What If and the Temptations

WHAT IF:
Money actually grew on trees?
You actually had more than one once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
Your face actually stayed in the guise of some hideous scowl you made when you were six?
Things were easier done than said?
What was up never came down?
The birds and bees got together and planned the assassinations of Drs. Ruth Westheimer, Sigmund Freud and Benjamin Spock?
The lamb beat the shit out of a couple of lions?
Evolution is really de-volution?
You died, got younger, and then were born?
Apples and oranges are really the same thing?
Square pegs fit into round holes?

WHAT THEN?

Homespun and Gravity look at each other, the two sailors, the sun setting swiftly in the southern sky.

“Well,” Homespun begins, “now what?”

“War Stories!” the sailors shout, lifting non-existent mugs to their dry, cracked lips in anticipation (although they were not actually in Anticipation, Pennsylvania, but in the suburbs of America, nowhere near the non-friendly skies of Philadelphia, and were not actually in Anticipation, burning in Effigy, waiting in Limbo, or doing anything else that might be construed to be happening in any other place, bated breath notwithstanding).

“Why is it,” Gravity asked, “that whenever people get together to talk about their past, they call it telling war stories? Is it all that bad? Why not, for example, tell peace or love or fond memory stories, instead of war, horror, experience done taught me a lesson that I would not have learned or had taught to me but I shall drill into your head the validity of my sorrowful life by sharing it with you tales from the crypt of crap that has somehow accumulated in my pointed little worthless head of a pin understanding of what it takes to not only convey a moral message but stupid story simultaneously?”

“I say,” Homespun answered, “that we share intimate stories from the pursuit of the wild and furry frubbit.”

from The Secret Undertown Ministry, 1993


The two sailors looked anticipatorily at Homespun, hoping for clarification, illumination, entertainment, and quite possibly for the introduction of true confession material that had been rejected due to pure unadulterated hogwash content by every serial publication on the planet with the exception of the National Enquirer or the inspirational section of the Reader’s Digest.

“What does that mean?” one ventured to ask.

“That means,” Gravity replied, sadly, “that we will talk about locker room flashbacks, wild parties, wanton women from the roadhouse of despair . . . we will commit ourselves to male bonding and hope that it is indeed water soluble. I’ll begin.”

LIGHTS FADE. AS A DIRTY WHITE SPOT COMES UP ON GRAVITY, LOW Music BEGINS IN THE BACKGROUND, THE SOUND OF TWO GUITARS HOPELESSLY OUT OF TUNE ATTEMPTING TO FIND HARMONICS ON THE SEVENTH AND TWELFTH FRETS, RESPECTIVELY. GRAVITY BOWS HIS HEAD, SHAKING IT SLOWLY, THEN LIFTS IT AGAIN, HIS EYES CLENCHED IN AN ATTEMPT TO BRING INTENSITY TO THE ROLE.

GRAVITY:
On the dark edge of Republican Torrance, California (where some deny the holocaust), behind the industrial strip mall that hung underneath the interstate like a lazy tumor on the artery of civilization, where the tracks from the wrong side of town crossed over and along the back of the Union Carbide plant where they made those little plastic balls that filled up railroad cars stretching from next door to infinity, I sat in my pickup truck sad primered, shelled and Mississippi plated, half naked girl by my side,her hand inside my pants, impatient, while the last patrol car of the hour flashed its lights and went on by.

There are real cops in those cars in Torrance, hoping to protect and serve, and somehow, though her mother knew we slept together, thought I was a good influence, put her on the pill, and told us to get home before two, the fact that she was seventeen had numerological significance: the hanged man and death and nights in the tower watching Rodney King’s understudies opposite the men in blue.

We slipped across the tuck and roll made slick and smooth and rotted out by standing rain onto the carpet faded in the back from sunspots through a cheap tint job, wax from melted candles, spilled whiskey, oil changes. In the flicker she sits upon me and she tells me her fantasy.

“I want to be a simple, peasant girl,” she said.

I told her to give it up, and she said, “what?”

I said the thirty dollar weekly allowance, the trips to the river, the debutante balls, and she said now who’s living in a fantasy world?

I said yeah, you’re right.

“You’re the local baron’s son,” she said, “of course, you want to fuck me.”

It would never do, she went on, girl in her position, think of it, the shame, the embarrassment. Unthinkable.

I said, yeah, I guess since it’s your fantasy.

“You,” she said, “have had a fall, have been thrown from a black majestic steed and have been left here, head cracked open fifteen miles from where your castle sits. I find you here and lay beside you, stroke your hair, your chest. I want to, you know, but the situation, well . . .”

“So now what?”

