Leaving Rockland

John and I spent the day driving from one house to another. Mostly they were people John knew from High School or growing up and he’d pull out the hash oil, get everyone high, and talk about people and things they all knew. After a while, I just sat watching them. We got back to the house around 7 hungry and kind of tired.

“What’s that smell?” asked John coming into the kitchen. Fat Jay was at the stove, spaghetti in one pot and tomato sauce in another.

“Tuna fish.”

Jay shrugged. “It’s protein.”

“Vitello tonnato it’s not, Jay,” I told him and he shrugged. Jay grew up in their neighborhood. He was working in a psychiatric facility in the city to avoid the draft. He liked to get stoned, but he was more interested in being a psychologist and I wondered what he thought of everyone. It seemed to me that he liked the activity. The tuna sauce was kind of noxious, but with a lot of hot pepper and shaker Parmesan, it was OK.

John was pretty pleased. We’d gotten rid of all the hash oil and most of the pot and he had a wad of bills in his pocket. He was arranging it, straightening out the crinkled corners when Tony got there with a bunch of guys with guitar cases and amps. Tony grabbed a plate of spaghetti and, after a sniff of the tuna sauce, dumped some ketchup and cheese on it and wandered into the living room to set up.

Then, I noticed the inner seam of my jeans was ripped out, with a flash of thigh and pink underwear. Probably like that all day. The underwear was embarrassing, but all my underwear and sheets were pink, after a tie-dying session with Rit dye and no mordants. I got some nice lines on the sheets and it all looked good when I did it , but the blue, purple, and red all ran together in the wash and the green faded. Man.

After they got set up, Tony, another guitar, bass and drums started playing. They were supposed to sound jazzy, but all they were was loud and atonal. The other guitarist kept trying to play leads, but Tony hopped on them as soon as he could. When Tony soloed, the other guitarist did the same thing. Jeff started playing third guitar, rhythm and chords, but occasionally he’d throw in a lick. Tony looked pissed off whenever Jeff did, but Jeff kept on trying anyway.

Tony was the best guitar in the bunch, but I’d’ve hated to be in a band with him. It would be like playing in Cream, the “best” guitarist, bassist and drummer in the world, each trying to outdo the other. After an hour of this, I said that I was going for a walk around the lake. Jeff handed his guitar off and told me to wait up.

We walked down by the water together. A hot night, but with some wind so the bugs weren’t too bad. Jeff passed me a joint I didn’t need and asked how the pottery was doing.

“I haven’t done much lately. Working too much. Besides, I wonder how good I really am. I’m no art potter. I can make some good practical stuff that people can use. If I can do that every day, then I’ll be happy. You know what I mean?”

Jeff shook his head. “You have to want to be the best.”

“Burn hot and burn fast? How are you burning these days?”

“How hot can you burn in the suburbs?” He tossed the roach into the lake. It would have been a quiet night, but the music followed us. “I don’t know, Danny. Tony’s so much better. I’m just a kid brother.”

“Hey, it’s a pantheon, not a pyramid. All you have to do is take your rightful place. Besides, Tony is a dick.”

Jeff laughed. “All the greats are.” He kicked a rock, then picked it up and tossed it in the water with a thunk. “What do you do if you’re not the best?”

“I don’t know man. I wonder the same thing.” I made a silent promise to myself that when I got back, I was going to work in the pot shop every day, no matter what I.

“Come on, let’s go back, it’s getting cold.”

The jam was over. Tony and some of the boys were hitting up. I asked Jay to wake me up when he left for work, and took a sleeping bag out to the back porch. The night air smelled sweet, and a little marshy from the lake. I listened to the crickets chirp and sank into sleep.

Jay woke me at 7 and said good-bye. I shook John awake. I hated to do it to him, he must’ve felt as shot as I did, but I needed to get back to work. We left a note for Tony and Jeff and a baggie and took off.

We ate breakfast in the same diner, four cups of coffee apiece. “Watkins Glen is coming up,” John said to me. “You’ve got a ticket, right?” I nodded. “I’ll front you a pound. You can make three or four hundred over the weekend.”

I had two tickets, actually, one for Christine and one for me. I wondered how much dope I’d be selling if I was with her. Or even if she would be there. I got a pain in my gut thinking about her.

Before we get onto the highway, John pulled over and we snorted the remaining bit of speed. It didn’t seem to work on us anymore.

“So what did you think of Rockland?” he asked, as we drove off.

“It’s not the same anymore.”

“Made a ton of money,” said Jon. He smiled softly and stuck a tape into the machine. We barely talked for the rest of the ride back.

