“Hold it,” I said. Sylvia laughed.
“Turnabout is fair play,” I said. “I promised to tell you about my sex life. In all actuality, there isn’t very much to tell about, unless you read palms. However, there is one little story which you might find interesting.”
Sarah Pasterne yawned, and I felt a sudden, excruciating urge to blow her head off. But number two must try harder, as they say in the rent-a-car ads. Some cats drive faster, but Decker vacuums all the psychic cigarette butts from the ashtrays of your mind.
I was suddenly reminded of that Beatles song that starts off: “I read the news today, oh boy . . . ”
I told them:
In the summer before my junior year at Placerville, Joe and I drove up to Bangor to spend a weekend with Joe’s brother, who had a summer job working for the Bangor Sanitation Department. Pete McKennedy was twenty-one (a fantastic age, it seemed to me; I was struggling through the open sewer that is seventeen) and going to the University of Maine, where he was majoring in English.
It looked like it was going to be a great weekend. On Friday night I got drunk for the first time in my life, along with Pete and Joe and one or two of Pete’s friends, and I wasn’t even very hungover the next day.
Pete didn’t work Saturdays, so he took us up to the campus and showed us around. It’s really very pretty up there in summer, although on a Saturday in July there weren’t many pretty coeds to look at. Pete told
us that most of the summer students took off for Bar Harbor or Clear Lake on weekends.
We were just getting ready to go back to Pete’s place when he saw a guy he knew slouching down toward the steam-plant parking lot.
“Scragg!” He yelled. “Hey, Scragg!”
Scragg was a big guy wearing paint-splattered, faded jeans and a blue workshirt. He had a drooping sand-colored mustache and was smoking an evil-looking little black cigar that he later identified as the Original Smoky Perote. It smelled like slowly burning underwear.
“How’s it hanging?” He asked.
“Up a foot,” Pete said. “This is my brother, Joe, and his buddy Charlie Decker,” he introduced. “Scragg Simpson. ”
“Howdy-doody,” Scragg said, shaking hands and dismissing us. “What you doing tonight, Peter?”
“Thought the three of us might go to a movie. ”
“Doan do that, Pete,” Scragg said with a grin. “Doan do that, baby.”
“What’s better?” Pete asked, also grinning.
“Dana Collette’s throwing a party at this camp her folks own out near Schoodic Point. There’s gonna be about forty million unattached ladies there. Bring dope. ”
“Does Larry Moeller have any grass?” Pete asked.
“Last I knew, he had a shitload. Foreign, domestic, local . . . everything but filter tips. ”
Pete nodded. “We’ll be there, unless the creek rises.”
Scragg nodded and waved a hand as he prepared to resume his version of that ever-popular form of campus locomotion, the Undergraduate Slouch. “Meet-cha,” he said to Joe and me.
We went down to see Jerry Mueller, who Pete said was the biggest dope dealer in the Orono-Oldtown-Stillwater triangle. I kept my cool about it, as if I were one of the original Placerville Jones men, but privately I was excited and pretty appre-hensive. As I remember it, I sort of expected to see Jerry sitting naked on the john with a piece of rubber flex tied off below his elbow and a hypo dangling from the big forearm vein. And watching the rise and fall of ancient Atlantis in his navel.
He had a small apartment in Oldtown, which borders the campus on one side. Oldtown is a small city with three distinctions: its paper mill; its canoe factory; and twelve of the roughest honky-tonks in this great smiling country. It also has an encampment of real reservation Indians, and most of them look at you as if wondering how much hair you might have growing out of your asshole and whether or not it would be worth scalping.
Jerry turned out to be not an ominous Jones-man type holding court amid the reek of incense and Ravi Shankar music, but a small guy with a constant wedge–of-lemon grin. He was fully clothed and in his right mind. His only ornament was a bright yellow button which bore the message GOLDILOCKS
LOVED IT. Instead of Ravi and His Incredible Boinging Sitar, he had a large collection of bluegrass mu-sic. When I saw his Greenbriar Boys albums, I asked him if he’d ever heard the Tarr Brothers-I’ve always been a country-and-bluegrass nut. After that, we were off. Pete and Joe just sat around looking bored until Jerry produced what looked like a small cigarette wrapped in brown paper.
“You want to light it?” he asked Pete.
Pete lit it. The smell was pungent, almost tart, and very pleasant. He drew it deep, held the smoke, and passed the j on to Joe, who coughed most of it out.
Jerry turned back to me. “You ever heard the Clinch Mountain Boys?”
I shook my head. “Heard of them, though.”
“You gotta listen to this,” he said. “Boy, is it horny.” He put an LP with a weird label on the stereo. The j came around to me. “You smoke cigarettes?” Jerry asked me paternally.
I shook my head.
“Then draw slow, or you’ll lose it.”
I drew slow. The smoke was sweet, rather heavy, acrid, dry. I held my breath and passed the j on to Jerry. The Clinch Mountain Boys started in on “Blue Ridge Breakdown. ”
Half an hour later we had progressed through two more joints and were listening to Flatt and Scruggs charge through a little number called “Russian Around. ” I was about ready to ask when I should start feeling stoned when I realized I could actually visualize the banjo chords in my mind. They were bright, like long.steel threads, and shuttling back and forth like looms. They were moving rapidly, but I could follow them if I concentrated deeply. I tried to tell Joe about it, but he only looked at me in a puzzled, fuzzy way. We both laughed. Pete was looking at a picture of Niagara Falls on the wall very closely.
We ended up sticking around until almost five o’clock, and when we left, I was wrecked out of my mind.
Pete bought an ounce of grass from Jerry, and we took off for Schoodic. Jerry stood in the doorway of his apartment and waved good-bye and yelled for me to come back and bring some of my records.
That’s the last really happy time I can remember.
It was a long drive down to the coast. All three of us were still very high, and although Pete had no trouble driving, none of us could seem to talk without getting the giggles. I remember asking Pete once what this Dana Collette who was throw-ing the party looked like, and he just leered. That made me laugh until I thought my stomach was going to explode. I could still hear bluegrass playing in my head.
Pete had been to a party out there in the spring, and we only took one wrong turn finding it. It was at the end of a narrow mile of gravel marked PRIVATE ROAD. You could hear the heavy bass signature of the music a quarter-mile from the cabin. There were so many cars stacked up that we had to walk from just about that point.
Pete parked and we got out. I was starting to feel unsure of myself and self–conscious again (partly the residue of the pot and partly just me), worried about how young and stupid I would probably look to all these college people. Jerry Mueller had to be one in a hundred. I decided I would just stick close to Joe and keep my mouth closed.
As it turned out, I could have saved the worry. The place was packed to the rafters with what seemed like a million people, every one of them drunk, stoned, or both. The smell of marijuana hung on the air like a heavy mist, along with wine and hot hods. The place was a babble of conversation, loud rock music, and laugh-ter. There were two lights dangling from the ceiling, one red, one blue. That rounds off the first impression the place gave me-it was like the funhouse at Old Orchard Beach.
Scragg waved at us from across the room.
“Pete!”someone squealed, almost in my ear. I jerked and almost swallowed my tongue.
It was a short, almost pretty girl with bleached hair and the shortest dress I have ever seen-it was a bright fluorescent orange that looked almost alive in the weird lighting.
“Hi, Dana! ” Pete shouted over the noise. “This is my brother, Joe, and one of his buddies, Charlie Decker. “