I tossed and turned into the wee hours of night, squirming and sighing, praying for shut eye that wasn’t forthcoming – not in that godforsaken madhouse with a thump-thumping stereo, not with the lunatics howling till dawn. When silence finally reigned, its unexpectedness felt unnerving, as if a great massacre had taken place, leaving behind nothing except motionless bodies and a grotesque, eerie void.
I woke for good at nine o’clock but rolled around another hour, hoping to escape the sensation of death creeping through my veins and pounding against my skull. Too much alcohol. Not to mention the other, unspeakable stuff… Arnold slept soundly by my side. Nellie was asleep in the other bed, and Justin snored softly on the floor.
Sweet Justin, sacrificing a good night’s sleep in the name of chivalry and etiquette!
And Boris! Wait, where the hell was Boris?
I threw on clothes and peed out a few gallons of beer before going downstairs and stumbling onto the porch, which was littered with red cups and cigarette butts. Desperate for non-alcoholic fluids, I Google-mapped “Starbucks” and found myself retracing a familiar path: South along the boardwalk and left on commercial street, past the little Mexican restaurant and Giant Dipper, which stood as wobbly and wooden as ever in the dirt plot across the street. It was only 10:30am but riders were already screaming their heads off.
The Starbucks was one of those special ‘outdoor’ versions where customers order through a window as the sun beats down on their neck. The seating was outside too: little concrete tables with umbrellas and a lunar concrete bar hugging the curb, offering splendid views of vehicular traffic and Giant Dipper across the way.
I was waiting in line behind a group of mothers with babies in strollers. I had no choice but to twiddle my thumbs and listen to them whine about yoga, new restaurants opening up, soaring fees for country club membership, the unspeakable things Kelly’s husband had been getting up to the Friday before last – I thought I was gonna puke all over their nicely toned calves, yet somehow I survived and ordered myself a caramel frappuccino and iced water.
I sat down to wait for my order, and a contingent of the Waco Crew happened past with their drinks. Jacklyn, bandaged toe and everything, offered me a half-eaten sausage-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich, which I accepted joyfully and scarfed down like a dog at meal time.
Back at the duplex folks were stirring. I clambered onto the porch and found Boris staring at me. He was smoking a cigarette, disheveled and still drunk.
“Thanks for kicking me out of my own bed, dick,” he said calmly with a straight face.
I told him Nellie needed a place to sleep. That I didn’t think he’d make it back to our room for sleep anyhow.
He said nothing but maintained eye contact, smiling reticently and nodding his head slowly. He might’ve been mocking my response, or perhaps he was too fucked up to process what was happening. In any case, I sat down by his side on the little cushioned whicker bench. He wordlessly offered me a cigarette, which I puffed on with my coffee as the day slowly rose. One by one, our housemates were trickling outside, unkempt and clutching their foreheads with pained expressions, wondering what to do with themselves, asking where I got my Starbucks.
At some point, an elderly man walked by the boardwalk, looking up at Boris and myself.
“Howdy,” cried Boris with a wide grin and salute.
The old man smiled and waved, continuing on his way.
“You know,” began Boris thoughtfully, “sometimes I think the only reason I want to stick around on this silly little planet is to smile and wave at strangers. You know, just like that. There’s just something… there’s just something to it that gets me every time.”
He spoke without irony, without affectation, in that traceably vulnerable voice that signifies words emanating from the heart.
Sadly, his cigarette was giving me a stomachache. Knowing ganja would do the trick, I went to the room and found Arnold dawdling in a circular motion, hung-over and scatter-brained. Nellie was gone and Justin had packed up his stuff and left. (His plan was always to stay in the duplex for one night; he’d spend the rest of his Senior Week at a nearby apartment with a group of less debauched classmates).
Arnold recognized my entrance with a half-hearted grunt. Like everyone else, he was clutching his forehead with a pained expression as he mumbled to himself, nervously tidying up his stuff, wondering what in the hell happened last night.
“Arn, smoke?” I asked.
“Ummm…” he trailed off, looking around the room, avidly searching for something on the ground that may or may not have existed.
“Huh? Oh, ya man, ganja, for sure,” he said unconsciously without stopping his search.
“Looking for something?”
“No, no, it was nothing. Yeahhh… ummmm… well my stomach is killing me… alright man… ummmm, yeah let’s smoke?”
“Okay sweet, got the weed?” I asked with louder volume and more force, trying to hurry him along like a dog walker savagely jerking on the leash of a more moderate creature that isn’t falling in line with the grand plan of doing stuff in a timelier manner.
“Yes?” I urged.
“The weed! That’s what I was looking for!” He resumed his search and found a little orange medicine bottle underneath his bed. He popped off the lid and we peered inside at the little green nugget. “Aha!” he cried triumphantly.
