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Alan Catlin
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dressrehearsal.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan

A Dress Rehearsal Rag

 

by Alan Catlin

 

 

Remember that scene in Psycho? The one where Norman looks through the spy hole in the wall to see Janet Leigh in the shower. That’s my life. The way I want it filmed. But it never works out that way. Not yet, anyway.

 

Sometimes, in my mind, it would be like, like the scene in the beginning of Dressed to Kill, where Angie Dickinson's body double is taking a shower with a man, his hands on her body, the steam fogging the shower stall. I like that scene. It could be me. It really could.

 

But, no. My shower stall is empty. The used, bloody bath towels are draped over the edge of the tub; the dirt and mold-stained plastic cur­tains pushed all the way to the rear of the tub, hanging from broken rings; a white cotton bath mat, rumpled and stained pushed against the tub; the sink dripping water nearby; the top of the toilet pushed down, smashed in the center by a fist, a foot, another object, seems real to me, also. Too real. I want to change my life.

 

So I do.

 

A straightedge razor lies folded open on the back of the toilet tank. A shaving cream container without its top, a puff of dried foam on the spout, drops of blood on the floor, on the tub, cluttering the broken mirror glass. That’s a beginning.

 

Glass on the bathroom floor, amidst the rumpled towels, the stained bath mat, the wadded Kleenex in the corner, the over­turned wastepaper basket; the dripping sink blood-spattered, the toothbrush holder unmoored from the wall; plaster and dust; the broken plastic drinking cup; the squeezed-dry tube of paste; variegated stripe-colored toothpaste on the wall, the floor; the sink discolored with blood. That’s another step forward: the second act.

 


Then I envision a woman removing her outerwear, framed in the ovoid spy hole, a fragment of a whole, suggesting what?

 

Suggesting more or less?

 

Flesh.

 

Less is the spy hole covered by a flap that no one can see through. More is an empty shower stall in an empty bathroom. Twelve rooms, twelve vacancies, twelve showers.  All of them awaiting the right woman.  Janet, Angie, Melanie. Melanie was a Body Double, too. In a movie of the same name. What a trip that was. The woman who was literally screwed by a huge, industrial boring tool.

 

Talk about visual puns.  I do.

 

More is the woman and a man already engaged in the shower; the soaping, the rubbing, the cleansing a prelude, part of awkward lovemaking in a slippery, stand‑up shower stall.

 

The body double reacts to the man's suggestive touch; the camera angle shows it is Angie Dickinson but, as it cuts to the lower shot—the body shots—it is someone else reacting. Whose body is that on the floor? The real woman disrobing or her awkward double, face twisted and distorted by a life-and-death struggle with the unseen. Or with the Body Double girl? 

 

Images flashdancing in my brain. It could drive you crazy when everything comes together and who could tell them apart? I know I can’t. My life is so complicated.

 

          I think, then, is this an image I see from an older picture? The one called, Repulsion, a black and white, avant-garde noir from the sixties. Catherine Deneuve is the actress, playing a sexually-repressed young woman who is totally losing her bearings, her sense of reality, confusing her sexual desires with a death urge. To satisfy is to kill, the imagined hands that touch come from the walls, molesting; the real ones are the only ones that can be removed, removed with the edges of a straight razor.

 

This is how the bloated body of the man came to be in the tub, the landlord in the bloodied hot water bath mistaking the reluctant woman's shyness for a seductive pose, masking a dread intent, the wielding of the razor. 

 

Also partially explaining, the dead man beneath the over­turned chair in the living room, the decapitated head of the rabbit in the kitchen, fly-coated and putrescent, all these sur­prises for the roommate sister to find on her return from a dirty weekend in the country.  But those are objects in another room. Part of another story.

 


A story of a straight razor and a woman and a man who is not sure if he is a woman or a man whose confused urges and mixed desires make for fatal contradictions and conclusions.  Make this and the Bates Motel, a bad place for a dirty weekend, a hot shower and a shave.

