A Common Calamity
“To tell ya the truth, when Terry died I didn’t think I had enough strength to remain on this Earth...
but you stuck with me. ~Starsky, in Partners
“What’s that?” asked Starsky. “A suicide note?”
“More like a suicide poem.” Hutch bent down to peer at the paper in the typewriter, his hands in his jacket pockets.
Starsky leaned past his shoulder. “Scream December bleak/ my protest vanishes/ like snow on the black water.”
He grimaced. “That doesn’t even rhyme.”
“It’s blank verse,” said Hutch.
“I’d say from the pile of rejection letters here, a lot of other people felt the same way.” Hutch scanned
the poem further. “‘Posthumous/ and frozen/ my legacy endures’. I think he’s saying that they’ll
change their minds after he’s dead.”
Starsky looked over his shoulder at the bathroom. Through the open door he could see one white arm draped over the edge of
the bathtub. Bloody water had trickled down from shoulder to wrist in a narrow red line, forming a congealing puddle on the
floor under the former poet’s fingers. “Well, Snowflake’s right on one thing. He’s definitely not
vanishing. I’d say that water’s more red than black though.”
“The coroner will have the final say, but this doesn’t look like a homicide,” said Hutch. He glanced out
the window. “Meat wagon’s here.”
I hate suicides, thought Starsky.
“You should be more sympathetic,” said Hutch, later.
“Why?” Starsky dropped the ham on the counter with a thud, and began rummaging in his kitchen drawer for a knife.
He’d had plans for the evening, mainly involving seduction, but Hutch was wandering around the apartment being philosophical
instead. Food would have to be his consolation. “He killed himself over a bunch of bad poetry!”
“I think the issue was probably a bit bigger than just his poetry,” said Hutch.
Starsky felt a slight twinge of conscience. He shoved the feeling away irritably.
“It’s a common calamity,” said Hutch. “At some one time we have all been mad.” He sounded
like he was quoting someone. A moment later he confirmed it by adding, “A poet said that, back in the 1400’s.
Baptista Mantuanus. A real smart man.”
Starsky made a rude noise. Figures it was another poet. But it wasn’t like Snowflake had been so crazy he couldn’t
have helped himself. He hadn’t just lost a family member, either. He had a job. And a life - which he had thrown
away because no one would publish his fucking poems.
The guy was probably just trying to make some kind of tacky statement.
Starsky felt like kicking something. Instead, he found the knife and pointed it at Hutch. “I’ll bet he never
would have killed himself if he’d known what an ugly, bloated corpse he was going to leave behind.”
“Starsky,” began Hutch.
Starsky interrupted him. “Betcha he didn’t know that bit about the bowels letting go at the moment of death,
Hutch folded his arms and leaned back against the table. “You’re really bothered by this, aren’t you?”
“Nope.” Maybe if he said it often enough he’d begin to believe himself.
Hutch gave him that look. The one that said, I know you’re full of it.
Starsky stabbed the ham, twisting his wrist to slice off a thick chunk. “Just don’t get why someone would kill
themselves over a bunch of stupid poems.” He dropped the knife and turned to yank the fridge door open. “They
don’t even rhyme.” He tucked a loaf of bread under his elbow and reached for the pickles.
“It could be they were the only way he had of reaching out to other human beings. Maybe he felt as if he was stuck
on an island, sending messages in a bottle.”
“Anyone can write poetry,” said Starsky, feeling a sudden need to change the topic. “There once was a cute
cop named Starsky...”
“Cute?” asked Hutch, his grin evident in his voice.
“Hush. I could have said ‘so stunningly gorgeous everyone wonders why he settled for that average-looking partner
of his’.” Starsky kicked the fridge door shut and deposited his sandwich fixings on the counter. “I was
being considerate.” He snagged a pickle out of the jar and took a bite. “And modest,” he added, his mouth
“I’m sorry,” said Hutch, politely. “Please, go on.”
Starsky made a harrumphing noise and finished assembling his sandwich first. Then he turned and leaned against the counter,
sandwich in hand. “There once was a cute cop named Starsky/ Who did covet his partner’s arse-ky/ But with death-grip,
Hutch/ His own cords did clutch/ And so there was no fucking for Starsky.”
