Coming-down time again. I bought four lids three weeks ago and smoked the last of them last night. I think one of the lids may have been stolen from my dorm room, but I was too stoned to be sure. Four lids. It sure seemed like a lot of dope when I got it. I guess it was a lot of dope, when I got it. One quarter of one pound of fine Mexican mota. Now it is no more. That’s so sad. Really, it is. I got it from this guy who lives up on the eighth floor, where it’s warmer. It’s so fucking cold down here on the first floor. And I live along the hallway that has the only open door for guys getting to breakfast at the Commons in the morning, so it’s like Grand Central Station down here at dawn. Not that I’ve ever been to Grand Central Station, but I hear it’s pretty busy.
I smoked a motherfucking lot of dope this summer before I came here. I don’t know precisely how much dope is in a motherfucking lot, but it’s a lot. More than a quarter-pound. And by the way, what is a motherfucker? Seriously. I’ve never known what a motherfucker is, except that every once in a while, I hear that I’m one, and it seems that most other guys are, too, some more often than others. Some all the time. But none of us fuck our mothers, that I know of. Few of us fuck anyone’s mothers, seeing’s how we’re all kind of young. The nation’s stalwart youth. The last time I fucked anyone’s mother — the only time I’ve ever truly been a motherfucker of any kind — was Kitty, the last time we did it, almost a year ago. Actually, more like a pregnancy ago, as it seems it was nine months. Maybe ten. Last winter, anyway. Sometimes I miss her. Most of the time I’m too stoned to care, but I went a week in July without smoking and learned that I should not come down. Never never never. Bad boy, do not come down. ‘Cause when I did, I called her to tell her I loved her desperately and missed her terribly and would she marry me. But I didn’t tell her any of that. She told me she was marrying a head named John. That shut me up before I even began.
‘Sides, I’m hooked on Stella Edinburgh, who came to school here too. I mean really in love, I am, with that chick. I never saw it coming. I guess it started not long after Kitty left, when Stella and I came out here with the rest of the Green Meadow High Drama Department for the regional tournament. She and I rode for a while in the wayback of the station wagon the school had rented for the trip, and we talked, and there you have it. Itty by bitty, I began my head-over-heels for her. It really got going during the spring, when we were working on the One-Act Play. Mike Morris noticed it before I did. He and I were cruising one night, quaffing beer and puffing pot, and I was talk-talk-talking as I so love to do, and he said, “Man, Chorus, it sounds like you are in love with that chick Edinburgh.” And I do believe he was, and remains, right about that. I asked her to the Prom and she said yes, but then she said no because I was smoking so much pot. All the time to rehearsals I was coming stoned, and one day the sweet and sunny Stella said to me in her sweet and sunny way, “Jeff, I don’t want to go to the Prom with you if you’re going to keep smoking pot.” And since I was going to, that was that. But I love her anyway. I only love Kitty when I look behind me, but when I look in front of me, I love Stella.
When I look beside me I like to see someone, so the fact that I am simply in love with Stella doesn’t stop me from having a girlfriend here named Julie, whom I haven’t seen lately. She’s a small-town girl from Illinois, or Indiana, or Iowa — one of those “I”-states. I don’t know what she’s doing in Texas. She’s pretty good at kissing and conversation (that’s all we’ve done), but she’s already told me she won’t go to bed with me. I didn’t even have to ask. The beds in our dorm rooms are too small, anyway, and my roommate might mind. He’s from a flyspeck town in the Panhandle. He was big man on campus back at his high school, star this and star that, and here he’s nothing, just like all the rest of us freshmen. He hasn’t been taking it very well. He’s on the phone to his girlfriend back home nearly every night. And he looks depressed all the time. I think he’s an engineering major. I think I would look depressed all the time if I was an engineering major.
Oh well. I don’t suppose Julie would want to fuck in the VW Bug my parents gave me for graduation, or in the weedy woods down by the lake, but I am certainly open to her changing her mind. She and I met in the Drama Department our first week here. I was working on lights for the season’s first show. Don Vance, the lighting chief, was having Julie stand in various spots on the stage while I aligned various spots on her figure. And I liked her figure, as I saw it as I shone the pretty varicolored lights down upon her. I mean, it’s nothing special — she’s a little broad in the beam, one of those small-breasted, wide-hipped girls — and her hair’s kind of plain dirty blonde, and her face is normally attractive, not knockout pretty or anything — in other words, which I’m having trouble finding (maybe they were in that baggie of dope that got stolen), she’s attractive enough and there was something about her that said, Girl In Need Of Love. As I am ever Guy In Need Of Sex, my Radar de Amour always starts to pinging whenever I pick up that subtle signal from a girl, that unmistakable something that suggests she may be open to offers.
I never got that signal from Stella, but that hasn’t stopped me from falling for her. Love’s different. It has its own rules, that smack me around like a carpet-piddling puppy. Stella and I got into the Drama Department here right away. I mean, we’re drama majors, so the department just sort of sucked us right in. The first auditions were the day before registration. Good we were already here. Stella and I both tried out but didn’t get cast, so naturally we volunteered right away for crew work. I was assigned to lights, since I had done lighting work at Green Meadow High, and Stella was assigned to props, since she really didn’t have any technical experience. The show we’re working on opened Monday night and will be running every night this week except Sunday. We may do a matinee Sunday afternoon, since all the previously scheduled shows are sold out. My tasks are lighting pre-setter and assistant patch-panel operator. Sounds impressive, but my job title is, plain and simple, technician — or, as Susan St. John, the world’s cutest, sexiest, and least competent stage manager, puts it, I am a grid-critter. That sounds best of all, and she looks best of all in those plain white t-shirts she wears with no bra underneath — damn, she’s a dish! — and unlike the lights at Green Meadow High, the lights here at Angelo State do not explode. No snapping, crackling, popping, or flashing blue and yellow electric flames here when I go to plug something in. In fact, they have a state-of-the-art theater here. Not “they” the lights, but “they” whoever “they” are when someone says “they.” It’s a brand-new theater in a brand-new building, made out of money from cotton, oil, and cattle. It’s supposed to be one of the best theaters of its kind in the world. I believe it. But what do I know? Well, I know I want to find some more pot today, before I pick up the phone and do something stupid. And I know it’s a joy to work in such a theater as they, whoever they are, have here. All the equipment is new. It’s clean. Everything works. We can do all kinds of different kinds of theater here. Good thing for me I fell in love with Stella and followed her out here. Now to get her to love me back.
I found that pot. Me feel good again now. But I could use some more money. Couldn’t we all. Most of what was left over from the first half of my grant is gone, and my parents aren’t sending me much. They suggested I get some sort of job. A job! Please! I’m a full-time student and a full-time pot-head. I don’t got no time for no stinking job. ‘Sides, there don’t seem to be many jobs around here. One out of every ten people in this town is a college student. There ain’t that many extra jobs to go around.
I had a job this summer. Sort of. I started work as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman at the beginning of July and stayed with that until a week before I came here. I only made about fifty bucks, but that’s because I only sold one vacuum cleaner, to Grant Collier’s sister, who I don’t think really needed it but was just doing me a favor. I couldn’t get into that whole door-to-door bullshit anyway. Without a time-card to punch, I was off doing what I’d rather do, which is getting stoned and writing poetry and driving around listening to music, not pushing expensive vacuum cleaners to poor, bored housewives on blazingly hot summer days. So I would sit in my Bug, out in the desert, smoking pot and listening to the radio. I got into this thing that I really enjoyed, this way of smoking pot. I would roll all the windows up in my car and smoke four joints in a row, getting tremendously stoned and just bathing in it, in this smokey sweat-bath inside my car. I mean, picture it: mid-afternoon, sun burning a hole through a cloudless West Texas sky, and me sealed inside my smoke-filled Bug, soaked with sweat and buzzing my butt off. The good old days. Now it’s autumn, gray and rainy, I’m far from home and my beloved desert, the radio in my car is broken, and I’ve been checking the jobs board at the Commons. It is a very empty board. I did find one job, last Saturday afternoon helping a guy move. He paid me ten dollars and looked disappointed that I’m not a jock. I’ve never been disappointed that I’m not a jock. I toted a few things and took the guy’s money when he offered it.
Wish he woulda offered me some drugs or somethin’. Even a beer. After I was done working for him, I drove out to one of the liquor stores — all the liquor stores here are a mile out of town, don’t ask me what that’s all about — I drove out there and bought a quart of beer and went to drive around by the lake for a while. It was late afternoon. It’s been raining for fucking ever and had been drizzling for a couple days. I didn’t feel like going back to my dorm room, since it’s so fucking cold there — funny that I should say “fucking cold,” when, as I remember, and I do have fond if faint memories on the subject, fucking is hot, or at least warm, and is never cold, and I do miss Kitty from time to time now that I think about it, as we did so much mighty fine and very warm fucking before she had to leave, though too bad about the baby, and I wish Julie would want to fuck, or Stella, especially Stella whom I love so much, or even Susan St. John who is gorgeous all over from what I’ve seen although, since she’s twenty-two, she’s an older woman, and Jesus, where the fuck am I? I was down by the lake, driving around on a drizzly day, and next thing I know, I’m getting the throbs over Susan St. John. But you should see her in those t-shirts!
So anyway, I was on this Saturday recent, down by the lake, driving around. There’s this place I’ve found where I can leave the road and drive across a flat, open area, to this barb-wire fence that has a gate in it that’s always open, and drive through that on this dirt road that goes down into some scrubby trees where I can sit and smoke andor drink and not be bothered. This was the place to which I was headed, when I had An Exciting New Experience! The flat, open area was muddy, as it had been, like I said, drizzling since God was a baby, but there were no standing pools of water and all looked fine. I think I have some experience driving in muddy places, from driving around in the desert when it rains and after it rains — and there’s a difference between the two, as I learned the hard way this summer when my Bug got stuck in the mud on a sunny morning after, but never mind that — but as it turns out, there are always new things to be learned. I guess that’s why I’m in college. What I’ve learned is the soil and the rains here are different from the ones back home. I pulled onto that flat, open space and hit the gas, and it was like I was driving on wet ice. Immediately my Bug spun out of control. Immediately after immediately, I took my foot off the gas and just let the little fucker spin. There was no “steering into it,” as I was whirlygigging. Applying the brakes made no difference. I sat there holding the steering wheel, staring out the Bug’s flat windshield as the landscape spun past. Every time it came around, I could see that barb-wire fence getting closer. Or actually, I and my car were getting closer to it, as it was not moving outside the usual cosmological motions which were of no moment at the moment. I was going to hit the fence. I could only hope it wouldn’t hurt too much. Not me, but the car. Or the fence. Or me, come to think of it. I didn’t want to get my car — or me — all tangled up in a barb-wire fence I had wrecked. Way too much hassle for my gentle self.
It was only a few seconds that I spun around, but they were long seconds. My life did not pass before my eyes. All that passed was the rain-soaked landscape, spinning, spinning. The flat, open space rose just a little right up by the fence, plus it was a big space, so by the time I hit the fence, I wasn’t moving that fast. My Bug hit the wire broadside, bounced off, and slid to a stop, idling. At some point, I had popped it out of gear. I sat there a moment, grateful as all hot fuck that it hadn’t been worse, then I very slowly and carefully drove my stalwart Bug back to the road I had so foolishly left. I can’t say the experience scared the shit out of me, but maybe it did, because pretty suddenly I had to go. There was no way I was going to make it back to town. I found a spot along the main lakeside road where I could pull over and slip into the scrubby woods. With the weather the way it was, there wasn’t any other traffic. But I didn’t have any toilet paper. All I had was, in the car I had one of my washcloths, one of the ones my parents gave me to take with me to college. My mom had written my name on it, along the edge or the margin or whatever it’s called. She did that to all my sheets, towels and washcloths. And they’re all white, except for this one particular washcloth which I do not believe is white any more. I used it to wipe myself, but there was no way I was going to be toting it around in my car afterwards, not even to take it to be washed. I mean, it’s only a washcloth. So I wadded it up and stuffed it down into some bushes and I hope no one ever finds it. Then I took my beer and my Bug and went back to my dorm room, where it is cold and gray.
Busy busy busy busy bizzy bizzy bizzy. Show business, my love! We have rehearsals or lighting work of some sort to do every night and almost every afternoon. In my free time, which is often time I’m supposed to be in class but I liberate it and make it my own, I go out driving and get high, then come back here to my room and put the headphones on and sit back and groove to the music. It’s… well, impossible to describe the beauty and power of music when you hear it when you’re stoned, when it gets into you and flows through you until you fly with it and become it. My roommate gives me odd, suspicious looks. He’s real straight. Flyspeck, man. This here San Angelo is ten times the size of Flyspeck. He says people here are so rude. He said this to me after I had mentioned how much nicer people are in a small town like this than they are in El Paso where I grew up. He said, “This is no small town, good buddy — this here’s a city. A small town is the place I’m from.” And he proceeded to tell me all about it, which didn’t take long.
I have the honor — I think it’s an honor — of being one of the two suppliers of grass to the members of the Angelo State University Drama Department, some of whom smoke almost as much as I do. I have a new connection, this dude up on the fourth floor of the dorm. He’s been away for a few days so I’ve got a couple of back orders to fill. Business is good! And with the commission I skim off the top of every lid, I haven’t had to buy my own dope lately. The other guy who supplies the fine smoke to all and sundry is this guy named Dennis. He’s also a drama major. He is one weird jerk. His big thing is being cool. Everything he does is geared towards is it cool or not. He squints his eyes in a certain way because it’s cool. He carries his books tucked up under his armpit because it’s cool. He has a little bop’n’groove thing going on while he walks because it’s cool. He smokes Marlboro Reds to give his voice a sexy rumble because it’s cool. He listens to Aerosmith and has an Olivia Newton-John album to seduce girls with because it’s cool. He’s all the time telling me things I should do so I can be cool, too. I have never been so well-acquainted with such a phony, if such a thing is possible. As soon as I get the rest of my government grant, I’m going to try to buy him out and corner the market.
And sweet mother of love, it’s a hell of a market. You talk about partying down — these Drama people know where it is at. I definitely picked the right major. We’ve been partying every night, with no end in sight. After rehearsals or after the shows, we all meet over at Don Vance’s apartment to drink beer and smoke pot until we can’t stand it anymore. Don plays the coolest records on his stereo — real cool, like Creedence and the Beatles and the Stones — and Susan St. John perches on the sofa like the beautiful princess she is, while the rest of us sprawl all about the place, rolling joints and popping open cans of beer, talking about the shows and the school and the professors and what’s going on in the world, stuff like how the United States made out in the Summer Olympics, how bisexual is Elton John really, and who’s going to win the election, Carter or Ford (I’m for Ford because Carter smiles too much, I don’t trust him). I love just to sit there getting higher and higher and listening to all these people talk. They’re all older than I am, and they know a lot of stuff. I’ve tried to get Julie and Stella to come to these parties, but they won’t. Julie came to one, but she told me later it was too smokey and loud and she doesn’t smoke and really doesn’t like to drink that much. Stella wouldn’t even come to one, though I invited her several times. She just smiled her sweet, sunny smile and laughed and said, “Oh, Jeffrey, it sounds a little too wild for me.”
Damn, I love her.
I about burned out my lungs smoking up those four lids I bought on Labor Day. If I did smoke all four. I’m still not sure if maybe one of them was stolen out of the desk drawer where I was keeping the stash, but I was too stoned to be sure, and what am I going to do? Call the cops? I was averaging nine joints a day (got up to twelve a couple of times) and writing a lot of poetry. I’ve cut back on my pot smoking somewhat. For one thing, I can’t afford to burn my way through a quarter-pound of pot like that again anytime soon. That shit’s not free. And for another thing, I’m developing a sexy rumble to my voice that ought to be making Dennis turn green with envy.
Stella did me a big favor this week. I was having problems with my laundry. Well, I was having one big problem with it, and that was, it existed. I hadn’t done laundry since I got here. I’ve been so stoned and so busy, and the time just seemed to slide right on by. Things were piling up. Some of my underwear I’d worn many times. Rank smells were developing. I mentioned the situation to Stella, though I didn’t tell her precisely how bad it had gotten. She said, “We’ve got laundry machines in the basement of our dorm — don’t you guys have laundry machines in the basement of your dorm?”
I said, “Yeah, but I’ve never done laundry before, and I really don’t know how to do it.”
She sighed and said, “Well, bring your laundry by the women’s dorm and I’ll do it for you, just this once.”
That was certainly an offer I couldn’t refuse. So I did it. And she did it. And after she returned my laundry to me, she said, “Here you go. Please don’t ever do anything like this to me again.” Then she showed me this detergent she’d bought, that has the instructions on the back of the box where they tell you what temperatures to wash things in.
“If you ever have any doubt,” she said, “wash it in cold. I sure hope you’re not as dirty as your laundry was.”
“I’m not,” I said. I don’t miss home life much, but I do miss my mom doing the laundry, and fixing meals where there’s enough to eat. The meals here are just too small, though there are the popsicles. They — it’s that “they” again, whoever they are — they let us eat as many popsicles as we like at the Commons, and even take them with us, but there are only so many popsicles a guy can eat. And it’s not like popsicles were a big part of my mom’s home cooking. So I get homesick every once in a while, but there’s plenty to do here to keep me occupied. It’s not just partying we do here at college — there are actual classes to attend and assignments to complete. From time to time I miss the desert, and all the good times Mike, Peter, Jennifer and me had this past summer hanging out in it, drinking beer and smoking pot and talking, but they say — that mysterious “they,” they’re everywhere — they say you can never go home again. I think that’s what they say, if I heard them right. And I think they’re right — my parents moved to Arkansas when I came here. I’m not even sure where home is any more.
I’ve been cast in a show! I won’t be placed in a part until after callbacks next Monday. There’s a good chance, if I bust my ass working at it, that I may get the lead. I’m very, very, very, very, very, very, very excited about this! It would be the first time I’ve had a leading role — and only the fifth play I’ve acted in — and I’m only a freshman! I’m already eligible to work as a master electrician on shows, and I only need to crew one more show to be eligible to work as a stage manager. Both those positions pay a hundred bucks a month.
Stella is also cast in this latest show. She still doesn’t love me yet. I keep checking. We sometimes have dinner over at the Christian Students Center. Sometimes we take walks together. There’s a graveyard next door to the campus that she likes to go to. She says it’s peaceful. That it is — everyone in it except us is dead.
I sort of asked her to marry me the other day. We were sitting on one of the benches outside the Commons, after lunch. I just blurted it out. I said, “Stella, I’m madly in love with you. I want to marry you.” She laughed, but it wasn’t a mean laugh, and said, “Oh, Jeffrey, you’re so sweet. But we can’t. We just can’t. We’re not right for each other. Can’t you see it?”
I said, “All I can see is you, and you are the most beautiful thing in the world.”
She laughed again and said, “Jeffrey, stop it. You’re very flattering, but we’re going to be late for class.”
Late for class we didn’t be that day. I’m hardly ever late for class. Where I’ve been having difficulty is in actually showing up at all. It is so much more fun to smoke pot and hang out. And those crew parties we have nearly every night, those take up a lot of time. Plus, they have after-effects. Just the other night, at Don Vance’s place, I set a new personal beer-drinking record by downing eight, count ‘em eight, cans of ice-cold brewski in two hours. I was so drunk, I passed out on the sofa (Susan St. John had already left). I woke up at dawn and made my uncertain way back to my dorm room, where the breakfast traffic was already going by in the hallway outside in an incredibly noisy way. I needed to go to my classes, and I tried, really I did, to get to them all, each and every one, but I was so hungover, I kept falling over on my bed and passing out. I would set my alarm to wake me in time for the next class, then when it would go off, I would still be too sick to raise myself from the horizontal, so I would set it in time for the following class, and on and on until it was too late to go to any of them. I was in bed till noon. It was fun to set that personal beer-drinking record, during the actual record-setting event, but given the aftermath, I don’t believe I’m ever going to try to break it.
I wrote Kitty a couple weeks ago and told her that, for what it’s worth, I don’t think she’s doing the right thing, getting married. I told her it was too soon, that what we had had had had such a profound effect on both of us and had gone on so intensely for so long, she couldn’t possibly be ready to marry someone else and she should wait a few years, maybe go to college. She hasn’t written back.
I’m in German class and it is way too fucking early in the morning for me to be awake and anywhere other than the tiny cold bed of my tiny cold room. Oh, wait, I have to stop bitching and take a test.
Okay, I’m back.
Heck, here comes the professor with my test in her hand. She’s been examining it like it was a Dead Sea Scroll. That’s what I get for being the first to finish.
Oh, relief… she just wanted to point out a typo she had made that would have changed one of my answers. I’m supposed to now be doing Lektion Sechs in my Deutsch für Amerikaner Übungsbuch but I’m having difficulty becoming interested in that silly little thing, yessir. There doesn’t seem to be any marijuana involved.
I am very tired. I can’t cut any more classes to catch up on my sleep. I’ve already used up all my allowed absences. You would figure the school wouldn’t care whether we showed up for class or not, since we’ve already paid our money. Or at least, I would figure that. The school doesn’t figure it that way.
Not only am I bushed, I’m also recovering from a cold I caught from a local high school girl I met. She has since accused me of a statutory rape that I in no way committed. I haven’t been arrested yet. I don’t think there’s a jury in the world who would convict me — I didn’t do it! Still, last I checked, statutory rape carries the death penalty in this state.
Life is beautiful.
This is such a screwy situation, so to speak, with this girl. Her name is Doris. She first called my room one night not long after the semester started. She sounded real drunk and sad and wanted to talk to “Danny,” who she said was her boyfriend. Well, Dan is my roommate’s name, so I figured she was a heartbroke girl he’d left behind back home in Flyspeck when he went off to the city to be a college man. I talked to her for a little bit but it was confusing because, like I said, she sounded pretty drunk. Dan was out when she called. When he came back, I told him about it. He sounded just as confused as she had, though without the slurring.
“I don’t know no Doris, good buddy,” he said. “She musta had the wrong number or somethin’.”
As it turned out, she had the right number, but the wrong Dan. The dorms are designed so that the bathrooms are in the middle, arranged down the centers of the long floors. I don’t know how to describe this without drawing a picture. What I just said about how they’re arranged doesn’t really do it. Okay, it’s like this: the dorms, both men’s and women’s, are like electric train tracks stacked ten levels high. Because the dorms are ten stories high. So let’s just do one story. Picture it in your mind: electric train tracks, so there’s three rails, with one in the middle. The bathrooms are arranged down this middle rail. The hallways are the outer two rails. Two sets of rooms run between the outer rails and the inner rail, one on each side. These could be the ties. The rooms each open on one side, the outside, we’ll call it, to one of the hallways, and on the inside they open to a bathroom. Each room is big enough for one person but is designed for two people to live in it. Each pair of rooms, on either side of the center rail, shares one bathroom. So that’s four guys to one bathroom — or four girls, in the other dorm — and it’s a wonder we’re not tearing each other’s throats out. And there are no windows in the rooms, because the windows are in the outer hallway walls, so it’s a wonder we’re not all hanging from the rafters in this cold, gray place. But there are no rafters. Smart move on the part of the architect.
So Dan and I, both freshman, share a bathroom with a couple of sophomores on the other side of the center rail, Bob the Jock and Dan the Weasel. About a week after Doris first called, Dan the Weasel was in my room, getting to know me — at least, that’s why he said he had dropped by, but he seemed to want something — and he told me that me and Flyspeck Dan’s room had been his and Bob the Jock’s room the year before. That’s when it clicked. I said, “Say, I got a phone call from this chick named Doris last week, she sounded really drunk and sad and wanted to talk to Dan. I asked my roommate and he didn’t know anything about it. Do you?”
The Weasel began nodding his head and said, “Yeah, I know her. I’ve been wondering if she would be calling again. She’s a real pest. I don’t know how she got this number. She used to call all the time last semester.”
“She said you were her boyfriend,” I said.
“Boyfriend!” he said. “No fucking way, man! I was not that girl’s boyfriend. She’s some high school chick here in town, with problems, who chases after college guys.”
I didn’t tell him that I didn’t completely believe him about the “no fucking way” part. Doris had sounded pretty convinced that “Danny” had been her boyfriend. And she sounded so sad, and so messed up, that I felt sorry for her. And I was intrigued about the part where she “chases after college guys.” I figured she might be worth closer inspection, should the opportunity present. It so presented last Wednesday night, when she called again. She sounded just as drunk as she had the time before.
“I talked to Dan,” I told her. “He said he’s not your boyfriend.”
“That’s not true!” she slurred. “He is my boyfriend! He was my boyfriend all last year. He doesn’t like me anymore?”
“Well, he didn’t say that,” I said. “He didn’t say that he didn’t like you.”
“Do you like me?” she said.
“Gosh, I hardly know you,” I said. “I don’t really know you well enough to know whether or not I like you.”
“You should come over and get to know me,” she said. “Come over to my house and you can like me. Come over tomorrow afternoon.”
My Radar de Amour, which had been giving off faint signals, started pinging real loud when she said this. I thought, who knows what may happen? She sounds really sad, maybe I can comfort her. And if not that, at least she’ll be sober and we can talk.
“Where do you live?” I said.
She gave me her address, and the next afternoon I went to her house, to meet the mysterious, heartbroken, sloshed Doris. It was a nice, sunny day for a change. Doris answered the door.
“Hi, you must be Jeffrey!” she said. “My mom’s not home, but you can come in.”
She sounded just as drunk as she had on the telephone. She also sounded like she had a cold. She’s a skinny girl, really thin, not much more than five feet tall. She’s not pretty. Not ugly, but there are some things that keep her from being pretty, like, she has zits all over her forehead. Not really bad ones, but a lot of small ones, like a cobblestone street. And her hair was really dirty, long and straight and greasy as french fries, and it was parted all crazy. And her head is flat. And she has this kind of sleepy, unfocussed look in her eyes, which are otherwise blue. She was wearing one of those plaid shirts that buttons up the front but doesn’t have any sleeves, and knit shorts. She was barefoot.
She ushered me into the dining room, where we sat at the table. The house looked kind of small, but not too small, and it was clean enough and neat enough and had lots of stuff in it. Just like a normal house. A dark-haired boy who looked like he was maybe ten or twelve years old came in from outside, then went back out again. He didn’t say anything.
“That’s my brother,” Doris said to me. She wanted to show me her photo albums, which were there on the dining-room table, and seemed to be very important to her. I wanted to know why she seemed drunk all the time, but wasn’t sure how to ask. She opened up one of the albums and started showing me the pictures, telling me all about them and the people in them, who meant nothing to me but this thought doesn’t seem to have crossed her mind. By this time I was pretty suspicious, so as soon as I could slip it into the conversation, I asked her, “Do you drink?”
“You mean alcohol?” she slurred. “Like beer and stuff? No! I don’t never drink that stuff. That stuff’s bad for you. Be sides, I’m only seventeen. I’m in high school. I’m too young to drink. My mom won’t let me. She says it’s bad for me. Do you want to sit on the couch?”
“Okay,” I said. I felt lost. I followed her into the living room and sat with her on the couch. Almost right away, she pretty much threw herself at me. She put her arms around me and started kissing me. She was surprisingly good at it, for what I was rapidly realizing was a retarded girl. Then she climbed up on me and straddled my leg and started rubbing herself on me, sort of like a dog humping my leg. I’m a guy like any guy and started to get a hard-on, but the whole situation was getting too freaky. If she hadn’t been a retarded girl I might could have gone further, despite her forehead’s pavement of pimples and her dirty hair. In pure, unadulterated sexual terms, it was one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me. What I would give to hold and kiss Stella like that, and if she were to straddle my leg, I’d be in Seventh Heaven with my hand down her pants in no time. But there with Doris, the somewhat loud and rapid pinging of my Radar de Amour was being drowned out by the clanging of various panic alarms. While my little head wanted to fuck — it always wants to fuck — my big head was saying, This is wrong six ways from Sunday.
I gently pried her off me and back onto the couch beside me, and we kissed again. Right after, as I opened my eyes, I saw her brother out in the front yard, watching us through the living room window. The look on his face was like, this wasn’t the first time he’d seen his sister kiss a guy and he hadn’t approved the previous time, either. When he saw me see him, he walked out of view. By now I’m thinking, How do I get out of here?
“You know what boys and girls like to do?” Doris said.
“No,” I said, “what do they like to do.”
“You know,” she said. “What they like to do.”
We went back and forth like this for about a minute while I tried to pin down what she was trying to tell me.
“I’m sorry, Doris,” I said, “I don’t understand.”
“The thing they like to do!” she said. “I’ll show you.”
She grabbed my hand and stood up and pulled me up off the couch and led me around the corner down a short hall into her bedroom. She pointed to her bed, this big, canopied four-poster thing with a knit bedspread that wasn’t as white as it had probably once been.
“There!” she said. “We did it. What boys and girls like to do with each other.”
She pulled me closer to the bed and pointed.
“Right there!” she said.
I looked closer and saw that she was pointing at a stain. It was a little stain. A brownish-red and yellow stain that reminded me very much of the stain that had been on my underwear after the first time Kitty and I made love. At this point, there in Doris’s bedroom, there was a tiny but very loud part of my gentle self that was screaming for immediate escape. It was turning nasty in its panic. It was saying, Whatever you do, motherfucker, don’t get caught in this retarded little sex-crazed monkey’s bedroom unless you want to take the rap for teaching her what boys and girls like to do.
“Doris, I still don’t understand,” I said. “But I have to go. I have to go back to my dorm and get ready for supper. If I don’t get back in time, they’ll run out of food and all I’ll get is popsicles. Popsicles don’t fill me up and I’ll still be hungry. I’ll be hungry all night long and I won’t be able to sleep. I have to go now.”
While I was saying this, I was making my way out of her bedroom and through the living room and to the front door and out the front door. Once I got into my car and got going, I drove out to the lake and smoked three joints. That made me feel much better. Made me feel so much better, I didn’t mind too much that I got back to the dorm too late for dinner and had to settle for popsicles.
I figured I might hear from Doris again, but I haven’t and now I don’t think I will. Last night, at about 10:30, just after I got back from rehearsals and was sitting in my dorm room with the door open, Bob the Jock stopped by.
“Hey, Jeff,” he said. “Dorm Supe wants to see you. In his office, right away.”
This was surprising news that gave me concern. I hadn’t even met the Dorm Supe, a guy named Mr. Collins, and all the sudden he wants to see me at 10:30 on a Monday night. Given that my address is Main Street, Men’s Dorm, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump down the hall to his office, where I found him feeding his catfish, which he keeps in a big tank.
“You wanted to see me?” I said, sounding about as scared as I felt because I didn’t know what I had done but thought it might be related to marijuana — for instance, to that lid that may or may not have gone missing from my room, or to the fact that my connection lives in the dorm, or to the fact that I am stoned all the fucking time and cutting a lot of classes. But it was none of the above.
“Do you know a girl named Doris?” he said, not looking at me but instead, peering at his catfish as he sprinkled food into their tank.
“Yes, I do,” I said.
“Have a seat,” he said.
I sat, in a chair by one wall, while he told me as to how Doris was known to the college administration as being a mentally-impaired local high-school girl who phoned the dorm rooms of various male students, and while this was in itself no big problem except that it was a little annoying and a little sad, my number was one she was known to have favored, as it had previously belonged to Dan the Weasel (though Mr. Collins did not call him that, specifically) who had apparently actually had some sort of relationship with her the previous year.
“Now she’s saying she had sexual intercourse with a boy from the school,” Mr. Collins said, still feeding his fish which seemed to be taking him a long time but there are several of them and they are big. “This would be statutory rape. The statutory rape of a retarded girl. She said you had come to visit her at her home last week. Did you have sex with this girl?”
“No!” I said. I told him everything that had happened, as quickly as I could get it out, except for the part about the joints and the popsicle supper. He finished feeding his fish and finally looked at me.
“Okay,” he said. “The authorities are still investigating the matter. You’re an adult now, so I can’t really tell you what to do. But take my advice and stay away from her. And if she calls you again, I’d like to know.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
Freaked, I returned to my cold dorm room and sat around a while. Still freaked, I went out to my stalwart Bug and drove it out to the lake, where I smoked pot and thought about everything.
though we are lost
we’re burning our bridges
as soon as they’re crossed
put us away
we weren’t made for working
we’re just here to play
we couldn’t wait
to taste every pleasure
before it’s too late
but rock-a-bye baby
it’s all just as well
we can’t get to heaven
without going to hell
so rock-a-bye baby
we’ll always be lost
we’ll spend every penny
and count every cost
now rock-a-bye baby
so sad and forlorn
from all that you love
you’re forever torn
your friends and your family
are all gone away
there’s no more to say
I didn’t get that leading role I somehow thought I might. I must have been real stoned. I got a bit part instead, plus I’ll be doing some of the lighting pre-setting. We open in five or six weeks. Tonight, Don Vance and I were going over the rough draft of the lighting cues. After we were done, we were walking together when we left the theater. I said, “So, we gonna party down tonight?”
“No,” Don, who never says much, said, “not tonight. I’ve got to get up early tomorrow.”
“Well, we can get high if you like,” I said. “I’ve got a joint.”
“I’m sure you do,” he said, and he laughed a little laugh. “Jeff, don’t take this wrong, but you smell like pot all the time. Someone gets too close to you and takes a whiff, they cop a buzz.”
I laughed, then he said, “Susan told me to tell you she wants you to stop showing up stoned.”
I didn’t laugh at this. I said, “Then why doesn’t she tell me herself?”
He said, “Because if she did, she’d have to fire you, and if she fired you, that would pretty much be it for you in the department.”
“Shit,” I said.
“Be careful, Jeff,” he said.
We went our separate ways. Mine was to go smoke that joint, and another just like it. I figure I can keep showing up with a buzz on, just so long as I’m not so stoned as I sometimes have been, and just so long as I smoke with my car windows rolled down so I don’t reek so much. I can do all this lighting stuff just as easily stoned as I can straight. It’s not like it’s rocket science.
The Drama people partied every night through the run of the show, but since it closed they’ve stopped. No matter, I’ve found a new group to hang out with. It’s some guys from the dorm, including Too-Cool Dennis and Clyde, my connection. We party down all the fucking time. We usually hang out in one of the rooms, listening to music, talking, drinking, and smoking. We’re allowed to smoke tobacco in our rooms, but these guys even smoke pot. Clyde won’t smoke it in his room, ‘cause he says it’s too risky and he has too much to lose, but Dennis smokes it in his room. His roomie smokes, too. Since the windows are all out in the hallways, what they do is close their doors and stuff towels along the bottoms, then light up some incense, some cigarettes, and a joint. Dennis also has some hashish, which he got from Clyde but Clyde doesn’t have any more of it or I would buy some. I smoked a little of it with them, and it’s all right, but nothing special. Dennis was all caught up with how cool it was to smoke hash.
“It’s the way they do it over in Europe, man,” he said. “If you’re like in Germany, you don’t waste your time with pot. The only cool smoke over there is hashish, smuggled out of Afghanistan.”
We had a heck of a party up there the other night. After ten o’clock, the front door to the dorm is locked. It stays locked until eight in the morning. The back door is left open, though. It’s the door at the end of the hall where I live, which is why there’s so much traffic down here. I was heading out this door to go out and drive around and get stoned, when I met up with Bob the Jock, who had in his possession one keg of beer.
“Hey, good to see you, Jeff,” he said. “Help me get this up to Dennis’s room.”
It wasn’t like we could take it down the hall to the lobby and go up on the elevator. If Mr. Collins didn’t catch us on the ground floor, the floor monitor probably would on the fourth floor. So we hauled this keg of beer up the back way, up the stairwell in the back of the building. Kegs of beer are pretty fucking heavy, which I learned that night. Another part of my education.
It took us a few minutes, but we got this thing up the stairs. Bob took a peek out the door on the fourth-floor landing to make sure the coast was clear. It was, and we rolled the keg the rest of the way to Dennis’s room, where they set it up in the shower stall in the bathroom. Then the party began. There were already a half-dozen guys in this tiny room. They closed the doors and sealed them with towels and we smoked a joint and started in on the keg. One joint among eight people is nowhere near the dope-to-doper ratio I prefer, so as soon as it was cool, I slipped out and downstairs to go smoke a joint or two in my Bug. On my way back in, going up the stairs to return to the party, I met up with these two guys who had been there and were on their way down.
“Hey, dude,” they said. “You were at Dennis’s party.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Going back up.”
“Cool,” they said. “Say, have you ever tried cocaine?”
“No,” I said. “I have not yet had the pleasure.”
“Well, this is your lucky night, my friend,” they said. Lest by my style of quoting I give the impression they were speaking in unison, allow me here to say they were not, nor was I so stoned that I thought they were. One said one thing, one said another. One or the other of them said, “We can turn you on to a little bit of it.”
I said, “Cool!” and I took them back to my room. Flyspeck Dan was back home in Flyspeck for the weekend, as he is now nearly every weekend, so I had the place to myself. These guys pulled out some tiny foil packets and opened one of them up on my tiny prefab desk. There was a little white powder in the packet. The guys divided this stuff — the legendary cocaine itself! — into several lines and showed me how to roll up a dollar bill and snort the stuff up into my virgin nostrils.
“It’s better if you use a ten or a twenty, if you have one, or at least a new bill,” they said.
What a great buzz that coke gave me! It was like it balanced out the pot and took me up to a new level. I felt like Super-fucking-man. We sat around for a little while talking about this stuff while I came onto it.
“This is great, man!” I said. “Where can I buy some of this stuff? Is some of this for sale? How much does it cost?”
“We can sell you some of this right here,” they said, then they told me how much it costs, which was a bit of a shock. But I scraped together a large part of my dwindling funds — hope the rest of the grant comes through soon — and bought as much as I could afford. It’s not something I’m going to be sharing, as expensive as it is. And I locked it in my suitcase, so it doesn’t wander off. The only place it’s allowed to go is up my nose.
There’s plenty of booze, grass, coke, and hash here at the U., but not enough women, unless all you want to do is look. If all you want to do is look, there is a great feast for the eyes. If you want to do more than just look, the pickings are decidedly slimmer. Of course, there are always the high school girls, though the fastest one is a little slow. I haven’t heard any new news about what’s going on with Doris, and she hasn’t called again. Mr. Collins, the Dorm Supe, actually lives here in the dorm, with his wife and their little girl, in a suite of rooms back of his office. They were having breakfast this morning in the Commons, so I sat at their table a moment to try and get some news.
“Mr. Collins,” I said. “That girl, Doris — what’s going on? Have you heard any more?”
Man, he looked really uncomfortable. He looked like there was a bad smell coming from me and everyone could smell it and he didn’t know how to tell me and he wished I would go away so he wouldn’t have to. And this was in the morning and I was freshly showered and I don’t think there was any way I smelled like dope.
“No, I haven’t heard any more,” he said. He wouldn’t look at me. “I’ll let you know when I do hear something.”
“Okay, thanks” I said, and got up. It was clear he didn’t want the most likely suspected fucker of the greasy retarded girl at his breakfast table, and no matter that I’m innocent, so I went about my business, which on a better day would have included hanging out for a while with Julie, the girl from the “I” state, but things with her haven’t worked out. The problem seems to be that my desires are very basic: I want to smoke dope and fuck, although I don’t want to fuck retarded girls. I would like to fuck Julie, whom I haven’t told about Doris. I would love to fuck Stella, whom I have. She and I took a walk through the cemetery yesterday, on another in San Angelo’s endless series of gray autumn days, and I told her about it. She seemed genuinely to believe that I am innocent, which was not only a great relief, but made me fall even more in love with her than I was already, if such a thing is possible.
