Tuesday, October 19, 2010

excerpt from "Cicadas Wish Me Luck"

Clem was slow as an ice wagon coming down to meet me. So I was standing there all by my lonesome on the corner. The wind was blowing, but not too hard, anyway not enough to make the bottoms of my unzipped jacket flap up, which was good because I had things stuffed in the pockets that I didn’t want to lose. I’d been waiting for him to show up for about twenty minutes. I knew this because I have this habit of looking at my watch all the time. I must do it about two or three times a minute, especially if I’m just standing around loafing like that with not much else going on. There wasn’t much to distract me on the corner there. Not even a guy walking a dog with a cat and a mouse stacked on the dog’s back. I didn’t see any cops either. That was good. I was happy about that. What I was not happy about was Clem being late. I hate waiting for people. I’m always on time. Trust me. I’ve got a watch.

At precisely 4:45, a half hour after the time he told me he’d be there on that corner, Clem showed up. I saw him waddling his dreary way down the hill. He saw me too, and he waved. I didn’t wave back. Instead I just looked at my watch. He kept waving. It was a sad sight. Clem’s a big old boy, with lots of curly black hair going out all over the place, and he takes very slow and deliberate steps when he walks. It’s like he’s unsure of his footing, and it seems kind of like he could go right on tipping over at any point, but he never does. He just keeps making his clod-hopping way along, smiling like a big old goofy oaf.

When he came up to me he was already talking: “Brown wild cats and two cars and ice cream, man, it isn’t fair, is it? We’ve got lots’a things, and this and that too, hey, hey, yep…um. Hey.”

Clem can be a real dope sometimes.

I looked at some imaginary point above his head. “Clem. You’re late.”

The words didn’t seem to register. They rarely do with him.

His head was rocking back and forth like a metronome, and he had a big old grin on his face like he didn’t have a care in the world. I knew that wasn’t true, or at least that it shouldn’t have been true.

“Clem. Clem? You know how long I’ve been standing on this damn corner freezing my ass off in the wind waiting for your dumb ass to come down and meet me here? Why the…where the fuck…I mean, shit, why the fuck do you not have a cell phone? You must be the last person on earth not to own a fucking cell phone.”

“Ha. That’s true. I know. I just don’t like ‘em. You know that. You’ve really been waiting here for long? Really?”


“Oh. Shit. Sorry about that. I got caught up, you know, doing shit, and losing track of time, and, you know, well, sorry. But, so, like I was saying…”

“No. Stop. Shit Clem. It doesn’t matter. Let’s go. Come on. We’re gonna be fucking late now. Shit.”

He kept apologizing. Then he stopped. And we walked on. You could still put your thumb up sideways between the sun and the tops of the tall buildings on Russian Hill, and it was making the light funny, in that way that light gets in the late afternoon. Some people call it golden, but to me it’s more like piss with a few drops of soy sauce mixed in. I’m not going to go into why I know what that looks like. I just do.

We were on our way to this guy Ollie Spec’s place. Ollie had this little one-bedroom walkup in North Beach, down close to Washington Square Park. It wasn’t a nice place, and Ollie wasn’t a nice guy, but he had some drugs he wanted to get rid of, and Clem and I were always willing to help somebody unload unwanted illicit substances. The problem—besides my partner Clem being such a goddamn dawdling chatterbox shit-for-brains—was that this guy Ollie worked the night shift at a hotel, and needed to be out of his place by five to get to work on time. This was also the last chance we’d have before the weekend to meet up with Ollie. I’m not sure why. I hadn’t asked. I just knew that we needed to make tracks posthaste, and Clem was really slowing me down, and also pissing me off with his goddamn nonstop nonsensical talking.

I turned to him at the corner of Broadway and Mason, right above the Broadway tunnel, and screamed, “Shut the fuck up you sack of shit. Just shut the fuck up!”

He’d been talking about chicken wire and boxing and Humphrey Bogart, or something like that anyway, and after I yelled at him his face lit up red as a stop sign. He looked hurt. I didn’t care. He just stood there, sort of moping I guess. It was hard to tell.

“Look, Clem. Just fucking chill the fuck out. Okay? We need to be at Ollie’s place in less than ten minutes. We need to like fucking hurry. Okay? We need to be walking at a brisk pace. Other people should be marveling at how fast we are moving. We need to make all the lights. You get it?”

“Sure. Yeah. Okay. I just…”

“Nothing. We are wasting time.” I started moving off down the hill towards Broadway. “Come on. Move it.”

After a few seconds I heard Clem’s loud irregular footsteps following along behind me. By the time I reached the light at Stockton he was by my side again. I was staring at the green paint on a light post when his heavy breathing sounded in my ear.

“Jesus shit Christ man! You walk too fast. Jesus…”

“I heard you the first time. And stop calling me that. Come on. Green light.”

