They are known as they

Kenward Elmslie

Playin’ the hot joints

Takin’ the pills

 Johnny Cash, “Cocaine Blues”


Frank O’Hara



They lived like Shakers, with a slight difference: they didn’t leave anything out, and they didn’t let anyone in.



“I love all beauteous things,

I seek and adore them...”

“No wonder the old grouch got to be such a crab. He was travel tired: footsore, weary and blue.”

“Footsore? English shoes really are very well made. At least they used to be. They called them, boots.”

Robert Bridges led them up the garden path, which was lined on either side by narrow beds of white pinks. The moist green English air was charged to saturation with a smell like cloves. only more so, and better. They were making a sensuous scene. Nearby, the towers of Oxford glittered and flashed in the starless night like the lumps in a bottle of rock and rye.



“All things are relative. I mean, all things are relatives. ’There’s a wee bit o’gold in the gray of your hair,’ i.e., trace element.”

“What a downer. Stop rapping and lie on top of me. Move down a little further. No, up a little more. Right.”


“Stop rapping.”



“Say, or, by the way, or, look, or, hey, you. Chihuahua:Didn’t somebody write something called. Wishes, Lies and Dreams?”


“Could be. Then there’s that spick who wrote La Vida es un Sueno. Christ, how I hate words like, ’spick.’’’

They talked dirty.



They put on the most driven, the ugliest recording of La Traviata they could find (Toscanini’s). They put French sleeping wax in their ears. They went to the control panel and turned everything hard right, except the bass, which they turned hard left. The night was bronze. They flipped the switch. At the first note the neighborhood awoke with a start, under the impression that Chamfort was reading aloud to them in a raging sewer. Thumps, yells, execrations, poundings from all sides, from below, from above. A POOR WOMAN, stated the last Trump, or the Great Darning Needle, whatever it was, IN THIS POPULOUS DESERT THAT THEY DO CALL PARIS. Many, perhaps all, phoned the police, who had other fish to fry and were good and hungry. Fumes drifted about the room in an interestingly gauzy way: they were in a bathosphere of love, submerged in a sea of hate. When Alfredo threw the bag of money at Violetta’s feet, Ema lost its cool, and the neighborhood was spared—or denied—the ultimate effect: The Cough.



“What a fuck! moving, and deeply felt.”



“Let’s get rid of the junk.”

“Get rid of the junk!”?!?!

“Not that junk: all the other junk.”

They sold the basalt tea service, the Wedgewood mouming ware (place settings for eighteen), Robespierre’s curl, the Brunelleschi floor plan, the this, the that. They were comfortably off.



“What are you reading ?”

“Dear only knows.”



“Wanna try it with the lights off?”



“And now, I’m going to scrub you down with the Milan Cathedral.”



They shaved. They went out. They dined, they drank, they took a walk, they bought an oriental calculating device and dropped it in an ashcan.

“What is this place anyhow?”

They were encircled by straight lines.

“Slab City.”



“I wouldn’t care if I dropped dead tomorrow.”

“Not a possible state of mind.”

“It’s mine, at the moment.”

“To sustain.”

“I didn’t say, ’I wouldn’t care if I dropped dead today:’ I mean, I like life that much. And I don’t love life, I like it: a more constant feeling.”

“You lost me.”

“Then I want to die now, this second. I wish I had, just before you spoke. I would not have heard that.”

They hugged and kissed and threw the plastic bleach jug full of popper juice out the window. It bounced when it hit and the loosely secured cap came off, creating unanticipated turmoil among some passing protesters. Placards on sticks were every- where. They were inscribed:




Vote for Bella Abzug.

Clothing in fashionable muted tones mingled with the dog shit, the car farts and the activity at a nearby fire.


“Truly a trip, and a rare one.”

“Not since we made it with Lytton Strachey in Ottoline Morel’s gray drawing room, it’s long windows streaming with yellow taffeta curtains. Even the light came.”

aside: “Did you know that her grandfather, the Duke of Portland, was mad?”

not aside: “I never found him so.”

“Time to break out the Chateau Yquem.”

“No it’s a good trip—but it’s not a great one. Or even if it Get the vin de paille.

“You’re always right and you’re never wrong.”



“Did you know that Catherine the Great died, straining at the stool?”

“So did George II. Now may I go on with my book ?”



Watch it fellows: The best laid relationships can deteriorate—a strain here, a strain there.

Their forged prescription slips were the unsung wonder of the day.