                            

After this movie, the one I intend to make comprising all these elements, The Maids will go on strike.

 

This movie will definitely contain the  story of another sexually messed-up woman,  a casual lover with a social disease, and a psychiatrist cross-dressed as a woman. The weapon of choice will definitely be a straight razor and the victim and the murderer will meet in a hotel elevator.  Angie Dickinson’s body double will reenact scenes from “Psycho” that were better left to the shower. The ones that didn’t make the final cut.  They will be in my movie.

 

 

 

Or, maybe I will invent my own story.  Some of the details will be the same: the bath and the tubs, and shower heads and the stalls, some of the  tubs with claw feet, others showers that are just a stainless steel stall with sliding doors or curtains on rods. Maybe, just a man and a woman together, as a prelude, or, maybe, a postlude of love, soaping themselves. They will be seen from outside the stall by an unknown assailant, a shunned lover perhaps, or, a mad neighbor, or a husband wronged; a scene that will be enacted over and over, time and time again, until it is gotten just right, until the straight razor hits the  carotid arteries, until all the blood is shed,  and the revenge is complete, the urge realized. Until the stand‑in stunt man completes this dress rehearsal rag, face down in a puddle of his and a body double’s  blood.

 

Final scenes are the hardest. Where does it all end?


Maybe it ends here.

         

In a locked room, a cell. Before me, on a table, the black and white pictures, the stills from a crime scene report. A folded paper that says, “Maniac Sex Killer Strikes.” A meaningless phrase, really, an abstract. A crime that doesn’t happen to you is meaningless, abstract, simply  because it hasn't involved you directly, when someone is taking your place in the real life movie, at the last minute, when the going gets rough.

 

That’s how it was supposed to be. How it was, though, the Killer Inside feels no different than the one on the outside, here in the locked room, looking at pictures that have no meaning now that everyone involved is dead. 

 

I look at the photographs and see: the rooms you will be found in, the postures assumed, the evidence left behind for others to find, the head­lines the same, the feelings unaltered, the scene the same, always the man looking through the spy hole, that revealing place concealed in your bath no one knows about but the watcher. At first he is your lover, and then, as you step into the shower, turn the faucet, release the steam, he becomes someone else.

 

This is the real movie, the one that will race out of control before you know it, and the shock of the real will be as horrifying as the sudden blast of stinging cold, the fear of the invasion, the edge of the razor that ends this dress rehearsal rag.

 

 


Steam Bath

 

by Alan Catlin

 

 

Steam.

 

Steam encompassing everything as in a Roman Bath, a dream of underwater swimming gasping for mist instead of air.

 

Gasping for moisture, subaqueous breathing, amniotic, life-giving, reluctant, pliable, timorous breathing, but breathing, nonetheless.

 

Removing all outer layers, clothing, an extra artificial skin to be discarded and renewed, stepping into the grasping folds of steam, to be enveloped in kind, cleansed or renewed, captured by dreams or let go to wander in silence among insub­stantial forms.

 

A hand in the murky shadowing of the steam, reaching out, grasping a honed edge of a knife, a blade for shaving, for cut­ting, for carving.

 

Voices muffled, echoing in a chambered darkness, muffled as oars moving in the channel outside of bath, moving as seekers do on a river of dreams, a river of death from which there is no re­turn.

 

Returning in waves, the sound of a stifled voice, strangled by blood or grasping hands, a brief exchange of water for air and then the steam again, enveloping all movements, all sounds.

 

Feeling the heat rising from the amorphous mass of waves, caused by unseen bodies moving in the clouds of mist, well beyond sight.

 

Feeling the warmth etching rivers through the skin into the bones, replacing the marrow with an oily heated liquid that stings as it eats its way outside.

 


Feeling the muted speaking coming from beyond, cloaked figures without tongues intoning unspeakable dreams, vague imitations of a temporary immortality, about to be reduced to something more immediate, not unlike dying or death itself.

