Closing Time (or, Deja Buk)

by Steve Heilig, June 30, 2010

Crunching down the soggy North Beach alley

2 am Frisco fog overhead

drunken old bum pissing on the grimy wall.

I was going to walk on

but the sound of his stream

triggered my own beer-filled bladder

What the hell, I thought

and joined him at the wall,

as if at an old Paris pissoir.

So two drunks,

one old, one getting there fast

My feet spread wide so as not to get splashed,

I blurt: “Did you know this alley is named for a famous writer?”

He looked over at me

as if this was an everyday setting for small talk

“Oh yeah?” Who that?”

“Jack Kerouac,” I answer. “The 'King of the Beats.'”

“Hunh,” he grunted, shaking himself off. “Never heard of the shithead.”

“Good for you,” I said. “He never heard of you either.”

“Maybe so, who gives a damn,” he belched.

“How about this,” I continued,

“This wall we're pissing on belongs to a famous book­store,

owned by a famous poet.”

“And who's that?”

He didn't sound interested.

“Lawrence Ferlinghetti,” I replied. “The Poet Laureate of San Francisco.”

“Hmmph,” he mumbled, zipping. “Never heard of him either. But you know what?”

“What?” I said, finishing too.

“Great poets die in steaming pots of shit.”

I had no reply to that.

He grunted again and walked towards Chinatown.

I went the other way

The bookstore was still open

Nothing else to do, I went in.

Forty years too late,

beatniks sat scribbling in the dim light

too cheap to buy anything.

Drunk young professionals,

losers in the nightly meat market,

kicked out of the bars at closing time

but afraid to go home alone

nodded off against bookshelves.

All surrounded by a million words going unmolested.

On a strange unbidden whim,

I went looking:

Auden, Bowles, Brautigan...

Bukowski: “Tales of Ordinary Madness.”

Sounds familiar, I thought,

and sat down to read, too cheap to buy

and there on the Contents page:

“Great Poets Die In Steaming Pots of Shit.”

“Aha,” I said aloud:

“Fooled me, old bastard.”

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