HST: Prose in Poor Taste Vol. 2 has finally arrived!
“You know, I wasn’t always a raspberry,” said the raspberry.
“That makes sense,” Mr. Dudley said, glancing up from my notes. “You would’ve had to have been a flower before you could be a berry.”
“No, no, no,” sighed the raspberry. “I was actually never a flower at all.”
“So you just came into existence as a fully formed raspberry?” Mr. Dudley questioned.
“Nope, not that either. I used to be a person, then one morning I took a shower. I walked into the shower a good looking thirty-three-year-old woman with legs for days, and I walked out a raspberry.”
“What happened in the shower?” he asked.
The raspberry shrugged the best it could without having any arms, causing the shoulders of its tiny grey suit jacket to shift slightly.
“I couldn’t tell you,” said the raspberry. “It’s honestly kind of a blur.”
Mr. Dudley made a note on his clipboard. The raspberry had no face, which made its emotions hard to read, but he still got the sense that it felt concerned whenever he scratched another note onto the page.
“All that I’m saying is that I’m more than a raspberry. I used to be a human, and I have all the qualifications that come with being a human. I have a B.A. in Economics from Sarah Lawrence College and a Masters of Business from Georgetown McDonough. I have over a decade of experience in the private sector.”
“Is that information not on your resume?” he asked, lifting the resume off my desk for further inspection.
“No it is,” said the raspberry. “It’s just that you haven’t asked about, or even mentioned anything on my resume even once. All you’ve done is ask me about being a raspberry!”
“Because that’s more interesting,” Mr. Dudley said. “Everyone who has ever interviewed for a job at this firm has brought a resume. They’ve all had degrees and previous work experience and qualifications and all that nonsense. But you’re the first candidate I have ever interviewed who is a raspberry.”
“But I’m more than just a raspberry!” cried the raspberry with such fervor that it wobbled a little bit.
The raspberry was too small to sit on the chair usually reserved for interviews and still be seen, so it had set itself on my desk by Mr. Dudley’s big computer. He was nervous watching it wobble, afraid it would fall over and mash itself against his keyboard. That could make his fingers sticky after typing for about a week.
“Ask me about the seven years I worked as head of marketing for Kington Pharmaceutical Supplies,” insisted the raspberry. “That’s actually relevant to this position.”
“Being a raspberry, do you still have to eat?” he asked.
“Do you still have to eat?” he repeated. “You appear to still be alive, in a way. In your raspbitic state, do you still require the intake of nutrients in order to maintain your existence?”
The raspberry sat in silence.
“And if you do need to eat, can you just chew off a little bit of yourself?” Mr. Dudley added as an afterthought. “If you were to eat a small amount of yourself, would it grow back?”
“I don’t have a mouth,” grumbled raspberry after a pause. Mr. Dudley guessed that counted as an answer.
“How is that you’re even talking to me? It’s not like you have a throat and vocal cords?” he asked after a moment of further consideration. “Or do you?”
“No, I don’t have vocal cords. I’m a goddamn raspberry,” said the raspberry.
“How are you vocalizing then? You don’t have a mouth that’s opening and closing to form syllables, or at least not one that I can see. Yet you manage to communicate to me in clear, articulate English at an audible volume with a distinct, pleasantly feminine lilt to your voice. How is any of this possible?”
The raspberry trembled and it turned an even brighter red than it was before.
“I don’t know!” it shrieked. “I don’t even know what happened to me! I was enjoying a perfectly nice, calm Sunday morning an ordinary human being, and then I somehow I became a motherfucking raspberry! I don’t know how this shit works! I’m just trying to live my life as normally as I can, regardless of whether or not I’m a raspberry!”
Mr. Dudley lowered his clipboard and looked at the raspberry, his hazel eyes big and mournful.
“You’ve been through so much,” he sympathized. “I’ve never previously considered the struggles a raspberry might face in modern society, especially if the raspberry was once a person used to enjoying the perks of human privilege.”
“A good looking human with legs for days,” sniffled the raspberry.
