The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.–Ezra Pound
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART TWENTY: THE FALL
What first queered my pitch with hanging around Cool Slopp’s den was when Jim Whitey started looching around the pawnshop. Whitey had a queer-shapen head the size and shape of an abnormally large turnip, with a red beet nose and blustery pink cheeks all scaly like a salmon’s belly. He was a certified gooney-bird, sure–a fine broth of an Irish Lushman; a slop-over bell swagger with his fat alderman full of coffin varnish and breath that would peel the paint off of a concrete birdbath. At one time he’d worked as a vampo clown at the Red and Black Carnival and Circus, until one day the crushers come and had him run out of town for unspeakable acts, and let me tell you that when a Carny is shunned among his own kind for deeds too dark to mention, those deeds are very dark indeed. Anyway, seems as though he owned and lived with a cigar-smoking pig named Bella and I don’t like to think about him and that pig but nobody saw anything odd about how he doted on the critter so I kept my trap well and truly shut.
Back when he was with the circus he was a whiteface joey–a clown–and though them days was long gone, he still wore a white top had and his wispy red hair was still goosed out of the side of his fuzzy skull all Bozo-like. He was a snapperhead as also walked around the neighborhood with a big black Doberman dog with a spiked collar. Thought he was a big man on the basis of how he kept the snapping brute constantly straining against a leather halter. The brute would pull him along almost as though he was on roller skates. Little Eomonn, Cool Slopp’s Pomeranian dog, was the only critter as warn’t scared to death of the beast, and that was to his infinite credit because even the most battle-scarred cur would sidle off with tail between legs when that ill-omened devil dog came strutting and grunting down the old plank road.
In that long-ago Noxtown, three story buildings made of wood were tenements; five story buildings of stone were warehouses; one story shacks and bunkers housed bar-rooms and sometimes fine houses built for the wealthy were converted into clandestine cathouses. The ice man and the old clothes man would be screaming down the street and the hosses beshit themselves everywhere. It was like in the middle ages. Sausages and fish sold from fly-ridden carts right out in the open; ripe cheeses handled by grocers with filthy hands, flour and pickles sold from dusty barrels. All highly insanitary, yet even the dirtiest of the chop vendors and greasy spoon jockeys were a model of cleanliness next to the average suds-puller who plied his trade at a dive like the Seven Stars. An old tramp might come in after a hard day begging on the stem or selling bits of pilfered scrap to the junkyards and be handed for his penny a mug full of skullpop, which was what they called the dregs left over from the drinks of the night before. For another penny, he might earn the right to curl up in the corner and snooze for a few hours amid the intolerable din of shouts of drunks and barking mad winos, and the screeching laughter of soiled doves and ladies of the night, who were let into the establishment through a side entrance.
You could lurk there in the Seven Stars as I would do and see many a sight you wouldn’t soon forget. An ex-con–a bitter lag–melting all over the bar and drowning himself in bad redeye. A bitter man in rags, his face a picturesque ruin of angry red blotches and black scabs, shaking his fist at the Gods. An old grouch with a hangdog face burping and pounding his fists on the table top for more raw hooch. The bottom shelf man who longs to join the top shelf aristocracy; the top shelf man who doesn’t know the swill whiskey sold at the Seven Stars all came from the same defective still.
A commonplace sight at the Seven Stars was that of lushed-up Ladies of Easy Virtue sitting bleary-eyed on the sawdust floor completely stupefied by bar whiskey in which a plug of chewing tobacco had been soaked. Some lively whores with hollow eyes and white noses would dance on table tops and retreat frequently into the darker parts of the saloon to snort their asthma powders until, at the end of a long night, they would collapse twitching and whimpering into a secluded corner, scratching at the cokey bugs
Every Friday night in fall and into winter Jim Whitey could be seen at his usual stool at the groggery, cuttin’ his drunken capers.
He was mostly broke down by then; no longer the young athlete who took stupendous pratfalls in the sawdust ring. But he had a mean tongue and would run a nasty routine on anyone who had the nerve to sidle up to him and attempt some gentle conversation.
“Can your gas,” he’d say; “you talk too much.” Or “Close your stinking trap; I can’t stand to hear your blowin’.” Or “Lubbers like you have no right to take up the air. If I had my way I’d clobber you on the head with a shovel so you’d be getting lashed by worms in a moldy graveyard or else you’d be tied to a bag of rocks nibbled to death by catfish at the bottom of the river or maybe I would like to take old sawtooth here,” and he would produce a wicked-looking Bowie knife, “and cut your throat from ear to ear and maybe that would wipe the silly grin from off your stupid pan.”
He had an insult for every man who walked into the joint, be they an old crony or a complete newcomer.
“Ye ball-headed rogue,” he’d yell out when a customer came in without taking off his hat, “Doff yer chapeau–you’re in the presence of gentlemen!”
If an old drunk started into some off-key singing in the hopes of earning a penny for another drink of skullpop, Whitey would screech at him to Cut That Shit Out.
But you didn’t have to talk to him to get on his bad side; for instance. whenever a well-dressed stranger would venture into the Seven Stars, “Ho,” said he, “Here’s a crusher. A real Pansy. Your highness, Roy Al.”
And then he would jump off the stool and do a swish act. Nobody dast cut him off; later on he’d sic the Devil Dog on ye if ye gave him the breeze.
“To what do we owe the honor of your puissance, Yob? Is you pwesent and accounted for to show we lackeys our pwoper pwaces? Can I offer you the use of the royal cuspidor?” And then he would, as if by magic, produce the spittoon from where he had concealed it behind his back.
Folks in the bar-room all laughed–they all knew the routine–Whitey would pretend to take a drink from the vile spittoon and then offer it to the stranger and urge him to do the same–stranger would like as not run from the room gagging and retching and this was considered great fun by the barroom loochers and loafers and duffers.
But one New Years Eve a big white-bearded stranger came into the room and Jim Whitey roared that he was stronger than any man there and could drink anybody under the table. “Hey there, Uncle Sam, you old billy goat–what in HELL are you looking at?” When the stranger didn’t answer, Whitey screamed, “Don’t beat me, Santy Claus!” Whitey unwisely tried his cute stunt with the spittoon and the stranger forced him to actually drink from it, and that was the last time Jim Whitey ever pulled that stunt.
“Hey Whitey,” the duffers would holler when a new stranger came into the bar, “Show him the spittoon,” but Whitey would only mumble something in reply.
And when folks would holler “Speak Up,” Whitey would only smooth his hands over his balding pate and mutter, “It ain’t fun no more. It ain’t fun no more.”
SCRATCHING ON MY SCREEN
MCDONALDS ADVICE TO UNDERPAID WORKERS
WALMART CANNED FOOD DRIVE FOR ITS OWN EMPLOYEES
14 HABITS OF HIGHLY MISERABLE PEOPLE
THE 9 LEAST INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES THE HULK EVER HAD
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
USA: 11 NATIONS
6* DAILY UTILITY
GOOGLE HELP FOR WHEN YOUR ACCOUNT GETS WIPED OUT
BLUTO VS. BRUTUS
A COMPLETE CURMUDGEON’S GUIDE TO “THE SOUND OF MUSIC”
JFK: WE STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
THE FASCINATING PSYCHOLOGY OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES
BEST HOLIDAY CRAFT FAIRS IN NEW ENGLAND
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
JOYCE GOES OUT FOR JAVA (FINNEGAN’S HALF-AWAKE)
coffeerun, past Dunk’s and Starbuck’s, from server slow to blend of bane…
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 718.
OVERLOADED: THE STORY OF WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT