FATE CONSPIRES THE PERFECT JOKE
I was walking across 57th street on my way to work when I noticed him up ahead scuffling along the curb—silver hair, blue jacket and white sneakers. I probably wouldn’t have given him a second thought, but he reminded me of someone I know from the literary scene. As I pulled even, I realized I’d been mistaken. His hair was dirty yellow, unwashed, and one look at the shoes clinched it; worn-out sneakers whispering, “Street, street.” The guy was probably homeless. Fucked-up world, I thought, and swung into the front door of the bookstore.
Later, I met Jim Feast for dinner at a neighborhood deli. We were in the middle of fixing up a manuscript, and the give-and-take had been a lot of fun. We bought sandwiches and coffees and headed for a back booth. And then I saw him again, sitting at a small table, head cradled in his arms, zonked out. A large Coke teetered precariously near his elbow, and sure enough, the next thing you know he’d knocked it to the floor, where the reddish-brown liquid puddled like blood. Poor fucker, I thought, and then poor fuckers for the counter guys who were going to have to mop up the mess.
So Jim and I got down to business, ripping out words and telescoping paragraphs—beating a piece of writing into shape. And then, from out of nowhere, like a state trooper screaming through your car window when you’re pumping away in the back seat, he’s in our face yelling at us to “Buy me a sandwich buy me a drink give me money heal my wounds,” slinging spittle on my fucking glasses.
“Jesus,” I say to the dude, “We’re trying to have a conversation here—get ahold of yourself!” but he’s cursing and windmilling his arms in every which direction like a helicopter going down.
“Back off!” I shout at him, but it’s like I’m not really there. And then I get a thought—a truly inspired stupid thought—a thought I’ve carried around in the tattered knapsack that is my brain for oh so long. You see, I kinda look like a Vietnam vet. I’ve got long stringy hair and a gray mustache, and I’m certainly old enough to have gone, though I didn’t because I didn’t want to kill anyone back then—or now, for that matter. Anyway, I figured if some young buck jumped me some dark night I’d act flipped-out Nam-style and rant that I’d offed tons of geeks and I’d do him, too. But I’d never had to go there—till now. So I shout, “I fuckin’ killed guys in Nam and cut their ears off and strung ’em on a necklace, so get the fuck out of my face!”
Whoa, and the dude stops dead still, rolls up a sleeve exposing a bony arm, Auschwitz thin, with a tattoo of some kind of parachute device on it and says, “Brother, I was there, too. 82nd Airborne.You?”
And I’m floored once again by how the heavens work and how big an asshole I am, and I’m wondering what the fuck I’m gonna say to this fella, but it’s all moot. The dude wanders back to his table and passes out again. The drama’s over and I’m left with an indefinite period of time in which to appreciate the Great Playwright’s amazing sense of humor.
Ron Kolm is one of the founding members of the Unbearables literary collective, and an editor of several of their anthologies: Crimes of the Beats, The Worst Book I Ever Read and The Unbearables Big Book of Sex. Ron is a contributing editor of Sensitive Skin magazine and the editor of the Evergreen Review. He is the author of The Plastic Factory and the co-author, with Jim Feast, of the novel, Neo Phobe. A collection of his poems, Divine Comedy, has been published by Fly By Night Press, and a revised edition of Suburban Ambush, also poetry, is due out from Autonomedia. He’s had work published in Live Mag!, Gathering of the Tribes, Poetry Super Highway, Urban Graffiti, Mungbeing and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. Kolm’s papers were purchased by the New York University library, where they’ve been catalogued in the Fales Collection as part of the Downtown Writers Group.