Despite my terrible great love for her, I did enjoy the physical side of things with Julie. Because, after all, my desires are very basic: simple dope-smoking, simple girl-fucking (not simple-girl fucking). Now, you would think that, with things being so simple, she and I could easily find common ground. But with women, as I am constantly learning, things are never as simple as they could be. Maybe instead of majoring in Drama, I should be majoring in some sort of Studies of Women, doing research into the issue of why, when men are so simple, women insist on having such complex relationships with them. It is such a strain. If Julie would smoke dope and fuck, she could be my closest friend forever and a day. But she won’t smoke dope, and she won’t fuck. We did make out a few times. Once I even managed to giver her an orgasm — with her pants still on — but I couldn’t get her to return the favor. In fact, the fact that she was coming under my fingertips seemed to scare her, though not until after the moment had passed. When it was actually happening, she seemed as transported as anyone in that situation would be. It was right afterwards that she seemed scared. Sort of a cold and scary afterglow.
But she seems scared about a lot of things. She and I have talked a lot. I like to talk, which is good, because if there is one thing above all others that, in my humble, youthful, and limited experience, I have learned women want to do, it is talk. Lord A’mighty, do they want to talk. But sometimes they have the weirdest notions. Actually, I guess we all do. Maybe I notice it more with a woman I’m wanting to peel the pants off of. Which in general terms is most of them.
The weird notion that has broken up me and Julie is some bullshit about the Antichrist. It’s my fault for bringing it up in the first place, but it’s a subject I’ve long been intrigued by. She didn’t seem to know much about it, so I went on and on about it one night. It seems, as it turns out, that maybe I know a little too much about the Antichrist. But everyone should. I was telling her all about the Book of Revelations, and the Apocalypse and the Second Coming, and about how before Jesus comes back, there’s going to be the Antichrist, who will fool everyone into thinking that he’s the real Jesus, but he’s not. He’s either Satan or he’s one of Satan’s demons, I’m not sure which, but he’s sure as hell not Jesus Christ. He’s going to tag us with the Number of the Beast so he can tell which ones of us belong to him. I know all this because of the way I was raised, as a Southern Baptist. It’s always been part of what my family believed. It was in the air around my house all the time, and we were constantly expecting Jesus to come back any day. We still are.
Anyway, I was going on about this to Julie. This was the night we made out and I gave her the orgasm. I was also telling her about this apartment near here, not far from the campus, that the guys in the dorm were talking about one night. We were all sitting around in Dennis’s room talking about stuff, and we got to talking about the Second Coming. One of the guys told us about this apartment, where Satanists live, and they’ve spray-painted some Satanic symbols on the walkway out front. It was real freaky, the way he was telling it. He knew the address, so as soon as I could get the nerve to go see for myself, I did. I went over there, to this apartment complex, one night when it was raining and I was stoned — which would describe most of the nights since I got here — and I was so freaked out I was about to jump out of my skin. I found the place. There was a pentagram and the Number of the Beast on the sidewalk out front. I was so scared, I thought Satan was about to rise up and snatch my soul away. I got out of there real fast.
But I’ve wanted to go back and see it again. I just haven’t wanted to go alone. So after I gave Julie the orgasm, I was talking to her about all this. I tried to talk her into going with me to see the apartment again, but she wouldn’t. She was pretty scared. Then when I saw her the last time, the most recent time, she wouldn’t even kiss me. I asked her what was wrong.
“You scare me, Jeff,” she said. “All your talk about the Antichrist. I think you’re the Antichrist.”
That pretty much ended the date. And the dating.
At least Stella doesn’t believe I’m the Antichrist. We went to the movies last Saturday afternoon, to see The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, then I went to church with her Sunday morning. She’s Episcopalian. It’s way different from the Southern Baptists, a lot more ritual, but I’m given to believe it’s the same God.
I’ve pretty much stopped going to my classes. Fuck it. There’s too much pharmaceutical research to do. Friday night, I went up to Clyde My Connection’s room to engage in some of those very studies. I had a couple of joints and he had a couple of joints, so we went out and smoked ‘em. Before we went out, he sold me a colita. I had never seen one before. I’ve seen buds, since most lids have them, but this was my first colita. After we smoked, he went back inside, while I sat under a tree, just groovin’ on the world and writing poetry. By and by I was hungry, so I hopped in my Bug and drove to McDonald’s to snag me some grub. I was pretty stoned. I should have used the drive-through, but I didn’t. I went in and placed my order, the cashier rung it up, but when I went to pull my money out, there wasn’t any. I had spent all I was carrying on that colita, then got fucked up and forgot.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t have any money.”
This brought out her killer instinct. She turned, and speaking generally to everyone in the place, she loudly said, “He doesn’t have any money. He placed an order, and he doesn’t have any money.”
To have something like that happen when you’re stoned is very disorienting. I mean, the money part, not having it, was disorienting enough, without having her making it a public matter. I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me, but these days, the ground just doesn’t do that anymore.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, “I don’t know what happened.”
Well, I did know, but it’s not like I could say, “I’m sorry, I spent all my money on dope before I dropped by, then I got real stoned and forgot.” I left that place as quickly as I could without breaking into a whimpering panic. Outside, there was a guy standing right behind my Bug, bracing it with his leg against its back bumper.
“I don’t know whose car this is,” he was saying to some passersby, “but it started to roll backwards into the street, right as I was walking by.”
“Oh, it’s mine,” I said. “Here, I’ll get it.”
I opened the door and reached in and set the parking brake, then mumbled some thanks to the guy, who was friendly and had a big smile but I was just too fucked-up and embarrassed. I was feeling very, very small, so before I vanished entirely, I fired up my Bug and drove back to the dorm. My Wild Friday Night on the Town.
Saturday night was even wilder. I had supper at the Commons, like I usually do except for when I get fucked up and miss it. I snagged a bunch of popsicles, went back to my dorm room and snorted some coke, then called Don Vance and told him I had a load of popsicles to bring over. I’ve brought him some before, since money’s always tight for him. He said, “Come on over!”
I did. He was sweeping his living room carpet when I got there.
“Man, I never seen anyone sweep a carpet before,” I said.
“It’s gotta be done,” he said. “Don’t have a vacuum cleaner.”
His roomie, Cody, was there, getting ready to go to work. Cody waits tables at the country club. I hear he makes a lot of money, relatively speaking. I asked him once if he could get me a job there and he said, “No fucking way, man! You’re too fucked-up. No way could you wait tables at the country club.”
I started off-loading the popsicles.
“It’s the popsicle man,” Cody said.
“A popsicle in every pocket,” Don said, sweeping.
“Two popsicles,” I said. I stashed them all in the freezer. Don finished sweeping and he and I smoked a couple joints. Cody didn’t want any, since he was about to go to work. He left before I did.
After Don and I got stoned, I felt like going out and driving around, so I did. I love to drive new roads when I’m high, new streets, wherever. I headed into parts of town I hadn’t been in before. I got lost in the warehouse district and started to get a little freaked. I was driving around with my brights on — and they’re pretty bright, ‘cause my Bug is customized with extra brights along the bumper — and I managed to offend a couple clod-hoppers in a pickup truck. I didn’t dim down fast enough to suit them, so they started following me around, real close, up close behind me with their brights shining in through my back window. I started to run, but the fact is, there aren’t very many motor vehicles a Bug can outrun. Maybe only other, older Bugs. And VW Buses. Anyway, these guys were chasing me all around. I was getting pretty freaked. I couldn’t shake them. Finally, I turned onto a street that as soon as I was on it, I knew I had made a mistake. It was the street where the guy I had helped move lived, and as soon as I was on it I remembered it was a cul-de-sac. I was about to start crying or pissing my pants, or both, I was so scared. I got to the end of the street and turned around and stopped, idling, with my lights (not my brights) on. The pickup truck stopped back at the intersection, its lights still on. I felt under my seat for the tire iron I carry there, made sure it was within easy reach. I’ve never used it to defend myself, but I started carrying it in my parents’ car a year ago when I was having a bunch of trouble with the jocks at Green Meadow High.
The pickup truck just sat there, a block away from me. I just sat there, too, waiting and hoping that whatever happened, it wouldn’t hurt too bad. This may not have lasted for more than a minute, but it was a very long minute. Then the pickup truck backed up, turned around, and drove away. I waited a few long seconds, then I put my Bug in gear and got my ass out of that cul-de-sac and back to the safety of my (cold) dorm room.
Last night I went up to Dennis’s room. A bunch of guys were there, drinking and talking. They were talking about, among other things, driving down to Mexico. Sounded very intriguing. I listened, said a few things, drank four beers, had a few hits off a couple joints, smoked a good deal of hash, snorted a good deal of coke, and decided to drive to Mexico that very night, just for the hell of it. I didn’t tell any of them where I was going, I just decided to go do it. I don’t know what time it was when I left. Never mind that Mexico is a good three-hour drive from here — I was headed in the wrong direction anyway, and spent the night pulled over and passed out in a rest stop by the road. When I woke up into yet another gray and drizzly morning, I got freaked out again and thought my parents were about to drive up the road and catch me there, even though they are actually about a thousand miles away. After driving back to town I was all right.
Coke sure is expensive.
It’s midnight. I was up till four last night writing, working on an epic poem, then up at seven for classes. I had to snort four lines for breakfast, just to be able to get up and go. I hadn’t finished the poem and I really had to finish it, so after classes I snorted two more lines and finished. I was pretty shaky but I needed to try to get some sleep before the dress rehearsals tonight.
I couldn’t get to sleep, so I decided to drive out to the edge of town where all the liquor stores are and get a quart of beer. I went out to my Bug, there in the Men’s Dorm parking lot, and when I got up to it to get into it, I saw that someone had ripped the wires out of my extra brights. The wires were just there, just dangling. Someone had come up and ripped them right out. Someone was following me, or had found me, or knew where I lived and where I parked. It might be the guys in the pickup truck, or it might be someone else. How could I know how many enemies I might have out there? Maybe there were people out to get me because my Bug is a little different, or because I smoke pot, or because I’m from a city instead of a town or a farm like most of my classmates. Or maybe it was something to do with Doris. Maybe it was just the beginning of something that’s going to go on and on and last my whole four years at Angelo State, and get worse and worse.
At first I was angry. Then the memories of all that I went through last year at Green Meadow came rushing back at me, when the entire varsity football team came after me because of some things I did and said. All that kind of stuff I thought I had escaped. And then I was so tired. So tired. Tired of everything. I went to the liquor store and I got a quart of beer and I drank the beer but I was so upset I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to die.
I went to see Stella. I found her at the Christian Students Center. I knew I could talk to her. We’ve known each other since second grade, and she’s my oldest friend. We talked and I rested a bit on a couch there at the center, and it helped, especially one thing she said. She had already told me some weeks ago that she loves me but she isn’t in love with me. Today she said, “Jeff, please take care of yourself — I wouldn’t be able to handle it if anything happened to you.”
It’s not just the headlights that’s gotten to me. They’re like the last straw. It was only a few weeks ago when everything was so clear. Now Julie says I’m the Antichrist, and Doris has told a confusing story that includes her being fucked by an older boy who may have been me.
I couldn’t possibly be the Antichrist. I can’t even bear to think about that.
I’d like to touch someone. Stella doesn’t want to touch because she doesn’t want me to get the wrong idea. My sex drive is wrong, anyway. It’s too strong. I used to never doubt that it was okay. But now I know. If I hadn’t gone over to Doris’s house and kissed her, I wouldn’t be facing God knows what. He won’t tell me. And I still can’t sleep.
I’m going home to El Paso on Election Day. Grant Collier called me from up in Wyoming last night, und wir sprecht, nein, wir habt ein long mutual let’s-bitch-about-life. We decided we are not where we want to be nor doing what we want to do, so we’re going to do something about it, by Jeorje. Or Gohn. Ring around the Paulo. We’re going to head on back to El Paso after we vote, meet up there, find an apartment, find jobs, and see what happens.
I met with Dr. Butcher, the Director of the Drama Department, today and told him I was withdrawing from the school and the plays and everything. He was much more understanding about it than any adult has ever been to me about anything. I guess I’m an adult now, too. He said if there was anything he could do to help, to let him know. I felt like shit. I thought I was going to cry. I went to the Commons and saw three of the drama people, two girls and a guy, at a table, so I sat and talked to them a while. The girls tried to talk me out of it. The guy, a fellow everybody calls Yankee, just sat and looked at me. Or into me. He’s a senior and probably our best actor. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to be when I grow up. If I ever grow up.
I don’t want to leave Stella, or the theater, or all the friends I’ve made here, but I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go. I’m going crazy here. This has not been an easy decision. I have my doubts and I guess I always will. I may be leaving the theater for quite a while. I have good connections here already and probably could’ve made quite a name for myself in time. But I’ve had enough. This is not my place to be. I have to get out of this refried high school and into something new. I want to sing every song, write a hundred books, smoke a ton of grass, make a whole lotta love, have friends at my apartment any time I want, work at some job to get enough money for the rent, eat some decent food, have a little privacy, get a better stereo system, buy more record albums, get a guitar and play it, and see if all that works out. If it doesn’t, maybe I’ll go back to school. There wouldn’t be many alternatives. Though I guess there’s always the army.