 

Laving with hands like weights, dropping listlessly by the washer’s sides, drugged by the enveloping aura of steam, the hypnotic moving of the clouds, the hands moving, almost unseen but still suggestive, reaching out from inside.

 

Feeling the cold clinging of the marbleized tiles at the edge of the bath made slippery by moisture, the collision of forced damp heated air and polished stone.

 

Feeling the stone that cannot be grasped or held in any form from within the bathwater; waist deep and emerged, the bather is grasped and virtually immobile.

 

Immersed to the neck, sliding the naked limbs among the clinging layers of bath, muscles weakening to sponge, veins hardening, crystallizing with prolonged exposure to the heat.

 

Feeling sensation ebbing away, a bloodletting, veins ex­posed to steel, carefully sluicing out fetid oils, skins of disease, eructations of conscious thought.

 

Floating in a staining pool, colors running together, emul­sions seeking natural densities, specific levels; a movement silent and as contained as clouds.

 

Of steam.

 

Massaging the blanketed eyes with coruscating dreams, blend­ing one world inside and another without, a layer of being, of bleeding that extends beyond the confinements of bath.

 

Listening to the dreamers; beyond, a callow laughter from the banks of an imitation shore, carved marbles statues frozen in recitation, the words of dead poets frozen as they escape the molded lips:

 

"‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑And Agamemnon dead‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑"

 


In the bath, surrounded by a steam, the fatal blade dripping his life’s blood into the salted, the soiled, pool; invidious dreams of his Trojan lover escaping his lips, the future foretold is death‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

 

In the bath. 

 


neighborwouldntdie.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2015

The Neighbor Who Wouldn't Die

 

By Alan Catlin

 

"Whoever it was said: 'You can't chose your neighbors', must have known the guy who was living next door to us. Most nights, we were entertained by a  noise, imitating some form of music that sounded roughly like squealing pigs at castration time, interspersed with the ritual sharpening of  instruments of torture.

I guess you could learn to live with that, I mean that's what earphones are for, to block out stuff like what passes for music in adjacent apartments like  “Screaming and The Banshees,” an all-female group from the pits of some Sado-Masochist strip mall in Amsterdam, performing their latest Live album.

What really put things over the edge, was when he started in rhythmically chanting: ‘CALL THE COPS. I'M OVER THE EDGE. CALL THE COPS, LIKE NOW! ‘It would be awhile, before we figured out what the  percussive instrument was he was using to emphasize his anti‑Gregorian chant.  I sort of had to know, just to satisfy my last latent, musician's curiosity.  It turned out to be a grand piano leg, a wise choice for the kind of attention he needed to attract.

Finally, someone obliged.  It wasn't us, mainly because we were mired in some kind of ennui, inertia thing that comes with constant lack of sleep and palliatives, like drugs and booze, that slow you down, but don't always put you over the edge into a comatose state.


We could hear them knocking next door; ‘OPEN UP, WE'RE THE POLICE.’ ‘…OH, THANK GOD, YOU'RE HERE, I THOUGHT YOU'D NEVER COME.’----OH, MY, GOD, YOU'RE NOT THE POLICE, YOU'RE JUST LIKE THE OTHERS, IMPOSTORS GET OUT GET OUT…..’’LISTEN HERE, PAL, WHAT'S IT TAKE TO CONVINCE YOU WE'RE THE COPS.’  ‘I'LL TELL YOU WHAT WILL CONVINCE HIM- A COUPLE OF HOW DO YOU DO'S WITH MR. BILLY CLUB.’’  LISTEN, PAL, SHUT THE HELL UP, YOU'RE BOTHERING PEOPLE, WE DON'T WANT TO BE HASSLED AGAIN‑‑‑‘

In some cities the cops would just have busted him around the head a few times, claimed he fell resisting arrest, have him shot up with enough tranquilizing darts to slow a rogue elephant, and that would be end of it.  But not in New York.