“Funny, our being the only two—or one, for the matter of that—who know, in precise detail the event chain immediately preceding the recovery of the drowned King Ludwig of Bavaria, his foolhardy and equally drowned doctor clutched in his (Ludwig’s) powerful embrace.”

Taste flew out the window, along with a Sense of Values, The Stem Daughter of the Voice of Time, and a set of William Dean How- ...—Please! no personalities.

“Some scholars think one thing, others another, and at least one has an open mind.” A distant—but no less hideous for that—shriek of pain was heard. By them. They lashed Richard Wagner to a gilded date palm (San Carlo Opera House) and the overture to La Gioconda struck. About Noon in “The Dance of the Hours” R.W. went into catatonic shock. They relented, unlocked the padlock, wrapped him in burlap and mailed him home, along with some squid and a few sea urchins for Cosima. They went up on stage and joined the soprano in a rousing rendition of, Suicidio! questi

Fieri momenti

* * * * * * *

Ultima croc

 eDel mio cammin.


The harmony got pretty close. The Neapolitan fatties in their homemade silks were sent way out there, far, far beyond i Fariloni, Capri and the bourne.

“Get the piss cubes, the toe jam and...” surely, informed and gentle reader, these things need not be spelt out? Detail is such drag.



“I want a mixmaster.”

“Baby, I am at your side.”



“Dig a little leather?”


They got into their Chesterfield sofa drag, hung swastikas around their necks (swastikas with the arms going the other way: what a put-down! a genuine send-up) and creaked off to Lasher Lane. THE DIVINE MARQUIS: BARS AND GRILLS: walls hung with hangman’s knots and trophies of chain and motor hog parts; buzz saw chandelier; busts and statuettes of fun-loving figures of history: Torquemada; Nero with matchbook; Sawney Bean; Papa Doc. The Use Koch bridge lamp was possibly a fake; though an able one. A giant tinted photograph of the late Joseph Stalin loomed and smiled beneficently down. Autographed too: With abiding hue from your Uncle Joe. But who reads Russian? Printed mottoes:









and so on. Oh yes. A set of Felicien Rops illustrations for The Chinese Torture Garden. The sawdust reeked of—never mind.

“Classy. Harmony in bruise tones. Bold, but not too bold.”

“Heard on the gropeline that Headless Hannah got a mint. For doing it.”

“Yeah. A mint compounded of Spanish fly, Absorbine Jr. and cholera lice.”

Clank clank: the bartender. “Your wish, master?” he pleaded.

“Budweisers—on the rocks and straight up, slave.” Ear Indian burn: beatific grin.

A few of the boys were there, playing dress-ups and shooting pool. One had his mouth taped shut. “Piss up my nose. Mister?” They could not quite make out what he was saying.

They fed the juke box: “Beat me. Daddy, 8 to the Bar;” the great great Mickey Rooney at his greatest, “Treat me Rough (Muss my Hair);” and unforgettable, “Primitive Man.” They turned respectful ears to these classic laments—then intrusion intervened.

Thus to them addressed a blond asp with cloudy eyes these words:

“Got a cabin cruiser: care to join me and a couple of buddies and head out from Montauk?” They replied in Stoney Stares. “Sea bass are running,” added the albino Dragon Lady. His shm long fingers—they had a few superfluous joints and the nails were a la Camorra: sharp points, tipped with industrial diamonds—tenderly scratched at a large economy size bag of Portland cement.

They delivered their blackout hne as in one voice: “Get away from me before I slice you up into ladies’ leather wallets.” It was a swiped gag, it was an old gag, they had used it often—and it never failed.



“Violence is never right—outside the home, that is, of course.”

“You’re the milk in my cambric tea but you sure are ONE DUMB DORA.”



They paid a visit to the nicotine pit. They got it up to a couple of brace of Larks a day (i.e., two cartons each per demi-diem) and went cold turkey. My dear, I tell you...

“Visit the Met Museum.”

“You re on.”

Niagaras of sweat and all atremble “like aspen leaves upon a lute” they got as far as the bannered hall of metal men and were promptly asked to leave. The carbon steel armour was breaking out in rust spots. Sloshing great footprints behind them, like Abominable Snowmen in a thaw, they reached the porch and stumbled and fell down the steps, scarcely noticing what have got to be the world’s worst fountains (giant trough urinals with reverse piss). They yelled and screamed and moaned at flocks of illuminated cabs. Understandably, none stopped. They were arrested by a heavy-set gentleman in blue, hustled to the station, charged with: creating a disturbance; loitering with intent; possession of a silver flask containing a suspicious fluid {eau de vie de framboise); addressing an officer in ill-chosen words; and hurled into the Tomb. The service was not all that great. At a later date, they were let out again.



