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bart plantenga
confessions of a beer mystic
an excerpt from Confessions of a Beer Mystic: a novel of light & beer

"The world grows bigger as the light leaves it."
Beryl Markham, Aviatrix, author of West With The Night

Jude is careful not to stand over a puddle because the reflection is capable of revealing the makings of a double chin. I am face to face with Jude, (who is adorned "so to allure the eyes of all men that should see her"—it’s the only Bible stuff I know) my date, in the West Village.

I said something that rhymed perfume with tomb. She did not (want to) get at what it was I was saying. She wanted me and the mind I fed to stand still. She wanted me to act like the men she knew from watching the soaps.

"What’m I to you just some attractive dangling participle?" She wondered. By constantly using words like "attractive" when referring to herself she would stand with bait on hook and wait for me to agree. So the whirlpools of her need for compliments and my whirlpool founded in a need for beer would collide and whirr into one another. This dynamic coaxed from me niceties, compliments on her choice of earrings, top shelf liquor, her legs—they were luscious—but all of it was meant to prop her fragile self up on these auto-deluded, auto-choreographed instants where she would believe the lies that she fed my mouth.

And so I stood with a smirk in front of Jude the furtive, Jude the obscure amourant who loved radio. Or the way radio seeps into you like beer seeps into unnamed internal organs. Jude, who read by candlelight. Who would drip candle wax onto your nipples only if the drink had gone far enough. Whose cramped abode smelled of myrrh and dust from a more glorious age.

She felt obliged, by virtue of her concern for her future in communications—i.e., via my radio show at a fledgling basement radio station—to tag along, act impressed, add her imprimatur to the proceedings. The station’s signal radiating only about half as far as we thought it did. Our press—the Voice called us "Rapatistas"—going 100 times further but really nowhere because by the following week 3/4 of the readers will have forgotten they ever read of us—but not Jude.

Jude felt obliged to act (or be—she had long ago given up distinguishing between the 2) flattered when I insisted that it had been the 2 of us, indeed, our unique bio-electrical chemistry that had caused the black eyes. She wanted to read from her book, A La Belle Étoile, on the air. She had become a victim of the hope that this well-received book had once promised. And so I kept leading her along—and in the mean time she led me along. And this was the irony: I flattered her to get her to reveal more of her skin, to get closer to her splayed legs, to flatter her into bed, the very bed I would hope to pass out in so I could avoid having to make love with the desperate her that Jude bludgeoned all hope of a satisfying relationship with. Persistence is that sad memory of hope. And she had somehow forsaken all delicacy and discretion for lunges at the crotch. Imitating any and all sex kittens third hand with lines like, "Ooh, my—what a handle."Her skirt and blouse, (always the same or forever some variation of the same) with every trip to the ladies room in the old Rumopticon Bar, would somehow be pulled further open, another button undone and all this skin, this delirious cleavage (to which we were both beholden) was all meant to perform some trick of mind in man but instead revealed more of who she could never be than who she was.

We went to see Bell, Book and Candle at Theatre 80. And there in the dark I watched her feverishly rub her hands warm in the aromatic weld of where desire met misery. And then watched her grab the hands that had once been attached to my arms (rather precariously) and place them under the pendulous awe of her breasts. This was exciting to her; to feel my palms go moist and then to subsequently denounce me for the way my sweat would stain her silk blouse. But I pulled one hand back because, although I enjoyed the moist warmth under her breast, I wanted to keep one hand free for holding my beer, no matter how much her breasts resembled the most exquisite Belgian goblets. And she knew this. Weakness in me (there was plenty to feed on) is where she found most of her delight. The confusion she had been infected with was contagious.

In the middle of the film she nibbled my ear just as Jack Lemmon’s Aunt declares "We can put out streetlights but we can’t turn anything to gold."

"See," Jude sneered, "Yer no original. Yer just a scene cut from a bad movie." She cuddled up in a smirk that glistened with a hint of saliva. I rubbed one finger there; could feel the way with her every inhalation how the cleavage would grip my finger.

