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Original Writings 

[What's This All About?]

 

night guy running

 

The Night Guy Series

Part 3 - A Goliard Shows Himself

"Once in awhile you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right." - Robert Hunter "Scarlet Begonias"

"I drink to make other people interesting." -  J.R. "Bob" Dobbs - Revelation, 1984                                                                                                     

I happen to recall the exact moment when I became aware of the goliards as another might remember their first date, dead body or drunken binge. I remember those too of course but the goliard incident stands out more vividly in my mind like a beacon in the mist and midst of what were otherwise, some pretty foggy years of college.

On a crisp November evening during my second year of working at the Club, my third year of loosely attending The University of Arizona, and early in the week before Thanksgiving, a week when the professors traditionally overload you with midterm exams and final papers, I was facing a test in managerial accounting that would either float or sink me. I had been able to coax another night guy known as The Iguana into working my graveyard shift hoping to use the time to study and get some sleep but instead of being hunched over in some torturously bright cubicle, surrounded by calculators, debit sheets, and borrowed class notes, I had my belly to the rail of a poorly lit watering hole just south of campus called The Oasis.

I hadn't planned it that way of course and had been heading over to the library to check the test file for last year's version of the exam I was scheduled to take the next morning. Obligatory backpack slung over my shoulder, I'd been trudging along down Sixth Street, which borders the campus to the South and as I passed bar after pizza joint after greasy spoon after laundromat after tavern after pub and noticed the cheerful people inside engaged in conversations that appeared lively and interesting and which, I said to myself, could not possibly have anything to do with accounting, I began trying to envision a scenario somewhere in my uncertain future when I might have cause to utilize any of the theoretical, paper pushing, number crunching, amortization, depreciation, balance sheet bullshit I was about to stay up through the night memorizing.

I couldn't think of even one and was able to reason additionally that even if some poor run of luck landed me somewhere in the business world one day, it certainly would not be as an accountant because, if my assessment of an accountant's job description was even close, a computer program is overdue to come along and render the entire profession obsolete.

I'd had numerous internal discussions on this topic throughout the semester but on the street that night, as I stepped around some sidewalk Rastafarians smoking cigarettes in front of a music store and peered into the maw of another den of iniquity from which smoke and laughter were emanating, I felt a sudden but undeniable lonesomeness. The thought of actually studying to become proficient in accounting brought on a palpable wave of depression that caused me to stop walking. I took out a bag of Levi Garrett chewing tobacco and filled my cheek, shuddering at the foulness at first but ever determined to become a chewer. I sat on a low brick wall spitting in cracks and watching the cars go by.

Though the depression felt real, I also knew myself well enough to acknowledge the possibility that I was simply engaging in the usual pretest rationalization and it wouldn't have mattered what subject I had an exam in because I would have found some way to mentally minimize its importance in my future and justify not studying for it. But while this wing-it approach hadn't served me too badly in other classes, accounting was like some warped linear mind set in which, no matter how many of my usual tricks I employed, I couldn't seem to finagle a decent or even a passing grade. A teacher's assistant had called me to her office recently, after reviewing my performance, specifically to recommend that I drop the class immediately but the cutoff date for withdrawal without penalty had slipped by somehow and I was now committed. Just as I had decided to suck it up and was continuing on to the library, I happened to glance across the street and saw The Oasis. 

It beckoned like a mirage and as I gazed through the front window, I caught sight of Wally, this red-headed Canadian maniac who I had first met in a geology lab during my freshman year, who happened to be bartending. His presence eliminated my last excuse of not having any money because Wally had always been the type of guy to let you gamble as many beers out of him as contests you could think of. Trivia, dice, cards, billiards, backgammon, darts, cribbage, even rock-paper-scissors if nothing else was available and since it wasn't Wally's beer in the first place as he only worked part time and didn't care for his boss too much, it took the personal loss element out of the equation and made him that much easier to beat. I decided that dropping in to say hey wouldn't necessarily mean that I couldn't continue on to the library after I had relaxed over a cold beer or two.

The Oasis was tucked back just off the street and guarded stoically by a grove of ancient Palo Verde and Mesquite trees, the roots of which had long since cracked into and become part of the building's foundation in such an intertwining and craggled manner that it was difficult to determine what had preceded what, not to mention making for treacherous footing on the patio. I'd seen many a patron, some of them stone sober, sent stubbed toed and sprawling while trying to navigate the labyrinthine roots.

I remember Sorority hadn't seemed impressed by the size of the trees when I was first showing her around town and pointed them out to her as we cycled past. I also remember being amazed less than a week later, as she sat nursing a long neck and looking up at the moon through their branches to hear her exclaim matter of factly that, if she were any judge of breadth of canopy or trunk girth, then they easily qualified as some of the oldest trees of their kind in the city. I think I remember pointing out that as a transplanted English major from the Northwest, she was certainly no more knowledgeable about the desert's indigenous fauna than I was, and suggested that proximity to aquifer and the density of the surrounding calichi clay and topsoil might also be considered as factors if one was interested in determining age. What I definitely remember is that we sat on the patio long after the others had left, discussing the correct spot on the tree's trunk where girth measurement should be most accurately taken and arguing over whether it was farthest twig to farthest twig or average diameter in the dense foliage that should be used to determine size of canopy. This debate, like countless others before and since, sputtered on long after either of us were interested, with the original issue soon obfuscated by the histrionics of the discussion.