We hurried across the street and kept going lickety-split down Stockton, past the Walgreens, past hordes of shoppers and the dirty awnings splotched with bird shit, past the idling garbage trucks and the rotten stink of alleys, past the bars, where we almost got sidetracked, and past two girls with faces a little better looking than dented fenders who tried to bum cigarettes off us. Clem dug around in his pockets. I gave him a stern look and pulled him away by the sleeve. He stumbled along with me, smiling at the girls, and finally produced a cigarette, which I promptly stole from him, put in my mouth, and lit up without missing a beat, or the light at Columbus. We darted across the street there, and then crossed against the red on Green, narrowly avoiding being plowed down by an angry honking taxi driver. I spied the crusty unlit neon sign above Tony Nik’s, glanced inside briefly at the few drunks at the bar, checked my watch, and knew we’d be alright. Ollie’s place was just up ahead, and we had three minutes to spare.

I could tell Ollie had been pacing around nervously for a while already. He looked harried and distracted, and he pulled the front door open with a wild lunge just after my first knock.

“Shit. I told you fuckers. I have to be out of here by five O’clock. What the hell?”

I tried to apologize, or at least mumbled something that sounded penitent. We rushed in, in a daze of cigarette smoke and jasmine—Ollie had a lot of flowers around his front stoop—barely able to look around before Ollie was shoving little plastic bags in my hand and saying, “Fifty per. That’s that. And the oxy is going to run you a bill for these here, see?”

I didn’t see. I was kind of dizzy from all the rushing around. But I grabbed what he had, unburdened myself of the wads of twenties in my jacket pocket, and replaced them with the dime bags of cocaine and the bottle of pills. Ollie counted the money while Clem stumbled around looking at things on the walls. He made a few stupid comments about some painting, and Ollie screamed at him to keep his goddamn hands off his stuff. Then we were rushed back out the way we came.

As Ollie locked his door I told him how nice it was doing business with him, and he waved his hand up lazily and shook his head in the way people shake their heads when they’re disappointed and frustrated with the situation. I’d seen Ollie like this before. His tufts of oily and unkempt brown hair growing wild like a tumbleweed, his face with that smashed-in look, his eyes red and distant and lonely and gone. I didn’t like seeing him this way: probably strapped for cash and up for many nights in a row, sucking down amphetamines like M&Ms. Now he was worried about keeping his job too, and here we were arriving late and making him suffer all the more. But there was nothing I could do about it. I had what I wanted, and he’d made it out of there in time to hustle on down to punch his timecard at the hotel.

So, we were off. Clem was a happy camper. He was downright jovial as he bounced along beside me. Myself, I was just sauntering and smiling on the inside. We went over to Washington Square park, found a nice bench in the shade, and sat down to see exactly how much we’d gotten for our hard-earned dough.

Turns out the rushing Ollie had been quite generous, possibly by accident, in his bestowment of drugs. I counted five bags of cocaine, 15 tablets of 10/325 Percocet, 10 Xanax, a few Marinols, 20 Adderall XR caps, and about a dozen generic Ambiens, I guess in case we wanted to sleep at some point. It was odd. He hadn’t mentioned all the pharmaceuticals. It’s possible that he just didn’t know what he’d had. He’d probably just figured they were all Oxycontin. Ollie wasn’t too bright when it came to drugs. Clem kept salivating over my shoulder as I dug through the stuff, so I told him the situation. Saying he was ecstatic would be a giant understatement. I thought he might turn a handspring or jump over a tree he was so damn happy.

Clem’s a guy who loves his drugs. You might even say he lives for drugs alone. That might make him an addict. I’m not sure, and at the time I didn’t care. I promised him half, as soon as I was able to split it all up at home, and though he didn’t like to have to wait, he knew he could trust me. That’s one thing Clem and I have always had, trust. That might sound strange, we being two numbskulls and drug addicts and alcoholics to boot, but it was true. We always knew where we stood with each other, and though we spent a great deal of time lying to almost everyone else around us, including ourselves, we always gave each other the straight dope, no matter what. It was some kind of abnormal drug-induced bond that we’d formed, but it worked, so we didn’t question it.

We sat on the bench there and smoked a celebratory cigarette while pigeons clawed their way around on the pavement pecking at crumbs and dogs chased Frisbees on the grass. The wind was singling out the leaves on the trees, making them flail and writhe and then dance until some just gave up and fell. I smoked my cigarette and looked at all the trees, and they were okay, and I looked at Peter & Paul Church for a while too. It was a good old church, and I liked looking at it. The twin spires rose up above like giant candlesticks, a gold cross glowed on the archway, and there was an inscription from Dante in Italian spanning the façade, which I remembered was something about God penetrating things and glowing throughout the universe. The rose window was nice to look at too. All in all, I was having a pretty good time just sitting on that bench with Clem, smoking a cigarette, and looking at stuff around the park. An old Chinese lady carrying a pink plastic bag walked by us and hawked a big lugie into the bushes. I didn’t like that so much. My look said about as much. She scowled at me, and I kind of snarled back. She walked on. I smoked the rest of my cigarette.

