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a pleasure dome

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10th St and B, circa '85

Tenth and B, c. 1985

Alcohol was Involved is Act One of the upcoming the 3-Act project, Dinosaur goes to town. About every other “song” on the project is a V.O. script story with music bed instead of a traditional “song” with sung lyrics. The stories are intertwined rather than straight narratives and jump around in time and place following the main characters. College, the early Texas punk scene, NY cabbing and after-hours clubs are the settings; addiction and love the pastimes. As the title promises, Alcohol is organized around drinking, drugs and other such worldly pleasures – but not exclusively.

I said, you wouldn’t have had a good time in Stalingrad

and Lady, you must be psychic

are the next two acts and CDs. The themes lay in their titles.

Alcohol is labeled a “Demo,” since the band planned to use it to attract other artists to perform the other various voices. We have since decided to roll with just the band performing all the voices.

Here is the opening song on “Alcohol:” Christmas Song

A Christmas Song. A mash-up and the most mournful trombone ever

(I’m thinking of changing the name to Bethlehem Blues. Leave a vote in the comments section.)

Below is the script for “Undercover Police” so you can read along if you like. Followed by the rest of the scripts. “Fratricide,” the last story in Alcohol, is up as a song, too. Keep scrolling.

(NSFW – this is a suburban junkie tale, if you still need a trigger warning)

The lead story in “Alcohol was involved:”

Max would buy mint tea at an Arab place on Atlantic.  You know, Borough Hall, first stop over the East River?  Then the long slog back toward the Brooklyn Promenade, only to cross Atlantic and find a way over the BQE instead.  Because he lived in Red Hook, where no one lived, except for junkies and bums.  It looked like Berlin, circa 1945.  Still, scattered among the burnt-out buildings on that first block of Columbia St. was the Latin American Longshoremen Club, a magic wholesaler and Accardi Hardware.  Max lived above Accardi’s, where Dave charged him fifty bucks a month for hot water while he kept out the thieves.  And it came with a million-dollar view of the Twin Towers, except for the cinderblocks in the rear windows.

That tea came whole stem, crystallized all over with sugar and mint so that it glistened like pudenda in the morning.  Max would strip the leaves off the stems so he could wrap them in a paper towel and use those in the old percolator his mom had given him when he moved to New York.  It was straight out of the 50s and wheezed and burbled like a shiny aluminum Sci-Fi soundtrack.  The Butthole Surfers used it on Gods Favorite Dog, but that was not the reason it was famous. 

It brewed fine caffeine – the coffee hot and sweet and tea sweet and cold, just how God intended it.  But that tea, man …  it was the best in Brooklyn.  Hell, the best in the whole fucking City because sweet tea seemed to be something Yankees were congenitally incapable of brewing.  Order some in the City and you got an ice cube in a brown plastic glass with a side of sugar.  The outside of the glass never sweated, and the sugar never melted in the tan tepid water, grains congealing instead like a crystal gravy at the bottom of the glass no matter how hard you stirred.  

Columbia Street ran along the waterfront where Max carried the tea in a brown paper grocery bag with the tips sashaying out of the top.  And that made him think of Jimmy and the Oaxacan.  Jimmy was older, a ginger and a con, ex, who got fished out of the Rio Grand with fifty key of dirtweed, so he claimed.  Jimmy met a guy in Leavenworth who was out now, too, and Max and Mike knew certain parties, and they all helped put the high in high school.  Because Jimmy’s new friend didn’t dick around with dirtweed, no sir-re, it was good Oaxacan, the whole fucking plant, stem and all.  And it came in brown paper grocery bags with the longer bits sticking out the top, just like the tea.  

That Oaxacan was primo and the first good shit any of them had ever had.  A light head high at first … nothing for the body, but soon you were floating.  The Bermuda grass between the car and apartment pool looked like little palm trees that summer after graduation, etched out individually while they soared above them, and the music turned all finely textured; a soft fur cilia covering Led Zeppelin – and Tangerine Dream once Max saw Friedkin’s “Sorcerer.”  That Oaxacan snuck up on you and then you were too stunned to do much of anything, even talk, even if there had been anything to say.  The sun shone, the vinyl rubbed its fur and they lay like seals by the water, clubbed into submission.  It was a fun way to waste that last summer.

Jimmy had bought an old undercover car, white and square with a spotlight on the driver’s side you could swivel.  “Put the scare on them,” he’d say whenever he drove it.  But he never delivered.  Jimmy wasn’t stupid.  Instead, it was Mike and Max, just summer visiting where the parties be.  But they were in Jimmy’s car that day … going to Keller’s for a burger maybe, or some other place out past White Rock.  Jimmy slowed as they approached the red light by Duncan’s Liquor with Max and Mike in the back.  Now Mike, he was the unluckiest motherfucker Max ever knew.  Always had been.  Overweight, fat is what it was called back then, so whenever fireworks went off or a window broke and parents or later the police got involved, Mike got caught.  He was sweet potato shaped, he laughed, both slow and distinctive.  If the boy had any luck at all it was bad – he was the only person Max ever knew who would get shot and stabbed.  

A bad acid trip sent him to the State bin.  “Hose down the mongoloids” he’d laugh sometimes when he washed his hands after he got out, remembering that a man has to keep up standards, even if your only claim to such was the proper number of chromosomes and the fact you could wash yourself.  You can always elbow your way up by pissing on those below, especially in the nuthouse.

Mike never lost his sense of humor, tho.  They rolled to a stop next to a Camaro with a crumpled quarter-panel, and they could see the kid who was driving it eyeing them in his rearview.  He had long, yellow spindly hair curling below the collar of his jean-jacket, and his eyes got bigger as he recognized a police car, anticipation then fear turning to outright terror.  Mike jerked his hands back behind his back and leaned forward as they rocked to a stop.  “Max,” he almost whispered; loud enough for Max to hear, even with Santana going, but not the kid.  Both cars had their windows open since it was Goldilocks weather outside and this was back when everybody smoked. 

“Make like you’re beating me, like you’re a cop.”  And Max leaned on him and brought his forearm down hard across his back.  More blows, a flurry the kid could see out of the corner of his eye.  Then Max body-slammed Mike like the two-way tackle he had been in school, and the whole car shook.  There were groans, too, since Mike could barely contain himself, being this close to busting out laughing.  That hurt worse than the slamming – he was well-padded.  So he just groaned, choking back the laughs. 

And the kid just kept staring ahead as if his life depended on it and he did not want to know what the fuck was going on in the police car beside him, especially when Jimmy reached back and faux swiped at Mike who chose that moment to raise up and bam! got whacked hard upside the head.  Mike lets out cussing – loud enough to hear clear up Flagpole Hill.  That, of course, cracked up Jimmy and Max, so Max figured the show was over and the gig up, even if Mike managed to stifle his laughter once he quit cussing.  But then, he didn’t see the kid’s knuckles go all tight and white from trying not to look at the undercover police while waiting for an infinite number of monkeys to all change the stop light to green.  When they did, he let them pull on ahead while he turned off into the Knights of Columbus and started to shake.  

That boy, long grown, still establishes bona fides by talking about the time on Northwest back when, and he was drunk at the Duncan’s light when the undercover police beat the holy shit out of some poor fat fuck.  Pummeled his ass.  And he can still hear them laughing about it, man, as they drove off, beating on the cocksucker.

Here are the rest of the scripts for “Alcohol was involved,” but not the V.O. songs except for “Fratricide.”

Max never really liked Rob, not since Jr. High, anyway, when the socialism of elementary school where everyone was a friend began sorting itself into best friends and cliques and such.  Rob just happened to be the first person Max ever realized was an asshole.  So, he left Mike to settle payment upstairs but, on the way down, ran into Sharon, still dripping from the pool, bikini hanging alternatingly loose and tight, the way it does on a skinny girl.  He had heard she and Rob had broken up, but the summer-time lure of a pool in the Dallas heat could overcome all manner of obstacles.  He had always liked Sharon, but they had run in different circles right up through graduation.  She was band, theater, that kind of thing.  And he … wasn’t.  Yet somehow Max was now supposed to pick her up after ten so they could go to the midnight movie he and Mike had planned to see.  Mike sensibly bowed out, especially since they had already dropped some Clearlight, hoping to peak during “The Yellow Submarine.”

Once Max dropped off Mike, he stopped by the house to do bongs in his bathroom, blowing the smoke out the window.  After that he put on headphones and Ten Years After, and before the vinyl needed flipped, he had that plastic, metallic taste in his mouth.  That acid taste which ate through cigarettes like model glue dripping on Styrofoam.  Nothing tastes as good as tobacco chasing a bong hit or two or a baker’s dozen, but somehow LSD fouled the special lung-filling pleasure of a first nicotine hit.  Still, he tried, chain smoking, while his mind continued to gently expand, and soon he couldn’t grab the kite tail of his last thought.

A little before ten he did remember he needed Sharon’s address.  He knew her street, but not the house, so he poked through a school directory which grew slow-thick underhand like reptile skin about to shed.  He considered canceling the whole fucking business, but then he’d still need her phone number.  And the thought of bailing out over the phone frightened him more than one in the flesh – at least the carne held out possibilities and gawd didn’t she look good, all skin and sharp angles and mermaid hair.  He bravely plucked numbers out of a floating bowl of Alpha-Bits, scribbled unconnectedly yet hopefully on a sheet of paper, tore it off and understood how both edges formed a most remarkable pattern.  He hoped he wrote the address down right, but time was now too slippery to double check.

