The kitchen countertop overflowed with bottles of hard alcohol and unopened bags of red cups. The lunatics flailed their limbs wildly, dancing in the center of the main floor. Two games of beer pong were underway in the room’s corner. The scene in its entirety looked like a facsimile of 48 hours ago. Of course the music – that pervasive thump-thumping – sounded the same.
I ducked out onto the balcony and found Viraj, just as I remembered him: leaning nonchalantly against a wall, surveilling the scene through his Ray-Bans. Viraj never danced, only leaned against walls and waited for people to talk to him. They always did.
“Viraj, you foppish motherfucker.”
“What’s up, mate. Want a brew?” He gestured to the corner, where a silver keg gleamed seductively. I retrieved a red cup and grabbed the tube, then waited as he pumped the handle a few times. When he gave me the nod, I titled the cup at a 45-degree angle and pressed my thumb on the tube’s spout; amber fluid gushed forth like a waterfall, its golden foamy goodness growing tall to the cup’s rim. I took a massive gulp, belched, and let out an “ahhh” of satisfaction. “God damn, this is the greatest beer I’ve ever had!”
“Mate, it’s literally Coors Light.”
I leaned against the wall by his side. The sun, through my polaroid sunglasses, was a gooey orange glob, suspended in the sky and descending by infinitesimal degrees. Mitch and Mandy – Pablo Escobars of the duplex – were hastily smoking cigarettes with the same underclassmen who Boris had been lecturing to the night before. This little coterie of Freshmen and Sophomores were blowing off studying for finals to get high. They looked sad to be alive.
“They’re doing the wrong drugs,” I said.
“Mm. And how’s that house treating you?” Viraj asked, reading my mind. In fact, he did read my mind, in the sense that his raw awareness comprehended my thought patterns by unconsciously interpreting my body language. He didn’t apprehend the words traveling between my synapses, but he perceived their activating sentiment. He reminded me of my mother.
“It’s a bit much,” I admitted, nodding toward the Escobars, “People are getting too fucked up.”
“Mm,” he intoned again, looking to the horizon, as if seeing the deeper implications behind my blasé observation.
“But,” I continued, growing in confidence, “there’s something liberating in our arrangement. I can do anything and go wherever. There’s no central planning, no deadlines, no obligations. I walked here alone and will probably leave alone, whenever I feel like it.”
“Mm,” he intoned once more, this time his “Mm” ringing with a note of thoughtfulness. I got the sense these words were unintelligible to Viraj. He and the Waco Crew acted in concert. There was always intent, always an organizational committee, always a plan. I wondered who their group’s real decision-maker was. All of them were smart and strong-willed, but who was the smartest? Who had the strongest will? Who was the marionettist pulling strings from the rafters?
I finished my beer without realizing it and poured another. Each sip was impulsive, but I was acutely in tune with time and space and thus watching security camera footage of myself raising the red cup to my lips every twenty-four seconds, sometimes a shade over, sometimes a shade under. I couldn’t break from the routine, nor did I have any desire to. I would take a sip, let out a sigh, have a belch and then look around at the unchanging picture of movement: people going indoors and new ones stepping into the light. Socio-physical equilibrium prevailed, as if there were a tacitly understood agreement amongst us to balance the number of folks inside with the number on the balcony. I sipped, sipped, sipped – people went, people came, people went. It was clockwork, and I started feeling a hint of drunkenness interact with my more profound inebriation, whose delicacy I still savored with every fibre of my being. It was a good few minutes with Viraj on the balcony, leaning against the wall and surveilling the scene with the wordless authority of he who speaks softly and carries a big stick. I felt their philosophy growing on me.
“Johnny boy! Get your ass inside for some beer pong!” It was Brian, the gargantuan basketball star and Waco Crew member nonpareil. As he clasped his massive hand on my shoulder, looking down on me with his large clear eyes, I understood the instinctual fear felt by the Romans of old when the Visigoths were clawing at the gate, and I wondered if Brian’s lineage traced back to those Alpine marauders, and if any of them had neared the six-feet ten-inches of man whose hand was squeezing my shoulder rather aggressively, whose childish spirit was giddy at the prospect of beer bong.
The teams were myself and Brian versus Mitch and Mandy. I arranged our ten red cups in pyramidal form while Brian got beer from the keg. On the same table, parallel to our own match, a group of Waco Crew girls were engaged in their own game. The party, meanwhile, was reaching maximum capacity, with folks standing on couches, chairs and tables, screaming their heads off like lost children. I recognized a few leeches who customarily inhabited the Drug Den. Intuitively, their attendance made sense: the Escobars were among us. Sure enough, as this thought ran through my mind, one of the leeches approached Mitch and whispered something in his ear.
“After this game,” I saw escape from Mitch’s lips, across the table.
“Viraj might be a mind-reader but I can read lips,” I thought gleefully, wickedly.
