Bullfrog

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Eleven

 

Our cacti can’t stand on their own anymore. We’ve braced them with toothpicks. I was gifted a ceramic lemon and a resin flamingo leaning left. They’re here on my bamboo desk in the pink room. I live here. She lives here. Friends sometimes live here. Come live here.

 

This morning at a red light my tires froze to the road.

 

Just laughing. Pressing the gas. Breaking free. I was driving Rae Rae to the train train. She got out out and waved goodbye-bye. Six degrees and shiny sunny.

 

I have a job but I’m not at it.

 

America is on the city bus and terrified. Lost in the big blue cemetery. Having never even tasted a real orange. Refusing to talk to a stranger until resurrection day. Calm, bemused, tired, but certain at this very moment they are being shot out of a cannon into the cloudy eyes of destiny.

 

My tax care professional wants more proof. They want me to go down there. They want me to prove it to them. I’m not going over there.

 

I’m not leaving my house.

 

The first houses were built in Catal Huyuk. 6500 B.C. Mudbrick. Touching against each other. They’d just started farming. Sounds familiar. I live like that here. My mudbrick touches other mudbrick. The days are the same. I’m still farming, something. On and on and on, I farm.

 

This building was put up by a gangster. 1918. He lived on the top two floors. He had a salary of peanuts and died with ten million dollars in the bank. His picture hangs in the white marble lobby. It says, I AM THE LAW. He’s been dead eighty years. He’s still the law here, I’d say.

 

He got rich from political bribes. And then by getting Franklin D. Roosevelt a lot of votes. FDR gave him heavy bags of loot. The gangster built a maternity hospital with the loot and put his sister’s name on it. 300,000 people were born there, one of them was Martha Stewart. Then they turned that baby hospital into condominiums. I drive past it everyday, on my way to the bar, work, or the Chinese restaurant.

 

“I’m doing better now,” Rae texts me. “All thawed out.”

 

I fall asleep on the couch. Upstairs someone is pounding. This place is always under reconstruction. Everybody I know needs a kiss and someone to listen. The other night, I can’t remember what, but whatever it was. Outtakes from Parties by Bud Smith. It’s Not Important by Bud Smith. Years Ago, Again by Bud Smith. Sunday Night Part II by Bud Smith. Fat Raymond Carver by Bud Smith.

 

Jackson was just here. Ashleigh was just here. Charlie was just here. Joey was just here. Shy was just here. Theo and Kristen and Devin, feels like everyone was just here. Floorboards sagging.

 

There is an investigative reporter in this city. I found her however I found her. I think, maybe, a zine in the coffee shop. I’ll have to investigate. One day I sent her an email and asked where the good Chinese food could be found. She told me down the hill. She texted me wanting to know if my building really was beautiful. I said it was. She came and didn’t want to take any pictures. There’s going to be an article. I asked her where the good pizza was. She told me, but it’s a secret. I invited her to the party. She said she had a date to look up at the blood red moon. I like her. She’s like a lot of my friends. She may be a witch.

 

The fluorescent crossing guard and her heavy whistle. The tinktinktink of heat pipes growing. Everybody’s gone now. They are pounding even louder up there.

 

Hold your hearses, I said, to the cold empty room with the marks of the footsteps still residing in the dust where they’d all done their dancing.

 

Yesterday the restaurant down the hill had bullfrog. A lot of bullfrog. If the restaurant doesn’t serve bullfrog they lost me, I’m already out the door. I’m at the next place talking bullfrog with the hostess.

 

Someone drilled a hole, four inches in diameter, just outside our door, no discernible reason. Rae bought home a white marble coaster, placed it over the hole. Now you’d never know.

 

After the ice age, we left the caves and put our pants on.

 

By fake candlelight I’m reading a gossip column called Dante’s Inferno.

 

At first there were no doors. You entered your house through a hatch in the roof. Our apartment is smaller than everybody’s house I know, but the people who built it were making up for lost time. There are 22 doors for seven rooms. Our apartment is white and blue and orange and pink and aquamarine and white again. There are 22 doors, some of them are sealed off, but I count them anyway. This small place makes me dizzy.

