Nathan continued laughing maniacally as Ojas crawled back into bed, promising to wake up in an hour. We returned to the living room where Phillipa and Shelly were sipping on their lattes on the same couch as before.
“Did y’all hear about Carl’s stingray incident?” Shelly asked with an ironic southern accent. “Apparently he’s in surgery now. Doctors say they’re doing all they can to keep him alive.” There was playfulness beneath her somber tone, but Nathan’s gullible frame of mind succumbed all-too easily, and his bliss transmogrified into mournful despondency. He looked pleadingly toward Shelly, hanging on her every word.
“I’m just fucking with you, Nate, chill out.”
“But.. you.. Steve Irwin.. what? AHH! You didn’t! You didn’t! Hehehehehehehe! God damn you, Shelly! God damn your god damn sea-shelling of sea-shores and all that! I mean, wait, whaaawwwwwwwttt??? Hehehehehehehe!”
“This fool’s tripping balls.”
“Balls be tripping.”
“Shelly, oh Shelly, you gotta, I mean you just gotta taste some of this sweet sweet acid yum yum,” declared Nathan out of nowhere.
“Yes! Dear Shelly, dontcha see? It’s the…the…well, it’s just the best thing ever,” he finished mawkishly, clasping his hands and holding his left cheek to the backside of his right hand, wiggling his head and torso with closed eyes in imitation of a peaceful sleeper.
“Don’t. Don’t listen to him,” Phillipa said tautly, looking anxiously from Shelly to Nathan.
“John? Arnold?” inquired Shelly. Phillipa’s aquiline features tensed.
“Yes?” What’s up?” we asked, affecting oblivion.
“Should I take some acid? Will I get this crazy?”
Instead of answering, we shrugged and flicked out our tongues to reveal the disintegrating white squares, as if to suggest: “Well, we’re doing it, Nathan’s doing it, everyone’s doing it. Why not you?” Phillipa shook her head, resting her face in her palm. As if integral to her decision-making process, Shelly’s roaming gaze took stock of everyone in her vicinity, pivoting from Phillipa to Arnold to me to Nathan and then to the floor. She rested her chin on her hand to ponder. “Fuck it!” she finally cried. “It’s senior week.”
“Oh my god, Shelly, just… just be careful, please,” pleaded Phillipa, attempting (in vain) to be heard over the gruff applause of myself, Arnold and Nathan.
“It’ll be fine,” said Shelly conciliatorily, taking Phillipa’s hands in semi-romantic fashion, as if assuring a lover that she’ll return from battle unscarred. “These guys will take care of me.”
“Totally!” Arnold and I cried. Nathan stood upright like a plank, marched over to Phillipa, and gave her a salute. We returned to Ojas’ room with Shelly. Phillipa stayed in the living room to shake her head in dismay. We forced Ojas out of bed again. He snipped a tab for Shelly. My stomach felt topsy-turvy as the weed wore off and the acid kicked in. I asked Arnold if he wanted to smoke. He was up for anything. Shelly and Julien went to the beach, so Arnold and I grabbed weed from our room and ascended to the Drug Den, unexpectedly quiet. Arnold grabbed the bong and we went on the roof to load a bowl, chattering excitedly about the day ahead.
“Man, oh man, we gotta play Frisbee in a little while! We gotta! Oh my God the ocean is calling us too. I’m gonna dip my toes and run around and get wet. John, this is gonna be the greatest day, man, the greatest day ever!”
Arnold was a fine talker if you let him get going. His style of monologue was spur-of-the-moment. His supple mind leap-frogged from association to association. It’s what I loved about him: no predetermination, no affectation, no pushy philosophy behind his ideas. Instead, each syllable rang of spontaneity and sincerity, of truth and compassion. He’d start off with a strange anecdote or hypothetical situation, and you’d say to yourself, “where the hell is this going,” but then his deft reasoning would harmonize his antecedent ideas; a stunning turn of phrase would be produced, leading you to proclaim, “Yes man, that’s exactly it! Holy shit, it all makes sense!” But somehow, Arnold would give you the credit for his own discovery, and of course his doe-eyed countenance never ceased grinning; his go-with-the-flow soul never wavered from its resting state: a high-degree of unassuming contentment.
