“I’d better be a poet or lay down dead.”
— Jack Kerouac
On the three block walk to the taqueria, Wendt lit up and after a few puffs came to the conclusion that perhaps he should donate the remaining cigarette to the Smithsonian. It was that stale. He spat the taste. He needed to quit. He wasn’t a track star from Mineola Prep anymore.
Taqueria Catorce was a run-of-the-mill taco joint, a narrow shotgun space with chairs and tables along the walls on either side of the path to the counter. But it was there that the illusion ended as the space doglegged to a larger open area outfitted with three back-to-back booths. Charlie Reyes sat at the far booth staring at the screen of a laptop with a serious expression. A black man of Cuban and Puerto Rican ancestry, he was copy editor for the weekly. The newspaper’s offices were on the floor above the restaurant. Every Monday Wendt met him here for lunch. Upon the completion of which Wendt would turn over his week’s column that he had copied onto the memory stick on his key ring. Charlie would then load the file onto his laptop. For that exchange, he accepted a cash payment.
“Why so glum?”
Charlie looked up and gave Wendt a toothy greeting. He still sported a big disco mustache and sideburns, the half fro fitting like a fuzzy helmet on an almost perfect bowling ball head. “Aw, I’m not happy with the Giants’ pitching staff this year.”
“You’re not happy?! There are people being paid really big money to be unhappy about the Giants’ pitching game and here you are doing it for free!”
Charlie leaned back against the padded green cushion of the booth with an appreciative chuckle. He had known Wendt for half a dozen years, almost as long as he’d been with the weekly. It was Wendt who had introduced him to Clarissa. Wendt had officiated at their wedding. It was because of Wendt that he was the father of Jolie and Jade, the twins. Clarissa had drawn the line at making Carl godparent.
“I love baseball. It’s a great experience. I feel comforted just looking at a baseball diamond. It is for me typical of the formalized, unchanging stages on which a variety of chance human and spatial relationships can occur.”
“Just another name for the waiting game, a way to kill time.”
“Not a fan?”
“You know I’m not religious.”
“It’s baseball, Carl.”
“No, it’s a religion, an aimless religion. It has annual rites, collective hysteria. That alone qualifies it as a religion.”
A young girl with surly dark eyes dropped a plastic basket of tortilla chips between them along with two plastic cruets of red and green salsa.
“Baseball is a very subtle game, mathematical, but there’s poetry to it, a kind of spontaneous logic.”
“As any ritual should. It’s essentially an agon, a celebratory contest following high solemn rites. Only problem is that the solemn rites have been removed from the picture, unless you consider tailgate parties solemn rites, and so now you have an aimless contest that has more than just a few homoerotic overtones.”
“Ok, what are you talking about, homoerotic?”
“Well you have a bunch of young muscular guys running around in tight revealing outfits. They have a bat. They have balls. When they hit the ball with the bat, they explode into a run. And whether it is hit over the fence or another guy in tight fitting clothes catches it with a big leather contraption that could be an anus or a vagina, the spectators have a kind of mutual orgasm.”
“Ok, ok, I think I’ve heard this before, a comedy routine, right? George whatsisname, the funny hippy guy?”
“I don’t know, Charlie, maybe. I mean anybody with eyes can see what’s going on.”
“You’re saying it’s what, sex?”
“Of course it’s sex. No one wants to admit it though. Look, you get these highly paid prostitutes to prance around in a grassy meadow. It has a particular kind of titillation, will he or won’t he hit the ball, will he strike him out, walk him? And what’s with four balls? Who has four balls? Two guys, that’s who.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. . . .”
“If it’s gonna be about sex why not be up front about it. I mean, what’s the incentive to actually play the game as a real life and death contest? These guys are paid the big bucks to essentially go through the motions. So what if they lose. They still get paid. Why not make the consequences more interesting? Like the losing team has to forfeit something, something meaningful, their wives or their cars or their kids. Better yet, the losing team would draw straws and the one with the short straw would be killed. Ritually, of course.”
“Kinda like the Aztecs. Or gladiators.”
“Now that would be a contest with consequence. And if you knew someone was going to be killed, you would bring a certain solemnity to your attendance and you would be prepared to be impressed by the real rather than the make-believe.”
“That’s kinda bloody, even for you, Carl.”
“You’re right. The winning team should be allowed to pick through the stands and fuck anybody they want. Big conjugal tents would be brought out after the game and people would be chosen by their ticket number and brought down to the field to have sex with the champions.”
“But the ticket holders could be women or men.”
“That’s a problem for you?”
“Well, no, though I could see attendance at games going way down. I mean who’s gonna want to be fucked by the opposing team.”
“Charlie, you’ve been a Giants fan too long. The home team could win. Think of the honor conferred on you at being fucked by the hometown champs. And when you lose to the visiting team, you’re being fucked by them anyway so why not be real about it?”
