The Conversation Continues
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Well? Have you decided what we’re going to feed them yet? After all, you’re partly responsible for this study too, you know.
John Berbrich: First I think we need to establish what they eat in wild nature. They don’t look like carnivores. Perhaps they eat little cakes & muffins, along w/ a spot of tea now & then. Do ye think we should simply leave them on their own & see what happens? I do hope they don’t eat cubbyholes.
William Michaelian: They won’t if we make them pleasant and appealing enough. Maybe we should include little porches and balconies. And personally, I won’t mind if they smoke their pipes. The key will be keeping them busy. Yes, let’s arrange for 50,000 muffins to start, some with raisins and some without, a dozen or so kinds of tea, and plenty of bandages for the inevitable paper cuts.
John Berbrich: You’re a thoughtful fellow, Willie. I’m proud to know you. Okay, that’s 50,000 muffins, a half-ton of tea — assorted varieties — and 10,000 gallons of fresh water, along w/ the first-aid supplies, of course. Anything else? Some CD’s, cassette tapes — you know, some music to work by?
William Michaelian: Absolutely. In fact, I think we should issue each bearded esoteric cubbyhole dweller a banjo when he moves in. But this business about tea reminds me of something we’d better factor in — plumbing.
John Berbrich: Yowch! You’re right. We’ll need drains & lots of pipes — or at least gutters. Maybe if we build the entire structure on a slope, all the slop will simply run down & over the edge. Especially if we run little grooves down the primary thoroughfares. Whaddaya think?
William Michaelian: I think if we’re too casual about it, the valuable documents in each cubbyhole are liable to be, shall we say, compromised. No, we’ll have to go all-out on this and engineer an intricate maze of pipes and drains, miniature porcelain tubs, sinks — the works.
John Berbrich: Aww, alright. But I’m not doing any plumbing. I cannot solder a pipe-joint to save my life. And here’s another thing that’s been bothering me. How well do we know these bearded, esoteric, cubbyhole dwellers anyway? I mean, can we trust them? Do we have to appoint monitors to keep an eye on them, or maybe construct an elaborate surveillance system, complete w/ hidden cameras, microphones, DNA-recognition codes, & stuff like that? I mean, we’re dealing w/ important documents here.
William Michaelian: Of course. But we are both very good judges of character. After all, I trust you and you trust me. That shows advanced intellect and keen powers of observation right there. So, we simply make use of our natural ability and conduct a two-minute interview of each potential dweller. I also recommend that we pay them in script good at the Antique and Junk Poem Shop — unless you think that’s too generous, in which case they could work as unpaid interns, which would help them land prestigious jobs later on.
John Berbrich: I don’t mind paying them w/ stuff from the Junk Poem Shop — that way, to collect they’ll have to wait until we get the place opened up. We’re going to have like 50 bazillion of these cubbyhole dwellers. At two minutes per interview, that’s...that’s...uh...a long time. We’d better get started. So what do we do, put an ad in the paper? And what paper? What do these dwellers read?
William Michaelian: That’s what the interviews are for. Because after this study, we might want to do a study on the reading habits of bleary-eyed esoteric hubbycole drillers. I mean — aw, you know what I mean. But you’re right, we need to cut way back on interview length. Even at thirty seconds, the interviews could take years. Unless — yeah, this will work — after the first hundred interviews or so, we have the best hibbycool welders conduct interviews as well.
John Berbrich: You mean train them to do our work for us? Brilliant, Willie! In fact, we could get a whole squadron of these dwillers to run all aspects of this operation. Then, like fat CEO’s, we could sit back & rake in the dough while those chumps are breaking a sweat & eating stale bread & drinking recycled water.
William Michaelian: I see. Then again, water, by its very definition, is recycled. I think we’ve talked about this before, how water is an eternally recycled thing, always returning as the new. Whereas when bread goes bad, it really goes bad. It takes it a long time to become bread again.
John Berbrich: Okay, okay. Recycled water is redundant. Let’s just say “water” then, shall we? In this sense — & you’re right, we have discussed this — water is a magical substance. I wonder if our little dwillers will realize this. In fact, our entire enterprise is magical. In addition, now that I think of it, I can’t recall exactly why we started this undertaking in the first place. I mean, what precisely were we trying to do....?
William Michaelian: For heaven’s sake. What difference does that make? It’s not like we’ve ever followed through with anything — which, come to think of it, is another thing we’ve talked about. Although, I can’t help thinking this is different. Whatever it is. I think we’re going to actually do it this time. No. I’m sure of it. Oh, by the way, I received that Saroyan biography you sent me. What a pleasant surprise. When I first saw the envelope and your writing on it, I thought you’d gone crazy and published the thickest Yawp of all time.
John Berbrich: I’m not quite crazy yet, at least not entirely so. I was looking for your name in the index but couldn’t find it. Lots of great photos. You don’t have this book already, do you?
William Michaelian: I do, but it’s not really mine. A distant relative gave a copy to my brother, and somehow I ended up with it. So now I can give him his and keep this one. I appreciate this, because there’s quite a bit of it yet that I haven’t read. And my name is in the Saroyan reader that was published recently by Heyday Books, because a drawing of mine is included. What’s crazy about an ultra-thick Yawp? Slap one of those babies on the grill and you’ve got something.
John Berbrich: Now you’re making me hungry. I can imagine a fat Yawp, juicy, tasty, & healthy too. Maybe someday....
William Michaelian: Yes, perhaps in the form of some psychedelic, Yellow Submarine type of experience, with little cubbyhole dwellers knitting and stapling the words, while their hair rapidly grows and turns into spaghetti.
John Berbrich: Sounds like a bad trip, man. I just lost my appetite.
William Michaelian: But spaghetti has so many possibilities. For instance, can’t you picture Odysseus sailing across an ocean of spaghetti sauce, and then finally arriving at a shore of garlic bread?
John Berbrich: No, I can’t. But I can picture him trying to navigate between a putrid rock of Limburger cheese & a swirling whirlpool of Tequila, the Scylla & Charybdis of my palate.
William Michaelian: Wow. If his vessel even grazes that cheese, he’s finished. And what of those stars in his beard? How did they come to be there?
John Berbrich: He’s a sloppy eater, I guess. Crystallized poetic essences? Lost souls of Hades? Bits of moonlight putting down roots? Cosmic dust? Frozen Cyclops-sweat? Am I close?
William Michaelian: Yes. In fact, if you’d just step back a bit . . . there. Thanks. Say, wouldn’t that make a great museum display? A reconstructed vessel full of wax reproductions of Odysseus and his crew? In fact, that could be the museum. And all the while you’re on board, you feel the vessel rocking, and hear it creaking, straining, and then the light slowly changes as a storm approaches. Poseidon! What do you want from me?
