Efran sat listening to the Goldberg Variations while gazing at winter constellations through his upper-story window. He knocked over a glass of wine just as the pianist splintered a passage Efran had never admired. After sopping up the spill, he spotted a man tacking up signs on posts across the street. It was public property. A uniformed guard from the padlock company nearby ran toward the fellow with the staple gun. Sensing trouble, Efran threw on his cardigan and ran down six flights to head off the guard who, it turned out, was a friend of the man posting notices.
They sang in a choir and told Efran there’d been a concert the night before that. Chuck, the stapler, had missed it due to laryngitis. Samuel, the security guard, advised Chuck that the freezing air would aggravate his vocal chords, and since he was also the male soloist, it was unjust not only to himself but the community that looked forward to the concerts. Chuck defended his stapling by holding up announcements for future cantatas.
Efran chimed in by stating he’d read “A,” the epic poem by Louis Zukofsky, inspired in part by Bach’s compositions.
“A what?” Samuel wanted to know.
“Damn,” Chuck shivered. “It’s getting colder.”
“Go home,” pleaded Samuel. “I’ll meet you in the rectory before the concert tomorrow night.”
“Boil water, drape a towel over your head and inhale the steam,” Efran prescribed.
“Already tried that, didn’t help” Chuck responded as the men parted.
Efran, who was actually shitfaced from his 8th glass of wine (he’d spilled the 9th), slipped just before the 3rd floor landing and went ass over eyebrows down a flight, winding up in the ER with a ruptured spleen.
Anita Baker in France
Tuesday: The conductor set the portable steps on the station’s platform. He offered his hand to steady my balance as I stepped down. A few minutes later, the train’s couplings rattled as the whistle blew and it lurched forward. I was greeted by an odor of algae mixed with Fiat exhaust.
A man and woman leaning against a wall sensed my disorder and pointed toward the shuttle
stop. “Merci,” I spoke my first French.
From my window cerulean remained the backdrop past 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday: A resort town with a surfeit of untranslatable expressions makes a visitor feel welcome. Diminished by this observation into ludicrous exuberance? I’ll try not to be.
Thursday: Breakfast at an outdoor café with Delacroix’s journal and a French/English dictionary: Baudelaire saw Delacroix at the Louvre one Sunday morning expounding Assyrian sculpture to his attentive servant, Jeanne-Marie le Guillou, a Breton peasant woman, who came into Delacroix’s service in 1834. She oversaw his domestic life in Paris and at Champrosay.
Located brioche. Ate one too many.
Friday: “Sardonic” brought to mind sardines, the sharp metal band twisted around a key, exposing the can’s oily contents, which I detest.
Saturday: Ugliness any day over beauty; pretense mustn’t be tolerated.
Sunday: Slept poorly on my last night. “You said it was too short, so I shortened it.” This from a dream I wish I hadn’t had.
Monday: Bought a copy of Annie Ernaux’s La place as a departure gift for the trip home.
Our State Fair
The fair deflected attention from the highway with its rising tolls and trucks that hummed deleterious tunes. It left everyone to his or her own compulsion. A retiree awaiting the start of a demolition derby used his cane to point out the arabesques made by a biplane before it burst into flames near the Ferris wheel. The pilot crawled out of the wrinkled cockpit, waved to the crowd and proceeded to a side tent where a documentary on duck hunting was being shown. The narrator repeated “participatory obscurity” until a clown, still in costume after selling his supply of cotton candy, stood up and challenged anyone to locate the blind where the hunters were hidden. Gun barrels peeking up among the reeds were a dead giveaway. Meanwhile, at the horse show, an equestrian was thrown off her mount when her skittish sorrel balked at the penultimate jump. “Ernie!” her mother shouted when she saw the horse’s ears flatten as it approached the railing. The rider, uninjured, jumped to her feet and ran to scold the horse. It snorted in the dirt, reins dangling from its bridle, satisfied with the weight off its back. “What is your problem?” Ernestine demanded as she stroked the animal’s mane. “I’ve totally misjudged our compatibility, you immature sack of meat.” She was a levelheaded, perhaps intelligent, girl who realized an object’s aesthetic value is predicated on its functionality. Her mother arrived, grass seeds stuck to her slacks. She reminded Ernestine that the exhibition of ambidextrous gunslingers was about to begin on the other side of the fairgrounds. Ernie let the horse graze and hurried with her mother, arriving just as two cowpokes from Gulper’s Gulch appeared. She realized actual gunfighters never drew their pistols with both hands as shown in Monogram Pictures. Soon afterward, an octogenarian dressed in an antique baseball uniform was drawing considerable attention at the dunking tank. He wound up and threw with a velocity Bob Feller would have envied. The Fire Chief perched in the chair didn’t have a chance, and splashed the crowd with one plunge after another.
