“Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst”
—Jorge Luis Borges—
Wendt was juggling ideas for the Poetry Month feature which was now going to be a tribute to Dick Granahan’s memory as well as Val’s. Why does funeral start with ‘fun’? Interesting that a funambulist is a tightrope walker. Because it’s fun to ambulate across the abyss on a length of rope? Also someone of great mental agility. That would be Granahan. Fundus, the greater curvature of the stomach, or the earth. The pregnant belly of Gaia. His gut. But funeral, from funus, which is related to the Old Norse deyja, to die. Wouldn’t then ‘déjà vu’ mean ‘to foresee one’s own death?’
“Interesting place.” Peter Cairo, P. Cairo, as he signed himself, was a Levantine author and world traveler. He had a perfect peanut shaped head and the kohl caved eyes of the perpetually weary. He sat across the table minding his coffee.
Wendt nodded, “Ray Jay’s? Yeah, poetry bakery. Not many of them around.”
Rae Jean Oh owned Ray Jay’s where Wendt and a few other literary lights had gathered to await the ride down to Holy Cross Cemetery. Sue Prolix had driven up from LA and Cairo had flown in from New York City. They were among some of Granahan’s oldest friends. Rae Jean had been one of Dick’s students at State and had once desired to be the one to put the O in poetry. Her success was as a baker. And her establishment was a rarity, poet-friendly. She even named some of her sandwiches and pastries after poets: the Catullus, The Dryden, The O’Hara, The Berrigan, The Campion, the Homer, an epic foot long sub, and so on. Poets could also purchase pastry with original verse. They had to be recited before the entire bakery, but a clerihew, for example, was rewarded with a ginger snap.
There was a signboard with the baked goods-poetic form equivalents on the wall above the door that led to the restrooms. An alexandrine would get you an apple turnover, a ballade was equal to a bear claw or a square of baklava, a croissant for a cinquain, éclair for elegy or ode. Epigram, haiku, doggerel, limerick also merited a ginger snap. Sonnets garnered a maple bar, fudge brownie, jelly-filled donut or cinnamon roll. On the chalk board on the wall opposite was written the daily quote. That day it was I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame for whatever natural glory a man has is so much detracted from his spiritual glory. I wish to do nothing whatever. I am quite happy. Wm. Blake. Rae was closing up shop to attend the funeral. She would follow in the bakery van.
“Place in New Orleans. Cyran Oh’s. Basically the same concept. But they hold readings, too,” Cairo added.
“New-Oar-Leans. Ed Glider still around?”
“Ed passed, maybe a year or two ago. He was near ninety.”
“Old slippery Ed, finally got caught.”
Cairo didn’t like being in Frisco. Bad memories. He’d been beat up outside The Black Bird, a jazz club. All those years living in Paris, Milan, London, Madrid, New York, never anything like that. But Frisco? It shamed him even though it had all been a misunderstanding. “All I did was quote Adorno,” he’d said in his defense, to which Wendt had replied, “That alone would guarantee getting your ass deconstructed by a size thirteen.”
That had been years ago. Still Cairo held a grudge. “This town is a museum piece. At least New York City is vibrant. It actually vibrates. Alive with potential connections, like a giant brain. People come out here to be alone. It’s the end of the world, the land of sunsets, gorgeous granted, but,” he sighed, “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen then all.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t miss enwhysee where a pack of smokes costs ten bucks.”
“Nobody in New York City pays ten dollars for their cigarettes, Carl. Unless they’re tourists.”
“And I suppose you’re gonna tell me you can’t enjoy a blade of grass unless there’s a subway nearby, or a deli, which these days is almost the same thing!”
Cairo shrugged. “You’ve read Foucault, of course.”
“Of course. It’s like hitting yourself on the head with a 2×4. Only a special kind of masochist reads that stuff.” Wendt laughed at himself. “And only a special kind of sadist writes it.”
Sue Prolix was giving them a ride in her rental. She was all smiles these days with her Hollywood whites. It made her look ten years younger. As did the boob job. The first thing she did after she was awarded the Guggie was go under the knife. She never tired of calling attention to them. “I turned my mailbags into hand bags. Feel ‘em, they’re firm like, like grapefruit.”