The clouds were like vertebrae and candied yams and snakeskin, and they were all scattered around and doing some scudding too. I had my head tipped back and was looking at them up there. I must have looked like a statue sitting there on the bench like that. Clem started jabbering on about car hood ornaments. It’s hard to get Clem to stop talking once he gets going on something. I didn’t try. I just kept staring at the clouds, trying to enjoy this moment, letting the anticipation of the nights to come wash over me, trying to hold it in and let it stay for as long as it would. I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew once the craving for drugs and booze hit it wouldn’t let up until I was completely out of my mind, leaving me ravaged on a murky shore, chasing, lost, and wanting more and more, until I didn’t even know what I was chasing anymore, or that I was even chasing anything in the first place. I tried to hold onto this small piece of solemn beauty that I’d chipped off from the world. I tried to make it stay. But it didn’t stay. I got agitated. I felt in my pockets for the bags of cocaine. I felt happy, but I was no longer at peace with the world and the way I was haphazardly making my weary way through it. A type of joy surged through me, but it was a different kind of joy from the one I’d had there on that park bench. It was something that ripped through you, destroyed and mangled your thoughts, took over your gut, and made you spin in a sugarcoated bath of emptiness, something that lit up the whole world with false lights and led you off to lesser-known dusty corners of the universe. There was nothing I could do. I didn’t fight it off, and decided to ride it out all the way to its last spumy swell. I motioned to Clem that we’d better get going, he jumped up like grasshopper, and we strolled off into the dying light of evening.

Our first stop was Tony Nik’s. We cut a sharp right under the decaying rusted silver of the unlit neon sign, huddled in the back at the lone table, and sat there in the dark while the spiffy cocktail waitress brought us beers on a tray. For some reason I thought of John the Baptist. I’m not sure why, but I kept expecting his head to be on that platter with the beers every time the waitress came around. Luckily, it never was. Clem and I sat there and drank our beers, and got ready to start taking turns going into the bathroom to do key-bumps of cocaine from one of the plastic bags in my pocket. I’d put the other bags in the inner pocket of my jacket, along with the bottle of pills. I didn’t want to run through that stuff too quick. I knew once Clem got a taste, once his first good drip hit, he was a hard man to stop. That guy could hoover up a whole bag before the bathroom door even closed shut behind him. I made sure to give him a very menacing stare as I surreptitiously handed him the cocaine.

“Okay Clem. Remember, we don’t want to go through this all at once here. You need to save some for later. Just a few bumps, and I want this bag back in my hand. Do not start taking your time in there, okay?”

After a few more of my stern, eyebrow-arched looks, I finally relented and let him go. He was happy as an Oscar winner running up to the podium as he headed for the bathroom behind the black curtains. I shook my head, drank off the rest of my beer, and hoped for the best.

Three or four people were sitting at the bar, and nobody was very close to where I was all the way in the back at that table in the dark. The cocktail waitress, who was not unattractive, and who knew a thing or two about style, came on over again. She had one of those smiles that’s really hard not to like, but I tried my best. I don’t like getting to chummy with servers. Maybe I don’t trust them, or feel there’s always something specious about them, something less than genuine, like they’re trying to put one over on me just because I’ve got money that they’re getting paid to help make me spend. Anyway, I tried to play it cool with her, nodding and talking in a low voice, saying, “Yeah, ah, um, I’ll get another beer here, and one for my friend, and while you’re at it some nice bourbon in a nice glass with crushed ice.” She took the empties, smiled some more, and went away. I went back to sitting there and staring off at the ceiling, and started to wonder if Clem had done something untoward in the bathroom, like snorting up the whole bag and then climbing out the window to escape my wrath. I doubted it, but it was possible. He’d done things almost as strange in the past. I couldn’t remember if there were a window in the bathroom there. It was starting to make me nervous though. That’s when I decided to take an Adderrall. I took the bottle of pills from my jacket pocket, unscrewed the top while holding it under the table, and felt around for those neat little copper-colored capsules. I took out two, slipped the bottle back in my pocket, and waited for my drinks to arrive.

As I sipped my whiskey and swallowed those pills, and relaxed a bit as I saw the bathroom door slam open and Clem stumble out—looking happier than any lark I’ve ever seen—, I thought of something that Walter Pater once said: “We need some imaginative stimulus, some not impossible ideal such as may shape vague hope, and transform it into effective desire, to carry us year after year, without disgust, through the routine-work which is so large a part of life.” That sounded about right to me. And, as I sat there pondering my glass of whisky-soaked crushed ice, with Clem back sitting at the table and slipping the bag of surprisingly full cocaine back to me, I figured that I would be having quite a bit of that old imaginative stimulus this evening. I took two Marinols out. They were such pretty little pills, dark-brown red, almost like rubies in my palm. They’d turn to mush if they weren’t kept cold enough. It would be a shame to see them lose their pretty shape. I handed one to Clem, and we swallowed them down. It was good to be alive.

