Friday
Oct142011


Damascus

By Joshua Mohr


 

 

Two Dollar Radio
October 2011
224 pages
978-0982684894


 

Well, if it wasn't bad enough to gut through a week in which Revv had a tattoo engraved on his arm that no one could read—Sexy time Pandabear? Yankee says Cockblock?—here he was at the veterinarian's, listening to a technician tell him that the lump in his boa constrictor's belly was Revv's own boxer shorts.

"It ate my undies?"

"Apparently."

"Why would he eat my drawers?"

The tech chuckled. "I don't feel comfortable speaking on your snake's behalf. But I'd assume starvation played some minor role in the mystery."

"Do they eat things like this often?"

"I can safely guarantee you that, no, this does not happen often. He must have been famished."

"I fed him recently."

"When?"

Revv paused at this. When had his boa constrictor—Revv called him his Bowie Constrictor, hoping some day the snake would asphyxiate David Bowie for singlehandedly emasculating rock and roll—last been fed? That was a solid question. One that might not matter all that much anyway because the fascists wanted $900 to operate and get the boxers out of its digestive tract. Revv loved Bowie, but, come on, $900? That was a lot of scratch to shell out on the snake's behalf. That was his savings, all of his savings. If his own parents—that "family" he yanked himself out of at sixteen and never looked back—needed $900 for surgery, he wouldn't give them a dime.

Revv doesn't want you to know the particulars of his past, but you know the story without hearing it: you know about selfish, wanton, ludicrous parents who make their children's lives impossible uphill struggles: you know the biological irony of alcoholism: how kids raised by drunkards go on to be drunkards, even though they hate drunkards…

"Will he definitely die if we let him digest the boxers au naturel?" Revv asked.

"Are you kidding me?" the tech said.

"I am not kidding you, dude."

"Yes, he'll definitely die."

"I'm going to need a minute to think it over."

"Think it over? Your pet will die."

"Yeah, but I might die if I give you $900. That's everything I've got."

"We have payment plans."

"Just a sec. I'll need to talk this over with myself."

"Maybe you should check with someone else," the tech suggested.

This wasn't how he planned on spending the morning after getting lucky with Syl. He wanted to lag around his bed and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes with her. Wanted to have another screw. Wanted to hear her talk about the Olfactory Installation because honestly, it had blown his mind; she had blown his mind with the beauty in last night's art show. The shock Syl splattered on the audience, like heaving chum in their faces, bait to lure the predator right to them. In this case the predator was perspective, a bellowed reminder of the war in Iraq. In fact, all of Revv's heroes from Joe Strummer to Ian MacKaye scolded the populace, laughed at the mainstream, stamped piercing condemnations onto strangers like graffiti on buildings. Someday, Revv would stand on stage and indict, zero in and fire his own caustic and righteous artillery at the stooges. It was his calling. He was sure of it.

Actually, Syl was the one who had pointed out the snake's weird digestive lump this morning as she sat up on his futon, stretched and wormed her way to its edge, her knees crammed up in her face because the futon was flat on the floor. "What was the last thing you fed it?" she said to him.

"A rat. But that was a couple weeks back."

"It appears to have recently indulged in an ad hoc feast."

"I'm realizing that." Revv's hungover eyes trying to focus on Bowie. "That is not the intended shape of his body. I agree with your assessment."

"Is there a pet equivalent of 9-1-1?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"Because you should probably call somebody soon," Syl said.

"I can take him to a vet, I guess. But I'd rather stay in bed with you."

"It might be dying."

"Hard to say. He's a bit of a diva." Revv pulled her back into bed and kissed her, excited to experience one of his favorite things about new lovers: morning breath. He considered it to be one of the sexiest things you could share with somebody. Hers was like coffee grounds and smoked salmon. He'd written a song about it once, though the chorus wasn't right. It needed to be revised. He'd teach it to the next lot of blokes he jammed with. Maybe it could be the tune to break him out. You didn't need a whole album anymore. Just a solid single. One cut to make the rounds. The internet had changed the music business, even for punk bands. "Let's have one more roll in the hay," he said to Syl.

"But this is how I sneak away," she said, only sort of joking. "I always feed mysterious objects to guys' pets and skulk off into the distance."

"I want to tell you something serious about the art opening last night," Revv said. "Promise not to laugh at me?"

"Promise." But there was a part of her that was leery of hearing what was coming next.

"I was moved," Revv said.

