[1997 photo of Black Sifichi by author]
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 and the rest is history or myth or delusion.
Beer Mystic Invitation: Participate in a unique literary adventure that will take you on the longest, rowdiest literary pub crawl ever. Follow the Beer Mystic’s story around the world through a global network of host magazines.
This first chapter can also be found at the OLD Smoke Signals site with a brilliant preface to the book HOW TO BECOME A BEER MYSTIC by Mike Golden in which he notes:
There are those that know magic exists, but don’t know how or why it does, and those that do magic every day, but aren’t even aware they’re doing it. You could get stuck in a dichotomy between the two camps, unable to become an actual Beer Mystic no matter how much you guzzle between the lines, if you don’t actually submerge yourself in the text beneath the head. … you probably haven’t consumed anything with as much hidden gusto or as little secret kickback behind it as Bart Plantenga’s still unpublished ineberotic end of the century confessions of urban transcendence since the first day you stubbed your reality on A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.
Though all similarities between Furman Pivo and Carlos Castaneda’s journeys end with the discovery you’ve been transported to the next level of mutant cognition by Pivo’s ballsy, yet elegant, street-wise hops, if you’re stoked to the gills when that realization hits home, it won’t help you hold on to what’s right in front of your nose without drinking liberally from the language on a regular basis. Before you dive in, however, remember, there’s a fine line between drinking liberally and drinking gluttonously, even from the words, and that’s the reason that the brew that fills the Holy Grail has always been hidden right out in the open, in the tap on the bar in front of you.
Subsequent vintage chapters can also be read at the NEW Smoke Signals here. The first excerpts appear here because it is in part due to editor Mike Golden that this is happening [but not exactly at his site]. He has always been one of the biggest fans of the Beer Mystic and that is an honor since he is a friend, good writer and ur-unbearable. We formed the intrepidly self-denying writing/drinking group in 1986 with Ron Kolm. So it is only logical that it begins at Smoke Signals. It is also totally part of our MO that it appears hors serie, as an outsider non-participating excerpt in the larger strategy. This is because Mike is someone who thinks outside the box, outside the 6-pak, beyond a case of beer.
What you get here is a direct link to excerpt 2 at the end of this one. What you get at Smoke Signals is Mike’s important preface+ an old version of chapter 1. It all begins sufficiently non-linear, hypertextual and mega-taxing. But the process is easy read chapter one here and then click the link for excerpt 2 and so on. Along the way you will discover the intriguing story but also unique layouts, takes on the BEER MYSTIC as it makes its way around the world. The notion is to let a thousand bushels of hops blossom, and let the novel disseminate on its own accord…
Beer Mystic Excerpt #1
Three-legged dogs. All of a sudden I’m seeing them below 14th Street. I’m seeing them and not believing them. And, no, it wasn’t on account of the beer. As you must know, too much beer is often just the right amount. At the risk of undermining the fundamental truth of this story I need to go on about three-legged dogs for a beer longer. I’m spooked, fascinated – you understand. White clumps of gauze around the stumps as they hobble past my hovel. Little contraptions and makeshift prostheses affixed to the limbs turning the hood into Mad Max footage salvaged from the cutting floor.
I mean, when you see these three-legged creatures you think: Civilization as a measure of the grace accorded the absurdity of the missing appendages. You think: The strength of the triangle, the malefaction of the Trinity. You think: Canine martyrs of some kind of urban psychotic strife brought on by the Dutch courage of drink [spiritual inebriation led astray by stronger spirits like cheap vodka]; the dog as martyred embodiment of everything that is wrong with the city. You think: Things gone wrong, asymmetrical, and wobbly. You think: Why am I laughing at these dogs and their proud-pathetic owners? You think: This is how we twist through sophistication, which makes satire of their pathetic hobbles, transforming our notions of responsibility into some kind of joke. A joke nobody laughs at but everybody seems to get. You think: Maybe coincidence is more than just coincidence.
You think all this too? Well, then you’re drinking from the same perfect-stemmed tulip glass as me [it’s not mine, it’s Djuna’s]. Like me, you will not much want to catch the culprits for fear we won’t know what to do with ourselves. Half of my friends would no doubt videotape the canine butcher, so that another half of their friends could pay good money to come worship him.
Kelly Green [for years he wore only green felt clothing and described himself as a “good-ole Jew boy from Queens looking for his inner Joey Ramone.” Also something about Robin Hood that I didn’t fully understand.] called the perp a transgressive artist “who uses fear as a canvas.” Kelly’s sense of irony was the only sense any of us had left, with most of us not even thinking he was being ironic. But you never know around here. People kidded when they were serious and were serious when they seemed to be kidding. This way we all get to be naive and smart, cynical and earnest, right and wrong, clueless and omniscient all at once all the time.
