by Arnold Snyder
I sat in Dave’s at a table in the corner with a raisin scone and a double espresso—full strength, not decaf. I was splurging. But the scone was dry as dust and the coffee was bitter.
I’d been sitting there for a few minutes trying to solve a sudoku puzzle in the newspaper that someone had left on the table. It was not easy with the patterns that kept interfering with the puzzle grid. But I sat there anyway, considering my options, noting how metaphorically significant it was that I was trying to solve a puzzle with an ever-changing grid, and wondering at what point I should go back home.
The problem with tripping is that you never know which part is real and which part is hallucination. The frog, for example, had to be a hallucination. But what about Bev? I’m sure that was her in the kitchen, but that 911 threat didn’t make sense.
She was probably talking about what’s on TV tonight and she pulled out her phone to call somebody about something, how the hell should I know why she pulled out her phone? It sure as hell wasn’t to call 911.
Maybe she wasn’t even holding her phone … maybe she was holding that spatula she uses to get the steaming peppers out of the plastic microwave container and onto a plate. I could have hallucinated the phone.
I looked at the lousy dry scone and knew I should have gotten a chocolate chip cookie.
I pointed at the scone and said, barely above a whisper: “You are a chocolate chip cookie.”
I still had the power.
I took a bite. It was insanely good, the bittersweet dark chocolate chips melting on my tongue. Way better than that dusty scone. Now this was the proper and safe way to enjoy miraculous power. If you just make life better for yourself in small ways … my espresso refilled itself … the aroma alone was a pleasure, the taste … yes, this was it … You can make your life heaven on earth …
A homeless woman walked in, or at least she was dressed pretty frumpy, wearing a dirty, baggy, cotton sweatshirt over a knee-length plaid dress. Leather sandals that had seen better days. Bright red lipstick. Glaring red. Her lower lip was pierced. She was too old for that. She was wearing oversized sunglasses, clearly not needed as dusk was falling. I guessed her to be about 60-65, a bit younger than me, but not much.
Wow. Visual entertainment while you overdose on cookies and caffeine. Keep your cool. She’s a crazy person. You have nothing to say to her. Don’t even look at her.
I looked down at my espresso. I was starting to get that caffeine buzz. Damn this stuff is good. The cup stays brim-full. Best coffee ever.
I looked up and she was still looking at me. Right at my face. She was frozen in her position in line, turned sideways towards me, looking right into my eyes. I was noticing she had nice calves. I could tell she had great legs and probably a great ass. I thought I felt my dick stirring. She’s a bag lady you idiot!
There was paint splashed on her sweater, like she’d wiped her painty fingers on it. Smears of paint on her dress. Different colors. Is she an artist? The oversized canvas bag she’s carrying says “CCAC”. My eyes are drawn to her bright red lips. But what’s with the piercing? Is she trying to relate to teenagers?
Stop looking at her. I looked at my coffee. Took a sip and casually peeked at her as I lowered my cup. She was still looking at me. I knew why I was attracted to her. She was fucking gorgeous.
I looked at my coffee.
You want to interact with people as little as possible. You’d prefer not at all. Don’t forget that. Don’t interact.
I sipped at the espresso, nibbled on the cookie.
There was a commotion in the line of customers waiting to be served. Two guys in matching blue and white spandex bicycle outfits who had just entered were arguing loudly about “who’s got it.” Both had their matching blue and white striped helmets in their hands.
“I ain’t got it, asshole!”
“You had it, fucker! Where the fuck is it?”
“I ain’t got it!”
There was a shoving match and Asshole was pushed hard into the back of the homeless lady with the bright red lips. She stumbled to the floor, catching herself on her hands and knees. Her sunglasses flew off and skidded across the tile, stopping about six inches from my right foot.
I bent forward in my seat to pick up the glasses.
She was still on her hands and knees, now looking at me.
A big guy, looks like a truck driver or plumber, working stiff, who was in front of her in the line, ignored her on the floor but told the bicyclists in a loud authoritative voice to “take it outside.” It wasn’t a polite request.
She was still down on her hands and knees, looking at me.
I was holding her glasses.
No one was making any move to help her.
The bicyclists made a sudden exit, unable to take the unrelenting stare of the big guy who’d yelled at them.
Against my better judgment, I walked over to her and extended my hand. Don’t get involved. Minimal interaction.
She took my hand and got to her feet. “I know you don’t want to talk to me,” she said.
You got that right, lady. I held out her glasses to her but said nothing. She smelled overwhelmingly like patchouli oil.
“You don’t want to talk to me but you’re the only one who came to help me, and I appreciate that.” She took her glasses from my hand. “May I sit down with you?”
Say no, you’re just about to leave. “You’ll lose your place in line,” I said. “You’re next.” I couldn’t stop looking at her bright red lips. It was the most seductive mouth I’d ever seen. I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to flick that lip piercing with my tongue. Are you crazy? She’s an unkempt old lady, for chrissake!
“Yes, I know,” she said, “you want to get rid of me. Fast. No interaction. I get it. But I didn’t come here for coffee. I came looking for someone like you.”
It was starting to hit me. As soon as she said no interaction. She wasn’t real. I was hallucinating. Everyone in the place was looking at me. Was I standing in the middle of the floor talking to myself? End it now.
I’d delivered the glasses. Duty done. I quickly returned to my seat at the table in the corner.
She followed me. Naturally.
She sat down. Of course.
“I’m a married man,” I said.
“I see your ring. That makes it more interesting, don’t you think?”
“Makes what more interesting?”
“We don’t have a relationship.”
No interaction. Look at your coffee. Drink your coffee. Nothing good can come of this. Quit it now. She’s not real. You’re talking to yourself. Out loud. In public.