Instant relief for Syl. She hadn't expected someone like Revv to cop to being moved. And she hadn't expected to like hearing it.

He continued: "I know that makes me sound like a douche, but seriously, your art moved me. I've never really had an experience like that before. I felt like I was witnessing something really vital. It's only ever happened to me with rock and roll. You have a real gift. The stuff you're doing can sure stir the shit."

"I don't really know what to say."

"Don't say anything," he said.

Syl was taken aback, in a great way. No one had ever pledged that her art had made them feel something. For years that was her sole goal: to elicit an emotional response in a stranger, to make someone she'd never met in person feel something based entirely on the artwork itself. Her greatest wish was coming true, here in this guy's ludicrously male bedroom, a machine on his dresser that dispensed chilled Jägermeister. He'd shown it off to her last night when they first walked into his room, after introducing her to his eleven—eleven!—roommates, rubbing the top of the machine like he was steadying a spooked animal.

"This is my dairy cow, Bessy," he cooed, pouring Jäger shots from Bessy, making motions with his hands like he was milking her. "Radiant milk, huh?" said Revv. "You can tell she's a happy beast."

"How drunk are you?"

"On a scale of one to ten, I'm pretty shit-faced."

And that was the way life worked, Syl guessed. These were our idiotic epiphanies. She'd just experienced a monumental moment, one she'd pined for her whole life—hearing how her art had affected someone. Never in a million years did she imagine receiving this news while planted on a mashed futon a few feet away from a Jäger machine named Bessy. But it didn't matter, or she hoped it didn't. Because in the end, she'd made him feel something and that was her heart's greatest wish.

"Well," she said, "you talked yourself into that roll in the hay, smoothie. But then you go get that snake looked at. Deal?"

"You got it, gorgeous."

Now the tech was asking Revv, "Hello? How's that conversation with yourself going?"

"Okay for me. Not so good for the snake."

The tech shook his head. "You're really going to let your pet die?"

"What can I say: I'm coldblooded," Revv said, laughing and howling. "Bowie would have loved that one. He had a superior sense of humor."

But what was this, what kind of stupefying dune of defamation swelled up in him right then? Why was Revv, who had proved immune to guilt and responsibility and liability suddenly feeling like he was doing something wrong? He did tons of things wrong. Hell, he liked doing things wrong, found a contorted pride in flubs and blunders and contusions. Liked to look at the scars on his body and remember all the things he'd done to earn them, fistfights, face plants, mild scrapes with neighborhood kids, etc. But this… letting Bowie die was something (apparently) that he considered wrong. Some secret code of conduct he wasn't aware of, stashed deep in his subconscious, solitary confinement. He thought of a night at Damascus last month: one of the regulars, Karla, sometimes carried a tiny dog in her purse that was no bigger than a burrito. People liked to pet him, feed him peanuts off the bar. He was sort of the joint's unofficial mascot. But on that night, Karla started screaming out of nowhere and people crowded around her and Karla cried and more people crowded and she was yelling and she was holding the tiny dog in her hands, limp and lifeless. It had suffocated in her purse and she hadn't noticed. They all stood gawking at the dead thing. Revv didn't need any help thinking the world was a heartless fiend, so why were all these examples of that clabbered truth circling around him like buzzards?

The detail that bothered him the most was when Karla, still holding the lifeless thing, kept saying, "What am I supposed to do with it? Where does it go? Where does it belong now?"

It was Revv who took it from her. Brought the innocent thing into the office and wrapped it in a bar towel. He asked Karla if she wanted its body, but she said, "Jesus, there's just no way." So he took the wrapped dog out back and put it in the dumpster. Tried to summon some poetic words but could only come up with this brusque eulogy: "I'm sure you didn't deserve to go out like this, pooch. Sorry you got such a poor shake." Then he gave the dog a solemn nod and patted the side of the dumpster.

He'd judged Karla that night, judged her alcoholic tunnel vision, judged her as inept and selfish. He couldn't do something so similar to Bowie. There wouldn't be any honor in this brand of apathy. No, walking away and letting his snake die was the sort of wrongness that didn't jibe with him.

He had to do the right thing.

Begrudgingly, of course.

"Joking, dude," Revv said to the vet tech. "I'm joking. Obviously, I'll shell out the bones to save my Bowie Constrictor. Jeez, give me some credit. I mean, he is my pet after all."

"You sounded pretty serious."

"Just playing."

"Glad to hear it."

"Me, too… I guess," said Revv through gritted teeth.