At any rate, they were and remain beautiful trees and if the building ever actually served as anyone's "oasis" it was the trees that made it one. The building itself, left over from one of Tucson's original barrio neighborhoods, with its condemned second story and a musty boarded up attic -- which Wally and I found to be quite spooky one night as we crept through it trying to gain access to the roof -- was a heroically scarred structure, baked yellow by the sun, and built of the thick adobe popular in the Southwest before air conditioning became an option. The solid clay walls provided the best available protection against the scorching summer heat.

This run down house with a bar and grill now occupying what must have been the original owner's parlor, dining room and kitchen and it's protective trees provide one of the few reminders of the quiet street and affluent, residential neighborhood that preceded the current rues de convenience that skirt the campus. Glutting these streets now are the type of businesses catering to dorm rats and whose chief advertising claims are that if you should choose to come through their doors, you won't have to stay very long -- Quik Mart, Hour Photo, EZ copy, the very names of which save time by expunging unnecessary letters. Dine and Dash, Speedy Wash, Chew and Screw, and Zip's records along with drive-thru liquor stores, skateboard and bike shops, pseudo-ethnic restaurants, and any other fly by night operation able to carve out a niche for itself and serve the fickle and constant needs of the University student, fill out this strip which is also home to a gas station, three Circle K's and a Rocky Horror type movie theater.

The Oasis sits back on it's well worn, tiring heels as if observing it all, with a slatted wooden barrel nailed to the porch just outside the front door and filled daily with dirty chunks of ice and a different imported beer every week day. Nothing too imported, maybe a St. Pauli Girl or Foster's Lager. A sign tacked to the side of the barrel, usually written in crayon says something like;

You're in Luck
Imports a Buck
Serve Yourself
Pay inside

Rivulets of melting ice would seep between the slats of the barrel and run down the cracks of the porch causing speculation that it was actually the barrel's presence which held the secret of the gigantic trees.

On this particular night, after I had given up on the library to settle in for the duration as Wally had let me grift more than a few imports out of the barrel by losing consistently in both darts and backgammon, we had occasion to watch with satisfaction as a group of swimmers, divers, water polo players or enthusiasts of whatever sport it is that leaves your hair starchy and green and makes socks and plastic sandals the required footwear no matter the season played Pendular. Pendular was a game Wally and I had designed, invented and constructed months before on a night when we felt we needed a new way to settle bets. Come to think of it, it may well have been on the night before my first accounting midterm.

The object of Pendular was to stand holding a string with a big washer affixed to the end of it that we had hung from a rafter in the center of the bar and release it at just the right point so it would swoop across the room on an inverted arc and ring around a hook screwed into the wall. The hook, after some adjusting, had been positioned in the exact spot where only a perfect swing and some fortuitous washer revolution would result in successful Pendulation. Excited, and with patent signs in our eyes, we had initially devised an elaborate scoring system based on blocks of ten attempts, with each swing holding inverse value in points to the number of previous tries but we abandoned the whole thing when we realized the game wasn't actually that much fun and the first one to pendulate should be declared the winner.

Invariably, after the first few attempts proved unsuccessful, new players who had spotted the string hanging down in the middle of the room and decided to try the game but were as yet, unfamiliar with the geometry involved, would end up walking the washer over to the wall in order to make sure that a pendulation was indeed physically possible. It had taken our new aquatic friends, who looked like they may have come directly from the practice pool, exactly one try apiece before one of them grabbed the washer and marched it over to the hook. Soon, after countless failed pendulations, they seemed to be seething with a frustration unique to those accustomed to a much higher level of competitive success. It didn't improve their mood any when Wally walked by on his way to collect some dirty glasses and hooked up on the first try. I joined Wally in acting as if this was a normal occurrence even though I had never seen it done before.

The bar was slow that night because of midterms and Wally and I, the aquamarines, and two girls with ID's that said they were 25 and 32 but that looked to be about sixteen and proved it by giggling and ordering fufu drinks, were the only ones in the house. A Frank Zappa compilation tape had been playing and I was beginning to notice a certain attitude behind the songs that seemed worthy of further investigation.

"Is this the same guy who did Valley Girl " I asked Wally, raising my voice to be heard above the thumping base. "I read somewhere that when he was recording that song he woke his daughter Moon Unit up in the middle of the night and asked her if she'd mind mimicking her friends into a tape recorder for awhile. Clever song but I don't think I could listen to it very often. Sounds too much like the people in most of my classes."

"Wannabees" said Wally disparagingly, after he had turned down the volume a bit. "And the people in your classes are probably local Zonies and couldn't point to a valley if you handed them a relief map."

"Tucson is in a valley it's own self," I said.

"That's exactly my point," said Wally. "I just read that fifty percent of the people in your country don't even know which is larger, burly, broad shouldered Canada or scrawny assed Mexico. And I read that another thirty percent don't know which lies to the North or which to the South. Can you believe that? Jesus Christ!"

"I don't believe it, actually."