Leaning over the balcony, aware of the shimmering midday sea, hopping along with Arnold’s leap-frogging soliloquies, the unity and certainty of existence tap-dances atop my amygdala. The boy’s red hair is bloody like worn soil. His rhythmic storytelling belongs to an angel, and I inwardly perceive past the present. I am confronted by a reel of black-and-white footage: Arnold at forty-five, dancing with his wife and a gaggle of children in a homey kitchen. They are wearing aprons and cooking muffins. I can see their laughter, but only hear the resonant hum of organ chords. Middle-aged Arnold is waving toward his audience, then jutting out his index finger, pointing at me with a big smile, and he’s now waving urgently – “C’mon!” he seems to yell as he ushers his family into a bright rectangle of light that’s shaped like a door and situated where a door ought to be, leading from his kitchen into a living room, but I don’t need to step through, I don’t need to protrude upon this happy domestic scene. Beyond the light is Arnold’s joyful, bountiful future. It has no place for me, and I am happy for him. He is striding through time like a dog with its head out the window; tongue flapping in the breeze, absorbing the world and smiling until his last hour, and despite the fact that time was starting to make perfect sense (as evidenced by the the sweet blossoming nectar tasting tastier by the moment), I absolutely positively could not stay atop that roof – not with Zane Zinser and Mitch and Mandy and all the leeches beneath our very feet, beginning to stir, no doubt.
“Arnold, I think we need to get our asses down to that beach.”
“Yes, bro, yes! Brilliant, Johnny, brilliant!”
We skipped down the stairs, but Arnold paused halfway.
“Dude,” he said, looking at me seriously, “I think I need to just… I need to just chill out for a bit.”
“Oh… yeah dude… for sure, for sure, no worries man, no worries.”
“I’m just going to hit the room for a bit and chill, that alright?”
“Dude! Of course it’s alright! Are you kidding me?”
“Are you sure, bro?”
“Dude, c’mon – absolutely! I just want you to do what you want to do, man!”
“Thanks bro, thanks. I want the same for you.”
He wanted to dawdle. He needed to dawdle. He knew he needed to dawdle. I respected him tremendously for his self-knowledge. I, however, wanted and needed the beach. The kitchen, the living room, the porch, the boardwalk – all zoomed by inconsequentially, squished into a series of blurry impressions lost in the rearview mirror as my destination materialized, as the soles of my feet rejoiced in their reunion with the hot sand which felt like the blacktop cement of a parking lot next to the swimming pool from the summertime of childhood. I walked by the towel-lollygagging-collective, sedentary and content as when I left them. Eddy was nowhere to be seen, but I knew where he was. I knew that his peace-finding-mission was unfolding amidst the waves. Moving unconsciously, my senses jolted upright as the crisp surf struck my skin anew. I stopped and stood still, letting the to-and-fro tide lap over my toes, crawl up my ankles, scurry over my shins, tickling my nerves with salty refreshment. I felt my feet burrowing into the sand.
“Far from machines, there is peace,” the ocean whispered. I listened to its wisdom, oblivious of the boardwalk’s commotion; removed from the duplex’s clatter; dislodged from the racket of human activity. There was only my breath; only the ocean’s waft. I straightened my neck and looked up, into the horizon and seeing only sea, pardon a faint blur bobbin up and down, a pin of black smack dab in a landscape of royal blue – oh yes, peace was out there, beyond the second sandbar, and Eddy was hunting it down, but had he forgotten about Carl? Was he hunting down the assailant of his perennial best friend, that malicious stingray, that ocean dweller defending his turf from mammalian combatants? But did Eddy blame the poor stingray? Is not all conflict merely a product of fear?
“John! What’s up man?”
Sweet Jesus, it was Justin! Justin with his bespectacled and kindly Asian frankness! Justin, who meant no harm to anyone! Justin the lover of science and numbers and problem-solving! Justin, the future captain of intellectual industry! Justin, where the hell had he been? I gave him a big hug, slightly envious of his sanity.
