German Punctuality

A poem of mine that was originally published at Gutter Eloquence, and then here, is now up at Eunoia Review.

https://eunoiareview.wordpress.com/2021/01/24/german-punctuality/.

This poem is a whore; it loves getting around, so I will post it again here:

German Punctuality

I was the last one on what I thought was the right bus.
I asked the driver to make sure. He said something
that in English sounded like “crossing.” The only problem
was he was speaking German,
and I’d just taken up the language. I asked him again.
He scratched his forehead just above his nose.
He repeated himself angrily. I still didn’t understand.
I tried to simplify. “Sooo, Leipzig?”
“Ja, ja…” he said.
“Danke schön…”

I sat down a few seats behind him.
I kept an eye on him in the rearview mirror.
Above his head there was a digital clock with red numbers.
It was 6:03. At 6:05 the bus was scheduled to depart.
At 6:04 he grabbed the top of the steering wheel
with both hands
and peered at the door with his sharp vulture’s eye.
At 6:04 and about 30 seconds he began pummeling
the gum that was in his mouth,
his jaw working more furiously than ever.
6:05. BANG! He slammed the door shut, pumped the gas,
went tearing around the bend.

I looked out the window. There was a guy running
alongside the bus, his necktie streaming
over his left shoulder, a briefcase banging against his leg,
one arm frantically waving.
He kept a pretty good pace with us all the way
to the end of the parking lot,
but then we took a sharp left onto the main road.
Fuck him.
He was a couple seconds late.

Armor

Just had this poem published in TunaFish Journal. The theme was ENERGY. You can check out the rest of the issue here.

Armor

For almost a decade,
half of my books have been jammed
in boxes in the corner
of my brother’s shop, soaking up gas
fumes and floating ash from the arc welder.

Faust, The Birth of Tragedy,
Parerga and Paralipomena, The Essays of Plutarch,
Letters from
a Stoic, Tulips & Chimneys.

Books whose pages I ravaged
as a young and starving beast. I used to feed
on poems & aphorisms,
metaphors. I wasn’t interested in the food others
of my species
were eating.

To be drunk on the power
of Nietzschean
suggestion – that’s what got me.

It was like donning
the Armor of Achilles
which not only protected me
from the frauds & philistines
that dominated my world in those days,
but imbued me with such
a wild & extraordinary sense of exuberance,
such an overflowing
feeling of life, it seemed sometimes
I was made of explosive
material, strong enough to blow a hole in the side
of the universe.

But the feeling eventually wore off, of course,
like anything.
And soon I moved
to Berlin, the books staying
unloved, unwanted, untouched –
for nine years
the white-hot Armor of Achilles wasting away
in pieces,
in boxes, all its remaining power
given over
to the invading
silverfish.

The Eyes of a Suicide

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In trying to ‘explain’ a poem, one word just cancels out another. That’s why I never do it. But I wanted to give a little background on the one above because the guy referred to in the tree was a customer of mine. His name was Chris S. and he was a house painter. 39 years old at the time of the incident which happened on Easter Sunday in 2005. I found out he’d died after stumbling upon his obituary in The Palm Beach Post. I found out the details from a friend of his, who was also a customer of mine, and the story has been etched in my mind ever since. “Chris was always on something,” he was saying, after telling me the more gruesome parts of the story. “Oxycontin, Xanax, pot, you name it. He was like that ever since high school. But us married guys – we lived vicariously through him. Women loved him. Every time I went out with him, he’d end up taking someone back home with him. Really hot chicks too. He was super charming. And the amount he drank… holy shit! One time my wife and I went out to dinner with him and he had the waitress running back and forth all night. We were actually kind of embarrassed for him… He had like 10 or 12 Heinekens during the course of the meal…”

I take a photocopy of everyone’s driver’s license who rents from me and keep it in a file. Chris had only been renting from me for a few months before he hung himself. Not even long enough for me to have filed it away. In fact, it was still sitting near the copy machine when his friend was telling me the story. I remember studying the license after he left the shop. The photo is still perfectly clear in my mind, all these years later. In all my interactions with Chris, he was friendly and cheerful. But in the photo, I saw that other side of him, especially in his eyes, which I stared at for several minutes on several different occasions. They were the eyes of a suicide. Deep, deep, deep in a sadness and pain and disgust and madness that I myself was no stranger to. I knew those eyes. That’s what was so terrifying about them and why I couldn’t stop staring at them and why they still haunt me. There was something too about the way his head was raised and slightly turned to the left. It was as if he was about to slip a noose over it, and I remember looking at his neck in the photo and picturing that coarse burning rope cutting into the skin, and picturing his features twisted into whatever gruesome form they held the morning he was discovered. I can still see it all now.

