In GC’s latest Gonzo supplement, Luis Rivas reflects on his first poetry reading in the big city and Stalinophile Richard Nesberg offers some Cold War-era flash fiction. (Greg Oguss)
Escape to San Francisco
I’m staying at a hostel, cheaper than a hotel and it’s walking distance to the bar I’m reading at tonight.
There are a lot of pretty, fashionable girls in San Francisco who are very confident with their legs – and a good chunk of these women are writers.
But writers should not be attractive.
Writers should be ugly, but slightly passable in the right light and with an artistic eye. We should look tragically damaged but profound like a college-drop-out bum. We should have scars and flaws but still look cool with them.
I’ve only read out loud in front of people once before at some art gallery in North Hollywood. Now I was in front of a group of drunk, fashionable and flawlessly attractive writers and I was nervous as shit. I read three poems, at the end of each one I inappropriately waited for the applause, got none and quickly went on to the next poem. For the last poem I got a nice response, heard someone say “goddamn” on my way down from the stage.
Next up was Neeli Cherkovski, famous poet, friend and biographer of Bukowski, who read a few long ones, one of which was about Bukowski. He said he liked my stuff, especially the last one.
“It had everything,” Neeli said.
“Yea, I like to juxtapose.”
It talked about the wrongness of free trade, societal issues, my insecurities, anger, murder – all common themes in my stuff.
Next up was Aime De Long who read a detailed piece on ass-penetrating in a BDSM dungeon. That was incredibly disturbing and strangely kind of hot, I told her.
After her was Gina Abelkop who read something about stalking women in the 1800’s, I think. It was good, everyone was good and talented, but more importantly they knew how to read in front of people. That’s something I haven’t practiced enough but I guess I should.
Paul Corman-Roberts was there too, smoking pot right on Mission Street. He and Melissa Hansen were hosting the event and did a faux-dating-service commercial as an opener. I was hoping each would read later on but they didn’t.
Neeli, myself, Paul and a few others were outside, some of us smoking.
“Right here, The Mission District, San Francisco – we are the new bohemia!” Paul proclaimed.
Alan Black read next from his book, Kick the Balls, about doing yoga and teaching a little league soccer team.
Tony DuShane read at the end, a mock-self-help seminar on how to be a writer. Afterward, we all went next door to eat tacos.
Everyone at the event had written a book, whether it was a novel or a collection of poems. They had agents, fans, funny anecdotes, confidence in public speaking and cool hats. It made me feel like a shit.
Tony started pressuring Paul and his wife to go with us to some goth club to dance to Depeche Mode, which at the time seemed like a good idea, a sarcastic drunken one that builds up its own inertia and cannot be stopped. Someone, I think it was Melissa Hansen’s husband, said something about teaching their five-year-old how to swim. Paul and his wife said that they couldn’t go to the club because of the babysitter so I suggested dropping off the kid at the pool with Melissa’s husband for night classes. Kill two babies with one stone! Some laughed.
Someone said it was Tony’s parents who gave us a ride. I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not, but I don’t think it was.
We get to the goth club and it’s horrible, as all goth clubs are meant to be for people who walk in the daylight and don’t have a fondness for sporting fangs and drinking human blood.
Eventually, Tony and his girl take off and I am dropped off at my hostel with ‘People Are People’ stuck in my head which is weird because I don’t think the song was even played.
I check out of the hostel with a manageable hangover and realize that I have four hours to kill before I need to get to the airport. I look around for a place to get breakfast. On Mission Street there are bargain stores, bars, Mexican/Salvadoren/Peruvian restaurants, a corner stand filled with cell-phone accessories, a pile of hundreds of cell-phone car chargers laid out on top of a table like gutted fish.
I go into a place with a picture of Frida Kahlo in the front. I take a seat at a long diner counter. I am given a menu. The prices are relatively cheaper than a lot of places around here. I order a ham omelet, a side of sausage links and coffee, coffee, coffee. The Mexican waitress shouts the order to the Japanese cook, who shouts it back when it’s done, “ONE-EH HAM OMRET, TWO-EH SAUSAGE RINKS LEDY!”
In front of me is a wall decorated with pictures of the San Francisco Giants. There are giant pictures of Lowry, Vizquel and Winn leaping over tall buildings, the bridge, the beaches like mythical Greek gods or Godzilla monsters fighting in the air. But the biggest poster is of a black, older Giant with a huge, un-cupped bulge in his groin – and if you look closely, even without trying to, squinting, you can make out the line of the head of his cock.
I walk around some more. I think about writing, my writing, its worth, my worth, its point and mine.
I decide on writing a book.
I think about what it would be about: sex shops, hookers, bums, illegal immigrants?
I take pictures of some of the impressive murals and of random trash that is arranged in a way that looks like art to me. After a while, I hitch a ride in a cab to the airport where I hope I run into another interesting person who can inspire me with paranoia, stories and maybe even an idea for the book.
October 23rd, 1956
It was my father, Sandor Mikus, who had sculpted the statue that the people were angrily milling around with their steel cables and trucks. The statue for which my father had won high accolades and acclaim now was subject to ridicule and detest.
