Issue 35, Fall 1965
(ticket to St. Louis and return in a first class room for two people who is the third that walks beside you?) After a parenthesis of more than 40 years I met my old neighbor, Rives Skinker Mathews, in Tangier. I was born 4664 Berlin Avenue changed it to Pershing during the war. The Mathews family lived next door at 4660—red brick three-story houses separated by a gangway large back yard where I could generally see a rat one time or another from my bedroom window on the top floor. Well we get to talking St. Louis and “what happened to so and so” sets in and Rives Mathews really knows what happened to any so and so in St. Louis. His mother had been to dancing school with “Tommy Eliot”—(His socks wouldn’t stay up. His hands were clammy. I will show you fear in dancing school)—Allow me to open a parenthesis you see Rives Mathews had kept a scrap book of St. Louis years and his mother left a collection of visiting cards from the capitals of Europe. I was on my way back to St. Louis as I looked through Rives’ scrapbook dim flickering pieces of T. S. Eliot rising from the pages—(But what have I my friend to give you put aside on another tray? Those cards were burned in my winter house fire, October 27, 1961—Comte Wladmir Sollohub Rashis Ali Khan Bremond d’ars Marquis de Migre St. John’s College 21 Quai Malaquais Principe de la Tour—Gentilhomo di Palazzo—you’re a long way from St. Louis and vice verse.)
“I want to reserve a drawing-room for St. Louis.”
“A drawing-room? Where have you been?”
“I have been abroad.”
“I can give you a bedroom or a roomette as in smaller.”
“I will take the bedroom.”
6:40 P.M. Loyal Socks Rapids out of New York for St. Louis—Settled in my bedroom surrounded by the luggage of ten years abroad I wondered how small a roomette could be. A space capsule is where you find it. December 23, 1964, enlisting the aid of my porter, a discreet Oriental personage and a far cry indeed from old “Yassah Boss George” of my day, a table was installed in this bedroom where I could set up my Facit portable and type as I looked out the train window. Snapping an occasional picture with my Zeiss Ikon, I could not but lament the old brass spittoons, the smell of worn leather, stale cigar smoke, steam iron and soot. Looking out the train window—click click clack—back back back—Pennsylvania Railroad en route four people in a drawing room::::One leafs through an old joke magazine called LIFE:—(“What we want to know is who put the sand in the spinach?”)—A thin boy in prep school clothes thinks this is funny. Ash gathers on his father’s Havana held in a delicate gray cone the way it holds on a really expensive cigar. Father is reading The Wall Street Journal. Mother is putting on the old pancake. The Green Hat folded on her knee. Brother— “Bu” they call him—is looking out the train window. The time is 3 P.M. The train is one hour out of St. Louis, Missouri. Sad toy train it’s a long way to go see on back each time place what I mean dim jerky far away. / Take/ Look out the window of the train. Look. Postulate an observer Mr. B. from Pit-man’s Common Sense Arithmetic at Point X one light hour away from the train. Postulate further that Mr. B. is able to observe and photograph the family with a telescopic camera. Since the family image moving at the speed of light will take an hour to reach Mr. B., when he takes the 3 P.M. set the train is pulling into St. Louis Union Station at 4 P.M. St. Louis time George the porter there waiting for his tip. (Are you a member of the Union? Film Union 4 P.M.?) The family will be met at the station by plain Mr. Jones or Mr. J. if you prefer. (It was called Lost Flight. Newspapers from vacant lots in a back alley print shop lifted bodily out of a movie set the Editor Rives Mathews. Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Burroughs and their two sons Mortimer Jr. and William Seward Burroughs of 4664 Berlin Avenue changed it to Pershing during the war. I digress I digress.)
Postulate another observer Mr. B-I at Point X-I two light hours away. The train in his picture is now two light hours out of St. Louis at 2 P.M. still in the dinner. The train is stopped by a vacant lot distant 1920 wind and dust /Take/ remote foreign suburbs—end of a subdivision street—What a spot to land with a crippled ship—sad train whistles cross a distant sky. See on back what I mean each time place dim jerky far away not present except in you watching a 1920 movie out the train window? Returning to 1964 or what’s left of it—December 23, 1964, if my memory serves I was thinking about a friend in New York name of Mack Sheldon Thomas not a finer man in Interzone than old S. T. has this loft apartment and every time he leaves the bathroom door open there is a rat gets in the house so looking out the train window I see a sign: Able Pest Control /Take/
“I tell you boss when you think something you see it—all Mayan according to the Hindu philosophizers,” observed B.J. who fortunately does not take up any space in the bedroom.
“B.J. there is no call to theorize from a single brass spittoon or even a multiple smell of worn leather. You know I dislike theories.”