The poem and drawing above are from this month’s Versification. Check it out here, it’s a great issue.

A New Year’s Insomnia Episode & a Tale of Two Cities

dickens

It happened on New Year’s at the flat of a Danish couple I am friends with. It happened after feasting like William Howard Taft and drinking countless bottles of champagne, Prosecco, German wine, French wine, and a couple shots of cognac. It was 3 a.m. when I got into the bed in their guest room, wholly expecting to fall asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. Instead, the pillow had the reverse effect on me. It became a kind of electrical conduit, sending jolts of fire into the back of my neck and down through my limbs, causing my heart to pound and warble. Wait a second, I thought. This isn’t supposed to be happening. My heart shouldn’t be doing this. I feel like I’ve done a gram of coke. What’s wrong with me? Indigestion? It’s going to be ages before I can sleep.

I lay there waiting for my heartrate to mellow and the electric to go out of me.  It took about an hour, but I was still wide awake, thinking about A Tale of Two Cities – which I was 2/3rds finished with – and the direction I imagined the plot would take. As it turned out, I predicted the last 100 pages with eerie accuracy, everything seeming so clear and obvious in those feverish pre-dawn hours. Also clear was the vision I kept getting of a wild crowd of French revolutionaries and a big clumsy bloodstained guillotine, the National Razor, as they called it in those days. That was probably the strangest part of the night – that vision and those words, the National Razor, which I couldn’t stop repeating to myself. They ran through my skull in an endless and maniacal New Year’s Day loop until finally, sometime after light began to leak through the bottom of the curtains, I slept for a few gentle moments.

Two hours later I was back at my flat with my 7 y/o who was a veritable Energizer Bunny that day, clubbing me with his stuffed animals, climbing on me, using me for a bean bag and a trampoline and a horse. He was pitiless. He was Madame Defarge &c. There would be no rest for the wicked, as they say. He had his own version of the National Razor.

Freeze

Happy Fesitvus, everyone! I just saw a clip on a German news station about iguanas in Florida, and it reminded me of a blog I wrote a couple years ago. Some of you might remember it. If not, here it is, changed a little and rewritten in the shape of a poem.

Freeze

When my mechanic
moved from Pennsylvania
to Florida in 2012,
he told himself
he would never wear anything
but shorts to work,
no matter how frigid
the temperatures might become.

Every year since then,
on the coldest
winter days,
he’d come into the shop
in shorts, see everyone
bundled up
and say something
about how we
Floridians
are such pansies.

“This isn’t cold,” he’d say. “This is nothing.
Youse
guys should experience a Pennsylvania
winter.
Now that’s cold.”

Well,
this week it may not have been cold
by Pennsylvania standards,
but in parts of South Florida,
freezing temperatures
killed off acres
of corn
and green beans. Elsewhere
there were reports of frozen
iguanas falling
out of trees and either dying
or going into a catatonic
shock for several hours.

Nevertheless, my mechanic
had made a decision
and was sticking to it: NOTHING
BUT SHORTS
IN FLORIDA.

The only difference
between this year
and the others
was that this year there was no taunting
us wimpy Floridians.

This year he had on
two shirts,
a long sleeve under a short sleeve,
and he kept coming
into the office
to warm up with coffee.

He had three cups
yesterday by 10 a.m.
Normally he has one all day.

“You must be cold
in those shorts,” I said to him.

“Nah, my legs
don’t get cold,” he insisted.

But later,
when I looked outside,
he was shivering,
working with a pair of gloves on
and the heat
blasting from his van.

Heat, gloves,
two shirts, three cups of coffee,
frozen iguanas dropping
from trees,
acres of green beans
and corn dead from the chill,
but still,
he had his shorts on
and no one
could take that away
from him.

Munich ‘38

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Last week, I took two Corona tests in preparation for my role as an SS officer in the forthcoming Netflix movie Munich ’38. The first one was on Monday, before the costume fitting. The second one was on Wednesday, the day before the shoot. The Wednesday one took place in a trailer on a movie set and was only a 10-minute walk from my apartment. I thought this would be the location for the filming I was to be doing the next day and started thinking about how I’d be so close to home, I might even be able sneak home for lunch. The only problem with that idea was that I would be wearing full-on Nazi regalia, and might draw a little attention to myself, not to mention get me killed or arrested.

