I’d better be a poet or lay down dead.
— Jack Kerouac
The bear trap was still firmly attached to the back of Wendt’s head. Pain throbbed down either side and in the hollow at the back of his neck, radiating icy shocks across his shoulders, the steel teeth tearing holes into the top of his skull. Even his eyeballs hurt. Not the typical penalty for over-imbibing, it had come out of nowhere the day before. No matter how he twisted or rotated or stretched did the discomfort loosen its grip.
He rolled over under the blanket listening to the familiar is-it-Monday-already-get-Samantha-off-to-school scramble with slamming doors and running footsteps as well as Angela’s loud whispered demands for quiet. After his shower, he dressed and ambled down to the empty kitchen for coffee.
Angela had overslept. The coffee wasn’t made. He was looking for the coffee filters when he saw the note on the whiteboard tacked to the refrigerator door. He had thrown the plastic tray from his frozen dinner in the garbage, not the recycling Angela hated to remind him. Again. It was easier to go out for coffee than upset the delicate ecological balance of Angie’s kitchen.
Moisture edged his bedroom window and Wendt craned his neck for a look at the sky. A gray presence hung over the distant line of cypress like a lead quilt and told him nothing. The daily had predicted a late season shower. No way to tell if it had come or gone. He came back down the stairs adjusting his shoulders into the three quarter-length leather jacket. The inside left pocket yielded a long forgotten cigarette. He patted his pants pocket to feel the presence of his keys and the thumb drive.
The streets dark and wet and the wheels of passing cars speaking a sound like slick. A getting-ready-to-rain-again grey gloom hunched his shoulders and turned up his collar. Gusts blew drops against his back.
At the Korean doughnut shop Wendt bought his usual cruller and coffee with the change left over from the twenty he had borrowed from Mac. The yellow crime scene tape had been taken down and an elderly Asian woman was washing the spray of blood off the wall. The daily had made it out to be a gang killing. The cruller tasted of fish oil, the coffee, barely that, too. Wendt didn’t recognize a single face behind the counter. Apparently there had been a changing of the guard. And they were cutting costs.
Wendt strode across Geary at Ninth and headed for the library to check his email. Angela used to let him use her computer until she discovered that he’d been surfing porn. Now he had to queue up like the rest of the unemployed, homeless and ne’er-do-wells. Usually there was nothing but self-serving drivel, junk and announcements. Once in a while a note from people he hadn’t heard from in years and couldn’t understand why, unless they owed him money, he should care. And it was never that. Other times there was nothing. And that left him feeling vaguely disappointed.
A security guard was talking to a homeless man who had a filthy green army blanket draped over one shoulder and looked like he had just awakened from a twelve thousand year sleep. As Wendt pulled open the plate glass door, he recognized the man. He was known as Shitter Magee and perpetually surrounded by an aura of his own stench which lent the truth to his name. He was the regent of reek. The guard looked as if he were holding his breath and at the same time keeping Magee from entering. It used to be that you just had to be quiet in the library. To that was added, your personal olfactory offensiveness couldn’t be loud enough to wake the dead.
Staff librarian Coralene Purlee greeted him with a curt formality. He returned her greeting with a nod. She was a short robust black woman in her mid fifties who always dressed in a brown pants suit accessorized with a gold pin above her name tag. The pin depicted a mule.
The new staff librarian’s little gold name tag simply read Lydia S. Wendt always attempted friendly small talk but Lydia, hair dyed orange or green or blue or jet black or any combination of those colors, greeted attempts at personal interaction with a glower. Her black lipstick matched her attire and the double lip piercings gave her a bruised pained pout complimenting the nose ring, the eyebrow piercings and the Chinese ideogram tattooed on her neck. Wendt had made the mistake of asking her if it really meant “cut here.”
When Wendt rounded the corner into the computer alcove, he noticed that there was a line waiting for the next available terminal even though one of the spaces was unoccupied. He made a beeline for it and then stopped short as he reached the empty chair. There was a reason no one was sitting there. The stench of sewer suggested that Shitter Magee had recently checked his email.
After leafing through a well thumbed back issue of Art In America and being reminded once again that the bar for the art of bullshit among bullshit artists was constantly being lowered to accommodate all the bullshit art, Wendt took a cubicle vacated by a heavily made up young Latina dressed in a fashionable skirt, blouse and jacket — a job seeker from the serious expression of her rouged high cheekbones. Some of her personal scent lingered and distracted him momentarily as he tried to bring to mind the password to his account.
There appeared to be over a week’s worth of email. He deleted the penis enlargement come-ons and on-line drug pitches. That left a dozen or so legit messages, about half of them announcements of up-coming literary events. He zapped the four that were either out of the area or for writers he’d never heard of or didn’t want to hear of. Two of the readings looked like they might attract a good crowd, one later in the week. He noted it on an index card he retrieved from his inside jacket pocket.
Then the announcement for the North Bay Writers Conference. He’d been a guest panelist for the last three years, thanks to his old friend and wino, Steve Merna, who taught in the English Department at the State college up in wine country. He scrolled through the names on the announcement twice before realizing that he was not listed, not on any of the panels as he had been in years previous or as one of the celebrity readers. He flinched. Their generous honorarium usually got him through the lean summer months.
