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Musings with Franklin, novel excerpt

Thursday 7/16/20

I'm going to be knocking down a lot of big projects--book projects--just boom, boom, boom, in fast and efficacious fashion--this means what remains of the Sam Cooke book, the Scrooge book, the If You [ ] proofing, the Beatles book, the Billie Holiday book, the Gervais/Merchant The Office book, Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives, the novel The Freeze Tag Sessions, and this novel, Musings with Franklin, which I pulled up today to resume work on. I saw some of the things that need fixing and clarification, where I am going with aspects of it, and I began making edits and overhauls. The novel is told entirely in conversation, between Writer, who who thinks he may have died and is in hell, and has not been officially let known and has to prove this on his own, for himself; Bartender, who works at a hostelry that has existed since the 1700s; and the pervy guy from the suburbs who dresses up as Ben Franklin. It's a novel about loss, betrayal, suicide, friendship, hell on earth, and what we sometimes do to remain alive, or less dead, or to ascertain that we are alive enough to some degree that we might someday be fully alive once more and know it. And it is very funny, and very perverted, and very wrong, and very touching. It is also the invention of a new manner of novel. This bit here, which I cleaned up today, is about 90 pages in. The book is also structured so as to be a drinking game. There are not chapters--there are drinks. You could, in theory, drink along, but I'm not saying I recommend that. The "big three" are not the only characters, as others come in and out of the narrative, and have their own voices, take over the conversations, in the stories that Writer, Bartender, and Franklin share with each other. No one ever seems to come into this bar--or they're not acknowledged or referenced, anyway.


***


Bartender: Tough day, huh?

Writer: They’re all tough. Just different.

Franklin: In that the day that succeeds the last is worse than its predecessor, no?

Writer: Right.

Bartender: Everyone says it gets better over time.

Writer: That’s what people used to tell me.

Franklin: Not everyone is everyone. If you catch my meaning.

Writer: Close enough. What the fuck is this we’re listening to?

Franklin: Is it not St. Valentine’s Day, sir? A day in which our friendly, plucky little cherub reaches into his quiver so as to take aim at one’s heart—

Bartender: It’s Air Supply. ‘Even the Nights are Better.’

Franklin: ‘When someone you love is inside you.’

Bartender: Beside you.

Franklin: Same diff.

Writer, Bartender: Where’d you learn that?

Franklin: Sesame Street the other morning while Mrs. Franklin was pumicing her heels. From a stray muppet.

Bartender: A stray muppet?

Franklin: One of the new muppets that doesn’t have a name. I don’t like the direction the show has taken in recent years. Actually, come to think of it, since my guest appearance. Mrs. Franklin doesn’t like me watching her sensual preparations—

Writer: Jesus.

Franklin: Especially as per her feet. We make this kind of foot sandwich, only the meat is not venison, as most good colonialists enjoyed in my day, but rather my own arrow, so to speak, to keep with the theme of the day. Save that my arrow is made of—

Bartender: Okay, enough. Were you always so—

Writer: Dirty?

Franklin: The word is ‘salacious.’ And there is nothing dirty about salacity. Grime is not always to be found where one expects to find it. As I learned from my stint on Sesame Street.

Writer: What did they have you do then? Like hang out with the Count or something?

Franklin: I was in Oscar’s can. Strictly speaking. It was a voice-over role. I’ve excelled in these before. If there was a video of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, you clearly would have been able to hear me shout out, ‘marsupial!’ as Elbridge Gerry put his name to the parchment. Oh, did Samuel Adams and I have a laugh over that later as we skimmed rocks from the banks of the River Charles as the sun set over Old Boston, clam shells beneath our feet—

Bartender: Hold on…

Writer: Marsupial?

Franklin: Because we carried that fucker. Useless. He was useless. That’s why Samuel Adams avenged himself upon Egg’s wife—we also called him Egg—as I stood guard by a stack of shucked oysters outside the Union House. I could show you the very spot where the avenging went down. That is not just a figure of speech. If you catch my—

Bartender: Don’t do it—

Franklin: —latest strain of the pox, which Eldridge Berry’s wife soon had occasion to dub ‘mortar stones.’

Writer: Mortar stones. Right. Surely they couldn’t have been called anything else.

Franklin: Well, these sorts of scaly growths. Like rusticated walls. Bumpy. But what you don’t figure about Oscar’s can is how roomy it is. They had old props down there. And mannequins. If you watch the tape you can hear me dancing with Betsy Ross. I dropped her at one point, but the director liked the realism. After all, he said, ‘this can is a cacophony of sounds.’ It’s bigger on the inside than the outside. Like the Tardis.

