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Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation and Light
Excerpt #40

Bart Plantenga - 2010-07-08

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Beer Mystic Excerpt #40

Furman Pivo believes he (plus beer) may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same again and the rest is history or myth or delusion.

The Beer Mystic took the Rum Seer to Coney Island. Or was it the other way around? She certainly knew the “scape and topo”. She had some inborn Coney Island of the mind.

Her mind, she thought – you watch – could still get snagged on the various outcroppings, bad memories of Coney picnics with aunts doused in acrid perfumes, or the walls of rock crowned with glittering ridges made of glass shards embedded in cement to keep “it from us or us from it”.

She flashed her silver hip-flask, and before she teasingly blinded me with errant reflected sunlight, singing “Bliiiinded by the light/ Madman dummers bummers/ Indians in the summer/ Bliiiinded …” I grabbed her wrist, read the inscription on the flask: To our Sister of Mercy!

Perhaps she was hoping I’d ask who it was who adored her so. But I did not. If I thought she had acquired some of Garbo’s more vexing imaging strategies I was careful not to tell her.

It was summer, late afternoon. Off the F train, we were greeted by the full neurotic clang of pink rabbits banging on tin drums, time bombs inflated with someone’s breath, wild orange dogs barking, doing flips, tin busy things, full of buzz and jangle. It’s as if death is encrypted inside every desperate gesture and festive object that screamed, “I’m alive!”

I bought a beer at the Cold Beer Clam Stop counter – don’t order the clams unless you like chewing gum – just across the street from the subway, to regain my maltographical bearings. The beer was just cold enough for me to notice that it had no flavour, while the cup lost its shape as I held it. The music pressed itself into me and came from everywhere all at once and was shapeless, relentless, without melody, and just loud enough to compete with all other noise.

Off Surf Ave, near the Tilt-A-Whirl – two deaths, four injuries in the past decade – the attraction’s airplanes had begun to look like turtles. Maybe it was what sun does to vision, or the salt, or the wind ...

“There useta be a place called Dreamland here ...” Rum Seer.

Faded beach toys dangled from awnings for yet another summer gone by. A couple strolled by with greasy shish kebabs on a stick. Meat or marinated leather or something else – the debate continues. The girl spat out one of the morsels on to the boardwalk. Now the couple is arguing because one of the greasy morsels has stained his new DKNYPD tee shirt.

Luddite pilgrims in beatnik sunglasses lugging odd, outmoded cameras came from the world over to document the avant-decay, the over-glorious collapse of false hope, the last rusty twitches before the calm.

It was the most humid day in the history of mankind. Even Rum Seer’s stiff spikes of polyurethaned hair had already gone the way of blades of knife-grass in a rain forest.

Everything smaller than us seemed to stick to our bodies and I, in turn, stuck to things – Formica counters, railings, car fenders – larger than myself. Such was the humid nature of orbital attractions, of gravity, and annoyance.

We stopped in at the Aquarium, where the wall behind the bar held many framed photos testifying to how glorious this bar and Coney had once been. This admission of irony gets absorbed instantly as nostalgia as soon as someone realises how useless a sense of pride steeped in aesthetics was.

“Look, there useta be Luna Park, Irish music halls, a racetrack ...” She guided me along through the framed photos, until a jukebox song sounded so loud and distorted that it resembled the voice of Satan, which forced our retreat from the bar.

Outside, entrepreneurs were sagging into the shadows of their hapless punched-out storefronts where they sold faded sofas, old empty “collectable” gin bottles, and toys that nobody wanted. When these men and women, drained by sunlight and nothingness day in day out, spoke English it sounded like it was coming from an old radio (shaped like a piggy bank) that was stuck between two radio stations from the 1950s. Snuffed of even their resilient sarcasm, it’s all they can do to stare at flies pestering a dog. A fat lady scratched a welt on her flabby arm.

Everything – like a bomb site – is frozen still. Rides still churning, like the Wonder Wheel, wheezed rheumatically. In a matter of weeks we’d all know the terms “stress fracture”, “preventable tragedy” and “tensile strength”. If you want you can take home pocketfuls of historical rust, that intimate union of oxygen and iron.

“Sort of like how brain cells commune with alcohol,” the Rum Seer observed. Someone else had broken the heads off the swans on the carousel. She took photos. Each headless swan representing an aspect of atrophying empire.

She bragged about some friends who were trying to revitalise the former glory of Coney Island. That they were doing this for others who didn’t yet even know they wanted their fondest memories refurbished, made their efforts all the more astounding. These friends lived as squatters in a labyrinthine cavern full of dusty old carousel horses and hoarded amusement remnants.

Arrows along Surf & Turf Ave pointed contemptuously to nonexistent rides and locked toilets. We wandered in through the rides. Jiggly things in the Inferno that were supposed to leap out at you didn’t. The bone-chilling screams don’t scream. The Wonders of the Invisible World, a Puritan’s tour through Salem during the witch trials, is so devoid of attractions, so ransacked – there’s no one in the ducking stool, there is no ducking stool – that it leaves ticket-holders miffed, and humbled by the ride’s utter dilapidation.

The phantom train dashes through Hell – as a urinal. When you press buttons things don’t move. Slots suck up coins. Horoscope machines only tell you you’re out of luck. The garbage cans with clown heads are so full they puke up garbage instead. But you can still win a lifetime of low-tar smokes or cans of Laddie Boy if you pick the right number.

After the Aquarium, we were ready to purge the dingy bar funk with one ride – “Come on, just one!”

“No, not the Spyro Gyro!”

The Spyro Gyro, or the Spinsy Winsy, or the Spineroo, looked decorative and flamboyant, with a Hindu motif. Brightly painted cars represented various many-limbed, curvaceous, avenging, and dramatic deities. Some she recognised: blue-skinned Krishna, elephant-headed Ganeshi, Shiva, Shakti, Sarasvati riding a swan. “She’s the goddess of poetry and music.” The backdrop scenery recreated something like what the Himalayas dotted with voluptuous cowherds or Gopis, wearing third-eye garlands, might look like if they’d been interiorised by the human soul of a Carny.

We climbed into the plastic yoni of Shakti, “deity of dominant feminine sexual energy”. We were the only ones on the ride. As we got whipped into a ferocious spin, all din and turbulence clinging to whatever insides had popped out so voraciously through so many lifetimes, began to shred, fall away to become one great hum.

As centrifugal force was converted into something more parapsychological or vertiginous, we found ourselves completely wrapped around one another. The faster we whirled the less facial features seemed to matter as they adopted the features of sea and sand, heat ripples, and other fields of energy with G-force whipping her breast loose from the confines of her D-cup. We were propelled into space and then unexpectedly inward, spun so free of moorings that not a shape felt or looked like it had before. A state of wondrous bewilderment where one’s insides and the universe spin at the same velocity, concentrically, sharing the same centre – and suddenly all is tranquil.

At the exit, the attendant who had put “the screws” to us snickers. We stood before him hollow, humming, beyond nausea, without bile or preconception, unwound and decoded.

We wandered to the sand to lie down slowly and hold on tightly to the flatness of their earth. Furman removed a beer from his pocket and saw it swirling golden and counter-clockwise in its vessel. The Beer Mystic, by necessity, had managed to pass from a Me to a You to a He to a The – the third-person shadow of the self.

They walked the boardwalk, inhaling air top-heavy with greasy sausage and gleaming chicken carcasses rotating on spits. Teen couples make their pilgrimage to Coney Island with the boys aching so bad to be men already, and not much later they begin the desperate process of reliving a childhood they didn’t have. The girls test the miracles of Spandex with incredible blossoming posteriors. Soft ice cream melting down their knuckles.

The Beer Mystic took her to the spot where a friend of his had been raped at gunpoint three years ago. They crawled under the boardwalk, where he re-enacted it for her. The way he was crouched, forced to watch. The gunman tugging nervously on the trigger. The barrel steel pressed to his forehead. The residue of spent gunpowder. The crack of limbs pulled out of joint. The water’s glisten.

The Beer Mystic had another Kwak – dark and warm like a womb, with hints of anisette and liquorice. She nipped at her flask.

“I still search faces on the F, at Jay St, in Times Square, for the rotting cabbage stuck to the ends o’ their necks. But I dunno what I’d do if I ever spotted them.”

“A woman’s beaten every 18 seconds in America. I been there. It comes with the package,” she said nonchalantly. Her nipples arose out of all this misery. Noradrenaline, released into her gaping veins.

“Don’t stare. It’s just the cool sea breeze. Let’s have some fun.”

“There’s the Cyclone and the batting cages. You want fun. I thought you thrived on rust, decay, the absence of frivolity, the sound of a warped world grinding to a halt.”

“I do! Rust is the nosegay of progress. When you hold a handful of rust you know it’s the by-product of a very utilitarian and oppressive process.”

“If you believe it, I believe you.”

“It’s not the thing, but the idea of its falling apart. Laugh, but uh, I’m a romantic – really! – cuz I see rust and crumbling magnificence as the ‘conjunction of opposites’, or like how the positive and negative are attracted to each other.”

They walked through the sand. Her face veiled in a silk thing from Venice. Sunglasses and hands in her pockets – every inch of body kept away from the voracious appetite of the sun. Which she likened more than once to “therapist”. Or did she say “the rapist”? She looked like a starlet from late-night TV – the few stray kids stopped building their sand monsters to gawk.

A jumble of tattered black ribbon and white wax washed up ahead. She pawed at it with her slender painted toes. Three white candles in the shape of women, heads wrapped in black ribbon.

They squatted in the briny ocean foam of unctuous effluvia, picked at the three wax figures with pins piercing eyes, vaginas, anuses and breasts. He held the waxen women. The water glistened and swayed. High tide and then even higher and not a word between them until the water lapped up over the tops of her boots, which sent them laughing, arms entangled, tumbling into the warm sand and broken glass.


Under the black ribbon of one of the wax figures was a wet photo pinned to its forehead. A mocha-skinned woman with flat, broad features, expectation drained from her cow-brown pupils.

A sallow hippie couple, with matching his-and-hers Grateful Dead T-shirts, happened by as if they’d been spat out of a time warp. “That’s some heavy shit you’re stuck with,” they observed in unison with a certain moral world weariness.

“Can’t we just toss’m back out to sea?”

“No man, you’re with the power shit! Yooz are in the realm.”

“Wait! What’s the black veil mean around their heads?”

“Death, man, what else,” said the grizzly-chinned man. “The power’s comin’! The power’s comin’!”

“Punitive figurines are used to convey lessons of correct behaviour. These figures are kept anonymous and secret from the uninitiated. When they become representatives of specific people who have transgressed normative behaviour in the community, spells are cast and they become pariahs,” the woman added.

“Wait! And is it three different women this guy’s tryin’ to put away or is it a triple-whammy hoodoo this dude’s puttin’ on one woman?”

But the hippie couple kept on down the beach and were already out of earshot. He sucked beer to further circumvent linear systems of logic. She took more nips, took a paper clip from her bag, bent it open and pressed it into the wax figurine’s belly. “It’s worth a try. You never know.”

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