Dear Dirty America

DDA

Feng Shui This

Feng Shui This
August 04
11:00 2012

DONALD O’DONOVAN

(excerpt Orgasmo, find the book here)

Brunsvigga is here with us now, one of the androgynous doyennes of the night, a hulking lesbian with muscles of steel and a shrill piercing whinny that’s guaranteed to set your teeth on edge. Brunsvigga is Joffker’s keeper, his aide de camp, his nursemaid. Joffker? Joffker is a blob of undifferentiated protoplasm hooked up to a fierce mental dynamo. He spends his days wrestling with his pain. He’s peering at me from his couch as I write this on a yellow pad, his head a dream machine cranked by a dyslectic monkey, his gaze the goopy stare of a tranquilized koala bear. Now he’s swimming toward me, his face blurred by a lens of water. Some portion of Joffker is still alive—the ravening maw, the distended stomach. All else the cancer of the mind has co-opted. Did you know, Joffker, that “pain” is “bread” in French? Bread and pain, both ubiquitous, you see. Give us this day our daily pain. Le pain de campagne, le pain maudit, le pain perdu…

Brunsvigga is Joffker’s boiler tender. It’s she who stokes the furnace, the fiery furnace of Joffker’s suffering, with shovel after shovelful of coal as he goes down and down into the bituminous blackness of his despair. And now the place is full of coal dust and we’re all sneezing away like a bunch of diseased rats. We’ve got black lung disease, the lot of us, not surprising because these days the whole fucking world is diseased, because this is the 21st century and the shell of the World Egg is cracking and the albumen is pouring out the windows faster than the bastards can shovel it back in. Poor Humpty Dumpty! It was a beautiful world, wasn’t it, I mean once upon a time? You could drink the water, you could breathe the air. But now the question is, can Humpty Dumpty be put back together again? Answer: I doubt it like hell.

We’ve got rats too, real ones, or at least Big Edna says we do. She claims she can’t sleep because she hears them inside the walls at night, creeping, chewing, squeaking, smacking their lips and pissing everywhere. She sees their tiny feverish eyes, their twinkling noses, their twitching whiskers, as she tosses and turns, her mind a maggot heap of crawling thoughts. She’s awake half the night, poor thing, praying to the Baby Jesus. Big Edna sleeps with Joffker’s umbilical cord under her pillow, she cherishes his fetal lifeline as one might cherish the decaying relic of a saint, but all this mumbo-jumbo hasn’t helped much with the rats, so she keeps Olaf busy setting out traps. “Olaf, be sure and put more traps behind the fridge,” she’ll say, wringing her hands. “There’s a nest back there, I’m sure of it.” Big Edna’s hands are a sight to behold, the fingers and thumbs pitted and raw, the nails splintered from cracking pistachio nuts. Big Edna is addicted to pistachio nuts. Not surprising because pistachio nuts are extremely addictive. I’m becoming addicted to pistachio nuts myself, in fact. But that’s neither here nor there.

Olaf’s our rat-catcher, by the way. He’s been elected. Olaf’s our in-house Pied Piper. “Yahh, yahh,” Olaf replies, patting his big belly. Later, after he empties the garbage and tightens up the doofilckus on the gas stove. There’s plenty of time, plenty of time for everything. “Yahh, yahh,” he intones. Every time I hear that raspy mellow yahh, yahh of Olaf’s, his voice seems to echo over the rooftops of the world, it embraces and informs the entire sentient universe. It’s a voice from a bygone age, a voice from a lost age of innocence, it’s the glad cry of a chanticleer proclaiming, in spite of everything, that all’s right with the world.

Olaf is what is called a good soul. Unlike Joffker and Brunsvigga and Big Edna, his mind’s not on a rampage. Instead, his head is filled with the nuts and bolts of life. Practicality. “Yahh, yahh,” he mutters, his mild blue eyes twinkling behind his rimless glasses as he makes his rounds, pruning the shrubs, fixing a faucet, bathing the leaves of the rubber plant with milk, his shaggy mane of white hair tucked into a tattered tweed workman’s cap cocked at a jaunty angle. Olaf, as far as I’m concerned, is the only healthy inmate of this godforsaken lunatic asylum. The man is none too bright and he’s immeasurably better off for it, if you want my opinion. As long as he can fill his belly and empty his bowels, what’s to worry? No angst and no Weltschmerz for this man. “Yahh, yahh,” he says, patting his big belly. It’s an entity in its own right, Olaf’s belly. It intrigues me the way Olaf plods along with a solemn shuffling gait as if he were wheeling that enormous belly of his in a wheelbarrow. If you ever saw him coming at you, you’d want to salute that belly, trust me, same as you’d salute a fucking bird colonel or a five-star general.