No sir, that would be too easy.

Way too easy.

Pretty soon he starts in again: ‘IF YOU DON'T CALL THE REAL COPS I'M GOING TO START FIRES AND KILL MYSELF.’

By this time, I'm ready to yell: ‘If you need matches, fire starter, kerosene, kindling, anything just let me know, three raps on the heating pipe with a piano leg would be all it takes.’

To make a long story short, he must have had his own fire starting kit.  The next time the boys in blue showed, he had two fully involved piles of broken furniture on opposite ends of the room and another pile fired and ready to go, in the middle.

There's a lot to be said for secure firewalls, that's for sure. Sound filtration might not have been one of their quali­ties, but, hey this was a fire and they worked just fine.

Meanwhile, he's up to his old tricks getting naked next door screaming: ’I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL THE IMPOSTOR COPS. IF SOMEONE DOESN'T CALL THE REAL COPS I'LL JUMP!’

By now, there's at least four floors of people ready to push him, if he doesn't go over on his own. Still, no one was really taking him all that seriously, as it's fifteen stories up, which is still kind of high, even for a naked wacko, to practice swan diving from.


But, this guy was different. Way different. He took the dive, all fifteen stories of it and somehow he manages not to die. On top of that, he impales himself on the wrought iron fence downstairs and they have to cut the damned thing off him and he still isn't dead.

You know, you or I, fall out of a window half that high, and it's Humpty Dumpty Time all the way. Rumor has it, the clown is recovering nicely in City Hospital and making inquiries about a newly refurbished vacant apartment on our fifteenth floor. I'm not taking any bets he doesn't get it, either.






A Personal Silence of the Lambs

 

by Alan Catlin

 

 

I have been a bartender long enough to know that there are legions of people walking around with some kind of deluded con­cept lodged in their brains, that something they might conceive of was both original and interesting.  Probably, the most inter­esting of this group missed a career in costume designing by not being in California when Ed Wood was looking for help or George Romero was looking for extras in something like Night of the Living Dead.

 

On the whole, years could go by and nothing even remotely original would happen in the bar you were working in. Mostly, you had to make do with switching channels with the remote and watching whatever turned up on cable TV.

 

This particular clown at the bar must have been to some kind of bizarre private screening of a personal Silence of the Lambs. Maybe, wherever that was, gargling extra-hot Bloody Marys fit the mood of the place and he was trying to carry it over here, as a kind of sentimental homage.

 

“I usually drink these from a human skull,” he said, taking in an extra large mouthful, swirling it around and letting it seep from the corners of his mouth as he smiled up at me just to see what I might say.

 

“Just like Byron,” I said.

 

“Who?”

 

“Byron, the poet. He had a skull for a drinking cup also. Rumor had it, he  wanted Shelley’s skull after he died, but it didn’t work out.  He might have settled for the heart a mutual acquaintance stole from the pyre after he died, but it wasn’t available. I don’t think the Romantics drank much vodka like you seem to. Mostly, they drank Port wine and stuff like that. Can’t hardly find a decent Port anymore.”

 

He looked confused, just the way he was supposed to, but made a game try at grossing me out, anyway. “I've had sex with cadav­ers. What do you think of that?”

 

I had to give him credit for trying. It wasn’t much, given the quality of the National News you could see on any given cable network these days, but it showed some competitive spirit.

 

I said, “Actually, anyone can have sex with a cadaver.  Just look at what lengths Jeffrey Dahmer went to for that.  My point is: Was it really great sex or just your run-of-the-mill, average sex?”

 

He wasn’t expecting that one; in fact, he looked hurt, damaged even, as if I’d dealt an especially cruel and nasty low blow to his ego.

 

I supposed that I had ruined his night of fun and games, his surefire attention-getting routine, that had worked for him in lots of other places, before. I almost felt sorry enough for him to suggest he turn in his official Psycho-in- Training card when he left but decided that chore was for someone else, in another line of work, someone who made a lot more money dealing with sicknesses of the human mind that I ever would.  

