An Uncomfortable Moment at the Thirteenth Annual Delmore Schwartz Memorial Picnic

 

photo by SG

Grill smoke drifted as chalk drawings of tropical fish on the darkening air. A sudden calm suspended everything…the falling sun; Frisbees at apogee; the tiny crucifix of a jet dangling from the string of its vapor trail…in the mellow aspic of future memory. They all prepared to listen to Gregg read, conscious of the fact that many years into the unknowable they’d look back on this moment with intense affection. Affection for the city and the era and their former selves. Eric, Dave, Andy, Bill and Eric grinned open-mouthed with anticipated pleasure, their shadows long, as Gregg cleared his throat and lifted a finger of emphasis. All of RooseveltPark, along with their future selves, hushed for a moment to listen. 

 “ ‘Two decades ago, with her sculpted features, Alaia-friendly figure, and a languid drawl that spoke of nannies and finishing schools, this rangy, patrician beauty (her uncle was a prime minister of Belgium) was perfectly cast to play artist’s muse.’” He peered up from under the corners of his tinfoil hat and affected a lisp. “‘They were a very, very glamorous couple,’ recalls the artist Peter Blah Blah, ‘He was this powerhouse of creativity and bravado and interest and talent. She was so intimidating to look at; a camera couldn’t capture her outrageous beauty.’” He closed the magazine and waited a beat.  “Now, I ask you…”  

Andy said, “Kinda makes you see the world through Charlie Manson’s eyes, doesn’t it?” 

Dave adjusted his tinfoil hat, which suffered from being a hasty construction, and said, “And for that I’m grateful.” He sipped beer from his family-size jug of Diet Sprite. Gregg handed Dave the Vogue and Dave put the sloshy jug down between his knees and paged through the magazine with one eyebrow raised and nostrils flared, a patented Dave expression. He passed the magazine to Bill, who would have preferred the jug. 

“Whatever happened to the peasant class, anyway? Why don’t we hear from any of them on stuff like this? Aren’t we long overdue for widespread rebellion?” 

“Revolution these days,” responded Andy, as Bill passed the Vogue to him, “is atomized, permanent and absorbed by the system. If we could somehow organize all the yuppie muggings that take place during one year in this country and concentrate them into one day and location, that would be your uprising right there. But the revolutionaries are all lone wolves now and they tend to have crack habits.” 

Eric reached for the Vogue. “Where did you find this thing?”

“Wait,” said Bill, “You mean even bloody insurrection suffers from the same crisis of hot-dog individualism now plaguing the NBA?” 

“Gregg got a subscription for Christmas,” said Andy. Andy took off his tinfoil hat and looked at it with some interest. “Hey, am I just imagining it or are my thoughts a little…I don’t know…less staticky while I’m wearing this?” He put it back on top of his head. 

Gregg, with his perfect deadpan, said, “Now that you mention it.” 

“I don’t know about less staticky thoughts,” said the other Eric, “but I’ve had an erection since I put mine on…and that was at 5 in the morning.” 

“And they said he’d never screw again!” 

Who said I’d never screw again?”

They.”

“Oh, them.” 

“The same know-it-alls who said Christopher Reeve would never walk again, I presume?” 

Eric swatted Eric with the rolled up Vogue and Eric snatched it away and swatted Eric back and everyone laughed. A bumblebee lobbed over their loose circle in a wobbly arc as though it weighed a ton, and a beautiful girl in cut-offs and a vintage The Police t-shirt, oblivious in headphones, intersected the bumblebee’s flight path on her way to the water fountain. Eric and Eric had to twist on their spots to see what everyone else was gawping at. The denim lobes of her cut-offs appeared to inflate as she lowered her mouth to the spigot and she pulled her hair out of the way and slurped.

Dave said, “Hey, in all seriousness, how are those burgers coming?”

Bill crawled over to the hibachi on two knees and one hand, holding his tinfoil hat to his curly head with the other. He said, “The burger that’s directly over the one hot coal is getting there. The others appear to be incubating salmonella to varying degrees according to their distance from the one hot coal.” 

Dave chugged from his Diet Sprite bottle again and said, “I always thought that was the tastiest sounding food poisoning, you know? Salmonella. Salmonella spread, with pimento. I’d buy some of that.” 

Gregg said, “Let’s face it, it’s a major setback that our manliest member couldn’t make it this year.”

Bill chuckled. “Manliest member.” 

“Mark,” said Dave, wistfully, “was, indeed, an idiot savant of the hibachi briquette fire.”

“Is hibachi a Mexican word or a Japanese word?”

“A skill he picked up as a pyromaniacal adolescent of the upper-Midwest, no doubt.” 

“It’s a Japanese word that refers to a heating device but not a grill, actually. The correct word is shichirin, but that’s too difficult for the average American consumer to pronounce, so they were marketed as hibachi.” 

“I love being forced to learn things.”

“I told Mark he could bring Sadie if he wants.” 

“Well, the funny thing is it’s actually an ancient Chinese technology.”

“He obviously didn’t want.” 

“Will somebody stop this guy?”

“Maybe he was afraid we’d covet her.” 

“Or frighten her with these hats.”

“You asked and I told.” 

“Sadie. What kind of name is that, anyway? Is she a retired rhumba teacher?”

“Next time I won’t ask.” 

“No, but I bet she refers to sexual intercourse as ‘relations’.”

“He says they want to have kids.” 

“Quick, before the population falls under seven billion.”

“Anyone ever notice that the blink-rate of a baby is only something like once every three minutes? My sister’s kid…” 

Bill jumped up and said, “Okay, who am I now?” He folded his upper lip under itself, exposing his teeth, and stuck his thumbs into his armpits, but before he could finish the impression a very large black woman loomed, wearing camouflage pants and a hooded black sweatshirt which presented a picture of Albert Einstein with his pierced tongue sticking out. She was large not only in the sense of fat but of tall as well and physically intimidating. She spoke with such abrupt loudness that Bill flinched, his upper lip still folded under itself.

“Is this the thirteenth annual Delmore Schwartz memorial picnic?” She gestured with the classifieds section of the daily paper. 

“You advertized?” hissed Eric to Gregg.

I thought it would be fun.” 

“Well here’s your fun.”

Bill said, “Yes it is.” 

She gestured at Bill’s tinfoil hat. “Is that supposed to be funny?” Before he could respond she added, “Is mental illness funny? Is suicide funny? Is the suicide of a gifted 53 year old poet grappling with the debilitating effects of an untreatable mental illness funny?”

Gregg, with spell-breaking sang froid, said, “I’d prefer to conduct this interview in writing, if you don’t mind,” and Eric, Dave, Andy, Bill and Eric all laughed, grateful that he’d shown them the way.


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