Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation & Light (Excerpt #5)
bart plantenga

Furman Pivo believes he [plus beer] may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same and the rest is history or myth or delusion.

Beer Mystic Invitation: Participate in a unique literary adventure that will take you on the longest, rowdiest literary pub crawl ever. Follow the Beer Mystic's story around the world through a global network of host magazines. [next excerpt at end of chapter]

Beer Mystic Excerpt #4: Ol'Shanty

Beer Mystic Excerpt #5
My Elsa Triolet detours came mostly courtesy of the Cosmological Messenger Service. Periodically a delivery would send me out of Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn, delivering affidavits to the Kings County Courthouse. And from there I'd call Elsa and wander off the Cosmo time-location grid.

Since I was their "best" CMS messenger my trips were never monitored. I was forgotten, left to my own devices - a small perk. When I finally did go back on time I'd call Lee Morgan, "I hadda 'delivery' for Elsa."

"So you delivered and now you're hangin'?"

"Yea, typical rear entrance delivery. I knocked and knocked until she let me in..." This kind of report always cracked Lee to pieces. Lee Morgan was my boss, my dispatcher, a dapper black guy with clean shine head, crisp wing shirt collars, ironed shirts, Italian brown leather boots, and who by fate [of his name] was a jazz aficionado. And since we both dug deep and philosophical into reverie for jazz, beer, and the female form, he cut me great hours of infinite slack. I was sanity to him, and he to me.

I was one of the only white guys under 60 on the squad and this made me nobility, "Messenger of the Month" three times [three raises of 50 cents each that Lee saw to], and thus perhaps the city's highest-paid foot messenger at $6.89 per hour [mid-1980s]. But as any receptionist could point out, the highest paid messenger was still a very low form of life, a form worthy of despising by all receptionists, secretaries, janitors and the like.

I had become somewhat legendary because of the tales of adventure I told the other laggards waiting for the next envelope, the next call: "One cold slushy day, with an urgent delivery of a sealed affidavit from a warm office east to a warm office west, I was crossing around Rocky Center when this BMW ripped into the crosswalk - VRRRROOOM. Some of the pedestrians scattered. I froze, as any martyr would, and forced the driver-perp to test his magnificent anti-lock brakes. And they worked magnificently! In-fuckin'-deed! And I banged my fist on the hood of his BMW. And hard like a drum solo. I was mad and the was my war drums, you bet."

"You wacked, man." Said one of the slender after-school black teens, the kind you knew would love to buy back his innocence if it came in the right package and I would buy it for him, this innocence, if I could just put a quarter in a machine and hand it back to him. That kind. The kind with the shine in their face rubbed off with steel wool.

"No, I'd had enough of way too much of this shit and when you got just the right amount of enough it gives you strength… And so, there I am drummin' like that bugged-eyed drummer in Taxi Driver, the guy plays percussion in the subway on the walls, everywhere, his world is a drum…"

"The guy's got a name yuh know? Gene Palma. He's fuckin' great." Mumbled Lou H., artist in ragged third-hand up-turned-collar trenchcoat. "While he's drummin' he yells out the names of the drummers whose style he's imitating. "Chick Webb, the great Shelley Manne, Gene KRU-PA."

"Shoe polish hair."


Anyway, the driver scumbag leaps outta his cockpit - no fan of percussion - yanks out a fuckin' mammoth pistol, a shiny, sexy fuckin' thing, aims it at my face, pulls the trigger and says; 'I wish this fuckin' thing was loaded so I could blow you away, punk scum.' I didn't wanna bicker about what was punk and not. I wasn't punk but I ain't new wave neither. I was mesmerized like I'd just seen a censored Tina Turner video but finally I says: 'Yuh know, you'd prolly rather fuck wid yer car than wash yer fuckin' wife!' Totally fuckin' up the line by Godard: 'You'd rather wash yer car than fuck yer wife.'"

"Whose this fuckin' Go-dart?"

"Go Cart!"

"French filmmaker…I used to go out with a chick looked like his main squeeze, actress Anna Karenina."

"Yea, so what."

"So WHAT?!" She was fuckin' hot, like Chrissy Hynde squared."

"I know me a French kiss and a croy-sant and yuh got French wine and French onion soup, but I don't know me no Go-Dart." I look at the scoffed walls in Cosmo HQ, 4th floor, 5th Avenue near the Empire State Building, our room like a holding pen with the stink of 50 years of unrequited labor and discarded financial files, boxes of molding subway vouchers, a framed photo of Reagan, the World Trade Center lit up at night, a poster of Brooke Shields in sexy lingerie, grafitti in other alphabets scratched into the piss yellow-green walls.