Meanwhile, the story is this one guy who pops in and out of #322, two buildings down from me, built a prosthetic right rear limb from an old wooden salad spoon wrapped tightly around his dog’s stump with string he’d salvaged from an unraveled hardball. His Chucha [Rattus Chihuaha] grows more jittery and bedeviled with every passing day, as it nervously lifts its wooden leg against every vertical surface until there just is no more piss left to piss.
Recently, some guys in a hair-wave band, the Sanitation Dept. [who play what the Voice called “stonk” or stinky white funk] took some photos of Chucha for the cover of their first album, Dog Years, enthusing on and on in the liner notes about what Chucha represented: “a scruffy, scrappy, scrawny pug, a REAL American-style survivor. The dog is harmed and that dog is us.”
Sometimes I can hear the TICK-TICK-TICK of Chucha’s wooden leg striking the hollow sidewalks of Manhattan, the underground passages and subway tracks serving as a massive kettledrum of sorts right under our feet. Owner of Chucha, passive-aggressive, Chucha and him in perfect misery symbiosis, victim and victimizer, co-dependents in an environment characterized by suspicion, revulsion, and ennui.
His building – #322 – has actually been suspected of stealing our building’s trashcans for some time now. The gossip is old. It’s just the victims’ faces that change. He’s done it more than once is the story! Did anybody see him. No. But believing is seeing nowadays. Calls for a unified mobilization of our building #316 has led to absolutely nothing other than Georg leaving behind various mid-19th century war maps from a campaign fought by the Prussians. #322 apparently took the trashcans early in the morning [the rumor of a rumor become fact] and the repainted cans were already dry with #322 stenciled on them before 9 a.m.!
My neighbor [is she apt. #12, #8, or #15?] had never spoken to me before today. Were we suddenly allies because of the provocations of #322? Had she also had enough of the trashcan scandal? The anti-316 grafitti – with ‘FUK’ spelled wrong – scrawled across our front door?
No, actually she was still extremely livid about her arrest for breastfeeding on a city bus last Friday. The driver radioed in the cops and just stopped there on Third Avenue and waited for the police to remove her. Most of the passengers didn’t even bother to look up to see what was going on.
“One guy says to me ‘I got one word for you lady – rubbers.’ Some lady actually called me selfish cuz I was gonna make her late for work. Lucky I can’t cry anymore or they woulda got what they wanted.”
“What’d the ticket say?” I ask.
“‘Indecent exposure and creating a disturbance.’ UGH! Infuriation is NOT where I wanna be at. I mean one cop accused me of using the N-word. Nigger? No! Nipple. Friggin’ NIPPLE! I mean, did they use to give Marilyn Monroe tickets for causing a disturbance?”
“How’d natural go and get so UNnatural? Did the driver say anything?”
“Tell me about it! He went on about Faith & Family Christianity – some evangelical Mafia – and Reagan and protecting ‘our’ children from indecency! I mean where are these people from?”
“Staten Island? I blame our decaying ability to reason and the Bible.”
“More likely those justifying everything by using the word of god. The driver says ‘God will hold you criminally liable.’ I kid you not! One man did get off the bus with me and tried to console me. But I was beyond consoling.” We’re in the latter part of the 80s now and the New Morality has made “mincemeat out of compassion.” I read something like that in the Voice. I won’t go into me getting beat up by two drunken yuppies for defending a homeless man panhandling on the corner of Houston and West Broadway. An eye for an eye has escalated into two eyes for an eye. Compassion is now classified as “weakness” and weakness is unforgivable. Treason.
Her college degrees don’t seem to make comprehending any of this any easier. She remains miffed by human endeavor that is predicated on the notion that “life’s the survival of harassment”; that all emotion should float on the open market to determine its value and return; that passion is nothing but a tool in a leveraged buy-out of a soul. She blew exasperated damp strands of hair from her flushed face. “I’m tired of it.” And then just stood there. Awaiting a sympathetic nod, hand on shoulder, hug, kiss, or caress? I’m ready.
“When I’m not busy workin’ I’m busy dealin’ with insomnia. It’s like I’m 24-hour. Awake but not really there.” She repositioned her tarboosh. “Thinkin’ of putting cages on all my windows and figure out how to win back my sleep.” She’s having trouble concentrating at work.
“Aren’tchu on the second floor?”
“Yea, but they swing right across from the other building with ropes. I kid you not. Anyway, I dunno whether I’m cagin’ things out or cagin’ things in.”
“Caged Heat.” I quipped but suddenly thought she might have thought I said “teat.”
A tri-legged canine hobbled by – we gawked at one another with absurd smiles edging into pain.