“Yet you still come here and apply for a high-paying position at a prestigious marketing firm,” he continued. “You haven’t given up on life, despite that fact you are destined to live the rest of yours as a raspberry. I admire that. In fact, I might go as far as calling it inspiring.”
“Does that mean I have the job?” asked the raspberry, its voice quivering with hope.
“No,” Mr. Dudley said. “I’m afraid I can’t get over the fact that you are a raspberry. Every time I would see you in your cubicle, I won’t see my new head of marketing. I’ll just see a raspberry in a tiny pantsuit. It’s nothing personal. It can’t be, because you’re not even a person.”
The raspberry emitted a pained, gargled sound. Then it exploded. Chunks of raspberry and tiny fabric rained across Mr. Dudley’s desk.
“I guess I broke its tiny, raspberry heart,” he said, surveying the carnage.
Mr. Dudley pulled a Ziploc bag out of the mini fridge by the side of his desk and withdrew a turkey sandwich that he had been saving for lunch and a fork. He lifted off the top piece of bread and scraped the remains of the raspberry onto the lettuce and turkey and tomato.
He had felt like something was missing when he had made that sandwich that morning, but at that moment he had known what it was.
His sandwich needed a little raspberry.
c’mon you fool
get into this circus
I know you want it
I know you’re waiting
to see saggy tits
swinging from a martini glass
demons dancing all round
a rock’n’roll song
played by green men
with shining bellies
we love gonzos
their eyes are like velvet gloves
for the curves of our dancers
they follow dunes of skin
gonzos you are the blessed folk
c’mon you fool
you’re sweating delicious
you’re bloody horny
we got all kinds of
lollipops of lust
thin and smooth
old men in tuxedos
jazzing all night long
giving you the pulp of life
don’t be shy
this the holy fruit
it’s not a sin at all
short is time of this show
so open your eyes
drink in the pot
of our lovely witches
sabbath are for oldies
we shake the earth
on a wooden stage
it’s burlesque baby
and I’m here to say
c’mon you fool
get in and enjoy
He knew his wife was cheating on him. Knew it. Knew it knew it knew it. Knew it like he knew the time of day (2:23 PM). Knew it like he knew his name: Raymond P. Peck, “Raymond” not “Ray.” Don’t call me Ray; it is Raymond to you. Pal.
Concerning his name, Raymond P. Peck had straightened out plenty of wise-asses down at the plant where he worked, and elsewhere. Told them to their faces: “Raymond” not “Ray.” Don’t like it? Then “Mister Peck” would do. For you. Punk.
He knew that because of the straightening the punks did not like him. Knew it like he knew his wife was stepping out. Knew it like he knew the punks at the plant called him “Peckerhead” and “Pecker.” He’d heard them use the names, the other machine operators, the ones whose lockers were in the first aisle, opposite his. The guys in his aisle did not use the names—not within his hearing. They would not dare, he knew, to use the names to his face. They knew, and he knew they knew, he kept a gun in his locker (Smith & Wesson .38 cal.), double locked by two stainless steel combination locks. They knew he’d use it, too. He knew they knew. Knew they knew they knew. Knew it for a fact. Knew it like he knew his daughter’s age. Eighteen. Sally Peck, a cute little package. As prettily packaged as his holstered revolver. So pretty, people gawked at her. Where did Sally get her looks, Raymond often wondered. The wife was no beauty, never had been, and though Sally has his brains—she was at the State University—she did not resemble him (some people thought so, but he knew different; he knew better). The mystery of Sally’s beauty led Raymond to occasionally ponder uncomfortable-type thoughts, thoughts that ate at his brain like his ulcer at his stomach.
He pitched his cigarette butt out the pickup truck window. The smoldering butt bounced once in the dirt and came to rest beside a pile-up of previously discarded butts. The butts made a little graveyard of tiny toppled gravestones. The dashboard clock read 2:33 PM. He knew he’d have to drive like a bat out of hell to make it to work on time. Knew he could do it. Knew it like he knew that sooner or later he’d catch the guy who was putting the boots to Irma. (Or guys—he would not put it past her to have more than one.)
