Al Simmons, 10/24/2011

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Writer/Businessman/Entrepreneur
Contact Information: Al Simmons was born in Chicago, Illinois. He is a founder of the infamous Blue Store Readings, Chicago 1971, birthplace of the Spoken Word Movement, the first regular reading series in Chicago since Sherwood Anderson held readings in his living room in the 1930s. He was Poet-In-Residence City of Chicago, 1979-80. He founded and was Commissioner of the World Poetry Association and served as commissioner to the WPA and the World Poetry Bout Association, (WPBA), Chicago, Taos, New Mexico, 1979-2002. He is the creator of The Main Event, The World Heavyweight Poetry Championship Fights. He lives in Alameda, California.


King Tut Is Back

King Tut is back in town.
Now, there is an act that aged well.

Like I used to tell my sales trainees,
Rule Number One: When you’re hot
Never change your clothes.

So, how should I celebrate
My latest ambition?

I don’t drink.
I already smoke dope all day long.
I can eat rich, but
Then I would break my
Eat well or die health regimen.

Everyday I spend
Making money
For another man
When I don’t
Need to
Is a sin upon Mankind, and
Myself in particular.

Some guys can’t quit.
King Tut is older than Cab Calloway.
What does he do for an encore?
Hold his breath?


A Patronage Job

Just to prove to her
That I was serious
I left my shift at the bar
And walked down Lincoln Avenue
To the 43rd Ward Committeeman’s Office
And told them I was looking for a job.

They told me there was an election coming up
And if I wanted to help their candidate,
Danny O’Brien, campaign
There were rewards.

Three months later Danny O’Brien was State Rep
And I had a job downtown, at
220 South State Street, 20th Floor,
City of Chicago, Economic Development Commission.

Then Doris said, since I began working regular hours,
Getting up in the morning
And going to bed early every night,
I was no longer fun and she left me.

A couple of years later she looked me up.
She claimed she had been a fool,
I was the best.

Thanks, Doris.

Working for the government
Wasn’t really like work.
There was never anything to do.

I bought a corncob pipe and tobacco
And mixed in hashish, and sat in my cubicle
Smoking and waiting for lunch.

Mark Schlichting, a recent hire co-office worker I later became friends with,
Came around to my desk and said, I can’t believe
You are doing that! You can recognize the smell? I asked. Oh yeah!
I shared my tobacco blend with him on the way to lunch that day.
He offered to buy the beers.

My supervisor had an assistant
Whose job it was to keep me busy.

Because patronage jobs were made-up jobs,
Or jobs that did not exist, there were no
Specific tasks for me to perform,

So the city had to hire extra people
To find work for employees like myself
Who had jobs that were not really jobs.

Jane, my supervisor, had a very friendly manner.
Everyday she would come by my desk
To tell me about her
Late night drives in her car.
Jane was recently divorced.

That evening after work we had drinks
And ended up at Jane’s place.
We got undressed.
Jane had a perfect figure,
Though you would never know it
By the way she dressed.

She came instantly and then she didn’t want
Any more.

But Jane, I pleaded, we just began!
What about me?
No, she repeated, she was through for the night.

We didn’t last very long, Jane and I.
I was too much the artist, she
Told me, whatever that meant.

Janie turned me over to Laurina.
Laurina was Janie’s assistant. Laurina
Was assigned to keep me busy.

One day Laurina was passing my cubical
And asked if I’d like something from the 19th floor?
And, what do they have there on the 19th floor?
I asked. You know, she replied, machines.
Ah yes, I said, Ok, I’ll take a lawn mower.

It wasn’t long before I was hanging out
At Laurina’s apartment.
Laurina was the type who
Liked to take her work home at night.

Laurina felt it was only right
To understand
Where we were going.

To me it was just a job, and
A patronage job, at that.

Laurina only had one piece of furniture,
A queen-size bed
In the middle of her studio floor.

We sat on the edge of her bed together and talked.
I tried to explain that it was too soon
To speak of marriage.

Laurina would tremble when I touched her arm.
Laurina would tremble
If I touched her by accident.

In order to avoid rush hour traffic
I changed my work schedule.
I began coming in at 10 a.m., took a two-hour lunch
And was gone by 3.

After a while I wondered why
I came in at all.

The office manager, Marilyn,
Decided she wanted me, too.

And one day, Peggy, Marilyn’s receptionist,
A tall single black woman
With wild hair and eyes to match,
And who just had a baby girl,
Cornered me while showing me the new office suite
That was “off-limits” while under construction.

After that I decided I had enough
And quit.

I was bored and it was hard to work for women

Who are always looking to put their ass in your face.

But I didn’t state that in my letter of resignation.
I said I sought opportunities elsewhere.

Leaving the office that final day
I ran into Mark Schlichting my lunch pal I played chess with,
Who heard I quit.