I didn’t need to worry about it as it turned out.

The shooting took place the next day at 7 a.m., and was all the way out in Lichterfelde, a 45-minute journey from my place. I got there in 3 hours of sleep, if even. I can never sleep if I feel I HAVE TO. Too excitable, I guess. Can’t shut off my crazy brain. Luckily, I wasn’t tired at all. I think I’m getting used to all these days of 3- and 4-hours sleep. The coffee of course helped. Even the mud they were dishing out on the set. I drank a cup as I got in my costume and got waxed. I say ‘got waxed,’ what I mean is got my hair styled and sculpted by a make-up artist who had no idea what she was doing so she overcompensated for the fact by shoveling great quantities of wax in my hair and troweling it into position, as though it were cement or mortar.

We didn’t have to sit around for too long before being called up to the set. It took place in the huge, softly lit ballroom with a long candlelit table in the middle. The table sat something like thirty-five people, and the seat I was assigned was at either the head or foot of it, depending on your opinion. In the middle of it were the main actors, none that I recognized, but I did recognize the characters they were playing: Hitler, Himmler and Goering.

The scene we sat through was very short, but was shot over and over again, from at least eight different angles, so it took several hours to do. My task during the scene was to sit at the foot of the table drinking my make-believe wine and pretending to eat the cold mushrooms and Knödel on my plate. When I wasn’t doing that, I was pantomiming in German with the two Nazis to the right of me, a thick-set, gray-haired Russian and a Frenchman who looked like a cross between John Barrowman and Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler. The Russian had a remarkably stoic disposition. There was nothing about him that indicated a sense of humor, or charm, or spunk, or verve. He was grave as a cow of the field, and when he turned to me while we were pantomiming with each other, all I saw was this big heavy almost unresponsive cow’s head that seemed much more suited for munching on grass in a meadow than make-believing it was a Nazi. The Frenchman, on the other hand, seemed a better fit to the thespian profession and, what with his slicked-back hair and the little Hitler mustache they’d carved out on his top lip, was a very convincing SS officer. He also had a sense of humor.  I didn’t realize it at first because he was directing most of his attention to the Nazi next to him, but when the camera changed angles, he moved his chair closer to the Russian and me and things started getting comical. The humor began with the Russian’s right hand. While pantomiming, he would hold it out in front of him in an upside-down fist, opening it as though it were an exploding mushroom cloud, and peering at us both with that dull, stolid death’s head. There’s no way, I thought, this guy has a soul. No wonder they cast him as a Nazi. The next scene I decided to do something like he was doing, only more exaggerated. I pumped my fist in the air and gave the Frenchman a fierce expression. “MACHT,” I whispered, angrily. “POWER!” Then I slammed my fist on the table. “DO NOT FAIL,” I hissed, and he burst out laughing. The next scene, he did something similar with his fist, and pretty soon the three of us were all clenching our fists and pounding the table, causing a great commotion in the blurry background. “SUCCEED OR SUCK EGGS!” I kept saying. “ACHIEVE!” And growing angrier and more animated with each scene. I was truly livid. But before I had a chance to do anything rash, like smash a champagne glass over the Russian’s head, the scene was called, and we were done for the night.

I said goodbye to Hitler, Himmler and Goering. I said goodbye to the Russian and the Frenchman. Then I handed in my outfit and headed home, my hair looking like a wax sculpture and remaining that way through many showers and blowdrying sessions.

It took me a good three days to get it all out, and only when it was gone did I realize that I’d wasted it. I should’ve used to it make Christmas candles or grease the door hinges around the apartment.

Maybe the hairdresser knew what she was doing after all.

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The Background Artist

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It was a 15-minute walk from the train station to the shooting, so I got a beer at the gas station and drank it on the way in. The tent for the extras was huge and crowded when I got there, glowing from the inside. I signed in, took a Corona test, then changed into my costume, a navy-blue suit and tie. The role I was playing was party guest, and the party was set in New York City on September 11th, 2001. I got a seat at a table and waited with a big group of extras. They were all dressed flamboyantly: halter-tops, platform shoes, leather underthings, fishnet, colored wigs.  Thank god I didn’t have to wear any of that. I sat there in my navy-blue suit feeling more normal and vanilla than I ever have in my life. I also felt old. Everyone but me it seemed was in their 20s or early 30s. I felt ancient and vanilla. The dark forest in me was dead. I was old. I took out A Tale of Two Cities and began reading. Five hours later, at 11 p.m., we were finally called up to the shoot.

