A Novel of Inebriation & Light
Beer Mystic Invitation: Participate in a unique literary adventure that will take you on the longest, rowdiest literary pub crawl ever. Follow the Beer Mystic’s story around the world through a global network of host magazines [next excerpt at end of chapter], each hosting an individual chapter of Bart Plantenga’s novel, Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation & Light. Urban Graffiti is pleased to be hosting Chapter 31 as this blog’s first post. Check out bart’s full bio (and bibliography) at the end of this chapter.
<< Beer Mystic #30: Brews & Books
Beer ~•~ Danger ~•~ Night ~•~ Obscure Music ~•~ Mysticism ~•~ Research
The Beer Mystic is Furman Pivo, a dreamer inhabiting the NYC of 1987. One night, like many other nights, Furman is drinking to slow the world down. He discovers himself drunk under a streetlight when suddenly this streetlight goes out, on the blink, extinguished – Poof! – it’s dark. In the ensuing weeks the same phenomenon occurs again, then again and again until the unusual becomes the uncanny, and perceived synchronicity is interpreted mystically – he begins to believe that he is the cause of these streetlight outages. And somewhere in the psychic seam between identity and delusion the Beer Mystic is born. Furman Pivo is inauspiciously called upon to become the Beer Mystic and beer does battle with light – beer vs. light, him vs. cars….
Furman’s life changes, gains substance, focus – a sense of purpose. He believes his new (in) sight empowers him to convert beer and loneliness into belief and respect, a parapsychological alchemy of quasi-religious fervor. His mission: extend the boundaries of fecund darkness, constrict the fields of light, those arenas of control and paranoia. Everything can be explained in terms of light and dark, beer and lust.
Me and Kelly [ask him again if his real name is Adam Horowitz and he responds “Ja, mucker!”] tromped uptown to crash the “Downtown Goes Uptown” Neo-Dada-Hip-Flux-Schlock-o-Pod Art Show. We wore shades and English black boots with bulky but functional buckles and matching leatherette codpieces singing “If I can’t get drunk / I don’t wanna live.” We looked like ex-members of the Velvet Underground singing Flipper. We looked like lifers because we had ironically absorbed our squalor and wore it like a chest of medals. Kelly carried his guitar. Like bait on his rusty hook. He could play it alright and did most days busking around Midtown.
He’s a native New Yorker – living in Bensonhurst until he fled a dysfunctional family for Astoria to live with his aunt and uncle. The issue of when you can call yourself a New Yorker is a gray area with a slippery sliding scale. Move into a pad in the fashionable downtown area, go to Tish & Snooky’s Manic Panic to get properly outfitted and hang out for a month at a dive called Fuck You [formerly What the Fuck] and pretty soon – within 6 months – you get your license to complain about bridge-and-tunnel interlopers and tourists. Kelly was about as New York as you could ever hope or fear. This means steadfastly never partaking of any of New York’s many attractions. This means being 30 and proud of the fact you’ve never been up the Empire State Building. He also sutbbornly denied being a New Yorker – except when he was somewhere else. A New Yorker can hate New York, somebody’s who’s never lived here cannot. This is a universal law of nature.
Those are them of entitlement who can afford to just pick a neighborhood like others pick a tint of wall paint and move in with professional movers and wear hip Hünd dog-walking outfits and have a reserved spot in a parking garage. These types become some the most vehement anti-interloper settlers. They had the most to prove and probably the most to lose if too many more people just like them moved in from Connecticut and began noticing their matching two-car-garage eyes and disproportionate enthusiasms for the green market in Union Square and pleasure boating and straw picnic baskets [never mind the intellectual superiority of wooden toys for their kids and their SAVE FAO SCHWARTZ tee shirts].
