by Mark Rickerby There's this guy named Hep Cat. He wears a little cap. He likes to sit in coffeehouses writing lots of crap. He sports a little goatee and dresses all in black. People say hello to him but he never answers back. He smokes nasty Galois cigarettes and blows it all around. He loves to bug the pink lung crowd as they complain and cough and frown. If someone dares confront him about the awful stench, He feigns to spit on their shoes and shouts foul words in French. I couldn't stand his rudeness but I'm not much for fighting so I snuck behind him stealthily to see what he was writing. He looked so wise and worldly from across the smoky den but when I looked real close, I saw he was writing "the" over and over again. (Part 2) I was on my way in to the coffeehouse, fixin' to grab a quick bite when I noticed a sign in the window which read, "Poetry reading tonight." Now, I consider myself quite a novice cuz my poems often tend to rhyme. The beatniks and the free verse crowd would prefer it if I were a mime. I guess I'm just old-fashioned. Some folks think I'm a little dense for thinking a poem should have meter and make some kind of logical sense. I really just don't understand it for if the critics' charges are true, Shakespeare, Longfellow and Dickinson were a bunch of idiots, too. I gathered up all of my courage and added my name to the list but planned to go on real late when everyone would be good and pissed. That night, it was standing room only. I held all my poems in my lap waiting for my turn to read as the MC delivered his rap. The poets were diverse and interesting. No two were alike at all. An old man read a poem about kinky sex and a biker read, "Ode To My Doll." A wild-eyed environmentalist convinced me we all were doomed. An ex-con described how he'd almost gone mad until a rose in his cell had bloomed. A lawyer read one that brought tears to my eyes, recalling his Peace Corps days and how his heart had grown steadily empty building a beautiful, golden cage. The night was in full swing. They'd all set an expansive tone when a guy came in through the alley door and stood in the shadows alone. He looked around the room with rancor as if he wished we all were dead and a storm of contempt and hostility seemed to swirl above his head. Then the MC called my name so I stepped into the light and read a couple of rhymers. They were the first ones of the night. I noticed a nice, old couple breathe a deep sigh of relief, and I saw the hipsters roll their eyes, hoping that I would be brief. When I finished, I got a nice round of applause and, spent, returned to my chair. Then the MC said, "Thank you, Mark. Now, is there a 'Hep Cat' anywhere?" He was wearing his usual uniform, dressed in black from head to toe. A turtleneck and a French beret worn with a rakish slant, just so. As I heard his name, I remembered. I knew that I'd seen him before. He was the guy that no one could stand. A first-rate, Grade-A, crashing bore. He always seemed to go out of his way to be sullen, obnoxious and rude and anytime he walked into the place, he never failed to bring down the mood. I shouldn't have but I'd spied on him a couple of months before. He looked like he was writing a novel but it was only "the", nothing more. I had kept the discovery secret of the hideous pretense I had found. He'd worked so hard building his image, I couldn't bear to tear it down. "God love him," I thought. "The poor guy. He's just too tightly wound. Who am I to judge if he wants to hide in some cheap disguise he found?" He skulked slowly up to the stage with his usual smirking frown but instead of beginning, he waited for the murmuring to die down. I thought, "This guy is so arrogant. He's really a sight to behold. For someone who writes nothing but "the", he sure is incredibly bold." Then I thought that maybe the "the" incident was something I misunderstood. Maybe it was some abstract exercise and I was condemning him more than I should. So I opened my mind, sat very still, and decided to give him a chance. After all, many geniuses often seemed mad to those who judged by a cursory glance. I even managed somehow to ignore the bitter, seething contempt He obviously felt for his audience. No one from his ire was exempt. Now I'm not exactly Sinatra but this guy didn't have a clue about how to win the heart of a crowd. He did everything but throw his own poo. And though I struggled and strained to follow, his poems just made no sense at all. Disjointed fragments of insane dreams. The King's English mangled and mauled. An old expression came to mind, one that really seemed to fit. "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, then baffle 'em with bullshit." I finally had to give up in despair but Hep Cat, he droned on and on. Something about "flaming cantaloupes" and a "door knob's evil spawn". See what I mean? It made no sense at all! I guess you just had to be there. His words made me physically nauseous. I felt like I needed some air. But for etiquette's sake, I toughed it out till he finally looked up from the page. The MC saw his chance, grabbed the mike and said, "Okay! Next up on the stage . . ." But Hep-Cat grabbed it right back and said, "I better hear some applause and fast! You people wouldn't know poetry if it jumped up and chewed on your ass!" The hipsters pretended they got it and broke out in whoops and cheers. Some people clapped out of courtesy, others just clapped out of fear. Though Hep Cat weighed only 130 or so and wasn't much of a threat to the men, everyone knows that a lunatic can have the strength of ten. "To hell with you all! I don't need you!" He yelled as he stepped off the stage. "You all can kiss my sweet, white ass!" then he kicked over a chair in his rage. And away he stormed through the alley door being a melodramatic pain-in-the-ass. "Well, that was fun!" the MC said, "I hope he's off to anger management class!" I was finally forced to conclude, though it pained me to discover first impressions are sometimes dead-on and one CAN judge a book by its cover.
The end