Monday, October 20, 2008



It sits in an industrial part of town. The sidewalks are worn down by the million pairs of feet that pound against this concrete mask. They sculpture it into imperceptible oblivion, daily. In the deep night, when the feet of people disappear, the feet of animals, insects, microbes and spirit continue the process. This is an undressed neighborhood. It could have clothes – the hand of industrial haberdashery has been proffered many times – but its particular style of dress is incomprehensible to those who would clothe a town. Those who give never really give. In reality they merely circulate and re-circulate apparel, a garment, a dress, a cloak or coat that can only be called central city hand-me-down. The garish colors, the fraudulent materials based on a petrochemical myth would never do in their own neighborhoods, where the goods are always genuine, even if the design leaves a grease spot, a flat gray stain on the imagination. This place would rather be exactly what it is: an urban trance: a boundless pool set aside for the cooling of an overheated collective unconscious: a clean slate upon which anything might be imprinted in peace.


First you see a purple door. Half way down the right side of the door there's a non-descript white doorknob. Raise your sight line about three feet and move that line twelve inches to the left. You'll see a silver name plate with this legend embossed in black coral: THE EARTH AS A PERFECT PLACE. Open the door. Step into an old square. You're standing on a slab of concrete, freshly poured, that mirrors the dimensions of the room. Four Knights Templar red brick walls stand sentry, roofed by a sheet of transparent aluminum. The east wall is called San Francisco. The north wall is named Los Angeles. The west wall says Oakland. The south wall is imprinted with name Berkeley, in small letters. These are the names of the cities of the plains of Downtown Atlantis. There are no tables in this restaurant; neither are there chairs. The lighting is natural, consisting of sunlight, moonlight, or, perhaps even starlight. There's no kitchen. However, each wall has the legend 'Menu' stapled in gold against the red brick.

San Francisco, at the gate of the east wall, has a list of five offerings. They read from top to bottom:


The dark angel city, Los Angeles, the north wall, lists only one dish:


Oakland is a town that faces west into the dusk. It is filled with the prophecies it brought up out of Texas. Here we go:


Berkeley, a house of gnosis and water in small letters, has just one prize:


Look up! There's William Blake on the roof feeding Billie Holiday:


DOWNTOWN ATLANTIS: A Brief History of the Food

LAZARUS BROWN BISCUITS: These biscuits are made only in a small northwestern Alabama town called, Tuscumbia, and are renowned for their incredible lightness. Local rumor, ancient myth, folk tale and scuttlebutt state that these biscuits have actually been known to create the physical sensation of levitation.

MATRIMONY TEA: This exotic brew was first concocted in Seattle in the waning months of World War II. It is said to be capable of breaking down all the inhibitions of newlyweds – moral, ethical, racial, sexual – that might still linger after taking the ultimate vow. It has a mild hallucinogenic quality. Apocryphal tradition says that king Solomon damn near overdosed on this tea as he was sitting down to write his song.

ASPARAGUS SERMONS DIPPED IN CANDIED GOSPEL HAMS: This is the staple food of a particular class of defrocked transvestite ministers based in Washington, D.C.

BLACK CHRISTMAS PUDDING: Black Christmas pudding is a well-known dessert that shows up on the Christmas spreads of many inner-city black families, in St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Houston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Memphis, Atlanta, Birmingham and Kansas City. There's nothing unusual about the contents of this pudding. The name is what gives it its flavor. The following drama is what gives it its notoriety.

A rice pudding is placed on a table in front of an undetermined number of poor, hungry, angry, and able-bodied black people. Silverware is not necessary! The pudding is set down on the table in four or five old porcelain, rectangular pans. The pans are uncovered.
Hands fly at the pudding from every direction. They scoop, snatch and grab and then scoop, snatch and grab some more until there 'ain't no mo'. Thus, we get the name Black Christmas pudding.

OXTAILS SUPREME: This is an East St. Louis special. In the early twentieth century, young and old black men from East St. Louis used to cross over into St. Louis to liberate the oxtails that were the disdained – delicate for some – leavings of a work day in the stockyards of their larger and more prosperous neighbor. This secret extraction could only be done after midnight, after the killing ground was temporarily shut down.

The oxtail bandits would arrive exactly at 11:18 p m. They would slip into the yard and wait for time to close. They would gather the sacred refuse, wrap them in old newspaper, stuff them into eighty pound burlap sacks, slip out of the yard and head home. There was one small problem. The toll bridges back to East St. Louis closed at midnight. The oxtail bandits only had two choices; they could wait for the bridges to open at 4:00 a.m. – risk getting caught by security guards at the toll booths and possibly letting the food spoil from exposure to the elements – or they could swim across the river. They chose to swim.

Try swimming the Mississippi at midnight ferrying an eighty pound sack of oxtails. Believe me you have to be supremely confident, supremely desperate or supremely crazy.


Despite its name and the magical connotations, this field rice is fairly ordinary. It takes its name from Herman Melvin De Ville, a brother from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. De Ville had an interesting story and led a life that was both cursed and blessed.

He was imprisoned as a child for a food theft from a white man's grocery store in Tuscaloosa. He did nineteen years for this robbery. He was fourteen when he got busted and thirty-three when he got out.

Sending off for a mail order degree in Ministerial Science, he used the alleged significance of his release from prison at thirty-three years old to begin his career as a circuit-riding evangelist. Being freed and coming to maturity at the identical age at which Jesus Christ was crucified, became Herman's spiritual shtick.