So, the beauty of impermanence that the neither here-nor-thereness lends your persona mystique, the constant housing uncertainty-anxiety quotient, the constant flux of new unfamiliar faces, although charming for a week or two, quickly emerges as mentally exhausting routine unless you can chant or drink or work or talk or draw or fuck your way out of these worries. By becoming totally post-punk [punk but not punk, hippie with sneer replacing whine, hopeful even idealistic but in a nihilistic stylee winkwink], by imitating one’s surroundings by dressing exactly like one’s environment – let’s say stylish dénouement – one could ironically and simultaneously be and not be a product of one’s immediate surroundings. You laugh but you are not quite laughing, you play guitar but not too well because not too well [even if affected] is more real than too well; you sneer in a good-natured way, you drink to modest excess, you inject but not all the way, you write but then erase, OR you see lights that fall victim to your presence – your vibe literally puts them out – and you make some big story up about why it happens and why it needs to happen… And so, here we were.
Three corpulent cops [who could only have garnered any swagger at all out of life from the patronizing perks accorded their uniforms] approached and barked “DUMP DUH BEE-AHS!”
“Why? They’re in paper bags.”
“No fuggin’ lip from you, faggut.” And their pronunciation seemed uncannily similar to that of gangster goons they’d seen in movies. It makes you suddenly realize that there are only a few degrees – think a pizza slice – of separation between cops and criminals, that one is merely the failed obverse of the other.
“And we don’ wan’ yooz gettin’ stoopid on us.”
“Stoopider than yooz?” Kelly was a master negotiator. He had manned the barricades and had tasted the nightsticks – and had lost points of I.Q. this way. I courageously gave them the finger from inside my coat, and stared at them in a fearless way.
“Hey, FAGguts! Dump duh BEE-AH!”
“Or we dump what’s left uh yuh brains on duh sidewalk.”
We dumped the beers, mere malt-liquor decoys for our better clandestine stash deep inside holes in our pockets with tattered passages down to the bottoms of our coats. As noted I was – we both were – brave, as I may have mentioned, in a discreet, concealing sort of way. And along our way we copped attitude, knowing attitude to be an ambient form of spirituality. This purposeful grim-edged attitude brimmed with pose – so in opposition to fashion, the entire package became a sort of higher fashion.
Kelly, skinny guy: “They’re just worried about getting’ their pensions at 40 so they can become bored vicious people.”
“They’re also concerned about losing control of us like Popes in the 14th century got worried when monks began brewin’ brew for everybody including the peasants…”
“Yea, givin’ the rabble and goatherds too good a glimpse of ecstasy.”
“Heresy, the Pope calls it.”
“Disorderly conduct’s what the pigs call it.”
The opening was in a formerly shuttered building lent to artists like crumbs to the starving along 42nd Street while they contemplate the future of Midtown. The entrance looked like an architectural representation of Shane McGowan’s smile but we shimmied through to where the free libations stood and fell into our Verlaine-Rimbaud snarl of political dissipation. Snippy and Snipey: everybody there was a fake but us.
“See that guy with the Asian chick?”
“She’s slight and tight, right” Drummer in the Noh-wave [Japanese no wave] band, Yosoyososhii, which means distant. Or to us, simply Yoso, which was also the name of their first album on red vinyl, 99 Records.
“I’m no gynecologist but so what…”
“It means he’s got a… small p-u-u-ud.” I suddenly thought about Rita and did all men and women on the battle scene see it the same way? No, no, don’t accuse of being teenagers, we were astute and hardened social critics.
“Oh.” Esteem thus works its own thermodynamics. “I’m no gyno, I’m no gyno…” Was there a Ramones-Devo-like song about to burst forth?
From the bustle emerged a bubbly woman with blazing red ponytail wearing an aluminum-foil coat. She wondered if it was true that the eyes of guys who have too much sex become ultra-sensitive to light.
“Definitely!” We removed our shades and did the old druggie squint.
“In fact, I live in a cave.” Kelly was glad that you could now be proud of what you once had to be ashamed of. Kelly was more than willing to talk about how he had lived in a funeral home, in a closet, which reeked of embalming fluid, and in a basement with rats, dreaming with a hammer in his hand – images of Elsa who had it actually happen and then had nightmares and couldn’t sleep and then lost her job at a medical magazine publisher. Kelly let me try on his pilsner-tinted sunglasses. Gave everything an amber tint.
