FIFTY-THREE, NOVEMBER 1, 2000
Bill Tangle walked out of the bar and bent down to clutch the backs of his knees. He
lifted his hands to his head, slowly ran his fingers through his yellow-white hair, and
gradually pulled himself to a complete stand.
"What the fuck am I doing?" he whispered loudly to himself in a disgusted if not desperate tone. The wrinkles on his 39 year-old face were scrunched up even more than usual as his whole face seemed to cringe with pain. Bill walked home in a blur and went to bed.
Bill, as he was called by everyone now, woke up the next morning and went to work at the publishing company (after a quick walk to the corner to catch a bus, he would transfer to the subway before arriving at the office in downtown Chicago).
His mother had always called him by his full name, William, but she had been dead for eighteen years. She drank herself to death after many years of being abused by men. She made her third husband a widower.
Bill studied business in college and basically spent the rest of his life trying to run away from capitalism. For now, he made a living as a proofreader.
"At least that's what they call me," he would always say.
"What'll it be today, Bill?" asked the bartender later that evening with a sarcastic sneer. He knew the answer to the question. Bill always drank the cheapest red wine the bar had. He had been a regular for about eleven years. He sat at the bar on the end farthest from the door. The bartender, out of habit, poured the glass and set it at Bill's usual place at the end of the bar while Bill went in and washed all the dirt from his hands before beginning the evening.
"You were on a roll last night, Bill," said the bartender with a faint smile after Bill had finished about half his glass of wine. "I thought you were going to throw Curtis through the window!"
Bill had not yet uttered a word since walking through the door.
"You know I would never fuck with Curtis. He knows it's nothing personal when I get animated. We have an understanding."
"I know you do. Who really knows what goes on inside that head of his but I bet if you stopped coming in here. . .he would too."
The bartender went to rinse some glasses off after a few more bits of small talk.
Curtis, another regular, was probably in his mid-40s and was mentally handicapped in some way. He couldn't speak. He was completely deaf and would just mumble and point to tell
conversation. . .
what he wanted. But he understood what was going on. You could see it in his eyes. He had
a job working for the city shoveling gravel or something. No one really knew what happened
to him. He may have been in an accident when he was younger or he could have just been
born the way he was. No one really cared. He was a part of the bar as much as the pool
He came into the place usually about an hour after Bill would. Curtis sat close to Bill, but not next to him. Curtis liked to keep his distance from people. If you got too close to him, he would become uncomfortable, grunting louder and more rapidly the closer you got. It was his way of telling you to back away. He always liked to have at least a one-stool buffer zone around him. Bill loved him because Curtis was the only person he felt truly comfortable talking to. Curtis showed up, as usual, about an hour after Bill sat down.
"Hello Curtis. I caused quite a scene last night, huh? Yeah, I just get so worked up. I hate when I lose control like that. I only intend to tell YOU these things. Other people just get fucking scared or pissed off because they don't want to hear the way the world really fucking is. If someone makes one comment about something good in the world, I do this inner backflip and I lose it. . .it's all one big pile of dog shit. . .they keep their noses in the air and never fucking even see what the hell they're stepping in. . .never even think about it. Then they get pissed off when someone tells it how it is.
"Yeah, I'll just get up every morning at six o'clock and drink my coffee and read my paper and go to the office and talk about what's going on in the world. . .
"What the fuck is that?
"Are you kidding me?
"I wouldn't wipe my ass with the goddamn newspaper. . .it's all fucking bullshit. It's amazing how much shit can pile up in a fucking office.
"I'm sorry. I'm starting it again. I promise I won't throw anything tonight."
Bill took a deep breath and reached into his front shirt pocket for his cigarettes. He pulled a lighter out of his right front pant pocket, lit his cigarette, dragged on it, and drew in a huge breath. He looked towards the ceiling while he exhaled and watched the different shapes his smoke turned into.
"You know, I don't think I'm really addicted to the nicotine in these things."
Curtis looked at him about half the time. The other half
was spent lifting his bottle to his mouth and withdrawing into a place somewhere in his mind. No one could ever possibly know just where. Curtis seemed to read lips pretty well when he wanted to. Now he was looking at Bill and flashing an understanding glance. Besides the occasional grunt, Curtis communicated with you through his big brass-colored eyes. Curtis's apparent compliance with this last theory excited Bill so he began to expound on it.