John Berbrich: Yes, w/ the Sirens sweetly singing over the PA system: Come to the snack bar, come to the snack bar. Hard to resist.
William Michaelian: And once you walk through the museum doors, you’re gone, baby, you’re in there for ten years. Or so it seems. The people waiting in line think it’s only an hour or so.
John Berbrich: And there’s always some woman weaving in a corner & an archery range & a bunch of guys eating a huge meal at a gigantic table & this large one-eyed fellow who eats a lot of meat — quite a place, the old Homer Museum & Ancient Mediterranean Culinary Arts Emporium. Swords & spears checked at the door, sorry.
William Michaelian: I love it. Hey, in addition to the Culinary Arts Emporium, which I’m all for, why not a full-blown Culinary Arts School? Wait. Have you ever butchered a lamb?
John Berbrich: No. Have you? I have decapitated & defeathered some chickens though.
William Michaelian: As my brother-in-law is fond of saying, “Chickens deserve to be eaten.” No, I haven’t butchered a lamb, but I saw it done outside an ancient church in Armenia — by a priest, no less. Or maybe I dreamed it. I do have my share of strange dreams, some of which, recently, have been preserved as part of the Annandale Dream Gazette, as you’ll see if you slowly scroll down that page. Or, you could go directly here.
John Berbrich: Uh, wow. Dreams are so cool. I like yours. I can seldom remember mine. That’s a cool website. Maybe I should get me like a special notebook & then every morning try to scribble down the rag-ends of dreams before they scurry away. Do you write down yours immediately upon waking or what? How much of the content of yours is embellishment?
William Michaelian: Very little, really. And I only write down the ones that make a strong impression, usually sometime during the morning after the dream. Sometimes I’ll wake up from a dream in the middle of the night, and I can tell it’s something I’ll remember in the morning. Other times I’ll wake up from a dream in the morning, and then write about that. Of course, as the hours go by, dreams do fade. But for me, at least, the act of writing them down brings them back into focus. When I remember one part, it helps me remember other parts. The neat thing about having them together somewhere is that you can go back and read them in order, notice patterns, recurring images, that sort of thing.
John Berbrich: So you can, like, psychoanalyze yourself?
William Michaelian: Yes. I call it psyho-self-analysis. Actually, I just made that up. What possible reason would I have to pyschoanalyze myself? I have enough trouble as it is. No, rather, it’s like reading a story that you didn’t know you’d written.
John Berbrich: I see. Well, one reason to psychoanalyze yourself is to find out why you do the crazy things you do. But why in the world would anyone want to know that? Of course, it’s a lot cheaper than seeking help from a professional counselor, which is a good reason on its own. I mean — how dull would life be without personal idiosyncrasies? I’d go to a shrink if I was totally normal: “Doc, I don’t do the nutty things that I used to do. What’s wrong w/ me?”
William Michaelian: True, that would be cause for concern. Meanwhile, there’s something amusing, at least to me, about a person thinking he’s normal. Or profoundly tragic. I’m not sure which. Both, I guess.
John Berbrich: I tend to agree — it is both. It’s like life — one minute you’re laughing at it, & the next you want to cry. I guess people don’t make much sense. Well, we’ve had our first frost of the season this morning, September 20th 2008. Fortunately we covered the gardens last night & brought a lot of plants in. Cars sheathed in ice. The world was quiet & the moon radiated its white light as I walked the dogs. Got the woodstove going last night, a marvelous reason to defend the existence of cold weather.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. Your old rugged stove. The first fire of the season. What a delight. Our weather too has suddenly changed, though we’re at least a month away from our first frost. It’s been a warm, dry, dusty month, and now, all of a sudden, we’re inundated with fresh, cool ocean air. And the moon has been very bright. A haiku lantern.
John Berbrich: I love that ocean air. There’s nothing like seeing the ocean at night, the moon reflected in every wave-tip. Nothing else in the world, just the sea & the moon, & all you can hear is the jostling of the water, the roars & the hisses & the whispers. And that lantern you mentioned — it’s the only light you’ve got. Sand is grit between your bare toes, & it tickles as you walk in & out of the surf, the world breathing in & out & in & out......
William Michaelian: Beautiful. You’ve just written a symphony. Say, speaking of haiku lanterns, here’s a little poem I wrote a few days ago:
Today I will carry
this bright yellow leaf
and call it my
John Berbrich: Lovely, indeed. Haiku-like. I get a strong visual on that one. I like that word “lantern” anyway. If you carried a flashlight, say — well, it sounds like some mechanism. But to say lantern is far more evocative. I approve of the British word for flashlight: torch. Now there’s an image.
William Michaelian: Definitely. And I’ve always liked lantern too. Actually, the poem is a haiku, at least syllable-wise. Today I will carry this bright yellow leaf and call it my flashlight. You’re right. It doesn’t quite have the same ring. I recall that in Japanese, traditional haiku are written horizontally on one line.
John Berbrich: Huh. I thought they were written vertically on several lines. Perhaps they were written in concentric circles. Anyway, the proper word is so important. Close doesn’t cut it. Like Twain said, it’s the difference between the lightning & the lightning-bug.
William Michaelian: And Twain, we all know, was a closet haiku master — he even spoke Japanese. Of course haiku are written vertically! Isn’t that what I said? Vertilizontally, in sun-shaped explosions of light and sound. But the very earliest haiku were conceived as miniature sun dials, to be worn on the wrist. It was the arm that was held horizontally, thus creating the illusion of horizontal haiku.
John Berbrich: This is indeed esoteric knowledge. Have you been browsing Willipedia again?
William Michaelian: Browsing it, writing it, confronting it, listening to it late into the night, going on walks with it, having talks with it, binding it, unwinding it, consulting its unruly leaves. And sometimes I break off a piece, crush it, roll it, and smoke it.
John Berbrich: Say, could I try one of those.....?
William Michaelian: Please, be my guest. When I think of all the work there is yet to be done — well, I simply go mad, that’s all. Mad with joy, because, what could be better than being faced with an impossible mountain of work — work you love, even if it happens to be absolutely senseless?
John Berbrich: Thanks. My problem is that I like to work on different mountains, so momentum can be a problem. I know that’s not the Zen way, but it happens. Got a light...?
William Michaelian: Here. Use my lantern. It converts into an all-weather road map. It’s also a guide to palm-reading.
John Berbrich: Yow — that’s hot! My palm’s never been read before — but now it’s red, get it?
William Michaelian: Red palms, date palms, palm sundaes at your favorite ice cream shop. Palm it off on someone. “He palmed it.” Lip palm. A palm for the spirit. “I find your work palmesque,” he said, betraying much turmoil. Palm oil. Frantic palms. Cinematic palms. Nomadic palms. . . . Ah, here it is. I knew I’d find it eventually. Palmeranian. A fluffy little dog used for sniffing smuggled coconuts.