“Forget it, Starsky,” said Hutch. “There’s no way I’m doing anything with you when you’re
in this kind of mood.”
His eyes on Hutch, Starsky took a large bite out of his sandwich.
“I’m not into grumpy sex,” said Hutch.
Starsky sighed, and took himself and his sandwich off into the next room. He thumped down on the couch. “I still don’t
get it. What makes a guy want to kill himself?”
Hutch sat down beside him. “You already know the answer to that question.”
“It’s not the same.” Terry had been a real live girl, not a bunch of useless words. There were good reasons
to want to kill yourself, and then there were stupid ones.
“You know, the super says no one ever visited him.”
“If his conversation was anything like the crap he wrote, I’m not surprised.”
“I don’t know why I’m even bothering to talk to you,” said Hutch. But he stayed where he was, his
shoulder touching Starsky’s.
Starsky chewed mechanically on his sandwich, glowering at nothing in particular on the other side of the room.
Hutch sighed. “You know, poetry can be a way for people to work things out. The discipline of coming up with just
the right words for something can help you figure out exactly what the problem is.”
Some crumbs had fallen into Starsky’s lap. He licked his forefinger and set about capturing them. He spotted one on
Hutch’s leg and helped himself to that one, too.
“Not to mention it can be a good way to make time pass when you’re on a long boring stakeout.”
“You make up poems?” asked Starsky. He’d always wondered what Hutch was thinking when he went quiet for
long stretches of time.
“Like “There was once was a cop from Nantucket/ Whose dick was so big he could...”
Hutch grabbed the couch cushion and hit Starsky with it.
“Limericks are not the only kind of poetry in the world!”
“Yeah, there’s that... What did ya call it? Empty verse?”
“Blank verse.” Hutch scowled at him. “It’s a legitimate form of poetry. Shakespeare wrote parts
of his plays in blank verse.”
“He did?” Starsky turned to face Hutch. “Okay, professor. Make up a poem for me. And make it rhyme.”
Hutch gave him a considering look, and then looked down at his hands. After a moment he began unfolding his fingers one at
a time, as if counting.
“What are you doing?”
“Shush!” A brief pause, and then Hutch seemed to reconsider. “You said you wanted a poem, and you said
you wanted it to rhyme. So, I’m trying to come up with something in iambic pentameter.”
“I-am-bic pen-ta-meter!” said Hutch.
“Saying it slower and louder doesn’t make it any clearer,” said Starsky.
“Ten syllables per line. Now will you shut up and let me think!”
Starsky shut up. He watched Hutch count on his fingers and mutter to himself for a while. Eventually he got bored, and decided
to get undressed for bed instead. He tried stripping down in front of Hutch, in the hopes that the sight might prove inspiring,
but Hutch ignored him.
Half an hour later Starsky was lying on his bed, discontentedly watching Hutch through a gap in the shelves that divided his
bedroom from the living room. He was just beginning to wonder if Hutch would sit there all night, when Hutch suddenly locked
his hands behind his head and stretched.
Starsky rolled onto his side as Hutch came into the room. “Did you make up a poem for me?” He propped himself
up onto his elbow. “Does it begin, ‘Oh, glorious Starsky, your eyes so blue...’?”
“Nope.” Hutch kicked off his shoes and began unbuttoning his shirt. “It begins, ‘That jive chump!’”
“Really?” He felt a twinge of disappointment. Hutch wouldn’t make up a mean poem, would he?
Oh, yes, Starsky conceded. He definitely would.
Hutch skinned his pants off, and left them on the floor as he stepped toward the edge of the bed. “Yep. And it’s
also a sonnet. Now move over. I’m not telling you anything until I’m comfortable.”
Starsky retreated to his side of the bed, sitting up against the headboard. “You didn’t have to call me a jive
chump. And where did you learn how to write sonnets?”
“Learned it in school,” said Hutch as he adjusted his pillows. “Didn’t they teach you anything?