"I got diaries dated 3 years back. I never even heard o’ this film until you told me." I say from under a whisper just seething to be more. [Ed. note: The author documents Furman Pivo’s ability to put out streetlights, most notably and efficaciously when inebriated. He has, like any good evangelist, learned to parlay this gift to win sexual favors he may otherwise not have felt entitled to.]

"Back dated." She gloated.

And with that I stood up, dropped the beer, an exquisite Belgian Dikkenek, or "thick neck," to smash at her feet (a rare sacrifice!) assaulted by her, betrayed by film, abandoned by the celluloid myths to the point where we’re all awkward self-conscious mirror-beholden characters, like extras cut from a film that will never bathe in the light of the film projector. [Ed. note: The author did invent his character as a necessary handhold in a world of increasingly slippery steps.]

And then Jude had to go. Had to outdo me. Had to beat me to the door. Had to look indignant at the dishevelment my desires had caused. Her skirt now as revealing as shrink wrap around veal shank. She had to feed a cat. Walk a dog. (She would soon covet this neighbor’s dog, talk to it like it was her own offspring, fondle it the way she used to my genitalia.) Why can’t people say what they mean? Why can’t we believe what is said? But Jude liked this kind of drama. It was like a jumpstart to a sad heart, a way of gathering attention from strangers around the melodrama of her life. It is not unlike the hop plant. The hop female develops a most bitter and unpleasant taste when it comes in contact with the pollen of a male.

I bide my time though. Jude’s idea of an ideal relationship is for me to worship her and for her to periodically acknowledge my worship by giving me something of herself (some part she wasn’t using anyway). Sometimes she’ll allow me to cop a feel, offer me the wet scented sigh of her wishbone to take back home with me. Other times she gives me advice.

I write her advice down earnestly. But somewhere along the way my journal began to command that I search the curious perimeters of living on my own. So when everyday peccadillos failed, the words I fed my journal would balance all glory on this failure. The way rust sits on iron. Or the shadow of me (or someone else?) paints the twilight street with its stretched and unreal magnitude. And the more I wrote, the more life had to cannibalize itself in the thrall and employ of the word. So the word became the tick of all life and life became the host of all words. And the ideas for life-as-story collapsed back upon themselves the way deliriously beautiful shadows absorbed the re-invented self in their shivery bowers of shade.

It’s difficult to go home anymore, with or without Djuna there. [Ed note: His perpetual soon-to-be ex.] When Djuna stays away I’m relieved. Yet the contempt of her absence speaks to me everytime the clock ticks. So I have walking dreams. Each block like a page in a book I am not reading.

But how do I verify this whole bio-magnetic "black eye" phenom to Djuna? Finally I think I’ve found the courage (another beer?) to lay it on her.

I comb my hair, brush my teeth. "Yo, Djuna, it has to do with the secret tradition of Hawaiian shamans." Why not! "Kahunas include the concept that the low self (sub-con) takes the biological low voltage force we generate and somehow pumps it up so it can be utilized by the will. So the high self (super-con) can take this force and further pump it up to the highest voltage possible so it can make things happen. Miracles that redraw the maps of fate and ultimately put out enough lights to repair the rips in our collective darkness."

Djuna doesn’t care. Isn’t impressed. Djuna contents herself with reading aloud the sexist letters in the latest Penthouse from her bed. (She only looks good in bed anymore.) Her every word burnished with lascivious disgust, an entire repertoire of spitless, distant and evasive voices. As if all men are guilty of everything. And when she gives me the gift of her body, her glassblown breasts, she says; "It’s useless. Like givin’ Dom Perignon to a dumb wino." She was never in love with me so much as who she thought I should have been for her. "Or a TV to a blind man." She cannot leave injuries alone. When she’s in this kind of snit I’m reminded of an old beer pal’s comment about an entirely different woman, "I’ve seen prettier mouths in the trenches."

"In 1986, two-time Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling outlined his famous 12 steps to health, one of them, Step 10, is to enjoy beer..."