"I don't usually smoke during the day," Bill said. "I come to the bar and before my first glass is finished, I'm scrapping for my cigarettes.
"You know what I love about smoking?
"Everyone does it differently. . .it's a fucking art form to use a label, which, as you know, I hate to fucking do. But I can't think of a better way to describe it.
"Some people like to leave it in their mouth when they talk. Some guitarists play with a cigarette dangling from their lips. I don't see how they can do it. Sometimes I start to talk with one of these in my mouth and the fucking smoke goes right in my eyes. . .but that's so fucking cool. . .some people smoke from the left side of their mouth, others from the right, still others from the middle. I take mine on the right side. I like to inhale slowly. . .and exhale slowly. . .see. . .like this. . .some people keep their fingers on the cigarette while they inhale. I like to pull my hand away from it while I inhale. Then I watch the fucking smoke. I love the whole goddamn process. I think it just looks fucking cool. . .to myself.
"I dig watching people smoke but I really like myself smoking. . .I like to watch myself. I get a kick out of it. I think it looks fucking cool but I don't think I'm addicted to the nicotine. I can go three days without having one. I don't think I would have a problem quitting but I just don't fucking want to. The surgeon general says. . .you know what. . .FUCK the surgeon general. I know it's not good for me but who the fuck are you to tell me what I should do?
"You think the surgeon general really gives a fuck what I do. . .me personally. . . when it really comes down to it?
"NO. . .he's getting paid a shitload of money to enforce the moral code of this godforsaken country.
Bill put out his cigarette and walked down the hall to the bathroom. He really didn't have to go but he needed to think about whether he wanted to continue the conversation. He knew he was getting worked up again and wanted to make sure he absolutely had to make the effort to finish it. A grave look still sat upon Bill's face when he came back to his seat.
"You know, Curtis, when I listen to an album, I have to start it on the first song and listen to every single song on the album, in order, the way it was made. I need the entire fucking work."
Bill had a collection of music that filled his entire
dining room. He never used the dining room for eating. He didn't think there should be a room you were supposed to eat in. Oftentimes, on mornings of the weekend, he would take his breakfast (usually a homemade omelette) down to the front porch of his apartment building and eat and watch people on the street.
"So when I start talking about something, I feel I need to get the entire fucking work out. . .thinking about the surgeon general pisses me off. . .the fucker gets paid to steal freedom. We have less freedom than fucking animals.
"That's the goddamn truth. Yeah, we build fences and shit to keep the squirrels and the deer away from our pretty little rose gardens but no one tells them what time they have to get up in the fucking morning. If a human being is informed of what he or she is doing an
like to read. . .
it's boring. . .
what may be good or bad about it, why the fuck can't he or she be left alone to
decide whether or not to do it. Read the damn consumer reports. . .but no, people don't
like to read. . .it's boring. . .let's put some fucker in charge of me because I'm a lazy
misguiding fuck. . .and I mean the word misguiding,' by the way.
"What are we?
"We have a mind. I'm not sure if people have figured that one out yet. . .but we have a mind. That's the difference. But it's so much easier to sit back and not use it and let a bunch of rules and regulations lead us blindly down the goddamn path of life. . .the American fucking dream. . .to not have to do shit.
"It's a goddamn never ending nightmare for me. . .awake or asleep. . .it's the same fucking thing.
"Reason. . .
"Yeah, and I know what you're thinking. . .what about all the times I talk about the soul and why we do things for no apparent reason. . ."
"I think there are things we do without any reason. . .reason. . .why did I get jealous that my wife remained friends with the first guy she ever fucked?
"They would still go out to dinner and shit. . .there's no reason I should have felt weird about that but I did. I never told her that I felt that way.
"There was no reason for it. It didn't make sense logically. But I didn't like it and what the fuck is logic anyway?"
Bill's wife was killed in a car accident about twelve years earlier. He used to talk to her like he talked to Curtis, although behind all his bitterness was a tender love. He became a regular at the bar not long after she died. He never remarried or even thought about becoming intimate with another woman.
