Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation & Light
Furman Pivo believes he [plus beer] may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same and the rest is history or myth or delusion.
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 this chapter.]
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Beer Mystic Excerpt #4
Elsa Triolet had a tremendous assortment of grommeted and hood clamp corsets that had absorbed their own histories of stage sweat. She could hold one up to the light and recount a story, a tour, a city, an adventure, a forlorn sigh. The corsets represented a phase that had something to do with industrial cabaret, sexual innuendo and a makeover that made her look like a Menlo Park Shopping Mall version of Betty Page. I enjoyed watching her get excited squeezing into her accoutrements thinking I was getting excited too. Life is a series of distractions and religion is preoccupied with making meaning out of these distractions. I had to admit there was something charming bordering on sexy to see human foible like this. Each human imperfection as another puzzle piece.
“In 1980, I was religion.” Did she actually say that? “And I will be again. Mark my words.” Sadly, I did mark her words and her comeback was just another setback. And contrary to her observation, it was not anything like Marianne Faithfull’s comeback. The label she was on was just a front. A candy store with no candy in it. She had – it seems – financed the CD with the last of her dead father inheritance. And every time I saw her after those failed gigs you could see her eyes wanting to grab those around her, but you could see the (self-described) hipsters backing off with mortified looks, putting their coats on, leaving half drinks undrunk, like she and they were the wrong ends of a magnet. And with every snub you could see her retreating ever further toward an ignominious death, punched into a corner as far from how she wanted to go out with a bang and a sex scandal as one could imagine. Nothing, not even a two-year-old Belgian Geuze with its dry sparkle and notes of sour apple, could change this picture.
And yet, there’s something retrievably tongue-and-cheek and perversely voluptuous about the tortured impossibility of her size 16 shimmying into these size eight confinements. A miracle. “Please stay, I’m gonna perform a miracle.” Oh, and how her cups ranneth over and over. Like a pint of beer in a shot glass. The tighter she tied the corset, the more like a former self she was able to identify with for ever shorter durations until the kick lasted not much longer than however long she could hold one breath – snap, shutter speed pose – there she stood blood-lipped pout, defiantly indelicate bosom, cover girl on a 1983 Disturbed. Her askew and rat-bitten Betty Page wig didn’t help much, however. Her beauty continued to crumble before her eyes. And the more she tried to prop it up, the more this decay of crows feet and cellulite mocked her.
Whenever she looked right at you, you knew she really wanted my eyes to stay fixed on her. Like reel you in. Her Garbo gimlet gaze looked more like someone going through a post-traumatic seizure. And over time, the infiltration of useless knowledge, the belief in her own hype, rock ‘n’ roll factoids, and folk medicine had left her eyes unfixed, unfocused, gazing without seeing, agreeing without understanding – her mind flickering like a bad video with tracking problems, the glories of provisional fame having betrayed her.
She was just so uncomfortably accommodating towards me – with me offering only the slightest hints of being even vaguely employed or functional [desire ÷ despondency has its own calculus] – OK, so I had a radio show. I measured her passion – and that’s what she wanted – by the number of impressive beers [Pitfield Porter, Red Stripe, Kwak, Gueze, Sleutel, Judas, Staropramen, Jenlain] she’d fetch for me at the Beer Depot Drive-Thru in Red Hook. It was far away, but by old Mercury station wagon always worth it.
“You wanna catch a fish, you gotta bait the hook.” I’m sure she said this with me on my back, pants down to my knees.
During lunch she opened her cabinet, which was now reserved for beer glasses as per my recommendations. This had meant some smart rearranging. Now certain glasses – the kids had been instructed! – would only be used for beer. I felt suddenly weird about being so insistent.
“I wash’m with baking soda. Like you said. No towels.” She held them up as if her entire sense of self was being held up to the light. “I air dry’m like you wanted.”
“Suggested! Beer’s just very sensitive. You gotta understand.”“Oh, I do, I do!” But she didn’t, but it didn’t matter that she only agreed with me to flatter me.
