Issue 8

James Robison

          You did not think about amazements such as opening a drawer and therein were laundered shirts or how the garage had a car for you. In a cotton buttoned down I drove the scarlet Grand Prix to Joe’s house on a golf course near the country club and met Joe in his driveway.
          We are sixteen, he goes, “You wanna take your car or the Buick?”
          Just to a three aisle grocery, one mile, we take his dad’s gunmetal Buick Wildcat that does 130 and rips around and we even have a friend who drives a Mercedes 300SL casually.
          Joe in his Bermudas without a thought for the horsepower, leather smell, the green forest light, talks fiercely about Bellow and Updike until we pass the country club with poolside vacation girls and on a jade towel Sherry Angel: beehive blonde, Cleopatra eyes, fifteen.
          “Apparently she can already mix perfect cocktails,” Joe tells me
          And dates men who own companies with private planes. There were lower barriers protecting girls then and smoking for a quarter a pack anywhere you wanted, please, go ahead, I don’t mind, match?
          And coffee, they just gave it to you, you sit down, “Here’s your coffee. Have you decided yet? Let me freshen that up for you. Here’s a clean ashtray.”
          1964, somebody charge a dollar for coffee it would be, I don’t know what.
          I add here how we were both virgins, and Joe painstakingly studied fiction books and I didn’t. I wore the white Levi’s and I mean I was in Indiana and had freckles. The sun shot through leaves in patchy light and college was due in Fall.
          Joe: “The reason I called, remember that guy graduated last year? Went to Harvard?”
          “Tucker something? I don’t remember him but he was a nice guy.”
          “Right, and so I run into him at Yardley’s and Yardley says, just ask Tucker about the psilocybin. ” Joe tells me all he learned about hallucinogens. What Tucker had and now we could have is ‘acid’ or lysergic acid diethylamide, better even than psilocybin. Do we want to take some?
          Pull into the small grocery lot. Go inside. We get Cokes. Sweaty little curvaceous Coke bottles from a floor fridge like a bath, and we crank off the caps on the curve bolted to the side. Out into a meadow, two reflective plotters. Oxlips. A jetliner chalking a thin line high.
          Do we want to take some? It IS grave stuff and we will be clinically insane for eight hours, seriously, we should think hard about the doing of this and we look at the grass, one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two I’m like, “Okay, let’s.”
          Joe goes, “Agree. At Yardley’s. Tonight. “ His parents being in Rome.

          Yardley lives in a woodsy development of avant-garde homes, his house lit up, glass and rock, Swedish modern, white bookshelves, blue paintings of anus and cunt and dick symbols and woodcuts.
          Yardley was this fawn, teensy and bucktoothed, (he got in movies for kid prices, a plus, but they wouldn’t let him see Psycho, a minus) and he was a ruthless reader too, focused on Joyce, in clothes from the children’s departments reading James Joyce, and tonight he was in Jamboree brand dungarees, little shoes. Maybe he was petite but his voice was deep. He says mellifluously and like a radio announcer, in the kitchen, “This isn’t even illegal but you’re probably gonna feel paranoid. You’ll think cops can read your mind.”
          “Why are we going to see cops?”
          “He’s just sketching in some stuff,” says Joe.
          “Well, erase the cops.”
          We‘re in a flying saucer kitchen and Yardley’s stirring instant coffee in a mug with spatters and spray glazed in. He offers his palm to show us three doses of LSD, three sugar cubes, each with a stain on it like a spot from tea.
          “Just be prepared to feel as if you’re on another planet but you aren’t.” And he sips coffee. “All the earth rules apply, and I mean especially gravity, but also time--”
          “Apparently,” Joe tells me, “time can stretch or freeze.”
          “Remember , nothing bad can happen. That’s all. Okay? Bon voyage.” So we take the LSD but out of the hall comes a bent woman. She is a gnome in a housecoat and puffed pink hair.
          “This is my mother’s mother, Maxine Small. Mee-maw.”
Can you believe the aptness of this surname? But I say, “Hello, Mee-maw.”
          Yardley and Maxine Small light cigarettes from a paper match. Nothing happens for a long time as we all sit in a Bauhaus living room with crane neck lamps bowed over looking at us.
          Two weeks before at a drive-in movie of The Haunting, this girl allowed me to touch her through her underpants and my memory visits that now and stays. Giant screen alight in black cornfields, and the girl in a dress, and her softest part. Mosquitoes eddy. Julie Harris and Claire Bloom sprayed across stars.
          Here in the NOW, Maxine Small is seeing me, squinting as if she knows how dirty my thoughts go.
          Nothing changes.
          Actually, though, I notice, she is getting sadder looking. Sadder and moreso until she seems tragic, her old life written on her small face and you can see her scalp through her thin hair and so what?
          The highlight of LSD, I see a balding woman sad? Because nothing happens for almost an hour until I am thinking, This stuff is like everything else, (Cinerama, how wine tastes, the all-butter cow at the state fair), a disappointment. Maxine Small’s throat inflates like a Cuban lizard, a huge red balloon, then deflates.
          Bright orange lines trace contours through the windows, neon geometric contours. Yardley has black marbles instead of his eyes. Ants throng, zigzag all over the tabletop, ants with clear bodies, waterdrop ants.
          Okay I am nervous and Yardley says, “That’s just called freaking out. Play along, don’t fight, go with it. It’s fun.”
          “What is wrong with him?” Maxine says and brandishes a cigarette and it leaves steaks of smoke and sparks.
          Hours or minutes after I cannot talk anymore- the others are murmuring about this furiously, and irate, they loathe me -so I go out to the backyard where there are squadrons of nightbug airplanes swarming, dogfighting, RRRR-budda budda. Shooting at each other in machine gun flashes. Bad idea to look down at bundles of wet worms seething underfoot. Over there, gooey dog waste or a coil of intestine reflects flare and flicker of the patio torch. Gears grind and munch in my skull.
          Now nothing happens again for a long time, then frost lines my throat and esophagus so I cannot swallow. THAT is unpleasant. But otherwise, nothing, although I can hear my heart and it’s fast and nuts like a monkey drummer, but otherwise nothing except I feel stupid.