"There was just something deep inside me, stronger than fucking reason that took over. I don't know what the fuck it is and I don't think anyone can know.
"Yeah, your fucking psychologists have a name for it, I'm sure. But how the fuck can you really know what we have in us. . .there's so much we cannot even begin to comprehend. . .what kind of being could have created us?
"I know that you shouldn't even waste your fucking head thinking about that type of thing. There's no fucking way in hell anyone can possibly know what kind of being created this world. I think that you cannot doubt that some higher being created all this. But people need fucking explanations. They need fact. God forbid that the almighty technologically advanced human being can't explain something. . .FUCK science!
"Let's take the 'Big Bang Theory'. . .I believe it. I think science and technology are worthwhile when they teach us about the past. I don't think they should touch the goddamn future. The more they try to improve the future, the farther they flush us all down the fucking toilet. Yeah, I'll take radio carbon dating but fuck satellite television and nuclear weapons. . .I could go on but I won't
waste my fucking time. . .quit making it bigger, faster, better. . .FUCK capitalism!"
Curtis started to look away, at other things.
"All right, I'm sorry, I'll stop talking about capitalism. . .at least for now."
Bill pulled out another cigarette.
"'Big Bang'. . .this little ball of matter. . .intense fucking matter. . .exploded and formed this whole goddamn universe. . .but where did that fucking ball of matter come from?
"It's unexplainable. . .at least according to modern science. I don't think there's any other explanation than to look to a higher being. Something had to come from nothing and we can't explain it with our rules. . .it's beyond reason, beyond our comprehension.
"And then people need to belong to a fucking religion to give them an explanation. . .religion is a goddamn placebo. . .it's a farce. . .to me, it is FUCKING comedy!
"Why can't people just admit that there are things we just can't know? Why does there HAVE to be an answer?
"Sometimes there just is no answer.
"Yeah, that's depressing but it's easier I guess to not use your fucking head than allow yourself to believe that we don't know shit.
"I don't know shit. . .
"And you can't say that this being, GOD, is all 'good.' Look the fuck around you. How do you explain all the shit in the world?
"Oh. . .but some people have lost 'God'. . .that's why they do bad, evil things. . .fuck that, if this being was all 'good', how could that be allowed that to happen?
"It's all fucking bullshit.
"I read a review that this fucker in my company wrote today. He was critiquing this new record. . .talked about the emotional struggles this singer has been going through. His best friend committed suicide last year or some time within the past year."
"How the fuck can anyone know what the fuck he was really going through?
"Do you think this fucking guy knows what it's like to have that happen to you?
"I doubt it.
"And even if this man's best friend had committed suicide, do you think it would be the same as someone else's experience. . .the same as this singer's?
"No fucking way.
"It goes back to the whole thing about being apart from the fucking animals. Use your fucking mind. People are different. At least the REAL ones are. But man has created the 'social animal.'
"Modern society turned us back into fucking animals. . .think about it. . .everyone moving with the herd. . .people wear bellbottoms because it's 'in'. . .then someone comes along and
.let's be animals
and prey on
the latest fashion. . .'
says that bellbottoms aren't cool or wears something else and then everyone
starts doing the same fucking thing. . .fashion. . .fashion. . .let's be animals and prey
on the latest fashion.
"What the fuck does it really matter what kind of pants you fucking wear?
"Why do I wear a fucking tie every day?
"Because it looks 'professional.'
"Turn me the fuck inside out. . .how can that not matter". . .my insides. . .what I am on the inside. . ."
Curtis got up to go to the bathroom and Bill used the time to light another cigarette. A David Bowie song started playing. The bar had a good jukebox (at least by Bill's standards---a lot of '60s and '70s stuff). Bill often said there has been very little music recorded after 1979 that was worth anything. In fact, he had nothing in his collection recorded after that year.
Curtis sat back down at his usual barstool. He wasn't a smoker in the generally accepted sense. Sometimes, at least once a night, he would motion to Bill that he wanted a cigarette. Bill always gave him one even though Curtis never smoked the entire thing. Many times, he would take one drag from it and put it out. Curtis always watched Bill when Bill smoked. It seemed almost like he was trying to learn how to smoke from Bill (or maybe he just enjoyed watching Bill's well-rehearsed routine).
