CAMEL JEREMY EROS AND THE GHOST OF THE PIGGLY WIGGLY
BY COREY MESLER
Once upon a time there was a
mystical era called the Sixties. Now, the Sixties, specifically, for
those bent upon hard facts, were the nineteen sixties, anno domini, but
The Sixties, in caps, jauntily, existed in time and out of time, and
perhaps it is because of this it was a period of hauntings and gramarye
and that old green magick. And there lived during these fulminating
times a poet by the name of Camel Jeremy Eros in a small city called
Memphis, Tennessee, on a large river called the Mississippi, and many
stories are told both by and about the brave poet, but the one which
concerns us now is how Camel Jeremy Eros became acquainted with the
ghost of Piggly Wiggly.
Now Piggly Wiggly I'm sure you know is a
grocery store chain, started right here in Camel's home town of Memphis,
Tennessee, by a man named Clarence Saunders, who took the money he made
from driving little mom-and-pop stores out of business and bought
himself a large mansion made of pink stone, where he never lived. Those
were earlier times, course, and not germane.
Our story really
begins because Camel Jeremy, like many a sweet hitchhiker in those
halcyon days, was fond of altering his consciousness, by nostrums exotic
and mundane, and one way he discovered to do this -- it was either in Steal
This Book or Ringolevio or one of the other sacred texts -- was to smoke
the dried up peel of a Chiquita banana. Probably other brands worked as
well or didn't but Camel he was dead set on Chiquita and made sure all
his bananas carried that tell-tale seal before he put down his
On any given night one could find, slung over
the radiator in Camel's midtown apartment like especially corrupt wet
socks, the drying skins of bananas, Chiquita bananas. Oddly enough,
Camel did not like the taste of the bananas, and the meat, so to speak,
which he took out of the magic skins, he fed to the neighbor's cat,
Semolina Pilchard. Semolina Pilchard belonged to Three Hushpuppy Brown,
one of Camel's near-friends, Three Hushpuppy so named because he always
carried an extra shoe. Don't ask why. There were giants in those
And ghosts, apparently, but let's not get ahead of
We say near-friends about any of Camel's acquaintances
because Camel didn't seem to have anyone especially close to him, except
his paramour, Allen. Now, Camel hung out with some folk, John McIntire,
the artist a bit, Richard Brautigan, the West Coast solitudinarian and
lyrist, Johnny Niagara, freedom fighter extraordinaire, Sid Selvidge,
songman, but none of them were particularly dear to Camel, by his own
choosing it might be said. It's hard, now, to remember exactly why.
Camel was just a man made of smoke, a man who wrote unusual poesy, a man
who seemed to always be on the scene, either at Beatnik Manor or The
Bitter Lemon, or at Croswaith's Empyrean Puppet Happenings, but who, for
the most part, was background color.
Yet he was loved. Some of
And, in particular, he was loved fiercely by one
woman, one witchy, willowy woman named Allen, an art student tall and
boy-chested, winsomely-hipped with a cheerful face which reminded some
of The Cat in the Hat. And, there was something feline about her, the
way she moved, her legs insinuating a slithery theology. Allen fell for
Camel Jeremy like a lemming going over a cliff and Jeremy reciprocated,
we believe. This is what we believe to be true.
Allen and Jeremy
lived together in an apartment so crammed full of albums and books and
papers and bongs and pipes and various and varied paralipomena one
wonders where they found room to sleep or eat or smoke their cured
banana peels. It must have all been done on top of The Piles.
Occasionally, visitors left in shame because they had sat upon and
cracked Camel's copy of Surrealistic Pillow or Fever Tree or stepped on
the splayed spine of Mexico City Blues, but there was no place else to
move. The apartment was awash in clutter, soulful clutter. No
nosologist could catalog such a conglom.
One night, in October we
think, Allen was sprawled on top of a mound of Grove and City Lights
paperbacks, listening to the dulcet sounds of Revolver turned down so
low one wondered if she were merely absorbing the music, while Camel
perched at his Olivetti agonizing over the difference between
precipitation and rainfall, as words, mind you. He just couldn't damn
well decide which to employ. His hands gripped the wooly hair at each
temple and pulled, as if this would free-up the resolution.
looked at Allen. She was beautiful.
