No one writes songs about Saturday morning. Sunday mornings are for church and hangovers, and Monday mornings have a sense of tragedy about them, but Saturday morning? No one even notices. Most sleep through it. Torah Torah Torah, the synagogue, is brimming and davening from dawn until lunchtime. Healthy people love Saturday morning: they go on healthy hikes, and then eat healthy food. Saturday morning was Saturday night’s ignored little brother: morally superior, but lacking flash.
The Morning Tavern is open as usual; they are just getting started in there; the jukebox is barely warmed up since the joint opened at dawn. There are no windows, and the front door is actually two doors: one at the sidewalk, and another at the bar, separated by a short corridor. Only artificial light inside. Neon sign in the shape of a bullseye advertising Arrow beer. Rectangular lamp hanging over the pool table. It is a flattering light scheme. You are at least 30% more fuckable in the Morning Tavern than in real life shpuh-KACK the break from a game of nine-ball going on. All those nice colored balls sitting there minding their own business until the white ball came barrelling in with its inherent violence.
Walk in the outside door, two steps, through the curtain of thick black plastic, two steps, pull open the inside door. Take off your sunglasses and let your eyes adjust. The bar is on your left, el-shaped. Circular tables on your right, and booths along that wall. Pool table in the back. Jukebox, too. There is Sonny Frist, and he is not wearing pants; he used to be an investment banker, whatever that is. Shambala Ohm, who is at the bar, once swindled a MacArthur Fellow out of his entire grant; locals considered that an act of genius. The Poet Laureate is at a table with a composition tablet and tequila. Sometimes, the Poet Laureate slept at night and drank during the day, and sometimes vice versa. Change in life is change in art, the Poet Laureate would say, and no one would listen.
The Rejection is on the walls, plastered and fluttering in the air conditioner’s gravity. Dear John letters, and a letter from John Deere asking that Morrison Struthers please stop sending them photographs of himself naked atop their tractors. Buck slips from the assistants to Hollywood agents saying that “they were keeping you in mind.” Eviction notices. Repo claims. A cease-and-desist order addressed to the entire neighborhood from the International Olympic Committee. Pin up your failure: wins you a cheer and a free drink. Pleased to meet you, one of us.
Tiresias Richardson hits C17 on the jukebox, and an old punk song about hitting children with sporting equipment comes on; she pogos up and down, raises both arms in the air with fingers outstretched. She does not know the words, just the sounds that the singer makes, and she sings along: theater kid voice singing punk doesn’t work but Tiresias couldn’t muster up a shit with a drill sergeant and a bran muffin. Another week with a job, another week as a working goddamned actress–a rare bird–five more shows under her corset. At three hours a night, that was a fifteen hour workweek, and Tiresias was exhausted. She had dated a guy doing his residency at St. Agatha’s once, and he had to work 36-hour shifts. Tiresias would just let people die. She had an artistic temperament: exuberant sloth punctuated by intense concentration, seasoned with tantrums and substance abuse.
The show had gone well, the show always went well even when the studio caught fire. (The studio occasionally caught fire.) The movie was The Oubliette of Doctor Frmamrf.
“Paul, I can’t even pronounce this.”
“Frmamrf. What’s so difficult?” Paul Loomis, Jr., replied, desperately eying his office door; Tiresias had planted herself directly in front of it.
“And what the hell is an oubliette?”
“I think it’s like a Renault.”
“It’s not a car, Paul.”
“I took Spanish.”
Paul Loomis, Jr., did not like his job. He did not like the windowless building on the Main Drag with giant red letters over the door that spelled out KSOS, and he did not like dealing with the advertisers or the unions or the talent (especially the talent), and he despised the public. They wrote letters. Called. They had opinions. They were offended. They wanted a pizza and had misdialed. Bastards, the lot of them, he thought. It was his father’s fault, all of it, his miserable life and this airless dungeon; cursed by blood, doomed from birth to labor in this closet; he imagined it bricked up in front of him: he was Fortunato, for the love of God, but whom had he insulted? All of this was his father’s fault, including the baldness.