“Cans, the aluminum, has an adverse effect on beer flavor.” [Now looking back at it all, gurus are a creepy fucking breed, indeed!]
“I know, I know, dear.” As she played around with my nuts and rubbed my stem with the back of her hand as she dragged out the old casket catalogs. We flipped through them, pointed out our faves – again, her forefinger running furiously along the thick veins in my forearm, gazing longingly at page spreads splayed open, like we were looking at pornography.
“You shoulda been a Goth rocker.”
“I was born 10 years too early for that – I mean I did pioneer the look – but, then, I was way too late for Pre-Raphaelite. Maybe I’ll just get cremated.” Elsa mused. Kim Novak with 20 loaves of Wonder Bread duct-taped to her thighs and midriff. What does she or anybody see when they look at themselves in the mirror? I thought more like a Theda Bera cookie left in the oven a minute too long.
“I like the idea of an urn up on somebody’s shelf somewhere. Or better yet, have my ashes used as a foundation for eye makeup; this way I’ll be seen all over the world...”
“I’m against it!” I mean, she was already digging her grave, climbing in… I mean – sheeesh – was death the only way she could figure to draw any attention any more?
“Isn’t it weird that most of us will have a roomier place to live after we die?”“Yeah, OK, we all lived wedged into gloomy shelving units – studio apartments my ass! But that’s no reason to check out early!”
“You’re so charming when you’re impassioned. I’m afraid I’m not going nowhere for a while.”
“It’s just my instinct to be against it.”
She shook her head “yes” not so much to show agreement, but to flatter me into staying. She told me the story about how Sarah Bernhardt slept in a coffin filled with fan letters. She had a pile of her own, by the way. Kept everyone of them, sorted alphabetically by last name. And then more beer and more of her hands rubbing any appendage of mine that was available.
“I used to be compared to her when I was one mountain lighter. Do you like this one? Zlatorog – it’s from Yugoslavia.” Then came the adventure stories again about how difficult and far away this beer depot was and how the guy behind the counter always makes a move on her, throw’s in a Mickey’s Big Mouth as inducement. How she called around. How she was enterprising, loyal, youthful, hoping to accentuate the “co” in “co-dependency.” How all this catering meant love to her – or at least some semblance of occupancy. And she’d insinuate the precise aperture of her mouth to offer me the kind of fellatio that would render me immobile or comatose and thus spending the night. She hinted that there were burglars and peepers and that if I stayed... but despite her vigorous and enthusiastic actions gleaned from bad porn videos I was not capable of much because I’d been so turned off by the whole casket affair.
“I only got an hour tops. Gotta call in…”“What’s it all about that it feels so decadent to drink and fuck when it’s still light out?”
“I guess you’re defying the guilt you’re supposed to feel about not being at work somewhere.”
“Guilt doesn’t work on us no more, does it?” That was about right. She sometimes moonlighted at Connolly’s on Fifth Avenue, where you could drink in peace until slum junkies, trustafarian émigrés out of haut Park Slope came along and made it their dive, real dive as mere backdrop for the rhapsodic movie about themselves. So she would moonlight there and sometimes save on a babysitter by leaving her kids home alone. And maybe that is where we met.
She might blow me then in a manner so casual as to not even interrupt conversation. Me continuing to flip through one of her scrapbooks marked “1982”. And then I’d just yank my pants back up without even standing up and we’d finish lunch and then I’d watch her rummage around for that tatter of infamous dress she wore back when she was a “punk diva” with a “congregation consisting of several thousand Bonjour Tristesse readers.” The Trouser Press review hung crooked in a plastic gold frame above her bed.
“It’s like the color of Midori, don’t you think? I still adore chiffon.”
“I dunno. It has somethin’ sickly about it. Like the color of pukin’ up cough medicine.”
“Look at this one! I musta been 60 pounds lighter – that’s alotta Big Macs!” A whimpering rhapsodic sigh, like something afraid to come out of its hole. Eyes searching west, Midwest, Chicago, South Chicago, Lower Links, searching for her throne in her dreams. The throne for best indie performer in a pop poetry format [two years running].
