Art

Quit at Fifteen – David Lohrey

Chemistry

 

My feet always smell. That’s the problem.
My wife says I am running on fumes.
She says she is being asphyxiated.
She says she is choking. I say today 
I might die. She says, good.

Are we in need of a poetry of sadness?
I feel no need to seek out fellow martyrs.
Suffering all alone is the poetry. Country 
music is nothing if not lonely. The women 
are not nearly as distraught as the men.

Cowboy hats make slim men look sexy.
Fat men never look sexy, with or without
head gear. Fat women needn’t worry about
what they wear. Cowboy boots are all about
the fear of flying. Shoot, everyone knows that.

Keep them dawwgies rollin’, Rawhide! 

American Pastries is rolling out new products 
from their industrial-sized ovens in Louisville, 
Kentucky. Mohammed Ali is their spokesman. 
They show him kneading dough, naked, in a cloud
of white flour. 

Ali has a cue stick in one hand and a rolling pin
in the other. The phone on the wall is singing Dixie. 
It is 1957. Elvis is having his lips enhanced. Levy’s 
has invented bell-bottoms. My father says he always
wanted to dance like Elvis. 

Lincoln is fixing to design the most beautiful
automobile ever conceived. My neighbor’s
dachshund ate my pet rabbit. Our parakeet
lies stiff as a corn dog on the bottom of its cage.
Pete & Sam’s Wednesday night special ran out. 

Keep them dawwgies rollin’, Rawhide! 

I learned to obey in the fifth grade. Ten
years later, my teacher, Mrs. Knowland, 
dropped by to ask after me. My father
demanded to know what I had done 
to attract her attention. “Well?”

There are tanks in the street. Curfew begins
at six. The National Guard has been called
in. They are using the parking lot at Carondolet 
Plaza as a staging area. The mayor has announced
that looters will be shot.

Today the monument to Sandra Dee was dismantled.
They are digging up graves. Whites and blacks
can no longer be buried side by side. The statue
of Princess Diana in front of Buckingham Palace was
torn down by an enraged mob. “White privilege!”

The kids did as they were told; many danced and kicked
as in a tarantula’s grip. Some screeched; other wailed.
The boys grabbed their crotches and humped the air.
Some of the girls did the Obama, that frenzied sweeping 
of the lowered backside along the floor. 

Go ahead, tear it down. Malcolm X never liked 
Mickey Mouse.  Henry Kissinger never bothered 
to master English. Why should American children? 
Personally, I’m glad 17% of the people are dead.
Next time, they’ll remember not to be born.

Keep them dawwgies rollin’, Rawhide! 

 

Tennessee William’s Last Play

 

We all know Blanche Dubois. All too well as they say in western
Tennessee. We live in the shadow of Anna Mae Bullock, we do.
Only white men don’t wail on their women in quite the same way.
My mother looks an awful lot like Shelley Winters after she put on
weight, two-hundred and fifty pounds of misery and sexual frustration.

That poet of human wrecks, Adrienne Rich was the voice of the desert,
dry air, and broken spirits. Mother’s is a wet despair. Smelly bras and
stinky underarms, beauty parlors, beehive hairdos, chipped nails,
and the sort of gals who miss their lips altogether and smear polish
directly on their teeth like Kabuki actors.

They cannot be compared to Jean-Paul Sartre. Why blame Paris Hilton?
She didn’t go to the École Normale Supérieure. American children
of the rich do not obtain world-class educations; that is left to the Chinese
and, before them, the Jews. The rich who for reasons not entirely clear assume
the education of a plumber’s daughter will do just fine.

They are sent to school, private or public, and learn nothing. Parents
agree that shopping is more important. One of my favorite stories
is of the retired vaudeville theatre owner who contracted a hot-air
balloon off the top of the Eiffel Tower for his daughter’s 27th birthday.
The whole thing went up in flames and drifted away.

The men have been beaten down. Excuse me, sir, my dear husband here
would like to have a word. He is a little bashful. You will find him
standing in the corner with his fingers in his mouth. The man had not
spoken in eleven years except to tell the gardener to take care not to
scratch his new Thunderbird convertible.

I have three sisters. Mother likes to wear her mink stole to bed.
She spends her afternoons at Seessel’s, turning over baskets of strawberries.
She lets the little ones roll onto the floor. She insists on having hers
filled with the plump and succulent; she hates the way they try to hide
unripe berries. “Get over here and pick that up.” I can just hear her.

