He swallowed twice hard and looked at me like he might just flat himself all over the beer-nuts.
“You know what happens,” he croaked, “You know what happens to most writers once they do one good thing. And everyone expects something better, after the Spring has sprung and it’s Autumn time?”
I waited, I thought I was ready.
I laughed quick like a hiccup. He laughed at me laughing, his face red and thick, his stubble like straw. He waved to the bartender. The bartender was somewhere else.
“He ignores me. He wants to make me leave by ignoring me. But I wrote a book called Welcome to America. Sold 50,000 copies. That’s pretty good for a first book. I could have sold the movie rights for $50,000, but I didn’t, you want to know why? Because I didn’t want to give it up. $100,000. Not bad for a first novel.”
I ate a hard boiled egg while he talked and then he left and the bartender came over to me and said:
“You just witnessed the fine art of ignoring the drunk out of the bar.”
She sat beside me at the theater, Australian blonde, hard pretty bones in her face. Didn’t know her but just met her when she had to pee before the show and I said: go you have time, and she did in record time and I was impressed.
“im going to the Black and Blue Ball after the show,” she said. “The Sado-Masochism ball. I’ll have to change before, put on my black leather dress and my fright wig.”
“I want to watch you change,” I said after the play.
“Right,” she said and then we went down to the ladies room where she changed. She was a new woman. Fishnets and burgundy hair, even had a German accent. Walked her to the taxi like that. Said goodbye in German, felt like I was in Germany.
Walking home, thought of the man in the bar with the gray suit, wrinkled eyes and first-full of old ideas everybody heard before but nobody wanted to listen. Welcome to America. It was her first visit to America, she had said; she wanted to see all the theater she could, but mostly it was all “crap.” This one tonight was good, thank God. She had a press pass to the Black and Blue Ball, but just for one. Auf Wiedersehen. Tchuss. Rufen mich an. Ja, naturlich.
III. A WEEK LATER
I had crashed at a friend’s place in Harlem and walked over to St. John the Divine’s in the morning with my new friend Y.
The night before there was another girl who said: knock, knock who’s there, then splashed me with water in the face and slapped me and said: John the Baptist. I said: I don’t get it. And somebody else said: God bless you, I want to meet you. I said: What for? And he said: Because you don’t know who John the Baptist was—he baptised Christ before they crucified him. Oh, I said. What about St. John the Divine? Didn’t he write Revelations? I read that one. And then the girl who splashed me and I sing “Tombstone Blues” by Bob Dylan at 4:30 in the morning.
Outside St. John the Divine Cathedral the next morning was a cardboard sign: PROPHET’S CONFERENCE. I dragged Y in; I had to see this for myself.
Women in fat purple dresses, hip young sandal-suckers, a crowd gathered around a man with a wheelchair with a long white beard smoking a big white cigarette while a thin white woman knelt beside him, whispering sweetly in his ear.
“Robert Anton Wilson,” said a friendly Jewish guy who reminded me of my friend M’s girlfriend who reminded me of my friend Elihu who reminded me of my father if he was nothing like himself but still soulful, “He wrote Prometheus Rising. Futurist. Believes we’re evolving.”
“That’s a relief,” I said to Y.
Robert Anton Wilson smiled and waved while someone took a picture of him and the thin white kneeling woman, no longer whispering.
Y and I walked on, saw the fountain with all the giraffes and St. Michael battling Satan, went to a Hungarian café, talked about DNA, told stories.
“I was sitting next to this guy in a bar last week,” I said to her, “and he said: It’s hard to be a writer. Especially if you’re any good. Because you do one good thing and then everyone expects something from you. you know what most writers do at that point?”
Y paused, I paused, the Australian woman with long netted legs paused, Robert Anton Wilson looked into a camera, John the Baptist looked up at me with the eyes of a sweet young headsick girl.
This time it wasn’t funny.
Jim Knable is a singer-songwriter and playwright-screenwriter living in Astoria. Visit him at www.jimknable.com.