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coalitionforces.jpg
Art by Gordon Purkis 2009

Too Many Sleepless Nights

 

 

Doug Draime

 

 

       

          Ray sat on his couch, leaning over his TV dinner, bleary-eyed and exhausted, watching the Gulf War over CNN.

 

He flipped on the TV as a reflex. A remote control was a wonder of technology. It had become like an extension of his arm. He ate the white turkey meat, potatoes, and peas as he looked on at the night bombing of Kuwait. Flashes of colorful lights in the night

sky. He wondered how many people died with each flash, how many were injured? Ray had lost both his father and uncle in the same fire fight on the perimeter of Saigon in 1965, when he was twelve. In the 1960s and 70s, the Viet Nam war was on the nightly news; now in the 90s, war was a grand event, mass entertainment 24 hours a day. The constant justification from the media, with verbiage inspired directly by White House double-talk. Stock in CNN and all the corporations that bought time on air raising, as the war continued. The rich get richer and the poor are annihilated.

 

          After watching for a few more minutes, as usual, Ray begun to feel anger and depression. He saw himself, at twelve, standing by his father’s closed casket, the American flag draped over it, his mother holding his hand.

 

This moment always came back to him, standing there with his mother, her body shaking uncontrollably with sobs of grief. But Ray didn’t cry on that day. It was months before he was able to shed any tears. He clutched his mother’s hand tightly, trying to steady her, as they watched the casket being lowered into the grave.

 

          He switched channels to clear his head. It was a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie, On The Road To Morocco. He must have seen the movie twenty times, at least. Surfing from channel to channel, he tried to focus on something, anything. But he was too tired and on edge from the three-day binge of Benzedrine and booze to focus.

 

He turned the TV off, got up from the couch, and walked into the tiny kitchen and took a beer from the six-pack he’d brought home with him, to help him come down. He took a long drink from the bottle and pressed the cool glass against his forehead.

 

He was walking back to the couch when the phone rang. It was 3:15 AM. The phone hadn’t rung for a week, or more.

 

Someone must be dead, he thought, as he picked up the receiver.

 

                 “Yeah?”

 

 “Hi, Ray,” said a female voice he didn’t recognize.

 

          “Who is this?”

 

          “It’s been a long time,” she replied

 

           “Who is this?” Ray said again, taking another drink from his beer.

 

           “You really don’t know?” she said, answering the question with a question. He could hear the surprise in her voice, with a short intake of breath.

 

          Ray took the portable phone with him back into the kitchen, where he drank the rest of his beer and opened another one.

 

                  “Look, it’s after three in the morning and I’m very tired. Sounds like I should know you, but sorry, I’m at a loss,” he said.

 

          “Joan. Ray, this is Joan,” she said, a sight trace of indignity in her tone now.

 

          How many months had it been? Seven, eight?  He never expected to hear from her again, after he had thrown her 13-inch TV out the window on the fifth floor of the Wilton Hotel. They were both too drunk for rational reasoning. Joan threatening him, at one point, with an ancient Derringer pistol her grandfather had left her. He had heard she was living with a cop on the Glendale Police Force. There was talk of marriage and real estate.

 

                  “Ray?”

 

                  “Yes?”

 

                 “You’re awful quiet. Thought you hung up”

 

          “I’m still here. I just don’t know what to say. Well, how the hell are you, Joan? ” Ray slugged the beer down in three huge swallows.

 

          “I thought you’d be surprised. I mean, after all these months and me calling this time of night. But I thought you’d recognize my voice.” Slurring the last word, he knew she had been drinking.

 

          There was a long silence, as Ray studied her breathing.

 

          “I’m living in Glendale now, but I’m working in Hollywood, not far from you, at that rubber stamp place on Garfield. I’m doing their books. I have my own little office in the back of the shop. Can you imagine me doing books for anyone? I mean, I can’t even balance my own check book, for Christ’s sake. I passed the math test they gave when I applied, and they hired me right off. You remember how I hated math.”

 

          “I remember you weren’t too good with numbers,” Ray said, opening the refrigerator for another beer.