All the streets around there looked the same, but he managed to find the right cul-de-sac.  The numbers painted on the curbs in a phosphorescent white glowed and wriggled like scorpions under black light.  Staring harder didn’t help decipher them, any more than shouting louder made English more understandable in Paris, “Viva la Vichy, eh?”  But suddenly he was there, the numbers matching up at the very bottom of “le sac.”  And as he got out his eyes labored up

Sharon’s walkway to the front porch and into the bay window.  And there, there was a goddamn horse inside Sharon’s house.  Max could see the mane combed down the arc of its neck, a snub nose and strangely foreshortened rear end where the tail slowly twitched.  But sure as shit, there was a fucking horse inside her living room.  The questioning wonderment propelled him forward across the yard until he tripped over a hose all curled and dangerous after watering the small shrubs that lined one side of the walkway.  When he looked up again, the horse was still there, but began to get even more strangely angled and squared off.  Then it popped into perspective like the man behind the curtain – a grand piano with the lid propped open.  The way it was angled to the street …. 

“Shit.”  He didn’t really believe there was a horse there, but still, the fourth wall moved a bit.  He hopped the shrubs that guarded the walkway and climbed the cement steps of the porch.  That seemed to take forever while his rubber-souled Puma footfalls produced a quickening slap back echo as he walked under the roof of the porch.  The bell rang and Mrs. Lewis answered the door, not Sharon.  That was bad.  “Won’t you come in …?” She stood at the end of the door, seemingly far away, beckoning him in like an animal into a trap.  His name remained as far away as she was.  “Max?”  He nodded, she turned and yelled at the distant, escalating stairs, “Sherry, Max is here.”

And an answer wafted from above with the weight of bad luck, “I’ll be down in a sec.”

He was snared and wondered why he didn’t think that picking up their daughter, especially for a midnight movie, wouldn’t be construed as a “date,” even if she asked him out, as far as he could tell.  Besides, in a few months they would be at college and fucking like little bunnies.  Well, a boy can dream, can’t he?

“Max, ma’am. Maxwell Scott.”  

Sharon’s mother smiled like mothers do about their daughters and boys – “Go and say hello to Mr. Lewis, he’s in the den.  

Thankfully, the den was opposite from the lair of the shape-shifting piano, and Sharon’s dad looked up from the weather.  He didn’t bother to stand or shake hands but used one of those funny new TV remotes to silence Troy Dungan’s bowtie forecast of hot and sunny.  Any idiot could tell you it was going to be hotter than 700 Hells every fucking day through September, and it wasn’t July yet.  This was Texas.  The TV blacked out going to commercial and the room got dark with a distant light steaming in from the dining room.  Max was glad the wood table in there remained flat while its surrounding chairs failed to arch into sundry animals, tho he could feel them strain.

“You going to see some cartoons?  Awful late for that.” Max tried to explain it was an animated movie, not cartoon short, but that only made him sound like a dick.  Before he botched it too bad the sports flickered on screen.  Mr. Lewis unmuted the TV while simultaneously starting a conversion with it about the Cowboys moving Randy White to tackle. “Good, linebacker’s not his natural position …” and on and on like a true fan.  All Max had to do was agree, his head bobbing up and down like one of those felt dogs old people put on the rear dash of their cars.  Mr. Lewis turned off the TV and it got dark again.  Max supposed he’d been working in the yard earlier since he was dressed in Bermuda shorts and a dirty T-shirt.  His arms and legs seemed particularly hairy, practically furred, and hairs escaped from under his V neck like St. Augustine over an un-edged sidewalk.  Max watched it grow longer, thicker, more luxurious – like in some kind of TV commercial.  He remained calm even as Sharon’s Dad was looking more and more like a fucking ape, and swore he’d jump right out the window if he started grunting like Cheetah. 

But escape from planet of the apes was not on the menu as Sharon providentially made her appearance before the transmutation was complete.  “Sorry, my hair was still wet from swimming.”  That was hours ago but her hair was thick, and Max popped up and crossed to the promise of an exit hatch and held it open for her.  Mr. Lewis grunted goodbye and the Mrs. reappeared, telling her daughter “not to be too late, even if it was summer, even if college started soon and they were almost grown up.”  Max wondered how late was late when you started with a midnight movie, then smiled as relief drained the strain right out him.  He practically bounced to the truck and held a yellow, dented door open for Sharon.  Huh, maybe it was a date.  He put the truck in reverse as his old friend the piano stayed a piano, and he laughed at what all he’d seen.

“You’re in a good mood. “

“Sure.  You look nice.”  She smiled, and he tried to keep eyes from running down her body, appraisingly.  He knew that girls didn’t like that, though they could stare straight into your eyes and rip out your tongue.  Life might not be fair, but still pretty good since Max stole the look anyway as he twisted in his seat to check his six and slipped an arm, all casual like, behind Sharon’s head.  The streetlight illumed the down on her cheeks as she leaned forward and her hand tossed her long hair over his arm and the seat in slow motion.  It was thick and heavy on his hand, his arm, each strand a still-moist, static tingling on his naked skin.  Once they were turned around right he removed his hand and it brushed against her neck.  That felt as smooth as anything he had ever touched – and far more electric.