"Goddamn poems," Camel said. He said this often. It
didn't disturb Allen overly much.
"Forget it for now," Allen
"I know what it's like to be dead," the turntable
"I'm going to forget it," Camel said, pushing the
typewriter away, the half-written poem still trapped in its platen,
half-born, a creature both dead and alive.
"Smoke some boo?" Allen
said, smiling her Cheshire smile.
"Not in a pot mood," Camel said,
"What then?" Allen said. "Sex?"
sex," Camel said, coming back slightly to the world. "But first,
Chickita, a little Chiquita. First, lovely, mind-blowing banana
"We're out, sweet love," Allen said, softly. Her
voice, it has been said elsewhere, was like wind through
"Damn," Camel said.
"I'll run down to Pig," Allen
said, making the slightest of body movements, signaling her willingness
to go, but her desire not to.
"Nah, I'll go. Damn," Camel Jeremy
Eros said again. "We'll have to do the quick dry."
The quick dry
involved the toaster oven and an iron book press. Finding these items
was going to be troublesome but crucial.
"Yes, it will be," Allen said. "Hurry
It was late but Piggly Wiggly
was still open. The parking lot lights cast an eerie glow over the
whole midtown area, causing normally solid materials to appear to wobble
and breathe. Camel's VW bug parked itself near the door. The entire
lot was empty except for his potpie-colored car.
He entered the
incandescent grocery store, and it was like stepping onto a stage, a
stage off-Hades. The fluorescent lighting made everything super-real,
like those paintings by that painter. Camel flounced into the store
with a bounce to his hightops but was pulled up short by an immediate
observation. There were no other human beings in sight. No cashiers in
red aprons. No managers looking officious, wearing officious white
shirts with officious pens in pocket. There was no muzak. There was no
muzak. Camel took a few more tentative steps into the store. The
produce aisle was within view. He could see bananas. But the stillness
made something in Camel vibrate like a plucked harp string, like the
final harp string, plucked by the hand of a godling.
slowly toward the fruit, expecting at any moment to meet a stock boy or
other customer, but even after several minutes, he appeared to be
entirely alone. He walked gingerly toward the bananas, as if the fruit
and vegetable aisle might be booby-trapped. He stopped in front of the
banana bin and stood still, looking slowly 180 degrees to right and
left. There was nothingness around him like fog.
He reached a
tentative hand toward the phallic yellowness in front of him, but now
something even worse occurred to Camel. None of the displayed fruit
bore the tellurian, all-important Chiquita sticker. Dismay, then panic,
began to well up inside him.
He looked around wildly. To his
right was a door with a semi-opaque plastic window, a door that
presumably led to the stockroom, the produce stockroom. There, he
reasoned, he would find his beloved Chiquitas, and there, most probably,
he would find attendant human life. It didn't seem like much of a
He strode confidently forward and pushed the door gently
inward. It swung like a noose in the wind, and there before our
poet-hero stretched a long, dark corridor, on either side of which were
stacked boxes, overly large boxes the color of lunch sacks. Camel
stepped inside and the door swung back, tapping him on the
"Helloo," Camel sung.
The sound died away as if
swallowed by cotton wool.
Then Camel saw movement. It was
quick -- he could be mistaken about what he saw. But something short,
impish and dark like a Stygian night, a shadow's shadow, ran quickly in
front of him, across the corridor about a hundred yards away. The
lighting was bad. He must have been mistaken.
"Hey," he called
Possibly a dwarf, he thought. One of the stockboys.
quickened his step and rounded the corner around which he saw the shape
disappear. Another long grey corridor, bordered by towering boxes.
Camel wondered if perhaps the boxes contained fruit and he could just
tear a little away from a few until he found a couple of Chiquita
bananas and then be on his way. He hesitated, then resolutely split the
corner of a box and tried to peer inside. Inside, it was as dark as
misery's woeful night.
Camel stopped and thought. What could
happen? He put his hand slowly into the opening he had made in the box.
A few inches in his fingers met something sticky and warm, an unearthly
substance. Rotten fruit? the rational Camel asked himself. He pulled
his hand back out and it was coated in some sort of plastid goo, which
seemed to palpate on his hand. He was reminded of the poor dumb farmer
at the beginning of The Blob.