 

John let me off in front of Deli House at twenty to five. There wasn’t any time to go home or change or even take a walk, so I went inside and poured a cup of coffee. My insides felt hollow, like someone took a spoon and scraped me out. I needed a shower and a week of sleep, but instead, I washed my face in the bathroom and started doing set-ups like an automaton.

Christine came in at nine. Her eyes didn’t meet mine, but then, my eyes weren’t meeting anything anyway.

“Have fun camping?”

She shrugged. “It was OK. Actually, it was terrible.”

My turn to shrug. “We should make plans for Watkins Glen,” I said. “Allmans, Dead, and the Band. I have the tickets.”

“I’m going to go with Michael.  He asked me to go with him. Don’t look at me like that. You’d dump me if Matisse was around.” She started loading her arms with plates. “I’m sorry, Danny.”

“So am I. Well, it’s been nice knowing you, I guess.”

When I got home that night, I took both tickets and left them on the dining room table with a note for Bob.

“These are for you. I’ll work your hours.” I headed into my room, got undressed and put a pillow over my eyes and ears. For the next twelve hours, I was dead to the world.

 

On the Road to Rockland

botticelli-angelSunlight woke me and I lay for a moment, eyes narrowed against the light. Christine was still sleeping, a strand of hair caught in her open mouth, one nipple dark under the sheet. I watched the rise and fall of her breath, the sheet outlining her form. Fay Wray slumbers in King Kong’s bed.

I pulled the strand out of her mouth and her eyes opened. She fixed on me for a moment, then looked around. I circled her hips and drew her to me. She pushed at my chest, then surrendered, one hand caught between us.

“C’mon, it’s nearly twelve. I’m going camping tomorrow and I have some things to do.”

“I thought we were going to do something. I took tomorrow off.”

“I haven’t been camping all summer. I thought I told you.”

You didn’t. “S’OK. You want some coffee?”

She swung her legs onto the floor. “I’ve got to go.” I watched her pull on jeans and a shirt, then fold her waitress dress and put it in her pack. The airplane lands. Kong watches Captain Jack Driscoll offer his hand and Fay climbs into the cabin.

“See you tonight.” She murmured something and she was gone.

I got up and made some coffee. King Kong lumbers into the jungle, grabs a vine, and is gone.

 

Bouguereau-The Shepherdess

Bouguereau-The Shepherdess

I remember one time, the year we met, Matisse was off somewhere and I was helping Henry Nisi and Barbara, his TA with a stoneware firing. We finished around 6 AM and Barbara and I went outside to stretch. It wasn’t really light yet, just a brightening of the dark. It had been snowing all night and the sky had that reddish glow that comes with snowstorms. It was quiet and hushed and we were watching the snow fall and the clouds of our breath.

“Danny. Barbara.” Matisse and Linda, Keith’s girlfriend, bareheaded in the snow and laughing joined us. Matisse came up and gave me kiss. She smiled at Barbara and fished in her pocket. “I have something for you.”

She pulled out an aspirin tin and opened it. There were five red barrels inside. “Sunshine,” she said. Linda and I were up all night. Some guy gave them to us. We can take one and go for a walk.” Barbara said goodbye and left. The three of us each swallowed a barrel. The snow had started again and the air was quiet. We wandered around the Fine Arts Center, looking at the Brancusi-style brass heads that lined one walkway. Each one looked more bestial than the last so I turned away. I tried to make the cast concrete itself look beautiful, but the flat concrete, the rough edges where the frames had been and the circles where the washers had held the frames together just looked bleak. The concrete was a dozen shades of dirty white and when it started moving on itself, I knew I was coming up. Matisse and Linda were laughing but I wasn’t following. I kept wondering who’d given her the acid and why, convinced she’d like him better. Who wouldn’t? Every now and then, Matisse would stop laughing and turn to me, a little hesitantly, a little smile then a larger one when I smiled back. Then I’d remember the red barrels and sink again. Matisse would be laughing with Linda and me lumbering behind them.

 I never did find out who gave her the sunshine. And it was only now, drinking my coffee on the front porch that I realized that she was smiling because she was proud of herself for getting me a present.

 

“Why didn’t you call in sick, too, and really fuck things up?” said Marcie when I walked in at ten of five.

“What are you talking about?”

“I saw you two,” she says. “Tell me Christine wasn’t with you this afternoon.”

“I was home all day. Why?”

“I must have been mistaken. Go punch in before Bill gets here.”

“She really called in sick?”

“Why else would I be here on a Wednesday?”

I tore into my set-ups with a vengeance. It was busy through dinner, but Marcie and I could handle anything. I took the counter, she held off the impatient and together, we kicked the usual ass. I was cleaning up after the run when Marcie came by

“Hey, sorry about mouthing off,” she said, touching my shoulder.