“I know why.

“Why … why what?”

“Why you’re in a good mood.”

They stopped to turn out of the cul-de-sac, time stretching out like taffy.  “Oh.  Why?” and he punched the old Chevy up the little dip before turning right.

She faked taking a toke and then snort-coughed as if trying to hold the smoke in.  That cracked him up, and then she did actually did snort when she joined him in the laugh.  That set off a round of guffaws which didn’t stop until they did for the light on Church St., where he checked for police.  “So … you wanna get high?”

 Max would get used to the idea of being “friends” – he liked Sherry that much – then bang!  She’d sleep with him again.  And every time he thought they might actually make a run at something steadier across the great grassy chasm between San Antonio and Austin, something always came up; his grandfather’s funeral, her flu, a Cowboy playoff game one time, several new boyfriends, and an old one.  Still, she kept his fires stoked through all that. I mean, he drove up to see Elvis at the Armadillo with her, and afterwards she made up the couch and said, “You can sleep here if you want, or with me.”  Not much of a fucking choice there, huh?  

Sherry called him for his birthday their junior year to invite him to her annual Halloween party.  Then coolly, “You can stay here after, if you like.  Johnnie and I broke up.”  Johnnie was the heavy metal boyfriend from last spring semester, a scrawny longhair who played way too many notes on guitar.  Still, there was a problem.  Max was kinda seeing a certain Lisa, a freshman he met at the Dallas meet and greet for incoming students.  She was a brunette with Dolly Parton’s golden mean – if you know what I mean. She was fun, pretty good in bed and made him forget about other girls, or at least until Sherry called.  So he made up an excuse about a Cowboy game in Dallas that Halloween weekend, but planned on staying in Austin on the way back.  He liked Lisa and felt kinda bad, but not enough to change those plans.  It wasn’t like they were married or anything.  They were just both having a good time, or he was. 

When Max got home Friday, his mother decided he had to go in costume.  He had been listening to The Doors and said, “Lizard King.”  His mom ran with that idea and sewed a stuffed tail onto a pair of extra-large red tights she bought, along with a T-shirt and black iron-on letters.  Except for those, everything was scarlet red, including a cape.  He did refuse the sparkly princess scepter his mom found in a trunk in his sister’s room.  And the tail might could have forked at the bottom like Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth, but since he couldn’t sew a stitch he had no room to bitch. She topped off the get-up with a Whataburger crown bought with her kid’s meal on Sunday before Max left.  Sherry had invited him to “come by early,” so he left directly from the Whataburger, crown in hand.  It was several hours to Austin, but he had a couple of joints and a fresh pack of Marlborough’s.  It looked to be a pleasant drive, especially after stopping for a six-pack of Carta Blanca – for the party, natch.  

Max had drunk half the Carta Blanca by the time he got to Austin, so he picked up some Pearl when he got off 35 at 51st Street, the north side of the city.  This was long before Austin got IT rich and shat out so much money that college kids and musicians and such had to move farther out.  Sherry lived in a big old, clap-board house, the kind that smelled of must and mold – like a grandma house.  She shared the place between Kathy, another drama student, and an ever-evolving cast of UT girls.  He grabbed his costume to change in the bathroom – maybe Sherry would have a few minutes, or 30, to spare before the party?  Start things off with a bang?  Literally.  He rang the doorbell.

 “Come in, mate,” Johnnie attempting “mate” like Robin “I don’t know why I’m shouting” Leach.  It was his singing voice, too.  Max caught himself starting to scowl, then distracted Johnnie like a crow by holding up the shiny Pearls.  Johnnie pulled one off the plastic ring and took the beer to the kitchen.  Sherry came out from back there somewhere and sidled up to Max for a kiss on the cheek as Johnnie disappeared behind the refrigerator door.  She whispered in his ear, an upturned strand of short brown hair tickling the inside of his nose, “We just got back together last night …” trailing off into the rather obvious.  As if it explained everything. 

Recovering from the nut kick, he smiled – a bit wanly she laughed much later – and came out with a steady, “Cool,” so only she could hear.  Then loudly as she retreated, “Johnnie, bring me a beer if you are coming back this way, buddy.”  “Another beer to take the pain away.”  Johnnie brought him a Pearl, while sucking on a Carta Blanca, with the band finishing off the rest.  Just fucking great. 