It took place in what I guess was supposed to be someone’s massive apartment. They corralled us into one of the rooms and I stood there in the back corner in my suit waiting for something to happen. Then it happened. A come-to-Jesus-moment, to use corporate business jargon. I’d seen him on the set of a film I worked on a few years ago and I remember the German-Ukrainian girl I was sitting with saying something like, “I hate his face.”  He looked like a GQ model, unusually handsome to be sure, but past his prime, with a heavy brow, and a perfectly structured sledgehammer jaw, and salt-and-pepper hair that was long and flowing on top and shaved on the sides and back so that en masse, the hairdo looked kind of like a toadstool. He had been sent by the director to stand next to me in the corner and when he saw me, he expressed relief. He too was older than everyone and wearing a suit. His was maroon and he had leather gloves on. “We must be the sugardaddies,” he said.

There were only a few scenes we shot that night, but they were shot from several different angles, so it took quite a while. I didn’t do anything but stand in one place talking or pantomime with my fellow sugardaddy. It turned out he was my age, had 3 kids with 2 wives, and divided his time between Munich and Berlin. In both places he had kids, and in both places, he worked as an extra and had been doing it for ages, averaging about 70 jobs a year. Not sure if he if he had any other means of income, but I doubt it. I asked him if he’d ever scored any roles in any movies. He hadn’t. Poor guy. I felt kind of sorry for him. The only thing he had going for him, it seemed, was his extraordinarily handsome appearance, but now even that was starting to go, and all he’d ever been was a background actor.

I shocked him in the middle of our first scene together when I pulled the little bottle of vodka out my inside coat pocket and took a good hit. He laughed. At least he had a sense of humor. He said the new name for background actors was background artists and we had a laugh about that too. He left me in the middle of the scene to go off to dance and I watched from a distance what the camera was also capturing: his little toadstood hairdo bouncing up and down, that GQ line of profile, the sledgehammer jaw, the face the Ukrainian-German girl hated with all her heart – the face that appeared, somewhere, in or out of focus, in dozens of films every year. He was an institution in the background artist community. He was an extra’s extra. The Where’s Waldo of film.

Poor guy.

If anyone ever told you it’s easy to glide through life on looks alone, they lied. Still, he seemed perfectly happy and unashamed to go over to the window between each scene and stand there fixing his hair, gloating over his reflection.

Party Guest

It’s not even 1 p.m., but it’s so dark and gloomy outside, several of the windows in the building facing mine have their lights on. My lights are off. I like the dark. I like the way the jazz music I am listening to climbs out of the darkness and trudges around this shadowy groundfloor room. I like when it’s quiet too. When it’s dark and quiet and ripe for contemplation, when the only sounds to be heard are occasional churchbells or birds or the voices in the hallway.

I’m just killing time right now, waiting for tonight when I go to Charlottenburg and do my background acting gig. It starts at 6:30 p.m., and is supposed to last until 4 or 5 a.m. Graveyard shift. I’m playing a guest at a party that takes place in New York in September 11th, 2001. This is probably the 3rd or 4th time I’ve been cast as a party guest and expect to be given fake booze for the part. Therefore, I’m going to make a point to bring in some of my own alcohol. To play a party guest sober goes against all that is right and good and holy. I refuse.

Poem That Refuses to Shoot Itself in the Head

Here I am. Beergut, oyster
sauce on my t-shirt, pantlegs
twisted
into corkscrews.

I am the poem
no one wants.

I have been rejected
from 17 blogzines,
5 of them fledgling,
and not once with anything
but
a lousy-arse
form letter.

All I have been treated
with is apathy, all those smug
& coddled
editor
lemmings
turning their noses up at me
while they sit all day
on social media
exchanging hamburger
GIFS
and jerking each other off.

What do they know about Oliver
Wendell Holmes?
What do they know about anything?

Nothing,
I tell ya.

And yet it never gets easier
reading
those first words: Unfortunately,
this just
isn’t the right fit…

Yeah, yeah.

Why don’t
you
eat
shit?

I don’t give a donkey’s
dick
about your pantywaist
aesthetic.

I am my own aesthetic.
I am the poem that refuses to quit.

Standing in the howling
winds,
my fly unzipped
the wart on my chin
with
3 goodsized
black hairs sprouting
from it.

Try me.