“It’s him,” she sighed. Synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception may be the key; but where’s the keyhole?
You can see – can’t you? – how the dog owner [lover?] basks in the attention the tragic phenom affords him. With the disappearance of the illusion of the nobility of labor, came the evaporation of artisanal pride, came the notion that fame was the only way to redemption. If fame is not an option then others will make the most of becoming a victim, like a hero’s statue made of mud in the rain. For most of us this may be our last chance to forestall oblivion. But don’t think for a second that I’ve got it all figured out.
“They’re feeding on the suffering of these mutts to become celebs… They’re like – I dunno – like moving three-legged trophies.”
“It’s all so… so metampsychotic,” she said and then like a school teacher, further explained. “Like the weaker soul getting sucked into the more resilient one,” she added.
“I know that.” I didn’t and it must have showed. A dumb state is not something you can hide with smart clothes or a smart smile.
“Like the soul of the one changes places with the other.” Her hair dark and damp like English Breakfast Tea, like a headless Guinness… Her face blank like someone who hasn’t had anyone do anything nice for her in a very long time.
“When I came to New York…”
“Normal, Illinois. Don’t laugh.” She warned. Tired smirk clinging to an old joke. “I thought that I would thrive in NY’s famous anonymity. But you like swimmin’ you don’t need a whole ocean.” She’s hesitates before adding that she’s eternally clueless when a date decides to walk her home and then mopes and insinuates around, toe of shoe playing with a cigarette butt in a sidewalk crack, expecting some kind of amorous handout on our stoop. Right outside my window. We stand very still; the stillness starts to make our heights sway. I am not the height I am. No I am not.
“One guy I dated says to me, ‘I’ve made a formidable investment here – the flowers, the time, champagne, the sympathy – but dis investment just don’ wanna ante up.’” She sounds like she is imitating Tony Danza. I don’t know what to say. We shake our heads ever so slightly.
“Serves me right for going out with a guy who names his suits, and works in the Corporate Hostile Takeovers – CHT – department of some major financial institution, the name of which he did not dare divulge in case I tried to use information he may disclose to blackmail him. Drinking with him was always an adventure. When he got drunk on top shelf whatever – preferably from a country where he’s done some economic mischief, ‘rumble in the jungle’ he calls it – he’d start chanting things like ‘Reagan is rock ‘n’ roll, man!’ to see what the consequences would be.”
“Well, to my surprise, even in the Limelight there’d be some hoots of ‘right on!’ and ‘Reagan Rocks!’ that was scarier than someone actually calling his bluff, which never happened.”
“What an asshole.”
“I thought so too. Until I just felt sorry for him. I mean he thought I was impressed that he took me to the mega-exclusive Bank Vault, which used to be a … bank vault and after 2 a.m. becomes some kind of S&M-lite dungeon. Here you can order an $885 cocktail!”
“What’s it come with, a vacation?”
“As I remember – and I’m crummy remembering things like this, to his chagrin, no doubt – it’s a mix of Grey Goose vodka, Hennessy cognac and Hyptoniq, a vodka liqueur, fresh-squeezed orange juice and pomegranate juice – and he’s inspecting the whole process. Gives me a wink, ‘quality control’s essential here,’ he says. I think there may also be some Dom Perignon involved. But the key ingredient is a one-carat ruby. Like on the rocks – haha. If you could have seen him inspecting the stone, squinting up into the light.”
“Is that the guy that use to…?”
“Oh no no, that’s my ex. He’s another kettle of rotting fish entirely. He’s a famous gingerbread dancer, you know, as in go-go boy, Joe Boytoy; maybe you heard of him.” What is she getting at? “This guy – not my ex! – actually took a vacation to places where they mix the most expensive cocktails in the world. I am NOT kidding! Went to Chicago to gulp down a $950 cocktail – a guy takes photos and you get to pose with some local celebrity like a Chicago Cub!”
“What’s in it?”
“Same Grey Goose vodka and gold leaf and some kind of juice from a fruit I never even heard of. Then he went on a business trip and combined it with this quest and ended up in Manchester at some restaurant near the Manchester United football stadium. It costs an amazing £15,250 per glass.
“What’s in it?”
“Uh oh, um, maybe champagne and a bunch of top-shelf liquors but the big cost is what’s found at the bottom – a six-carat pink tourmaline-and-diamond ring. Even he has his limits, however. He never did order one of these, preferring to talk about it, although he did secretly lick a glass and videotaped the proceedings. Needless to say, I watched the whole thing… Meanwhile, my ex – ugh – he’s still performing with boa constrictors, but he’s not gay, mind you, but gays do find him attractive. He’s a certifiable sadist. But you won’t find that on his résumé.”
“Gimme a Rolling rock any day. How long were you… ?”
