When Richard came home from the Grateful Dead tour, he drove his old Volkswagen van through the dead bushes along the left side of his yard and dismantled it behind the trailer. It took him three days. It was another three days before he’d finished planting all the parts in muddy little heaps around his backyard. And on the seventh day, he rested.
We sat on his rotten back steps drinking warm Ice House because they’d turned off the power while he was gone, and he was out of methadone, not to mention the mescaline, LSD, mushrooms, and all that ecstasy. It was late September and sunny, the broad shoulders of the Adirondack Mountains hulking all around us. But you could feel the dull panic of autumn stirring in the breeze: the promise of winter, the inevitability of death. I’m not talking a – little – spritz – of – rain – that – somehow – manages – the – collapse – of – western – civilization – as – we – know – it – and – all – the – cars – on – the – freeway – honking – and – slamming – into – each – other – LA – frenzy winter. I mean the real thing, with six feet of snow and fingers ready to snap off like peanut brittle in the forty below zero Fahrenheit and your dink shrinking up in the cold until it’s little more than a baby mushroom head, a peyote button, no matter how many layers of long johns you manage to fit over your sickly white legs.
“Been meaning to do that for a long time now. Hope I didn’t wait too long,” he said after slugging down half a sixteen-ounce in relief. His ragged gray ponytail was caked with oil and dried mud, and one pant leg was almost completely ripped off at the knee.
“You really think they’ll grow?” I asked warily. Maybe he’d finally snapped. Maybe watching market analysts at Defjam and Sony-Mart decide who got resurrected based on profit margin had finally gotten to him. Maybe since all the deregulation on Capitol Hill, he’d decided it wasn’t just flesh and blood that could come back to life. You never knew with Richard, if he was pulling your leg or he really believed the crazy-assed schemes he came up with.
We’d grown up together here in Blue Ridge, and I’d had to listen to every one of them. Always talked about leaving and getting our lives started in the real world. For him, that was going to New York or Nashville or something and being a big recording star, as soon as he mastered a B flat major bar chord. For me it was, well, I’d never really figured that one out. All I knew was it wasn’t here.
He grinned and took off his glasses, moved the dirt on them around with the edge of his faded Ion Man tee shirt (I think it said Iron Maiden once). “Come back in a year, man. I’ll have thirty little Volkswagen Beetles crawling around. They’re a dying breed, like us. When they get old enough I’ll sell ‘em. Antiques. I’ll be rich.”
“You’re already Rich,” I said.
“Very funny. Go ahead and laugh at me, man. You’ll see.”
He took another “swig” and then cracked open a fresh beer, belching. “I’m telling you, man. We’re not getting younger. Following the Dead this year really put it all into perspective for me. I mean, I realized—there they were, some fucking industry mogul brought ‘em back to life for one more tour, totally for the money, totally just to use ‘em to ride the wave of the whole retro-market they created in the first place. And you know what Jerry said about it man? All he said was he was grateful, man. Grateful! I mean he said more, but that was when the eye drops kicked in.”
“What’s your point, Rich?”
He blew through his lips, exasperated at my obtuseness.
“Don’t you see? They tell us what we like, and we buy it. They tell us what we like, and we like it. We try to be like it. They’ve even co-opted Jerry, man! If they can do that, what hope do a couple guys like you and me have? And that’s when it hit me.”
“No more waiting around to be better. No more waiting around for shit to happen. Maybe it’s too late for me; I’m too old now. My only hope is the Volkswagen. But not you, man. You should get out there and make your life happen.”
“We’re the same age, Rich.”
“It’s different for you. You always looked fifteen years younger than you are.”