Joseph Stalin had stood high in Budapest’s Varosliget Park for five years at an impressive twenty-five meters, dominating; his presence in silence did not prohibit his orations of oppression over our people, his stare reminding us of our vassalage and subjection to the Soviet nation.
I arrived as the demolition was already underway. From my humble apartment a few kilometers away, I had heard the crowd wailing, their uproar of hatred and hope overtaking the city. So I closed my physics texts to go and see for myself what was happening.
Outside my apartment, people were shouting praises to deities, some laughing, some crying. Following the flow of the crowd, I arrived at Blaha Lujza Square, which I often passed through on the tram lines. I saw the massive bronze statue my father had forged lying on the ground; dying, defeated. Strong men with powerful machines were busy severing the head from the body. The people cheered with voluminous passion. The noise from the machines echoed through the streets. But it was a mere backdrop to the rage of the people. Soon, I could see the head decapitated through a gap in the crowd amassed in front of me.
Without thinking, I moved forward through the opening, people hugging each other around me as I progressed to the head of Joseph Stalin, our Satan. I stood next to it; my fingers caressed his cheeks, ingesting the subtleties of my father’s greatest achievement. An old woman, nearly eighty years old, reached from inside her cloak and handed me a stick of white chalk. “Write, my dear! Deface this beast, my hands shake too much, I cannot do it properly!” I took the chalk, examined it briefly, and then without hesitation I finished my father’s masterpiece. On Stalin’s cheek, I wrote: W.C.
Anton Alekseev & Ivan Petrov
One, two—twenty boulders later, Ivan Petrov discovers the twitching hand of his friend, comrade, and his partner for their confidential chore, the construction of D-6, a secret subway system serpentining beneath Moscow’s Metro.
It is 1946.
The two men had been friends since their school days—simple times when they swindled girls into nudity and snuck pulls of vodka between classes. They’d had the privilege of serving together in the 6th Army at Stalingrad, where they reflected on their happier youthful life. But not too much. Under such assignments, any hope was false. Many comrades would never leave the city they defended. After the war, they thanked God everyday for the life they were allowed to keep. It was there, in Stalingrad, that they became men, where they learned to shoot rifles and kill for the homeland, kill for survival. After the war, they would push these lessons aside, place them in the past, but they would never forget.
“Anton! Anton!” Ivan screams at the pile of rubble. “Just a moment, Anton!”
He turns around, calls down the tunnel to anyone that can hear, “Come help! He is buried in the collapse!”
Already exhausted from seven hours of labor, the heavier boulders are a feat to remove. Despite his handicap, Ivan works arduously to free Anton. He lifts the boulders nearest the exposed hand without any consideration of the particular architecture of the collapse—removing the wrong stone could be like removing a keystone. Soon, Ivan has cleared enough of the collapse to allow Anton’s arm to flex at the elbow. His arm, the muscle, the tendons, lurches about spasmodically. The arm becomes his eyes, his ears, his ability to express himself. By then, several men with lights and shovels have arrived, taking over for Ivan.
Ivan takes Anton’s hand, in part to console but largely to control the erratic motions, while the men dig him out. His hand calms, yet his grip is one of steel, an unrelenting lock between friends. “You can’t give in Anton! You never submit! Stay with us, Anton, just a moment!”
Bryan Graham, Boy Genius
The boy was a genius, everyone said. Not to him directly, more to each other as murmurings. The boy heard them though.
The boy was Bryan Graham, from Appleton, Wisconsin.
People said such things about him because they were largely true. While he struggled to hit a fast ball, couldn’t throw a spiral pass, Bryan was the best chess player in the county.
Perhaps his skill was a fluke, some thought. So they tested it. First, the high school chess team. They took him out of class for an afternoon, sat him down with the chess team. He defeated their top players in record time.
So they brought him to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. While their team was more of a challenge to young Bryan, he still beat them with respectable ease.
Like most of the nation, Bryan’s uncle, a United States Senator, heard about his nephew’s savant ability. The uncle, Joseph McCarthy, said in an interview, “I’m mighty proud of my nephew, you bet. In fact, I plan on congratulating him just as soon as the 83rd Congress goes into recess.”
And that he did. But the Senator did not return to Appleton alone. He brought with him a high-level official from the State Department. The official wanted to meet Bryan, too.
“It’s an honor to meet such a bright young man,” the official said. “Your talents mean a lot to our nation.” Bryan’s mother, organizing the magazines on the coffee table of her living room, blushed. His father beamed, shot a look at his brother, the Senator.
“It does?” Bryan asked.
“It sure does, young fella,” he said, “And that’s the main reason we came all the way here from Washington D.C.”
“Gosh, that’s a long trip to make just for me.”
At this point, Bryan’s uncle, Senator Joseph McCarthy, took a seat next to him. “You see son,” he began, placing his hand on the boy’s knee, “You might not know too much about the world these days, but we’re in conflict with the Russians. See, the Russians don’t like much the way we do things in America, and the same goes for us about them. Do you follow me?”
