refrigerator. That’s no-mans-land. My mom’ll getchu anything you need. Don’t go on about mall blight and how it reflects an empty culture. They believe in malls because of jobs. Malls are progress – just remember that. And fast food – well, you know how my dad’s an aficionado. You might even say he’s a bit of a patriot, if you can get patriotic about fast food. If you were nice you’d ask to see his collection of fast food packaging. He’d be glad to man-to-man it down in the den or garage…”

She checked my fingernails doing 65. The car – I didn’t ask. It was an Alfa Romeo, had an FM radio, got us there fast and no doubt borrowed from the Times Square Valentine tycoon. She further instructed me on how to react to her parents’ quirks, how they talked with their mouths full, Dad’s funny noises when he cleaned his teeth, how Mom might change clothes maybe half a dozen times during the course of the evening to show off any of her latest mail order purchases because she never gets to go out. And so on.

She snatched the beer bottle from between my knees. Chucked it out her window.

“Hey, that’s a Wieckse Witte!”

“Yea, and it’s not even noon. You’re gonna have to find some ‘witte’ and courage somewhere else today.” She handed me a stick of gum. I held my shoulder bag with secret stash of several bottles wrapped in paper to prevent them from klinking. She made me repeat stock niceties after her.

“That’s a great stone wall there,” she suggested.

“That’s a great way to get stoned, Mr. Schmeling.”

“Come on. Don’t be childish. That’s a nice hair-do, Mrs. Schmeling.”

“That’s a beautiful soufflé, I mean hairdo, Mrs. Schmeling.”

“Just be somebody else for this once.”

“But what’s in it for me, for you, for us, carting me out her like some spousal equivalent?”

“It deflects the inquisition.” The bouquet, which smelled of nothing, was already wilted by the time the borrowed Alfa climbed the gravel-rut driveway. And the Sip & Slurp coffee she made me guzzle just amplified the shrill constricting urgency of our already collapsing day.

“And the car’s yours and you’re in advertising and you worked on – I dunno – the ‘Where’s the Beef?’ campaign for Burger King…”

“Wendy’s, 1984. Used by Mondale to…”

“Whatever!”

The house of Mom was orderly, a tenuous orderliness made so just for us, and you just knew that the moment we departed all things would exhale and fall back into their comfortable and natural disarrangement of clutter. This was the kind of power Djuna had over her Mom. And I was a symbol of the power Mom and Dad still had over her. I was all the junk shoved into the closet. I was the closet door. I was the broom sweeping all the vagueness that was the life of artist Djuna into a mirage.

There were new, tasteful Pennsylvania Dutch-style placemats, naturally scented candles, everything meant to appease Djuna’s imperious sense of aesthetics. These were manifestations of détente, of perhaps a relaxation in the generational cold war, which had been fought for over a dozen years now.

“Isn’t that Rex’s car? He was darling. Such a charming guy. And successful too. Whatever happened to him?” Rex equals Times Square Ticker.

“Alright Mom, I get the point! How about Rex got run over by his own ego!”

“Doesn’t Furman have a car?”

“Mom, he can talk. Ask him yerself!”

“She can be sooo… moody, touchy.” Mom Schmeling whispered aloud toward me.

“No, Mrs. Schmeling. I find myself echoing the words of Ralph Nader every time I even think of buying a car.”

“Oh dear. Well, welcome to our home, Furman. Djuna has mentioned you…” As in sexually transmitted disease?

I detected odors of things fried years ago, emerging from holes not quite sealed. And there, perhaps a piece of fruit lost under the couch. Closets crammed full of accumulated trinkets and useless flotsam. A symphony of powdery odors, like an old widow’s bathroom, that was meant to muffle more unsettling human odors.

And I, too, smelled like a cover-up. Like a thousand nervous dates doused in too much cologne and mouthwash, a bad actor in an even worse movie.

