By Bryan Price


As the interview was winding down, she ran her hand through her hair distractedly and asked if I’d ever met him—Jean Dagault. I said, once, in Ithaca. She asked me what it was like and I said what was what like? Meeting him or what was he like? She said both or either one and I said he was drunk. Drunk? she repeated. Worse than drunk, I replied. Was he violent? Oh, Jesus, yes. Did he speak to you? Sure, we got on quite well—at first. He’s a great hero of mine so I let the worst of it roll right off me. What’d you talk about, she asked. Oh, I don’t know. Most of it I shouldn’t repeat in a setting such as this, pointing at the little recorder on the table between us. I thought for a moment and then said, well we did talk a bit about T. S. Eliot. Not about his poetry—and definitely not about his plays (I made a retching sound). His politics, we talked about his awful politics. She said she wasn’t familiar with his politics and I told her, anti-capitalist, bordering on fascism—definitely theocratic. She asked what he drank, Dagault. I said, Pastis. You mix it with water and it becomes cloudy; has an anise flavor. And he smoked Russian cigarettes. Gold filters and pastel colored—lavender, pink, robin’s-egg blue. He was very vain. Smelled, not of cologne, but perfume: sweet, womanlike. Left it on everything he touched, like Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon. I pulled out an old playing card—the jack of spades—and held it up to her. She smelled it and I said, see? I pointed to her recording device and asked if she could turn it off and she obliged. I told her, you know it’s true what they say, you catch more flies with honey, etc. He loved to be flattered, Dagault. But mostly he liked to talk and be talked to. Not asked questions but talked to about lots of things—football for instance, he called it football of course, we call it soccer. That was the summer America thrashed Egypt three-nil. He was the only one cheering for Egypt’s side. And music. We talked about music. He loved the band Can—Jaki Liebezeit, Holger Czukay. He said I looked like Holger—I wore a moustache then and had longer hair. We talked a lot about Can—when he was sober. When he was drinking, and I mean really pounding it, he had only one speed—full-bore gonzo, and I mean crazy. I grew up among alcoholics, so I knew how to handle him, but most of my people were sweet drunks, nice drunks, very placid. The kind of depressed drinkers who just wanted you to let them keep on drinking so they knew how to behave themselves. Dagault had been babied from an early age because of his talent and fame so he just let it rip, let the id really take over. But he liked to dance. We went to the Chanticleer and danced upstairs. I don’t remember what music, stupid American music I think he called it. When he danced it was like he was burning off all the toxic substances in his brain and liver which put him on a more even keel, kept him from going off the deep end and ruining it for everyone else. We did poppers too. I’d gotten them in San Francisco, from a little porn shop in North Beach. They sold them as “VCR head cleaner” and I bought a whole box of them. They came in little brown bottles with green caps. We took Ecstasy a few times and chased the dragon once in the bathroom of an anthropology professor’s apartment. I lost about fifteen pounds on that trip. I drove out in an old Volkswagen Rabbit with a woman I was dating at the time named Dagmar. She had a comparative literature degree but was studying to be an esthetician. We met at a house on Missouri Street where a friend of a friend lived. Dagmar, who reminded me of Nico—dark-haired Nico not blonde—lived there as well. In a little room no bigger than a closet, you’d open the door and all that fit in it was a bed. She kept everything on a shelf above and hung her clothes on a little curtain rod. She was into all sorts of weird stuff that I had no idea about—shiatsu massage, cupping, hot yoga. She’s the one who turned me on to Can. Unfortunately, Dagault made about eight passes at her and she finally relented and that was the end of that for us—me and Dagmar. It’s funny when you get into those short, intense affairs and it feels so much like love, like you can’t imagine ever, ever being apart and then, just like that, pfft, up in smoke. I think they got married—in Reno. He’s one of those serial marriers. I was angry, of course, and it kind of turned me off the whole academia thing. I left Ithaca almost immediately, wandered the countryside in my Rabbit and ended up living on a farm in Kentucky with some old hippies I met selling jam on the side of the road outside of Huntington, West Virginia. I just wanted to disappear into the ether. Didn’t tell a soul. It was a big shingle-sided farmhouse where about eighteen of us lived. They also ran an off-the-books, zero-waste restaurant that had a ghost Michelin star. I slept on a feather mattress in the corner of the back room off the kitchen. The lady in charge did all the paperwork back there. She had one of those old adding machines that you’d feed rolled paper into. I’d look at those rolls of paper as I tried to fall asleep at night. It was lovely at first. The kind of hard work that puts you to bed by eight. The smell of coffee and woodsmoke every morning. The sound of people milling about with real purpose. Doing real work with dignity. A girl named April slept back there as well. She was from Tacoma and we hit it off right away. She was writing a book about communes and I asked her, is this a commune and she said that it was. Oh, I remember saying, I thought it was just a farm and she said it’s all in the intentions. After some time, not a particularly large amount, it became clear that the communal life wasn’t really for me but they’d converted my Rabbit to biodiesel and it wouldn’t make it home so I just took my leave one night on foot like a phantom, not really having a plan. I wasn’t much of a survivalist or even someone good at being alone so it was fortuitous that I was picked up just before dawn by a guy in a flatbed truck named Bobby something-or-other. Kinsley or Kissling. He looked like my kind of people. He had just dropped his load in Lexington and was heading home to Gary, Indiana, which was funny to me—maybe funny’s the wrong word. It was weird, I guess, or perhaps a coincidence because that was the summer Michael Jackson died, but we didn’t mention it.

Bryan D. Price is the author of A Plea for Secular Gods: Elegies (What Books, 2023) His stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Santa Monica Review, Diagram, American Chordata, Mississippi Review, Boulevard, and elsewhere. He lives in San Diego, California.