"Well anyway, but there he was like totally confused and so maybe it was better the way it came out like that - no bullets and him like won-der-in'. Man, where I come from the only fuckin' things that gets blown away are dead leaves."

"You from the Dead Zone…"

"You got it. I still got his plate number: LUG332 carved into my forehead. And whenever I look up retribution or vengeance in my mind's sloppy card files, on that card marked 'retrib-veng' is a crude portrait of the perp with his license plate number, LUG332. And I had to fuckin' wonder how he spoke to his kids, what kind of nice ass things he was capable of for his secretary, what he bought his wife for fuckin' Xmas."

They all loved these stories. Or at least it was better than nothing. They wanted to hear them over and over. Or maybe I was too crazy to say "no" to. Like when I leaned nails [yes, I used to carry a handful just in case] against all four tires - front and back - of this one malicious driver's Audi as he dashed to the cash machine, car idling in traffic. "He gets in, puts her in drive and POW! POW! POW! POW! Four flats right there at Sheridan Square."

"Righteous!" the Rasta proclaimed. He with huge dread snakes wrapped inside a knit cap, always slouched on his discolored plastic chair, thumbs hooked into the crotch of his Army pants.

"But that ain't the end of the other story [It had been the end of it the previous 10 times I told it.] I mean, some Dawn of the Dead geeks rubbernecking, salivating, go and pay me the ultimate insult: 'He ain't worth the fuckin' lead,' they yell and yell. I kid you not! I'm thinkin' they don't even know me but then I realize that they're just hungry for somethin' to happen like fast forward, like so they have something they can go home and tell friends - 'I saw dis guy blown away today. Lost his whole fuckin' face like tearin' the toppings offa pizza…'" My audience of lanky teens whooped it up with raised fists while the bodies of the old pensioner men bent in half shook painful wheezing laughs loose from their bodies during the tense near-scenes of violence.

The lanky teens pat me on the back mumble "Crazy-ass muthahfuckah!" as they leave with packages sending them out into New York's grid where they'll disappear to become eternal no ones.

"Yea, crazy like a fox. You gotta out crazy the crazy city to win." They nod. Some would never make it back. You ask Lee or administration what happened to Derek Showard or Benny Blanco and they don't know what to say. Shrug their shoulders. Lee ventures "Maybe Potter's Field." Lee can quote the Bible, Gospel of St. Matthew (27:3-8): "they took counsel, and brought with them the potters field to bury strangers in." He could also quote Eugene Debs, Shaft, and Mingus.

Jerzy [we call him Kafka] with coffee-stained white shirt and a tie that a clown once wore, asks, "Where the fuck is Potter's Field any-vaz?"

"Hart Island, middle uh Long Island Sound and the Bronx. Prisoners bury the forgotten, the unclaimed, the discarded for 30 cents an hour. People without names, homes, or memories. Sons their own mothers don't even want to claim." Lee knows stuff like this.

"My first month in New York I'm already workin' here and I see this guy comin' where's he gotta be I think I mean is his fuckin' lunch his fuckin' slice of pizza gonna get up and walk away or duh wife he's got tied up. I mean where's this fuckface gotta be?! He plows right through the crosswalk and I catch the old lady - well, sophisticated and kinda foxy, really, as it happens - before she crashes to the ground. I gotta pound a candy and that's just her ass. And then as I get up I rap my knuckles against this guy's rear fender. Not in a discourteous way, mind you, just letting this fucknut know that his fuckin' hurry was compromising my safety. Never mind almost killing this foxy forty-year-old Cyd Charisse, the ultimate female icon just shorta Sophia Loren." Over the years, the story would evolve and it would become the real Cyd Charisse, not just some look-alike.

"Sid is a guy or what?"

"No, no, an actress - C-Y-D. He jams on his brakes, the screeching tires sounding like part of a chase scene in a movie I missed. He walks calmly over to me - meanwhile Cyd Charisse is gone without so much as a thank you, although I got her Mozzarella - and this fucknut 'apologizes' by hauling a cinderblock-sized fist into my face. His knuckles say like 'Welcome To New York' - I'd been here alla two weeks - in blood as I went down and out. My Heineken goes flyin', lands - PSSSSh! - in the middle of the street. And when I come to, all is peaceful, like I'm not in need of no wisdom - the trees are swirlin' - and then I'm lookin' up at this woman's chin, this doctor's wife, on her knees, my head on her thighs."