I closed my eyes.
“So you’re just going to ignore me?” she said.
I said nothing, kept my eyes closed.
“You’re a real disappointment,” she said. “I thought hippies were into peace and love and sharing and … love the one you’re with.”
I opened my eyes. “Hippies?”
“You’re a hippie, aren’t you?”
“Maybe fifty years ago. What do you know about hippies?”
“I know a lot about them. We’re studying them right now. I’m writing a paper on them. I thought maybe you could give me some help with it.”
“You’re studying hippies?”
“At C.C.A.C.,” she said. “Modern American History.”
“You’re kind of old for college, aren’t you?”
She just looked at me. Didn’t appreciate the question. Jesus Christ, do I have to be polite and tactful to my hallucinations?
“They teach people about hippies in college?” I said.
She looked at her sunglasses, inspected them for a few seconds for damage, then put them on.
“What makes you think I’d know anything about hippies?” I said.
“You already told me you were one. Fifty years ago.”
“But before I said that … what made you think …”
“I could just tell … looking at you.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m an old man. I look like an old man.”
“But you’re on acid,” she said. “You’re tripping right now.”
She has to be a hallucination. This can’t be real. Cut it off.
“Lower your voice,” I said. “I’m not tripping. I’m having … a minor flashback. But how can you tell?”
“Your energy. Your aura. Your eyes. Your pupils are dilated. Big as saucers.”
“Look at me. Look at my eyes.” She lifted her glasses and leaned forward so that her face was only a foot or so from mine.
I looked at her eyes and I could see her for the first time. In the patterns that decorated her face, I saw her as a child, I saw her as an old woman, I saw her as a bodiless eternal ethereal being. And I knew she was not a hallucination. I started to lift my hand to touch her face. But I stopped myself. What would she think? Why would I think I could be so forward?
“You’re tripping,” I said.
“Yes,” she said excitedly. “And I could tell you were tripping the moment I saw you.”
I couldn’t stop staring at her mouth, those red lips.
“I’m not tripping,” I said. “I’m having occasional flashbacks. They come and go. I haven’t taken acid since 1967. And don’t talk so loud.”
“This is my first time,” she said. “I’m so excited. Isn’t it wonderful!” A smile lit up her face, a genuine smile, intended for me.
Her seemingly sincere warmth caught me off guard. In the interval of silence, the espresso machine was hissing a strong disapproval.
“No,” I said. “It’s not wonderful. It’s dangerous. You shouldn’t be walking around in public.”
Who gave this poor woman acid? And why?
“I’ve been in Dave’s a hundred times,” she said, “and this is the first time I ever really saw it.”
“You should find a nice secluded spot where you’ll be safe and just wait until you come down. How long ago did you drop?”
“I don’t know … maybe an hour ago. Maybe two. My sense of time is messed up. I don’t even know how I got in this place. I was drawn here by some kind of force. I was destined to meet you.”
“Jesus Christ. You were not destined to meet me. Where do you live? You should go back home and stay there all night. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
She was so damn pretty and had a body to die for. I really wanted to see her tits.
“You’re a man of great wisdom,” she said. “You have to help me.”
“I have no wisdom whatsoever. I’m a retired bookkeeper. Where do you live? I’ll take you home.”
She looked at me earnestly for a few moments, as if wondering whether she should tell me anything so personal as where she lived. Then she smiled, the warmest smile on the most beautiful mouth I’d ever seen.
“I have a loft downtown,” she said. “You should come to my place. My name’s Lulu.” She reached her hand across the table to me.
The moment our fingers made contact I wanted to be closer to her, to embrace her. It dawned on me that I could probably fuck this woman, assuming I could fuck. She’s on acid and she thinks I’m some kind of guru. She’s has a pretty face and looks like she might have a rockin’ body. But that didn’t even matter. And my dick didn’t matter. It was her mouth I wanted.
Stop thinking that way. She’s a crazy old lady. She probably has floppy tits and a flabby ass. If she’s even real. This is major danger.
“My name’s Don,” I said. “How did you get here?”
“Wow … I never thought about it … I suppose I was born like everyone else, but that seems so over-simplistic …”
“I mean how did you get here, Dave’s, from downtown, not how did you arrive on this planet. Did you walk here? Did you drive?”
“I took the bus. I was just getting some coffee before my pottery class. That’s what I was telling myself. But I don’t even drink coffee. I’m a tea person. And I can’t go to my class now. I’d be walking in late and this is more important.”
“What’s more important?”
“Being with you.”
She’s not a hallucination. She’s a real person on acid. It’s a mild dose. She’s not hallucinating, but she’s still out of her fucking gourd. You can’t abandon her.
“Let me drive you home,” I said, changing the subject, wondering if we’d end up in bed together. I didn’t care what her tits looked like. It was her mouth I was attracted to. Her eyes. I wanted to make out with her.
“You have to stay with me,” she said.
“You can teach me things. Just until I come down. There’s some kind of cosmic reason why I met you. You have a truth to impart to me.”
“The truth is I’m driving you home. Let’s go.” I stood up, looking around at the room that seemed off-kilter, like it had been built at a weird angle, the floor sloping down toward the door to the outside. I’d never noticed the room to have been anything other than level before.
“You haven’t even touched your espresso,” she said, motioning to the full demitasse on the table.
“I’ve had enough,” I said.
She picked up the cup and quickly downed the contents, then bounced up from her seat. “Okay, let’s go,” she said placing the cup back on the table.
“I thought you didn’t drink coffee,” I said.
I looked at the cup. It was brimful again.
She was already walking to the door.
What the fuck are you doing? You’re picking up a bag lady.
Go to Chapter Four