Mom popped out of the kitchen like a little June Jetson with a serving tray of microwaved frozen hors d’oeuvres. Her mangled attempt at French [Peter Sellers School] made it “oars dee ovaries.” Sometimes people make fun of their own mispronunciations just to inoculate themselves to the criticism of others. And in this kind of situation, her parents must have frequently cowered in the wrathful sneer of the worldly Djuna.

“They’re French. They’re good!”

“Yea, like Paris, Texas.” I gave Djuna a look that was meant to remind her of what she had told me.

“So whattayuh do, son?” I looked away from Dad and right at Djuna. Was this a trick question? Did he mean do with or to his daughter? It was as if Dad needed to know, to rub in, exactly how right he was at how wrong his daughter could be. Had Djuna really never said anything to them about what it was I did in the whole year that we’d been together? But what could she say?

“I’m in advertising. I had a hand in the ‘Where’s the…”

“He’s a ‘writer.’” Djuna interrupted, undermining our strategy and pronouncing “writer” as if she, herself, had decided a pen in my hand was not unlike a scalpel in the hand of a drunken butcher. Or lead ankle weights clamped to the ankles of a skinnydipper.

“There’s a whole world between want-to-be and cer-tain-ty we used to say in the 265th Infantry, 1952, Korea. What’s he do to pay the rent?”

“Why don’t you ask Furman yourself?”

“Actually, sir, I lift boxes, move’m around, send’m out from here to there – stock clerk, assistant manager of a warehouse, right at 16th and Union Square.”

“Nothin’ wrong with honest work, son.”

“What’s so honest about it, anyhow, Dad? As long as it sucks your soul out, leaves you too tired to even think for yourself? I mean…”

“Your Dad was only making small talk, DeeJay.”

“Don’ call me ‘Dee Jay’! My name’s Djuna.” I’m a DJ too, I almost interjected.

“Yea, ’s right, Doll, I’m just makin’ small talk to make Foreman feel at home.”

“FUR-man!” Djuna’s skin was extra thin and pink.

“Like a man who works in furs, FURman? Doll…”

“I’m not yer pull-the-string doll!” Someone was twisting on the volume knob.

“I happened to’ve made a good living doing that very thing. Ain’t a thing wrong with it, son. Now, I think writing’s good if you’re in television. Commercials, for instance. Why, I hear they paid three million dollars to come up with ‘Coke Is It.’ That’s a million a word! Refrigeration and air conditioning, now there’s two fields about to explode. Why with world warming up and all that, if you can believe the news. So, are you a writer or are you workin’ in a warehouse?”

“I do both. I try to dig up time in the strangest places.”

“Dad, what he actually does for a living is write pornNOGraphy. And he’s good at it too. He does LOTS of research. It’s a subject he REALLY gets INTO.” It suddenly felt warmer inside – the rising temperature of risky innuendo. Her former strategy of no sex talk, had flown out the window. Disdain and sex were the only conditions that could flare Djuna’s nostrils.

“Safer to write about it.” The aim of dad’s voice moving from us to Mom. “And a less disgustin business than actually having to DO it, eh, Darl!” He blurted out into the vicinity of Mom back in the kitchen. I felt that I was rapidly becoming the hot potato in a game that probably has a name in a certain magazine that targets certain parents. And my head was the bomb and my hair the lit fuse. Meanwhile, Djuna went on complimenting me, not to compliment me, mind you, but more to eat away at Dad’s prudish sense of decorum. They grew suspicious of me as if I’d done something cruel to their daughter like make her happy [for a couple of months, anyway].

Her Mom loved Katie Lee Norplant, famous spokesmodel, fitness activist, beauty consultant, and co-host of the hit gameshow, Tongue Lashing. She thought all girls should aspire to look like her. What’d I think?

“She’s tall.”

“The longest most beautiful fingers in show business. Look at those healthy nails! She started out as a hand model – still spends $500 a week on her hands! – until a photographer discovered there was a lot more beauty to exploit attached to the wrists goin’ the other way.” It was entirely possible that Mom had acquired these opinions just to get Djuna’s goat. And it was a very fat goat indeed. Mom was also capable of turning on the PBS lingo that made you think she may have been unduly cultivated as well.