With a slight spring in my step I slipped on into the bathroom, locking the door behind me. It was a single-person bathroom, which is by far my favorite type of bathroom in the world. I always feel so damn free when I’m locked inside a bathroom at a bar. It’s got something to do with feeling safe, and also outside of things, as if I am, in this isolation, separate from everything else, a true outsider, and there is an elation of being out there on my own, like I’m on the lam or invisible even, and I can do whatever the hell I want, which in this case was taking a leak and doing a few quick bumps of cocaine. I got out my keys and rattled them around until I got to my mailbox key. It was a very small key, and so was easier to dig out the cocaine with—that is, without doing something stupid like tearing a hole in the bag or spilling some on the floor. This may not make the most sense, but it’s a habit with me to use that mailbox key, and it always makes sense to me at the time. So I pried the bag open with my thumbs, dug the key in, brought it back out with a tiny hillock of white dust on the top, held it up to my nose, and sniffed really hard. I did this a few more times, and then closed the bag up, making sure to seal it tight. After finally emptying my bladder, I went over to the sink, turned it on, wet my fingers, and, while holding my head back far enough to see the ceiling, held my wet fingers up to my nose and inhaled. I’m not sure why I did this. It made me feel better though. You’ve got to keep those nasal passages well lubricated when you’re snorting all that white shit up there. At least that’s what I told myself.

Clem had a few empty shot glasses on the table when I got back. He was sitting there with his arms up on the booth, nodding his head slightly to the music, which was a mix of eighties soft rock, power ballads, and KOIT classics.

“I see you’ve kept yourself occupied while I was gone.” I sat back down and waited for the drip to hit. I looked at Clem again. He was such a putz sometimes, sitting there all nonchalant, tapping his foot on the floor and trying to look hip, his hair all wild, the collar of his button-down white shirt sticking up on one side like James Dean in that first scene of Rebel Without A Cause. He was so clueless, yet so there, so with whatever it was you happened to be existing in, going through, or just hanging around with at the time. He had this steely sort of detachment from everything, and at the same time was always part of it, always the texture that held you sort of together with your environment, like an exoskeleton made of rubber, or a slipknot tied into Time. When he was around you always felt a little more and a little less alive, or at least made you wonder less about what the difference was.

“Couldn’t wait on that shot, huh? I couldn’t’ve been in there that long.”

“Ha. Nah. We’ll get more. I was damn thirsty. Damn thirsty. You getting the drip?”

“Uh. Yeah. But…I mean, really? You drank both shots? That’s fucked up Clem. You need to start exercising some manners, some civility, some sense of…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hey. Next round's on me. Let’s blow this place. This music sucks.”

I swallowed and tasted that wonderful drip going down. It made me instantly happy. There’s really nothing like it. When that stuff first hits, when you taste that acidic gooeyness in the back of your throat, when your eyes seem to open wider than a movie screen and you feel like lifting your head up off your neck and nodding at people while winking, and you just feel fucking marvelous. It was good stuff. Maybe pure. Hell. It seemed like it. My fingers were tapping out a staccato Morse code on the table, and my mouth was twitching, and I could feel a ball of golden elation growing in my chest, expanding, this beautiful radiating splurge of adrenaline that was slowly soaking my whole being in radiant joy. I didn’t mind it at all. Not one bit. But I was craving a cigarette. Smoking a cigarette seemed like the greatest thing in the world to be doing. I downed my whisky, got out my pack of Lucky Strikes, flipped one to Clem, and told him we better best be going. I left a fiver on the table for the waitress. She was alright with me. Everything was alright with me.

We smoked outside in the growing darkness. The neon sign lit up green above us: Tony Niks. The cigarette was incredible. I could feel the smoke, every last molecule of it, slide down my esophagus and fill my lungs. It seemed to lighten me, to give me some lift, like I was a hot air balloon, and I wanted to hold it inside for as long as I could, but when I exhaled the sensation was not an unsatisfactory one either. I let it out slowly, deliberately, in a thin, succulent stream, and it was like I was blowing out all the pain, misery, and dullness from my soul. I kept smoking and staring at that neon sign up above us. The moon was up there somewhere too. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it must be there.

“We’ve got to go find the moon Clem.”

“What? The what?”

“The moon. It’s out there somewhere, and I’ve got to find out where it is. It’s like a spotlight. It’s up there.”

“You didn’t suck down those pills, did you? Come on man. Gimme some.”

“No. I mean, yes. But, that’s got nothing to do with it. Here.” I spilled out a few Percs for him.

“What are these? They uppers?”

“Just eat them you bastard. Come on. Follow me.”

I started walking south towards Columbus, smoking and feeling good. I was really enjoying that cigarette. I was sad when it burnt down to the nub and I had to grind it out on the sidewalk with my shoe. I looked at my watch. It wasn’t even seven yet—a little early to be out hunting the moon.

Danny Kay was leaning crookedly against a brick wall outside of a liquor store near The Saloon on Grant. I saw him leaning there, looking a bit tanked, waving his cigarette around like a conductor’s baton, and I yelled, “Deeeee Kaaaaaaayyy!”

He looked confused, and then he saw me and waved and screamed my name at the top of his lungs. I walked on over to him, with Clem straggling behind.

