The first time I saw Jeffrey Dahmer, was while reading on South Second in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at an art gallery parking lot right across from the Club 219 Bar and the Ball Club. Dahmer picked up many of his victims in that neighborhood of gay bars and taverns by drugging them and dragging them home. After murdering them, he would saw and slice them up and freeze the portions he wanted to eat. He tried to dissolve the remainder of their bodies in his apartment in a barrel of chemicals without much success. His neighbors all complained of terrible smells, stench, and bizarre sounds. He worked at the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory nearby, later everyone wondered if he’d put human flesh in their candy.
At the poetry and music event, this zany guy with a long hillbilly beard wearing a funky sun dress was the announcer. He had a briefcase full of two-dollar bills with cut up newspaper inside to make them look like lots of money. After each poet read or musician performed he would give them a bundle of cash. At that time, I was reading with a bass player and we were really raising hell, it was outside, so all these gay guys came from the surrounding bars, a guy jumps on stage and starts playing harmonica. Later I discovered he was Jon Paris, from the Johnny Winter Band. I saw Jon’s band a few years later at B.B. King’s Club in Times Square. We were really cooking and we did a few more poems. I grabbed the entire brief case of money and threw it up in the air, it was a riot, sort of like if all the monkeys in the zoo took peyote and escaped. There was squealing and screaming and elbows all over eighteen dollars at most. The handsome well dressed blonde man with a hypnotic stare just stood there with his arms crossed unfazed. He watched the melee for awhile then walked away like he was disgusted.
A few months later, I was reading at the Hotel Wisconsin. The place was the epitome of old world charm, chartreuse marble floors, French art deco, and bronze with a carved walnut main desk. The bar area where the readings took place had maroon blood red carpeting and multicolored lava lamps on each table. It was dark and smoky and full of lounge lizards. Everyone seemed to be on the make, it had almost a circus like orgy atmosphere. I was working with a black sax player named Big Frank, he could blow like an elephant or make the small hairs on the back of your neck stand up and dance. When he played Take Five by Dave Brubeck, it was his signal for trouble. We were doing gigs at a lot of liquor stores on the rough north side of town. We had to beware of drunks and stickup dudes. I saw this blonde man with a thousand yard stare, he seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place him for certain. Frank started playing our trouble song. I looked all around and saw who Frank was nodding at. We soon ended our set and went to collect our chump change fee. Frank packed up his horn as I set out some books to sell. Jeffrey Dahmer bought three of my chapbooks, then offered to buy me a drink, and wanted to chat. I’m glad I wasn’t too thirsty and I had a few people waiting to buy books. Several weeks later Big Frank calls me to look at the television and there was Dahmer being dragged to jail in chains. I took Frank out for steak and lobster and Baked Alaska.
The cops came by my house after Dahmer was in jail. They asked me about my chapbooks and if I was friends with Dahmer. I said hell no, check my freezer if you want. That was good enough for them.
Catfish McDaris won the Thelonius Monk Award in 2015. He’s been active in the small press world for 25 years. He’s recently been translated into Spanish, French, Polish, Swedish, Arabic, Bengali, Mandarin, Yoruba, Tagalog, and Esperanto.