A Bare Bodkin, Or: One Lunch, Naked, To Go

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Once in a millennium, it is an editor’s sacred privilege to play midwife to a writer of earthshaking significance and eye-rolling originality. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened to us yet, but until it does we are honored to introduce our readers to Richard Bodkin, or “the San Francisco Earthquake,” as he is known to intimates. Mr. Bodkin, our readers; readers, Mr. Bodkin.

For years, Mr. Bodkin has been jotting down odd thoughts at odd moments, using dinner napkins and playing cards for stationery, and then stuffing the scraps into his hatband and losing the hat. Such retiring habits are no boon in the rough-and-tumble arena of literary backslapping and backbiting. Bodkin has never sought after eminence; nor, up to now, has it shown any interest in him.

We hope to change all that. Below are printed, for the first time anywhere, the collected works of Richard Bodkin. Spanning the years 1944 to 1990 (“the prolific period”), they readily demonstrate why Robinson Jeffers referred to Bodkin as “that fat, slobbering stinkbug,” and why T.S. Eliot, upon meeting Bodkin for the first time, felt it was an act of simple Christian charity to smother him with a pillow. Luckily for Bodkin, Edna St. Vincent Millay was in the room at the time. After an impassioned argument, she convinced Eliot to give her the pillow, and was attempting to smother Bodkin herself when the police raided the joint.

*****

The Scum Also Rises (an excerpt)

Brad sat in the only café in the little Spanish town and drank a bottle of the local wine. He did this by pouring the wine into a soiled piece of gauze and wringing out the bandage over his face, catching the drops with his tongue as they fell. The gauze had been with him in the War. It was all he had left. That and some chewing tobacco.

“This is a good café,” he said in English to the waiter, “and good wine, and I am a very good boy.” The waiter smiled that childlike Spanish smile and emptied a pot of coffee into Brad’s lap. Brad laughed bitterly at the man’s quiet courage. He had been brave once. Now he was a coward. Worse than a coward. A fool. Worse than a fool. In love.

Lady Bitcherly walked in and took the waiter in her arms and kissed him and gave him her room number, saying it loudly and slowly in Spanish. The waiter began to smile that smile again but was interrupted by Brad’s wine bottle breaking over his head.

“Good bottle, that,” said Lady Bitcherly.

“Good waiter,” said Brad. “Why the hell don’t we take him up to your room and give him what for?”

“Why the hell not?” she said. He knocked her out and began to drag them both upstairs. This is what war is like, he thought.

*****

Bodkin’s first and only novel, of course, went unpublished during his lifetime, like all of his work. Still, he had the admiration of the critics. Edmund Wilson called this manuscript “the sort of thing a carnival pinhead might produce after drinking a gallon of rotgut and spending a weekend on a tilt-a-whirl.” It was praise like this that kept Bodkin writing until he was struck down several years ago by a trolley car going uphill. He wasn’t killed immediately, although the conductor went back over him several times to make sure. He was taken to a trauma center by a squad car, and pronounced dead on arrival by the doctor.

“No, I’m not,” he said weakly.

“We’ll soon take care of that,” replied the doctor, at heart a kind man who couldn’t stand the sight of suffering. He administered a dose of strychnine to Bodkin and waited for the results. Bodkin asked for a sheet of paper and a pencil, and in a few moments had composed his only known book of poetry, To Hell in a Handbasket.

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A Poem

I think that I shall never see

A thing as lovely as me.

This somewhat stilted poem was Bodkin’s first attempt at verse, and as such is understandably traditional in its rhyme scheme. In his later poems (about three minutes later) Bodkin abandoned rhyme for a verse structure so free as to be promiscuous. As Robert Frost once said of Bodkin’s prose works, “If Bodkin’s blood could but be spilled/And his mewling forever stilled!” This heartfelt comment applies equally to Bodkin’s verse output.

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Another Poem

Ha ha! Fooled you, didn’t I?

Bodkin rarely showed his sense of humor, and the above poem reveals why. In it, Bodkin anticipated the Beatnik writers, but in typical fashion he was 35 years too late. Because of this literary historians seldom class him with the Beats, and he is most often classed with the nematodes (in the words of Daniel Webster, “any of a class or phylum of elongated cylindrical worms parasitic in animals or plants or free-living in soil or water”).

*****

Yet Another Poem

This time I’m going to write one if it kills m–

Of this last of Bodkin’s works, what can be said? Sic transit gloria mundi.

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Yule Blog

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December 13

The elves have been whining about getting cable installed. What’s the big deal about cable? Sure, reception is improved, but it goes out all the time. And how many times can you watch Weekend at Bernie’s? The man’s dead. Those sunglasses aren’t fooling anyone. Either way, I ain’t springing for anything unless those tiny bums finish wrapping presents.

December 14

Reindeer have some virus and have been sleeping a lot lately. Mrs. Claus mixed some orange rinds and a handful of old echinacea capsules into their slop trough this morning, so I’m hoping that’ll help a bit. Donner’s been complaining of stomach pains too, but I told him to shut up or go try finding work elsewhere. If he thinks there’s a lot of jobs posted on Monster.com for flying reindeer with stomach pains that whiney fur bag has another think coming.

