Month 3.10

Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst”
—Jorge Luis Borges


crepe de sol

“Look, before we go any further I want to ask you about Dick Granahan.  Did you turn him in?  It doesn’t really matter to him now that he’s learning to be dirt.”

“If it doesn’t matter to him, why bother?”

“I was his friend, I’m curious. Humor me. Why pick on a harmless old poet?”

“Like you said earlier, poets are only human.”

“Not necessarily all of them.”

“One thing I’ve learned in my years on the force, humans are not harmless.  They’re either harmful to themselves or to other humans, often both.”

“Ouch,” Wendt spoke to the cup he was bringing to his mouth.  It had a bitter acrid taste, the afterhours blend, strong enough to wire a house.  “Does that mean you’re not going to tell me?”

“I’ll tell you this, I didn’t drop the dime on Granahan.”  The smile was gone, the eyes, alert and intense, were no nonsense cop eyes.  “If you’re so curious, your friend had a sexual harassment complaint filed against him. Word was that the English Department tried to sweep it under the rug.  They wouldn’t get away with that today, but this was, god, how many years ago?”  She shook her head.  “I don’t know if I’m ready to go back there.”

“You enrolled in one of his classes, Advanced Poetry, if I remember correctly.  You understand I’ve heard this story from the other side. To get into Advanced Poetry at the undergraduate level you had to submit a work sample for evaluation. The poems you submitted were of superior quality.  And a sharp mind like Granahan’s would know if they were plagiarized. There’s more of that going on than you think, by the way. Plagiarism, I mean.”  He paused for her rejoinder.  She kept silent, amused.  “In fact, he was so taken by your poems, he had them published.”

“It was all a big mistake.  I didn’t realize that they were that good.”  Grace peeked under the teapot cap and then added more to her cup.  “I was a Sociology major with a minor in Administration of Justice, a law enforcement program, to keep my options open.  Some other women in the AOJ class were talking about it in the cafeteria and saying how it was a cover-up. And while we were talking, I got it in my head that I would do something about it.  Practically everyone knew but no one was going to do anything.  So my sister had these poems lying around in her scribble books.  That’s what she called them.  I copied the ones that appealed to me and handed them in as my own.”

“Did you visit Granahan in his office?”

“Yes, I did, quite a few times.”

“Did he ever touch you inappropriately or ask you to touch him inappropriately?”

Her humor had returned and she gave a small embarrassed laugh.  “Uh, no, he did not.”

“Really, why did he want to see you?  Correct your spelling?  Expose you as a fraud, a plagiarist of your own sister’s writing?”

“He had some questions, suggestions, about the poems, and wanted my permission to publish them as a little chapbook.  He had a friend in Berkeley who would print it.  I didn’t want to because I wasn’t there to attract attention to myself.  I wanted him to approach me and ask me to do what had been claimed in the complaint.”

“Slap his banana.  I get it.  Why do I get the feeling you’re going to tell me he didn’t ask you to whang his thang?”

“He didn’t.  He was obsessed with getting that damn book published.  I have to say that he became very fatherly and protective of me.  It bordered on creepy.”

“You never got him red handed, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

“No, I never did.  I could tell by some of the conversation and comments that there were other girls, women, in the class who were getting preferential treatment in return for. . .their manual labor.”

“How could you turn him in if you didn’t have any evidence?”

“I didn’t turn him in.  Someone else went to the provost.  There was an investigation.  Granahan was allowed to resign, got to keep his pension.”

“What I don’t get is how you ended up taking the fall for bringing him down.”

She shrugged.  “There was a lot of finger pointing as to who it might have been. I’d been to see him in his office.  Then word got out that I was enrolled in AOJ courses and suddenly I was a narc.”

“Really, someone fingered you?  Who was that?”

“I’m not going to forget the little bitch’s name.  Myra Marks.”

Wendt nodded. A piece of the puzzle slipped effortlessly into place.  “But you finally agreed to let Granahan publish your little book.”

“Yes, I thought I’d do it for Gigi.  That was the name I was using in class and it was published under her name, Gigi Niklia.  I thought she’d be thrilled to see her name on a book of her poems.  I even titled it after something she always says to me.  You Again.”

“Was she thrilled?”

“No, not at all.  She said they weren’t her poems.  Her poems were in her scribble books and that that was the only place they would ever be.”

“That must have been a letdown.  What did you do with the books?”

“I burned them.  I was going to give them to friends of the family.  It was a small edition, a little more than two dozen, hand set type.  It was really quite a beautifully printed pamphlet, a little bigger than a wedding invitation. The title was printed in big blue letters.”

“I’ve seen it.  Granahan kept a copy for himself.”

“Did you read it?

“Yeah, I probably did.”

“What did you think?”

Wendt stroked his throat with his hand and looked up at the ceiling.  “You know, that was a while back.  I really can’t remember what I thought.”  There might have been a little disappointment in her cop eyes.  “But if Granahan said they were exceptional, that’s good enough for me.”

