Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Saturday, February 19, 2011


A Spy In Many Houses

My Indian name could be Spy In Many Houses. Not only love’s. A word-man aspiring to be a poet, I’ve talked with the man on the moon. Literally. This recount is for the record. Make what you will of what it suggests.

I’m waiting on a six-top of five United States Air Force officers and a man not in uniform. And now from my spot at the bar between the adding machine and credit card embosser I spy one of the officers gesturing to get my attention. He and the civilian had gotten up from Table Number One and had headed toward the restrooms. I’d observed them speaking almost conspiratorially as they crossed the dining room floor and hoped they had no complaints about the food or my service. Mister Summer Suit and Tie had glanced spy-like in my direction as he held up his left hand to block any chance of my catching sight of and reading his moving lips. And now the guy with the physique of a drill sergeant and the uniform of an officer is calling me over, indicating with index finger to lip and the tilt of his head that he would like to speak privately with me.

When I walk the length of the bar and ask, “Can I help you?” he tells me with a quiet voice, “Neal would like to speak with you. He wants you to come back over to our table. He has a question to ask. We’ll be back to our table in a minute.”

I return to the other end of the bar where, under the archway to the cocktail lounge and art gallery, other waiters and waitresses have gathered and are sharing some gossip that prompts them all to look at me expectantly.

Sensing that everyone knows something that I don’t know, I query one and all with an inquisitive “What’s up?” It’s then that my busboy, Armando, tells me in less than fluent English that I am waiting on “the Man On The Moon.” I still don’t get the reference until CB discreetly lets me know that the guy walking out of the restroom is Neal Armstrong, the former astronaut and current tv credit card shill, the first man to walk on the moon.

So Officer Muscle is just that - muscle - a bodyguard for the Man On The Moon.

I step into The Other Half Gallery and overflow lounge where, at the wait station, the serving staff keeps Pyrex glass coffee pots full of slowly simmering hot water. While I assemble the half dozen hot towels that I’ll bring Table One for each to clean his hands and fingers with after eating Maine lobster and Alaskan King crab legs - a squeeze and a slice of lemon on freshly folded cloth napkins trickled with a scald of the simmering water - I catch sight of my reflection in one of Marcia’s artworks that hangs behind the bar, the centerpiece of the current exhibition in the gallery. No longer the unmarried Ms M D Z, my wife, now Mrs M D W, with her series, Artists in Portrait, has given a face, serious and historical, to the last wave of beat sensibility remaining in Denver. This eleven by fourteen photo collage is a darkroom sandwich of two black and white negatives. The first is Marcia’s, of James Ryan Morris’ Dory Hill Cemetery hillside grave with its Angelo diBenedetto tombstone sculpture gnostically suggesting both the shape and form of a poet’s lyre and a marine hero grave-marker of a Korean War era carbine. Others, I’m sure, read other references into the abstraction. The second negative used is Joe Kinneave’s thirty-five millimeter of Jimmy Ryan Morris, himself, the croupier of hip beat lit, behind the counter of his Croupier Books on Seventeenth Avenue some half a dozen blocks east of downtown Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel. In Kinneave’s capture, on the wall behind Jimmy, there is an image of Doc Holliday, the addicted druggist gunslinger, who carried a razor hidden in the handkerchief of his breast pocket for close-in self defense. The existential American icon appears in Marcia’s manipulated composite as a ghostly presence, a face in the trees, as subtle as the shape of any Jesus in the clouds. A Wanted poster and other existential ephemera, newspaper headlines and book jacket portraits, also adorn the wall at Jimmy’s back and appear to litter the hillside in Marcia’s final archival silver print.

And now in the glass of the framed photo there is an instance of the presence of this other face: mine. Doc Holliday, Jimmy Morris, me, our three faces present in this momentous moment of synchronicity and reflected light. I say momentous, because, after all, the only one of we three alive, me, this Spy in Many Houses, is about to have repartee with the Man On The Moon. I ponder what he wants to ask. I wonder should I be so bold as to joke about the gravity of the situation.

Now, this little art gallery that I’ve created here is darkly lit. For the most part, only the photographs on the walls are illuminated by a dozen homemade spots as the lit candles in red netted glass on the cocktail tables cast but low light from below onto the faces of people seated in the room. From empty coffee cans spray-painted flat black and hardware store sockets and wiring, I’d assembled the fixtures; they have a nautical look, by chance, and fit in nicely with the decor of The Boston Half Shell.

Reflecting on the life of Doc Holliday and Jimmy Ryan Morris, what little I know of them, I can not help but wonder: to what end does such existentialism as was theirs come, and further ponder what comes after, what’s next in this progression of human philosophy.

One thing I know for sure: it’ll be me, a poet, getting to talk with the Man on the Moon.

As I exit the gallery and return to the dinning room carrying a tray stacked full of hot towels, it seems the whole restaurant, its eyes are upon me. After handing out the warm napkins to everyone at Table One, I begin with “Good evening, again, Officers and Gentlemen,” and end with a query directed at Armstrong. “You had something you wanted to ask?”

I sense repressed snickers and stifled smirks as the Man On The Moon asks Spy in Many Houses his question.

“Have you ever been caught . . . jerking off in a closet?”

Taken a back, even my wise ass Philly mouth can not come up with a quick response, as this question, asked of stranger, is so out of left field, so inappropriate, here in a public dining room. For who knows what reason I intuitively realize that I am not in on but rather will be the butt of this trick question and, thus, answer as only a poet can: with the truth.

“No,” A Spy In Many Houses answers the Man On The Moon, - with a voice intentionally loud enough to be heard by people seated at nearby tables - “I have never been caught jerking off in a closet.”

To which Neal Armstrong responds, “Good hiding place, yes?”

And everyone at the table, these officers and gentlemen, they laugh, like adolescents gathered around some Penthouse porn. The celebrated astronaut studies my composure, my silence and my face. He looks quite intently at me. I get the impression he hopes that I am impressed by his wit. But if truth be told, I am not sure if The Man On the Moon wants to simply bait me, gay bash me, or date me, coming on in some jerk off in the closet sort of way.

And that’s all this poet has to say: the facts, friends, just the facts, about what the Man On The Moon asked Spy In Many Houses.

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