“I’m not so sure I liked that. Once you’ve been in jail, there is a, well, kind of stain on your name, so to speak. In some peo- ple’s eyes, anyway; and even if their eyes have sleep crowns in the comers, I mind; a little.”

“Forget it.”



They took in a musical. On the marquee it said, in melancholy letters on a white ground:


Long loud cheesy overture.


The band plays on and stops when good and ready. Up the great gold curtain. Thunder, lightning flashes, light drizzle on audience. Inner crimson velvet curtains sweep apart. Release Brazilian killer bees. Asbestos curtain rises: lento lentissimo.

Scene: An emporium, totally crammed with objects, some more choice than others. THE PROPRIETOR, a buxom woman in the midst of life, is alone on stage. Enter a MAN.

MAN: Porcupine quill pen and don’t keep me waiting I’m on a rush. (He fondles her ass)

PROPRIETOR: Easy on the bakemeats, buster. She picks up a machete and deftly severs the offending hand from its wrist. While she is thus distracted the MAN pops into his off-side pocket small articles: Rolaids, a Lady Bulova watch, etc. Here the actor may improvise—up to a certain point. MAN departs hastily. PROPRIETOR picks up turkey feather duster and commences to dust. Enter CHORUS OF TEN. Possibly that from the old Cotton Club, or possibly not. The CHORUS is played by one giant show girl. She must convincingly indicate presence of other nine non-present show girls. It does not matter how she does this. However, should she fail—CHORUS (titlesong)


Boosting, boosting

boo boo boo boo

Boost boost boost

troubles away

Boost boost boost

part of each day etc.

Thus the slow progression toward the inevitable intermission.



The velvet curtains—possibly real velvet, loomed in Leeds by a Loiner—dense with dust and star-clutch curtain-call sweat, swept closed. Houselights. Shuffle blatter shove.

“Your ass is in my face, madame.”

“You need not, therefore, chew my girdle. Desist. You are danking my Dior.”

“Christ! My beads!”

“Eff your effing beads, babe, and take that stiletto heel out of my bunion.”

“Why don’t you go back where you came from you— you alien.”

”...bartender bartender bartender...”

“Bee Man’s Pep Sin? What’s? That?”

”...curtain going up curtain going up...”

”...bartender bartender I beg I implore...”

“That is one pack of filter tip double Queen length Lady Rho das in the floral pack. That you want. Which will be, $2.75. Plus tax. At 6%. It is a fact: I cannot do my multiplication tables in my head: mumble buzz: do you use matches? My boy, he collects matches. The folders, that is. He is forty-nine and dreams of finishing high school. At home. With me. In a moment, sir: can you not see that I am occupied in serving this gentleman’? We have off Riverside Drive on...”

“Eleven sidecars, a Singapore sling and...”

Curtain going...” Smoke puff cough choke gag spit cigar-butt-urinal charm.

“We got Sacramento Valley rye, flat fizz and chlorinated sump water. Snap it up. I haven’t got all night.”

“Curtain going, curtain going: do I hear $275,000?”

”.. .shoved the whole shebang off the shelf, cooled it at a grand a share, nor skipped he off to Rio.”

“Oh wow.”

“Mints? You are asking me for a bag of after-dinner mints?’

”...gone gone gone...”

“I wish a gin and tonic. Make it a double. And skip the fruit wedge George or I will feed you through this transistorized platinum pocket parsley mincer.”

“Yes! Sir!”


“There is PHLEGM on my TRAIN! It is got YIK on it!”



“How many ways do I love you? Clad, half-clad, starkers, erect, recumbent, tumescent, down right limp. Snoring. Smiling—as now—eyes shut, almost asleep. I love your fingers. They unlax, they unfurl. You are floating away from me on a dark, salt, refreshing tide. I will tell you softly and more softly still of the many ways I love you and gently ease my voice to a thread, to an all but invisible strand of silk loosened—so lightly—from the cocoon of sleep, unseen, within you. Dream. I love you, a whole dream world away from me, far as Mars and further than the Pleiades, who are seven. You no longer hear my voice: its “baltering torrent is shrunk to a soodling.”

I will, all loving all of you, cease, now, to speak.”

“Go on. I’m listening.”