“This is what utopia would look like. Dju see how she winked at me?”
“Sorry to bust your beer head man, but I’m pretty sure it was me she was winkin’ at,” Kelly corrected. Kelly had spent years outwitting society by being its main satirist but all from inside the confines of his closet. Andy Kaufman with a chainsaw. He had spent days and years becoming Johnny Cash and then years more becoming Elvis, a Jewish Elvis [He and his band Jewrusalem set out for Vegas on a Saturday morning and broke down two hours later somewhere outside High Point, New Jersey, where their van broke down and they realized they were headed more north than west.]
He sang songs [his rhyming personal ads in search of the perfect lady partner] in D instead of G, and dropped his voice an octave. “I wore black [underwear]. I drank whiskey before the sun went down. Maybe you’ve become Johnny Cash too. Maybe this is happening all over the world. People are waking up and becoming Johnny Cash.”
“We are not alone. Maybe there are support groups for people like us, meetings where strangers get together and introduce themselves by saying ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.’ And everyone in the room heartily bellows back ‘Hello Johnny!’ And then ‘Johnny’ – that’s me – tells complete strangers personal and intimate details of his private life. And girls line up for autographs and ask to sleep with me immediately.”
“Talent goes in one wound and out another.”
“Listen. I know what you mean. Jesus was a Jew! A typical exchange might go something like ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.’ [‘Hello Johnny!’]. ‘I fell into a burning ring of fire.’ If the universe is truly infinite, then somewhere, there is a planet where this is taking place. I call that a good reason to shoot all space aliens as soon as they land in your backyard. I spent a few hours today becoming Johnny Cash.”
We hit the gratis libations like two-fisted frugalcratic imbibers, like characters erased from the margins of a Dickens novel. It’s important to know what, if anything, they’re serving at an opening [opulence factor] before trekking off somewhere. And Kelly knew like no one else. It was Kelly, after all, that turned me and Jude onto the frugal furtive pleasures of gratis indulgence. And this I was learning. He actually “lived” off Soho and East Village art openings for a year or two, shoveling grilled and baked morsels into a section of his rucksack especially designed to facilitate this. Keeps a shirt – only one – clean and neatly ironed on a hanger for the fancier ones. Has a pair of jeans full of paint to fit in.
“Hey, you ain’t him, are you?” I recognized him as D.A. Levy, fringe culture writer for the East Village Eye. “If you are, then I wanna interview you.” He pulled out a spiral notepad from Woolworth’s.
“Uh, I could be. If you want. If yer here to punch me I ain’t him…”
“No, no, I like the blackouts.”
“I got nothin’ on me.”
“No, it’s yer… Outages, you know…. I talked to Eunice, she’s a friend of my….”
“Dick? Sorry, I’ve been instructed not to speak to reporters. Word is and has been that the liberal media is crawling with spooks, with agents and the like.”
“Paranoia is what they use to neutralize us. I like what I hear. The energy feeds me. And I used to be a man of light.”
“How’d you know I was or think that I’m that somebody?”
“You just smelled right to my sixth sense, man.” He gave me his card. “Besides, she showed me your picture. Gimme a call some time.”
“Yer phone’s not bugged?”
I heard someone over my shoulder talking about white supremacist groups like White Jersey and just at that moment I was scarfing down some flaky-dough spinach and feta finger food thing and quaffing my Iron City beer when I saw someone had incorporated tee shirt packaging into a collage that said “100% cotton White Jersey.” The concerned person went on to recommend that members of these groups be sterilized and then dropped into the heart of Bed-Stuy or East L.A. then film them trying to get out. “Like rats in a maze. You show this on TV I’d start watchin’.”
