Pep. It’s an obnoxious word. Gordon associates it with fidgety, insincere beauty queens and junior aides-de-camp for sleazebag Republican congressmen. Pep is uncool. There’s no way Gordon wants to see his own pep rallied, or anyone else’s, but that’s exactly what he’s had to witness every Friday for the past three years during high school football season. Pep rallies are mandatory. Last year, the Kingsburg Vikings won the state championship in their varsity football division, going undefeated against much larger and better-funded schools. It’s because they had pep, according to their school principal—that moralizing, Reagan-loving hypocrite, Mr. Donald Witzkowski.
The odious Mr. Witzkowski has dogged Gordon ever since junior high, climbing the administrative career ladder in tandem with Gordon’s ascent through the academic ranks. There was just no stopping the guy. Shrugging off the label of Sanctimonious Fishman, Witzkowski rose from his lowly post as assistant vice-principal at Roosevelt Junior High to the far more exalted position of vice-principal at Kingsburg Joint Union High School in the same year that Gordon started classes there as a freshman. Then the school board—in what must have been a fit of collective madness—made Witzkowski the high school principal two years later when Gordon became an upperclassman.
With every liberty that Mr. Witzkowski robs from his students, with every new draconian rule he chooses to impose, the PTA just loves him more—thus proving Erich Fromm’s thesis that most people secretly wish to escape from personal freedom. What particularly sucks about the situation is that Mr. Witzkowski has it in for Gordon—and with good reason. Gordon’s interest in journalism has continued unabated (he’s now Editor-in-Chief of the high school version of The Viking Voice) and over the years he’s written numerous editorials criticizing Mr. Witzkowski’s authoritarian policies. Gordon thinks of their rivalry as friendly and fun, but Mr. Witzkowski acts as if they’re deadly foes. As a result, Gordon holds a new high school record: No other straight-A student in Kingsburg’s history has racked up more hours in detention.
Pranks have recently become part of Gordon’s arsenal in his escalating campaign against the humorless administrator. He and Jimmy stayed up past midnight devising the latest one. They assembled the materials up in the framing room at the lumberyard after closing hours. Later, under cover of darkness, Hideo “Hideous” Nakamatsu met them out in front with his jacked-up, jade green Dodge Ramcharger. Skip Sorenson and Doug the Hermaphrodite were in the cab with him. Gordon and Jimmy stowed their gear, used bungee-cords to secure a 32-foot extension ladder in the pick-up’s bed, and then the five of them cruised through the silent streets of Kingsburg, on high alert for the local cops. No one saw them as they pulled up next to the high school gymnasium and unloaded the truck. They all felt like ninjas as they executed the plan. As far as Gordon could tell, it was flawless.
Now the prank is in place. It only remains for Jimmy to set it in motion at the designated hour. Gordon would pull the cord himself, but ever since his diagnosis as a narcoleptic three years ago, he’s tried to avoid certain emotionally stressful situations—especially ones in which he might need to run.
So instead, he walks into the gymnasium for the usual Friday afternoon pep rally. But this one’s going to be different. October 29th, 1982, is a day that will live in infamy—at least for Mr. Witzkowski. Provided everything goes right.
• • • • • • • • •
Sitting high up in the gym’s bleachers, Gordon, Skip Sorenson, Hideous, and Doug the Hermaphrodite are feeling famous to each other, giddy with excitement over what’s about to transpire. They’re all misfits in their various ways, but as a group they have a kind of anti-glamour. Outcast freshman and sophomore boys sometimes look up to them, speaking of them as the Cool Nerds Club.
Skip Sorenson is the only conventionally handsome one in the bunch. He has the jutting chin, broad shoulders, and well-defined musculature of a superhero. The others feel more manly and desirable in his presence, as if Skip’s physical glory somehow lends strength to his friends as well. Skip is something of a legend at Kingsburg High. He was the star running back on the varsity football team, and seemed poised to set a new high school record for total yards rushing, until he took his first hit of acid.
It happened at a keg party on the banks of the Kings River last year, after Skip had scored the winning touchdown in a play-off game against Exeter. Skip didn’t think the LSD was having much of an effect on him until he realized he was hungry—starving, actually—and it occurred to him that a tuna sandwich would be very tasty right at that moment. Suddenly, a ferocious humming filled the night sky. Skip looked up and saw the Bumble Bee Tuna bee bouncing and buzzing through the air above the other partygoers’ heads. It had a wingspan of about thirty feet and one humongous stinger. In a friendly insectile voice, it started singing the Bumble Bee Tuna jingle:
Yum-Yum Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee Tuna.
I love Bumble Bee
Bumble Bee Tuna….
Everyone else ignored the giant bee, but Skip was excited to be meeting such a well-known celebrity spokesinsect. As the evening progressed, many more of Skip’s favorite characters from television ads and cereal boxes showed up in person, including Cap’n Crunch, Count Chocula, Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the Ty-D-Bol Man (paddling his tiny rowboat through the foamy waves in Skip’s plastic beer cup). Skip had delightful conversations with all of them. He even got a few autographs. When he came down from his high two days later, he quit the football team and swore off all other sports. Skip’s only remaining ambitions were to take more hallucinogens and learn how to pinstripe cars.
Gordon hasn’t been able to buy that Corvette he wanted back when he first hit puberty, so he won’t be sending much business Skip’s way. Narcoleptics aren’t allowed to drive. He did, however, get the growth spurt he was hoping for. Gordon is now almost six-foot-two, but he weighs only 133 pounds. He finds his own skinniness distressing. He often goes about with a jittery, haunted look on his face. His blonde hair has grown long and unruly, down past his shoulders. Errant strands of it are always falling into his face (he’s stopped using hairspray). He looks like a rock star or an underfed 18th-century poet. He might even be mistaken for a heroin addict, although he’s shunned all drugs since his experience at Dinkey Creek—despite Skip’s entreaties to see the pretty colors and meet Chef-Boy-R-Dee. These days, the only substance Gordon abuses is beer, which he drinks to excess. Everyone calls him Crash, for reasons he’d rather not dwell on.
Skinniness is a trait shared by Doug the Hermaphrodite, whose life-defining moment occurred four years earlier while he was attempting to install a CB radio antenna above his bedroom and fell off the roof. Upon hitting the ground, a four-foot section of the fiberglass antenna broke off and pierced Doug’s scrotum, erupting through the tip of his penis. The pain was akin to what General Custer must have felt on his last day of battle, only with more humiliation. No one knows whether his dick still functions; D.H., as he’s usually called, chooses to let that remain a mystery. What’s clear is that the accident left him weirdly effeminate: He has a high voice, porcelain skin, and limpid blue eyes that always seem on the verge of tears. There’s speculation that the antenna severed D.H.’s gonads before they could deliver their adolescence-inspiring jolt of testosterone. He certainly looks like a possible castrato, mooning about town with his fine chestnut hair curling up like a baby girl’s ringlets around his perpetually slackened face. He likes to wear hats, a Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker cap in particular.
No one would ever guess by looking at him that D.H. is extraordinarily intelligent (and perhaps he isn’t), but he knows more about music than just about anyone. His special area of expertise is obscure Bob Dylan covers by foreign bands. He got started on that course at the age of eight when he heard someone’s drunken mangling of “Like a Rolling Stone” in Italian (“Come Una Pietra Scalciata”) at a mafia wedding reception in Sicily (long story…). Bob Dylan is an enlightened prophet sent down to Earth to put a steadying hand on the tillers of our souls, according to D.H. And you haven’t heard the angels singing until you’ve heard “Visions of Johanna” sung in Japanese.
Hideo “Hideous” Nakamatsu thinks Bob Dylan sucks. He’s into punk rock. His parents own a thriving kiwi orchard just outside of town and even though they moved from Kyoto only three years ago and still speak Japanese around the house, Hideous—their only child—has already been assimilated into American culture. He went through a shit-kicking Lynyrd Skynyrd phase (straw cowboy hat, pearl-buttoned shirts, armadillo boots), and then he discovered The Ramones, The Dead Kennedys, and an amazing band out of Los Angeles called X. In short order, Hideous bleached his black hair half-blonde and cut it into spikes, he started wearing a dog collar, and he exchanged his cowboy clothes for slashed black jeans, Doc Martens, and a leather motorcycle jacket.
Hideous also took out a loan from his parents so he could buy his jade green Dodge Ramcharger. He turned out to be a preternaturally skilled driver. It was almost uncanny how he could thread the Ramcharger through traffic at twice the legal speed limit. But aside from breaking traffic rules, Hideous is a law-abiding citizen. He takes kung fu classes after school three times a week. He doesn’t drink, or do drugs, or even talk all that much (his English still isn’t great). Privately, he thinks he must be boring, but Crash, Skip, D.H. and James all seem to like having him around, anyway. Hideous repays their friendship by driving them wherever they want to go, which usually means taking them as a group to see schlocky drive-in movies in Fresno. His all-time favorite drive-in movie is Death Race 2000, in which Sylvester Stallone portrays a race car driver who deliberately runs over children, dogs, and little old ladies. Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon runs a close second, although he believes it could have been vastly improved with a punk rock soundtrack.
Hideous’s latest punk accouterment is a nose ring with three tiny silver balls threaded along the bottom of its loop. It makes him look fierce—or ridiculous, he’s still not sure which. He just had his septum pierced two weeks ago. Because the ring is so new, he tends to flick at it obsessively whenever he gets excited or nervous—as he is now, watching the gym fill up with over 400 students. He wonders if their prank is going to get them arrested.
The cheerleaders in their alluring green-and-gold uniforms shake their pom-poms and do a little warm-up cheer as everyone finds their seats:
“Two, four, six, eight! Who do we appreciate?”
“Joyce Carol Oates!” Gordon stands up and shouts.
“Mahatma Gandhi!” D.H. yelps, standing with him.
“Tricky Dick Nixon!” Skip shouts from a sitting position.
“Jerwo Biafah!” Hideous yells last and somewhat lamely. Jello Biafra is the lead singer of The Dead Kennedys, but Hideous sometimes has trouble pronouncing his L’s and R’s. He goes back to flicking at his nose ring again. He doesn’t realize until it’s too late that everyone in his immediate vicinity is staring at him as if he’s pulling long boogers from the depths of his nostrils.
“What happens if you get a cold, Hideous?” Skip asks him without irony.
“Yeah,” says D.H., sitting back down, “doesn’t the snot, like, get all balled up behind that thing?”
“I take out,” Hideous tells them. “Piercing is so awesome! I do scotum next.”
Skip and D.H. both grab their own crotches, aghast. “Oh, dude!” they exclaim. D.H., in particular, knows of what he speaks when he says: “That’s just sick and wrong!”
“It’s perverted,” Skip agrees.
“Plus, it’ll hurt like hell.”
“Pain not so bad, I think,” says Hideous, staring between his legs.
“Dude—” says D.H. “—if you’re so into this whole punk rock Modern Primitive shit, why don’t you just go full-out and bore a hole through your skull?”
“Why the hell should he bore a hole through his skull, D.H.?” Gordon asks, appointing himself as Hideous’s defender.
“Because these holy monk dudes up in the Himalayas have been doing it for centuries. It’s called triptophantasia—”
“Trephination,” Gordon corrects him.
“Whatever…. Supposedly the hole lets out some of your cerebrospinal fluid, so more blood goes to your brain and you feel totally high and groovy all the time. Plus, it opens up your third eye, which makes you more sensitive to electromagnetic vibrations, so you can see auras and shit.”
“You make up. Tell Hideous lie,” says Hideous.
“I’m totally telling the truth, I swear!” D.H. lifts his eyebrows to reveal his blue-eyed innocence. “I saw this show about it on PBS. It’s been going on forever. They even found these old caveman skulls in Africa with holes drilled in their foreheads.”
“Waitta second, man!” Skip cuts in. “I think I saw that show! Wasn’t that the one where those Canadian research guys had the electromagnetic motorcycle helmet? And when they strapped it on their mailman, he hallucinated that he got abducted by aliens!”
“You’re talking about Michael Persinger’s experiments,” Gordon informs Skip.
“Dude, that was it!” D.H. claps his hands in recognition.
“Man, the poor guy thought they probed all his orifices and everything!”
“You guys foo-ah shit,” says Hideous, unconvinced.
“Dude, we are so not full of shit,” D.H. says. “This show explained everything. Check this out: There’s a part of our brains that hallucinates a classic alien abduction scenario whenever it’s exposed to intense electromagnetic waves—which can happen around geological fault lines and places like that. Mostly our skulls keep us protected from normal electromagnetic shit, but then there are these sort of sky creatures—”
“Orgone monsters,” Skip fills in.
“—that live at the upper end of the electromagnetic scale.”
“So they’re invisible,” Skip says, taking over. “But they look like giant amoebas when you take pictures of ‘em with infrared film. They live up in the sky like fishes in the ocean, but sometimes they get sick and heat up—and then guess what happens?”
“What?” Hideous asks. Gordon doesn’t know the answer to that one, either.
“They look just like UFOs!” Skip and D.H. both say at once.
“You’re right, Hideous,” Gordon says. “This is total bullshit.” But he can’t keep himself from smiling. He’s glad to have such oddball friends. They make him feel less odd in comparison.
“Dude, don’t you see how it’s all connected?” D.H. says, grabbing Gordon’s wrist. “Some guy is out walking around and suddenly he bumps into an orgone monster. The electromagnetic waves are so intense that he hallucinates he’s being abducted by aliens. But the orgone monster gets kind of freaked out by the experience, too—and it goes a little nuts. That explains all the crop circles and cattle mutilations.”
“Also,” adds Skip, “sometimes a guy will accidentally breathe in a baby orgone monster—and that’s what causes spontaneous human combustion.”
“How high were you guys when you watched this PBS show?” Gordon asks them.
“I no suplized,” says Hideous, flicking his nose ring at them.
“God dang it, Hideous, that doesn’t matter!” D.H. says. “You have to bore a hole in your skull so you can see the orgone monsters and tell us what they’re up to!”
Everyone looks down toward the cheerleaders when they hear a happy voice shouting up at them: “Hey, guys! ¿Como esta?” A tiny, misshapen Mexican girl waves to them from the foot of the bleachers. She’s Isabelle “Twinker” Ramirez, the only regularly included female member of their group. Twinker is wearing a shiny margarita green spandex dress with raspberry pleats that looks like a candy wrapper covering a melted piece of milk chocolate. She’s suffered from scoliosis since early childhood. Her spine is curved like a pretzel, making her left leg eight inches shorter than the right one. Even though she has to walk with a cane and her doctors have told her she can expect to die early, she’s almost always incredibly upbeat.
“Twinker!” the guys shout.
With her rubbery-lipped grin and her big, brown sloe eyes, Twinker is a strange kind of beautiful. She tries to act just like one of the guys when she hangs out with them—drinking too much, telling dirty jokes, occasionally vomiting over the tailgate of Hideous’s pick-up—but all the guys secretly have crushes on her. Skip gallantly climbs down from the bleachers to fetch her. He cradles Twinker against his muscular chest and carries her up the steps as she kicks and squeals with laughter. When they arrive at the top, one of Twinker’s white canvas tennis shoes (the heavier one with the eight-inch platform heel) accidentally kicks D.H.’s left ear.
“Ow!” whines D.H., faking a concussion. He’s the one responsible for Isabelle’s nickname. For a while in her early teens, she was addicted to snorting speed and eating Twinkies. D.H., in a pioneering attempt at flirtation, compared her at that time to a Mexican Twinker Bird (his stoned amalgamation of “Twinkies,” the Looney Tunes character “Tweety Bird,” and his favorite slang word for a speed addict: “Tweaker”). “Twinker” has stuck with her ever since.
“Omigod! I’m so sorry, D.H.!” Twinker says as Skip sets her down. “Although you probably deserved it.”
“Me? I’m completely innocent. If I deserve to have my skull kicked in, then it sure as heck won’t hurt Hideous to have a hole bored through his.”
“Man, just give it up…” Gordon says.
“He’s already got the nose ring. He’s halfway there,” D.H. persists.
“Fock you! Maybe I put ho in you skull!” Hideous says with just a touch too much vehemence.
“Hideous! Down, boy…” commands Skip.
Hideous, in his studded dog collar, bares his teeth and growls.
Twinker looks concerned. “What are you guys trying to do, make Hideous have a lobotomy?”
“Nothing so gruesome. We just want him to watch the orgone monsters for us.”
“Are you high?”
“I wish,” D.H. answers, rubbing his ear.
The cheerleaders get everyone to stop talking by starting off the pep rally with a foot-stomping routine. They sing to the crowd and clap their gloved hands; in response, 400 pairs of feet stomp back at them, raising a huge din in the cavernous gymnasium. It sounds like a battalion of Hitler Youth marching at Nuremberg:
We are Vikings! (stomp, stomp, stomp…)
Mighty Vikings! (stomp, stomp, stomp…)
No one beats us! (stomp, stomp, stomp…)
Or defeats us! (stomp, stomp, stomp…)
And so on…. Gordon thinks there should be something in there about Valhalla and the promise of eternal carousing with perky-breasted Valkyries if the team should lose to Selma that night, but of course there isn’t anything like that. When the routine ends, the cheerleaders flip up their skirts and do the splits. As the students in the bleachers clap and cheer, Mr. Witzkowski bounds out into the center of the gym as if the applause is for him.
He’s dressed like a football coach—the big dork—wearing a pair of too-tight running shorts and a Vikings locker room T-shirt. There’s even a shiny nickel-plated whistle on a braided lanyard around his neck. Mr. Witzkowski grabs the microphone off its stand and unhooks it so he can rove the planks of the gym’s polished hardwood floor as he gives his pep talk. His green-and-gold tube socks are pulled up almost to his thighs.
“He’s so gay,” Skip says. “I mean, look at him. C’mon!”
Twinker leans over and whispers in Gordon’s ear, “I hate him so much!”
Because Twinker is unable to attend PE classes, she has to spend that time instead doing clerical work in the school’s administration office. Over the past few months she’s found out some things about Mr. Witzkowski that even Gordon didn’t know, until she told him recently. At Gordon’s suggestion, Twinker taped some of Mr. Witzkowski’s phone conversations, and now they’re using an excerpt from those tapes in the prank they’re about to put into motion. Gordon hopes Jimmy is ready.
“The Kingsburg Vikings were the undefeated state champions in their division last year,” Mr. Witzkowski shouts into the microphone, to thunderous cheers. “And they’re still undefeated this year!” More cheers. Someone even lets loose a burst off an airhorn. “We’ve got the Number One greatest football team the San Joaquin Valley has ever seen! And I don’t think it’s just because of all the free raisins our team gets to eat, although I’ll bet that helps some.”
Sunny Maid Raisins is one of the proud sponsors of team sports at Kingsburg High. Thanks to a deal that Witzkowski worked out with them, the school mascot is now a plump dancing raisin wearing a blonde wig and a horned Viking helmet. Immediately after this mascot’s debut, a new slur for the Vikings was invented at rival schools. They’re now known as “The Fighting Devil Turds.”
Get to the point, Witz, you corporate pimp, thinks Gordon.
“But if you ask me, what we really have going for us,” Mr. Witzkowski is saying, bouncing around in his ridiculous high-top tennis shoes, “what makes us special, is team spirit. That’s right! Team spirit! It doesn’t matter how many laps Coach Eskesen makes his ballplayers run, or how many push-ups they do. Well, I take that back…. It matters. I mean, they’ve put in the hard work. They’ve made some tough sacrifices. But no matter how good they are—and these boys are the best, believe you me—they wouldn’t be winning games like they do if every student at Kingsburg High wasn’t standing behind them one hundred percent. I mean it! You’re the reason for our victories, each and every one of you. You might think you’re above it all. You might be saying to yourself, ‘I’m too cool for this, man…’.” Witzkowski grimaces and pretends for a moment to be a dissatisfied beatnik. “‘This just ain’t my scene, man…’.” It’s like watching Jerry Lewis play the role of a noble Jewish doctor enduring torture in a Nazi death camp—such a hubristic performance against type that it’s flat-out creepy.
“Well, listen up, people! No one is too cool for team spirit.” Mr. Witzkowski is gearing up for his big finish. “In fact, if you don’t have team spirit, I’d say that borders on treason. It’s anti-Kingsburg! It’s even un-American! What I’m saying, basically, is: ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us!’ And what I need to hear from you right now is: Are you with us?”
There’s a fair amount of cheering and some shouts of “Yes!” Mr. Witzkowski cups a hand to his ear and shouts: “I can’t hear you!”
More cheers and shouts. The airhorn blows again. Several sophomores raise a butcher paper banner that reads: Vikings are BODACIOUS! Mr. Witzkowski takes his cue from the banner and taunts his audience by shouting: “That’s not nearly bodacious enough for me, boys and girls!”
The cheers from the bleachers recede like a wave smothering itself into foam on a sandy beach. A few catcalls creep in. The guy is just so uncool—it’s obvious even to the sophomores….
At that moment, the loping guitar and drums from the opening of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” resounds through the gym. Everyone looks up. A big battery-powered Peavey guitar amp, cranked all the way up, is mounted in the high window above the basketball scoreboard. The guts from Jimmy’s old Heath Kit Quadraphonic Stereo is running a three-minute answering machine tape on an endless loop through the speakers. And here comes Mr. Witzkowski’s voice now, dubbed on top of the Pink Floyd track (which fades into the background). It’s from a phone call to an old college friend that he made from his office a few weeks ago:
“God, I’m so sick of these deluded little creeps! All they’ve got is a halfway decent ball team, but they act like they’re all growing up to be astronauts and movie stars—when the truth is, they’re all just a bunch of dumb clodhoppers. Their education stinks and they’ll be lucky if they can make it through community college. Most of them’ll wind up driving tractors or boxing raisins for a living. But they’re too dense to see that. Jesus, they give me so much grief! Like I’m the big loser somehow…. I swear, Henry, I’ve just about had it with this hick town. I’m ready to move someplace more sophisticated, like Bakersfield.”
There’s a kind of stunned silence in the gymnasium as everyone listens to Mr. Witzkowski’s rant. At the end of it, the Pink Floyd track comes back up full blast and the whole thing starts over again. Witzkowski just stands there staring up at the amp like a mouth-breathing zombie until he remembers there’s a microphone in his hand. Trying to drown out his recorded words, he shouts: “Don’t listen to that! It was taken out of context! Janitor! Where’s the janitor? We need a ladder in here… right now!” Students are starting to laugh.