“George! the nudes!”—(He knew of course that the nudes would be waiting for me in front of the Union Station.)
Look out the train window/Take/: acres of rusting car bodies—streams crusted with yesterday’s sewage—American flag over an empty field—Wilson Stomps Cars—City of Xenia Disposal—South Hill a vast rubbish heap—Where are the people ? What in the name of Christ goes on here ? Church of Christ / Take/ crooked crosses in winter stubble—The porter knocks discretely.
“Half an hour out of St. Louis, sir.’’
Yes the nudes are still there across from the station recollect once returning after a festive evening in East St. Louis hit a parked car 60 MP thrown out of the car rolled across the pavement and stood up feeling for broken bones right under those monumental bronze nudes by Carl Milles Swedish sculptor depict the meeting of the Missouri and Mississippi river waters. It was a long time ago and my companion of that remote evening is I believe dead. (I digress I digress.)
But what has happened to Market Street the skid row of my adolescent years ? Where are the tattoo parlors, novelty stores, hock shops—brass knucks in a dusty window—the seedy pitchmen—(“This museum shows all kinds social disease and self abuse. Young boys need it special”—Two boys standing there can’t make up their mind whether to go in or not—One said later “I wonder what was in that lousy museum?”)—Where are the old junkies hawking and spitting on street comers under the gas lights?—distant 1920 wind and dust—box apartments each with its own balcony—Amsterdam—Copenhagen—Frankfurt—London—anyplace.
Arriving at the Chase Plaza Hotel I was shown to a large double room a first class room in fact for two people. Like a good European I spent some time bouncing on the beds, testing the hot water taps, gawking at the towels the soap the free stationery the television set—(And they call us hicks)
“This place is a paradise,” I told B. J.
And went down to the lobby for the local papers which I check through carefully for items or pictures that intersect amplify or illustrate any of my writings past present or future. Relevant material I cut out and past in a scrap book— (some creaking hints—por eso I have survived) Relevant material I cut out and paste in a scrap book—(Hurry up please it’s time)—For example, last winter I assembled a page entitled Afternoon Ticker Tape which appeared in My Magazine published by Jeff Nuttall of London. This page, an experiment in newspaper format, was largely a rearrangement of phrases from the front page of The New York Times, September 17, 1899, cast in the form of code messages. Since some readers objected that the meaning was obscure to them I was particularly concerned to find points of intersection, a decoding operation you might say relating the text to external coordinates: (From Afternoon Ticker Tape: “Most fruitful achievement of the Amsterdam Conference a drunk policeman”) And just here in the St. Louis Globe Democrat for December 23, I read that a policeman has been suspended for drinking on duty slobbed out drunk in his prowl car with an empty brandy bottle—(few more brandies neat)—(From A.T.T.: “Have fun in Omaha”)—And this item from Vermillion, S.D.: “Omaha Kid sends jail annual note and $10”—“Please use for nuts food or smokes for any prisoners stuck with Christmas in your lousy jail” signed “The Omaha Kid”— (From A.T.T: “What sort of eels called Retreat 23 ?”)—St. Louis Globe Democrat: “A sixth army spokesman stated two more bodies recovered from the Eel River. Deaths now total 23.”—(From A.T.T.: “Come on Tom. it’s your turn now”)— St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Tom Creek overflows its banks.”
Unable to contain himself B.J. rolled on the bed in psychophantic convulsions: “I tell you boss you write it and it happens. Why if you didn’t write me I wouldn’t be here.”
I told him tartly that such seeming coincidence was no doubt frequent enough if people would just keep their eyes and ears open. We descended to The Tenderloin Room for dinner where I was introduced to an American specialty: baked potato served with sour cream. Ausgezeichnet.
“I tell you boss you couldn’t touch this food in Paris for anywhere near the price.”
The next day very mild and warm I walked around the old neighborhood which is not far to walk now the old Bixby place used to be right where the hotel is now and I passed it every day as a child on my way to Forest Park with brother “Bu” and our English governess who always told me:—“Don’t ask questions and don’t pass remarks”—. This cryptic injunction I have been forced to disregard for professional reasons, you understand. So prowling about with my camera looking for 1920 scraps—bits of silver paper in the wind—sunlight on vacant lots—The Ambassador—“Home With A Heart”—where an old friend Clark St. lived—4664 still there looking just the same—(“Do you mind if I take a few pictures? used to live here you know,”)—so few people on the street—Convent Of The Sacred Heart—This message on a stone wall—“Gay— Lost—” the houses all look empty— It was not given me to find a rat but I did photograph several squirrels (offered us his pictures of a squirrel hunt)—So back to my quiet remote room and my scrap books.