He wiped most of the goo onto the
box's exterior but his hand began to tingle; it began to
"Damnation," Camel said. He looked at his hand.
There, on his palm, seemingly a part of it, seemingly growing out of it,
was a small, twisted face, a pained, foetal face, squinching its demon's
eyes, grimacing as if it were in pain. Camel screamed.
to run and there it was. Back the way he came his path was blocked by a
presence, a figure, a chthonic phantasm. It stood there like the
gatekeeper to Gehenna.
"My hand!" Camel screamed at it,
The figure seemed to adjust its stance, to
rearrange its very ectoplasm. It was short, impish, but now it was
distending itself, becoming taller, a horrible pandiculation like
accelerated growth. It was either clothed in a body-length robe or its
body consisted of folds of rotten excrescence; it was hard to tell from
where Camel stood. But he was sore afraid.
"My hand," he
repeated, more quietly.
The creature, now fully as tall as Camel,
squirmed some more. It was gearing up for something but Camel did not
want to imagine what. Then its head, or the area where a sentient
creature would have a head, seemed to open slowly, like the birth canal
spreading itself for the miracle of parturition, except the aperture was
ustulate, unholy, diseased. It was a hole opening to speak, a ventage
"What do you want?" it said. Its voice sounded like
Louis Armstrong played backwards.
"Bananas," Camel spoke softly,
like a child.
The spirit adjusted its evil presence. It had a
profane flowing motion about it, like inky, gelatinous waves.
are not welcome here," the revenant rasped.
"Right you are," Camel
said, as eager for egress as all get out.
Camel made slow,
slithering movements so as to slide by the ghoul so clearly blocking the
path of his retreat. As he got closer he was aware of an odor of
formaldehyde or diaper pail, a sickening vapor which seemed to envelop
the creature, who appeared semi-transparent now that Camel got a closer
look. He edged around the foul appearance. Other than the constant
undulations the thing did not seem to alter its attitude as Camel made
his way toward from whence he came.
Camel scooted by and quickened
his step. As he reached the corner to turn back toward the store proper
he could not resist a look back, as foolish as Lot's wife's, as if to
verify that he had indeed just escaped something hideous. The ghoul was
still there, but now faced (if face you could call it) in Camel's
"One thing," Camel shouted back, emboldened by his
proximity to departure. "Just one thing before I go. Or actually two.
Do you know if there are any Chiquita bananas back here?"
fissure in the creature's facial area opened like the maw of hell,
dripping with unguentary corruption. It opened, stretching,
vacillating, spreading like an oil spill and an unearthly noise emerged
from it, the sound of gravestones grinding, the sound of baby's souls
wrenched from the ether. It echoed in the rafters, surrounded Camel
with an aural screech as sickening as the odor of this deathly
"Ok," Camel said and the silence was the stillness at a
funeral before anyone speaks. Camel, brave Camel, stood his ground,
somewhat stubbornly, peering into the dimness around his spirit
acquaintance. "What are you?" he finally pronounced, with that
straightforwardness for which Camel was famous in midtown Memphis, in
conversation if not in verse.
The fetid hole reopened, if somewhat
more calmly now. A small screech began, like that millisecond of
distorted sound when you put the needle on an old 45, and then speech.
Speech of an outlandish and fractious nature, but speech
"I am that which is and is not," the thing
Camel relaxed a bit, his shoulders sagged; he made himself
story-ready. He was a good listener, Camel was.
"I am life and
not-life. I exist between-time, on the line between that which is holy
and that which is impious, between temporary and temporal, between you
and the foulness you excrete. I am of no-world. You can not know. You
can never know, little thing, nugatory rational mortal. I am
near-being. Ask not from where I come for I come from where you will
deny and deny again."
Camel stood stock-still. Half of him was
hoping to remember the exact wording of the speech to get it on paper
once home and the other half was terrified, shit-blind
"You wear the chain you forged in life?" Camel asked,
As the ghoul prepared to open wide again its
hellhole, Camel let his hightops speak for him, squeaking away on the
concrete floor, flying through the semi-transparent door back to the
real world, not stopping until his liberated ass landed in the comfort
of the bucket seat of his dromedary-colored bug.
