“I Am Tom Waits!”

Janice Margolis

April 12, 2019 
The following is a story from Janice Margolis' collection Termination Shocks, which evokes those moments when lives are unpredictably shaken and reset by forces beyond their grasp, showing characters on the precipice of change. Janice Margolis is the recipient of Massachusetts Artists Foundation and Irish Film Board grants. Her work has been reviewed in the New York Times, Dance Magazine, and the Boston Globe.

At first I went on as normal. If someone misguidedly said, “Hey, there, Sydney,” I’d laugh. Later, when I couldn’t purge the name from my being, I’d gag “Syd ney,” the two syllables dead saliva, utterly meaningless, a joke.

On days when I’d lost all hope, or found myself near the swan boat embarkation point at Echo Park Lake, it was obvious the lounging hipsters knew precisely who I was but chose to play the coma girl/boy game they’d perfected on stage at Spaceland when Beck was still a boring beer from Bremen and not a musical wunderkind, if I’m not mistaken.

There was a time after Rain Dogs peaked at #188 on Billboard’s Top 200, when I was convinced that my acne scars allowed people to pretend they didn’t recognize me.

Once, I walked from Echo Park Lake to Griffith Observatory via the hidden Angeles Avenue stairs to gauge how the stalwart bands of Korean hikers on Mt. Hollywood would respond to me. Confusion and fear was not what I expected from people who bang their backs against tree trunks in the Berlin Forest at the base of the hill.

To be fair, my record label never compiled accurate demographics about my sales, so it’s possible there wasn’t a booming Korean market for my work.

In frustration, I sometimes scribbled “I AM TOM WAITS!” on my palms with a magic marker stolen from the laundromat in the mini-mall where a podiatrist erected a gigantic neon green foot capped by a screaming orange bunion. I’d flash my palms at passersby, often children licking corncobs dipped in heavy mayonnaise, a disgusting habit that seemed borderline pornographic. The mayonnaise-licking children claimed they’d never heard of me, though their grasp of English was doubtful.

By that, I don’t mean to belittle the little ones’ intelligence. Once you realize California’s written driver’s test is offered in seventy-two languages, it’s just common sense to assume the worst.

In the beginning, when suicidal feelings swamped me, I’d go to open mic night at the Tiki-Ti or Troubadour. Surely someone in the audience would realize I was me, I’d thought. I’m still mystified no one ever did, even when I sang “Clap Hands.” The jerks just clapped their hands.

Incidentally, while I was strolling near the malodorous La Brea Tar Pits, mesmerized by another violent purple sunset courtesy of Mt. Pinatubo’s cataclysmic eruption earlier in the year, a white vapor trail streaked overhead in chaotic loops before exploding into billowy gray smoke reminiscent of a mammatocumulus cluster, often referred to as boob clouds by amateurs. Those of us who knew a missile launch gone wrong when we saw one, shared an aha moment—what billion-dollar satellite did Vandenberg Air Force Base lose this time?

I don’t remember my reasons for walking the length of Sunset Boulevard in a sandwich board, but when I arrived at Gladstone’s on PCH the smell of fried fish and crusted guano made me seasick. Since then, I’ve avoided the ocean and feared seagulls, whose inland flight range is equivalent to a medium-range ballistic missile. Seagulls have been known to lift off from Gladstone’s dumpster and land at Denver’s aquarium. En route they pass over Salt Lake City, where some stop to poop on the Miracle-of-the-Gulls monument erected on Temple Square to honor their ancestors who saved the fledgling community’s first harvest from a plague of Mormon crickets.

Speaking of Mormons, shortly after the episode at Gladstone’s, the trembling began. Trembling beyond trembling that made my voice warble and fingers bungle C-chords. Music was likely rebelling against being trapped in someone mistaken as an imposter. Audiences got progressively ruder. I’d be singing “Way Down in the Hole” or “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” when people would shout, Sit the fuck down, Bobby McGee! I had no idea what that meant, or what they wanted from me, except to sit down, of course.

Here is one unmistakable fact: Mainlining was not glamorous. Heroin addiction was shit on shit toast. Heroin withdrawal was death on death toast.