A brown, box-shaped UPS truck rolled to a stop in front of the Knowlton residence, 13 Prospect Street. Raymond stared at the driver. Was the driver making it with Irma, Raymond wondered. Was Buck Knowlton? Raymond watched the driver walk to the Knowlton’s front door. A tall prick with a swagger to his walk, a slight strut like a wary rooster. Watching for the fox, Raymond thought.
The driver returned to the truck. Raymond ground his back teeth; the grinding like the sound a glacier makes moving forward. The truck lurched ahead, growling like a beast. As it approached 15 Prospect Street, home of Mr. & Mrs. Raymond P. Peck, the driver turned his head toward the facade of the squat, gray ranch-style house. The driver’s lingering glance was like a kiss bestowed upon the lips of Irma Peck. The duration of the glance, coupled with an obvious hint of possessive scrutiny the glance contained, confirmed all Raymond’s thoughts about the driver. No doubt Irma was signaling from the house, and that was why, on this occasion, the driver did not stop, go into the house, and put it to her. (She guessed, or knew, that Raymond was watching.) A curtain pulled or left open. A shade up or down. A light on or off. Easy. Easy and workable. Simple but expedient.
Raymond stared at the driver as the truck bucked past, heading north. The driver did not look at Raymond, parked alongside a billboard (which read: SLICK’S WORRY FREE CONDOMS. Buy ‘em by the box!)
Raymond trailed the truck up onto the plateau of Upper Prospect Street. Stopping beneath the overhanging branches of a roadside oak, Raymond slumped, eye-level with the steering wheel. The driver plodded across a lawn, moving through bright late afternoon sunshine, arms cradling a stack of packages. A sturdily-built youth, curly-haired with blunt features. The kind of guy, Raymond thought, women would go for. The macho-type. Plus the uniform thing. An image of the driver stuffing his membrum virile into Irma flashed through Raymond’s mind like an excised cut of a porno film. A gust of wind ripped through the oak, and tree branches creaked like rusty hinges of a swinging door. The uniformed whore-master jumped into the brown truck. The wind hissed through the leaves.
“Shut the fuck up,”Raymond said.
He slammed his truck into gear and swung the vehicle across the road in a screaming U-ey. 3:10 PM. He drove onto the exit ramp to I-69. To be late for work was unthinkable; he had not been late in twenty-two years on the job. He drove a hundred miles an hour, passing every prick and cunt on the road. He was a bat out of hell.
Ten minutes into the second shift at Combustible Techtonics Inc., Ball Bearing Manufacturer, the plant foreman joked to an operator that Raymond must be dead, or else in the nut house. The operator guessed nut house.
Raymond punched in thirteen minutes late. He ran from the time clock as if from a fire. His brown low-cut Hush Puppy’s slapped the cement floor of the long gray corridor. Like a halfback running downfield, he navigated through a maze of machinery. Sweat rings the size of softballs stained his button-down, short sleeve shirt at the arm pits. His scrawny chest heaved. He moved down his aisle in a controlled frenzy, putting his machines into motion. Sixteen machines, eight each side of the aisle, each shaped like an outboard motor, only motor’s upsidedown and capped by a spinning bicycle tire-sized wheel.
The machines wailed, screeched like gravelly-voiced babies adding their complaints to the roar of the shop, pungent with the odor of oil and carbon and warmed to a mephitic toastiness.
Raymond plucked a clip-boarded stat-sheet from a steel guard rail; glanced at the stat-sheet like a man looking at a parking ticket, let go of the clip-board, punched a button on the rail. He waited for the bicycle tire-sized wheel to stop. He unclamped the top half of the wheel. Peering down at the two dozen silver ball bearings lying in the runnel of the bottom half of the hollowed wheel, he picked up two balls. The warm, slickly oiled bearings were like a pair of nuts. Like his, he thought; like any mans. He imagined the nuts in a sack of soft material. Weighted the sack in his hand. Heard the sack whap whap whap into Mrs. Irma Peck’s crotch.
