UNDERGROUND VOICES: NON-FICTION - 07/2012
MARK JAMES ANDREWS


MY FAVORITE THINGS

         Jimmy was shaking off a mid range hangover. Not in the Top 40 on his lifetime Hit Parade. About standard. That’s what Bloody Marys and long hot soaks in the tub were for. His wife was at work. His children were scattered over many continents on the planet in alternating states of bliss and distress and now there were some grandchildren. Complicated but mostly good. He checked himself in the bathroom mirror and decided not to shave. Too much face time.

         His bungalow was attached to the garage by a breezeway that served as a den. He retreated there with another tumbler but lighter on the Grey Goose with his laptop and a stack of vinyl for the turntable. Solo Monk, Crystal Silence, Still life (talking). He opened the door wall to a light May breeze and a sun pretending to shine. The glass was fairly clean. He stacked the records on the turntable and booted up the laptop. Nothing like a little music and staring into space while waiting for The Words to come.

         Jimmy turned the ringer off the desk phone with the caller ID visible. All the nonsense was going straight to voice mail. Except any overseas numbers. His oldest son Luke was involved in a minor legal skirmish in Italy, a matter of young girls and controlled substances. Luke was supposed to be preparing to teach a creative nonfiction workshop for a Summer Abroad program for an east coast university. Luke’s call was an automatic pick-up. But the evil fucking phone had been ringing all morning. Constant. A soul suck and a total assault on decency.

         The majority of the calls were from Ted, a lifelong friend and fellow failed poet. All went to voice mail. Both Jimmy and Ted were currently publishing extensively in online literary magazines. Jimmy had last year published his second chapbook, Friday Night Flamethrower, 30 years after his breakout chap Shooting Up Punk. Quite a sabbatical. Since Flamethrower, Jimmy had put out another 50 or 60 poems and flash fictions. Ted was really on the fast track, cranking out about 100 pieces in nearly 30 mags, ‘zines, and blogs. For the most part, their stuff was picked up by the literary underground.

         Jimmy and Ted were outsiders in the local poetry scene and academia and both thrived on their solitude. Jimmy did like to make the rounds of the music bars with his wife, Bridge, a photographer on the fringe of the arts. Ted was a total isolationist who had moved to the country. He was married to an attractive agoraphobic, Sandy, who had adapted to her phobia and built a lucrative home-based senior care business with their only daughter in their renovated farmhouse. Ted wrote in a luxury loft created by Sandy in a restored barn. Sandy detested poetry and literature but promoted Ted with vigor.

         The LED lit up on the phone handset. Another call from Ted.

         Jimmy played tinker toys with words. Nothing happening. As the decades advanced he had developed a close relationship with the delete key. He decided to check his email. Went straight to a note from Djuna Barnes, editor of the print mag, Tailspin.

         Jimmy had an Old School soft spot for Tailspin, the saddle stitched binding, the glossy covers and the emails from Djuna always gave him a chubby. Sexy.

         “I love My Favorite Things and I want to take it for the Spring Tailspin. If you’ll let me…..”

         This latest email was a notice of the release of the latest Tailspin. Forget about 2 free Contributor’s Copies. Writers had to buy their own work from a web outfit. Lulu.

         Jimmy had been excited about the acceptance of his longish prose poem, John Coltrane, by Djuna. He had been working the Investigative Poetry approach, doing histories in verse about jazz musicians. Certainly not rhyming but long shit that came out in tall wavy columns with the text centered on the page or monitor. He had enough material for a full length poetry book, but not one poem in the sequence found acceptance. On the other hand his short work appeared frequently in Quick Suck, an online mag who espoused that in the future, 5 words will be a run-on sentence.

         The Tailspin release announcement email had a link to Lulu to purchase it and Jimmy immediately did so via Paypal. There was also a link to a Preview in PDF of the new issue. Jimmy clicked. It loaded.

         “What the fuck?”

         Jimmy scrolled through the table of contents a second time without finding his poem. He shot Djuna a quick note. Typing….

         “I just bought the latest Tailspin and I’m excited to get it in my hot little hands and read it, but what happened to my John Coltrane?”

*****

        After hard boiled eggs with Tabasco and dry toast, Jimmy went for the left over salmon in the fridge. He had barbecued it with Teriyaki 3 or 4 days ago. Good cold. Then he zapped a cup of coffee in the micro from a pot that his wife had made hours ago.

         “Everything is fucking ass backwards.”

         Jimmy settled on a couch in the front living room. Positioned himself to stare out the window into the street. Jumped up to get Coltrane out of the CD rack. Popped it into a book shelf stereo system nestled in with his favorite books and photo albums. Punched in My Favorite Things.

         “Why not?”