“I love Pavarotti,” Mom gushed.

“Gimme rigatonis any day!” Dad chimed in. To chide is the verb we’re looking for here.

Mom or Dot or Doll or Darl – she played so many roles – continued to marvel at Katie Lee’s incredible nails. “Insured for $180,000! Just the nails!” Mom thought Katie Lee’s self-confidence and grace as she presented the lavish prizes on Tongue Lashing put her far ahead of the rest of the pack as THE heir to Marilyn Monroe’s throne. “SHE’s the real star of Tongue Lashing!” Mom ventured boldly.

Meanwhile, Dad loved to hate everything Mom adored. Wink Martindale, Lashings host, for instance. Or as he saw it; “She loves all this stuff to irritate me.” He preferred talk about ammunition, glue guns, famous stone walls – especially those in the north of England – he pays tribute to with his walls or the secret sauces of various fast-food chains or describing a certain “Honeymoon Hotel” outside Miami in 1960: newlyweds on the cheap, cheap champagne. “Remember where the cork went Darl, haha?”

“It’s not allowed to be called champagne unless it’s actually from the Champagne region of France. Otherwise, its just sparkling wine. I saw it on PBS.”

“We like to think of it as the night we discovered birth control. The cork – get it? It’s the night we manufactured our little Dee Jay.” Why was Dad being so… randy? Djuna had her suspicions and suspicions only led to seething. But rather than say anything, she just stomped off to brood in various rooms where she could talk to the walls. I could hear her muffled voice emerging from her old bedroom.

Dad called all the family’s women “Darl” or “Doll.” Anyway, not bad, this motel. If I continued to hear right. I was the only one still listening. “Pink flamingo wallpaper. Sturdy mattress. Nothing extraordinary. Newlyweds don’t need extraordinary, just cinderblock painted pink and surf and turf. Maybe a kidney-shaped swimming pool.” He showed me an old postcard of the motel that he pulled from a drawer somewhere. He pointed to the very room – it was circled – where the deed had been done.

He liked this story immensely – every newcomer heard it – because he knew how much it irritated Djuna. This was just one of hundreds of inversely related sycofanatical interactions that seemed to propel this family unit headlong into the realm of justified multiple homi-infanti-matri-patricide.

Djuna made faces at every reference to parental copulation. She was wringing imaginary necks, gnashing her teeth. She just couldn’t get past the gruesome images of her parents actually doing it. Even if it was only once or twice. And the notion that she was spawned from such vile ignorance made her nauseous. And I’d already learned way too much, way too fast. And so I quickly turned to drastic life-support measures. I had learned, quite by accident, the art of reprocessing beer that had already long ago entered the spongiest and most rarefied regions of the cerebrum. I discovered that when you teach yourself to burp [age nine] you can actually haul back a certain percentage of the previous night’s beer intake. It works a little like smelling salts or a cow chewing its cud. I burped, there was barley, and I was gone. One might call it a spiritual lifesaver or an escape clause.

Djuna emphatically grabbed my wrist out of nowhere and yanked me off the couch, scent of beer caught in my sinuses, and whisked me into theatrical retreat to her bedroom even though we’d only arrived an hour ago and I had yet to compliment Mom by eating hors d’oeuvres round #3.

In her room, she was wringing imaginary necks in thin air as I looked around this reconstructed hot pink and black diorama of defiant memorabilia, Clash posters, dangerous teen jewelry, handcuff bracelets, Munch reprints. And here she plunged into me, seducing me or a “me” she needed me to be more than ever for the occasion. She sucked me off loudly, voraciously as if lechery could cleanse her soul. Took the foreskin between her teeth. Made me go down on her, ramming my nose against her clitoris while she pinched my nipples. I held onto the bedposts, which banged with a vengeance against her wall as she rode me and rode me until her pubic hair left a brush burn on my belly. Then she had me ejaculate all over her chest and belly. We rubbed the sperm all over her body, finger-painted it across her belly, into her skin and waited for it to dry. Everything was emphatic, as if sex was going to somehow leech the past from her system. Change her identity. As if motion could overcome memory. We were both someone else to each other, like actors in a porn movie. This was how we managed to smile at one another in the pink and black denouement.

