Understanding Zowie


Russell Hoover

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 122 in March, 2010.

From his third floor walk up on West End Avenue he would often go around the corner past the bus stop between the fruit stands beside the news kiosk under the construction work scaffolding over the two steaming manhole covers in front of the out of service sidewalk teller machine alongside the grafitti covered chinese laundry and beyond the mutilated pay phone to his favorite delicatessen where Phillip would sometimes buy a tin of swiss mocha coffee even occasionally when there was little or no food in the apartment vastly preferring at times the taste of swiss mocha over and above almost anything else         or perhaps on sudden moonstruck caprice not go into the deli at all continuing instead to the IRT stop getting on the number two express in which the smell of piss if not overwhelming was often mingled with that of belched hamburger crusty unwashed socks horrible stinking dirty hair cheap perfume all the way to Tribecka SoHo the East Village or perhaps the Bowery these areas comprising an impossibly convoluted & intricate schematic of streets where he would walk only at right angles to see where it led         maybe the world famous McSorley’s Ale House which he had heard even read about but never seen maybe one of the clubs for the nouveau wave voodoo funk for example Little Queenie and the Percolators up from New Orleans for a limited engagement which is why he never actually got to see them or over to the Lakeside Lounge where Tonic Puke was playing a private show with famed krautrockers Purple Vomit the Vomit opening for the Puke         industry insiders like studio producer Stylus Moog Oldie and syndicated rock critic Robbio Manwax from Warm Vinyl Journal would be there along with Radio Fu Manachoo DJs Zenn Bones Will Mello Captain Capitalist Tool and the Spastic Raver         or he might discover a sidestreet full of narrow shops and cafes where he would wander into an upstairs book loft featuring difficult to find clothing as well as out of print books a white cat asleep on a stack of old Britannicas near the door a proliferation of pamphlets records books and journals some in complete boxed sets spilling out from sagging shelves and piled in rising vertical chaos and horizontally along old book cases in a puzzle of alphabetical disorder that to the untrained eye did not seem to be publicly disclosed         his attempts at finding sequential arrangement or comprehensible order having been thwarted so that he would soon find himself browsing through a photographic guide to North American woodpeckers or an excursus on the Scissortailed Flycatcher or perhaps a pocket sized text devoted to various styles of fifteenth century misericorde scabbards and daggers used in medieval times to deliver the final death blow to seriously wounded knights         or so he read though before even opening this book flipping it over in his hand several times back and forth in close inspection of the palmette gold relief arabesques on its cover exquisitely handcrafted and symmetrical one could become quite absorbed in them actually         finally putting it back on the shelf and picking up a yet smaller volume which believe it or not turns out to be the complete Greek English dictionary with maps and supplements and its own ingeniously folded magnifying eyeglass the entire package about one inch square in size what will they think of next         he was soon on the street again amid the onrush of phenomena the surging influx of stimuli Phillip wondered who would win the Stanley Cup Playoffs as he headed toward Washington Square Park where the pigeons always perched and pinwheeled and where there was sure to be something interesting and unusual going on for example a bald headed midget saxophone player on roller skates jamming with a nude female electric violinist the two of them sounding like a flock of geese scattering in several directions         or a peoples party political pamphleteer with a megaphone chanting out populist potpourri to dazed homeless bag ladies thoughtful men playing chess junkies crackheads dealers hustlers loose joints loose joints got that smoke three for a dollar let out a holler a once in a lifetime offer primo smoke check it out good shit good shit I wouldn’t shit you this is the best shit around who do you think your shitting I mean what is this shit         the multitudes roller skating in random figure eights with cellphones ipods earbuds wrist watch video players moving to music heard by no one but themselves people spinning in whirling dervish dances a wino on the grass guzzling from a greasy paper sack and folding back onto himself and perhaps here thought Phillip a naked vision of humankind could be arrived at         a vaster framework of observation a primacy of feeling over intellect an interpretation to rule other interpretations perhaps here one could attain the perfect moment         all this would come to mind as he circled about the park a final time heading west on Fourth street at right angles into the hypotenuse formed by Cornelia street to Sixth Avenue amid a maze of brownstones fire escapes rusted ladders water towers TV antennas endless grid of windows air conditioners and potted plants often rising up to beautiful and fascinating turn of the twentieth century mansard roof styles covered in grimy black soot and the inevitable crud