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Tag: Spoken word

What they don’t know either helps them survive, or it kills them

The band lays down a jazzbo beat as I recite “Old Drunks.”

I’ve had a few people – well, three, that’s a trend, right? – ask me about the spoken-word piece I read at Tommy Brunett’s birthday party before a hundred or so people Sunday at Marge’s Lakeside Inn, on Lake Ontario beach. Tucked in among performances by musicians that included Suzi Willpower, Mike Gladstone and Brian Lindsay (“What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” was a perfect choice for Lindsay), what I read was a tribute to the men and women who built America and, now worn out and broken, live out their lives in saloon shadows, lit by neon beer signs. The words are actually pulled from a yet-to-be-published novel that I wrote, “A Bottle of Mezcal.” You can find the first few chapters of the manuscript on this web site under the heading “Works.”

So, for those three people, here’s the text from Sunday’s reading:


A guy wearing the weary tweed jacket of a failed Bohemian novelist sits at a table talking to a woman blanketed in the too-heavy makeup of a declining actress. Yeah, she had been a star of the community players stage, once. They stare idly at the television mounted on the wall over the bar. It’s a hockey game. “We live in a violent world,” he is saying. “Even vegetarians kill plants.”

She nods, her eyes trailing off to stare down at the pimento-stuffed olive at the bottom of her glass. It looks up at her like a disapproving eye.

Ray Charles sings, and the old guys at the bar grunt with approval. Some of them have only one good arm, and the blood vessels in their noses have bloomed into bright-red gin blossoms. I watch them lean forward into their pints of beer, seemingly in unison; they are red-assed mandrills now, crouching on the river bank, sipping the water.

But years ago they built this country. They can tell you how to mix the mortar that keeps every brick in this city in place. If you ride the trains with them, they point out the window, to the lines strung on the poles outside, and tell you those wires are made of copper because they have turned green in the weather. They can start a car with a screwdriver without killing themselves. They know stuff like that. Even that old guy in the polyester suit has stories. He worked fishing boats in Alaska and logged somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. That was in the days when men used horses to drag the trees down the hillside. Those horses would work until their hearts burst, and the crews piled the carcasses against the wall of the bunk house. In their youthful exuberance, the loggers slid down the corrugated tin roof and landed on the dead horses, laughing. Polyester Suit says he once cannonballed onto a horse that exploded on impact. “His guts blew out his mouth and his asshole,” Polyester Suit says. “Musta been exactly ripe.”

These old guys shot real people in wars and dropped bombs on historic cities without a second thought, but Johnny Cash rumbling “Sunday Morning Coming Down’’ makes them cry.

Their lives are arcs of random experience. What they don’t know either helps them survive, or it kills them.

BE THE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

Todd Krasz, moving the ‘Furniture’


Some months ago Todd Krasz, looking to ride the coattails of an unemployed writer, asked me to throw some words at his band.

Yes, and I already had the proper words for Kraszman & Fishwife, one of Rochester’s most-authentic roots-music outfits. Much of “Furniture” is drawn from a chapter in my novel A Bottle of Mezcal, an excerpt of which you can find under the Works section on this site. Images from the protagonist’s apartment, re-assembled into a malevolent, spoken-word chant. I gave “Furniture” a test ride at a reading at Boulder Coffee last month, and it went over well enough. But here, Todd raises it several levels. Or lowers it, that’s the proper perspective. I think you’ll agree.

Check out Dusty & Dirty Old Demos, by Kraszman. Meanwhile, here are the lyrics to “Furniture,” so you can mumble along:


I’m smoking. I’m looking for an ash tray.

I’m drinking. I’m a down-and-out cliché.

I stare out my apartment window. One of them, I have several. Windows, I mean, not apartments. Each window gives me a different perspective on the alley outside. Beyond the pigeon-shit sill, deep in the alley below, the same rat is always creeping along the wall.

I’m still smoking. I’m looking for an ash tray.

I’m still drinking. And it’s only Tuesday.

Most of the furniture here has a tag dangling from it. My landlady is in the used-furniture business. I own the couch and the bed, the rest can be yours. The television went five years ago, but any guy with an eye for neon can always find one in a bar.

That lamp. That bookcase. The appliances. On the wall, a reproduction of a painting from The Age of Enlightenment depicts, beneath a layer of dust, peasants bent like question marks in a potato field, digging, a romantic windmill in the distance. None of it is mine.

When strangers walk into your apartment and take your stuff, it makes a guy feel like he doesn’t really exist.

We hang our souls on such material charades. I keep a book of Portuguese poetry on my nightstand, to impress the women who never get there.

I continue smoking. I’m looking for an ash tray.

I continue drinking. I’m watching my mind and body slowly decay.

My suitcase is open on the bed, a snarl of sheets and blankets that exhale the funk of unspeakable acts, the stench of death and fried-food flatulence.

I peer at the face in the mirror on my medicine-cabinet door. It is the same face I’ve seen in the mirrors behind bartenders in every tavern that understands why men and women sit in the dark. The face turns away as I open the cabinet. It is nearly empty.

The cabinet, I mean. The cabinet is nearly empty.

All of the ash trays are full.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.


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