Bogart Sleeps Here
By Rodger Jacobs
“But I don’t write poetry!” Trace protested.
Marcel lit a cigarette and smiled at Trace through a curl of smoke.
“That’s the theme of the next issue. If you want in, you have to contribute a poem.”
The only reason Trace contributed anything at all to Kidnap was to expand his portfolio. Kidnap’s detractors – and they were legion – dismissed the monthly arts and culture magazine as “a leftist rag.” Marcel DuPont, the founder and editor, ran the publication out of a huge, dark loft that also doubled as his apartment near the Long Beach Harbor.
Marcel loved to shock. The issue that carried Trace’s famed Jack London essay featured a gaudy cover illustration of Mary Magadelene giving Jesus Christ a blow job. Marcel frequently published the rantings of anarchists, neo-Nazis, and extreme environmental activists, the sort that chain themselves to redwoods in an effort to halt deforestation. Trace had no desire to be mixed in with such a lunatic fringe but a clip was a clip.
“How much time do I have?” Trace asked.
Marcel laughed. “You speak as if I have pronounced a death sentence.”
“Death sentence. Poetry. Same fucking difference.”
Trace left the office in a mood as cold and gray as the drab industrial warehouses that dotted the harbor landscape. Marcel wasn’t paying much, as usual, but Trace needed new brakes for his beloved ’48 Packard and any contribution to that fund was welcome.
Trace bought the 1948 Packard Touring Sedan, a California original, from an auto restorer in Eldorado, California. The car sorely needed some nice cosmetics, such as paint, but the body was solid and it drove smooth. The aggressive soccer moms in their monster SUVs had nothing on Trace when he was behind the wheel of his Packard.
He needed a drink so he pushed the Packard harder than usual, bobbing and weaving in and out of traffic as he traversed the ribbons of freeway that took him from the God awful bowels of Long Beach back home to the residential hotel in Glendale, eight miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Trace had a view of the L.A. skyline from his fifth floor balcony and that was often his meditative focal point when the words weren’t flowing.
“A poem,” Trace hissed that evening, drink in hand, cold blue eyes fixed on the skyscrapers that jutted out of the earth and into the gray, sodium-flavored sky.
“All fall down someday,” Trace said to the skyline. Speaking to inanimate objects was just one of his many quirks that annoyed most of the women who had floated in and out of his life. Trace was a monogamous creature prone to long-term relationships and it frequently mystified him that none of his former girlfriends expressed a desire to stay in communication with him after they split.
“You’re a dynamic force,” a holistic healer once told him. “The women who are drawn to you crave all of your attention or none at all.”
“Whatever,” was Trace’s reply.
Trace had good reason to be intimidated by the prospect of writing a poem. The only poet he liked was Robert Service. The only thing he understood about the mechanics of poetry was iambic pentameter. Poetry was an alien language to him.
He played with words and themes for days. He parked words on paper and moved them around this way and that but nothing that spat out of his brain resembled poetry. He refused to read poems for inspiration because if he was going to compose one of the goddamn things it would be on his own terms.
The afternoon before his deadline he took the Packard out for a drive. He drove south on Glendale Boulevard and soon found himself driving through the gates of Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
A security guard gave him the once-over as he climbed out of the Packard in the empty parking lot.
“No picture taking,” the guard cautioned Trace.
“Do I look like a goddamn tourist?” he grumbled.
Trace lit a slim cigar after the guard passed and, hands thrust deep in his trouser pockets, began strolling through the cemetery like any other man would stroll through a playground.
“Among the dead,” he said to himself and smiled. It was the title of one of his favorite novels.
He came upon a locked area that was not accessible to the public. There were grave markers inside the secure compound and when his weary eyes rested upon one particular pale green marker he knew he had his poem. He pulled a wirebound memo notebook from his coat pocket and leaned against a headstone as he wrote the five simple lines:
Bogart Sleeps Here
Born on Christmas Day in 1899
Died on January 14, two years before I was born
His middle name was DeForest
The vase next to his headstone holds no flowers
“It’s terrific! I knew you could do it!” Marcel gushed on the phone.
“It’s shit,” Trace complained.
“No, it’s very good.”
Trace hung up, poured a slug of Potter’s Vodka into a shot glass, and wondered why he pursued words for a living.