Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation & Light

Beer Mystic Excerpt #12 – Jack Magazine

Bart Plantenga, The Beer Mystic - cover by David Sandlin
David Sandlin

Furman Pivo believes he [plus beer] may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same and the rest is history or myth or delusion.

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Beer Mystic Excerpts #13-14

I don’t care what others say, Jude was obviously overdoing it in front of me, the way she snuggled, rubbed noses with her neighbor’s dog in her best Betty Boop voice. Should have seen her stroke its hind leg the way she used to stroke a sweaty beer bottle – all promise, suggestion, and mirage. She’d somehow coax strange yipping yodels from the dog’s maw as if they were rehearsing a duet for late-night TV. As if to say, this dog could be you – or me. I mean, she didn’t even like dogs because they compete for attention. Sure, they liked her for how mossy her crotch smelled. Who wouldn’t?!

But the sad truth is that people over 30 can no longer say what they mean. Mean what is said. Believe what is said and so respond with secondhand notions they have never embraced. Jude thrived on the dramas that unfold in the shady areas of human encounter. Insinuation, a copped feel under a table, a quip, a barb, a rumor about my past. It was all a jumpstart to a sad heart, a way of gathering attention from strangers around the melodrama of her own life.

Jude was a failed romantic who wished love [and sex] was like movies from the 40s: all soft-focus swooning, innuendo, heart swooping soundtrack, no messy exchanges of fluids…

Jude, like me, did not believe in pets – except for her breasts, of course, ah, those plump, wonderful warblers. We probably ended up in each other’s arms because we both believed dogs absorb and squander the love that could be meant for unloved humans. The dog serves as a sucking psychic drain of not enough love to go round.

“It’s like believing in a hole in your shoe or a leak in a whiskey glass. I don’t see the point of sharing what little love there is in the world with a four-legged animal with halitosis.”

I mean, am I going crazy; we did just have that whole dog-wanking scenario. Indeed, dogs steal the focus, the limelight, they misdirect libido, they suck you dry of the desire to go out and find a sexual mate or have adventures. We clinked glasses, she said “a votre santé” and I said “Proust” and meant “proost” and sipped to our agreement on pets except warblers, interlocking our drinking arms and thought of a list of other things we agreed on: Truffaut, Becaud, Greco, Veronica Lake, Betty Blue, spitting drinks down each other’s throat.

Controversy allowed her to forget writer’s cramp. I knew she thought she was writing her own ticket, her own glamorous fictions, manipulating her own plots. But her pages had odd ways of recombining and morphing as self-doubt plunged her ever further away from a life she might be capable of leading. In other words, her writing, or her need to write, or, better yet, her anxiety of not writing it down despite thinking she should all preceded her and overwhelmed her every entrance into her daily situations. This is the classic bunkum physics of writer’s cramp.

I tried to explain that it was not unlike the nature of the hop plant. The hop female develops a very bitter and unpleasant taste when it comes into contact with the pollen of a male hop.

[Jude Falley, author, Furman confidant and paramour: “Despite 500,000 beers and counting, Furman remains skinny and this bugs me. Why and where does it all go? And because I was stupid enough to let him know that, it meant that he would parade around semi-naked in my place, like some deranged Donatello at the slightest hint of an excuse. Well. OK, my place is 82 degrees any day of the year. But still. He says it’s because the calories in one oz. of beer are about 8. Meanwhile an ounce of Drambuie weighs in at 110. Do I drink the stuff? NO. While an ounce of a Baby Ruth contains 135. Do I eat those? NO. He is skinny because of speed – No-Doz, I hear – and coffee and walking. Always walking. But don’t quote me on that. He’s also got a highly excitable autonomic nervous system, a high idle, in other words. At one time I thought it would have been dreamy to be with him, his face, his sensitivities, but it ended up being the part of him that he suppressed. And the part of him that came to the fore eventually made me nauseous. But you can read more about it in my new book The Big Apple of My I.”]

I bide my time, however. 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 much anyway]. Sometimes she’ll allow me to cop a feel, offer me the wet scented sigh of her wishbone to take home with me. Or sometimes she might issue a quick, neat squeal as the orgasmic period at the end of the evening’s sentence to flatter me with the notion of my technique’s efficacy. Sometimes she offered questionable advice or dubious quotes.

I write down: “Djuna: Dogs are gods that steal all the affection that might be better spent on fellow humans.”