Jimmy has been outside the gym the whole time, hiding in the bushes below the high window. He’s the one who started the tape with a crude remote control transmitter. Hearing Witzkowski’s scream is his cue to deliver the coup de grace. He tugs on a long cord disappearing over the windowsill and hightails it out of there. Inside the gym, an enormous hand-painted banner made of sewn-together bed sheets unfurls down the front of the scoreboard. It reads:
The gymnasium explodes with shouts and laughter. Mr. Witzkowski has no way of stopping it. It’s out of control. Red-faced, clenching his fists, he threatens to suspend everyone in the gym, but that just makes them all laugh harder. Witzkowski’s contempt for his students is out in the open now, his hypocrisy exposed for all time. Gordon, Skip, D.H. and Hideous are slapping each other’s backs, rejoicing in their victory over tyranny. Twinker gives Gordon a kiss on the cheek that makes him tingle all over, as if he’s been sprinkled with fairy dust.
Sometimes it feels really good to confront your enemies.
• • • • • • • • •
To celebrate their victory over the evil Mr. Witzkowsky, Gordon and his friends elect to skip the football game that they told their parents they would be attending that night. Instead, they all pile under a tarp in back of Hideous’s truck (along with a case of beer and a quarter ounce of Mexican red-dirt marijuana) so Hideous can sneak them into Mooney’s Drive-In for the price of a single admission.
Mooney’s is on the outskirts of Fresno alongside Old Highway 99. As Hideous pulls up to the ticket booth, he sees the decrepit, bug-spattered marquee advertising a triple feature with a Halloween theme: Blood for Dracula, Daughters of Dracula, and Hollywood She-Wolves. An Andy Warhol gross-out, a lesbian vampire movie, and something that sounds like werewolf porn… what could be more perfect?
Once he’s inside, Hideous drives fast over the humps in the lot, dodging through speaker poles and jostling his cargo in back to show off his sense of fun. The dips are littered with broken beer bottles, used condoms, and flattened pizza boxes. Mooney’s is considered a free-zone for small-time debauchery—especially among the underaged—although police cars occasionally cruise through there. A door-mounted spotlight suddenly flares, interrupting a blow job in the backseat of the family station wagon just as a climax is being achieved in sync with one of Dario Argento’s decapitation scenes. For some, the prospect of getting caught only adds to the thrill.
Blood for Dracula is already underway as Hideous parks the truck with its tailgate facing the drive-in screen. He gets out to unhook the tarp. Jimmy and Skip give him some crap about the rough ride, while Gordon climbs out and helps Hideous extract several low-slung beach chairs from behind the cab’s bench seat. Soon everyone is seated in the bed of the pick-up, cracking open beers and adjusting blankets on their laps.
Life doesn’t get much better than this, is what they’re thinking.
Up on the screen, Udo Kier’s Count Dracula is complaining that he can only drink the blood of wirgins (as he pronounces it). Not much later, Udo finds himself sprawled on a white-tiled bathroom floor, vomiting up shocking amounts of bright red non-virgin blood. Dressed in formal eveningwear, he manages to spew with great style, spasming like an auto-asphyxiating aristocrat.
“Puking up blood always looks better when you’re wearing a tuxedo,” Twinker observes.
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time I have a massive bleeding ulcer,” D.H. says.
“Shouldn’t we be firing up a joint right about now?” asks Skip.
“Hell yeah!” says Jimmy.
Skip places the baggie of marijuana in his lap and gets out a packet of Zig-Zags. “Who sold you this lid, Crash?” he asks. “Paco or Leo?”
“Leo gave it to me for thirty bucks. Paco’s waiting on a new shipment.”
Even though he doesn’t smoke pot himself, Gordon often ends up buying it for his friends. He can almost always score weed off the Mexican guys on the lumberyard crew, usually Paco and Leo, who’ve worked there for years. Paco offers the more consistent product—tightly packed sativa buds grown on his cousin’s ranch down in Mexico (or so he claims). Leo’s pot can be more hit-or-miss. Sometimes the highs are staggering, far too intense (“Polio Weed”); other times they’re just right—even better than Paco’s pot. Every now and then there’s a batch of leafy hemp that’s just one step up from smoking dried lettuce, but in those few cases Leo has been gracious enough to provide refunds.
“Any idea what this stuff is?” Skip asks Gordon while licking the rolling paper of the first joint and applying a final twist.
“It’s supposed to be Mexican Red. Leo swears it’s really great.”
D.H. says, “I just hope it wasn’t sprayed with Paraquat.”
The Drug Enforcement Agency under the Reagan administration has been on a tear lately, spending millions of dollars to destroy marijuana crops with Paraquat, a defoliant that’s toxic to humans as well as plants. “Doesn’t it just piss you off,” says Gordon, “that our federal government’s use of Paraquat could be poisoning millions of young dope smokers like yourselves?”
“This whole ‘War On Drugs’ thing is totally screwed up,” D.H. says. “Thanks to the new laws, totally harmless small-time druggies are the fastest growing segment of the prison population.”
“Maybe the government likes it that way,” Gordon speculates. “Maybe there’s a profit to be made from supplying prisons with fresh blood.”
“So then who are the real vampires?” Jimmy asks, looking around like a spooked deer. Then he bursts out laughing. Up on the screen, Joe Dallesandro is savagely raping a teenaged virgin—ostensibly to protect her from the dark powers of Dracula.
“The truth is,” Gordon concludes, “we all have a lot more to fear from Ronald Reagan and the Moral Majority than we do from our friends the marijuana growers.”
“Fuck it,” says Skip, sticking the joint in his mouth and lighting it. “Let’s just get high and not worry so much.”
“Damn straight!” Jimmy says as Skip passes him the joint. “Gordon, you should toke up if you’re really more afraid of Reagan than you are of pot.”
“So how is that stuff?” he asks.
“Not bad,” says Skip, exhaling. “Smells a little skunky, but it tickles my lungs the right way.”
“Go ahead. Take a hit,” Jimmy says, holding the joint under Gordon’s nose.
“I don’t think so.”
“C’mon!” everyone says at once, including Hideous, who won’t even drink beer, much less smoke pot. Traitor….
“This is a classic example of peer pressure,” Gordon protests. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”
“Oh, c’mon, you puss,” Jimmy says. “Do it as a big ‘Screw You’ to Reagan.”
“Do it as a large ‘Lick My Crusty Bunghole’ to Witzkowsky,” says D.H., who has a more picturesque way with words.
“Do it for me,” Twinker says, “and I’ll shotgun it for you.”
“Woo-hoooo!” the other guys howl like maniac coyotes while thumping Gordon on the back.
Twinker takes the joint from Jimmy and inserts the burning end of it into her mouth. She leans in close to Gordon, as if to kiss him, and blows straight through to the joint’s wet twisted butt, scribbling the air with smoke. Gordon opens his mouth and Twinker directs the dense frond of smoke right down his throat. His eyes close as he breathes it in. His mouth, accidentally on purpose, grazes Twinker’s lips. For a moment, Gordon imagines he and Twinker have been transported to faraway realms together inside a magic bubble of sensuality and kindness. Then Twinker spits the joint into the palm of her hand and picks it up saying, “Wow! That was getting hot!”
“No kidding…” D.H. teases. “Crash looked like he was about ready to stick his tongue down your throat and start mauling your tits.”
“D.H., you’re such a sad, horny dreamer…” Twinker says, secretly squeezing Gordon’s hand, “I’m sure you just imagined that.”
“We’re all a bunch of sad, horny dreamers,” acknowledges D.H., “but we hate admitting it.”
That statement causes everyone to look up into the moonless sky, as if in silent prayer. Threatening black clouds have obscured all the stars. A gathering thunderstorm has turned the night upside-down. Skip breaks the silence by saying, “I don’t know about you guys, but that pot’s already climbed right on top of me.”
Afraid of getting too high, Gordon coughs out a chestful of smoke.
“Pass that little doobie over here,” says Jimmy. Twinker hands it to him. Jimmy croaks out a “Yeah, Mon…” like a contented Rastafarian, then tokes on the joint as if it’s a gigantic spliff. He passes it to D.H., who regards the burning roach with melancholy, then puts it to his lips and inhales like Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard’s Breathless.
“Hey, look!” says Jimmy, croaking at the movie screen. “Lesbians!”
“This is so great! I’m rolling another joint,” Skip says with glee.
Blood for Dracula has ended and a new movie is just starting. Two naked women caress each other on top of a large bed in a shadowy room. One of them is a brunette with ample breasts, full lips, and the dark-eyed allure of a femme fatale. The other is a pretty Scandinavian blonde who looks more girlish and vulnerable. They’re kissing each other like they’re really getting off on it. But then a shadow appears in the doorway. The two women stand up and scream as a mysterious stranger enters the room firing a gun. Blood spatters their beautiful breasts and they fall on the bed in a heap. Then a horde of vampire bats takes wing in the night sky and a title appears on the screen: Vampyres.
“Hey, I thought we were supposed to be seeing Daughters of Dracula,” D.H. complains.
“With hot girl-on-girl acción like that, who cares?”
“You’re such a hopeless poon hound, James,” Twinker tsk-tsks.
Gordon tries to be philosophical. “I guess one lesbian vampire movie is as good as the next.”
“Speaking of vampires…” says Jimmy, “how’s your mom these days?”
“Oh man…” Gordon groans, “she’s too hateful to even talk about. Did I tell you she’s fucking my uncle?”
“Your dad’s brother? No way!”
“That’s sick!” D.H. exclaims.
“I’ll bet it happens a lot more than anyone thinks,” says Skip, “although it’s definitely perverted.”
“I guess it’d be worse if it was her own brother, but still, it’s pretty disgusting,” says Gordon. “They’re acting like they plan to move in together. The other day, I was doing homework in my room and when I went out to use the john, I ran right into him. Ol’ Uncle Gerald was just sitting there on the toilet in my bathroom, buck-naked. The door was wide open. He was farting up a storm, too.”
“That’s just not right,” says Twinker.
“You know, of course, that while you were standing there smelling your uncle’s farts, his actual shit molecules were flying right up your nostrils,” D.H. says, taking the scientific view. “Your uncle’s vaporized micro-turds are probably still stuck to the alveoli in your lungs even as we speak.”
“Great,” says Gordon. “It smelled in a putrid dairy farm in there. Like a bucket of cow manure and three pounds of rotten Gorgonzola had been marinating in his anus for weeks.”
“That’s very descriptive, Crash,” Twinker says, wrinkling her nose. “Thanks for sharing.”
“So is your mom still being a nudist?” Jimmy wants to know.
“More than ever,” says Gordon. “She joined this club, the American Association of Nude Recreation, so now she goes on field trips where she can be all naked with other people. She’s even got my uncle doing it. That’s why he was bare-assed in my bathroom. He thinks walking around in front of me with his dong hanging out is just A-OK.”
“Poor little lambikins…” Twinker says, patting Gordon’s head. “When you get all growed up, you’ll have some terrible psychological scars to deal with in therapy.”
“Hey, how would you like it if your dead dad’s incredibly hairy naked brother started dating your mom?”
“I’ve seen worse,” Twinker says. And everyone believes her.