He drank the Pearl and got changed.  In the living room he told Kathy and a ring of roommates how his Grandad would bring home a six-pack from the land of 1100 Springs, and Grandma would have to drink a couple “so he wouldn’t get drunk.”  The Pearl was gone so he found some unattended whiskey and smoked his last joint out back.  Then he danced – college girls writhing in the living room like rattlesnakes swarming out of a West Texas den into the sun, and he warmed himself between them to Sly and the Family.  Then more beer and, while he was waiting for the bathroom Sherry popped out.  They were face to face in the hall and she smiled, crinkling the corners of her eyes like she did, and he wanted to take her back into the bathroom and fuck her hard in front of the mirror like that last time at her folk’s.  She had closed her eyes and locked her elbows against the vanity and fucked back as hard.  Now she looked in him the eye, but the moment passed, and he stepped aside.  She slid by, her togaed parts brushed his lizard’s and then a wicked smile over her shoulder as she disappeared into the living room maenads.  So, it wasn’t just him thinking of old times.  She was such a nasty girl.  He loved her.  He was lucky to squeeze out the piss and then stumbled to the car and found an 8-track he’d dumped the new Talking Heads’ version of Reverend Al’s Take Me to the River.  Max qued it up in the car and then put it on the stereo in the back yard, opining that the minimalistic guitar solo was the best ever to Johnnie and the band.  Of course, it was exactly opposite of the kind of guitar they played and even slobbering drunk, he could tell they all thought he was a real asshole.  But at least he didn’t play too many fucking notes on the guitar.  Ha.

Later he found himself waiting for the can again.  He’d had to piss in the bushes at least once – one had to be creative with these old, one-bathroom houses full of college girl’s bladders.  Kathy joined him outside the door.  She was small and curly brown-haired and really cute.  I mean, A-list Hollywood cute, you know.  Beautiful.  And in “rehearsal for Midsummer’s… Hermia.”  Max bent down, mouth much too close to her ear and whispered, “My bead, my acorn, my minimus.”  He couldn’t remember anything else that he said or what they talked about, but her foot casually bumped his – they were that close, and he put his own, red tights and Puma’s, on top of hers.  Then they started topping one another’s feet, like some kind of weird and primitive mating ritual, until their legs were intertwined, the inside of his knee wrapped around the top of her warm thigh.  He remembered that all right.  It had been a while and some guy behind them finally tried the bathroom door – and it was empty.  He didn’t care, he could feel Kathy’s breath on his neck as she stretched up, standing on his foot.  Then she looked right into his eyes. 

It was like a fucking movie, and it wouldn’t even take a finger push for her to fall right into bed.  Jesus, she had the brownest eyes and he almost told her so.  Then, a moment of clarity.  Sure, they could, but what would he say in the morning to Sherry, hung over at coffee?  “Can we fuck the next time in town?”  Even in the godless 70s there were things you just didn’t do, he supposed.  He bent down (god she was short) and kissed her forehead.  What was the joke – she had to go up to go down?

“I better get going or I never will.”  “Max, don’t be an idiot.” 

Zeppelin was throbbing from the living room, big drums breaking levees.

“Ah, I ana not that drunk, lassie.”  “Are too!  We both are.”  Her eyes were promising things.

No.  “O.K.  Let me get some water.  And chips or sumptin to soak up the alcohol.”  He stumbled out back where a fire was going in a pit.  But it wasn’t that cold.  He went out the gate and around to the front and found his car. 

Max couldn’t recall most of that drive.  Everyone had bummed on his Marlborough’s, and he puffed his last one passing Slaughter Creek, the last of 3 creeks marking the limit of civilization.  Now it is part of the Austin, but back then it was like falling off the edge of the world.  Even the infrequent, approaching headlights were dimmed by the wide medium between north/south lanes of I 35.  And out here, in the dark, cigarettes were life.  He tossed the butt, rolled the window up and it got stuffy quick.  He hadn’t taken off the lizard leggings, which were rayon and hot as 700 hells with the heater blowing up from below.  He thought about stopping and stripping them off but then thought better.  Not a good idea.  Next thing Max knew there was a bump, and then he saw headlights directly ahead on the same cement strip he was on.  Even drunk, Max realized he had passed out, crossed the 100s of feet of the grass medium and was now heading south in the north-bound lane.  The headlights were still 100s of yards ahead, but he turned the wheel as instinct kicked in.  He didn’t even check to see if there was a bridge or creek or the end of the fucking world ahead but swerved back across the medium, bouncing and rattling across the broken ground until he rode up the incline past the bar ditch for the south bound lanes.  The Pontiac Astre leaned dangerously inward on the bar ditch slope.  Max shifted the car into first and turned it off, happy to be alive.  

Then a pick-up pulled onto the shoulder in front of him and a couple of goat-ropers got out.  “You all right, boy?” Max opened the door and fell out, rolling down the shoulder into the bar ditch itself.  “Yea, sure.”  He looked up and the emanation of the penumbra from the headlights smeared and smudged any particulars they possessed.  Max managed to stand, in bright red by the side of the road, “Lizard King” in distinct black block letters across his chest.  “I’m fine, I swear.”  He walked back up the slope but stepped on his tail and tripped, barely catching himself on the car door.  Then he hauled himself up into the seat, which was harder than it looked with the incline and all.  “You burned all your luck tonight, partner.  Better sleep it off right here.”  Max couldn’t tell anything about them, only that their straw hats burned white as phosphorus, etched as they were against the empty southern sky.  “You stay here until it gets light, hear.  You gonna do that, boy.”  Not a question.  “Yes, sir.”  Max couldn’t tell if they were old enough for him to call them that – but a little contrition usually helped all around when you knew you fucked up bad.  Max seemed to pass out against the window and the nearer shape made sure the door was closed.  “O.K., then.”  As their headlights moved off Max shook his head, waited for them to completely disappear, then started the green Pontiac and cautiously felt his way back onto the highway, the turn signal cutting sharp into the darkness.  He left both front windows open the whole way back.  If it hadn’t been cold before, it was going 70 with no heater.  The wind kept him awake until he made the dorm, then bed, safe at last.  And he never drove that drunk again.  Well, maybe once or twice, but not nearly as far.