         He flopped down again. Percolating ideas. Summoning up the words, ejaculata, drek, & effluvia to fill the empty spaces. Jimmy drifted off. Remembering a night of raging madness in another time with a trio of maniacs pissing on a giant sculpture on the 3 AM lawn of the art museum. Then he heard a light tapping sound. No he didn’t. Piss painting Jackson Pollock style and the sound of it. Hissing. No. The Summer Lawn thing. Somebody already covered that. Then the tapping again. Jimmy reached for the stereo remote and muted Trane. Out on the street was an old model BMW at the curb. Ted. Ted’s car muddy from country roads. Tap. Tap. Tap.

         Jimmy opened the door to Ted hopping up and down on the porch. Waving his hands clasped together like an old time boxer dancing after a TKO but raised up only to chin level. His grin showed a lot of teeth. A good looking lad. Aged well. But the footwork looked staged and stiff. He had fair rhythm but it wasn’t natural. Jimmy wondered if Ted had a gym in his barn.

         “I got the proofs. It’s really going to happen.”

         “Bad rotator cuff?”

         “My book. My book. What?”

         “Get your mitts up above your noggin. Raise ‘em higher, Champ! Can’t you get it up?”

         “I’m bothering you about my book. I had to see you about my book. What?”

         “Forget about it. Bad joke. C’mon in.”

*****

        Jimmy had hooked Ted up with a book publisher about 6 or 8 months ago. Well, inadvertently hooked him up. They both were drunk, sampling every beer on the board of a microbrewery and talking about the writing game, the small press publishing gang, the MFA fuckheads, the PHD’s, the douche bags doing open mic’s and readings, the usual. Ted had a backlog of published shit, much more than Jimmy, and Jimmy already had a chap out. Ted was chomping at the bit about getting a chap or a book under his belt. Ted started pumping Jimmy for the dirty lowdown.

         “I know you know The Bard. What’s he tell you? What’s your next move?”

         “Google chapbook publishers. Send the shit out.”

         “I can’t be bothered putting it all together. Sequencing poems. Formatting a manuscript. The whole word processing thing. It makes me nervous.”

         “I hate the process too, but I thought Sandy did all that for you.”

         “Oh, she does and she loves reading the acceptances. Keeps track of everything on Duotrope and she records the publications on my website. She’s tired of sending out the pieces she collects as chapbooks and sending them out to contests with a check. She can’t stand the poetry itself. Ashamed I do this thing, really. She doesn’t care to read anything. She’s all about work, work, work, and a little cable TV. But she wants to be able to say I published a book.”

         “Sandy is all about WINNING, a femme fatale Charlie Sheen.”

         “Jimmy, you know I can’t abide you speaking poorly of my wife.”

         “Hey! Take a chill pill, Bro. The Bard said an outfit called Road Runner’s Raft Press might take my shit but I’m not ready to do the work. Shit, life gets in the way of this game. Drink up. I’m dry and it’s your round.”

         Sandy had a 76 page full length poetry book waiting in the wings with a title and Ted’s name on it. She got the manuscript out to Road Runner’s Raft the very night that Ted brought home the info.

*****

        Now Ted was in Jimmy’s living room. Pacing back and forth and going on and on about blurbs he needed for his book. He was past the deadline for sending the proofed manuscript back to his editor at Roadrunner’s with releases from the mags where the poems originally appeared and 3 or 4 blurbs for the back cover. Back to the publisher who was sitting on Jimmy’s manuscript, Old Murphy Beds and Sweaty Blankets.

         “Jimmy, my friend, you’ve read all my stuff. Would you crank out a short blurb for me?”

         I decided that this entire fiasco was a scab that I would pick at later.

         “When do you need it?”

         “I needed it yesterday.”

         “You want a beer?”

*****

        Jimmy retrieved the laptop from the breezeway and they both started in on the beer, Blue Moon. Jimmy was blocked up, totally. Ted rummaged through his bookcase. Hauling out books and reading out the dust jacket blurbs on them. Jimmy put a Lightnin’ Hopkins CD in the machine. Jimmy started typing and once he got it going, he finished it off in about 15 minutes. Four good sentences of description of Ted’s work. Jimmy worked in a blues metaphor inspired by Lightnin’and finished with a flourish. Recycling a racetrack metaphor he had worked in one of his published poems, Requiem for an Editor that had come out in Underground Voices.

         “OK boss?”

         “Splendid. Can’t thank you enough.”

         “Another Blue Moon?”

         “Uh….Could you email me this blurb? Right now?”

         “Now?”

         “Yes.”

         Ted watched over Jimmy’s shoulder as he did a cut and paste of the blurb into an email to his correct address and clicked send. Ted pivoted on his heel smiling and nodding and was out the door in a flash.

