by Arnold Snyder
The ride to Lulu’s loft was more eventful than I would have wanted it to be. The smell of her patchouli oil perfume was so strong I had to open my window. We hadn’t gone two blocks when she pulled out a joint, lit it, and passed it to me. I didn’t take it.
“You can’t smoke in my car,” I said, wondering how she could crush it out. My car didn’t have an ashtray. “Can you put it out, please?” I said.
She took a huge drag on it then flicked it out the window. “Out,” she said.
Wasteful. Smelled like dynamite weed.
We hadn’t gone another two blocks when I saw the flashing blue and red lights in my rearview mirror. Jesus Christ. Just what I need. Second fucking time today. Now the car reeks of marijuana.
“Are you holding?” I asked her.
“Holding? You mean …?” She pulled a baggie of grass out of her purse. “I’ve got some X too,” she said.
“X? That’s poison! Jesus Christ. Put the dope back in your bag. And let me do the talking.”
I pulled over and stopped the car. This could be big trouble. I had to find out if this was a real cop or just another hallucination.
I rolled down my window.
“License and registration.”
“Officer, I could use a few moments to think about how I should handle this situation. Could you just return to your car and wait until I call you back?”
He said nothing and walked back to his car. He got in and closed the door.
Not a real cop.
“Gone,” I said under my breath, and those flashing lights disappeared along with all evidence of the cop and his car.
I started my engine and pulled back into the traffic.
We had been rolling for a half-mile or so when Lulu said, “Did that just happen, or am I tripping?”
“Did what just happen?”
“Were you just pulled over by the police?”
Her asking me that question was distressing. If the cop had been my hallucination, then she wouldn’t have witnessed it and she wouldn’t be asking that question. But, then, she saw me talking and heard me say “Officer” …
“What exactly did you see?” I said.
“Oh my God, this is amazing. I just hallucinated this whole scene with you getting pulled over by a policeman. It was unreal. And then you said ‘gone’ and he just disappeared. Like poof! He was gone! I am so fucking stoned.”
Now, if she’d witnessed that, then she must be another of my hallucinations, since I know that could not actually have happened. Or, it’s possible Lulu’s real but that I hallucinated her saying what she’d just said. Maybe she was talking about something else …
Get rid of her fast. This can only get worse. Stop all interaction.
Then again, it could be that Lulu’s a real person and can see my miracles because she’s on acid. That happened all the time in the 60s. If there was a group of us tripping together, we’d often see the same hallucinations. I saw it happen over and over again. That must be the explanation.
“Turn right at the next street,” she said. “My loft is in the big gray building in the middle of the block. Left side. You can park in that lot next to it.”
Now I’m sure I could make out with her. If I just act mildly romantic, she’ll melt. I wanted her mouth. I wanted my mouth on her mouth. I wanted her mouth on me.
But she’s a crazy person. Stop! You’re going to get yourself locked up.
I pulled into the lot beside her building, stopped the car, kept the engine running.
“I don’t have time to come up now,” I said. “But we’ll keep in touch.”
At last! Sanity!
“No! You can’t leave me like this!” She looked stricken.
“But, Lulu …”
“I’m so fucking stoned. I need you to talk to me, keep me grounded in reality. Please … you have to stay with me.”
“But Lulu …” She wants me to keep her grounded in reality? Ha!
“I’ll make some green tea,” she said. “You have to come up for a cup of tea.”
Don’t do it. Tell her something poetic. You have miles to go before you sleep. End this now!
“Just one cup,” I said, unfastening my seatbelt. I liked green tea.
Lulu’s loft was in the large attic of a dilapidated three-story apartment house. There was a small octagonal attic window from which a streetlight was bringing a small amount of light into the room, but there were no other windows. It was very dark in there until she pulled the chain on one of the bare bulbs hanging from a roof beam.
The light sent a million cockroaches scurrying. They were on the floor, the walls, the tables that were scattered around, piled with papers and books and clothing and shoes and dishes and eating utensils and tools. A hammer. A pair of scissors. An old 8-track cartridge.
“I’d like you to meet my family,” she said, as we stood there together watching the roaches disappear into the walls and floorboards. “They’re very shy.”
Get out! She’s crazy. This is wrong. Something bad will happen if you don’t get out.
“I’ll make the tea,” she said, turning. “Come to the kitchen.”