He flung the bearings to the floor; the ball’s bounced off the concrete and into a pan of oil beneath the machine. The black glossy pool of oil stirred like the rippling skin of a waking panther.
Who was banging her? Beside the UPS guy and the grocer? (He knew all about the grocer.) The butcher? The baker? The mailman? Salesman? TV-repairman?
Out of the gnashing steel mayhemic uproar a voice came into Raymond’s head. The voice of either God or the Devil. Raymond turned and gazed into the unhappy face of the shop foreman.
The foreman’s mouth opened and closed in paroxysms of speech. Raymond studied the face, viewing each feature separately, merging the features into a single image. Like focusing a camera lens. The foreman’s words flew like twittering birds past Raymond’s head. He did not catch even one. He wondered if the foreman, Roger Gizzum, was screwing Irma. He wondered how many of the guys in the plant she was putting out for. Raymond watched the foreman backing away, becoming smaller, becoming a blur. The ball-grinding machines grunted like animals rutting. Uncontrolled orgiastic yelping. Ecstatic moans. Feverish crescendo of climactic cries. Screwing their brains out. Irma spreadeagled in the center of the fuck-fest, squirming, moaning… Snickering gargoyle faces peered from heads raised above machines. Leering faces with mocking grins watching Irma…
Raymond came-to in the locker room, alone, standing upright before his locker. How he had arrived there he did not know. He opened his locker, reached and took his gun from its holster, plugged the gun into the waistband of his polyester pants.
Seventeen minutes later he was home.
Fading sunshine dappled the drive, front lawn, and house. He stepped from the truck, swung the door shut. Birds fed noiselessly at the feeder outside the kitchen window. Insects hovered silently in the humid air. He could not hear the sound of his footsteps on the walkway as he approached the front door. He felt as if he were moving underwater. Felt as if the act of walking was foreign to him, something he was repeating by rote. Everything suddenly seemed unreal, as if he were inside of a waking dream. Was he real, he wondered, or part of the dream? He felt the weight of the gun tugging at his waistband. The gun was real.
Holding onto the butt of the gun, Raymond pushed open the front door and entered the house. The living room was dark as a cave. Light from a small window lit a path for Raymond through the room. A path like a trail through woods.
The hallway leading to the back bedroom was tunnel-like in its darkness. The bedroom door at the end of the hall was illuminated in white light. The light hurt Raymond’s eyes; he stared at the carpet as he walked. A doorway on his right, the door to Sally’s bedroom, was filled with shadow. The shadow stepped into the hall across Raymond’s path and disappeared into the gloom ahead.
Raymond stood in the bedroom door: “So! Where is he?”
Irma Peck frowned at the sock in her left hand. “Where is who?” she said, distractedly, drawing a threaded-needle through the sock.
“The guy you have been fucking!”
Irma swiveled her head; her frozen beauty-parlor hairdo shivered. Her dark-rimmed eyes, accentuating her look of frazzled fatigue, opened wide.
“DON’T DENY IT.”
Irma’s hands dropped into her lap; the lap was covered by a white apron worn over a flower-printed house-dress.
“I have proof!”Raymond barked. He dug into his pocket, reached and slapped a scrap of paper down on Irma’s sewing desk.
Irma read her handwriting from the scrap. “Please send six lean pork chops and one pound ground beef.”
“It is a note,” Irma offered, looking up. “To the grocer… For pork chops,” she pleaded, voice rising. “For ground beef!” she insisted.
“PORK CHOPS!” Raymond crowed. “And what else? IT IS CODE!” he screamed, spit flying from his lips. “Code between you and the grocer! You and the truck driver! You and Buck Knowlton! Yes, Buck Knowlton! And you! And Roger Gizzum, and you! And everybody, and YOU!”
“Oh Raymond,” Irma cried, blanching. “Raymond, you are crazy!”
Raymond stabbed a finger to his chest. “I’m CRAZY? You were the one thought you could get away with it!”
Raymond pulled the gun from his waistband.
