Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Tiny Piece Of Paper That Says The Party's Over

Well, here's a stand-alone section of the novel that's pretty close to straight autobiography. Ah, Santa Cruz in the eighties...
(I really shouldn't have to say Copyright 2008 by Sean Craven, right? But I'm saying it anyway.)

“This isn’t going to be a thing, right?” I heard James say to Dierdre. “I’m not up for a real party.”

“I know it’s been a long day,” Dierdre said. “We’ll shoo everyone out by ten, okay?”

That was bullshit right there. In Dierdre and James’ circle their house was referred to as the Lounge because that was where people went after work. Lulu and Willy’s presence had been putting a damper on things but now that they were out of the living room Dierdre was anxious to get back to normal. There was no way this was going to be a quiet little gathering.

The fridge was full of beer and there was a stack of Dierdre’s famous mix discs next to the stereo by the time Duane and Katie showed up with a friend in tow. They were both painters but as a couple they had one of your classic opposites-attract dynamics. Duane was big, crass, loud, and brilliant, a caveman savant. Katie was extremely shy, very quiet, and polite in a way that made you want to watch your manners not out of guilt but because it was nice to be polite. Their guest was wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt and the long mouse-brown hair on his scalp and face had a coarse, kinky texture that was distinctly pubic; poor bastard looked like a scrotum on a stick.

“Hey, Matt, I want you to meet Sky,” Duane said.

I took Sky’s extended hand, which felt like a bundle of chopsticks wrapped in pudding skin.

“Pleased to meet you,” I said.

Sky gave me a weak smile.

“I ran into Sky when I was at the farmer’s market,” Duane said, “and he told me that I was totally full of shit with my brown rice diet.”

“The human body was not intended to digest cooked foods,” Sky said. His voice was just barely audible, and he pronounced each syllable completely separately from the others – ‘in-ten-ded.’ I was worried that he might not live through the conversation. “Grains are especially unhealthy. Everything you put into your body is a mind-altering drug, and grains have a very low frequency of vibration.”

“Now I’m only eating harm-free food,” Duane said. “It so fucking rocks, man, you’ve got to get in on this.”

“Mushrooms and other fungi are particularly excellent,” Sky said. “The mushrooms are just the fruiting bodies of the actual organism. They are a gift, a beautiful gift of love.”

“Man, isn’t that just fucking wonderful?” Duane said. “Everyone should live on nothing but gifts of fucking love.” He tore the cap off a bottle of Lone Star and sucked down half of it while Sky smiled indulgently at him. Duane belched moistly at me, wiped his mouth with a meaty bristle-coated paw and said, “You’ve got to do it, man. You need more fucking love in your life.”

“I ate a single scarlet waxy-cap mushroom yesterday,” Sky said, “and the vibrations made me so high. So high.” He closed his eyes in blissful reminiscence. “I could think etherically and I knew that all thoughts are vibrations and all is thought.”

“I didn’t know scarlet waxy-caps were psychedelic,” I said.

He opened his moist, pale eyes, smiled up at me, and patiently repeated himself. “Everything you put in your body makes you high.”

“I’ve been doing some paintings about this shit,” said Duane. “They’re fucking huge. Insane colors, straight out of the tube. Lots of palette knife. You got to see them.” He poured the rest of his beer down his throat. “They’re gonna be my next show, man. Spread the fucking word.”

I gave him a thumbs up and drifted away, keeping an ear out for a conversational opening. Out in the living room I had a rare opportunity to see women having a nerd-off.

“How can you say that?” Dierdra said. “Fuck Elvis, Chuck Berry invented rock and roll!”

“I ain’t sayin Chuck Berry ain’t important,” Lulu said, “But he’s dull. And the whole idea that rock was something that just sprang out of nowhere is bullshit. Gimme some Little Richard or Fats Domino. I mean, what about Louis Jordan and the Frogman? New Orleans rhythm and blues was a fully developed musical style with a solid tradition a long time before rock showed up and it’s a lot more fun than Elvis or Chuck.”