I followed her to the kitchen, which was not a separate room but the area in the front corner of the attic where an electric hot plate was sitting on the raw wood floor. The hot plate was plugged into an adaptor that was screwed into a light fixture that was dangling from the ceiling. A kettle was sitting on the burner. She sat down on the floor cross-legged in front of it and turned it on.
I sat down next to her.
“Tell me about making history,” she said.
“You were a hippie. You made history.”
“We weren’t supposed to make history. We were supposed to change history. We failed. I failed. LSD failed.”
“Why are you looking at my mouth?”
“Is my lipstick smeared?”
“No. I just find your mouth … beautiful.”
Stop this now. Get the fuck out. What if she’s not real? Get back to your car and drive back to Dave’s.
“Look at my eyes,” she said, finally taking off her sunglasses and turning to face me.
I loved her eyes. I could get lost in her eyes. I saw her naked in her eyes. I wanted to see her naked.
It occurred to me that I could entertain her with a miracle. Just a small miracle. Just to make her ooh and ah.
Are you out of your fucking mind? You want to entertain your hallucinations? You’re trying to put the make on a mirage?
“I’ll tell you a secret,” I said. “Something that longtime acidheads know, but most people don’t.”
“Yes,” she said. “I want to learn.”
“Are you seeing the patterns on the walls?” I asked.
“Yes. They’re beautiful, intricate, pulsing, changing, unbelievable colors.”
“Those patterns are really there,” I said. “They’re not hallucinations. You just can’t see them when you’re not tripping because your brain blocks them. Now lie back and look at the ceiling.”
We both lay back on the floor.
“Watch how the colors change to a beautiful shade of sky blue,” I said. “See how the wooden boards start to shimmer and seem to dissolve. Now we’re looking at the sky. See the clouds.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said softly, as if it would all disappear if she spoke too loudly. “I know it’s night but it looks like the sun is shining. Amazing.”
“Now watch how the walls just melt and disappear and we’ll be outside on a beautiful sunny day,” I said.
The walls became liquid and dripped down into nothingness. We were no longer sitting on the floor in her loft, but on a sandy beach, gazing at the ocean.
“Do you hear the waves crashing on the rocks?” I said.
She looked around nervously, then almost frantically as she turned her head in every direction. “I don’t like this,” she said. “This is scary. How do we get back to my room?”
“Take my hands,” I said. “And close your eyes.”
I held her hands in mine and closed my own eyes and when I opened them, we were back in her loft.
“Open your eyes,” I said.
She did, with a look of relief on her face, but that look was short-lived as she suddenly screamed, “Oh my god I forgot to put water in the teapot!”
The bottom of the kettle was glowing red hot and black smoke was rising from the burner.
Lulu grabbed the kettle handle to remove it from the hotplate, and within a second screamed as she flung the kettle to the floor and jumped to her feet. “Oh damn! oh damn! oh damn! I burned my hand!”
The glowing kettle landed on a stack of newspapers which immediately burst into flames.
“Do you have any water?” I asked, trying to remain calm as I attempted to put out the burning papers by stomping on them.
“No! It’s downstairs in the bathroom.” She was holding her burned hand with the other and swinging it around wildly in front of her. “Wait! There’s a Red Bull in the fridge.”
She ran across the room to a small refrigerator and took out the can with her good hand and tossed it to me.
I popped it open and started splashing the contents onto the flames. The kettle wasn’t glowing anymore and the newspaper fire doused quickly. The hot plate burner was still glowing red. I grabbed the cord and yanked the plug out of the overhead socket to turn it off.
“My hand is seriously fucked up,” she said. Her face was twisted. She was pacing the floor to dispel some of the pain.
“Let me see it,” I said, going over to her.
She opened the burned hand to show me. There was a thick red welt across the palm and above the middle knuckles of all four fingers. Some of the skin in the bright red streaks looked brownish, like well-done beef. “I’m going to get blisters,” she said.
I reached for her hand and she pulled it back. “Don’t touch it!”
“If you let me touch it, I can heal it,” I said.
“No you can’t.”
What are you doing? Get the fuck out of here! This has gone too far! You almost burned the fucking house down!
I held out my hand to her, palm up.
She looked at me incredulously, but slowly placed her burned hand palm up on top of mine. Then we both watched as the red welts disappeared and her skin returned to normal.
She looked scared. “Who are you?” she said.
I was looking at her mouth again. I knew I could kiss her now. I could have her. She would so totally surrender to me.
Get the fuck out!
“I have to leave,” I said.
“I want you to teach me things,” she said. “Like that.”
“I’ll come back. Right now, I’ve gotta go.”