Meanwhile the rats are busy behind the fridge, gnawing, squirming, squeezing out little black turds, their “Kalamata olives,” and Joffker is swimming in amniotic fluid and Big Edna is cracking pistachio nuts and Brunsvigga is chronicling it all in her autobiography, “The Story of MY PAIN,” which she’s writing on a roll of bloody white butcher paper with a felt-tip pen. From time to time she wets the point of her pen by sticking the pen up her ass. “God, that feels good,” she whimpers. “If only it weren’t for this fucking coal dust…”

Olaf steps briskly to the fridge, cracks open a beer and sucks it down in a single gulp. “Aahhh!” he exclaims. He mops the beer foam off his walrus mustache with his shirtsleeve, smiling contentedly as he rummages in the pocket of his coveralls for a screwdriver, then he lets out a tremendous belch. Aahhh again. Life is good. He hums to himself, a little ditty, then bursts into song, “Im Himmel gibt’s kein Bier, drum trinken wire es hier…

It’s the beginning of my third month at this huge old house on Highland, and I think I’ve found a home. The kitchen is my domain; I do the cooking, wrestle with the pots and pans, etc. Every morning I cook breakfast for Big Edna, who owns the place. We can see the Hollywood Sign from the front window, important, at least to Big Edna, because she has a thing about the Hollywood Sign. She’s obsessed with Peg Entwistle, the beautiful British actress who committed suicide in 1932 by jumping off the top the Hollywood Sign’s 50-foot tall letter “H.” She keeps a list of recent Hollywood suicides, too, current victims of La La Land’s bright lights. This probably means that she’s harboring a death wish, meaning she’d like to off herself, something like that, or at least she likes to imagine that she would.

When Brunsvigga first arrived from Reykjavik I thought she was Big Edna’s psychotherapist, but it turns out she’s a colonic irrigation specialist. She gives Big Edna a high enema every night and I cook her breakfast in the morning. That way we’ve got both ends covered.

It’s tragic what life does to beautiful girls. Not just the ones like Peg Entwistle who commit suicide, I don’t mean that. I’m talking about the passage of time, what it does to you. Take Big Edna, for instance. Big Edna was beautiful once. Now she looks like the Piltdown Man. How do I know Big Edna was beautiful? There’s a photo of her in the dining room, a family portrait featuring her mother and father and three sisters perched demurely on a sofa, obviously America, 1950’s. Interesting, because people were still halfway human back then, and the young girls with their dreamy, creamy expressions are smiling in a sickly half disbelieving way as if they’d just gotten a sudden glimpse of the sorry fucking circus into which they were about to be launched like svelte kissy-wet torpedoes.

Fortunately Big Edna has the sop of religion. “Give your pain to the Baby Jesus!” That’s what I hear her telling Joffker all the time. “Give your pain to the Baby Jesus!” As if the Baby Jesus didn’t already have enough pain. The Baby Jesus is sorted for pain. That’s my conviction.

Later. Joffker and Brunsvigga are arguing so I’ve moved my yellow pad into the bathroom in order to take advantage of the peace and quiet. It never fails: Big Edna goes out for pistachio nuts and the rest of these dizzy bastards get up to their tricks. But fortunately the bathtub faucet leaks, and there’s something wonderfully refreshing and restorative, I find, about the musical gurgle of flowing water. The bathroom walls are plastered with cautionary signs penned by Big Edna: “Turn hot water OFF, Flush toilet FOUR TIMES, three short, one long,” etc. This is how people communicate in this fucking 21st century of ours. They scribble notes in Morse Code to each other on shithouse walls. Three short and one long. It’s the American way. One if by land and two if by sea.

I never intended to move into this huge old house on Highland in the first place. The whole thing was Starz’s idea, Starz and Tiffany, but I rode in on Starz’s coattails and one day flowed into another and things happened and I stayed on. Pretty soon Bernie, a retired jockey, joined us. Bernie was the quiet sort, spent most of his time in his room with a needle and a spoon. Next door to Bernie lived a man with Parkinson’s disease who roamed the halls at night holding his fluttering hands in front of him as if they were on display. Street girls came and went, and Zelda, older, obviously insane, wore tiny tight short skirts and thought the rest of us were stalking her. She’d crouch, reach in her purse and snap your photo. Then Tiffany and Starz vanished. You never knew with Starz. Here he comes, there he goes. Starz wasn’t the sort of person who stays in one place for long.

