Benny's Scratch Pad
The House of the Dealer
I never pieced Benny's story together, only heard this and that, here and there. His mother had hanged herself in the family garage a few years earlier. His father, a celebrity gynecologist, lived somewhere in Sylmar with his third wife and owned a getaway cottage in Tahoe. Benny had taught eighth grade in a Catholic girl's school, lost his job over some mild sexual impropriety, and had qualified for psychiatric disability that paid him a minuscule check every month. For a small-time dealer, he moved a lot of product. But also he took a lot of product, and was forever scraping bottom like everyone he knew. He was twenty-eight or -nine. I imagined anyone slightly older, or slightly taller, as infinitely worldlier and more sophisticated, less vulnerable, less clueless --- I never imagined him as immature and as scared by living as I was, somehow it eluded me.

As most people running on amphetamine do, Benny talked too much, talked incessantly, seemed to be talking even when he wasn't talking, talked in his sleep no doubt, talked to walls if there was no one else around to talk to. I won't say he had theories, that would be taking things too far. He had themes, various themes, that touched on everything and nothing in the known and unknown worlds. He talked about Rimbaud and Beckett and William Burroughs, Heinrich Von Kleist, Coomaraswamy, Buckminster Fuller, Norman O. Brown, cannibalism, Karl Marx. He talked about invisible things, telepathic transactions, imperceptible rumblings in the San Andreas fault, how he knew that person X would be at Licorice Pizza at such and such an hour, why he had an unquenchable lust for schoolgirls in uniform. Everything in his head spilled out of him in a torrent, excitedly, as if his brain were having an orgasm. He was one of the few people who have ever literally given me a headache.

Yet speed makes people oddly tolerant of anything happening around them, even when their heads are exploding. Although I perceived a definite need to detach myself from Benny's sphere in the middle future, this didn't come entirely into focus until one night when I drove him home, to a peculiarly situated one-story house that was little more than a shack on stilts, somewhere in Laurel Canyon, and let him talk me into coming in.

I have seen many chaotic interiors, as we all have, and lived in plenty of them too, but I only remember a few occasions when I walked into someone's living space and confronted a disorder so incomprehensible that it scared me out of my wits. Once, in New York, after I. J. Mitchell and I had snorted a terrifying quantity of poppers standing in the bar at Second Avenue and Fourth, we accepted an invitation from a man whose name I've forgotten --- no, I haven't, it was Dicken, like the singular of Dicker's --- to continue drinking and snorting poppers in his apartment, a place in Turtle Bay where the entire floor surface proved to be covered in a thick mulch of trash. Not only was it carpeted in rich, loamy garbage, but this garbage was concealed under spread-out newspapers. Worse, in order to locate some little object he wanted, our host plunged his hand into the exact spot in this tremulous mess where whatever it was --- a cigarette lighter? a cock ring? --- happened to be located. In effect, he had a mental navigational map of the waste matter strewn over every inch of his apartment, and all his non-refuse items like keys and clothing and money were mixed in with things like takeout containers full of rotting spareribs, empty Orangina bottles, beer cans, pizza crusts, cigarette butts, and anything else likely to act as a magnet for vermin.

But Benny's hillside home easily eclipsed even that stupendous disarray. Stepping into his living room was like entering the scrambled brain of a serial killer through a portal of used motor oil. Garbage covered not only the floor but the chairs, tables, sofa, and every other available surface. And this was the tip of the iceberg, because much of the rear wall, perched over a graduated canyon slope, had been somehow demolished, as if a giant fist had punched through it. There was simply no physical boundary between the living room and the outdoors, and the slope itself was covered in even more garbage. It resembled a municipal dump. This dump had an oddly theatrical look, as if its contents had been carefully groomed for a visually arresting effect. It appeared that Benny had been tossing his detritus, organic and other, into this open area ever since moving into the house.

Of course, in tropical countries, open-sided houses or houses with open courtyards are unexceptionally common. Even in the jungles of Colombia and Peru, I have stayed in such houses, entirely open to the elements and dangerous predators, without the slightest alarm. However, Benny's house, on the distaff side of Los Angeles, seemed to be dissolving like fertilizer into its unsanitary yard, if I may call it that. His profusion of waste looked like a welcome wagon for coyotes and mountain lions.

The truly alarming thing was that Benny apparently lived in this rococo squalor as if it were the most unremarkable of human environments. I seldom listened closely to anything he said, but as he slogged through squishy heaps of grunge to the kitchen, came back with two cans of beer, handed me one, then cleared mountains of shit from a chair seat and a bit of the sofa, dug a glass bong from somewhere in the surrounding rubble, and proceeded to fill it with weed, I became aware that he was blathering incoherently about Friedrich Nietzsche, specifically something about superior beings destroyed by pity, and "the clever animals have to die" I also noticed that Benny's dark brown, sometimes black eyes had taken on a certain blazing, fanatical sheen. The Ratzo Rizzo aspect of his face had hardened into a hungry-looking rodent visage.

--- Gary Indiana
I Can Give You Anything But Love
©2015 Rizzoli International
Go to a review of the book
from which this
is taken

Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH