Barry Jay Kaplan


I got myself straightened out after a couple of years, well more than a couple actually, but not too many more, not decades, not a lifetime of it like some people I saw there, but during those days, those months, those years I was there, I needed it bad and was glad for the input, for the kind and patient words, for the couch mainly, mainly for the couch, what would I’ve done if not for that couch, to think about it wasn’t pretty, which was why I didn’t want to think about what got me there in the first place.

I’m not tough or hard. I’m not strong or stoic. I’ve got no patience. I don’t have friends. I lack the intestinal wherewithal to get by in the world. I’m undefended and undefined. My family and such was the cause of it all so everything there’s been jettisoned, the bio of which took most of a year to tell her, half the time not talking, half of it sobbing in my chest, half of it wanting to rip her office down to the studs and chomp through the plaster. I used to dream that I was a lion and other animals were poaching my kill. Paranoia was once a party game, like everything and everyone was against me by mutual agreement, but they were, they really were, check her records, they’ll show substantiated occurrences that upheld this thinking. It was all I could do to avoid spilling blood.

Why I was there in the first place. Betrayal and betrayed. Turns out, big surprise, everything they ever said to me had some hidden meaning, sometimes not even meaning, sometimes just a seething kind of emotion bubbling beneath the what is is of quotidian life, you know? I’m a sensitive guy, so I’m pierced by the implications posed by the parade of vegetables and cereal, let’s say, and plumped-up cushions and pinched cheeks (adorable!), for example, and nightly showers and ain’t he cute and shined shoes and sharp pleats, by the Post and the News, by the existential editing of black and white movies; by the what-all, it’s all of it, until I’m screaming Oh Jesus how’d I get into this how do I get out?

I came up in the elevator like usual. There’s the operator, the same one for the last two years who never greets me, says s’ long when I go, but today he stops the cab between five and six, turns, pulls out a knife, says whatcha thinka daddy’s old duck? Nice, I say, neat, wondering if it’s a sexual come-on or if I should run for my life, prospects for either are making me sweat. He looks at the knife, runs his finger down the blade, purposely nicks his thumb, sucks it up, laughs, turns, starts the cab, takes me to twenty three, whistling things are looking up since love looked up at me. This becomes subject matter for me and her for weeks: what’s it mean, why’d he do it, a show, a threat, a mania, or was it all in my imagination. Time flies when you’re entertaining limitless possibilities. Meanwhile I strain my glutes taking the stairs.

The sergeant herself: a brain with chorus dancer legs which she always kept bare and high heeled. When we initiated contact I was wearing my uniform of khakis, blues, blacks and a hooded coat covering, the works. She was suited for investigative probings: black serge and no-frills stilettos I never saw her stand in, hemorrhage-red fingernails, incessant filing while I talked, I couldn’t take my eyes off her hands. Sartorially descended from there until she was in pink fluff mocs and Mr. Mouse tee, nails bitten to the quick. The clearer I saw things the steeper her descent, as if there wasn’t room for two sanities in one converted dining room, until she was spotted on the street dragging herself along building to building, neuropathy nipping at her rear end: Arizona retirement community calling where the sun always shines and sinuses don’t bleed! This was years later though, so I’m knocking on her door until a neighbor told me she’d been taken away against her will. Luckily I was certified by that time, had a tee of my own said so.

You think I’m a case, you should have seen the other ones. Bingo: a pole dancer from a gentleman’s club on the west side with big hurt eyes like a beagle pup and a seven days supply of pastel wigs, plus a deviated septum that gave her a skeptical look and a mouth with a protective sneer or maybe it was just the scar from a botched harelip redo. It made you feel like Vice just to look at her. This was a girl with no shortage of mental problems. She calls me on the phone one night only it’s not her, I only thought it was, it was actually this other one from the waiting room, this one a plump little baby doll, only this one’s more than plump, this one’s obese, this one can’t sit on a chair, this one’s got to use the sofa, plus this one’s got to use an armchair to help haul herself out of the sofa, so see it’s understandable I’m picturing the pole dancer when baby doll calls. I’m interested in you, she says. I’m an escapee I tell her. She giggles. I’m a dangerous man. I don’t know myself or what I’m doing or what I might do which is why you met me where you did, and how do I know about you, about what you did and do to get to the waiting room, whoever you are. Two unknowns on adjoining counter seats at the Eveready Diner is two too many unknowns for me. This hurts her feelings no doubt because it’s the last time anyone sees her. Humiliation’s a damning device.

I kept changing my times to throw them little doggies off the scent, coming at ten, coming at nine, coming at eleven, not coming at all Tuesdays or Thursdays, then coming only Tuesdays only Thursdays, feeling like it’s finally safe right right? Then there’s this new one. I’m done climbing the stairs, I’m huffing, winded, shoulders slumped, dragged myself into the room, flopped into the sofa, the cushions so soft, so deep, so loving, so all embracing I’m drowning, pulling myself back up for air, making little strangulation sounds in my throat and there’s the new one: black shades, ropes wrapped around her waist, knees knocking castanets, sitting straight back opposite, eyes crossed like I’m the one doing something weird. Why are you ignoring me, she wants to know. The stairs, I try to say. Are you trying to destroy the tiny shreds of self confidence I have left? The sofa, I try to say. Do you enjoy making me feel I’m unworthy of kindness? This is what you’ve reduced me to, and with that she stands up, I’m backing away now, and in another minute where I must have blacked out, she’s gone, the window’s open, I see the trail of her scream or her scarf and yup, looking out, looking down, there she is in the garden twenty three stories and still wanting to know why everything is the way it is. The door opens. I turn. Next!

So of course I’m expected to take my rightful place, and who’s to say it’s too much to ask: to fulfill what I’m supposed to be, to be more, to expand my horizons, to be able to go out during the day and not be afraid to stay home at night, or is it the other way around: to be able to stand at the door during the day, then tear out at night and keep a steady pace so even the neighborhood knife-wielding, drug-crazed, homicidal sociopath can’t keep track. I’m about moving through the dark, scentless ergo traceless, daddy’s old duck neatly palmed, slick with blood, making my way fully prepared, nearly invisible. A whisper, a stranger’s vague memory of me is all I am and all that’s left and all they’ve got. Oh Jesus how’d I get into this how do I get out?


Click here for Barry Jay Kaplan's bio