He smelled like pot.
Sitting and smiling at me like one of those dolls in the arcade, periodically asking: “how do you feel?”
“I feel fine,” I said, and pulled the magazine’s higher up in front of my face, a paper blanket full of adventures for women’s apparel. I hardly noticed the half naked ladies for the smell of pot.
Ho, pot, I missed a lot.
It brought back memories of Berkeley, of crawling through the closed summer campus at the end of Telegraph Avenue. The shops, and there were always open shops, lining each side of the street in a circus of color.
I should’ve taken mushrooms.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“I told you, Chuck. I’m all right.”
“You mean you’re not getting off?”
“Off? No. Because I didn’t take anything,” I said, and showed him the tiny red pill I had stashed in my pocket. It rolled across the recesses of my palm.
Chuck looked disappointed, his thin lips pressed just that much tighter.
“I meant for you to take it now,” he said his hands fingering the open wounds on the arms of the chair, each bleeding its share of yellow stuff to the floor. “I wouldn’t have given it to you if I knew you wouldn’t take it.”
“I will take it,” I said, lying. I didn’t take such things anymore. Not since the old days of Nehru jackets and love beads. Not since Berkeley and the screaming paranoid of police.
“But I need you to take it now,” he said, fingering that chair some more. “I need you to trip with me. There are enough straight people on the street if I wanted them.”
I laughed, looked up from the album that I was recording.
“I’m not straight. Just busy. If you want to stuff back maybe you can find someone else.”
“It’s too late now,” Chuck mumbled, shaking his head. “I’m getting off. I can’t go out there with all those crazy people.”
He lost his head. He still smelled of pot. Now he reminded me of New York, this time, of dark cafes and fake beatniks reading poetry. Even then it surprised me how few real beatniks there were. A lot of clones looking like the of the original, following other’s people’s direction out of a need for new habit. I swallowed the rest to my coffee and sighed
“I guess you could sleep in the corner if you want,” I said.
“Can’t sleep on this stuff,” he said, his hands visibly shaking now, “too much speed in this acid.”
“Speed? Does speed make you shake?” I asked.
It had been too long for me to remember. Too hard a journey. Like walking through the desert looking for water, finding sweat, and when the sweat was gone, pain in the pores.
“Sometimes it makes you sweat,” he said, “Sometimes it makes your teeth chatter.”
“So does strychnine,” I said, remembering that bit of trivia from Army induction films. “Are you sure you know the difference?”
“Sure I know,” he said, shaking his head. It was like the noose in the back of his neck had been pulled, jerking the man around. “I know the difference.”
I turned to my record again, all too aware of the smell of pot.
“Maybe you should lie down anyway,” I said. “You don’t look well.”
“I’m all right, man. I’m just nervous. I don’t like doing this stuff alone. I don’t like upheavals in my world. You know what I mean?”
Again, I laughed. That was me talking from 10 years before, spouting my theories on LSD; upon how each trip was the door into this one specific world, each an investigation of another facet of reality. This, of course, before the advent of cutting it with speed. After the speed came strychnine, it became a world of terror, the flowers dying, to the water polluted, the people full of madness, including me.
“I’m not taking the pill,” I said. If he wanted it back, fine. If not, I’d consider taking it later. “Right now, I’ve got these tapes to record for tomorrow. Then later I’ll need sleep.”
This time Chuck nodded.
“Can’t sleep on speed,” he said, teeth chattering, shoulders shaking violently.
“Lay down,” I said, and he did, abandoning the spreading chair for a more comfortable spot of blankets and pillows on the floor in the corner.
I looked on him again after my tape was finished. He suffered through a fitful sleep, muttering something every now and then down the current low quality of drugs on the street. Again, I looked at the pill my pocket. It would be nice to go back, step into the world of flowers and bees, peace signs painted on the wall. But I was a practical man these days, full of thoughts on making my living and paying my rent. I had to be up in the morning, so back went the pill into my pocket, and turned out the light.
In the morning I woke with some regret. I could have taken the day off, given Chuck some spiritual company, given myself a blast of the past. I looked at the pill again, then the dark form of Chuck on the floor.
“Hey, hey boy!” I said. “Time to get up.”
I had to shake the boy, only to find his skin ice cold like the lizards. Cold and ever so slightly gray.
“Chuck?” I said shaking them harder. “Chuck?”
But he wouldn’t wake, couldn’t wake, for the doors of perception had closed in on him one last time, locked with a strychnine key.
After the police came, after the ambulance and strangers had gone away, I sat in the bathroom, red pill in my hand and ceremoniously flushed my past down the drain, watching it spin down into the guts of the sewer system taking with it images of dancing naked, flowers and Chuck’s gray face.