“Up to the Drug Den to use their bong?”
“We have no choice, bro. We have no choice.”
The Drug Den was dead quiet. The three kingpins – Mitch, Mandy and Zane Zinser – lay atop the queen-size bed like neatly arranged wooden planks. I grabbed the communal bong and we went onto the roof. Arnold loaded a bowl and we puffed away with the warm sun overhead, nearing its zenith, imparting restoration from millions of miles away… not to mention the ganja, that great slayer of hangovers – nearly as good as the sun!
“Dude, this has been like, like, the craziest and greatest thing ever,” said Arnold in disbelief, smiling and bubbly and jittery in his inimitable boyish manner. “Like, yesterday, are you fucking kidding me? What the literal fuck! And if anything today is going to be as amazing. Soccer on the beach? And skim-boarding? Oh my god, skim-boarding blissfully high!”
The joy of Senior Week was too great for words, so we smiled and laughed and agreed without a shadow of doubt that everything would be amazing. We looked over the railing, onto the sea.
On our way downstairs we bumped into Boris; he wanted marijuana for his own stomachache. Arnold and I were up for round two so we pulled a one-eighty, grabbed the communal bong where we’d left it, and went onto the roof once more.
This time, however, we had woken Zane, the imperturbable drug lord, the great giver of zero fucks. He joined us on the roof and grabbed the bong from Arnold’s hands without a word, loading a bowl with his own weed and tobacco, but instead of smoking he just spoke in our direction for five minutes in scatter-brained fashion, leaping from idea to idea with no direction or purpose, occasionally nudging the weed-and-tobacco mixture with the bottom of his lighter, demonstrating how anticipation is the underlying driver behind any drug. Sure, the high is good, but as soon as the high arrives it’s already fading away, whereas with anticipation everything is on the rise, leading toward and culminating in that blissful moment of impact, and boy was it a moment of impact for Zane Zinser on the roof of our madhouse as he lit the bowl and the bong’s stem grew frosty as he incinerated the plants and inhaled steadily, clearing every last wisp of smoke in one monstrous dragon breath. He coughed gently, as if merely clearing his throat, before continuing his diatribe about God knows what while Arnold loaded another bowl for us to smoke.
When we’d gotten sufficiently high, Arnold returned to our room to dawdle and Boris mysteriously disappeared. I grabbed a towel and went down to the beach. Several of our classmates – some staying in our madhouse, others staying nearby – had set up camp and were playing tag-football. I put down my towel next to Philippa, who was laying on her stomach reading a book.
“Watcha reading?” I asked instinctively, blissfully baked and hyper-conscious of my question’s timeworn tedium.
“Well,” she began with a wry half-smile, “I don’t think you’d like it. It’s a book by Paul Ryan.”
“No, that’s great! Tell me about it,” I urged, still extremely high, thinking that Paul Ryan was that guy from the Fast & Furious franchise.
“It’s about Ryan’s political career. Specifically, his experience in the Ways and Means Committee.”
“Ohhhh. Um, nice.”
“Uh-huh. Last summer I interned for him while he was Chairman, before Boehner was ousted and Ryan took his place as Speaker. Anyways, it’s pretty fascinating to read about policy proposals that I was directly involved in crafting.”
“Boy, that’s great,” I exclaimed, and in that moment I really meant it. It was hilarious how this policy wonk and future dealmaker was sleeping under the same roof as degenerates like myself and Zane Zinser. She was treasurer of our student government; she spent hours deliberating over how to allocate funds for student events. Up until that moment, only a few days away from commencement, I’d always assumed that folks involved in student government simply had a weird hankering for popularity and relevance that stemmed from semi-traumatic experiences in high school, but I realized Philippa simply sought out practical experience in managing money, and in the act of governing. It struck me that in a few years she’d be running the world and I’d be sitting on my ass talking about folks like her.
Maybe there was something disturbing in that idea; maybe there was still too much alcohol in my bloodstream; maybe I was too damn high – whatever the cause, a feeling of despair settled over me as I let Philippa return to her book by laying down on my back and closing my eyes. Here, amongst my own thoughts, accompanied by the cosmic fireworks one sees with closed eyes, I allowed myself to breath properly for the first time in months. A fishy aquatic smell flooded my nostrils… the sweet California sun tingled my pores… I felt Mother Nature’s goodness seeping through my skin; I felt my dogged spirit renewing photosynthetically in the tranquility of motionless being. Without opening my eyes, I scooped up a handful of sand and let the grains fall between my fingers. I envisioned myself to be a living and breathing hourglass as the infinitesimal beads of earth plummeted homeward, rejoining their brethren one by one.