She lay on her side, leaning on her elbow as she showed me her crushed middle finger on her left hand. I had never noticed it before. She circled my nipple with it.

“It feels like the Creature from the Glue Lagoon.”

I did not want to go back out there. Despite the retro-artsy and defiant zaniness of her room it was a definite respite, a refuge of calm she had no doubt often retreated to. And that it could be securely locked from the inside made me wonder what had gone on here for all those years.

“I wish I had a joint.”

“The Suture from the Blue Balloon.”

“My Dad crushed it when he got mad cuz he thought I was doggin’ it when we were forced to work on his goddamn stone walls every weekend, 8 hours every Saturday and 6 hours every Sunday. And Mom never said anything in our behalf. For 7 years.”

“That’s forced child labor.”

“Yep. From when I was 9 to when I was 16. So those are my walls. I built’m. And this is just one of the casualties. My sister’s got broken toes that didn’t heal back right so now she never goes anywhere without shoes on. Forget sandals.”

“The Future of the Groomed Cartoon. I just wonder if this is – I don’t mean this – I mean comin’ up here with me, I mean, I’ve got two to three months left.”

“At best.”

“So why introduce a soon-to-be-doorstop?”

“You function so adequately sometimes I just forget that you are you. Forget ambrosia, here’s sweet amnesia.”

We emerged hours [maybe it was only half an hour] later groggy and squint-eyed. My face glazed with the fragrance of her wishbone. Her chest plastered with sperm. I was terrified. But Djuna smirked slyly, bounced coquettishly on the couch. Her parents with their blindered eyes glued to the TV. Averted our eyes. It’s a free country. The sound had been turned up to drown out any bedroom noise.

Mom and Dad each had their own channel changer which had spawned their odd and elaborate sport of screen fencing, or “zapping,” a kind of armchair jousting, where both and neither of these TV warriors was ever totally satisfied or thoroughly victorious.

The football game was a blow out but Mom didn’t dare zap it even though Dad was tipped back in his easy chair, a real “Castro-naut,” hands folded on his belly, feigning sleep. “Nothin’ to do with that S.O.B. in Cuba,” he reassured me.

TV zapping defined the outlines of their mutual respect. She didn’t zap football, he didn’t zap Tongue Lashing or PBS. He would just wander out to the garage. His easy chair, the den and the garage were the extent of his territory. Although his domain included the stonewalls and the yard as well. The rest, like venturing into the kitchen, required permission or a guide.

When he “awoke” he offered up a grumpy growl, which was intended as his opinion on football players: “Buncha hot dogs, don’t know guts or fundamentals anymore.”

Mom leafed through women’s magazines, whipping the pages furiously – SSHHLLIICKK-SSHHLLIICKK – one after another. One article featured Katie Lee Norplant which offered no-nonsense tips on Autumn skin maintenance. Dad kept the football game on. This was not so much because he was interested but because it was a show of power, territorial imperative, a way of squeezing a little satisfaction from the situation, satisfaction that at least he was preventing Mom from finding one of her programs.

Sis was back from whichever mall. She took her big bags straight back to her room. Djuna said she stored all her purchases there; closets full of unopened bags, unworn clothes, sale tags still attached.

“The bargain hunter is like the deer hunter.” Djuna leaned over in a whisper. “Like bagging a deer, the idea was to bag bargains. It’s for sport. Everything else, the actual goods are just anti-climactic and secondary. The psycho-sexual relationship is that of buyer to cashier. If you wanted to seduce my Sis, all you’d have to do is record the sound of cash registers and play that for her by electric candlelight.”

“Or pass my Visa card’s magnetic strip between her knees.”

“If you had one.”

Different people were loyal to different malls up here. Kids carry the bags emblazoned with the logos of malls to school. There have even been some recent reports of “mallings” where various groups of mall loyalists brawl with a gang loyal to another.

“I had no idea that life had become so brutal and tribal out here.” I didn’t.

“And everybody’s able to articulate the good and bad of each of the area’s half dozen malls,” Djuna did.

“It’s like Mall-side Story or somethin’.”

“So how was Sleepy Hollow Plaza?” Mom asked.

“Awh, Mom! Plazas are for Spandex Spuds and losers! We were at the Mall.”

“But which one, Fiona? There’s so many around here. I can’t even keep track.” Mom was right.

“There’s only one REAL mall, Mom, Lemures South – it’s where all the hip people go. They give you a free makeover and you don’t even have to buy nothin’.”

“To the natives their mall is the mall.” Djuna was waxing anthropological.

“Like the names of old tribes translates into the chosen people or the people?”

“Yea, something like that.”

“Today was punk makeovers. Next Saturday is beatniks and then Saturday Night Fever and…” Sis was almost out of breath and that was saying something since almost nothing raised her pulse rate any more.

Mom began reciting part three of “Autumn Radiant Skin With Katie Lee” to Djuna’s Sis. Sis hated to be reminded that she USED to have skin “like porcelain from China.”

“Fried foods and cigarettes.” Mom listed other causes: Too much, or not enough, sleep, chocolate, improper breathing patterns, pollution.

“So I get blamed for pollution too!?” Sis was indignant.

Sis had recently been laid off from a “good” job as assistant manager at The World Is a Ghetto, a store of social awareness, which sold the work of artisans from such places as Bangladesh, Eritrea, Calcutta, the favelos of Rio De Janeiro, the barrios of Mexico City, the ghettoes of Cleveland, East L.A., Detroit, Houston. And Sis was now taking full advantage by sleeping in, sleeping late, sleeping over at her fiancée’s, sleeping to escape, sleep as therapy, sleep as diet. She also spent a lot of time on her hair, on shopping lists, and preparations for her wedding.

Djuna now faced her Dad, looked straight into his eyes and said, “Oh Dad, Furman just screwed me sooo good. I just love his thing. You don’t even know. It’s so WONderful!” Sis laughed until it got squeezed into a delirious squeal. She loved to see Dad squirm in silence. An entire childhood of suffering avenged in just one declarative statement: “We’re a research partnership. We’re trying to get into Guinness Book of World Records or till one of us explodes.” This might have been true at one time, but sex had long ago been replaced by bickering.

Mom hastily threw dinner on the table as a diversionary tactic. “Dinner’s served!”

Djuna had done something brash, something you might see in a movie, something you always wished you were capable of. During dinner my every bite was scrutinized. I could hear myself chew. I could hear Sis breathing through her stuffed-up nose. I could see her eyes begin to flirt, to flit like butterflies into my eyes. I imagined them all imagining me defiling their little Djuna. I saw that Sis was intrigued by this idea.

Actually, it WAS all very funny. In hindsight, like we laugh off brushes with death. But not while it was happening. Maybe now. Yea, I can laugh about it now.

Mom changed the subject by beginning a harangue against bag ladies, “I read they’re invading Upstate. It’s like an infestation. A lot of them have AIDS or that new TB. And most of them have amazing bank accounts…” And then, seamlessly, we were listening to tax tales of horror and, just as seamlessly, about the declining quality of today’s underwear.

Dad grew melancholy, morbid, withdrawn, acted hurt. This did not deter him, however, from going on and on about his master plan for worldwide implementation of pay toilets as a method for reducing the national debt. He once sat next to a Congressman on a commuter flight and had fed the Congressman his many excretory nuggets. According to Dad, the Congressman loved his idea and promised to draw up legislation that would mandate pay toilet installation and create an export strategy.

When this failed to impress us he tried the torpedoed-ship-men-on-fire-jumping-ship-in-shark-infested-waters-in-the-Pacific story. Or was it Korea? Or Guatemala? This story too, had long ago gone dog-eared.

Mom, in the meantime, harassed Sis with makeover ideas, of how she would look even MORE like Katie Lee if Sis would just allow Mom to pay for a hair job.

“Yea, like Katie Lee cut off at the knees.” Djuna jabbed. “Like a model put through a trash compactor.”

Sis was short. Broad in the posterior. Body shaped like an empty Mateus bottle, the kind of shape Hispanic men went crazy for. And she could tell you hundreds of stories. She had even dated several to get under Dad’s skin.

“It was like they were so fixated on my butt that I felt the rest of me was like a third wheel.”

The only REAL resemblance to Katie Lee was the blond hair. Fiona – the mere pronunciation of her name seemed to onomatopoetically define her brimming cartoonish contours – in her capri pants, too-small tee shirt, hint of navel and baby bulge.

Dad hated what he called “ed-JEW-cated peoples.” As if education was Anti-American or cheating in the game of life. “The ed-JEW-cated are mostly Jews and most Jews are Communists.”

Dad got HIS education on the streets, the high seas, old issues of Argosy magazine and time spent in Korea and Bangkok. The mere mention of Bangkok and “REAL women” set Mom off like smoke to a smoke alarm. Amazing how this 2-day pass to Bangkok and this 20-minute prostitute had accumulated an importance that overshadowed almost everything in his own life including his mother, his wife, his war, his job.

“Why’d’yuh think they call it BANG COCK!?” Djuna was never one to lose her bearings on her way to a throat.

Dad had last worked a loading dock for a place that manufactured surveillance devices, electric eyes, and smart bombs. “Smart bombs aimed at dumb people – they wear our jeans while they’re burning our flag. That sickens me.”

Mom spritzed whipped cream over fruit cocktail suspended in Jell-O – she called it something that sounded like French spoken on Mars. The loud sprits of the can shut Dad up. He glared at Mom. She was always futzing around in the kitchen when he was trying to make a point. This irritated him and he was sure that she knew just how much.

Djuna preferred to call Fiona “Sis” because it more effectively pinned Sis to her “impoverished” surroundings. Sis bragged a bit about her fiancé, or, more accurately, his inheritance, and the Porsche his parents promised him when he graduated from college.

“More like IF,” Djuna corrected.

“My lay-off’s good practice for my future life of leisure,” Sis gloated. “But a life of leisure is full of responsibility. Like for the wedding; there’s a million things I gotta think about. Just dealing with the wedding gown…”

“Oh, Fiona, the whole affair is getting outa hand.”

“Awh Mom, it’s just that it’s being designed by Albert DaSalvo. He’s a world-famous designer.”

The name, though, did not ring a bell with any of the rest of us. Sis thought we were just playing dumb to bug her. Sis commandeered Dad’s zapper and flicked furiously through the channels, up and down, back and forth. That would show all of us.

Then Dot somehow managed to tune in to a PBS program about Jamaica: “The firefly larvae remain in moist humus for up to two years, feeding on slugs and snails often twice the size of the larvae themselves. The shrouded peaks of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains is home to 50 varieties of firefly… Columbus described Jamaica’s topography to Queen Isabella by silently crumpling a sheet of paper and tossing it on the table.”

“Ganja.” Was all Djuna said. I thought I knew what she meant by it.

“They should just napalm the whole island. That’d take care of the mari-JEW-huana problem.”

The following program was about AIDS, which prompted Sis to announce, “I been on the pill since I was 15.” While she picked her toes and ate what she managed to dig out from under her nails.

This bugged Dad. “It’s not for lack of things to eat. You’re not a monkey! Although I’m beginnin’ to wonder.” It was as if Dad had been put on this earth to be perturbed. And Sis had 10 toes so Dad could be perturbed 10 times.