of the city air         which in a way you actually got to like just like you got to like the New York City tap water after a while it grew on you it would happen in cycles first it would disgust you turn you off totally then it would still turn you off but you didn’t notice it as much and then you would come to a plateau for a long time in a vaguer sort of turn off from the stuff then you just wouldn’t notice it at all anymore and then it would kind of insidiously turn you on in a weird way then immediately turn you off again but suddenly there it would be the peculiar enjoyment the odd and unfamiliar aftertaste then it would again become horrible so bad you would buy bottled drinkables for a time eventually again being strangely unable to resist the dreckky tap water Phillip considered that everything adhered to this law of cycles just as everything had its opposite if you knew this and could synchronize yourself with it you would be that much closer to the secret of the universe and even as Phillip tried to understand himself and others more or less retrospectively he understood if nothing else that while consciousness often moves backwards life goes forward         he incorporated this into the telepathic ouija board of his intuition about cycles about changes cosmic changes about how you would turn on to a thing any thing and then after a while turn off to it but the one thing that was constant about it was that it was never constant it would be anything but that constantly changing yes constant no         turn on turn off its what always happens no matter how much you want to circumnavigate the point at which point Phillip said I don’t make the rules I just play the game as he moved off Bowery onto Great Jones street having walked east on Eighth north of the park making only right turns and wishing he would run into his friend Wee Willy Walleye who often spoke in rhymes and alliterative phrasings for example Wee Willy Walleye might walk up to Phillip and quoting Country Joe say you know everywhere I go from Kansas City up to Maine rock and soul music’s drivin’ people insane or maybe one of his other friends like Footstink Frank who was always changing his name last week he was Ishtar Egyptian god of love the week before that he was Melvin Q Watchpocket you never knew what was up with Frank which was why Frank was interesting         Phillip meanwhile acknowledging that he might not know all the players but he usually knew the score and taken up with the thrummings and the drummings of the city everything was turning on or turning off to the oscillating rhythm the gyrating energy turn on turn off open close come in come out contract release go up go down turn it off and turn it on again keep it on         or as Wee Willy Walleye would say who do you turn on what do you turn on where do you turn on why do you turn on how do you turn on when you turn on         the answer perhaps having to do with one’s conduct during a former life though some are more sure of it naturally than others this notion bringing him sooner or later to the various theories of the afterlife for example that one’s last conscious thought before death determined the whole or perhaps the larger portion of one’s next life         or that the person who practiced extreme sexual indulgence during this life would become a flea in the next yet how did anyone know this was there after all proof of such phenomena and if not should he nevertheless hold himself open to the possibility of a past present and future simultaneous tense all these ideas it occurred to him were applicable to questions concerning the numinous in general as well as to those of reincarnation strictly speaking which by turns and according to circumstance seemed on the one hand to contain some validity yet on the other complete nonsense the very word reincarnation somehow smacking of fraud the whole idea coming off like a wet dream in the middle of a hot lunch         though if he thought about it long enough he had to admit that the dull dross of days as he liked to put it was after all unexpectedly and occasionally graced with random events that made it all worthwhile nuggets of the numinous little epiphinies the revelatory flash the spiritually exalted insight the proverbial perfect moment whatever you want to call it even in the midst of bromidrosis these things were known to occur which made it all the more remarkable especially when you considered the interesting idiosyncratic texture of place         each place having its own odors and oddnesses its own obscure codes of communication that echo and blink back morse code like to the hidden knowledge of the ancients which isn’t so much hidden as ignored         and is all this not the very crux of the numen the spirit believed by animists to inhabit certain natural objects areas particular geographic locations and was it not unrelated to that force regarded by some as the daemon dwelling within persons as well as the animal kingdom energy coiled at the base of one’s spine the release of which is thought by many to be attuned to motions of the celestial pole of the earth according to its proximity to the pole of the ecliptic leaving an elliptic three dots while the energy waits to be released         all of this pretty much was according to Phillip’s way of seeing things at the moment and so far as it could be grasped the numen qua numen whence came the numinous though the numinous was really