I spotted the hyper-voluptuous and incredibly well-preserved Madame Lock, Siglund, Sig, my second NYC “love affair” – “domin-ART-rix” is how she sometimes described herself – was combing the hordes for new blood. The more we averted one another’s anxiety-hidden-behind-impertinence stares the more we saw what it was that irritated us about one another. I was young and skinny and she loved that tension of someone about to squander talent. So much so she was willing to aid and abet that dénouement. She is a celebrity. People film her, people ask her about art. She’s famous for no one knows what exactly but nobody wants to take a chance of revealing they do not know why. She is simply famous [and thus powerful] because everyone has forgotten that she was once not famous.
“You’re like so skinny. Like a jack knife. Like a kite. Like a keel.”
“Lean, mean writing machine and all that?…” And with that we parted ways before the disappointment rained on our evening.
The artists, standing near their respective naughty works, righteous and careerist with cassettes, elaborate PR folders, and hologrammed business cards, were not that different from the country kids standing next to their 4-H blue ribbon porkers. Except here they proudly displayed the cow plop and “doodoo truffles” as the apotheosis of their work. “This ain’t shit, this is art.” Comments like that made you think you were an extra in a scene eventually cut from a Woody Allen movie or something.
“This ain’t the fun freedom’s s’posed to be about,” Kelly hissed. [Hakim Bey would later “borrow” Kelly’s observation that “Freedom is a psycho-kinetic skill – not an abstract noun” for a greater good. There’s something feeble tingling in our sleeping limbs, something foregone in all the clatter and bluster. Art: each scream of terror at the thought of being alone and forgotten was met with a louder scream.
As I hung a found street-bent fork from a dirty piece of string and pinned an actual Baggie of dog truffles to the wall between a frame that held shards of bloody broken mirror and an S&M dildo wired to a police siren, the aluminum-foil lady asked, “What kind of dog was it?”
How long had I carried this Baggie around with me so I could perpetrate this sophomoric terrorism? I do not want you to even contemplate. I had lost the explanatory text. Something to the effect: Dogs have stolen human hearts, the very hearts that were destined for the lonely. More dogs less human happiness. Or something like that.
The Boho-ettes, a blond cartel, comprised of arrogant and spindly limbs, snuff-faced strategies of avoidance and full-blown hair, had their objective – fame [the only currency left] at any cost. They stood around the gallery/demolition site displaying full labial pouts, working the crowd, promoting their latest single “Labia is Liability to a Dyslexic.” They were big at Area and Michael Musto column regulars. It somewhat answers the question of whether there can by prudery dressed down as wanton exhibitionism. Periodically they’d cluck their tongues in disdain and renegotiate their quick glances in a mirror. Half of them had already been validated by Interview which told them that they had all the features required to become someone. All to appropriately deny any expression – in fact, to remain granite-faced, dead – that might expose the fact that you had come here to temporarily feel alive – and drink free wine/beer. While the nouveau quiche nibbled away at the soggy six-grain triangular sandwiches until they were empty-handed and did not know where to turn next. Check our pockets maybe, hehe [6 beers and various snack items wrapped in bar napkins].
This season it was Soho art galleries from the East Village going uptown. Boredom as source of seasonal diaspora. Three years ago, it was the third comeback of cowboy chic. Two years ago: simulated S&M weight-loss junkets. Last year: Pygmy encounters in rain forests. And next season? Maybe dining in close proximity to the homeless. [Ed. note: This has actually happened with the (re)opening of the Toolshed, which had been nothing more than an old no-nonsense and grimy Bowery hardware store for plumbers, electricians, and mechanics for 40 years. But now, Malcolm Forbes, owner of “capitalist tool” Forbes, had purchased this prime corner in the Bowery and converted it into a slum-chic hangout for the glitterati and others who were nothing until they were gawked at.]
“They’re like locusts – instead of rubbin’ their hind legs together they rub credit cards to make their mean mating music,” Kelly sneered as he flicked his lighter with that mischievous face as if he was about to torch the place and he probably was because whatever it was school was supposed to instill in a future citizen [civic duty?] had actually been snuffed long ago. This gave me more ammo for thought: celebrity as the fleshly manifestation of harsh blinding light. That is why celebrities cavort in flood lights. White heat white light is right.