“I don’t even wanna… He now leaves these disguised messages on my machine. But, hey, I know it’s him. Two protection orders later and he continues to insist he ‘owns’ me, that he made me. How do I, former glee club girl, second trombonist in the school band, get into these kinds of novels?”
“I seen him. He looks like a cross between a young Ronald Reagan and Popeye?”
“I’ve never looked at him in quite that way. But, I can see your point. There’s these horror-movie laughs on my machine – you gotta hear them…”
Was that an invite? Did she mean now!? Would we sit on the edge of her bed?
“And the sound of sawing through bone or something. The guy takes the whole S&M thing a little too seriously. I mean, the guy’s got an S&M performance résumé for god’s sake! I shoulda saved’m. Those recordings are gone and nobody believes me.”
“Yer sweet but sweet’s not enough. I think he’s getting back at me for having had Ishtar against his wishes.”
“She’s so cute. How old is she?”
“She was born on the 22nd of September last year and she’s named after the goddess of sexual love. She will, by her very existence, always get back at him it seems. As goddess, she was punishment to those who would deny sexual love.”
“He live around here?”
“He doesn’t live so much as stalk and intimidate – and wait for the reviews in the Voice of his latest show. I think I humiliated him a little by getting my masters degree. Like I did it to spite him.”
And furthermore, it’s HIM – she can tell by the expertness of the cut – who’s been amputating the legs off all the neighborhood canines. And they hobble around, as souvenirs of his wounded pride, already too plentiful for any one of these canines to get the pity they seem to think they deserve. She is absolutely convinced.
“How do you know?”
“I just know.”
This guy, this faceless ex who she refuses to dignify by naming, this jumbled heap of vengeance has always – now that she comes to think of it, now that she lays out his strange bio from end to end – despised dogs, dog lovers, and dog owners. The way they used to whine for doggie treats at his old man’s butcher shop. He has always despised people for even wanting to own dogs, dogs that barked, dogs that disturbed his sleep. Dogs that have hindered his break-through into stardom.
“He’s always had this bigger’n life phobic disgust for dogs in heat, especially the ones that hump your leg. Maybe it’s some childhood residue. His father was one screwed up brute. Hacked off three fingertips off the hand of one employee, an illegal alien, he suspected of stealing from the till. Kept them in a jar that he’d show his son when he wanted to discipline him.”
“Sorry. I’m just so… P-E-E-ved at everyone right now. I mean, he believes genetic traits can be passed from dogs to humans via the saliva. I mean, he DOES. Anyway, I’m sure it’s him,” she declares, hanging her head in shame, as if she’s personally responsible for having spawned him. “I just have this nauseous feeling… And whenever I get nauseous I know thoughts of him are right around the corner.” It’s as if he she was the cause of HIS problems. She knew this was wrong but couldn’t help thinking it anyway.
She swept the swishy tassel of her tarboosh out of her face as a departure gesture. Not everyone was wearing the tarboosh but some of the right people seemed to be. Wasn’t there a Kim Gordon/Yma Sumac video featuring tarbooshes? Didn’t Don Was wear one on some music awards ceremony? And suddenly she was off. No longer standing there. Just a ghost of a scent. Maybe I’d see her again – in three months. That neither of us had ever so much as talked to each other or even noticed one another before was strangely not strange to either of us. Too busy living to notice your not living. I looked at her mailbox. Her name, as a precaution no doubt, was absent.
I just stood there in the mental institution green hallways and thought: I had been in New York for years now and had never ever felt a sense of mission about anything before – not even collecting like everything the Cramps had ever recorded or stealing bread from the pigeons to give to the homeless. Well, yes, I did consider the art project thought up by me and members of the Power Poets who had stopped writing and begun doing. Our Adopt-a-Homeless-Person [aka Rent-a-Hobo] proposed that towns all over America adopt one certified real NY homeless person each and give him or her the personal care s/he needed to live a more dignified life. But that was just a chuckle, a conceptual distraction – especially when you don’t get press or funding. But who knows, maybe the Power Poets pursued this thing. I didn’t.
Personally, I’ve never had a clear idea of the distinctions between mission, obsession, artistic statement, and a hobby anyway. Mission just seemed like a pumped-up hobby. In any case, the sense of mission I am about to embark on did not have the characteristics of some commandment from on high. Or did it? Anyway, it would somehow involve dogs [three-legged and four] … and soon – you wait – other things.
These other things would end up driving the final nails into the last station of my cross, a perfect tri-theistic constellation of concerns: Beer, Dark, Dogs [and – OK – cars]. Doubt was about to evaporate from my body and become rarefied as exalted inebriation. Don’t ask how. Chalk it up to the blurring of inner and outer worlds. Or something.