In grad school an AP guy interviewed Max and some undergrads for an out-of-stater goes to Brooklyn College article.  He put words in Max’s mouth, the worst-tasting “quote” about how, coming from Texas, Max imagined everyone in Brooklyn would look like John Travolta. 

“Wasn’t that set in Queens?  I never saw it.”  He wished the reporter had actually asked that question.  With staircase wit he would have answered, “Moe, Larry, Cheese!  Yuck Yuck Yuck.”  Max did have his moments tho, like one time at the start of a shift.  He picked up some styling girl?  Woman?  around Grammercy while listening to the 80s broadcast of the NRP history of jazz.  It was scratching up to the 19 30s when she stepped in the cab.  “88 and Riverside … Oh, you like jazz?” Half question, half an exclamation point! and Max could just tell.  The lady, no doubt, hoped she’d run into another auteur.  At the 92nd Y, James Dickey talked about Deliverance and the movie and drawled, “Now John Boorman was an auteur,” his voice smooth as really nice Scotch, neat, and I’m not a Scotch man, myself.  She was long and thin and there were few things Max wouldn’t like to discuss with her, but a lecture on jazz from some Westside devotee was one of them.  They were as boring as Marxists – “But it’s never really been tried before.”  Really, you expect a 100-million dead mulligan?  “Oh man, I love this kinda music.  Reminds me of Popeye and all those other old cartoons.” Her face fell, she stared out the window and shut the fuck up.  Max figured he became the bullseye for her own New York Philistine cabby-tale.  We all got ‘em, honey, especially us cabbies.

The best comeback Max ever saw – I mean, heard – in person and in real time was William Burroughs.  He was ancient then, but still sharp, sharp as the sharpest thing you can think of.  Ginsberg had him come and Brooklyn College let the undergrads attend.  The two reminisced onstage, sharing cigarettes and holding hands, then took some questions.  One of the undergrads asked Burroughs who his favorite author was.  “Joseph Conrad.”  And the kid, “Oh you know he was Polish so English wasn’t his native language,” and looked up, full of himself.  Bill, he don’t bat an eye:.  “Well, that’s the point, don’t ya see.”  

One Sunday morning Max crossed all the way across the Ave. to pick up a couple of church ladies coming out of the early service.  And he did cut in front of some Russian boys.  Nothing bad, just New York. But those guys pulled up to the passenger side and cursed him in broken English. Max could have answered in kind but saw no upside in upsetting his church fares.  Then it was like god spoke thru him – from somewhere deep within and without having to think he spat out “Why don’t you speak English.” “But I am speaking English,” the driver blurted back.  The guy walked right into a verbal ambush Max didn’t even set and made him seem as clever as Von Manstein.  Max waited until the last possible moment once the ladies got in, like the mad scientist in an old monster movie finally feeling guilty.  As the green light turned yellow Max counted a beat, knowing there was a gap after his yellow disappeared but before the cross streetlight turned green.  He had looked already, and no one was coming so he got almost across 7th before the cross light turned green, leaving the Russkies on the wrong side of avenue.  Man, it was good to be lucky and good with god looking down and smoothing the way with a sweep of an almighty hand over the tohu bohu, or tube compressor on bass guitar, LA-2A.

Still, Max’s best comebacks weren’t always oral.  When he lived on 8th Street in the East Village – “yea, no shit, 5 hundred dollars a month”-  he walked through Tompkins every day. He never thought of it as particularly rough, even if it looked like the morning after.  Of course, anything was a step up from the end-of-the-world world that was Red Hook, although Tomkins looked nearly as bad after the riots.  One Sunday he walked thru Thompkins to the bandshell and started to cross 7th  down near B – between a white, solid-body delivery van and car.  Some bridge and tunnel kid with tattoos for arms stepped out in front of Max from the far side of the van, surprising him – this was his fucking park.  Then Max could feel or hear someone closing the rear of the automotive sparrowbox he had just walked into.  But the flash in Max’s eye must of froze up that boy’s nether parts because he just stepped on back.  Max starred him down until he passed clear and crossed.  When the kid’s accomplices joined him, they tried to figure out where their strong arm went awry.  But I mean, really, don’t shit in my neighborhood.  Max almost went home to get his Berretta, but he had already done his civic duty.  Those boys climbed in the van and cleared off. 