“You are cruel,” she went on, “and to you I’m just an object, but you have amnesia. You’ve forgotten who you are and who I am and all the nasty things you’ve done to nameless other simple girls. When your eyes come open here I am in white cotton, holding your head in my hands and breathing warm into your mouth. I kiss you, gently, like this, and put your hands on my breasts.”

She’s breathing harder, hands around my hips. Her lips spiral slowly down my stomach, lower. Her legs around my head I notice something else. Her rustic peasant ass is naked underneath the dress now hiked up to her waist. My tongue inside her knows there’s no amnesia. She slides down my chin, legs bent, and down my chest she drags herself, letting my hands guide her.

Deep inside her now, her slickness coating me and bringing back my memory.

“Yeah,” she says, a moan, and pushes down again, “now fuck me.”

With my cock inside her she has enough strength to say she loves me. Tomorrow, looks like more amnesia.

GRAVITY PAUSES, REACHES IN HIS POCKET FOR A CIGARETTE AND LIGHTER, RETRIEVES SAME, LIGHTS THE ONE WITH THE OTHER, AND SITS BACK, SILENT.

THERE ARE NODS OF APPROVAL FROM THE TWO SAILORS, AND A SMIRK FROM HOMESPUN. HE LEANS BACK IN HIS CHAIR, NODDING.

HOMES: Nice, man. But I’ve got one that will knock your socks off.

HE DOES A PARODY OF THE ACTIONS GRAVITY TOOK TO PRELUDE HIS STORY. IF YOU DON’T REMEMBER THEM OR HAVE A PICTURE IN YOUR MIND’S EYE, STOP WATCHING TELEVISION. YOUR ATTENTION SPAN IS SHORTENED BEYOND REPAIR. IF THAT IS THE CASE: LIGHTS FADE. AS A DIRTY WHITE SPOT COMES UP ON HOMESPUN, LOW Music BEGINS IN THE BACKGROUND, THE SOUND OF TWO GUITARS HOPELESSLY OUT OF TUNE ATTEMPTING TO FIND HARMONICS ON THE SEVENTH AND TWELFTH FRETS, RESPECTIVELY.

THIS TIME, ONE OF THEM (THE FACELESS GUITARS, THAT IS) ATTEMPTS A GROOVE ON A TORTURED E9 CHORD. HOMESPUN BOWS HIS HEAD, SHAKING IT SLOWLY, THEN LIFTS IT AGAIN, HIS EYES CLENCHED IN AN ATTEMPT TO BRING DISDAINFUL COOLNESS AND SUAVITY TO HIS PERFORMANCE.

HOMES:
Memorial Day in the early ’90’s and two girls, one known, one unknown and a friend of theirs named Chill (these are two strippers, mind you, peelers, full frontal you know) and anyway, they’re having a party: two kegs, no frats, continuous jams, respectable college girls, these two, one’s a full-blooded Chinese, the other half-breed Irish (both from Connecticut which I’ve heard is a nice place to live, but visiting is not recommended).

Anyway, they’ve got these Christmas lights left over from the last religious holiday and running them through red plastic tubing across the ceiling by the window behind the couch; they’re flashing (the red lights, I suppose, although the girls were likewise teasing the night air) and the other lights are low, the blacklight backlight strobe contraption opposite the open floor and two long couches, folding chairs . . . it’s just a stage like all the world, the short one says, it’s red and hot and sweating like a fuck and smells like liquid crack or Cisco, and friends from work (their work, and it looks like a Hell of a job) are dressed in fishnet wonderware. Three bottles of what the room smells like and a couple hits of acid later and we’re all grooving inside Jonah’s whale while campus cops break up the third fight, and turn away the Greeks like Socrates and Plato.

Meanwhile, I’m monitoring the mega-mix Booker T., Big Daddy Kane, Development Arrested during one too many shoutouts and somewhere outside the door a fifth degree blackbelt princess settles an argument between the Cisco Kid and Timothy Leary.

The winner has to take Aldous Huxley seriously.

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM THE SECRET DIARIES OF HOMESPUN MASQUERADE, WHICH IS OF COURSE A PSEUDONYM CONCEALING HIS REAL IDENTITY AS THE LEAD GUITARIST FOR THE BAND ‘THE UNDERTOWN MINSTRELS,’ WHO ARE SEPARATED BUT NOT DIVORCED.

In a way, when a band is unknown and it breaks up, it is more like an annulment, in that it seems like it never existed, but in the breakup of an established act, well, you’d better bring in your Allen Klein, pal.

ONE OF THE SAILORS LEANS FORWARD, GRINNING.

SAILOR: You guys think you’re so fucking smart, don’t you?