Paul Loomis, Sr., had built KSOS in the 50’s with his own bare hands. (He wrote the checks to the contractors by hand, so he figured that counted.) Television would defeat Communism, Paul Loomis, Sr., had decided. Couldn’t trust writers, and certainly not the radio. Could be anyone behind the typewriter or microphone. Might be a Bolshevik. Most writers were Bolsheviks, and if they weren’t they were pussies. But teevee? You could look a man in the face. Size him up, judge the straightness of his shot. Paul Loomis, Sr., could spot a Commie within two seconds of making eye contact.
At least that’s what he told people: he liked people to think he was half-nuts. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe the Communist bit–Paul Loomis, Sr., hated Communism with all his heart, like a teenager’s first love–but he wasn’t some Billy Jack simpleton blathering about his precious bodily fluids: teevee was propaganda. What was said, sure, but mostly what you showed: plenty, overabundant plenty, and gleaming prizes and vacations to spectacular locations (drinks not included), and all the men were tall and all the women wore pearls. The teevee imprinted a baseline of opulent society that was thought to be expected: well, why didn’t you own a house, car, designer handbag like the ones Parisians are wearing to go on strike this season? The teevee could tell people what was normal, Paul Loomis, Sr., realized. It could tell them what they wanted.
There was Yesterday’s Tomorrows, the soap opera. It was live at first, one o’clock sharp unless the camera broke, live from the main studio on the first floor; the story of the Chambers family and their town, Valley Heights. Betrayal, affairs, secret twins; someone would always get stabbed during sweeps week. The actors were hired less for their acting skills than for their ability to memorize an hour’s worth of dialogue every day without going insane. Several of them did, and so cue cards were implemented; the psychotic breaks continued, and Paul Loomis, Sr., came to the conclusion that it was just an actor thing.
Eggheads was his game show, which pitted scientists, academics, and lawyers up against “real people” in trivia competitions; the show was fixed, and blatantly so: sometimes actors from Yesterday’s Tomorrows would play the scientists, often not even changing out of costume. No one in the neighborhood minded much. Little Aleppians knew everything on teevee was make-believe.
Paul Loomis, Sr., thought that KSOS would be the first of many, but it was the only; his empire never had a chance to expand. He spent his time teetering on financial ruin: it was tough to receive the channel outside Little Aleppo, which kept ad rates down. He ran commercials for his own inventions: a towel with a holster for “dangerous beaches;” the Car-B-Q, which was a grill that plugged into your Chevy’s cigarette lighter; the SlapWop, which was an oversized hand made for the express purpose of striking Italians. (He got a visits from both the Catholic priest from St. Mary’s and the large gentlemen from Cagliostro’s the day after the ad aired, and the SlapWop was quietly pulled from the market.) Nothing worked. KSOS made just enough money to not fail, but not enough to pool together and do something else. Don’t touch that dial.
And Paul Loomis, Jr., did not want that: he wanted to touch the dial, rip the dial off, throw it as far as his skinny, freckled arm would allow. Fuck teevee, fuck everything about it: the smiles, and the suits, and the smarm. Big tits and bullshit, he thought, that’s all it was and–what’s more–that’s all it ever could be. Ideas? Humanity? Connection, one-to-one connection unmediated by anything but the heart and mind and genitals: unworkable on the small screen. There was no outside in there.
He liked it outside, at first because it was where his father wasn’t, and then for its own pleasures. The smell of a redwood forest in the morning, sweet and somehow meaty, and sunset from an unknown goat path leading through the Segovian Hills up to the monastery of the Sebastianite monks. At 18, he got away: college, one as odd as the neighborhood he fled, Far Waters College, an experimental-type school. 30 boys, ten teachers, a built-out ranch on the edge of the Low Desert. The mountains were in view, and there were long traipses through the brush, days-long, and then back to the ranch for Homer and Kant, and Paul Loomis, Jr., fell in love. With nature. With being outside. And with a tall, blond boy named Snick Hartford, but that’s not the story we’re telling.