I write her insights down very earnestly in my notepad. She interprets this as a sign that I’m mocking her. Or plagiarizing. But I’m not! But anyway, somewhere along the way my own journals began demanding that I search the curious perimeters of living on my own. So, when everyday peccadilloes failed, the words I fed my journal would balance all glory on this failure. The way rust sits on iron. Or the way the shadow of me [or someone else?] paints the twilight street with its own image of stretched and unreal magnitudes. 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 thickets of shade.

Our partings were always like shotgun blasts of emotion, like TV-show over the top: indignation, frustration, revenge, combined with a healthy dose of hair-mussed fury. And from there I would depart, hands in pockets trying to figure out whether it was defeat or triumph I should be feeling.

It’s difficult to go home these days, regardless of whether soon-to-be-ex Djuna is around or not. When Djuna’s away I’m relieved. But then the contempt of her absence begins to bear down on me every time the clock ticks. So I have walking dreams. Each block along the way like a page in a book I am not reading.

what I’m worried about is how I’m going to verify this whole bio-magnetic “black-eye” phenom to Djuna? Prove that I’m part of something unimaginable, unfathomable, unbelievable? Tonight I think I’m going to try to muster the courage [another beer?] to lay it on her. She is home.

I comb my hair; brush my teeth. It’s midnight and Djuna is reading.

“I smell that horrible woman.”

“Aw come on, mom. Come out with me, see my stuff – the night’s my art gallery.”

“Look, in one word, I’m bored and you are pompous.”

“That’s five words. It’s just cuz you’re…”

“Simply put: not fuckin’ interested. Remember, dahlink, alcohol is a poison – why do you think they call it in-TOXIC-ation? – as in lethal. Use is 3 fifths of abuse. Besides, whatever you show me will look to you like whatever you need it to look like. Besides, if they’re artworks or whatever, they’re not signed and so they can’t be authenticated as being yours anyway. And we all know that this is the first prerequisite of high art – proof of authenticity.”

Where had I heard this intoxication comment before? Whatever. The synchrony between mind and the phenomenal world of perception makes the mundane profound. Oh, yeah, Times Square, newsstand, Elle? Does she read even Elle?

“Listen, I’ve tapped into something; It’s got something to do with the secret tradition of… Hawaiian shamans.” Why not! Go for it! “Kahunas are based around this concept that the low self – our sub-con, say – takes the biological low voltage force…”

“Wait, aren’t kahunas like balls!?”

“I dunno… but, anyway, the voltages we generate and somehow through a hormonal rev-up, it gets pumped up so it can be utilized by our willpower. You know, like where there’s a will there’s a way. So the high self – the super-con, call it – can take this force and further pump it up even higher to the highest voltage that a human body can hold, and from there 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.”

“Dju ever notice that CONsciousness has as CON its prefix as in con job!?” Djuna simply isn’t impressed. Why am I trying to impress her, you might ask. Nice has asked the same thing.

Djuna – when I’m around, anyway – is sometimes content to read the most sexist letters in Penthouse aloud from her bed. Her every word is now burnished with lascivious disgust, an entire accumulated repertoire of spitless, distant, and evasive voices. As if all men are guilty of everything. Except the man who supplies the Penthouse? The Times Square ticker man? The wallet? The dickless wonder?

And when she gives me the gift of her body, her glassblown breasts [they’d fit deliciously into two damp, Belgian deep round goblets perfect for sniffing a beer’s beautiful flower], she says; “It’s useless. Like givin’ Dumb Perignon to a wino.” Provocation becomes proof. Anyway, she was never in love with me – she now claims – and more with whom she thought I should have been.

“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.”

“Listenlistenlisten, Djuna – gimme a chance – Djuna, in 1986, two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling outlined his famous 12 steps to health; one of them, Step #10, says here, was to ‘enjoy beer’…”

And there I stood before her mirror, Imbiber Religiosa, plucking hair from my torso. Hoping to regain that hairless, ageless nowness that used to turn her on, the way I could simulate a boy, a boy she could fuck and sully. Or the girl thing, cock and balls tucked back and out of sight. I searched the edges of my body with the palm of my hand for a sign of my bio-magnetic aura.

“Listenlistenlisten: Did you know that the first pharmacists in ancient Egypt had 700-some prescriptions and over a hundred of’m contained beer?…” I told her about my latest black-eye adventures including the string of 26, the “Mafia Princess”… I’m not quite ready to take full responsibility for them but nonetheless. She plugs her ears with her forefingers. I don’t mention Jude, my obscure amourant. She’ll eventually serve as a trump up my sleeve. Never mind Nice, my ace of spades. Yea, you got it right, this is a battle of egos and the world is about to be divided between those I can count on and those that she can count on…

“Oh, you boy, you lucky planet you, knockin’ over garbage cans, throwin’ rocks at streetlights. Bein’ naughty and so significant and all.” Djuna had really cultivated a bitchy edge. “Listen to this, ‘Dear Penthouse, I am proud of being a grease monkey, let me tell you why. One night a pretty, leggy blond came into my garage begging for help, she had no money and so we made another arrangement. After I fixed her car, she bent over to fetch her business card. But it seems she didn’t have one although since she wasn’t wearing any panties under her short skirt I figured I knew what she meant by her business card…’ I betchu this shit actually arouses you.”

