Another Country Bookstore

I started writing a post yesterday about my wanderings through the flea market on Sunday, and was planning on talking about the burden of having too much stuff,

What a lot of things I don’t need! While others acquire expensive luxuries from the market, I get myself greater pleasures than theirs from my own soul without expense.” ~ Socrates

but then I realized time was running away and I hadn’t even started the Herculean task of tidying, scouring, bombing and disinfecting my place for H., who was flying in from London, and is now staying with me for the next eight days.

It’s 6:41 a.m.

She’s sleeping in my bed right now. I am in the kitchen and have just drunk my first Sicilian espresso and feel like I’m being rushed to write this so it’s either going come out like shit or have to be aborted. The good thing is, H. usually sleeps 3 or 4 hours longer than me – she’ll quite often sleep 10 or 11 hour a night – so I have time, but I still feel like someone’s got a knife at my back. Maybe it’s because I just quit smoking. I’d only been doing it for a couple weeks, and am not craving a cigarette at all right now, but I was smoking like a diesel engine toward the end, and maybe I’m unnerved in ways I don’t even know now.

So, I will keep this post quick and simple.

Friday night I went to the Friday Night Dinner at Another Country Bookstore. Dinner was served in the basement there, and after dinner we went upstairs into this small cozy room full of books, and there were about eight chairs arranged in a semi-circle, and we sat down and started talking and drinking and some of us were smoking. The conversation was good. There was an Aussie going on about this hammer drill he’d just bought and how efficient it was compared to screwing the old-fashioned way. And there was a German women talking about the beautiful, variegated light in New York City, and the wonderful food there, and the polite help in America, and tasers, and overly-aggressive men and their need of being tasered, and this and that. Also there was a Chinese woman, a guy from California with half-a-mohawk, and a few others including my friend Bernd, a giant bear of a man who kept nodding off which I found really disappointing, although not unusual for him. Bernd’s never been one to stand on ceremony. If Bernd needs to express his part-German, part Huguenot (he claims) opinion by falling asleep while you’re telling him a story, he’ll do it. He doesn’t care.

Luckily, it wasn’t me he was falling asleep to. I was talking most of the time to the guy next to me who’d just moved from New York to Berlin. I eventually told him about my novel Fortuna Berlin, and he bought the Kindle version on Amazon. Then yesterday, as I was trying to write about Socrates and the Burden of Stuff and feeling like I should start tidying, scouring, bombing and disinfecting my place, all the while reading Bryan Ray’s most recent blog and thinking about some emails I need to get to, I got this notification on Twitter:

Hey! Not sure if you recognized me from the twitter bio. We met at Another Country on Friday (the Indian guy). I just finished your book yesterday. I was glad I read it on a trip to Prague I took over the weekend. John was such good company for the solo-traveller :). He’s such a keen (or “mustard-keen” to unnecessarily use a phrase I learnt yesterday) observer too. it was great to see the world through his eyes for a bit. Especially parts of Kreuzberg I’ve stumbled across over the last 2 months. Some of those conversations he has with The Elephant regulars were my favourite bits. You must have edited those down ruthlessly. They’re so tight. No ponderousness. No rambling. Always with a point that’s not too directly stated. Always funny. Loved it. Going to go read some Goethe after that. Anyway, just wanted to say hi and thanks for the book. Hope we can talk again in person soon.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through Donald Trump – and there is only one thing, BUH-leeeve me – it’s that sometimes you need to toot your own proverbial horn. So there it is. Buy a copy! Link to $1.99 Kindle version here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00SSCL94S/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

 

 

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Church bells, Music & My Grandfather

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It’s 12:00 p.m. in Berlin, and I’ve got the windows of my flat open to the garden and can hear the sparrows in the trees and the church bells tolling in the distance. Mark Twain used to complain about the sound of church bells, but I’ve always liked it. Probably because it’s something I never heard in the little seaside town I come from in Florida.

I just shut the windows. It was starting to get cold in here. And now I’m listening to J.S. Bach played by Pepe Romero on guitar. I can only write to music without lyrics in it, hence the millions of hours I’ve spent listening to instrumental classical music. J.S. Bach has always been my favorite composer, followed closely by Beethoven. After that comes Mozart, the Baroque composers: Buxtehude, Vivaldi, Couperin, etc. Where are the modern-day Bachs and Beethovens? They have to be out there somewhere. The world population was around 1 billion in Bach and Beethoven’s time. It 2010 it was 6.9 billion. If we look purely at the statistics, there should be 6.9 Bachs and 6.9 Beethovens walking among us. So where are they? Crushed by the awful weight of the corporate music industry? Lost in the sheer mass of numbers? Rendered kaput by the era?