People you never expected to see again, people you thought were dead, show up for funerals, Wendt mused. The fog had decided to remain the rest of the day, a reminder of last month’s chill March uglies. He wandered over to the stand of cypress, the de facto smoker’s zone off to the side of where a large canopy and chairs had been set up.
The memorial followed directly on the heels of the interment. Jane, always the practical one, wanted to get it done and over with as quickly as possible. Father Russo had officiated. Dick’s son, Austin, stood on one side of his mother, and Dick’s daughter, the flamboyant lesbian porn queen now calling herself M, on the other. Father Russo had declaimed the virtues of the man in the box they were going to lower into the trench. “A loving father and a caring husband,” he intoned.
“I’m afraid I’m at the wrong funeral!” Irma, at Wendt’s elbow, had whispered loud enough for those in the immediate vicinity.
Father Russo concluded the ceremony by sprinkling the coffin with holy water as it was lowered into the ground. Someone behind Wendt commented in not so much of a whisper, “That’s an awfully big seed. I think he needs to use more water.” Once that was done, Father Russo exited stage left. It was a dangerously sinful gathering.
“Good thing Dick didn’t live to see this circus, it would have killed him all over again,” Cairo said offering Wendt a smoke. “They’re Zenos. Greek cigarettes. Fine Turkish tobacco. I get them from a Montenegrin smuggler in Trieste.”
Wendt nodded, letting go with a stout shapely cloud, unlike that of anemic American brands. “Like a robust Gaulloise.”
“The first one’s free.”
The sound of a PA being tested turned their attention to the podium at the head of the canopy. The testimonials, memorials, and poems were about to begin. Bill Bright, to some Bill Dim, and to others Bill Dim-and-then-some, had a problem and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. He was effusive in an open-mouth-insert-foot kind of way. And because he had been an old friend and colleague of Granahan’s at State, Jane had asked him to officiate.
“Hello everyone, for those who don’t know me, I’m William Bright, professor emeritus at State, and a long-time colleague of the dearly departed and severely missed Richard Granahan, known to most of you as RG.” Bright’s voice broke due either to a faulty wire or a faltering emotion. “I’m sure that RG would be delighted to see you all here.”
A bewildered silence followed. Bill was presented with a dilemma. Tangle with what he had just said or keep going and ignore it as if someone had just broken wind. Because of his years of academic podium thumping and discursive bullying, and because he was a proper man, Bill would never have even considered the second option. “I mean, if he wasn’t dead.” Again, a fork in the road.
Mercifully, the cemetery was in the flight pattern for SFO, and a seven something-or-other roared over with an ear splitting screech and low enough that it seemed that any one of them might just reach up and touch the sleek aluminum skin. Certainly it was loud enough to wake the dead.
Wendt had tuned Bright out anyway, scanning the crowd for faces he knew. And not so surprising, a few who had condemned Granahan as a sex pervert now tearfully dabbing their eyes. On the other hand, they might have been tears of joy. At last the old bastard was firmly planted in the ground.
Pat Richian, an old faculty friend of Dick’s from State as well, craned his long neck to get a gander at who was where. Or maybe saving a seat for a late-comer. Kitty Columbus, a street poet who had actually stalked Granahan when he taught at NAIF, wept. Enke Phalin, the Swedish author, but he always appeared sorrowful. Long Sung Song, aka Lucy, who was married to Ryan “Sonny” Spann, the Music Dept head at NAIF. Lane Curry, the black author Wendt had gone to high school with in Indianapolis. Steven Whippoorwill, one of Carl’s profs at UI, translator of Greek, Chinese, and Hebrew, who had retired to the Castro with his long time partner, William Wonk. Or Wank. Becky Gilchrist. Alston Brown, a renowned LA poet and old friend of Dick’s, totally unknown in the Bay Area.
Nan Traybo, not a particularly good poet but exceptionally good looking and stylish so her unusually bad verse was overlooked. She’d once accused Wendt of trying to get into her pants. Wendt denied it, claiming “I was in the wrong line!” Chandra Lopez and her sad-eyed seeing eye German shepherd.