I stood before her mirror, Imbiber Religiosa, plucking hair from my torso. To regain that hairless agelessness that used to fascinate her. Even turn her on, the way I could simulate a boy. I searched the edges of my body for a sign of my bio-magnetic aura.

"Dju know that pharmacists in ancient Egypt had 700-some prescriptions and over 100 them contained beer?..." I related my latest black eye adventures (the string of 26, the "Mafia Princess"), not quite ready to take full responsibility and I don’t mention Jude, the obscure amourant. She’ll be my trump up the sleeve. Or my romp in the fallen leaves.

Djuna said; "Oh, you boy, you lucky planet you, knockin’ over garbage cans, throwin’ rocks at streetlights."

"Nothin to do with rocks." A Curlian snapshot right then and there would’ve certainly aided my case. Would’ve shown that something of me was out there in the air affecting light.

"Oh you naughty boy type."

I told her that in 1932 Dr. Eric Müller discovered the energy that radiates from the body can, under certain conditions, be conducted through electrical wires and be made to affect photographic paper. He said tea and tobacco affected the intensity of the emanation. Later studies (by me) point to beer as another enhancer (perhaps because of trace metals) of the aura-like field surrounding humans—and lab rats.

Some local authorities attribute the documented rash of outtages (I made the papers, albeit, as an unattributed phenom under investigation on pg. 38 of the Daily News), to work being done on a switching station. Ha! Some point to sunspots. City employees think it’s cheaper bulbs, less upkeep. Politicians blame the mayor.

u I sometimes hung with Jude along the Tropic of Mirth and Mire. 40°42 latitude, 74° longitude. Where light bangs around like crazy in among the 23 square miles crammed full of loathing towers of hazy mirror that prevent sight penetration (we cannot know what the hawkers and usurers are doing) and cast dense ferocious shadows across hollow sidewalks which teeter precariously on rusty splints, extending out into the grimey nowhere.

The vigilant light trails my transient shadow, eats away at it like vermin gnawing through drywall. While my voice gets mocked by its own echo and vice versa. When I say something, what I hear is something different. I hear the baffling defiance of our surroundings to conform to prescribed parameters of bliss.

Jude’s severe look kept bugs and guys out of her face. (Her brows like crossed scimitars.) It’s amazing how makeup can do so much of the work of esteem and attitude. But I really liked her. The way she’d lean over the bar with her skirt hiked up to reveal the sacral segments of her tailbone, ordering drinks based solely on the sensuous shape of the bottle and the aesthetic quality of the exotic labels—her everready remedy for writer’s constipation. Reaching, one knee up on the bar, pointing to the instant of touching the actual bottles.

She could, with me in tow, pry drinks out of any bartender, armed only with her insouciant smile, clingy dresses, the sighs that emerged from her décolletage, and her witty repartee. This surgically precise extraction of drinks was a sight to behold. Every gesture calculated (culled from Dietrich and Hayworth) and allusive. Her actions seldom (but then more and more) involving a compromise of any someone’s character. Back in a time when Jude still benefited from that magical psychotropic state of when liquor + hormones enhanced vision.

I liked bars and I searched for ones that could be respites from the insanity outside. Quiet temples where I myself had to manufacture the fanfare and character and could not depend upon the diorama of a good time simulacrum to supply what should already be inside us. Bars where you could stare at a wall and the bartenders know you’re watching your own cinema and they don’t come over to chat you up out of your funk. I hate these blabla therapy tenders. Jude’s Sang Froid Bar was not one of these cloisters. It had all the atmosphere of an outpatient clinic dressed up as a pinball arcade. And here she taught me how to "kill" a beer. Open can. Tip head back. Can on lips until back of head touches backbone. Now punch hole in bottom of can with a church key. Beer floods down gullet—some hockey fucks find this enough inspiration to hoot her up. 10 seconds or less. Killed. Cheap shotgun drunk. Courtesy of gravity. And a rowdy boy she’d once dated in Detroit. Not that she deigned to ever drink beer for beer’s sake.