A few bums had lived in and about the park, but Max never saw anyone shooting up there before the riots.  And he was attuned to that stuff.  So where the Paper of Record got the idea Thompkins was overrun with junkies before then, I don’t know.  All the selling was further down, past 4th and on to Houston, and it shouldn’t take a college degree to be able to tell the difference – junkies certainly could.  Anyway, any selling in Thompkins was on the down low, or was until – low – the Times said the Word and – low – the Word became immanent, and – low– the homeless and junkies filled the Park like a plague of locusts right up Pharaoh’s ass.  “Let my people go – and send them down to Thompkins.”  Pretty soon it was Hooverville on Horse.  I said the Word was immanent, and so it was.  And this went on for a long while.  The next year when Sherry and Max came back with the eldest after spawning an entire summer in Dallas, there was a fucking circus in the vacant lot across 8th.  I mean, an actual goddamn circus with rides and carneys living in a building with Ailanthus growing out the roof from where they tied in all their electricity. Even the rides. That kind of shit went on for years and helped drive the best among us out to and past Hoboken and Williamsburg.  Or all the way home.  

Eventually, the Times sent one of their crack teams to investigate this strange and violent world below 14th, so full of drugs and riots and gutter toilets.  And what did they find?…  “a shadowy political organization,” called Missing Foundation.  Or maybe it was “The” Missing Foundation, as if that mattered.  Because it was a band.  Anarchists doing industrial performance art – I mean this was the 80s.  Political, but still a fucking band.  They had the best logo for the time, an upside-down martini glass with “1933-1988,” underneath.  Still, it got plastered up all over the East Village just like every other band’s – one leg at a time.  I mean, Max did sound for Tony’s “guerrilla parties” that took place at – oh – the west end of the Williamsburg Bridge once with the trains rumbling by.  The look on the riders’ faces … Or down in Lindsey Park and other such public un-venues.  Eventually the police would come along and break things up while Tony split with the bar cash and Max tried to load out the sound system, or at least the amps..  But that didn’t make Max part of the Garbage Mafia like Tony’s dad.  The whole fucking world hangs on what the Times sez about the Middle East, but they can’t tell a barbell from their bum and an asshole four miles from the home office.  Like when Sadat got shot.  Walter Cronkite lede with “I don’t know anything, and no one here knows anything.”  “Truer words, Walt, truer words.”

the last song of “Alcohol was involved”

Highlighted text will be excised for song length

Max remembered when he first noticed how the light in Dallas at Christmastime was thick and rich, just as translucent as the summer light in Paris.  Each hue a gelatin that you could spoon out of the sky.  He thought that the sun must be at the same relative latitude at those different places during the different seasons, so that the subsequent slant of sunlight was the same.  He remembered staring out the rec room window in back of the treatment center during a smoke, and how the afternoon sun rolled down toward the edge of the black land prairie, filling the distance with light, the air all yellow heavy and indolent, lazy as if after a heavy lunch.  It was then he realized that similarity between the two places he’d never fully articulated to himself before.  Both had a golden hour which colored with the same soft sunlight, only 6 months later.

Now, Paris had been the hub of Max’s European vacation the summer after college.  The whole fucking summer, half of it in Paris, allegedly attending Alliance Francoise.  But he missed a lot of classes while his Eurail lasted and, he ran into Carol.  He knew she was in Europe, but that left a continent’s leeway.  Paris, what a small fucking world.  Anyway, Max fed and housed Carol and kept them both in smoke and drink for the week while they finished off his hash – and then her money came in.  A 1000-bucks, back when that was a lot.  Her attempt at payback was some admittedly expensive Thai, but only the one meal as she tried explaining how “that should even us up.”  Max just laughed and made sure they stopped at Shakespeare’s on the way back to her old place and had her buy him a copy of the Cantos.  Still, she came out way ahead while he got to drag the heavy hardback throughout the rest of Europe.  

Carol was Sherry’s friend, and so, of course, “verboten.”  No matter what his second brain thought. They both slept on his narrow bed and the touch of her skin, or anything really, gave him a big ole boner.  It had been a while.  He’d have to turn away, nose and hard on hard against the wall.  But he had another reason not to get involved with Carol – she was plain un-fucking-lucky.  You know the type – if there was a choice to be made, they make the wrong one.  She’d choose the box if a car was behind every curtain.  Still, Carol was one of the gang, Texas expats in New York.  She was family, even if most of her self-described “bad luck” was mostly simple cause and effect.  And had less to do with “luck” and more with self-inflicted damage – plus friendly fire to those around her.  Like after Carol left Paris and Sherry flew in, they all met up in Venice on the way to Greece.  Max and Sherry had only the one day in Venice, and they could have spent it paying respects out on San Michele, followed by lunch and an insider’s tour of the Guggenheim from the intern Carol was “staying” with.  But no, they spent it at St. Marks – in a mall.  Carol needed to replace a contact lens and had waited for them to get there to do it.  Then she needed an eye exam since she didn’t have her prescription.  All that took most of their day, and that night they left for Brindisi with not even a gondola ride marked off their bucket list, just kicking some pigeons in the Piazza.  But Carol could at least see.  Or could until Brindisi and the beach when they dived in and first thing Carol comes up sputtering, “I lost my contact, and began to part water between her palms, as if she could scoop it out of the fucking Adriatic like Moses parting the Red Sea.  She was always doing shit like that.  She had her good side, of course, wonderful girl, don’t get me wrong.  But you always played the straight man.

