“Vintage,” the ad said. “Pre-owned.”
He liked the idea of stepping out shod like a Mexican drug lord. A 77-year-old Jewish one with a bad heart at that. He wondered how someone came up with the idea of making cowboy boots from eels. He only thought of eel at Party Sushi. Weren’t they too skinny to stick feet in?
Sexton Ming was born in 1961 in Gravesend, Kent, England, a city whose existence Goshkin had only learned of days before when William T. Vollman had launched his mind-clubbing “Argall” there, designating it “wise-named Gravesend... Life at home being death.” Well, yes, graves and death, he’d thought, a helpful ultimacy to keep in mind. Carpe diem.
Ming, a self-diagnosed dyslectic, who made (equally self-designated) weird drawings and wrote weird poems, quit school at 16 to embrace – and be embraced by – Punk.. He co-founded The Medway Poets, a poetry/performance group that played – to keep the alliteration flowing – primarily in pubs and, later, the Stuckists, visual artists rebelling against conceptualism, which meant, in Ming’s case, painting nude, angry, large-headed men with genitalia the size of noses.
Ming also made dozens of records, usually, if Goshkin’s slight YouTube sampling was representative, marked by guttural growl/shouts, Screaming Jay Hawkins derivative, over pounding drums and electric guitar feedback. He published dozens of give-away pamphlets and chapbooks,often xeroxed and staled together without editing or other outside judgment cramping first manifestations of thought. His influences included Captain Beefheart and Hieronymous Bosch. His attitude was “Fuck the mainstream. Fuck audience appeal.” His credo distilled into: “I like to shit. And I like [creating] it. So fuck you up the arse you cunt.”
Goshkin had been writing for half a century without finding it helpful to compare his work to excrement. (“Stuff” was about as far as he went.) He could not recall the word “cunt” appearing in his oeuvre. Nor had he ever invited anyone, hypothetical critic or not, to have their bottom penetrated. Punk might as well have happened on Pluto, so far as he was concerned. If he thought of it at all, it was to give thanks his adolescence had required no bodily mutilation beyond crew cuts. Before this week, he had never heard of Sexton Ming. Now three of his collections were on his café table. An on-line contribution to support the artistry of J.T. Dockery, of the Gray Hawk, Kentucky Dockerys, had brought them: The House of Nunn, illustrated by Dockery (1991); choice cut fillets, illustrated by Ming’s wife, Ella Guru (2002); and KENTTUCKY PUSSY, illustrated by Dockery (2019).
His relationship with Dockery had begun in one of those but-for-that moments which Goshkin treasured. He had acknowledged in-print the influence on his prose of the not-exactly-of-the-canon Nick Tosches, whose story “Spud Crazy” Dockery just happened to be adapting for a comic. Dockery and Goshkin had progressed into praising each other’s work in publications that reached audiences not much larger than those which filled Ming’s pubs. Now, an hour before typing that sentence, his daily doppio barely begun, Goshkin had read Tosches’s obit, in which he’d been quoted as saying “one of the rewards of being 50” was the right to wear leopard-skin loafers.
For Goshkin, 77 had meant eel-skin boots.
As the story went...
In 1998, Dockery, then a cartoonist/rock drummer/”art school drop-out Daniel Boone” had discovered Ming and found him “fearless and funnier than salamander snot.” When he’d learned Ming would be cross-the-border in Ohio, he arranged a record release show for him in Lexington. Over the next several years, the two visited, made music, hung out.
In May 2005 Dockery arranged a “farewell” tour for Ming, with bookings from Kentucky to New York and one of Dockery’s groups, either The Smacks or Kitty Twister & the Hot Dogs, opening When the tour ended, Ming and Dockery settled on a porch and, in Ming’s words (and spelling), “High on pub crawl beer and majjuwana from an okie from Miscokie” riffed and rolled and verbally jammed over – switching to Dockery’s voice now – “recent Amuhrikann X-Peerience... queasy abundance & over-consumption, shadow selves & ghosts, industrialized aggression, alienation & aliens, future-past & the now...” Ming typed up his notes as poems, which Dockery was to illustrate and issue in book form.
Then gods, the fates, and the rule governing best-laid plans intervened. Dockery lost the manuscript. He had his art, but Ming had simultaneously lost his notes of their conversation, as well as his earlier drafts at ordering them. So things stood until last year, when Dockery found the m.s. at a briefcase’s bottom and, revisiting it, decided to recast the work into a “comix” experience. The result was PUSSY: 32-pages of words-and-pictures, black and white, except for the title, above center on the front cover in scab red.
Maybe, Goshkin mused, the editor-within-the-universe had felt the work required ripening.
Outside the café’s east-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows Hondas rushed toward 9:00 beginnings. Fluorescence within the university’s newly constructed, block-wide, six-story administrative building showed it open for occupancy. A chain bagel store, its fare suggesting a dough of sawdust, had space in its corner, ready to siphon business from local shops. Almost every slot in the rack of curb-side rent-a-bikes was full.
Goshkin turned to the matter at hand. That was where he belonged. It and he and what they meant to and for each other were familiar ground.