“It’s ok. You really saw her?”

“I guess so. I thought it was you.” I told Marcie about tomorrow’s camping trip. “They probably left today.”

“Look, Danny, what Chris had in mind was a nice, simple affair. You know, friendship and sex. You wanted to be in love, so you tried to turn it all around. You don’t really love her. She doesn’t love you.”

“How do you know all this?” Marcie shrugged and went back to the dining room. I wiped down the counter, remembering Matisse. “You don’t know how to just fuck someone. You always have to fall in love.”

When I got home, there was a note to call John.

“Danny, my man. How’d you like to take a little road trip?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m going to Rockland in a half hour. I’m going to spend tomorrow in Rockland, drive back Friday morning.”

“Get me back in time for work on Friday?”

“Guaranteed.”

“Pick me up at my house at a quarter to three.”

When he picked me up at 3 A.M., John pulled out some speed and some joints smeared with hash oil. There was a new cassette player in his car and about 10 new cassettes. We snorted some speed, smoked a joint and headed off into the night.

Compressed brick of marijuana

 

 

Matisse at the Museum

We got in the Plymouth, me and the kid up front and Matisse and Lyssa in back. The kid, whose name turned out to be Jaime, kept a running commentary of cool about pretty much anything anyone said. I was grateful for the ride, but after about the 10th Horse with No Name and the 100th “oh wow man that’s boss,” I pulled out the second joint he’d given me and lit it up. It slowed him down a little and he settled for bobbing his head in time to whatever someone was saying. Matisse turned down the joint and said nothing, staring out the back window.

When we needed gas, we all dug around our pockets. Lyssa, it turned out had money, so she laid out the 8 bucks. “Cheaper than a bus,” she said. The girls hit the ladies’ room and I wandered around the store. There was one of those wire racks of 8-track tapes and, looking around, I stuck Blonde on Blonde into my jacket and walked out.

“So where are you going?” Jaime asked, sliding back into the driver’s seat. He shifted into Drive and pulled out onto the highway.

“Buffalo,” I said at the same time Lyssa said, “Long Island.” Matisse said nothing. I asked her what she wanted to do and she shrugged. “Buffalo,” I said. “That’s like eight hours away,” said Lyssa. She looked at Matisse who lifted her eyebrows and shrugged. “Screw it. Why not?”

“Wow,” he said, “I’ve never been there.”

“It’s summer,” said Matisse, “It stopped snowing.”

“Cool.” He punched in the America tape, but I pulled Blonde on Blonde out of my pocket. “Here, dig this.”

“Oh man, Dylan. He is so deep man. He knows stuff, you know…” I let it pass. I could listen to this all the way to Buffalo.

It was about noon when we hit Williamstown and the Massachusetts border. Matisse perked up. “Williamstown. There’s an art museum there. I want to stop.” She turned to Lyssa, “Remember, Miss Borden talked about it in Art.”

“Man, it’s an eight hour drive already,” said Jaime. He looked at me. I was eager to get back, but a museum sounded good. “It’ll be cool,” I said. “Art, man.”

“Chicks,” he muttered, but he took us there. It was a museum full of Impressionists, mostly. Jaime was entranced. “It’s like acid, man. You know, all melty and stuff.” I left him to Lyssa. She seemed OK with him and though we hadn’t said anything to each other, it seemed like she was OK with me.

Bouguereau-Satry with NymphsMatisse in an art museum was a beautiful thing to watch. She kind of danced through the galleries, wandering the space. I started looking at painting after painting until I remembered wandering through the Met with her. “Look at that guy,” she’d said, “Going from painting to painting, like some accountant checking things off a list.” Matisse followed her own course, like some secret tour laid out by the museum staff.

She walked past painting after painting, giving each a quick glance as she passed. Then she’d spend 10 minutes at one, looking closely at the brush strokes, then at the colors, then, stepping back, at the lines. Then she’d look around the room and likely as not cross the room to look at another one. I stared at her face as much as the art. When she was looking at a painting, it was like her eyes threw a light on her cheeks. She had a wide private smile that no one was supposed to see except that when she turned and saw me watching, the smile got bigger and the light sparkled back into her eyes, and she turned to look at another painting.

“Man, that was heavy,” said Jaime when we were leaving. “That guy with the horns and all those chicks.”

“A satyr,” said Matisse. “He was a satyr, half goat.”

“Man, the way those chicks were looking at him. Woo.” Matisse said nothing, just curled into herself and stared out the window.

We made it to Buffalo in about 8 hours. By then, we knew all the words to Stuck Inside of Mobile and except for Jaime’s repeated playing of Rainy Day Women and singing “Everybody must get stoned,” it was a pretty mellow drive.

Lyssa went off to stay with some friends. Matisse moved into my room and Jaime crashed in my living room for a couple of days, smoothing the way with what seemed like an endless supply of pot. I was living with three friends of John’s from Rockland County, and it was summertime, and the living was definitely easy. I was cooking three or four nights a week. I got home around three and usually the only one up was Keith, who wasn’t working much this summer. We’d smoke a joint or two until I wound down and went to bed.

If Matisse was there when I got up, she and I would go out to the New Campus and find someplace in the woods to make love. There was no sex in my bedroom because she said it made her feel like a chick to know that everyone knew what she was doing.

She had changed through. She was a vegetarian now. She moved quietly and kept to herself. She was reading Krishmurti and Autobiography of a Yogi.   She started spending her days at the Knox and the park, reading and meditating under trees, seeing friends at night while I was at work.

She was friends with Keith because of Linda, but it was strained since he’d broken up with Linda.  When she wasn’t there, they all called her smile spooky. Raul liked to make fun of what she cooked, like a box of frozen spinach with an egg poaching on top. She walked in on him imitating her and left the next day. She ended up going home to Long Island.

When Jaime started getting on everyone’s nerves, he took off and stayed at John’s house. It turned out Jaime’s endless supply of pot was from a pound he was supposed to be selling for someone back in Vermont. John helped him move some ounces and, when it was gone, Jaime took off back to Vermont for another pound. He was in and out of town all summer and there was always a lot of dope around when he was.

Havin a High Time

Lyssa sat on my sleeping bag and passed the joint. It was nice sitting on that hillside, watching the sky redden. The hills got darker and darker as the light faded. The air had that crisp smell, half dirt and half something else that always felt like memory.

I cupped the joint and passed her the roach. She fumbled it then shrugged. “I’m done,” she said and looked directly at me. “Well, aren’t you going to ask?”

I put my arm around her without thinking, tied up in the smell of earth. She kissed differently than Matisse. She shivered a little, so I motioned for her to stand and unzipped my sleeping bag. Matisse and I bought identical ones so we could zip them together. She unsnapped her overalls and pulled off her shirt before she got into the bag.

“There’s another one just like this in house,” she said, “Want me to go get it?”

“Nah. It’s fine.

We got undressed, she in the bag and me mostly sticking out of it. She was shorter than Matisse and rounder and her breasts were way larger. She smelled all different and we couldn’t seem to move together. After a while, she got on top of me, her breasts swinging in my face. I flashed on it hitting my nose and smiled.

“Are you laughing at me?” she said, rolling off to one side. I tried to cover her with the sleeping bag.

“No, I’m really not. It’s been a weird day.”

“You know your precious Stephanie is fucking Teddy. Every night.”

Ooh. “Well…”

She started pulling on her clothes. “Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” She shook her head. “Forget it. She was right. You’re like some puppy dog that follows her around.” She pulled on her sandals and walked back to the house. I thought I should go after her, then wondered why. No reason, so I just lay there.

It was finally warm enough under the sleeping bag and I pulled on my underwear and jeans. It was dark now and the woods were noisy with rustlings and sounds. I listened to them, not really wanting to move, thinking some animal was going to come and eat my toes and not really caring. I heard crashing behind me, getting louder. Bear? Dog? Wolf? Teddy coming for me? I saw a flashlight and heard her voice.

“Danny? Danny, where are you?”

“Matisse? Over here.” The flashlight shone in my face, then on my chest. “What are you doing?” she asked. She got closer and saw the unzipped bag. “Were you? You were fucking Alisa, weren’t you?”

“Who?”

“Lyssa. She was Alisa in high school. Don’t deny it.”

“She told me about Teddy.”

“That’s different. It’s a yabiyum ceremony. It’s not sex.”

“Forget it. I’m out of here in the morning.”

“No,” she said. “We sit in each other’s lap and channel the sex drive toward higher chakras.”

“Are you naked when you do?” She didn’t answer. I tried not to visualize her sitting naked in Teddy’s lap, his no-doubt giant penis between them.

“Yabiyum,” I said. “Right.” I pulled on a tee shirt, then my army shirt. The anti war movement and the military both shop at the same place, John liked to say. He was kind of right—my favorite store was an Army-Navy store. Teddy. I bet his last name is Murphy.

“Danny.” She stopped and, miserable, I looked at her. “Danny, I never had a bad trip. Even the bad parts somehow meant something somehow. It’s just that I get lost in my head now too much. I want to get there on my own. You know what I mean.”

“I do Matisse. I really do know.” And I believed it. “Are you happy here?”

She shook her head. Even in the dark I knew. She started crying. I pulled her head to my chest and rocked her while she shook. “I want to get out of here. Take me away, Danny.”

Yes. Yes. “I will,” I said.

“Now.” I shrugged. “OK.” She got up. “Pack your things, I’ll be back. We can get a bus in Brattleboro.” And she was gone.

 

I packed everything and waited, wondering if she was really going to come back. I heard her and it sounded too loud for one person. When she found me with the flashlight, I saw Lyssa behind her. “She wants to come, too,” said Matisse. Lyssa looked at me and I turned away, ears reddening. They both had small packs.

We picked our way down the driveway, using the flashlight as little as possible. Matisse led us down the road. “Isn’t Teddy going to notice you’re gone?” I asked. “So?” she said. Still, she made us crouch in the ditch beside the road the couple of times a car went by.

It wasn’t easy picking our way down the road and it took forever to reach Brattleboro. By the time we made it into town, the sky was lightening. The only place that was open was a Dunkin Donuts. We headed there. I had enough money to buy us coffee and donuts and we sat in a booth. We looked like refugees and I had that electric buzz of old adrenaline. We sat there, drinking coffee, too wired to even ask directions to the bus station. I stared out the window at the buildings across the street. Three stories, ornate cornices, they reminded me of Model T’s, celluloid collars, and wire rim glasses which led me to John Lennon and The End from Abbey Road. It kept running around in my head.

“Hey man,” said a voice behind me. I turned and it was the kid who’d given me the lift up to Teddy’s. “Hey. Captain America,” I said.

“Howzit going man?” giving me a soul handshake. “You guys up all night?”

“Yeah, we’re escaping,” I told him. “We’re going to get a bus.” I introduced him to the girls.

“I told you Teddy was intense. Hey, fuck the bus. I’ll give you a lift.”

“Captain America,” I said. “Let’s go.”

 

Enter Teddy

“Hi,” I said, suddenly shy. Behind her, what could only be Teddy was walking in. Big, like a quarterback, full beard and Jesus hair, wearing boots, jeans, and an Army field jacket with the name Murphy sewn over the pocket. He stopped laughing when he saw Matisse had stopped.

“Stephanie, who’s your friend?” he asked.

“Teddy, this is my friend, Danny. The potter.”

“And a cook,” said Lyssa coming into the room. “He helped make dinner.”

“We thank you for that.” He shouldered the box of groceries and headed into the kitchen. Matisse disappeared with him.” Lyssa looked at me and shrugged.

I walked outside. There was already a chill in the air so I grabbed my jacket out of my pack that was still in the living room. The farmhouse was on a hillside and the tents took up most of the flat areas. After a while, I saw people heading to the house and I figured dinner was ready.

There was a big oval table in the dining room. Matisse was nowhere to be seen, so I grabbed an open seat. Lyssa and some of the girls brought out dinner. When it was all set out, Teddy appeared, Matisse trailing him.

“We give thanks for this food,” said Teddy, kind of insincerely it seemed to me, but I was a little shaky whenever I looked at him. Matisse wouldn’t look at me and then she did. She smiled that wide smile and her eyes sparkled and it seemed like it was going to be alright.

“Danny cooked the eggplant,” said Lyssa. The stacked tomatoes and cheese looked good. People murmured assent. No one seemed to be eating the eggplant and onion, except for Matisse who’d had it before.

“It’s good, Danny,” she said.

Teddy hoisted one of the eggplant and tomato things. “Too yang,” he said. “It’s unbalanced.”

I ate the rest of the meal in silence.

 

After dinner, I tried to catch Matisse alone, but she was nowhere around. I wandered into the kitchen, watched one of the girls dump the eggplant salad into a bucket with vegetable scraps. No one seemed to want my help so I wandered back outside. I got my pack and took it to one of the flat spots. There were a couple of bushes between me and the house and it felt good to be there. I laid out my tarp and unrolled my sleeping bag over it. I took my pack with me and went back to the house.

People were gathered in the living room. Girls were sewing, guys were reading, one guy played a guitar. No one seemed particularly friendly. I started leafing through the albums. It was a weird mix-Astrid Giamberto, Sketches of Spain, a lot of old jazz. Dylan, Will the Circle be Unbroken, Donovan mixed in. Nothing electric except for one Blues Project album.

“So tell us about yourself, Danny,” said Teddy behind me. I turned. He was still wearing the field jacket. I noticed that some patches were ripped off.

“What do you want to know?”

“What are you looking for?”

“Here? Now?” I’m looking for Matisse, I thought. “I had some time so I thought I’d say hi to Matisse.”