A few weeks after crashing the UFO Expo West at the Airport Hyatt, I began to notice I could no longer rhyme. Previously, writing a song was as easy as solving quadratic equations. At the Expo, I attended a packed lecture by the eloquent ethnobotanist, Terence McKenna, whose writings on alien intelligence acting through psychedelic mushrooms were beyond mystical.

Actually, I’m not sure what “beyond mystical” means, or if anything can be beyond mystical.

On another psychedelic note, the pad I used to crash at had a Jimi Hendrix poster tacked on the wall. Hendrix was wearing his “Purple Haze” jumpsuit, a two-piece affair that defied the term jumpsuit, and was red, not purple.

The original “Purple Haze” chorus was “Purple Haze, Jesus Saves,” which may explain why I devoted three years to creating a rock opera concept album—The Passion of Black Jesus—that my label refused to release. The album’s title cut was a sonic tour-de-force of cabaret-R&B-gospel that lasted a mind-bending eleven minutes.

My opinion has always been first thought, best thought. Allen Ginsberg had the same opinion, though it’s difficult to say which of us had it first.

It’s possible Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem titled “The Passion of Black Jesus,” though it’s equally possible I just wish he had. I’m fairly certain Ginsberg’s poem would’ve ended the Vietnam War.

Come to think of it, the character of Hendrix as Black Jesus, an AWOL helicopter pilot preaching peace and love on Skid Row, was conceived on my sandwich-board walk.

The opera unfolds during Apollo 11’s moonwalk mission. Rounding out the cast was: Thief—an apostle; Glory—a devout chorister with dementia; Cate (aka Great Ass)—Glory’s daughter; Francis Xavier (aka Doc)—Glory’s VA Hospital orderly son; Ricky Diver—a drug dealer; and Michael Collins—the loneliest man in the universe, circling the moon solo in the Command Module. I’ve never understood my label’s hostile reaction to the material.

The day I discovered my favorite falafel joint Eat A Pita was owned by the original Catwoman, Julie Newmar, I composed “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” on a napkin over baba ganoush and pickled radishes. The line Makes me wish I could be a dog was for a stray beagle I hung with that afternoon.

On my way to Little Ethiopia, I got lost in Little Armenia, and wound up in Little Tokyo. It’s almost impossible to do this, but there you have it. The foot blisters from that escapade were excruciating. I can now see where I grossly miscalculated. It wasn’t the first time I mistook north for south and east for west. There was the horrible day when I mistook the Parthenon for the Pantheon. Imagine being in Athens when you think you’re in Rome. I don’t know who we have to thank that the Apollo 11 astronauts didn’t suffer from similar directional impairment.

Having said that, I don’t hold myself completely responsible for the Parthenon/Pantheon debacle. It seems ancient cartographers and epicists had a sarcastic streak. Why else would Mt. Ida be mapped in Crete and Turkey? And, why would the Mt. Ida in Crete (a Greek island) not be the Mt. Ida the Greek god Zeus kidnapped Ganymede from to take to Mt. Olympus (a Greek mountain)? And, to make matters worse, why would Zeus pop all the way over to Turkey’s Mt. Ida to abduct the lad, when Zeus could’ve abducted any pretty boy from his own neighborhood to rape and pour wine? The whole thing strikes me as a mind fuck. And people wonder why so many Shakespeare characters are location- and identity-challenged.

The only time I rode in a helicopter was when I was ten. After that I no longer wanted to be a pilot or astronaut. Every flying aspiration I’d had flew out the helicopter’s open side door that afternoon, scattering my dreamains over the Wisconsin Dells.

I doubt dreamains was the term I’d thought at ten, not knowing about cremation, or that cremains were the end result of that process. Nevertheless, dreamains seems exceptionally apt shorthand for the annihilation of childhood desire, while cremains could be a non-dairy creamer.

I used to ask people on the street if they’d ever felt a brontosaurus running inside them. At the time, I was preoccupied by the possibility that the human body could represent the land time forgot. Call it the long chain of knowing or being, though conceivably there’s a vast difference between knowing and being, as there is between a brontosaurus and a giraffe, except perhaps as seen from a distance on the savannah when they might be indistinguishable from one another.

Another question I used to ask people was whether they thought concrete’s teleological purpose was to showcase colorful gang graffiti. Those who responded “yes” were generally covered in tattoos, which may in fact represent the skin’s ultimate teleological purpose.