GRAVITY: Is that a rhetorical question?

SAILOR:
Well, I’ve got a tale to tell, and it doesn’t start out ‘Call me Oatmeal.’ On the road between Los Angeles, California and Harper’s Ferry, Arizona, in my lowered blue piece of shit truck with the chain link steering wheel and Holley double barreled, she puts on a tape ’cause the radio jams continuous static and adjusts the volume ’til our ears bleed. I’m drinking warm Coca-Cola and running the heater full blast so the radiator doesn’t boil over and my feet trapped in their leather coffins burn from the scorching.

She puts her head in my lap and I can feel her breathing hot against me. I hate zippers, she laughs, and operates mine. Seventy miles an hour down this stretch of graveyard road her summer dress around her nakedness like Oakland ’round the white doughnut hole of Piedmont, she grabs the wheel and slides her ass down my belly, her legs over mine, screaming. At ninety-five the tape hits auto-reverse and she comes like forty thieves or Armageddon and it’s crazy; gotta pull over.

They drive Mustangs, the highway cops, and singing out ‘Streets of Laredo’ we yippee-ki-yi-yo’d the trail without them; never saw a lone patrol and ate the highway on.

She flashes me, her fingers working up against the seat beneath her.

“No,” I say and keep my eyes upon the road. Eight hundred miles of this and you’d start lying, too.

THE SPEAKING SAILOR SITS BACK, SMUG AND SMARMY. HE SLAPS THE SWEATY SHOULDER OF THE SECOND SAILOR, WHO SUCKS THE SALIVA BACK INTO HIS MOUTH THAT HAS FORMED AS DROOL ON HIS LOWER LIP, AND BEGINS TO SPEAK, WHILE HOMESPUN AND GRAVITY SILENTLY AND SIMULTANEOUSLY GET UP TO RETRIEVE SOMETHING ALCOHOLIC WITH WHICH TO SOMEHOW BLOCK FROM THEIR MINDS THE RAMBLING, MONOTONOUS CRAP TO WHICH THEY HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED, AND WHICH THEY SUSPECT DEEP IN THE VERY MARROW OF THEIR BEINGS WILL CONTINUE WITHOUT END, AMEN.

MEANWHILE, THE SECOND SAILOR STANDS, SALUTES (using only the middle finger of his left hand, for some God-forsaken reason), AND BEGINS TO SPEAK:

SAILOR:
She said her name was with a K and I said, OK, minding my own business while she adjusted herself into my lap. I like a girl who’s civic minded, I said, how do you feel about voting?

“I’ve got a fake I.D. for just that purpose,” she replied. I laughed and put my hand between her thighs. I said my name was with an H and she said, oh, running her fingers along my neck following her tongue that burnt like a brand and I said, “You remind me of someone I went to high school with; Tracy Lords. Ever hear of her?”

She put her tongue inside my mouth and in her own way, I guess, was telling me to shut the fuck up. Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, in other words. She was black velvet dressed and pale as moonlight underneath and somehow back at my place later while Jimi Hendrix spoke we realized that we could love each other drunk and fucking crazy love like hand grenades and firestorm lightning in the dark and damp sweat-drenched July.

She shaved her pussy for me that weekend while I watched interested and not a little drunk; she looked so lost and beautiful naked there on the couch smoking a joint and laughing while I danced for her.

“It’s called a jig,” I said, and she said, yeah, the jig is up, and crawling ‘cross the floor to me she proved that with her lips on fire with whisky warmth and sweet saliva dripping from her where my fingers soothed her razor burn.
“I could fall in love with this,” she moaned.

“That’s OK,” I said, “you’ll recover.”

HOMESPUN SITS UP AS THE SECOND SAILOR WINDS DOWN HIS MONOTONOUS DIATRIBE AGAINST JOHN LENNON’S OTHER HALF OF THE SKY. HE LOOKS AT GRAVITY, NODS, AND SIGNALS TO A KEY GRIP SOMEWHERE BACKSTAGE WHO COUGHS (TACIT) AND PULLS THE SPOT AWAY FROM THE BURLY SAILORS CARE-WORN AND RAVAGED BUT STILL BLUSTERING, BOLD, AND OVERALL, VERY BIG FRAME.

HOMES:
On Emerald Street in a tan building within a second floor leisure suit apartment that wanted desperately to be a model home, where I hung with out of luck drop-out reform school dealers who had no product, no credit, and no constituency, where the clock on the wall said it was too late and the sign over the door read Sartre, we sat in a haze of warm Guinness and skunk weed watching MTV with the sound turned off writing the memoirs of a fallen America.