          I dreamt often, everywhere, about the drive-in girl and the sequence of the thing. Finding her house. Her father’s tree trunk body and boxer’s arms, varnished with sweat, him working in the yard-but really, showing his daughter’s date that old signal: Do not mess with mine, squidsucker. See this man hacking at shrubs with a machete? Get it? And we talk about the Grand Prix, which I think he envies until she comes out the door and he is stricken by love for her and hates me like boils but I’m thinking, go ahead and kill me, Father of Beauty, because it would be worth it for her- she in a summer dress, space helmet hair, browned from days at Arrowhead Lake, Jesus Christ in heaven.
          And I drive off with her and her scents, being flowers of perfume and slashing hairspray and Juicy Fruit.
          What I open with: “I think the film is good, somebody said. You know, it literally gave him nightmares.” At which she laughs. I can feel her smile, her goodwill.
          “Please don’t talk about dreams, I was on the phone with do-you-know Carol Kessler? Okay, she was going on and on about this dream and I finally said, listen, nothing is as boring as other people’s dreams.”
          Which was a great start. We drove a road that hugged a river and through woods and there were farms and pink clouds and lightning bugs.
          The reason I will stop about LSD is that there is nothing more boring than other people’s trips. I saw odd images and felt odd and at first it was funny and then as I got tired and morning came, I ached for the oddness to stop. That pattern was how the whole decade went, come to think. Joe, an incorrigible, intractable atheist, told me at dawn that he had hallucinated a conversation with god. I mistook Maxine Small for a machine.
          Two years after the first trip, and about twenty trips later too, for each of us, Joe and I and Yardley, home from colleges for summer, met at the all night campus coffee shop, the DMZ. We were werewolves by then, happy at 3a.m. with long hair, and twitchy, chain smoking, used to changing into monsters. This restaurant was for some reason neutral, a safe zone, and earned its name, so there were police and dealers and high school girls and we strange illegal people, all together in a truce, just keep down your red eyes and be quiet.
          Although by then Yardley was dealing and later got busted and went full-blown narc to stay out of jail, and was working in Tulsa, Oklahoma, undercover amidst heroin people, because the Viet Nam war was creating heroin tribes, anyway, somebody killed Yardley and fit his tiny body into a garbage can with room leftover, we heard, for his German Shepherd who they killed as well.
          But this night at The DMZ, you had Frank Sinatra on the sound system, “A Summer Wind,” and Joe said, “I’m not doing any shit anymore.”
          I go, “So we’re not gonna put it in the city’s water supply?”
          Yardley snorted, as I wanted, because of the cliché-ness of what I said. All these people were very excited about LSD just as we were getting sick of it.
          “I mean, I’m not sorry, I did it and there are some benefits like—maybe music’s more interesting—“
          “Not for me,” I say, because I was thinking about just that,”For me, it trivializes, I don’t know, Bach, and makes him all these lines and busy-ness and chaotic bustle-and I just think, you know? Better when I’m down.”
          Yardley shakes his head, says, “The fuckin’ Beatles are getting high. It’s great music. It’s a new world.”
          Joe is serious: “Bio-chemically, the drug’s influence is to take all the synapses in the brain and focus them on a single point, so, yeah you are distorted but I mean, that’s all it is doing.” Joe isn’t shaving and is wearing round wire glasses, and he gets louder when more serious and says, “ I can’t read when I’m high anymore.”
          Wide assed and thick-necked, the cops at the counter look around and Yardley and I are two firehoses going shh.
          Yardley whispers: “Bull. I say it’s opened doors and windows, man, and look around you? Come on, man.”
          He’s right too. I knew more, and more quickly, after that night than other people. Like in my classes, the Philosophy Professor is saying about if reality is subjective or the History guy about the world melting at Hiroshima or in Anthropology, how people without rituals and belief systems or culture are loathed by other tribes-how they only drink fermented hooch and lie in mud and don’t bother even to groom away the lice or I read how for mystics and physicists all time is all the time or time is a net with a bead of NOW at the knots that join THEN with NEXT and I get it, fully, thoroughly, and nod.
          The Haunting. I think it’s full title is The Haunting of Hill House but it’s from a story by a literary writer, so maybe that is what makes it such a scary movie, and so good, even today, but then for me it’s a supernatural experience, the watching of the movie, as it brings back how she huddled into me, skin warm from that day’s sun at the lake, and shuddered at the scene where the walls bend in and the carved wooden faces stretch and scream, and lord knows why I knew to put my reach where I did and feel that divide in her, or what her inspired her sigh- magic, terror, desire, wonder?