“I always liked Jerry Lee Lewis,” said Katie. “He’s got the original creepy rock star sex god thing. So hot.”

Finding out that quiet, demure Katie had a thing for Jerry Lee Lewis finished my beer for me so I went back into the kitchen, where Willy and Steve were sitting at the table, talking about the van.

Steve had been James’ neighbor before he and Dierdre had moved in together, and had recently gotten James a job with him at a print shop. Steve had a strong-boned Mediterranean profile and a very bad attitude about his infinitely regressing series of former girlfriends. You sort of had to watch your step around him if you wanted to avoid giving offence.

“I’ve always had a fantasy of living in that kind of enclosed space,” Steve said, “like a boat or a Winnebago. Have everything set up just right, make it a real machine for living.”

“It’s a total shithole but it feels like home,” Willy said. “It’ll be nice to be able to fuck without having to sneak around and make it seem like nothing’s happening. Man, I remember when public sex was kinky instead of fuckin desperate. I’m sick of bathrooms and couches and fuckin hand jobs under a blanket while everyone’s watching TV.”

That was lovely image. Jesus. Now on top of everything else I had to wonder about Lulu and Willy having ninja sex all over the house. For once the thought of my stinking, repulsive room was a source of relief. What kind of pervert could fuck in that hellhole? I pulled a beer out of the fridge and cracked it. I tilted the bottle, opened my throat, gulped until the beer was gone, and pitched the empty into the rapidly-filling recycling bin.

There were already too many people for me to handle so when the doorbell rang again I went to my room. I was mulling over the fact that no one cared enough to check on poor me when there was a knock on the door.

“Hello?” I said.

Dierdre came in. “They won’t go away,” she said. “I try and hint and they just don’t want to get it, and James is exhausted and they won’t go away.”

“So you were wondering,” I said. Here we go again.

“It’s really good stuff,” Dierdre said. “Not speedy at all.”

“Oh all right,” I said and held out my hand.

Dierdre gave me a square of paper. It was thick, coarse blotter about three-eights of an inch on a side and it had a blue hieroglyphic eye of Horus printed on it. I popped it in my mouth and felt the queasy tingle of excitement that I always got the instant acid entered my body.

“Thanks a lot,” Dierdre said. “I really owe you for this.”

“No sweat,” I said which was of course total bullshit. No sleep at all that night, twelve hours of my various injuries screaming at me while I was in a psychedelic state, and while I was going through the most intense part of the passage I’d be all alone. But Deirdre asked me to do it.

“So are you going to wait until you’re peaking, or come out now, or what?”

“I’ll give it half an hour,” I said. “That way I’ll be able to sort of make myself present before I get all, you know. Like that.”

“Cool,” Dierdre said. “When you come out, I’ll put on some Residents. That’ll help chase them off.” And then she left.

I was already feeling better. I had a purpose, a point. A reason to exist. I was going to make everybody out there want to go home.

I made some preparations for the trip. I cleaned a pile of pot and put a new screen in my bong. I selected a thick stack of picture books to look through and hallucinate over, lots of D’s – Dulac, Dali, Druillet. I selected some discs of chamber and ambient music, Bach and Eno, Pachelbel and Jarre. Sonic tranquilizers. I cleared the detritus from a path leading from the bed to the door. I’d make Dierdre give me a measure of dark rum or whiskey for the comedown.

I looked at my jeans for a second, testing the acid. The light and dark threads of the denim were throbbing slightly but there was no sense of significance to it, no message from the cosmos. I went into the living room and stood by the stereo and listened in on Dierdre and Lulu.

“Maybe we could clear a space out in the garage and you could set up a little studio there. We’ve got some old blankets you could use for soundproofing,” Dierdre said.

“Well, I dunno,” Lulu said. “We could think about it, I guess.”

“Oh, come on,” Dierdre said, then turned to me. “You’re doing it again.”

“Huh?” I said.

“Looming and lurking.” She turned back to Lulu. “So what are you going to do, keep recording out on the street?”