I said, “I’m not so good with words, but give me a beat to dance to, and I’ll give you Tolstoy – give me a letter of introduction, five dollars more than the net worth of the paper it’s written on, and I’ll take you to meet history, down at the liquor store where I’ve had a running tab since I was sixteen.”

She said, “I don’t know what to say about myself; I like to fuck, that’s all.”

I told her I could write a play and she could star without acting, just playing herself, but I needed a little more to work with.

She said, “I’ve never slept with an underage guy. I’ve never been old enough to do so.”

The muscles in her boyfriend’s forehead flexed, the ones made hard from Chelsea football and then the smile he used at Heathrow flashed – the one reserved for tourist Americans who swallowed his suave accented hook and then the rest of it.

“Gives a whole new meaning to getting your ‘O’ levels,” he laughed.

She sighed and followed him into the bedroom.

HOMESPUN THROWS AN EMPTY BEER BOTTLE OFF INTO THE DARKNESS. A FEW MOMENTS LATER, WE HEAR THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS (A LOT OF BROKEN GLASS) AND THE SPOT LIGHT SUDDENLY IS EXTINGUISHED. HOUSE LIGHTS COME UP, AND HOMESPUN STANDS, MAKING A SLIGHT BOW. HE THEN EXITS, STAGE LEFT. WE HEAR HIS VOICE WHISPER ACROSS THE AUDITORIUM FROM OFFSTAGE:

HOMES:
When was the last time you heard me laugh out loud?
Was it that last time you saw me smile and thought that I was happy?
Was it that one time once before I made you laugh and so you thought I felt the same?
Was it laughing out of joy or desperation?
If we can’t make each other laugh, you said, we’ll know.

When I am like a god where once a frog who longed for princedom sat transformed by angel’s kisses and a good publicity agent, when I laugh just to make this last forever or until the lights fade out and in the dark behind the door of my solitude I cry out in the night; when I can hear the angels once again whom you address by name.

When was the last time you heard me laugh out loud, and smile as if it was from inside, where disbelief and faithlessness and meaningless and the nothing that is heaven to me echo back the laughter at me, mirror mocked in quiet slaughter?

Who is laughing now, I wonder? Brian Jones, John Coltrane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Ian Curtis, Darby Crash, or Kurt Cobain?

When we can’t make each other laugh, I said, we’ll know that there is nothing left.

HOMESPUN BEGINS TO SING, SOFTLY, AND AS HE DOES, THE GHOST OF HUGO MONTENEGRO WALKS SILENTLY ONSTAGE FROM THE WINGS, BATON HELD GENTLY IN HAND. FROM OUT OF NOWHERE, OR PERHAPS FROM AN EIGHT-TRACK QUADRAPHONIC STEREO TAPE PLAYER MANUFACTURED BY THE PANASONIC CORPORATION OF JAPAN AND SOLD UNDER THE J. C. PENNEY LABEL COMPLETE WITH MULTI-DIRECTIONAL JOYSTICK BALANCE CONTROL KNOB AND TWO-WAY CROSSOVER SPEAKERS FOR THE ULTIMATE IN CHEESY SURROUND-SOUND ‘HONEY – IT’S JUST LIKE ALL 1001 STRINGS ARE RIGHT IN THE ROOM WITH US’ TOTALLY VIBRAPHONIC 1970’S FEEL-GOOD ACOUSTIC BAFFLED SYSTEM LOCATED IN THE LABYRINTH OF THE GREEN ROOM AREA, THE SOUND OF A STRINGED ORCHESTRA SEEPS THROUGH THE THICK, ROTTED, DARK MAROON CURTAINS TO ACCOMPANY THE PLAINTIVE YET MELODIOUS SONG-STYLINGS PRESENTED BY HOMESPUN MASQUERADE, LOCAL BOY MADE GOOD, A CELEBRITY IN A TOWN THAT ONCE DENIED HIM HIS BIRTHRIGHT, TAUGHT HIM THE MEANING OF THE WORD OSTRACIZE, AND MADE HIM CONSIDER SUICIDE ON A DAILY BASIS UNTIL THE AGE OF FOURTEEN. HE SINGS:

HOMES:
echo back the laughter at me
mirror mocked in quiet slaughter
where i wait with armor wielded
silent in the mirthless linger
echo back the laughter at me
anguish locked in meek enjoyment
where i watch with eyes that cannot dry
alone inside the clown that hides here
echo back the laughter at me
trigger cocked in quick decision
where i wait in soundless freedom
far beyond the bullet’s crying