Taking up chairs in the back row or standing were various literati including Paula Stein, Sid Sherman, Sarah Zul, Ray Green, Stan Gold, Pipi Wein, Perry Stone, and the transgender performance couple, Ms. Ann Trope and Ms. Ann Dray.
Joan Dark leaned forward in her folding chair, muffling her sorrow, and what might have been a breast could have easily been mistaken for her elbow. Gonda Lear, the exotic dancer Dick had taken up with after the divorce. And a Berkeley contingent consisting of Abby Synia, Cliff Howard, and Allan Whetstone. Wendt hadn’t seen them in a while. They retained their dignified aloofness though they had grayed and shriveled considerably.
Tom Morrow. Seemed like he was at every funeral. Lon Murphy and his sycophants on the periphery, fluttering like black birds at the leavings of a carriage trail. Lon, giving and dispensing favors. From behind, it appeared as if Mitch Tjantor had bowed and kissed his ring. Who would have guessed, two weeks later he would be dead. Lon was attended by his right hand hit man, Roman Ackley. Also there to be seen, Diane McCracken and her event horizon entourage, she herself a modest energy sink in a sea of bristling egos though undoubtedly she saw herself as someone much darker and thus more influential.
The distinguished poet Alfred Jewel flanked by two young men who were probably nameless and preferred it that way. Even Ellen Van Deller, who had been keeping the English Dept chair warm with her fat ass and hot air for way too many years, had deigned to come. Could he forgive a woman with a fat ass? He liked them narrow as a pencil. He was a writer, after all.
Bill Bright had tapped him to say a few things. He’d purged the usual platitudes. Welcome to your dress rehearsal. Lame. Maybe: I hope you’re taking notes. It will be on the final. The final final. Try sincere. Ok, get back to that later. He considered talking about the last time he’d visited the old guy. Dick had weakened considerably, didn’t even have enough energy to squeeze the toothpaste tube. On the other hand, he seemed quite lucid.
“Sex is a young man’s game, an old man’s preoccupation.” He’d spoken low because the returned Filipino hospice worker, Paloma, was fussing nearby. “If I have any regrets it’s that I could have had more pussy. Not that I haven’t gone to the buffet table and buttered a muffin with genuine gluttony more than once. But at one point in your career you realize that no one wants to publish you and to make matters worse, you’re not going to get laid anymore.” He’d given Wendt that old Granahan canary eater, like he’d put something over on him. “You also come to the realization that your entire raison d’être, the reason for your being, you’ve been holding in your hand at least once a day for most of your life. And that the only time in life that you can be truly happy is when you’ve got your dick in your hand.”
“I guess you must be doubly happy, then.”
“It’s the curse of being a sperm delivery apparatus. Anything else is ancillary and happenstance.”
“Those your final words of wisdom? Gonna have that carved into your headstone?”
“If I had a choice in the matter. I had an epitaph, but Jane vetoed it. Can you believe that? After we’ve been divorced for fifteen years, she still gets to step in and say what I can or can’t have on my stone.”
“What would you have liked to have had?”
“Here I Am Where I Ain’t.”
“Um, that’s alright. I guess. How about Done Been Done Gone?”
“Has an urban cachet.”
“Or Wordless, I Am Finally Free?”
“You think? For a poet? Along that line, though, have you heard this one? For Lack Of Anything To Say, Here I Must Stay.”
“You could go with something really simple like Get Me Out Of Here!”
“How about I’ll Be Back. Vaguely Messianic as well as Terminator-ish. Don’t Look Back, I like. Orphic in nature. Appropriate for someone who’s about to be reduced to compost by worms.”
“Yeah, but kinda morose. How about You Must Be This Dead To Enter?”
“Tres noir. However I have an affection for that old chestnut, Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, what’s a sweater without a bust?”
Paloma had given Wendt the Tagalog evil eye, attracted by their giggling. She adjusted the blanket on the skin and bones of his old friend. He’d watched as she pulled the covers over the yellowed desiccated feet, cracked and chipped like those of a plaster saint.
Next Time: Wendt, asked to say a few words at Granahan’s funeral, is startled to see the female police detective among the assembled mourners. To review what has transpired so far, reference the episodes listed in the sidebar, or click The Complete DAY & WEEK to read the pdf file.