I want to have Allen say here,
"You look as though you've seen a ghost," but historical truth prevents
such fancy. She was, though, quite surprised when her lover burst back
into their apartment, white as an embodied hush and completely
These, instead, were, we believe, her first
"Oh, Allen, sweet Allen, sweet
blessed Allen," Camel said, collapsing into her embrace as the two of
them slid together on a djebel of album covers whose records lay
"They out of Chiquitas?" Allen purred,
"Oh, Allen," was all Camel Jeremy Eros could imagine
for a while.
It was well into the wee hours of the morning before
the story fully emerged, in fits and starts, stops and re-beginnings,
hesitations and horrors. Allen sat aghast. She believed every word.
It was that kind of love.
And as dawn's rosy fingers strummed the
lyre of another sear Memphis October day the two finally fell asleep,
wrapped around each other, as inextricable as a love knot, as
unimpartible as the coniunctio spirituum. Ah, gentle, ignorant
It was late in the next day when our hero and heroine
emerged from their hibernation, emerged from the land of dreams, a safer
and more wholesome place they now believed than the workaday world.
They awoke only to shiver still in each other's grasp and so they lay
for another hour or so until Allen roused herself to put a little Booker
T. on the turntable and scrape together a repast of beans and rice, one
black, one white, a yin and yang meal, beans, rice, and Green Onions,
altogether what was needed and after which they did both feel more human
and more able to cope with the day, which was now squinching itself up
again into dusk, light leaking from it as if through a small
"What now?" Allen said, courageously, as her lover, the
poet/hero sat deep in miasmic thought, a half-burned joint dangling from
his slack jaw.
"We go back to Piggly Wiggly," Camel said, as if
from far away, but determined, like Odysseus,
"Ok," the lovely and loving Allen answered with
bravery of her own.
And they set out in the rattling VW the four
and a half blocks to the Piggly Wiggly, a trip which may as well have
been into the earth's underworld.
The parking lot was lit again
like the moon-landing sight would be in a few years to come (about which
they, of course, could know nothing) but this time other vehicles were
scattered about in a haphazard pattern, somewhat guided by painted
lines, somewhat not. The building's inside burned as bright as a
Holding hands they plunged inside, in search of
management. This time they were greeted by flow, people moving about
as if by design, up and down aisles of colorful advertising packaging.
There were stockboys. And, oddly comforting, there was the tinny,
half-life sound of muzak, though Camel's off-center consciousness
thought he heard in the stringy arrangement, a bad rendition of The
Venture's "Lullaby of the Leaves." After many underlings (one would
think this was The Pentagon) they were steered to a small office space
in the rear of the store. On the door was a simple stick-on sign:
Manager. Their accompanying clerk rapped softly on the insubstantial
door and opened it slowly.
"Mr. Gardner," the portly man said,
rising from behind his plywood desk. "But, hell, ever'body calls be
Camel shook the extended hand.
"Mr. Gardner," Camel
began, a small aquatic frog in his throat.
Camel stuttered out. "Is there something, um, are you aware of
something, say, evil, living in your backrooms, in your, whatchacallit,
Buddy Gardner studied the hippie pair in front of
him. He seemed to have no use for their kind, but a customer was a
customer was the motto his daddy had taught him.
getcha," Buddy Gardner's answer came.
Camel gave a breathless
recounting of his adventures the night before. When he was done he
collapsed against the concrete block wall behind him, sweating as if he
had run a race. Buddy Gardner looked slightly bemused, as if he were
the principal and here were a couple of miscreants, ninth grade scamps
who had thrown some wet toilet paper or got caught smoking in the rest
"What time was this?" Buddy grinned like a car
"Dunno," Camel said, scratching his beard.
"You're pulling old Buddy's leg now, boy. Hell, Pig
closes at nine p.m. every night."
Camel sunk into himself. He
looked at the blank visage of his beloved Allen. She looked back,
"Let's go," she said.
They left the office, muddled
"He knows something," Allen said.
were desultorily moving down the produce aisle toward the exit, Camel
chanced a look toward the opaque doorway where his fear resided. In
front of it stood a middle-aged man pushing a broom. He was looking
right at Camel. He motioned Camel over with a covert nod of his
be-toqued head. Camel and Allen moved dreamily toward the man,
"You see somethin?" he asked.
widened, their color the color of an uncleaned fishtank.
"Yes," Camel said.