Sometimes, Curtis would smoke half the cigarette. He didn't inhale very deeply. He probably just wanted to be like Bill by smoking. Curtis now wanted a cigarette. Usually, he wouldn't ask for one this early in the night.
"Well, Curtis, what I was saying. . .most people are fucking slaves. . .we talk about the slavery this country used to accept, and then the equality that supposedly. . .you know what, equality. . .my ass. . .but people believe everyone is equal and should be treated equal and that is important. . .it looks good for our democratic system. . .and it is the way things SHOULD be so it's quite easy to just pretend that this system is working. . .after all, we ARE the world leaders you know. . .fuck that. . .we are really enslaved as much as any black man ever was. . .those white fucking plantation owners wouldn't allow physical freedom but modern society steals our fucking mental freedom. . .which happens indirectly because of. . .the suppression of expression by the watchful, tainted, discerning fucking eye of the majority.
"That sounded like a load of bullshit. . .but it happens in countless other fucking ways. . .for me. . .for a lot of people who actually try to look at what the fuck they're stepping in. . .it's one big chaotic fucking brainwash. . .
"I just wish people on a large scale would recognize this. . .
"Fuck. . .that, shit. . .that the only real fucking
people who are worth anything are musicians, writers, and farmers.
"Economists, efuckingschmonomists. . .
"They seem to be the only people who use their fucking heads. . .musicians, writers, and farmers that is. . .not the fucking economists!
"I don't know if I ever told you that I fucking write a lot. . .I have dozens of notebooks. . .maybe 40. . .I don't know. . .I used to want to write for a living. . .tell people how fucking stupid they really are. . .but to get started, you have to grab your fucking ankles and take it right up the ass. You have to have, on your resume, a goddamn article that was published in some worthless newspaper or some poem that was published in some shitty little magazine that you have to have a subscription to in order to get published in. . .you have no idea how many times I threw up when I would get letters back from these fucking places.
"I always told them I wanted every letter to be lower case. . .but NO, NOOO!. . .'that's not adhering to correct English grammar.' We're not in fucking England for fuck's sake. Fuck that.
"I know what the fucking guidelines are. I just choose not to follow them. What the fuck is the problem with that?
"It doesn't look good,' they say.
"I don't give a fuck what it looks like. That defeats the whole fucking point of it. It's about what the fuck I'm saying. . .how I say it is merely a part of the art. . .'part of the art'. . .I like that. . .Curtis, you're part of my art. . .I write a lot about you. You're one of the few good things I write about. You're part of my art. The rest is acrid fucking sandpaper prose. If someone knows that I write and they ask me what I write, I tell them I'm into acrid fucking sandpaper prose. That's probably why the publishers are all beating down my fucking door!
"I don't know, Curtis, I really don't think I have anything important to say as far as the masses go. If I had to make some kind of fucking statement, I guess I would say I'm into refining the individual. But these fucking publishers have their 'little critics' that decide they 'like' or 'don't like' what I write. . .but you know, I write because I fucking get off on it. I learn more about things and myself by reading my own goddamn stuff than any other writer. . .maybe that's my whole fucking problem. . .
"I don't write for the fucking critics. Once a writer consciously tries to write in a way that is pleasing to anyone other than himself, he is dead.
"If I could make a living doing something I really enjoy, that's pretty fucking cool. . .but
hate telling people
where they have to put
it's all a stupid fucking game. I'm a goddamn proofreader. How ironic can life be?
I know the rules of language and a lot of times I don't want to touch someone's article
that has dangling participles or improper verb tenses but that wouldn't be acceptable. I
hate telling people where they have to put their periods.
"But if I don't, I don't get my paycheck and I can't come into this bar and afford to drink and talk to you like I want to.
"I don't have any grand theories on life. . .basically I know that I know nothing. That shit ain't gonna sell. . .to go back to my publishing endeavors.
"People buy books of 'poetry'. . .yeah, I'm making quotation marks with my fingers because that word. . .'poetry'. . .is fucking meaningless. I hate the fucking word. . .the essence of that word. . .what it really means. . .has long been dead to the masses. . .maybe it was never alive on that scale. . .it only exists in tiny little lucid corners of the earth. . .hidden lucid corners are all that's left.