John Berbrich: Man, that Willipedia is sure amazing. There’s simply everything in there. Tell me, do you verify your information w/ three separate reliable sources or do you just know what’s true, like some sort of oracle or sage or prophet or whatever?
William Michaelian: Well, let’s just say that I have certain “standards.” I do think that reliability is the one thing that will drain the life out of a project quicker than anything. I do want people to rely on Willipedia, but not on its reliability. Besides, we all know how often something considered reliable one day is recognized as a fraud the next. So if you rely on reliable sources, it’s pretty much a guarantee of future unreliability. It’s far better to be unreliable now, and to revel in that unreliability.
John Berbrich: I think you’re quite right about all this; although tomorrow you may be proven dead wrong. Ah, what the heck — it’s all subjective anyway. Everything’s relative. As you say — let’s revel in the mud.
William Michaelian: Yes. And besides, if I’m right today and wrong tomorrow, that certainly doesn’t mean I won’t be right again the next day or a year from now. But let one thing be clear: I will never be wrong deliberately. Casually, yes. Hastily. Perhaps even phonetically. By the way, earlier today I was kicking myself for not learning Latin. I didn’t go on and on about it, but it is sort of a minor disgrace. Not that it’s too late. I was reading something — jeez, now I don’t even remember what it was — and it suddenly popped into my mind, You fool, why didn’t you study Latin? Do you suppose this is meaningful in any way? Should I be concerned?
John Berbrich: Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis.
William Michaelian: Good wine gladdens a person’s heart? Now if they’d preach that from the altar . . .
John Berbrich: ....we’d all be saints, right?
William Michaelian: You mean we aren’t already?
John Berbrich: Well, I mean — how can you tell? There must be an official list somewhere, probably in Rome. Jeez — if you had been elected to sainthood, you’d think they’d let you know. Send at least a postcard or something.
William Michaelian: It’s the least they could do. Or how about this: we start the Society of Living Saints, and issue postcards notifying all inductees of their new status.
John Berbrich: Sounds great. But first off, we need to define what we mean by Saint. Also — who’s going to select them? And third — who’s going to pay for all this postage?
William Michaelian: I don’t know. It sounds like we’ll have to form a committee. Or several committees. The Committee to Define Sainthood. The Sainthood Selection Committee. The Committee of Finance. The Committee of Committee Selection. And we’ll make them big, so there will be more people to blame.
John Berbrich: But won’t that take the fun out of it — I mean, making it all so big? Kind of reminds me of our esoteric cubbyhole dwellers. It was a great idea & all, but the project grew to be so large & so complicated that — well, we all know how it turned out. If you continue to dream up redundant bureaucracies, Willie, you’ll find yourself w/ a government job in no time.
William Michaelian: Good point. Maybe we should combine the saint idea with the cubbyhole idea. You know, make it a study of saints studying studies. Studious esoteric cubbyhole saints.
John Berbrich: Yeah, that’s fine, but the problem is that we don’t have the time to interview bazillions of candidates for the cubbyhole dwellers position. Remember? So I think that combining the two projects will merely increase our problems. Unless we hire a team or committee to do the interviewing for us. Or did we already decide to do that? I’m getting lost here, Willie. Although I can picture the cubbyholes as caves, & the dwellers as these hermit types. They do a lot of chanting. Imagine endless rows of these caves — up, down, in all directions. Sort of an intimation of infinity.
William Michaelian: A naturally occurring hive of bearded esoteric cave-dwelling chanting hermit saints, in other words. You’re right. I have been complicating things.
John Berbrich: No, not the saints — they’re naturally organic. I mean the entire process, the unwieldy selection procedure. And copyright issues could turn into a nightmare. It’s all so complicated. Sometimes I just wanna go dwell in a cave, you know, & chant some kind of — oh, I don’t know — some kind of esoteric stuff. And I’ll grow my beard till I’m tripping over it. In other words, I’ll turn into some sort of hermit.
William Michaelian: Well, that’s not too far from the way I live now. But now it’s my turn to ask a practical question: if you’re living in a cave, what will happen to the Yawp? That new issue you just sent out is another winner.
John Berbrich: Oh, glad you liked it. Some strong fiction, I think. Yeah — I don’t know just how we’d keep it going if we lived in a cave. Mail service would be irregular, I’m sure. So — you like the cover?
William Michaelian: I do. It looks like an ancient map of migrating continents. What did you guys spill on there, anyway? And the two haiku on the back — that’s a nice touch.
John Berbrich: I thought so, too. We didn’t spill anything; the paper was burned w/ a match. And I noticed the mappish look too — entirely accidental, I assure you. Serendipitous, you might say.
William Michaelian: Yeah? I thought sure you were trying to suggest something massive, something of gigantic continental proportion. In any case, it’s a solid issue, very consistent. I did list it in Recently Banned Literature, along with all the contributors’ names. You’ll see it if you scroll down to the September 22 entry.
John Berbrich: Cool, Willie, thanks. Any favorite poems or stories at this point?
William Michaelian: That’s a tough one. I like too many of them. “Twice in the Sixties,” the poem by James Lenfestey, is quite nice. But so are the others, for various reasons. Lots of different perspectives, styles, and approaches. A healthy, vigorous yawp.
John Berbrich: Good to hear. How it brings a smile to my kisser!
William Michaelian: Good! That reminds me of Paul’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night, when he and Ringo were in the police station and he said, “You have sadism stamped all over your bloated British kisser.” And now may I ask how this match situation developed with the cover?
John Berbrich: Actually, it’s an amazing story. This was not the original cover for the magazine. I wanted a cover that looked old, & so had crinkled a piece of paper into a ball & sprayed it w/ water & just generally abused it. The paper looked fairly cool, but not really what I wanted. Anyway, we were way behind schedule (as you know), so we started printing the covers & assembling the magazines. The fellow next door — Lucas Manning, the owner of the Partridge Café — was over our house visiting. He’s pretty creative & began to fiddle w/ paper & matches, & before you know it, he had created an improved cover. So we ceased production on the original cover, I think we ran about 12, & used his updated version. Unfortunately, the text had already been completed & printed so we were unable to give him credit on the title page. So really I welcome this opportunity to announce to the world: the cover artist for the July 2008 issue of Barbaric Yawp is Lucas Manning!
William Michaelian: Fantastic! And I’m glad you’re thinking along these lines. Burnt covers, soaked covers, frozen covers, roasted and salted covers, covers buried in the backyard and then exhumed at press time, covers pinned beneath windshield wipers — there’s simply no end to the possibilities.
John Berbrich: Indeed. Over the past couple of years we ran a cover w/ snowflake postage stamps drifting down like a light flurry, another w/ twisting strands of colored yarn, & yet another w/ actual photocopies of brightly colored autumn leaves. You’re quite right — the possibilities are endless.
William Michaelian: I like those covers you mention, especially the snowflake postage stamps. And I just thought of another idea. The only drawback is that it doesn’t require mutilation — not that you couldn’t mutilate the cover anyway. But why not print a cover featuring translations of the words “Barbaric Yawp” into as many different languages as you can find? I just visited Alta Vista’s Babelfish and it turned up some nice results in Italian, Traditional Chinese, and Greek. Of course they’re probably meaningless, or at least misleading, but what the heck? Just type in the words, choose your to and from languages in the little drop-down menu, and there you are.
John Berbrich: Hmmm. Pretty good idea. The only problem is that now we’d have to give you the credit. Oh, I suppose I could handle that.
William Michaelian: Thanks for the vote of confidence. But remember, you gave me cover credit once before and it hasn’t ruined you. Not completely, anyway. Embarrassed you, shamed you, earned you a certain amount of ridicule, yes.
John Berbrich: Okay okay. I’ll think it over. Now that October’s here we’d better get busy thinking about the October issue, what do you think? I keep getting the feeling that we’re catching up but that doesn’t really seem to be happening. If we had a big staff here I’d fire everyone, embezzle a fortune from myself, & start over.
William Michaelian: Well, actually, I was going to suggest that you bring in a few dozen young publishing interns. I’m sure there are plenty of college students in the area who would jump at the opportunity to work for an important publishing house.
John Berbrich: Oh yeah, I’m sure there’re scads of them. Actually that would be fun, having someone else assemble the magazines — do all the folding & stapling & addressing of envelopes & whatnot — while I kick back w/ a few cold frosty ones. You wanna try it, Willie? The pay is lousy, but we’ve plenty of hummus & crackers & stuff.
William Michaelian: Excellent! The thing is, I’d love to do it. Heck, the work is the pay, as far as I’m concerned. Meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to ask, how did your Poetry for Peace gathering go on October 1? I read about it in your SLAP blog.
John Berbrich: Oh, we had a great time. The usual moderator couldn’t make it, so she asked me & another SLAP member, JeanMarie Martello, to show Theo Hummer, a visiting teacher from Cornell, how to handle the moderator’s chores. Theo did a fine job. She kicked off the event w/ some poems written by American soldiers in Iraq. The gathering was small & therefore more intimate than some. A girl from Nepal read a poem she had written only a couple of weeks before, a poem dealing w/ homesickness & something more. It was a highlight.
William Michaelian: Homesickness and something more. I like that. I also like the name Theo Hummer. Naturally, every time I hear the name Theo, I think of Vincent’s brother.
John Berbrich: Naturally. I remember reading some of their letters to each other. As I recall, Theo didn’t like the arrangement Vincent had, living w/ a woman & her child, I believe. And Vincent put her out, because he required his brother’s approval & patronage. A rotten deal.
William Michaelian: And what became of that child, I wonder. These things bother me. Not in the sense that I can do something about them, but I can’t seem to help spinning out imagined versions of their lives. In fact, I still think of the people I’ve written about in stories and poems and wonder how they’re doing. Certainly their lives didn’t stop there. Most likely, once they escape my clutches, they go on to much bigger and better things.
John Berbrich: Why don’t you plan some sort of reunion? Get the old crew together for a gargantuan prose bash. They could exchange stories & catch up on all the news. You might find a few surprises there. Work in a couple of kegs while you’re at it.
William Michaelian: Great idea. Do you think I’d be safe? I mean, there’s bound to be a few resentful, grudge-bearing characters just dying to get even with me. But I guess that’s where the kegs come in. You know, I’m beginning to think you like beer. Pilsner is certainly a nice word.
John Berbrich: Every word connected w/ beer is a nice word: ale, stout, foam, brew, flagon, mug, stein, malt, & so on. It’s a poem, it is.
William Michaelian: Aye. What would really be nice is to go on a historical beer-tasting tour, leisurely wandering back through time, sipping our way to the origin of beerhood. I think we’d be amazed and surprised at some of the flavors — and effects.
John Berbrich: Sign me up! I agree — the results would be a total surprise. We’d have to try out some Dyonisian wine cult. And imagine drinking mead w/ real Vikings. I’m getting thirsty all of a sudden.
William Michaelian: Me too. What an adventure. What a history lesson. I suppose, like so many good things, beer began as an accident.
John Berbrich: I’ve often wondered about that. Somebody found fruit rotting in water or something & decided to slurp it down & said, “Man, this is great! Browwk, you’ve got to try this.” Browwk ended up carrying his buddy back to the cave that night, but history had been made. We reap the benefits of the inspiration of these ancient geniuses.
William Michaelian: Fruit rotting in water — an appealing recipe. And I imagine some of these hearty souls from the past would scratch their heads at the sissy types of beer that are available now. As I’ve said many times before, there’s nothing like a good heavy stout to pour on your Sunday morning pancakes. Browwk Malt Liquor.
John Berbrich: Heavy & satisfying, w/ a foamy head that won’t quit. Brewed only in BoneWorld.
William Michaelian: What a great name for a brewing company. All I ask is that you let me be your West Coast distributor.
John Berbrich: It’s a deal. Think of all the fun we could have dreaming up fanciful descriptive names: MuscleHead Stout, Barbaric Ale, Hops & Yawps, & Burnt Elf Cream. I don’t think we need any light beers, do you?
William Michaelian: Heck no. But maybe just for fun we should have one that we call light, but which will really knock your socks off. And this opens up an exciting new avenue for literary publishing. Just think of the stuff we can print under the bottlecaps, and on the labels.
John Berbrich: And on the underside of the labels! You have to finish the beer before you can read the poem.
William Michaelian: Sure! And the more of them you drink, the clearer their meaning becomes. Brilliant!
John Berbrich: Willie, I think we’ve finally hit on the perfect scheme! People love to drink beer, & this is our way to seduce them into enjoying good literature again. We’ll start off small, but grow rapidly into a major player amongst the heavy commercial hitters. People will always need beer. This crazy rollercoaster economy needs something to stabilize it, & that’s us!
William Michaelian: Beer as a public service. You’re absolutely right. As a cultural force. As a bright awakening. As one heck of a money-maker, because you’ve taken us from quaint barrels to giant vats in one simple sentence. From microbrew to collosalbrew. From Basho to Whitman at the wave of a hand.
John Berbrich: And to think that it all started w/ Browwk & his nameless prehistoric companion. Willie, I’m....humbled.