“Nobody’s just normal anymore,” he lamented. This sense of nostalgia for a past that never existed reminded me of going to Djuna’s grandparents’ house for dinner once [meeting them before meeting her parents!] just down the road and while waiting for dinner to be served we ran across her father’s parents’ shrine to Adolf Hitler. A biography in English with yellow tattered news clippings of Hitler pressed into the middle, Mein Kampf in German and a few other wartime mementos. Djuna was honestly shocked. Dinner was a strange event – quiet with a grandfather clock ticking in the background and grandpa slurping his soup.

“Dad wanted boys. I was a tomboy, which although I really tried, wasn’t good enough.”

I excused myself and grabbed my beer from my should bag and, in the bathroom, sucked down my Judas, a blond Belgian beer fermented in the bottle, 8.5% alcohol, kept for just such a crisis. Potent and delicious! It took some edge off the day. I tossed the bottle out the bathroom window, onto the lawn. I rinsed my mouth out with toothpaste but it took Djuna about 30 seconds to guess.

“How many’d you have?” She whispered.

“Jus’ one. My soul was thirsty.”

Sis was rattling on about old boy friends – in chronological order. There had been many.

“What about Georgee? He was a doozy, pouring flat beer over his corn flakes. HooWEE!”

“It’s Hor-Hay!”

“More like ‘hey whore’ if yuh ask me!”

Sis negotiated her fetishized posterior – perpetually well-framed by her choice of pants and sculptural fabrics – and with a dramatic sniff and sigh and plopped it down into my lap like a wet sack of groceries and then wrapped her legs around my waist and just sighed her “Ow revoir” as in “Owch” [2 years of French]. She gripped my waist with a twitch of her thighs and then meticulously lifted her full splendor [2.5 cartons of copier paper] off my lap with an operatic purr. Djuna just glared knives at everyone. And I was already one of them in her eyes.

“He’s cute,” Fiona enthused. I wasn’t sure she meant it or meant it as knife thrust to Djuna’s heart. This made Djuna mad. Which made Sis glad. Fiona even wiggled her ample breadloaf buttocks there as if she were putting out a cigarette.

Dad chuckled, pretending it was something on TV. But Djuna knew better.

“Am I crushing anything?”

“Not yet, Fiona,” I said in full defiance of Djuna’s ban on the use of Sis’s real name. Fiona’s charms were hyper-voluptuous, garish even [like a Studebaker and an Edsel were beautiful in their own ways], and one could appreciate these charms – nipples poking through mohair – without having to take Sis seriously. Some men appreciate that in a woman, the ability to be an exhibitionist with no strings attached. Fiona dancing to a Chevrolet commercial.

And when it finally dawned on Djuna that Mom had not changed into her usual half-dozen eveningwear incarnations – in fact, she hadn’t changed at all! – Djuna felt hurt, betrayed, livid. I burped and the Judas came to my assistance. My soul reabsorbed its potent and rarefied effluvium. In the daydream I don’t have a face. My voice comes from a garden, from flowers, floodlights, and the bust of Venus. And one day, ganja began pouring out of the factory stacks. A bloodless coup of sorts, that altered crime stats, affected blood counts and vision. And beer was available in post offices and suddenly love was no longer a maligned concept. It seemed nice and important again.

“It’s funny, women, with their game shows. We men know ALL them game shows are rigged. That’s what separates us from women. We can figure things like that out,” Dad declared as we stood in the driveway. Our departing such sweet sweetness. A sigh of relief the size of a dinghy. He winked my way as if to say men should stick together. If that’s indeed what he thought I was. And what’d I think. This teed Mom off: “They’re leaving! Say goodbye and shut up!” Mom handed us leftover instant mashed potatoes in Tupperware through the car window.

By the time we had backed halfway down the driveway Djuna’s face had dramatically changed shape. It looked like some Latin fruit I did not know the name of. Sweat clung to her quivering upper lip as Dad waved furiously, shouting directions. “Turn the wheel to the left! Christ, women just can’t get the hang of backin’ down a simple driveway! Doesn’t Fo-min drive?”

Suddenly Djuna pressed the clutch to the floor, took her other foot off the brake – a freefall aimed right at Dad, who leaped out of the way, clinging to his stonewall, grumbling on about “lady drivers.”

“Sorry Dad.” A quick vicious smile I was invited to partake of.

On the Saw Mill, I promised to be nicer to Djuna, knowing what I now knew about her family. But earnestness would soon turn to pity. And pity from the pitiable is a little like liberation theology taught by a prisoner.

Djuna gave me her silent treatment, seething somewhere between betrayal, contempt, and pity.

“I mean, you shoulda just taken her in the bathroom. It’d be as close as you get to baptism in this family. At this point I wouldn’t give you sex if it was the last breath of life available to your unresuscitatable body,” she hissed at me as we merged onto the Henry Hudson Parkway. The dynamic of our relationship “works” this way: At a certain instant it turned from thinking – even hoping! – it would last forever to wondering when it would end. Even just wishing there was a way to end it. Because grace, in a way, is learning how to make pity gather around you in a dramatic and constructive way.

Being nice to someone like Djuna becomes increasingly difficult the longer you’re with that someone. And, at some point, the only way to be nice is to pity the other person. Longevity breeds familiarity, and familiarity boredom, and boredom contempt. And expediency, defined by out-of-this-world but totally verifiable rents, dictated that certain indignities get in the way of pride. I was just Djuna’s roommate now, and the idea was that I would pay half the rent – and, meanwhile, find a new place. It was a good idea. But I had more important things to do, such as verify the relationship of my purported electromagnetic field [that fits me like a wetsuit] to that of streetlights. And in no time I fell many months behind in the rent.

“You know what I’d wish for if my mind could recreate that quaint old mechanism called wishing? A transferable intelligence, something that’d crawl up into bright molecules of venom and I’d have a molecule’s point of view as the poison takes hold inside you.”

“But you already been there for 6 months. Just take a look, you see the effects of your poison.”

Later Djuna confessed to me that her dad always first thing stripped all the bells and flashing lights off their Xmas toys before they could play with them. And how Dad used to pop squirrels because they made nests in the attic, made a racket, ate the shingles, bugged him to no end. Him building weird screens and contraptions to prevent the squirrels from raiding the bird feeder. Sitting in the dining room at 6 a.m. waiting. And after he shot one she’d have to go fetch it. As I listened I took her deformed finger and put it into my mouth. That she didn’t yank it out meant there was still something there, something she did not want to admit for fear of making “it” difficult. Dad would tell her to throw it in the garbage but, instead, she’d bury it, say a little prayer for it. It made me think that maybe underneath all this thick skin was a tender little girl on her bony knees burying a fuzzy dead thing.

“Tell me again the circumstances of this lovely deformity. ET! ET!”

“Another time.” She withdrew.

The open road pointed in the right direction, further away and far from her parents’ house. And it smelled of freedom. And Djuna was silent and remained so for weeks because she could not tell me why she was periodically drawn back to me or this place that used to be called home.

She let me off in front of the apartment so she could park the Alfa in the parking garage between 1st and A. She did not want me to know that he had parked it there for her, so close to our place, and would pick it up again the following day. Just for her.

“Maybe blood is thicker’n poison,” she observed two weeks later.

Beer Mystic Excerpt #17-18: Nictoglobe >>

~•~

bart plantenga is also the author of Wiggling Wishbone and Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man both published by Autonomedia. His book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World received worldwide attention. He is currently [not] working on a new novel, Paris Sex Tete, which lies around like an apathetic, half-clad, dissheveled paramour while his new book on yodeling Yodel in HiFi, will no doubt be a bread-winner of epiglottal proportions. His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air since 1986, first on WFMU [NY], then Radio Libertaire [Paris], and finally Radio 100 and now Radio Patapoe [Amsterdam], the world’s most untamed and oldest pirate radio station. He lives in Amsterdam.

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