"But people use the word 'poetry' and buy books of 'poetry' because it gives the impression that they are cultured. . .it looks good on a bookshelf or on the mantle above the fucking fireplace. Fuck those people. Fuck the stupid mass.
"I have no choice but to write for myself in the evenings and then wake up in the morning and take it up the ass until quitting time. . .when it's not up to me to take it or not. . .right up til the time when that fucking whistle blows."
Bill lit his fourth cigarette of the day and was silent for a whole glass of wine. He pulled a book out of his backpack.
"Look at this, Curtis. . .e.e. cummings wrote this. He went to fucking Harvard. . .learned all the rules and then made a living out of breaking them. I don't know how he got noticed. . .must have been the Harvard degree but he is a fucking genius.
"I don't know a fucking thing and you never question
that. . .you're a fucking genius too.
"Do you know that, Curtis?
"You're a fucking genius!
"Look at this. . .he talks about springtime a lot. . .that's obvious. I don't know exactly what spring means to him but he digs it. I think that's pretty cool. I can't tell you why in words that I think it's cool. . .actually, I could, but what would it really matter. . .you can't feel what he does to me inside. . .on my insides. . .the only person you can really know is yourself. Sometimes. . .most of the time, words can only scratch the surface. . .but I think the man's words are cool. . .they just are. . .they just fucking are. . .and it makes me want to fucking vomit that there are people who get paid to tell you why or why not e.e. cummings is good. That's a crock of shit.
"What more can you really say than he makes you feel good or bad or indifferent?
"That's what a review should be. . .'I think he's pretty cool' or I don't really dig this guy.'
"Do you have any idea how much more air is given to plants than is necessary? . . . Can you even comprehend the amount of carbon dioxide that is expelled from humans every day that is completely fucking unnecessary? It's good for the trees at least. I like trees. . .they see everything and say nothing. They're outside, in the middle of it all. And a lot of times, we are gone long before the tree is. . .trees can live a long fucking time.
"Does that tell you something?
"Just today I'm at work and this guy that sits in the cubicle next to mine is talking to some girl he's interested in. . .somehow, the connection gets fucked up for 20 seconds or so. . .well, he finally gets her back on the line after 20 fucking seconds of 'Hello. . .hello. . .are you there? Are you still there". . .Hello. . .' and then they spend at least three minutes talking about what just happened. . .'I was talking to you and all of a sudden it got really static-y and then there was just silence. . .that was the weirdest thing. . .why do you think that happened". . .then I thought I heard your voice and I was saying "Hello" again but there was no answer. . .I know, that's so weird. . .do you think it was the phone company? Yeah, they probably just screwed up. Maybe it was a storm. Is it supposed to storm today? Maybe there was a storm somewhere between your office any my office because it's not storming by me.'
"What the fuck is that? Who gives a fuck what happened? The fucking phone didn't work for 20 seconds. Get the fuck over it and talk about something that means something. . .something like. . .a piece of dust. . .dust. . .dust is what I feel like but that's not a fucking bad thing. How many people do you think would be insulted if I called them a piece of dust?
"Fucking most of them you can be sure."
Bill stood up, walked towards the door, and stepped out onto the sidewalk. He needed some fresh air. He needed to see some trees. But the last leg of the evening rush hour traffic soon upset him and he put his head down and walked back into the bar.
"You know what I wish, Curtis?
"I wish I was born into a wealthy fucking family. . .tons of money. . .to wipe my ass with if I wanted. Then I'd publish everything I ever wrote and publish all the little geniuses that live in poverty, the ones that know what the fuck is going on.
But I'd publish books with no names, at least no authors' names. Have you ever strolled down the aisles of these book chainstores they have now or whatever the fuck they call them?
"If you ever want to vomit, walk through one of these places and look at the books they have on the shelves. Everywhere you look, there are these authors' names. . .actually they're not fucking authors. . .they're reporters. . .that's all they are. . .these names in huge neon letters on the front of these books. You have to search for the name of the book, not that THAT fucking matters. . .but the writer's name is twice as big as the goddamn title. And they always seem to say on the cover something like 'From the author of THE KILLER, we give you THE KILLER'S BROTHER. This thrilling new novel is now a major motion picture. . .'
