It’s one of those nights
I’m drinking alone in my basement studio; snapping polaroids
of my hemorrhoids, bending over backwards to allow time all
the time in the world to kill itself.
For the moment I’ve convinced
the functionaries I’m disabled – unfit to work.
Even the therapist has become at my hard head so pissed he
last week told me to beat it; leave him alone; go home; subsist
off my check.
I’m faking it. I’m
a spy. Insane Welfare recipient my cover. In reality, I’m
hip-deep in top secret doo-doo. If I told you, you’d
hafta put down this book and steal something else. Suffice
it to say it has everything to do with those behind the lines
reading between the lines.
I miss the days of bulb release.
Today you gotta set the timer. Get X amount of secs to get
into position. Oh, you can program the secs. Once you create
a password, override the default, study the tutorial in what
to update – but who’s got the time?
Default seems set for three,
maybe five secs. Damn good camera, actually. Picked up in
a pawn shop for three months worth of checks – stiffed
the rent, skimped on grub, aggressively panhandled; other
austerities a spy’s gotta perform to get by.
With a release, you got all
the time in the world to get down on all fours. Balance the
drink on the back of your skull. Reach around with both hands.
Spread cheeks. Slowly squeeze bulb between teeth.
I’m actually an artist.
Tell myself I’m a double agent working for creatures
from space. A ruse to get the subconscious concentrated on
art, while my so-called mind art in space, looking for ways
to kill time.
I not only spread, you see:
I manipulate the rrhoids. Distort puckers into masks.
Tie swellings up into Xmas trees. Flocked and intertwined
with scarlet satin ribbon, topped with a tinsel-decked purple
angel. Twist ‘em into statuettes of General Grant. Marshall
veins into an instrument a kinda cross between a flea circus
zither and a cockroach ocarina. Construct Colin Powell voodoo
dolls; thrill to stick pins…
Then a scene from the bar on
Bandersnatch materializes. Bandersnatch being a prostitute
planet orbiting a black hole in the outermost underarm of
the Calcutta Galaxy. I’ve been piecing together this
scene all night. Actually, of course, I’m agent Aleph
Null, secretly gathering…
Somebody out in the hall bangs
on the door. I spit the bulb out of my mouth. Then remember
they don’t have bulbs anymore. Look down at what I actually
expectorated: the toothpick I use for fine detail. I contemplate
the roundhead Diamond, softened on one end with saliva, thinking:
The manager? Not something Aleph Null wants to think, as the
manager is a saboteur on the Time Conspiracy payroll…
Plan is to sidle up to one of
these eight-limbed Andromedans installed on a stool, six elbows
on the bar. Peddle her polaroids of masks portraying Mary
Dolorosa. Art works best when reality breaks in…
That my agent at the door? This Bandersnatch a potboiler intended
to keep me in film and toothpicks; prostituting myself to
keep going on the side the real art.
Get to my feet, pull up pants,
thinking: Now must moisten new pick, because one on floor
stuck to it dust mouse.
When I – ripped with sudden
panic it’s a functionary on an unannounced home visit
– open the door…
My breath catches. Hurries out
in a gasp of relief…
Only Art Rambo, the dealer upstairs,
come to sell me an AK-47.
Art, like most inhabitants of
this many-storied slum, doesn’t have a real job. He
pretends to be an artist. Sculpts in papier-mache various
attempts at lifesize automatic weapons. In reality, Art sells
dope. Small time. Enough for his habit, the rent, clothes
to arouse the envy of a used-car dealer; claims to have upstairs
big screen tv. I’m not sure what kind of dope. I never
take drugs. I’m careful even to flush my medication.
Trust me, I’ve got the most anti-psychotic toilet in
“Actually,” he anticipates
my mistake, “this is not my usual ’47, but a mock-up
of the exact Thompson Russian troops packed marching into
Berlin. Note the modified flip-up rear sight; this a weapon
intended for so much more than simple close-in work.”
I’m staring at my fisheyed
faces on the mirror sunglasses perched on the fat nose above
his welltrimmed kinky black beard. Rambo’s head becomes
a one gallon aquarium. I tread water – while he blabs
– ready to snap up grub.
He never exhibits in galleries.
He is against commercialism. Totally. He is committed totally
to door-to-door art. I can have the gun for $25. Tax free.
He is totally against tax.
“Say,” he frowns,
eyebrows wriggling like arms rolling up sleeves prior to dipping
into the bowl, “you OK?”
“Well,” he shifts
in his snakeskin boots. “I wondered – you never
seem to buy drugs. You OK for drugs?”
Goes on to say, Greg, the poet
up in 301, mentioned I haven’t been paying my rent.
Rambo is concerned. He knows I’m on State help, getting
a regular check. He worries I might have too much money laying
around. The neighborhood, this building in particular, totally
infested with thieves.
He means the apartment manager
– Greg, the fifty-something recovered alcoholic; known
upon occasion to put entire coffee shops to sleep with recitations
of rhymes detailing his experiences with women at AA dances.