"Neither did I until I started asking some people around the bar and sure enough after I did a little handicapping for the fact that we can practically smell Mexico from here, the percentages worked out to be right on. I also read that eighty percent of the students in some high school out in Jackson couldn't find Florida on a goddamn globe. Just think of that. Florida dangles out in the Atlantic like a penis for god sake.

"Jackson where?"

"Jackson, Florida."

"Jackson is in Mississippi, Michigan, and probably a few other places. You sure it wasn't Jacksonville?"

"What difference does it make?"

"According to you the lack of specific geographical knowledge shows a huge educational gap."

"Listen, all I know is that everyone I grew up with could point to Florida before they were old enough to......"

"So let's get this straight. You've turned the western hemisphere into some malformed ogre and made Canada into the head and shoulders, offered up Florida as the genitalia, and are calling Mexico the skinny ass?"

"Exactly," said Wally, spotting another opening. "And I guess that makes the U.S. a burgeoning swollen belly, which, really, when you think about it, is a perfect representation. And California is in about the right place to serve as the cellulite on a big old gluteus maximus. Did you know that before fifty percent of Californians reach their teens they have not only already had sex but.."

"What particular publications are you getting all this from?" I interrupted. "This sounds like more of your bullshit to me."

"I don't know I just read it somewhere. Besides, what motivation could anyone possibly have to make up stuff like that?"

"Oh I don't know. Perhaps this mysterious someone needs funding."

Wally grunted, poured himself a half a glass of beer and came out from behind the bar to take a stool.

"Did you ever see the film version?"

"Film version? Of what?"

"Valley Girl."

"I didn't even know there was one."

"Yeah. It was like Nicholas Cage's first movie. He might have even been Nicholas Coppala back then before he dropped the family name. He plays this supposed punker who meets some girl from the valley at a party that he's not supposed to be at. I don't know what valley but I suppose the Silicon or San Fernando or something. Anyway, he decides he can't stay away from her for some reason. The Plimsouls play themselves as a bar band and ol' Nick picks this girl up and drives her around Hollywood in a convertible saying cool things like, "If they attack the car, save the radio." Seemed like it was pretty funny. Course, I lived up in Alberta back then."

"I remember The Plimsouls," I said, "What exactly is a plimsoul anyway?"

"Don't know," said Wally, leaning over to yank a dictionary from a cubbyhole near the cash register and paging through it, stopping along the way as interesting guide words kept his attention. "Here it is," he said finally, "a rubber soled shoe. It's British, spelled s-o-l-l."

"Cute, could you turn up this Zappa a bit. What was that last song called?"

"I don't know but I heard "Watch out where the huskies go don't you eat that yellow snow," in there somewhere."

"Any chance of me borrowing this tape to dub it? I'm starting to like this guy's take on things."

"It's fine with me but you'll have to ask Sheila, the day bartender. The tape was in the deck today when I got here so I assume it was her's. I swear she leaves some of the weirdest sh......."

Wally's ruddy face became suddenly serious as he focused somewhere over my shoulder and I thought at first that one of the water bugs had fallen on his face or something. I turned on my stool and beheld a sight I wouldn't soon forget.

A gnarly faced, dwarfish old fellow wearing a ratty trench coat that dragged on the ground, cracked black clown shoes, and a satin red Pooh Bah beret, had burst in through the side door and was now tottering in the entryway, peering around like a surprised time traveling gnome trying to get his bearings. As his gaze passed me over I felt the chicken skin rise on my neck and forearms.

Wally got up and walked back behind the bar watching the door with the wary eyes of a publican who is responsible for a cash register.

The aqualetes stared with unabashed, drunken smirks and the high school girls looked at each other and covered their mouths.

Some uncomfortable time passed.

Just as it looked as if the stranger might spit at all of us and go crashing back into the night, he seemed to make up his mind about something. Straightening his back, he took off his beret, tucked it into a pocket, and began shuffling towards the bar where I sat.

I slowly turned my back but looked him over in the mirror as he came ambling across the room. I might have mistook him for one of the more eccentric professors or grad students who periodically come blinking up out of their underground labs to frequent the dive bars around campus until suddenly, and for no apparent reason, his face contorted in a localized paroxysm which opened a hole in his beard and gave me a good look at his teeth. The ones that hadn't rotted out of his head long ago were a broken and jagged, dull gray color and, as he paused directly behind me, stopping to bunch up the crotch of his sagging woolen britches before laboriously swinging a leg onto a stool and climbing up after it, a fetid redolence of life on the streets escaped the pockets and folds of his clothing and, more efficiently than a night full of stories, introduced him as a true vagabond.

The population of vagabonds, neer-do-wells, drifters, wanderers, and other fringe living folks who, for one reason or another, have ended up spending a majority of their time out of doors, begins to climb in the sunbelt cities around Thanksgiving when street life in the North starts getting damnably cold. Since The Oasis is in close proximity to the train tracks, bus station and freeway, three of the more popular transmigratory mediums for such characters, it wasn't so unusual to encounter a fellow like this now and then. Knowing this, however, didn't keep me from sitting up a little straighter or Wally from watching warily as the newcomer dug for something within his coats. 

