Coming Home to Hell

by Jim Knipfel

It was supposed to be a simple trip. Pop down to Philly one morning, interview the directors of the new-music group Relache at their office, drop some Residents CD-ROM stuff off at the Welcomat, grab some lunch with Derek at the New City Tavern. Then head back to Brooklyn, be home before sundown. No big deal. But as usual, things got a little outta hand.

Okay, so I get up at four to get out at five to catch a six o'clock New Jersey Transit train to Trenton, where I transfer to a SEPTA train into 30th Street Station.

A few hours later, Philly rose like a pile of crusty blue snot out of the nothingness, and my head began to ache a little bit. A fine rain was falling across the city, and it was cold as day-old shit. Hopped a cab at 30th Street, which dropped me off three blocks after I said, "Okay, I'll get out here." I love Philadelphia.

The interview went fine, and I got back out in the rain just as the speed started to wear off and my teeth started to chatter uncontrollably. Stopped by the paper, grabbed Derek and headed out to the New City. I needed a drink to ease me down some without crashing me too hard.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to put the rum in my Coke, and it took a bit of cajoling to get the waitress to bring me a shot. But even the shot didn't help. And on top of that, I made the mistake, as I tore into an ill-fashioned Italian sausage and provolone, of telling Derek the story about Grinch's penis exploding:

"`So you see, Slack ' Grinch tells me, 'I've really been getting into S & M lately. So Sarah and I are in this leather shop, and she sees these cock rings. She asks me what they are, and I say, "Well, baby, those are cock rings." So she decides that she wants me to get one, which I do. We go home, and I put it on, and I realize that the tighter I make it, the better it feels. So I make it really, really tight, so all the veins are popping out. She's chained up against the wall, and I'm slamming it to her from behind. When I pull out, I look down, and there's this second cock growing out of mine, and there's blood everywhere...'"

So by the time we leave the New City, I'm feeling mighty queasy.

Undaunted, and with a few hours left to kill but no victims in sight, I make a few phone calls.

An hour later, we were all hunched around a table in the front room of the Khyber Pass Pub. Bob, the world's greatest bartender, was still there. It was comforting, somehow. I used to spend a lot of lonely afternoons sitting at that fine old bar, playing Sinatra, Kiss and bad Elvis, talking to Bob, the two of us buying each other beers. It was like coming home again.

But this time almost the whole crew was there with me--Derek, Suzanne Ross, Mike Walsh, the Crippled Lord, stained-glass artist Judith Schaechter (who still hasn't forgiven me for calling her "just another voyeur"), Michael McHugh and Peter Tupitza and their butt-ugly dog. The only one missing was Jim Canfield, who was screaming his way downwards through the workaday world.

Somebody put some Sinatra on the machine, and the Wild Turkey was beginning to settle in and grab a firm hold of my senses. For the first time in months, I relaxed a little bit. It's been a rough few months, with those train tracks looking more and more inviting every day.

For a few hours, we talked and laughed and drank and drank some more. I got louder and lost count as I stormed headlong for Dylan Thomas' record.

Too soon, everyone started drifting away. Suzanne had to see a doctor, Derek had to get back to work, and I had to head back to Brooklyn to start thinking about working at the Guggenheim again. Bad news.

It was still raining at 30th Street (it always is), but I felt warm and mean. Train finally came, so full of bugs and maggots that, drunk as I was, I had to stand all the way to Trenton.

I glared at all those bags of pus in the seats around me. Their faces were just sheets of nothing upon nothing, staring, pretending to read newspapers, listening to soft little pop songs on their Walkmen so they wouldn't have to hear anything real. Any milk of human kindness in my veins had been flushed away by the Turkey.

At Trenton, I slipped into an almost empty car and waited for that last hour before the honest stench of piss and bile would greet my nose again and make me smile. Suddenly, a wave of heat and nausea crept up and crashed over my head. I bit it back and shifted in my seat, slumping down further to ease the pressure on my guts. Not enough to stop the next wave. Goddamn Italian sausage.

I coughed and found my mouth full of lumpy warmth. Don't dare swallow it--that would be useless. So I leaned a little to the side, thinking I'd just spit it on the floor and move. It was just a mouthful.

But the shift was enough to get all the engines running backwards, so just as the doors closed and the train bucked forward, I shot a half gallon of hot pastel-orange, black-flecked puke down my coat and pants. Strange thing was, it came without the typical screaming, hacking, extended-mix gagging I'm used to. It was just a simple "Blorp" and I was covered, with a deep pool at my feet.

I wiped myself off as best as I could and moved back to another car, stuck my ticket on the seat and passed out. A warm, soft sleep, with a dozen dreams helped along by the sweet alcohol stench which rose in waves to my nostrils. Nobody sat with me.

I caught an A train at Penn station and transferred at West Fourth for an F into Brooklyn. Along the way, I discovered a funny thing. If you get on a crowded subway car and you're covered with your own vomit, why, you can do whatever the hell you want, be whoever you want to be. And the bugs can turn you into whatever they want, and you just don't care.

I hobbled over to a Suit and looked down at him, my coat still dripping, the smell unmistakable. He didn't look up. He just kept pretending to read his paper.

"Ah wanna sit there," I hissed out at him, the thick rot still gurgling in the back of my throat. His hands tightened around the edges of the paper.

"Yeah, ah think ah wanna sit " Lo and behold, if he didn't get up and stand for the rest of his trip. I was home for the second time in one day.

Copyright Jim Knipfel. Published originally in the Welcomat. Illustration by Russell Christian. All rights reserved.

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