When Seessel’s closed, after 150 years, Mother threatened to block
the store entrance on Union until she got their recipe for Canasta cake.
Thing is made with butter, Coca Cola, chopped pecans, and confectionary
sugar. She already knew how to make mahjong stew. This was back in the days
when string beans, corn, and sliced beets came in cans.

The only men in the house are my father, Hubert, and the negro gardener,
Jake. I’d fled. He lives beneath the house, behind the boiler, and bathes
in whatever escapes from the water heater. He lies on his belly and trims
the grass with scissors. He urinates in the bushes. He wears women’s
stockings left in the garbage on his head to absorb the perspiration.

Mother likes to say, “Get back to work.” This she utters day and night to the maid,
Estelle, my sisters, who have nothing to do, and on rare occasion to Jake,
the little man in the basement who makes her feel uncomfortable. She pays them all
more than they deserve, she says. The women at the country club call her cheap.
She never tips.

There were a few years there when we kids ate nothing but Lucky Charms for breakfast,
lunch, and dinner. They’d gone off to Europe. Father produced an old push mower
and told me to offer my services to the neighbors. None of us had a cent. I ended up
cadging dimes from poor old Jake. He still called me “Mr. David.” I must have
been eleven. A redhead dropped by on Sundays to take us to Mass. We weren’t Catholic.

Mother moved uncomfortably from her Buick to a Mercedes. There are now guard
dogs and guns. Security cameras, motion detectors, even metal grates on the windows.
I got the girls out. Jake is harmless. Estelle is on full alert. Father passed away.
The thing is, it’s not just the strawberries. Even the cheese is rotten. Mother orders
meat direct from the wholesalers.  Last week, they delivered 250 pounds of fresh beef.

 

In Light of Recent Humiliations

 

Menke opened up about his soft drink fixation, 
telling his doctor about how he had run out of his supply 
of a certain brand. “Bubba is deeply attached to Tab,” 
his wife Stella reported. 

“When Coca-Cola announced that it was discontinuing 
production of the beverage, Menke’s wife, who ran a high-end
beauty shop on Union Avenue, gave him a year-long supply 
for Hanukkah.” 

“That, along with 400 pounds of prime beef from Kansas 
in the double-freezer at the bottom of the stairs should hold 
you, at least for now,” Mr. Curtis Nash of Liberty Packing
explained as he had his men make delivery. 

Donahue’s top man told the salesman he had consumed 
all the bottles of Tab his wife Stella gifted him, admitting
the drink’s absence had been a challenge for him to overcome. 
“The Tab is gone — that’s all I know.”

Menke explained his dilemma to the Lieutenant when the police
arrived shortly after 7 that morning on a call placed by his spiteful 
neighbor, Miss Nancy Rappaport. As soon as she heard the shots, 
she called 911. It made her feel good.

“She told me to get over it,” Menke explained. His wife lay 
in the basement on the newly-laid linoleum floor, with the door 
left wide open. Menke had thrown the gun inside the freezer, 
hoping his finger prints might freeze and disappear.

As his father once said, “What’s the point of lying?” Menke 
told the cop he needed to sit. As he did, he peed his pants, 
the warm urine ran out his right pant leg onto the dining room 
carpet. Its design included an enormous green peacock.

With that, he cried. The Lieutenant looked bored but fought
the impulse to yawn. His men took Mr. Menke into custody.
He’d never felt the cold steel of handcuffs. The ones his wife 
used had pink straps lined in fake fur. The fur was pink, too.

The man had no idea what to think. He’d killed his wife and knew
it was wrong but, apart from being against the law, he didn’t know
how it could be said he had made a mistake. He clearly couldn’t 
go on living with a woman who believed she was always right.

He introduced himself to Ned Conklin his cellmate. As he said his name,
he held out his hand but Ned didn’t look up. Jesus, he said to himself,
is this the way it is going to be? Menke, who was used to being in the 
presence of kind people, found Ned’s behavior nearly unforgivable.

He sat on his bunk, thinking of those kids at Columbine, barricading 
themselves in their classrooms, hoping the killing spree would stop.
They needed to get home in time for TNT. That evening, they were going
to be showing a double-bill of Neil Simon comedies from the 1970’s. 