The Escobars got off to a good start, hitting their first two cups. “Balls back,” they cried in unison. Soon we were down 6-0. The situation looked bleak. Brian then made a brilliant, game-changing play. In a single, graceful movement, he feigned a high arc while sneaking the ball into his other hand, pushing it horizontally across the table’s surface, where it bounced and flew into their middle cup. I summoned every iota of concentration and, with the Lord’s blessing, sunk my ball into the very same cup. It was a glorious sequence that eliminated 40 percent of their cups in one fell swoop.
“Balls back!” we cried happily. The nearby leeches glanced nervously toward their two seigneurs, wary of any oscillation in their overlords’ moods. Before long there were only two cups in play. Several lunatics had gathered around to watch the dénouement. Time stood still as the thump-thumping of an electronic song caught everyone’s attention – the beat was building, building, building; anticipation growing, growing, growing as Mandy touched Mitch’s arm gently and gave him a knowing look, as if to say “I got this,” and the apartment went silent as the song’s build-up reached its zenith, at which point Mandy unleashed a perfect shot; the distinct splash of ping-pong-ball-in-beer was faintly audible the moment before the baseline exploded into life. Everyone went nuts.
Mitch then assembled the hovering leeches and took them to the bathroom for their fix. Brian skedaddled to rejoin Waco Crew folks. I was alone again, wondering what to do. Why had I come here in the first place? Grace! But where was she? Instead of looking for her, I joined the throbbing crowd, submitting my limbs and spine to the will of the all-powerful marionettist, who lurked in the rafters working his magic, but I grew bored and anxious. I was ready to escape, ready to move, and then Grace descended on me from the abyss, grabbing my wrists and pulling me in for a hug.
“Do you want to leave?” she asked.
“Yes! Yes Yes Yes!” I managed over the thump-thumping.
“Okay one minute,” and she scurried off to drunkenly hug friends and dance with the heaving masses, and I thought, what the fuck, why’d she ask to leave if she didn’t want to go, but then I realized that Arnold wasn’t alone in his quest to dawdle until the end of days. Dawdling, it seemed, was in our DNA. There was always something else, another option, another drink, another destination, another friend, another lover, another day turning to night or night turning to day, always another chance to make something happen – which begged the question: what else to do but dawdle in the face of incomprehensible potential? Which is why I vacillated in the doorway, half-heartedly attempting to gesture her along. At one point I even started down the stairs, only to retrace the steps – my steps – because I didn’t want to be alone. I cried out, again and again, “C’mon, let’s go!” but she kept holding up her index finger, seeing me with her all-seeing gaze. “Just another minute,” her eyes seemed to say, “everything’s gonna be alright, just hang tight,” and I finally snapped, and yelled that I was leaving with such forcefulness that she grabbed my wrist and held on as I lead us onto the boardwalk and back to the duplex’s porch where the party raged on, where everyone was drunk, tripping or both. I threw myself into a chair and received a pleasant vibration in my legs, up my spine, through my neural networks. Nathan sat next to me, still cackling like a madman but now wearing sunglasses, which concealed the maniacal gleam in his eyes. My soul seemed synchronized with my shoulders, which swayed involuntarily to the smooth bass of the deep-house music that you’d expect to hear in a grimy underground European club, not a beachfront condo in San Diego. Grace was everywhere, doling out love and affection. Boris was in a good mood, too. He was especially flirtatious with Grace. I watched in slow-motion as his long arm reached around her waist, pulling her thin torso into his crescent-shaped form; a spasm of jealously rippled through the smooth sway of my shoulders.
In addition to everything else, Boris could be a womanizer. He was decent-looking, but what enabled his conquests was an unassailable aura of self-confidence. In this instance, it didn’t seem as if he was trying to get Grace into bed; they’d been friends for too long. But with this touchy-feely, gregarious demeanor that seemed to come out of nowhere – he just couldn’t help himself. If he wasn’t ignoring their existence, he didn’t know how else to comport himself around attractive women. Grace saw me looking. I looked away. She wandered over and touched my arm.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. I’m not feeling this music.”
“I want to listen to The Beatles,” I responded, semi-honestly. She smiled and walked over to the speaker, which sat atop a chair next to the sliding-glass doors. “Who’s iPhone is this?” she yelled over the thump-thumping.
“Mine!” cried Nathan.
“Can I play The Beatles?”
There was a moment of silence, and then:
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF I SANG OUT OF TUNE…
A roar of applause broke out. Grace cranked up the volume and everyone sang along at the top of their lungs. Pedestrians on the boardwalk – who, moments before, had been shooting us scathing glances of disapproval over the obnoxious thump-thumping – now looked on merrily, clapping with full-throated approval and teary-eyed nostalgia.
MHMM I GET HIGH WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS.
MHMM I’M GONNA TRY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS.