This Week’s Column:


by Dennis Loy Johnson

23 May 2005 — It was a Friday and I'd let my secretary go early because the Navy was in town. The door to the office flew open and a moll with a big head of hair and the kind of body that makes a man say "Cowabunga!" walked in and parked her tookus in the chair by my desk.

She said her name was Cindy DeBray and she had a little problem she wanted me to take care of.

"I'm listening," I told her, taking a cigarette out from behind my ear. I don't know how those things get there. I just find them there in the morning sometimes.

"I'm a poet," she said demurely, batting her lashes and tossing a hank of hair back over her shoulder. Like I said, her hair was plenty big and the move knocked her out of the chair. "I'm in trouble," she said from the floor.

"I'll say," I said. "Poetry's a dangerous game. That hair will kill you, too."

"No," she said as she got back in the chair. "There's a man — they call him The Librarian — and he's making trouble for me."

"What kind of trouble?"

"Internet trouble."

"Jesus. That's the worst kind. What's he got on you?"

"Why, nothing, of course. I'm innocent. I'm a poet."

"Right. So how's he making trouble for you, Mindy?"

"It's Cindy. Well, he's threatening to post something on the Internet, some papers —"

"Bad poems?"

"Of course not. I don't know what it is."

I was getting nowhere. She started to do the thing with her hair again but I caught her in time.

"What do you want me to do about The Librarian?" I asked her.

"Well, I want you to make him go away."

"You want me to whack a librarian?" I asked her.

"No," she said, looking confused. "I want you to kill him."

"I was using poetic license, Wendy," I explained.

"Oh," she said. "It's Cindy."

"I can't kill The Librarian," I told her. "There are laws about that sort of thing. And it would only get all the other librarians riled up. How about I find out what these papers are?" I suggested.

"Okey dokey," she said, rising to leave.

"That rhymes," I said. "They just come to you like that?"

"I guess I'm just special," she said, posing coquettishly for a moment at the door, one hand lifting her hair back as she stepped through.

"Don't do that thing with your hair!" I called out, but it was too late. I heard her tumble down the stairs.

*          *          *

She called me later and told me I should go to a certain café and talk to a man named Bimke. She said he would know how to find The Librarian.

I found Bimke sitting beneath a ceiling fan in a highbacked whicker chair.

"Cindy DeBray sent me," I told him.

"Oy vey," he said. "That woman is nothing but trouble!"

"You know the librarian?" I asked him.

"Oy vey," he said. "That man is nothing but trouble!"

"What's he got on her?" I asked.

"Everything," said Bimke. "He's got me on tape cutting the Iowa City deal for her, for starters."

"The Iowa City deal?"

"A group of her former students got the contract to pick up the city's garbage. It made her look great. No other poetry professor in America gets so many of her students jobs."

"What'd she have to give in return?"

"The mayor always wanted to win the Georgia Press Poetry Prize."

"I see," I said.

"You don't see," he said.

"No, I see," I said.

"No you don't. You don't see."

"I thought I did. I thought I saw."

"No, there's more. She didn't give the prize to the mayor — she gave it to her main squeeze."

I felt sick to my stomach.

"It gets worse," said Bimke. "After that, she went through all the other submissions and made fun of them."

"Jesus," I said. "I didn't know bupkis, Bimke."

"Neither did I," he said. "Once the Librarian releases the documents, I'll have both the mayor of Iowa City and the Poetry Police on my tail. It's curtains for me. She played me for a sap." He looked at his drink, then poured it over his head.

"But Bimke," I said, "you are a sap. You just wasted a perfectly good drink."

He had the look of a man who had learned something of himself by suffering for poetry.

*          *          *

Back in my office I found Cindy DeBray waiting for me. She rushed into my arms.

"Did you do it?" she asked sweetly. "Did you murder that goddamn fucking Librarian?"

I pushed her back. "There's no time for your poetry," I said. "I spoke to Bimke. I know about the documents."

She batted her lashes. "Why, what do you mean?"

"Don't play dumb with me, sister. I know you gave that award to your boyfriend."

"He wasn't my boyfriend. He was my husband. That is, I hardly know him."

"Don't play me for the sap. You might have fooled Bimke but you're not fooling me. Look, you can't stop somebody like The Librarian. Sooner or later he's going to show up at your door, and it's going to be you or me. I'm giving you up, Wendy."

"It's Cindy," she said. "And you don't mean it. You and I — we're good together."

"Look, I'm only going to say it once. But you hurt American poetry and there are rules about that sort of thing. If a mug like me tried that — well, it wouldn't be pretty. They'd hang me, sure. I'd never get tenure. But you, well, you've got that hair. If you don't kill yourself with it, maybe you'll get by."

Her look went cold, then she backed away toward the door. She could see the jig was up. She turned and ran. Her hair followed.

I never saw her again. Not until about five minutes later, when she came back to get her purse, which she'd forgotten by the door.

"Oh please," she wailed. "Please please please please just kill The Librarian."

"No," I said. "I told you, sister. There are rules."

"You and your sacred cows," she said, "and your purple prose."

She left again. I heard her tumble down the stairs.

But she was wrong. In fact, I never saw a purple cow. And I never hope to see one.

©2005 MobyLives

Previous columns:

WHERE THE NOVEL'S HEADED . . . Jonathan Safran Foer's new book has a lot of people talking about post–modernism and the novel. But David Barringer thinks the novel is going in another direction — inside.

BOOKS IN GROCERY STORES: A TESTIMONIAL . . . After his mainstream publisher didn't want his second novel, Larry Baker got an idea about how to sell his second book himself when a flash of inspiration came to him in the local grocery store.

ANATOMY OF A HOAX . . . When Paul Maliszewski heard Michael Chabon tell a false story about a real writer, he wrote about it. So what led the New York Times to cover Chabon's hoax with an attack on Maliszewski featuring testimony from Dave Eggers?

EXTREMELY MELODRAMATIC AND INCREDIBLY SAD . . . Steve Almond explains in a guest column that he really wanted to like Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, but something about his use of 9/11 eventually got to him. And is it the beginning of a trend?

FOETRY SPEAKS! . . . By revealing that the winners of some prominent literary contests had ties to the judges, has made some bitter enemies. Why do it? The anonymous editor explains in a guest column.


All material not otherwise attributed ©2000 – 2005 Dennis Loy Johnson.