more than just the numen when Phillip tried to explain this to his friend Footstink Frank Footstink Frank said shit lots of things are numerous so whaddya worried about         and this was often how dialogue with Frank would go Phillip advancing lengthy sometimes highly speculative or theoretical arguments Frank digesting all of it into his own particular way of organizing things and coming out with something upfront simple and uncomplicated         in fact he envied Footstink Frank for his frankness sometimes though not usually because it got to be an old story you could even tell when Frank got tired of his own dumb guy act coming on sick fed up with and lamenting himself yet when it came to walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods of the city which they did once or twice a week there was really no one else he would prefer to be with strangely enough         meanwhile both the body and the city breathing to the pulsating rhythm a stray dog perfect in its untroubled dogness crossed his path disappearing into a triangle of uncollected trash bags causing him to reflect upon the advantages of getting it all back to the preconceptual while yet maintaining some grasp however tenuous of all that did not change of invariant primary patterns of the very concept of concepts         as if such things were even possible thought Phillip it was like trying to deny the universality of bromidrosis like collecting and bracketing data on the dust of the earth to which we must in any event return none of which in the first place would ever stop the great mysterium tremendum of existence the spinning of the galaxy secondly it was a denial of death a refusal to acknowledge that the molecular trip is through the body the proportions of which though finite remain star studded and interstellar each microscopic cell a star it was a marvel when you thought about it that the human body was its own flashing electromagnetic milky way with its own black holes and the city an outward duplication of it         each containing its respective day glow bloodstream veins arteries and capillaries pushing waves of living breathing corpuscle planets and accommodating T cell galaxies and friendly helper cell star clusters through a maze of genetic fiber optics all swirling around slimy colorful wet organs         it was density of connectedness it was a lit up switchboard of self organizing piles of protoplasm guided by synapses leaping at the speed of light and telepathically communicating with ten thousand single minded spermatozoa racing at four hundred and seventy seven miles per hour through soft black velvet uterine space to a silently waiting egg         and he was fundamentally interested not so much in the life of the mind as in the mind of life thought Phillip as he navigated the arithmetic of the moving bodies on the sidewalks the sucking squeezing human herd eventually losing himself in the crowd that surrounded Freddy the Fire Eater who was often at the corner of Crosby street and Broome though at the moment was performing at Bond and Bowery Freddy often repeated between bites of flaming balls of fire the phrase fire manipulation at its second best         and Phillip could never figure out what that meant until one day he asked and discovered that Freddy the Fire Eater was referring to the difference between eating fire and breathing it breathing it was a whole other story eating it was child’s play compared to breathing it fire breathers were totally gone in the head not to mention the lungs         Freddy the Fire Eater it seemed to Phillip had created a way to transcend the rational and the discursive the logical framework within which consciousness so often seemed to be confined bottled shrunk withered up and furthermore this had its attendant physiological ramifications making it occasionally pertinent to ask does your body feel like a tourist in a European shirt         perhaps this congealed consciousness was the ultimate result of the splitting of the atom or even the split from Eve maybe it was true that science and newtonian physics have replaced the soul but have they replaced wanting to watch a pelican winding into flight or a sandpiper glide over the quiet horizon         surely the embodiment of spirit thought Phillip pure spirit in its pristine form must be a bird yet perhaps it was merely easily moved by a bird perhaps the sixty foot high leap of a lone whale in the middle of a calm and commodious ocean in a display of sheer exuberance was its most distilled expression         and was the soul of animals the same as that of humans Phillip being of a theoretical turn of mind would ponder the nature and airy essence of such matters at great length and in place of justice he wondered do we now only have sincerity or was it that sincerity only replaced authenticity has the interview replaced truly good conversation stimulating satisfying has the search for news replaced the search for life         has man in the death of all historical absolutes been left only with decisionlessness decidophobia as some called it perhaps the alternative was to make an imaginary life or that to speak out in some significant way was to again make the drama of existence believable         though even when you got right down to brass tacks the warp and the weave of it seemed to be that baloney was baloney no matter how thin you sliced it that there were no more heroes that boredom delusion and drift