FOGGED IN FRISCO
Carl Wendt, hardboiled poet and flaneur, aka the Bay Area’s Baudelaire,
now homeless and down on his luck, muses on another aspect of his life where
luck has failed him: women—they can be delightful, and they can be dangerous.
Excerpt from Ode To Sunset
A Year In The Life Of American Genius
A fiction by Pat Nolan
All women are crazy some of the time. Some women are crazy all of the time, but not all women are crazy all of the time. The old Orphic trick to avoid being ripped to shreds is to know how to identify some of those women and stay well away from them. It’s not always that easy. I tell myself that I’m done with cheap meaningless sex, but when it comes right down to it, I can never bring myself to pass up a bargain. Women by being penetrable are impenetrable. You can have your cake and eat it too but it’s very expensive. Culture does not so easily overcome biology’s overriding purpose.
Angie had dragged me to an art gallery opening on Market, of all places. This was around the time she was shopping for suitable seed with which to become impregnated. Maybe I was showing off. I’d said it before, and it mostly got a laugh. “Forget the sperm bank, I’m a walking ATM.” Third time was not a charm. I’ll never forget what I saw in her eyes at that moment: rage, disgust, disappointment, betrayal. Don’t shoot the messenger I wanted to say but I’d been on a roll and the transformation from ham to ass was almost inevitable. Besides who else is there to shoot or decapitate besides the sperm delivering messenger? The purpose of the Orphic is to stir up female frenzy before the mass fuck fest where the sacrificial victim, some old goat, always a male, is torn limb from limb.
That had come up in the discussion of The English Letter by M. Portmanteau in which the Brits were accused of ruining American literature. I’d been chatting with Lily Mao and her partner, Ann Toenin, the Russian author of Art Ode, a long poem consisting of exclamatory expressions such as Oh! Wow! Eeew!! Ugh! Hunh? Wha? Yuk! Bing! Bang! Boom! Arrgh! and Awk!
I was holding forth as usual and unwisely described the nature of women as concentric. Linda “Whore” Eisen gave me a narrow look. I was being serious. By concentric I meant round, full, centered in consensus. My first mistake was not following the golden rule of mixed company conversation. Such generalities are often viewed as mansplaining in the delicate negotiations of cross-gender communications and can leave you out on the proverbial limb.
“Cuntcentric? Did I hear you say women were cunt-centric?!” Linda wasn’t going to hide her disdain.
That wasn’t what I said, but since the opportunity had arisen I thought I would see how much more of my foot I could fit into my mouth by espousing the minority opinion on the etymological origins of the word. Cunt comes from the ancient Akkadian khnt which denoted priestess in the temple of the Goddess Inanna and was once a positive term to describe women. With the denigration of ancient cults by usurper religions, the word had accrued negative connotation. I don’t know why I thought that would cut me some slack.
She didn’t mince words. “None of what you say changes the fact that you are a condescending dickhead, Dickhead.”
Nothing can prepare you for the irrational self-righteous bitch or the crazed homicidal maniac, each tainted by their own hormonal destiny and hijacked by the ruthless almond shaped pea-brain.
Men may be idiots, but women are lunatic.
It was Halloween and the following morning of dia de los muertos should have found me dead. That was when I came to hate her. It was then I understood Mac to be the most perfect example of feminine impermeability in all existence.
We’d spent the long day together in the Castro as the colorful and often risqué carnivalesque swirl erupted from bars with drunken hoots and shrieks, parading down the streets in high, very high, fashion. And with hardly any chance to talk, to catch up, jollying and jostling with old friends and new acquaintances, my own celebrity but mostly her credit card keeping us well watered. It was an evening destined for excess.
“Listen grapenuts, I’d be gay, but I can’t do the snappy finger thing.” And like a broken record, much to her chagrin I’m sure, “Some of my best friends are cocksuckers.” Someone in the group jammed a powder blue wig on my head and shouted in my face, “You’re just an old queen!”
Eventually we found ourselves on the terrace at Enrico’s, a table overlooking Broadway, costumed freaks and partiers parading by, the default costume being do-it-yourself zombie, smeared catsup on face and clothing and moving like imagined reanimated corpses might walk. A few chollos in their best orange and black walking their pit bulls followed by a bevy of transvestites dressed like they had just come from partying with the Sun King or returning from Cinderella’s Ball. Feathered nymphs and bare breasted goddesses exhibited themselves followed by a pack of male supplicants and slaves in leather. Teen couples drinking jello shots or sucking on alcohol laced sno-cones ventured into the orange neon haze and the shadow black of night dressed as adults, indistinguishable from adults, all history and all mythology exhibiting the seven deadly sins.
On the street directly in front of our table, a man of about fifty, drawn cheeks no makeup could affect, grey stubble swathing his jaw, had stopped to stare at us, holding by the hand a small boy dressed in outsized clothes, and carrying on his arm another small child held to his shoulder. He was a transient, maybe even homeless. The children’s rags were not costumes. Maybe he had taken them out to relieve the horrible monotony of their uncertainty and poverty. It wasn’t on my powder blue wig he had fixed his gaze, perhaps even wonderment, but at Mac’s purplish glowing light-reflecting red satin low cut dress that left nothing to the imagination. That and the pair of little red horns topping the liquid curls of her carrot tresses. The wicked smile was not part of the costume, but it fit the occasion.
Song writers say that pleasure ennobles the soul and softens the heart. The song was wrong that evening as far as I was concerned. Even as I was touched by the haunting eyes of such desperation, I felt ashamed for the drinks we hoisted, too big for our britches. I turned to her, to catch her attention and convey a shared empathy. I looked into those green eyes, home of caprice and governed by the moon, as she said, “Those people give me the creeps.” And summoning the waiter, “Can’t someone do something about them?” So maybe hate is too specific a word for what I felt. Certainly disappointment.
For an instant I entertained the notion that I was looking at myself but in the past, and that those children were ours and I had finally found her after she had abandoned our marriage and left me penniless and caring for the kids. And it chilled me, that her disdain came so casually, so callously, that she didn’t realize that I was just a step away from them.
When I came back from the can, there were strangers at the table. I snagged a waiter and he remembered Mac leaving with a couple of guys, headed up in the direction of Columbus. The sidewalks were packed with revelers and I had to weave my way through them. I thought I caught a glimpse of her heading up Columbus toward Green St. but I couldn’t be sure. There was more than one devil afoot that night. Then I lost them.
I heard my name called. I didn’t recognize Wendy at first in her ladybug outfit: black leotards, a black turtleneck, and a vest that supported the black polka dot red carapace on her back. She was wearing a white sequined mask around her eyes. On her head two ping pong balls at the tip of wires bobbed independently when she talked.
Every time I ran into Wendy it was the same thing. She had become a stalker, at first moonstruck and then completely bat shit obsessed. And each time I had to explain that I wasn’t avoiding her even though I was, and that I didn’t get back to the old neighborhood much anymore since Angie sold the house, that I spent most of my time making sure I had a place to sleep and enough to eat so I was pretty much occupied with my day to day survival. I had tried not to hurt her feelings, cowardly avoiding the inevitable confrontation. But that night, fed up with Mac and probably myself, I told her, cruelly perhaps, that she had to stopping thinking we were in a relationship. Her face contorted in confusion. “You mean I’m not your girlfriend?” Likely it was impolitic of me to point out “We had sex, exchanged bodily fluids. Don’t make it any more than it is” but at the time it seemed a necessity.
I walked away up Green St. leaving behind a ladybug weeping on a corner crowded with superheroes, witches, fairy princes, and hockey masks. I thought I caught sight of the devil going into Giancarlo’s.
If a bar is a hole in the wall with bad lighting then Giancarlo’s is a bar. I had been 86’d from there a number of times, probably the only one ever banned for non-criminal behavior. I could be just that obnoxious. It was a hangout for the Aether crowd, adherents of the questionable poetics of Jack Spicer. And drinking among them was like feeding time at a zoo, every little crumb of a comment was taken with defensive exception. The more outrageous the observation, the more it roiled the self-righteous indignation. So many buttons to push, it was often too irresistible.
That night the big attraction was Rex Coprophilius, King Shit, crowned with a large white spotted red Aminita Muscaria-like Phrygian cap. He was a traditional figure in North Beach at Halloween, dressed entirely in various layers and rolls of newsprint, phonebooks, and streamers, led through the throng so that people might tear at his attire to propitiate the gods and monsters abroad that night, the torn scraps known as “pieces of shit”. He’d started off with twenty pounds of headlines stapled to his chest. By the time I followed him into Giancarlo’s he was down to his yellow pages.
And there was Mac at the bar talking to this little fireplug of a guy in a suit that was definitely not a costume. He was with two other guys in suits and neatly barbered hair. I immediately thought “cops” but couldn’t understand what the law would want with her. Not that it mattered. I walked right up. I said something. Derisive disappointment. Fascinated disgust at her selfish callow evil. She threw her drink in my face.
What words had I used? They hide from me in memory, skipped over like a needle in a groove to the part where the angry red pissed off face of some guy is insisting that I couldn’t say such things to a lady. I didn’t deign to even look at him. “Get this clown out of my face.” One of my talents is to be a complete arrogant ass.
The bartender, busy as he was, threw a thumb toward the entrance. “Ok, Wendt, you’re out!”
“But I just got reinstated.”
The bartender made a face. “Do you want me to have Jo-jo explain it to you?” Jo-jo was the bouncer, an Albanian giant who didn’t have the reputation for being gentle. I caught the drift and sauntered out to the sidewalk terrace of my own volition. I lit up a cigarette. I should have known it would come to this.
“Snort it.” she’d said. We were in a room at the Hotel Rexroth. She was naked and shiny. I was showing my age. She’d ground up the blue pill in the ashtray. I looked at the blue powder, “snort it?” “Yes, snort it!” Then her phone rang and she answered it. “When?” She stared at me. “Thanks, Nicole, I owe you one.” And then to me, “My husband is in the lobby with a couple of his Fremont cop buddies. They’re on their way up.” And as if she had to say, “You better leave.”
Clutching my suit coat and holding up my pants in the hallway, I heard the elevator ding arriving at the floor. I did an about face and headed for the door with the red exit sign above it. I heard the voices and the knocking as the door closed behind me. My unwieldy lumber jutted out from my briefs constantly in peril of snagging the iron pipe railing of the stairwell in my frantic descent. That had been a close call. It was apparent that Mac’s marriage was not as open as she claimed.
I was leaning on the wrought iron barrier to the terrace out in front of Giancarlo’s mulling the replay when I spotted Wendy coming toward me with a look of agonized determination. I stepped on my cigarette and turned to leave. The fireplug who had been talking to Mac was blocking my exit.
“You can’t talk to her like that.”
“Why, was it your turn?”
“She’s my wife,” arrived at about the same time as his fist to my jaw. Then the rain of blows coming from all directions sank me to my knees. I tried to squirm away on the sidewalk, absorbing the kicks to the gut, shielding my head with my arms, curling up to make myself smaller, more compact, and then the intense bolt of pain as a shoe crushed my shin against the edge of the curb, hearing as well as feeling the snap of bone with my entire body. I screamed, gasping for breath, an anguished naked roar. The gunshots, now that I realize that’s what they were, not the sounds of my rendering, accomplished a pause in the attack. I tried to crawl away, desperately seeking to leave the scene as well as find an equilibrium that might make sense of the searing heat in my mangled leg. What I finally managed was vomiting and lapsing into unconsciousness.
I don’t know if “lousy poet” was actually part of the beating. Maybe I just imagined it. Come to find out it was Mac’s hubby and his cop pals, practiced in the take down. Nothing ever came of it or I never heard that it did. Cops stick together, a fraternity, unlike poets, unaffiliated, cults of one. I’d heard that someone described the incident as “They were beating the hell out of a guy wearing a powder blue wig.”
Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry and two novels. His most recent books of poetry are So Much, Selected Poems Volume II 1990-2010 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2019) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018). He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society. His serial fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at odetosunset.com. He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.