“And in this conflict, we need all the help we can get.”
“Even from me?”
“You bet. You’re pretty good at chess, aren’t you?”
“I guess I am,” Bryan said. “I just like to play. It’s the only thing I’m really good at.”
“Well, that’s just fine my boy. We all need something to be best at. What I’m trying to say here now, is that the United States Government and all the people in this great nation need you.”
“What do they need me for? I’m just a kid,” he said, because he was.
“Come next month, there’s an international chess tournament in Vienna. We need you to beat everyone there, especially the Russians. Wouldn’t that be something? A young man from America beats the best chess players in Russia? Wouldn’t that say how great our nation is?”
“I guess so, if I could beat them. But I’m only nine years old, sir.”
Super Glue & Socialism
The extraordinary mind of Zhou Tao could translate Chinese to Russian and Russian to Chinese all the while entertaining his own thoughts, on things like mahjong and a wonderful new invention he had heard about called Super Glue. One might assume translating two languages back and forth would usurp one’s mental capacities, thusly restricting any free-roaming thoughts. One might further assume the translator would focus intently on the subject at-hand, especially if the translation underway happened to be a discussion of Sino-Soviet relations between Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao, leaders of the socialist world. Such assumptions would be incorrect. Zhou Tao had been learning, speaking, writing, and thinking in various languages since he was in grade school. His gift was as natural and unnoticeable as a yawn.
Even while at work helping outline treaties, developing strategies against capitalism, and relaying formal congenialities between statesmen, Zhou was free to spend his remaining mental capacity on whatever he liked. Which he did.
He had heard about the invention named Super Glue from his mahjong partner, his uncle Enlai Tao. A scientist in America, Dr. Harry Coover, had developed the substance for military applications. Zhou knew all revolutionary inventions serve war first. However, he also knew that said inventions often find practical, unmurderous uses. And it excited Zhou to speculate on them.
“Think about it,” he told his uncle. “Nails could be forgotten. Imagine how much iron that would save. And sewing would slip into irrelevancy.”
Stalin Could Be Huge
Roxie’s is the place you go on Saturday nights in Tulsa in 1968 if you’re in college and into having fun with drugs or if you’re in high school and want to be where all the hip kids are. Roxie’s is also the place where Colin Owens and his friends Daryl Altman and Scott Davies are performing on this particular Saturday. Their band, Stalin, has amassed quite the following among the hip kids and tonight, Roxie’s is full of them.
Weed smoke, cigarette smoke, beer breath, slight feedback from the speakers.
Stalin takes the stage, the crowd whistles and shouts as the stage-lights perk up and they begin the set they someday hope to turn into their debut record, Third Reich My Ass! Most the fans know the material well enough to sing along with Colin. But the lyrics don’t matter much. It’s Saturday night; they can forget about their professors and papers and Vietnam protests and get high.
11:30, Stalin is packing up, guitars in cases, speakers and drums in the truck. With a few good-looking girls, the band smokes cigarettes in the back Roxie’s parking lot, passes around whiskey.
The prettiest of the girls takes the bottle, pulls hard from it with the intensity of a person looking for a fast drunk, one people put themselves in to get them to a state where they simply don’t care what happens, what they do, or who they fuck. Probably the latter, Colin is thinking, and she says, “You guys rocked tonight! I still have that last song in my head, it won’t get out!” She giggles, passes the bottle and conversation to her friend, the shorter one with willow tree hair as if that will make up for her stature.
Willow Tree says, “Yeah, that’s the one I want to dance to all night.” She too drinks with ferocity before passing Colin the bottle and leaning a bit closer to him than one needs to do succeed at such things.
Colin takes the cue, pulls her close to him, swigs whiskey, and says, “Well we’re thinking of playing a private show later on tonight, right, fellas?” Daryl and Scott smile, agree. Because they know that after most every show they put on, there is always the later, after-show show, without the typical fans. The after-show show is compromised of, well, the closest of fans, the most intimate appreciators of Stalin. And these girls would do well to be added to the special fan club.
“Where is that show?”
3:30, Colin escorts Willow Tree out of his bedroom to the living room where the other two-thirds of Stalin and their fans congregate. Colin and Willow slump down into a sofa and take the joint that has been going around the room.
A rare Jimi Hendrix blues cut spins on the record player.
The lights dim, matching the depletion they all feel from a night of drinking, sex, and drugs.
Daryl’s girl, the prettiest one, says, “So you guys have plans to get famous some day?”
“We’ve heard some big-time producers have come to see us live, but we ain’t heard from them.”
“Maybe you guys should get outta Tulsa, move to LA or New York or something.”
Willow Tree says, “Yeah, Stalin could be huge.”
“Yeah maybe,” Colin says and passes the joint to her, “After college.”
“My brother was about to move to Greenwich, to be a painter. He’s real good, but then he got drafted,” she says, pulls long from the joint. The first hints of sobriety sink in around the room, moments of regret and headache.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Just be glad it wasn’t you,” Willow Tree says, “You still have a shot at your dreams.”