It was a beautiful day in May. The kind of day when even the hopeless might imagine a glimmer of light at the end of that long, long tunnel.
There was to be a teach-in. Somebody had decided we should be educated about shit we already knew.
In order to prevent this good day from going bad, the teach-in format had to be tweaked. Instead of a series of lectures, it would be an interactive seminar. And instead of focusing on a war we had no control over, it would focus on something vitally important, something near and dear to our collective hearts: a hands-on investigation into the nature of the state of existence known as being good and fucked-up. To accomplish this, we needed drugs, all kinds of drugs, legal and extralegal, as well as everything you might expect at a stoned, motherfuckin’ barbecue.
To that end teams of hunter-gatherers were loosed upon the land. I concocted a simple, foolproof, two-part plan for Team Meat. We would first flood the supermarket with scuzzy-looking dudes. When supermarket security focused on them, we’d send in the second wave, a group of innocent-looking chicks, who would descend on the meat section like a pride of piranhas and strip it clean. Working our way from Loblaws to Loblaws, we liberated loins of pig and cow, legs of lamb and chicken, and enough hamburger to glut a stoned army, with not a single soul popped for petty theft. Other teams drifted through town boosting a lake of booze and beer, while everyone donated from their stash. In the end we had about a key of weed and a hundred or so hits of acid. You could say it was a triumph of klepto-socialism.
We reconvened at the outdoor terrace adjoining the student center lounge. As the crowd gathered, joints were rolled, pipes packed, briquets fired, spirits poured, Kool-Aid spiked; the bacchanalia was set to begin, as was the teach-in, which had, by now, been reduced to MacGuffin status.
Drone, drone, blah, blah, puff, puff, sizzle, swizzle, tick and tock.
Forty-five minutes in, the first rush came on. The crowd came alive like the hand of the Thing after absorbing the plasma on its thorns.1
And where was I in this? you ask. Right in the middle of the action, going down in flames.
Sometimes the excitement of taking action winds you up so tight, gets you going so fast, you find yourself running ahead of your self. You’re usually having too much fun to recognize what’s happening, let alone worry about it. If you do happen to notice, your reasonable expectation is that you’ll catch up with your self, no harm, no foul. However a problem can occur when you’re in such an atomic frenzy you discover you’ve lapped your self, left it in the dust, just like Wile E. Coyote, who inevitably finds himself spinning his wheels over thin air, the sickened look of recognition hitting him the split nano before gravity does its thing and he crashes and burns, our collective cartoon Icarus.
And yet he does it over and over. Porque? Because neurosis is the solution that has become the problem, this truth visualized in twenty-four hand-drawn frames per second.
The pain and anxiety generated by his Road Runner obsession remains disconnected in Wile E.’s mind from what he still thinks of as the solution—successfully catching and killing the bird. He wittingly hurls himself into the fray, gives chase, comes up short, each time genuinely expecting a different outcome. And after each painful episode Wile E. simply forgets, setting up yet another chance to bang his head against the brick wall of his own psychopathology.
After I took that first hit off that first pipe passed my way, there was, as any substance abuser in the audience will tell you, no turning back. In short order I either glugged, snorted, or inhaled whatever came my way. I even tossed off a short one from the electric Kool-Aid barrel.
By the time I dropped in to see what condition my condition was in, shit had gotten dire. I found myself stoned almost to incomprehension, having my Wile E. moment, beginning to fall, my descent getting faster and faster. All I could think of was how incredibly stupid I was. Hadn’t I already tried the too much dope, too little time method, and in so doing, hadn’t I almost killed myself? And having survived, shouldn’t I have learned my lesson? Yes and yes, and yet apparently not. It was my history and I was doomed to repeat it. Another joint was placed in my hand. I reflexively brought it to my lips and was about to take the toke, which would have definitely sent me over the line, but in that instant before I inhaled . . .
The Greeks called it self-possession and claimed it was a gift from the gods. Hemingway called it grace under pressure and that’s all I know about that. Bugs Bunny, Sgt. Bilko, and Johnny Unitas had it; Elmer Fudd, Nixon, and me, not so much. And yet in that decisive moment, the goddess of wisdom enabled me to realize that I sure as shit did not need anymore active ingredient coursing through my already vastly polluted bloodstream.
I was present enough to realize all was not yet lost. There remained the possibility, remote as it might have seemed, that I might be able to make a soft landing. I owed it to the self I had lapped and lost somewhere in the ether to at least try. I even managed this nifty bit of logic—in order to land softly, I had to have something soft to crash into. But what was soft enough? I wondered, and then it came to me like clear-eyed Athena popping out of Zeus’s forehead—women were that kind of soft, and in a good way, mostly. I should be looking for a woman to help me settle my shit down.
