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.”



24 thoughts on “Bohemian Rhapsody

  1. Pure love for this. All this. Your neighbor is my worst-nightmare-come-true, but you sublimated him so I shout bravo! (“The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me, / The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into new tongue,” as Whitman says in “Song of Myself”.) And the 2nd part of the text, about Russell, is topnotch, scary-sad-&-soulful: you’re in your element with this style; I can never get enough… & the sketch is also strong: it’s great: I of course didn’t know him in life, but a certain man comes thru in the drawing, and it arrests my interest as much as any personality does in Chaucer or Turgenev or Boccaccio (etc.)… Especially in 2019 we’re starving for HUMAN content (moreover humane!) and you keep providing it. Thanks for sharing your work, it recharges my spirits.

    • Thank you for your words, Herr Ray. They encourage me to keep going in the same direction, i.e. writing about REAL HUMAN BEINGS. That, if you ask me, where all the material is. And it’s easy too. All you have to do is write about people AS THEY TRULY ARE. Chaucer and Turgenev and Boccaccio are some great names. I think the reason they did it so well was because they had both love and disgust for humanity, but weren’t so caught up in either that they couldn’t see the absurd and comical reality of our condition… in a word, we’re absolutely ridiculous. Which is why I don’t believe in being too serious about anything. I could now go into a long harangue about the publishing industry and their stupid demand for ‘serious,’ novels… humor is frowned upon by the high-brows… but is it not an essential part of the human condition? How can you completely neglect it in a novel? Even Dostoyevsky, in House of the Dead, didn’t do that, though he was pretty much on the 9th ring of Hell.

      The other day I was browsing my Kindle and started rereading a Montaigne essay called Of Democritus and Heraclitus. Here’s a quote: “Democritus and Heraclitus were two philosophers, of whom the first, finding the human condition ridiculous and vain, never appeared abroad but with a laughing and jeering countenance; whereas Heraclitus commiserating that same condition of ours, appeared alwasy with a sorrowful look, and tears in his eyes. I am clearly of the first humor…”


      • Oh god what you say about humor is exactly right… especially when compared with ‘seriousness’ (doesn’t Oscar Wilde somewhere say “All bad poetry is sincere”?)… I think that, at least from the standpoint of a mortal being, the world is essentially tragic; therefore serious art is merely a reflection of our surroundings, whereas humor is an accomplishment: a breaking thru to the bliss that lies beyond. I suppose the great impossibility (or maybe it’s a possibility yet unrecognized) is to combine the tragic WITH the comic. It seems that even Shakespeare only achieved comedies OR tragedies but never the fusion of both. Maybe if we ever find a lost play of his which uses as its source the Don Quixote of Cervantes, we’d have at last our holy grail. But I’m on your side of the aisle, in the meantime.

        &I’m thankful that you sent me back to read that essay from Montaigne. I couldn’t recall anything about it when you mentioned it, so I thought to myself “This is as good of a reason as any to re-familiarize myself!” I love that comparison that you emphasize. I’m not very familiar with the work of Democritus, but I return often to the fragments and maxims of Heraclitus, and I favor the latter over most other thinkers (he always reminds me of Nietzsche whom you know I love), and yet the way that Montaigne depicts each man’s bearing, and what he concludes about the reason to laugh and be laughed at, completely wins me over. And, with what he says next about Diogenes versus Timon, I’m in full agreement as well: Diogenes is “juster, to my taste”. Montaigne charms me with his whimsy: I noticed how, in this essay, he barely talks about the subjects of his title! It’s really an inviting attitude, especially to those of us who have chosen to dedicate our energies to the literary tradition in this present age’s fussy and cramped computer-world: I could hold as motto the following lines from near the beginning of his blog post (pardon my calling his essay by this ugliest alternative — since you & I have noted the similarities between the formats, I like to highlight the comparison at every opportunity):

        “I take the first subject that chance offers. They are all equally good to me. And I never plan to develop them completely.”


        P.S. when you say in your reply above “I could now go into a long harangue about the publishing industry…” just for the record, I’m among the throngs of those who will be eagerly all-ears if you ever decide to let yourself savage this subject. The publishing industry is among the many aspects of modernity that I have learned to love to hate. So my prayer for your attack is: the bloodier the better.

  2. I loved your poem and I’m glad you didn’t keep it as a diary entry and shared it with us. Great analysis of the neighbor’s character and secret desires.

    I’m sorry about Russell. The drawing is great.

    Can’t you unleash the police on your neighbor? Or play very loudly the Bittersweet Symphony (against the Bohemian Rhapsody)?

    • Truth be told, Basilike, I never I liked Bohemian Rhapsody, so yea, playing Bittersweet Symphony against it is a great idea. As for the police, read Mr. Nothing’s comment below… he’d definitely onto something. Thanks for your words!

      • I only like the way it starts, later on it loses touch. Can’t say I ever was a big fan of Queen. Yet Freddy Mercury was quite the character and, as Mr Nothing says, it’s not easy to want to become like him.

      • I was referring to the corporal punishment that should be administered to my neighbor for failing to incite a peep out of his wife while in flagrante delicto. What a miserable 30 seconds it must’ve been for her.

      • That’s not my neighbor, that’s my old friend Russell. When I knew him he didn’t have a mustache… it DOES make him look like Borat, now that you mention it. Haha.

      • Oh, I knew this was Russell. I was referring to the neighbor’s face as I imagine it. Maybe my comment wasn’t very clear, sorry.

        I’d like to see a sketch of your bohemian neighbor though. If you get a good look at him. Then maybe you can give him a Freddy Mercury costume.

      • It’s okay, Frau B., You weren’t totally off. Both bare Borat resemblances if you look at them long enough. I need to get a pic of my neighbor before I can draw him in F. Mercury regalia. Must do that in stealth…

  3. I’ve seen a guy looking like Russell walking around down here, I swear…

    Aspiring to become like Freddy Mercury could take a while.
    Wait till the handlebar mustache tries to sing.
    He should pay a royalty for every attempt and a fine for character deformation.
    … and a prison sentence for every grunt (after all a rhapsody is a one-movement work, haha), that doesn’t bring forth an Azerbaijani choir of moans.

    As for Tom Waits and Bukowski, — you guys totally redefined my day…

    • This may be the funniest comment this blog has ever received, Mr. Nothing. THANK YOU. I am totally with you on the Draconian punishment he deserves for failing to bring forth the choir. Sending a bull whip up there with a couple of Ordnungsamt employees would also work wonders…

  4. Can’t get over the German words you manage to dig up there.
    ‘Ordnungsamt,’ no other language equivalent could have that impact.
    Please leave that Amt in Deutschland and don’t seek Ordnung in Süd Afrika.
    And ‘Aussteiger,’ what a deft description of the intended action.
    Reminds me of ‘Die Feisten playing Junggesellenabschied’
    also total Aussteiger,
    Seit dem einsteigen sind wir Aussteiger.

    • Love that video. Thanks man. Anytime you want to send me a little German like that I will greatly appreciate it. You are so right about the Ordnungsamt. More than anything, Germans (generally speaking)love order, am I wrong? There’s no organization more fitting here than that. As for Aussteiger, I read an article about Goethe recently & his Italian Reise with that title. I love that word. Needs to be imported into English.

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