Kelly replaced the good pair of art-designated [neo-post-Duchamp] socks stapled to the wall with his own pair full of stinky holes – an improvement on both ends! “The secret to the success of any such infiltration is unself-conscious audacity. Just act like you’re s’posed to be doin’ this. Like it’s your work. Like you work in the gallery. Like it’s a performance in an installation. This effectively eases the fears and suspicions of all witnesses and they show their gratitude by ignorin’ you.”
Kelly sat on the faux marble floor, put on his new socks, grabbed a tray of hors d’oeuvres, and shoveled them into his special pack pouch. He watched me scrawl grafitti on the main wall right next to a colorful Kenny Scharf piece: THE GOVERNMENT URGES YOU TO REMAIN CALM [Ed.: Discovered this quote coincidentally and much later in Artaud’s There is No More Firmament].
Kelly grabbed my marker and scrawled JOHN BELUSHI + KAREN CARPENTER DIED AT 33 FOR THE COLLECTIVE SINS OF TEENAGE AMERICA.
We eventually departed when we noticed no more imbibing substances were forthcoming. We exited without fanfare [no one noticed – luckily we disdained all fanfare anyway!] triumphantly heading downtown. We tromped with glasses of wine in hand and pilfered Old Bohemian and Iron City brews [the cheapness of the brew was but a small detail of the elaborate slumming style called “inverted blue-collar chic”] in breast pockets – close to our hearts.
In the hallway Kelly scrawled 33JFK = 11MONTH + 22DAY.
“It woulda been righteous…”
“To torch this fuggin’ dump. It’s the only art form left. Torching galleries.” Kelly could have been good at being someone. “I’d wait so that nobody gets hurt.”
“Don’t worry. Hurtin’ people’s not my MO.” …
We gloated about saving on tokens by walking the 60-some blocks back to our territory, and joked about our coat pockets stretched and bloated by pilfered cantaloupes.
And then, out of nowhere at Union Square and 16th, right in front of the Coffee Shop [formerly Jason’s], I appeared to douse a pair of streetlights. Yes, it comes when you least expect; expectation only hinders one’s agency. Or was it that my person had managed to gather the mystique of serendipity to some advantage?
“Yea,” Kelly says, “Yea! Tha’s some dark shit awright.”
“Colonizing lights’ve gotta go.” We stood there for a moment gazing into the dark hole formerly occupied by invasive light. Chanting “Gotta go. Gotta go!” like 2 second-string Ramones.
In Union Square we bowled our cantaloupes into the grumbling tangle of homeless humans near the amphitheater. This is our way of offering them some of our spoils while maintaining a safe distance from these raggedy hosts of lice and fleas.
“Fleas can jump up to 10 fuggin’ feet, man. If they need to. So keep your distance, man.” Kelly’d seen them. “Anyway, that guy’s me in 20 years.”
“I say 15.”
“I didn’t wanna brag.”
The man in Army fatigues [the bullet holes lovingly accented with colorful yarns] ducked into shadow, thinking the cantaloupe was a bomb – the kind he’d seen in Nam. Another “soldier” gave us crisp military salutes – over and over until he took a sledgehammer to one of the cantaloupes. There’s the madman they call Santy Claus declaring that the night is a big parking lot in oblivion. He’s just the kind of madman you come across during your life where you wonder how mad you are for not thinking him mad at all.
And here we are suddenly availed of the ineluctable connections between vision and inebriation, enlightenment and obliteration, light and beer, the way thoughts sometimes swirl in total harmony with the whirlpool action of a flushed toilet. And this is how logic careened and blundered into the derivation of the term “light beer.” And for some portion of a minute we knew absolutely everything there was to know.