 

Someone is knocking on my front door. They want to install a sprinkler system. I have been pretending to not be home for a very long time. When the daytime super unlocks the door and says, “Hello.” The chain stops him and I hear him tell the sprinkler man, “Not home, I guess.” I hear them think about it. I hear them say, “But…that doesn’t make sense.”

 

They don’t know how many doors I have in here.

How many roof hatches I have.

Browsers open. Eggs to crack. Circles of Hell to tour.

 

A few blocks over from me are a cluster of collapsing Victorian houses. One victorian is owned by a lovely zombie family. Another Victorian is rented by a broke dracula. Another Victorian is owned by a wolfman who is in an open relationship with a creature from the black lagoon and a mummy and a different broke dracula.

 

Younger Probably by Bud Smith. I am the Law by Bud Smith. Not Really by Bud Smith.

 

A surprisingly uncomfortable chair that looks like a catcher’s mitt in case you want to catch yourself and your ideas but want to be surprisingly uncomfortable throughout, which I do.

 

During the party, I spat on my hand and tried to pull my wedding ring off but I couldn’t get it past the knuckle. I pulled harder. Finally, it popped off. I showed them the inscription that said Love You Till My Heart Stops. Someone had put on “This Must Be The Place.” Then I left them there holding my wedding ring and I walked off. There were so many people to talk to. I don’t remember what we talked about. It’s nice when people stop what they’re doing and come over, and you stop what you’re doing, too.

 

In the morning, the radiators are all open but nothing doing. In the kitchen, with the refrigerator door open, standing there, one’s head in the fridge to warm up. It’s thirty-nine degrees in there. Six degrees out here.

 

The best store in this city is called Sleep Cheap.

 

By fake candlelight I’m fighting some private war. By fake candlelight I’m making several real candles. By real candlelight I’m building a typewriter to send you a letter.

 

The pioneers would set fire to their houses before they left because nails were expensive technology. Today’s pioneers leave it all behind.

 

My friend has a Lettera 22 and no heat in his house. He sent an 82-year-old man a typewritten letter. The 82-year-old man sent back a typewritten letter and asked my friend if he used a computer. My friend sent another typewritten letter. The old man sent back a typewritten reply letter. I have seen all these letters as photos snapped with an iPhone and texted to me, here in the future, where I live with my feet up, my cacti toothpicked, and my phone more powerful than the one that launched the first rocket to the moon.

 

The creaky board just before you step into my bedroom.

 

The light switch that does nothing so you twist the bulb to make it light light and you lick your fingers and twist the bulb out to make it go dark dark.

 

I didn’t go to my grandmother Florence’s funeral. But my wife sits in a wooden bar chair that used to be in my grandmother’s house and she paints fluorescent lilies.

 

Candy was laid to waste. Bodies were laid to waste. The wind was wild, the street sign spun and shrieked. Budweiser was laid to waste. Deer sausage and pizza were laid to waste.  Stereo was laid to waste in stereo. The night was laid to waste, Virgil said, “Hey follow me.” I woke up and everyone was cold and I opened the radiators in their rooms. Rae said, “Those guys should get girlfriends.”

 

Stop somewhere along the way.

Stop in Philadelphia.

Stop at the Dixieland gas station welcome center in New Church, Virginia.

Send me a picture of a rebel flag thong bikini on a sickly rebel mannequin.

 

An email comes in. The nighttime super, Maurice, has relinquished his role. He has been replaced by Emmanuel. I never really knew Maurice. Maybe I’ll never get to know Emmanuel either. It takes a lot to keep an old building like this running. “The night super,” I say. “The night super.”

The day super.

The nighttime super.

 

The calendar in the kitchen is black, someone gave it to us. You can’t write anything you’re going to do on it. But every home needs a calendar. There are the numbered days and what are you to do with them?

Saturday I’m going to the horse track. I need a white pen to remind myself, or I’ll just remember, or it won’t matter because no one knows what today brings, let alone tomorrow.

