“I’d better be a poet or lay down dead”
Meagan crossed the large well appointed reception room of her swank condo on the Bay side of Divisadero and hugged him. “Reggie Meyer is here tonight. Don’t make any trouble, ok?” She gave him an extra squeeze to show him she meant it.
Wendt always envisioned Meagan Twohy in an extravagantly large witch’s hat that fit on her head like a big shadow. In actuality she was a slight woman with the short cropped coif of a recovering cancer patient.
“Hey, I come as a man of peace.” He was a little flush from climbing heart attack hill after having consumed a goodly amount of beer with Cleve and Ronnie not to mention that because of these circumstances he had to peace like a race horse.
Meagan raised a skeptical eyebrow and flashed a smile that was a credit to her orthodontist. “Well, pull yourself together. Piece by piece.”
Wendt could see loose knots of guests through the wide wall of glass out to the terrace. Smokers, most likely. That would be his next stop. He fixed with a stare a congregation of society swells who smiled back rigidly in self defense and then parted to allow him access to the guest lavatory. Glancing over his shoulder as he opened the door, he caught what looked like the hair crater at the back of Reg’s head across the room. He had buttoned-holed someone and was giving them whatfor. Mitch Tjantor?
The collection of scented soaps Meagan kept in large glass bowls as decoration always held an odd fascination for him. Bringing them to his nose and sampling their distinct scent gave him a childlike pleasure. It was the kind of collection one might find in the bathroom of a spinster aunt.
Wendt let go with a stream that hummed like a guy wire in a high wind, a low moaning oscillation. It only lasted until the pressure on his bladder became bearable. Then he relaxed. No prostate problems if that was any indication.
He passed his comb through the few stiff locks that had become undone in the gusty breeze on his way over. He might have been thirteen the last time he left home without a comb. And then he ran water over the tips of his fingers much in the way Pilate had once done and was now repeated countless times in solemn ritual throughout the world, a kind of symbolic ablution. Forgive me for the sins I’m about to commit. Wendt always tried to look on the bright side. He flushed almost as an afterthought.
Meagan Twohy’s Tuesday evening salons reminded him of a scene from Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers: the shabby literary vampires, an assorted collection of greyheads and graybeards, the usual freeloaders, the pretentious tenured academics, the odd intellectuals even when there were an even number, the well-off and bored friends of Meagan’s who considered these evenings as missionary work among the artistically challenging. There didn’t appear to be anyone under forty with maybe the exception of the house boy tending the buffet, a lanky swish Latino. He recognized Lai Pechart, Yvette Van Etee, Deana Ferg, poor Sandra Whistlehunt, Kenneth Leotarda, Alfredia Lobur, Helen Harris, and Peggy Kiritani.
He had to squeeze past a clot of intense conversation on his way to the terrace where no doubt someone would offer him a smoke. He almost bumped knees with Darcy D’Arco, poetry dowager, and confidante of Kenneth Rexroth in her younger days. She always sat in the chair by the sliding door in the large wall of glass, in the traffic lane, to avail herself of the opportunity to speak to everyone who passed by, keeping herself, even at her advanced age, in the flow but seated as if at a bus stop waiting for that long overdue bus, death. He couldn’t see how her hair could get any whiter, but it always seemed like it did. She grabbed him by the sleeve and he looked down at her mottled, badly powdered, droopy eyed face.
“I saw Sierra’s show at the Hanford. She’s really outdone herself this time.” She always said that. It had been years since that show.
Wendt made a sour face. “Who?”
“Sierra North? Your ex-wife?”
“My ex-wife’s name is Sheila Norburg.”
Darcy made a disparaging sound by blowing air through her heavily rouged lips and dismissed him with a wave of her hand. “You always say that.”
The air outside met him with a brisk slap, typical for an early evening in late March. It was perfumed by the aroma of burning tobacco. Charles St Charles smoked. He would have never guessed. Right about then a pair of sweater sleeves wrapped themselves around his neck and a boozy breath preceded the wet peck on his cheek.
“Dottie, you’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“That’s clever, Carl. Clever Carl, that’s what I’ll call you.”
“Where’s the tin man?” Wherever Dottie was, Lynel would be. Dotty and Lynel were a team, a poetry husband and wife. Dorothy Krandell was by far the better poet but Lynel Pauk was a better bullshitter hence he was the one with the teaching position. That was how they had met, in a workshop Lynel had taught at Iowa.