Bartender, Writer: Where’d you learn that?

Franklin: Mrs. Franklin, being an Anglophile, likes to watch BBC America. It is our little secret. ‘Traitor on board, bad luck at the ford.’ That’s why we usually take separate horseless carriages.

Writer: And what is Mrs. Franklin’s ride?

Franklin: Inside or outside, sir?

Bartender: It’s a Mini Cooper.

Franklin: A token of esteem from the King. But this is all very covert, so I must swear you both to a blood oath of secrecy. Now, if you would just prick yourselves with my pen knife and commit your essence to this piece of blotting paper.

Writer: You can put down the rusty Swiss Army knife knock-off and the torn off hunk of coaster…

Franklin: Prithee?

Bartender: Anyone got anything they want heated up?

Franklin: Here you are, Bartender. I shall toss my meal your way.

Bartender: I don’t suppose you have any pieces of gum for his breath? Wait, what the …vacuum-sealed pieces of salmon…ten for a dollar, apparently…from Star Market. What the hell else is in that ratty coat of yours?

Writer: [Hacking anguished coughing with large amounts of fluid from lungs]

Franklin: Goodness.

Bartender: That doesn’t sound right.

Writer: Still got the cold.

Franklin: You could have enhanced the echo effect of Oscar’s can.

Bartender: You’re not supposed to be sick going back to before Thanksgiving.

Writer: I just haven’t been living right. That’s all.

Franklin: Is it?

Bartender: Obviously not.

Franklin: You and I both know this. I was trying to be rhetorical with the lad. You can see it in his eyes. The desire to have the courage to give up once and for all. How would we even know? Simply because he stopped frequenting our establishment?

Writer: I don’t know why you think I just disappear sometimes and stop hearing things.

Franklin: We should endeavor to let him give us his key so we can make a spare should there be occasion to check up on his well being. To ascertain whether or not he had done himself in.

Bartender: That’s a thought.

Franklin: Thank you.

Bartender: But here’s another one. A story.

Franklin: You’re going to like this. It’s what we used to call a cheering story. They were for erections the first time you heard them. But you need not fear—he already told me the story twice before you came in.

Writer: What time do you get here?

Franklin: I come with the dawn.

Writer, Bartender: [Silence]

Franklin: What? Nobody?

Bartender, Writer: No.

Franklin: I’ll act like I’m hearing it for the first time. So you can also be entertained—or, rather, your heart lightened and made glad, so you don’t focus on your great loss—by my witty ejaculations. From my mouth. Wait. Hold up. The clever comments I will make, interstitially. Not like I’ve a mouthful of semen, and I’m expelling it at you. At you both.

Writer: Thanks, brother.

Bartender: Well, there’s this girl in my housing complex with these huge—

Franklin: Titters?

Writer: What?

Franklin: A term endemic to my days. But a timeless meaning all the same.

Bartender: Okay, then. This girl with huge titters.

Franklin: Mmm. Mulled. Cider.

Writer: What does that one mean?

Franklin: Mulled. Spicy. With spice.

Bartender: Okay. So for years she’s been getting undressed in front of everyone, with the shades to her place open. It’s this kind of Rear Window set-up. You could see other stuff too, obviously. Like when she was with someone. Sometimes we’d have parties themed around who she was having over. A little AC/DC if you know what I mean.

Franklin: ‘After Christ, Devil comes.’ It’s a pun.

Writer: No. It’s not a pun. And since when have you been listening to AC/DC?

Franklin: The main library at Copley—which I helped found, of course—loans out CDs. I like Highway to Hell.

Writer: Yeah, about that…

Bartender, Franklin: Yes?

Writer: Do you ever think…

Franklin, Bartender; Yes?

Writer: Do you ever think maybe something happened, and you never really find out about it, like you’re not told one thing ended, you crossed over, you’re in this new place, you just end up…you just end up…

Franklin: Qua?

Writer: Never mind. Go on with your titters thing.

Franklin: Call her that.

Bartender: Excuse me?

Franklin: Make that her name. Titters.

Writer: And what’s her surname then?

Franklin: That does not matter. We know what she has come here for.

Writer: What are you looking at?

Franklin: The serving station behind Bartender. Is that cough serum?

Bartender: Uh…yep.