especially drift were among the major phenomena of the post technological ice cream cone that things were somehow always bent toward the development of giant centralized fourth rate retrograde nuke plants nuke dust smudging out the clear blue sky instead of small decentralized windmills efficient generators or homemade photovoltaic cells which might be used to create a world where warfare was a thing of the past where weapons have no function and are dismantled melted down and mathematically retooled to create low cost electric vehicles for the masses         and though given that truth was a many faceted and often difficult french hen in which the said should at least once in a while delight the warp and the woof of it was that truth seemed to be subjacent to almost anything you could think of be it the way the endodontist administers the extra and unnecessary anesthetic for the additional thirty bucks at the bottom of the bill or how his friend the orthodontist will remove six teeth to straighten two or the overwhelming desire of both of them to get out to the golf course or this years dry hack politician’s dry heaves of disingenuousness or the need to flex cruise muscles in New York harbor and in suboceanic cubbyholes among porpoises crayfish and stupid unsuspecting little sponge algae or the momentums of inertia that generate incompetence or the preoccupation with creams and lotions fingernail polish aerosol mouth deodorizers convenience foods plastic artificial flowers hair spray Barbie dolls war toys bubble bath powder Lysol the detritus of urban humiliation there seemed to be a sustained note of inadequacy about it all perhaps these were the consequences Phillip thought when language is in exile from reality or reality from language         all this he considered in a seven or perhaps eight dimensional holographic daydream as he continued south by southwest along Crosby street heading into Cleveland Place and hewing to his rule of right angles which necessitated a parallelogrammic walk around the block down Lafayette toward Broome street not far from where Weeza his girlfriend had an imitation ersatz village apartment a place with the requisite exposed brick wall skylight and bedloft which place she finally got rid of before moving uptown to the new place stocked with the futuristic high tech young east sider furniture from Bloomies that got repossessed before moving back downtown to a place nearly identical to the place she had in the first place         and the major problem for beginners with Weeza was this thing she had for department store mannequins there was one in every room Phillip once grabbed a plastic hand from beneath a sour heap of clothes instead of the telephone which he at first thought it was and for the most part these anatomical sections were scattered about the apartment for example the bald head of the woman on the bathroom shelf that you faced eyeball to eyeball as you pissed in the porcelain pot that flushed from the twine that hung from the tank that dripped to the floor from the ceiling where it was built nigh on two centuries ago         and where he could never take a shower because of all the wet black snake like strips of negatives hanging from a rope over the tub on clothes pins dribbling developers fluid which then splashed onto the inane building a rainbow poster because of Herbie the cat with the open sore on his neck and with as Weeza put it developmental problems you could depend on Herbie to leave nothing untouched upsetting bottles and containers spilling whole tubes of toothpaste making it impossible for Phillip to enter the obstacle course of Weeza’s bathroom without getting poisonous chemicals onto his clothes Weeza pretending everything was fine and immensely pissing him off especially after their night of insane lovemaking which happened before either of them realized it up against the refrigerator opening it immediately afterward she gulping down a Tab he a beer both in seconds flat gasping for air then gorging on strawberries ice cream yogurt peanuts bananas jarlsberg cheese triscuits fudge doritoes & dip snickers & tigers milk bars Reese cups Chunkies & M&Ms watching The Return of the Children of Frankenstein on the late show on the portable tube at the foot of the bed stacked up on the phone books         and conducting more than a few pointless prolonged arguments most revolving in no small part around her insipid and garish friend Noreen who wore too much jewelry by the way said Weeza Noreen is into S&M now yeah I like M&Ms too said Phillip no said Weeza S&M psychodrama whips & chains oh yeah she got a job answering phones at a House of Domination when she picks up the phone she’s supposed to say good evening we offer a personal happiness session first we give you a sensuous bubble bath and feather touch you from head to toe then we very discreetly remove the testicles with a surgical knife the fee is ten thousand dollars would you like to make an appointment Jesus Christ said Phillip Weeza said Noreen said they call it the Heavy Put Away I’ll say it’s a heavy put away finally dropping off to sleep and waking to the stink of an upturned ashtray hairpins candy wrappers smashed peanuts decomposed banana peels triscuit and dorito crumbs the shriek of morning traffic rising off Broome street putrid tasting mouth and the residual petty resentments lingering the morning after from arguments the night before the spiteful nastiness