The ancient art of eating glass

'Girl Eating an Apple,' Godfried Schalken

‘Girl Eating an Apple,’ Godfried Schalcken

I got in the slot on the offramp at the exit I used to take for work, turned left on 1st past the strip club, the pot shops, the Alaskan outfitter Filson—parked at my old office, climbed the steps to the lobby and met Donnie, rode the empty car to the top floor where we got out. I thought maybe it was sad or pathetic I kept going back, like I couldn’t let go, but I wasn’t sure if that was the real reason and didn’t have anyone else to ask, I didn’t know.

When we were done he walked me back to the elevator and I asked about his dreams, that I’d been concerned about him—but he said I’ve got both feet on the ground now, he pointed at them and smiled, and I said I’ll see you in the new year, my friend.

I ate a piece of candy and got on the bus to downtown, the south side of it, to watch the sun on the water crossing the floating bridge. Loren was driving up from Portland to meet me in the city for a show, but I got an email saying the show was canceled, I texted him, and he texted back, said just tell me where to go, I don’t care anymore.

I got out at 5th and Jackson, climbed the hill to the same intersection I used to take when I lived on Capitol Hill, when I’d sometimes walk to work. There was the same shit apartment some guy lived in with a bunch of heads inside on the shelves. They were the heads you’d put wigs on but they were all bald and dusty-looking and one time I saw him in there just sitting with all the heads looking out the window, facing the same direction.

I didn’t know how to tell Loren where to get off to meet me. He didn’t know how to use a GPS or didn’t want to—we were like two blinking dots on a screen coming closer together with each pulse. I took pictures of the freeway and said I’m on the overpass, just look up. I could see all the cars snaking past the old mental hospital, where Amazon had their first office.

There was a dark, moody bar called Vito’s that was rumored to be mob-owned and sometimes people got knifed there. We met outside, but it wasn’t open yet. It was the three o’clock hour, still. I told Loren to get out of the car right there in the street and I got in and drove. We went a block up the hill and got a spot by a crappy convenience store and across the road was the Sorrento Hotel from like a hundred years ago with a good, dark bar that has an English feel to it, all the wait staff in black and white.

Loren came back from the toilet and I ordered two Old Fashioneds and he sat down and began to spool out, the divorce update, the new job, the election: the bartender said he picked this place because it didn’t have a TV, that was one of his requirements, he put it on the application. They tore out the TV and hung a painting there.

We drove to West Seattle and parked at the junction with the beer bottle shop, the urgency of handcrafted beer and growler fills, the palpable scent of foot odor and dudes in beards wedged in, the storefront windows steamed over, people coming in and shaking off, people talking about beer.

We ping ponged between the beer shop and the corner record store and then across the street to the Indian restaurant with its back bar Anthony romanticized, that’s accessed through a special corridor oddly lit, tilted like a funhouse.

In the morning we met with Dawn in our den for a recap over coffee, what Loren could remember of our times before, when we used to live in West Seattle, our strange neighbors, and Dawn, the strange people I knew in Pittsburgh, and then Loren told us about a guy who toured with them in Europe when he was with a band, a guy who attracted an odd following, who did a combination of magic tricks, some singing and spoken word: a guy called Drumgum.

People brought things for Drumgum to eat and he ate anything, including a CD once, that he fit in his mouth and melted with a blow torch so it folded, and he swallowed it.

One night in Holland they were all drunk, the singer in Loren’s band, and the singer got up on stage with Drumgum and started eating a wine glass around the top (Loren’s lips curled back as he described the way the singer went around the edge of the glass and broke it off piece by piece), and they wondered was this bad, their singer, swallowing glass: like, would it damage his voice?, and yet nothing bad happened to Jason, not a drop of blood: and Drumgum said something like, I knew you had the same talent, I could tell. He described it as an ancient art.

I didn’t want to see it, I didn’t have to, it was better in my mind’s eye. I wondered later if Loren made it up but it wasn’t like him to do that and it didn’t matter, I believed it at the time. I told them about Bean Loaf and Andrew the Shrew Boy, the circus acts I knew in Pittsburgh, that odd dynamic of self-mutilation as a form of entertainment, I don’t like.