I didn’t say anything, just looked out across Richard’s Volkswagen garden, his little Beetle nursery, and sucked down piss warm beer.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Richard’s desperate garden wouldn’t leave me alone. Maybe I really should get out of Blue Ridge and try to build a new life, I thought. Not because Richard thought I should, but because of what Richard had become. Did I want to be like him, lonely and broken, waiting around until burying pieces of my rusted-out Toyota began to feel like a reasonable retirement plan? Lying there in the dark of my shit box apartment, I began to panic. What if this was it? What if my entire life amounted to no more than what I’d already attained, consuming the contrived dreams of marketing reps in other cities that might as well be from another planet for how relevant they were to my world, spending just enough to keep them rich and me stuck and afraid, huddled in my little town. Maybe I should leave. I had a little cash saved in a sock in my dresser. Maybe I should go to LA, the capital of pop culture, and make my stamp on the world, grab my piece. Become a star or something, and then I could wave at Richard from across the big screen and tell him: you see, it’s never too late. Never. Ask Jerry. Ask me.
As vague as that plan obviously was, still it made me sit up in the dark, my heart pounding. Still couldn’t sleep, but this time with something like hope. I masturbated furiously, thinking it might relax me. It was working, until I caught myself on the callus below my middle finger.
I didn’t even bother to tell my bosses I was leaving. They were a middle-aged couple from Miami who were so enamored of the Adirondack life they’d put ugly weathered boards up in the bar for walls and then covered those walls with endangered animals they bought from the local taxidermist. There were trout and deer and bear and fox and wolf. The coup de grâce was the stuffed and mounted ass of a doe and the banty rooster hung over the ladies’ room and the men’s room, respectively. They called it rustic, grins all around. The locals called it what we’d like to do to damn fools from Miami.
I loaded up my car and headed across the country. At least they wouldn’t have bars like that where I was going.
Richard tried to warn me about the kind of bars they did have, but I wouldn’t listen. After all, it was me who dragged Wisdom Mathews out the door that night by his thinning blond hair as he slurred through too many white Russians and too few teeth how he was going to kill me for shutting him off—Wisdom Mathews, who stumbled to the trailer park where he shrugged off his weeping, three hundred pound wife’s pleas of don’t do it, don’t do it again, while hauling his hunting bow out of the closet. Wisdom Mathews, who swayed queasily in the doorway of the bar nocking his bow and aiming straight at me behind the counter. He hit me, too, right between the eyes. I would have been screwed if he hadn’t been seeing double.
I’d dealt with my share of bar violence, that’s what I told Richard. Richard grunted over the phone. “I’ll save one of the babies for you, man,” he said.
My first LA job was bar back in a club in Redondo Beach, where every night was amateur booty shaking contest night and hefty, dark women could expose their thongs at any moment, setting off an avalanche of ass flesh that would skitter and shake across the whole place, knocking the toughest gangsta rap wannabes gasping into the bar.
“Yo dog. A double hendawg. Hook me up, kid.”
“Sorry, I’m bar back.”
“What the hell’s a bar back? Get me a drink, you peasant.”
“I don’t serve.”
“Why? ‘Cause I’m black? Why you even here, you crazy old cracker?”
I would roll my eyes and stock the beer.
One night at closing time, a tough looking dude came up to me and asked for a pen. Security had just put the word out: everybody out, and that was like Moses coming down with the tablets. It was the law and no exceptions. So I said no.
I’d been watching this guy. There was no cell reception in the club at all, but he was one of those dudes in the corner pretending to be talking on his phone, trying to look important, winking at the girls through shaking mountains of ass and flashing colors to his homies. Now he was trying to get one of these girl’s numbers; she stood a little behind him, lips pursed, blinking prettily, nipples peeking out through her fishnet halter top. Her breasts were huge lumps of… plastic, or whatever it is they make them out of these days, quite impressive.
“What you mean, ‘no?’” Angry flecks of spit misted over me as he yelled.
“Look. If you want her number, just tap it into your phone. Lights are up and you’re supposed to be out the door.”
