Saturday, May 11, 2013

Day 12: Succulent Southern Comfort, a metaphysical Mint Julep with the inimitable John Armstrong and the lil’ gelding that just phucking refused to die...

The incumbent author, his Uncle Larry, and a bottle of Southern Comfort  in  pre-dawn 80's... Kindergarten Crack Kills...

Status: 12 days. I have been dry for twelve days. I'm so dry I should invest stock in KY jelly. “Honey, your vagina and my sobriety finally have something in common!!!”

Physiology: Here’s the thing: I’m just not sleeping. Any female of modest temperament and demure character ( guess I’ talkin’ to all you naughty denim clad Amish lasses out there) who wishes to come over and cuddle and napp (no sex) I will give you a one hour back rub (a little foot massage in the back pew of Downtown abby), host a mad lib make-out session with both your forehead and neck, buckle the avenues of my limbs around the pulse of your anatomy like a corporeal life vest and scribe a timeless canonical-pending love poem about the time-signatures of your eyes that your great grandson will recite one day in the backseat of lord-knows what-sort of  vehicle in a futile attempt to get to second base with his high school sweetheart…sounds like a sweet deal to me…  

The first time I made a conscious decision to get drunk it was Sophomore year in high school  with my friend David Strickler. We pillaged an unopened bottle of Southern Comfort that my mom had stowed under the kitchen cabinet that she was going to cook with. We found two Collins glasses, filled them with ice, popped open the top of the syrupy bourbon and filled the libation to the top of each respective glass.

“We’re gonna get drunk.”

We clinked the glasses  together, saluted in chin-chin unison, made a toast to our health and longevity and then endeavored to chug, our faces simultaneously contorting into sweet-n-sour twist-ties unable to get even a modicum of the liquid down our youthful palates.
We then found a funnel and poured the SOCO back into the bottle.

Mom later cooked with it as an added recipe for one of her bible study coffee cakes.

She never had a clue.

Last Saturday was the Kentucky Derby which makes me think of my dear friend John Armstrong. John is 86 years old and was an old school editor at the Peoria Journal Star for almost half-a-century. Twice a week John’s wife of 65 years lets him go out to Champs West for a cigar and a nightcap, and every Tues and Thurs for the past fifteen years John has driven from Washington to West Peoria to close down the bar. Although nearing 90 John is gentleman, the drying husk of an old school journalist. Sometimes he wears a fedora cap. Lately he’s been walking with this classy cane. The way he smokes his cigar makes me feel like I am having a beer with the late Mike Royko.

I could say he’s sharp as a whip, but the truth is, John’s intellectual acumen makes the crack of a bull whip look more like a twizzler.

We talk about the old school Journalists' of the Star. Rick Baker and Jerry Klein. We talk about what a beast the Sunday Journal Star was when I was growing up and was a paper boy in the late-80’s---and how the paper, when trussed with a rubber band, carried its own pulse and kind of looked like a bassinet stranded on the doorstep of an orphanage on Christmas morning.

It beckoned to be read.

We talk about the newsrooms from back in the day. The furious ping and constant clatter of typewriters draped beneath a heavy plume of newsroom smoke.

We also share a love of horses and horse racing.

"When I was a little Kid I had collected a book of stamps that had every winner of the first 50 Derby's and I memorized the name of every horse." John told me.

I love everything about the Kentucky Derby. The upper-class pageantry adorned in hats that look like variegated hostas. The jockeys resembling garishly attired garden gnomes trying to mount creatures three times their size. The calling of riders up offered by the lips of a beefy southern gentleman as if at a storage war auction. The brazen shrill of the bugle trumpeting the call to the post. The trudge and canter of finely groomed stallions entering Churchill Downs to the chorus of MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME defies me not to cry. The pine-flavored gates flapping open like advent calendars as a thunderous stampede of galloping thoroughbreds streak in frenzied blur marshaling for position, the patter, the majestic sight of dual spires casting palatial penumbras at the clubhouse turn.

I  love how it is one of the oldest sporting events on this continent. I love how,  in a contemporary era when  palsied performance enhancing uppers and venal corporate chicanery pervade all things sports, the finished time at the Derby have remained consistent within tenth’s of seconds in over the last 100 years.  
And of course, the mint Julep, the official quaff of Southern gods and generals.
“I always wanted to invest  in a horse called Panties,” I tell John, tapping my cigar,  “That way when the horse leaves the gate the announcer will be coerced into saying, ‘Panties off!’’”
John laughs. He quotes Richard the third about bartering in his kingdom for that horse. John orders me a Michelob Amber. 

We continue to drink and smoke. We continue to laugh. Some metapysical torch between no-noneshit octogenarian journalist and crazy long haired writer is being passed. There is over half-a century between myself and John, but when we talk about horses, when we talk about good writing, when we take swigs of our beer and tap the ash out from the tip of our cigars it feels like the curtain of time dissipates into narrative wisps and the stories we tell and chronicle in ink will endure far past the vagaires of our alloted moments in this placed called time. Called earth. Called eternity.

My favorite Derby  (see above) transpired four years ago when MINE THAT BIRD, a gelding (which means a horse that was castrated so is usually more focused but often less fast and less horny), the smallest horse in the field who was the caboose and trailed over 20 lengths stormed back down the stretch like a rocket in an antimatter vacuum. 
The second greatest upset at derby history at 50-1.
He came out of nowhere so fast that the announcer didn't even acknoweldge his fueling progression til he was past the finish line. 
One thing most people don't know is that I flunked my first two creative writing classes I ever took. (When I was 19 I was really under the aegis of James Joyce and everything was  'ineluctable and modal' which no frosh comp instructor wants to grade a paper and see the word 'ineluctable'). In high school shortly after I discovered literature the teacher, who's a dear friend of mine, read my essay in front of the AP class as an example of how not to use language (this being at the high school that had the accumulative lowest ISAT scores in the state and the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the nation my junior year).
In college I had a philosophy teacher everyone worshipped tell me that my language-usage was verbose and that I would intriscally never amount to anything self-deemed as 'literary,' or quote 'academic.'  Finally about ten years ago I said FUCK IT!!! I had 600 pages of a novel that was going nowhere.  I made a poetic pact with my soul that everyday I would piss out 10-single space pages on MS WORD, no matter what.  At first it took six hours a day. Then four.  At the end of every writing jam I would print out the ten pages then tape a 31/2 (this was before thumb drives) back to the end of the ten pages.

I wrote 2000 single-space pages, blew my wrists out. Took a month off. Then pissed out another 1000 pages.

And somehow I want my career as a writer to be like that Gelding. I want to be counted out and come out of nowhere and inspire. 

Perhaps these forty days is me exiting the gate, getting flecks of dirt kicked in my face, refusing to yield.  

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