Agent Aleph Null draws from
the pocket of his soiled flannel shirt a toothpick. Lodges
same between incisors. Softly closes door on dealer, who continues
barking dully through the flimsy wood, “A collector’s
item, an investment! Look, I’ll give it to you for twenty;
toss in – you don’t tell anybody in the building
– half a rock. I’m talking cocaine, man. What
– you fucking crazy?”
I drop trou. Shuffle over between
the mirrors. Settle back down on elbows and knees.
Reach around with the Diamond.
Start to etch protruded veins – inspired by the moment
– into a Tommy gun. Painstaking replica, down to flip-up
rear sight. Can hardly wait to set the timer, take of end
product couple snaps.
Staring into mirror staring
into mirror, guiding the pick, pain bursts. Van Gogh’s
ear got nothin’ on me!
Then the phone rings. I don’t
own a phone. But sometimes inside my head explodes a ring
like a bulldog followed by a string of ladyfingers. I pick
It’s Sideways Eight, Aleph
Null’s boss. He’s congratulating Null on how exquisitely
Time is getting killed. He promises time off soon. Maybe vacation
secret identity Southern France; Arles, if desired.
Thing is, even though I hold
the phone in my mind’s hand, Sideways’ ebullience
distracts me from the pick – scratching final touch
on a flash suppressor. This a Thompson ideal for night sneak
BANG! The door flies open.
SPLAT! The chain lock –
ripped off the frame – crashes into the opposite wall
not ten feet away. $80 a month, even Section 8, doesn’t
buy a lot of space in this town.
Art barges in, screaming, “I
won’t leave you alone with all that MONEY! Something
Rambo stands about five-seven.
Thick wavy hair. Weighs maybe two hundred. The body, not the
hair. His entrance me shook up. I jump off the floor. Nearly
trip over pants around ankles. Swarthy complexion. Arab, Jew,
Greek, Hispanic – I forget. I hardly know the clown.
Just a building fixture. Figure he thinks the same of me.
His jaw drops. He’s speechless.
I neglect to pull up the pants. We’re both boys. This
is my house. If I make no move to cover myself, maybe he’ll
stay mute long enough for me to figure out how he figures
in – time conspiracy shock troop? Bandersnatch pimp?
Something I ate, or rather didn’t, as I do now recall
nothing to eat since that yesterday morning dumpster bearclaw…
He sniffles. Causing my faces
in the sunglasses to jiggle. Pinches his nose. Glances –
drawing away hand – at the bloody, white-powder-dotted
slime on his thumb. And I begin to realize this character
might in reality be Sideways Eight. Null has never met Eight
– they just talk on the phone inside each other’s
slaps the snot off on a seam of his plaid polyester slacks.
The Andromedan resembles Mona
up in 307 – the pre-menopausal waitress who is the model
for Carla in so many of the manager’s meandering
lyrics. The bartender is Null working undercover.
Now, thanks to the break-in,
I can work Art in as Mona’s pimp; which, in reality,
when she can’t come up with the coke money, he likely
indeed does do for.
Actually Mona is a folk singer.
Waitressing at the Edgewater her day job. She hasn’t
played a gig since last year that time in the coffee shop
when Greg interrupted with a sestina and she threatened to
kill him with
Although her exoskeleton gleams
obsidian black, and her body recalls a six-foot, upright vinegaroon,
she does have Mona’s long narrow face, defaulted to
the expression of an early medieval Dolorosa.
I saw her smile once, fleetingly,
when some cop busted a goth jaywalker out front. And I hear
her features sprang into a wolfbitch snarl when she came after
Greg with her Gibson.
I never talk to anybody, you
understand. Null gathers all this data from the manager when
I send Aleph up to pay the rent, and the exdrunk holds forth,
trampling out the vintage of the grapevine to any ear not
I’ll have Rambo sell me
– in the character of the bartender (played by Null)
– the Andromedan. I always wanted to make it with some
spineless stinky space bitch.
She blew vinegar smoke in my
face. Lolled pincers at the zinc. Muttered in guttural extragalactic
coloratura, “307,” rendezvous for the transaction.
“What are you doing!”
blurts the real Art – the pusher under the sunglasses.
Null pushes me aside. “Look!”
he spits at the bearded face. “I’m photographing
my asshole, OK?”
“What?” Art steps
back. Cheeks flush. Brow sweat beads. His boots squeak. The
coke changing gears, ripping out the clutch. “Oh, sure.
Yeah, uh, like… you a photographer?”
Null wags a finger inches from
the silvered lenses. “I’m an agent fighting time.
I hate time. I hate people who DON’T hate time!”
Rambo grins, “I knew you
were some kinda artist. Dude like you make any money off that
camera?” He points to the polaroid mounted on a cinderblock
between full-length mirrors leaned against facing walls.
“I don’t do ART!” Null screams. “I
Rambo backs toward the door. Clears throat, swallows dry spit.
“Cuz if you do, and you need a manager – I’m
up in 105. I know photography totally. One of my regulars
is an agent buys for all the galleries downtown. Got some
killer blow – y’innarested?”