“Are you calling me stupid, cracker?” Huge black knuckles settled like stone on the bar. “Oh, you better not be calling me stupid. Do you know who I am? I’m a king on the street. I make more money in a day than you’ve made your whole life you white-assed muther fucker. Have you killed. Like that.” He snapped his fingers. “I’ve shot people my self for less.”
I thought about Wisdom Mathews and his hunting bow. That was a long, long time ago. Maybe I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. Maybe this dude had managed to get his pistol through the door. Stranger things had happened. Maybe I wouldn’t wake up tomorrow morning to see the headline: Sixty year old cracker bar back shot down in cold blood for pencil, and it serves him right.
“Oh Christ, Tyrone. Leave the little guy alone,” said the girl, breasts jiggling as she brushed back her hair.
He didn’t even look at her. “This white boy’s disrespecting me, bitch. Somebody got to teach him a lesson.”
I wanted to squeal for security, but I couldn’t look away from those bloodshot eyes. My bowels tensed in terror. I wasn’t a young man any more, either; they could let go at any minute. But then two steroid-fed tumors of muscle appeared as if by magic, and they dragged Tyrone out the door by his tits. He whimpered like a puppy that’d missed the newspaper.
Which left me facing those breasts. They jiggled some more.
“I’m glad you stood up to him. I swear. Some niggers sell a little weed in the ghetto, and they think they’re Ice-T’s clone.”
“Hey. Don’t you know who I am?”
Great, I thought. Was she going to spin around and threaten to booty me to death? I looked up. Her eyes were as pale as the nougat in a Mars almond bar. She looked vaguely familiar.
“My name’s Sharon. Most people recognize me from my screen name, though.”
I stared at her blankly.
“The actress? Hello?” She jiggled her breasts again, then grinned. “You know, we could use someone like you on the set.”
Within a month, Liberty and I had moved in together in a little one bedroom apartment along the boardwalk at Venice Beach. At first, I was so happy the homeless dude living in our car port didn’t even bother me. But it got to Liberty right away. We could hear him in the night from our bedroom, hacking and coughing and ranting about the accommodations.
We had homeless dudes in the mountains, too. We had Billy Bilkin, who squatted in abandoned tool sheds around town after the last time he’d been fired from the sheltered workshop. He got around on an old beat up scooter he’d had for the last thirty years. He was my age but hadn’t lost all the color in his hair yet. His head was twice the size it should have been, which added to the sheer majesty of the sight when he puttered through town on that old bike, hugging the middle line, a string of trucks honking behind him, the beard that almost went all the way up to his temples shedding bits of dried-up peanut butter into the wind, grinning madly under his cracked, round helmet. He hung out on the bench in front of the Laundromat all day, watching frumpy women from the trailer park wash their underwear. He was banned from everywhere else in town, and I used to buy him coffee on particularly cold mornings when I passed his bench on my way to open the bar.
“How’s the dumpster diving, Billy?”
“Oh, boy. Any day now, Andy. I’ll pay you back for the coffee.”
Billy had found a twenty dollar bill in the garbage behind the local choke and puke diner going on four decades ago. He knew he was close to the big find that would change everything. That was his retirement plan.
I’d considered plugging my nose and going into the car port to try and reason with this beach bum, maybe get him to find another spot to build his nest of cardboard and old rags, but Liberty wasn’t having it. Her plan was to park her mustang as close to the back wall as possible, in the hope he’d be too cramped to be comfortable. She actually used that word: comfortable, as if a damp slab of cement that smelled like it was made of hardened piss could ever be comfortable.
“Listen,” she said. “I know you’re like a bazillion years older than me and all, but you’re not from around here. You don’t understand how things work.”
I considered telling her about old Billy Bilkin but decided it wasn’t worth it. I squeezed a pillow around my ears as the sound of homeless retching and ranting wafted through the wall.
“That dirty little whore. That dirty little whore. I’ll pop her tires. I’ll rip out her carburetor. Who’s she think she is? This is my space. I’ve been here longer than that dirty little bitch.”