“Innaway. Hey, but, back to… I mean … my … my black-eyes got nothin’ to do with throwin’ stones.” A Curlian snapshot right then and there would’ve certainly aided my case. Exhibit #1: notice that the photograph documents radiant energy… It would have gone some way towards being seen as evidence that something of me was illuminating.

“You’re such a naughty boy type and to think you used to be so… delicious.”

“Yeah, for like a week. Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight? You bet.” I went on and on about how in 1932, Dr. Eric Müller discovered that the energy radiating from the body can, under certain conditions, be conducted through electrical wires and be made to affect photographic paper. He said tea and tobacco intake 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. Synchronicity also does a job here, ascribing certain psychoid properties to the moving body which, like space, time, and causality, which render it manifest.”

Local authorities bicker and cast blame for the outages. Con Ed chalks up the rash of outages to more mundane factors like work being done on a switching station. “…And guard you from dread…” Some prefer sunspots. City employees believe it’s either the cheaper light bulbs of Korean manufacture being used in the streetlights, or lax maintenance schedules, electrical storms, godlessness, crack, juvenile delinquencies, latch key kids, you name it. Opposition politicians blame the mayor, the mayor blames budget cuts by the previous administration…. At least I made the papers; the Daily News mentioned the Alphabet City location as a scene still under investigation by police investigators who called the outages a “suspicious phenomenon.” Look, there it is on page 38; that’s me. You might have seen me in the Holiday or ABC No Rio or the Continental Divide, showing this raggedy two inches of space on a local page of the Daily News to kindred spirits who looked right through you and always just shook their heads “yes” to be done with it. But also to total strangers, who just didn’t get it – but that’s the point! People only get things when it’s already too late, managing a veneer of politeness before they walk off back to the bar, pay phone, toilet, jukebox, friends…

~•~

When you leave work, if you’re like me, you feel an imploding anxious emptiness that is desperate to be filled with going out – you gotta go out or you’re nothing. Staying in is like caving in, like buried in your own misery. But not having it in you or in your wallet, means you’re destined to be out without going out – buy a beer, brown bag it, beer bedouin wandering the streets. But first I rush home to take advantage of the one hour of hot water. I lie pie-eyed in the steamy tub – make it mine immediately by peeing in it. “…And guard you from dread / slumber gently and deep…” I think, I drift: I feel my body, muscular and aching. The worth of work is measured in levels of pain. The less lunch hour you get the more important you’re supposed to feel. We’re supposed to get an hour, me and Robert, but big deliveries of Hammermill paper always come during lunchtime.

I have to remind myself to write all that down when suddenly I hear the dogs outside baying, howling at the streetlights. The story goes [where’d I read it?] that one guy or more – it’s always guys! – are going around calling themselves the Canine & Cat Liberation League [CCLL]. T(he)y come along the avenue with box cutters and slash the leashes of dogs tied to parking meters – dogs freed of their masters. Slash and run acts. We intuitively side with these liberators. But now hundreds of dogs have formed tight-knit packs [organized by howls and scent] that rove out into traffic, upset vehicle movements, cause traffic jams, gallop down shopping corridors, panicking pedestrians and shoppers. Shop owners complain. There is also the issue of canines hit by cars – that vague legal domain sometimes called “accidental on purpose.” Often enough for the Post to report that the city can’t even cart them away fast enough. Chinese restaurant owners have been called in to help. They can have as much of the meat as they can cart away. But this part is just hearsay or a joke or the Post.

Maybe that’s what led me to beer – or more beer. The dogs. Or the owners of dogs and how they allowed themselves to have all their affections rechanneled into these flea-bitten shit machines on four legs. You’ve got to hand it to them. They have managed to make the most of who they are.

There is also the barking – “Ah ah, the dog howleth, the moon shineth” – and at night watching dog owners standing stiff and still as if in deep thought or deep shit, staring as their dogs squat between cars to take a dump… maybe it was the sadness of seeing this hundreds of times per week – that sad hand on a sad limp leash, leading to the neck of a sad dog with sad hunched shoulders sadly squatting in the discolored snow in a grimy patch of turf called a park. And then watching the owner sadly oppressed, squatting down with a plastic sack and sadly gripping the steaming turd and sadly carrying the plastic sack to a sad garbage can. You can also sadly see them attempt to dodge their civic duty, by sadly ordering, yanking their dogs into empty lots or between cars, sadly vigilant before they huff off, another crime under their belts. This no doubt led to more beer.