“Jesus Christ, I’m high!” exclaims Skip. “Are those the same two women who got shot earlier?” He passes around another joint, already burnt halfway down, as everyone’s attention returns to the movie screen.
The blonde and the brunette from the lesbian love scene are now somewhere out in the English countryside wearing long satin dresses and velvet capes. They’re looking quite sexy. The brunette stands by the side of the road trying to hitch a ride, while the blonde watches from a hiding place under a gnarled tree. A little blue car picks up the brunette and drives off with her to a creepy Gothic estate.
“Hey, look! It’s the same mansion they used in The Rocky Horror Picture Show!” says D.H., who knows about such things.
“It is!” Hideous seconds him. And then he sings, “I weemembah… doing the time whoap….”
“Sing it, Hideous!” Skip encourages him. But Hideous has already sung enough.
The man who offers the brunette a ride is a suave, aristocratic Englishman with a trim waistline, an aquiline nose, and starched French cuffs. He says his name is Ted. Ted looks like he races vintage sports cars for a living or spends most of his time on yachts. The brunette leads him up the steps to the mansion. They pass under the leaded glass roof of an atrium, then step inside through the gargoyle-guarded front doors. Standing in darkness at the foot of a mahogany staircase, the brunette asks: “Does this kind of thing excite you?”
“Hell yeah,” Jimmy answers for Ted.
Ted and the brunette climb the stairs and she shows him into a lavishly decorated room lit by Tiffany lamps. There’s a lot of tropical greenery and a zebra skin rug on the floor. Ted goes over to stand by an ornate marble fireplace flanked by two life-sized Balinese puppets while the brunette goes off to find some wine. He suspiciously eyes a glass shelf that displays two blue Chinese vases and a knife with a handle that appears to have been carved from a fossilized walrus penis bone. When the brunette returns with the wine, Ted asks her a few questions about herself, gets some unsatisfactory answers, and then they start making out. In no time at all, they’re in bed together, naked, and Ted is asking, between gulps of wine, “Are you sure we’re alone?… I get the strong feeling we’re not.” To put his troubled mind at ease, the brunette thrusts her spectacular breasts in Ted’s face, then turns around and fucks him cowgirl-style.
It’s a surprisingly explicit film. “Oh, baby,” moans Skip, sneaking glances at Twinker. Jimmy, D.H., and Gordon are doing the same—all of them shifting around uncomfortably beneath their blankets. Only Hideous appears to be unperturbed.
“Yes, Skip, I’m turned on, okay?” Twinker says, catching his furtive stare. “I’d let Ted stick ’is willy up me bum, any day. Those English accents really do it for me.”
“You tawdry Mexican slut!” D.H. says, attempting an English accent of his own, which comes out sounding like John Cleese from Monty Python. “You’ll have the dons of Oxford rogering you like mongrel dogs if you keep up that sort of talk.”
It does the trick. Twinker falls into D.H.’s bony arms with a swoon, gushing, “Oh, yes, D.H., roger me! Yes! Please, yes!” Then she sits up and pats him on the cheek, saying, “Nice try, amigo, but we’re still in Fresno.”
“Damn!” says D.H., slapping his baby-smooth forehead.
After having a powerful orgasm, Ted falls asleep and awakens some hours later when he hears the bedroom door opening with a creak. The brunette is asleep at his side with her eyes wide open, which Ted finds kind of creepy. He tries to get out of bed to shut the door, but he’s so spent he can barely sit up. When he wakes up the next morning, the brunette is gone and there’s a deep, bloody gash across the inside of his left elbow. Ted wonders how it got there. He finds a knife-like shard from a broken wineglass and bends over to examine its bloody edge, wrinkling his aristocratic chin like a tortoise getting an enema.
“Man, I must’ve been really fucked up last night,” Jimmy says, speaking for Ted again.
“Dude, you were soooo wasted,” Skip confirms for Ted. He lights a third joint and passes it to D.H. as a sort of a consolation prize for not getting to hump Twinker. D.H. takes a melancholic hit and says, “I’m starting to feel slightly odd….”
“Me, too,” Jimmy admits.
“Hey, is anyone else seeing a big black frame around the movie screen?” Gordon asks. The picture up there is starting to look three-dimensional to him.
“Yeah, I see it, too,” Skip says. “Cool!”
“I think I’m gonna be sick…” Twinker moans when D.H. passes the joint to her. “What kind of loco weed is this?”
“I think it might be laced with angel dust,” D.H. says, starting to sound like HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “I’ve lost all contact with my body. It’s like I’m floating in a tin can with Major Tom.”
“Ground contwoh to Maja Tom,” Hideous quips, catching the song reference. David Bowie isn’t exactly punk rock, but he’s out-there enough to be interesting.
As Skip takes the joint back from Twinker, he says, “If this is what angel dust feels like, then I like it!”
“Whoa. Dusted!” Jimmy says the word like the lead singer in a heavy metal band introducing their biggest hit at a sold-out concert. “What d’you think, Gordon?”
“How should I know? I’ve only been high one other time, and that didn’t work out so well.”
“It did for me.”
“Yeah, that was very studly of you—boning the girl I jumped off a cliff for, because I wanted her so bad.”
“If you’d wanted her that bad, I guess you shouldn’t have thrown up on her.”
“Just shut up and watch the movie, dickhead.”
Gordon is still a little sore about what happened with Francesca, even after three years. He still thinks of her as his one and only shot at true love. She just disappeared on the day after the tent episode. That unprincipled slinking dog Jimmy didn’t even try to stay in touch with her. Maybe she was embarrassed by what she’d done.
They watch Ted explore the empty mansion. There’s a stilled grandfather clock in a corner and the mounted head of a jaguar baring its fangs on the far wall near a window. The brunette is nowhere to be found. Ted decides to go outside and get back into his car. As he’s driving away, he sees a trailer parked on the grounds by a small lake. He stops in to ask for a bandage for his arm. A young English couple, camping there overnight, offers Ted coffee and a disinfectant. He thanks them for their hospitality. While he’s getting bandaged up, he asks them for the proper time, complaining that his watch has stopped. The film cuts to a broken watch on a bloody arm being pulled from the wreckage of a little blue car. Is it Ted’s? (No one’s quite sure….) Back at the trailer, as Ted gets up to leave, the young woman asks him, “Does anyone live in that house?” Ted stops in the doorway and replies: “That’s a question I asked myself earlier. And I still haven’t found an answer.”
“I just figured it out,” Gordon says. “Ted’s dead, but he doesn’t know it yet.”
“No way!” scoffs Jimmy and Skip.
“Yeah, look: It makes perfect sense,” D.H. jumps in. “Ted was the homophobic guy who shot the two lesbians at the start of the film. Then he returned to the scene of the crime, like killers always do. Ten years have gone by, but souls of the two lesbians are still there, haunting the place—only instead of ghosts, they’ve become vampires. Last night the brunette lesbian sucked Ted’s blood to get revenge. Now Ted’s dead, but the world looks pretty much the same to him—only weirder—because without knowing it he’s turned into a vampire, too.”
“What if that’s all death is?” Gordon speculates. “Just a little shift in perspective. How would we know if it happened to us? Like, what if I died when I jumped off that cliff at Dinkey Creek? How would I know? What if each time you die the world just gets more like a dream, but nothing really changes?”
“That’s so deep…” Jimmy says, mocking him.
“Maybe it’s close to the truth,” Twinker says. “But I don’t think we necessarily become vampires. Think about reincarnation. Maybe we get more psychic and soul-wise with each death—more like angels. Maybe that’s how we evolve.”
“Oh please, bitch….”
“Obviously, James, you haven’t died even once yet. But you might get the chance if you ever call me bitch again.”
“But I meant bitch in a good way.”
“Just shut up and watch the movie, dickhead.”
Ted has driven back to the mansion and spent the whole day sitting there in his car, waiting for the brunette’s return. She finally shows up after dark, getting out of a car driven by a man named Rupert. The pretty Scandinavian blonde is with them.
It occurs to Gordon that the blonde bears an uncanny resemblance to his own mother in her wedding pictures. Could Cynthia have moonlighted as a lesbian vampire actress in her freewheeling single days? No, that’s impossible…. The pot must be severely messing with his head to make him even think that.
He can’t feel anything. His consciousness seems to be floating somewhere above and behind his body. It’s like astral projection without having to fall asleep first.
A few minutes later, an old Native American man walks up to Hideous’s truck carrying a pizza box. He looks like the actor from the “Keep America Beautiful” commercial about pollution—that sensitive Indian chief who cries a single tear after he sees a river full of oil sludge, discarded Clorox bottles, and dead carp. He leans the fringed sleeves of his deerskin jacket on the edge of the pick-up next to where Gordon is sitting and he says in his whispery old Indian voice: “There was no angel dust in your smoke. That was Diviner Sage—ancient plant-spirit, wisdom teacher of the shamans. You are not your body. There’s a part of you that’s immortal. But you must go deeper into the physical, and be tempered by its onslaughts, before you reach your eternal apotheosis. So now you know…. How ‘bout some pizza?”
The old man opens the pizza box and gives Gordon a mystic slice of pepperoni with extra cheese. He offers slices to D.H. and Twinker, too. Then he pulls his hands across his solar plexus, like opening a curtain, and shows them a mystery. In a burst of brilliant white vaporous light, he disappears.
“That was weird,” says Gordon. His ears are ringing from the shaman’s words.
“That old woman was so nice to give us her pizza,” says Twinker.
“I feel like I just got off the octopus ride at the County Fair,” says D.H., scarfing down his slice, “but dang this is good.”
“Hey, where’d you guys get the pizza?” asks Skip.
“I thought an Indian shaman gave it to us, but Twinker says he was an old woman.”
“She was so sweet.”
“Did you save any for us?” Jimmy wants to know.
“We only got three slices,” D.H. says. “They came down from the sky like manna from heaven.”
“At least they weren’t handed to you by an alien,” Skip jokes.
“That, too,” D.H. says, chewing. “I don’t know why I’m so calm about it. He was this tall, bug-eyed guy. Gray skin. Real skinny. But super friendly.”
“Gordon saw an Indian,” Twinker informs everyone, as if they didn’t hear him the first time.
“I’m thinking all three of us might’ve been hallucinating,” Gordon admits.
“Going fucking batshit is more like it,” Jimmy says.
“Yeah,” D.H. says contentedly, “but the pizza’s real.”
“Smells gud,” says Hideous. “I go buy more.” Everyone digs in their pockets for money to finance the pizza trip. While Hideous waits to collect it, he says, “I saw bright wight, then pizza. I not think only haw-wucination.”
“Thanks for sticking up for us, Hideous,” Gordon says.
“I think an orgone monster might’ve just passed through here,” Skip theorizes. “Or maybe Mooney’s is sitting on a massive geological fault line and your brains just had an electromagnetic freakout.”
“I think someone here is majorly full of shit,” says Jimmy. “Maybe even more than one person.”
“Let’s just drop it,” Gordon says, not unkindly. The experience feels precious to him—like received wisdom from a vision quest—and he doesn’t want to diminish it by analyzing it to death.
“By the way, I’ve never been so high in my whole entire life. Except for that one time with acid. Okay, maybe two or three times with acid. And once on mushrooms. But I just wanted you to know that I am so fucking out of it right now….” Skip can’t seem to stop running his mouth off. Twinker reaches over and puts a finger to his lips, shushing him. Skip tenderly kisses her fingertips and she leaves them there, liking it.
