Bohemian Rhapsody

This began as a diary entry the other day and ended as a poem.

Bohemian Rhapsody

A thirtysomething Bulgarian-Canadian
with a hipster mustache and a mail-order Azerbaijani
bride. He’s at it again.
He’s been trying to get it right
all week. The first three or four notes of Bohemian
They come trundling down
through my ceiling, off-key, jarring,
just after midnight.

Hey Asshole. We, your neighbors,
ask for some sleep.
Not a full night’s worth. Lying awake in the dark
is no big deal – I do it all the time – but being kept up
all night
by some louse’s banal and bungling
piano antics is.

I’d rather hear anything but this.
Your dog dragging its ass up
and down the flooring, your loud and incessant footsteps,
you and your wife

True, I’ve only heard the last
sound once, about six months ago; your Cro-Magnon
grunts bringing down the walls,
your wife silent as a corpse.
The whole thing only lasted about thirty seconds,
but brevity, as you know,
is sometimes what’s needed.

I flop around in my bed, the Bohemian Rhapsody
intro caravanning
down through the ceiling,
flat, sour,
a testament to poorly ripped-off
art everywhere;

a half hour passes, he hasn’t gotten
but refuses to give up.

He’s gotten desperate,
you can hear it in the angry and discordant banging
of the keys.

It’s as if he’s forgotten he has neighbors,
or that it’s past midnight.

It’s as if he thinks that when
he does get the song right,
his wife,
who can only
communicate with him in the most rudimentary
English, will see in him
something she never did before,
something beyond language, something that will finally
make him


I spent more time than I’m willing to admit on this drawing yesterday (and still didn’t get it right), but it brought me to some wonderful, nostalgic places. Pictured below is my old friend and customer Russell Wayne Mendes. I’ll never forget all the Friday nights we spent in the back of my shop drinking and carousing and playing poker. On one of those nights, Russell went into my mechanic Captain Kirk’s cluttered Winnebago and did a few lines. When he came out, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He kept pacing around groping his chest and stomach, and lay down for a while on the hood of his F150.

“Are you alright, Russell?” I asked
“I’m fine,” he said. He spoke a little like Jack Nicholson. “Just a little gassy, that’s all. Just… gassy… Must’ve been the Wendy’s burger I had for lunch… Or something.”

I ended up going to a convenience store nearby and buying him some TUMS. His recovery was slow after that. At one point I thought I was going to have to call 911 and report a dead man on the property, but he managed to pull through and the night went according to plan…. poker, beer drinking, lots of laughs because that’s what we did best.

I eventually lost touch with Russell. He must’ve moved away from Florida around the time I did, in 2011. I looked him up recently to find out what became of him, and discovered he got killed on his motorcycle in Virginia Beach by a car going the wrong way on a one-way street. He was 57; highly intelligent, half-insane (nickname: Mad Max), brazen, vulnerable, a con artist and natural-born salesman with a beautiful gift of gab. I miss him.

“The great thing about being crazy is that we see E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G… even what’s not there.”


Blood Test


It’s the first Monday in January. You have been sitting for the past two
hours in a cramped little waiting room at the doctor’s office.
The people crowding about you are wheezing and sniffling, murmuring
to each other in some Arabic tongue, or just sitting there with a deadfish
look in the eyes. You are here to get a blood test.
You are reading a free downloaded copy of Goethe’s autobiography
on Kindle, though not particularly enjoying it. The text is in English,
and seems rather dry and long-winded, despite the occasional gem.
The text is much like the three Van Gogh reproductions
on the walls. They sit in cheap, dusty frames,
and seem to have lost all color, not to mention the raw electricity
originally poured into them. It’s as if nothing, not even
the most dazzling art or literature, can survive this grumbling
little hellhole. It all just withers,
withers amid the stench of corns and armpits, of hydrogen sulphide,
of cleaning agents,
withers like dead flowers and the embalmed heart
of Louis the XVII.

Florescent light gutters overhead. The strange
droning sound that’s been going on all morning
persists. Mirth here is frowned upon,
the blackbird’s song is forbidden.

A man coughs into his hand, looks at you and wipes it on his trousers.

Happy New Year from Berlin (2019)


It had been two weeks since I’d written anything. I felt like a dead Christmas tree. One of those discarded ones lying face up in the alleyway, dreaming of the garbageman. I felt like I was disintegrating. I can’t cope without my art. I start getting depressed. The past awakens, the future terrifies. Dangerous and self-destructive musings pour into my head. I start seeing scorpions, and hyenas, and parasites, and goatfish, and poisonous snakeweeds instead of humans. Don’t do it. Don’t stand between my art and me. It’s like standing in the middle of the Yerba Buena Tunnel as a drunken oil tanker driver comes bearing down on bald tires. I say don’t do it.


That was the cause this time. Two weeks of nasty flu, waking up with a Medieval skull crushing device on and drenched in a sea of stinking sweat. Sheets soaked, shirt sopped, bleary-eyed. I was at Erica’s parents’ house in England. And for 5 nights in a row it happened, despite her room being a veritable
meat locker. Something about the heating system. One night I saw my breath in the bathroom and my feet were blue as a pullet’s gizzard. I couldn’t pee straight
(my hand was shivering so much). I took my glass of water up the stairs, the water flying out the glass, dousing the walls, the railing, the carpets. My trembling hand
barely managing to set the glass down straight on the nightstand. I threw myself under the covers, my teeth chattering, my voice howling its agony loud enough for everyone downstairs to hear. So much for English manners. So much for Christmas.
The second one in a row I’ve been incapacitated by flu. But I made it through. And now I’m back in Berlin, feeling almost human. I drank cheap grocery store bourbon last night. And prosecco. Went on a hungover walk along the Landwehrkanal with Erica today. Read Martial (a Christmas gift), the Roman epigramist. And now writing this.
With plans for empire in 2019.

Speaking of which, I just came up with a new character for my Berlin novel. He’s a Marzahn call center employee who in a former life broke both shoulders playing loosehead prop for a bottom-of-the-barrel rugby team in Glasgow. His name: Malcolm