This really gets them going. "Two weeks later I go visit her at the art gallery she manages in Soho. She shows me the art and then pulls out this bottle of wine and after a glass or two, she's sucking me off and after that we do it like crazy in the closet. I'm shaking her tits like Quasimodo shaking the bells of Notre Dame. She even makes me stick like part of a broomstick up her asshole while I'm bangin' her from behind. And when she comes she moans so hard that the people in the office over her gallery are thumpin' on the floor to shut her up." The young Turks love this because they can see that this is the oasis in the desert of messengering. The rare moments [once every couple of years is all you can hope for] like having tea with Lauren Hutton. We wonder what it's like to get blown by a gap-toothed woman. The stories are like the carrot and the stick, so to speak. And like picking up the new "Escapades" 12-inch single at Celluloid and delivering it to Futura 2000 personally. I want to say I was at the Bond's Clash/Futura show but don't. Discretion and kudos - you got to balance them…

Most of the other messengers were old hobbling white guys, old knitters, union reps, and seamsters on measly pensions, supplementing their "Social Insecurity," working minimum wage with their pained limp-n-limbs [hiring some of these guys as messengers was a little like hiring blind proofreaders]. They had bad eyes but no optical on their health insurance - if they had any at all. So they wear two pairs of reading glasses and prop up the Daily News a couple of feet away on another chair to read it. Their stories were buried deep under their mumbles and painted a picture of New York that made me think it was never a glorious place except if you were Doris Day or Clark Gable or somebody. They were proud defeated men of dying trades in the garment industry with their slouches, their taped-up glasses, and their untucked and stained white shirts. They used words like "haberdashery." And the young Turks would come back in good fun with "Yabba Dabba Havuh Whut!?"

These young Turks were mostly high-school dropouts - or on the edge of doing so - in full attitudinal garb and gangland gold who thought taking as long as one could to deliver a message meant pride of face. Not all of them, not the ones who were helping supplement mom's income. Not them. Others were good-natured guys who were just afraid they were already passing on into total insignificance before they turned 20. One lanky smooth-faced black dude, "Nero," got knifed to death on the job not long ago because the particular configuration of gold around his neck gave him away as a member of a certain gang. And then there was sullen Lou H., artist with a P.O. Box for an address, who always wore this big old bum overcoat over his paint-splattered pants, evidence of his craft and calling, a badge that allowed him to hold onto some distinction that fed crumbs to his pride.

"$5.85 per hour to..."


"$5.87 an hour just to fuck me. Better to make it last, take your time, make a living just fucking. That's sweet, so sweet to call me and come by. I know how busy you are." Elsa gushed as she cinched the belt around her silken robe as I called Cosmo. Her toe aimed at my crotch to tickle my scrotum as I dialed the phone.

"Hey, Lee, I'm out at Elsa's Realignment Services, you got anything comin' outa Brooklyn?" Elsa's Carry-On, Elsa's Oral Gratification Inc., Elsa's Amour Temps, Elsa's Lube Jobs... all these cracked Lee up. The dynamic contained in our clandestine and mutually binding contempt for Cosmo and all its clients was where we held court and became transformed as aliens to the mold.

"It's quarter to five. Go home, young diver. I'll clock yuh out at 5:15." The more he beefed up my paychecks the more I believed in the generosity of humankind.

"You can stay here as long into forever as you like."

"I need a beer."

"Long as you love my body," she added as she retreated to the fridge. "Even if you're just lying. Just make the lies mythic but believable." She in her best deshabillé, impersonating a Manet, a Monet, a Rubens on Xanax, a reclining nude, big-lidded, inflamed nipples, Vampira by Botero; her kids in their bedroom, supposedly doing their homework or watching TV with the sound up to drown us out. "Long as you service me with a lifetime guarantee." She handed me the 750 ml bottle of French Country Ale. "Surprised?"



I got up to pee and in her bathroom I gazed at a very jaundiced picture of myself, as if I'd been lacquered or liquored; droplets of urine - PlinkPlink, shake, Plink - as I began to connive a way out - like boff her from behind, no messy in your face scenes and out. Out the bathroom window, where does that lead. I looked again into her mirror and saw the love bites swelling, swelling like fat mum blossoms to nearly twice the size of the ones she'd left the time before.

"I gotta go soon." I stood naked, hands in front of my crotch."

"Furman, where do you gotta go?" She only used my name when a forlorn tone was stuck to the lump in her throat.