 

Grace excused herself.  Left to himself Wendt surveyed the restaurant. He recognized a few regulars.  Some working girls. What’s the story with the guy with the half closed eyes? Dating the woman with teenage kids. Some kind of smug, self-satisfied sanctimonious look. Maybe he was just projecting. And a quartet of all overweighs except for the skinny wife who couldn’t get fat no matter how much she packed away, and despised for it.

 

“Enough about me, what about you?  I’m going to assume you’re not a native.”

“Yeah, grew up inside and outside of Indianapolis.  Parents divorced when I was just a babe in arms.  Old man was a drop-out before it became the cool thing to do.”

“It was never a cool thing.  Just another way to avoid responsibility.”

“Now you sound like my mother.  She wasn’t interested in living on a commune.  Shared-guilt she called it.”

“Married?”

“Not for many many years.”

“Oh? Wasn’t for you?”

“Apparently.  Being a poet takes up all the attention I might give to someone else.  Or words to that affect.”

“No girlfriends?”

Wendt shook his head.  “No, not at the moment.”

“What about the Rubenesque redhead?”

Wendt smiled. “Mac? A companion, a friend, and a fan.”

“I didn’t realize that there were poetry groupies.”

“Oh, there are, though they’re mostly dumpy and dour, and take themselves much too seriously.  Or they’re young and unsophisticated, seething with neurotic potential.”

“Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.  How did you end up out here, all the way from Indianapolis?”

What to tell her?  And how?  He had his usual spiel, a pocket biography he rolled out whenever someone wanted to know his history.  Different versions for different situations. If he was on the make, he included the outrageous anecdotal highlights.  Get a woman laughing and she’s halfway under the sheets. If it was professional, he emphasized the accomplishments that gave him the most credibility. Or the amusing stories he told in the company of friends and acquaintances.  He didn’t want to tell her anything but the whole truth. “I suppose I could give you the easy answer, this then that.  But if I really think about it, I’d have to say I ended up out here by chance.”

“Was that good luck or bad luck?”

“Right now I’d say it was good luck.”  Wendt gave a rueful look.  “But it wasn’t always that way.  Sheila, my ex, had been accepted into the graduate art program at Mills.  We were living on the lower Eastside in New York City at the time.  It was pretty rough and both of us were working at shitty low paying jobs.  It was like escaping to another planet.”

“Really, like Venus or Neptune, Pluto?”

“Yeah, Pluto, even if it’s no longer officially a planet.  A cartoon planet of bright colors and goofy logic.  At first I thought the natives were fools, space cadets, flakes.  It took me a couple of years to really understand that it’s the pace, the rhythm, that’s what’s different, an awareness of unfilled moments and no compulsion to fill them.”

“So you moved to the city?”

“Berkeley first, then after the divorce. . . .”

“No kids?”

“Not even.”

“You’re just a free soul with nothing to do but wander the streets and write poetry.”

“As if that were all there was to it.  On the surface it might appear quite carefree.  I haven’t slept in any doorways.  I’ve come close.  I get by with writing, and grants, fellowships, what have you. The kindness of strangers,” he added with a sheepish grin.  “It’s not a profession, it’s a way of life. I’m not affiliated with any academic institution.  Or school. In a sense I’m just a committed amateur.” He thought to trot out the spiel about being an amateur he’d perfected over the years: how an amateur is someone who engages in painting, music, sport, science, without the spirit of mastery or competition, someone who continually renews their pleasure since the word come from the Latin, amator, which means someone who loves and loves again, not some self-created hero or performance artist. How amateurs establish themselves congenially and ask little recompense for their gestures as the definitive substance of their art. Their practice involves no theft of the object for the sake of its attribute. Ephemeral, they hardly ever show up on the bourgeois radar and subsequently can never have their spirit co-opted. But why sour the mood with something showy and unnecessary.  Besides she’d already picked up the thread.

“Oh, kinda like a. . .samurai, the masterless kind. . .what’s it, um. . .ronin, that’s it!”

What I love about the West Coast. . .totally in tune with Asian culture, Wendt mused. “Something like that,” he smiled.

Grace laughed, setting her fork aside.  “I worked with a couple of guys when I was a patrolman. They were all into that, all they talked about.  It was kind of forced on me.”  She looked at him brightly.  “Didn’t think I’d ever be having a conversation with a masterless samurai poet.”