While Hideous is away on his errand, everyone’s attention drifts back to the movie. Rupert and the blonde go down the stairs to visit the wine cellar, taking a wax-dripping candelabrum with them to light the way. Meanwhile, Ted and the brunette have retired to the bedroom, where they’re violently making love again. Ted has another monumental orgasm and falls back on the pillows like a spent monster. After he drops into a deep, post-coital sleep, the brunette crawls over his chest and starts licking at the bloody gash in Ted’s arm like a cat lapping up milk. Ted stirs and the brunette lewdly kisses him while he dreams, smearing his mouth with his own blood.
“Holy shit! That’s kinky…” says Jimmy.
“Don’t you think that brunette looks a little like my mom?” Skip asks him.
“Dude, your mom’s even better looking. You have the coolest mom of any of us.”
It’s true. Skip’s mother is a stunning beauty, even in her late-thirties—a sultry brunette hairdresser with a shape that’s almost a cartoon of the idealized woman. She’s also incredibly funny and sweet. Ever since she divorced Skip’s dad about six years ago, she’s devoted herself to being a stellar single mom. She never goes out with other men, she always has dinner ready at seven unless Skip says he’s going to be home late, and she generally takes care of Skip’s every need while treating him like her best friend.
How could Skip complain?
“Which do you think is worse?” Skip asks. “Having a mom like Gordon’s, who’s an ass-chewing shrew and just, in general, a total bitch on wheels? Or having a mom like mine, who smothers you with love?”
“What kind of a question is that?” asks Gordon. “Are you nuts? I’d take your mom, any day.”
Up on the screen, the brunette leaves Ted passed out in the bedroom and goes into the hallway, where she finds the blonde in a sort of fugue state, leaning against a moonlit window with blood dripping from the corners of her lips. The brunette grabs the blonde’s hands—which are covered in blood—and shakes her awake. The two of them rush into the blonde’s bedroom, where Rupert is convulsing and gurgling on top of a mattress with arterial blood spray spattering everywhere. He’s been stabbed multiple times.
“See? That’s just like something my mom would do,” says Gordon, identifying his mother with the blonde perhaps a little too strongly.
The blonde and the brunette leap onto the bed and start licking the blood from Rupert’s face and neck. It’s obscene. Orgiastic. The blood isn’t coming fast enough for them, so the brunette gets the walrus penis bone knife off the dresser and plunges it deep into Rupert’s back. His foot kicks at the iron bed railing in his final death spasms. The women slurp up more blood, nipping flesh. Then they drag Rupert’s corpse down the stairs and blithely wash all the blood off their naked bodies in a steamy lesbian shower scene.
“See? Brunettes can have fun, too,” Skip says, elbowing Gordon. “My mom has plenty—that’s for sure.” He tries to sound casual when he says: “Would you guys think it was weird if I told you my mom had been hitting on me?”
“That’s definitely weird,” Jimmy says. “But if your mom had been hitting on me, I would’ve had to bone her, no question. How’d it go for you?”
“I’m not saying anything happened,” Skip backpedals.
“Well, did she, or didn’t she? Inquiring minds want to know,” D.H. says.
“You don’t have to tell them anything, Skip,” Twinker says, a little out of breath. She looks as if she’s just been punched in the diaphragm.
“Fuck it,” Skip says. “She did, okay? My mom came on to me.”
“How’d it happen?” Gordon asks.
“I got home late from that Monty Python festival we went to around a month ago. Remember? I was kind of wasted.”
“Two cases of beer and a pint of Jack Daniel’s snuck in under our clothes. A new record for indoor movie theaters!” D.H. recalls with pride. “Good thing it was a cold night.”
“My mom was waiting up for me. She knew I’d been drinking, even though I was trying to be cool about it. She must’ve smelled it on me. When she got up from the couch she was wearing this kind of sexy black nightie and I could see her nipples right through it. I’m not saying that was bad or anything…. I mean, I’ve seen her tits before, on accident—but this was different. It was like I was seeing her the way another guy might see her.”
“And she is fox-ayyy!” Jimmy says, displaying his usual insensitivity.
“She is,” Skip says. It’s just a statement of fact. “Anyway, my mom said, ‘Skip, I’m really disappointed that you’ve been drinking. And I’m even more disappointed that you didn’t take me with you.’ Then she was like, ‘I’ve just been sitting here all alone all night, feeling really bored and horny.’ And that was when I realized she was drunk, too.”
“Oh shit,” says D.H., “what’d you do?”
“Well, the short version is: I fucked her.”
“Holy crap! You’re kidding!” D.H. shouts.
“Awesome!” Jimmy cackles.
“Jesus, Skip,” says Gordon. Twinker voices the same words with more concern.
“I fucked my own mom,” Skip says, as if he needs to repeat it. “And I’m not proud of it. But man, she was hot!”
“I guess from here on out whenever we say the word ‘motherfucker’ it’ll seem a lot more literal,” D.H. says, trying to follow along with Skip’s moods.
“So tell us about it…” Jimmy says. “Was her pussy really wet?”
“James, don’t be gross!” Twinker slaps the back of his head.
“Ow! Well, was it?”
“Let me put it this way,” Skip says. “All the sex I’ve had before was just with girls. But my mom is a real woman.”
“Well, yeah…” Gordon says, “I mean, she gave birth to you, after all. Doesn’t it bother you that you’re sticking your dick in the same hole that your head once came out of? I mean, I know your mom’s a total babe and all, but still….”
“Let me ask you something, Gordon. Have you ever been laid?”
“Does a hand job count?”
“No. How about you, D.H.?”
“My mom’s still holding out on me. I think she’s waiting until I can buy her a Porsche.”
“Okay. Ha-ha…. But look, my point is that neither of you guys have the right to be raggin’ on me. You can’t understand what I’m going through. Sex is a hugely powerful thing. And my mom is really good at it. Some nights I can’t wait to get home and rip the clothes off her.”
“Whoa!” says Jimmy. “You’re still doing it? Like what—every night?”
“Skip, this is not good,” Twinker says, her eyes shining with blinked-back tears. “It may feel good to you now, but in the long run it’s not gonna be healthy for you. I know! They say that one in three girls are sexually abused before they turn eighteen, and for boys it’s one in six. You’re being sexually abused, Skip, whether you realize it or not. Your mom should not be having sex with you.”
“Twinker,” Jimmy says, exasperated, “sometimes you can be such a damn prude.”
“No, she’s right…” Skip says, suddenly sober. “I’ve been feeling really guilty about it. I guess that’s why I told you guys. I needed to tell somebody. And I know we shouldn’t be doing it. I just don’t know how to make it stop.”
“Stop thinking with your dick, for starters,” D.H. suggests helpfully.
“Easy for you to say,” Jimmy sneers. “Do you even have one?”
“Guys! Stop it!” Twinker shouts.
“My penis has already been through enough,” D.H. sulks. “It doesn’t need to hear your insults.”
“Skip, maybe all you need to do is fall in love—only not with your mom. With someone who’s more right for you.”
“Would you know any volunteers?” Skip asks, looking at Twinker meaningfully.
“I might. We’ll talk about it later.”
“Hey, look! Ted’s about to get lucky again,” says Jimmy. “Go, Ted!”
Ted and the brunette are back in the bedroom. Ted, already naked, sips from a glass of wine as the brunette slips out of a sexy black velvet dress. He’s about to join her on the bed when he grabs his wounded arm and keels over like a polar bear stunned by a tranquilizer dart. He lies on the bed, paralyzed, while the brunette climbs on top of him and reopens the wound so she can lap up his blood. The door creaks open and the blonde enters wearing a lacey see-through nightgown. She takes a turn licking at Ted’s bloody arm. Aroused, the brunette yanks the blonde’s hair and they kiss with flickering tongues. The blonde then takes off her clothes and the two women engage in a blood-frenzied lesbian petting session on top of poor, mostly inert Ted.
“How do you usually feel right after you’ve jumped your mom’s bones, Skip?” Gordon asks him, point-blank. “Honestly.”
“Honestly? Tired, guilty, depressed, kind of pissed off that I’ve let her manipulate me again. But mostly just out of it. A lot like Ted there, I guess.”
“That’s the way my mom makes me feel, too,” says Gordon, “only she does it in a different way. She’s the Queen of the Put-Downs, always telling me I’m lazy, or I smell bad, or I look like a freak. She acts like I should give her Brownie points for being candid about having a son she hates. On top of that, she’s a nit-picky perfectionist when it comes to anything I do, like I can never be good enough, but when it’s something she has to do, she cuts herself all kinds of slack. And if anything ever goes wrong in her life, she always finds a way to blame me. Basically, she loves sapping my energy. She feeds off it.”
“Like a vampire,” says Skip, starting to get it.
“Exactly! A psychic vampire! Just being around her makes me feel drained. She’s like an emotional black hole, sucking up my life force, my will to live. Maybe that’s why the world has this fascination with vampires. We’ve all met people who do it in real life, only we’re not quite aware of it because it’s happening on a subconscious level, with energy instead of blood. Your mom does it by tricking you into sex so she can drain your youth, or whatever… and my mom does it by making me feel bad so she can feel good.”
“My mom really, really likes cunnilingus,” Skips says. “Do you think that could be another vampire thing?”
“No, Skip,” Twinker says, laughing. “That’s just a normal girl thing. Unless you think I’m a vampire, too.”
“I guess we won’t really know until you have sex with us.”
“Dream on, James.”
“Have any of you guys read Goethe’s Faust?” Gordon asks.
“Sure—twice, right after I blazed through the complete works of Shakespeare,” says Skip. “Get real, Crash.”
“Don’t drag a bunch of books into this now,” Jimmy warns him. “You were doing pretty good with the vampire stuff.”
“Books are our friends, Jimmy…. What I was just thinking about was how out of all the things Faust sees while he’s with Mephistopheles—who’s sort of the devil—what scares Faust the most is the Mothers.”
D.H. jokes, “As in the Mothers of Invention? Frank Zappa’s old band?”
“No, the Mothers as in the archetypal bitch goddesses. The ones who create all life—and sometimes destroy it.”
“Let me give you guys just one example. This is all tied together, I swear…. In the Book of Baruch, which is one of the oldest gnostic texts—as old as the Bible—there’s a story about the creation of the world that involves a goddess named Edem.”
“Eden?” Twinker’s not sure she heard right.
“Edem. It’s the Hebrew word for ‘earth.’ Eden is the word for ‘paradise.’ Close, but not quite the same. Anyway, Edem has the hots for Elohim, which is the Hebrew word for ‘god.’ So the heavenly father god and the earthly mother goddess fall in love. After a while, it’s just like they’re married. They decide to move in together and start a family, so they create paradise and make Adam, the first man. Elohim breathes spirit, or pneuma, into Adam. And Edem breathes soul, or psyche, into Adam. Then they make Eve in the same way—so all the people that come after Adam and Eve will possess both soul and spirit.”
“I always thought spirit and soul were the same deal,” says Skip.
“The gnostics differentiate. Spirit is from above, from the heavens—or from the superconscious, transpersonal Self, if you want to put it in Jungian terms. Soul is from below, from the earth or the shamanic underground—what Carl Jung called the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious.”