 

Hey Baby by Bud Smith.

 

A man who kept exotic animals shot himself after releasing three lions from his studio apartment. Four lions. Five lions. Let down the fire escape. Six lions. Seven lions. Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, unlimited lions let loose on the cobblestone and bounding through the park, starved and misunderstood.

 

The waiter, without asking, brought us forks. All six of us. I looked around, everyone else and their mother had chopsticks.

 

Bullfrogs. Bring us all your bullest frogs.

 

Now I have a spiritual consigliere. We dragged alcohol out of the supermarket. Poets dropped by. I passed around a notebook, asked them to write down their favorite songs. Everybody was American but my spiritual consigliere was also an Italian citizen. He shoplifted Brad Phillip’s book by slipping it into my wife wife’s purse purse.

 

Sometime after midnight we went out there and looked at the blood red moon hanging over John F. Kennedy Boulevard. Charlie read a poem where they usually pile the trash. The poem was about a white comet crashing through the roof of Madison Square Garden. Killing everyone. It was a real good poem.

 

I had a dream that my face was splashed with a chemical and my face looked like the tectonic plates. Looked like a triceratops ass. Looked like I should find an easier job. I woke up 4 a.m., them calling me in. After a dream like that, I had no interest in leaving my tickticktick heat pipe home. I let it go to voicemail but they didn’t leave a voicemail.

 

But I did drive Rae Rae to the train train. The tires froze by St. Peter’s. She was on her way way to see Martha. The city busses all driven by Mad Max.

 

My parents live in a house in the suburbs and are always worried a tree will fall over and destroy their roof, or their car in the driveway. Most people who live here don’t have a tree. Or a driveway. Or a roof. Or a car. Or parents. Or. Or. Or. Or. Or. Or. Or. Or.  

 

Cleaning up. Walking from room to room, picking books up off tables where people at the party had taken them from a shelf and looked at a page and then left the book there. For me. And you.  

 

More Outtakes From Parties by Bud Smith.

 

Two horse heads on the top of the curio. She used to buy plastic rocking horses. Sawed the heads off. She used to make cakes out of plaster and put elegant dolls in the centers of the cakes, standing there, the cakes as their dresses. She even made this blanket that I am under now. She’s always making art.

 

A high ceiling you can’t jump and touch.

Unless you got up on the couch.

Please don’t stand on the couch and jump up to try and touch the ceiling. We got it at a Christian Goodwill for $50 but it is worth a lot more to us. It’s uncomfortable in just the right way, so I can do my thinking.

 

I have to go to Home Depot to buy new guts for the toilet. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow. It will give me something to do instead of sitting here. Everyone thought they broke the toilet but they didn’t. One by one they sought me out and confessed to it, and I assured them, “No, I broke it long ago and never fixed it properly. You were set up.”

 

Got My Empathy at a Party in Philly by Bud Smith.  

 

Once at a party in Philadelphia, in a brownstone just off Rittenhouse Square, I asked the guy where his bathroom was. He pointed to the stairs. The third floor. I used the toilet and it wouldn’t flush. So began my great search. First, I searched the bathroom closet. No plunger. Then, I went down the hallway and looked in the hallway closet. No plunger. I searched the entirety of the third floor. Even looked under his bed. Nothing. So I went back downstairs to the party. The guy sat at the table playing cards. I said, “I have to ask you something.” I motioned for him to get up from the table. He said, “Whatever you want to ask me, you can ask me where I’m sitting.” I said, “Where is your goddamn plunger?” He pointed at the door that led down into the cellar. “You keep your plunger in the cellar?” He did. He kept his plunger in the cellar. I went down there and got it. It was beside a dusty exercise bike and an empty bird cage. I climbed the stairs back up to the second floor, walked through that crowded loud party, and up the stairs again, where I plunged the toilet. I left the plunger in the bathroom closet. He asked me about it. “Where did you leave the plunger?” He went upstairs and got it, brought it back down to the cellar.

 

Add another bar of soap to the guest room shower. Add another toothpick to the cactus. Add another song to the endless endless list, please.