After graduation, he was filling out applications to be a Park Ranger, happily. He had never enjoyed paperwork so much, and then his father told him to throw that shit away because he was going to work at the station. Paul Loomis, Jr., could never stand up to his father, but he didn’t throw the application away. It’s still in his desk in the office he hides in on the second floor of KSOS studios on the Main Drag of Little Aleppo, where there is no nature and, even if there were, the building had no windows. He looks at it sometimes, and wonders if there’s an age cutoff for acceptance; when his father said he was going to work at the station, he had simply said, “Yes, sir,” and that was it; he could not argue with his father, and now here he was an old fucking man (not really, but he felt it) being barred from his office by a woman he had hired because she had big tits and would work cheap. Paul Loomis, Jr., thought that he didn’t deserve this treatment, and then he thought that cowards deserve everything they get. His pills were in his office, too.
“It’s barely even a movie, Paul,” Tiresias said, hands across her chest.
“It’s fine, it’s great.”
“A couple of the scenes are just shots of the script pages.”
“That’s French. New Wave.”
Tiresias crossed her arms harder and said flatly,
“Godard did it.”
“He most certainly did not.”
“Adieu, Mon Pamplemousse. Groundbreaking film. Oh! Look over there!”
He pointed down the hallway; she didn’t fall for it.
“What do you want from me, Tiresias? It’s the Late Movie. The movies are crap. That’s how it works,” he said, and then tried flattering her. “Besides, everyone tunes in for you. Movie doesn’t matter, you’re the star.”
She knew what he was doing, but–on the other hand–agreed with him. She was the star, she thought, and it was nice (if a bit late) of him to notice that, and to fucking acknowledge that: the ratings were up, just about the highest they could go, and it certainly wasn’t the films, was it, and then Tiresias thought about asking for a raise and holy shit how did he sneak by her?
SLAM the door whamped close, and locked.
There was little arguing with a door, though she did for a bit to make herself feel better, and then back to her dressing room, Masada. Big-Dicked Sheila would be by soon to help her into Draculette’s clothes and face, but it was up to her to get into character and it was so much easier with a drink. Everything was. She had brought a bottle of red wine in with her: Merlot, Cabernet, she didn’t give a shit; she made her purchases based on label art and price. Red, not too sweet, and preferably from California. Wine glasses with no stems, just the cups. Don’t bother to unwrap the foil, pierce it straight through with the corkscrew’s point and POP liquid joy, sweetie, and if the glass is kept full then who will be the poorer for it?
Not I, Tiresias thought, and chugged half of her wine, flipped on the lights of her makeup mirror, pure white and accusatory, and then the rest of the wine, and now the jukebox lights, red and blue and flattering, she is standing–she is boogieing–in the Morning Tavern: she does not care if anyone is watching, but she also hopes they are. R38 is next, another one of her picks. Tiresias is busting that jukebox like a bronco: bar music–bar music!–with guitars and thwacking drums, and the songs are about fucking, or fights. Or bullshit. There was some godly bar music whose lyrics orbited the general topic of bullshit, and R38 was a prime example: Orientalist hibberdeejibber about deserts and Shangri-La, but overlaying a guitar riff that surely was the Christ WHANGY-DANG…WHANGY-DANG, WHANGY-DANG…WHANGY-DANG martial in its horniness, and every head in the bar bobbed by the end of the first measure. In a club, the music moves the dance floor, but in a bar, the music is the dance floor; conversations and come-ons bounce on that rock and roll rhythm coming from the jukebox. Perfect bar music makes you feel like you’re in a movie.
Back to the bar and her drink. She has switched from wine to vodka, which is a terrible idea unless you add cocaine, so she has. Substances have very few acceptable combinations; the best advice is always to pick a horse and stay on until the finish line. Mixing alcohol and pills was a good way to have a short evening, and you shouldn’t do cocaine and heroin simultaneously, but coke and booze? O, sweet symbiosis.
Anson Truncke waddles up dressed in white with orange shoes. He tells people that he is a freelance homosexual, and then refuses to define the phrase.
“You know anything about the Pony Express?’
“Much as the next girl, long as the next girl’s not a historian. AAAAHahaha!”
“Missouri to San Francisco in ten days. There were Paiute in the way. Mountains, too. There was The West in the way. Ten days. We don’t know the riders’ names, not most of them. Who could be bothered writing such things down? The boys are dead now, and their names are dead, too, because no one bothered writing them down. So we don’t know the names. But, you have…you have heard of the Pony Express?’
