"Read it again!" someone shouted.
As the laughter continued, Ben re-scanned the napkin's scrawl.
Four lines of blank verse. Mostly iambic. Elliptical structure—at least the author had some sense of form. But otherwise totally opaque.
"I am," he read aloud. "We taught it." Pause. "I am Sofa King," he continued. "We taught it." That was it.
But the ensuing roar from the assembled—tattoo-mottled biker types—gave Ben a chilling sense of ritual, perhaps a gang invocation to a beating.
"Again," said the huge guy on the musty purple couch, possibly the Sofa King himself. "Go ahead."
"I am. We taught it." Ben swallowed. "I am Sofa King. We taught it."
Pitiless guffaws sent ice up his spine.
They had tolerated him thus far, these hard guys who hung out at the dim Oakland drug flat Ben began frequenting after flubbing his orals and losing interest in Chaucer, grad-school, and life. From his first visit, he'd known to keep his mouth shut, no matter how his cortex sang with coke-fueled loquacity. These guys could smell bourgeois. They knew he was a punk-ass college-boy. The beard, Newports, and conscientious double negatives hadn’t fooled anyone. Now was his comeuppance.
"Again!" someone yelled.
Ben repeated from memory. "I am. We taught it. I am Sofa King. We taught it."
Ben felt himself leave his body. "I am. We taught it. I am Sofa King. We taught it."
He said it three more times, the room receding, air getting thinner.
"I am, we taught it…" He heard himself abstractly, through the ears of a stoned or half-interested biker.
"Sofa King, we taught it…"
Then it clicked.
Ben gasped. Then laughed—explosively, doubling over, squinting as he did at the guy next to him, who was extending a golden can of St. Ides.