The big decision becomes harder to live with as each day goes by, but I’m too far down this new path to turn back now. I’ve quit the shows and dropped my classes and told everyone what I’m doing. Everyone except my parents, that is. I really am jumping off into the unknown, leaving behind the coziness of school for… whatever’s out there. It’s scary. I’ve written Grant, but I haven’t heard from him since the night we hatched this plan. I could stay at his house for a while, until we get an apartment. I just want to make sure I have all my bases covered.
The only base I can’t cover is Stella. I feel like I’m throwing her out along with this way of life. I’m afraid she feels the same. I can’t find the words to describe my confusion. I asked her to marry me tonight (for the umpteenth time). She said she never could. She said, “You’re too restless, Jeff.” I want to stay here and be with her, be the stable, educated whatever she wants me to be because I love her very much and I hope I always will. But there’s something that’s got a hold of me, something I can’t explain that’s making me pack off from school in the middle of a semester with no money and go to a city where there’s no assurance of me finding a job or even a place to live.
This is crazy! I wish I understood.
I’ve got no money, no job, I’m high on peyote — not very. I bought some peyote buttons the night before I left San Angelo, from some guy Clyde knew, at some apartments where I didn’t even know where I was and I backed into a telephone pole leaving the place. Dented the bumper of my Bug. I tried to take some of the peyote that night, but it is so intensely bitter, I couldn’t. I put the button in my mouth and bit down and started gagging. I thought I was going to throw up right away. I haven’t thrown up since my freshman year at Green Meadow, and I don’t intend to start, not even to get high. So now I’ve got these peyote buttons that I slice little slivers off and chew those, or smoke them in joints. They don’t get me very high, but they don’t make me sick.
The morning after I bought the peyote, I voted — for Ford, because Carter smiled too much, but he won anyway — then I packed up my Bug and said goodbye to San Angelo and everyone in it. It was a sunny day.
I got back here to El Paso that evening and went by Grant’s house to meet up with him, like we’d planned. But he didn’t show up. He’s still in Wyoming. I talked to his brother, Simon, who seemed real surprised to see me. He said, “He called a few weeks ago but never said anything about coming back.”
This was my first day back and already I was in trouble. I wandered around the neighborhood in my Bug. I ended up at Maggie Quarry’s house. She said I could stay with her and her family, that her mom wouldn’t mind, so that’s where I’m at, in the spare bedroom with most of my stuff piled up there. The overflow is over at the Colliers’ house, in Grant’s room.
I went out looking for work right away the next day, but there isn’t any work. The official unemployment rate here is up around 13%, though everybody says it’s really twice that. The peso has collapsed and there are just no jobs. I had no idea the peso collapsing would do so much damage, but one place I went to, a local weekly paper, the editor told me, “Yes, we’re right here on the border. The peso’s every bit as important as the dollar.” He was a real cheerful guy. No, seriously, he was. He gave me a job as a stringer, said that was the best he could do. A quarter a line if I write anything. He said, “We’ll hire you full time in two or three weeks. Now, just go out there and say you work for us, boy, and rustle up some stories.”
But I haven’t rustled up any stories. I’ve been kind of stoned. A lot of the time I feel pretty lost and confused. I don’t think it’s the dope. The dope makes everything seem better. Makes me not care that I’m a lost dropout living in a friend’s bedroom. I called my parents right after I got back, let them know where I am. They were puzzled and concerned about me quitting school and coming back here, but they wired me some money, which I used to do the important things, like getting gas for my car and dope for my brain.
Daniel Davis, my old high school connection, has his own pad now and deals out of there and out of the arcade. I went to his apartment to score a lid. He opened the pantry door to reach into a huge, thirty-gallon plastic bag of pot and break me off a huge lid. All he wanted in return was the usual ten bucks, plus for me to go out and get him a couple boxes of sandwich bags for him to put lids in. It looks like he’s running a big operation. There was cocaine on the coffee table, laid out in lines on a mirror. He didn’t offer and I didn’t ask.
I took the dope, and Maggie and I went over to April Weaver’s house, which is right across the street from Maggie’s, to get high with April and her mom. That’s right — her mom. Maggie and I got there and April said, “My mom wants to smoke with us.”
“I want to try it,” Mrs. Weaver said, coming up behind April and smiling. “I want to learn what all the fuss is about.”
Maggie and I grinned at each other and said, “Cool!”
We sat in the Weavers’ living room, the four of us, while I started rolling big joints in strawberry-flavored papers. This lid I had just got from Daniel Davis was the first decent amount of dope I’d had in my possession in a couple weeks. I kept rolling and we kept smoking. Mrs. Weaver was really getting into it, while the rest of us are dope-smoking pros. Maggie’s the one who turned both me and April on to it, a couple years ago. So we smoked four big joints, the four of us, though by the end, the only one keeping up with me was Mrs. Weaver. April said, “Mom, this is your first time. You probably shouldn’t be smoking so much.”
“If he can do it, I can keep up,” she said, big old grin on her face. I was grinning too, since this was pretty cool, toking with a grown-up. Then she turned green, stood up, went down the hall to her room, threw up and passed out. April checked on her, made sure she was all right. I felt kind of bad about it, because I think it gave her the wrong idea about dope. The initial turn-on ought to be a pleasant experience. Since I’d never seen anyone throw up from marijuana, I had no idea it could happen. I was just there as your friendly neighborhood pot-head who had a big new lid, a strong need for a good buzz, and was willing to share.
Mike Morris was in the hospital for a bullet wound. Motherfucker shot himself in the foot. It happened right before I got back. He and Peter Pumps were out in the desert together, plinking with their pistols and rifles. Mike has a holster for his revolver, so he decided to practice his quick-draw. Turns out he’s quicker on the trigger than he is on the draw. He’s walking with a cane now and says he will be for a few more weeks, until the physical therapy is done. He said, “Man, don’t ever shoot yourself in the foot — it fucking hurts.”
He told me that Friday night, when he and I went out drinking at Chelsea Street at Cielo Vista. We used to do that last summer, too, whenever we could afford it. I can’t afford it now, but I don’t care. We celebrated surviving stupidity, his with the pistol and mine with pretty much my life. We got looped on some kind of fruit punch they sell by the pitcherful, then we went to one of the ladies’ rooms in the mall and wrote our names and numbers on the wall. “For a good time, call” so-and-so. Don’t think we’re likely to get any calls. Haven’t gotten any so far. Lord, I could use a fuck. It’s been almost a year since Kitty and I made love in April’s bedroom during a Christmas party, and that was the last time for me. I can look out this bedroom window here and see, on the house right across the street, the window of that very bedroom.
Maggie and I went to dry the community laundry tonight at the laundromat. We talked while the dryer did its spin-spin thing. She wants to go to Europe and wants me to come along, in the bilge of a tramp freighter, perhaps, since how else could we afford it? We joked about us living together. She seems to want to set up house with me. She told me tonight, “You know, Jeff, I seriously considered hooking you to deflower me back just after we first met.”
“No,” I said, “I didn’t know that.” And I didn’t know what to make of it. She flirts with me. Hell, her bedroom is right next door to mine. Not mine, really, but her brother’s, with a hole in the wall right next to the bed from where he punched it once when he was in high school. He’s back now, out of work and sleeping on the living-room couch and not looking too pleased.
I just can’t get an angle on Maggie, can’t figure out where she’s coming from. She will be eighteen in a couple of months. Just this morning I realized that, even though I’ve known her almost three years, and despite all the time we’ve spent together, all the joints we toked in the dark in the girls’ stadium bathroom at Green Meadow High, even the eight kisses we’ve shared, she is still a mystery. I know a lot of the whats about her, but I haven’t been let in yet on most of the whys.
Grass has finally taken its toll on me. I’ve had a hacking cough for two weeks now. Today I just didn’t feel like getting very high. And I always feel like getting very high. I had one joint this morning and two tonight, compared to my usual seven to twelve a day — eleven yesterday. But now I can’t sleep, because I’m not stoned, and I’ve spent all my money. Spent the money my parents sent me to pay my car insurance. My dad wrote me a letter, Why did the insurance company send us a bill, I know you paid this because you called and asked for the money and we sent it. I’m burned out. Tired of this shit. Sure, I like getting high, but I can’t remember things, have a hard time breathing, and have no get-up-and-go. Haven’t written a thing for that paper. Haven’t really looked for other work. Think about it, but get stoned instead. Drive around, but not much. Low on gas. Park in the desert. Smoke. Think. Saw a coyote just north of town, this side of the tracks. That was unusual. Coyotes never come over to this side of the tracks. Paper said the coyotes are coming in, that it’s going to be a hard winter. Could be. Snowed the first week I was back. Made it hard to get out and find work. But there isn’t any work. No use trying to find what isn’t there.
Peter Pumps and I went over to Jennifer Evers’s tonight and sat about reading some of her poems, reading some of mine, reading some of his, and talking. She said that Michelle McHabe was bisexual and had taken her to a gay bar downtown. We made her tell us all about it.
“There’s not much to tell,” she said. “We went in and had a drink and there were other women there who were like in couples, and that was about it.”
She writes a lot of poetry about girls she knows. I don’t think she’s bisexual. She assured us she’s not. She must have touched me five times tonight to get my attention. She’s never touched me before in such a casual manner, and she never has to do anything get my attention. All she has to do is be around, with her wavy blonde hair, her exquisite lips which I have kissed once or twice, and her beautiful, narrow, blue eyes.
We talked a little bit about our sexuality, about masculinity and feminitity (which I’m not even sure I know how to spell). I know I’m hetero with a slight bisexual urge. I mean, I’m curious. I told Peter and Jennifer about it.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said, “but one of my fantasies is giving head. I’d like to try it, just once, to see what it’s like to have a dick in my mouth.”
“Ooo, god-damn!” Peter said. “That is so gross! I’m glad you’re sitting over there!”
“Don’t worry, I’m not bisexual,” I said. “I’m just curious.”
But I wonder about what I appear to be. One of the guys at Angelo State, in the Drama Department, made a pass at me at the never-ending party one night. I politely but firmly removed his hand from my leg, and pretended it didn’t happen. But I write poetry, hardly a he-man’s hobby. I’m skinny, having gained only five pounds in three years. Repeatedly I’m told that I’m cute. I have no idea what cute means or whether it’s good or bad or ugly, but it sure don’t sound like it means handsome or rugged. And I cannot picture myself as cute. Puppies are cute. Girls are cute. But guys? Mike tells me I look innocent. He says his stepdad doesn’t trust me, says I’m a hippie in disguise. That the short-haired, innocent look disguises, what, I don’t know. The heart of a demon? The Antichrist down and out? A fallen pot-head who’s lost his way and his lover and his child and his home and everything except his Volkswagen and some clothes and a few friends and a hacking cough?
“Well, I hear you’re a pretty normal guy,” Jennifer said.
“I’ve been accused of worse,” I said.
“Falsely?” Peter said.
Jennifer brought up some of the things Kitty had told her about my so-called sexual prowess.
“Kitty said the two of you made love in the driveway of her house,” she said.
“Chorus, you dog, you,” Peter said.
“You guys,” I said. “Be calm. All I can say is that Kitty exaggerated. We made out in the driveway, once, for my sixteenth birthday.”
“That was the time,” Jennifer said. “She told me about it being your birthday, but she said you made love.”
She also said Kitty appeared happy and proud when she told Jennifer she was pregnant. I didn’t even know she and Kitty knew each other that well. I sure didn’t know how many people Kitty was telling about the baby, though I found out as time went by. It wasn’t too long before the whole fucking school knew, but I always denied it. Until one day in Drama class last spring when I broke down and bawled my heart out about it.
It doesn’t matter. The story of me and Kitty is a closed book. In response to my letter to her, telling her I didn’t think she should get married, she called April and told her to tell me to get fucked. April was only too happy to pass the message along, the day we got high with her mom.
Maggie and I were watching the local news on TV tonight and who should we see being marched in handcuffs down the street in front of the county courthouse but Daniel Davis and some girl whose name we don’t know. Fucking freakers, man! I said, “Holy shit, that’s my connection!”
Maggie said, “Shh, don’t let my mom hear.”
The story was that Daniel’s apartment had been staked out for a while now — and that’s freakier still, because I was just down there a few nights ago to buy a couple joints with my last dollar, and Daniel seemed pretty uptight. He said, “Don’t come over here again without calling first, man.” Anyway, the cops were staking the place out for this big deal that was about to go down, and when it went down, it went bad independent of the cops. There was a shootout, some unknown guy was wounded and escaped into the desert, and Daniel, the girl, and about two hundred pounds of primo pot were taken into custody. An undisclosed amount of cocaine, too.
Boy, did I ever get my ass in a bind Saturday night. Got my ass chased all over and finally out of town by a pickup truck full of Green Meadow jocks with baseball bats trying to catch me and pound out my shit, blood and brains. I wish I had a Valium, or a joint.
I was out cruising in my Bug with Peter
I’m too uptight to even write about it.
