Saturday, April 30, 2011

Humphrey Champed

He ponied up to the bar and ordered a shot of Cutter’s Finest, the barkeep, the rag in his hand sopping with cigar ash and walnut shells, giving him the once over. ‘no skimping’ he said drawing in his neck like a tortoise. ‘a good one... or I swear I’ll have your heart for breakfast!’ Leaning backwards, his shoulders colliding with the shelf behind him, the barkeep reaches for the bottle of Cutter’s Finest and pours a generous shot, Humphrey Champed eying him from the other side of the bar. ‘now top it off!’ said Humphrey smacking his lips together like a slavering dog. ‘now place it in front of me... like this’ he said motioning with his hand to rest it on the wood next to his right hand, the one with three fingers and a half-shorn-off thumb. ‘now mind your business and get back to work! If I want another I’ll invite you over...’ he said pointing to the empty space in front of him, the barkeep having moved to the other end of the bar away from the hulking figure who would as soon eat your liver than shake your hand ‘then you can pour me another... and no skimping or I’ll have your kidneys for lunch!’

Her face, from jaw to ear, is covered in an albino white hair, filmily invisible yet obvious from the side or flank on. ‘Never underestimate a woman’s itch’ his granddad would say waggling his chin, ‘they’ll sooner eat you for breakfast than give an inch’. ‘they’ll?’ he asked making a face. ‘remember that!’ ...you’ll need it when you get older my boy’. Wheezing the sun rose over Sweny’s. The chemist, late as usual, cranked the toggle pryingly releasing the awning from its fusty hammock. He loathed the sun, claiming it made peach-skinned woman look haggardly, giving them a currish unwomanly appearance. Handkissing was forbidden; handshakes, one handed, two were considered unmanly, were permitted but within reason; the further one pushed the limits the further one found oneself flying on the skin of your teeth out the door. Every time Albert Scrim shakes hands with the devil the devil squeezes the blood out of his fingers. Some say he’s in cahoots with the devil; others that he just likes to hobnob with evildoers and cutthroats; and some think he pretends to be in cahoots when he just wants the attention that cavorting with the devil inspires. ‘He lives the life of Reilly’ his granddad would say wiggling his chin. (Brecht Gin: settles an aching stomach and shoe-blackens albino white hair).

His great granddad played checkers with Argyll Robertson, a brooding man with poor eyesight and crablousy hair. They slaked their thirst with coniine soda, his grandfather gulping and Argyll Robertson eructating, both men savouring the fizzy effervescence. ‘no Handkissing... makes a man look like a sissy’. ‘or two-handed handshakes... one will suffice’. ‘backcomb if you will... no need to make a rankle of the board’. ‘first infestation I got in Nolan Falls... sheets were crabby with the little buggers’. ‘bedevilled! ... crablousy they call it’. They talked like this for hours on end, the gaslight casting glove-puppet shadows on the walls and across the ceiling. His great grandfather never once cast a ballot or vote, saying democracy was a farce and them that got caught up in the hoopla dumber than the dumbest dumb animal. His da assassinated the baby rabbits and left the squirming gray pupa in a shoebox at the foot of the driveway for the garbage man and his helper who hung off the helper side door with one arm. Painted in bold black letters on the cab-side door was the following:

Be always drunken. Everything lies in this:
(Charles Baudelaire, Drunkenness)

Everything he did either turned out bad or didn’t end up the way he’d expected it would; all the tragedy and misfortune, the crushing hardship leaving him brooding and thinking of ways to assuage the niggling in his gut. His great grandfather warned him as much; saying that a man who doesn’t have the courage to drive a nail through his hand is destined to live a life of failure and sorrow, and is not to be shown any sympathy or pity. It lies in this he said: drunkenness and tragedy. Stay drunk my boy and life will be less tragic. Stay sober and it will eat you alive. His great grandfather wore the same shirt to work every day, the gray one with the gravy stain on the front missing the second to last button. The Sisters of Charity taught his great grandfather how to write cursively and take a thrashing bent over a habited knee, the ruler-toting sisters encouraging the head matron with catcalls and hoots. Had he known what he knows now, that a drunken stupor assuages a good switching, he’d never have put up with the beatings and Holier Than Thous’, or his father’s deep-knee-bends, taken from a leaflet that came in the post addressed to the occupant, done to Beethoven’s 5th, 6th & 7th, if he made it that far. The Sisters of Charity taught him how to steal wine before the priest blessed it and tell lies when he could just as easily tell the truth. Under the Mabbot Lane bridge lined up like flower-lasses at a pimp’s wedding, all that Handkissing and Mary has a little Ivy Divvy dose. Got it from the first mate, down on all three’s pulling his Mahout out through his fly-hole. Get the lockjaw when he won’t pull out; rake his fly-hole with your hangnails. He’ll jump higher than the mainsail crow he will.

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"Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth". Bruno Schulz

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