December 15

Guess what? It’s Geraldo at the door again. He’s trying to prove that I run some kind of polar sweatshop violating child-labor laws. I tried to explain that the elves are, like, 120 years old and haven’t been children since Geraldo himself was the son of a wee sperm in his great granddaddy’s testicles. No good. He called his studio truck over to our front door and I had to get Dancer and Blitzen to charge him. Who’s gonna buy his story now? Yeah right, Santa Claus himself beat up, Geraldo? No one’s buying, Gerry. Don’t even try it.

December 16

Those damn coal miners have jacked up the price of coal again. They do this every year. And they have me over a barrel. They know that there are more bad kids then ever. Any foul-mouthed little puke with their hair dyed like Eminem is getting an extra lump.

December 17

Got another of those heart-wrenching letters from a poor child: “…you don’t have to get me anything Santa, but could you get my mom a warm coat?” Sure, kid. Like you aren’t just playing the good-kid card to score yourself an XBOX. What, do people everywhere think I’m an idiot now? I’ve been around for thousands of years and the tricks never change. Santa ain’t buying, Timmy. You want a warm coat? Sell your body.

December 18

Got drunk on rum and eggnog and passed out watching Seattle’s Santa Claus parade. And let me tell you, man, that is one sorry Santa Claus parade.

December 19

I have to get the freakin’ ASPCA off my back. They just sent me another letter asking about the conditions for the reindeer, claiming I’m cruel to them by underfeeding. Hey, ASPCA! You think fat reindeer can get off the ground? They can’t, and you better believe me, because I’m the only person in the entire world who owns any flying reindeer. The thinner they are, the better they fly. If your kids want any presents this year, ASPCA, you’ll shut up. Just shut up, ASPCA!

December 20

Woke up with a bad hangover. I smacked the elves around a bit in the shop, had my way with Mrs. Claus. Then we passed out while watching Scrooged. That Bill Murray cracks me right up.

December 21

Guess what I did today? It’s funny. I always do this. I went down to the kitchen pantry to grab some shortbread cookies and guess what I find? You know it. My lousy Advent calendar. Scarfed 21 chocolates and fell asleep in front of the fireplace.

December 22

Watched A Christmas Story again. Man, the Ralphie kid cracks me up. I wonder what ever happened to him? I should check my list to see. Actually…yeah, actually, forget it. Who cares about Ralphie? What was I even thinking? Now…I do believe there’s an Advent-calendar chocolate waiting for me by the fireplace. To the fireplace!

December 23

Today Mrs. Claus and I did our last-minute shopping. The elves can hammer a mean rocking horse, but they ain’t so good at creating Palm Pilots from scratch. Note to everyone who wanted a Palm Pilot for Christmas this year: You’re all godforsaken, Star Trek-convention-haunting nitwits.

December 24

Well, I’m off, to hell with no-fly zones. Donner’s stomach pains miraculously disappeared today, and the elves finished up everything at the last minute. Well, mostly everything. Hope you weren’t expecting much, Nigeria!

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The Virginia Monologues

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Last night I attended the opening of a Yuletide play that is both powerful and provocative. This show is destined to be an annual holiday classic. It is The Virginia Monologues, by Mary Xmas.

The stage opens, bare, save for the three actresses seated on wooden stools. Ah, but what each does with her stool. The lead actress, Ginny O’Hanlon, begins the evening telling us what Christmas means to her: “I believe in Santa. No one else will. But I envision him on my roof. Making his way to my chimney. Slowly, tentatively, he enters. The prancing, the pawing. Yes, come down my chimney, Santa, come!” And this goes on for another 17 minutes. The female-centric play will take your notions of Christmas and knock them around like a piñata in a hammer factory.

One can only cry out “You go, sister!” when Donna Cannelloni takes center stage, stating, “I will kowtow to the public norms no more. I will reclaim my Claus. Take back my Claus from the commercialism, the garishness. My beloved bearded Claus. Claus. Claus. Claus! How I long for your lap.” Intensity has never felt so intense.

Once you get over the shock, the wincing is hardly noticeable, though my mom did say, “I can’t believe they allow people to say that kind of stuff in public.” These two actresses, along with their co-star, Norma Moldanado, display the breadth and depth of the female views of the holiday. It’s Ms. Maldanodo’s turn to rivet the audience when she takes center stage, proclaiming, “Naughty or nice? Who are you to judge? Who are you to judge me? You say you’re a saint, yet you break into my home and go through my things. Then, placing a practiced finger aside your nose, you once again pass through my flue.” As directed by Martina Beardson and choreographed by Ellen Eager, the performance pieces are a symphony of language, crescendos of passion and mistletoe.

This is a show in touch with itself. And it touches itself repeatedly. Especially in the third act. They mimic the concept of the tribal tales, with each actress waiting her turn to speak, left seated in the dark until she is handed the “Christmas Spirit” stick which gives her the floor. The stick is made to look like a giant candy cane, enhancing the holiday spirit of the evening.

The women are in fine voice as they expose the genre biases of the season. As Ms. O’Hanlon reminds us, “Christmas ‘carol.’ Christmas ‘Eve.’ Joy. Noel. Holly. So much exploitation of women. A birth celebrated. A woman’s job now controlled by the male-dominated society. How typical.”

The Virginia Monologues is now open for its annual run. And run you will. It’s a play that will have you on your feet shouting, “Lighten up, already!” Playing at the Indulgent Theatre — that’s theater with an “r-e,” so you know it’s classy.

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