DIATRIBE OF A SCAVENGER
(or "How to Toast Bagels")
by Mordantia Bat
friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed ....
from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot
"Are you wergin?" Udo Keir gasped in Andy Warhol's
"Wergins! Wergins!" the group assembled before the television chanted
The assembled group clutched their beer bottles and cheered, huddled
on the living room furniture, all eyes focused on the 14-inch television
screen. Four pairs of eyes focused on the movie. A fifth pair of
eyes, belonging to Adler, strayed elsewhere in the room, admiring
suddenly the artful way the wallpaper peeled in one corner. He moved
off away from the others, towards the kitchen.
* * *
Adler had not wanted to watch the movie. He had seen
it too many times before, and, besides, he had grown weary of his
friends's latest vampire phase. It wasn't that he didn't like vampires
- quite the opposite - but he hated sharing his own shaky enthusiasms
with them. For them, it was a lark. "Oh, let's rent all the Draculas!"
had been the suggestion one night, and so it went forth: from Coppola's,
to Nosferatu, to Warhol's, to "Love At First Bite." Adler wanted
to scream "stop!" But he liked his friends, and they hadn't known
him before, before when he had delved into the obscurest of obscure
They didn't understand.
Like so many, to them, the vampire in literature
was divided strictly into two camps: Stoker and Rice, as if no other
author had ever penned a vampire story in their life. Adler had
no patience for that. Stoker's Dracula was annoying - it was the
tale of Jonathan and Mina Harker. And Jonathan and Mina Harker were
wusses. Rice's novels were a little better, as she had at least
made the vampire into a sympathetic and engaging character instead
of the nemesis, but still, but still - as she continued to weave
the tale throughout the novels, her ball of yarn had long since
dropped out of the trunk of a speeding car. What of Matheson? Le
Fanu? Poe? And so many others?
Forgotten. Overlooked. Pushed aside by all but a
few of the hardcore enthusiasts. The new breed of vampire fan breathed
only of "Lestat." Adler sliced the bagel in half and put the sides
of bread in the toaster. He ceased to admit he was a vampire enthusiast
at all. It just brought complications when he sneered when asked
did he prefer Louis or Lestat. Blasphemy to sneer at her writing.
Blasphemy, indeed. Vampires were all too common these days. Hardly-grown
girls who stayed up all night on tedious drugs and who said they
liked to draw blood when they kissed. They claimed themselves as
vampires, clutching the romantic lore to their pubescent breasts
like a cheerleader sweater. Hardly-grown boys who intimated that
their roommates accused them of vampirism because they failed to
ever remove their sunglasses. Everywhere one looked, there was someone
saying, "I am a vampire," hoping to impress or shock.
Adler had once been much like those he now condemned
when in his naivete, he sought out vampires, absurdly. He checked
in the niteclubs, he wrote to fanzines, he traipsed through exotic
cemeteries, he looked out his window at night. But, of course, nothing.
Failure. He came across the vamp-bunnies and their giggling incisors.
Not that such could not be fun for a night, but it was hardly authentic.
And the more he looked, and the more he saw what frighteningly superficial
people had embraced vampirism, the more he kept quiet about what
he read and what he sought until the mere word "vampire" would produce
a curled sneer from his lips. Others interpreted that as disapproval
or perhaps snobbery. But it was failed idealism.
Why were "they" drawn to what he once embraced as
his idols? Why had he been drawn to these idols? Oh, he knew why
he had. He had on numerous occasions dissected that train of thought.
It was more than the tired connection between sex and death. The
eroticism of vampires in Victorian literature was said to serve
as a substitute for the repression of general eroticism of that
era. True, true. But there was more. More appealing - at least to
Adler - than the consummation-like bite of a vampire was the way
a vampire sought out victims, differentiating the mere food from
those chosen to be made into a vampire. The vampire, by most lore,
was a loner, and yet would set out to make itself some "friends."
Therein lay the appeal, Adler thought, for those who were attracted
to the mythos were generally loners or misfits. Those who sat around
and contemplated things in a corner. To know, to understand was
an act of pure aloneness. For this, as for most other things.
But it was not to be. Look what "friends" the latest
batch of vamp-bunnies had brought into the fray.
The bagel popped up out of the toaster. Adler removed
it delicately and began to butter it.
Adler would not tell any of them - his friends in
the other room - what he thought of their movies. They would laugh
at him, roll their eyes, and say, "There he goes again" as they
did whenever he started to describe his reactions to certain poetry,
to certain music, to certain art. He could have a perfect moment
of (capital-A) Art, lounged in a chair, watching the flies dance
to the weepy strains of a Chopin nocturne, but how to explain it?
It was like explaining an acid trip to someone who didn't take acid.
It was in those moments of weirdity, of absurdity, that one saw
the eternal Void, with all of its archetypes and jugglers, and know
that you had forgotten all you had known so you could have the pleasure
and the pain of learning it all again.
And know, as well, that this knowledge mattered all
at once and equally didn't.
"I need a bagel," Shawna said as she entered the
kitchen. "They rewound it to Joe D'Allesandro's big fuck scene."
Shawna brushed past Adler as she entered the kitchen,
her spicy perfume surprising his nostrils. He watched the deft way
she sliced the bagel in two. Flesh and blood was what Shawna was,
and Adler pondered the curve of her neck in the predictable way
one would after contemplating on vampiredom. Were he to lunge for
her like that, she'd laugh, and let him do it.
So, he would not. He watched her drop the bagel into
the wide-mouthed toaster.
He had failed. He was not a doer. Nor a voyeur. A
scavenger, he existed in limbo. Feeding, carrion-like, on the words
of dead poets, tearing their fleshy words and taking it into himself
as his only nourishment, he existed on the breath of others. This
was failure. He should watch the movies and enjoy them. He should
rip into Shawna's flesh. He should take back the literature he had
once loved instead of abandoning it to its dismal fate. But would
he? Would he? No.
He would, instead, watch the bagel toast, blood shaking
This story originally appeared in SINS of COFFEE,
Issue #11, 1994.