She wrapped her arms around me and hugged me tightly.
The warmth of her hug was unexpected. I hadn’t had close human affection in … too many years. The heat of her body pressed against me increased as I wrapped my arms lightly around her. Then I quickly let my arms drop as I pulled back.
“I understand,” she said.
How could she possibly understand? I didn’t understand a fucking thing. I just knew I had to get the hell away from her and her loft as fast as I could.
I didn’t even say goodbye. I walked down the three flights of stairs and went out of the building and into the lot where I’d parked my car.
My car was gone.
Goddamn it! My fucking car had been stolen! I knew this was a bad neighborhood. Jesus Christ, what can I do? I can’t call the cops. I’m in no condition to talk to the police.
Of course, I could always bring my car back with a miracle. It would be so easy. But then even my car would be a hallucination. I’d have no hold on reality at all. I’m trying to keep it small.
I walked down to Broadway where I could catch a bus.
For chrissake I can’t live without a car. I hate buses. I hate the thought of standing around waiting for buses. What the hell am I going to tell Bev? Where the fuck is my goddamn car?
Mercifully, the bus arrived as soon as I got to the bus stop and it was not crowded. I sat down up front and watched out the window. When I saw Dave’s Coffee Shop in the distance, I also saw what appeared to be my car parked on the street in front of it.
I hadn’t been planning to stop at Dave’s again. I’d been planning to take the bus a mile further, closer to my home. But if that’s my car …?
It was. I could see the license plate.
Or was I now hallucinating that my car had reappeared right where I’d previously parked it?
I got off the bus at the corner and walked up to the car. I put my hand on the door. It was solid, real, not a figment of my imagination.
Coffee. I needed coffee.
I walked into Dave’s and got in line. The place was fairly crowded. I looked over at the table in the corner where I’d sat earlier, my favorite table, and I was disturbed to see myself still sitting there.
Then I saw the Pink Floyd t-shirt. It was Flash.
I walked over to the table. My full-to-the-brim demitasse of espresso was right where I’d left it. There was a chocolate chip cookie, with walnuts, on top of a napkin beside it.
I sat down.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Flash said.
“What way? You mean with you bugging my ass again? You’re going to get me locked up.”
“But you have the power, Don. No one can hurt you.”
I took a sip of the espresso. Perfect. I looked out the window onto the street. I could see my car. I knew right then that the whole episode with Lulu had never occurred. I’d been sitting here in Dave’s at this same table the whole time imagining it. There was no Lulu. No loft downtown. No fire. No stolen car. Now if I could just get rid of Flash and go home.
“Look at me,” he said.
I did for a second, but quickly turned away and closed my eyes.
“Don’t you want to save mankind?” he said.
“No.” Don’t look at him. Keep your eyes closed.
“Don’t you want to make the world a wonderful place for all?’
“No.” I said. “That’s the furthest thing from my mind. What I’d really like is to be home, sitting in my tub, with my wife in the kitchen and listening to the radio playing oldies.” Keep your eyes closed. Stop answering his stupid questions.
Then the music started. Interstellar Overdrive. And I knew I wasn’t in Dave’s anymore. I was afraid to open my eyes. Jesus Christ. I was sitting in warm water.
I opened my eyes. I was naked, in my tub. In my bathroom. The radio was blasting Pink Floyd in the kitchen.
But Flash was gone, and that was a relief. Had I been sitting here in the tub the whole time? Had I hallucinated everything? Everything? It had all seemed so real, but here I was. Right where it all started. The water was still fairly warm, so I couldn’t have been in the tub all that long. Yet it seemed like I’d gotten into the tub … I don’t even know how many hours ago …
My clothes were folded on top of the hamper right where I’d placed them before getting into the bath. I got out of the tub, dried myself on the oversized towel I’d hung over the rack, though it seemed like I’d done that many hours earlier. I had so many vivid memories of what could only be thought of as strange adventures. I dressed quickly, then went out to the kitchen where Pink Floyd had segued once more into Dylan.
My wife was standing in front of the microwave with a spatula in her hand. My place was set on the table with my steaming stuffed peppers waiting for me.
“What the hell were you doing in the bathroom all that time?” Bev said, though I paid little attention to her words, more concerned with her tone of voice.
I just looked at her, waiting for her to say something about the frog, the 911 call, my leaving the house for hours. But she said nothing about anything.
“The peppers smell good,” I said. All I wanted now was an uneventful evening.
And I had one.
Go to Chapter Five