Finally, he seemed to find what he was looking for and in a eerie, walleyed feat of face that both Wally and I will swear to, he focused on me with one eye, on Wally with the other, slowly withdrew his hand from his coats, and dropped a crumpled five dollar bill on the bar. He then straightened his gaze to focus on the rack of pitchers hanging overhead and nodded towards them while a hand groped for the bar nuts.

Without asking, Wally set him up with a solitary glass.

"Hugo of Orleans is my name,
And I didn't mean to interrupt your game
," 

the peculiar fellow suddenly blurted. He had a surprisingly mellifluous voice.

Wally and I looked around and at each other. We had been half heartedly throwing dice when he came in but had quit and were staring across the bar where a soundless version of SportsCenter barely held our attention.

"Wasn't much of a game," Wally eventually said, extending his hand over the bar where the old man took it and gave it what looked like a pretty feeble shake. "I'm Wally of Canada, and this is Nate of.... Where would you say you were of Nate if you had to pick a place? Anyway, welcome to the Oasis."

Wally seemed relieved that his new customer hadn't proved to be the complete degenerate he was always expecting to come stumbling through the door at any time, rob everyone at gun point, gut shoot a few patrons and collapse dead on the floor. He flashed me a grin as he gathered some dirty glasses on a tray and carried them into the back. I knew he was bailing out and would put the tray down as soon as he rounded the corner since the glasses actually got washed under the bar and didn't belong in the kitchen at all. I could see him, in fact, through the swinging door, dumping sauerkraut on the grill preparing to throw together a Rueben.

"Did you say you were from New Orleans?" I eventually said, when the silence had grown uncomfortable. "Seems like a pretty happening city. Why would you leave there and come here?"

"Ain't been to N'rlans in so long
I can barely distinguish
Between the Big Easy's quarter
And the Big Apple's Greenwich
'Sides I said Hugo of Orlean's
warn't no New in the name
Mexico and New Mexico
Sure aren't the same
."

"That's true" I allowed, noticing the rhyming but deciding I'd let it slide without comment for awhile. "Guess I just never heard of plain Orleans without the New. Where is it anyway?"

"Zapf if I know
In France or someplace
perhaps near Paree
or South of Alsace
"

He poured off the rest of the pitcher, drained the glass and continued noisily gumming and shucking nuts like a starving man. I went around the bar and helped myself to a pitcher since Wally hadn't come out of the kitchen and I figured he owed me one for the way he had left me hanging with the conversation. Not that I really minded I just knew I could justify it that way with Wally.

"Why would you say you were from someplace that you've never been to?" I asked, filling his glass and getting some more nuts out of the bin. "And what's the story with this rhyming stuff?"

"Well give me a clue as to where you are from
Let's see what you say and our answer may come
."

"New Mexico I guess since that's where I was born but I see what you mean. I've lived a bunch of places since then and could barely remember it until I went back."

"And what about New Mexico
do you remember most
The caves, buttes or stars
Perhaps nuclear toast
."

"Boy you sure have to stretch for some of those rhymes don't you? I think I would have gone with 'roast', nuclear roast, or maybe 'Lack of a coast'. The buttes and the stars are no more impressive then Arizona's. I don't know, I wandered away from a baby-sitters house and was lost in downtown Albuquerque all day once. That was pretty memorable, especially for my mother.

"Toddling in the neighborhood
playing catch as catch can.
Pray tell me more
about the true New Mexican
."

I was scratching my head at this point and could only answer, "Well, New Mexico has sort of a diverse melting pot kind of thing going. I'm certainly not Navajo or Hopi or anything but I don't go around introducing myself as Nate of New Mexico either. And if I could say so, I'm pretty sure that it's frowned upon in the rhyming game to match something like 'can' and 'can' even if you disguise it pretty well. Maybe you could have gone with "Toddling in the neighborhood, that's shit in the fan," or something like that.

I was surprised to notice that our pitcher was somehow empty again even though I had only had about half a glass myself and hadn't really noticed Hugo drinking either. I stood up to replenish it while the coast was still clear. As the pitcher filled, I couldn't help staring at the old man as he fussed around within the folds of his coats.

Suddenly, with the look of a magician shaking a rabbit from his sleeve, he produced an oily, leather pouch of some kind and held it aloft like an accountant showing off a bowling trophy. He had just dropped the bag heavily on the bar as the kitchen door swung open and Wally appeared with the remnants of a greasy Rueben in one hand and a bar towel in the other.

"It's good to see one of you has some money," Wally said, nodding towards the bag and using the towel to wipe some Russian dressing off his face. "Or are we about to play marbles or something?"

Hugo's ancient eyes glittered with mischief as he made ceremony out of untying the leather cord that cinched his pouch and held it by the end to spill a pile of what looked to be very old, and very foreign coins onto the bar. They were a grimy combination of brass, green copper, silver, and gold, some with holes in the middle, some larger than silver dollars, and some bent or oval but none that looked familiar.

"Hey there Dapper
where's the Crapper
," 

Hugo suddenly chortled at Wally with no warning. We pointed the way and watched him dismount his stool, hobble across the room and go stumbling through the door marked Senoritas.

"Nice bailout," I said, "but you should have stayed and talked to the old coot. He speaks in this eerie, sugary voice like some medieval hack poet and rhymes everything in couplets. I guess his accent is normal enough, but it sure feels like he comes from somewhere else."