“Nunn,” he concluded– may those responsible forgive him – could have come out of a well-behaved junior high school. It was a nougat-centered “romantic story poem,” with no obscenity voiced or depicted, and whose utterances of “joy” and “peace” were about as far from “arse” and “cunt” as Barbara Cantfield from Samuel Beckett. True, the loving Juliet was human, her Romeo a mule, and the villain enraged by their “vile” pairing, a sadistic fellow named “God”; but Goshkin suspected some school boards would have let this pass. Dockery’s illustrations stood respectfully apart, hats in hand, art on one page, prose on another, some Chagall-like, some Picasso-ish, complimenting the text like Pres noodling behind Lady Day, knocking noone off the bandstand and rattling no sensibilities in the audience.
“Fillets”was more the Ming he had expected. (Talk about living-up-to-advance-billing.) Its birds “grow milk teeth”; its dogs “flattened to the width of a pancake”; its midgets “strung... from rafters”; its nuns ate buns amidst a holocaust. It offered tips for suicide and murder. “I have,” its author announced, “enough lethal poison to pollute the drinking water,” which might, Goshkin noted, if posted in another forum, have merited a call to the constabularies. Man has fucked up nature, it declared. The world will no longer “tolerate our behavior.“ ”Oh kind Death,” the narrative voice implores, “invite me to luncheon,” Guru’s pen-and-ink matched words and phrases but kept their distance like the earlier Dockery.
Goshkin sipped his espresso. This all seemed in order. From the best evidence available, the world appeared doomed. A hundred years? Twenty? Either way, he would not be present. So in the meantime, he kept to his tasks, like Guru with her drawings.
It was hard to say where one “poem” ended and one began, other than after the front cover and before the last. You might, Goshkin thought, make “better” poetry cut-and-pasting snippets of language than what presented on any single page or from those that ran consecutively.
green mutant, fiery dumpster man, human-butchering dog, creeping Jap,
Yo, super-fit robot, Zerkonian alien, Military Mary’s “lickerish legs,”
Yo, Captain Forearm Smash, Satan Slayer, The Brick (“Fuck That Shit”) battering Jesus
turnips tasting of God’s saliva, Buddy Holly’s mumma.
Actually, he liked “What Goes on in Lubock?”, both for itself and as a step in the journey of which any event, even a page in a comic, was a part. You didn’t expect to find Buddy Holly – or that spelling of his home – in a volume of poetry and the ruminations that followed, about beer and Stratocasters and his mother provided an engaging C&W flavor to this otherwise bizarre book. Dockery’s portrait of Holly was straight ahead, respectful, and, being only pages away from the hallucination-induced sizzling visage in “baconstrip twist” reminded Goshkin helpfully of the thin line between madness and vanilla.
The work of the visionary artist, wrote Carl Jung wrote, came “from the hinterlands of man’s mind... from the timeless depths, glamorous, demonic, and grotesque... burst(ing) asunder our human standards of value and aesthetic form...” Maybe, Goshkin thought, that is what is at hand here. In its very title – broken-worded, suggestive – KTP evinced an Other. It upended, unsettled, even challenged entry, yet, still, presented as one complete work, a single object, no different, huh, than an anthropologist-recovered Graecian amphora around which picto-figures paraded. So turn the page, he told himself. Let eye inform brain and chemicals happen. Letters spell something. So does their presentation, small, large, jagged, dripping. So too the images with which they share the page. Step back; relax; allow the unforeseen to break through.
The divide between words and visuals of “Nunn” and “fillet” has been obliterated. The pictorial now embraced/incorporated the verbal, exercised with new-blooded confidence/ authority to rise above/fall below/surround them, putting language at their center, banishing it into corners, altering font in size and style to make them scream. Taken as a whole – taken as this whole – one could only wonder how the conversation which produced the sentences which led to these depictions proceeded. Even with brew and weed as givens, how did dogs lead to crutches and wrist muscles connect to leg muscles and toes of cheese? What explains the blazing assault rifles as thick as thighs, the slobbering hound whose cleaver has bared the ankle bone in the foot it has amputated. This is ink-on-paper as free jazz, the words a rhythm section going its way, laying down quirky loops of sound, over which – with it half-in, half-out of mind – the illos soared and swelled.
If I am not holding a visitation from the mind’s hinterlands, thought Goshkin, I am hosting its cousin. If it does not appear as demonic, it may be because the decades since Jung have armored us with realities more grotesque than the horrors he imagined. If standards had not been rent, that did not mean they were not torqued to a point where even steel and tungsten yowl.
The full page ad on the back of the first section of the “Times” proclaimed in an orange/red not too far on the spectrum from PUSSY’s that it was a “PUBIC Service Announcement.” It came, it said, from GoBush.com. It was, it seemed to be urging women not to trim their pubes memess.
Goshkin’s eyebrows raised. He checked the small print. Was this, he wondered, satire? Had the computers of “The Good Grey Lady” been seized by hostile operatives? Had they malfunctioned like the day no “Sports” sections had been delivered? No one else in the café seemed concerned. Googling yielded no coverage. He was aware that generations of magazine cover-worthy celebrities were unknown to him. He understood that feature stories on developments in artificial intelligence and chemically created meat were attuned to a world in which he did not exist. But had he fallen that far outside the zeitgeist that he did not recognize even this portion of the normal?
He would have thought he dreamt it, but the section still said what he thought. He would keep it in case it became a collectible like the postage stamp on which the bi-plane was printed upside down.