William Michaelian: Yep. Me too. So — I guess we’d better start saving our empties. We’re gonna need something to put the beer in.
John Berbrich: You’re quite right. I have a couple cases out on the porch. Better buy a few more full ones & empty them as quickly as possible.
William Michaelian: Between us, we’ll soon have plenty. Now what should we brew the beer in? Do you have any bathtubs or barrels that aren’t in use?
John Berbrich: Hmmmm. I think we have an old kitchen sink out in the barn. It’s pretty big, but probably not large enough for our purposes. I know — down in the cellar there’s an old refrigerator. If we pull out all the racks & lay it on its side....
William Michaelian: Well, I don’t know. That sounds like it would make a pretty good bookshelf.
John Berbrich: There’s that to consider, you’re right. There’s really nothing wrong w/ a commercial venture. I mean, we weren’t planning on making any money at the Junk Poem Shop anyway. So Books & Brew will provide a little cash to live on. We’ll sell used books & homebrewed beer. This combo will attract the coolest people. But first we’ve got to find a tub or something.....
William Michaelian: I guess we’ll have to start going to estate sales, yard sales, garage sales, rummage sales, plumbing sales . . . We can pick up all sorts of sinks and tubs. We’ll need different ones to keep the various types of beer separate anyway. How about a horse trough? Or a kayak or canoe? A little awkward, maybe. A kettle drum? Timpany Ale.
John Berbrich: I like that. How about bongo beer? Bongo brew? Sounds retro. Anyway, I don’t have a horse trough, but we do have a rusty plenum from an old furnace out in the garage. But that might leak. I think you’re right, we may have to enlist the wives to go yard-saling for suitable receptacles. When is yours available?
William Michaelian: Well, let’s see. She’s out scouring the countryside for old dictionaries right now. But as soon as she gets back — if indeed she makes that foolish decision — I’m sure she’ll be glad to team up with your loving bride. Bongo Stout?
John Berbrich: Yeah, it would fit in w/ our line of musical beers: crescendo malt, coda cream, allegro ale, & the like. Aye, & we might want to consider bottles shaped in new & exciting ways, like maybe musical notation or Viking horns. And we need the poems for under the bottle caps & so on. This whole business is just taking off on its own. As a consequence I hear the stock market has stabilized, a little.
William Michaelian: Indeed, its lustful, weary eyes are upon us. I’ve received thirty calls just in the last ten minutes. “Do it!” they cry. “What are you waiting for?” Bottle contracts, bathtub contracts, labeling elves — I mean machines.
John Berbrich: Oh yeah — those elves in your closet....are they ready for this new challenge?
William Michaelian: Of course they’re ready! But you make it sound like I’m the only one around with elves in his closet. Is it really that unusual?
John Berbrich: Well, I know a girl w/ dwarfs in her closet, but it’s not really the same thing.
William Michaelian: No, I suppose not. It also depends on if they’re in there willingly.
John Berbrich: Yes, yes — & how many you’ve got in there & all of that. Apparently there’s some sort of ratio of an inverse proportion of elves (or dwarfs, whatever) to cubic centimeters in the closet. OSHA is evidently developing more rigorous guidelines in an attempt to crack down on all sorts of abuse.
William Michaelian: As usual, the elves get away with playing the victims. Does anyone ever ask the closet owner if he put the elves in there, or invited them to stay? No, of course not.
John Berbrich: You’re quite right, Willie. This sort of reverse bias thing gets me hopping mad. And another thing — why is it that everyone’s heard of dwarf-tossing, yet I’ve never heard a single time anyone mention elf-tossing? That’s hardly fair.
William Michaelian: Uh, I hate to say this, but I’ve never heard of dwarf-tossing. Is it an East Coast thing?
John Berbrich: Well, I really don’t know a lot about it, but the dwarf-tossing craze seemed to come & go in the 90’s. I’m surprised you don’t remember it. As I recall the whole thing was pretty big in Australia, although many regions outlawed it, which seemed draconian to me since the whole transaction was voluntary. At least, it seemed voluntary on the surface. Now that’s a topic for some kind of documentary: The Dark Side of Dwarf-tossing.
William Michaelian: Right you are. And it implies there’s a light side, which I suppose there can be, since you say it was voluntary. Have you seen pictures of this activity, or ceremony, or competition, or whatever it is? Omigosh — there’s a page about it on Wikipedia! I don’t know. I just can’t bring myself to read it.
John Berbrich: Wow, thanks. See what you’ve been missing? You really should read that article. I can’t see why anyone would want to legislate against dwarf-tossing. I mean, as I said, the activity is entirely voluntary — at least in principle. And it’s probably good exercise as well. Can you imagine the cops busting into a bar cuz someone’s tossing around a dwarf? Do you ever feel like you’re living inside a Kurt Vonnegut novel?
William Michaelian: Well, really, there’s no definitive proof that we aren’t. We can say we aren’t, and give all the usual grand and mundane reasons, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t putting those words into our mouths.
John Berbrich: Yes, but it could very well be Richard Brautigan writing us into a novel & making us think that we’re in a Vonnegut novel.
William Michaelian: I’d prefer that, actually. The other way would be too simple. Brautigut.
John Berbrich: Jeez, that would be an interesting place. Strange things would happen, but the world’s heart would be in the right place. Aliens in orbit & thousands of sheep in the road. The world of Brautigut.
William Michaelian: Melancholy aliens sitting on the steps of the San Francisco Public Library.
John Berbrich: Waiting for legless aliens to wheel their way up the handicap ramps.
William Michaelian: While smoking what’s left of their celestial charts.
John Berbrich: ....And angling for galactic trout, that rare species of aquatic fish, summering in cold Plutonian streams, flipping & flapping down Rigelian waterways, eluding the hook, sucking up vast quantities of Venusian silverfish, which are used only as bait by experienced fisherfolk but loved by the hungry trout....
William Michaelian: Ah, yes — and now I want you to hold that beautiful thought, whilst I present a bit of very pertinent Mencken, from back in Prohibition days. It was in my daily e-mail from Today in Literature.
“Last Sunday I manufactured five gallons of Methodistbrau. It turned out to be very tasty ... but I bottled it too soon, and the result has been a series of fearful explosions. Last night I had three quart bottles in my side yard, cooling in a bucket. Two went off at once, bringing my neighbor out of his house with yells. He thought that Soviets had seized the town. I have lost about 12 good Apollinaris bottles, but still trust in God. Next time I shall wait until fermentation is finished. Just now another blew up in my cellar. However, I have the bottle covered with bags, and there is no damage. I invited two beer fanatics to test the stuff last night. I opened the bottle wearing heavy automobile gloves and with bagging and a fire-screen to protect me. When the stopper was thrown back, all save about two gills blew out. But the fanatics pronounced the two gills very soothing.”