I could live for fifty more years or fifty more minutes and it won’t matter. That’s tough, but there it is. And I’m supposed to be so fucking smart, but I ain’t shit. I look around me at all the people I know my age or a little older, and they all have jobs or they’re getting their degrees and I wonder where the fuck did I go wrong. The unemployment here is staggering. I can’t get a job cleaning shit out of toilets. Not even the army will take me. The recruiting sergeant said I have to stop smoking dope for six months before I can enlist. I look into my future and I see nothing. The Journal didn’t hire me. The girl at the Times laughed when she read my application to be a reporter. I don’t know what to do. I don’t even have a home. I don’t know how this happened.
Nothing fucking matters.
At least from here, the only way to go is up.
I went up to Green Meadow this afternoon to hang out with Peter and Jennifer in the Drama room after school, and got punched out by Stanley Leavenworth. This is all tied in with that business about being chased out of town by a truckload of jocks. A couple of nights before that happened, I had been cruising around the neighborhood with Mike, drinking and smoking. He flipped off Leavenworth from my car. Mike was drunk and hell-raising and had no idea who he was birding. It was Leavenworth and his buddies from the varsity football team. And it was Leavenworth and his buddies, with Carol Goldfarb’s brother driving, who ran me out of town. That’s what happened, pure and simple. I got my ass run out of town. I was cruising the neighborhood with Peter and all the sudden they were on us, like they had been cruising around looking for us, this group of about ten jocks with baseball bats in a pickup truck. I hightailed it for the desert, trying to lose them out there, but they wouldn’t shake and I couldn’t outrun them. I came off the trails onto the warehouse road and they pulled up alongside me, screaming and yelling and waving their bats around. There was a van coming the other way. They ran it off the road. There were horns blaring and tires screeching and I thought, If these guys catch me, they’re going to kill me. I sure don’t want to go that way, beaten to death by high school jocks with baseball bats on a dark deserted highway at the edge of town. As soon as I reached Highway 54 I turned north, which I could do there without stopping or even slowing down much. I was figuring I could double back along State Line Road and War Road and eventually end up at the police substation, if they didn’t run me off the road along the way. But as soon as I hit the city limits, they stopped chasing me, and I knew why. It was because they had run me out of town. My own town.
So anyway, today I was in the Drama room after school, shooting the shit with Peter and Jennifer, when Leavenworth, Matt Cartwright, and Ricky Wolchowsky came to the door and called me out.
“Hey, Chorus, come out here,” they said. “We wanna talk to you.”
So I went. They stood in a semicircle in front of me.
“I hear you been talkin’ about me behind my back,” Leavenworth said.
“No, man,” I said, “I ain’t been sayin’ nothin’.”
“Well, I hear different,” he said, then he hit me in the face. He broke my glasses and chipped a tooth. I just stood there.
“Lyin’ sacka shit,” Wolchowsky said.
“Pussy won’t fight back,” Cartwright said. “Hey, pussy-Chorus, Goldfarb’s after you, too. He’s pissed because you almost made him wreck his truck Saturday night.”
“Let’s get outta here,” Leavenworth said. They went away and left me with my humiliation.
I saw a lawyer today about Mr. Leavenworth. It was the same lawyer who handled the adoption for that baby Kitty and I accidentally made. He advised me to press charges, so I did this afternoon. The city prosecutor’s office called me back trying to get Stanley’s address. They had called Green Meadow and couldn’t get it. Mr. Dark, the principal, fielded the call and would not cooperate. The prosecutor was pissed.
But it’s all a moot point. The pressure at school from the friends I still have there was so intense, Leavenworth came by the Quarrys’ this afternoon. We stood at the door and talked.
“I’m sorry, man,” he said. “I was outta line. I’ll pay for having your glasses fixed.”
“Don’t bother,” I said. “I accept your apology. I’ll drop the charges tomorrow.”
We shook hands and he went away.
Peter told me this evening that Jennifer, who I sure as hell never wanted to see me get cold-cocked by a pack of jocks, had gone up to Stanley in the hall today at school and read him the riot act, told him he was a sorry son-of-a-bitch who knew I hadn’t flipped him off and who was too chicken to face me man-to-man, but had to bring two of his friends along. When he came over to the Quarrys’ to talk to me, he mentioned that “the little blonde chick, that friend of yours, she was real feisty, man.”
First semester ends in two days. It’s hard to believe I left school six weeks ago. It doesn’t seem that long, yet Angelo State seems like a dream. I don’t hardly ever think of Stella. She seems as far away as though she had never been. And Don Vance, Susan St. James, cool Dennis, freaked-out Julie, all the others, it all seems like a dream. And Doris. Mr. Collins told me right before I left San Angelo that some guy who goes to high school with her confessed to having sex with her, so the Texas Rangers wouldn’t be tracking me down after all.
The days go by but they’re all the same. They’re just all the same now in a different place. My refund from Angelo State finally came in. I used it to move into the cheapest apartment I could find. It’s a dingy little one-bedroom place near Sunrise Center. Stank like cheap perfume when I moved in. Now it smells like my best friend, Mary Jane. Soon as I cashed the refund check, I went down to the arcade and bought three big, fat lids. Daniel Davis isn’t dealing anymore, of course, since he’s in jail, but there are so many dealers at the arcade, they come out to my car when I pull up in the parking lot. It’s like McDonald’s, I don’t even need to get out. Would you like to get fried with that?
I also got groceries and gas and beer and my friends came over and we partied and things were pretty much fine for a couple weeks, but I still don’t have a job and things are getting not fine now. My car is almost out of gas. I’ve run out of food. I’m about to walk down to the 7-11 and buy two candy bars, and that will be the end of my money. I’m holding on to a quarter for the phone. I wish I could get a hold of my parents, but they’re not answering their phone. I couldn’t afford a phone, so it’s hard for me to get in touch with people. I was hanging around Mike’s and Peter’s and Jennifer’s houses around mealtimes, hoping to get fed, and usually it worked, but I’ve pretty much worn that out. Maggie’s I didn’t do that to, since they put me up for a month and were glad to see me go. Maggie’s brother stood in the driveway as I packed up the last of my stuff, and scowled at me and said, “Don’t come back here, fuckface.” But I live several miles from all of them, all my old friends, the old neighborhood. If somebody would at least come over I could arrange transportation to the employment commission and maybe a little money from unemployment. The electric company man will be here this week to collect the four bucks he fronted me to help cover having the electricity turned on. I’m beginning to worry about where I’m going to get next month’s rent.
This morning was the first time since a few minutes after I moved in here that I’ve seen this little rat-hole while I wasn’t stoned. I smoked the first of those three lids I bought at the arcade almost entirely by myself, in just four days. I put it and my papers and roachclip and ashtray and lighter on the coffee table, and myself on the couch, and pretty much stayed there for ninety-six hours and thirty-some joints. Then I backed off a bit, but I still keep a good buzz on all the time.
I got a hold of my parents finally. They wired me fifty bucks today, but they said it would be the last money they’d be able to send me.
I went downtown to the Western Union office right away to pick up the money. It was a beautiful winter’s day, with the sun like a diamond — only much brighter and warmer — and not a cloud nor any pollution in the sky — but no jobs on the ground. I went to a few places downtown, talked to a few people about jobs. There are no jobs. Unless the landlord cuts me some slack and I get the money to pay the speeding ticket I got today, come next month I’ll be either in Arkansas or in jail. Maybe I could get Mike to pay the ticket. That would make thirty-six bucks I owe him. May as well be thirty-six thousand. Jennifer could get her parents to take me in, I’m sure, for a little while, if it came to that. They took Mike in when he was in trouble and needed a place to stay.
Mike is working as an assistant manager now at a Burger King downtown. That was the first place I stopped into after the Western Union. I ordered a burger and fries and a shake, the first actual meal I’d had in almost a week. He came out and sat with me and we talked. He’s off the cane now. Said he’d try to find me a job.
“But don’t get your hopes up, Chorus,” he said. “I’ll do what I can, but we just had to let a guy go yesterday. If we replace him, I’ll see what I can do for you.”
“Thanks,” I said. Then I started coughing. I first got this cough when I was living with the Quarrys. It just keeps getting worse and worse. As long as I don’t start coughing, I’m fine, but once I start, I cannot stop. I cough until all the air is gone from my lungs, and I can’t get any back in, and I still keep coughing. Finally, after way too long, I’m able to gasp in some air and get it under control. Usually by then I’m shaking. That’s the coughing I did today at Mike’s Burger King. He sat across from me at the booth we were in, looking real concerned. I was pretty concerned myself.
“Man,” he said once I was done, “you all right?”
“Yes,” I whispered, wiping the tears from my eyes.
“Damn, Chorus, that’s one motherfucker of a cough,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to call an ambulance, or watch you die, or both.”
“I’m okay,” I said. “It comes and goes.”
Tomorrow, I check hospitals, see if I can get a job emptying bedpans.
my albatross necklace
sees to it that I shall be
strangled slowly without waking
once from this contented dream
which has become nightmare
cold closets full of iron spiders
clutch at my pulpy brown heart
indian daggers probe hesitantly
at first, then more firmly
It is bleak and lonely here. I know I can make it. It’s the wanting to that seems to be gone. Two years ago, when I was a student journalist and going steady with April and fucking Kitty and kissing Maggie by the water fountain in the Green Meadow gym — I was so different. I don’t know what happened, or how it happened. But this is the way I wanted it. Isn’t it? All alone. Independent. It was going to be me cheerfully making my hundred bucks a week and writing my ass off in between making it with the chicks. Ain’t working out quite like that. I need a home. This place won’t be home until I know I’m staying here. I’d like to fix this place up. It could be nicer. Maggie was here the other night, we were getting high and I was telling her about it.
“Yeah, bright colors,” I said. “I could paint it all in all different bright colors. The landlord certainly wouldn’t mind.”
“Why bother with the paint?” Maggie said. “This place is a dump. Just move into something nicer.”
“Shit, Maggie,” I said, “I’ve had four addresses in five months and I’d sure like to stay someplace a while.”
“Well, if you’re going to fix up anything around here, fix the toilet,” Maggie said. “Or get the landlord to do it. He should do it.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I know.” Toilet hasn’t worked since the day after I moved in. Smelled pretty bad in there for a while. Now I pee in the sink and shit down the street at a gas station that’s not hiring.
It’s midnight. I’m not sleeping very much lately. I’m out of dope and out of food. Early this morning I woke up and totaled up my debts. Somehow I’m going to make it. Somehow, I swear, I’ll make it out of here and whatever I have to do, I’ll never be in a place like this again.
Peter wrecked his car the night before last, chasing me around. I was out cruising around with Maggie in my Bug. We had just left Jennifer’s house when this car got on our tail. I didn’t know who it was, just a pair of headlights tailgating me and following my every turn, so I booked it out to the desert, where I know every road. The main north-south road is actually two parallel roads separated by a ditch. I headed up the eastern road, fast as I could go. Maggie started freaking out, started screaming at me, “Slow down! Slow down! Goddammit, Jeffrey, slow down!”
I had to hold it at fifty while I tried to calm her down.
“Maggie, it’s all right! It’s all right! I know what I’m doing! What I don’t know is who’s in that car! It could be the people who are out to get me!”
“Then just stop and find out!” she said.
“Are you crazy?” I said. “You don’t stop when you’re running for your life!”
I did a loop around the sewage plant and headed back along the western road towards the neighborhood. There was a large pile of tree prunings in the road, with just enough room to whip around it on the ditch side. I made it, but Peter didn’t. Maggie was turned around in her seat, watching out the rear window.
“Stop!” she said. “They’ve crashed! They’ve crashed into the ditch!”
I said, “No, no, they’ve gone back, that’s all. They couldn’t make it around the prunings, and they’ve gone back.”
“No, they haven’t!” she said. “I saw them crash! We’ve got to go back and help!”
“No, we don’t,” I said. “It might be a trap. We’re not going back. No way!”
I talked to Peter yesterday, found out it was him and that he had indeed crashed. His car ended up on its side, but he wasn’t hurt.
“I’m sorry, man,” I said. “But don’t chase me around like that.”
“Yeah, now you tell me,” he said. “Until my car gets out of the shop, I’d have to do it on foot, anyway.”
It was a year ago tonight that I last made love with Kitty. I didn’t expect to take her marriage so hard. Glad she can’t see me now. It’s way deep in the wee hours and I can’t sleep. I miss her so much. Losing her left a big, empty space in me. I know it’s all my fault, and I know it’s a hell of a time to realize it. When I phoned her last summer to ask her to marry me, even though I was two thousand miles away, in love with Stella and constantly stoned half out of my mind, it was so fucking crazy. The words were coming down my spine from my brain to my mouth when she told me of her impending — I mean, her actual — engagement. For the first time in my life I was literally speechless. I couldn’t even say shit. After a few moments of silence, she asked me what was wrong. I don’t remember what lame excuse I stammered out. I hung up the phone thinking, Well, she’s washed her hands of me, I’ll wash mine of her. But it hasn’t been that easy.
Memories, speak kindly now — what shall I do?
Got a job the other day, finally. It’s with a door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales outfit. Not the same one I worked for last summer. It’s turning out to be unbelievably good. I am to get my base pay whether I sell anything or not, so long as I make my demos. But payday’s not till the end of the month. I’m going to have to find some money soon. Down to my last two bucks. Maybe I can pawn something. Nothing I learned in high school or college ever prepared me for this.