“Well, yeah,” Lulu said. “If we change the way we record now, we’d have to go back and do everything else over again. You got to have sonic consistency.” A quick acid shiver ran up into my cortex as the rush started to hit and it told me a secret. Lulu was lying. There was truth in what she said but she knew she was lying when she said it.

I looked around, and heard Sky talking about his scarlet waxy-cap again.

“…and I could feel the vibrations of the mushroom just lifting me up,” he said.

James ran a hand through his hair. “So what exactly do you mean by vibrations? Is this some kind of string theory stuff or a spiritual thing or what?”

Sky held his hands up. “The vibrations are the most essential part of anything,” he said. “Really, all we are is a collection of vibrations.”

“Fucking A,” Duane said.

A jolt of volts chewed their way up my spine and the world got brighter, crisper, so clearly focused it was confusing. Now was the time. I stopped lurking and loomed right over them.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

Duane turned to me and lifted his bushy eyebrows. “Huh?”

“It’s… I don’t know how to say it, but it seems like you’re missing out on the point of eating things.”

Sky looked at me with a half-smile. Diet freaks are like theologians; no matter how ridiculous their statements they’ve heard all the arguments and have their responses all lined up. You have to use a lateral approach if you want to breach their defences.

“I mean, the mycelium didn’t give you that scarlet waxy-cap. You took it, as was your fundamental right as a gathering animal. You shouldn’t be brown-nosing the natural world for allowing you to fulfill your role in the ecology.”

“The world is a gift --”

“Tell it to the airborne pathogens your bold and noble immune system is slaughtering as we speak. You know why we treat cows and chickens and pigs and sheep the way we do?”

“Man, you’re getting kind of loud.” Duane said that to me. Duane! James just smiled and pulled back a little to take everything in.

I leaned at Duane instead of Sky. “We don’t just kill them and eat them. We make them live in tiny cages that physically deform them. We make them live in shit, we feed them shit, and we pump them full of antibiotics so it doesn’t kill them.”

Sky still had that half-smile, but it was losing juice.

“That isn’t just cruelty. That’s the monstrous cruelty of the victor. Those horrible stupid brutes are the enemy, man, the enemy. Every time you bite into a hamburger you’re striking a blow, furthering the destiny of mankind. I mean, you don’t hear people talking about Nazis and the Taliban and so on in terms of avoiding harm, do you? You ever hear of cruelty-free warfare? Why should we treat cows any better than we treat Nazis?”

“Dude, that’s crazy talk,” Duane said.

“I am legally and clinically sane and I can get it in writing,” I said and pumped my fist in the air. “Apex predator! Apex predator!”

“You’re on something, right?” Duane said.

“I’d say a pussy-assed hundred micrograms of Switzerland’s gift to civilization, one of those candy raver disco doses,” I said. “A sad speed substitute, just enough to keep a glow-stick baby dancing all night. I believe I might need a little more to push me over the top.”

“Live it up,” Duane said. “Hey, let’s find Katie, okay? It’s getting kind of late.”

Sky nodded. I decided it was time to go find Deirdre and pry an appropriate dosage out of her. Back into the living room, assuming I could find it.

Everything seemed to be painted onto a series of screens or clear plastic overlays, every object in my field of vision flat and still arranged, according to the pure and perfect laws of perspective. I could feel every trace of injury throbbing, and every fiber of muscle in my body testing its cartilage connection to the skeletal scaffolding. Okay, the dose was probably more than a hundred mikes. But still.

Dierdre looked at me and grinned and then put an old slab of vinyl on the turntable. Out of the speaker came the sounds of a possessed toy piano. It was the Diskomo/Goosebumps EP by the Residents, the Goosebumps side. Goosebumps is a collection of nursery rhymes that the Residents set to music that they composed and played entirely on instruments purchased from Toys ‘R’ Us. It’s an avant-garde classic just choking with giggles and menace.

Dierdre grabbed me by the arm. She was grinning, red lips bone teeth green eyes all gleaming up at me, tiny incandescent bulb highlights scumbled onto the glossy surfaces like flecks of titanium white, forming her face in abstract.

