by Kurt Nimmo
I'm at K-Mart when I see Rimbaud in the computer section. I recognize him because, in my second semester of college, I took a class on French literature. I think that Rimbaud must be looking for a word processor, though I know that he gave up writing many years ago.
"Excuse me," I say to Rimbaud, "but aren't you the famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud?"
Rimbaud eyes me with suspicion and contempt. "No," he snarls, "I'm Rod McKuen. Have you seen my father around here?"
I can't help but laugh.
Arthur Rimbaud is the funniest of all the 19th-century French poets. Much funnier than Verlaine.
"Listen, kid," says Rimbaud, "take a hike, will you. That is unless you have some coke."
I never would have suspected Rimbaud to be into coke. His English is very good, almost American.
I'm embarrassed, though, because I mistakenly mispronounce his name. "Yeah, Mr. Rambo," I stumble. "I have a few lines out in the car." Rimbaud doesn't seem to notice my slip, or if he does he doesn't say anything, probably because he wants my cocaine.
We go outside to my car.
Even though it's late autumn, we're having a heat wave. Everybody's walking around in shorts. That is, at least, one of the benefits of the Greenhouse Effect.
"And I thought it was hot in Ethiopia," says Rimbaud. He wipes beads of sweat from his brow. When we're inside the car, he says, "Shit! Turn on the air."
I turn on the air. It smells like burning rubber, but Rimbaud doesn't seem to care.
Then I give him the coke, and he cuts out three big fat lines and greedily snorts them up. There's none left for me, though I don't really care -- I'm with a respected poet, a model for the symbolist movement, and I want to ask him a few questions.
As you might have guessed, I'm a poet myself.
"Don't ask me any questions," Rimbaud says. "Especially questions about poetry. I'm finished with that shit. Understand?"
I've read about Rimbaud's rudeness. "Yeah," I say. "I won't ask you --"
"Let's go!" Rimbaud suddenly shouts and rudely interrupts. "Get this thing moving!" He impatiently thumps on the dashboard with the butt of his hand. The coke's got him all worked up.
"Where y'wanna go?" I ask him.
"Don't matter. Anywhere. Let's cruise for babes."
I'd read somewhere that Rimbaud is a homosexual, but I guess they got that part wrong. Details are often mangled in the chasm of history. I want to ask him about this but remember his warning against any questions. I feel lucky just to have him around.
We drive through the center of town. There's not much going on.
When we drive past Pizza Hut, Rimbaud screams, "There! Go in there! I want a pizza!"
I quickly and expertly turn around in the First Farm National Bank lot and go over to the Pizza Hut. I think that it's very strange -- Rimbaud likes pizza.
We go inside, find an empty booth.
"Your waitress will be with you in a minute," the hostess says pleasantly.
"Tell 'er to shake out the lead," Rimbaud demands gruffly. "I'm a world-class poet, and I don't like to be kept waiting."
The hostess wants to be polite and helpful, but Rimbaud makes this difficult. I'm a little embarrassed. I stare out the window.
Across the street I notice a yellow bulldozer scraping away all the trees and dirt. A big sign indicates that a big mall will soon be erected on the spot.
"Stop daydreaming," Rimbaud demands, "and put some money in there." He points at a Seeburg mounted on the wall.
"What'd you wanna hear?" I ask, fishing for change in my pocket.
Rimbaud shrugs. "Don't know. Play anything. How about some of that techno-pop stuff?"
I drop a few coins in the machine and punch buttons. Music begins playing. Rimbaud seems mellow.
The waitress comes over.
"About time," snarls Rimbaud. He glances at his Swatch and grimaces.
I look at the menu. "Give me the personal pizza," I say. "And a Michelob."
Rimbaud says, "Personal this, personal that. Personal computers. Personal copying machines. Can't you people think of anything more original? What's so fucking personal about a pizza?"
"It's just an expression," I explain, and smile for the waitress. She rolls her eyes.
