Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Story: And Then Again Just Maybe

Early morning inter-prowl, cruised into The New Republic, hoping not to read up on the health care rampage, old Stanley obliges with a lovely review of The Messenger, and then, still leap-frogging the health care hoo-haw, I stumbled into a jazz archive, some ragging on Wynton and Ken Burns, and then a meditation on Anita O'Day, that bad bad girl of the jollies. Bad girl: David Hajdu's contention, following Anita's own lead, was that her music was inextricable from the junk in her veins. Just as Walter Conley is a fool for laundromats, I am a fool for trailer parks, they feed the fiction oh so well, and well, Ms. O'Day (pig-Latin, as she said, for "dough," of which she hoped to make plenty) had a trailer. That trailer was all I needed to stir the storymaking machinery in my head, that and all that junk in her veins. I'm sure somewhere in my head, way way back, the name Anita O'Day got horribly mixed up with their rhyming companions Anita Bryant and Doris Day, so reading about Anita was quite a catharsis. And I couldn't get that trailer park out of my head, so this little prose poem came tumbling on out. Plenty of poetic license: this is and assuredly isn't Anita...


Anita bit the day in her usual way, hayseed waning with her dying moon, treasuring the day for what it would deny her. She would travel later, whether here in her trailer, or down the bright roads. The drench of coffee in the musty air would suffice for now, tamales steaming, Fahrenheit dropping, and her heart sore from the last go-round with her demons. She swore allegiance, swore gleeful embodiment, but they knew better. Much better.

Cal was headed her way, the first to spoon her the syrup, the first to fill her uptown days when it was Ray and Gene and all the rattling pleasure. Up at six in the evening, the motored cacophony of the island in Dutch, the fangs of need gripping. Shows uptown were plenty late—and plenty smooth, once Cal came to call. He’d resisted her eye for weeks, little girl, you ain’t got no idea, and you ain’t got a chance, little did he know, she rode horses with the best, been riding since the marathons, and the deadly puns were never lost on her. She’d pigged her way out of the Bowery slums, wiggled her way on the dance floors, until Gene rescued her for her doom.

Mr. Gloom drove up the caliche to her box on wheels, inched his way out of the battered truck to match his battered bones. Long gone the days and nights of them fine wheels. If I can get around on next to nothing, then so can we, still presuming a we she’d long thrown on the trash heap.

She’d left the door cracked to the day’s icy cold; save Gloom the trouble of struggling with the door and then banging the hell out of it for her, anyway. His stodgy breath punctuated each broken step up to the door.

He set his lunch box down on the kitchen bar, eased himself into the other vinyl stool; his look matched the gray stuffing that sighed out of the blotchy red vinyl. Day liked to think that she was still years younger than Gloom’s sag, but she was damned if she was keeping mirrors in the box to check her misguided theory. She eyed the box on her counter, sniffed: “Chu got in that thing there, Gloom?”

Man may be three-quarters dead, still got the gleam of the devil in his eye. “I ain’t got to tell.”

Day read the dead day in her black coffee. “Makes you think I still do that stuff anyway?”

“Yesterday, for one, girl. Your mind that shot?”

“Talk about mind, man who drools through his solos.” She could feel the thrill in arms. Her heart ached for the eons ago of yesterday.

“Now, Day-o, no call for spite. Christmas is comin—”

“And only one goose is getting fat, from what I see.” She pinched an inch of the belly under his shirt, lit a cigarette, blew long and hard like the notes she used to hold. Krupa be damned for telling her she couldn’t hold a note for shit.

Cal cast his lazy eye around the dishevel of the trailer. More of Day out of her drawers than in them. One not so lazy eye on the sheer robe she sat in. He shivered. “Damn cold for no clothes on, girl.”

“Don’t go wishin on yourself, boy. I ain’t cleanin that up.”

Cal looked back to the battered coffee table on its side in the “living” room. “I know that. Last time you cleaned anyway, Day? Looks of that table, you been wrestling a hippopotamus in here.”

“Just the usual fools, brother.” Fools mostly inside her head.


“Dexter don’t count. Leave Dexter out of it. For all I know, he’s dead anyway.”

Sign of the slippage. Dex was dead ten years now. Neither Day or Cal could live it. Still cut them to the core. He’d gone clean, all the way clean, and then one year later fell on his face in the middle of 42nd Street. They weren’t the only ones cut up bad. Sonny’d threatened to take it all back to the bridge once again.

“Tamales smell awful good.”

“Yours for the takin. You know I don’t eat that shit.”

The age-old joke: What do you eat, girl? Too old for the asking these days.

Cal nudged the box her way. “You might eat this. Might just eat it up.”

There was just a spider’s web thread of gumption in her this morning; she’d woke hoping to parlay the Mephistophelian bargain. Cal sure wasn’t helping.

He reached for the metal clasp.

“Take that shit out my house, Gloom.”

“Now, Day—”

“I said, take that shit—”

Thermos in the lid of the box, but a videotape where the sandwich—or worse—should be.

“Hell is that?”

“Found it in my mailbox. Some Swede all the way from a town called Orebro sent it to me.”

“Hell he know where you—”

“Ahmet. Who else? We may have shit on the man, but he’s still got a soft spot on the ranch for us.”

“No us about that, Cal. Soft spot for you.” She reached for the tape. “So, what’d Santa Swede send us?”

Cal looked around the upheaved ship. You still got that video player? I don’t see it, your maid service notwith—”

“Can it, Gloom. It’s in the tub. Don’t ask. I couldn’t tell you anyway.”

She could. She’d tried to drown herself. Busted pipes in the bathroom saved her.

Cal walked down the hall and came back with the black box. Hooked it back up to the TV on the counter near the stove; ejected the tape already inside, and read the label. “That Dorsey shit? No wonder you tried to drown yourself.” Gotta love the junkie’s mind for connections.

Somebody else calling her on it, she got defensive.

“Wasn’t that bad.”

“Who you kiddin? That was before the junk, missy. You stank.”

Cal slipped the new video in the slot.

“What’s this, then? More shit to rub my face in?”

They watched. Both of them there, radiant as God shining in the room, midst a quintet of strangers. It looked like Miles on trumpet, but it wasn’t. Lacked the cool.

One song was all: “But Not for Me.” She’d done it straight up, no sass, and from the looks of her, nothing but tonic water in her bloodstream.

For a moment, the day brightened. They played it seven times and then the tape unraveled in the machine.

“My luck,” said Day.

“Your damn machine, that’s for sure.”

Turkey buzzard swooped in the distance, between the trailer and the blue foothills to the north.

Cal sniffed: “Garland always said her cover was the cat’s meow. Owned the song, she said.”

“Let the sister rest in peace, Cal.”

She eyed the buzzard floating, all preeny in his glory.

For a moment, she felt hers, too.



Blogger Teresa said...

My, oh my. Didn't know there were such stories behind the songs you post.

7:15 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

T: My read about Ms Anita this morning got under my skin pretty quick; had to roll with it.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

Just seems like the brighter some stars burn the quicker they burn up. This was sweet and sad and harsh and cold all at the same time poetry man.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Oh man, you know the truth's too sordid and the fiction just kicks it along. God rest all those souls that went down with dope. Nice bit of early morning writing, amigo. Feliz Navidad!

12:51 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Dee: "Funny" thing about that quicker they burn up business. Apparently, according to the article on Day-o that I read, she was declared dead in 1966, with a hypodermic needle in her arm. As it turned out, not so dead, after all: she lived on until Thanksgiving Day of this year, even released (in April) an album entitled Indestructible.

9:25 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Feliz back at you, Richard. Good to see you this morning.

9:26 AM  

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