Liberty sighed, her breasts jiggling against my elbow. “Shut up!” she yelled.
There was the sound of wheezing. Then: “Dirty little whore.”
“That’s it.” Liberty sat up, throwing back the covers. “Did your pill kick in yet?”
She threw a leg over me and covered me in soft flesh. She jiggled and bounced and ground and sweated, moaning and squealing and yelling. I’d never participated in louder sex. I’d also never had sex that actually ended with climactic screams of: “Yes! Yes! …Yes! …Yes!” either. All for the benefit of our homeless friend. If Liberty couldn’t park him out, well I guess we were going to screw him out.
We collapsed against each other, sticking together, our panting slowly subsiding. There was glorious silence for ten, fifteen seconds.
Then our friend muttered through the wall. “Dirty little whore.”
Richard looked pale and discouraged on the phone. He didn’t want to talk about his backyard garden, so I told him about my new job.
“Liberty Whole?” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Liberty was a porn star back when we were in junior high. Don’t you remember? Fighting for Liberty? The Back Door to Liberty? And there was that orgy film, Liberty For All.”
It all came back to me. We’d rubbed ourselves raw to The Price of Liberty.
“It’s the same old crap,” said Richard. “They’ve done some marketing surveys and found who to bring back for the most profit.”
“It’s called giving people what they want.”
“It’s called refusing to allow anything new or different.”
“What about me? I’m different.”
Richard patted down hair strands across his balding top that had strayed from his ponytail. “What did you say they’re hiring you to do?”
“Well, it’s a classic quadruple anal penetration drama based on the new Stephen King novel,” I said. “Except that the producer wanted an older guy to play the role of Uncle Sam. It’s for the troops; you know.”
Richard made a face.
“Listen, man,” I said. “You’re the one who said I should do something with my life. You’re the reason I’m out here. I thought you’d be happy for me. Why you been so down on everything I’ve tried to do out here? It’s like you don’t believe in me or something.”
“You don’t believe in me and my garden.”
He had me there; I watched him see it in my eyes.
“Look,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t believe in you, man. It’s just I’m worried about you. What if they’re taking advantage of you? You don’t know the first thing about this business.”
“How can they be taking advantage of me, man? They’re paying me to dress up like Uncle Sam and have sex with Liberty Hole.”
The next few months were a foggy blur of pills. Pills to keep me from caring about the camera crews and the lights. Pills to keep me from forgetting my lines. Pills to make me more sociable. Pills to sustain my hard on. Pills to wake me up. Pills to put me out. Pills to reduce the blue shift in my vision. Pills to keep away the tremors. Pills to steady my heart. Pills to counteract pills. They had pills for everything. It was pretty much like my bartending days back home except without the mushrooms. I think a few mushrooms would have evened me out a little bit, but I wasn’t taking any pills to remember to ask. I know I talked to Richard through that time, but I’ll be damned if I could remember it. What I did remember were bits and pieces:
The lighting director smirking at my butt. “Hey people. Can’t we do something about the glare coming off that thing?”
Liberty off in a dark corner with her phone. “Listen, Tyrone. Don’t be like that. You know how I feel. Don’t. No don’t you… Ty—”
And come to think of it, I did remember having Richard on the phone at least once. I don’t know what we talked about, but he was grinning, and I could hear chanting in the background. And I think there was some kind of hazy glow around him. Of course, all that could have been the pills.
In the spring, the movie was finally done and I woke up with the worst headache of my life. Alone. I staggered through the apartment looking for Liberty and ended up back in the bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed, holding my throbbing forehead and trying to glue the pieces together.
“She’s gone, man,” came croaking through the wall.
“Your woman. She left you like a week ago.”
It was my homeless dude. I listened to him wheeze a few times and finally cough out a lung. And a kidney.
“Yeah,” he managed. “About a week. You both were screaming and hollering and she left. You’ve been out cold for like three days. Can’t say I haven’t enjoyed the peace and quiet.”