"Just an expression, huh?" Rimbaud continues. "This is the culture of empty expressions! 'Love ya, babe' ... 'Let's do the lunch thing' ... 'I respect your space' ... Empty expressions, inflated shit!" Rimbaud pounds his fist on the table. The waitress is afraid.
"Better bring us a pitcher," I tell the waitress.
"Bah!" says Rimbaud. "Bring us two pitchers!"
The waitress steps back a few inches, as if Rimbaud is an unleashed dog with rabies, and timidly says, "One personal pizza and two pitchers of beer. Will that be all today?"
"Do you want anything to eat?" I ask Rimbaud.
"Only if it's impersonal."
"We're set," I tell the waitress with a smile I want to be disarming.
She waddles off. Rimbaud looks out the window, glares at the construction crew busy at work across the street. "Why do you people feel you have to put up something on every square inch of dirt?" he angrily asks.
"Business!" cries Rimbaud. "What about art? Eh? Does everything have to revolve around this goddamn business? Can't you people leave well enough alone?"
I say, "Well, you gave up art to be a trader."
Rimbaud frowns. "Thought I told you not to bring that shit up. Didn't I?"
The waitress bring two pitchers of Michelob. Rimbaud abruptly grabs her ass. The waitress jumps, shrieks in terror. "Sir! Please!"
Rimbaud chortles. The waitress blushfully plods off. She says something to the manager, and he looks over at us. Rimbaud gives him the finger.
"You're gonna get us kicked outta here," I warn him.
Rimbaud shrugs, doesn't care.
We drink the beer. Rimbaud drinks right out of the pitcher. He slurps beer on the front of his rumpled and frayed button-down oxford shirt. Then he lets out a huge burp. "Carbonation," he explains.
The manager comes over. He's visibly upset. "This is a family restaurant," he quietly explains. "I'll have to ask you to please leave."
Rimbaud eyes him. "Family restaurant, eh?" he says derogatorily. "What do you know about the family? If anything, your culture has destroyed the family. For instance, you put old people in warehouses. If you don't want children, you have them sucked up in vacuum tubes. So, please, spare me the pious pontifications ... personal pizza, indeed."
Practically everybody in the place is staring at us.
"Sir," the manager hisses through clenched teeth, "I will call the police if you don't leave immediately!"
"We better go," I say.
Rimbaud is inflexible. "This guy doesn't scare me," he growls. "Big bad manager, eh? Ha! You get a rush off telling little school girls what to do? Hm? You pay them shit, Mr. Manager?"
"How much do we owe?" I ask the manager.
"Nothing," he says. "Just leave."
We leave. The manager stands at the door with his arms crossed as we get in the car. Rimbaud gives him the finger again.
I decide that Rimbaud, famous poet of the 19th century, is a great big pain in the ass.
We drive around.
Finally, Rimbaud says, "Got any coke left?"
"No," I answer. "You did the last of it."
Rimbaud grows surly. "Fuck a duck," he complains. "This is boring. Really boring. What do you do around here for fun? Where's the brothels? The opium dens?"
"That kinda stuff is illegal," I say.
Rimbaud wants to cruise for babes, even though there aren't very many available babes in this town. This is a small, conservative town, and most of the babes are married, going steady, or are the watched-over daughters of grocers and factory workers. The babes here aren't walking around waiting to be solicited by washed-up poets from the 19th century. They work at the Tasty Freeze or Revco and then, when the work is done, they go out with their husbands or boyfriends.
Rimbaud won't take no for an answer.
"There's gotta be at least one for me," he whines. "One lewd and lascivious girl with my name tattooed on her tit."
"Afraid not," I say. "You see, not many girls around here are into poetry. George Michael, yes. Rimbaud, no."
Rimbaud grows solemn. "Life sucks," he mutters and lights a cigarette.
We drive around in silence for a long time. It's getting dark.
Finally Rimbaud says, "Go ahead, ask me a question, any question. But only one question. That's about all I can stomach."