“He’s over there with the saint who ain’t.”
Wendt glanced in the direction she indicated and saw that Lynel Pauk, in his usual black leather motorcycle jacket, was pocketing something that Charles St Charles had just handed him. Wendt knew the move quite well and it looked as though Dottie and Lynel were hustling, though some would call it begging, on his turf. It was not like there was anything he could do about it. It was a form of financial networking in which something, however insubstantial, a mention in an interview, a poem in dedication, a positive appraisal, a book review, a favorable portrayal in a memoir would be assumed in return. That was the way Wendt worked it and undoubtedly so did Lynel and Dottie.
“We were doing readings in Seattle and Portland and decided to come down to Frisco to visit friends and maybe hustle up a reading at State. Lynel had a meeting with Larry about a book.” She shrugged, wearily. “And he’s thinking about going after Stoddard Leary’s position at New Arts.”
“What happened to Kansas?” Wendt was really wondering what was going on with Stoddard Leary and why his job was all of a sudden fair game.
“Things in Lawrence are going to shit. There was a blood bath in the English department. Ly was lucky to escape with minor flesh wounds. There’s a real conservative cast being ushered in by the new department head at the University. And there’s something about Ly not jumping through the requisite number of hoops or something fishy with his resume, that he may have exaggerated a little. . . .”
“Not Lynel!” Wendt exclaimed in mock shock.
“Funny, Carl, I think I’ll call you funny clever Carl. By the way, Ly would like it if you could hook him up with Dorian Pillsbury. You know, just an introduction. Ly will take care of the rest.”
Dottie steered him over to where Lynel, Charles, and Jim Wagstaff, the editor of Anorexia, the minimalist poetry magazine, were gathered. It was one of those rare moments when he was in a crowd of four smokers and everyone offered him a cigarette. He took them all.
Charles St Charles had a week’s residency at Mills College in Oakland, something it was obvious that Lynel wanted to get his hooks into even though Wagstaff, who had some connection or knowledge of the program, thought that Dottie would be a perfect candidate for a residency since it was a woman’s school not realizing that the head of the department at Mills, Gretchen Oldham, absolutely detested Dottie and consequently her work. Or so it seemed. Maybe it was a failed lesbian romance. Gretchen had been in Iowa at the same time as Dottie. And by association, Lynel’s chance was that of a hen in a foxhouse. When everyone’s attention turned to Wendt as a potential candidate, he merely shrugged and cited the fact that he never crossed the Bay unless it was a dire emergency, and a week’s residency didn’t meet the requirement. Besides he’d had his run in with Gretchen as well. Wendt had noticed her when he came in. She was the tall blond with the frozen smile.
It was also apparent that St Charles was going to have to sing for his supper. Meagan had arranged for him to give a little impromptu talk to the assembled. She introduced him by citing his reputation and his published works, Replay Reply and Chromosome Ozone as well as his latest, Ion Eon, and the forthcoming, Or Oar. Wendt found a plate at the buffet table, arranging it with chicken wings, a small wedge of brie and a stack of crackers, and stationed himself close to the exit. That way if he left early it wouldn’t be so obvious. From where he was standing, though, it appeared as if a glitch was developing.
Reg Meyer had confronted Meagan with his rage mask which consisted of bug eyes, flared nostrils and a display of really ugly gritted teeth. It soon became evident what his problem was because he shouted “Either he goes or I go!” Then Reg strode over like a cocky little Napoleon and showed Carl his rage mask. Carl had seen it before. And he’d heard it before.
“Fuck you, Wendt! Fuck you!” Spittle flecked the corners of Reg’s mouth. His cheeks were taut, colored by the mauve of wrath. “I hate you! If I had a gun I’d shoot you!”
Wendt blinked, once, slowly. “Jeez, Reg, I’m just starting to get something to eat. Get over it.”
That was the wrong thing to say. When Reg tried to repeat it, he gagged on the words. “Get. Get. Over it! Getoverit?” He actually appeared to be hopping in anger. Reg screamed. “You fucking whore!”
Wendt pointed at him with a partially gnawed chicken wing and said to those in his vicinity, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
Mitchell Tjantor, who was nearby, stepped up to intercede. “Reg, Reg, calm down, calm down.” That was his mistake.