My stomach started to rumble, and I thought I was going to be sick. I guess the pills to prevent nausea had worn off.
“I didn’t think you were coherent enough to have a conversation,” I muttered.
“I’m not, man. This is all in your mind.”
I raised my head and stared at the wall. Hoarse laughter erupted and then fell apart into spasms of hacking and coughing that eventually subsided into hawking and spitting. “Don’t worry, man, I’m just messing with you.”
Realizing I’d been holding my breath, I let it out. “Why’d she leave?”
“She said something about method acting.”
That’s right! A snatch of the argument came back to me: the movie was over, and she was going back to Tyrone. She hadn’t meant to use me when we met, but when the studio told her about the new project, she knew right away I’d be perfect for the part. Try to understand, she said. She was a method actor, she said. She had to put herself into the role of having an affair with me by having an affair with me. I asked her why she couldn’t have just acted, and she told me well, that’s how it ended up anyway, she did have to act, but most of the hardest scenes were here in the apartment. And on and on.
I wanted to beat my head on the wall, but the homeless dude was listening.
“Hey,” I said. “You want a cup of coffee?”
I went into the kitchen and spooned instant into a couple cups and filled them with hot tap water.
Out in the car port, the smell of rancid human weakened my stomach even more, but I swallowed hard and handed over one of the cups. The homeless dude gestured, and I sat beside him on the cement curb at the front of the parking space.
“It’s about time you showed a little hospitality,” he said. I was too sick and weak and confused to argue with him.
I looked behind us at his nest of cardboard and ripped up Venice Rules! Tee-shirts. “What’s Richard going to say back in Blue Ridge?”
“Yeah, Richard.” The homeless dude nodded. “I’ve heard about him. Big doings in Blue Ridge.”
I looked at him. Under all the grime, he reminded me a little of Billy Bilkin. He had that look in his eyes that Billy always got whenever dumpster diving came up. “I brought coffee and now you’re messing with me again?”
“Whatever, old man. You think because I’m a bum I can’t read? He’s been in the paper for weeks.” He shook his head, raised his cup, and slurped. “Anyway, you’ve got the movie coming out, right? So you haven’t like failed, or anything. You can hold your head up high. Richard ain’t got nothing on you.”
He held his cup out until I knocked mine into it. “I guess,” I said. “But I don’t want to go home and have to listen to him tell me how he warned me about LA, how he ‘told me so’ about Liberty…”
“You can’t think like that, man,” wheezed the homeless dude. “Have you ever noticed how many homeless there are out here saying the same thing?”
“You’re the first one I’ve actually talked to.”
By the time Liberty Spreads in the Middle East came out in theaters, I was broke. I’d been paid well for my time, but there was apparently the matter of an extensive pharmaceutical bill to contend with. I’d been spending more and more time with Harvey, my homeless dude, and I asked him to see the movie with me. Dread had been growing in my bowels like a nest of motion sick snakes, and I didn’t want to see it alone. We sat in the back of the darkened, crowded theater, a dull glow from the screen edging our grimy clothes, and watched.
And it was horrible. I’d never seen anything like it. I mean, it was great. Harvey laughed hysterically through the entire film, wheezing and hacking. We were almost kicked out a half a dozen times. No one had bothered to tell me there was a younger Uncle Sam played by young Bruce Willis, a resurrectee; that I was the old Uncle Sam doing his best to keep up with the action and failing miserably, failing laughably, his pale, wrinkled butt twitching and trembling. No one had bothered to tell me I was the comic relief in this incredibly rich film filled with nuance and metaphor about the changing world in which we lived. Tears ran down Harvey’s cheeks as he laughed and coughed; along the tracks, I could see for the first time how pale his skin was under all those years of dirt.
“All right, Harvey. Okay. Yeah, I get it, it’s funny.”