carping and quarrelling but suddenly little kisses and laughter making up everything nice again except for no food left in the slightly worse for the wear refrigerator         thinking now as he walked maybe he would give Weeza a call after all even though he knew her refusal to speak to him would still be in effect having kicked one of her mannequins just before he left last night down the staircase in a fit of disgust at the asininity of it the sheer fact that this was the sort of thing Weeza got off behind but also because he tripped over the arm of one of them which had been tipped by Herbie during the night onto the middle of the kitchen floor simply giving the thing a good swift boot once and for all out the door and down the stairs nearly annihilating the woman emerging from the apartment below who ran for dear life         he knew that he would call Weeza and they would work it out they always do they would go to the Tonic Puke Purple Vomit show later but for the moment having made right turns on the rhomboid of Lafayette Howard Broadway and Grand he would head east on Grand to Little Italy ducking into one of the dark downstairs joints for a brew and a falafel flipping quarters into the juke killing time and waiting for the New York voodoo night to commence or perhaps he would simply continue as Wee Willy Walleye would put it rollin and tumblin movin and groovin cookin and smokin slippin and slidin shuckin and jivin walkin down the street clappin his hands kickin his feet at the same time continuing his meditation on the arbitrary which in the city had to be dealt with on a minute by minute basis it was a force you had to contend with otherwise you might wind up in the Spring Valley Nursing Home for the Bewildered         the trick was to confront the experiential core with open eyes to remember that what you do matters this above all else each step of the way you had to watch it it was crucial to be nimble nameless dread could descend at any moment it didn’t matter how facile you were at cutting the mustard or slicing the baloney although it seemed to Phillip as he proceeded up Baxter street or Mott street he wasn’t sure which that sometimes even in spite of himself the meaning of his life could be taken up within its own finitude it was a persistent if somewhat vague idea it wouldn’t go away that a person’s finiteness would somehow show up in the infinite realm the realm toward which we were all each in our curious ways being propelled where wisdom has not yet been subordinated to technology the realm of the numinous qua numinous the extra rational realm over and above the irrational and the arational realms Phillip walked by a ringing pay phone interrupting his ruminations he picked it up and said hello Hello friend this is Cadillac Carl from All Lifestyles if you have just a minute I’d like to tell you a little about our program         Phillip said sure All righty said Cadillac Carl All Lifestyles is for women men and couples whatever your lifestyle is you can meet others who share your interests straight or bizarre we ask no questions we simply get people together for whatever reason we have thee number one internet video dating service applauded by famous TV personalities and hundreds of rave reviews YOU select YOU decide before YOU meet we’re in our seventh year serving thousands virtually all our members are happy with our exclusive services         I’ll keep you in mind said Phillip thanks and hung up not in the least surprised by this taking it completely in stride as the sort of thing that happens every day even every hour in the city and not unlike the way he had grown accustomed to the free form animosity floating in the streets the surliness and unflappable indifference of shopkeepers bank tellers cashiers and particularly subway booth attendants having been completely unaware of this acculturating process until one day waiting to cross Fifth Avenue when a man on a bicycle as he passed Phillip spat out ya stupid bastard for no obvious reason whereupon Phillip more or less instantaneously countered fuck off buddy and crossed the street not having given it another thought until much later when he realized that before coming to the city he would have been appalled at this sort of rancorous exchange and his own readiness to casually toss out obscenities these occurrences now being par for the course as he turned onto the noise and confusion of Canal street discovering he had just been on neither Mott nor Baxter but Mulberry street having made oblique angle right turns on Grand Mott and Bayard         and everywhere the orchestral rhythm of the taxi cabs the whole city seeming to him now a series of flashing grids and lines geometric vectors multiple groupings of spiraling electronic dots endless patterns and perforations a throbbing surge of neon shapes and sounds car horns flugelhorns obelisks thumping booming disco beats bouncing off the walls of buildings racing honking firetrucks howling sirens Rube Goldberg like cul de sacs and streets the rustle of bills the clicking of coins the snap of a brim the nape of a neck the roar of a bus the shit of a pigeon the bark of a dog the stink of a drunk stock tickers check books money markets credit cards shining steel beams smooth sheets of glass black patent leather like limousines smoky aroma of roasted chestnuts and fat doughy pretzels         alleys & parks full of dope dealers panhandlers hucksters cheapjacks scriveners