The Beer Mystic’s Last Day on the Planet

bart plantenga

Bart Plantenga, The Beer Mystic - cover by David Sandlin

previous Beer Mystic Excerpt #43: BLACK BILE PRESS [Ottowa]

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.

Beer Mystic Excerpt #44

I travel across the morose topography, landscape of pavement, gaping, giving way of its own accord. I travel west embracing the fecund mysticism of brew.

I walk and hear voices calling me – FUUURMAAAN – from intercoms, car alarms, police radios, PA systems. Signals of the collapse of the social inside the paranoid, the ego with rumor, conjoined to such a degree that we live off the rumors one imagines are circulating about us.

I pinch a set of wheels – a ’63 custom-stretch Lincoln left idling on Hudson Street in front of the old Heartbreak Club. I adjust the electric mirrors and electric seats, put it in gear like a knife through warm butter, elbow out the window. All the dials stared up at me like an obedient dog’s eyes. We were one – a noble cell with a mission, time bomb waiting to go off.

The acceleration of the everyday leaves ever-less time for character development and motivation, however, so that cars begin to extrapolate their functions to become characters in their own right, beyond subservience and status symbol. They control the speed limit, convert latitude into attitude, and negotiate their own predetermined routes. That is what they mean by automatic.

Dark beer, however, will be my sextant, my elixir, an alchemy to transform sharp objects, projectiles of control, architectures of neglect and paranoia, belligerent light strategies, into a soft sigh of reverie.

I double park, buy beer, only the best: Harp, Thomas Hardy, Delirium Tremens, Old Peculier, Palm, Freedom Ale, Animator, De Verboden Vrucht. From Tribeca I bullet up 6th Avenue, do menacing side swipes, sheer door handles and fancy trim off along the way on this is my last day.

At a redlight I gun the engine, pour beer over my head, comb my hair back. I’m James Dean. He’s dead too. And yes, I too am just a short chapter in an absurdist novel.

I wish Nice was here beside me. I’m wearing her unwashed panties, for all the obvious reasons. I tried calling her but every number was a wrong number. The less we see each other the more inseparable we grow. She’d stuffed a scrawled note into my wallet: “‘Yes, my eyes are closed to your light. I am a beast, a savage. But I can be saved.’ Arthur Rimbaud said that. We’ll go for a ride off the end of a pier with you on my handlebars.” That was almost two weeks ago.

But tonight, fortune will just have to be my co-pilot. When you’re alone who cares for starlit skies? At 14th St. I do a dramatic stuntman slide, broadsiding a silver Mercedes. The sound is meaningful. The jolt exaltingly tragic. “He just missed a hot dog stand. Let’s get’m!” A citizen waving an umbrella gives chase. But I leave him with just a hint of rubber to perk his nostrils like a subtle dab of perfume.

I course further up 6th Ave. with my nose up the quivering tailpipe of a trembling Volvo. I challenge stunned gray men in their distinguished vehicles. I run red lights, scatter pedestrians dead to their own dreaming. And the threat of death animates their knickknack hearts, awakens them from their ennui. But I get no thanks, no credit, no footnote in their slender scrapbooks. And suddenly everything begins to speed up, hell-bent beyond all comprehension.

At a redlight I gun the engine, pour beer over my head, comb my hair back. I’m James Dean. He’s dead too. And yes, I too am just a short chapter in an absurdist novel.

At 34th Street I make a swooping chase-scene left, cruise down the sidewalk, watch the strollers scatter and cling to Macy’s windows. It’s a movie. It’s amazing. And you’ve seen it. But never quite so vigorous. I wish my head was a camera.