“Gee, I’m glad we’ve got that straight,” Jimmy says, tipping back a beer.
“Anyway…” says Gordon, ignoring him, “after creating the world and mankind, Elohim rises to the highest part of heaven to see how everything looks from up there. And what he finds when he gets there is a light that’s even brighter than the sun he’s just created. This light is the supreme force in the universe. It’s called the Good. And Elohim says to the Good, ‘Oh shit, I screwed up. I thought I was the highest god, but obviously I’m not. Now I want to stay up here in heaven, but my spirit is trapped below in all those clueless people. Let me go blow up that crappy little world, so I can get my spirit back.’ But the Good says, ‘Nothing that comes from love can be evil. You and Edem made the world out of your love and now you have to let her keep it for as long as she wants. But while you’re waiting for her to get tired of it, you can hang out with me and we’ll stay high together.’ So that’s what Elohim does. He turns his back on the world and stays with the Good in heaven.”
“I guess he didn’t love Edem that much, after all…” Twinker says.
“The feeling I got was that Elohim wanted Edem to go with him, but she decided she liked living in the suburbs better,” says Gordon.
“And what’s more important, anyway:” Jimmy asks rhetorically, “Having a wife, or hanging out with your friends?”
“Friends!” everyone shouts except Twinker.
“So then what happened?” Twinker asks Gordon, humoring him.
“Then Edem got really pissed. She felt like that flaky Elohim had ditched her. So she decided to get even. She gathered her angels around her—including the serpent, Naas—and she told them to go and incite adultery and divorce among the world’s people. Edem thought that if people felt unloved and abandoned, like she did, then the trapped spirit in them would pass those feelings directly on to Elohim. Edem also commanded the angels to torture people in every way they could think of, so Elohim would feel tortured, too—again, because of his trapped spirit.”
In later gnostic literature, the vengeful angels would become archons, the Good would become synonymous with the True God, Edem would transform into Sophia (or possibly Eve), and Elohim would turn into the nefarious demiurge—but Gordon doesn’t want to risk confusing his audience by going into all that now. He simply concludes by saying:
“So that’s why the world is such a fucked-up place. When Elohim ascended to heaven and discovered the Good, he showed the way for everyone who wanted to follow him with their own divine spirit. But because he left Edem behind, he also kick-started the whole process of evil against his spirit in the world’s people. Which brings us right back to the subject of vampires.”
“Finally!” says Jimmy.
“Vampires prey on the spirit in others. In this world—where evil prospers and good people suffer—the more spirit you have, the more likely you are to be attacked for it. And it all started with a self-pitying mother taking out her anger on her innocent sons and daughters.”
Screams and cries for mercy resound throughout the drive-in as the lesbian vampires go on a rampage, stabbing another man in their wine cellar, then slashing the throats of the young campers in the trailer. The gory devastation is relentless. By the movie’s end, everyone has been killed except Ted—who drives off in his little blue car, already dead.
• • • • • • • • •
“We have to save Skip by taking him to see Madame Sophie!”
That rallying cry comes from Jimmy. Hollywood She-Wolves turned out to be pure, hardcore porn—aspiring actresses sucking and fucking absolutely anyone so they could get a part in a movie. Skip moaned all the way through it, saying he didn’t think he’d have the will to resist his mother’s sexual advances once he got home. Jimmy’s plan is to subvert a greater evil with a lesser one. From police station rumors brought home by his father, Jimmy has heard that Madame Sophie’s palm reading parlor is a suspected front for a bordello. He reasons that if a fortune-telling whore can get Skip’s rocks off, then Skip won’t have to spend the rest of the night banging his insatiably horny mom.
Finding the place shouldn’t be a problem. Everyone knows where Madame Sophie lives. At night her name blazes across the top of a big circular sign with a finger-splayed palm in its center outlined in pink neon. The sign sits on top of a gas station pole beside a flat-roofed cinderblock house fronting the highway near downtown Selma: Madame Sophie—Fortunes Told.
So now everyone is squeezed into Hideous’s truck (a thunderstorm dumped its watery load during the first anal-penetration scene, forcing them to watch the remainder of the movie from inside the cab with the windshield wipers going). The windows are fogged with the warmth of their bodies and beery breath. Hideous turns on the defroster and pulls out of the drive-in with the comfortingly melancholy sound of tires hissing on wet asphalt. He tunes the radio to KKDJ—Fresno’s only decent rock station. After a few miles, Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” segues into Vanilla Fudge doing a live version of the old Supremes hit, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Jimmy cranks the volume and everyone starts to sing along to the spontaneously revised lyrics:
Set me free why don’t you, Mom.
Get outta my life why don’t you, Mom.
You really don’t love me.
You just keep me bangin’ on….
D.H. and Skip—woozy and off-key—especially like the parts where they get to howl along as backup singers.
They’re all thinking about how great it feels to be young and fucked-up, crushed together like stowaways on a pirate ship as Hideous hurtles them through the blustery autumn night. The glittering wet highway looks like an alien landing strip with its wall of wind-whipped oleander in the median. As they near Selma, ghostly signs of human habitation appear in the truck’s headlights: a window painted green from the light of a TV set, a white mailbox surrounded by foxtails, the reflective topaz eyes of a cat out on a front porch, hunting for mice. As they pass, everything slides back into oblivion.
No one cares how late it is. They just want to keep having fun. If this night ended up lasting forever, in their minds that would be all right.
“Take a left,” Jimmy says. “I think it’s up here, past the train tracks.”
A smaller version of Madame Sophie’s neon highway sign hangs from a lamppost up ahead, the bigger sign towering beyond it. Hideous pulls to the curb in front of the desolate-looking cinderblock house. Dusty venetian blinds are turned shut behind all the windows. There’s no grass in the front yard—only a bed of gypsum pebbles that in the rain looks like a sandbar made of rotten molars. The front door is painted a dark Chinese red, deepening toward black along the edges. The light bulb jutting from a porcelain socket above the front porch is red, too.
“Looks like nobody’s home,” D.H. says.
Jimmy says, “Who wants to go knock?”
“We should all go,” says Gordon. He can tell no one wants to do it alone.
“I wait in twuck in case you need a fast getaway,” Hideous says as everyone else gets out.
“I’m not sure this is such a great idea,” says Skip. “I mean, no one knows we’re here. We could get robbed, or kidnapped—”
“—or righteously laid,” Jimmy says. “Don’t get all pussyfied on us now, Skip.”
Jimmy runs ahead and knocks on the door. Everyone else huddles on the porch with him to get out of the rain. They can hear someone moving around inside. After a moment, the door cracks open and a dark face appraises them from behind the brass safety chain. “Hi! We’re here to get our palms read,” Jimmy blurts out.
“It’s very late.” An older woman’s voice. Gruff. No nonsense.
“I know… but we have money. And my friend here could really use some astral guidance.” Jimmy puts the emphasis on the ass in astral, causing D.H. to bite down on a short, sharp laugh. It comes out sounding like a coyote’s yelp.
Twinker puts in a good word for them. “They’re very spiritual boys,” she says.
“Okay,” the voice says. “You can come in… but leave those wet shoes outside.” Interior lights go on as the woman unhooks the door chain, revealing herself as an amazingly obese middle-aged gypsy lady with platinum blonde bobbed hair. She’s wearing a turquoise felt dress embroidered with flowers and butterflies. Her eyebrows—drawn on, inverted V’s—have been painted in the same garish turquoise hue. She looks like a slightly more feminine version of Divine—the 300-pound transvestite actor in the John Waters movie, Pink Flamingos, who was filmed in that movie’s finale gleefully eating dog shit as it was squeezed like Mr. Softy’s ice cream from a hunching mongrel’s butt.
Madame Sophie is a joke, thinks Gordon as he kicks off his tennis shoes.
He’s the first one inside. “My, my, my…” Madame Sophie says, taking Gordon’s hand. “Your father walked in right behind you. He’s here with us now. He wants you to keep an open mind, hon…. He says he died in a plane crash. And while he was with us—wait, it’s coming to me…. Oh, goodness! He’s telling me he had a tremendous whanger.”
Gordon is shocked, to say the least. How could she know that? There had been newspaper stories about the plane crash, of course, but to the best of his knowledge his own picture never accompanied them—and certainly none of them had mentioned the size of his father’s endowment. Is Madame Sophie somehow acquainted with a close family friend? What other possible explanation could there be?
“Gordon. Are you okay?” Twinker asks, coming up behind him.
“Um, yeah…” Gordon says, coming back to himself. He asks Madame Sophie, “How’d you know that?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute, love…. Gather around, children,” she says as Jimmy, Skip, and D.H. gingerly step across the maroon shag carpet, feeling meek in their stinky socks. Madame Sophie arranges everyone into a circle and stands in the center. She asks them all to join hands. “Let me explain something before we begin,” she says. “I’m a Spiritualist medium, as opposed to a plain old psychic. Basically, what that means is I don’t read minds or see into the past or future on my own. Well, not much, anyway…. Instead, what I do is talk to spirits. Now there are good spirits and bad spirits, just like there are good and bad people. I try to stick with the good ones. But I never know for sure who’ll be coming through, or what they’ll have to tell me. Just so you know, sometimes the messages can seem a little harsh, but whatever the spirits say almost always turns out to be true. For instance, I got a feeling I already rang your bells pretty loud,” Madame Sophie says, looking at Gordon. “Your father has passed over. Isn’t that right, hon?”
Gordon only nods his head. He has the queasy feeling that Madame Sophie can see straight through to his soul. He’s afraid of what she’ll find there. Her freaky turquoise eyebrows are twitching at him with compassion. To avoid her gaze, Gordon looks around at the room they’re standing in: seashell pink walls, lots of candles and crystals, statues of Saint Francis, Ganesh, and Buddha, a poster illustrating chakras in a rainbow of colors. No sign of hookers….
“Okay!” Madame Sophie suddenly claps her doughy hands. “For fifty dollars I’ll contact the spirit world for you as a group. Because right now I’m getting the feeling that your group destiny is more important than your individual destinies—at least at this point in time. Okay? So do we have a deal?”
“Fifty bucks!” Jimmy says, as if outraged by the skyrocketing cost of spiritualists.
“It’s the price of admission,” Madame Sophie says with a wink. “Astral guidance isn’t cheap.” Emphasis on the ass in astral, just as Jimmy pronounced it. She shakes her enormous blubbery hips. Not much gets past Madame Sophie, literally or figuratively.
D.H. points out that it’s only ten bucks apiece—hardly more than the price of a ticket to a zombie movie—a relative bargain if they get to talk to actual dead people.
They all pony up. Madame Sophie stuffs the money into the pockets of her ugly turquoise dress and goes into a trance. “Okay, excuse me for what I’m about to say to you, but the spirits are telling me—” she cocks her ear as if listening, eyes closed—“they’re telling me a very big change is coming for all five of you. It’s happening in the next six months. For each of you, this is an event that will change the course of your whole life. Some of you may choose to pass over at this juncture. It’s very unusual. What I’m hearing is… no, it’s not clear. Six months. A secret will be revealed. The betrayer will betray himself. The outcome will depend on every one of you. I’m sorry, but nothing more can be said.”
“Well, that was vague…” D.H. complains.
