December 24, 2013

Tom C. Hunley

MOE SZYSLAK

Hello, Listen Lady? Uh yeah, this is
Moe, of Moe’s Tavern. See, I tell you
my name up front, cuz I don’t want you
to confuse me with one of them
prank callers. We got one of those
at the bar, a scum-sucking pus-ball
who makes me say stuff like
“Is there a Drew P. Weiner in the house?”
I get so mad, I want to take
a bottle opener to his veins
and then dunk him in the shark tank
at the Springfield Aquarium. Listen, lady,
I want you to teach me to give advice
like a bartender ought to be doing.
Sure, I can offer a trusty Duff,
a Flaming Moe, or the best watered-down
scotch around, but if the chaser is me
mocking the poor barhound’s necktie,
I’m not doing my job. I’m always fightin’
with myself, that’s my problem. I’m part Dutch,
part Italian, part Arab, part Polish, and
it feels like all these parts are at war
inside my bloodstream. Somehow you just gotta
surrender to your own complexities, like that poet
who said “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
I wish I’d thought to say that
to this Springfield A&M egghead who comes in
one night, back when Moe’s was a Pomo joint
called M. He tells me he’s teaching classes
in women’s literature where he and his charges
spit out the word patriarchy as if
dislodging a chicken bone, and he’s careful
not to point out that he’s the family breadwinner,
he does most of the driving, and he
spanks the kids if he gets a call
from their principal. So he’s a feminist professor
and he’s a patriarch. He can’t get along
with himself, so he drinks. Why do people turn
to barkeeps for advice, anyhow? Is this
the mug of a guy who knows what’s what?
I mean, I moved to this here burg cuz
the zip code spells “boobs” if you type it
on a calculator. My bar’s such a girl repellent
that I never even needed to put in a Ladies’ Room.
Still, they tell me their girl troubles.
Me, my last girlfriend left me, and she
was a blowup doll. Stupid helium. I don’t want
you to think I’m a bad guy or nothing, though.
Sure, I stalk my friends’ wives, and I guess
running that whale smuggling ring wasn’t
my finest hour, but I love my cat, Snookums.
That’s got to count for something, right?
Once I saved music store owner King Toot
from a burning Chevy, and on my nights off I’ve been
reading Little Women to them sweet little hospital urchins.
I’ve got a soft spot for kids when they ain’t crank yankin’,
asking if there’s a Hugh Jass on any of my barstools.
Do you ever fight with yourself, Listen Lady?
I mean maybe you’re a snake handler,
like me, but some days you just don’t
believe in nothin’. Take it from me, an ex-boxer,
when you fight with yourself,
you’re gonna lose, bet on it.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013

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Tom C. Hunley: “When I was a teenager, I was captivated by Kevin J. O’Connor’s portrayal of a teenage beat poet in Peggy Sue Got Married. Shortly thereafter, I picked up Allen Ginsberg’s Empty Mirror and read ‘I am flesh and blood, but my mind is the focus of much lightning.’ I felt that way about myself. Every decision I’ve made since then has been impacted by my desire to hang onto that feeling.” (website)