Gravity wipes a tear from his eye, then looks at the two sailors and says, “So I was sitting around today not doing anything much just planning a wedding that’s a month away and answering the phones for a major construction company because we fired the receptionist and planning for the whole computer system to be down for a day and firing memos like useless salvos in the napalm darkness and wondering if the color red was Communist and thinking about the last days of Socrates and suddenly it came to me like a flash but not like the comic book character or lightning or some pervert on the red line from Braintree to Alewife with a stop in Harvard Square in the middle and then I lost it completely almost like I never had it and the bird in the hand became a broiled chicken sandwich and the bird in the bush became a Bush in the White House and George and Bill Clinton were arguing over which is the funkier saxophone the tenor or the alto and i wanted to say something about Yardbird Parker but Parker Stevenson and Adlai Stevenson and Robert Lewis Stevenson and Parker Lewis were making ridiculous career-damaging cameo appearances in the electric void, and suddenly there’s Juliette Lewis saying, ‘Early, Early, no it’s not like you,’ and then in that instant I understood white trash and recycling and blue and white glass and corrugated paper versus newsprint and so I called up a Japanese friend of mine whose father was a Samurai that died from a paper cut just like Miyamoto Musashi when the lights went out and you and I and Moses were like everybody else parting the red Caesar Salad days with Michaelangelo in the cistern chapped lips like nobody’s Suzy Creamcheese mumbling about insufficient light and overzealous cardinal sinners and the Anti-Christ, oh yes, brothers and sisters, the big Anti-Cahuna, the seventh marker in the Arabic numeral system (well, sixth, until the Phoenicians invented the Zero but they never flew them like the Japanese) and this seventh son of a seventh son of a bitch said something that just blew my mind like a twelve gauge running on HO scale track marks that rubbed instead of scratched are soothed and not infected and somewhere on the viral spirographic violence and adult sit-com scale of 1 to 10 she’s up there with Bo Derek flirting with the children of the corn rows and rows of mindless, faceless automatons who keep asking “what’s it all about, Alfie?” and giving Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder hand signals and passing the baton and the buck and the open windows and like the cannibal who passed his brother in the jungle I am wondering where the bullshit ends and the bull begins and taking the tiger by the tail-light from a distant fire when you see the whites of their eyes and its all crazier than a loon and happier than a pig in shit or a clam in corn meal and if as my grandfather used to say can’t died in the poorhouse then Music is lowering its standard color chart to read the aura you listening to a word that was once with God but then realized the language barrier and babbled like a Brook Shielding itself against the onslaught of civilization and I’m thinking this whole time I’ve got a wedding to plan and there’s nothing like a little confusion and disorder to really put your organized little life in perspective and perhaps it’s a little late now to take back all the nasty awful things I ever said about Aristotle but if he could keep it together putting all those things in nice little boxes then Mister, he’s a better man than I, even though he’s dead and probably set back the progress of science through the wonderful world of Christianity at least a couple of hundred years and meanwhile, back at the ranch, Honeylamb and I are dressing for the feast, dressing the turkeys we’re bringing in, dressing the wound and somehow the tourniquet of life is slipping a little and we’re losing the blood of the laminated cue card place holder bun warming retrofit septic tankard and wow, it’s about time this little diatribe wound itself into little brown ball and found itself a little soul sister from over there for itself, as James Brown said live at the Apollo in 1967 when I was two and all I had was a brother who wasn’t any fun because he couldn’t even talk yet and it was far too early to realize that even though everybody’s full of shit and turns to shit and walks and talks it like they don’t believe they are it doesn’t matter because in the end, in the end, you know, there’s only love and the consequences of that which make for some pretty beautiful moments at the edge of the toilet bowl when you’re full of yourself and life and last night’s homecooked meal and wondering if the whole thing is a good idea and saying, well, it might not be a good idea, but it feels good, it is good, and it’s really the only worthwhile idea you’ve had in your whole life that you feel with your entire soul, heart, mind and spirit and never mind the neo-ancient philosophy lesson, but go with it, man, and be happy be happy be happy because just like life beats the alternative there’s nothing you can’t do if you think you can do it and wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could wake up and not consciously have to remember that?

SAILOR: Hey, Bud, let’s go cry ourselves to sleep, shall we?

SAILOR: Yeah, look at me: I’m feeling pretty misty, myself. Goodnight, Gravity.

GRAVITY: Don’t worry, boys, I’ll be here when you wake up. Look on the bright side: you could be at sea.

LIGHTS FADE TO BLACK. HOUSE LIGHTS COME UP. THE SMELL OF JUNK FOOD AND ALCOHOL PULLS THE PATRONS FROM THEIR SEATS AND THEY SWARM THE CONCESSION STANDS LIKE LEMMINGS.

07 JUL 1994

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