I think we did it back in fifth grade.” He stretched out on top of the covers, frowning at the ceiling.
“I must have been absent that day. Off doing manly things. Like...” Starsky eyed Hutch speculatively. “Like,
who can pee the farthest. Or circle jerks.”
“Fifth grade?” Hutch shook his head. “Stop trying to distract me. You’ll make me forget the poem.”
Starsky mimed zipping his lips, and then folded his hands in his lap, giving Hutch his full attention.
Hutch cleared his throat, looking slightly embarrassed, and then began to recite his poem.
That jive chump! Late on a Saturday night
Struts his stuff, turns the pretty lady’s head,
Shakes ass at the disco with all his might
Then cruises the strip in his car so red.
“Hey!” said Starsky, happily. “You put the Torino in! And that sounds just like me, too. Okay, I’ll
forgive you for the jive chump comment.”
Hutch gave him an enigmatic smile, and continued.
He can’t imagine why this guy is dead,
Why he kicked the bucket, jumped off the tree,
Says he must’ve been messed up in the head.
Who would kill themselves for bad poetry?
Starsky’s mood soured. “Yeah, well,” he said. “It’s a stupid thing to die for.”
But it’s all a cheap show, a ten cent trick.
He bitches and gripes, that great big turkey!
He can’t deny. I know what makes him tick.
It’s not poetry; it’s mortality.
“Hey!” protested Starsky.
Hutch suddenly sat up and clapped a hand over Starsky’s mouth, pressing him back against the headboard.
He’ll keep denying to his very last breath
But what we all know is: he’s scared to death.
Starsky shook Hutch’s hand off. “I don’t like that poem.”
“It’s true, though,” said Hutch. “It’s not why that guy killed himself that bugs you. It’s
just the fact that he did it.”
“He was a loser,” insisted Starsky, stubbornly.
“He was alone.”
Starsky felt a chill travel up his spine, and involuntarily he shuddered. “I hate suicides.” Fuck, he really
was scared. Now who was the loser?
Hutch’s arm came around his shoulders, pulling him into warmth. Starsky turned his head and found Hutch’s mouth.
Lips and tongue, he could lose himself, forget everything about this crummy day...
Breaking the kiss, Hutch said, “He’s not you.”
“Argh!” Starsky shoved Hutch away. “Will you let it go?”
“I just want to make sure you understand,” said Hutch. “That guy killed himself because he didn’t
have anyone. And because he wasn’t thinking right. You’ve got lots of people, and there’ll always be someone
to point out when you’re wrong.”
“Wrong?” Starsky was indignant. “I’m never wrong!”
“You’re totally wrong. Utterly and completely wrong, almost all of the time. Good thing you’ve got a smart
guy like me around.”
Starsky started to respond with an insult, and then stopped. Hutch was sitting up beside him, his body angled close. He
had an expectant expression.
“You’re right about one thing,” Starsky said, breaking into a sudden grin. “It’s a good thing
I’ve got you around, smart guy!” He pounced.
Hutch didn’t put up much of a fight. In short order Starsky had him on his back, and was straddling him. He moved
his hips and heard Hutch groan. “Starsk...”
“You’re gonna teach me how to make up those sonnets, right? Because I think mine should start with, ‘That
lousy phony/ full of baloney...’”
Hutch laughed. “I love you.”
“I know.” Starsky felt the tension of the day vanish, leaving him suddenly light-headed. “I know!”
he repeated, happily.
He spared only one more thought for the dead poet that night. It was late, after the lights had been turned off and Hutch
had fallen asleep. Starsky looked at the shadowy curve of his shoulder outlined against the window, blond hair catching the
dim light from the street.
Hutch thought he had it all figured out. Knowing that Starsky had contemplated suicide once in his life, he assumed it was
just the idea of dying that had him spooked. Mortality, he’d said.
But Starsky knew perfectly well what it was that really frightened him. The thing had kicked him in the gut the first time
he’d stepped into that apartment and smelled death and saw what the poet had done to himself. It was a lot simpler
than Hutch thought, and bigger, too.
He’d survived losing Terry.
He’d never survive losing Hutch.