“You want something more specific? You—” Madame Sophie says, turning to D.H., her eyes still closed—“you hurt yourself in a fall. They’re telling me it wasn’t an accident. You were meant to have empathy, to know what it’s like to be both man and woman in this life. Don’t laugh!” she says as Jimmy starts snickering. “That’s how the angels are sexed. I know it seems like a burden, but in truth, it’s a great compliment.”
“I’m sorry, lady,” Jimmy says, “but if a fiberglass pole got rammed through my penis, I sure as hell wouldn’t take it as a compliment.”
“Oh, you’re the devious one, aren’t you? Everyone here has a pure heart except for you,” Madame Sophie says, wheeling on Jimmy, her voice turning masculine. “You take pride in being the smirker. The mocking one. You’re the only one who seeks to do evil, but your evil almost always turns out for the good. Your lesson in life is to discover compassion. Right now you think every person on Earth is governed by selfishness. Not true, Little One, not true….”
“This is so bogus,” Jimmy says.
“Dude, she’s got you nailed,” says Skip.
“You’re the handsome one,” Madame Sophie says, stroking Skip’s biceps like a blind woman. Her voice is womanly again, almost purring. “Without knowing how, you make women lust after you—even the ones who are wrong for you. Wait… I take that back. Especially the ones who are wrong for you. You attract the kind of woman who can only give you… how can I put this delicately? Oh, I’ll just say it! She gives you a karmic shit-kicking—okay? Let me ask you something: Are you in a relationship right now?”
“Well, kind of…” Skip squirms.
“And do you find this relationship fulfilling?”
“It’s, um, a little complicated.”
“I’ll bet it is. The spirits are telling me you’re in grave danger. The person you’re with now has been with you in several lives before this one. In many of those past lives, you hated each other.”
“That’s why the sex is so great.”
“It is? I mean, yeah, it is, but—”
“She wasn’t always your mother.”
Skip, and everyone else, is blown away.
“Now…” Madame Sophie says, “they’re telling me you came here for a purpose that’s different than just me telling you what you already know. And I don’t want you to be disappointed. So what you can do is go down that hallway behind me. Back on the right, you’ll find a little red bedroom. Go in there and do whatever you need to do. And you, dear—” pointing to Twinker—“go with him. He can’t be expected to make the right decision on his own. But your mind is clear, love. You have the purest heart I’ve seen in ages. You’ll make the right choice. You always do. Choose for him.”
“Um, okay, I guess….” says Twinker. “But I have to say, this is pretty weird.”
“You’ll understand better once you get there.”
“She doesn’t, like, have to stay for the whole show, does she?” asks Skip, feeling a wave of performance anxiety.
“Only if she wants to. Now go. Shoo! Don’t think about mommy!”
Madame Sophie watches as Skip and Twinker disappear down the dark hallway. Then she turns to Gordon, Jimmy, and D.H. and says, “Sometimes we have a nemesis that follows us from one lifetime to the next. For some people, there can even be more than one. Their purpose is to keep banging up against us, in life after life, until we both get some spiritual sense knocked into us. A nemesis’s negativity can be a far more powerful tool for learning than the pussyfied sayings of some life-fearing good person.”
“Did you just say pussyfied?” Jimmy asks her.
“That’s one of his favorite words,” Gordon tells her.
“I used it for a reason,” Madame Sophie says. “Don’t think I don’t know about the two of you.”
“What do you mean?” Jimmy asks, maintaining a look of innocence.
“You wouldn’t admit it even if I told you. You’re so contrary. But you—” she says, looking at Gordon—“you’re more of a psychic than I am. And the spirits would tell you secrets undreamed of, if you’d only pay attention.”
“How do I do that?” Gordon asks.
“Solitude and meditation. Engage the world, then retreat, like the beating of a heart. Find people to love, who love you. And stop drinking so much beer.”
“You do drink a lot of beer, Crash…” D.H. says.
“Gallons,” says Jimmy with mock-disapproval.
“Oh, and like you guys don’t?”
“Yeah, but we’re not natural-born holy monk Spiritualist dudes, like you. Did the spirits mention that he falls down a lot?” D.H. asks Madame Sophie.
“That’s just his way of going into a spiritual trance,” she says. “Until he learns to meditate, there’s gonna be a lot of that.”
“Great,” says Gordon. “Do you offer classes?”
“I could teach you, but I won’t be here long enough. I’m moving to Santa Barbara next week. I’ve had it with the damp cold and the tule fog every winter.”
“I guess with what you do, you can pretty much live anywhere.”
“That’s what I figured. So I’m taking my fat ass to the beach. Can’t you just see me in a bikini?” Madame Sophie strikes a pin-up pose—one hand on her hip, the other behind her head—and laughs as Jimmy and D.H. shudder.
She may be butt-ugly, thinks Gordon, but I like her.
From down the hallway, they all suddenly hear the muffled sounds of bedsprings squeaking and a series of steady, rising moans. Skip has apparently made his selection. A woman’s voice begins to coo and gasp: “Oh, that’s it! God. Harder. Ooh. Unhhh…. Yes. God. Yes! God! Harder!” Flesh slaps against flesh. A rhythmic thumping is added to the chorus of sounds—the bed’s headboard pounding against a wall.
“Go, Skip!” D.H. says. Gordon and Jimmy laugh a little uneasily. They’re both sporting hard-ons. Madame Sophie blatantly checks out their packages.
“A young man’s lust can be such a good thing,” she says, sighing. “It gets you into all the right kinds of trouble. I don’t know why people insist on demonizing it.”
A low, throaty grunting joins the insistent squeaks and thumping. That would be Skip. It sounds like he’s close to coming. In the next instant there’s a huge crash and the woman’s voice yells, “¡Ayeee! ¡Caramba!” Then they hear Skip groan, “Oh, God!” as the woman laughs, shrieks, and keeps laughing.
“They broke the bed,” Madame Sophie declares. “Good for them!”
There’s more thumping and crashing. It sounds like something heavy is being scraped across a cement floor. Then after a brief interlude, Skip and Twinker emerge from the darkened hallway, looking a bit disheveled. They’re holding hands and shyly grinning.
“I don’t believe it…” D.H. says.
“Twinker, that was you?”
Twinker approaches Madame Sophie, trying to look contrite. She whispers, “I’m so sorry, but we had a little accident back there. The bed somehow just… collapsed.”
“I know,” Madame Sophie says, patting her dimpled cheek. “You both fucked it to pieces. The spirits told me you would.”
“You’re not mad at us?”
“Mad? How could I be mad about something that was foretold in heaven?”
“We could pay you for it,” Skip offers.
“Don’t even think about it. That bed was never used. It was for overnight guests, but I don’t like having guests.”
“So wait…” Jimmy says, “you’re saying this place isn’t really a whorehouse?”
“A whorehouse?” Madame Sophie laughs. “Young man, I’m the only one who lives here, and who would dare? I mean, really—who would dare?”
Certainly not any of them.
• • • • • • • • •
After they leave Madame Sophie’s, Hideous drives everyone home, dropping Gordon off last. Gordon thanks Hideous for the ride, then quietly unlocks his front door and tiptoes into the den, hoping to avoid waking his mother. He still feels like he’s drunk, or stoned, or accompanied by spirits. (Hi, Dad!) Whatever he’s under the influence of, he’s certainly in no condition to deal with another lecture from his mother—or worse, a tag-team reprimand from his mother and Uncle Gerald, both of them naked. It’s hard to say you’re sorry to a pair of outraged sagging tits and a disappointed penis bobbing up and down like a foreskin-covered Slinky. Gordon knows. He’s tried.
For a split-second Gordon thinks he’s busted, but then he realizes it’s only Derek crying out for him, waking from a bad dream. He lurches down the hallway into Derek’s room and closes the door behind him, hoping his mother will remain oblivious to his little brother’s cries. She usually does. Gordon has been the one to get up at all hours of the night with Derek, from the day he came home from the hospital—feeding him, changing him, rocking him back to sleep. Cynthia’s mothering instincts haven’t improved with a second child. If anything, she’s worse.
Gordon goes over to Derek’s crib, which stands out from the shadows like a circus cage in the dim illumination from a Winnie-the-Pooh nightlight. Derek is standing up inside it clutching the top rail, bawling. At three years old, he’s just about ready for the bunk beds that Gordon built for him against the far wall, but Derek claims he likes the crib better—because it protects him from nightmares.
Not tonight, apparently. “Derek, what’s wrong?” Gordon gently picks him up.
The crying subsides as Derek wraps his arms around Gordon’s neck and feels his big brother’s hand patting him on the back. Through jerky sobs and sniffles, Derek tells him, “F-F-Farmer—uh, F-Farmer François couldn’t stop farting!”
That statement provokes another burst of bawling.
Aside from looking like a werewolf for the first three months of his life, Derek has been a fairly normal child. But there is one glaring peculiarity: He’s terrified of his own farts. Every time a burst of flatulence catches him by surprise, Derek jerks his head around and starts like a gun has just gone off. Sometimes he drops things, or cries real tears. Gordon has often entered rooms and found Derek bent over looking between his legs, wild-eyed with horror, as if a thunderbolt had just discharged in his diaper.
“Who’s Farmer François, Derek?” Gordon asks him.
Derek sobs, “He was me!”
A few odd thoughts about reincarnation occur to Gordon (it’s been that kind of a night), but he decides Derek probably isn’t ready to have that discussion, so he only says, “You must’ve been having a nightmare.”
“No! It was real!” A toddler’s sense of indignation stanches Derek’s tears.
“If it was real, then Farmer François would be here stinking up the room with us. I think you just dreamed him.”
Derek gets a thoughtful look on his three-year-old face. “I think he died,” he says.
“He farted himself to death?”
“Yep. That’s how!” Derek giggles. “He—he farted a real stinky cheese!”
“He cut the cheese and died?” Gordon’s rolling with it. “He croaked on his own butt fumes?”
“Yep!” Derek sings, “He farted a horse! He’s dead, of course!”
Unbeknownst to Gordon, from that moment on Derek will never be afraid of his farts again. In fact, like most little boys, he’ll learn to revel in them.
• • • • • • • • •
Okay, so that was my big fart breakthrough. Whoop-dee-fuckin’-doo…. I’m sure you’re all glad to know my farts won’t be scaring the shit out of me anymore. (I’ll get off this scatological kick shortly, I promise.) If it had been up to me, the whole subject never would’ve come up in the first place, but I have to admit it proves a point: Traumas from our past lives can affect us in the lives we’re living now.
Like I told you earlier, in my last incarnation I was a boring old French farmer who died from eating unpasteurized cheese. The gas pains were really incredible, like a fleet of tiny Hindenburgs exploding in my colon. I carried a memory from that past life trauma into my new life as little Derek. So understandably, I had a phobia about farts. On an unconscious level I was thinking, Farting = Death. But then Gordon helped me remember that it was my prior self, as Farmer François, who died doing the Death Fart Dance and not the current me. All of a sudden, horrendous farting seemed kind of funny instead of threatening, and the phobia went away. Still, I’ll never be all that big on eating cheese. And as for Brie or anything else that looks like congealed snot inside a furry white pancake—just forget it. There’s no way.