This is my chance. "Why did Verlaine shoot you? Was it because you were a better poet? Or was it frustrated love?"
"Verlaine!" Rimbaud spits the name out as if through broken teeth. "The man was a lout, a fool, an obsessive and exceedingly weak individual! Incidentally, we never were lovers. The man disgusted me! I was only interested in getting my poetry published. Imagine! He abandoned his wife! What does that tell you about the poet? About art! Shit! All art is shit! Ordures!"
I don't say anything. I'm stunned, confused.
It's dark now. We drive out past the lonely stretch of motels near the freeway. As usual, there's vacancy at every motel, even at the new Ramada.
"What was that?" Rimbaud asks.
"What was what?" I say.
"That. Over there." He points at one of the shadier motels, the Blue Crescent Moon Inn. I look, but I don't see anything.
"I don't see nothing," I say.
"Turn around," Rimbaud demands. "Cruise through that motel over there."
I do what he says, thinking that the old crank must be seeing things. His whole act is becoming tedious. I want to go home, sack out before the cable. Besides, I'm getting low on gas.
She's leaning against the side of a red Firebird, smoking a cigarette. When I see the microskirt, I know she can't possibly be from Centerville. No father or husband in Centerville would allow his daughter or wife to dress like that. Not in a million years.
"There she is," Rimbaud says excitedly. "The babe of my dreams!"
"She looks like a hooker to me," I say.
"How much money do you have?"
"Not that much."
"C'mon. How much?"
I pull out my wallet, look inside. "Twenty bucks," I reluctantly grumble. "But that's all until ---"
Rimbaud grabs it, takes the money, throws the empty wallet back in my lap. He stuffs the twenty in his pocket and smooths down his hair with the flat palms of his hands. "How do I look?" he asks me.
"Oh," I say weakly, "like a million bucks."
The hooker notices us looking at her from the far side of the lot, and she saunters over. Rimbaud whispers, "Now don't blow it for me. Just let me do all the talking. Comprendre?"
The woman doesn't look half bad, considering. Rimbaud rolls down the window and suavely says, "You're the woman of my dreams. What're we talking here, beautiful?"
"Fifty," the hooker says, gum in cheek.
Rimbaud smiles his oily smile. "Do you give discounts to world-class poets?"
"Oh, a pervert, eh?" says the hooker. "In that case, make it a hundred. And no kinky shit."
Rimbaud is not discouraged. "Listen, sweetheart," he now plainly says, "I've got twenty bucks. That's it. Down on my luck, so to speak. What do you say?" He plucks the bill from his pocket and waves it for her like a little green flag.
The hooker smirks. "Shit, I must be a sucker," she admits to herself. "But, what the fuck. It's a slow night..." She takes the twenty and shoves it in her bra. "But that's just for you, honey. This guy wants some action, he'll hafta come up with fifty more." She cocks her thumb in my direction.
"Him?" says Rimbaud, eyebrows arched. "He's nothing. Just a guy I keep around for grins."
"Gee," I say. "Thanks, Rimbaud."
"Don't mention it, kid," says Rimbaud. He extends his hand as if to shake, but when I go for it, he quickly retracts it and says, "Don't take any wooden nickels and all that shit, cowboy."
"C'mon," the hooker complains, "I ain't got all night, y'know."
"Keep your diaphragm in, sweetzum," chides Rimbaud as he crawls out of the car.
I sit there, like a complete idiot, and watch them go inside a motel room.
Next day, I'm on the freeway when I see this guy hitchhiking. From a distance he looks like a wreck, a derelict.
When I get close, I notice that it's Rimbaud. He looks pretty bad, as if somebody had rolled him or something. His clothes are all torn up, and his hair's a mess.
He recognizes me.
Rimbaud jumps up and down, screams, waves his arms around.
The asshole, I think.
And drive right past him at seventy miles per hour.
When I glance in the mirror, I can see Rimbaud shooting me the finger.
I whistle La Marseillaise.
That's the French national anthem.
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