“Danny Boy. What’re you doing out here? What’s going on?”

I was talking just to talk. Words were just coming out. I didn’t have any say in what they might be.

He took a long drag on his cigarette. “Oh, I don’t know man. I’m just holding up this wall here for a while. Hey, you been to Ollie’s yet?”

I smiled at him as best I could. I’m not a good smiler. “Yeah. Made it just in the nick of time, thanks to this dumbass here.” I pointed to Clem. Clem just stood there all happy-go-lucky.

The Go-Go’s Head Over Heels came blaring from the bar across the street. Danny and Clem both jumped up and started singing. I didn’t feel like singing, so I just stood there and watched them. It was something. They were really into it, gyrating around and screaming out the chorus: “Head over heels where should I go, can’t stop myself, out of control, head over heels, no time to think, looks like the whole world’s out of sync.” They were doing this weird tap-dancing thing and were clapping their hands and playing the air piano and just basically spazzing out. It made me laugh—a little. Then the song ended.

“You guys are a couple of morons. I think you both could benefit from taking some more of this medicine here. Besides, that song doesn’t hold a fucking candle to Vacation, if you’re going to sing a Go-Go’s song.” I slipped the bag of cocaine to Danny. He gave me a knowing wink and made a motion with his shoulder for us to follow. Into the Saloon we went.

Danny was there with a few girls, whom he quickly introduced Clem and me to before making a beeline for the bathroom. The girls were pretty. Clem and I sat down next to them at the bar, me on the right of one and Clem on the left of the other. Their names were Ilene and Arlene. At least that’s what they told us. I didn’t really believe them, but I also didn’t care. What’s in a name? We were just killing time anyway. I ordered everybody a shot of Jameson. This was well received. We made a toast to nothing and drank them down.

The one next to me who called herself Ilene had black shoulder-length hair, very straight, neat, like it was combed very thoroughly down. It was one of those haircuts where the bangs and the sides seem to form a box-like frame for her pallid face. She pouted a lot. I noticed that immediately. She was a damn pouter. I ordered a beer and sat there without much to say. Arlene, the girl next to Clem was a real stick. I mean like nothing but the bones. You could probably see her ribcage, if you went through all the trouble of getting her shirt off. Anyway, she was blond, and I knew Clem hated blonds. He was probably getting antsy for Danny to come back with the cocaine. A lot of talk was going on between them though. Clem could talk to anyone. I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say to Ilene. I just sat there and stared off and drank my beer. It was a bad time to get the old clamp mouth, but I couldn’t help it. The Adderrall still hadn’t fully kicked in yet. I decided to throw a Percocet down the hatch with my next gulp of beer. I knew I’d be a better conversationalist shortly.

The music in the bar was loud, and it was hard to say much without screaming it. Ilene kept looking to her left, and seemed to be getting in the conversation with Clem and her friend. I didn’t care. I liked sitting there drinking my beer, letting the loud music wash over me, knowing that when those drugs kicked in I’d be having a great time. And, in fact, I was having a great time, just sitting there like that, pondering my unpredictable place in the scheme of things, and not really caring one way or the other about anything. I didn’t feel like getting involved in other people’s lives just then. It was okay just existing in my own little world for a while. All kinds of things were going through my head, but I didn’t care about any of them. I just let them drift by like dust in a beam of sunlight. I drank my beer, stared at the bottles behind the bar, and waited for Danny to return.

Danny sat down next to me and handed the bag of cocaine back to me. Surprisingly, there was still a good amount left. We started screaming into each other’s ears.

“Danny boy. I should’ve warned you. That shit might be uncut.”

“Really? Fuck. That’s okay. I didn’t do that much. That’s badass though. Ollie had uncut shit? That’s fucking amazing.”

“I don’t know man. We didn’t really have time to stop and chat with him about the purity of his drugs. He was in a mad hurry to get out of there.”

“Well, you guys fucking scored. You better not let Clem get a hold of it. You know how that guy is with coke.”

“Don’t worry. He’s already tested the waters, and anyway he seems rather occupied with your two lady friends over there.”

“Ha. That’s a joke. Those girls are nuts. Fucking whackos.”

“How do you know them?”

Danny just hunched his shoulders and looked baffled. “How do you know anyone? I don’t know. Here. There. Everywhere.”

I went back to my beer. The Saloon was starting to fill up with greasy ex-hippies and other assorted motley characters of San Francisco’s recent past. The bartender was friends with everyone. I kept looking at myself in the bar mirror, and trying to make my hair look better by sticking my fingers into it, pulling it up, trying to look cool, though I was anything but. Clem kept talking to the two girls. He was really making them laugh—high pitched squeals and soundless open-mouthed guffaws. Danny, with his coal-black hair slicked back from a widow’s peak and his thick black glasses sliding down the ski slope of his nose, stood leaning against the bar next to me, drinking his beer and rocking back and forth to the music. That guy was always leaning and rocking. He was a very lean and elastic guy. It seemed like he was made of rubber sometimes. He could just fold and twist and stretch out his body any which way, and it was always with some sort of inimitable rhythm, some natural pulse that just seemed to flow right along with everything, and it made you want to flow along with it, whatever it was, just so you could be a part of it, and you didn’t care where it was going, you just wanted to go. The music played and Danny rocked away and Clem made the girls laugh and my beer got empty, and then the drugs started to take hold.