Max remembered how the sky looked out back of the treatment center and how it reminded him not only of Paris, but of the last time he got high.  Of course, everything at that point reminded him of getting high.  But the same lucence you could see in Dallas or Paris air ….  you could find in the East Village in a soft, liquid suspension spooned under naked light bulb.  He had to take the first born with him that day.  It is funny, no one looks you in the eye in the City, much less women.  But push a stroller and every fucking female flocks like pigeons around peanuts in the park.  A baby says you are safe and not the psycho-killer their mother warned them about when they moved to New York.  Even the crack whores down in Alphabet City weren’t immune to a baby.  One leaned over at a corner, cooing at the First Born, pendulous tits swaying dangerously like bells about to ring right out the belfry.  

Max’s guy below Houston had a few other “friends” over when he buzzed Max up, and they all thought it was hilarious that he brought a baby.  However, they were impressed when Max said he couldn’t even stay for a snort, even on the house.  They thought it was discipline or not wanting to in front of the kid or some such.  But he just couldn’t wait to get back to his own place.  Man, you get so sick with want.  Coke was the most omnipresent need he ever had next to cigarettes, but so much more … focused.  When it is time that is all you can think about.  And coke, of course, is the one drug that before you even finish doing what you’re doing, you’re already thinking about doing it again.  It is really fucking sick.  And I’m not talking about snorting here.  Crack.  Ha!  I’m talking main line – you’ll never get a bigger rush in your life than that.  Part of it is the ritual of the thing, as necessary and immutable as it is for a priest.  Pinch a bit of cigarette filter to put on top of the coke in the spoon.  Uncap the orange Luer Lock and fill the syringe from a water glass on the table.  Then squirt.  The quarter of a g of coke sloughed off into a slow-motion liquid while Max stirred, the needle point swirling the bit of filter through an ever densing mix.  Then he drew off most of the thick shit through the cotton.  That heavy water hung behind its plastic window, distorted and full as the air above a Paris sunrise from the Sacre Coeur.  He left a few CCs to register, then tied his left arm off, bite marks joining others on an old alligator-hide belt he kept hid.  He pumped that sucker up, looking to find the main vein.  It was getting scarce, but he popped through the scarred skin and searched.  The veins were hardened, too.  But steady pressure broke through a scabby, outer crust, yet didn’t penetrate the far wall, which sometimes happened now.  “Steady.”  Once Max had ahold of that happy medium, he switched his index finger under the plunger flange to draw – delicately – and pulled it out a silly millimeter or 2.  That drew a breath of blood which shot up through the center of the barrel until it almost touched the plunger seal, then flowered like a mushroom, thin red line flattened out on top like the H-bomb at Bikini.  He switched hold again and – delicately – pumped 80 CCs of the viscous red taint straight in.  Then the rush before the rush, two more finger switches, do I need to say delicately, as he re-registered to rinse the last fragments of that sweet stuff straight into his bloodstream, where it circulated like a party hostess.  

It was some good shit.  First, his heart picked up as it headed north to death metal speed.  Then the taste of ether on his tongue.  He breathed it out but the taste was still there, inside his lungs and his ears began to ring as Max barely managed to lay the rig on the coffee table before he sank down into the couch and began to shake.  His last contiguous thought was he didn’t get a chance to rinse the rig and hoped it wouldn’t clot up.  But his ears were full of blood rushing now, the blood physically pounding inside his head.  Vision tightened.  His whole consciousness was squeezed into a narrow dark corner, top right hand of the living room and it got ever smaller, tightening like a sphincter.  Darkness, then his dead cousin’s voice, nothing again and Max popped right out the other side of that wormhole and could feel his toes and fingers going numb, disappearing in fact.  Then no, that was not it at all.  Instead, he was beginning to feel those extremities again, where they left off the epileptic shaking, and mere existence crept further up his toes, feet, legs and arms as the coke quakes subsided.  Max knew he’d come that close but it was sooo good …  The biggest rush he’d had since the first born, newborn, blue eyes staring up from Sherry’s chest while he softly crooned A Mother’s Lament.  Max was convinced the look in her eyes meant she recognized it, remembered hearing it inside Sherry’s belly all the times he sang it to her.  Now she lay asleep in her baby swing, head lolled to the side like the sun setting against a bouillabaisse sky.  Max knew he had come close, but his hand was steady now.  This time, not quite so much.  It was some really good shit.  

no one understands you she bear!

No one understands you she bear!