"Everyone in Tucson comes from somewhere else." Wally said, "But he's the first one that ever referred to me as 'dapper'. I can tell you where he smells like he's from. A border town sewer. Did you see that eye thing he pulled. He's a rotting Marty Feldman."

"You get used to the smell," I said. "And what Canuck border town are you thinking of."

Wally had run into some trouble on a drinking jaunt that had started before a home football game and ended south of the border in Nogales with Wally being cudgeled pretty soundly and tossed in a jail cell to dry out. Ever since he had been voicing these stock anti-Mexican sentiments that he would admit were irrational when confronted but slip into anyway given the slightest opportunity. We had gone around and around on the subject with him playing bigot's advocate and me suspecting him of just trying to get a rise out of me. Despite growing up in a Northern Alberta farm town of about 500 people and not being exposed to much cultural diversity until he came to college, he was such an unassuming guy normally that I couldn't imagine anything as superficial as nationality really bothering him. Nothing like a band of Draconian Federalis and an old fashioned Billy clubbing to bring out the worst in a person though.

"Are you telling me," he began in his mock exasperated voice, "that along with the cheap beer, incredible limes, and fresh bread you are always talking about, the Mexicans are also known for having sewers that don't stink. You're so sensitive lately. Besides, maybe I was talking about the Canadian border. How about Detroit."

"Detroit's not on a border, it's on a lake." I said.

"But it is a border town," said Wally, "And when it's not frozen, it stinks."

At least he had a sense of humor about it.

We were examining the pile of coins when Hugo finally came out of the bathroom looking like he had about three flies to zip up and his walking across the room fussing with them was enough to scare the high school girls off into the night. Since the water boys had only been hanging out to look uninterested and college cool for the girls, they soon left as well and we were alone. Wally went to pick up the glasses and lock the front door.

"How about cheffing us up a couple of Ruebens?" I yelled across the room as I was drawing myself another pitcher of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

"Yeah and how are you going to pay for 'em aye, with those rubles on the bar or whatever they are?"

"We'll roll you for them," I said. "Come on, it doesn't cost you anything. You probably have a big old pile of kraut back there on the grill left over from your own sandwich. Let's roll up the dice and have some Ruebens and fries."

"How am I gonna be rollin 'em up if I gotta be closing the bar down? I'll tell you what though, you can go in the back and cook yourself whatever you want if you can slide me a few of those weekend passes to that club where you work. And I mean day passes, legitimate passes so I can see some of those club ladies in the light."

"Done," I said. "I'll pick some up when I work tomorrow night."

Hugo was still working on his zippers, so I left him at the bar while I went in to raid the kitchen. I assumed he would be hungry and wouldn't turn down a chance to roll some dice for a meal. I wanted to hear a little more from this rhyming hobo and see if I could get more of his story. I found myself thinking in extemporaneous verse as I cooked.

When I came back out carrying the two plates, Wally was laughing and rubbing his stomach and Hugo was drinking from a dusty bottle of red wine that looked like it might have been left over from back in the barrio days. He offered it to me as I put the sandwich in front of him and I took it as I walked around to my stool to eat. I asked Wally what was so funny.

"Hugo here asked if he could buy some wine for the two of you to toss back with your grub and you weren't lying about the rhyming. What was it again buddy something like purloinage and coinage. Anyway, I told him he could have that bottle for a couple of his more interesting coins. I chose these."

He had in front of him a big gold one with a bald mustachioed head on it circled with words that looked like Latin and another little steel donut shaped thing resembling a worn out washer which he held up.

"I figure we can use this one for Pendular when we start getting too good. It only takes me one turn to pendulate now you know. I think you should be aware of that."

"I'm aware that you've never beat me at the game. That's about it though." I took a deep pull from the wine bottle and suddenly was fighting an impulse to spray the stuff across the bar as its tartness forced me to screw up my face. I didn't want to offend Hugo who had seemed to enjoy his sip immensely but something had gone afoul long ago with these particular grapes.

"What are we drinking here guys? Balsalmic Vinegar?" I blurted.

"It's an impeccable offering from the Israeli sacramental grape harvest featuring a seductive, buttery body, curvy, sensual tannins, and the enologically perfect nose that could only be realized by years of corkless aging here atop the dishwasher and breathing in the salubrious and unique air of The Oasis and nearby Sixth Street." Wally was nearly beside himself with his own wit.

"I've had my share of the vinegar vine
and that this is surely not.
Indeed I find the fare and wine
quite soothing on the gut
."

Hugo added a belch as if to emphasize his satisfaction and continuing to attack his meal and the bottle with the unabashed fervor of a man who has seen his share of dumpster dining. When he had finished, he sat back, wiped his mouth on a sleeve, and looked around, as if for the first time, with a sleepy, gap tooth grin that literally oozed contentedness. Wally took the opportunity to take our plates back to the kitchen which allowed me to step around the bar quickly and fill the empty wine bottle with beer.

"So how about coming clean here Hugo," I said, passing him the bottle as a rosy pink foam seeped from the top, "What's the deal with this rhyming? Is it just something you do to amuse yourself, is it just the way you think, or does it go deeper than that?"

After quickly slurping in the overflow, he shrugged his overcoats more comfortably around him and leaned his elbows on the bar with both hands clutching the neck of the wine bottle like it was microphone and he was Joe Cocker about to rasp out a tune. Instead of singing anything, however, he turned on me with a reptilian intensity and his longest offering of the night.

"Although the shroud of fatigue is washing in
We've supped together and you've been a friend
It warms my heart to meet a younger man
with more on his mind then his car or tan
Though you may covet both for all I know
with your sincerity for not but show
You've closed your mouth and used your ears
And with my instincts honed by eight hundred years
Of stumbling around this rotting earth
Watching money grubbing, greed, and dearth
I'd say, my son without another word
Yank up your stakes
And become a Goliard.
"

"What the Hell is a goliard?" Wally wanted to know, coming in just to catch the last few lines. "I think Nate here has enough problems without embarking on a new profession. I'm done cleaning up and thanks for all the help by the way. Now, however, it is time to get serious. Let's start with some dice? I'll be able to concentrate now that those aqua punks are out of here."

I was staring at Hugo, wanting to understand the words that seemed so heartfelt and ask what a goliard was but the oration seemed to have taxed his resources to the point where he slumped forward, put his chin on the bar and stared into the bottle with vacant eyes. I was hoping to prod him out of his haze and get him to explain but before I knew it, I found myself caught up in the usual badinage with Wally.

"What does concentrating have to do with dice?" I said, grabbing the cup from him, shaking it up, and flipping it over on the bar. "Let's set some stakes here then Hoss. I say that I've got three sixes under there and I'll put our two Ruebens against your sorry ass. How about that?"

"Now let me understand this," Wally said, falling into this slow, Western Canadian, cowboy drawl he always uses when wagering. "You say you've got three sixes showing out of the five die under there and you're putting up two Ruebens which you've already eaten and I've cleaned up after and if you win you want to look at my ass? I'll show it to you right now if you want to see it so bad."

"No, I'm saying that if I pull this cup and we're looking at three sixes, Hugo and I drink for free all night and we forget about the Ruebens. If there is less than three, I'll walk to a bank machine right now and get the money for everything I've eaten and you can take what you want from Hugo's pile of priceless coins there. What do you say Hugo, are you in?"

But Hugo wasn't in at all and, in fact, looked as if he might be about to check out. He was listing to one side like he'd just suffered a stroke and was dangerously close to falling off his stool. His eyes were shut but would blink open every so often with flashing but non comprehending gazes that darted about the room like a snakes tongue. He had begun to withdraw further within his coats in a turtle like manner and may have disappeared all together if Wally hadn't set a second bottle of wine in front of him.

"Here's another top shelf selection you might want to try as sort of an aperitif," smirked Wally, amusing only himself. "Most of our customers don't carry your refinement and can't appreciate the good stuff like this.. this.. what have we got here anyway? Porto it says so it's an after dinner, European digestif type thing aye? I'm guessing it will compliment nicely that kraut you just packed away. Come on old timer, take a slug, it'll cure what ails you."

Hugo reached for the bottle like a drowning man for a buoy and drank off nearly a third before handing it to me. With noticeably shaking hands, he then caressed all his coins into a perfect mound which he pushed lovingly towards Wally.

"See Wally, Hugo wants in. What do you say. It's your party."

"Pull the cup you bastard," Wally said.

I pulled it and the only sixes I could see were on the sides of the dice.

"Well, well, well," Wally began as he commenced to strut up and down behind the bar like a model on a runway. "I'll tell you what. Since you are the unluckiest bastard I know, a guy who couldn't even manage a solitary single six, I'll show what a helluva guy I am by offering you a consolation prize. I'm going to show you my ass anyway." He started undoing his belt. "On second thought I'd better wait until you're back from the cash machine, unless of course you want to come around here and kiss me on the bare rump right now. In that case I might call the whole thing even."

To show what rare form he was truly in, he wheeled around, jack-knifed forward and pulled his pants to his ankles, managing somehow to thunk his head on the back-bar in the process. Appearing dazed, he backed towards us slowly, one hand gripping an ass cheek and the other the crown of his head until the back of his knees hit the cold steel of the well. At that point they buckled, and he sat with a plop in the ice bin.

"Smooth maneuver there Hoover," I said, averting my eyes from the cubes clinging to the fur on his reddening butt as he stood up. "How about we make a deal involving the health department before anyone goes running off to some cash machine. I'll tell you what though, I won't notify anybody about the numerous infractions I've witnessed if you'll amble on over to the blender, sit on it, and fix yourself a nice furry Frappe with some of the that ice."

The account squared, I was just beginning to enjoy how 'wallyish' the spectacle was and rapid firing any barb I could think of when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hugo drop from sight on the other side of his stool. He hit the floor with a padded thunk, with his oily sack settling next to him. His coins were left sitting in their symmetrical mound on the bar.

"Now what the Hell are we gonna do?" Wally wanted to know, all repackaged but still rubbing his head as he joined me at Hugo's side. "This is turning into a nightmare."

"The sight made me a little faint myself," I said. "Check his pulse will you. I'll try and roll him over on his side in case he spits up or something."

"Jesus," Wally said through a clenched hand as he covered his nose and mouth with one hand and gingerly felt around Hugo's neck with the other. "This job is going to drive me to drink I swear. The last thing I need is a dead bum on my hands."

"He's not dead he just passed out. The poor guy probably hadn't eaten a decent meal in weeks." I bent down near his face and caught a faint breath that curled the hairs in my nose."

"Well he smells dead to me." said Wally. "I'm not getting a pulse here by the way."

"You can't feel a pulse when you're not breathing yourself. Just back off will you. I'm sure he's fine. He probably had been starving for so long that once he filled up on something close to proper food, all the blood in his body had to rush to his stomach to help with digestion. And I'm sure looking at your tired ass with ice cubes dangling off it didn't help either. It was all too much for him and he just passed out."

"What?" Wally said, jumping up and looking back and forth from me to Hugo like we were cohorts in some macabre scheme, "I eat Ruebens all the time and nothin like that has ever happened to me before."

"That may be true," I said, "But you're not exactly going hungry either. Look at your stomach for god sake. You've ballooned."

Wally looked surprised as he pulled up his shirt to reveal a puffy white underbelly.

"Hey now, I may not exactly be at my playing weight but I have not ballooned. You try working in this grease pit instead of that health club and see what you look like you goo goo... you gallstone.. Uh or goalie... what ever it was that this bum called you."

"Goliard," I said, remembering suddenly. "Get me that dictionary will you. If I'm missing out on some calling I'd like to at least know what it is."

Wally got the dictionary and slid it across the bar to me mumbling something about not being appreciated. He came around and stood over Hugo rubbing and shaking his head as I thumbed to the G's.

"Here it is," I said, after reading through it a couple of times. "And actually, it doesn't sound half bad."

"Well let's hear it."

I read. "Goliard -- One of a class of wandering students in midievel Europe, to whom a life of conviviality, license, and the making of ribald and satirical Latin songs is traditionally ascribed. From the middle eng..."

Hugo groaned suddenly as I read rolling onto his back and I dropped quickly to his side. He motioned and I bent toward him with an ear. He muttered hoarsly;

"You'll do it lad
by drink and wench
I seem to be on the floor
we'll need a bench
"

"What?" Wally said, leaning down. "Did he ask to have a drink on a bench? Goddammit, this could go on all night. We've got to get out of here soon or the cops will be by to check..."

"Will you shut up for a minute and help me get him somewhere besides the floor," I was rolling Hugo back on his side. He just needs to sleep it off and not see you when he wakes up. I think the sight of that ass of yours triggered some breakdown in his....."

"Why do you keep discussing my ass all the time?"

"I mean he does live on the streets but he's probably never seen such a horrid sight."

"What the Hell are you talking about?"

"Your ass."

"Again? We've got a dead man here and you can't get off the subject of people's asses? What's the matter with you anyway?"

I glared at him until he bent to give me a hand.

But nothing we did elicited even another grunt from Hugo and after much further dickering, drinking, discussion, and debate back and forth had gone on, we finally decided to carry him out to a broken down microbus that had been parked behind the bar for years and that Wally and I had both crashed in ourselves on a few occasions. We laid him across the back bench seat, covered him well with some old shirts and jackets from the lost and found box, listened to his breathing which wasn't difficult as he had started snoring immediately, closed the bus door and went our separate ways.

The next morning as I rode groggily along in the general direction of my accounting exam, I found I was thinking more about Hugo than the test and decided to ride over past the Oasis and check on him. I approached the bus nervously and peered into the back. The pile of clothes was all that remained.

After I had gotten my exam back a few days later and found that I'd failed and needed to ace a make-up to have any chance of passing the class, I went in to see Wally and get some advice. I found him preoccupied and upset about something and in no condition to do anything but absentmindedly fill us a pitcher. He got a deck of cards and offered to cut me for the beer but seemed to forget what he was doing. I drank in silence as I waited for him to explain.

"That cocksucker," he finally said. "I'm just gonna walk out of here someday."

"What are you talking about? Out of where?"

"This bar."

"What? For Gods sake think about what you're saying! You can't do that. You're the only person I know who makes more than minimum wage."

"So."

"So? Remember where you are now. This is Tucson. Nobody makes any money around here."

"It's not worth it working for that cock. Besides you could get me a job at the club. Then I could get in shape."

"Alright now come on there'll be no getting in shape for you. What happened anyway?"

He hemmed and hawed a bit but finally got around to telling me that the Oasis' owner had dropped by that morning for some reason and discovered a note pinned to the door, which Wally pulled from his pocket and held out to me. Written on a napkin in flowery handwriting were the words, "The Affair of the Red Headed Innkeeper" . The boss had apparently confronted Wally when he came on shift and he had been off his feed about it ever since.

"Seems like I'd remember if I was involved in some affair anyway," be began, "The blockhead is sure it was meant for me but I just can't figure the damn thing out."

"I don't see what you're so upset about. It's no business of his even if it was meant for you. What'd he say about it that has you so upset anyway?"

"Oh I pulled up and was getting off my bike, I hadn't even clocked in yet aye, and he comes marching out like he's Jim Rockford or something and says 'I don't pay you to have affairs Goddammit, I pay you to tend bar. Now what the Hell is the meaning of this?' And then he shoves this note in my face. I can tell you it scared Hell out of me when I saw him coming waving a sheet of paper around. I thought maybe he had done inventory or something."

"So what'd you do?"

"Well I read it first of all, and then told him I didn't know a damn thing about it, that it was clearly some sort of joke but I don't think he was satisfied. Then he told me to watch my step and marched off. Probably to beat his wife."

"His wife?" I said. "Is that who you're having the affair with?"

"Hell no! I don't even think he's married actually. He just seems like that sort of guy."

"Well who's wife is it then?" I said beginning to enjoy myself.

"I don't know," Wally said, genuinely puzzled. "Seems like if I was slipping the ol' cob to somebody's wife I'd at least remember it. And even if I was, I don't think it would warrant being called "The Affair". I mean if the note read "I'll be back to kick your ass you red headed bastard, my woman said you ogled at her while I was in the shitter," then maybe I'd understand it a little better."

"Come on now," I said, filling my glass with the last of the pitcher and drawing the queen of diamonds from the deck Wally still held absentmindedly in front of him. "You're the only thing even close to a red headed innkeeper anywhere on this street. Let's think back now."

"I tell you I have been thinking back and I'm damned if I can remember anything. I've been in a bit of a drought woman-wise as a matter of fact if you want to know the truth. Sheila and I had a thing going for about two days awhile ago but she can't be married. I've been in her house for gods sake and if there is a husband stashed away in there with all the feminists and cats then he's one hell of a strange fella."

"You mean the sorta strange fella who might leave a napkin with "The Affair of the Red Headed Innkeeper" written on it? Would you draw already. I'm getting thirsty here."

"There ain't no husband looking for me," Wally said as he spread the deck before him and carefully selected a six. "Now damnit would you look at that. My boss is gonna go broke pretty soon if my luck doesn't change. You want to drink draft or hit the barrel?"

"What's the daily in the barrel?"

"Rolling Rock I think."

"Rolling Rock? How is that an import? I thought it was from Pennsylvania or something."

"Exactly," said Wally absently. He picked up the note from the bar and stood staring at it.

"Just fill up this pitcher again," I said, looking up at the bar clock. "I've gotta work tonight and want to stop by the library on the way to get some books."

"Accounting books I hope."

"No, the hell with accounting. I want to see what they've got on goliards. I haven't been able to get ol' Hugo out of my mind."

"Say that reminds me," Wally said, looking relieved to finally steer the subject away from his affair, setting up a couple shot glasses, and grabbing the Wild Turkey from the shelf. "Did I tell you we still have his coins. I found them out in the bus. We practically tucked them right under his nose but he must have cruised off without them. I've got them stashed here under the bar in case he comes in again."

"Really," I said, interested. "We ought to take them in and get them analyzed somewhere. I'll bet they're valuable as Hell. I wish I knew where to find him. Maybe I'll ride down by some of the soup kitchens tomorrow."

"Seems like it would be considerably easier for him to find us," Wally said. "You know when that penis-head first gave me the note, Hugo was the first person I thought of. Until I read what it said." His shoulders slumped noticeably as he was reminded.

"Hum, well hey thanks for the beer. Drink that extra shot yourself. It looks like you could use it. Come on down to the club after work if you feel like it."

"Alright," Wally said, tossing back one of the shots and throwing the glass in the sink. "And hey, if you see anyone who looks like a jealous husband slinking around outside stop somewhere and give me a ring."

I said that I would.

The university library, as it turned out, didn't have much of anything on the Goliards except several encyclopedic explanations describing who they were and when they had lived. One entry identified them as 'scholar poets who had flourished in 12th and 13th century Europe' adding that the origin of the term has remained unclear. Another said that although references to the House of Golias appear in the rubric of nearly twenty manuscripts, scholars still feel that no real Golias existed nor was there any organized guild of any kind. The same entry speculated that the term was coined as one of reproach, perhaps by analogy to Goliath of Gath, the symbol of lawlessness and derivation from the Latin Gula -- sin of gluttony -- and was attached at the time to any poets suspected of drunkenness who attacked the church or pope.

Yet another cursory blurb explained that while the poets definitely existed, they were nothing but random, unorganized drunkards who couldn't possibly have had any knowledge of classical poetry or the technical skills to succeed at the so called goliardic verse that would be supposedly named after them. The verse in question was described as 1. a vigorous type of poetic expression, 2. almost always satirical and directed against the church or the pope personally and 3. profane and devoted to the pleasures of the bed and tavern in the spirit of reckless hedonism.

The only actual names assigned to any specific goliards were Walter of Chatillon and Hugh Primas, but another moniker had surfaced in a few places and caught my attention immediately.

It was simply The Archpoet.

The library had but one book listed in the subject catalogues under goliards and the computer showed it had been let out to a graduate student who could keep it for another four months if nobody requested it. I filled out a recall form, Xeroxed what I could of the entries I hadn't read and headed off to work. I remember wondering that night as I rode through Tucson's dark back streets, if I would need to become some sort of a medieval scholar just to figure out what a mysterious hobo had been talking about.

 

 

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