 

Everything felt important for a minute there, I’m trying to keep that in mind, because even though time has moved on, and things are getting dull again, I must remember somehow that there are still things that are important.

 

Twelve lions. Thirteen lions. Fourteen lions.

The police sending in the grizzly bear unit to fight the lions because it’d look dope on TV. Just give us ten more minutes.

 

Jackson sitting here, right here when he said, “It should be legal to have a gunfight with someone, as long as you killed them using some kind of trick shot.”

He snaps his right arm behind his neck, his fingers making an upside down pistol under his left ear. “Pew pew.”

 

Other side of town knocks on a neighbor’s door and offers haircuts, or a rooster. Having found themselves neck deep in flowers. Offering some, all, any. Having always sung back when sung to. Sunshine or snow and certain at this very moment they are being launched through the window and into the absolute glowing middle, to warm up or cool down, whatever helps most.

 

The people who built this room didn’t have “Magic Carpet Ride.” They had pain and worries and fear. They had good-looking friends. They had joy and power and light.

 

The bartender said the kitchen will be closing in five minutes. I said, “Six hamburgers.”

 

I mail the rent. I mail the electric. I mail the gas. I mail some drugs. I mail the iPod. I mail a postcard. I mail insurance. I mail the phone, my friends, the dead, a book, a photograph and a letter, the tax proof, and even, a typewritten apology.

 

We walked into Botanica, where the drinks are five dollars, and we sat in the red back, where we had all sat before with friends who were here with us tonight and with some who could not be here with us tonight, or some we would be meeting up with shortly.

 

This morning, Nick asked, “Did any of you ever dine and dash?”

I said, “Just once, accidentally. I was at this place with Rae when we first met and in the middle of our dinner we got up and drove like crazy back home to have sex. It was like temporary insanity. And then we realized we’d left without paying and felt bad about it. Our friends were on their way to that restaurant to meet us and were texting us, asking us where we were, and I had to text them that we weren’t able to come and meet them.”

Joey said, “That’s in one of your books.”

 

The women’s convalescent home across the street has yellow nighttime windows like a leaping fireplace. In the daylight, I can see the leaves of tropical trees pressed against the chicken wire windows up near the eaves.

 

They misheard and brought an extra plate of chorizo. We said, “Don’t touch it. If we touch it they will charge us for it.” But then Charlie started eating it. And Ashleigh ate it. And Nick ate it. And when the bill came, Nick said, “Fuck, they charged us $16 for that chorizo!” But Joey read to the end of the bill, saw they’d removed it, and everyone was happy. Jackson was already long gone. He’d dined and dashed.

 

A lot of pounding upstairs. Steady. Someone beating a war drum. They’re breaking something. Or it’s a war drum.

 

The wind knocking things around. Men arguing under my window. In bed, but reading; fake candle on my chest, Rae falling asleep in the otherwise dark. There is a house being built in the book. When the carpenters leave for the day, two children go there and play inside its sawdust skeleton.

 

Tucked in the bookcase, I discovered Joey’s iPod. Newton discovered gravity. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. Marie Curie discovered the X-ray. In the bookcase, in the blue room, I discovered Joey’s smashed up 5th generation iPod touch. I’ll mail it back to Woodland, North Carolina, sometime today, somewhere in this essay.

 

The horse that is my body just won the Triple Crown of poisoning itself with fun stuff. Gathering the tequila. Gathering the wine bottles. Gathering all the debris. Taking it to the garbage room. Getting healthy. Worth so much money.

 

War drumming stops. They made a pipe burst on the tenth floor. Hot water rains all the way down into this orange room. While cleaning up the hot water, I see a woman across the street, pink bathrobe, smoking a cigarette on the stairs of her convalescent home. This might have been her one millionth cigarette. She still looks so happy to be smoking. That’s all life is, staying happy with your millionth cigarette.

 

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

2 responses to “Bullfrog”

  1. stowell watters says:

    This is totally awesome, I’m going to buy a book by this person.

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