This story was published as a part of the Only fools die of heartbreak collection by Equus Press.
I had come out of the movie, trammed home through the crowds and heat, got the boy’s teeth brushed and finally the boy into bed. I was stuffed full of popcorn and soda pop, hadn’t slept for maybe 20. Next thing, I found myself arguing with the half-asleep wife. No more drunks, she wailed.
What more can you do, at that point? It had become 11:08 p.m., yet obviously I still had to go see Kirby. His daughter Alanka had finally been born, and all day he had been sending phone messages claiming how much he was whupping it up. Doobies and whisky and champagne and beer – to say nothing of Baudelaire, Borges and good comrade Nietzsche.
“Ah here he is, Mr. Lamefuck!” said Kirby, his voice hurtling around in an hysterical loop, after I had finally made it out to Prague 7. He grabbed me around the neck and swarmed over me, hugging and peppering my ribs with rabbit punches.
“Heck. I mean, hell, Kirby. . . .”
Kirby appeared to have gone even deeper total Czech since the last time I had seen him – hunched over in gold-rim glasses, Dick Nixon-style nose jutting arrogantly into the night – bundled up in a knee-length black overcoat despite the heat – sweeping down through the darkness, hands lost in his pockets. His condescending half-smirk seemed nearly permanent, oozing the smug, self-satisfied air of one who has just wrapped up a very short translation of Klugel-Klampf. If he’d had slightly bushier sideburns, I thought, his name would have to be Marco di Lennon.
Kirby, of course, was once semi-famous worldwide for his appearances in Minutiae magazine, Disconnect and the Des Moines Register (among others). The California Kid (as he was sometimes known) had been notoriously photographed in a burning jockstrap on the Charles Bridge, shouting down gobble-gobble and free-form mucky-muck, declaring post-communist Prague the last outpost of freedom, artistic integrity and debauchery. This had been in the early 1990s, when the talk was hectic, the Berlin Wall had come a-tumblin’ down, and for a brief, brief moment the wave of history – maybe, maybe – seemed to be breaking in favor of peace and tolerance.
It was no such thing – not even close. It was obvious, even then, for those who bothered to pay attention. But consciousness was not a cool thing, then or now, and why ruin a good party? A great, foolish weight seemed to have been lifted from the shoulders of the world, and the celebration was blasting away at top volume. Thousands of young, mainly white people from nations east and west had descended on Prague, which was suddenly being hailed in the press as the new “West Bank of the 1990s.” The youth of the world was painting and singing and writing and dancing out their dreams, staying up drunk all night, loading up on dope and getting naked in the streets. The Prague sunshine was warm and golden, the streets smelled like beer, cotton candy, hot dogs and young, clean, post-commie ass. The kudzu of globalism was spreading over the grime and dust of the centuries, blotting away the decay and squalor of the incestuous Warsaw Pact and the retarded, cancer-causing commie-bloc economy. Few people had heard of Islam, the internet was just a strange rumor and hadn’t yet ruined everything. People didn’t yet assume that the government was spying on their every move, and nobody seemed quite aware yet of what a sad fate it was to be a human being. American cunning, balls of steel and thermonuclear weapons had finally defeated the schmucks, and a new era of absolute freedom and total grooviness was on the way. The future was going to be good, even very good. It would be one big, continual group orgasm. Our triumphant, glittering sperm would course like rivers down the facade of olde miserable, merry Europe, fertilizing the future in our peace-makin’, money-makin’, love-makin’ image.
That’s right, sugar – we had walked through the boneyard of time and come out winners. They had lost. They had pooped out in a bad-smelling haze of industrial incompetence, hack-handed censorship and travel restrictions, championship-level lying, Afghanistan hellholes and nuclear disaster. Now was our time – the time of the young, the time of the free, the precious time of the narcissistic, know-nothing innocent. The time of screwing young ex-commie chicks in the toilet of a dance club that used to be a former sausage factory. Those boneheaded crud-suckers, those haters of Art, Freedom and Post-Structuralism – they had lost, once and for all. They deserved the ash-heap in which they’d soon be slumbering.
It was a marvelous illusion, and everyone got high and freaked out on it. We zoned out and snoozed, hungover and with a persistent, strange itch on our dick. Maybe it was the right thing to do. Because if anything, the world was only becoming more treacherous and poisoned, in ways it was impossible, then, to imagine. But there were plenty of signs of the approaching doom. The world capitalist system as we’d known and loved it had begun to devour itself at a galloping rate. The greed and inequality encouraged by the system was increasingly being reflected in new wars and sundry acts of theft and criminality, carried out by both the authorities and non-state actors. In retrospect, the march to horror and bankruptcy seems perfectly logical and orderly. Yet the giddiness of the time was gargantuan – the natural response was to ignore or laugh it off as anomalies and “Oh god, that’s a weird shit” events.
The Gulf War of ’91
The Los Angeles Riots of ’92
The Branch Davidian Massacre of ’93
The ’93 World Trade Center bombing
The ’94 attack on the leg of Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, as allegedly ordered by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly
The ’95 Oklahoma City bombing and the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway
The Rwandan Genocide
The Chechnya and ex-Yugoslav wars
Into the mist had soared Kirby, soon launching his soon-to-be-aborted “art band” Shicklgrüber (in which Kirby had anointed himself lead dancer and tambourinist). When the band committed suicide amid mutual recriminations and allegations of pervitin use (and failure to find a lead singer, guitarist or drummer), Kirby declared that his mission would now be literature and literature only. He launched the rapidly stillborn R.O.D./D.O.R. writing movement – Reality of Denial / Denial of Reality – and made plans to start The Rude Door, a magazine based on the concept. The usual-suspect Prague pubs were trawled, the gifted writers and visionary artists were gathered for meetings over beer-sticky tables. Stories were collected, graphics were commissioned, mock-ups were created using the newest and hottest software.
All that remained was for Kirby to complete his own timeless story for the debut issue – “Little Bitch With Claws.” As far as I had been able to read, “Little Bitch” told the tale of a guy watching a lump of hamburger burn in a frying pan as his girlfriend Bibi (also known as Scum-Sucking Whore, depending on the page) went out with another guy (also known as Backstabber Bill – depending on the page), interspersed with fantasies of taking part in or trying to stop Kristallnacht.
Months went by. A few more months went by. Then several years. The gathered writers quit and went home or began to work for Prague travel guides. The graphic artists moved on to The Prague Post, where their brilliance continued to go unnoticed. Some may have even died of heroin or Rohypnol overdoses. I believe Kirby’s story remains unfinished.
In the mid-90s, Kirby had been quoted in Deviant Comet: “The world always gets the America she deserves. The world is the new America, and America is the new Nazis.” Yes, amen, brother. And: “Every artistic and/or political movement, taken to its logical end, winds up as the Nazis.” Yes, amen. To hear Kirby tell it, the end of Communism was one thing – but now the Great Reordering, the Great Reaping, was finally under way – the Great Future Breakdown was finally here, and everyone was going to choke on their own vomit. The bastards were going to burn the last tree in the Amazon, the Cubs, Red Sox and Indians were going to win the World Series, America was going to nuke the world, and the universe would take its revenge by “changing the shape of our skin.”
I was one of the ones who argued, early and often, that Kirby might be really on to something. The band and magazine projects may have collapsed, but Kirby only seemed to gain momentum. Within weeks, he had gone on to semi-famously semi-cofound the Perverted Coil Press with the evil and arrogant trust-fund beneficiary (and Holy Cross master’s candidate dropout) Hampton Raweigh Sluccomb III. As the hippie-haired, headband-wearing Hampton plotted in secret to seize full ownership of the budding enterprise, Kirby refused to let rust sleep. He could be found at all hours in Prague bars and cafés, weaving about and dispensing his accumulated knowledge concerning the wholesale corruption of Gauguin, the gross deficiencies of Wittgenstein, the fraud of Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus, and the hypocritical, soul-hardening properties of American suburbia, wherein thrived a subterranean world of substance abuse, murder, cruelty to animals, the religion of hypocrisy, and pedophilia. He would tell you he was well acquainted with it all.
But then had come the disastrous trip to Spain and Kirby’s midnight arrest for still-unclear reasons outside the Dalí museum; the hush-hush return trip to the U.S.A., covertly financed by the U.S. consulate; the years in the Bay Area wilderness, living in a windowless garage and working at a shoe-repair; the alleged cold-turkey sobriety, punctuated only by a nightly “four fingers of whisky” for reported “health” reasons; the triumphant emergence as a painter of extreme visions and volatilities – the neo-expressionist, neon-slashed canvases containing flying ribcages and briefcase-carrying rodents, females with sores covering their bodies like spores of lava – the post-apocalyptic urban landscapes where each building looked curiously like a penis, and each gaping crater like the remnants of a vagina.
Kirby had returned to Prague more or less sober and still full of dreams – only to find he was no longer an owner of Perverted Coil Press. The evil and arrogant Hampton Sluccomb (who for some years now had been rather persuaded of his own sagacity in matters of literature, art and tasteful sensibility), had filed the necessary documents with the Czech authorities, naming none other than Hampton Raweigh Sluccomb III as the sole owner and share-holder of Perverted Coil. In an added twist of the knife, Perverted Coil had even published several books in Kirby’s absence – mainly English translations of pre-war German novels out of copyright, as well as the psychedelic ramblings of several young Czech men who had committed suicide. The extent of Kirby’s formal involvement with the press was that he was now listed on the official website as an “Inspiration.”
What a double-cross! Kirby fumed. There wouldn’t even be a Perverted Coil if it wasn’t for Kirby. Why, the whole thing was Kirby’s idea, everything. But now, Hampton Sluccomb had greedily taken over, and was sure to make a million and become famous. Kirby was quite certain that Hampton would rot in hell for his lies and crimes.