One starred Telly Savalas and the other featured Gina Lollobrigida. Menke
had read the TV Guide the other day while at the dentist and made note
of the week’s schedule.  He couldn’t remember the titles but the actors’
name had caught his attention. He’d been a fan. 

He now contemplated aphids and all they bring to the table. He and his
wife had been gardeners. She spent the early morning squeezing the blood-
suckers that lined the stalks of her prized tomatoes. She pinched them
with relish, killing half a dozen at a time. He preferred using poisons.

What he’d give for a chance to squeeze a few aphids now. He hadn’t 
liked the smell of tomato sap and aphid blood on his fingers. It was hard 
to wash off that smell, that is, the pungent odor that remained for days. 
He thought of it now as he sat on the toilet.

Art: that’s what got him, how his wife Stella had spent so much money
on it. He’d just paid a fortune having the house carpeted. He’d even
picked out a couple of mirrored end tables and a glass dining room set
that set him back several thou. The blue shag, the aphids, all that glass.

Menke just couldn’t listen to Stella anymore. When she said he no longer 
needed Tab, he decided to kill her. He was so sick and tired of her telling 
him what he needed. Always the expert. He needed it all right; he wanted 
to enjoy something he fancied, needed or not. Forget that shit.

He looked at her body. There it lay. He was still surprised by himself.
He was happy he had killed her on the basement floor and not on the new
carpeting. She’d have been furious. Even if it meant leaving her there on 
the linoleum which she hated. The coroner took her without anybody seeing. 

This entire tale deserves a better poet, but not, I hope, one of those feminine 
lamentations, set off by cartwheeling starlings or depressed butterflies.
A guy like my dad, Bubba Menke, deserves a real wordsmith like Raymond
Chandler, someone who knows how to celebrate a drunk with his foot in the door.

 

Who Invented Phil Silvers?

 

As was once known to all, in the country bringing in the hay is of paramount 
importance. Not that butterscotch and pulled pork mean nothing. The question,
it must be said, is what one can say is of equal importance in the city? Sex?
American Express? No doubt, this was the question that kept Charles Dickens 
up at night. Is there anything at all of equal value to that of making hay?

Much is lost on a society that doesn’t dress for dinner. In Saudi Arabia, there
isn’t a male over five who doesn’t wear a tuxedo. Every single Arab lad worth 
his salt dresses up on a daily basis, rather like the man in a grey flannel suit. 
This was back in the day when men took their shoes to be polished. These days
billionaires wear dungarees. Their shoes may cost $1,000 but they are sneakers.

Moccasins, loafers, flip-flops, nothing more; God knows what these people wear
beneath. Not much more than a Japanese field hand. Steven Spielberg dresses 
like Dennis the Menace and he is well over sixty; has for years. I wouldn’t be 
surprised if he wears nothing at all under his pants, just like Marilyn Monroe, 
who wore her jeans so tight anyone could see she didn’t have on any panties.  

Ten-year-olds dress up in Riyadh and do it with pride. Same goes for Cairo,
Damascus, Dubai, and Tehran. It isn’t fashionable to look like a slob. People
are not ashamed of looking good, not to mention being smart. The smart kids
over there are honored and respected, not scorned and mocked as they are here
in the USA. Instead of hating kids with brains or talent, people adore them.

Note how few people go to church. Kids don’t even attend Sunday school. They
don’t believe in God and they don’t wash their crotches. It would be difficult 
to prove that these are related but I suspect they are. Nowadays girls take 
their tits out for a walk. Men and women wear tattoos all over, even between
their legs. They ask Oprah and Lady Gaga to write autographs on their dicks. 

Much of it comes down to the fact that we have no Queen. Because of it, men
all over the country dress up in their mother’s frocks. Boys today go to the nurse
at school complaining of their periods. Men brag about having menopause. They
sell male tampons at the five and dime. Boys run around the locker room with 
their hands between their legs, giggling and kissing each other on the lips.

The only good thing that has come of all this is that women are no longer ashamed
to admit they like to be whipped. They beg for it. They pay for it. Ladies want
their husbands to pull down their knickers and give them a hiding. Now that
this is out in the open, corporal punishment will come back into fashion, along 
with public floggings and vicious beatings, even those that bring forth death. 

This is what people want. They may not hope to return to family farms, but it is
clear that people want simpler lives. As victory gardens spring forth, people will 
get their hands dirty. That’s a good thing. People forget that fresh vegetables smell
like cut flowers. People will once again hang dead animals on their doors. Children 
will be taught how to ring hens’ necks and how to castrate swine. They’ll play outdoors.

