…..or, In My Palmier days As a Security Guard I did Indeed F**k Damien Hirst’s Shark
There they go walking up Main Street, Westminster on a Saturday afternoon. The slope-backed cars of 1957 mixed with the glinting Chevrolets, Buicks, and Model A’s and T’s of the thrifty farmers of Carroll County, Maryland, brake and slow and turn left or right at the stop lights down town kitty-corner to the railroad station. Passenger trains have stopped running this route, but freight trains still come through four times every twenty-four hours.
When we stood in the white room, everything was white. They pronounced it & I sat on his lap crying, crying.
Carroll County, Maryland what an odd place to assume human characteristics in, Skip: sure, there was that Singleton fellow you signaled interest in in an earlier e-exchange, who gave a speech on Environment Protection Day way back in the 70’s and alluded to his Dante scholarship in an off-hand and jocular manner–all of which was wasted on the Chablis sipping audience–which was apparent to him after one stroke of the high-hat in his brain-stem when he saw that he was rolling pearls to the used car salesmen at a pretty good clip; then there was Clyfford Still hiding over in New Windsor, saying nothing to the neighbors, sharing nothing–no weekly column in the Carroll County Times titled: “Clyff’s Art Scene Tips ‘n Hints”–nothing like that, but guttering out in his accumulated wax and dribbling away in an endless ambulance ride to New York City;
Her face wobbled, mouth to one side like the THREE STOOGES, she said: get my pills.
I was born on a battlefield in a red brick WPA-restored building pigeon-coo-scatter ya heah, everyone wearing masks, hands turned up in gestures of post-war hygienic felicity. Beyond entropic walls mockingbird & mourning dove fields of proto-surreal Victorian smell o’ death monuments falling away away down south to Dixie on every side. I almost didn’t take breath but was wheedled into life by trembling Dr. Zulich class of 1899 Gottingen University with his pans of hot cold water electric shocks nurses tickling my anus with a thumb. I don’t recall anything of that baptism except to say that my color was black from a dye in my mother’s womb and my father was thought to be a moron.
He wore a blue shirt. You could smell it on his hand. We pretended to cry, but instead we stood in the white room watching her face sink.
Earliest memories are of a place called Devil’s Den, G-burg. Uncanny. Enlarged, laminated Before/after bolted down signage of Matthew Brady bodies leaking gas & fluid spatter soaking into graffiti rocks (EARHEAD TROCK) that I climbed like a baby goat with a blue shako on my head plastic gun shoved into the front of my drawers. As my younger brother fought his way through the long caress of our mother’s “Scream in the Dark!” to embrace chronology in the same place seven years later, I became a connoisseur of arms emerging from granite blocks, movements of petrified armies around the circumference of neo-Romanesque temples lined with brass plaques and granite books of lists of names, battalions, snatches of carbonized song, sentimental poetry set in steel. Got that, Skip?
Harness restless energy of
,a,n,d, cutting right to left,
chisel breakz majuscule into dust,
DNA ribbons into molecular orts.
To murder a name takes time, ya know
given the right poundage of hammer,
the sharpest of chisels held just so
in relation to the time-channeled block
turnt over in the manz mud
beside the osiers the sluggish river crawling
like a radioactive louse up the cheek of the
topological pasteboard mask of the
memory of the perspective-
His daughter is so wife-like.
And sometimes she would even swoop you up and whirl you around above the floor in a fancy little jitterbug before planting a lipstick kiss on your forehead and setting you down in awe and wonder at her power and beauty. You usually didn’t realize that you were carrying her impress until she told you later “now go wash your hands in the bathroom,” and you stepped up on the wooden step and saw it there in the bathroom mirror. Then you’d color up and try to wash the kiss print away, and finally give up with just the barest fossil of it left.
Everyone could sniff me out: some even attempted to place my origins on a map they carried with them: so…Tidewater East coast…am I right?…thrusting the blood-drop-headed pin with barely a purchase into the cork backing…well…I kept my face hidden in my shirt pocket to keep them climbing the work house wheel–but they insisted that I drag out a medium’s pre-painted luminous balloon and huff into it in broad daylight: AMERICAN, AMERICAN, AMERICAN…or as one hopefully suggested…Canadian???? And with the final breath the frowning bladder popped and Fred Astaire was speaking to 25 masked ladies holding hands in a circle around a table straight from TURN OF THE SCREW. Again and again I laughed and tapped and clicked my heels as I’d seen a young black man stripped to mere belt loops suspenders and taps rappa-tapping out his message on a ragged plywood sheet, not afraid to expose the underbelly of my AMERICAN-SCENTED TALK. It wasn’t like I forgot to apply my Tussy that day, it was more like I was reaching to the sky and wallowing in my aura.
I was 19 years old and drunk on 151 Bacardi straight from the bottle. Imagine Baltimore. Imagine late July. I was reading Hart Crane in those days, and I kept saying to myself “The rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene ” just for the sound of it. A young lady with unkempt teeth who’d just returned for the summer from the University of Chicago (and was a special studies Antioch student to boot) took a fancy to me and I repeated Hart Crane to her as we sat together on the marble steps of The Maryland Writers’ Council watching the sun come up. I wore blue jeans, a farmer ding dong dell shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She wore a crazy pair of mini-cut-offs and a U.C. T-shirt. She suggested that we run away together. “You be my poet pimp,” she said, half-seriously, “and I’ll feed us turning tricks.” “The rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene ,” I said, then I pulled a letter from the future out of my back pocket and began to read:
July 26, 1980.
