I should read Spalding Gray. I should find out what made him tick. What made his writing so good. I'd like to know why a man so talented and so loved would inconceivably take his life off a cold pier. Pity his family. There are other things I should do. Like buy a vintage watch. Nothing too expensive. Something to wind every morning to keep time with the past. I should continue to shoot film photography--black and white. Why in this age of digital convenience? Because it looks best; grainy Tri-X film to capture the human condition. Also, because those old cameras feel so heavy and powerful in the hand. Like a vintage watch, it keeps time with the past. Knowing those days long ago are important to consider, to appreciate late into one's life. They're like vintage watches and timeless film--black and white, of course.
Last of the chicken balls. Last of the Chinese Buffet of life. Snow peas drowned. Fried rice dried in salty stains of soy sauce sour and clumps of scrambled egg. General Tao's chicken retreated, bedraggled to plum sauce defeat. "Rast of Chicken ball. Ya wan armon' cookie?" Waiter spoken in face saved Cantonese. But where the customer? No music. Deadly silent, bright red, plastic kitch of Chinese aesthetic. Lantern lamps of crooked papers. Vinyl paintings of Shanghai wall. Where the customer? Only the lonely. Alone the fat man sits. Bald head. A depression as sunken as Chinese spoon. Take out and take away the substitute of his happiness gone. The slurping sound remains. Egg roll lips to wonton soup. Stains of red sauce on white, cheap, undersized shirt, sleeves cut short on winter day. He the lonely, drinks beer from a bottle on lowly wage.
Now the students. Roistering, roiling, rolling down stairs in gleeful insouciance of inchoate minds. Half-drunk. Friday time hunger. Typically boisterous with callow tongues. "Rast of chicken ball. You wan' armand cookie." A laughed response, disappointed college anger. Racist jibe left behind. Aren't we all stereotyped. Saddened and ridiculed, periled and biased along the Chinese Buffet of life. Only the lonely as General Tao sips last from a warm Canadian beer.
I've hitchhiked on dusty roads. Been picked-up by day dreamers and Daedalus devotees. I've rode with end-of-life drunkards, swerving and curving on oily urban streets. I've been rejected as well. Thrown from fast cars, landing hard on soft shoulders of pebble and ice. Driver seat madmen. Those Holy seers and crippled souls. Those Grateful Dead Dead Heads, busted dashboards of Haight Ashbury haze. I wrote their numbers on poplar trees, bounteous pens elongated and slender as a roadless rage. I burned all so vainly in bonfires of the night. Remembrance of those Things Past. Nowadays, often I will tell, unsung friends of boundless times, horseless carriage of rumble seat rides. Someday soon in a paperless dream, I am to be that what I was; if a dusty road will hold me back.
I sat in a Square Corner with arms and head resting on raised knees. I shed tears for the insufferable. Their pain was my pain. Their loss was my aching heart. I laughed, too. For all the same reasons: the absurdity and craziness of the human condition. Then I stretched out on this yellow blog and pulled together words and shaped a pillow for my head. I slept a restful sleep and awoke, still confused about my place in the world, but glad for a blog to make my own.
10,000,000 signatures on a dollar cheque. A banker's vault. A banker's fault. A fault line drawn between truth and dollar bag $igns. Deposited canvas in the storied tale of signatures lost; million babies crying in penny-eyed dreams. Paucity of the spirit, one cent to the unfeathered bed.
There was a place in my past. There was a person, too. There was a time I took a position, when I governed my life by a young man's code. For me fear masqueraded as boastful freedom. So where is Tortelli now? Alter ego on a Square Corner? On a modern post curled up like yellowed paper? Words I'll never write, a memory as irretrievable as a forgotten blog. As irreducible as time immemorial.
A bar is a good place for a poet. A good place to study the human condition. Here most everyone's life is in various states of disrepair. Some lives end up completely broken.