We had the company Christmas party last night, at the house of one of the senior saleswomen. That makes her sound old, to call her a “senior” anything, but she’s not old. She’s somewhere in her twenties, and is a knockout. Or more precisely, there’s one aspect about her that’s a knockout. She has a nice figure and a nice face, and long, black hair, and that would all be noticeable enough — but then there are her eyes. She has ice-blue eyes. This long, dark hair, and ice-blue eyes. The first time she looked at me, I felt paralyzed. And every time since, I’ve felt like a butterfly on a pin. I can’t help but look at her when she’s around. Her eyes are mesmerizing. But when she looks right at me, I feel like squirming away under a rock someplace. If I were the Antichrist, I would want to have black hair and ice-blue eyes. Since I don’t, that must prove I’m not.
This woman, her name is Jeanne, and she has a husband. I don’t remember his name. They have a nice house, nothing too fancy, but nice, not far from where I live, but on the other side of Dyer and in a nicer neighborhood than mine. I took Maggie to the party with me, and we took her mom’s car, Maggie driving, since mine was very low on gas.
At the party there was a bowl of joints. I’ve never seen anything like it. I guess it wasn’t really a bowl, it was a candy dish, but it must have had a good fifty joints in it. Or more. I just wanted to reach in and scoop up two big fistfuls of those rustling white joysticks.
“Look at that,” I said to Maggie, and nodded.
“Yeah,” she said. “I saw it. That’s something else.”
“Oh, I want some,” I said.
“You should take some,” she said.
“No, I couldn’t do that,” I said.
“If they didn’t want people to take some, they wouldn’t put them out like that,” she said.
“No,” I said. “What if they were candy? I couldn’t just take some and stuff it into my pockets.”
“Well, then, you should ask,” she said.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” I said.
“Sure you could,” she said. “Just ask. Do it. Just ask.”
“Okay,” I said. “I will before we leave.”
She and I were sitting near the front door, drinking and smoking and watching the party go on, but we didn’t know anyone there except that I knew some of them as my co-workers, so we were pretty much keeping to ourselves. We didn’t stay long. As we pulled on our coats, I asked Jeanne about the joints.
“Hey,” I said casually. “Could I take a couple of these joints with me?”
She turned her ice-blue eyes on me and skewered me with them, immediately seeing to the bottom of my heart, mind, and soul, where she saw that I had been wanting to ask that question since I came in the door, and that I wanted all of the joints and every joint ever rolled and all the marijuana in the world, and I wanted her and Maggie and April and Jennifer and Susan St. John and every pretty girl and gorgeous woman and just plain ol’ brick shithouse who now lived or had ever lived, including the Queen of Sheba, Cleopatra, Olivia Newton-John, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, and Eleanor of Aquitane, to fall down naked at my feet and adore me, while every manjack of a man and boy bowed and scraped and rushed to do my bidding. She saw all this in a glance that made me weak in the knees and made me blush, and she gave no sign of what she had seen.
“Sure,” she said. “Help yourself.”
I took two joints. I hope she never looks at me again.
Maggie and I cruised back to my place to smoke the joints and drink some more. I was already pretty high. Just the way I like it. Except that sometimes I do stupid things when I’m high, like that time in San Angelo when I went to the McDonald’s with no money. I started singing along to the radio there in Maggie’s mom’s car, even though I know that when I’m stoned, I really can’t sing. Now Maggie knows it, too.
“Please stop singing, Jeffrey,” she said. “Please.”
“Hey, let’s get a six-pack,” she said.
“I can’t afford it,” I said.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll pay.”
“Okay,” I said. “You sugar-momma me now, and I’ll sugar-daddy you when I get a job.”
She looked at me like I had said the strangest thing, which led me to believe I had.
We got the sixer and went to my place, where we drank and smoked and listened to the Rolling Stones. Then she did something that I don’t know what to make of it. It was even stranger than what I said about sugar daddies and mommies. She has long added sexual undertones to our relationship, and I can always be counted on to add such undertones and overtones and sharps and flats and all that stuff to my relationships with the female set, but whenever I would respond to Maggie’s kittenishness, she would retreat. She had often warned me that if she got real stoned, she wouldn’t be responsible for her actions, though I never knew what she meant, beyond guessing that she might do stupid things the way I sometimes do when I get real stoned. So we were sitting there in my apartment after the party, very stoned, listening to the Stones. I had Sticky Fingers on the stereo. I was sitting on the couch, while Maggie was sitting across the room from me, in the chair right next to the stereo. She pointed to the album cover, which has photograph of a tight pair of jeans occupied by one well-hung dude, and she said, “What’s that?”
She was pointing to the guy’s bulge. I said, “If you don’t know by now, I sure as hell ain’t going to break the news to you.”
She said, “It’s a penis, isn’t it?”
I said, “It’s reasonable to assume that it is.”
She said, “I’ve never seen one before — can I see yours?”
Wow! Radar de Amour and panic alarms all went full clang. I was thinking right away about a story she told me last year of one of our classmates exposing himself to her and Michelle McHabe one day at Green Meadow High, in a sort of “Wanna see my thing?” thing.
I said, “I’m not going to play any games.”
“Oh, come on,” she said.
“No,” I said.
“Come on,” she said. “Please?”
“No,” I said. “I’m not gonna.”
“Maybe I can give you something in return,” she said.
“I’m not going to play show and tell,” I said. “If you want to work something else out, come sit your little ass down here next to me.”
“No,” she said. She all the sudden looked real embarrassed and said, “I gotta go, I gotta go,” and she hurried out the door. It was snowing out.
It has been a fine day.
I’m lost. So fucking lost in any number of ways. I’ve been wandering a lot lately. The last two days I’ve spent walking when I should be working, thinking when I should be acting. I’m doing it again. I’m sitting in the dingy carport of some dingy apartments, listening to a female poodle around the corner scream as a large male poodle tries to mount her. He wouldn’t be having so much trouble if she didn’t have another poodle in her already. I suppose I should do something to help her, but I wouldn’t know what and don’t care. Here I am, eighteen years old, an adult and on my own, and so goddamned lost I just want to lie down and never get up.
Nothing is working. My first paycheck was only half what they promised me when they hired me. And I was lucky to get that. We were all supposed to show up at two o’clock on New Years Eve afternoon at the office to get our pay. I was there, right on time, but there was no one there, not even Tom, the boss. The office was locked up tight. Shit! I needed to get that money, not least because I had invited all my friends over for a New Years Eve party that night, and needed to buy chips and beer and pot. I went right away over to Jeanne’s house, to see if she knew what was going on. When I got there, there wasn’t anybody there, so I sat in my Bug out front and waited. After what seemed like forever, Jeanne and her husband got home. I got out of my car and told them why I was there. Jeanne impaled me with her eyes.
“Tom tried to get a hold of you,” she said, “but you don’t have a phone. He changed the meeting time to ten o’clock this morning, so we could all take the afternoon off.”
“Shit,” I said. “I’ve got to get paid. Do you know how I can get a hold of him?”
“I’ve got his number,” she said. “You can call him.”
“Can I use your phone?” I said.
“Okay, sure,” she said. “Come in.”
I called Tom and he told me the same thing Jeanne had.
“Sir, I need to get paid,” I said. “I need to pay my rent and buy some groceries.”
He hesitated, then he said, “Okay, come by and I’ll pay you. But get here soon. My wife and I are having a party tonight.”
He gave me his address, which turned out to be not far from where Jeanne lives. It took me about three minutes to get there. His wife answered the door and let me in.
“Hey, Jeff,” Tom called from the kitchen. “Sorry about the screw-up. Just have a seat in the front room and I’ll be with you in a minute.”
It was more like ninety. I sat in the front room, practically in the dark, while I waited. He and his wife puttered and chattered and giggled in the kitchen, getting stuff ready for the party. There were snacks, big bowls of food, and food cooking in the oven, and a bar with all kinds of booze and sodas. They poured themselves drinks. They didn’t offer me anything. They didn’t even talk to me. I waited and waited. Guests started arriving. Coats were taken, there were hugs and hellos, people laughed and talked, drinks were poured, and still I sat. Finally, Tom came into the front room.
“Sorry to keep you waiting so long, good buddy,” he said. “But we’re having guests and had to get ready.”
“It’s okay,” I said.
“Listen,” he said. “The payroll checkbook is locked up, down at the office. So I can’t cut you a paycheck. Take this.”
He handed me sixty bucks, in three twenties.
“I hope that’s all right,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got.”
It was both all right and it wasn’t. But any dollar is better than no dollar at all.
“Okay, thanks,” I said, and put the money in my wallet.
“Now,” Tom said, putting a hand on my shoulder, “my guests are already arriving, so….”
“Sure, okay,” I said, turning to the door.
“See you at the office,” he said, smiling.
“See you at the office,” I said. But I haven’t gone back.
I went and got stuff for my party, being sure to stop by the arcade for a lid. By the time I got home, Peter, Jennifer, and Mike were already there, waiting outside. We all went in and commenced the drinkin’ and the smokin’ and the eatin’. My next-door neighbors, Bobby and Jo, came over. He’s eighteen and in the army, and she’s seventeen and married to him. They roll the skinniest joints I have ever seen, so I rolled ‘em up some fat ones for a change. We were toking on one of these when Maggie came by with Michelle and a girl who introduced herself as Lavender. She said she was sixteen, but fourteen is my bet. She spent the night. Maggie I hadn’t seen since The Night of the Sticky Fingers. She didn’t say anything about it and neither did I, seeing’s how there was a party going on. We all got pretty loaded and rang in the New Year, then everyone went home except Lavender.
“I wanna spen’ the night with you,” she said to me. This was the best offer I’d had since Kitty. Lavender and I staggered off to my naked mattress, where we took off some of our clothes, pulled a blanket over ourselves, and tried to fuck but I couldn’t get it up. We
passed out, she wet the bed while we slept, and in the morning I fucked her then I took her home.
On New Years Day afternoon I bought groceries at the Safeway. A few cans of soup, some bread, some bologna, then I went home and smoked dope. The next day I went to a pawnshop and pawned my tape recorder, my camera, and my typewriter. On the way back from the pawnshop, my Bug broke down. I had to leave it parked on a side street and walk home, where I spent the next three days stoned on the couch. Jennifer came by one afternoon after school but I was so strung-out, I barely remember her coming by. Wish I did, ‘cause what I do remember is we had a pretty heavy make-out session. I remember she said something about wanting to see how normal I am. I don’t think we went all the way, but I have a vague memory that we did just about everything else. She hasn’t been back.
Shit. Can’t pay the rent. Can’t get my car fixed without money. Can’t earn money without my car. Bobby and Jo have offered to let me move in with them after my rent runs out. Can’t see how that would work. Bobby’s already supporting two people on a private’s pay.
I could try again to join the army. Or I could call my parents, again, and beg them to help me, again. I’m so sick, it’s hard to care. I cough all the time but nothing comes out. Last night, I had the munchies so I walked down to the 7-11 and got a quart of buttermilk and a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. I came back here and ate all the potato chips and drank all the buttermilk. Then I started coughing, and I coughed so hard I threw up. All that food gone to waste. I didn’t clean it up. I guess I should. I just don’t care anymore.
There’s been a foot of snow on the ground since I got here, and the temperature keeps going down under zero every night. It never gets above freezing in the daytime. There are lots of little mountains covered with forests, but no vistas. I feel like I’m living in a closet. Actually, it’s a house trailer. My mom says it’s haunted by the ghost of one of the soldiers my dad killed in Vietnam. I don’t know how he found us here in Cousinfuck, Arkansas. I haven’t seen him, myself.
I shouldn’t complain. I have a few luxuries, like food to eat and clean clothes to wear. We’re moving in a few months, maybe sooner, to some state where the job prospects are better. My dad has had a hard time finding decent work here. I’ve looked for some myself — not just decent work, but any kind of work — but haven’t found anything yet.
I’m too young to drink here!
Wrote Jennifer a long letter. There were some things I needed to try and explain, partly just to try and work them out myself, try to figure out what happened. Also sent her a poem I wrote about her. On TV tonight there was the movie she and I went to see on our only real date, my senior year at Green Meadow. It was Give ‘em Hell, Harry! Her parents took me in for a night, my last night in El Paso, when everything had at last fallen completely apart. Mrs. Evers gave me a haircut, which I badly needed, then the next morning they fed me a big breakfast and put me on the bus to come here.
If I had just one person to talk to here…. There’s no talking to God anymore. There is no God, anymore, not for me. Maggie’s mom had given me a book when I was living with them, but I hadn’t read it yet. It’s called African Genesis, and it’s by this guy named Robert Ardrey. I read it on the bus. There was this one point while I was reading it when, all the sudden, it was like the scales just fell from my eyes. I put the book down and stared out the bus window at the East Texas countryside going past. All that stuff I’d been raised with, about God and Satan and Heaven and Hell and Adam and Eve and Eden and Jesus and the Second Coming and the Antichrist, it was all just a bunch of superstitious bullhockey. Everything I believed in went away, just like that, like waking up from a dream but even more sudden. I felt both free and empty, not to mention a little pissed off about being lied to all my life, ‘cause this stuff that Ardrey was writing about was not exactly the latest-breaking news.
Speaking of which, I read in the paper today that some guy got an eight grand fine and eight years in prison for selling three bucks fifty of Mary Jane to the undercovers hereabouts. Jesus!