"And fucking people eat this shit up. It just makes me feel like I'm gonna lose my shit. . .standing right there in the goddamn store. It's no different than sitting your lazy ass down on the couch in front of the television. I think people like to be seen reading books. They think it's a sign of intelligence.
Try looking for a book written before 1950. You'll be there for a long fucking time.
"IT'S NOT THAT YOU'RE READING, DUMBASS. IT'S WHAT YOU'RE READING!'
You're reading Hollywood. It's merely television in a different form. . .television's evil
twin, the thriller novel. Give me a fucking break, man. Try looking for a book written
before 1950. You'll be there for a long fucking time. Yeah, they got Dickens and
Shakespeare, but just the ones they make you read in school or the ones made into movies.
Salinger, Kerouac. . .yeah, they might have two copies of On the Road and four
copies of The Catcher in the Rye but that's it. . .and I can't blame it on the
bookstores because that's what people want to read. . .fucking mindless crap that people
can look cool on the train reading on their way home from work wearing their tie still
tight around their neck.
"You know what?
"Fuck these bookstores. . .if they didn't sell this shit, people couldn't buy it. Imagine shelves of bookstores filled with nothing but Salinger. . .Kerouac. . .Corso. . .Hemingway. . .Dante. . .Plato. . .D.H. Lawrence. . .Lao-Tzu. . .William fucking Shakespeare. . .and Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. . .
"But these chainstore patrons wait until they get home to take their ties off because they won't look professional with the tie hanging loose around their necks, dangling like a fucking testicle. . .ties are one of the stupidest, most unpractical things man has invented. . .
"You know, the computer section alone takes up half the goddamn store. . . .I don't know if I can keep going. . . .I feel like I'm gonna get sick."
Bill stopped speaking and grabbed his stomach. For a moment, he thought about the toilet in the bar's bathroom. He closed his eyes and slowly took a deep breath. He held it for a moment before he exhaled violently (spewing forth not only his carbon dioxide, but also several drops of spittle which landed on the bar in front of him).
"Because you know, next year, these manuals will be useless because computers will be able to do it faster, better. . .FUCK IT FUCK IT FUCK IT! . . .when will it ever end? When will it ever fucking end? Do you think I want to be like. . .this. . .to act like this. . .oh God. . .I.. have no choice. It's too much. . .it's too much. . .it's just too fucking much. . ."
As these last words staggered out of Bill's desperate, quivering lips, his eyes began to overflow with tears. There was a deathly silence. Curtis was staring at him. He had never seen Bill cry. Maybe he had never been face-to-face with anyone who was crying. Bill lifted up his eyes to look around but kept his head down. He didn't understand the tears. Neither did Curtis, but for different reasons. Bill had let his cigarette burn out on its own in the ashtray and had half a glass of wine left.
The sun was still up. Bill saw that everyone in the bar was trying to look busy drinking, playing pool, smoking, or whatever it is that people do in bars, but they were really uncomfortable with the scene. It was a neighborhood bar. Everyone at least knew that Bill was a bitter man who talked to a deaf mute all night, every night. They may have thought he was crazy. There was rarely a new customer. Bill knew that he was in everyone's mind. The music played softly.
The bar was made for conversation. That was one of the reasons he liked the place. You could hear just about every conversation going on in the bar from anywhere in it. He knew that everyone at least had a general idea of what he had been talking about for the last hour or so since he sat down. He felt bad for himself and for everyone else in there who had to witness this. He had often felt like this but never so helpless (or so end-of-the-line). He had come to the edge of the stairs so to speak. He felt like he either had to fall down or else find a way to descend yet remain on his feet and get out. He had to get out. Bill gathered his things and without making eye contact with anyone, said lowly to Curtis, "I'm gone."
Bill never left before the sun went down and never left a glass of wine unfinished (let alone allow a full cigarette to burn out).
Curtis just stared at the door as Bill left. He didn't move from his barstool or get another drink for over an hour, until the sun went down. He just stared at the door, probably hoping Bill would come back. ##
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