Franklin: We’ll have two drams, please. Libations as we listen.

Bartender: Okay.

Franklin: Your health, my boy.

Writer: Thanks, I guess. Not bad, actually. Tastes a little like Laphroaig whisky. From back when I could afford that.

Franklin: Never mind that now. Bartender has provided.

Bartender: I don’t know about that. She…

Franklin: Prithee.

Bartender: Titters…

Franklin: Excellent.

Bartender: …knows I watch her, because she made some joke one time when I was walking my dog about how she never saw him looking in on her, but basically her boyfriend—these guys last anywhere from a week to four months—chose to dump her on Valentine’s Day eve.

Writer: Better than the day, maybe.

Franklin: Depends upon how deeply one is invested. At the level of one’s soul.

Bartender: Yeah.

Franklin: I suppose the day would not have mattered for you.

Writer: March 19, Christmas, June 8, my birthday, November 18, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Franklin: So long as the Fourth of July remains sacrosanct.

Bartender: If you say so. Anyway, let’s just say I chose an opportune time to take my dog out. After watching Titters throw on a shirt, grab her cigarettes, and head out into the courtyard. Three hours and twelve beers later, she’s passed out on my bed, and I’m drinking with my roommate and playing Madden in the living room.

Franklin: Conquistador.

Bartender: Well…

Franklin: Burn the boats. That means no going back. Retreat is not possible. Washington was known to torch a barge or two if it meant his men would fight harder, as it inevitably did. No choice.

Writer: I think he had a choice.

Bartender: Well, to quote Air Supply, it’d been a while since I was inside of anyone.

Franklin: Mmmm. Piquant.

Writer: What’s that?

Franklin: Piquant. With piquancy. A long, lingering finish. Rolo?

Bartender: They still make Rolos?

Writer: What the fuck else do you have in that coat?

Franklin: Revolutionary era coats are multi-compartmental. Start with the Rolo. I do not wish to sup alone.

Bartender: Speaking of being inside someone…

Writer: No. We’re not having that conversation. And the answer is no, anyway.

Franklin: Whereas…

Bartender: Come on.

Franklin: I left out the pronoun.

Writer: Look, I don’t know, okay?

Franklin: If ever there was a night…it’s been…

Writer: Almost a year.

Franklin: ‘Clocks need to be re-wound, so to speak. Even if time cannot be.’

Bartender: Nice.

Franklin: ‘Though the brokenhearted always wish otherwise.’ A line from my rapidly growing book. I will make some notes now if you don’t mind.

Writer: Maybe wipe the fish scales from your fingers first.

Bartender: But the romance sort of died there.

Writer: With you drinking with your buddy and playing video games.

Bartender: Yeah. Because we also passed out. I had been planning to win a few games and then pop back in—

Franklin: Multiple meanings.

Bartender: —so as to, well, you know.

Franklin: Like a pin to a balloon.

Bartender: Except I didn’t realize it was morning by then. She was gone, but there was a note on the bed, saying she’d pay for dry cleaning.

Franklin: Titters you mean.

Bartender: It’s not like she’d been replaced by a faery sprite in the night. Yes, Titters.

Writer: Don’t tell me…

Bartender: It wasn’t a normal amount, too. From the top corner to the bottom was just piss on top of piss.

Franklin: It’s only salt and enzymes.

Writer: So you’ve said in the past.

Bartender: So she left that, and this coat that she’d been wearing—with next to nothing on under it—which the guy who had dumped her had left behind in his haste to get the hell away from her. Let’s just say she can get pretty animated. I think I watched that fight, actually, from my window.

Writer: It’s nice.

Franklin: A pea coat of the make that Nelson himself was known to have worn in inclement weather.

Bartender: So it’s yours. For your cough.

Writer: Thanks. Really.

Franklin: Another Rolo?

Writer: Don’t mind if I do.

Bartender: She’s probably alone.

Franklin: Titters?

Bartender: No. Actually, definitely not her. I’d find that very surprising. Someone’s plugging that dam. I mean—

Franklin: Not the name sir, not on this most holy of days. Call her Egg, perhaps. The one who broke our former hale fellow here. Let that be her name, on this divine day of romance.

Bartender: Don’t sweat it. Egg and all. Don’t think about it. For today anyway, and tonight. And then try for tomorrow, maybe. See if you can get a streak going.

Writer: Yeah. I guess. I don’t know. Maybe.

Franklin: So who gets the sheets then?