pages lords ladies bishops councilmen noblemen wise men hit men undertakers meter maids clerks cops tailors teachers murderers messengers soldiers sailors inmates jailors priests poets minstrels clowns windbags blowhards phonies fuckups jerkoffs chickenshits milktoasts gargoyles dopers bikers beats punks pukes quacks hicks mooks frauds twits rubes         wimps & wusses bitches & bastards whiners & complainers         pusillanimous puffballs educated gasbags         tightassed luminaries of science and medicine         honorable heads of state         well dressed officers of the court         distinguished members of the academy         pompous notables of the clergy         bourgeois hack economists         parliamentary cretins         running dogs of revisionism esteemed members of the politbureau jitterbuggers jetsetters horsebetters trendsetters         lonely men talking to parking meters and a thousand bottle caps stuck in the tar of the street yet somehow moving with the cosmos like living molecules         red and white platelet planets living breathing gyrating         the whole huge galaxy of New York City catapulting through wiry networks of living forms all in communication with the invisible axial lines extending outward in a three hundred sixty degree sphere from the rolling electric coca cola sign at Times Square         the vibrating hub of the universe the bowels of eternity where manhole covers are the steaming gates of hell         it was the biological web you couldn’t ignore it it was tightly packed pounding morphing energy modules         organic networks revealing the dense wiring under the board of the collective cerebral cortex         and still wondering about the final outcome of the Stanley Cup Playoffs he resolved to stop at the next news stand pick up a paper and a tigers milk bar knowing that he would sooner or later run into his friend Wee Willy Walleye either at a starbucks over coffee and cheesecake or in one of the proletarian diners greasy spoons or strange bookstores         Wee Willy Walleye was loose long and lanky as Walleye liked to say basically meaning he was tall Phillip last saw Walleye yesterday at Phillip’s place up on West End Avenue in which he made straight for the refrigerator Walleye in fact never diverged from this rule when visiting Phillip Phillip would turn away and back and Wee Willy Walleye will have wolfed down a whopper an egg salad sandwich several pieces of fruit and a pint of ice cream Phillip doing a double take at the rapidity with which Walleye consumed food         Walleye himself was amazed at his titanic appetite all he knew was that he had to eat it was like a demon that possessed him Phillip knew that he would run into Wee Willy Walleye probably over along Saint Marks Place displaying not without some artistry his need to prevail in an argument with whatever Lower East Side flotsam and jetsam he could badger into an obliging corner         Phillip discovered he was on Great Jones street again approaching Lafayette which he would take north to Astor Place and on to the Saint Marks freak show where the no wave phenomenon lived the example incarnate of mass drift of how it could typify a way of life it was a movement nobody could deny it it had a certain momentum a tremendous overflow of high school outcasts the neo nihilists thousands of nobodies celebrating their nobodiness which many on the outskirts of the sensibility could not fathom         though the important thing was to be home no matter where you were because as Phillip liked to recall when I’m home everything seems to be right and that finally was all that mattered as he headed east on east ninth street toward Tompkins Square Park remembering all the clubs that have come and gone CBGBs the Mudd Club the Cooler 8BC Club 57 and Club 86’ed from the park he would veer south to sixth street and then along sixth to the East River which was at least as lordly as the lordly Hudson and where he would walk along the docks feeding pigeons and following the trajectories of turbo jets soaring overhead pondering the intricate and perfect webbing of Weeza’s skin pores and looking out over the Brooklyn shore line the force of the river in its flow foaming and splashing and weaving and pushing its way forward creating within him a huge swelling calm a oneness a perfect moment a renewed covenant with the march of days as they are lived out in all the bored clippings of fingernails half awake brushings of teeth and special trips to the store for ajax and saran wrap and this thought reminded him suddenly that he had forgotten the swiss mocha coffee which he meant to get at the delicatessen and that he made gross oversights like this all the time that he would probably go on making them that he didn’t always come up with the right decision about how to do things that he would probably never be rich or famous that he was no one’s hero that he didn’t always have an answer that he was not the last great hope of man nor the wave of the future but simply someone who occasionally liked to roam the docks parsing out the rhythms of the river who occasionally liked to walk at right angles to see where it led who occasionally liked to imagine he could turn the city on its head and spin it like a seal with a ball about to fall off its nose at any second off its nose at any second any second any second second second second second

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