After that things were quiet for a while. I’d mostly sit by the pool playing checkers with the jockey and mooning over Doreen. I tried not to think about Doreen but one day I saw two gossamer-winged damselflies hovering above the pool in a close abdominal embrace and that reminded me of Doreen. Everything reminded me of Doreen. I was sinking into a blue funk. Then Vanessa showed up, Vanessa from Azuza. Vanessa from Azusa was going to teach me about opera. “You so need to add opera to your portfolio,” she counseled. There’d been a rash of proletariat heroes in the movies lately who were opera buffs, she explained. I’m not saying I was in love with Vanessa from Azusa. Besides, Vanessa wasn’t around long. Vanessa from Azusa moved out right after the Colombians showed up. I remember because it was just a few days before the jockey died. The Colombians were a handful, believe me. They’d creep into the kitchen in the dead of night. I’d make something communal like spaghetti or lasagna and they were on it like piranhas.

Then the Cambodians arrived, and one thing and another happened and Brunsvigga pitched a hissy fit. Claimed that one of the Cambodians had stolen her gym bag containing her steroids and syringes, her passport and a 14-inch jellyrubber strap-on manufactured in Mogadishu. Of course the Cambodians said it was the Colombians that did it and the Colombians the Cambodians and so on.

A couple nights ago a savage earthquake jolted me right out of bed. Three point five on the Richter Scale, Brunsvigga said. Brunsvigga prides herself on reading the newspapers. She thinks that makes her a normal person. There’ve been tremors recently all along the San Andreas Fault over the past few days, she says. I don’t doubt it. The Earth is getting ready to shrug off the obscene fungus of civilization. Yesterday morning another jolt that nearly shook the house off its foundations. I thought it was the Big One, I figured sure enough Los Angeles is sinking into the Pacific Ocean like the lost continent of Atlantis as the seismologists have been saying it will, but it turned out that Brunsvigga dropped an Olympic bar and it went halfway through the kitchen floor.

Several days have passed and Olaf has done a number on the rats. He put the zap on them. Poison. He’s been roaming the house with his pitchfork all morning spearing rat carcasses behind the fridge, behind the stove, etc. Now it’s afternoon and the rest of us are sitting around the kitchen table munching bread and swilling wine, and Brunsvigga’s segmented torso is gleaming with sweat and her coconut-size deltoids are bulging with branching blue veins. She’s been doing lateral raises with 60-pound dumbbells in between sets of heavy hack squats. Our bread, baked in thermodynamic ovens, basted with benzotrichloride and dimethyl aminoazobenzene, is buttered with coal dust and rat poison. Le pain perdu, if you will. But no one seems to mind, as long as there’s plenty of wine to wash it down.

And there’s more good news. The flies have arrived, Olaf informs us with a jovial grin, poking his shaggy head in the kitchen door. They’re buzzing everywhere. A good sign because it means there are more dead rats, more rat carcasses rotting inside the walls. Soon our nostrils will be filled with the sweet sickish smell of decaying rat husks along with sulphur and brimstone and we’ll dance a merry maggot dance while Olaf jabs at us with his devil’s pitchfork. But everything’s ducky, really. There’s a big hole in the kitchen floor and we’re sinking into the Pacific Ocean and our bread is buttered with benzotrichloride and we’re out of pistachio nuts, but I’m over Doreen and we can see the Hollywood Sign from our window. And the Baby Jesus is here with us. Did I mention that? And I’m writing it all down on a yellow pad or on the shithouse wall, whichever you like. It comes to the same thing. In Morse Code, I should have added. One if by land and two if by sea…

Donald O’Donovan wrote the first draft of Night Train (Open Books, 2010) on 23 yellow legal pads while homeless in the streets of LA. His other novels include Tarantula Woman, The Sugarhouse and Highway. An optioned screenwriter and voice actor with film and audio book credits, Donald O’Donovan lives mostly in Los Angeles. He can be reached at: donaldo7777@yahoo.com

Find a list of O’Donovan’s books here. See O’Donovan’s other pieces on DDA: The Novel As GraffitiCardboard Villages, and Simon Rodia, Architect of Dreams

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