Oyster Boy Review 15  
  Summer 2002
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» Levee 67

The Benny Poda Years

8, Part 1 - Minneapolis, Again

Kevin McGowin

"Right now, Lemieux says he's only at 80, 85%.
When he's at 100%, that'll be scary." — ESPN2

You might have noticed I don't have much to say on the subject of family. That's because I didn't have one. Sure, there were a couple of people who'd copulated to bring about my existence, and I more or less knew who they were, and that they lived or used to live in Fresno, but they never gave a shit about me and so the feeling was mutual. And Sally had my kid out there somewhere, and I don't know but I bet he's a boy, and I'm sure he feels much the same way about me now. The sins of the fathers. Of the mothers, too.

I'd been back in Minneapolis because it was a good pool-sharking town—something that can't really be said about anywhere in the South or really, for that matter, New York City or even San Francisco. Certainly not L.A. Or shithole towns like Dallas. In those years Denver was trying to make its claim, but Denver was and is, save for of course Tampa, the shittiest city in the Nation. You might think I'd have really gotten into a place like that. Well, be patient, son, be patient.

I should have been in Philadelphia. I don't know how long I was back in Minnesota, two, three weeks maybe? It's a big blur, because my Game was fading fast . . . I was getting a bad reputation as a fuddler around the Halls, and that's not a good thing, especially in Minneapolis, 'cause they have connections there. Hell, I was living out of cheap hotel rooms and spending what little I made off my games on straight rum, which I'd drink right there at the bar, and people'd ask me "Why the fuck are you drinking so much" and I'd look at them with that fuck-you, condescending look of an inveterate soaker and tell them I was overcome with grief over the death of President Grover Cleveland. I'd tell them that I was hating it because no matter what I did, I could NOT get Sarah Bernhardt to consent to fuck me. These are quick ways to end conversations, which is exactly what I wanted.

I ended up coming around lying on the floor of an unfurnished room in a puddle of piss in a flophouse in the Over-the-Rhine district of Cincinnati, which was a real East St. Louis kind of place, even more so then than now. I'd always thought of Cincy as Chicago South, and it was a pretty good pool town, except I couldn't even rack up the BALLS to save my ASS anymore, and how did I happen to be there? Christ, I'm amazed I was still out in public. I was pretty beat up, probably from fights over bets I couldn't pay, I was pissing blood, and how I left Minneapolis I wish I could tell you, but I don't remember a GODdamn thing. I really, honest to God do not. I suppose I got into a fight when I was loaded, which I always was, and took whatever small change I had and got on the bus one-way for Cincy, because, after all, that's where the fuck I was, with something like a dime and a penny in the pocket of the only pair of putrid pants I had. My life in that part of those years is summed up in that last line: it was an ALLITERATION of fuck-ups. I wrote a novel with that title, An Alliteration of Fuck-Ups, and it was set in New Orleans and it was terrible, and once I ran out of toilet paper and used the manuscript to wipe my ass. No lie, Sport.

I thought I probably had lymphoma. Glaucoma, melanoma. I borrowed a phone and a phone book and called up Lee Priest. I was pretty hoisted when I did it, and told him that I wasn't a Catholic but that I'd heard that when you become a priest the title of your vocation became your last name, and that I was looking for a priest because I needed Extreme Unction and no, I wasn't a Catholic, but that I'd convert real fast when he got his ass down there, if it was all the same to him. He asked me why I thought I was hittin' the bot' so hard. Grief, I told him. President Taft has died. I was taking it pretty hard. And this time, when I said it, I believed it! I believed it, no shit. I went up to my unadorned flophouse room and cried like a baby, thinking about Taft's Death. Years later I heard there was a pretty popular rock band by that name, TAFT'S DEATH, and that every song on their record, The Death of Taft, was about the fucker's last hours, that they just got a book on his dead ass out of the library and sang the entire last chapter over and over, with subtle variations. I think the lead singer either had a heart attack when he was taking a shit or choked on somebody else's barf. But I can't remember. But a genius to be sure.

And that's when Lee Priest and another dude knocked on my door. They looked like aging Mormons who had gone to the Bad about thirty years before. "Lee Priest" he said, shaking my hand like it was HIS. "This is Bobby K. You see," he said, "I would have come alone, but this is a real rough part of town, and Bobby K. usually calls on people with me. Because," he added under his breath, "I'm a fag, like Nassir. But that's not why we're here today."

"I leave my faggotry at home," Lee added. "But Bobby and me are obsessed with this dead guy named Bill, who's like Jesus with thick, Coke-bottle glasses. We hang out at this place where we drink coffee and smoke while we look at Bill's picture and have circle jerks. But you do what you have to do to live Life on Life's Terms."

"Come on," he said. "Let's get those clothes washed and we'll go live it on it's Terms. Tomorrow, I might be drinking Listerine with, say, Gary Player, but for today, Easy Does It, asshole. So take the fucking cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth, because tonight, you'll be cleaning our ashtrays."

And that's how I hooked up with Lee Priest. He's dead now, but he wasn't then. That's all I'm trying to say—in those years, only four people were dead, and I've already mentioned names. But I was right behind 'em, son, and I'll have you to know it.

Reading Questions for Chapter 8, Part 1

1. The first paragraph of Chapter 8 has been called "The first occasion in the memoir in which the narrator shows real humanity." I just don't see it, do you?

2. The narrator mentions two 19th Century American presidents. Call up the oldest member of your family. Ask them if their grandfather voted for either Cleveland or Taft.

3. The narrator offers his opinions concerning his perception of the lack of merit of several major American cities. What's the shittiest city YOU'VE been to? Explain.

4. The memoir has been compared to Winesburg, Ohio. Is this comparison the reason the narrator ends up in Cincinnati? If the memoir had instead been compared to the Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas, might the narrator have ended up THERE?

5. While the previous chapters have been characterized by their explicit sexuality, Chapter 8, Part 1, has been described as "The most sweeping indictment of American culture to that point in the memoir." The chapter is 1,181 words. Assuming this statement is true, would it still be true were the chapter 1,180 words? What does the number "8" have to do with the Cycle of Life? Of infinity? Compare with the primal image of the uruberos suggested by the non-number "O." Does the narrator have a drinking problem?

Read carefully, now! We'll have a quiz on this Tuesday.

Essay Questions for Chapter 8, Part 2

1. We have not yet read Chapter 8, Part 2. Why do you think this is? Explain.

2. Having not read Chapter 8, Part 2, what assumptions can you make about it? What is the role of the author in Chapter 8, Part 1? Be specific.

3. If we have not yet read Chapter 8, Part 2, why do you think this is? Didn't Chapter 8, Part 1, do it for you? Why or why not.

4. What if the narrator did not have a drinking problem? What then might we expect from Chapter 8, Part 2?

5. Write Chapter 8, Part 2. Why does your writing suck? Think of what we learned from the Chapter 6 Essay Questions. Consult Roget's if necessary.

Have a blessed weekend! Don't forget to consult a dictionary!!!!!