Was it Lisa? Was it Candy? Was it Caroline, was it Jane? Was it Maureen or was it Rachel? Was it the Sweet Mother Mary Madonna, was it you? I loved them all, oh yes, I love you all, my friends, let me tell you, there is no lack of love in this big heart, even on those strange occasions when it isn’t beating quite like it’s supposed to. But that’s for the doctors to marvel at, how I haven’t croaked, I mean, how I’m still alive. I tell them it’s all the love. Too much love, friends, too much love in my big heart! But I’d started to wonder what more the goddamn world required, what exactly it would take for everything to just end. Did it matter if it whimpered? Did it matter if it banged? That’s T.S. Eliot, friends, that’s The Hollow Men, that’s proof of my education, proof of my superior intellect, proof of my certificate from Syracuse College, which I happen to have with me if you’d like to see, it’s right here folded in my wallet, right next to my library card, see I keep a mimeographed copy of my B.A. with me at all times, you know, should the transit police ever demand to see some credentials, should I find myself accused of fraud. Of course I keep the real one in its frame at home. I keep it on a shelf where anyone who looks can see, but as they said in school and in the Scouts, it never hurts to have an extra, it never hurts to be prepared, it never hurts to always be thinking towards the future. Ah, the future! The future, the future. After I left school I started wanting to know more about the hairless bodies of those beautiful teenage boys I’d had to bury in rock and roll, I wanted to know why it was that I fell in love at least three or four times a day. The future, the future. The teachers at school were always strict, so strict, but they had to be, they knew that I could amount to be so much more than a dirty degenerate deadbeat dopehead, a bum pissing away my promise on rock and roll. Jesus always sounded a lot less forgiving than the preachers on the corners professed, but I’d known from the start that Jesus was a false messiah, that’s what Dad said every year around the holidays when they interrupted the news to show the nativity scene on Channel Four, and the rabbi told us boys in Hebrew school that Jesus was just a charlatan king with a dirty goy foreskin for a crown, a schlemiel who preached to pious cretins, a retarded inbred putz with dents in his head, who only opened his mouth to pass stale trapped farts for dogma. The rabbi spoke with such passion, he wanted us to know truth from lies, he told us many things that I remember well, but I wondered sometimes if he was not a charlatan himself. Wasn’t Jesus a Jew? Wouldn’t he have been circumcised? Wasn’t he a carpenter? Wasn’t our own King David also born in Bethlehem? Wasn’t Jesus some kind of messenger, didn’t he perform a miracle or more? Wasn’t he made to wear a crown of thorns? Well, in any case, it could have all been some metaphor for venereal disease, and it made no difference to me, because Coney Island was my synagogue, baby, Coney Island was where I went to speak to the pale white prophet through a spike. Uptown I’d get the package, uptown I’d run the tenements with twenty dollars in my hand, waiting for Sergio, waiting for Sergio’s girl Louise to give me the sign, and if Sergio wasn’t there I went around the corner to see Lester, but Lester’s dope was never half as good as Sergio’s. I was younger then, I was half the man I am now. When I finally decided to grow up, I realized all I ever really wanted was to listen to those colored girls hum along to skipping records on the hi-fi and drown myself in sangria at Brighton Beach. Coney Island had let me down, Coney Island broke my heart when I was its helpless baby, but I went back just like it knew I would, and it only broke it worse the second time. I should have known I’d end up standing on the shore of Coney Island with a great big throbbing bump on my dick, and a rash on my thighs that made it burn to wear denim. People said I was crazy, they said I was nuts. I had a doctor who wanted to know the things that made me feel like having sex, so sure, I told him what was in my mind. I told him about the leather boots, and the whips falling through the sky, the whips I wanted to kiss, the boots I wanted to taste, I told him all about a big conspicuous bulge in the inseam of someone’s skinny jeans, and I stared in his face to see if he was offended, but his eyes lit up and he said, “Ah, so you’re one of us!” New York was full of masochists, goddamn, we tried everything they had to offer. We would have shot powdered fucking lemonade in our veins if someone told us it’d turned them on, but that’s how Leon died, and I heard it was a real goddamn mess, I think that his eyeballs bled. Things stopped making me so mad as I got older, though. Things seemed to mean less after I got back from Berlin, after Lisa’s kid died from malnutrition and we buried him by moonlight in the botanical garden. Did we even know what we were doing? Were we even lucid enough to smell the dirt on our hands, and see the dirt under our nails? What do you call that? Time? Forbearance? A perfect day? Do you call it a depression? Do you call it clemency? Do you call it goddamn psychedelic rock? Shit, I wasn’t raised on Jesus, I didn’t grow up in a house filled with rosary beads and portraits of the Madonna, oh no, I grew up a kike. Mary never spoke to me, but the preachers on the corners all said I’d have to try harder if I wanted to grow up to be more than a dirty degenerate dopehead deadbeat, shooting someone else’s blood into my vein. They told me read about it in the paper, they said it happens every day. People die every day in Ibiza and Manhattan, people die every day in the first world. But there were plenty of other people to talk with who didn’t give a damn