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Chapter Twenty-five

Smokers gathered outside the café during the break in the open mike poetry reading. Sheepish young dudes and middle-aged housewives talked the trade of Plath and Yeats as European sedans and SUVs drove by on Euclid Avenue. The active Central West neighborhood of restaurants, small shops and galleries retained the best of taste without being excessively pretentious. There were large cracks in the sidewalk with tree roots expanding outward along with beautiful cast iron street lamps. You could feel comfortable here whether you where asking for money or on your way to buy truffles.

Bud was extremely uncomfortable. He stood outside Leftbank Books' picture window isolating himself from the café crowd, smoking his cigarette. He was scheduled to read after the break. This was his first poetry reading and, despite graduating with a theater degree, he still retained an acute fear of crowds when required to read out loud.

A college public speaking course cemented this fear. He had researched and developed well reasoned arguments. He made an index card with talking points and rehearsed his delivery at least a dozen times, but halfway through his speech decrying capital punishment, a slight distraction forced him to look down at his prepared text.

"...it's true as the advocates have argued…" the first few words came out alright, but the letters became jumbled quickly turning into x's and o's of binary code, which Bud couldn't read.

Muddleheaded, fuddlebrained, spaced out, off in the clouds, gone woolgathering, in la la land… . There is a peaceful little place the mind ducks for cover when the body is making a complete idiot of itself. Bud hid behind a small boulder in New Mexico trying to light his cigarette with a piece of flint while his body quivered, stuttered, hesitated in front the gathering of curious onlookers finally managing to blurt out, "The End." A very unconventional choice for this type of public speaking.

Bud approached the microphone in the brightly lit café. He stepped up on the temporary platform, placed his latte on a small table near the entrance, then grabbed the microphone, immediately releasing it. 'No crutches,' he told himself; confident he would conquered his public speaking anxiety.

Bud looked down at his blank piece of paper and read. "This is called, 'My Epiphany.' The crowd politely clapped their hands. Someone in the rear of the room cheered "Go Bud. Go." Bud smiled at his red headed friend sitting in back, then read:

Epiphany abandon's his car
With engine running
Friends looking on
Perplexed by their drivers sudden disappearance
"Hey, where you going"

Epiphany doesn't look back
He runs down a one way alley
Where he can't be followed
Building walls and
Planting land mines in his path
This time he would make it
Nothing could hold him back

The jagged teeth of night's mouth
Abandoned buildings
And burnt out street lights
Closed in on Epiphany
He had reached the Land of the Dead
Drunken ghosts danced
But nowhere was the prophet Tiresias to be found

He headed south
Five minutes later stumbling upon
A highway entrance ramp
Epiphany puts out his thumb
The first car stops
"Hey, where you headed"
Epiphany hadn't thought that far ahead
"Oh," he stutters, while contemplating the odds
Of being picked up by the first car he saw
"Just down the highway a little"

The driver reached over and placed his arm
Behind Epiphany's head rest
"Are you a student at the University"
"Yes, how about yourself what do you do"
They talked casually for a few minutes
Until Epiphany felt a hand come to rest on his leg
"You can let me out up here at the park"

A cop's search light scanned the woods
After 10pm the park was closed
Epiphany hid behind a tree
Until the car's taillights disappear
Then made his way to the reflection pond
In front of the Art Museum

Crouching along side the crumbling steps
Built for the World's Fair gondolas
Pulls a penknife and carves into the rock
"You think you know
But you don't
And I'd explain it to you
But I'd be wrong
And you tell me so"

"Hey, where you going to go now"
He tosses the pen knife into the lake
Wonders if the busses are still running
Covers his creation the surrounding dirt and weeds
He rest his head against the stone wall
Another failure
But one day a sword will rise

Epiphany covered in mud and perspiration
The booty for the day
Heads toward home where his friends wait
Drinking Pabst and eating corn chips.

One would think Bud's reading could be understood on multiple levels. At least that's what he hoped. His abstract style allowed the listener to be carried along onthe author's journey through a whimsical yet mysterious world. Without the presence of footnotes or background information the audience might find themselves charmed by Bud's charismatic word pronunciation and green eyes, or they might be eager to get to the next poet.

He left the stage to applause, escaping the inner fear he had that the audience would see through his fear, reaching into a deep dark place he was trying to avoid. As his psychiatrist discovered several months before, he wasn't particularly forthcoming or direct. Bud's idea of self-disclosure was akin to the Invisible Man standing in the middle of the street screaming, "Hey, look at me I'm naked!" You had to prod him, look at what he wasn't saying, evaluate his demeanor, gauge his tension. He could take the simplest emotion and create elaborate problems.

"Epiphany abandoned his car" - a more elegant way of saying one day Bud freaked out.

"Runs down a one way alley" - it was more like a small street, but Bud took the phrase "literary license" to heart.

"Hey, where you going" - when your friend comes to a stop sign, jumps out of a the car and runs off, you don't ask "where you going?" You say, "What the fuck!?" Then you get in the driver's seat and go home.

"Epiphany doesn't look back" - frankly, Bud had some issues, but he was also drunk. At some point in the evening, he decided he had nothing to lose and he should stop second guessing himself and over thinking things. So he decided to be spontaneous and do whatever came to his mind. Maybe this philosophy works for some free spirits, but Bud was too accident prone.

"Building walls and placing land mines…" He could had just said burning bridges.

"The land of the Dead" - so the guy read The Odyssey. Big deal. Does he have to keep referring to it?

"Jagged teeth," "abandoned buildings" - St. Louis sure does have a lot of vacant property.

"The first car" - kids don't ride with strangers, and, if you do, pick a destination first.

"Hand on his leg" - he seemed like a swell guy. A father - told a story how he wanted to open a rib restaurant and was driving a clean minivan, but the two just had different things in mind.

"Cop's searchlight" - as a juvenile he was kicked out of a lot of parks after closing time. Finally, when he was twenty-one a friend suggested he hide, and the police wouldn't find him. This changed everything

"You think you know" - maybe the gist of the whole poem. The guy is lost. He's broken up with his girlfriend and can't understand why. Never could hold a relationship long. He thinks he's battling demons, when really he's just depressed.

Yes, Bud seems like a nice guy, always polite, he loves his family and friends, he is good natured, likes everyone he meets, and he can be very giving and self-sacrificing, but none of these things are an excuse for being a asshole. This man has had no epiphany. It's irony in the guise of a roadside billboard. Bud's only seeing the x's and o's.

"Pulls a penknife" - it was really a nickel, but who will ever know?

"But one day a sword will" - I have no idea.

"The booty" - yea, sure, he got a poem out of it.

"Drinking Pabst" - maybe it was Old Style.