Last Wednesday I did a poetry/prose reading at La Raclette in (X-Berg) Berlin, and it went really well. There were 3 poets reading and three rounds. I have to admit, the first round I was nervous as hell. It was my first ever reading and I felt like I was sweating blood. The intermission was a godsend. Although it was only a few minutes, I went up to the bar, drained my beer, got another, drank two shots of vodka laced with something spicy, and felt much better. Here is what I read last.
In Lisbon, you couldn’t go anywhere downtown without getting solicited by phony drug dealers.
“Hashish, no? Hey, friend! Hashish?”
“How ’bout cocoa-yane? I have cocoa-yane…”
“C’mon… I give you test… you see, it’s a good spice.”
“I said I have no money.”
“Alright,” he says, then he looks at me, puts his thumb, middle finger and forefinger together and kisses the tips. “It’s a good spice, see?”
It wasn’t a good spice, it was a tourist trap, I heard, and I kind of accidentally got into it with one of the dealers. I was drinking when it happened and said something derogatory and maybe a little threatening, something about death, mine and his, so he sent his big boss over, a brutish figure dressed all in black. He had pleats in his slacks sharp enough to cut you with, a buttoned-down shirt exposing the gold chain with ruby medallion nestled in his chesthair, a thick, shiny black beard, wavy black hair and a hook nose. He sat down at my dinner table and asked me a few questions and talked to me in a friendly enough manner, but he was sitting at my table uninvited, and that was the main thing. The other thing was I had told the truth about his product and you weren’t supposed to. I talked to him for a few minutes, wondered if he was part of the Portuguese mafia, wondered why I always had to stick my hand in various beehives wherever I went, blamed everything on a poor translation, and then he left. Luckily I was leaving too. It was my last night in Lisbon and it didn’t come soon enough.
I ended up in Southwest Germany, in a little mountain town in the Black Forest called Bad Wildbad. The average age there was about 84. Everyone seemed to be going around in walkers and these high-tech motorbuggy contraptions. There was a big bath and a stream that went through town and the trees which were more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen. It was the perfect place to write. All I had to be leery about was the Christian running my hotel. I’m always leery about Christians. Especially the ones who take the Bible literally, as if it’s a true historical document. The Christians I have known who’ve taken the Bible literally have always seemed to be on about the same moral level as the phony drug dealers I ran into in Lisbon. The Bible is a piece of mythology, and there’s a lot of beautiful stories in it, but to take the stories as hard facts is to miss the whole point. The Bible taken literally is like Baking Soda disguised as crack-cocaine. Or something like that. When I was living in Florida I had a friend who looked like Chinese version of Bill Murray in Caddyshack. His name was Johnny Grimes, and the name suited him perfectly. He was a crackhead, and a mechanic. He was a really sweet guy actually, he just had more problems than most. One of them was he was a lawnmower mechanic and he was breathing in the fumes all day. I used to bring him my stuff to fix sometimes. I’d knock on his garage door, and he’d be standing right there as it opened. First I’d see his shoes, hightops, always unlaced, with the big fat walrus tongues all flopped out and then his pantlegs crumpled at the bottom, one of them invariably tucked into his sock by accident. The door would keep going up past the burning cigarette in his right hand, his unbuttoned shirt and his great, mushy beerbelly busting through and his naval that always seemed to have two or three little pieces of lint stuck in it. Up the garage door would go, past his chest and the squarish purple welt just above his left nipple from the beanbag the cop shot at him after a 14 1/2 hour standoff, past his chin and then you’d see most shit-eating grin in the world, his squinty eyes, bloodshot and glazed-over, his black hair that looked like someone tore a spider plant out of the ground and threw it on his head. If wisdom comes from suffering alone, as the Greek tragedian Euripides says, Johnny Grimes tapped into it when he’d say in his Chinese-American Bill Murray dialect, “Beware of dem Christians. Dey start talkin that God shit to ya, and as soon as you look up at da heavens to see what all da fuss is about, here dey come sneakin up from behind ta stick ya wit da big salami.”
Luckily nothing like that happened when I was in Bad Wildbad, but I did get preached to in German. I really didn’t understand what he was saying, but every time I’d nod my head he’d say genau. The last genau was a very quiet very stealth genau and he closed his eyes and continued on whispering for a while. Then came the propaganda. He bestowed upon me two bibles, three Jesus videos, several pamphlets and booklets. I have been back and forth with my beliefs all my life, but after all the booklets and pamphlets, the Christian music spewing out of the kitchen on Sundays, the Bible obsession and his lengthy sales-pitches – I think he finally did convert me to Atheist.