Dear Mr. Glass:
A friend telephoned me yesterday saying she had seen a brief letter from you in Fate magazine asking communication with anyone involved in research in the “Raudive” voices.
My research partner and I have been doing this research for the past five years here in McLean and have received hundreds of voices. Although our research is independently pursued we were under the umbrella of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship of N. for some time. At present, we are allied with the Spiritual Studies Center of G. This alliance enables us to reach out to others such as yourself, apparently in the midst of writing what appears to be a novelette.
It was the year of Kennedy’s death that my father’s lemon bitch Nimrod won the big Tristate championship for fox hunting. He was written up in Field and Stream Magazine and in the bottom of a drawer somewhere in the house where I used to live are a few chewed-up remnants of professional b & w shots of him in a green zip-up jacket holding Nim’s tail and head in a show pose with his half-a-dozen silver trophies lined up three on each side. Later, I remember that all but the big engraved bowl that mother put fruit in tarnished pretty quickly. In the photographs we see a gray background of September rain. He’s sporting a well-greased, pomped, Elvis-cut, and is shaved baby-ass-smooth and cleanly around the ears and gums. He looks heart-breakingly young in those shots, that father of mine, but grim, so grim, which could have been from his digestion that even then was breaking down from stress and nerves as a punch-press operator at Black and Decker but he had plenty of other reasons to be grim indeed.
Then there’s my favorite–Whittaker Chambers–because he was actually living in his pumpkin patch farm on Bachman Valley Road maybe still thinking once in a while of Objectivism (an ism I particularly love) at the very same time that my 18 year old mother used to cruise past on her American Indian bicycle with me on the handlebars to get ice cream sandwiches at Bauman’s Feed Store. We used to do this almost every day–make the circuit–connect with Sawmill Road and around and around past the Pumpkin Farm–we knew it as such, though at 2 years old I didn’t know a lick about Objectivism, but I was willing to learn–I’m sure I was–had my mother dropped that word on me in those long-ago whatthefuck days. Chambers and the others must have
What are you reading, she said. Her name was Vicki and I said: here, drink some of this, and I handed her the bottle while the sun continued to climb and the streets started to heat up. She took a slug and grinned. What I didn’t know at the time was that Herman Melville had given a speech on his sojourn among the South Sea Islands in the Unitarian church just next to us in 1850, but this was 1973.
Blake taught me that the world of the imagination was not only a place to escape to, but was a tool as real as a hoe, a pick-ax, a shovel. I also learned to see visions, though perhaps of a different order than my mother’s, one of which appeared to verify the reality of the imagination.
I was early. I remember the cock crew in the living room .
At that time I still felt some connection to my father, and I’d stand in the doorway hoping he’d stir and give me a hug or a kiss on the cheek. But he’d sleep on, so I’d half wave at his snores and tiptoe out. Right before we’d go downstairs, Mom would maybe go in to whisper a few words and pull the door closed after her. When she came out a few minutes later, her smile meant that she had some fun money for us for the Great Excursion.
Laboratory rats: sons & daughter. Look in those eyes & you see…goats.
We went down the long flight of steps and if my father wasn’t home, we’d really start singing because there were great acoustics in the stairwell. We liked songs about sunshine, or silly songs like “One Eyed Purple People Eater,” and we would sing them out the side door and right up to our landlady Mrs. Lucas’ knocker. We’d knock and stand waiting for tall, chain-smoking Mrs. Larue Lucas to answer our summons. Sometimes it took her a while, so while we were waiting we’d decide what we were going to do on such a glorious day. If it was spring, and my tricycle was outside, I’d hop on it and drive over the caterpillars that crawled along the sun-warmed sidewalk in bristling rivers. It always intrigued me how their heads would pop off like a toothpaste tube cap. Or maybe Mr. Fritz would be working on a bulldozer next door and I would yell and wave at him, and wish (secretly) that he was my real dad. (Much later he would die screaming of brain tumors, one of which took the form—or so the members of the family whispered—of a small man!) Or maybe Mom would shade her eyes and look over at the Riegal Barn across the white gravel drive-way to see if Lady Luck was out enjoying the open air atomic test fall-out. Or maybe we’d just giggle and be happy together standing there waiting to see if Mrs. Marge Lucas was ready to drive in to town to get her groceries. Just maybe we’d be lucky and she would.
It was in the early ‘30’s that I was searching for “mystery” broadcasts all along the long-wave band of my A.M. radio but found a few “stations” that I was after…so-called spirit stations….
Did you receive spirit messages yet?
I think I received spirit messages as they were “modulated” by radio dialogue; the contents, I did not understand.
You could smell the moon on his hand. Stars throbbed somewhere beneath a zipper. I cried for an Electra Lux.
