The Café.Blue

Online Literary Community
since 1994

From: "Bruce Bentzman"
To: "Cafe Blue"
Subject: Writing a little something about nothing.

So I go into Cafe Blue and mosey up to the bar ordering a beer from Mephisto. I hear Speed snidely remark, "Gee, Trev, what an uplifting story. Glad to hear you didn't go up to Dickey after class and ask him why he didn't think K. was legitimate. I suppose that wouldn't have allowed you to be rebellious and spiteful. You didn't recount your sad little tale with pride, did you?"

I look at Dickey, leaning his big belly against the far end of the bar, barrel-chested, his fat fist grasping a bottle of beer. He isn't paying any attention to what's going on. "What's going on?" I ask Mephisto.

"Dickey's too proud and too drunk to say anything," Mephisto replies.

"No, I mean with the others?"

"Just a misunderstanding," he replies.

Then I hear Trevor shouting. "I wasn't there! Just shows all the teaching in the world can't help one understand what's there on the page. Read it again. As to Kerouac and Bukowski, let alone Winans, at least they didn't go to great learned lengths to write something about nothing, as many do."

I lean closer to Mephisto. "Is Trevor talking about one of us?"

"Don't know," Mephisto says.

David speaks up. "Interesting notion. Yet let's not forget that Kerouac is the originator of the remarkably stupid motto, 'first thought best thought.' Can anyone think of a better recipe for writing 'something about nothing'?" I turn my head to the dark corner where Kerouac sits in a recliner watching television.

"Hey, Jack!" I call out, "aren't you going to defend yourself?" He mumbles something about television. He'd rather watch television than write.

"Well," grumbles Trevor, "as I've always said, I believe in criticism by demonstration." Trevor stands and confronts David. "You do better."

And then Speed gets up and stands between Trevor and David. "Trev, I stand corrected, Speed says, trying to change the topic, "I apologize for not reading more carefully." He gets them to sit down and begins a little speech. "I suppose, since I teach poetry writing in a community college, I'm oversensitive and too defensive about the old 'academic vs. street' controversy. I also apologize for being snotty. My question does still stand, however. In recounting your story, are you admiring the juvenile response of the student toward his instructor? Don't you think the student - and the teacher - could have learned a lot from an honest and open discussion about K's abilities as a writer?" I look at Dickey staring at the image of himself in the mirror that's behind the bar. Can he even see himself clearly in his obvious drunken stupor? I look at Kerouac in another kind of stupor, collapsed in his soft chair, looking at the television screen rather than himself.

And David says, "Do better than ~what~? Better than 'first thought best thought'? That's easy: I propose this motto: First thought first draft." Lifting his arm and tossing his hand in a display of histrionics, David says loud enough for the entire cafe to hear, "Would that Kerouac had adopted that credo, rather than spontaneous bop prosody. . . ."

Trevor is again out of his seat and saying "how do you know he didn't work through several drafts?"

Speed, who never did sit back down, is startled by Trevor. Stepping back he knocks into me, and I, in turn, knock over my beer.

"I hate it, Trevor continues, "when writers run down others, particularly ones of some stature in such a casual and insulting offhand manner. How is it I know the name of Kerouac as a writer but have never heard of you?"

I lift my damp sleeve. Already Mephisto is drying the bar and placing a fresh glass for me.

Out of the darkness comes a quiet, careful voice. "Agreed!" the voice announces, but I cannot make out who it is. It is someone I don't recognize. "Some writers can manage one draft and produce good work. I'm a one draft writer usually myself. What you don't see are all of the drafts that usually are written in the mind. Too many people see writing as merely the physical act. I write all the time; I'm writing now. I even write as I sleep."

So here I am, standing at the bar, wondering whether I should join the fray and risk a bloody nose, or go to bed, shut my eyes, and write . . . .


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