“Ash pits—an alley—a rat in the sunlight—It’s all here,”
I tapped my camera, “all the magic of past times like the song says right under your eyes back in your own back yard. Why are people bored? Because they can’t see what is right under their eyes right in their own back yard. And why can’t they see what is right under their eyes?—(Between the eye and the object falls the shadow)—And that shadow, B,J., is the pre-recorded word.”
“Oh sir you slobbered a bimfull.”
“Like I come out here to see 'a bunch of squares in Hicks-ville’ ? Well I will see just that, I come here to see what I see and that’s another story. Any number of stories. Walk around the block keeping your eyes open and you can write a novel about what you see—down in the lobby last night— smoky rose sunset across the river.”
“The river is in the other direction boss."
“So what? Shift a few props. Now would you believe it people are sitting there with their back to that sunset,”
“I don’t want to believe it boss.”
“B.J., remember the roller coaster at Forest Park Highlands?”
“I sure do boss. Why one time me and that Mexican girl used to work in the Chink laundry on Olive street—”
“All right, B.J. cut. From now on we run a clean show. A show you can take your kids and your grandmother to see it. Just good clean magic for all the family. Remember Thurston?”
“I sure do boss. He made a white elephant disappear.”
“Exactly—a white elephant—all our gray junk yesterdays—everything sharp and clear like after the rain.” At this point B.J. jumped to his feet, opened an umbrella and bellowed out “April Showers”—(White rain slashed down—a wall of water you understand.)
“All right, B.J. Cut!”
Sunday December 27 driving around St. Louis with brother “Bu” stopping here and there to take pictures—The Old Courthouse and all the records/Take/and there by the river across the river depending on which way you come on it is the arch still under construction at that time 600 feet high when they finished it—(Gateway To The West)—has an ominous look like the only landmark to survive an atomic blast or other natural catastrophe/Take/cobblestone streets along the levee—refuge of river boat days—strata of brick and masonry—geology of a city—MacArthur Bridge/Take/ and just there a truck will crash through the guard rail and fall 75 feet killing the driver you can see the dotted line in the Post Dispatch picture /Take/River Queen and the Admiral Just like they used to be red plush guilt the lot cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon.
“Shall we take in the West End?”
Clayton and the West End suburbs now built up beyond recognition after 20 years absence. In the 1920’s my family moved out west on the Price Road—(700S./ Take/and just down the road is the John Burroughs School and there is the locker room door/Take/where I stood one afternoon a long time ago and watched the torn sky bend with the wind lightning struck the school just there/ Take/—(Whoever said lightning never strikes twice in the same place was no photographer.)— 1929 tornado if my memory serves when all the records went up name and address old arch there by the river with the cold spring news.
“Cruising Down the River on a Sunday Afternoon”— (This music across the water—The Veiled Prophet Ball off stage)—On the scene photographs by William Born Field St. Louis Magazine 52, Retarded Children’s Project, young St. Louis citizens bicentennial salute: (Happy New Year Comte Hector Perrone de San Martine Mrs. Edge at home last Thursday in May, Fête Dieu, Principe de la Tour, Gentilhomo di Palazzo, you’re a long retarded children project veiled way from St. Louis. I, Famous Bar Prophet, had not thought Death Magazine 52 had undone so many for I have known them all: Baron Rashid Pierre de Cobo—Helen Zapiola Theresa Riley—I digress I digress.)
“Now what in Horton Vemet Gen-San Martine Zapiola The Swan Last Day de Cobo Principe di Castel Hose it Chicale Randy Vieled Miguel Garcia de Rube Gordon Hell does that mean?” interjected B. J.
(A long review—human voices—They expected answers?) Family Reunion at my Aunt K’s. B.J. has observed with his usual astuteness in such matters that there is only half a bottle of whisky on the side board, volunteered for bartender duty surreptitiously serving himself double measure so when another bottle is produced rather sooner than later we both feel a little well you know B. J. is an old Alcohol Anonymous as used to electrify the meetings with his confessions: “Once at the house of a friend” he begins sepulchrally “in the dead of night—I”—he stabs a finger at his chest—“sneaked into the room of my host’s adolescent son.” He tiptoes across the platform and turns to the audience. “You get the picture?” The audience stirs uneasily. B. J. shifts an imaginary flash light—“arrow heads—a stone axe—butterfly trays—the cyanide jar—a stuffed owl—Whoo whoo whoo drank the alcohol off that boy’s preserved centipede?”—It was emetic in the good sense. (I digress—a drunk policeman—Stein reverts to his magazine.)
I address myself to a cousin who is now account executive for an advertising firm: “What I say is time for the artist and the ad man to get in a symbiotic way and give birth to what we may call ’Creative Advertising’ I mean advertisements that tell a story and create character. Like this see?