I bought five albums and spent $160 (three of them were double), and sunk into my couch with Joy Division, remembered I had a copy of it on cassette my friend Dave Dever recorded for me from LP, his painstaking penmanship with the song titles and track durations, each in a different colored ink: how the analogue recording highlighted the moody, shadowy corners of the songs that just hung there dark and vacuous, it created hollow spaces, reminding me of my own.




Categories: musings, writing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. Years ago, while I was in law school, I went to see the Jim Rose Side Show. Mr. Rose did things like … he ate a light bulb, had somebody throw darts at his back, put a hanger in a hole in his tongue and then hang a leather jacket on the hanger, hang a chain from hooks on his nipples and hang a steam iron from the chain and then, the grand finale … with a sheet to shield us from actually seeing something offensive and a light behind him to show his profile through the sheet, he hung a cinder block from his penis ans swung it back and forth.

    There was something repulsive and fascinating about the show from beginning to end. I wanted to rise up and say stop and I wanted the show to go on and I want to go see one of those shows again one day and I don’t.

    This is the thought I had based just on the title of your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that’s fascinating and I don’t really get it. I knew some people who did that and they were really odd, but interesting sorts. The fact this guy Drumgum insists it’s an ancient art, where people can swallow swords and it’s like a cultivated gift, I find that terribly odd. I like the terribly odd, maybe we have that in common here. Thanks for sharing those weird scenes Mark.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wonder who the first person was who thought “I wonder if I can swallow a sword” or “gee, what would happen if I try to eat that light bulb?” How does that thought enter somebody’s head?


    • You’re both making me ill. And it’s only 6:36 a.m.

      I think this kind of entertainment goes way, way back. There was a guy named GG Allin who would mutilate himself on stage and physically attack the audience. What a miserable way to call attention to yourself.

      Do you know who Charles Bukowski is? This reminded me of his prose. In the good way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know about GG Allin but he’s the kind of guy I’ve avoided. Even the fact Frank Black would bash his lips and mouth against the mic to bloody it kind of sickens me, really does. And I love Frank Black, or at least the idea of him. Thanks for the Buke call out, that’s super. Bill


      • Yeah … probably a little too much information, eh?


  2. I especially liked the scene from the Sorrento, the phrase “spool out” which was very good, I knew just what you meant, and the bartender who wouldn’t work with a tv. Maybe not the kind of place you’d spend all night but a fine place to start. I don’t think I could watch a professional eat a CD or an amateur eat glass. I’ve always been squeamish but old enough not to pretend it doesn’t bother me. Drumgum is a neat name.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It bothers me to think of that guy eating the glass. I think the point for me was more Loren’s description of it, his story-telling, how the chicanery of the side-show acts is a kind of fiction writing itself. The Sorrento is the coolest place, a real boutique type of hotel. Best when they get their Christmas stuff out, a good place to retire with a book by the fire, in the lobby. Thanks for reading Kristen and glad you liked it. Bill


  3. Love the way this is all about the odd – odd people, places, names – as if everything is slightly askew, seen and experienced through a curved glass, throwing the images out. It’s unsettliing, right from the moment the show’s cancelled and you and Loren struggle to find each other.
    Some peculiar folk out there. I’m like you, never been interested in that sort of body shock entertainment, though I am drawn to the idea of Victorian freak shows – not for the spectacle, but for the idea of all these outcasts coming together, a place were the ‘other’ has a home.
    Great piece, Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks for the share and the great response Lynn! It was a weird 24 hours or so, I was excited to write about. Had been mulling it over for long enough I had to get it out, as I think you can relate. I wanted to go much weirder but practiced restraint in the hope for clarity vs. ambiguity, so glad this resonated (the curved glass is a cool image). Thanks for reading, enjoy your day. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. like a david lynch film, but real

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This reminds me of something I’d almost successfully forgotten. We were at an Ornette Coleman concert in SF, and after the first set some people dressed in Indian wraps came out, stripped, and started ritualistically piercing one another. Serious holes were made through the women’s breasts and big long rods pushed through them. Half the crowd got up and left, but my wife and I were so stunned we sat there unable to look away.

    Thanks for the memories, Bill!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Is Loren your Neal Cassady?
    I visited my cousin in Quebec City last week. She’s the oldest cousin and I’m the youngest, but she’s the only one I’m anywhere near close to. She’s more like an aunt, really. Her cross street is Kirouac, but it’s not the same spelling, not the same guy.

    Liked by 1 person

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