“They’re starting to leave,” she said. “Keep it up and I’ll be able to get James in bed before he starts getting pissy.”

“Dosage inadequate,” I said. “This is what you give to a guy in a Cat-in-the-Hat hat or a fifteen year old girl with a pacifier on a necklace. I’m not seeing anything interesting aside from the luminous shell of your charming face. Discomo.” Discomo was on the other side of Goosebumps. It was faux-Innuit folk music set to a disco beat, and does mankind boast any more glorious creation?

“Okay, but you go talk to Steve and Naomi,” Dierdre said. “I think he’s hitting on her, and she’s, well, Jesus.” She tightened her grip on my arm and hissed up at me. “Steve and Naomi! Will two more hits be okay?”

I said, “Adequate if not optimal,” aimed myself at the unsuspecting pair and loomed over them. “Hey, Naomi,” I said, feeling every tooth in my mouth vibrating.

“Matt!” she said. “Where have you been all night?”

“I hear you got dosed,” Steve said.

“Ohmigod,” Naomi said, “ohmigod. Are you okay? Do you need some juice? Is this music freaking you out?” I wistfully contemplated the notion of Naomi taking care of me for the rest of the evening, my head pillowed against a soft thigh while her glossy black curls tickled my face and her Minnie Mouse voice droned me into a state of egoless bliss. The thought pissed me off. She and Steve did, in fact, have a bit of a couple look to them.

“I’m doing fine,” I said. “It’s a pretty minimal dose, just enough to make me feel a little spooky around the edges.” God damn that dapper little bastard. Some men are bad for women, and they get to be bad for women over and over again.

Then I looked at Steve, watched his mouth opening and closing in slow motion like some grisly marine organism (Teeth! Teeth are freaky! It’s like you can see part of someone’s skeleton! What if the whole thing starts to crawl through the opening?) and I sensed the pages of a health awareness article in Reader’s Digest flashing by like a calendar in a Grandma’s house movie and Steve was a good person he needed to be careful if you don’t have your health –

I set my hand on his arm very gently so I wouldn’t hurt him. Poor thing.

“Dude,” I said, “how’s you’re blood sugar?”

When he blinked at me the blink stuttered. He should spend some time practicing in front of a mirror… “Huh?”

“I just suddenly started to worry about you,” I said, and turned to Naomi. “Health is very important.”

She nodded, curving her neck more than was seemly, pulling it out like taffy. Ah, youth.

“But Steve,” I said while I helped him hold his arm still. “Really, I’m concerned. Do you have a family history of diabetes?”

“What the fuck?”

“Yes, that’s the family part. But what about the diabetes?”

Steve sighed, the wind in his sails. “No, I don’t have a family history of diabetes.”

He took an arm away from me just when I was starting to get a grip on it and looked at the strap thing for time measurement that was between the hand and the arm. The spot between the hand and the arm was a swivel, a joint, a something that you could bend. On purpose.

Steve’s mouth opened some more. “Jesus, it’s getting kind of…”

“Wrist! That’s the word I was looking for. Wrists are the bendy part,” I said. “Please, for my sake keep an eye on your pee. If ants start gathering around your urine then you’ve got —” I felt a hand on my arm. I let it drag me into the hall.

“You total bastard,” Dierdre said, grinning. More teeth. It’s like everyone has them. Who came up with that? She handed me another couple of hits. “God, you are a total bastard. I think you can go to your room now.” I popped the little paper squares into my mouth with the fine certainty that I was making a mistake. “You know what I think is that the acid just gives you an excuse.”

“That’s not true. I’m a very nice person when you haven’t crammed me full of your filthy devil chemicals,” I said. “I’m going to need some rum in about eight hours.”

“You know where it is. Help yourself. G’night.”

Going into my room it struck me that eight hours was a long time. I paused for an absent moment and swirled the semi-liquid wood pulp around my mouth.

What was I going to do until then?

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