 

He wasn’t ready for the conversation, far from it. He had been up a straight 74 hours without sleep. All he wanted was a little vitamin C, a couple of beers and a 12 to 18 hour sleep-off. He felt like asking her how her TV was, what kind of mess it had left on the sidewalk, and regardless of the answer, just hang up. He thought about that for a moment, just hanging up. But he felt he owed her more than that, for throwing it out the window, in the first place . . . or maybe not.

 

          “I’m tired, Joan. Rough couple of days. What is it exactly you wanted? It’s been awhile.”

 

          “Well, I guess I just wanted someone to talk to.” Joan paused, her breathing deep and uneven. “Did you know I got married?” she asked, sounding almost angry.

 

          “No, I didn’t. Last I heard you were living with a cop. So, you married him?”

 

                  “Yeah, about five months ago. But I haven’t seen him for two months,” slurring her words.

 

          Ray lit a cigarette and drank the third beer a little slower.

 

           “Ray?”

 

           “Yeah?”

 

                  “You’re not saying much. I keep thinking you hung up on me.” She was reading his mind.

 

          “So, where’s he been the last two months?” Ray said, taking his shirt off and tossing it across the room.

 

                  “What?”

 

          “Your cop husband.”

 

          “Oh  . . . He joined the army. Can you believe that?”

 

          Ray didn’t respond. He sat looking at a spider web on the ceiling he had not noticed before.

 

          She was laughing. “He’s a real dumb shit. Volunteered for Desert Storm. Over there now . . . that’s where he’s been!”

 

          Ray put his cigarette out in the beer, walked down the hallway and into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed and took off his shoes.

 

          “I’m sorry to hear that, Joan,” he said, meaning it. He stood up, unzipped his pants and took them off.

 

“You don’t have to be sorry for me,” she said, as sharp as a razor, “If he gets his head blown off, it was his call.”

 

          Ray sat back down on the bed and was staring out the window at the night sky over L.A.

 

                  “Look , Joan, I’m wiped out. I need to get some sleep.”

 

          “Oh . . . OK. Ah, can I call you tomorrow, or maybe come over? You know . . .  stop by after work, since I’m so close?”

 

           “Not a good idea, Joan,”

 

          “Why not?” she asked, slurring her words indignantly.

 

                “Because your husband may be a dead man right now in an Arab country, and that’s  because this country thinks our oil is under their land, and that you have no concept of the horror that  implies, and you don’t even care if your husband is killed. That poor bastard, dead or alive! Goodbye, Joan. Never fucking call me again.”

 

          Ray hung up and lay down on his bed.

 

Within a few minutes, he was sound asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

“Too Many Sleepless Nights” was published first as a "magsheet" by Ragged Edge (Appliance Books) in England in 2005 and then again by ZYX Magazine (Arnold Skemer) in NY in 2007.

 

 

 

Stein Arrives On Time

 

Doug Draime

 

 

 

          Everything arrives on time,

          even, despite

          her continual critics,

          Gertrude Stein.  She showed

          up in Paris at the perfect moment.

          Though, she had trouble

          speaking, because she lied

          each time she spoke.  So, following

          advice from Alice and her

          brother, she wrote. And write she did!

          Casting on the page juxtapositions of

          words, boggling conventional concepts

          of sentence and meaning, and bashing

          around nouns and verbs . . .

          cramming them together like

          suntanned bodies on a crowded beach.

          And the bewildered, stunned reactions.    

          T.S. Eliot shaved his head and

          contacted Sigmund Freud.  Wallace Stevens lost

          a shitload of money in the life insurance business and

          stopped giving a fuck about much of anything.

          Everything falls into its exact order of

          arrival.  Everyone who seeks, finds, even those

          excitable straights pissing and moaning

          over Gertrude Stein.

 

 

 

 

Jonnie “Mac” Brown

 

by Doug Draime

 

 

          a scar

          as long

          & wide

          as a

          healthy

          banana

 

          curved down

          her right

          forearm

 

          a gashing

          deep ravine

          of pink

          into her

          beautiful

          black flesh

 

          smiling  &

          spinning in

          slow

          semicircles

 

          whispering

          her own

          name

 

 

 

 

The Writers’ Archives

 

by Doug Draime

 

 

 

          Egomaniacal writers,

          those ghost riders

          in the sky,

          want their words

          (their deeds) to

          live on after

          they die. Reams

          of paper, internet

          bytes, dramatic recordings

          of their musings

          archived at

          some elitist

          institutions of higher

          (counterfeit)

          learning. Oh, spare me,

          please, enough

          of their

          putrid

          self-serving

          horseshit!