My parents decided last week that maybe Louisiana will be our new home. Dad said he and I could get good jobs on the oil rigs out in the Gulf. This week he and my mom decided on Tennessee, maybe. I really don’t know where they’re going, and they don’t, either. Wherever it is, I’m almost certainly going along. They’ve got the money that pays the rent and buys the food. It’s good to be eating again. I’ve put on twenty pounds since I got here. It’s good to be sleeping in a clean bed, too, without an army of cockroaches crawling all over me. And it’s good to have my car back, my own big Bug. My dad made arrangements through his old boss to have it found, fixed, and shipped to us, right after I got here. I had brought a fair amount of dope back with me, along with some speed and some codeined cough syrup. I’ve been going out driving around and smoking and seeing what there is around these parts. There’s a big river and a big lake, but mostly what’s around here is little stuff. Little mountains covered with little trees, with little towns in little valleys.
One thing there is not around these parts is good-looking women. I’ve never seen so many ugly women in one place in my sweet short life. It is true that beautiful women do not stay in small towns. At least they don’t stay in any of the small towns around here. I may never badmouth El Paso again.
After all, El Paso has the ever-lovely Jennifer Evers, who sent me a terrific-smelling letter, told me she was so worried about me. She told me Maggie had dropped out of school and moved in with Michelle, who finished her classes at Green Meadow, got a job at the Commissary, moved out of her parents’ house into an apartment, and enrolled in the community college. Michelle has always struck me as one pretty together chick. She was Kitty’s best friend for a while, but they drifted apart before Kitty moved away.
Jennifer also told me she got a little pissed at me over some of the things I wrote in that long letter I wrote her. Oopsies that I poured my heart out. Seems that what I tried to portray as self-directed anger and bitterness, and loneliness, came across as nothing more than grand self-pity, as it probably was. Oh well. Live and learn, I guess. Or not. Die and never get another chance. Or live and be stupid. Die stupid.
She said she liked the poem. Asked me when I’m coming back.
Grandad’s been writing us from Colorado, sending us the want ads from the papers there. Seems like some opportunities out that way. My parents have decided that maybe that’s the place to go, but my dad’s old boss from El Paso keeps calling and trying to get him to come back. My dad sent him a contract proposal last week. We shall see. It’s really where I want to go.
We spent a weekend in Louisiana. Depressing place. Everything is flat, most things are soggy, and everyone is poor. Sharecropper’s shacks all in a row, looking just like the slave quarters of old. Didn’t know such things still existed. Went to Memphis last weekend, spent time with relatives. Saw the ghetto, which looks like the barrio, only the people are darker. Went to a cemetery and saw graves of Civil War soldiers. Looked to be about a whole regiment of them, all killed on the same day. Saw the hotel where Martin Luther King was shot. My dad told me, “We lost a lot when we lost that man.” Got plastered at a family reunion our last night there. Found out my dad is a war hero. Drank too much whiskey and coke, slurred loudly and threw up back at my aunt’s place. My parents were kind and said nothing of it.
Grant Collier wrote. He told me what had happened to him in Wyoming, and why he had to leave. Yes, he’s gone back to El Paso. Too bad he didn’t get there a few months ago. I had written something to him about getting my shit together. He wrote back, Nobody has their shit together, Jeff, and you should stop worrying about it. It’s a relief to hear that. I’ve long suspected that the whole world has diarrhea and the best we can hope to do is to make it to the toilet in time, but somewhere I got taught, and I believed, that at some magical point in my life I would be in complete control of myself and my future — a real shit-together kind of guy.
He said the arcade’s been closed down and connections are hard to find. He should come out here, learn just how hard they really can be to find, this far from the border or from any city. I mean, hell, the biggest city in this state has a name that begins with “Little.” I sent some money to him, asked him to send me a lid if he can find a connection. Told him to weigh, stamp, and post the parcel himself, no return address. And if he could, no fingerprints.
He wrote as to how he made twelve-hundred dollars a month last summer waiting tables up at a resort in Wyoming. No snow up there this winter killed that job and lots of others. It would be great to hook up with Mike and move up there this coming summer, rustle up a big herd of cash, then head back down to El Paso in the fall. I got a letter from him day before yesterday. He suggested that if I come back to El Paso, he and I can get an apartment together, save on rent that way. He wrote about playing strip poker with Peter, Jennifer, and April, of all people. Seems everybody lost and everybody won. Sounds like a great kind of game. To have been there… “I’ll see that, Jennifer, and raise this.”
Living with my parents is just too much. Maybe I’m too old for this. My dad isn’t too bad, but my mom — shit! She and I haven’t gotten along for something like ten years. I ran away several times in that period but never stayed gone for more than a couple days. I kept making the mistake of coming back. Guess you could say I ran again when I fled San Angelo, and I’ve been running since — only, the way I run is to run a little ways away and then run right back. Probably spend the rest of my life running partway away then running right back into whatever trap it is I think I want out of. At least when you’re trapped you know where you are.
My mom and me, you could say there is a lack of communication. I certainly don’t know how to tell her that when I return to El Paso in the fall, as I definitely plan to do, I’ll be returning to my family, the family of my friends, the only real family I have. She still treats me like a child, telling me when to go to bed, what to wear, what to eat. I’ve given up trying to get through to her that I’m almost nineteen and a father into the bargain, not really a child anymore. The father bit we never talk about anyway. Can’t imagine that we ever will. I suppose it may have hurt her just as much to lose her first grandchild as it did me to lose my first child.
Things blew up today at lunch. I told her that Jennifer wants me back in El Paso and Mike needs a roomie, and she rolled right over that edge of hers. She said, “So you’re going to give up a good home and go back there where you won’t have a job and be a bum, huh, well, little mister, you’re not getting any of our money to live off of!”
“That’s perfectly all right with me,” I said, “as I have no intention of living off your money, and I have every intention of going back to El Paso.”
At that, she tossed cake and coffee on my dad, so I grabbed my coat and went outside. Dad came out a little later and said she broke a few dishes after I left. I told him I’d heard.
Black cloud cross my mind. Blue mist round my soul. Can’t wait to get to Colorado and get a job. Yes, we’re going to Colorado, for it to be our new home. Banjoes on our knees. But I wish I were in El Paso, getting drunk and stoned with my friends. Smoked the last of my pot many days ago. Scraped all the loose pot out of the glove box and off the seats and floorboards of my car, and made a couple little joints from it. Lot of lint mixed in. Smoked some nutmeg out by the airfield. It stinks when it burns. Stinks! Took my last tab of speed last week, and downed the last of my codeined cough syrup a few days ago. I’ve gone to the arcade here in town a couple times to see if I could connect. All I’ve gotten is funny looks.
I took a job as a “live-hanger” at a chicken processing plant just across the river. That lasted five hours. The original chickenshit job. When they hired me, they offered me my choice of either working on the live-line or the dead-line, so I chose the live-line. I figured it would be easier to work with live chickens than dead ones. I really didn’t know much about chickens, except what they taste like cooked. All the sudden I was in this place where I was surrounded by thousands of them. And while chickens may not be the sharpest tacks in the toolbox, when they’re headed to imminent death, they sure seem to know it. Here I was in this chicken plant’s receiving dock, a huge warehouse with semi-trailers backing in to off-load flat crates packed with thousands of screaming white chickens, two dozen chickens to each small crate. Not only were the chickens creating a tremendous uproar, but the clanking machinery on the live-line was so loud, the foreman had to stand right behind me to scream in my ear, “Go faster! Go faster!” I was supposed to hang six thousand chickens a day. That’s an average of one chicken every four or five seconds, all fucking day long. Some of the chickens died in the crates. These I was supposed to throw over my right shoulder into a pile behind me. The live ones, screaming and flapping about like mad, I had to take by their legs and hang upside down on these shackles coming by at high speed on a conveyor line. I had to go fast but I had to be careful not to bruise the chickens. Bruised chickens could not be sold as fryers, the orienting people told me at orientation. So there’s the foreman behind me, screaming, “Be careful! Don’t bruise them! Go faster!”
Screaming isn’t the only thing chickens do when they’re freaked out. They crap big-time, and they don’t crap turds. At orientation they — not the chickens, but the orienting people — they offered me goggles and a surgical mask, but the foreman said, “Most of the guys don’t use those.” I looked around me and none of the guys was using them. It was some sort of macho thing to hang chickens without protection. Some sort of weird, “I like chickenshit” thing. There was chickenshit everywhere. It even got in my ears, and I was spitting chickenshit all morning long. Also, there were feathers floating around, lots of them, and they would land on me and stick to the shit, so I was tarred and feathered in this stuff. I thought I had died and gone to hell. I went home for lunch told my mom, “Mom, I can’t go back.” She was cool, which she sometimes is, which makes living with her real difficult because I never know when she’s going to be cool and when she’s not. She didn’t make me go back, but she did make me take off most of my clothes before she would let me come inside the trailer. Then she sent me straight to the shower. “Don’t touch anything you don’t have to,” she said.
Life among the hillbillies is over in just a week. Well… Arkansas is green, I can say that for it. Elbow room, he said, give me elbow room. And no more haunted house trailers, please. When my mom told me the ghost story, of the ghost of the dead Vietnamese soldier who woke her up one night and stood at the foot of her bed, of course I thought she was crazy, but I’ve been thinking my mom was crazy for a long time now. But something happened to me one night here a few weeks ago…. I was watching TV late one night. It was not too long after I ran out of dope and I was having trouble sleeping. I was the only one still up. My dad was at work, at the potato chip factory where he’s a night security guard. My mom was in her bedroom, asleep. I was sitting in the living room, watching TV, sound down low, when all the sudden, I felt like there was something there in the room with me. I got all goose-bumply and just totally freaked. I couldn’t see anything unusual, except the light down the hallway seemed more intense, or more clear. It’s hard to describe, the way it looked. I felt like whatever it was was in the hall, right where the hallway emptied into the living room. And I felt for sure that I had to get out of the living room, which meant I had to go past, or through, this place where I felt like whatever it was was. So I did that, and went down the hall to the bathroom. It was the freakiest walk I’ve ever taken. Soon as I was in the bathroom, I turned on the light and shut the door behind me and went to the sink and just leaned there against it, as far from the door as I could get. I watched the door for a while. It felt like whatever it was was right on the other side of the door. After a while, it felt like it had gone away, and I felt safe enough to leave the bathroom. I sure didn’t feel like watching any more TV, though, so I shut everything down and went to bed.
I don’t believe in ghosts, and I didn’t see or hear anything, I just felt something. The best I can figure is maybe it was some sort of electrical field. Arkansas has the weirdest thunderstorms. Here it is winter time, and there are thunderstorms, with snow. The skies are wet as all get out, with big old gargly thunder clouds and lots of lightning. So I figure it had to be related to that. Whatever it was, it freaked the fuck out of me. Maybe it was just the Spirit of Arkansas, being pissed off at me. I made up my mind before I got here that I wouldn’t like this place, and I haven’t been disappointed. Still, there have been some nice things. Green. The lake. Late at night, the distant sound of barges whistling their bargey whistles on the rivering river. I haven’t heard a jet aircraft nor seen a low-rider since I got here, and I haven’t been this sober in two years. And no pissed-off jocks or clod-hoppers in pickup trucks have chased me around. We just have ghosts, is all.
Every night, I dream about getting high. It’s not like I’m counting, but I haven’t been high in four weeks and twenty-seven minutes and it is going to drive me crazy. I had a big El Paso lid, thirty tabs of speed, and a bottle of codeined cough syrup when I moved here. That is all long gone. I’m just about crazy from being sober. I got up to sixteen joints a day the last month I was in El Paso, and was stoned my first two weeks here. Then bang! I came down. The stock market never crashed so hard.
I read a long time ago that you can get high off green tea leaves, so I’ve been smoking them lately. It takes about three tea joints to get me a little buzz. Probably oxygen deprivation. First thing I’m going to do when I get to Colorado is get me a job. Then I’m going to see if I can find me a connection. I suppose I could get a connection here, if I wasn’t so lazy and scared and it didn’t cost so much. I may be dreaming for a while yet.
Maybe someday I’ll look back on this winter with fond recollection. I certainly have had one whale of an interesting time. I just wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Got Jennifer’s latest letter. She sounded depressed. Said she’s getting senior panic. Life in high school is so simple (and college can be an extension of that simple security) — no major decisions to make, every day planned but varied within that plan, no real money worries, and at the end of it, you get this high school diploma which is essentially worthless. She asked me again when I’m coming back, and signed her letter Love Jennifer. I wish I did. She’s such a romantic. She perfumes her letters and seals them with wax. I guess I’m a romantic, too, really.
Her feelings were hurt. Someone at Green Meadow had said something about her stuffing her bra. I wrote back and told her that her bra was stuffed with two of the most beautiful breasts I’ve ever seen; two of the softest breasts I’ve ever held; two of the most delicious breasts I’ve ever tasted.
No, silly, that’s not six breasts.
She also said she misses me very much and can’t wait to give me a gift in person when I come back to El Paso. She said it’s something special.
What I wouldn’t give for a joint!
(“The Antichrist” is published here for the first time, though the short section about working in the chicken plant appeared in a slightly different form in Weekly Alibi Vol. 8, No. 37, September 16-22, 1999.)