Friday, January 21, 2011

Double-OH-M-G! – License To Spill

Imagine for a moment you’ve been given a license to do absolutely whatever you feel like doing without any repercussions whatsoever. What kind of person would you become? Without the limitations that prevent society from blowing apart, would you be inspiringly noble or hideously indulgent?

That is precisely what happens in the midst of a manic high. Behavior becomes automatic and instinctive, the conscious filters of morality fade into the background as monsters of the id emerge and satisfy their base appetites.

The following is an excerpt from my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING. In it you see the subconscious bubbling like jambalaya; fear, humor, rage, and creativity swirl together and are expressed spontaneously, without any control whatsoever.

            My second best spot is the Bellevue, the grand dame of Philadelphia’s hotels, best remembered for the infamous Legionnaire’s disease debacle.  Completely restored and resplendent yes he said resplendent when a slatch-head would have said it’s, like, ya’ know, real pretty, with the swankest shops including Gucci’s, Ralph Lauren, and my favorite, Dunhill, it’s arguably the most opulent hotel in Philadelphia.  Operated by Cunnard it exudes a world-class atmosphere that is tainted by stuffiness and frou-frou decor.  Still, on the top floor it affords a sensational view and I can afford the view too though not much more, across historic Philadelphia, across the Delaware River, a cross I can’t bear much longer, far off into the distance.  In fact one is merely gazing across New Jersey, the social equivalent of anti-matter, but the lights of New Jersey blink just as romantically at night as do the lights of Istanbul if one forgets what one is looking at and lets one’s imagination fly freely and I don’t need to let my imagination fly anymore I am imagination.
            The bar on the top floor is somebody’s idea of what a library in an English castle would look like, complete with banks of leather bound books, busts of Greek philosophers and a marble chess set which, God forbid anybody should actually use.  The books too are presumably equally off limits.  I’ve been tempted in fact to see if, like Gatsby’s, they are actually real.  I’ll wager they are and also, like Gatsby’s, simply there for affect.  But the atmosphere is elegant and soothing, the help beautifully attired and attractive, and it fits me like a tailored shirt.  An opulent, world-class elegance that raises me high above petty concerns like phone bills and car payments.
            One evening not long ago I was sitting at the bar at the Bellevue, trying to stop shaking, stop sweating, being waited on by a female bartender I especially like.  A short, slightly tough young woman with closely cropped blond hair.  Crisp demeanor.  Demean her, why, I hardly know her.  But folks.  Quick wit.  Wiry frame.  Very businesslike.  We were talking about dancing and she told me that she didn’t dance.  Then she corrected herself, using a pair of corrective dance slippers, and said with sly mischievousness that the only dancing she did was behind bars.  She even gave me a tantalizing simulation, laughing to herself.  A caged cat, God, I could feel the heat.  But I was merely minding my own business, sorting through the contents of my pockets.  The man with the endless pockets.
            Cigarette lighters, matchbooks from my spots, bonus points, leaflets with phrases I intend to use later in collages, bits of wire, the odd spoon, and, quite incredibly, a full sized railroad spike.  I’d picked it up earlier that day, wandering along railroad tracks by the Schuylkill River.  It looked like a stylized capital letter T, with a marvelous patina.  Old, rusted, pockmarked with wear and weather, it had been irresistible to me.  Unlike some things I pick up I had no idea of what I would do with it.  I just found it marvelous, (oh stop calling me marvelous, you’re embarrassing me), and I had to have it.  It had so much character, I’m developing a sculptor’s eye for form.  Add sculpture to the list of things I’ll be doing successfully in the near future.  It weighed a hell of a lot but I was determined to add it to my increasingly far-reaching collection of found objects d’art.  I laid it on the barstool beside me.
            When the firm and love me tender bartenderette asked me for my drink I ordered my usual martini with a glass of water on the side, a frequent request.  I was sweating a lot and losing water.  The vodka only served to dehydrate me more so I often got water on the side.  Almost before I put in my order it was in front of me.  Clear martini in a clear martini glass, a saucy, wide open V balancing on top of a capital I.  Clear, pure water with ice cubes in a tall, clear, cylindrical glass.  Pure and simple, no frills.  Both glasses sat before me, sweating, just like me.  Then, another tiny brain snorch, a little electronic bridge between two cells.  I started to laugh but then stifled it.  When the bartender was looking away I placed the spike carefully inside the tall water glass.  I sipped some of the martini.  When she shifted her attention back in my direction I hailed her with a theatrical mock formality, “Miss.”  She looked at me.  “Excuse me, Miss,” I went on, in a tone of stilted seriousness, a tone of conspiratorial concern, a tone of tazmopulated squizzification, eyes moving her eyes towards the clear cylinder containing the offending piece of railroad memorabilia, “I believe someone has spiked my drink.”
            She looked at it and completely broke up, her downtown hipster cool kittyness temporarily blown out.
            “Oh my God,” she said, “I’ve never seen that done.”  Why, indeed, would anyone but amazing me do it?  She laughed with real enthusiasm, delighting me.  I began to laugh too, reveling in the sheer absurdity of it.  The perfect weapon to puncture the pompous balloon upon which floats the Bellevue.
            “Can I keep this?” she asked.  “I want to show it to the others.”  I told her of course she could, thrilled to be memorable.  I finished the martini and paid, leaving her a generous tip.  I bade her a very fond adieu as I feigned interest in a very bad fondue, positively beaming at the highlight, get it, celebrating the lapse of appropriateness we’d enjoyed together.  Out the door he goes.  Without an explanation.  Rabazibby.  Who is that guy and why does he do it?  Zot.  Root.  Snootch.  Snazzmatic.  Existing only in your memory.


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