Beer Mystic - Screw

Ken Avidor

A van swerves to avoid me and hits a pedestrian. This I did not desire. The angry crowd of bystanders ignores the pedestrian being aided by the driver. One from among the riled mob tore a bracelet from the van passenger’s wrist. The mob’s trial by vengeance proceeds swiftly. Their guilty verdict is instant and very convenient. The mob breaks open the van’s back doors to loot its cargo – fashion sweatshirts. The mob is flailing, tearing, bickering over size and style. Some reading aloud the crazy “desperanto” sweatshirt messages: ERSTWHILE MUFFIN CO. DELIGHT HEAVEN IN DIGITAL; SKATBOARD MASTER OLLIE TO HEEL FAVOR STYLE; AFFLUENT BINGO CHARM HIGH STYLE DEVASTATE OF GAME; IN THE LOOSE WORLD WE ROAMIN IN SKY DYNAMIC TO MEAT STARS.

I hang a hair-trigger louie and then a sudden tire-screeching ralph at 8th Ave. Pick up a hooker at 40th. She’s in chemical limbo, somewhere between Flip Wilson and Dolly Parton in absurdly tight satin jogging shorts.

There’s a Christer hanging from her arm yelling: “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels – you be one of’m lady. I give you the inspi-ra-tion and you gimme a go at yer wings – and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

“There shall be fuckin’ wailin’ on my part and I done my share o’ gnashin’ my teeth. Butchu can’t give up on the lord. you never know when he might come through. Although for me it ain’t been since ‘bout 5th grade when I won a beauty contest – tha’s the last time he’s answered any o’ my prayers.”

Suddenly she confesses that she’s always wanted to help people, “work widduh blind, maybe duh lord take some notice o’ me again” as she loosened my fiddle from its case the way a nurse might change a catheter. “Or maybe work with the impOtent.” She’s getting warmer. “$20 for a hand job and $50 I go down.”

“Whattah your lips made o’ wet silk?”

“No, but I can sing opera wid you down my t’roat.” Coincidentally, I hear opera on the radio. I turn it up: “Was frommt seine helle Schneide / Ist der Stahl nicht hart und fest.”

She holds on to her 14th Street wig as we cruise crosstown. “Whatta yuh late for a funeral or sumpin?” she asks.

“Remember this, take this home in your lunchbox, if work’s such a great fuggin’ thing, the rich woulda kept more of it for themselves!” I yell as we glide by the Time-Life Building.

I double-park at the Waldorf and block two limos in. I drag her luded body [she claims it’s an anti-vertigo drug, cyclizine] in past the fish eyes under red caps. And she tightens her grip – maybe it’s rigor mortis – until she’s squeezing the beef out of me.

I order beer, Heineken, in crystal tulip glasses at $6.75 a crack. She wipes lipstick on the hem of the tablecloth. Reapplies more with the mirror balanced on her water glass.

She likes her Long Island Ice Tea with five packets of sugar. Come to think of it she’s never been to Long Island. Heard it’s nice. Somehow we dance to the live piano music that moves only us. No one else. Just stunned faces. Her backbone’s like saltwater taffy in August. Her skin smells like Juicy Fruits. I try to imagine sitting next to her in high school. How’d she get this way? All this helpless flesh.

“I don’t want no clothes / And I don’t need no bed / I don’t want no pork chops / Just gimme gin instead.”

“Hey, ain’t that Bessie Smith?”

“Where?”

“No, the lyrics.”

“Honey, I dunno. I bin sayin’ it for years. I ain’t responsible for knowin’ who said what. Or for not knowin’ what I know.”

We bump into tables, upset drinks and faces. Her eyeballs have disappeared somewhere up into her forehead like two billiard balls sunk into side pockets. She’s going on about Christ and God again as if they’re her ex-lovers. What kind of hookers are graduating from today’s academies anyway? “If the lord were here right now he wouldn’ take no notice o’ me. He’d be chewin’ fat wid the fatcats ovah deh. Power attracts power, you know. So I’m sayin’ why should I take notice o’ him? There’s some stuff I don’t like anyhow about Jesus. He come across all goody goody but you know the story when Jesus injected the innocent Gadarene pigs with devils which make’m rush down to the ocean to their deaths by drownin’, if I’m not mistaken?”

“No.”

“But then I kick myself for still havin’ faith.”

“Faith’s like rain on a greasy windshield.”

“Aren’chu heavy but you ain’t my brothuh.”

