Death in Venice

Death in Venice – SS

Alan Catlin

He looked as if he’d been to see a private screening of Death in Venice at an Art Film House in another dimension. I often wondered what happened to all those extras from Fellini’s movies once the shooting was done. It was a sure bet more than a few of them had relocated to Albany and were engaging in a truly unique, but ultimately unfilmable version of La Dolce Vita on Lark Street. Somehow, whatever it was they were doing, this guy would have fit right in.

Maybe trying to read the subtitles through totally dark glasses was one of the reasons he was having so much trouble focusing his eyes on anything occupying time and space in the bar. Maybe he was just drunk, or, horror of horrors, had been born that way. Gradually, he managed to direct a conversation in a semi-coherent way toward his recent denial of a job in the English Department at the State University up the street. It went a long way to confirming the just drunk theory:

“Professional jealousy, that’s what it was. He was positively petrified, no, absolutely threatened, by my superior qualifications but, hell, what do I care? It’s really a lousy department anyway. You know what I’d like to know?” he asks the regular bar guys sipping draft beers and watching the Saturday edition of Jeopardy on the tube.

“I could care less,” the nearest guy to him says. The answer is Cook. Damn, Magellan. Well, it was one or the other, wasn’t it?”

“I’d like to take a car and drive it fight through his office at a hundred miles an hour. Except I don’t have a car,” Death in Venice says.

“Here, take mine. The sooner the better, I’d like to watch Double Jeopardy in peace.”

“You’re a funny guy, you know that? The chairman’s office is on the third floor. How am I supposed to get it up there?”

“That’s your problem. Here’s a couple of bucks for gas too, it’s really low.”

“You know, I think, I’d like another beer first. Like pronto.”

“Pounding the bar with the glass, verboten, pal. It makes little dents the baby roaches drown in when you spill your beer. You want to pound glasses on something, go home and try it there,” I say.

“I can’t.”

“That’s not my problem.”

“You want to see a picture of my wife and child? That’s the day we were married.”

He sits with his billfold extended, the color pictures encased in plastic, tears rolling down from behind dark glasses and all I can think of saying is: “I don’t blame her for throwing you out. You’re a first-class loser on the downside of an emotional roller coaster ride that ends up against a concrete wall. The graffiti your vital organs will stick to when you hit is more interesting than you are. Instead I say, “You’re cut off, you’ve had too much to drink.”

“What do you mean?”

“You were an English major, figure it out.”

Death in Venice looks confused for a minute, considering all of the complications of his fate. The guy nearest to him says, “Hey, don’t forget the keys to the car on your way out. Look, we know how you feel, your troubles are worse than all of ours, there’s no way out in the foreseeable future, so do the right thing: there’s a gun in the glove compartment, it’s loaded, end it all now.”

He hits the door just as Alex gets ready to read the final Jeopardy question. It’s a real killer on U.S. History and I’m the only one in the place that knows the answer. Everyone is anteing up their buck and scribbling something on a piece of paper in the form of a question. The Saturday night shows are all repeats, but there’s no point in telling anyone that now. It would be like telling everyone I got the answer wrong the first time. Hey, it’s not that often that you get a second chance at anything in this life.

Allan Catlin works at The Washington Tavern in Albany, New York, a fact stranger than fiction. His latest poetry chapbooks are Black and White in Color and Self Annihilation with Shopping Bag Ladies. He has recently completed a novel, “From the Waters of Oblivion,” about a bartender named Dr. Death who makes killer drinks.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Fairleigh Dickinson University

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group