John Berbrich: Very. What fun they had in the old days. Today you merely purchase a container of factory-made brew, swallow the contents down, then return the bottles for the deposit. But making your own, especially w/ government agents prowling the neighborhood — how delicious. We had one batch explode maybe 10 years ago. It did sound like a series of gunshots. The thought of it still saddens me. I recall that beautiful amber liquid spreading across the floor.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. Melancholy brewmasters sitting on the cellar steps, smoking what’s left of their unstapled Yawps.
John Berbrich: Totally barbaric scene. Speaking of Mencken, I love how he talks about the cops of the old days. They didn’t seem too concerned w/ obeying laws. In general they all seemed like good-natured, easy-going souls, looking the other way when stumbling across houses of prostitution or maybe a boatload of smugglers — so long as they got their cut. But there was no hesitation if someone needed a good clubbing.
William Michaelian: Definitely. You want a good vigorous police force that’s full of pastrami. Hands like meat hooks. Thick necks, a little red in the face after a quick dash upstairs to restore order. First-name basis with the White Sox.
John Berbrich: Well put. Mencken’s hometown was Baltimore, a rough enough place from what I gather. Chicago is another name full of urban menace. Corruption, crooked politics, union bosses, lead pipes, the rackets. Government has pretty much made these gangsters obsolete.
William Michaelian: Yes, they’ve taken all the lead out of the pipes. Regulations, you know. Changed the business forever.
John Berbrich: Yeah, well they’ve taken over all the old rackets. For loaning money at current interest rates, people used to go to jail. And I don’t think they watched movies there, either. But you’re right about the lead. I’m not sure what they’ve replaced it with. Probably something warm & fuzzy....
William Michaelian: But you know, that’s a good thought. Maybe we should start manufacturing weapons that look threatening, but can’t hurt anybody.
John Berbrich: Why would anyone want to do that?
William Michaelian: What — hurt anybody, or use a flannel machine gun?
John Berbrich: Use a flannel machine gun. Well, I suppose that bluff is important in the world of business & finance. And I know that it’s always important to appear to be a bad dude, wherever you are, just so folks leave you alone. No one consciously pokes a mad dog. It’s some old jungle law. So if I walk down the street twirling a cotton candy sword, the idea is that people won’t hassle me, right? And you want to start manufacturing these items, correct?
William Michaelian: Well, I wasn’t really thinking in terms of edible weapons, but that’s not such a bad idea either. But I sense — just sense, mind you — that you think my idea is a little less than practical. That tells me it’s a good one. Maybe even brilliant. At least for a movie or cartoon.
John Berbrich: Or a new William Michaelian chapbook. Edible Weapons does have a ring. How can you pass it up?
William Michaelian: By golly, that does sound tempting. Maybe it could be some sort of non-violent cookbook. You know how violent cookbooks are.
John Berbrich: Yeah, I know. Every page something is being beaten, pounded, mashed, or sliced w/ a knife. You could explore gentle, holistic methods of food preparation. Who knows, if the book catches on you might end up w/ your own TV show.
William Michaelian: For some reason this reminds me of when our daughter, years ago, made some beautiful mud pies in her kitchen in our backyard and baked them on a board in the sun, and then told the little neighbor boy he should have a piece. He did! His family moved away not long after that.
John Berbrich: So, organic food preparation runs in your family. I knew it! Has your daughter progressed to making edible food?
William Michaelian: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, she now has a whole line of mud pies, cakes, crisps, strudels, streusels, cream puffs, turnovers . . .
John Berbrich: And all the neighbors have moved away by now...?
William Michaelian: Every last one. Except for two or three who are too sick to leave. The trouble is, her clientele is too young to have their own bank accounts.
John Berbrich: Ah, then they’ll be resorting to thievery to maintain that mud-pie habit. Expect a lot of burglaries & backyard pilfering. It’s a nasty business, it is. You guys vote yet out in Oregon?
William Michaelian: Yep. People here love to vote. In fact, we voted for an end to campaign advertising, and we won!
John Berbrich: Good for you! I have the impression that Oregonians stick together when it comes to protecting their homeland, i.e. state. True?
William Michaelian: It must be, if you have that impression. Some pretty good things do take root and happen here. There’s a good spirit about the place. Not a big population, but people around the country seem to know what Oregon is up to, and sometimes follow the state’s lead. At least that’s what it says here in this brochure.
John Berbrich: Did you write the brochure? Say, what was that Bob Dylan book you were reading several pages ago?
William Michaelian: You must mean Chronicles: Volume One. In fact, I see the title has a page in Wikipedia. Why? Are you planning to read it?
John Berbrich: I’m up to page 75. I love the book. The writing is so fluid. He writes in such a casual, vivid manner. I love reading about the old days & the people he knew in Greenwich Village: Dave Van Ronk, Tiny Tim, Harry Belafonte, Richie Havens. The whole time period comes alive.
William Michaelian: He’s a heck of a writer, no doubt about it. And, like Woody Guthrie, you get the feeling that he’ll never let the truth get in the way of a good story, or the legend. As it should be.
John Berbrich: You’re right there. And I love those lengthy digressions. Dylan looks at his pal’s stacked book shelves & goes off into a reverie about literature & the development of his own reading. 10 pages later you’re back in the Village apartment, looking over the titles, smelling the bacon someone’s frying in the next room. I’ll finish this book quickly.
William Michaelian: It’s pretty hard not to. And there’s no shortage of humor either. You know, I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that he still hosts a radio show.
John Berbrich: Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. I’ve gained a new respect for Dylan. I always respected him, but now maybe for different things. He always seemed to be a lonely figure, just him & his guitar against the world. He seems like less of a revolutionary figure now, more of a pure musician. He really loved that old folk music.
William Michaelian: He really studied it early on. I remember him saying something about taking apart those old Robert Johnson songs, trying to understand what made them work.
John Berbrich: Yeah. And Lonnie Johnson, who taught Robert Johnson a few things, personally showed Dylan some secret way to play guitar, something about playing odd notes instead of even notes. I got kind of lost at that point. But Dylan seemed to know what was going on & said that it made all the difference. Made it sound as though you couldn’t hardly play a wrong note, which would be mighty handy, especially in performance.
William Michaelian: Speaking of performance, I think the job he did on “Desolation Row” live back in 1966 was incredibly good. It’s like being in some sort of Surrealist café. And “Visions of Johanna” too. For the whole acoustic portion of the show, he just did the songs, with no talking in between. People loved it. And then they turned around and booed when he came back for the electric set.