Irma’s mouth opened wide. Wide as a plate. Wide as a manhole cover. Wide as a cave entrance. Wide as a canyon. Wide as the sky on a night black as ink.
She fell backwards, flopping like a rag-doll onto the carpeted floor.
The birds outside the bedroom window peeped like a frenzied bird-orchestra.
Raymond tucked his gun away. He knew his wife would never cheat on him again. Knew it like he knew the time of day. 4:19 PM. Time to get cleaned up and go back to work, he thought. Start the day over.
the sun comes up
as I fall deep down into the rabbit hole
of drunken stupor
at the crossroads of my soul.
Let me sleep, devil!
I’ll take a ride on
the speed junkie’s carousel
behind closed eyelids
and wait for
the hellhounds to start chasing
me through the day
towards my misery
and the next drinks
with the devil patiently waiting.
the world tattooed
in scrolled lettering
on her neck, foxy
lady on her exposed
left shoulder, sexy
in bold gold CAPS
within her gold hoop
earrings. I wondered
what else she had
written on her body
no one could see
through her form
fitting shift & how
much it would cost
to find out
in sticky strands
I rate this
in a back alley
but well above
at some stranger
in the street
One day in the late eighties I received a call from Jonathan. He had optioned a story he’d written to a well-known underground filmmaker. He was in California, hanging out with some friends in Los Angeles and partying with the money he’d made on the deal.
Jonathan was a poet, a vocation that as far as I could tell involved quoting Charles Bukowski, drinking, and seducing coeds that were predisposed to find this sort of behavior charming. I had met a handful of guys like this during my unsuccessful stint in community college, and I was generally turned off by the whole scene. I didn’t understand poetry, which was due more to my lack of education than anything else.
I was impressed by Jonathan’s film deal, though. The Filmmaker was very hot with the indie crowd, so it was definitely a coup to have something picked up by him. I remembered the story he sold. A year or so earlier he had let me read it in a different incarnation, when it was a one act play he had written for a local theatre group. I didn’t think much of it at the time; it seemed overwrought and preachy, full of angst and kind of obvious. Not wanting to be a complete asshole, I told him I liked it. I gave him what I hoped was some constructive feedback and wished him the best of luck with it.
The truth was I was jealous. I may not have liked Jonathan’s writing, but at least he was doing something and trying to make a go of it. I had no shortage of ideas, but I could never seem to get anything concrete down on paper. I wrote just enough that I felt justified in thinking of myself as a “writer,” but I had very little to show for my efforts. I could talk a good game, but in reality I was still just drifting along through life, killing time while waiting for something to happen.
I met up with Jonathan at the motel he was staying at in L.A. He had driven out from his home in the Midwest with two women. I assumed he was fucking one or both of them. He seemed to do well with the women, which was another thing I was jealous of. Women responded to the tortured poet act, which I thought was a complete put-on. It was another short con to me. Life was full of them, I was discovering.
Jonathan wanted to do a reading while he was in town, so I found a coffeehouse in Pasadena that was having an open mic night and drove out there with him. There was a decent crowd, and he came prepared with a copy of his poetry chapbook to read from. When it was his turn he hunched over the mic and yelled and railed, gesticulating wildly and doing the angry poet thing. It was a little over the top for me, but Jonathan definitely had a stage presence. I had played music in front of people, but I wouldn’t have had the balls to get up in front of a roomful of people and just talk (not sober, at any rate). I thought he pulled it off well. After the reading we skipped the espresso and polite conversation and spent the evening drinking cheap beer on the train tracks that ran behind the coffee house. It turned out to be a pretty good night.
A couple nights later I drove up to L.A. with my friend Ryan to see Jonathan and his women. We hit a few bars, ending up at the Frolic Room on Hollywood Boulevard. Jonathan was a Bukowski fan, as we all were, so it seemed appropriate to knock back some drinks in one of his favorite dives. Bukowski was still alive at this time, but we weren’t going to catch him hanging out at places like the Frolic anymore. He had achieved enough fame that he was able to move on to a better zip code. Barfly, the Mickey Rourke movie about his early years, had recently come out. Now every college-age male that could string a few sentences together and stomach a six pack thought they were the next Bukowski. Jonathan was one of those guys. I suppose I was as well.