“Stephanie?” He let it hang. I was shaking a little so I said nothing. What do you know about her, anyway? He was big and scary, but I didn’t get a particularly spiritual vibe off of him.

“Yes?” she said coming into the room. “Danny, you want to take a walk?” I was on my feet so fast I had no memory. Teddy stared at me, then at her.

I grabbed my pack and we walked outside. It was still light, but cooler. “Why did you come?”

“You wrote that I’d like it. I missed you.”

“I’m happy here,” she said

“You’re happy with Charlie Manson? Should I be afraid to go to sleep tonight?”

“If Teddy wanted to hurt you, he could hurt you no matter what you were doing. He’s through with that, though. He’s on a spiritual path now.”

“You too?”

She nodded. Her smile was a little tight. I looked at her hands and she was picking the side of her thumb with her fingernail. Are you two fucking? I couldn’t actually ask it.

“Matisse…”

“Stephanie. I want to be happy, Danny. Really happy. I want something more.” She touched my cheek. “Danny.”

I reached for her, but she turned away, like she was peeling away from an oncoming tackle. “You should go, Danny. Tomorrow.” I watched her walk away. Fuck it, I thought and pulled out one of the joints the kid had given me.

“You can’t smoke dope here,” said Lyssa, holding out her hand. She took the joint from me, took a large hit and sat down beside me.

 

Matisse in Vermont

Later that summer, Matisse left for home. She still painted and she said she still loved me, but there was a distance. After a while, she left for Putney for a commune where she knew some people. She asked me not to visit and I didn’t until mid-summer. I was doing very little, working in the pot shop, working as a cook at night, and hanging out with John, trying to like other women and trying not to drop acid.

She had given up drugs and, she told me, sex as well. I got a postcard from her at the end of June. “I miss you,” she said. “You’d like it here.” It seemed like an invitation, so I hitchhiked across New York State and up into Vermont. The commune was at the end of a long dirt driveway. A big old farmhouse, an outhouse, a falling down barn and some tents. The last couple of miles I had a ride from a kid in an old Plymouth Fury with rust spots and ripped seats and an 8-track. He seemed about 17-his hair was still long and he was the new kind of hippie-he liked to drink beer as much as smoke dope. My hair was short now and I’d shaved my beard so I could work the kitchen, but we listened to his tapes and talked music from the highway to the commune. He was a big America fan. He let me off at a dirt road and pointed.” It’s up that driveway.” He didn’t say much about the commune when I asked him about it. “Teddy’s OK,” he said, “He’s a little intense. Before he drove off, he laid two joints on me. “Peace out man,” he said before he drove off. “Good luck.”

I watched him drive away and I suddenly knew this was a bad idea. She was just being nice. But I was here now, so I trudged up the driveway. I could always leave tomorrow.

No one seemed to be around, so I left the pack in the living room and headed for the kitchen. The only person there was this short woman, long curly black hair and overalls, was mixing meatloaf in a bowl.

“Hi. I’m a friend of Matisse, uh Stephanie.”

“I’m Lyssa,” she said. “You’re Danny,” she said. “I know the story.”

“What story?”

“We were friends in high school,” she said kind of smugly. “Anyway, she’s not here. She and Teddy went into Brattleboro to pick up supplies. She’ll be back for dinner.”

“You need any help?”

“Sure.”

So I helped with the meatloaf and the vegetables. There seemed to be a lot of eggplant, so I baked it, then chopped it. They were out of tahini, so I made a chopped eggplant and onion dip and then sliced tomatoes on cooked eggplant rounds to bake with some cheese. They had some kind of block of it in the fridge. Lyssa was OK in the kitchen, but she used a serrated knife for everything and she left the pots for me to clean. She kept telling me some long involved story about how she ended up here, but I was thinking about Matisse and wondering about this Teddy guy and I kept losing her thread. I asked her about Teddy.

“Teddy’s amazing,” she said. “He was a tunnel rat and then they used to drop him in the jungle and let him survive on the land. He stared down a tiger once. It just looked at him and walked away.”

The back door opened and Matisse, laughing, came through the door, a box of groceries in her hands. She was turning to say something when she saw me.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re here.”

25. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

My parents did not have a lot of money while I was growing up. When it was time for my Bar Mitzvah, we had it at Leonards of Great Neck, like we were supposed to. Throughout the night, relatives gave me envelopes which I put in my suit’s jacket pocket and turned over at the end of the night.

There were Kennedy half-dollars (18, of course), a hundred dollar bill and a fifty dollar bill in addition to the checks and the savings bonds. I got to keep the half dollars and the bills, but I never thought much about what happened to the rest.