John Berbrich: I’m not sure I know which recording you’re talking about. Do you mean the Newport Jazz Festival? I heard that there was trouble cuz the crowd wasn’t expecting an electric
William Michaelian: Not than one. Actually, I think it was England. I’ll have to check. Our youngest son has the album. The acoustic work is truly inspired, focused, outstanding. I think Dylan writes about recording sessions in New Orleans, too, if I remember correctly.
John Berbrich: In Chronicles, yeah. That’s an interesting digression, too. Dylan flips all over the place while writing this book. It’s anything but chronological. He almost never mentions the year, & the narrative is not sequential. Even so, its pages are filled w/ close observation & a lot of fascinating detail about songs, music, & music people. And do you recall how minutely Dylan describes every room he’s ever been in? He gives you the furniture, the carpet, the types of cabinets & windows. In the tradition of Balzac.
William Michaelian: Just one more reason I hope he writes Volume Two. Ah — here we go: the performance was on May 17, 1966, in Manchester, England.
John Berbrich: I think I was cutting class that day. It was a beautiful spring day as I recall. Warm & sunny, w/ a tangy sea-breeze. Dylan did quite a bit of travelling as a young man. I love the part where he just arrives in New York & he has fun w/ an interviewer, telling the guy a bunch of tall tales. Like he had been a construction worker in Detroit. Beautiful.
William Michaelian: Indeed. Or the quickly acquired skill of finding a place to spend the night as soon as he’d wash ashore in some new place. I might have been throwing a tennis ball against our chimney on the day he gave that concert. I use to conduct entire nine-inning games against myself. The batter was a life-sized chalk figure, glaring back at me. If he gave me a dirty look, I hit the dirty rotten S.O.B.
John Berbrich: Good for you! I played the same sort of game, only I threw the ball against our front stoop. If you hit the edge of the concrete step just right, the ball could really travel. Any ball hitting the sidewalk on a fly was a double. If it hit the narrow grassy area between the sidewalk & the street, you had a triple. And of course a shot that landed in the street was considered a homer. This was an interesting diversion when no one else was around.
William Michaelian: Well, you see, you had a full-fledged game going there. All I could do was pitch strikeouts or walks — or, like I said, I could bean the guy. I really must give credit to my parents, who were on the other side of that wall, listening to my pounding on long summer evenings. We also had a fantastic little golf course under our walnut and ash trees. Maybe I’ve mentioned it before. Nine holes of varying distances and degrees of difficulty, tomato sauce cans dug into the ground for the holes, croquet mallets for the clubs.
John Berbrich: You may have mentioned this several dozen pages ago. Tomato cans & croquet mallets, eh? What did you use for golf balls?
William Michaelian: Strange as it seems, we actually used a golf ball. It’s funny — I can still remember the sound the ball made going into those little cans.
John Berbrich: Kind of sounds like a poetic moment, no pun intended. I presume you played against yourself. Did you pretend to be an outstanding golfer extant at the time — Arnold Palmer, Sammy Sneed, or maybe Jack Nicklaus?
William Michaelian: No, we hated their shirts. I did play alone from time to time, but generally the matches were between my brothers and me, and once in awhile even the old man would play. Mom, never. At the beginning of each season there was a ceremony: find the cans, which were filled with dirt and debris from the winter, and dig them out with a trowel. Talk about aromatic.
John Berbrich: Wow. Sounds pretty elaborate. I wonder if this is a Michaelian family tradition that has survived into the 21st century. Have you played this tomato-can golf w/ any of your kids? W/ Dollface?
William Michaelian: Afraid not. The game requires a bone-dry dirt course, blistering heat, the deep shade of walnut and ash trees, ten thousand sparrows, and a vineyard nearby.
John Berbrich: Maybe we could fix up a course when we get going on the Antique & Junk Poem Shop. Sell beer right on the fairway. I can imagine Dylan Thomas getting into a spat w/, say, Norman Mailer. Nasty altercation. Then they’ll buy each other drinks & everything will be cool. How many holes did you guys play?
William Michaelian: In the early days, before the pines grew together on the last leg, there were nine holes. The first hole was just over the septic tank. The second was at the base of one of the walnut trees; the trick was to hit the ball up past the hole and let it roll back down in. The third hole wasn’t far from the baseball chimney. It was a fairly basic shot, unless you hit it too hard and it went into the jungle of plants along the foundation of the house. Then back across toward the vineyard for the fourth hole — a straight flat shot. The fifth hole was the long hole, and very tricky, because the ground rose and it was right next to the buckled curb at the end of the lawn. A hole-in-one there was a major event. Typically we’d manage five or so in a summer. The sixth hole was — oh, well, this is getting ridiculous. I do still consider the Antique & Junk Poem Shop one of our most important projects, along with the filming of Paddy Dignam’s Hearse.
John Berbrich: I agree, but it’s all somewhat depressing — when are we going to start one of these projects? I mean, at this rate, we’ll never do anything. We’re just sitting around, drinking, & talking about drinking, holes-in-one, & fist fights. When we finally do build the Junk Poem shop, we’ve got to be sure to write about the entire process. That would make a great book. Interviewing each other: you me, me you. Fascinating.
William Michaelian: Granted, it’s been a rather long preparatory period. But I’ve enjoyed myself immensely these past five years, or however long it’s been. But what a great idea, us actually interviewing each other. I mean, you know, simultaneously, where we ask each other questions on subjects unrelated to what’s going on in the other interview. Or maybe they could sort of run parallel, the two interviews from time to time seeming like they might converge, only they never do. Or we could, as you suggested, actually do something. I wonder what that would be like.
John Berbrich: I have this feeling that we’ll never find out. To actually do something takes planning & motivation. Of course, it’s fun just sitting back & making elaborate plans, isn’t it? I mean, it’s better than just doing nothing.
William Michaelian: Elaborate planning of an undetermined outcome is an art, as far as I’m concerned. Meanwhile, the trick, I think, is to redefine accomplishment. You know — the old less-is-more approach.
John Berbrich: There’s a lot to say in defense of that approach. I mean, every time you actually do something, there’s nearly always some kind of unforeseen negative consequence. As for me, I’ve always tried to live by the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm.” So by not really doing anything, you certainly harm no one. Just think — if people had merely dreamt about going to the moon instead of actually traveling there, you wouldn’t have all that metal & those golf balls strewn over the lunar landscape. It would be a pristine planetoid.
William Michaelian: Yeah, and all those Tang containers. You remember Tang, I’m sure. The breakfast drink of astronauts. I think you’re right about unforeseen negative consequences arising from one’s actions. But if that’s the case, it seems logical that there could be unforeseen positive consequences as well.
John Berbrich: Sure. And that’s known as serendipity.