Jude had splendid legs; slender and dramatic. Much of her wardrobe seemed to enhance the linear drama of her limbs or her breasts in excelsis (I’m reminded of Gaughin paintings where breadfruit and breasts get confused for one another) served up so that elegies could more easily be written about them. But when I rhapsodized about the firm and delirious cudgel lumps of her gastrocnemius muscles in her calves in the Sang Froid she reacted quite peculiarly. Commenced to whistle, pound her fists, leap into the air, let the egg timer ring. Mocked my less than original observation with game show hysteria. I’d been the l0,000th man to tell her that—in fact. And of those 10,000 only 100 had gotten any further (or so she said). Figure it out; I had a 1% chance with her. But really, I had a much better chance when I realized that I had not factored in her own (disguised) despair. Which was easily recognized by how often she spoke about being a guest on my radio show.

"How do you do it. I mean how does muscle make us dream? I mean your calves..."

"I do a lot of reaching for top shelf liquor."

I couldn’t take my eyes off her legs.

"You’re subtle as a chainsaw staring down a birthday cake." 	

Sympathy ("the food stamps of emotion" I think Djuna called it) crippled Jude with delusion. Be careful, even basic human gestures, a smile, or unscrewing the cap off her rum bottle could be enough semiotic signal to send her into reveries of swooning. She’s always hoping the swooning itself will hurtle her, hurtling you or me along with her ever further afield. Hoping, then wishing, then begging as the night of drinking deteriorates for her slinky gelatinous swoon (like a studied movie still) to render her more pliable, more palatable. Like—do I dare say?—sad meat loaf on a cheap china platter. (If I claim I’m quoting someone else here will that relieve me of blame?)

And if neglected for an instant by a distraction of any sort —an "Ingres in skin" ambling by, for instance—she’d blurt, "Don’t pay ME any mind. "

"I wouldn’ PAY for it."

"Do you really think she is pretty? I can show you pretty." And there we’d have it out in the bar, Anatomy 101, a full leg of beauty slapped on the bar for all of me and anyone else to inspect.

"Where’s the Achilles heel again?" I asked.

I came to her garret the way a priest solemnly enters the cell of a deathrow inmate. Sat on my hands on the arm of her sofabed. Jude had no real lamps in her place except for the one over her word processor. Just some candles and about 20 two-watt night lights that made her place look like a forest full of giant fireflies. And as my prize for being the l0,000th flatterer she decided to read me one of her very own short stories. It had won an award, she assured me, of some prestige.

In 1985 she had been the Edna St. Vincent Millay of her milieu—fascinating, sharp, ebullient, red hair, flairful fashions, and a book with the ballast of much acclaim. But her plunge from bon vivant to bonbon, from devil-may-care to devil-may-snare was a dramatic if avoidable denouement. The rightful compliments and lusts that used to leap into her very midst suddenly had to be fished for, cajoled, and pried from the mouths of men. In her day her kiss was a devastating testament to ruthless abandonment and unrequited priapic throbs. While today her kiss might seem more akin to supplication, with the sucking action of a Dust Buster. Of a simple embrace, a kiss goodnight, she created Peyton Places in the cold chambers of her heart. And the men she could not have that she desired so much?—well, she began to marvel at the ulcers as gastro-intestinal proofs of the profundity of her sufferings. She chose guys already in relationships so that her fate was comfortably sealed and so that her sadness would manifest itself in fiction that then subsequently correspond to her basic philosophy of hope deferred.

I needed ale but she is a scotch tippler and that spells trouble. In her LITE beer (whose name I will not even dignify by ridiculing it!) And this, even its mitigating alcohol potential, did not derail my long spiral out of glorious priapism into utter flaccidness. I am suddenly not taken by her, or rather, the part she has written for me to play—my erection as her spiritual prosthesis. [Ed note: the reliability of these accounts of his irresistibility to women is suspect because Furman Pivo’s level of veracity is adversely proportional to his level of inebriation.]