My maternal grandfather started off as a musician. He could play by ear just about any song on any instrument he picked up. Unfortunately, none of his kids or grandkids or great-grandkids inherited the talent as far as I know. He kept it all to himself, passing it onto no one, which was a very miserly thing of him to do if you ask me, but totally in line with his personality. To call my grandfather a skinflint would be insulting to skinflints. Here was a man who, in 1987, drove down from Illinois to Florida to visit us with the windows open in the car to save the cost of air conditioning. Never mind that it was 90 degrees out and the humidity was 100%. When he got out of the car, the entire back of his shirt was drenched with sweat and he was mopping his forehead with his sleeve.

On the plus side, he did become a lavish spender later in life… when he realized he might have something to give in the way of inheritance.

Items found in his Arizona trailer post-mortem: fertilizer, handguns, bagpipes, ivory canes with knives that pop out of them, everything QVC ever sold (or couldn’t sell, let alone give away). Also, a sex tape for beginners.

My maternal grandfather was 84 when he died and republican and his name was Wallace but my dad used to call him ‘Slow Wallet Wally’ because whenever it was time to pay his part of the bill at a restaurant there would be a monumental hesitation or his attention would be drawn elsewhere or the motor-workings of his arm would fail and he’d dive into a detailed conversation about pneumatic armchairs or the passengers on the Mayflower or the beautiful eucalyptus trees of Dubai or Spanish guitars and finally my dad would foot the whole.

“Wait, you sure?”

He was sure.

So, it’s now after 1 p.m. and the church bells are calling me. Time to go out people watching in the sun. I’ll probably be back later to write more. It is my compulsion, after all.

Novel: Fortuna Berlin

The other day, a young woman from the States who’d just read my novel Fortuna Berlin sent me an email that I think every writer would be happy to get. I’m cutting some parts out because they might give away the plot, but here is most of what she said:

To Mr. Powers

I just finished reading your book Fortuna Berlin, and I am in love with the whole story. I felt compelled from the first few chapters to complete the book, and I read it all in a frenzy–finishing it in less than two days. I thoroughly enjoyed it for many reasons. The main one was it’s believability.

I very much enjoyed how you grounded the work in reality–describing the sights, sounds, and ambiance of Berlin and all of it’s unique character. I also enjoyed John as a character. He reminded me of myself in that I often ponder why things work out the way they do and also how he looked for signs and symbols in his everyday life.

I cried when (…), and felt terribly outraged(…).

I think you did a wonderful job of exposing how a life can unfold, how it can change in an instant and how there is a horrible beauty in it.

I am currently studying English literature and I fear being stuck in a drab 9-5 work routine when I graduate. Like John, I detest the hoards of people who stay in the same place all their lives, who lose their personalities in their jobs, and who live uninteresting lives. I could relate with John also because he left, he sought adventure and whatever might come with it. I am wondering how you did it–How did you develop such memorable characters? How did you develop such a memorable story?

Thank you so much for writing and publishing this work. It is something that I very much enjoy and will probably read many times over. I also really appreciate the historical, literary, and philosophical references you make in the book. I look forward to reading works by those authors as well. Thanks again and I hope this letter finds you well.

She also wrote a review on Amazon that does a beautiful job of summing up the book. I am so happy it found such a great reader, and was not at all surprised to find out in a later email that she’s an artist, though too humble to admit it. I knew if my book appealed to anyone it would be to the artist, the poet, the deep-feeling soul.

Check out the link above, read all the reviews and buy a copy if your curiosity is piqued. The Kindle version is only $1.99.

 

A Night on the Eastern Comfort

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Wednesday night on the Eastern Comfort I met for the second time a red-haired Scottish woman who’s a stand-up comedian. She’d come with a porno magazine and on the cover of it there was a photograph of a naked dude sitting down with a hard-on about a foot long. She flashed it around and then rolled up the magazine and slipped it into her back pocket. Then she told us how she was the organizer for the next stand-up event and wanted to know if we had any material. I brainstormed for a moment, but I think my faculties were still disturbed by the image.

“Tell her your Wallflower story,” said my friend T.
“I can’t,” I said. “I forgot what made it funny.”