“Dear heart!”



They contracted childhood diseases. Their immunities became intense.

“Nothing ever changes.”

“Whine whine.”

They practiced what they would have preached had they been preachers and soon had mouth-to-mouth resuscitation down to a soft-shoe shuffle.



They received an invite to mingle with some upper hoi—. It did not have gilded edges. It didn’t need any. You just knew it was there: the chocolate candy coins skinned with gold foil, the mazuma mazuma, the what it takes to get up out of bed and take a shit in your own best crockery (unless you wanna do it in the gutter: that’s your trip, baby): yes, folks, they had IT, the curly cress that tastes of ink and horny fingers, printed on Crane’s best notepaper, the kind with nosegays of zeros in each corner, preceeded by a digit.

A minor general hustled to open the door of the cab they had long since left. They did not tip him. He cursed them up, he cursed them down, he cussed them out: in brogue. They toiled across the lobby. O quarries of travertine, will you never run out? Or is it you who are the hint, the key, the clue, perhaps the Thing itself: the (seemingly) impossible: inexhaustible supply. In truth, it was all sleazy bleached Kasota stone—who cares. They did. Distantly a kettle drummishness gave them a twinge of ear freak: some tons of prisms had hit the deck, one and a i light days ago. Upward whizz. Mountain sickness. Ninetieth floor, all of it, trimmied with Terror Terrace (nylon thread balustrades). An automaton—the masterwork of a raft of master craftsmen and the wizard of Menlo Park: The Hostess. Arms of chryselephantine lifted and parted, palms down: one hand each to do with as each pleased: squeeze, lick, pat, slap; but not exactly shake. The eyes—lavender transplants, the best—were wet with joy, the costliest. The lips parted. Click. “This is a prerecorded message. ’I am so HAPPY you could COME!’ If you have anything to say—and it better be good—wait for the beep.”

Upon these hands they lowered eyes like fish-eye lenses: the gaze of a beads, gems and watches connoisseur who reall knows his stuffand don’t take no lip from nobody, most of all

when nobody ain’t said nuthin’. They studied the collection.


“Not top.”

“The blue ruby knuckle duster?”

“That is THE most famous FAKE in the entire world, plus Saturn, Mars and Jupiter...” Rage stutter. “FOOL! CRETIN!


They raised gazes and looked at its face. The smile had grown merely a little warmer, but the eyes had subtly changed. Out of them streamed the aurora borealis, smoking hot.

Their faces reddened, peeled, healed and darkened to the desired tan: a ruddy, healthy glow. They split.

“Better than Bermuda: cheaper, no hit-and-run bicycle riders....” .

“Bermuda? Who needs it, Tweedwits. Domenica.”



“Reality starts in a checkbook.”

“Speak for yourself. Miles.”



They stopped for a traffic light. So did a Rolls. It was that shade of green—you know, the one that isn’t black—or maybe it was maroon. They could scarcely tell, so turned on were they by the attar of roses clouds of its exhaust. An imported, hand-picked chauffeur graced the wheel. He too was a human being. On the back seat, cloistered in the regal solitude it so richly deserved,reclined a throw pillow. Petit point. Imperial yellow ground. Edged with red, the reddest red. Not a thin red line, not a thick red line: just right. In orange Bodoni:





“Molotov cocktail time?”

“Embroidery is an honorable hobby, like any other.”

I The light changed. The car rolled forward, clashing its gears.

There they stood, too zonked to move.



“Read the directions.”

“I can’t even read my palm in this murk. Put on the strobe. That’s besser, baby. Says here it says, ’to ball for eight continu- ous hours... something something...’ What it boils down to is, ; get a light liquor high, throw in the upper of your choice, toke away at the Nepalese Blue Streak Hash, and keep the amyl I handy.”

“Nothing about henbane, belladonna or angel dust?”

“One can but try.”



They went to the Rainbow room, and groveled at its wondrous decor. They had the whole dump to themselves and made the most of it. All around the twilight lay shattered into mauve, canary and blue tourmaline. No clouds troubled its repose as the day died into itself They issued forth upon a balcony. They addressed the night.

“O Alva! Alva!”

“O flow! budding out in fragile glass”

“as though the living and the dead had fled, leaving phosphorescent shells.”

“O Steinmetz, Steinmetz, Steinmetz!”

“And waterfalls that change and charge the night with fatal

’don’t chew on me’ wirings!”