Our dynamic forced from me inane niceties, compliments on choice of earrings, socks, adjectives to protect her fragile composition, that tenuous matrix of beliefs, hopes, and misconceptions.

She could stare at one word on her screen all day, agonizing over whether that word was the perfect one. And the next day whether that perfect word was preceded by the perfect adjective. In 10 years she’d have another short story. A perfect story that would mean nothing in a stylish and admirably obsolete way.

Her parents bought her a computer but because the screen was so bright and upset the somber aspect of her room she had unplugged it. She did not want to conquer its manuals and its disdainful illumination for fear it would conquer her. It had been a week since she’d unplugged it. She had heard about viruses that rewrite your writing so that the writer loses control of what s/he has written. She had almost decided to dump it.

"I dunno, its blank stare is a kind of contempt, I dunno, with all its substantial memory and all." What’d I think? Well, I guess that all depended on how far I needed to flatter her (and convince myself how lucky I was to be here with her) to be able to negotiate my mindless fingers up the smooth flanks of leg.

"Thanks for the mammaries." Is all I could come up with.

"You are like a riot in a boy scout camp aren’t you."

She had confined herself to a garret that had been decorated to harass/torment her. A kind of neglect that baffled pride of place. The weight of sorrow here plowed right into her face.

And she sat there, pretty as a worried bird on a broken twig, reams of tortuously rewritten words on her lap, (red arrows and blue lines at crazy crisscrosses all over the pages) stories that "came from somewhere but went nowhere." She sat there like an empty vase on a shiny table as she described 4 boy friends all of whom flattered her (more articulately than I ever could) by sharing their fame with her. Some had been legends, others, just fashionable addicts.

She claimed to read in bed with a miner’s cap on. "Comme ça." And had, of late, been reading herself "into a corner."

Her writing guarded its convenient delusion with intoxication of syntax. And addiction can sometimes sustain one with its own convincing raison d’etre. Syntactical intoxication, the way words were strung together, sent her into inexplicable fits of reverie and this was the aim of the writing—to insulate itself from criticism, to the way writing ruled our every instant of reality. So that when I offered to demonstrate (a proper how-to—had no man ever done this for her?) the piston action of how fist caresses and skins the prick of all its shine and spit I could almost hear her manufacturing the appropriate phrases, dovetailing this scene into some other locale.

And with this self-consciousness came its own moral tapeworm, the fact that we would accentuate our selves to elaborate into high drama every gesture to assure that each of us would figure heavily in one another’s roman a clefs. And so writing was allowed to devour the very love we claimed to covet. The writing would precede us, set up the lighting, create the backdrop, seal the destiny of the scenario. And then we’d arrive. In fact, everything was subservient and nothing until put into words. It had the aspect of when a carniverous plant devours the very bee that will ensure the specie’s survival.

She held up a manuscript she claimed she had been working on for months, her arms up in the air like someone surrendering to an invading army. Then ripped up this story that had never worked and tossed the snippets up into the dead air (I wanted to say that her brain probably craved oxygen, sustenance—open a window! But I did not) and we sat sadly under the rain of confetti. And then she confessed that maybe some of the middle school kids she taught were "sources of insight and material, actual lines and everything. They’ll never know but..." I got down on my hands and knees and started to rewrite the story in a new way. She laughed and then stopped. That I wasn’t mocking her wasn’t clear enough for her to NOT throw me out. "You peeve me so fuggin’ much, Furman Pivo. Get outa my fuggin’ sight!"

We weren’t meant for one another. Evidence: I’d pass out just to get away from her agonizing methods of begging for it, the very it of it she did not even really want or know what to do with.

In her elevator, passing the 7th floor, hear Jackie Wilson singing, "There’s no pityyyyy / in the naked cityyyy / when you’re all alone." Like a soundtrack. I look in the mirror, repeat the line I never got to use, "Jude, you can bait the hook but you cannot catch the fish."

As I step onto her faux marble cracked linoleum lobby floor I sing, "Bright lights will find you / and they will mess you around..." I too knew what sat inside the words, "And all your hard-earned money’s gone..."


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