William Michaelian: Another great word. A happy word. According to Wikipedia, we have Horace Walpole to thank for it: “The word derives from Serendip, the old Persian name for Sri Lanka, and was coined by Horace Walpole on 28 January 1754 . . .” And in his own words — “It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of . . .”
John Berbrich: I guess serendipity could be considered an attitude. But that’s the way of life; everything you bump into is either a disaster or a miracle. Although w/ some people everything they bump into is a big fat nothing. They are totally insensitive to the wonders & terrors of the world. Ambulatory sausages. Or something.
William Michaelian: That ambulatory sausage state — would you say that’s inherited, learned, or what? Both, maybe.
John Berbrich: I think it’s mostly learned. Kids learn by imitation & most of the people they spend their time w/ are dull. Of course we all may have some torpid genes in us, but primarily it’s a learned behavior. Dull sheep, grazing, in dull herds.
William Michaelian: Hmm. If that’s the case, I wonder why dullness became the norm rather than alertness. Something to do with survival in the face of the terrifying unknown?
John Berbrich: You mean just stay half-asleep & things won’t bother you? That makes sense. It’s funny — each type of animal has its own natural social arrangement: bees & ants in cities, dogs in packs, & various grazers in giant herds, plus you’ve got solitaries like spiders. Each sort of creature has either been designed, or has simply developed, in a particular way. But w/ people, well, they can live in cities or in the forest, in herds or in packs, an atom in a huge collective or utterly alone. Which seems to indicate that we are somehow transcendent (growing beyond nature’s species limitations) or that we haven’t found our place yet.
William Michaelian: Of course, it’s hard to find our place when we keep changing the place. To a pretty large extent, it seems our greatest challenge is surviving ourselves.
John Berbrich: No argument there. Mankind does seem to be on a suicidal roll. Either way would be effective — killing ourselves off or destroying the environment. Would add up to the same thing. How can we be born in this paradise & yet be so hell-bent on its demolition? Rather than leave the garden, ala Adam & Eve, we’re determined to wreck it.
William Michaelian: So it appears. Boy, wouldn’t that make a great painting — Adam and Eve surrounded by gum wrappers and overflowing garbage cans. Someone’s probably done it already.
John Berbrich: It is a good idea. Toppling shacks, a razed fruit orchard. Pretty heavy, when you think about it. People need so much, or think they do. That would make a great painting, & I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it done. Although some post-modernist would say that every piece of art made in the past 50 years is representative of that idea. Although, see, it’s not viewed as destruction — it’s liberation. There, don’t you feel better?
William Michaelian: Somehow, no. But the painting does have great potential. For one thing, I think it should be gigantic — or very small. I mean, it would work in a Sistine Chapel kind of setting, but it would also work on a delicate round jewel case, or something along those lines. Imagine finding something like that as a child in your grandmother’s bedroom, while the rest of the family is blabbing in the parlor.
John Berbrich: That would be a defining moment, one that would stay w/ you for the rest of your life. That one glimpse of someone else’s vision, would mold & shape your character, your psyche, your entire destiny. I mean, it could.
William Michaelian: Right — if at that very moment her pesky poodle didn’t start yapping down the hall, and your grandmother didn’t call out, “Winston, dear, could you let out Muffin?”
John Berbrich: And of course you always hated the name Winston & resent having been given that horrid moniker. You also hate Muffin the dog, whom you suspect has been treated better than you. In fact, hatred has been building up inside of you since you were three-years-old. And now’s the time to do something about it.
William Michaelian: Unless — unless, mind you — Winston is your grandmother’s dead third husband. Although, there’s still the matter of that infernal dog, the piddling poodle who looks more like your grandmother than she does. If, in fact, she really is your grandmother.
John Berbrich: Yes, this is something else that has fueled that hatred for years — the suspicion that no one in your family is really related to you. They’re a bunch of lying, conniving, thieving scoundrels who, who...
William Michaelian: . . . insist they love you, and that they always act in your best interest, while reminding you that they’ve sacrificed everything to make you happy. . . .
John Berbrich: ....& that of course your happiness is their primary interest & motivation in all the universe...
William Michaelian: . . . and that your happiness is their happiness, if you would stop being selfish long enough to see that. . . .
John Berbrich: ...although, you poor dear, you’ve been taught to be selfish, having had your every whim treated as a command....
William Michaelian: . . . the whims themselves having first been suggested to you by these empty, frustrated monsters trying to live their lives through you . . . Stella! You’re tearing me apart!
John Berbrich: “Please don’t pretend that you don’t enjoy it, dearest. We’ve been torturing each other for years.”
William Michaelian: “Grandma, has anyone ever told you that you’re a sick woman? A sick woman.”
John Berbrich: “Dear me — I’m sick, & yet look how you treat me. Acch — it’s more than I can bear — more than I can bear, I tell you. When I twist my own head off — you’re the one who’ll feel guilty, guilty for the rest of your miserable, sickening, sheltered, pampered, useless waste of a life.”
William Michaelian: Look at it this way, Grandma. Maybe we should see it as the humorous thing it is. Here I am, a little boy, brilliant, interested in art, girls, and the very best private schools, well mannered — granted, a bit flatulent, but of course being musical I learned that from you and Uncle Ned, or whoever he is this week, and, well, don’t you think you should rein in your biliousness, or your biliosity, at least long enough to put a cork in it and get me a glass of juice?
John Berbrich: Well, when you put it that way, perhaps we can come to some sort of mutually agreeable arrangement. Remember when you were a little boy & by mistake I gave you the orange juice mixed w/ tequila for breakfast. You complained that it tasted funny — but I told you to drink it down & get off to school. How we laughed when the principal called later that morning.
William Michaelian: That was not me. That was Uncle Ned. I am a little boy. I don’t drink. My mother forbids it. I hate orange juice. Anywhere near tequila and I get a rash. Why don’t you go sit on a cactus while I clean your glasses.
John Berbrich: How can you speak to me that way — & after all I’ve done for you. Ah well — I suppose it’s your Uncle Ned who’s to blame. He’s never given you the guidance you’ve needed. Pass me the orange juice — will you dear?
William Michaelian: Yes’m. Shall I put in your usual pills? Wait. You seem to have run out of the little blue ones. Oh, well. I’ll double up on the red. Let’s see . . . one, two, three . . . four, five . . .
John Berbrich: I see your counting skills are improving dramatically. But why stop at five? Dear boy — if you’re going to live, then live.
William Michaelian: Oh, I can count a lot higher than five. Here — let me pry open this new bottle. There’s nothing quite like a little mix-and-match, eh, Granny?
John Berbrich: ...Keep going...that’s it...six, seven......I need a green one too......eight.....
William Michaelian: Fifty-nine . . . sixty!