Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ficciones Exemplares:  

for Dev Hathaway, RIP  

I knew I wouldn’t get the job when the suitcase didn’t show up and I was left to wear a real dead man’s shirt, tie, and jacket to the interview. Well, you know what they say—when you don’t have smoke, you don’t eat. I hope that doesn’t bother you. I think its kinda like cigarettes. Without some sort of motivation, you might as well not eat. It’s not the same. Not hungry. Most definitely. So, we get into town toward dusk, and there above the southern horizon loomed the gigantic sky girdling towers of the Mid Atlantic State Power Facility—I thought back to ’78 when there had been an almost meltdown—I tried to feel any traces of the psychic fear left over from that event. The restaurant was sure crowded—as to emphasize the strangeness of my new surroundings, the place itself read like an English tavern complete with bangers and mash, fried fish, darts and serving wenches flying everywhere--
If you’ve ever read John Barth, you might recall his one novel when a loosely manic wanderer actually ends up teaching grammar at a state teachers collage in order to put some structure into his aimless life. On the other hand, yesterday in the grocery store, a woman plucking a tabloid from the counter in front of me assured me that upon looking closely at the phtos inside the NEWS, she could detect subliminal messages. I of course assured her that I had read such things before in THE CLAM-PLATE ORGY, a common book in college classrooms in the late 1970’s.
But back to the story. It was the quiet cleanliness of the town that was most noticeable: unlike the Pennsylvania coal towns north of the Cumberland Ridge, these towns did not suffer from the eternal grime of anthracite dust that had made its way into every brick, granite-surface or store-front. Yeah, there was the MAC machine across the street, and the twice-weekly newspaper, and even a Sheetz Gas Station/Sandwich shop. Yuengling on tap everywhere.
I don’t think I ever really did anything to provoke what happened next. But for some reason, I must tell you now I am not responsible for the events of 10 March at Cumberland Valley State Teachers College. The Day started like any other in my life: the need to purge my self of sleep, of aliens, of Sasquatch, of my parents’ dirty bedroom. I awoke depressed and naked: since I knew my clothes hadn’t arrived overnight, I had no pot to smoke. But I had washed my underwear and socks in the sink. I was ready to go because I had brought my pharmaceuticals in my briefcase, and had picked-up a pack of Marlboros from the bar. A word on the hotel: like the many I’ve stayed in, traveling to weddings, readings, conferences, wild affairs, funerals, meetings, and reunions, it’s all the same shit—seemingly antiseptic, darkly reminiscent of the many many people who have slept on this bed, who have put their bare feet down on this rug after fucking or dreaming.
It was when the chair of the department left me alone to go to the bathroom. He left a recorder playing and handed me a sheet of questions. It wasn’t going well. The funny thing was, he had a watch like mine, and me seeing this while he did not would only add to the outcome of this foray into this den of smiling, lovely lions. When he got back he was sans watch, of course. Finished with the questions? He suggested another cup of coffee.   I’d had three big ones already: one at the Sheetz where I bought some razors anti-perspirant, toothbrush and toothpaste, one at breakfast, and one on the way to campus with the search committee chair who had free cup of coffee card with her, a gift from the local knick-knack store and coffee seller. "Not really a coffeehouse," she had emphasized at the only stoplight in town.
It was while we were sitting in a big room of four laminated maple tables put together to form a big rectangle. I noticed one of the search committee just looking at my hands (which were getting sweaty and which I was rubbing on my jeans) a lot. Now I know it was the watch I remember I really had to go to the bathroom. As the interview ended I tossed my Pepsi (this was a Pepsi campus) and watched as that one young interviewer walked by slowly. She asked for the time. Instead, almost reflexively, I said to her, looking her into the eye like the devil I am: “Pepsi cola hits the spot. 12 full ounces, that’s a lot.”
It’s not really worth talking about lunch or the fabulous African-American cooks ( I hear one is from Philly) they have to make you anything you want in the Faculty Dining Room at Cumberland Valley State Teachers College. Or the long walk to the swimming pools and tennis courts. The day was blue and the sun was hot. There were some kids in shorts and baseball hats throwing something in the air. And it reminded me of high school and I got sick as I ate my plate of salad because I was jonesing and all the coffee and tranqs in the upper Midwest wouldn’t help.
Of course, it was when the reading started that things had gone entirely wrong. You know. Some of the earth children and freaks I know out there get a vibe—you see someone taking notes when they couldn’t possibly be, you hear one or two words that change the direction of everything; unknowingly, your hosts show signs of boredom or indifference that only you the poet know about.
Half way through my poem about the burning, fiery effect of hell on sinners of the worst kind, terrorists, statesmen, mullahs and generals, I noticed two robust, shall we say, fat-ass cops standing in the back of the medium-sized ballroom that I was reading in. I had just gotten to the part where Henry Kissinger and Mullah Omar are forced into acts of bestiality with alligators when I noticed the cop was talking to the chair of the department, way back in the back near the door where kids were standing. My poems ended. The gods of the old Aztec empire got their way again. There were claps. People eating chips and drinking Pepsi. Officer Luke Robinoski would like to talk to me? He was pasty, and as he greeted me and asked for my ID, the chair of the department grabbed my left hand and said “what the fuck are you doing with my watch?”
At this moment, I heard the fatter one say into his shoulder mike “we got a problem here.” Because the audience had left so quickly, I rapidly felt alone and caught in some sort of bizarre dream—your watch—dude? What? I bought this watch at Marshall-Fields last week, while I was in Chicago for a conference covering the postmodern dynamics of poetic interfaces! At once, I turned around at the poor old man who had started to look like Ceasar or Laocoon or even Lao Tzu. It was then I kicked the cop in the nuts, and taking a cup of coffee, smashed it into his face. This hurt me almost as much as him, because behind all the fat was a thick, impenetrable skull.
I remember running. No one could catch up. Too stunned, too incomplete. I remember running to the English Department. It was dusk and the sky was turning red and beyond the Cumberland Valley, to the West, my children were running freely, happily. I was just running. The first thing I saw, a fire extinguisher. I broke some windows. I found the watch in the bathroom under a toilet when it had slipped from his elderly hand as he wiped his ass. His: a Pulsar. Mine: a Seiko.
In retrospect, I hope that the college will deduct some money for the broken windows from what they owe me. After all, I did pay for the airline tickets. And about the watches? I thumb-tacked both fuckers to a bulletin board and ran again. When I got back to the hotel, still running, I found my suitcase freshly delivered, sitting next to the delivery van that had brought it. It was just a matter of time before I caught a greyhound out to Pittsburgh where I caught a night train back to Chicago. I had to take the train. There, in the first class sleeper, the West-Bound Empire of America, I unrolled my suitcase, plucking from its center, a green, thick joint of Minnesota Northern Lights. When I got home I found out my left hand was broken, and my right knee suffered bruising from falls I made on campus; in my frantic efforts to bust into the English department, I had cut my hands badly. And I had to go the mall to get a new watch.

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