*****

        Jimmy rewarded himself for his patience with Ted with another Blue Moon and dropped off to sleep in his favorite arm chair. The phone woke him. The ringer was up on a different phone. It was Ted. He must have had the Bimmer pedal to the metal out on I-75. His voice was whiny, high pitched and slurring.

         “Brother, I’m calling about the blurb.”

         “What the fuck? You got it. Give this thing a rest.”

         “Sandy has some suggestions, a few minor changes.”

         “Fuck you, Ted.”

         “Hold on. Hold on just a minute, now. Sandy wants to talk with you.”

         Sandy came on, breathy.

         “James Joseph Aloysius. How you doin’, hon?”

         “What’s up, Sandy?”

         “It’s this thing you wrote for Ted’s book. It’s fantastic, but you know how you guys write. No one will understand it.”

         “Sandy, what the fuck are you talking about?”

         “This stuff about racetracks…What are you getting at? Let’s just change this wording a tad….How ‘bout ‘This glorious collection is a medley of W-I-N-N-I-N-G poems…’ .”

         “Hold it, Sandy. First, I would never write like that. Not my style. But what are you trying to do? Go Hallmark fucking Greeting Card with this? All Ted writes about are suicides, deviant sex, fat women marinating meat in their cunts. Just put Ted back on.”

         Jimmy could hear Sandy muffled, “Just talk to him. Talk to him.” Then Ted was back with bluster.

         “Jimmy Joe, what’s up.”

         “Fuck you, Ted.”

         “Easy, brother.”

         “Ted, strike my fucking blurb off the board. I’m calling it back. Kill it.”

         “Wait. Jimmy? Please….”

         Jimmy clicked the phone off and it immediately started ringing. He went for another Blue Moon and sprawled out on the couch. Just then his wife walked in the front door, the beautiful Lady Bridge. She looked at him.

         “What’s the matter? You look like shit.”

*****

        The remainder of the day and evening slipped into the restful ease of home and hearth. Jimmy’s daughter and granddaughter came over for a barbecue. Jimmy tended baby back ribs with a dry rub from The Rendezvous in Memphis over a slow smoky hickory charcoal fire. He did a salad of mixed greens, beets, and feta. Boiled red skin baby potatoes. He continued with the Blue Moon. Jimmy uncorked a Cabernet for the supper. Doted over his granddaughter at the table. Served her pink lemonade in a wine flute. Bridge spooned out the ice cream for dessert, Moose Tracks.

         At dusk Jimmy popped off the training wheels on the girl’s bike and worked with her, running alongside her, gripping the seat. Waiting for the right moment to let go to test her balance. She did some shaky riding unaided but wasn’t quite ready. When the street lights came on they headed home. One house to go and the girl swerved right toward the street. Jimmy got her and turned her to the left not judging the lean of a tree toward the sidewalk. He took a good shot to the side of his head and they both went down. Then the girl stood over him crying.

         “Papa, you are bleeding!”

         “Hey kid, you all right.”

         “Papa, there was a big beetle on the sidewalk. I didn’t want to hit it.”

         “You did the right thing.”

         Back in the house the three women fussed over him and closed up a gash over his right eyelid with a couple of band-aid butterfly stitches. The Blue Moon was gone and Jimmy switched over to Corona. He awoke to Bridge shooting him from various angles with the Canon EOS. She turned lights on in the breezeway, turned lights off, and kept shooting pictures of his face.

*****

        Bridge hit the Snooze on the alarm and Jimmy rolled out of bed and dressed quickly. He drove up to the corner bakery for Bridge’s favorite scones. Cinnamon. They had a quiet breakfast. Bananas and the baked goods with the coffee.

         “Lunch, Bridget?”

         “OK.”

         “Slows Barbecue for pulled pork or Texas brisket?”

         “God. Don’t you ever get enough?”

         “You want me to go vegan.”

         “Oh God. Help me to suffer those awful people and how’s your head, lover?”

         “Kiss my boo-boo.”

*****

        After Bridge left for work, Jimmy decided that the day required physical exercise, prayer and meditation. Certainly a day off from the writing game and possibly drinking. Riding his bike to the lake and then down to the city to meet Bridge for lunch would be the plan, a solid 10 miles of pedaling. He would phone his children later in the afternoon and now quickly check his email. And there she was in his mailbox, that literary Chili Pepper, Djuna Barnes:

         James,

         Somehow your poem My Favorite Things was missed. I apologize for that and have fixed the issue since. If you forward me your address, I will send you a complimentary copy of the issue over nite snail mail if that’s possible with your poem included in it. You have got a hot hand, my darling!

         Also, per our email below, we didn't accept John Coltrane.

         Thanks,

         Djuna

         Mysterious indeed. Am I in or out? But Jimmy liked the tone of it. A touchy-feely electronic message. Oh Brave New World…. But then up popped Sandy with the ominous subject line JIMMY PLEASE READ THIS! Against his better judgment Jimmy clicked on it.