According to John Lear, the son of Lear jet inventor Bill Lear, gravity is instantaneous. I’ve no idea what that means, but it sounds true enough. I’ve never dropped anything and had to wait for it to fall.
Sometimes, when confronted with uncontrollable gravity, as happened when I fell out a third-story window, I’m reminded of John Lear’s lecture at the UFO Expo West. Apparently, alien spaceships use gravity generators to pull the fabric of space toward them. Then, when the aliens turn the generator off, their spaceship coalesces with the space they’ve pulled toward them (hundreds of millions of light years away), and moves there at much faster than the speed of light. Who knew the universe could be traversed in the time it takes the Wilshire bus to get from downtown to Santa Monica during rush hour?

Many Junes ago, I became obsessed with the film Teahouse of the August Moon. Presumably, I’d been heavily influenced by the lotus blossoms on Echo Park Lake and the illusion of ventilation kimonos offered. Picture my shock when Marlon Brando, the shrewd Japanese villager to Glenn Ford’s misfit American captain, was awarded the “Golden Turkey Award” for “Most Ludicrous Racial Impersonation.” I’m ashamed to admit I saw Brando’s name in the credits, but thought he was impersonating Eddie Albert. I’ve no idea who I thought Eddie Albert was impersonating.

Speaking of déjà vu, Black Jesus’ first aria was like regression therapy minus hypnosis. Imagine Skid Row, Sunday, July 20, 1969. The eagle has landed in the Sea of Tranquility. Michael Collins orbits the dark side of the moon. Black Jesus preaches to his stinky, penitent flock. Frances Xavier (Doc) searches among them for his demented mother, Glory. Black Jesus feels the spirit take hold. He must bless someone. Anyone. Who is this plaintive man in orderly’s scrubs repeatedly shouting “Glory”? Why not grab his head and sing . . .

Go slow, brother, go steady.
Your steps will bring on the water.

I’ve surfed the muddy Mekong on a water buffalo,
Celebrated Thanksgiving in the killing hills of Dak To,
Seen My Lai’s ditches flow with women and children,
So listen up. Listen good.

There is never a good time to make a run for it.
Never a bad time to pray.
Two men are on the moon,
Three are in a foxhole,
Four are in a rice paddy.
Only one has his head between my hands,
His brain pounding out orders.
Disobey them all, brother.

I once tried eating lunch naked but found out ants are real assholes. Even more so than flies. In fact, I’m pretty sure the insect world is five, no six times more assholic than Norman Mailer.

About the time that I began The Passion of Black Jesus, I quit meditating. I’m fairly certain that the causal link between losing my mantra and finding my soul resulted in others’ disorientation.

Speaking of Norman Mailer, he and I had a brief correspondence in the ’70s. For some reason, a fan letter I’d written gave him the impression I was a tall dirty blonde. I didn’t disabuse him of his mistake, and allowed a non-existent part of my body to be described in a particularly lascivious exchange he later insisted was meant for Gloria Steinem. As requested, I destroyed the letter, which, as a lover of history, I deeply regret.

Incidentally, am I the only one who notices that incessant ringing?

I originally recorded Saint Vibiana’s cathedral bells to accompany Glory’s “Long Love” aria, but some tones rub lyrics the wrong way. Virgin martyrs aren’t always the best begetters of harmony . . .

Holy moly, Mr. Armstrong’s on the moon.
What does the Lord think of his creation?
Use to be the sky above the birds was all his,
Use to be no one but the Lord could see the whole earth,
Use to be the inside of a person was sacred.

Mr. Armstrong’s on the moon seeing us spin,
Seeing day and night at once,
Seeing all them yellow children burning in the villages.

Stay and watch the moon set, Doc.
We’ll kiss Mr. Armstrong goodnight,
And when the sun rises tomorrow,
Me and Black Jesus will walk to the ocean for all those burnt yellow babies,
Walk straight into the water and dive under the waves,
Oysters waiting on the long love.

By “lover of history” in relation to my Mailer letter, I did not mean to imply that I love all history equally, and that some history should not, if it were possible, be destroyed. I’m a bit uncertain about that double negative, same as I was about the potential of a brontosaurus and giraffe being confused with one another when seen on the savannah from a distance.