We shared the bathroom with the people from next door and it was necessary to keep the door locked with a hook near the top.
Billy, the foster boy that my grandparents kept for Baltimore social services, was about four years older than I was. He and I had been up the railroad tracks and back exploring the gravel pits at Campbell’s sand Company (logo an eerily glowing blue-green neon camel), looking for fossils and other cool stuff, and we sat down at the kitchen table for some Coca Cola and cold cut sandwiches for lunch. The treasures we found sat in a box next to the back door: tiny fossil fish, stones with ripple marks, strange balls and black cubes half buried in sandstone that I thought constituted absolute evidence for the presence of Peking Man in Dundalk, petrified worms & trilobite tracks. Mother was upstairs napping, I think. She always took naps when we went to White Marsh for a good weekend visit away from my father. Billy was speculating about what should have been done to Oswald for killing the president. He’d already gotten one of those large color Kennedy pictures that was omnipresent at the Farmer’s Market on Pulaski highway the year of the tragedy and an American banner with Jack and Jackie on it that he kept in his room along with his secret stash of Playboys. “If it was up to me,” Billy said, “I’d have buried Oswald alive in a glass casket so he could watch the dirt come down on him.” I didn’t often see my grandmother get upset, but she did on this occasion, not so much at the fact that Oswald didn’t deserve anything for depriving America of its dream and all, but that Billy could think in such cruel terms of another human being. She stood there in her house dress and slippers, got red in the face and yelled at him and told him he had to go to church all day and not just Sunday school. But secretly, I thought Billy was pretty cool, and in fact when we were walking the tracks we’d discussed the same topic and pretty much agreed that that would have been a mighty good ending for the person who’d shot our great president. I didn’t say anything, but look at Billy who sat there looking earnestly at his sandwich. From what Billy told me of his experiences “in the system,” and particularly at “old man Knott’s,” I knew he could take a dusting off from the kindest woman I knew, no sweat.
Chambers and the others must have walked among us like the Ancient Aliens on the History Channel–like the sons of god among the daughters of men, but to seek and generally find the obscurity to rot and wink out, and not to beget a super race of artists or writers or patriots or anything upon the maidens of Carroll County, Maryland–“Classic Country” as they’ve branded it in their tourist brochures to the utter disgrace of both words and any quotation marks that might contain them.
What are you doing! Give me my pills. Her face broke like a puzzle on the carpet.
The square lines of the hospital building announced the arrival of modernity to those alive to it in Gettysburg. There must have been some sort of celebration. In fact I’m certain there was. I should Google it up.
Those persons who wish their fortunes told with Coffee Grounds, please to apply to Mrs. Sledge, the Fortune Teller, No. 63 Church Street, south side, between Charles and Light streets. The Balto. Sun, April 24, 1854.
This morning, and this morning alone, it wouldn’t be the loathed scrambled eggs and toast and milk—a meal I dreaded and gagged over, and inevitably had to eat at the Apartment on weekends. Instead it would be corn flakes, or honey puffed rice with Buffalo Bee on the box. I was always tasked with choking down some milk (“for the bones”, Mother would say), but that was an expected penance to pay for the coming weekend of bliss. Grandmom’s! Now Cass—that’s what I called my Grandmother—knew what a five year old required: Coca Cola and a ham sandwich was pretty good to start the day, or cold steamed crabs in a soggy paper bag from a crab feast at Aunt Anna’s in Rosedale the night before. You had to be careful never to eat the “dead man” when you opened the crab like a crazy book, with the eggs and yellow fat clinging in a glorious chilly mass to the inside of the carapace. I was too young then to pick the meat for myself, but Cass always helped me. It was a true coming of age when I learned all the ins and outs of picking a blue crab. Of course, I could have my choice of sweet cereals and corn flakes at Grandmom’s too, with real honey to jangle the taste buds and thicken the milk to a supernaturally delicious concoction.
I was impressed with the big trophies which he put in various places of honor in the living room while Nim and our ten other hounds roved the surrounding woods dragging into the back yard various dog-objects-of-interest: things that smelled just right to a dog like wormy bits of squirrel death, bones to gnaw, occult garbage to strew. My mother was not nearly as impressed as I was with my father’s new-found fame and my father seemed the least impressed of us all because he’d found another interest among the members of the Carroll County Fox Hunter’s Association (of which he was one of the key founders) named Esther. She was married to another charter member named Bud, who I recall from the few times I met him, to be a son of toil like my father, but older, chain-smoking, flabby-faced, yellow-toothed and grizzled, laughing, even avuncular towards my father when he offered him a swig from the pocket flask that he and Esther drank from. Esther worked six days a week as a secretary at the old Democratic Advocate in Westminster in a building that’s now long torn down to make room for a parking lot in the then and yet still-born downtown revitalization projects that began roughly in the late 1970’s and continue to offer up empty sidewalks and barely visited boutiques to this very day. One lunch time my mother decided that we’d go visit Esther in our green, swept-topped 56 Chevy that mother drove like a pro, barely grinding the stick. We called it the cucumber. As I recall my younger brother was with us in the front seat with his favorite toys and I rode in the back.
Illustration Nick Victor