And what if the dog is constipated or fussy about his squat spot!? Then we can see consternation, tension, tempers flair, people begging, coaxing their dogs, coaching, showing how by example – “What me, watch me, like this!” – and quick kick, an abrupt tug on the leash to express their frustration. Here too you see the dog owners dividing up into victims and victimizers – you can borrow my binocs – each with their own particular strategy of how to profit from the chosen profile.

My neighbors also led to more beer. Sitting on shiny surfaces of cars, sitting on garbage can lids on pieces of cardboard as if to say all that matters is surfaces, their shine, their ability to accept their weight without groan, the ability of surfaces to support them, to keep their buttocks warm. This is what their buttocks, the positioning of their bodies on surfaces said to me. And this was sad. This certainly led to beer. Lots of it – with the quantity being more important than the quality. But the story is not what led to beer but where beer led me.

[Nice, secret researcher and Pivo’s noctivigant partner and most loyal friend: “Furman Pivo has acquired what he calls a ‘dipsomaniacal lobotomy,’ which allows his mind to distill the essence from a drunken stupor, remaining unreachable, eluding all content that gives too much weight to the proposition that one is nothing, nothing at all. His hair looks like it was done by the hairdresser who does the Wishniks’ hair. Like a mad professor in CBGB’s. And that he carries it off is charming. No? I mean his skin’s like that of a ghost threatening to materialize. Like a placeholder, an empty glass of milk, the courage of 1000 dreams, a vicious rumor about to blow up in a face, a dusty halo in a dingy basement. And when people ask, yes, I admit it, I have a big place for him in my heart. Life is not rational. You cannot explain love.”]

I lie there in the tub until the water is cold and begins to ripple from my body trembling – that’s the broken-dream’s rattle, they say. Like the rattle of a bulb with a broken filament. Nighttime brings the roving gangs of youths who are secretly tolerated by elders and store associations as they begin their assaults on dogs as sport – wolf dogs [yellow-eyed malamutes and aggressive, bored wolf hybrids], any dog, all dogs really – bashing them into whining, yelping pulps with tire irons and aluminum baseball bats. The PING of an aluminum baseball bat on a canine skull is distinctive and cuts through the general groaning din. I wonder if they ever meet members of the CCLL for a little Eastside Story drama. But, anyway, sometimes it sounds like the dogs have emerged as the victors because you will then hear them howling triumphantly in unison under the streetlights they confuse for more heavenly bodies. Again, I wonder if dogs [and cats] aren’t part of the problem in New York. Loneliness is perpetuated because people spend all their love and affection on their pets and then have nothing left over to give to others. Pets are like parasites of love. “…In the dreamland of sleep…”

I turn up the radio – it’s NPR with the news – to block out the worst sounds of these nocturnal conflagrations. The news says that a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine notes that moderate drinkers [I prefer strategic imbibers] tend to be in better health, better educated, wealthier [oh well], and more physically active than non-drinkers.

A green beer bottle floats around me like a buoy in a choppy bay. My mind gnaws away at a thought: I was once a very nice boy. “As your bright and tiny spark / Lights the traveler in the dark – / Though I know not what you are / Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

I hold my breath under water. Count how long I can go before I pass out. I try to identify footsteps in the hall – above and under water. I hope it’s not Djuna. I hear my heartbeat underwater. “Foam be pillow / for my head. / Beery billow be my bed…” I polish off a 6-pak. Beer bludgeons with the regret of squandered idealism. [Less messy than a hammer.] Or it tickles tunes from the cranial wrinkles that can make the whole body hum with delight. The hum of a yogi fixed in transcendence, the hum of a young boy walking through a field to meet his young love. There must be a lot of empty bottles in heaven. More footsteps. I hope it’s not Djuna.

I hear the neighbors upstairs dancing. Square dancing? Or fighting? I think it’s a guy and his mom. It is always difficult to attach faces to apartment numbers. Whenever he’s not repairing furnaces he’s home. And she never seems to leave the place – but what do I know. She may be nagging him. He may deserve it – or not. He tells her to shut up. I think he beats her. Boredom is the thing that has character gnawing away at our souls.