about God or salvation or the crap in the news, and they all dressed a lot sharper too. There was one I loved when I was just seventeen, she called herself Rachel, but I could never tell if she was really a he, or just what was going on, so I took her to Coney Island one day and we drank vodka and orange juice out of paper cups and I put my hand down her pants and found that, lo, behold, she was a he, but I didn’t mind one bit, in fact, it blew my mind that someone so cute could have a cock bigger than mine, so I sucked her big cock right under the pier, oh what faggots we were, what flaming queers, what a lot of shock treatment it all came down to, what a lot of rock and roll. Well it was Coney Island, baby, it was the place to be, it was my place to be, it didn’t come down to anything but a Jew from Long Island and a beautiful teenage boy from Cincinnati with shaved legs and plucked eyebrows and a blonde wig, and luscious red lips. But what about Caroline? What about Candy? I knew them later, I knew them all and I loved them, I loved them more than you could imagine. What about Jane? What about Lisa? Would you call that a pattern of heroin addiction, would you call that recidivism? Would you call that psychedelic rock? It makes no difference to me what you call it. When my mother died many years later, I had her cremated, and I scattered the ashes all across Brighton Beach. She hated Coney Island, she hated all the time I spent on Coney Island, she thought I’d go to hell on Coney Island, she knew Coney Island was capable of breaking her baby’s heart wide open. She was right, in a manner of speaking, I died on Coney Island, once, for about ten minutes, I died. Maureen was sucking my dick while my blood went white, she had a pierced tongue and she was rolling it all up and down the shaft of my cock while my blood was nothing but snow. Then she realized my heart had stopped and she found a paramedic who brought me back to life, but it wasn’t the same. I don’t know, I still liked it. I spent many different days in many different places, some of those days I’d even call perfect. I tried everything they had to offer then, I could sing like brass when I breathed turpentine through a rag. The country was full of masochists and villains and they’d all gotten on buses for New York City. You’d never believe it if it wasn’t true. But what about Candy? I’ll tell you about Candy. Candy said she’d bite my tongue out while I was sleeping. She said it like she meant it, I was terrified to close my eyes. She plucked her eyebrows every morning, you should have seen her, her eyebrows were just immaculate. She could have been on a billboard some days. She made me think of Rachel sometimes, she made me nostalgic for every hairless transvestite I ever used to know. But let me tell you about Caroline. Caroline was a meter maid, I met her one day when she was ticketing my car. I tried sweet-talking the bitch, but she took away my keys and told me she wouldn’t let me have them again until I made her come, so I fingered her for fifteen minutes in a telephone booth in the Village, only she couldn’t feel a thing, her cunt was totally numb, barely even got damp, shocked me I even got it in to the first knuckle, I couldn’t believe she was only twenty-six, dry old girl with a bone to pick, swearing that I was no kind of man, but not a drop to be found between her prim legs, no, not a splash of bourbon or brandy or even light beer, just a tiresome teetotal twat, probably never masturbated in her life, you know, just like a jar you expect to be filled with petroleum jelly that turns out to be filled with goddamn steel wool. But I loved her all the same, I loved her like I loved everyone, I could never stop loving, I could never give it up. Candy never shaved her armpits, sometimes when we were making love she smothered me in it, god, what a musk, it smelled like vinegar and rice pudding, but her eyebrows, oh, her eyebrows were just perfection, and I loved her, my god, I loved her. I love everyone, all of you, I rely on you more than you could imagine. And what about Jane? There’s no conspiracy, darling, I said to her, it’s nothing but masochists, it’s nothing but psychedelic rock and people still trying to catch up with Andy Warhol and Timothy Leary. And I loved everyone all the same, I love everyone, my friends, I love you all, more than you could imagine, I rely on you all, I’ll try anything you’ve got to offer me if you’ll just tell Caroline to give me the keys back so I can move the car so it won’t keep getting ticketed by her and every other goddamn vicious cunt of a meter maid in New York, I don’t know why, I don’t know why, I don’t know why they want to take my money, so I ask you please, my friends, cut a poor boy a break, I’m telling you, I can be good if I try, if you give me a chance, I can be decent, I’ve earned your pity as much as anyone in this nation, I’ll move the car just as soon as I get the keys, I swear it, that spot will be open once again for all your parking demands, primo parking, friends, I only meant to leave the car there half an hour, you know, I can’t keep feeding the meter forever, I ran out of quarters a month ago and I’m running out of dimes, so cut me a break, people, you know you’ll reap just what you sow, my friends, you know it’s only because of all of you, it’s always been because of all of you, it’s you, it’s all you that keep me hanging on. As the rabbi would have me say whenever I’d fouled up at school or in synagogue: salach li, machol li, kaper li. And as I always hoped he’d tell me in turn, as he touched my forehead and sent me running on my way, as I hope that you’ll do presently: nislach, nislach, nislach.
Ian Sanquist is a writer from Seattle. His short story “Melody of Bandaged Anemics” was published in issue two of The Coffin Factory.