“I had a label, a real label, a label that got you gigs. I knew Belinda Carlisle. Performed with Lydia Lunch. Opened for the Delta 5. Was compared to Exene Cervenka.” And with that came another scrap book, neatly dated on the spine 1979-1981. And there were the headlines – OHIO PUNK DIVA HIT or POET VAMP RATTLES THE BONES or PUNK POETESS: OF CORSET MATTERS or OHIO FLAME SETS CHICAGO ABLAZE… And again, I had to admit, another very beautiful and thorough scrapbook crammed full of memories and beer labels and ticket stubs and muggy photos of spiky-haired dudes with Degas smudgy eyes kissing her pale vampy cheeks. Her posing in vampy mock blow job insouciance, guys faces squeezed in her ample bosom… But all of this press and fanfare came to an abrupt halt some little while ago. That we all knew. The more precious the details, the sadder I felt. And endless analyses of how and why – the changing nature of the record industry, weight problems, writer’s cramp…
“It was a good solid indie label – Bean Me Up Records outa Boston. Jonathan Richman’s original label. And we were up for a bigger deal: Alternating Testicles was snooping around. They wanted us, loved our demos, but then alas there were drugs – and betrayals.” The lack thereof or excess thereof she wasn’t saying. This downfall at the very instant of snagging the Big Fish led to a denouement and this ex-from-hell, this Dave Stewart to her Annie Lennox, this Sonny to her Cher, this Herb to her Peaches… Here she was in the middle of the universe and totally out of it. The Big Come-Down over and over and over.
The secret here in NY is to make yourself something in the eyes of others. “You gotta cast a shadow you wanna be in the shadow play.” I can’t remember who said it but it is fitting. There are many tactics and we knew them all. One involved being of a totally focused mindset, be obsessed with one subject and one only so that obsession makes you look like an expert. Another is to provide a service or stage for other people’s egos. While you take their expenditure of ego and use it for your own ends. Being on the radio – even if it was a station that others had heard of but never actually listened to [all the more so!] – served that purpose. People like to give you their singles, their cassettes, their PR in bars and then squeeze your hand suggestively. You tell them you will play it and then they try to tune in, listening with friends around the radio. There is something nice about that. With women you (or me) might get the wrong impression that this emphatic squeezing of your hand rapidly three or four times – wink-wink-wink – means something more.
You might protest to Elsa or others that you’re not even sure anyone listens or that XYZNO Radio FM is even broadcasting anywhere beyond the confines of the station’s clandestine/mobile downtown Brooklyn/Manhattan studio doesn’t matter. Others just chalk this kind of speculation up to modesty and pat you on the back and laugh along.
The heart is impure, desperation makes it that proverbial sweaty peddler of questionable pilfered cold cuts or of low-grade obscure nostalgia in a parking lot market somewhere.
“I was on the map, in lights, in Creem, Trouser Press, Disturbed, but after the Big Come-Down I was desperate. Really desperate and my back prevented me from working as a chambermaid in JFK hotels. So I got involved in something they called house hookin’. Now they got a union and they call’m homeworkers. Don’t gimme no looks! But back then it was like a Jane-of-all-trades. You darned the guy’s socks and gave him blow jobs and he gave you a room in his house. There were ads for it in the Voice. After Chicago, this is what I did. I was like Cinderella in reverse.”
“Sounds like marriage to me.”
“You’d meet and agree to the arrangement – light cooking, no dusting, laundry and blow jobs. Or he might want you to talk about certain things when he is about to come. You know what I mean! It wasn’t bad. It’s like a little submissive, a little dominatrix, some chambermaid…”“Livin’ Lovin’ Maid.”
