If life were a short story in search of
an author, he’d be looking for Ray Carver
or one of his many disciples near the bus
stop, pushing aside overgrown weeds,
grass, searching for expired day passes,
ten trip tickets to sell to the gullible
or the easily intimidated, waiting at Division
Street shelter. His half-hearted sales
pitch fails to persuade, asks instead,
“Do you know where there’s a pawn shop
nearby? I know there’s one on this street.”
He might have added, “somewhere”,
on this main thoroughfare that extends
from Albany to Syracuse and points West.
Finally settles on, “You have a buck you can spare?
Loose change?” Rebuffed, he seems more
discouraged than upset, this neat, middle aged,
overweight black man wearing new sneakers,
fresh clothes, and badly in need of a drink.
“You see I really need a drink.”He says,
almost casually, matter of fact, “If I don’t
have one I get sick. My hands shake,
I throw up, sometimes I even convulse.
Doesn’t matter what it is either: flat beer,
bad wine, anything, man. Got to have it.
First thing every morning, every day, all day.
It’s awful. I done the rehabs. All of them.
None of them took. My daddy was an alcoholic.
Died young. Wasn’t but 45. I’m 50 now.
Counting my days. You could say I was home
schooled. My mom left and my daddy didn’t
care about nothing but the booze so that’s what
I learned and I learned it good.”
Who knew if his story was true. He didn’t smell,
look or act drunk. “You can’t know what it’s
like to need something that bad.”
Actually I could.
I gave him a buck.
Archive for the Alan Catlin Category
If life were a short story in search of
Lounge People Listening, Waiting for “The End”
Young America 1970, half wasted
drinking from the keg of perpetual
flowing beer, sacred font open 24 hour
a day, for charter members of Roosevelt
Drive Social Club, duplex of dharma
bums, a month away from graduation
and a letter of greetings and salutations
from Uncle Sam draft board;
black robes and mortar board hats in May,
jungle fatigues by October, flag draped
coffin by the first of the year, full military
honors; it had happened before and it would
happen again. No one mentioning what lay
ahead, but everyone aware of the elephant
in the crowded living room, the Woodstock
Live album on so loud Jimi Hendrix made
ears bleed the national anthem, taking you
higher as Sly and the Family Stone and
the hydroponic weed smuggled in from
who knew where, classes some kind of Kent
State nightmare no one bothered with any more.
Interiors so crowded early spring afternoons
relocating all the furniture outside on the lawn
under the high flying drinking flag: a martini
with olives on a cresting wave, seemed the only
way to fly, all the summers of love over,
young ladies on the daybed/couch dressed
in funereal black, white skulls on gold chains
around their necks, dead eyes and too red lips,
all the gone tomorrows, today, that seemed to
say, abandon hope all ye who enter here.
The war never ends on all
those twelve hour shifts in
his mind, humping the night
as if it were a twenty dollar whore
downloaded for action the duration
of a three day pass.
Even stateside, mustered out,
nothing changed him, nothing altered
his focus, selling cash crops from
backdoor saloons, boatloads of pure
and suitcases of dinero, calling all
the shots for every deal that came
down, a posse of dead beat,
human moray eels on steroids
for protection, everywhere he went.
Downtime, clubbing with his crew,
more of a black ops mission than
a special occasion. A date, grabbing
some babe and having her
strong armed into nearest empty
room for an upclose and private
encounter , just her and the boys.
A wad of twenties and some blow
left behind, along with the wreckage
of her life. No one dared complain.
Not then. Not ever.
No one crossed him on a business
deal either since the rumor started
was , he might pop someone, anyone,
just for drill. What he might do to an
actual offending party, unthinkable.
Out of town connections said he was
malo malo loco, was one tour of duty
and a deal from being lord of the
underground, a few heart beats
from immortal. No reason to change
the perceived, he thought. Not in this
life. Nor in any other.
Richard Brautigan Trout Fishing in America
Winter leaks from the cracked tar
sealing around the carbon stained brick
chimney forming puddles of sludge and
ash along with the spilled hurricane lamp
oil; opening notes in a cacophonous
symphony of dripping from a neglected
metal roof. The forest at dawn ablaze,
a still life framed by the cracked window
glass of this isolated cabin, flies buzzing
inside ,worrying the remains, meals left
to fester, fishing rods and hunting rifles
unattended, propped up near the barred
from inside door. Invisible fires burn,
stoked in the cold, desolate hearth,
releasing ghosts of smoke burning down
to cold absorbent stone, taking within
the very essence of unnatural heat and light;
the spent pistol shell, crumpled pages from
a manuscript no one will ever read.
I work at a half-way
place for Nam vets,
that’s half way between
here and nowhere,
old age and death maybe.
The director is one of
those pressed short and tie
That’s a rear echelon
mother fucker in American.
Can’t wait until
the No Smoking rule
goes into effect.
All those guys have now
is one room to puff in.
I try to tell the director,
these guys all fought
in a war,
you now what I mean?
Had cigarettes when
they were nervous
They can’t drink anymore
can’t chase no women
or run with the wolves
so they smoke.
They don’t have anything left,
that’s why they’re here.
No Smoking appeared in GPP Reader 2007
I heard two
guys I know
from rehab died
too many pills
You’d think they
would have learned
you have to stick to
one or the other