I started singing at the top of my lungs,
Free At Last, Free At Last! And
He joined in with me
As I walked out through the tall glass doors
Of the high-rise office temple of South State Street,
We sang in harmony, like on TV,

Thank God Almighty, free at last!


Right Between The Eyes

I was in my mid-twenties when I began tending bar
At Katzenjammers, also known as Chuck’s, or The Belden Tap, a
Rowdy bar on the Lincoln Avenue strip, east of
The Lincoln, Halsted, Fullerton triangle
On the north side of Chicago, on
The corner of Belden Avenue at Lincoln.

Jerry, one of the veteran bartenders,
Was giving me instructions how to defend myself
Should someone threaten to attack me.

No kidding, it happens, he was telling me,
So you have to know what to do.

So, what do I do? I asked.
You tell them, think about it? You don’t want to do this.
Think about it? People go to jail for shit like that.
You don’t want to go there.

Two nights later, on the full moon, Friday night shift,
I’m working the bar alone and a big fight breaks out.
People were breaking beer bottles
On each other’s heads.
Bodies were flying.
Women screamed and crowds rushed for the door!

It was just like in the movies!
I climbed up onto the bar and leaped into a crowd
Of brawling drunks. Yahoo! I yelled, and
The whole crowd collapsed into a pile on the floor,
End of fight.

But this one guy I never saw before
Dropped a thick roll of $20s during the skirmish
And was getting loud.

I may have grabbed a $20. I don’t know.
But the guy thought I grabbed more
And came back after closing time
And cornered me as I was outside locking up,

Only this time he had a big knife in his hand!

You don’t want to do this, I told him. Think about it?
People go to jail for shit like that.
You don’t want to go there, I said. Think about it?

I went through the routine.

The guy looked at me
Like I just spoiled his night.
Perhaps I did?

I stood there looking at the knife blade.
It must have been 10 inches long, a kitchen knife.
I stood on the concrete step in the doorway
Surrounded by plate glass
With my back to the locked saloon door.

It wasn’t me, I told him.
You can have all the money in my pocket.
There’s not much because it wasn’t me.
I don’t have your money.

I had the high ground, a step above him,
But I wasn’t going to kick him or make a move.
I wasn’t going to give him an excuse to start.
I just stood there and waited. It was up to him.
He faked with his right fist that held the knife
Then paused to think.

Seconds passed. He didn’t move.
I didn’t move.
And then he exhaled, punched me on the shoulder
With his free left hand, called me a punk and
Ran back to the car that was waiting on him curbside.
He jumped in the passenger
Side and the car sped away.

I walked around the corner
To my apartment on Belden Avenue,
Let myself in,
Put my keys down and poured myself a drink.
It was dawn before my heart stopped pounding
And I calmed down enough to sleep.

The next day the guy came back

Looking for me. I wasn’t there so
He threw a brick through the plate glass window.

It’s a tough business, bartending.
I took a couple of weeks off.

The one that finally got to me,
That made me quit working at The Belden Tap
Occurred one late Sunday night.
Bob Gilbert Hennessey, Hennessey from Tennessee,
A long-time regular, stuck around till closing time,
Then pulled a .38 Smith & Wesson semi-automatic
And stuck it right between my eyes and held it there!

The look of madness, spittle and missing teeth,
And twenty or so vodka tonics
Worked together
Seriously screwing up his face.

Apparently, he’d been waiting all night
Till closing time to kill me
And take the money.

He must have been desperate
And this was the best
He could come up with.

Bob, I said, I thought we were pals?
You don’t want to do this, Bob. Think about it?
People go to jail for shit like this.
You don’t want to go there,
Bob, think about it?
You don’t want to do this!

He didn’t.
He turned and ran out
The door.

That’s when I decided
I didn’t want to tend bar
At The Belden Tap anymore.

Shit you go through for three bucks an hour cash,
Plus tips.

I took an extra $20 from the drawer,
Combat/severance pay.

I came around from behind the bar
And locked the front door,
Then sat there at a table by the jukebox
For a few minutes gathering my thoughts.

I recalled Jerry, my bartender friend and mentor
Telling me, “The whole point
Is to make them think.
If you can make them think
For just half a second you distract them,
You break their concentration
And their will, and then for them to continue
They have to reset their thoughts, rethink
Their commitment and they can’t,
So they leave.”

I got up from the table,
Turned off the lights,
Locked the door behind me
And left.

I wasn’t home ten minutes when
There was a knock on the door.
It was Hank and John Paul, two nocturnal
Poetry pals armed with cigarettes, reefer and
A six pack of beer. Come on in! I said.
Just in time. How am I? A guy just tried to rob me
At gunpoint not 30 minutes ago! I’m still shaking.
Did he get your money? John asked. Hell no!
What happened? I talked him out of it. Here,
Have a seat. Got a smoke? I thought
You didn’t smoke cigarettes? I do tonight. Thanks.
Good to see you guys.

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