Petey made a pair of stilts and practiced walking on them. He’d seen a picture in a magazine of Giacometti’s sculpture Man Pointing from 1947. The caption said a companion figure was planned but was never finished. Petey couldn’t find a mirror tall enough to see what he looked like on stilts, so he went to a lake and stared at his reflection with an arm outstretched and an accusatory finger at its end. This pleased him. He threw the designs he’d made for the stilts into the water. On the way home, he took a shortcut through a park and into a clump of trees but struck one and fell. He dragged himself back onto the lawn. The stilts became entangled when he tried to unstrap them. Finally, having freed himself, he threw them under a hedge. No more stilts for Petey, he thought.
That night, discouraged by his failure at trying something new, he took himself to the Mocambo lounge. He knew one of the waiters, Bret, from the old days. They’d been extras in forgotten movies. Pleased with his table at the room’s center, away from the glass cages along the walls with their squawking macaws and parrots, he ordered a Singapore Sling. Faces of bit players he’d met long ago were scattered among a few of the surrounding tables.
He flagged a waiter after tasting his cocktail. “Pardon me, too much grenadine,” he held the glass at arm’s length.
“Of course, sir.”
Brett came over. “Sorry, Petey.”
“No harm done. Has Bogart been in?”
“Away, on a shoot.”
“I’ve heard he wears lifts in his shoes.”
“Could be,” Bret replied. He kept his eyes on his tables. “What have you been up to, auditions?”
“I tried to walk on stilts today.”
“Really? Bataille wrote a raven on stilts/goes into the eye.”
“Where do you come up with this stuff?” Petey asked.
“I like to read,” Bret shrugged as he took the menu to a scriptwriter new in town.
Road to Utopia
Phil Waynefil sat in his sled holding a compass indicating the magnetic North as a reliable direction. He was yanked by impatient huskies across the tundra with a vision of a baby seal disappearing with sea bubbles in a polar bear’s jaws. Finally a structure appeared. An Inuit woman with an ivory hair-band answered the door. She kept her radio tuned to a progressive jazz station as he slept on a futon. When he awoke, inadequately rested, he referred to the “pyro-specific walls” that the woman concluded were riffs on something he had experienced in a former life. She reconfigured the futon into a couch so he could sit up “while the sun’s glare does its dirty work,” as he put it. The woman hung a hand towel over the only window to fend off the light.
“Would you care for a Caesar salad?” she offered. “It’s been vacuum-sealed.”
“No thank you,” answered Phil. “A glass of Gatorade would be nice.” He could hear the ice shifting. Ribs of a portable heater’s elements glowed orangely in a corner. “How is it that, without fail, I anticipate what I’m going to bluster before switching on the tee vee to channel surf.
“Applicable signals prompt us to locate the remote while we sleep,” the woman suggested. She handed him the remote.
“Quel installation!” Phil belched.
“Exactement,” she responded as she filleted a violet grayling. The initial incision was precise as the wet gills shifted, shiny as mica, on the cutting board. His ichthyology lacking, Phil couldn’t ascertain what would be on his plate. The slices recalled the grotesqueries in a Grimm’s tale. Perhaps “The Juniper Tree,” he thought.
The TV screen was disproportionately large for the iglu’s size. Robert Mitchum appeared in pinstripes. A ceiling fan circulated billows of smoke from a peroxide blonde’s Pall Mall. Blackened eyelashes spanked her sockets. She addressed too many questions to her empty glass and woke up the lush sitting between her and Bob, who was on-the-lam. The bartender juggled olives and mocked the girl’s insinuations with “ baa la do o say.” The Inuit woman flipped the fillets in the sizzling pan. “This iceberg is nothing but one enormous sound-scope,” she explained. ‘You think what you like.
You’ll never get a response.”
“It’s even emptier than I think it is,” Phil blustered. “Can I use that towel in the window for a shower?”
“It’s only a hand towel. Anyway, Monday night—no water,” the woman removed the band from her peroxide blonde hair. “I’ve seasoned your fillet with ginger and scallions. Are you an ice fisherman?”
“I used to install satellite dishes,” Phil answered.
“Do you know anything about microwaves?” she inquired.
“Only that they scramble thought patterns.”