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.
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.
~ Mark Rickerby
Disclaimer: The pretentious coffeehouse poet-type guy portrayed in this poem is fictitious. Any similarity to any actual pretentious coffeehouse poet-type guy is purely coincidental.