Thence followed a series of violent encounters, arrests and detentions, including one incident in which Kirby claimed the police had “kidnapped” him and taken him to the Bohnice mental hospital for several days of observation. Kirby maintained he had merely been at Karlovo Náměstí, looking at some unusual markings on a tree, when a gang of cops had swooped on him without warning. He had refused to speak, let alone give them any information. He claimed it had taken him three days to figure out a way to escape. In another case, he claimed he’d had to smash a beer mug against the table and use the jagged edge handle to protect himself from a Russian gang – or perhaps they were Slovenians – who had also targeted him for a kidnapping.
“What if everybody died – why not?” Kirby was prone to say after five or six beers. “We wouldn’t care if most of everybody was wiped out – slaughtered. If an alien came down and killed two-thirds, or nine-tenths, of all people, do you think anybody would care for longer than fifteen seconds? Did the world really end up missing any of the 100 million folks killed in World War II? A single one of them? No. We did just fine. Didn’t miss them at all. I mean, does the world need any more Christmas ornaments? Any more books, movies, German tourists waddling around, leaving their disgusting waste? Not at all. I say, Kill ’em. Kill every last one of us. Let’s see who cares.”
“You tell ‘em, coach! Keep it comin’! Ouchie-ouch on the keester!”
Within the next six months, Kirby had linked up with Dasha. Few saw it coming. In any event, they chose the wedding day carefully – selecting a fine April afternoon that coincided precisely with the anniversary of Hitler’s death.
Dasha was her own captivating bundle. Her mother, for example, apparently believed she had become pregnant with Karel Gott’s child, and that this child, strangely, was Baby Jesus (I know, I know! A certain lack of imagination on her part here – an Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, Bluebeard or Blackbeard, or better yet Tarzan or Popeye the Sailor, would have been much preferable, much). To add to matters, Dasha’s father had recently passed away. He had apparently made a fortune selling art and antiques, but, according to Kirby, this fortune had been “frozen” by the courts and was in the process of being stolen by corrupt associates and former mistresses who had contacts with certain mafia-linked individuals. Kirby claimed the amount of money involved was nearly world-historical – that many of the art pieces in question could be sold for hundreds of thousands on the international market. He also said he had had several unpleasant confrontations with what appeared to be mafia players – eerie, threatening encounters in vacant bars, it seemed – so if anything ever “happened” to him, I’d know what to tell the police.
It could be hard to keep track of whether Kirby was drinking or not. One week he might declare there had been terrible meltdown, that the boozing was over forever, that his body and psyche reacted badly to the huge of amount of sugar contained in alcohol. The next week he’d announce that he stopped in somewhere for “just one beer,” and the next thing he knew, it was four days later and he didn’t know where he had been – it may even have been Slovenia, or at least it seemed that way.
Dasha blamed me every time Kirby lost his job due to a drunk. I was always the one keeping him out too late and he was too timid to tell me no, she would tell Dee – and the job just went out the window right after we’d go out. Dee, for her part, had once blamed Kirby for destroying a plant in our house, and had phoned Dasha to tell her so. Dasha, in turn, had blamed me for the plant’s destruction. I do indeed remember Kirby standing in the spot in question, slapping at the plant, pieces of the leaves falling to the floor, and me being so drunk I was unable to move or say anything about it. He was still slapping at the plant when I passed out, and when I awoke, Kirby was gone, the plant had been chopped to the roots, and Dee was about as furious as I’ve ever seen her.
I suppose I didn’t really help much. Once, shortly after Kirby’s son was born, we took our families out to Riegrový sady. At some point, Kirby and I left, possibly to retrieve diapers or a baby bottle refill at their apartment. We never made it to that apartment, because on the way we walked past Jiřího z Poděbrad, where a wine festival happened to be going on. We decided to stay – just for a glass or two, you understand. There were many phone calls and text messages involving our wives, but somehow we weren’t able to make it back to the park until seven hours later. Well, and our people were gone. I heard about it from Dee once or twice a week for the next seven months, at least.
“Dasha hates you, man,” Kirby would tell me. “She hates everything you stand for.”
“So what? She hates everyone and everything. She doesn’t even know what I stand for. She dreams it.”
“No. Yeah. But she hates you.”
I supposed it was true. After our first son Klaus was born, we invited them over for cake and a look at the baby. We all sat together at the coffee table and unwrapped their gift. It was a picture book – The History of Satan. I, personally, appreciated the wit and sentiment – but, I must say, it made Dee burst into tears after they had left.
Kirby and Dasha would break up a couple years before we would, divorcing in a spectacular series of property grabs and accusations of insanity, infidelity and child abuse. I believe they sued and counter-sued each other several times, at no small expense. It seems doubtless that the case is still being batted around in the courts to this day.
published: 12. 4. 2013