That's what Tortelli said to Zigman Zibanski. But he was too drunk to take notice. So Tortelli wrote poetry for another day, another post. He wrote till Zigman sobered up a bit. He led him into the late night air and put him in a cab he then sent away. Tortelli went back to the bar and wrote some more, about a friend who was never quite right.
I got biceps like broken beer bottles A stomach like rusted steel I got a wrought iron knuckles wrapped in cracked leather But I got a feather bed to sleep on and crepe soles to walk me to a dreamy sleep
She wore a yellow scarf. Zigman Zibanski spoke of her endlessly, this woman who wrapped a Burberry around a powder blue peacoat. She had a special look, he claimed, with her long blond hair and emerald eyes. I imagined she pulsed with an alluring availability borne of an immigrant's Hollywood dream.
"She rich," he'd repeat in his old country accent. "I ask her out. She beautiful. Ya, me ask her out. I love her."
Every night she'd walk haughtily past a street stand where Zigman sold vintage skin mags wrapped in early style cellophane.
One evening he positioned his portly body in front of her and spoke with a quick stammer. "Mmmy name is Zigman Zibanski. In ole' country I slaughter chicken. Yah, I slight throat over bloody bucket. But in t'is country I seduce beautiful blond."
The slap to his rubber skinned face could have been heard over mountains and across the Atlantic, all the way to police state nations with histories of dank prison torture.
I got a phone call from Zigman, his sorrowful voice told me of his humiliation.
All right, I said. Come on over. Boyce Boswell was at my apartment where we watched old TV shows on a new flat screen.
The three of us kept watching re-runs late into the evening. Boyce was quiet as per usual. Zigman, of course, had much to say about his broken heart. He emptied more than a couple of bottles of potato vodka and talked half-drunk crazy.
"That the woman. Yeah that the woman in yellow scarf. She Hollywood star," he said as he pointed shakily to the TV screen.
He was watching Florence Henderson, the mom star of the Partridge Family sitcom; but his mind was beyond reason. He began to cry uncontrollably and told of his mother being picked up by jack-booted communists who hauled her off to jail. He was only nine years old. He said he fought the police tearfully with his small futile fists. He never saw her again, not even after the Wall fell.
Me and Boyce felt bad for the guy, even though Boyce didn't really talk. I guess in the end we all got a right to at least one Hollywood dream, and if it doesn't turn out as we hoped, at least we dreamed.
I've rented millionaire mansions from paupers and penny ante thieves. I've broken bread with B&E artists and pick pockets of human souls. I've paid monopoly money to mamby pamby bankers and watched their faces twist and turn with dollops of dollar sign rage. These are some of the things I've done. For the songs I've sung, the places I've been, see the centre of the pauper's dream, the beat in the hole of his heart.
I'm a wise man. A wiseacre. A wise guy who knows when his life is worn, his heart is torn. I'm wise, hip to know when a bond is broken between my blog and my mind, between my Square and my Corner. I know what I become when my life is worn; a wise guy in disguise, a charlatan in chartreuse tears with yellow laugh, a Jekyl to a humourless Hyde.
I've known men who've exploded into madness. Others who've imploded into a deadness, an eternal sadness. Me. I'll lay on a yellow blog and laugh, sometimes giggling at tall trees and a faraway son. A Square Corner is a good place to be.
I got basketballs filled with sand. Plastic bats leaden with lives lost. I got footballs anchored to a scorched earth, the pigskin burned on a graceless pan. I got a medicine ball, too. I lift it easily in an airless room. I bounce it lightly on a feathered floor.
Once again, I walked through stalks of high corn on a cool autumn night. The Scarecrow was just as I found him the evening before. His plastic eyes were still faraway, his body was still made of disheveled straw, some having fallen upon what I thought holy soil.
With reverence I lay a Beatle's LP on the cold ground and placed a red apple atop its cover. I lit slight sticks of incense and smelled a sweet smoke. I hummed humbly, chanted in a tasteful timbre, than I asked quietly:
"Scarecrow, what is the word?"