Then I told how standing in front of an audience is not my forte. For one because I lack the nerve, and also because I’m horrible at remembering lines. My memory doesn’t work that way. I have a freakish memory for faces, but for written text I am beyond deficient. I’d be even worse in front of a crowd.

T. didn’t have any material either. “How could I?” he said. “I’m German.”
“Germans may not be funny,” said the Scottish women. “But their jokes are very well-structured.”

We laughed. She left on that note with the rolled-up porno mag sticking out her back pocket. Then the complimentary peppermint schnapps arrived and we drank them down with our beers.

A German woman named E. turned up after that and we started talking auf Deutsch, but I was embarrassed by my Deutsch and E. said it was fine, that I didn’t need to keep apologizing for it. Then someone, it may have even been me, produced a joint and the three of us smoked it, talking about the difference between verstehen (to understand) and verstehen (to understand) when it’s pronounced differently. One implied a more intimate connection.

T. then went off for another round, leaving behind a strange tension in the air between A. and me, even though she knows I have a girlfriend. I naturally made the tension stranger by just being myself, which cracked E. up. I tried to remain deadpan but it wasn’t easy. Then T. got back with the beers and E. made a remark about how we looked like a gay couple. T. didn’t hear it so I explained it auf Deutsch, and that only made E. laugh harder. She had to sit down she was laughing so hard. Then she got up, left the stern and went inside the boat somewhere. We wondered where. She wasn’t at the bar or on the dancefloor or on the sofas. That left only the bathroom or the side of the boat that no one goes on.

Finally, about an hour later, she came through the doors and cast a quick sidelong glance at us. Then she went slinking down the stairs and disappeared into the night.

“Weird that she didn’t say goodbye,” I told T.
“She did,” he said. “It was a Polish goodbye.”

We drank two more shots.

After that we sat down at the table with an Englishman from Bristol who was in Berlin for the week. He was a very friendly chap it turned out, and an artist too, so we talked about art for a while, and then his beard came up. I might’ve said something. His beard was ginger-colored and huge, fanning out like foliage under the jaw but almost completely bald of mustache and in the U-shaped patch from the bottom of his lip to the bottom edge of his chin. It made him look like a sunflower. Did he paint sunflowers? I hope his art is better than his beard, I thought. But what kind of artist would see the beauty in that hideous spectacle? I was tempted to tug it off and throw it overboard. Instead I finished the last of my beer, said goodbye to everyone the non-Polish way and slouched my way home.

Poem: Insomnia

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This was first published here, along with 4 other poems on Menacing Hedge.

Insomnia

3 a.m., in Wedding, and the wet streets gleam like blown glass;
trees in a broad current appear to be sailing off.
A heavy truck idles at a gate,
hazards flashing.
A shadow climbs out.

3 a.m., in a phosphorescence among sunflowers,
devoured by peacocks
and grey wolves
and the voice in the walls.

The sky swirls with glaze-green tidepools, a ring of Nibelungs,
fog-white, blue-pale,
gliding fires and no sign of dawn.

3 a.m., in a building of dark halls, locked doors
and conspiracies,
of old leaky plumbing and betrayal,
of tiny rooms where people are asleep, like caterpillars
in the rainforest,
dreaming of peril and fertility.

I lie down on my lumpy duvet amid the hiss of glowing radiators,
jars of walnut oil and turmeric,
images floating across the room:
a Peruvian mask, a coral shell
necklace of light,
lies, rapture.

The windows hum with blue electricity.

On Truth, Power, Denial and Death

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Today is the last of my eleven-day odyssey with my four-year old, which means tonight I will be back on The Motherfucking Boat, and hopefully not too hungover tomorrow. In the meantime, someone left this comment the other night on my recent post Morning Commute, Melancholy and the Human Face:

I wonder if instead of “too much power” in the human face, there is too much “truth” in the human face. It’s harder to look at truth, easier to avoid. Power is compelling and draws our fascination. Just a thought.”

I disagree. It’s the power of the glance and perhaps the corresponding play of the features that we are struck most by and averts our eyes. The reason: the face is a hologram of all a person’s thoughts, and thoughts are infinite and mysterious and therefore powerful, whether they’re true or not. They’re often more powerful when they’re untrue.

The only time I can imagine there being “too much truth” in the human face is when the onlooker is in denial of something.

Do you want to know what there’s “too much truth” in?

A human corpse.