         Jimmy,

         I am a complete boob. But you knew that anyway, didn't you?

         I am so sorry for getting in between you and Ted yesterday. He spent the evening getting drunk and is very upset over the situation.

         He's very concerned that you won't return his phone calls. He thinks that he has lost the only friend he has ever had.

         He doesn't know that I am writing this to you.

         Please call him. Act like nothing happened.

         I am a boob, a jerk and an asshole.

         I am very sorry for everything,

         Sandy

         “That fucking passive-aggressive bitch.”

         Jimmy yanked the handset out of the cradle and brought the phone outside on the deck. Tried to maintain the early peace of the day. Then he wondered if he had some kind of savior complex. The thought had occurred to him before. He flashed back on a prayer murmured in the nun’s classroom as a kid. JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH, ASSIST ME IN MY LAST AGONY. JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH, MAKE MY HEART LIKE UNTO THINE. Jimmy scrolled through his calls, found Ted’s number and punched the fucker. He suddenly wondered how to handle this bit of reaching out if Sandy answered but he lucked out with Ted.

         “Hey.”

         “Jimmy? Have you calmed down?”

         “Good as a gold mine, Bukowski.”

         “Fucking great. You sound good.”

         “You too and use the blurb if you want to.”

         “Oh, I’m so pleased.”

         Jimmy found an old 10 speed in the garage out of a tangle of bikes. The back tire was flat. He found a hand air pump and pumped the mother fucker up.

*****

        Jimmy missed Bridge’s alarm, her snooze button, and all the alarms and buttons of her ritual until she turned the clock radio off and met the day. Jimmy rolled in the sheets and buried his head. Another Bloody Mary morning.

         The phones were ringing all over the house. Lucinda Williams seemed appropriate and he popped in her CD. Loud. Singing about Buttercup. Good luck finding your Buttercup. Too much tomato juice in the tumbler and Jimmy went for the Grey Goose for a boost. He lifted the laptop off his favorite chair and sat down with it. Email time. Why not? Sandy again. Was there any doubt? The subject line read THANK YOU.

         Jimmy,

         Thanks for the phone call yesterday. Ted is happy again. I am, too.

         TY, TY, TY,

         Sandy

         The phone was ringing. Ted was on the caller ID. Lucinda was singing When did you start seeing black? Jimmy picked up, screaming. Sandy or Ted. It didn’t matter.

         “Speak you evil cocksucker.”

         “My God. What’s wrong?”

*****

        Jimmy dialed his son Luke in Italy. Luke picked up on ring number 5.

         “Hey Pops! What’s up?”

         “Just checking in. Is everything all right?”

         “Pops, it’s night time over here and I got someone in the room.”

         “All right. Is everything OK with that thing that came up over there?”

         “Good as a gold mine, Bukowski.”

*****

        Jimmy checked the post and in the mailbox was the package from Lulu. He tore it open and there was Tailspin. Sure enough there were his words on page 10 with the guts of the poem ripped out of it. Jimmy had titled the poem he submitted John Coltrane in boldface. Then he proceeded to riff over some 40 lines on Coltrane’s move from Bebop to Modal and tried to describe his breakthrough Sheets of Sound style building in a line-by-line tension and exploding in a climax in Trane’s treatment of the standard My Favorite Things and ending with a softer five line afterplay coda. Djuna must have thought the poem was 2 poems. She didn’t like the John Coltrane title and the extended riff that followed. She liked what she thought was the title My Favorite Things and the 5 lines that followed that. Only the last 5 lines rang the bell for her.

*****

        Jimmy waited until Bridge was purring on her pillow and descended the stairs from the second floor bedroom. His wife was safely tucked in and he wanted to drink a couple beers and listen to music in the breezeway. When Jimmy was writing he listened to jazz or sometimes classical or anything that did not include the human voice. Now he put on Elvis Costello’s album BRUTAL YOUTH. How could you beat tunes like KINDER MURDER and 20% AMNESIA? Then there was the song THIS IS HELL that referenced My Favorite Things, not the best of the lot but it did have a certain perverse appeal. Hell was the punishment of hearing My Favorite Things playing for eternity over and over again in a maddening soundtrack with the repeat button in the cosmic player stuck forever, but it’s the version by Julie Andrews from Sound of Music and not by John Coltrane.

Mark James Andrews has worked as a gravedigger,inspector at a defunct auto plant and a librarian. He is the author of Burning Trash (Pudding House, 2010). His poems, stories, and reviews have appeared in many print and online venues, most recently in Full of Crow Poetry, RustyTruck, Red Fez and Short, Fast, and Deadly. He lives and writes just outside the Detroit city limits most of the time.







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