“I’m sorry,” he wept. “I’m sorry.” He wiped at his eyes, smearing the dirt into a raccoon mask.
I expected the entire theater to turn around at any moment, to stand up and point at me, laughing, to slap their knees and jeer. Every second they didn’t made it worse because it gave me more time to imagine more and more depths to my humiliation.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
“Come on, Andy. Don’t you want to wait and see your name in the credits?”
I got up and left.
Once Harvey had fallen asleep on the couch, I took the phone into my room and called Richard. He flipped on the lamp by his bed, the heel of one hand pressing into an eye.
“Damn it Andy. You know what time it is out here?”
Flashes of memory from my drug haze, from when I was working on the movie, suddenly hit me. I’d talked to Richard a lot. There were always voices chanting behind him. It’s time to deny resurrection, they’d say, to embrace the death of inevitability. And the inevitability of death.
“What’s going on?” I remembered asking. The voices chided in: Society has given us this job: to buy, to consume, to breed more mindless consumers who buy, consume and breed, destined to die ever hungry. We defy this system. We will not buy and consume. We will not breed more consumers. And we will die. But we will not be resurrected.
“Listen,” Richard said. “You’ve caught me at a bad time. I’m having a bit of a bash here to celebrate opening my dealership.”
He grinned. “Spring is here, Andy. I’m opening a used car shop.”
We will not be told what we like, or who we are, the voices droned, as if from a script or some strange litany. We will make our own art. We will tell our own stories. And we will let them die.
It all came back to me as I watched Richard grinding the sleep out of his eyes.
“How’s the dealership, Rich?” I said.
“Why? You want a job?”
He must have taken a good look at me then, and the sight must have been alarming. “Hey. You all right, man?”
“Have you seen Liberty Spreads in the Middle East?” I said.
Richard sucked at his teeth thoughtfully, then: “Yeah, man. I saw it.”
I had to swallow hard a couple times to keep the tears from welling up.
He waited for me to get control of myself. Then he cleared his throat. “Listen. I wasn’t joking when I said I’d save you a baby, you know. Come back to Blue Ridge. You can work here with me.”
“I’m serious, dude. Come on home. But I’ve got to warn you; things might seem a little strange at first.”
“Strange” wasn’t a word that passed muster. There were three hundred anachronistic fashion hippies camping out in front of Richard’s trailer, and they were building what looked like a church on the left lot. I could see Billy Bilkin, strapped up in a safety harness on the steeple, swinging a hammer at nails that consistently pinged out of the wood, spinning up and bouncing off his big round helmet. To the right of the trailer was a new warehouse with a tin roof that glared in the early summer sun.
“Have you seen Richard?” I asked one of the squatters sitting on the lawn.
She looked up, smiling, her eyes dilated like black shields. A mixture of acid, caffeine and fresh flakes of MDMA; that was my clinical opinion. “He’s in the backyard,” she said, picking at her toes. “But no one can go back there. That’s sacred ground.”
“Um,” I said. “Okay.”
“Yeah. Ever since the Miracle of the Bugs.”
The trailer door slammed, and I looked up.
“Andy!” Richard yelled, jumping off the steps. “Am I glad to see you!”
He was wearing an oversized nightshirt as a kind of robe. And sandals. He gave me hug. Then he produced two cans of Ice House from somewhere and handed me one. It was cold. We sat on the front steps.
“Richard,” I said. “You’ve started a cult.”
“I like to think of it as a community of the enlightened, but, yeah, I guess you could call it that. And I didn’t start it. It just sort of happened.”
“Because you’ve been telling people you grew a bunch of VW Bugs in your backyard.”
“It didn’t go down like that, man. Actually, people didn’t really start to get into it until after they’d heard about my will.”
I sipped my beer.
“It stipulates that I’m to be left alone. No resurrection under any circumstances.”
“And that makes you some kind of prophet?”
Richard shook his head, disappointed. “I thought you might not understand.”