He shook his head side to side in a slow foreboding rhythm and replied:
I left behind what I had brought in worship: the Beatle Album, the beautiful red apple, the sticks of burning incense. As my feet rustled through brown husks, my heart was filled with fear: AHairy forearm. A Rear-Naked-Choke. A ghastly, unholy death on an autumnal plain.
I walked through a corn field and pushed aside tall green stalks under an autumn sky. I found a scarecrow and sat cross legged at his feet. He wore dungarees, a plaid flannel shirt, a black pointy hat, a carrot nose. His body was of straw and nailed to a makeshift cross. No fashion maven, he was. I looked up to see the bottom of his canvas sneakers and witnessed a flock of hungry crows swooping down from high above.
I asked: "So where's Dorothy, ToTo, the Tin Man, and the Lion, too?"
He looked down with a frown: "Can't you see I'm working."
I left the Scare Crow, my heart in saddness because I never found the answer I wanted in this field of broken dreams.
Once I knew a schoolboy, bullied and beaten. One night he bayed at the moon and the moon bayed back. The Lunar God gave him sharp, long teeth and thick fur that covered powerful arms with claws strong and deadly. "Use what I've given you wisely," the moon said. The schoolboy, bullied and beaten, ran with a werewolf howl. His eyes saw love, his heart filled with lupine revenge.
Am I older now? The pleasures smaller? The dreams constricted? The hopes of youth tamped down, clamped to those dying days of a life unlived? Or is it the opposite... The pleasures larger? The dreams more open? Those hopes of youth now crystal memories of what was done? Sooner or later we all know. The sanctity of something. The unholiness of nothing.
I hold a Square Corner's yellowed hand. Like a parent I lead it through danger, across deadly trails. With gentle words I reassure it, coax it, calm its red beating heart. I embrace it gently, too. Write on it soothing words in childish prose. Then I rock it softly to sleep, a lullaby in my soul. I hold a Square Corner's hand, and type dastardly words. Devious men. Lonely women. Boxers bloody and blue. I visit a ghost, or a ghost visits me. I hold a Square Corner's hand. Ah, and Zigman, too. Ghost of Bukowski, Boyce and women with Lonely Eyes. Manny running in Brooklyn tunes. Square Corner grow to be me, or me to be you. Our hands held in prayer to a deathly post.
The things I've known, like a hurt soul. Exodus of a beating heart. Dead inside are these dead men ambulating, amputated, amplified like thee? Like me? Like the things I've known...eating cold rice from a dented can. Dollar store tape on a burning wound. The things I've known, like standing at a muddy shore, washing indelible sins into a turbid stream. Blogging. Crying out sometimes in a dream, sometimes from a hurt soul. These are the things I've known: The joke, the turn of a phrase, the cold rice in a dented can, the dollar store tape binds a muddy shore, the salt to a dying wound. Then a song unknown to a blogger's tale.
I walked into Carney's gym and saw a modern ballet of prizefighters. Men of all shapes with sweaty skin waltzed with heavy bags and tap...tap...tapped over rope to the hip-hop rhythm of desperate dreams.
An old man folded white towels frayed at the edges. A hearing aid sat in his right ear. Slight he was with bent posture and long bony fingers. A long ago flyweight, perhaps; a man who once ruled his world with hand speed and agile eyes.
"I'm looking for Manny," I said.
"Wha?" the old man aks.
"Manny. Manny Weinberg. You got a Manny Weinberg here?"
"Menendez. Where's Manny?"
"In the john I think," a young fighter replyed.
A frosted glass door opens from a men's room . A fat man with a billowing stogey steps out. He was in his seventies, maybe a young looking 85 year old for what I knew. He wore cheap black dress pants with a thin belt wrapped around the widest part of his belly. A white dress shirt with rolled up sleeves draped uncomfortably over a T shirt. His face was round and pugnacious with a pushed to the side nose and a twisted jaw. His broad shoulders told the story of a middle weight who probably once connected with powerful punches. Maybe he roamed the ring back in the day when old fighters thought they bled redder blood. The fat man spoke in a mean, crazy Brooklynese.
"Ramirez, get d'em buds outta your goddamn ears. God damn IPods are ruinin' da fight game, I'm tellin yas."
His blue eyes saw me for a second and then moved to the side. He screams: "Get her outta my gym. Get da't dame outta here an' take her god damn digital camera with her. Marciano didn' let no broads in his gym and wouldn't let no picture taken' in here eidder. You outta know bedder Connelly."
Connelly kisses the blond good-bye and resumes beating a heavy bag with nonchalant punches.
The fat man bites hard into his stogey and stares a me.
"You Manny Weinberg?" I asked sheepishly.
He looks at me sideways like a curious bulldog with floppy jowls and invites me into his office.
The office was small. It wasn't touched by modernity or automated inventions. The desk was wooden, so were the chairs. A single bulb hung from the ceiling. The phone was a black rotary job with heavy cords. There was an Underwood manual typewriter on a splintered credenza. An ink eraser balanced at the corner of his desk. It looked like it had been used within the hour, shavings having fallen on the cracked tile floor.
"Look at d'at over d'er." He points to the room's far corner. "Exercise bands an' god damn rubberized medicine balls. Figthers ta' day, dey got somein' against hard work and cowhide. Once I had a middle weight who'd got his fingers manicured like he's some god damn french poodle."
He sees me looking at an ancient black and white photograph of a handsome figther, fit and taut like he could throw quick, knock-out combinations.
"D'at was taken with an old Speed Graphic. None of d'is god damn digital stuff. They snapped me just before da' golden gloves. Fought outta Benson Hurst as a middleweight. Made it to da' finals but lost to some Mic named the Tipperary Kid or somethin'. Had da' kid on the ropes in da' fifth. He came out in da' sixth round with linement on his gloves. Blinds me, blinds me bad. Then knocks me out."
He gesticulates, shadow boxes with his powerful memories. Rolls his shoulders and asks: "Who's you?"
"The name is Tortelli."
"You's an I-talian? We don't let no god damn mobsters in my gym. We run a clean outfit."
"No, sir. I'm not Italian. I'm an alter ego..."
"Alter Ego, you fight outta' da' Philipines? D'ey got good lightweights comin' outta Manila. Trained one in da' sixties."
"No. See, I really don't exist in the normal sense. I'm the figment of a writer's imagination. I create a blog called the Square Corner. And I'm looking for a new character. Some irrasciable, but lovable fouled mouth, good hearted, but slight bigot kind of guy. And I was hoping you would like to join."
He asks me what a blog is, so I told him as simply and as best as I could. He explodes into a pre-modernist rage.
"Get outta here. I don't wanna be part a no god damn computer screen flipping around some god damn internet. Get outta here before I throws a typewriter at you's."
He snuffs his stogey in a glass ash tray, a final cloud of smoke burns my eyes. I make my retreat, defeated in the assumption that a colourful character could be gotten so easily.
I open the door of the gym when I hear his voice: "Wait a minute, Tortelli."
He turns sideways and screams at a fighter. "Johnson, get that god damn laptop off your knees. Your a bantam weight, not a god damn stockbroker."
He tells me not to go anywhere and steps back into his office and comes out trotting in gleeful steps; he balances the Underwood tight against his stomach.
"I'm thinking maybe even a guy like Manny Weinberg from Brooklyn needs some adventure in his life."
I was glad to have him. Somehow I knew he'd make a good character, his life blessing the yellowing posts of a nascent blog.
"Menendez, get rid of d'at Blackberry or get outta my gym. I'll be watchin' ya', god damn it."