"It's Buddy, Jr." Jimmy said out
of the side of his mouth, as if they had all wandered into a 1940s
Warner Brothers picture.
"A ghost?" Camel whispered back, his
breath coming out frostily, vapor-clouds of tangled
Just then Buddy Gardner, perhaps senior, stuck his head
out of his office doorway.
"Ya'll need anything else?" he
The maintenance man swept away
"Just going," Allen called back, gripping Camel by the
arm and hurrying outward with him.
Safely back in their apartment
Allen put some Dylan on the stereo and they both sat down for a long
evening's cogitation. At some point they fell back into the arms of
Morpheus and did not wake until the calendar had turned to the story's
The following afternoon they went back to The Piggly
Wiggly, slightly altering their appearances with hats and cloaks,
feeling surreptitious and secretive and silly. After meandering around
the entire store for fifteen minutes or so they decided to chance asking
another stockboy, a lad of about sixteen whose face bore the cicatrices
of acne scarring.
"Excuse me," Camel said, trying out an adult
"Yep," the boy turned toward the hippie couple dressed as
"We're looking for Jimmy," Camel said. It sounded right,
straight and honest, but something about the boy's expression made Camel
think he had perhaps asked in Portuguese. Being high had that effect
sometimes: the simplest action seemed exaggerated, out of place,
The boy's face hung slack-jawed for a moment, or maybe
it was longer.
"Big Jimmy or Little Jimmy?" the boy finally
"Jesus, I don't know," Camel said.
"Skinny guy, about
6 feet tall, shaggy under a red toque," Allen said,
"Thas Little Jimmy," the boy said, as if that was the
"You know where he is?" Camel coaxed, offering a
"Fard," the boy said.
Camel and Allen needed
several moments of contemplation together before realizing that the boy
had told them Little Jimmy had been let go. He was with Piggly Wiggly
no more. After a few more half-hearted questions of the lad, they could
glean no more helpful information from him. No, he didn't know Little
Jimmy's last name, but Big Jimmy would know and no, he didn't know where
Big Jimmy was, he thought maybe Big Jimmy managed the new Piggly Wiggly
in Raleigh, now, and on and on. If this was a quest it was petering
out, running on fumes.
Camel Jeremy Eros began to no longer give
a good damn if he figured out what had happened to him that fateful
night in the murky back rooms of the Midtown Pig. Mysteries were
beautiful as mysteries, he decided. Where did he get off with this
empirical bull-hockey? We are born in confusion, live in its
comfortable or not so comfortable lap, and sometime later, die there,
mired still in confusion, children of it. It is so, just
It was a few nights later, we think,
when Allen and Camel were watching Ed Sullivan on their tiny black and
white, when Semolina Pilchard set up an unearthly howl outside. Our
heroes sat straight up. It sounded worse than a baby crying in the
"Mating season?" Allen asked.
said and slowly rose from his algae-colored chair, as if he had
premature arthritis. He felt as old as the Prophet Ezekial, as old as
heartache. He peered outside through the locked screen door. At first
only obscurity met his gaze. Then he saw it.
There was a
medium-sized black dog, about the weight of a good loveseat, hunkered in
the corner of their small enclosed porch, or what passed for a porch at
these midtown bungalows. It sat there in the corner, almost invisible
in the caliginous air, staring at the door. Its eyes were noctilucent;
they rose to meet Camel's.
Camel, loopy with mesmer, reluctantly
opened the door and as soon as he did the dog made a beeline for the
inside. Once there it took up residence in the chair Camel had just
vacated and looked for all the world like a pharaoh on his
"What in the world?" Allen asked.
"Not this world,"
the dog said with a voice like Brenda Vacarro. Was it smugly
"Jesus!" Camel yelped and Allen jumped to an upright
position, taking her man into her arms and vice versa.
seek me no further," the dog said, calmly, but with the kind of firmness
usually employed by cutthroat businessmen.
"Have we met?" Camel
The dog looked at him and its eyes burned
red like twin automobile cigarette lighters. Its body undulated
slightly as if it were about to become wraithlike again, non-dog, but it
held its canine shape.
Instead the towser opened its mouth wide
and then wider still. There it was again, the Infernal night inside a
cavern of hellish consideration. And the sound that emerged was a
quieter version of the otherworldly howl from a few nights
"Ok," Camel said.
