Friday, August 19, 2005

The Lonely Alphabet from A to Z

I sat in a cafe I didn't even know the name of. Alexis ate his French toast and chicken sausage while I watched a little girl at the next table learn how to dispense syrup onto her pancakes- a spongy brown stack surrounded by scattered blueberries.

"Christy honey, do you see how the tip has a pointed spout on one side?" her mother instructed from across the table, "Flip it around."

I laughed.

The world that day was a charred metal grate. Black. Impossible.
"What did you drink last night anyways?" Alexis asks. "Gin or something?"

Wounded, I squinted at him over my glass of water, beads of condensations slipping down the sides. Gin?

"What do you think?"
"Can you smell it?"
"Well that's the smell inside my head, that's why I can't eat anything."
"I wish you would."
"Food is the enemy."

I drank an apple juice. Most of it. It seemed I couldn't really scrub the sour taste out of my mouth. The night before I had stood on Western avenue sobbing inconsolably while Victor held me and tried to turn it around. It was the best anyone could have done for me. Breaking free from his embrace, blubbering that I was sick of "not smoking just to impress people" we crossed the street and I bought a pack of cigarettes. My first in a long long time.

I can't remember if I started crying in the bar or not. I didn't want to go out that night anyways. I was upset. Alexis dragged me with promises of honey liqueur. I socialized to the best of my ability but failed, eventually retreating to a mostly empty table to write. A surly man who didn't speak much English, I think he was Polish, sat down across from me. What ensued was an awkward exchange I didn't have patience for. He was clearly drunk and very angry at not being able to communicate. Apologizing (though really somewhat irked at being approached in the first place) I migrated to the bar for another beer. There, Alexis introduced me to his new Acquaintance 'Z'.

Z told me he was 54, roughly my father's age, though Z is much worse for the wear. A drunken, haggard old soul, his wheel chair stood folded in a nook by the pool table. He was wasted and (as is the case with drunk homeless men) kept telling me how lovely I am. As is the case with me when I'm drunk and unhappy, I was inclined to accept such accolades as divinely portentous, heart-wrenchingly sincere.

In Ann Arbor, when I was 17, I had a close friend by the name of Mike Hinchey, or "eat my fuck Mike" as he was known around town. He was a rambler, a handsome, sly old coot, a homeless blues singing bum never seen without a half-pint of vodka in his back pocket, a comb in breast pocket. He always came into town in the summer and left in the fall. Hopping trains, taking greyhounds to visit his children in warm places like Arizona, skirting incarceration. Mike's line was "Gimme a quarter and I'll sing you a song." Upon delivery of quarter (or a cigarette) he'd draw in his breath and below from his scrawny ribcage an astonishingly deep and sloshy gurgle of blues. "Well I'm going to Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti here I'd come..." He'd wail, doing this drunken knock-need little dance "they got some big fat old women there and I'm gonna get me one..."

When he was relatively sober we could sit on the street and talk about poetry for hours. When he was violently drunk he'd stand and scream things like "eat my fuck!" and "I was Lenny Bruce before there was Lenny Bruce!" When he got like that I'd beg him to shut up so the cops wouldn't take him away. Usually, I was able to bring him back. He called me "little darling" and referred to himself as my uncle. My boyfriend at the time let him move into the basement of the notorious Butler house the summer after high school graduation, the most tumultuous summer of my life (until this one). When Alex cheated on me it was Mike who held me when I cried telling me "Little girl, don't cry, he loves you, I know he loves you its just that he's a man, he can't help himself." Before the weather turned that year I gave him an inscribed copy of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, to this day one of my favorite books. When he returned next summer he told me he read it repeatedly while stuck in jail for three months in Minnesota.

I haven't seen Mike in a few summers.

Z reminded me a lot of mike. When he told me he was a poet I suggested we write each other poems. His was a disjointed ramble about my loveliness. Loveliness was hardly on my mind that night and saddly, Z was decidedly unsatisfied with my poem:

Ok. There were pastures
But the closer we moved
The more strange flesh hung off the cows

They were not steaks, nor were they darling
And their moos were hardly the stuff
Of polished cream, dyed brown for chocolate,
Black-blotched bossy, gold-earringed
And sweet.

They stood in their shit
And didn't mind.
While I watched,
They chewed.

"This is not about me!" Z reeled, clunkily trying to recap his pen into the tangled holster of copper wire rigged to one of his fraying belt loops. "What is this poetry?" He lambasted.

I was getting pretty drunk at this point.

"Poetry is the expression of an eternal remembrance,� I said, oscillating miserably on my barstool.
"So why did you not go for eternal? Why did you talk about shit and pastures!"
"I don't know, Z. Because that stuff is a remembrance and it's eternal."

Eventually, laughing, he conceded and told me again how much he liked me because I'm "Simple."

"I could never possess you, Abby (sounds like 'baby')" The old man muttered, struggling with the cigarette he'd been attempting roll for the last 12 minutes.
"No one could, Z." I said, trying for a rueful defiance.
"The ones you give yourself to might."

And that right there might have been what did it.
Z, as it turns out, knows everything there is to know about me.
When I left he gave me his business card. It says:



Z, like mike, is in many ways, the embodiment of what everyone I know is afraid of becoming. And that's why I love him and why I loved mike so much too.

It took me a while but later that day I eventually managed to eat.