In my junior year, the year I turned 20, my parents gave me the bonds, which had been sitting in their safe deposit box so I could cash them in and use them for living expenses at school. The checks they had used to pay for the bar mitzvah, something I wasn’t sure how I felt about, but we cashed the bonds in and I had nearly 500 in cash. I put a hundred dollar bill in my wallet, just to see how it felt. The rest I left in my drawer until I went back to school.

I knew these guys in high school, friends of friends really, who used to sell acid. Only acid. They were the first people I knew who had 9-track reel-to-reel tapes of Dead concerts which amazed me. They kept one of each batch they sold  in the Hall of Fame which grew to three large pill bottles worth of pills–small barrels, flat tabs, large Vitamin Cs dropped with liquid acid. For a Dead concert, the spring before I went to college, theybought up half of the fifth and six rows at the Fillmore. You could do that then, if you wanted to spend a couple of hours on line on Tuesday, the day they went on sale. They crushed the pills and took the tops off of a box of Oreos. A sprinkle of powder, top back on and a re-roll of the cookies in tinfoil. They carried the rolls of cookies with us and we spent the time on line munching the cookies.

Anyway, the night before I left, I was hanging out with them when someone mentioned that they had some DMT to sell. I took the no longer crisp hundred and bought a gram. Pink plastic looking crystals. I took them back to school and brought some over to John’s when I got back.

We crushed some of the crystals and sprinkled the powder on dried parsley, just like all the anti-drug literature said dope fiends did, and smoked them. John put Pink Floyd on and turned out the lights. A couple of hits each and instantly, everything around me was intricate tiny cartoon images-red, green, purple, and blue.  Someone once said that if LSD is a trip, DMT is like being shot out of a cannon. It was a rocket ship for sure, but for me there was nothing but colors, no insight, no amazement, just the center eye sitting watching the colors around it without change. We each took another hit and the colors redoubled. After 30 minutes, they simply went away.

I had a lot of DMT, it turned out. John and I used to drag it out at odd moments, jump on the rocketship, then return to whatever we were doing. Each time I crushed the pink powder, I’d remember my bar mitzvah and wonder which of my relatives had bought me a gram of DMT on the day I became a man.

24. The Legend of Bertil Shagnastic

At summer orientation before freshman year, everyone was nice to everyone else. Mostly we were all a little bit intimidated as well as eager to finally be on our own. I found the heads in my group almost without trying and we hung around for most of the three days.

At night, after dinner in the dining hall, we went back to the dorm where we were staying. I don’t remember any other performances, but one night, this little guy volunteered to sing for the group in the lounge. He was short and runty, rat snout nose, greasy black hair, bad acne, and the same black glasses all the guys were wearing. Holding a guitar that was almost bigger than he was, he sang some Beatles songs. What I remember most was the crowd, yelling at him the entire time. I couldn’t believe it, that they were so nasty and that in a day and a half he’d managed to make people who were all trying tobe nice to everyone all hate him. He was dogged, though, and finished the set. I thought he was pretty terrible. We all thought we were outcasts in our group, proud that we didn’t fit in to the clean cut collegiate scene, and so this kid became part of our group.

That September, when school actually started, the heads found each other again. This kid, of course, found us, too, and started hanging out. He was annoying, really annoying, and when you passed him a joint, the end came back soggy. One of the heads was a small girl who nicknamed herself Bug. Bug looked 14, but turned out to be one of the smarted people I knew that year. Finally Bug in some fit of piqué just said, “Shut up, Bertil.” Later amended to Bertil Shagnastic, that’s who he became. Continue reading

23. Re-Booting Danny and Matisse

My initial goal was simple—take the novel I wrote in 1981 and transfer it to the web as a serial. Catherine, a woman I worked with in Cambridge in 1976 told me, after reading an early draft, that I’d be writing it for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, she was correct.

Well, things did not go as planned. Basically, as I read the book, I discovered several things: I had an eye for detail and description. I was able to write some pretty terrible dialog. There was a lot in the book that was good but unrealized. That I had improved as a writer over the last 30 years, at least as far as non-fiction went. That my original organization was not working. And finally, simply transferring the book to the web, editing into 1,500 word chunks was not going to cut it. I needed to rewrite a great deal.

More importantly, were the pieces that I had not written but only assumed. As I wrote them from scratch, these were the parts that I liked the best. Collected loosely as the Tales of Matisse, they covered the story of Danny and Matisse’s college years, the years of their love and their separation. No sense in lying, the book was always loosely based on my own life (surprise, right?). But with the Tales of Matisse, I began to invent.