They’ll start making their own soap. Men and women will carry guns. Women will 
beat the shit of their husbands when they come home late. They’ll share bras. Men 
will start to wear high heels to the office. Women will go back to drinking themselves
to death as they used to. Kids will get jobs instead of going to school. People who say 
they hate their country will be shot in the streets. People will be happy.  

 

Song and Dance Man

 

“It would be my honor to shit on my country.”
This is what was said by the Speaker at 
commencement. He hadn’t even bothered to ask
permission. He just removed his pants and
hung them out to dry. Standing there under
the mistletoe. “And I don’t believe in Christmas
either, so you can all fuck off.” He said he didn’t care. 

Well, I’ve heard quite enough. This is what passes
for a song and dance man in this day and age.
I find the whole thing obscene. I refuse to wash 
his mouth out with soap. I refuse to hang
him out to dry. I refuse to wiggle my bum.
In fact, I grew quite grumpy and kneeled right over.
That’ll teach him a thing or two.

There was Churchill. There was FDR. They could swim.
And now there is this chap named Biden. Some are quite
enamored but I can’t abide him. I’d compare him not
to Hitler but to Neville Chamberlain. He’s a wimp.
He’d take candy from a baby. He’s sneak. I can’t look
him in the eye. He’s admired by my mother. I walked
away when he cut in line at Baskins Robbins.

He ordered three scoops of peppermint and I gave up
the ghost. When he said there was a hint of French vanilla,
I almost lost it. The man smells of burnt offerings. He
walks around with dog shit on the bottom of his shoe.
The man is a weasel. He’s a thug. He punched my mother
in her left boob. He tried to lick her right ear. He reached 
around and pinched both nipples.

 

Stop Calling Me by Your Name

 

Halloween is not the time to start hugging and kissing. That comes later,
and in return for tons of presents. You’re grateful for the Mars Bar, but 
let’s not get carried away. Halloween has nothing to do with Thanksgiving 
and fellowship. It shouldn’t be confused with Christmas.

It is a holiday about getting as much as you can before the other guy takes
it away. It’s a knife fight in a paper bag. People would kill for a Tootsie Roll.
It was on Halloween night that year that I first heard the expression “fuck you.”
I had a friend in Chickasaw Gardens whose mother took all his candy away. 

“Hey, you, with the face.” When I heard those words, I knew my bag would be
rifled through for my Dots and Milk Duds. If lucky, they’d let me keep my
Three Musketeers bars. Billy Nash was on the prowl and he wasn’t about to do
no trick or treating. “Fuck that.” That was the first I’d heard that expression.

I’d have never allowed my mother to tag along. We didn’t do that back
in the 60s. Those were the years they invented your Miranda Rights. We were
on our own. Same year, too, they killed the President, so we knew they meant
business. Talked of ‘Nam, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and “Get Smart.” 

I had friends who kicked in Jack O’lanterns. They threatened to kick in your 
head if you told. They threw left-over firecrackers and tossed rolls of toilet
paper in the trees. Hofer and Butler ruled our block; Butler drove a brand new 
Camaro. It was gold and white. They were varsity and didn’t take any shit. 

Our block was white. There were all sorts of rules. If someone wanted to fight,
you pretty much had to, whether you wanted to or not. You could hit them
anywhere you could land a punch but not after they fell. The other boys would
clobber you if you hit the other guy while he was down. 

We didn’t play with girls and we didn’t fight them. Back then, if you hit a girl,
her brothers would hunt you down and kill you. On Halloween, the girls went
one way and the boys, another. We were too young to drive. The bigger the house,
the less likely you’d get something. The rich went into hiding. 

Supper was early and then we hit the road. Block after block of penny candies. 
Candy bars were highly valued. My faves came in little boxes. Apples pleased 
our mothers but were heavy and smelled. By the time I was fourteen, you had
to watch for razor blades and other sharp objects. The crazies began to flourish.
Year after year, I carried home an entire grocery store bag of candy. We dumped
it onto our beds and swapped for favorites. I was a tootsie pop freak. I’d weep 
over cherry. I’d fight for grape. Chocolate was just ok. There were always odds 
and ends. If we were lucky, we’d get a full-sized candy bar. We quit at fifteen.