“It is damn good to see you.”
“How are you doing, man?”
“I’m feeling it. I’m feeling fucking great. How’s the other apartment?”
“Well, let’s put it this way, it’s a leeeeetle more low-key,” laughed Justin in his self-deprecatory manner. I laughed too, and almost said aloud how there’s never enough laughter in the world.
“How’s the duplex treating you?”
“Oh man, I wouldn’t know where to start.”
We then spoke of trivial things while kicking at the thin plane of water, heads down and hands in our pockets. Justin was brilliant, but his easygoing manner (as Arnold would say, “he’s cool as a cucumber!”) helped dissolve the perceived magnitude of folks like myself and Boris. Justin and his buddies had stayed away from the duplex. Instead, they’d visited SeaWorld, gone parasailing, eaten well, et cetera et cetera.
“Look at us, man. Just kicking the waves,” I said.
“It’s strange isn’t it?”
“How we can’t sit still. How we can’t just, completely chill, you know?”
“Yes, dude. Yes it is.”
“What do you think about it?”
“I don’t know man. All I know is that I don’t wanna stop kicking at this water, and that this water is hella refreshing on my toes.”
“Is that Shelly up there?” he asked, turning toward the towel-lollygagging-collective. I looked up. Shelly was giggling hysterically with Nathan.
“Yep, she just took acid.”
“I did too. Same with Arnold and Boris. Everyone’s doing it,” I repeated.
Justin laughed uproariously. “Unreal! You guys are unreal! In the best way, of course. I gotta go see Shelly, you wanna come?”
“I’m gonna stay down here a moment, you go.”
I turned back to the sea and continued kicking at the water. I didn’t want to leave the translucent H20 molecules, which seemed to jiggle like jello under the balmy midday sun, but then I thought about Grace – the Waco Crew apartment! The party! A new destination! There was no reason to dawdle. I turned around and walked past Justin and Nathan, who were playing peek-a-boo with Shelly. She was cackling uncontrollably and squirming in the sand. I was hopping over the barrier, onto the boardwalk, when a happy voice cried out to me.
It was Arnold. He had finished dawdling and was ready to play. A big fat “oh my god, is this real life?” smile was plastered on his face. In his hand was a Frisbee.
“Arnold! Oh man, oh man – how are you, brother?”
“Dude, I’m… oh my God! Is this real life!” He grabbed my shoulders and shook me. “Frisbee? Frisbee? C’mon man! Let’s go! Frisbeeeee! Weeeeee!”
It broke my heart. I had already spent so much time on the beach, writing haikus and tending to Carl’s wound and chatting with Justin down by the water. Now I wanted something new, something different. I needed motion, and to find Grace.
“Oh, Arnold… I’m sorry, but I… I need to go to the Waco Crew apartment now, you see… I need to get my drink on too. They’re having a party. Do you wanna come?” But I knew his answer before the question left my mouth; I knew our paths would diverge again. His smile flattened into a crestfallen expression.
“No… no Frisbee?” His self-critical disappointment reminded me of a dog being scolded.
“I’m sorry, man, I’m sorry! You know how it is though. I need to go indoors right now, just chill out for a minute, you know?”
“Ohh yes, I totally understand,” he said sagely, his smile reawakening. “I gotcha dude. You need to do you, one hundred percent.” He took off his sunglasses, I took off mine, and we looked each other in the eye, and in that moment a strange energy passed between us, an elemental transaction of knowledge – he needed to do his thing and I needed to do mine, there was no way around it, no denying the fundamental truth of situation.
“But hey man,” I said, “I bet any one of those folks on the beach would be down to toss the Friz. And Justin’s back! He’s down there!”
“Oh my god, Justin’s back? No way!” He scrambled over the barrier, into the sand. “I’ll catch you later, bro!” he cried back. Thirty seconds later, walking along the boardwalk and toward my next destination, I peered over my shoulder and saw Arnold skipping happily with Frisbee in hand, high-fiving Justin joyously. “All is right in the world,” I thought, “as long as Arnold as someone to play Frisbee with.”