We parted ways at Union Square – he heading to his closet at the mortuary where he sometimes sleeps in an upright position. I wandered out into traffic and into store windows, where my dodgy reflection can be rendered almost charming by its refracted obscurity. Another window on Broadway displays dusty kung-fu videotapes. I stop because something grabs my attention. The recommended video on a pedestal was Game of Death. The carefully hand-printed recommendation read as follows [I was so spooked I had to write it down]: “Starring Bruce Lee, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Chuck Norris and Gig Young. This 1978 film appeared 5 years after the death of Bruce Lee in 1973 [age 33]. Lee plays Billy Lo, a Hong Kong movie actor and big box-office draw. His girl friend Ann is a promising singer. The mob wants them to join their management firm. Lee smartly refuses and the mob tries to coerce him to. That having failed they unsuccessfully attempt to murder him, everyone thinks he is dead, so he fakes his death, changes his looks, and decides to go after the syndicate; taking them out one at a time.”
Next to the film recommendation was a photo cut from a sports magazine with the caption “Jabbar, the famous 33, goes up for a sky hook proving he may very well be the best basketball player of all time.”
We will roam the dusky fringe with purloined emotions, concealed horrors, latent apophenia, and clinky green bottles in sagging pockets as we dart from dirty light to dirty light. I am anxious to again hear the lovely voice that emerges from the papillion lips of Nice ponounced “Nees,” short for Eunice as in “you Niece.” Her voice from wherever suspended on “my” answering machine like little butterflies pinned to velvet in a little museum in Switzerland: “Sorry, I been at the library.” I was becoming addicted to just coming home, opening a beer and listening to her voice suspended like water lilies on a pond. I listened and listened and then listened again to the message. When WHEN!? What branch? “Some days I just watch the silverfish devour the books on the shelves. Today I discovered that space is curved! Curved by huge dense masses. Super-massive black holes deform regions of space as they spiral inward to finally coalesce into an irregularly shaped, spinning black hole. Sounds like we’ve been there – CLICK, Please insert – oh, my quarter’s run out, goin’ back to…” Where!? WHERE WHERE!?
Excerpted in: Up Is Up, But So Is Down: Documenting New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992 (NYU Press 2006), Exquisite Corpse, Spoken Dub Manifesto (Jarring Effects 2006, spoken word CD, France) Lowest Common Denominator, The Frank (Paris), Semiotext(e) SF, Sarasota Arts Review, Cassette Mythos, Vokno (Prague), Red Tape, Rant, Beet, Public Illumination (Italy), Plain Brown Rapport, Real Poetik, Sandbox, Mississippi Review, National Poetry Magazine of the Lower Eastside, Murtaugh, Nuyorican Live (Knitting Factory CD), Bil Bo K (Brussels), Curse, Ambit (UK), Unbearables2, The Global Hangover Guide (Germany), Snake, Urban Graffiti (Canada), RATT and, Smoke Signals.
More Beer Mysticism: http://www.bartplantenga.com/home-beer.php
More Beer Spoken Dub: http://spokendub.free.fr/TheBeerMisticsLastDayOnThePlanet-BartPlantenga.html
More Beer Mystic Hosts: http://bartyodel3.wordpress.com/about/
“As I grew older I became a drunk. Why?
Because I like ecstasy of the mind.”
• Jack Kerouac
Next Chapter: Beer Mystic Excerpt 31A: Onomatpoee >>
bart plantenga is also the author of Wiggling Wishbone and Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man both published by Autonomedia. His book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World received worldwide attention. He is currently [not] working on a new novel, Paris Sex Tete, which lies around like an apathetic, half-clad, dissheveled paramour while his new book on yodeling Yodel in HiFi, will no doubt be a bread-winner of epiglottal proportions. He is a “nonfiction novelist” and is also a founding member of the New York writing group, the Unbearable Beatniks of Light.
His life has been defined by women, undignified employment, migration, lack of money and writing. His writing focuses on inequity, unempowerment, insatiable desire, the unentitled, the under-regarded, ignored and ineffable, which has led to a life of luxurious suffering and indellible indifference to profit.
His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air since 1986, first on WFMU [NY], then Radio Libertaire [Paris], and finally Radio 100 and now Radio Patapoe [Amsterdam], the world’s most untamed and oldest pirate radio station. He lives in Amsterdam.