Like a spavined pit bull, Reg turned on the mediocre Samaritan. “Mind your own fucking business, Tjantor, and don’t tell me to calm down. Do you want to know what this fucking whore of a motherfucker did? Do you really want to hear what this sonofabitch did?”
Tjantor had the good sense not to answer. Wendt stared glumly at the plate of food in his hand.
“I know how to hurt you. You’ll see how it feels to get fucked over. The new managing editor at the weekly is a good friend of mine. When I get through talking to him, he’ll drop that joke you call a column like a bad habit. In the trash, like you, where it belongs!” Reg, pleased that his rage had coughed up some self-righteous bile, appeared to relax. He didn’t expect what happened next.
Wendt pulled him up by the front of his shirt and brought his face close to his. The gesture was aggressive, the words, ambiguous, as had often been noted of Wendt’s poetry. “Don’t make me love you.”
Wendt stubbed the cigarette and contemplated the slog back to Balboa. It had been a long day, not to mention the headache. A group of people were descending the stairs from Meagan’s apartment as he ambled away. Meagan had taken him aside after he had let go of Reg and hustled him to the door. The problem was that because Reg happened to be St Charles’ chauffer while he was in town, Carl would have to be the one to leave. She had slipped him a twenty. He hadn’t seen anyone that he could put a fresh touch to, anyway. Except Cicella Lacrayone, and there were always strings attached. He didn’t like strings.
A car remotely unlocked with the double honk of a horn behind him. He turned to catch a skinny brunette in a short spiky do and glasses, keys in hand, beam him a big smile.
“Hey Carl!” the familiar voice called out.
“Right, Jeanne! Were you at Meagan’s? I didn’t see you.”
“I was with the unimportant people. I saw you though. That was quite a scene. Apparently Reg Meyer doesn’t like you.”
“Something like that. Squirrely little bastard, he’ll get his someday.” Wendt said it with a chuckle.
“You still over on Balboa?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’m still on Balboa.” Wendt considered recounting his soon-to-be homeless plight but thought it a little early to play the pity card.
“I’m headed that way. Get in, I’ll give you a ride. I assume you’re still not driving.”
“I could never afford a car.”
On the way over to Balboa, Jeanne caught Carl up. When they’d first met, he had been doing grad work at State. She, at the time an undergrad, was one of Granahan’s students. Her first novel, the one she wrote in graduate school, got picked up by Holt. But sales were disappointing and her second novel languished with her agent who was now her ex-agent. Then she met Ted at an MLA convention and he had a teaching job and she got pregnant and they married. She went into a real funk after the baby was born. She thought she’d never write again. A few years ago she’d heard from her old editor at Holt who wanted to include some of her short fiction in an anthology of stories by women who had recently given birth. The work was from long before she married and had a child but that didn’t seem to make a difference. Reworking the stories got her back into writing and now she had started on another novel, about the politics in women’s writing circles. She’d attended the evening at Meagan’s salon to be reminded of what the literary scene was like. She’d gotten more than she had bargained for.
They were doubled parked in front of his place. She asked after Granahan. Wendt told her that he didn’t have long, but he seemed to be handling it as best as could be expected. She informed him that Stella Warzog, the former English department chair at State, had passed away recently.
Wendt chuckled, remembering. “Helen Wheels we used to call her. Well, the afterlife won’t be the same when she’s done with it.” Jeanne laughed easily, enough to prompt him.
“There’s often an open parking spot around the corner on Funston. You can park there and come up and listen to some music. It’d be like old times.”
Jeanne gave a lusty confident chuckle. “Do you realize that I cannot hear a Coltrane tune without thinking of you.”
“All the more reason to come up.” He might have sounded a bit too hopeful.
She put her hand firmly on his knee and the hand that had started to wander. “Thanks for the thought, Carl, and no reflection on Coltrane, but I’ll pass.”
Wendt got under the covers and turned out the light. He had a pleasant but vague memory of Jeanne and their rather short but passionate fling though he was having difficulty bringing the particulars into focus. That would be necessary if he were going to have sex with his long time only true love. Burp the gecko.
Next Time: Waiting to meet up with the young documentarian, Jim Shue, at The Red Hen, Wendt savors the first beer of Wednesday. To review what has transpired so far, reference the episodes listed in the sidebar, or click The Complete DAY to read the pdf file.