An Incident Quite Late Into The Evening, The Wild Oat, Potsdam, New York

It was not smoke getting in my eyes

As much as the third shot of Wild Turkey

In relatively short order which made them a bit misty.

I had come up North, ostensibly to reconnect

With the prospective love of my life and set things aright;

She was a grad student, Electrical Engineering

(But not precise at all—she was mercurial, Plath-esque,

Prone to both epochs of silent introspection

And inexplicable spontaneous combustions of rage.

I’d heard she later dropped out of the program

Without a word to advisors or anyone else).

It had not ended up hearts and flowers,

The breakup, which left feelings bruised

And china broken, was unpleasant and irrevocable,

So with an evening to kill before the next day’s flight

(Out of Ottawa, damn near a two hour drive),

I was haunting a bar stool at the prototypical North Country townie bar:

An endless series of the owner’s cousins jamming on stage,

Several dogs wandering the premises, any number of variations

On buffalo plaid in an equal number of shades of red, green, and gray.

In such places on such occasions, somebody ends up your buddy,

Which is how I came to be doing shots with one of the regulars

Who listened intently, sympathetically to my generic tale of woe

Until such point he blurted out (if one can blurt something sotto voce)

I used to bone a girl in the nuthouse up in Ogdensburg.

 

The particulars of the liaison came gushing out like whitewater;

He’d been laid off from the Alcoa plant up in Massena,

And he’d landed a temp job at the state mental hospital.

There had been, so he said, no shy romancing

Or overt flirtation (and as my drinking buddy pro tem put it,

It’s not like we could do dinner and a movie).

She’d simply followed him out to the room where the trash compactor was,

And, with the whining of cardboard going to meet its maker

As cover, they had let nature take its course.

 

The girl was not like the other denizens of that particular soft-walled motel,

A broken factory-second of a human being; Christ, she was beautiful,

He lamented, Red hair, skin like half-and-half, green eyes

That ate you up and spit you back out again.

He’d never been able to figure out the attraction—I was just

A schlub guy who’d never had anything but schlub girls—

But he said that she’d told him she loved him—no more than that,

He was her very salvation.  If I’d been there any longer,

I probably would have tried to bust her out.

 

He found out later that she’d been put inside for killing her old man.

She’d hacked him into dog-food sized bits, and walled up the pieces

In her dining room, but he insisted, slapping his palm on the bar,

Swear to God, even if I knew that I would have risked

Sneaking her over the border anyway.  I expressed my surprise

That he’d never tried to hook up with her on the outside.

He stared straight ahead for a few moments.  I dunno.

I heard she hung herself, but I dunno.

We drank more or less in silence after that,

As there wasn’t a hell of lot more either of us could say,

And as I drove the sparseness of southern Ontario the next morning,

I said a silent thanks to who or whatever kept me

From giving voice to the urge to express my respect and admiration

For any woman with the ability to hang drywall.

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12 thoughts on “An Incident Quite Late Into The Evening, The Wild Oat, Potsdam, New York

  1. I read this badly hungover after a wet night out in Moscow, and it is brilliant. the pacing is really good – the progression between first person and the other guy is perfect, and it feels like the kind of fiction (which I assume it is) that feels like it’s real.

  2. I agree with Kerry, this feels realer than real. I like the whole blurring of love and madness, the prosaic with damaged and perhaps dangerous beauty. The cherry on top is the men who are presumably sane, yet seem crippled and unable to engage, while the women–the one in the tale and the one from the beginning–are nuts but have life and do engage.

  3. This could only be a true story, as real life outdoes fiction every time……this is wonderful writing, it reels one in, draws one along and ends with a surprise. LOVE the reference to women who can hang drywall! Wonderful to read.

  4. This is one heck of a story told with enough vivid detail to make me feel as if I was sitting there doing shots right beside you…and love the little twist of that last line, did not see that coming at all!

  5. From the amazing first three lines to that last line clincher (I confess I had to go back and re-read that she had walled up the pieces) I finally “got it” and burst out laughing. I was mesmerized the whole way through! Very enjoyable.

  6. Haaaa… that ending line is priceless. Weird, but I think there are many men who would have broken her out anyway, even knowing the possible consequences, just sayin’. Another great write from a great writer, I enjoy your slant and the pace with which you express it. Loved it.

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