“BeeGees, right? I look at it this way: a church full of the faithful is hit by lightning in Mississippi. Religious pilgrims are crushed in a panic on the way to a holy site because there is a rumor that there is a non-believer among them. I rest my case.”

“I rest my ass. On your lap.” She screws and rubs her ass into my crotch as if her butt is a giant eraser and my crotch a giant mistake.

Everyone, by now, is gawking at us, hiding their mouths as they talk about us. And I’m strongly encouraged by the penguin suits to lead her out through the yawning doors, immediately – her heels dragging, wearing out like pencil erasers.

“Forget dinner.” I press $50 into the penguin suit’s palm.

“Awwh, I always wanted to try Baked Alaska.”

“It’s just fried ice cream.”

“How do they fry it widout meltin’ it?”

“I dunno.” As we amble through the thick doors.

“I’s the model for Mark Rothko’s painting Drunk on Turpentine.” I tell the doorman Rothko committed suicide on Feb. 25, 1970. I do not know why I know this, but I do. [About Rothko, Michel Butor said: “One of [his] most remarkable triumphs is to have made a kind of black light shine.”]

I park at the intersection of Eighth Ave. and 49th St. I drop off my Delilah, confident that she will survive [at least that assuages any lingering guilt]. Although perhaps not long enough to collect social security.
“What was yer favorite subject in school?”

“Favorite Subject? Geography, I guess. Even knew where the Galapagos Islands was.” Her hands gripping her thighs.

This fact brings tears to my eyes. And then I laugh, because when I laugh I take in 6 times more air than when I breathe. And I’m going to need it all, because in the meantime traffic has begun to back up. I give her a wad of green. I lean her up against a lamppost, serenaded by this sea lion chorus of car horns.

“See you in heaven, Delilah.”

“I doubt it, hon. Go to bed now.”

“I don’ have a bed.”

“Everybody’s got a bed. I got a thousand of’m… to bed now. Quickly.”

I can paralyze a city. And so can you. Fake car trouble or whatever. Just stop your car sideways across an intersection… You too can redraw the maps, which will place you in complete opposition to the objective grid of crosshatched asphalt that hems everyone into the reigning wisdom. It’s like you take a knife to your hand, redraw your life, fortune, and love lines. You take the streets renegotiate them utilizing the divining mechanisms of dream and you have, in effect, the same thing. Sure, I can talk like that now, but did I KNOW it or just FEEL compelled to act out some deep interior other plan?

I turn on the radio. Same opera: “Verfluchtes Licht! Was flammt dort die Luft? / Was flackert und lackert, / was flimmert und schwirrt…” The car drives on with the chase scene from the Seven Ups coursing through our system propelled by multiple beers and a can of Jolt. From brain to bone, from blood to anti-freeze, from Maiden Lane to the roads of freedom. Time means something wholly different to me now. I challenge the honking backed-up morning traffic like a toreador in an arena.

It’s 6 a.m. and I am prepared: A Times story notes that 45% of all those questioned in a ProLaVie Insurance survey name their car as the most important thing in their lives. Only 6% named their children and only 10% named their partners or other loved one, 32% give their cars names, while 17% purchase Valentine’s Day presents for their automobiles – and you think I’m crazy!

I try to imagine their hasty breakfasts, modest dreams of release, eerily preoccupied equally with weight loss, automobile stats, and child abuse. You can either go nowhere fast or nowhere slow. The very dynamic of speed contains the anxiety of arrival. Ambulance-chasers are now tailing me, perched on the edge of lifelessness to gawk. I am leading a configuration of the desperate and inert.

We – me and Lincoln! – back up, pure demolition derby–style, slam into a Cadillac, putting it out of commission – crushed radiator – to ecstatic cheers. Steam rises up out of the crushed metal. The Caddy owner and his dog give chase; he bangs furiously on the windshield, the dog tries to bite the spinning wheel. The symphonic car-caphony crescendos. I want Leonard Bernstein, no, Merzbow to sculpt the noise of frustration into scrap metal Stravinsky. I want the blaring horns, car alarms, and howling motorists to draw functionaries away from their desks and to their windows.

When I step on the gas, the Caddy owner hangs onto the radio antenna. He looks funny like Jerry Lewis in a movie I can’t remember the name of.

I wend my way up Eighth Ave. toward Harlem, bouncing off cars from east to west to weave a delirious tapestry of steel, misery, and mayhem. I park on the sidewalk – when I look up, coincidentally, I can see Jude’s window from here – I grab the pay phone to call Nice. The last number I have for her. She has left a message on this machine, “Furman, remember what W.C. Fields said, ‘Sleep, the most beautiful experience in life – except drink.’” But no way to contact her. At the beep I don’t know what to say. Instead I hold the phone out the window and rev the engine.

I have 33± cars under my belt as I head up to Harlem. More than “the Krusher.” This is pure aggravated operation of a motor vehicle, a churning delirious hunk of illogic. A tone poem with the back bumper dragging, sending sparks every which way. Side trim is splayed and wiggling out into traffic. A hubcap pops off the front left and rolls into a saucer-eyed scrum.

Yes, I am a scene. And a scene, like a parade, should head down 5th Avenue – bumper-car style in heavy traffic, playing chicken with over 100 violations under my belt – and I’m STILL moving. One lady in a cab wants to know whether I’m crazy. I shake my head yes. She’s satisfied.

I hit a stretch limo at 45th and Fifth Ave., doing 40 and the crazy thing buckles around me in a U-shape. The faces stuck to the interior appear queasy and pale as a flickering fluorescent fixture in an under-utilized stairwell. I imagined the limo running forever in a circle like a toy wind-up car. The moment of impact has certainly become a crime of ecstasy. After that it’s all hysteria, human foible, and stunned collective panic. Set an anthill on fire and you get the same effect.

I salute the two lions, Fortitude and Patience, guarding the NYC Public Library as I scream past, my voice blending almost mellifluously into the screech of steel on pavement, dragging attention along with it like the train of a wedding gown.

I bang and bruise my way out to comb the outer boroughs, confident that Manhattan is abuzz and forever changed. More so than by anything I could ever write or paint. Beer offers us the repertoire of insouciance to take back the night, resist curfews, and re-occupy this no-mans-land so that the sense of order in time and space gives way to uncontainable reverie.

It is 9 a.m. and I double park, enter the lobby of a bank, yell “They don’t have your money! They’ve already spent it!” I have nothing to lose by betraying our cumulative and tenuous economic myths. This is how panics commence, doubt worming its viral way through habit and presumption. We’ve seen banks collapse and the drug companies panic and we have seen beer drinkers take over Central Park to drink their beer in defiance of three city ordinances.

But my words and yours are just ashes blown into the faces of the shivering. It’s actions that speak louder than chapters. Boxers are more famous than philosophers. Inertia louder than War and Peace. This last 20-some hours is my painting: George Grosz in crushed steel. A public monument to the disinherited.

I make a pilgrimage to some of my favorite sites: Flushing Meadow, Brooklyn Bridge, Floyd Bennett Field, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the crumbling docks of Greenpoint, where I catch my breath and maneuver for perspective. [The rest – the Cloisters with its headless torso of Christ, the Long Island City salt mounds, City Island, St. Luke’s Garden on Hudson where one can daydream through the woosh of swirling traffic, on wooden benches, under magnolias, will have to wait]. I breathe into my palms. They are swollen by beer and excitement. But I am afraid that the he that is him is now me. I remember my fear of heights. I wonder how it will feel to die. Wonder if my death will be public, if there’s a quick way to write a will. Times Square, perhaps. Quickly and slowly.