          Tell them to

          shut up and

          be brave and

          take it like good

          old soldiers,

          who don’t ever die, but

          just fucking fade

          away.

         

 

 

Drinking Down the Street From

The Radio City Rockettes

 

by Doug Draime

 

 

They’re not on the streets,

the poets are at

a poetry slam. The rest of

us drunks are in

other bars

putting on a better

show than the poets.

I’m in a bar

where no one here knows

some people call

me a poet. I’m drinking shots of

Jameson’s and too drunk to care. I’m petrified

like a Douglas Fir ( get it? ).

The college kids, all of them

a bunch of drunks,

and potheads

move around me. They

speak; I smile and nod.

We’re getting along fine,

playing John Lee Hooker

on the jukebox

pounding on the bar

to the beat; having a much

better time I’m sure, than

the poets kicking up

their heels and smiling tortured smiles,

at the bar

down the street like the

Radio City Rockettes.

We’ve got them beat there, too,

as we look up at a

stunning 19-year-old blonde beauty

in a miniskirt, black boots, and

T-shirt

dancing on the bar

her thighs glistening

like a race horse.

 

 

Odds

 

by Doug Draime

 

 

There is no way

in the world to

settle with it,

no tight rational

explanation to

satisfy all that

ignorant, and dead

conventional

thought.

 

The fact

is, dice have a

predictable

ratio, only in

relation to where

and how they’re

being thrown.

 

Even if they’re thrown

hard, and against

iron clad walls

for half a century . . .

 

It’s then you see

the crushing odds,

and you know

you have

beaten them.

somehow. You know

with the certainty

of your continued

breath.

 

 

 

 

 

Killing the Poetry Professor

 

by Doug Draime

 

 

Buying six tickets instead of

the usual five weekly. The Mob

knew I could be trusted

for the money: six grand and a $400

leather briefcase.

 

It was impossible to have a relaxed

conversation with him. He jumped

around, showing me unpublished

manuscripts, dusty and yellow, written

forty years ago.

 

Louie was willing to back the six grand

with six of his own. Insurance is what

he called it. Besides, I knew the

.38 in his boot was known to go off

when the insurance premium didn’t pay off.

 

The restaurant was full but I found Flo at one

of the back tables. She was a little high, but

had the right answers. I got her out of there,

with the gun in my pocket,

pushing her into Johnny’s car.

 

By now the drinks would be lined up

and Benny would be telling

anyone within earshot, that he was really John

Dillinger’s little brother from Martinsville, Indiana.

 

Meant nothing to me, as long as he picked up the stuff

after his drumming gig on Santa Monica Boulevard.

 

He looked through his file cabinets for twenty

minutes, like I wasn’t even there, pulling out

books in French from the Dadaists and

Surrealists. He was rubbing his

arm and yawning a lot. I had nothing against

the old guy.

 

Morning found me with the gun under my pillow,

and Benny asleep on the floor,

faithful with his fix and stuff laying neatly by his

head. I left him there

and took a bus down to the club, walking up

the back, pushing the yellow button at the second floor.

 

She screamed, she didn’t want to talk about it,

and then casually put the stuff

on the back seat. Everything was closed up

tight, but we found the Hollywood

Ranch Market steaming with drug freaks. I still had the

gun, and I wouldn’t hesitate.

 

The professor was dead. All his old books of poetry

were burned. I was into it deep now, with nowhere

to voice my innocence. The cops thought I’d

pulled the trigger. It was bad enough I’d set up the

professor, but I didn’t shoot him, Flo pulled the trigger.  

 

 

 

 

Doug Draime's latest book, More Than the Alley, is a full-length selected collection from Interior Noise Press. There are also four chapbooks available: Dusk With Carol (Kendra Steiner Editions), Rock 'n Roll Jizz (Propaganda Press), Los Angeles Terminal: Poems 1971-1980 (Covert Press), and an online chap, Speed of Light (Right Hand Pointing). Doug Draime was awarded PEN grants in 1987, 1991, and 1992. In the last few years, he was nominated for several Pushcart Prizes.

In Association with Fossil Publications