His ears are too large for his head, and his nails are immaculate.
“Of course I’ve heard of the Pony Express”
“Yes. Yes, of course. It’s part of the patois. It soaked into the limestone, and now it’s in the water supply. It gets in us, America, without us even knowing. The stories and how…19 months.”
Anson Truncke sips his drink, brown with ice cubes.
“19 months what?”
“The Pony Express. That’s as long as it lasted. Like a flashbulb. Lit up and then gone forever, but flashbulbs leave images in their wake. Scars made out of light. And that’s where we live, you see. Surrounded by scars.”
He drains the rest of his drink and walks away. Tiresias shrugs, fingers the small plastic baggie in the pocket of her rust-colored hoodie. You have to be prepared for the occasional drive-by philosophizing in the Morning Tavern. There are two men in suits and crew-cut hair across the bar from her. Slugs her vodka and cocks her head at them and says,
“You’re not in this story.”
They rise and leave without a word.
It was a jail cell, a certain kind of jail cell, anyway. The door was in the middle of the ceiling, and the ceiling was high. Prisoner enters via ladder, ladder gets pulled up. Different psychological timbre than a normal cell, tended to drive its occupants starkers within short order. Something about being buried alive. Oubliette.
Who Dr. Frmamrf was, Tiresias had no idea. There was no such character in The Oubliette of Dr Frmamrf, nor was there any sort of prison cell, let alone a specialized one with a fancy foreign name; instead, it was about a town where the mailboxes come to life (evil life) and begin eating arms. Just stop going to the mailbox! she yelled at the screen, and the dummy actor would go looking for his Sears catalogue and get his arm eaten. And repeat. Tiresias lost sympathy for the victims quickly.
Again and again–it may have been the same actor in different clothes and a wig for several of the de-armings–they went in there looking for their checks or magazines and SHA-SHWAMP they were no longer up to challenge of shoelaces, over and over: it became hypnotic; there was little story–a fat sheriff, a psychic housewife–just the same avoidable mistake, looped and infinite, unavoidable.
And the makeup, the dress, the wig, the wheelchair, the hall, the couch, and then the red light which is the difference between live and dead air, and which must be obeyed. First rule of show biz: when the light goes on, dance. Wanna be an artist? Get a garret, and starve until you’re inspired. Wanna be on teevee? Do what the light tells you. If you won’t, there’s someone who will. There’s a dozen who will, and so when the red light erupts, Tiresias waits in the dressing room while Draculette tells jokes and shakes her tits, sometimes at the same time.
There is a woman vomiting beer in the stall to her left, a couple fucking in the stall to her right. The toilet paper dispensers are made of metal and hold two industrial-sized rolls; they have a flat top that was not designed as a platform for cocaine use, but might as well have been. Tiresias does two small lines. One for each nostril because she believes that all things should be in balance. She walks back into the bar, careful not make eye contact with the occupants of either stall.
Sheila is meeting her later–soon?–pretty soon, at least, whatever, no matter, she will be here; the jukebox is glowing and she has quarters. B12 for a shot of energy, that sounds right. The opening track from that album everyone knows by heart, the real long song with all the bits and pieces and the motorcycle in the middle, some fat man pretending to be a 16-year-old with a hard-on, and she throws back her head and prays for just one more night of all this teenage fuckery. Every guitar in the world for just a quarter at the jukebox, and Tiresias Richardson is a simple girl: all she wants is every guitar in the world, turn ’em up, turn ’em up, blow the grid and sentence us all to darkness and moonlight just for one last dumbass power chord BA-WHANG the Morning Tavern vibrates and bops slideways atop the music making up the dance floor, conversations and come-ons behind walls with no windows and two doors, an exception from the sun’s brutality. Just a little pocket universe.
I got your pocket universe right here, she says to no one and scratches her ass; she is aware of being part of something, someone else’s bullshit, roped in and tangled up now, but only vaguely and chalks it up to the coke; in the future, she will sin no more, but Tiresias is not in the future: she is in the Morning Tavern, which is in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.