The three sat for a few moments
in tense silence.
"Ok?" Camel said, again, sheepishly.
dog hopped down off its chair, its coat gleaming so black it was almost
blue. It trotted toward the door, which Camel was only too happy to
open for it. There the beast-pooch turned and fixed each of them for a
moment with its diabolical eyes.
"Hear the cruel no-answer until
blood drips down. Beat your head against the wall of it," it
They stood in stunned silence.
"Ikkyu," the dog
said, grinning with a slavering indelicacy. "Fifteenth century zen
And then it was gone, leaving behind only the sickly
smell of something unclean, something not quite extinct.
one other thing. Allen's glass of water, which had been sitting on an
upturned crate which served as an endtable, had changed to blood, a
rather neat, if depraved, parlor trick.
passed. Camel and Allen settled back into their love-nest, into their
lives, and not much else passed between them about the mystery of the
supermarket duende. For the most part it seemed as if Camel Jeremy Eros
had taken a firm grip on the reins of his muse and rode away from the
nightmare which could have felled a lesser man. Although, he would at
times grow irritable if something from the turntable spoke to him,
personally, say, the Lizard King advising him to "break on through to
the other side," and there was the day he angrily snapped off the knob
of the television, trying to rid his sight of that afternoon's offering,
"The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow." These were aberrations.
he wrote on and in his writing found peace and solace. It was after
this he wrote the beautiful "Allen, Slender of Waist" and the equally
lovely "Besame Too." And, the well-received clerihew, "The Day After
the Night Jimi Hendrix Opened for the Monkees," came from this period.
Of course, he also wrote, in late 1970, his atypical epic, "Cacodemon,
Kiss my Ass," which appeared in Big Table magazine and brought
comparisons to the best of Ginsberg and about which fellow Memphis poet,
Kenneth Beaudoin, said, "It's the finest long poem I've read since
Robert Bly's "Teeth Mother Naked at Last."
And the duo's ardor
lasted, precipitated, flowered, grew strong as the metal sculptures the
willowy Allen forged from her fiery passion. Love
Now, people, this tale has entered folklore,
shape-shifting, changing through the years, taking its place along such
mythological romances as the blowing up of the Doughboy Statue in
Overton Park by Johnny Niagara and Three Hushpuppy Brown or the night
the crazed owner of The Bitter Lemon let loose the rattlesnakes inside
his own joint just for a jape. It's become legend, and that's fine.
Maybe that's where we want it.
Many interpretations have been
disclosed since then, many fabrications woven tighter or looser. These
are the best explanations we know of. Maybe you know better. Maybe
you've heard alternatives.
One: it's told that the ghost was
indeed the son of the enigmatic manager of The Pig back then, the
aforementioned Buddy Gardner and that Buddy, Jr. died in the stockroom
after falling beneath a forklift load of cassava. Buddy, Sr.'s grief
was a powerful force, this rendering goes, strong enough to draw his son
into half-life. This story carries with it the shadow of the two
Jimmy's and it must be said here that this is the version Camel prefers.
So, ok, that's one interpretation.
Some say Camel met the spirit
of a small grocery store owner who committed suicide in The Piggly
Wiggly parking lot, after his business was forced under by the more
efficient self-service operation perfected and polished by the
entrepreneurial Mr. Clarence Saunders. Has a bit of a moral to it; some
Others say it was something else. A bit of evil from
another part of town, down around voodoo village, or the river maybe, or
even further away from down Nawlins-way, an out-of-town incubus, a
guest, but still, a bit of the night itself which crept into midtown,
attracted by the neon and the music and the availability of hippie
females in midriff blouses. This is the version preferred by Johnny
Niagara. I don't know.
Of course there are those, the ones
without imagination, who insist that Camel's vision was nothing more
than an unlucky admixture of pharmaceuticals. Could be, could
So, here we have offered some explication, reiterated through
the years, strained through the cheesecloth of time, reorganized,
redacted, recanted, reincorporated, repeated and refined. We only know
the bare bones we offer here. The truth may or may not lie within the
calcified egg of the tale we have called "Camel Jeremy Eros and the
Ghost of The Piggly Wiggly." You decide, or, as Camel used to say, you
blow your own mind, man. That's Sixties learning, sweet as light.