“Why put something like that in your will? People like us… poor, unconnected slobs like us… nobody brings us back to life.”
“The difference is that I demand it never happen. Don’t you see? Besides.” He sipped his beer. “Ever since I’ve been on the news, there’ve been all kinds of market surveys done on me. The more I defy resurrection, the more offers come in for the rights to bring me back. Clear Channel’s the highest bidder so far. It’s been invigorating for the movement. My followers feel like they’re watching Jesus Christ in the desert for his forty days of temptation.”
He finished the Ice House and set his can on the cement. He grinned. “I’ve got something for you,” he said.
I slammed my beer and Richard led me to the warehouse. He yanked up a set of the garage doors in the front and switched on a light.
There were lines of vintage Volkswagen Beetles inside, looking as if they’d just come off an assembly line.
“Take your pick,” he said. “One of them’s yours.”
“This can’t be real,” I said. We walked along the front line. “This isn’t for real, is it? I mean, these aren’t—”
“If I told you that, Andy, I’d have to kill you. That would suck because I need a good right hand man. You don’t have to answer me now. Just think about it.”
I looked at Richard, then back at the expanse of Volkswagens.
“I kind of like that orange one there.”
Back outside, I had to squint against the blaring sun. Richard was grinning as we headed back through his disciples to the trailer. This couldn’t be real, I told myself. The last thing I remembered making any sense had happened before I started working on the film. And I’d been given a lot of drugs.
The bottom of my stomach dropped out as I remembered hearing Harvey croak through my bedroom wall: “This is all in your mind.”
Oh my god, I thought. This was all a big hallucination, a dream, a delusion. Like Billy Bilkin and his dumpster diving; like Richard coming back from the Dead tour all drugged out, planting pieces of his beat up van in the backyard. Like Wisdom Mathews shooting me between the eyes. Maybe I was still back in LA. Maybe I was still making movies; hell, maybe I was a big star!
Or maybe this really was happening. Maybe everything I thought I knew had torn apart like a ripped flask, and my understanding of reality had poured out like cheap wine.
I must have stopped walking because Richard turned to me and grasped my arm. I tried to say something. I tried to demand an explanation. Maybe he’d bought all those bugs somewhere. Maybe he had a rich uncle he never told me about. Maybe he’d finally started dealing drugs. My mouth just worked silently like a hooked trout. Maybe…
“Don’t worry about it so much,” he said. “I’ve got some mushrooms in the trailer. That’ll help even you out.”
We went inside and made mushroom and Wonder Bread sandwiches. By the time the yellow trailer walls started panting, I’d calmed down a little. The air became a cocoon of warm skin. I could hear everything around me with psilocybin clarity; Rich’s pulse, the sighing hippies outside, the steady stream of nails pinging off Billy’s helmet. I even heard a sparrow in the backyard hopping through the grass, hunting for fresh worms. Richard’s face bulged and stretched like toffee.
Suddenly, everything was moving, aching toward a state of flux. Every appliance—every wall and countertop—twitched and shivered. Empty booze bottles undulated, craned their necks, quietly yearning to break free of an unseen force.
I gulped the thick air. The world was on the edge of something new. Something big, and I was a part of it. I could feel the swelling pressure, as if the universe was about to hiccup.
“Maybe there was a lesson I had to learn,” I said, “out there in LA.”
Toffee stretched into a smile.
“Does that mean you’ll take the job, man?”
Something stirred in my chest. Something like hope, or a breath of new life.
I’m not talking men – resurrected – by – Microsoft – or – Sony – Mart – or – the – Capitol – Records – division – of – Scientology – LA – frenzy breath of new life. I mean the real thing, with goose bumps and hair standing up on the back of your neck and the sun suddenly shifting bright through the dirty curtains. I finally had a purpose: I was going to be the sidekick. The number two man at Dying Richard’s Used Car Lot.
Me. Old Uncle Sam.