That’s why we immediately cover them and shuffle them off into obscurity, as if with disgust. The truth they represent – Death, something most of us live in constant fear and denial of – must be suppressed. Our Western sensibilities must not be cognizant of man’s ultimate destiny. We must not know that

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing

Which only shows we keep way too wide a berth from ordinary reality and fact. Now I’m not saying we should be like the tribes of Papua New Guinea who keep the skulls of their ancestors in their living rooms. But we should be a little closer in our acquaintanceship with Death so that when it does ride in on its ghost horse it’s not such an unnatural shock to the system.

If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according what others think, you will never be rich.” ~ Seneca

We should also keep in mind that Death is not the greatest misfortune of all, despite what we are bred to believe and led to believe at funerals and on the news, etc.

It might, however, be the greatest fortune. We’ll never know.

More light!” ~ Goethe’s last words.

My Experience with Hurricanes

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Last time I was in Florida, I spent a day on Sanibel Island, where the eye of Hurricane Irma came ashore yesterday. My sister J. lives about fifteen minutes from there in Ft. Myers. Luckily, she took her family up to Atlanta so they’ll be alright. Don’t know about her house.

I have been through three major hurricanes: Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. I talk about them in the novel I just wrote, Ramblin’ Fever, so I won’t say much here. Only that it’s true: people do come together in times of widespread catastrophe. You can almost feel the empathy in the air when it’s happening. It’s like the molecules have been changed, and for a moment you think maybe mankind has a chance. But then it’s over and everyone forgets and goes back to being the same shit they’d always been. Some are of course shits while everyone else is feeling benevolent, but that’s to be expected.

I feel like there is a battle going on all the time between light and dark, and I wonder sometimes if the dark has one more spear.” – Fred Gwynne.

Catastrophes also have a tendency to bring out the absurd in people. Take a man’s electric away, the means to his TV, and you don’t know what he might do. One of my customers, a Hungarian named Bela who had a warehouse behind my shop, became so desperate after Hurricane Jeanne he walked out on his wife, picked up a prostitute and spent the night with her in my mechanic’s clutter-filled Winnebago. My mechanic said he woke up the next morning only to see Bela’s bare ass suspended above him in the bed up top. Later that morning, Bela came into my shop and sat down in my office, drunk. I’d never seen him drunk before. I’d only seen him in work-mode, laid-back, cheerful and polite. That day he sat down in the chair next to my desk and started telling me about the Hungarian mafia and how cold and brutal they were. He told me a few stories, but I can’t remember them. I only remember he kept telling me that if I ever were to encounter them, I’d shit my pants.

“Yewwd shit yo pants,” he kept saying.

Bela was probably the most mild, polite and reasonable customer I had, and then the hurricane came and he walked out on everything and ended up on the chair, drunk and fierce-eyed at 11 a.m., with more confidence in the control I had over my bowels than anyone I’ve ever met.

“Yewwd shit yo paaaaaants!”

I just got an email from my mom saying everyone in my family is fine.

“Can’t believe it!!” she wrote. “So happy! Quite an experience!!”

She said my brother D. didn’t even lose power.

Good thing. I don’t think he knows much about the Hungarian mafia, but he likes TV and I would hate for his bare ass to find itself suspended in someone’s clutter-filled Winnebago in the next few days.

Poem: Glossed Over

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Here’s a poem I left for dead and forgot about a long time ago but just resuscitated. The photo, by the way, has nothing in particular to do with the poem but someone told me you have to accompany your blogs with photos or no one will bother reading them.

Glossed Over

Everything about him, from the tall tuft
of gelled hair standing on his head, to his sleepy dignity
of expression, to the way his skinny jeans hug
his paltry little legs – everything inspires hatred,
and yet it worked. He seized the prize
we all wanted: an Italian beauty in a toupe studded
shimmering one shoulder mini.
Tonight they will leave early together, crawl
into some silky bed somewhere. There will be kissing,
caressing, great pillars of flame will sing.
While I sit here with a Kiwi, an Iranian-Englishman
and a Bulgarian-Swede, talking about manly things.
Football, corruption on Fiji, the Russian mob.
Things none of us have any control over.
We will spout and proselytize as though somehow
our opinions count. And then later, we will go
our separate ways, drunk and alone.
We will crawl into separate beds in quiet flats
alone. And sleep alone. Four lonely drunks.
Inspiring hatred in no one.

Self-administered Q & A with M.P. Powers

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Here is a Q & A I’ve just self-administered. Stole the idea from Bryan Ray’s blog. https://tershyrad.blogspot.de/2017/09/qa2.html I figure so many unworthy people are doing interviews and Q & A’s these days, I might as well be one.