I put my head on a swivel, scoped around, locked on to a chick I had known since I had first gotten to this place. She was attractive in a Picasso kind of way, with a lush body and a noble, outsized, cubist schnozz Pablo would have happily painted all day long; she was a chick who had hugged me five years before in a way that even in my advanced latency I recognized as something more than a mere friendly gesture. I careened toward her, somehow managing to set myself down beside her almost gracefully or, at the least, without face-planting myself with a thud within her personal proximity.
So far, so good.
At first she was, if not happy, at least neutral about my dropping in on her like this. (Even on her best days she was not the warmest of souls.) Had I been the smooth-as-suede type, things might have proceeded to the next level. But I was one hit shy of discorporation, and coming on like a cool cat ready, willing, and, most importantly, able to go the distance was just not going to happen. I had so lost the ability to maintain that I began babbling like a roaring brook, actual tears running down my face. Before I could cry Help, I need somebody, she was gone like a cool breeze… in hell.
Under ordinary circumstances the chick’s flight would have cued the fat lady’s aria. But the miraculous synchronicity that had resulted in my fleeting moment of grace enabled me to overcome the bitter pill of rejection and renew the quest for a safe, soft landing pad for my wacked, rudderless vessel.
Once again I wobbled through the partying throng. No female I checked out fit the necessary parameters: this one hated me, that one played for the other team, the other one looked like Rosa Klepp. And then I saw her sitting by herself. I made eye contact and she smiled at me—a sweet, inviting smile.
As is often the case, a little backstory is in order.
The first time I had seen her, she was fresh off the bus from Gatsby-ville, wearing a gingham dress much like the one JoAnne Dru wore when she first hooked up with Montgomery Clift in Red River. She was like no one I had ever known; she was so . . . fucking… other, the platonic form of shiksa. I was smitten. I was on befogged autopilot that day when I walked up to her and started logorrheafying some mighty stupid shit her way, of which all I can remember saying was, Looking at you makes me want to sing Shall We Gather at the River. What the fuck? But these were strange days and shit tended to get more weird, rather than less so. She commenced to singing the hymn in a lovely soprano the likes of which I had never heard in my tribal areas. This moment, I thought to myself, could be the cute meet scene.
While I always hoped for the best, all the empirical evidence pointed to expecting the worst, and I was all about empiricism. I quickly began conjuring up what the boy-loses-girl scene would look like. This made me anxious. It was heartbreaking, really—our relationship was over before it had a chance to begin, and I was helpless to do anything about it… which didn’t keep me from trying. The self-sabotaging post-modernist in me opened up a super-sized case of crazy. I tried to explain to her that she should not see this as simply a moment shared by two carefree kids but instead view it as the beginning of a hybrid screwball dramedy, Bringing Up Baby meets Now, Voyager, and that there was nothing we could do except play it out to its logical, predetermined, sad, sad end.
That went over real well.
But she was gracious even while blowing me off. She smiled and said, It was nice meeting you, and then she said, ta-ta. I was stunned. Had she actually said ta-ta? Had she just rolled off the screen during a matinee of The Magnificent Ambersons? Or had she channeled Robert Walker’s dotty old aunt in Strangers on a Train? It didn’t make me no never mind. I wanted to marry her, on the spot. Though that proved to be a nonstarter, as she politely scurried away, her feets doing their duty as fast as they possibly could.
And who could have blamed her?
But here it was a few years later and the universe had presented me with a second chance.
I sat down by her side. She saw my agitation and began soothing me. Soon enough I was laid out in her lap, the two of us looking like a po-mo pietà, she Mary, me a messiah in my own mind, crucified on cannabis and shit. She took me home, shared her bread and her bed. That sunrise, as we lay in a spoony sleep, a billion birds began singing their morning song, the chirping so loud it woke us. I wasn’t used to waking up next to somebody without an accompanying dread washing over me, let alone waking up next to somebody who put such a sunny smile on her pretty little punim that I felt the need for sunglasses. She lost herself in this crack-of-dawn avian chorus, declaring it beautiful even while still half asleep. It was très bizarre, but in a good way. I liked the feeling it gave me. I wanted more of it.
I couldn’t have known it then, but that was the day I saved my life, or more accurately, My Future Wife the Organizing Principle saved my life. That sunrise sowed the seed that perhaps I could rewrite the end to my story; just maybe I didn’t have to be stuck with the boilerplate bummer I had already mentally settled for; maybe there was a happy ending lurking about somewhere and all it would need to come out and play was an optimistic rewrite of the second and third acts.
In the defining climactic moment of Pretty Woman, Richard Gere overcomes his vertigo and climbs the fire escape to bring a bouquet to Julia Roberts. He then asks her, So what happens after he climbs the tower and saves her? To which she rat-a-tat-tat replies, She rescues him right back. In my case it was the obverse. Organizing Principle had alighted on the tower and rescued me. It may have taken another fifteen years, but like the lady said, I rescued her right back.2
1 See Form Contra Content.
2 See The Mysterious Codex of Hollywood and Vine.