On the long, lonely road of the backwoods evangelist he began to read extensively. He also, unbeknownst to himself or his peers, had a profound gift for mimicry and a photographic memory. Because he was essentially a man without money, an intellectual mentor, or any kind of personal direction, he read whatever he could get his hands on. What he could get his hands on were periodicals, how-to-texts and foreign grammars. Herman, amazingly, began a regimen of study that in the short space of five years saw him go from backwoods illiterate to master of obscure and esoteric world languages. At one time he was the only person in the continental United States fluent in Basque, Bosno-Islamic, Rwandan, Haitian Creole, Akuan Angolan - spoken as an indecipherable code by members of the Cuban Politburo - and the three dialects extant on the Korean peninsula.

In the late twentieth century, when the countries where these languages were spoken became international hot spots, the State department, after extensive research and analysis, discovered that Herman Melvin De Ville was the only American who could fill the immediate need of translator / interpreter for these critical arenas.

Herman became, for a short time, an international celebrity. However, he was a man who held grudges. His nineteen years of incarceration, thirteen of them held in a semi-dark solitary confinement, had created in him a resentment against white men that bordered on the pathological. In prison he had issued many psychic arrest warrants; his being had sworn numerous epithets from the inside out; he had carved a lot of oaths into his own heart, but he'd only kept one. He swore he'd never take an order, advice, even a suggestion from a white male. This created a problem when an American negotiator suggested that Herman tell his North Korean counterpart, in no uncertain terms, that unless their was complete compliance with agreed upon United Nations sanctions, the negotiations were essentially over. It wasn't the suggestion so much as the tone that set Herman off. The words, "In no uncertain terms", ground migraine-like into Herman's head. It sounded like an ultimatum. Although, the American was asking Herman to pass the ultimatum on to the Korean negotiator in diplomatic language, by the time the rational had caught up to Herman's prison-induced irrational oath, it was too late. Herman's ego, which was paper-thin anyway, had cut-off the American with, "Motherfucker, tell him your goddamn self".

It wasn't the 'motherfucker' – the negotiator was after all, a soldier - so much as the 'your goddamn self' that offended the American. Something about Herman's deeply black inflection seemed to take the language beyond profanity and push it into the realm of a personal insult, maybe even a curse.

The mission was doomed. Herman had fucked-up the process. He was accused of being a North Korean sympathizer. Passing Go, he was lucky his ass didn't go straight back to jail.

He was cashiered out of service to his country. It was worse than a bad conduct discharge. He was denied his benefits!

He returned to Tuscaloosa. He gave up the circuit-riding game. He went into the business of growing simple field rice. He called his company Hermetic Rice.

State your business, go away quietly and you won't get hurt. Right?

PALM WINE: This has been called a true capitalist brew. The story goes that Chris Columbo, an Italian sea captain, bigamist, wine merchant and small time pimp, was able to trade a cargo of West African slaves for a small palm wine plantation on a West Indian island. This island would some centuries later become one of the Virgin Islands, St. John. The slaves and their descendants, of course, remained to work the land. Columbo's youngest son came to the colonies in a later time to run his daddy's plantation. Seduced by the tropic warmth and African spiritual depth, he remained in the islands, married black and created the first great palm wine plantation in the western world.

HALLELUJAH WINGS: These are ordinary chicken wings. Sometimes, because of the seasoning, they're called Buffalo wings. Club owners used to lay them out for touring rhythm and blues bands and soul reviews from the late 30's to the early 60's. After a few months on the T. O. B. A. (Theater owners Booking Association, also known as 'tough on black asses') circuit, a young singer / instrumentalist would be heard to exclaim, at any sign of hospitality, comfort, or just plain human warmth, hallelujah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HAMITIC PEPPERS: This is a pseudonym for Jamaican ganja. It was brought down from the Blue Mountains in coffee sacks, along the same stone paths that Amerindian and African slaves had built for the British and the Spanish armies in order for the conquerors to occupy the island. Rastafarians, in later years, could be heard chanting during their ascents and descents of the same mountains along the same stone paths, "Death goes up the mountain, and life comes down".

GIVE UP THE GHOST CORNBREAD: This is another food that is named and coded for both physical and spiritual nourishment. It's a really sweet cornbread, first dipped in a dry desert honey and then soaked for a week in plum wine from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The 'ghost' in the name was a code for sexual favors. Usually these favors were fleeting, given and received in corners and alcoves of small dark rooming houses and the back rows of segregated movie theaters. The combination of the name made the sex somehow less sordid and the nourishment more basic and authentic; it made the emotional quest for sex the equivalent of the physical need for food, clothing and shelter. It made living larger.

YAM LOAF: This is a straight code. There is no food here. Yam loaf is a group of women who are ancient and true and primal.

TEXAS SKY GREENS: This is a jazz musician's designation for another musician who is on the verge of leaving the homestead and heading out toward a bigger and better world. Greens is Texas talk for something – an idea, a technique, a stylistic development – that is so fresh, that the freshness itself, the newness, has taken the place of personal need or ambition and is now in control of the nature of things. Texas Sky Greens is a designation for the descent of the Holy Spirit.

TRIPLE DIPPED TORAH PLUMS: These are women or men who remain in a long-lasting relationship or marriage. They are with you when you start, with you when you are flying, and right there with you where and when you land. They accept the whole deal, ride every minute on the wheel of whoever you are or were or ever will be.

HOLY WATER, REGENERATION SOUP, TIME WAFERS: These are three unpublished poems of William Blake.

PASCHAL PEAS, APOSTLE BEANS, KWANZA STEW: These six words were found scribbled on the bottom sheet of Billie Holiday's death bed. Their meaning has never been deciphered.


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