"I gotta go before I turn into a fuggin' hickey on legs. It's like an Electrolux meets Vampira."

"I take that as a compliment. Electrolux is top of the line and Vampira was skinny as a caterpillar. Great skin."

Whatever! Besides, I got other worlds to conquer."

"Butchu already got a world you got conquered, Furman." And she collapsed back onto her bed to affect her New World, a world as Ponce de Leon might have witnessed it. I tried but did not tell her that to me involvement was tempting misery. Involvement was an investment in time that was baited to be soured.

[Elsa Triolet: "Furman always reminded me of Krazy Kat. I don't know why. A wayward spirituality? Spry bewilderment? Maybe, it's the way he was blessed and then suddenly cursed by his intense nearsightedness that he mistook for farsightedness. As if vision haunted him one minute and then tickled him the next. He gave me a set of Joel Peter Witkin postcards, the ones with the extremely bound women that remind you of Rubens and then also, you know those hams wrapped in string. I didn't get it until way later. The more selfish and hard he tried to be the more tender I found myself treating him. Endearing how he just didn't fit the anti-hero mold. 'Ironic Byronic' to quote from my own songbook. Sure, he struggled with integrity, was introspective, wandering outcast, hates medals and privilege, painful past - who doesn't!? - but he wasn't arrogant, hard-boiled or self-centered or particularly sorry for some sexual misdeeds in his past… Anyway, he could basically drown in a six-inch glass of beer - if it was wearing a skirt. Don't think I didn't try and don't think I didn't save him as soon as I tried."]

"I got a couple o' beers left... Come on, it's nice to have a man around." She said as she handed me the needle-nose pliers with me scrunched up under her sink. I was her way out of drabness, her bohemia, her man who she could brag about at school, and so this is how I earned my beers.

"The kids adore you." I hate the word adore. She with her associates degree from a community college in Chicago; she with her ambitions, talking big about what she knew, the kind of psych 101-learning she'd hang out on a clothesline year after year as the full spectacled extent of her knowledge.

"Do you read a lot?" she asked.

"I don't see the use in it." I lied. "The more you realize you know, the more you realize you can't do anything about things remainin' the same."

And when she spewed on about Jane Austen or Hemingway or schizophrenia or supply and demand or anything else she'd learned in those 101 college courses I'd get irritated because she had again managed to make me feel sad. You can't hate someone for trying to keep up with this world. You can't despise somebody for failing to do so. Her mouth flapping like a marionette's wooden, hinged clapper.

She had squandered the great poetess inside her and was now regretting that fact. "Reassure me that we'll find / All the colors of the world beneath our feet."

"I ordered a new mattress cuz you said the old one made it hard for you to stay over. I got it from DIAL-A-MATTRES, you know, save the last S for - suck..."

"Don' say it!" This kind of wink-wink saddened me even further - I was slipping away in a nod.

"It's gettin' delivered tomorrow morning. I need to take it for a test drive [wink-wink]." You cannot despise people for being earnest and wanting to please even if they fail in their efforts.


"Whazzah maatah honey." Unzipped my fly as if wanton behavior can cure everything from existential angst, to self-doubt, to gonorrhea. Instead of bickering and negotiating, I just stuck it inside her again and poked her until her sigh went rabid and then collapsed like a warm, greedy sigh around a contented snore. On her side, she really did look like Lydia Lunch or Siouxie Sioux or… sleeping with her clenched fist wrapped around an old hammer handle, vestige gesture from her days in Manhattan when she used to sleep with a hammer in her hand in a basement "apartment" [an old window-less former meat storage place] on a mattress on a floor of cheap fake linoleum to stalk the rats that stalked her in her sleep. She once caught one in her chipped bathtub and "killed it real dead" with that hammer. One of the last singles to receive any reviews in Forced Exposure or Lowest Common Denominator, and/or other zines of a crumpled, illegible, saddle-stitch nature found at See/Hear or Sohozat compared her to Big Stick. This single, "Rat Hammer Lids," was recorded with ex-members of the Maroons, a sort of imploding gyno-Ramones. Or do I remember seeing it described as the first Goth-speed single with some elements of hypno-thrum and post-Pere Ubu poesie leanings in Trouser Press? She had come to Brooklyn not only to escape her shadow - It mocks me, dear" - but to escape the rats and now she was ready to die just to escape Brooklyn. Or something to that effect. You really had to listen to her line of thinking to even guess where she was at.

Beer Mystic Excerpt #6: BYRON