“Led Zeppelin… You get invited back to his place, bring your three banged-up suitcases with the stickers of hundreds of bands stuck to ’em. Some corsets, some gear. Leftover copies of your singles. He likes it, you are a kick in his boring life. He’s slummin’ it and you move up four economic circles outa hell. He can write to friends in Iowa about the exciting life he’s got in the Big Apple. And as long as you don’t wear out your welcome, take up too much sleep and refrigerator space and kept giving the best head you could stay. Yeah, it’s like a marriage, I guess, without the hypocritical $50,000 wedding reception.”
“With bad rap acts in tuxedos as entertainment.”
“I did housework – OK, I did some dusting for lines o’ coke, for lifetime free admission to the Limelight... OK, Jake the Wall Street guy slummin’ it on weekends; I mean, the guy had a separate closet for his weekend punk outfits. But later I even found a Polish accent deep inside my genetic structure so that guys who hired me would feel more comfortable, you know, hiring someone from behind the Iron Curtain. They could feel like their fuckin’ laziness – pardon my French – was actually generosity.”
“Whaddayuh do now?”
“I went from boffin’ punk rock flops and Wall street zombies – the kind o’ guys that wanna hear that you were someone once too but only for a while before they launch into their own bios… so you’re a bit of a shrink as well. I moonlight at Connolly’s as you know and I’m trying my hand at illustration – don’t laugh! – I might get this gig illustrating children’s religion books. Adventure stories from the Bible. I do that now, that’s what I do now. Should I apologize?”
“Survival is survival. Not noble, not embarrassing…” God, I need a beer right now. I’ll settle for a Sam Adams [and it’s cultivated hoppiness and floral aroma], even a Meister Brau… anything!
During our conjugal thrusts atop sundry surfaces previously reserved for other chores [with her two full-length mirrors covered with sheets to mourn her passage into “plumpdom”] she’d encourage me with flaky references to my awesome thrusts-per-minute and that I was a far cry and moan from so and so, this famous ex whom she now refuses to dignify with a Christian name, had “fucked her into submission with his bitter little stub” and then gave her two kids, this “perp” who had “won” her and then fed upon her most intimate and fragile confidences. But she refused to delve further into this portion of her life-as-hell. Although he may have been a guitarist in a band that often played Max’s Kansas City. But by not going into it she was actually going into a lot.
“I didn’t see you there protesting the day it closed.”
“I was there dahlink. 1981. I was a different someone then. I was hanging with horror punker Glenn D. of the Low Die as in Lodi, New Jersey. Later they went dark metal as Loaded Dice.”
“I was dating a girl who looked just like Chrissy Hynde. That got us into some trouble and lots of clubs for free.”“You gotta get over it. You know, you’re the youngest I’ve ever done it with.”
“What about high school?”
“Hardy-har-har. I don’t wanna go back to those days. Let’s just say I blossomed after high school. I believe part of what drove me was to one day get revenge on the jocks and squeaky-clean debutantes… But I meant age difference.”
That I wasn’t turned off by how she could grab ample portions of her tenderloin and squeeze it the way one might a pita into something like another pussy was something that allowed her to transform herself into a multi-orificular temptress. Like Coney Island, man! All across her epidermal expanse we kneaded and folded plots of her skin, discovering alternative labia in amongst her ample folds. Scars were explained like tourist attractions. And with baby oil rubbed upon my length I slithered in amongst these folds. Like that.
Each thrust inspired from her cramped yelps – EEEeeh! – of gleeful surprise; each ejaculation posing as a declaration of love for her. Sure, she memorized delirious odes to my fortitude, and my enthusiasm for her plenitudes as part of her previous trade. Sure there’d be a bottle of beer in her hand behind my back. How did she do that? Sleight of hand? Ever just savvy enough to know the needs of my spiritual thirsts.
“It’s Hell beer.” She was such a good-hearted, brittle soul.
These “lunch” bouts would be a painting that looked something like this: her bent over the wobbly kitchen table, reminiscing about recipes she remembered they used to try to make in her Suzy Homemaker oven, while I drank her Hell beer in right hand while holding her hipbone in my left, and she’d always turn over just so I could ejaculate across her immense breasts at precisely the right moment. No more rubbers, no more kids was her motto.
If résumés were made of other talents… I never bothered to tell her I did not like being called a “naughty boy” every time I ejaculated. All of this trysting activity meant hanging in there strangely removed, elsewhere, empty, without tales of past glory to nurse the open wounds of doubt, observing her as she wiped up the acrid pool of ejaculant from her chin and cleavage. It was as if my spirit had been strained through cheesecloth.
Then more beer lessons – how to handle beer:
1. Avoid dusty bottles or those exposed to the sun or extreme heat or cold
2. Store beers standing upright
3. Do not pour beer down glass sides; pour beer gently in center of glass to produce necessary head. Head enhances bouquet and allows CO2 to escape, preventing flatulence
4. Drink good beers warmer – at some 50° F
5. The beer should emit small bubbles, have a ragged full-bodied head
6. Aroma should be fresh and clean; a skunky smell means the beer is old
7. Taste beer slowly with some swish and swill. It should have a chewy thick aspect to it
8. There should be a subtle bitter aftertaste to a good beer
9. Draft often tastes better because carbonation levels are lower than in bottles; carbonation deadens the taste buds.
10. The head floating on top of a beer in a glass should be 3/4 to one inch in height.
Then I’d call Lee, boss-dispatcher at Cosmo, and if it was slow I could stay with Elsa and we’d clean up and walk into Park Slope to pick up her kids from school. Along the way she’d tell me how much she was fretting, doing bone-breaking research, calling, begging schools to get her seven- and nine-year old kids into a decent junior high school. It might mean four-hour daily commutes.
Along the way she’d offer a brew – we were early – if I would along the way just sit with her in the Tarnished Kidney Stone, where everything reeks of cigarettes, flatulence, Old Spice, hold hands under the table, listen to more stories.
“This is the way it’s s’posed to be.” Squeezing my thigh under the table. Then with a sigh, off we’d go to the school, passing Cal’s Boiler Repair and the various abandoned warehouse doorways that held the flamboyantly anonymous and gender-less prostitutes who could be had for less than two loaves of white bread, on past the South Brooklyn Casket Works, a place that smelled of success – frantic forklifts moving in every direction, trucks idling at all hours of the day out front, parked at odd angles, loading and unloading – business was good. She peeked in, as she always did, and we ventured in, she striding, dragging me along. Just for a second. Come on.
“It’s not morbid like you think. And the guys don’t mind – IF you don’t get in their way. They know me.” Some of the guys tipped imaginary hats, squeezed uncomfortable smiles from their faces. “I just tell them my mom is gonna need one soon.”
And there we’d stand in front of various coffins and caskets debating their respective virtues – roominess, classic design, portability, durability, kitsch-value humor. Her favorite was an elegant white one. Her hand guided mine along its contours. I thought I sensed the workmen staring, wondering. I heard a huge black fly collide with a window.
“Quality is something you can touch. MMM, feel that!” Her stare attempting to wring the meaning from my last statement – did I mean her or the casket?
“Funny, you likin’ this one. It’s my fave too. Reminds me of my dad’s ’63 Cadillac. MMMM. He’d polish it and touch up nicks with a very fine paintbrush every Saturday. Later on, when he couldn’t get the right red any more he’d use my mom’s nail polish.”
“I think of those white leather shoe guys over 60 with their white belts.”
“Look, the trim is guaranteed 14K gold leaf. I like that it hearkens back to, I dunno, the Victorian age or something with its Baroquey details and all. I’d put in a new lining. I got it all ready. Took the seams outa my old chartreuse velvet dress. I wanna use that as the lining. And now I lay me down in my ole punk dress. When I sniff it I’m right back in the thick of Max’s.”
She knew the exact four songs – I can’t remember, a Roy Orbison song, something by Joy Division, a song by Sinatra, and one by Echo & the Bunnymen with the line “Everybody loves you when you’re dead”– she’d hummed them all. Although there was also one by the Misfits she was contemplating. She dreamt of the lavish funeral details and the exact circumstances of her death – in bed on the brink of being discovered for her musical accomplishments, her best friend [“You don’t want her,” She warned. “She don’t drink beer, hates it.”] holding her left hand, and her sensitive brother, the only family member to ever let her know he “understood” her, holding her right hand.
“I’ll be fucked by you as I’m dying – I’ll be 55 and then there’ll be a wake – it’s corny, I know, but that’s how I’d do it – banquet tables serving ridiculously, sinfully rich food and sausage from the place my dad worked at, the Vienna Sausage Manufacturing Co. – even Valentine’s Day meant some meat product in the shape of a heart or a rose – and cake and egg rolls dressed like sarcophaguses with miniature likenesses of me inside. And the Village Voice will call me ‘Patsy Cline on acid.’ Although I’ve done drugs, I’ve never done acid.”
From an unexpected somewhere her hand wriggled its way inside my pants because the atmosphere here gave her “the hornies.” I could hear her purring until I whispered, “Not here! Later!”
She tousled my hair back into place and handed me breath mints along the way – she’d wear hi heels in the snow if that’s what I wanted.
She knew everybody in the school courtyard and wanted them all to know that she was with me, clinging to the elbow of a man five years her junior, because that was, according to Cosmopolitan, status; as one article aptly called it, “role-reversal empowerment” and “an age differential high.” A smattering of lone, exhausted dads stood uncomfortably like trees planted in the wrong orchard among the pinched blond moms, the dour teens picking up their siblings and the West Caribbean nannies of the chosen. I’m guessing the dads are worried everybody’s thinking “loser, why aren’t you at work?”
Over time, Elsa had amassed astute and wicked or sarcastic dossiers [imagined, projected, and/or overheard] on every mom she perceived as prettier than herself. To balance these assessments out, so that she would not seem like a “Scorpio bitch,” she’d reserve certain bonbon-like niceties for the other mothers, the ones she perceived as being non-threatening, nice mothers who had sacrificed their looks for their children.
Her kids, two splintery kids in dour clothes and wielding high levels of mistrust, suddenly exploded into view out of the screaming horde.
“Mom, whose this guy?”
“He’s got a name, you know.”
“Yeah, but what’s he some number hundred daddy-for-a-day?” Lucinda asked. We must smirk at the brutal honesty of children.
“Show some manners. His name is Furman.”
“That means like rat. I bet he ain’t even got wheels.” Dan chimed in. She gripped Dan’s arm, hissed some discipline into his ear, then explained why I had no gifts for them like all the others: “There’s gifts and then there’s bribery. You’ll understand someday. And no, he doesn’t have a car but he’s got a heart bigger’n a Pontiac.”“Yea, right, mom. No Mercedes, no Lincoln, not even a Subaru. And I betcha he can’t get us Knicks tickets like Sam could.” She lovingly gave him a swat to the back of the head.
While the kids played with friends, my hand disappeared inside the slit in the back of her long gabardine coat where my forefinger wormed its way inside a hole in her tights while she said hello to some of the other moms, briefly discussing grades, and the upcoming fashion pageant and PTA meeting. Her quivering fundament gripped my finger, hungrily clutching the phalange at the first knuckle as her voice went up a full octave. I stood there thinking that if I removed my finger maybe she’d abruptly deflate with a horrible racket. So, for decorum’s sake, better not.
When I closed my eyes with my finger strumming the tattered hole in her tights, Elsa became someone else, someone with proud bones I’d seen in Cosmo. Or Punk. Like Sally Scream, circa 1981, Queen of Gloom Glam. My eyes were clamped shut; I was in a Montparnasse café with Anna Karina, avoiding Godard, when suddenly I felt my balance go askew because I was – or my sense of self was – escaping through orifices I had forgotten about.
Beer Mystic Excerpt #5>>
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. His life has been defined by women, undignified employment [not unlike 98% of the rest of the world’s population], 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.