 

 

 


immensehotairballoons.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2018

Immense Hot-Air Balloons

 

by Alan Catlin

 

inflate behind billboard advertisements

for Black Velvet whiskey, Coppertone

tanning lotion, Life and Accident Insurances,

canvas impelled by intensifying forced heat,

bold painted stripes and pointed stars

embossed amid logos for event sponsors taking

shape, looming, expanding as buoyant skins

stretched several stories high, dwarfing the nearby

communities, settlements the onlookers

are drawn from, impelled by this unearthly

allure of onrushing air and rising—as if from

within the cracked earth-balloons; a bulging,

unseen power conferred, inside, they have

a life of their own.

redfiresupthebike.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2018

Red fires up the bike

 

by Alan Catlin

 

every Sunday morning

around 4:30 after

the last of the bars

have finally locked up.

He feels compelled to

share his internal

combusting machine

with his fellow party

people of the night,

each standing on the

desperate edge of their

respective comas, six

packs of warm beer

hanging in limp plastic

holders as they look

as Red revs back into

the night, squeezing

the handle so the baby

is really primed, “Listen to

that sucker hum! There is

nothing like a perfectly

tuned machine to warm your

heart. Isn’t that just

like music.” Others don't

think so, summer mornings.

An unseen neighbor yells,

in between revolutions of

Big Red’s machine: “I was

a sharpshooter in the Marines,

asshole. I shot guys a lot

shorter than you, a lot further

away than you are for a

living, and for doing a lot

less than you are plus I

got the medals to prove it. 

Now turn that damn thing off

before I lose my temper.”

Maybe Red believed him,

maybe not, but that was

the last night of early morning

motorcycle appreciation time

in that backyard.

 


developing.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2018

Developing Land

 

by Alan Catlin

 

 

They are landscaping graveyards,

raking fallen leaves, riding mowers,

trimming weeds, dandelions gone to

seed, growing out of control grass,

pruning dying yews, chain sawing

thick trucks and hollow limbs,

piling the cut and the dead against

wrought iron fencing, rust bleeding

through flaked black paint, staining

the ground, memorial plaques; all day

and nights, we can hear the rasping

of power tools redefining the shapes,

changing the grounds, expanding

perimeters, by morning all the soft

excavated places will be marked by

their footprints, smudged cigarettes

and discarded coffee cup containers,

empty aluminum beer cans mark their

trail from one world to the next.

sideshowfreaks.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2018

Sideshow Freaks

 

by Alan Catlin

         

 

are on the road, the enormous old

woman riding shotgun, peeling bruised

bananas, wearing filthy blue raincoats,

loathsome dresses, bobbed hair contained

by tie-dyed bandanas, accompanied by

an old man wearing a Western string tie

over a maroon shirt, red polyester pants,

coffee- and grime-stained cowboy hat

crushed out of shape, non-prescription

glasses he squints through along with

cheap cigar smoke, looking for lane

markers on a perfectly straight highway

leading directly through one no man's land

to another, small towns for the Thunderbird

drinkers, a mirage beneath full moon,

aberrational starlight; the big tent at desert's

end an earthly paradise, the master of

ceremonies the magus of the spirit world

beyond this one, even the sideshow freaks

seem blessed by illusion.

Insomnia

 

by Alan Catlin

 

 

After frozen pipes have burst,

chilled water comes in torrents

 

through cracks in the ceiling

sliding over thick layers

 

of patterned wallpapers,

drooping yellowed flowers

 

hang down like a wet

clinging gauze mask

 

covering your face

 

 

Alan Catlin has published dozens of chapbooks and full-length books of poetry, including the 2017 Slipstream Chapbook Contest winner in 2017, Blue Velvet. He is the poetry editor of misfitmagazine.net.

In Association with Fossil Publications