Wendt couldn’t help but feel warm and fuzzy all over.  “Ah, yes, a knight in lacquer armor.”  He felt the urge to inch his hand over to hers resting comfortably on either side of her plate and touch the tip of her finger, the finger that had undoubtedly pulled a trigger. “Being a poet is pretty meaningless.  It’s what you do with it that ensures whether you’re going to survive or not.  Some don’t, as you well know.  The jobs available for poets are pretty limited.  You can teach, generally at the college or university level but then you have a job and the attendant hoops to jump through, and you have to be a poet as well.  One will always take precedence over the other.  You can work in publishing, as an editor or a bookstore clerk.  I’ve done some of both.  It’s not a guaranteed income.  You can get a regular job, say with the Post Office.  It’s only bound to make you cynical.  Eventually your best bet, to remain a poet, unsullied by the drear of employment, is to have a safety network of friends and acquaintances that you cultivate and who are, if even only marginally, concerned for your well being.”

“Kind of like a personal charity.”

“Very much like that, but totally unregulated and unofficial.  It doesn’t help to have everyone know about your fund raising activities.  That way they can actually feel like they’re contributing uniquely.  And feel good about contributing to the arts that somehow doesn’t involve a corporate entity and filling out a square on their tax forms and thereby accruing a kind of secret self-satisfied rogue altruism.”

“Sounds a lot like a ponzi scheme.”

“It is.  A non-profit poetry ponzi scheme.  No one is getting rich off of it.  And it allows me to write, unencumbered by the worry of subsistence.”

“You’re not on food stamps?”

“No, too much paperwork.”

“What about medical.  What do you do when you get sick? Or injured? Go to emergency?”

“No, don’t get sick.  Or injured.”

“That’s awfully lucky.”

“You’re right.  The city is my lucky place.  Kind of like Br’er Rabbit’s laughing place.  I’ve been all over this here briar patch.”

“Ok, you lost me there.”

 

“Getting back to your sister, your twin, she wrote poetry, how come you didn’t? I thought twins did things together.”

Grace shrugged.  “She was the one with the verbal skills.”  And smiled.  “She always said what I thought.  There was no need to add anything.”

“Ah, the silent partner.”

“We always assumed she was the talented eccentric one.”

“Then one day. . . ?”

“Well, it happened over time, but after a while she even stopped making sense to me.”

“Even in your secret twin language.”  A friend of Wendt’s had been a camera man on a documentary about the private language of twins and had essentially related the entire film over drinks at the Red Hen late one night.

She shook her head, “No, we weren’t really cryptophashic in the strict sense.  I think that all close siblings have a secret language before they become socialized.  Then you use the language of the community.  We still retain some of our nicknames for ourselves and pet names for things.  I don’t think that goes away.  They’re like toys in the attic, you bring them out in moments of nostalgia.”

Wendt gaped.  He couldn’t remember ever being struck dumb in this way before.  It could only be one thing.  He was in love.  Her smile dazzled like she knew she’d said something really smart.

“What made you suspect something was wrong?”

“We were surprised at her conversation.  She would repeat what someone else said, in the same rhythms, but change the words so that most of the time it was a completely intelligible but totally off conversation.”

Wendt nodded.  He recognized the symptoms, the Ashbery Syndrome, but didn’t say anything.  “What did you think was happening?”

“Well, she’d always been nutty and exuberant, often inappropriate.  It took us, my parents, a while to understand that she was spinning in her own little echo chamber.  For me, it was frightening.  And I knew that I would have to become her caretaker, her guardian.” Grace’s frown made her face serious.  “She hasn’t a clue, of course.  She’s caught up in her pursuits on whatever planet she’s on.  But she’s become more and more withdrawn to the point that she hardly leaves the house.”

“Agoraphobia.”

“Among other things, but yeah.  I heard that it means fear of the marketplace.  That’s so weird, the marketplace.”

“She’s not in a facility?”

“No, I care for her.  I have someone who stays with her when I’m at work.”

“That can’t be easy with cop hours.”

“It’s not.  My parents were still alive when I was on the street beat.  When I made Inspector my hours became a little more manageable.” She paused, troubled or saddened by what crossed her mind. “After they passed, I became her sole care.”

“Who’s watching her now?”

“I have a friend.  She steps in to give me a break sometime.”

“You got a babysitter to come to my reading?”

He was getting used to her shrug.  “I try to have a life. And I was curious.  Don’t let it go to your head.  Up until you got up to do your poetry, I had serious concerns about staying awake.  I was about to go find a nice little place to eat and go home early.”

“And here we are in a 24 hour pancake joint frequented by hustlers and night owls looking to score.”

“Funny how things turn out.  Anyway, I’m off the clock. I can three monkey it.”

“Three monkey it.  That’s almost poetry.  Some of your private twin language?”

“No, the three monkeys, you know, see, hear, speak no evil. Cops call it that when they want to ignore something illegal that is either too much of a political hot potato or will get a sneer from the DA, like we’re not prosecuting that kind of crime in this administration.”


Next Time: On the slog back to Balboa, the fog wrapped itself around the line of horizon like a big grey breaker, Wendt replays his conversation with Grace and engages in the correcting of his mental transcript.  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.

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  1. Pingback: Monthly Digest, October, 2015 | Ode To Sunset

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