Null and I, and whoever Null
in fact is, draw ourselves up to our full six-foot-six. We
customarily stoop down here in the studio. Even though the
ceiling is a good seven feet high.
We tense the face into what
shrinks call alexithymia. Textbook says you gotta be clinically
nuts to be able to do this. But I practiced. I’m good.
Sculpted alexithymia once onto
a rrhoid. Dubbed it The Mask of Death. Got the photo
around here somewhere. But it’s blurry. I was so excited
at the accuracy of the mask, couldn’t hold still for
the shoot. Art’s like that: emotions choke it.
bushy eyebrows arched above the glasses betray the widening
of his chickenshit eyes. “I totally understand.”
He whirls on heels. Disappears through door dangling on hinges.
The phone is ringing. It’s
Sideways Eight. He wants to know why I hung up. I hand the
device to Null, who explains he had to attend to an urgency.
Sideways mumbles something, then states audibly – suspiciously
Rambo-like – how, if I never tried cocaine, can I know
if I’m truly crazy?
Null and I stand dumbfounded. Sideways chuckles, hangs up.
“Because,” I mutter,
closing the broken door, “Section Eight is military
for crazy, and that’s what they call this housing program
I’m on because I’m crazy: Section Eight.”
Maybe it’s an inner psychic
echo, or actual mice inside the real wall, but think I hear,
in response, Art’s sarcastic sideways chuckle. I listen
to the taunt slowly fade, till I can’t tell which came
first: me the chicken, or him egging me on.
Well… I could hock the
camera. Get the dough buy enough coke get so strung out really
crazy. Compare that state to this, where I know I’m
sane (secretly sane). Sane as… that righthander pitched
with Warren Spahn… Boston… ’47… Johnny
Sain! There… my memory is intact – I’m Sain.
My eye wanders to the cinderblock
– makeshift camera stand – beside which I left
the aqua plastic drinking glass full of tomato juice and rubbing
alcohol. A roach has crawled in; died. The inch corpse floats
bellyup in wavelets people upstairs stomping about create.
No matter. Just a prop. The
Andromedan’s bloody Mary. Bitch upstairs now with a
customer. Short stocky greaseball – sunglasses, Morroccan
leather jacket, rattlesnake boots; on R&R from construction
of the flywheel. The galacticwide effort to tap the black
hole’s energy for commercial purposes. The millenial
project to erect a wheel nearly three lighthours in diameter.
The rim to pierce the planet’s core. So Bandersnatch
will orbit the hole like a bead on a titanium bracelet. Thereby
providing an outpost not only amply stocked with prostitutes,
but also doing yeoman service as a repository for the silenced
imagination of the universe.
I don’t drink. For the
same reason I avoid drugs. Alcohol upsets the mind; alters
the personality. Besides, I’m on duty – pretending
to be Null working his cover at the Space Bar, while in reality
creating art with the rrhoids.
The Space Bar purports to be
a writer’s hangout. A port for any typist. Bandersnatch
lousy with keyboard junkies. There’s one over there
– in the mirror. Tall lanky goof with the stony stare,
cadaver cheeks, pursed alabaster lips.
They exiled the scribblers here.
After synapsectomy. Cut brain connections between tongue,
fingers, throat. So each sits alone at the bar or at a table
out on the darkened floor, thinking compulsively plots, scripts,
scenarios; forever frustrated in word.
Other orbs orbiting other collapsars
(other name for black holes) hold the sterilized artists and
musicians; the cosmos free now of lies, myths, fables. Nothing
out there but frigid fact.
And these writers, and the likewise
surgically-silenced painters, folk singers, sculptors, so
forth – orbiting other collapsars – so goes the
plot – slave toward one unified goal: the extinction
Null, masquerading as laconic
bartender Johnny Sain, takes the Andromedan’s untouched
drink into the kitchenette. Dumps the bloody Isopropyl into
the sink. Grins to himself, giving the glass a rinse, stacking
aqua plastic cylinder in rack: Without stories, music, images
– time withers. Art the only barrier between today and
eternity. One slays the Muse on the threshhold. Oh –
whither goest thou, Johnny?
butts in, voice crackling from a bug inside a spigot, “is
the art of remembering the future.”
Himself a pitcher, Johnny thinks,
eyeing the buckled legs of the dead roach caught in the drainbasket:
Why not fix in advance a pitcher of bloodies? (Take a picture?)
Improve the Mary? Substitute for tomato V-8, maybe Snappy
Tom; back there a bit use M-80 for bulldog (re-image fuse)?
Or wait for that prisonship full of poets scheduled –
at the end of Chapter Eight – to arrive without warning?
With so many choices, he decides
on nothing. Wanders back out into the living cubicle, lit
by bare bulb overhead. Pops into mind, nature calls.
Steps into dwarf bathroom. Raises
seat. Unzips. Cradles unit. Allows flow to commence, thinking:
Null turns back into the scaled-down
model for the Space Bar, thinking: The end of art is the end
of art. The end of time – the start of space.
Wordlessly they decide to
themselves – above plashing urine – to send out
to pawn the camera Johnny Sain.