I fortify with pilsner. Chugged and frothing. I turn up the stereo, spin the single, worn thin and snowy from overplay and sing along in my deepest basement baritone for the 10,000 time. Baying in my loneliness, basking in the pain as I sing along with Joy Division:


and ambitions are low.
And resentment rides high
but emotions won’t grow.
And we’re changing our ways
taking different roads.
Love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

The way Ian Curtis sings “Looove,” like a tin shovel scraping the cement floor of a psych ward cell. And again, the voice, in the deepest bass scraping up muck off the floor of a long-dead sea on “a-paaahrt”… You must know that the words, the way they are sung in punk-Byronic style, has fortified me singing along in ragged underpants, beer pissed, teetering on the edge of every word for 1000 nights of loud, speaker distortion, used as a tool against those who would hem you in, surround you, lurking, sniveling, hovering, oppressively killing their time – and trying to kill yours – in and around this building cringing. The suicide of Curtis is still something I consume like others consume – I don’t know – dirty water dogs or cocaine. The tragic made Byronic.

Bean and cat food cans sail past my window. “Turn that shit down!” In the hall the next day I try to read faces, try to determine the bean can culprits. Is guilt discernible on a face? And what will I do if I do determine guilt? Save some empty bean cans, arrange them on their welcome mat?

The old woman who gets beat by her son washes plastic bags to keep busy. She hangs them out on the line. I have watched her by using a piece of mirror angled and aimed up into the air shaft. My fascination with how others deal with boredom devolves into feeling persecuted by the clumsiness of others. I call Elsa. It’s her machine. How and when did it become a relief to talk to the machines of people instead of the people themselves? “My coffin’ll include a sound chip. When somebody opens the lid it’ll trigger a sound sample – laughter, applause, I haven’t figured that part out yet. Maybe something from Suicidal Tendencies ‘by the time they fix my head / mentally I’ll be dead.’ I dunno. I love that album: pure, angry articulate hopelessness. I dunno. I hate their second album though. I think I’m gonna wear a Smilie mask in there.” I hang up. Am I mocking or flattering her when I speak her language?

There is a very fine line between harassment and come-on. Between pity and hatred. The neighbors upstairs drop dull, heavy things on their floor – perhaps it’s the old lady going down for the count? Head hurt and hurtled? – their floor is, of course, my ceiling, is the nature of the universe. Some people are most alive when they are meting out vengeance.

The plaster dust from the commotion above stinks when it lands in the tub. Like the dust of a building that has witnessed much pain. Like plaster made from the bones of fallen warriors. Green bottle floats and clinks into brown. They also run their water so it whistles through the pipes and my nerve endings. I can’t believe it doesn’t bother them. If you step into my bathroom, don’t mind me, you won’t see genitalia, the water’s all cloudy now. Look up and you’ll see the marks where in the past I have poked my broom handle up into the ceiling – BANGBANGBANG. But do I really expect them to understand what three knocks to their floor is supposed to mean?

I get out of the tub and the anxiety of what to do with the night begins anew. It’s like anxiety began the moment man went vertical. My fridge only feels truly empty when there’s no beer in it. My beer is neither generic nor anonymous. It is simply put, my friend. The beer has status and pride but is not riddled with ostentatiousness – Yuengling Lager. But now I am wandering and a small hovel is no place to wander. Djuna asks if I have found a new hovel yet. No, but I’ve found some walk-in closets I might be able to afford.

You step into my hallway and you smell embalming fluid. It seems the super mops the hallway floor with Flotone, Frigid Fluid Co. That’s what the label of the plastic container in the garbage says. The stink wafts in under my door. Smells like a morgue one day, a slaughterhouse the next. Is it the conspiratorial or the happenstance menace of other humans? After another beer I’ll be able to tell. Unless – I mean, you hear shit – there are dead bodies being preserved down in the basement.

And what about that protruding nail at the corner of the stairs that catches skin. When’s somebody going to do something about it? I guess, like me, they fear vengeful reprisals from the super. Two wacks of a hammer would take care of it. But no one dares or even thinks that this protruding nail is odd. I imagine neighbors with matching scars that we will carry around for the rest of our lives fanning out across far corners of the world.

Don’t underestimate the super; he’s capable of ingenious tactics. He has sent water rushing down your walls. Turns them into oatmeal overnight. Can make the heat pipes rattle through your dreams. He may have served in El Salvador or Nicaragua – three doubts lead to three more.

All of this makes me wonder too much – 49% of all fatal accidents occur in the home – and too much of nothin’ leads to gloom. I’m anxious to confuse the boundaries between what is and what should be. And if and when we know it – capital I – what do we do with IT? Does it really help to know?

Beer Mystic Excerpt #15 – Paraphilia Magazine

–bart plantenga