After the bar closed we ended up back at the motel on Sunset. The girls went up to the room and Jonathan, Ryan, and I stayed in the parking lot to continue drinking. At some point a hooker cut through the parking lot and started trying to chat the three of us up.
“Hey, baby. You datin’?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Ryan said. “What’s it cost to party?”
After a brief negotiation, Ryan disappeared down the alley with her. Jonathan looked appalled.
“I can’t believe he’s doing this.”
I just shrugged and took a hit off my beer. I had seen worse.
“I mean, I just can’t imagine paying for sex,” he said.
I guess when you have a smooth line and the poet shtick to fall back on you don’t have to pay for it.
“Yeah. Okay, Casanova.”
I thought it was pretty funny, the gutter poet getting out-guttered. Welcome to Hollywood, baby.
When Ryan returned it was clear Jonathan had had enough for the night. Both Ryan and I were too wasted to drive back to Orange County, but we had to beg him to let us crash on the floor in his room. It seemed like a reasonable request, but I could tell he wasn’t happy about being stuck with us.
Jonathan took the king size bed with the two girls, Ryan pulled two chairs together for a makeshift bed, and I grabbed a spot on the floor. Jonathan turned the lights out. I folded up my leather jacket to use as a pillow and closed my eyes.
I don’t know how long I’d been out, but I awoke to the sound of one of the girls screaming. The lights came on and Ryan was standing naked in the middle of the bed, his feet astride the body of one of the terrified girls. I have no idea what he thought he was doing. He was probably in a blackout.
There was a lot of yelling and confusion. Jonathan, who was also naked, pushed Ryan and I outside, then stormed back in the room and slammed the door behind him. Ryan slowly got his clothes back on, and we yelled and pounded on the door to the room, laughing and loudly cursing Jonathan for throwing us out.
“Open the fucking door, poetry man! We’re not done with you yet! Poetry man! We want your women, poetry man!”
There was nothing but silence from the other side of the door. When it became obvious we weren’t going to get back in, we left.
Ryan and I walked west on Sunset until we found a Denny’s. I didn’t have enough money to eat, so I got a cup of coffee. Ryan ordered a grand slam, then promptly passed out with his head on the table. When the waitress brought the food Ryan was still out, so I slid the plate over to my side of the table and began eating. I was hungrier than I realized. It was delicious, the way food always is when you’re drunk.
As I ate I thought about Jonathan. I figured that would be the last I heard from him. My friends and I had a way of wearing out our welcome with people. We were an unrepentant group of fuckups, and we didn’t make it easy for people to like us. It was bound to happen sooner or later. At any rate, maybe Jonathan’s story would get turned into a slick black and white art film and his career would take off. That would be cool. Maybe he’d put us in one of his stories some day. Stranger things have happened.
I finished Ryan’s breakfast, then pushed the plate back to his side of the table. I shook him awake and told him he was done and that he should pay the check so we could leave. He looked at the empty plate, confused, then pulled out his wallet and started looking around for a waitress.
There were definite advantages to being the last man standing.
there are dimensions
tripping in youth
freaking myself out
My heart! Help!
I don’t want to jump
I don’t want to have to die!
Lucy was a barmaid, big in all the right places. I was a two-time loser, and down on my luck to boot.
We didn’t have much in common, but I really liked the way she screamed when I fucked her. It was like someone was taking a large kitchen knife to her, over and over again.
The police had been called on multiple occasions. Everyone thought I was killing her. (Yeah, killing her with this dick!)
All joking aside, the police got tired of coming out. Eventually they stopped coming at all.
Lucy continued to scream. This went on for months until the night that I did take a large kitchen knife to her.
It was perfect, she screamed and screamed, and no one seemed to notice.
I even saw the landlord in the hall the next morning. He just smiled at me, and said, “you lucky dog!”