I swear, I was just sitting there, and I think I’d tried to order a shot and a beer, but I could be wrong. It seemed I’d tried to order something. It was getting hard to tell for sure. The empty ache in my gut was gone. It had been replaced by a soft euphoria, like a warm wind had blown its was through my bones, and I was burning with a tingling brightness, and everything was right with the world. I couldn’t really concentrate on anything for a while. Everything seemed fuzzy, like I was looking at the world in soft focus. Nothing made sense. I tilted back on my barstool. A large hand kept me from falling over backwards.

“You okay there bud?”

It was a scratchy, deep voice—raw and gravelly. I had no idea where it was coming from. I muttered something about being alright, and I leaned on the bar and ran my fingers through my hair. I must’ve looked like Stan Laurel sitting there like that. I caught my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I was doing a lot of smiling, and some mouth twitching too. It was hard to tell if time were really going by, or if I was just stuck in the muck of a moment that wouldn’t go away. I stopped caring whether this were the case or not. My beer didn’t seem to be around anywhere near by. I felt around for it to no avail. The girls weren’t on their stools next to me, and Danny was gone too. I sat there and pondered my next move. Then I started laughing. I’m not sure what I was laughing at. It was probably nothing. Probably just some dumb joke I’d remembered. But once the laughing started it was hard to make it go. I was really starting to rollick around on my stool there, and somehow the bartender saw this as a threat of some sort, and she was in the process of having me yanked from that stool by two burly tough guys when I flailed my arms out wildly, went limp, and screamed, “I am Grendel come for your children! I will eat you alive motherfuckers!” I really started laughing after that. I’m not sure what the hell it meant. I’d just opened up my mouth and it had come out. I was really enjoying myself. The burly dudes dragged me through the bar and tossed me out into the street. I just rolled over a few times, landed in the gutter, which luckily was dry, and then lay there on my back, laughing like a lunatic, happy as happy could ever be. I looked up at the sky and saw the big old smeared milk stain of the moon. I pointed at it and screamed, “Ha! I’ve finally found you, you son of a bitch!” I laughed and laughed and laughed, and lay there like that for what could have been forever.

The Marinol was making me giddy, but I felt great, triumphant even. It seemed I could do anything. Leaping up on top of the Transamerica Pyramid didn’t seem out of the question. I got up at some point and started wandering around. I smoked some more cigarettes. I forgot about my companions. I laughed at people, thought about Epictetus and pondered the pros and cons of stoicism, tried to remember how many homeruns Homerun Baker had hit in his career, gave away a lot of cigarettes, had a smile for everyone I met, entered into wild conversations with total strangers on the street, did a lot of talking to myself as well, thanked God for the elasticity of my brain, stared at the patterns lit windows made in the tall buildings, sat on some concrete steps, pissed in an alley, and basically just had a grand old time hoofing it all over North Beach, Jackson Square, Chinatown, and the Financial District. I ended up at a bar on Market called Sutter Station, where I sat down and ordered a beer, tried to get my bearings, failed, went in the bathroom to do some more coke, and then went back to the bar and thought about trying to track down Clem and the gang.

Sutter Station is an old tavern jammed between Market And Sutter, with an entrance on each street. It’s a long narrow bar, right by the triangle-shaped corner there, and it’s got a pool table, a jukebox, and some tables with chairs, but that’s about it. That night, as usual, the bar was a disorderly mess of derelicts and drunks and cheap prostitutes and speed freaks and euro trash from the hostel next door. I didn’t feel out of place. There was an older woman sitting next to me who looked like she’d just gotten into a fight with a Christmas tree. Her face was all smashed in, but she had a few teeth left, and didn’t smell quite as bad as a dumpster. My head was clearing up some, and the coke I’d just sucked up in the bathroom was making the state of my emotional situation very grand. Elbows on the bar, rocking on my stool a bit, nodding my head and tapping my feet to a Johnny Cash song on the jukebox, I was doing alright. I put a cigarette in my ear, hoping that I’d remember to smoke it at some point. Not now though. Not yet. Just sitting there like that, taking hits from my can of PBR, loving the almost holy way things seemed to be occurring, the way they happened, and kept happening, and how I was swimming in it, free, alone, unbothered, dreamy even, and at last unfettered from my inhibitions, I was stronger than Atlas and smarter than Einstein, I was where the weather suited my clothes, I was steeped in the good, and the moral, and the beautiful, in the wonderful ways that the universe moved, and all of my moments were ecstatic and surcharged with meaning. The haggard woman sitting on the barstool next to me swiveled around, looked at me, tried to say something, made a face like a witch being strangled, and promptly vomited on the floor by my shoes. It was time to smoke that cigarette. I left a few bucks for the bartender and made my exit.

I was smoking a cigarette, leaning against a parking meter, and admiring the old buildings outside the bar, when some guy came up to me and asked me for a light. I obliged him, and he started talking to me.

“Man. I saw this girl in there. She had a face like Jay Leno, but a body like J-Lo. I mean, she was hot, but not cute at all, not pretty, but fucking hot as hell. You know?” I just kept smoking and staring at the buildings. It wasn’t such a bad way to pass the time. He kept right on talking: “Shit. I drink more whisky before noon than most people do all day. Yep. The sun gets on up over the yardarm pretty early for me. Ha.” He slapped me on the shoulder. I winced a little, and made an attempt at a laugh. He was taking really powerful drags on his cigarette, like he was trying to suck it down to the filter all at once. There was some hair on his head, but not much, and his eyes were as red as ripe apples. His shoulders and back were covered with hair though, which was pouring out from under his bright yellow tank top in thick, black, pubic-hair-like curls. He was wearing the dirtiest jeans I’ve ever seen. The layer of grime on them had its own grime on top of it. I looked down and saw that he had on sandals with socks—always a good look when you’re spending the night drinking in dive bars. I was still feeling pretty damn good about things though, and so I stood there and listened to him blather on.

“Do you know Diva’s?” I didn’t. “Oh. Man, you’ve got to go. It’s over in Polk Gulch. Me and my buddy James hit that place up last night, and man, shit, the girls there are fucking un-bee-leave-O-bull. Let me tell you, I’ve never seen so many hot and tight bods in one place like that. Shit. They were putting the cunt in country, you know what I mean?” I didn’t. “I was like walking around with my eyes popping out of my head, and something popping out of my pants too, ha!” He gave me one of those knowing winks. I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know, and I tried to move a few feet to my left, and stepped off the curb into the street, and then crossed the street and started looking at the old weathered façade of the Patrick & Co. building next door to Sutter Station, but he just kept following me and jabbering away.

After a few more of his inane stories, one of which involved him singing a karaoke rendition of Air Supply’s Making Love Out Of Nothing At All to a roomful of Japanese businessmen, I decided enough was enough, ground my cigarette out in the street, gave him a friendly wave gesture of some sort, and told him I had to be off to pastures new. I think I said farewell. It was weird. He was one jolly son of a bitch, I’ll give him that.

I walked off down Sansome and hung a right on Bush. One of my favorite buildings in all of San Francisco is right there on Bush, and I wanted to go look at it.

The Demerol must have been peaking because when I looked up at that building—which is only about twenty feet wide, and is squashed between the much larger and taller Shell and Grant buildings—the windows seemed to be bending, the bricks too, and I swear I heard it whine a few times from the doorway of the Sushi place on the bottom floor. I blinked a few times and shook my head, stood there panting by the Crown Zellerbach building across the street, trying to regain my equilibrium. I looked up again. The glazed terracotta tiles were sweating. The Shell building was flexing its brick biceps and cramping those ten slender stories even more, making the poor thin building seem to wilt, like it was being smashed by a garbage compactor. I didn’t like what I was seeing. The bowed windows were straining to keep their shape. The Grant building didn’t care. It just stood there indifferent, ominous, and stolid as a soldier in a firing squad line. Then things started shifting. Shapes became other shapes. The moon streamed back to life and mashed itself against the black belly of the sky, leaving whitish steaks of moon jelly. I didn’t care about that building so much anymore. I walked away, stepping in and out of the pools of the streetlamps’ sodium yellow light as I trod off down Battery, singing in a low whisper that damn Air Supply song that was now stuck in my head...out of nothing all, out of nothing at all.

I was right in the middle of a falsetto-voiced, “And I know the night is fading, and I know the time’s gonna fly,” when I looked up and saw a cop car parked right beside me at the curb. The cop had the window down, his arm on the door, and was looking at me. I immediately stopped singing and tried to act as normal and subdued as I could, and, at a leisurely pace, kept walking by. His voice barked out like seal with a bad sinus infection, “Hey. You! Come here.”

I acted surprise and innocent. “Me?” I pointed to my chest and looked all around.

“Yeah. You. Come here. You ever been arrested before?”

“No.” I started walking towards him, and then stopped. He motioned me to keep coming.

“Come on. All the way over here. You can do it.”

His voice was raspy and harsh and powerful. I didn’t like it, but I walked towards it. As I came up to the door he straightened up some in his seat. He didn’t look happy. I couldn’t blame him. If I were a cop I wouldn’t be happy either.

“You got ID?”

I did. I handed it to him.

“I’m not going to find anything on your record if I run this through, am I?”

I thought about it. My record? My permanent record? Well, there was that one time back in grade school when I got caught writing, “Mr. Darnell is a dickhead!” on a lunch table with a Sharpie. And maybe that time I spit on a cop in high school, and then there was that incident in Memphis on the Cruise Ship when I’d gotten drunk and mercilessly heckled the Elvis impersonator, and, well, I couldn’t think of anything too major. I’d never been in jail.

“No. I’m as clean as an unused whistle.”

“We’ll see.”

He looked at my driver’s license and did some squinting and cracking of his neck. Then he ran it through some laptop-looking thing he had on the passenger’s seat. The thing made some noise like it was working really hard, and the cop did some sniffing and a little coughing too.

“Ah. Alright. Let’s see here.” He looked at the screen and played around with the keyboard. I just stood there, waiting.

He handed my license back to me, and said, “Okay. You’re alright. I’m looking for some guy who just made a fuss at a liquor store around here. You don’t fit the description I guess. Stay out of trouble. I don’t want to run into you again later tonight.”

I thanked him and put my license back in my wallet. I don’t know why I thanked him, it just seemed like a good thing to do.

“And by the way, Air Supply sucks.”

I must have been singing louder than I’d thought. He skidded out and pulled away with his sirens blaring, speeding on through a red light at the intersection. I was glad he was gone. I went back to my peregrinations and deep thoughts.

Things were becoming less hazy. I was feeling more alive, more in touch with my surroundings. The skyscrapers were all monsters with yellow windows for teeth, and I was striding happy in the valleys between them; and then they were just massive skeleton frames: pipes, cement, glass, vents, metal and rebar all detached and just hanging there—aloft, amorphous, strange. Nothing was holding anything together. I was tottering, loose, relaxed and carefree as a surfer at a bonfire. My arms were flailing around, making all kinds gesticulations and grabbing at things, as I jumped up and slapped stop signs and the leaves of tree branches hanging out over the sidewalk. I felt like I’d gotten away with something and wanted to celebrate. Hell, maybe I had. Who knows what that stupid cop could’ve done to me? I waltzed and shimmied my way back into North Beach, trying not to sing too loud, but probably not having much luck at it.

The Transamerica was lost in thought way up there above me, and I was looking up at it, convinced I could talk the top down to where I was. I lost my patience at some point. I shouted up at it, “You’re nothing but a goddamn obelisk! Go fuck yourself!” And then walked off and headed up Columbus.

I was doing a lot of staring at streetlights and thinking a lot of things, but they didn’t matter much. The sidewalk trees were growling at me, the leaves were like teeth, and there was just something reptilian about the whole situation. I didn’t like. I started walking faster. The sidewalk was getting more crowded. Young people out bar hopping, getting hammered, shouting and acting like apes, jaywalking, high-fiving, doing fist bumps and howling high-pitched party screams into the night, chugging Redbull, and basically just making me feel miserable. I took it all in, and also, at the same time, didn’t. None of it mattered. I didn’t care about it. I felt good, walking out in the night air, going for a drunken stroll, and I wandered around Jackson Square, gazing at all the old buildings on Pacific Street, running my hands across the moldy bricks, admiring the caryatids and friezes and fretwork and other pseudo-gaudy ornamentation of about a hundred years ago, thinking about what it must have been like when this was The Barbary Coast, when Hotaling’s whisky was up and running, when you could buy a dance with a girl for a dime in a saloon, when you might’ve gotten shanghaied after drinking opium laced beer, an oubliette opening up below your barstool, everything going black. I probably wouldn’t have like it. But I liked thinking about, going down those same streets that so many others had walked along before me, when the streets had been dirt which turned to sticky mud in the rain and got all over men’s boots and pants, and I found myself wanting to lie down there on the sidewalk, maybe wander down Balance Street, the shortest street in the city, and just find a nice quiet place to lie down and think. But I got distracted by something or the other, and also was starting to crave alcohol again, so instead I picked my spirits back up by doing a few quick key bumps in the shadows of Balance, and started thinking about getting some company.

Something was ringing. It was like a chirping, some kind of electronic beeping sound, and it kept happening at short intervals. It was unstoppable. It was coming from my jacket pocket. I reached in and grabbed my phone, flipped it open, and the beeping stopped. I held it up to my ear. “Ah! Where the fuck are you? You sumbitch!” It was Clem’s voice. It was really loud. I held the phone away from my ear some and stood against a wall. I got into a really good lean, with just the back of my shoulders touching the bricks, my back arched, and my legs stiff and straight out in front of me, balancing on my heels. Clem continued, “Hey. Where the hell did you go! Ah! AH! Ah!” He went on screaming and grunting for a while.

“I’m just leaning here. I’m in an alley.”

“You’re what? What the fuck! Where the fuck are you?”

“Ah. Don’t worry about it Clem. I’m alright. I’m really fucking alright.”

I eventually found out, after much hollering and calling of names, that Clem, Danny Kay, Ilene, and Irene were at some stupid dance club on Grant. I told Clem that there was about a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d be meeting them there. He made some kind of stupid argument, which I didn’t listen to, and somehow convinced him to grab the other three and come back to my place, where we would proceed to listen to music, drink beer, and probably do a lot of cocaine. I hung up my phone. I stared at the light on the end of a swan-necked lamppost. I zipped up my jacket, cracked my neck, and headed home to the clipped thrumming sound of a helicopter circling high above.