Isn’t it strange how the same thoughts circle around and around. It’s why the best choruses embody refrains that stick in the heart, while the best refrains engender choruses that stick in the brain. I’ve never forgotten my first music teacher cum heroin dealer’s advice: Remember, Tom, all choruses are refrains, but not all refrains are choruses.

Now that I’ve said that, I’m not entirely sure if that was my music teacher’s advice or William Burroughs’s.
William Burroughs was a thin old man with bad teeth and the kind of paranoia people would die for. He saw doppelgängers everywhere and often said over buttermilk pancakes: Tom, from a great distance I see a cool remote naborhood blue windy day in April sun cold on your exterminator there climbing the grey wooden outside stairs. It made perfect sense to me at the time, like throwing the I Ching on New Year’s Eve, though, in retrospect, I had to admit to being thoroughly confused.

It wasn’t until I was at the Central Library years later and found Burroughs’s Exterminator! on the shelf that I realized he wasn’t imparting wisdom but quoting from page 4.

Speaking of doppelgängers, there was a panhandler outside the Music Center in October who could’ve been Hendrix’s twin. He pretended that he’d never heard of me even though he was singing “Heartattack and Vine.” It felt like the Echo Park Lake hipsters all over again. Very dispiriting. Nevertheless, that wasn’t a good reason to kill him.

Perhaps I should’ve mentioned that the morning of my panhandler oops, I got a blinding headache at discovering there is another Mt. Ida, in Colorado of all places. So it came as a deafening blow to also learn a celebrity subdivision in Laurel Canyon was named Mt. Olympus.

By deafening, I don’t mean to suggest I’d lost my hearing. If I had, I wouldn’t have heard Hendrix’s doppelgänger sing “Heartattack and Vine,” and presumably not killed him, headache or not.

Speaking of murder, there isn’t a murderer better suited to a horror opera than the fifteenth-century child-sodomist-serial-killer Gilles de Rais, who had princess frocks and page’s doublets sewn for his hundreds of victims before assaulting, decapitating, dismembering, and cremating them in his castle fireplace.

Compared to Gilles de Rais, Mack the Knife could’ve headlined A Charlie Brown Christmas.

“Jupiter is a bitch-ass planet” was one of those repetitive thoughts that frequently circled around at that time.

Eager to see celebrity Mt. Olympus for myself, I trudged up the Sisypheanly steep sidewalk past Electra, Oceanus, and Zeus Drives. There was nothing at the top but a loud posse of small dogs hurling themselves at a picture window. Apparently I made a right turn at some point because I was found unconscious at the intersection of Achilles and Hercules. A mythologically obtuse paramedic with a woeful sense of humor officially reported that I demanded he return my shield.

“God Bless Rust-Oleum” was another thought on frequent replay. It sweeps through whenever I reminisce about Black Jesus’ apostle, Thief, an addict and graffiti aficionado. His “Lights, Camera, War” tag on the 3rd Street overpass was pure genius.

While scoring some heroin (his “chicken fix”), Thief witnesses Glory’s foxy daughter Cate rip into Black Jesus for laying his “filthy crackpot hands” on her brother’s head. I laid an awesome hiss track of paint exiting a spray can behind his “Day of Days” aria that closed Act 1.

Ricky Diver, my man,
Why do chicks with great asses always got sharp tongues?
Why are they such a carnival of trouble?
OK . . . I see you wanna get on with my chicken fix.

God bless Ricky Diver’s needle.
God bless the veins in my arms and between my toes.
Take your pick, my man, and God bless.

This is the day of days, my man.
Just look how blue that vein is,
Blue as Miles, blue as God’s eyes.
You good with that needle, Ricky D.
God will surely reward you in this life and the next.
See you on the moon, my man.

A person with a vagina once suggested that Ricky Diver was a rip off of Fitzgerald’s Dick Diver from Tender Is the Night. Clearly, the vagina never read the novel and never heard my Passion. Only an illiterate imbecile could think Ricky D and Dick D had anything in common, except a penis.

“Ignorant imbecile” was not meant as an insult toward my dear vagina-possessing friend Nicole, who like many women of a certain age and gender, find themselves out of their depth and confused.