“Draw it mild, tarbender.” Wendt always spent the remainder of the afternoon, after his big Mexican lunch with Charlie, at Ben and Eileen’s place off of Eighteenth. It served the dark as dirt old sod stout. He had been coming to Dover’s Gentlemen’s Club almost from the day he arrived from the East Coast.
Apparently Beanie, as they were called collectively, were spending more and more of their time at Club D’Oeuvre, their new enterprise in Trieste,. That’s what the pardender said setting the roiling column of primeval brew, cream head a good two inches absolutely radiant with an beige inner light, between them.
“They’re setting the kid, Archibold, up with the business. And it’s close to the Dalmatian Riviera where they like to winter.”
“Yeah, family name, on the mother’s side.”
“No kidding. They call him ‘Arichibold’?”
“Naw, Boldie, or just Bold. He likes that.”
“So. Bold Dover?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
Wendt quaffed just enough to savor the earthy flavor resident in the foam.
“Did you hear?” Pat asked, one foot on the side of the metal sink where the washed glasses sat. “Grady O’Grady killed himself last week.”
Wendt looked up surprised, distracted from his veneration of the holy quaff. “Grady who?”
“You know, Grady O’Grady, the Irish poet. He’s famous.”
“No, I don’t think I’ve heard of him.”
“Whaddya mean, you never heard of him? Aren’t you’re a poet?! Why don’t you know him? Hell, it’s O’Grady, man!”
Wendt shook his head. “No. I’m drawing a blank. Nothing even close. O’Grady, you say?”
“Oh for fucking Christ! Fucking O’Grady, Grady O’Grady!” Pat pointed at him with the mashed matchstick he took from his mouth.
“And his last name is the same as his first name?”
“Yeah, Grady, son of Grady. What’s the big fucking deal?”
“Nothing. I just met a guy, also a poet, whose first name is the same as his last. Charles St. Charles. There’s something sinister about that kind of symmetry.”
“What, you have something against Irish poets?”
“No, no, not at all. I really love Yeats, and well, Brendan Behan, of course.” Wendt’s mind went blank, distracted. Each of the little expiring bubbles in the foam seemed to be calling his name. He could mention Seamus, but, as Bette Midler once said, why bother. Now he couldn’t remember any other names. “James Joyce!” he blurted.
“He’s not a poet.”
“He writes like one.”
“Beckett. And ok, how about Flann O’Brien?”
“Ah, yes, a distant relative you might say.”
“I didn’t know you were an O’Brien.”
“I’m not,” Pat emphasized with the curl of his lip. “Flann O’Brien’s real name is Brian O’Nolan.”
“I did not know that,” Wendt said trying to sound interested. “So you’re related to a literary celebrity. And you know me.” He savored another taste tentatively. “I’m impressed.”
“Well, and who the fuck are you? You write a column that nobody reads in a sex and drugs advertiser. You say you’re a poet. I’ve heard people say you’re a poet. But I never heard any of your poetry. Or read any.” Pat now had an elbow on the bar and leaned his head forward as if it were the prow of his attack.
Wendt took a long and considered drink letting the bitters wash around his gums and then like ambrosia slide down his gullet. “Hey, no offense meant. Sorry to hear of it in any event.””
“And a young man at that, in his forties.” Pat wiped his hands on his apron as if it were an act of contrition. “A tragedy, in fact. And just having won the Louis Oxford award for his book of poems, Atlas Stumbled. Gas,” he admitted after a pause.
Foam ringed the glass half way down and Wendt knew that he would soon require another. “Ireland?”
Pat nodded as if he were saying yes. “Boston.”
Wendt drained his pint and nodded back as if in agreement.
The bartender drew another, mild. “There’s some corned beef and cabbage left over from the St Pat’s celebration if you’re interested.”
Wendt shrugged as he drew the brew toward him. “Yeah, maybe later.”
“Well, make up your mind, otherwise I’m throwing it out.”
The real working class started drifting in around five. Wendt had just returned from draining the lizard, considering another pint. He waited for the bartender to finish his conversation with a tweedy unshaven old gent leaning on the bar in a lopsided stance.
“I hate it when St. Paddy’s day falls on a Thursday,” the old man was saying, pulling crumpled bills from his pocket and flattening them on the bar. “I can’t leave the house.”
“Oh? Why’s that?” Pat was nothing if not an engaging steward of the sauce and all around straight man.
“Well, I’m Irish, and I have to wear green on St. Paddy’s day.”
“Only faggots wear green on Thursday.”
Wendt reconsidered his order and waved off the bartender who had thrown an inquiring glance his way. A gaggle of young construction workers raised a shout of approval by the shuffle board table. He needed some fresh air, maybe now that Chesterfield wouldn’t taste so bad.
Next Time: Wendt has his usual Monday night dinner at his benefactor’s home overlooking the Mission District and they talk about people who have died. To review what has transpired so far, reference the episodes listed in the sidebar, or click The Complete DAY to read the pdf file.