“O monotony, peopled invisibly”

“Parks, offices and murderous squalor”

“Here and there lights go on...”

“and the unperceivable is seen...”

“in the rhythm of the swelling and subsiding sea...”

“no wave breaks”

“O Davy Davy Davy”

“O blue TV”

“and Waring blender, automated pencil sharpener, burglar alarm, electric toothbrush”

“O wattage”

“fluent and tappable”

“O phone”

“Alexander Graham Bell and Mrs Bell”

“And everyone, all talking at once or snoring or suckie-fuckie”

“City, you name it, you got it”

“She thinks, I can no more, and shakes the pills into her palm”

“She thinks, so many years to wait for love and Oh boy, was

it worth it”

“He thinks, did I give, or get, a bum steer?”

“Darkness darkens and struggling against its tug more lights

come on and more”

“water lilies whose stems the water drags and they flower”

“lights beyond all flowers!”

“O flowering flux!”

“O. Henry! O. Henry! O. Henry, O. Henry!”

“He said ’Turn up the lights; I don’t want to go home in the dark”’

“And died” .

“Bright embroidery of sound”

“Taxis, limousines, the common hog or ’motorcycle,’ Vespas and motorskates”

All this splendor and it is not ours”

“I would groove in silence”

“If I could: lights! lights! lights!” 

“And roomy rainbow”

“flashing from blue steel: guns, and knives and terror”


“Was that an accident?”

“Or a near thing?”

“There is no one to question, there is no one to ask”

“About the afterlife: have you a thought?”

“City called Miracle, what do you think?”

“If this is very heaven, how acceptable to the senses might be...

“It is such a little thing to be born of woman”

“O hard-faced death with Grecian nose”

“Are you Miss Liberty ?”

“Answer! Answer! Answer!”

“O free will! honey, baby...”

“Flipping switches”

“Randomly at large”

“It is such a little thing”

“To be born of woman” :

“And to die. O shining city”

“O fatal sting” ,

“All that is strongest and most frail”

“honors you”

“O New York City”

“O secular sublime”



I They took a trip and crossed the Natural Bridge. Below, in the ’ chasm, the gulf, the rain engorged arroyo, were pearly depths, in whose whorls lurked hideous monsters that snapped and harrowed (by monsters is meant: the neighbors—the man who comes to read the meter—a lady in galoshes selling raffle tickets, etc.).



They invited Holly Woodlawn to join them in a visit to the Necropolis. She was busy, starring. They went anyway. There were an awful lot of people there, tucked up to the chin and beyond, only the headboards of stone bedsteads poked through the blades.

“Like sooty dominoes.”


And each in the ghetto of his choice: Jew bones by Jew bones, recusant by recusant. Neuter Baptists, Moondog followers, Hutterites, Millerites, Seventh Day Adventists (women who gave birth once a week). Pickled Pig Fat Eaters, Slaves of the Lotus, Worshippers of the Squishy Banana.

“Shall we honor the dead?”

“What for? They’re a thankless crew.”

They split a rainy day pill. (It was not about to rain: that was the name of the pill). Nothing much happened, unless you count the neon liana thread webs and the sun, whose fingers nervously clutched and grabbed at them for about eight hours, a hailstorm or two, the lightning bolt bundles, the edible Goodyear blimp. They downed on sheepshit, encapsulated in gelatin of a thrilling transparency.

“Pretty sluggish ride, all in all. Better than Gone With the Wind, maybe?”


“O, wow, man. When you raise your voice to me—and you never do—it turns me on to Written on the Wind and I’m it: Dorothy Malone, Daddy dying. Rock Hudson and Robert Stack, the oil derricks, all of it, all of it.”


They broke a widgeon off the High Holy Hash, got out the meerschaum—its bowl, a bust of William Tell—and had a smoke. Moonlight seeped into the room, between the floor- boards.



They sent a nice note to Sir Basil Liddel Hart, thanking him for his history of World War II. They told him how much they enjoyed it. Excessive praise, but sincere. The note arrived in time for the funeral.



“Ought we not go to Russia and spit on the graves of Mayakovsky and Pasternak, Pushkin, Tolstoy and Tuytchev? Not out of hate—out of contempt for fame.”

“No, we oughtn’t. Wait. You may have something there. Get the kerosene and we’ll discuss it.”



They put on their sox sat back, relaxed and lit up a Camel. You can imagine how the creature felt. This one was by Stieff, out of F.A.O. Schwartz. It cost—well—plenty. It was the money they wanted to bum.