Plus, my understanding of what a serial blog was grew and changed. A serial, in the sense of Dickens, mini-series, etc. just didn’t work. If you came late to the party, the idea that you had to read all that came before in order to catch up deterred most people. I know it would deter me. Plus, the personal blogs on which this was based, did not require that. The authors talked about their lives, their friends, their adventures in something that was loosely serial but independent. Each post was self-contained, more or less and if you wanted to know about what went before, you just searched the archives.

Moving forward, expect changes. I’m going to revise the existing About and Table of Contents pages and offer an easy way for newcomers to get a quick history of the characters via links to the episodes that introduce them or tell their story. We’ll see how the “present” story evolves, especially since once you get past the intro stuff, there are some pretty good adventures ahead.

22. Tomatoes, Eggs, and Snails

In the summer between junior and senior year, after we’d broken up a couple of times, Matisse went home and then to summer school in Santa Cruz. Word leaked back to me through Linda that she was happy. She and Lainie, another Rockland friend, were studying ecology and life drawing. I spent the summer at Deli House, learning to cook.

The name Robert somehow came back as well. I imagined someone thin and ethereal, someone even I could intimidate. I cast my eye around and managed to sleep with one of the summer waitresses, but it was awkward and uncomfortable, strange to be touching someone I didn’t know, who didn’t know me. I imagined some triumphant appearance in Santa Cruz, Robert slinking away, but mostly John and I spent the evenings getting high and listening to Pink Floyd. He always claimed they were hipper than the Dead and our arguments were as passionate as I got.

In the fall, she stayed in Rockland instead of coming back to school. I couldn’t stand it, so I took a bus down, planning to stay with one of John’s friends if I couldn’t stay with Matisse. You need a car in Rockland, and Matisse had to pick me up in her mother’s car. We were quiet on the way to dinner. We kept catching each other looking at us, turning away embarrassed. I knew I shouldn’t have come and I couldn’t tell whether I was lonely and desperate for her or just needed to sleep with her again.

We had dinner at the Magic Pan, a chain creperie. Lainie and her boyfriend Harold met us there. Harold was the esthete, tho short like Lainie. Lainie kept calling her Steffie and the two laughed through one half-finished story after another. Lainie had some pictures, dorms under the trees, redwood forests, and people, many people who were now their close friends. Matisse looked uncomfortable as Lainie handed me the pictures, but she appeared only in group pictures or alone, posing in front of something with deep personal meaning to her and Lainie.

“Who’s that?” I asked, at one shot with tiny Lainie nearly smothered by some big bearded guy who was laughing at the camera while his arms were around Lainie.

“Bob,” she said quickly. “Bob the Bear.” She started to laugh, and stopped. “He was in our ecology class. We used to go camping with him.” Matisse shifted in her seat and I realized this was Robert. A bright hollow pain shot through me with the thought.

The waitress came and we placed our orders quickly. Matisse had become a vegetarian over the summer, and she and Lainie went back and forth over the limited offerings. After we ordered, Harold and Lainie talked to each other while Matisse and I looked at each other. Her mouth went from sad to defiant to fixed.

We started eating in silence. “What are you eating?” Lainie asked Harold.

“Danny and I split an escargot crepe and a Crepe Lorriane.” Lainie looked at Harold. “Little snails? How can you eat tiny little snails?” Harold shifted uncomfortably and picked at the ham in the other crepe.

“What about you?” I asked Lainie, while taking a bite. The escargots were basically tasteless, chewy and swimming in garlic and butter.

“Oh, Steffie and I are having cheddar cheese and tomato omelets,” she said.

“Great. Rotten milk, the ripe ovaries of the tomato plant and the menstrual discharge of a chicken.” Matisse smothered a laugh before she said my name sharply. Lainie pushed her omelet away. I ate my escargot and half of her omelet. They couldn’t get away fast enough and Matisse drove me back to the house in silence.

“Can I stay at your house?” I asked, when we got into the car.

“No,” she said. “That was really mean what you said.”

“I’m sorry. She kept calling you Steffie and talking about what a great time you two had camping in the woods with Robert the Bear.”

“Bob,” she said softly. “He was a friend.”

Did you sleep with him? I just couldn’t ask.

“Yes,” she said. “Danny, I’m staying in Rockland this year.”

“I miss you. I miss us.”

She was silent. She pulled up to the house and We looked at each other for what seemed the first time that night. She was so beautiful and so far away. “The Dead are coming to New York in the fall,” I said. “I could see you then.”

“I don’t want to trip anymore,” she said. “I’m done with that. I want to be straight for a while,” she said. “Danny, I’ve got to go.” She leaned forward and kissed me and for just one moment, I felt her love. Then I got out of the car and shut the door and she drove off and she was gone.