Making past life memories conscious not only helps you get over weird phobias—it also helps you recover old talents and skills. Like, say you were really great at playing the piano in a past life. In your new life you could be a prodigy. In fact, almost all child prodigies are just picking up where they left off in a previous life, with a little hitch as they get used to their fresh young bodies. The greatest talents adapt to the changing times and make what was old seem new again—Mozart reincarnated as Jimi Hendrix.
My former talent for milking cows isn’t going to help me much in this coming life. Neither are the nautical skills I picked up as a deckhand on an 1830’s whaling schooner. (But there lies another phobia for me to get past: I won’t be too keen on deep-sea fishing anytime soon because, as my three-year-old self remembers, Sharks will bite your butt off!) What I really have going for me are my past life experiences with Gordon. We’ll be counting on each other for a lot in this segment of the Earth Adventure Series, so it’s nice to know we have all that shared history. It makes communicating much easier. Already, it’s almost as if we can read each other’s thoughts. Of course, we don’t even come close to the telepathy everyone has on the Other Side—but we’re doing pretty good by earthly standards.
A crude sort of telepathy is easy when you’re three. At that age the line is still blurred between magical thinking and rationality—there’s very little sense of what you can or can’t do. At the same time, memories of your past lives and the Other Side are still as vivid as they’ll ever be, outside of death or the womb. Soon, however, the money-grubbing, warmongering, materialistic world that we live in will try to shackle you to its collective delusions about what is and isn’t possible—and then the doubting of your spiritual existence begins.
To transcend the constraints of the soul-squelching status quo, you need to cultivate what John Keats, in a letter to his brothers in 1817, called Negative Capability: “…when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”
Keats knew what he was talking about. He had one of the all-time great daimons on his side. His life showed all the hallmarks. He was born in obscurity (his parents owned and operated a horse stable). He was acquainted with death from an early age (a brother died in infancy, his father died after being thrown from a horse when Keats was only ten, his mother succumbed to tuberculosis four years later, as did his brother, Tom, four years after that). He suffered from a terminal disease (tuberculosis again—first choice among daimons for communicating with their 19th-century charges—along with a dash of gonorrhea). His greatest work was accomplished in the last years of his life (he died at twenty-five) while his health was inexorably deteriorating. In fact, three of his most famous poems (“Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Ode on Melancholy”) were written in just over a week—a feat unequalled until 1969, when Neil Young wrote “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” in one afternoon while he was knocked out with the flu. (Just so you know, I didn’t draw that comparison to make you think that Keats actually came back as Neil Young—but hey, stranger rebirths have happened.)
Anyway, getting back to Negative Capability… Keats explained it as the ability to be open to mystery, to experience it, without having to find logical explanations for that mystery’s existence. Some things, like love, can never be fully explained. And how about truth, beauty, God, or the spirit’s immortality? You get the idea….
It’s kind of like the Zen doctrine of No Mind. You have to still the mind’s constant chatter and in its place create a receptive emptiness. All of your certainties, preconceived notions, fixed concepts, and strongly held opinions have to go by the wayside. Forget about the laws of science, the conventional wisdom passed on to you by your parents, and whatever you were taught in Sunday School. Take some time to be open to the mystery, The Way, gnostic insight, your soul’s prompting—whatever you want to call it. Just don’t try to explain it. Live with it. Be it. See where it takes you.
I mean, what else is there, in any average, ordinary, mundane life as it’s lived on this planet, aside from the exhilaration that comes from reconnecting with the Divine?
As you become more adept at entering the state of Negative Capability, you may find yourself right in the thick of weirdness. Synchronicities could become commonplace. You might find you have the ability to see ghosts and spirits. Spirits from the Other Side will certainly become more interested in seeing you. Negative Capability allows them to communicate with you, if you’re willing. But take it from Gordon, it’s a real trick to keep your mind from that “irritable reaching after fact & reason” when a numinous shaman has just handed you the meaning of life along with a slice of pepperoni pizza.
That shaman was Gordon’s daimon, by the way, turning up for a rare personal appearance. Since daimons don’t actually assume physical form, what everyone saw was filtered through their own subconscious perceptions of what a wise entity like a daimon might look like. So Gordon saw a shaman, because like any halfway good teenage mystic scholar he’s been reading Carlos Castaneda and Mircea Eliade. Twinker saw an old woman because in her family the wisest person around is her maternal grandmother. And D.H. saw an alien because… well, because he’s D.H. and that’s just how his whacked-out mind operates. Jimmy and Skip didn’t see anything at all because they weren’t on the same soul-wavelength; to use Madame Sophie’s Sufi-derived terminology, “their hearts weren’t pure enough.”
Because it was Gordon’s daimon, only Gordon was able to hear what the daimon had to say. But even that was filtered through the language of Don Juan and those other mushroom-munching, peyote-puking sorcerer-types: “There’s a part of you that’s immortal. But you must go deeper into the physical, and be tempered by its onslaughts, before you reach your eternal apotheosis.”
Well, duh…. We don’t incarnate in these crap-ass human bodies because we actually enjoy being terrified babies who think they’re about to die a horrible death every time they launch a fart. (I’m sorry… I guess I’m getting a little too personal here, but being stuck inside a toddler’s body is reminding me of just how much life can really suck. Things will be better when I’m old enough to eat barbecued iguanas and make myself sick on peyote buttons, like Castaneda’s buddies.)
Compared to the Other Side, material existence is a nightmare. Sometimes life on Earth can feel like running through a haunted house with your hair on fire. At other times it can feel like you’re being ground down to nothing with triviality, boredom, and bullshit problems. (And who came up with the brilliant idea that we should all have to work for a living, anyway? Right after I turn ten, I’ll be pissing away the glorious summers of my youth by spending eight hours a day counting nuts and bolts in a hardware store. How stupid is that?) But the truth is we wouldn’t be here if life didn’t have lessons to teach us. Lessons that can’t be learned on the Other Side, for whatever reason. Lessons about love. Lessons about loss. Lessons about power, guilt, anger, betrayal, and fear. And you can read all you want about those lessons, and listen to other people tell stories about them, but if you’re truly going to understand those lessons on a deep soul level, you’ll have to go through them yourself. There’s no other way. You have to experience them.
Keats put it this way: “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced—Even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it.”
So like I said, we map out all the major events in our upcoming lives on Earth before we come down here, signing up in advance for the sometimes harsh lessons our souls need to learn through physical experience. Destiny is the name for what we’ve chosen to do in life. Daimons kick our asses to make sure we do it—sometimes literally. By now you’ve probably figured out that Gordon’s daimon was that ass-kicking Easter Bunny. But even I don’t know why Gordon had to get rabbit-punched straight into the hospital way back then. Daimons work in mysterious ways, like that other guy (“Old Nobodaddy,” William Blake called him). All I can say is it’s a rough business, perfecting the human soul.
And just what exactly is a soul, anyway? Here’s the way I understand it, if you really need an answer. Basically, while we’re on the Other Side—or up in heaven, if you’re more comfortable with that term—we exist as pure spirit. That’s the part of us that never dies, our True Self, which will eventually merge with its creator (otherwise known as God, Allah, the Good, the One, or whatever…). But before that ultimate merger can take place, every spirit has to graduate from Earth School, which is kind of the spiritual equivalent of boot camp. Earth School is in session when a spirit gets together with a daimon and/or a bunch of guardian angels to chart another life on Earth and incarnate as a soul in a physical body. The soul—or astral body, as the Tibetans like to call it—is the sum total of our conscious and subconscious thoughts and emotions that are oriented toward the realm of the spirit (the ego, or False Self, is whatever’s leftover, oriented toward the body and the realm of matter). The soul exists as a body just as real as any physical body, although it’s less dense because it’s on a higher frequency or vibratory level (I’m sorry, but the analogies get fuzzy here…) in the cosmic continuum between matter and spirit.
Think of it this way: A spirit stays in heaven; a body is stuck on Earth. A soul can travel from Earth up to heaven (how high it goes depends on its level of perfection); and a daimon (as an emissary of the Light) can travel from heaven down to Earth. The various levels between heaven and Earth are what the Tibetan Buddhists call the Bardo (The Land of Dreams) and that’s where daimons and souls usually meet. Advanced souls stay in contact with their spirits through the agency of a daimon—the soul’s mentor.
Each time we incarnate we add to our personal version of the Bardo (Bardo translates as “gap”), filling it up with the things and beings from our everyday existence, along with a random sampling of gods and archetypes from the collective unconscious and some of the flashier junk from our previous lives. The Bardo of a Manhattan real estate agent named Rupert, for example, won’t look anything like the Bardo described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead—although I guess you can never completely discount the possibility of bleed-over. On a bad night ´Svânamukhâ (dark blue, wolf-headed, carrying a human corpse to her mouth with both hands, her eyes staring) might very well emerge from within Rupert’s brain and appear before him to trash an Upper East Side co-op right as he’s about to close on it.
There’s a point to all this, I can assure you. When a physical body dies, the soul finds out that its consciousness, as a soul, still exists—which usually comes as a big surprise. At the moment of death, the soul ascends through a gently inclined tunnel of light and is met on the Other Side by its own spirit, which appears as a luminous being, or more simply, the Light. If the soul has learned everything it needs to know from its time spent on Earth, then it merges with the Light in full consciousness. We’re talking unity with the Divine here. Transfiguration. Earth School is over.
But what’s more likely to happen, instead of merging, is that the soul just gets a glimpse of its own spirit, then rolls over and falls asleep. That sounds pathetic, I know, but most souls haven’t consciously developed their skills at astral travel, so it’s hard for them to control anything once they’ve left their bodies. When they wake up again, they find themselves in the Bardo. And once souls end up there, they tend to get distracted by something-or-other in the Bardo’s never-ending freakshow (dancing girls, a really cool mansion, ´Svânamukhâ gnawing on grandma—it could be anything, really…). For a while, they forget about the Light. The Bardo is made of mental and emotional stuff, just like the astral body, and it has many entertaining and informative levels—with the human virtues up near the top (picture the life of Christ) and human evil down near the bottom (think Hitler). Each soul in the Bardo rises or falls through the varying densities until it finds its own level, where it stays until it gets bored and says something like, “This sucks. I want to go back to the Light.” At that time, the soul dies and its spirit absorbs whatever experiences the soul had that fit into the scheme of heaven. (In this way the soul is kind of like that little black box recorder that the FAA guys always search for every time a jet crashes. It records everything right up until the final moment when our bodies crash. And they all crash—there’s no use trying to deny that.)
After the soul dies, the spirit takes some time to mull over the soul’s experiences, and then the whole process starts over. Chart, daimon, a new incarnation—done time and time again until the soul finally gets it right. It can take hundreds of lifetimes (or maybe even thousands—or millions—for all I know…). A soul rises through the Bardo as it achieves greater consciousness and compassion. But at the end of each successive lifetime, a soul doesn’t always rise higher. Choices made in one lifetime can have a positive or negative impact on the next. As a general rule, whenever you get something that pleases your ego, you’ve usually traded away something that’s important to your soul. That’s just Basic Karma. But don’t sweat trying to be perfect. Half the answers you need are already there in your mistakes. If you want to learn more, you can always sign up for Karma 101.
Obviously, Keats had just had a refresher course when his daimon inspired him to write: “Call the world if you Please ‘The vale of Soul-making’. Then you will find out the use of the world.”
That about sums it up exactly, only you should try to remember: We’re the makers of our own souls.