He didn’t remember having given Mac his email address but there was a thank you note that expressed the hope that they would meet again soon and in the not too distant future. He was almost certain he hadn’t given it to her. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He did have to admit that she had a way with acrobatics that had been uplifting.
Dick Granahan’s post had been sent to undisclosed recipients. He greeted all his friends and invited them to check out his blog at the provided url. Wendt was fond of ‘Grannyhand,’ but he didn’t have time for no stinking blogs.
A long convoluted email from Ron Fellowes of PS Press in Portland that sounded very hyper and depressed at the same time demanded his attention. Yes, they were going to publish his book but there had been some unforeseen delays. And it was possible that his former business partner, Derek Muller, would no longer be associated with the project or the press for that matter. Hence the publication date of Hip Gnosis would have to be pushed back to the spring of the following year. The abject apologies were almost too painful to read. So far it was not shaping up to be an incredibly positive morning.
He opened the one from somebody Russell with suspicion. The first sentence reminded him. Russell Kennston, the kid professor from City College, sounding him out about an in-class talk to his group of advanced writing students. Wendt shuddered. Then he got over it. There was a small discretionary budget from which he could draw a fee, the kid explained. Wendt replied that they should meet for lunch soon. He’d have to hammer out the details, make sure to ascertain the amount budgeted for speakers and adjust his fee accordingly. If nothing else, it meant a free lunch and drinks.
Wendt heard his name in Spanish as he was about to step off the curb. It was the driver of the library maintenance van coming out of the service access waiting to turn into traffic. The driver’s side window was open and a hairy arm with a big gold wristwatch beckoned him. He recognized Ricardo Rosario, one of El Salvador’s leading poets. He was a stubby man with long sideburns, an angular nose and bushy eyebrows.
They exchanged names in their own languages. “Ricky.”
Rosario may have been have been a literary luminary in his homeland, but in the city he worked as a janitor for the public library. “At least I am near books,” he’d once consoled himself to Wendt. He had come to the States on the chance that because of his stature as a respected Latin American author he might find employment in one of the many fine universities or state colleges. He did have a PhD in European Studies from the University of San Salvador after all. Perhaps it was his affiliation with certain leftist groups through colleagues and old girl friends that made his acquiring a visa difficult. And his public excoriation of those who had murdered Dalton made it all but impossible for him to return to his native land. He’d been forced to adopt the identity and social security number of one Paul Hernandez, born in Lodi, and worked full time cleaning up after book worms.
“I thought you worked out of the Mission branch.”
“Si. The guy who work here call in sick so I got to come over and clean up the mess.”
“One guess. Shitter Magee.”
“I don’t know why they let a guy like that in the library in the first place. The temple of the word. This guy come in and evacuate his bowels like he was in a stall.”
“Well, it’s a public place and he’s part of the public.”
“He should not be allowed to do his private in a public place. It’s like taking a crap in church.” Rosario swore at the traffic backed up at the light and blocking his access to the street.
“You heading back to the branch?”
“Yeah, need a lift?”
“I could, down to Fourteenth, Taqueria Catorce.”
Rosario looked over his shoulder. “We’re not supposed to give rides except for library business. But you have books in the library, right?”
“Last time I looked.”
“You’re one of our authors! That’s library business!”
Wendt belted himself in. About then a lane opened up and Rosario nosed the van into traffic. They exchanged the usual pleasantries of jaded men of the world, accomplished literary figures that they were. The weather then bits of gossip, distractedly.
Wendt brought up his coming eviction and asked Carlos to keep an eye out for a cheap apartment in his Glen Park neighborhood. Rosario replied that he would be glad to put Wendt up until he found something permanent except that his wife’s cousin had just come up from El Salvador and was staying with them. Her and her three kids. Wendt thanked Rosario for the offer and then lapsed into an embarrassed silence that included trying to figure out what to do with his hands.
“You got a cigarette, Ricky?”
“No, I quit, oh, about three months ago.” He rapped the dashboard with a knuckle. “So far, so good.”
“Yeah, I’m trying to quit, too,” Wendt said as he pulled the visor in front of him down, just on the off chance. A half empty pack of Chesterfields fell into his lap. Who smoked Chesterfields anymore? Where could you even buy Chesterfields anymore?
“These yours?” Wendt held up the pack and fixed Ricky with a sidelong glance.
Rosario didn’t blink. “No, not mine, Carlos. Must be that cabron on the night shift. something. . .Barragán, I don’t know, some unpronounceable Mick name.”
“Think he’d mind if I took one?”
Rosario shrugged as he turned from the left lane on a yellow. “I don’t care. Take them all. Fuck him.”
“I’ll just take one,” Wendt said as he slipped two into his jacket pocket.
Next Time: Wendt meets up with his editor and they talk baseball after which he heads over to his favorite Irish pub where the bartender informs him of the death of yet another poet. To review what has transpired so far, click The Complete DAY or reference one of the ten DAY episodes listed in the sidebar.