My parents were… convinced they knew what was best for me. They forgot I was nothing like them.
The household I grew up in… was cultivated to produce business people. It was successful with three of the four kids.
When I was a child I wanted to be… a baseball player. I was terrible at the sport until I was 10. Then I had a metamorphosis and became one of the best players in the league. The next year I went ninth in a draft of about five hundred kids and was convinced I’d eventually go pro. What I didn’t realize was that 9th out of five hundred kids means you’re 18th out of a thousand, give or take, and so on as the pool expands. Which made me about 1,000,000th in the nation. Then high school came and I turned into this tall gangly dork whose brain and body got thrown out of harmony. I couldn’t swat a cow’s ass with an oar. I started drinking after that.
If I could change one thing about myself… I would’ve started learning German in my youth. Instead I waited till I was 40 (six years ago) and still sound like I’m moving lead weights around in my mouth when I speak it.
You wouldn’t know it but I’m very good at… relaxing, procrastinating, avoiding doing things I don’t want to do.
You mayn’t know it but I’m NOT good at… being in crowds. They give me a sick feeling, starting in the gut, spreading to all my extremities and swelling in the blood. You will never see me at a large concert or mass protest of any kind.
I wish I had never worn… clothes that made me look like a poor man’s Sho Kosugi in high school.
At night I dream of… Tom Thumb, French overtures, lobster traps, dark magic, writing hot checks, small-engine mechanics, the Knights of Malta, molten rock, camshafts, flying, Country Music Night, whisky sours, dead people…
When I look in the mirror I see… a stranger whose keys, clothes, books, computer, furniture, bank account, data mines and life I’ve borrowed.
My house is… a dark, 54 square meter flat in Neukölln, ground floor, backs up to a garden. Outfitted with cheap Ikea furniture. Walls shouting for artwork. Everything in disarray.
Movie heaven… is a heaven where I am the movie. I’m sick of being a spectator.
I drive… nothing. I have driven drunk thousands of times, and it’s a miracle I’ve never gotten a DUI. I haven’t had a vehicle since I moved to Berlin in 2011.
My real-life villain… the Philistine.
The person who really makes me laugh… George Carlin. I still watch him on Youtube. I love his rage and wit and his gift of gab. He kept getting better the older he got.
My five-year plan… I used to plan years ahead but then I got smart. I look a few months ahead now at most.
What’s the point… it’s whatever you want it to be, mostly because there isn’t one, and very few people can accept the fact. The older I get the clearer this line by Shakespeare gets:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself—
Yea, all which it inherit—shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

My life in six words… subservient to all that I love.

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

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This picture came rolling onto my iPod just before I went to sleep last night. It was sent by my German friend Thomas who was drinking on the boat I go on every Wednesday night. The boat, named the Eastern Comfort but called and cristened The Motherfucking Boat, is also a hostel, and remains forever docked on the Spree near the Oberbaumbrüke. The drink on the right of the picture is a Rothaus, a pilsner-style beer that’s been around since Frederick William II held the Prussian court. The drink on the left is what we call a Thomas Special. Tequila and lime juice on ice. This picture was accompanied by a note saying that I was missed, and that C. says hi. C. is an ever-cheerful thirty-something South African. I’ve only known her for about a month, but she’s there every week, and when we first met she kept saying how I had ‘kind eyes.’ I liked hearing that. More often people have told me I have crazy eyes. They don’t say it when I’m sober. Something must come over me several drinks in.

I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.” ~ Marilyn Monroe.

I was telling Thomas the other night about an old pill-addict friend of mine, now nine years underground, who had these strangely hypnotic eyes, kind of like Rasputin’s. Thomas said I do too sometimes, which I tacitly took as a compliment, although I don’t know how serious he was or if it’s even remotely true, mostly because no one else has ever told me that, nor do I see it when I look in the mirror. Of course in the mirror I don’t animate myself as I must do in public. I stand there catatonic. We must miss a lot when we stand in the mirror, our perspectives being mossed-over by self-loathing, self-love, and laid flat by the immobility of our features and the lack of play in the eyes.

I’ve always considered a man’s eyes to be his essence, the portals to his soul. They are the most telling feature. And yet to the expressiveness of our own we are mostly blind. Half the time, we don’t know what rays they’re giving off or how those rays are being received. Which is why my interest is always piqued when someone says something about mine. Some things you can’t gauge by yourself. It’s like your own writing. You never really know what rays it gives off till you hear from someone else.