Finally I’m in Central Park, 7:30 p.m. Without the aid of a Walkman I hear the plaintive baritone of Ian Curtis inside my ears: “So take a chance and step outside… / heroes, idols crack like ice… / so lose some sleep and say you tried.” I sing along not knowing I knew these words. Meanwhile, hats climb the hill with big-daddy shadows and coats the size of backyards like something out of a Curious George book. I’m in a purgatory, squashed between exhaustion and narcolepsy. Where the Lenni Lenape once put down camp, where sexual predators now roam, and where those who knock the lamps off the few remaining lampposts, somehow still manage a grin as they let us know that this is how they see light. And this is the sort of flattery through imitation that leads to an intoxication of my soul.

Running on empty I ditch my tub with our beer-soaked seats behind the Central Park zoo. I emerge as an immigrant from the spent interior of himself. I notice two choppers hovering overhead. Something like gun muzzles or camera lenses aimed down at me. I pay two Midwesterners $25 to take my pic with their Polaroid next to my hunk of steel. I hold the musty sack of leftover shook-up brews the way a father holds his baby. Their daughter heard the peacocks in the zoo. “They are crying ‘help’. Don’t you hear it.” Dad doesn’t hear it but I do and she may be right.

The park’s jittery creepy chiaroscuros trigger the tourists’ survival instincts as they hastily retreat, grateful to have survived a full-screen experience they can repeat as an adventure story in Toledo. I believe that when the saints come marching home they’ll have sweat stains in their armpits and vomit on their shoes.

I look at the snapshot. I am almost invisible. I slide the snapshot into my breast pocket. In the zoo, I talk to the seals and sea otters. “Stars are quiet in the skies…” In the seal pool I see sticks or cudgels or canes or poking sticks or hairless limbs, the back legs of any number of dogs floating atop the dark greasy water. The seals and otters are my faves because they elegantly dodge the detritus and amuse themselves easily.

The sudden silence of an exhausted city that was full of things that made it feel empty felt like the held breath of someone accused of immateriality or inconsequence.

I opened my Thomas Hardy and wander around the cages. “Stars are quiet in the skies…” I inhale the pungent perfume of Phocidae fecal matter + the rich bouquet of my very dark and heavy Hardy. I realize that my reality had outrun my ability to invent it. This led to a certain clarity in terms of fate and denouement.

“Lights! Cameras! Action!” I heard the commands plain as night. But instead of going into action I stood there like a doe suspended in the headlights. Light! O Blinding light! Should I stand around and wait for the meek to renovate the earth in the image of a flower bed? I moved cautiously forward and reached into the tangled web of blinding light to shake hands with the director – this is your life and now we are done shooting – but he did not extend his hand. Instead, he gave a quick flick of his hand like a conductor of an orchestra you see on Sunday morning TV and I was quickly overpowered by a police dog bred to kill or maim and the brawny arms and warm steel, steel warmed by leg heat, body heat, the cop heat of half a dozen of the 30+ – I’m guessing – members of the crack NYC Special Urban Anti-Terrorism Unit [NYSUATU] [pronounced Nee Sway Too]. The Thomas Hardy – it’s not fuckin’ a firearm! Yea, OK, held by the neck over my head it may look vaguely like a German grenade – fell from my hand and its remains were sucked up by the greedy soil next to my face. A nightstick pressed securely across the back of my neck. “Stars are quiet in the skies…”

~•~

And at midnight of the 7th day I shivered, I festered but I did not die. No activist lawyer came to my defense. No art critic analyzed my impetuous techniques, saw similarities between my methods and the flailing pugilism of Jackson Pollock. No photographers came to shoot my Brancusi on four wheels. No exegesis by PLW, no letter of solidarity from the Copernicus Observatory. And no Nice, and no Nice!

Nice, I learn only much later, had been in Senegal with her father on a “Roots” trip. No one else offered me a hand, a bite to eat, a drink of something, a knowing nod, a tip of the hat. No one speculated that my techniques may have been informed by Dada which aimed to fracture art through politics and to erode politics through art. The nobility of my acts of un-conscientious objection had eluded them all. I remembered my mother’s voice: “…Little child now close your eyes.” But I could not remember her phone number. Notoriety had failed to lift me, Furman Pivo, out of my meaningless anonymity. I was alive and in big trouble.