Physical violence was central to The Passion, though I suppose that goes without saying since everyone knows “Passion,” when used this way, is a euphemism for an unjust painfully horrific death.

In fact, euphemisms are such a tender way to communicate I’m not sure why anyone bothers with the truth.

After my deadly encounter with Hendrix’s doppelgänger, I decided to take some time off. I spent a year in Uruguay, though for six of those months I thought I was in Paraguay. Since Spanish is spoken in both countries it can be complex. Something I learned from that episode is time travels faster when I don’t know where I am.

Speaking of dislocation, for longer than I’d care to admit, I thought harum-scarum was an abandoned ghost town near Addis Ababa.

This may not be pertinent, but around the time of the L.A. riots, I discovered a gold tooth at the back of my mouth and have no idea how it got there. I discovered it after eating Ma Yi Shang Shi but before I knew Ma Yi Shang Shi meant “ants creeping on trees.”

Ordering Chinese food always makes me feel as if I’m speaking baby.

Whenever the temperature hits 92.7, I’ve had the distinct sensation that my head might fall off. In fact, shortly after my homicidal oops, I became convinced that whatever was sitting on top of my neck was much lighter and more ethereal than my actual head.

I’m also convinced that Michael Collins survived his time orbiting alone in the Command Module by letting his body parts float about, which is why his rhapsodic arias ripple God-like through my Passion. After Doc confronts Thief about stealing Glory’s jelly donut, Thief howls his recitative—I know what you think. You think I want to spread my shit on your shit until your shit got no place, until none of our shit got no place—while Collins soars above it all, singing . . .

This familiar ship,
We circle and watch and wait.
I am not lonely. I am.

Not since Adam, they say,
Not since Adam before his rib.
Such loneliness, they say.

Blue-and-white star, circling fire, I’ve lost you forty-four times.
Near Greenland’s icecap,
You are shedding oceans.
Whorls rip across your equator dragging sound waves.
Houston, I have my eye on you.

Shortly after I returned from Paraguay, the headaches had abated, but distance became fluid. It was wild to set out for the Greek tragedy Electra Glide in Blue at the Regent on La Brea and, ten steps later, wind up at the Egyptian on Hollywood.

It took years before Electra Glide in Blue screened again and I realized it wasn’t a Greek tragedy. And that the title wasn’t a coy reference to the dress Electra wore while plotting her father Agamemnon’s murder, but a blue motorcycle favored by Robert Blake, an Arizona cop. In the end, everyone was killed in either case, and Arizona’s bleak khaki scrub wasn’t such a far cry from ancient Greece, so I suppose I got my money’s worth.

Among Los Feliz Boulevard’s majestic pines, a good Samaritan handed me coffee, two donuts, and, strangely, a handful of tampons. My hair was quite long at the time in the Paraguayan style, which may have accounted for their confusion. Still, I was miffed and burst into the second verse from “Singapore,” thinking that would set them straight about who I was. They had an allergic reaction to the rhyme Cross your heart and hope to die, When you hear the children cry. Likely, they were the person who called the police.

Imagine my surprise when I later needed one of those tampons.

There was a chance I might have ridden horses while in Paraguay, which presumably cured my headaches. If in fact I did ride horses in Paraguay, they may have also irretrievably jumbled my insides.

Nothing else makes sense. Speculation beyond Paraguayan horses seemed fruitless.

I no longer remember where I lived during the L.A. riots, or why anyone would care. Around that time it enraged me that people still called chamber music chamber music when it was played in a 3,000-seat hall. The same held true when people stopped drawing in drawing rooms.

After Griffith Park became untenable to live in because of the puma stalking me, I resided at Forest Lawn necropolis for six months, near the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather Chapel. While there I did my best to avoid Babyland, a horrible heart-shaped hillside with epitaphs like “Lil Booger” and “If only . . .” Twice I stopped by the Great Mausoleum to view the 30-by-15-foot stained-glass replica of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Subsequently, I experienced schizophrenia. Both times.

That adventure was a perfect example of how we can never know what lies dormant within us. As was my unprecedented need for a tampon.

Speaking of black and death, apparently the squirrels on Mt. Ida in Colorado of all places have bubonic plague.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that suspended animation was an important state to be able to conjure at a moment’s notice. On occasion, time needs to catch up with where you are and the only way to let that happen is to not let it move forward or back.

Another critical state to be able to enter at a moment’s notice is California.

On the other hand, it may be more important to be able to exit rather than enter anything.

My headaches returned with the total solar eclipse. Everything became greenish-yellow, like living inside a liver. In fact, my liver experienced deep malevolence, an emotion I’d previously thought off limits to organs.

While in Paraguay I developed a problem. On the road to Montevideo, which may in fact be in Uruguay according to a map I saw in the Central Library while inserting that stray tampon, a river presented itself. I’ve no idea what prompted me to remove my clothes, but when I did, I discovered my penis was missing.
The experience was similar to jumping off a surfboard near the L.A. County Jail and thinking: Who needs the ocean?

During my Paraguayan sojourn I never quite felt like myself, so who knows if I was even there. I certainly would’ve preferred to have been in the Galapagos than Paraguay, given the choice.

Despite my distaste for polyester, and Hendrix’s purple jumpsuit not being purple or a jumpsuit per se, when it came to costuming Black Jesus for The Passion, I chose a purple polyester jumpsuit. After a few days on Skid Row, he stinks a boil and refuses to bless the pigeons, but nonetheless corrals Cate with his compassionate “Argonaut” aria . . .

Hey, sister, calm yourself.
The first job of life is to listen.
The young can’t know what the universe will bring,
But when it brings it, you answer.

Enter that attitude of no disturbance
Where your Argonaut dwells.
Practice stripping away what stops you from a quiet mind.

When your bird gives you a view of earth,
Contrary to the rules of nature,
Don’t lift your nose and retreat.
Don’t arrest your descent.
It’s called level flight attitude for a reason.

So level your flight attitude, sister.
Respect what you see before you,
Give yourself over to what you don’t know and what scares you.
C’mon, sister . . . Step up and I will listen.

Let’s face it, since Paraguay my body was in an ongoing state of diminishment and leakage, and couldn’t meet my anger. I had no idea it was possible to become a smudge.

I wrote a long philosophical letter explaining my dilemma to the great composer/arranger Nelson Riddle, who apparently had already died.

Incidentally, Riddle’s middle name was Smock.

For as long as I can remember I’ve felt deeply geographical. As if made up of seven continents still in a state of Pangaea, a supercontinent awaiting dispersal and repositioning.

Being 60 percent water, we likely merge and go adrift all of the time, I wrote to Riddle, who for obvious reasons never responded.

Speaking of Pangaea, the opera The Emperor of Atlantis or The Disobedience of Death, had a similar dispersal and repositioning as myself. Written by two inmates at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, the score survived its makers and entered the metaphysical realm before its premiere. The opera’s Dutch conductor consulted a spiritualist to contact the gassed-at-Auschwitz inmates for instructions regarding the instrumentation of Death’s aria near the opera’s end. As my first music teacher cum heroin dealer explained it, the dead composers asked for flute and trumpet to be added, and strings to replace harpsichord.

Trumpet is the most honest instrument. It never smiles when it doesn’t mean it, cries when it does, is mean as hell when deserved. While Thief basks in the afterglow of his “chicken fix,” his oily motor mouth, backed by a pulsing ghostly trumpet, sets death in motion in his “Great Ass” aria . . .

Great Ass is one carnival of trouble, my man.
Someone needs to fry her jelly donut,
Unbend her angles until grace fills her belly
And frosts her mind.

Bingo, baby, ain’t that what you always say, Ricky D?
That you can get back any day,
That you can Bingo time.
Go Bingo Carnival of Trouble with a chicken fix,
Prime her caboose, doodad her universe,
Give Great Ass the ride of her life, And get back this day.

Yeah, get back this day. And while you’re at it, whoever I’m talking to, doodad my childhood.

I’ve had a fear of the Hollywood Bowl since I showed up to play on the wrong night and stumbled into a Sound of Music sing-along. Being surrounded by men in nuns’ wear crooning “Climb Every Mountain” was harrowing. Curiously, I seemed to be the only one who was outraged that Julie Andrews’s hairdresser used a bowl to cut her hair.

After I abandoned Forest Lawn’s necropolis, I embarked for Lake Hollywood but ended up in Long Beach. This was an even more traumatic directional disaster than my Little Ethiopia, Little Armenia, Little Tokyo triangle. For weeks after, my heels developed frightening claw-like growths and I became convinced I’d traversed the human-animal divide.

With that in mind, I bedded down with the peacocks at the L.A. Zoo for a week. Of course that meant I had to sleep in a tree. It came as quite a surprise as I thought peacocks were too fat and clumsy to fly.
The same puma that stalked me in Griffith Park eventually showed up at the zoo. Thankfully the raucous peacocks protected me, while the poor koala got its face eaten.

I may have forgotten to mention that soon after the trembling started, slurring set in. It was hard enough to go unrecognized, but to be accused of perpetual dipsomania was infuriating.

William Burroughs was a dipso and a murderer, but he didn’t take much flak for it. And here I was a murderer, but no dipso, forced to sleep with peacocks.

On the other hand, the peacocks were absolutely lovely hosts.

Then again, after the ongoing Paraguayan strangeness, I might’ve been wrong about killing anyone.

It wouldn’t be the first time since collaborating with William Burroughs that I made erroneous assumptions about events, later to discover they were markedly different than I’d thought.

The lyric “I’m at the end of my rope” rhymes with a lot, but not with “frog” or “lily pad.”

My headaches returned with the total solar eclipse, though I may have already said that. However, if I didn’t, my headaches returned with the total solar eclipse.

As it turns out Ricky D’s needle was laced with fairy tales. Terror and wonder in one. Consequently, the police roll in while Thief crawls through the pandemonium, a symphonic overdose spilling from his throat . . .

Black Jesus say the mechanics of intelligence
Reside in my thump ditty thump.

Ricky D’s needle knows how to plant a seedling
In life’s thump ditty thump.

Great Ass goin on the ride of her life,
Silver ponies gonna stampede her veins,
Mustang her tongue, Harley her venom.

I’m gonna skinny-dip in her city of rainbows,
Gonna peel back her skin,
Dissect her thigh gap,
Insert my camera.

I’m coming in for a close-up,
We’re about to go airborne,
Rust-Oleum on the wind.

Deep disgruntlement seized hold of me after that. I never was able to get to the root of the issue beyond the sense that the end of a song is much like its beginning.

For longer than was healthy, I worried that the reason people shouted Sit the fuck down, Bobby McGee! at me was because that might be my nickname. Then I realized it was mass psychosis.

If you don’t believe in mass psychosis, just ask the average Joe or Jane if they think Apollo 11 ever landed on the moon. Or, for that matter, where harum-scarum is?

Since Paraguay, my memory has ceased to be my most reliable asset. My penis, which had previously held the post, obviously lost that spot when it went missing at the river.

The Passion of Black Jesus did not have a happy ending. By that I mean everyone died. The only characters who survived the police assault on Skid Row were outside earth’s atmosphere. Michael Collins’s final aria hovers like gossamer over the bullets and teargas . . .

A quarter of a million miles mapped,
The vacuum of space,
The truth of the matter,
New world take my picture.

I’ve decided to return to Paraguay by way of Wisconsin’s Dells and Mt. Ida in Colorado of all places. Surely I’ll discover what I lost, or haven’t yet been able to locate. I plan to ride horses again since they were so helpful with my headaches last time around.

Since I’ve never learned Spanish, if a Guayan misguidedly says, “Sydney,” it’s likely I’ll think they burped. As for Bobby McGee, I doubt he even exists.

Allen Ginsberg once howled, Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. I prefer Black Jesus’ wisdom. My home is beneath my hands, your home is beneath yours. There is nothing truer in the universe.

I’ve said goodbye to the swan boats, the lounging hipsters, the Tiki-Ti. All that’s left is to pull some fabric of space toward me to generate momentum and a song. I’ve dug out Black Jesus’ purple jumpsuit for the trip. Distortions of perceptual reality are on my agenda.


From Termination ShocksUsed with permission of University of Massachusetts Press. Copyright © 2019 by Janice Margolis.

More Story
Lit Hub Daily: April 11, 2019 “It no longer seems rational to assume that humanity... will behave rationally.” Nathaniel Rich on how the consensus...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.