I come home from being posted up at some girl’s place for a couple days and my roommate says that I have to clear my shit out. I had been rolling around with his second cousin for a month or so and he thinks I should have broken it off with her before I went and banged someone else. I tell him that she was just using me for my skills in procuring an eightball on a half-hour’s notice but he doesn’t want to hear any of it. And she sucks in bed, damn near as boring as fucking a dead fish.
The roommate gives me forty-eight hours to get my affairs in order but it only takes me three to load up my gear. My TV doesn’t fit in the car so I trade it to a guy down the hall for a bag of grass and a fifth of rum. His roommate had killed their last set as he’s the sort who comes in at quarter to four in the morning, belligerently cussing and swinging at all living beings present and in a Vaudevillian-style prat fall, turns a loaded Ikea shelf system into a marvelous pile of kindling and rubbish.
The building is made out of smog-rotten bricks and I’m pretty sure that it didn’t get hot water until the sixties. There’s a boarded up drycleaner and a raw vegan lunch counter at the street level and the apartment belongs to one of our frat brothers. His mother had left it to him when she passed away at the end of junior year but he headed west after graduation and asked us to look after it and to not fuck on the couch. I’m relatively fed up with that whole scene and the perpetual beanie wearing, future film school dropouts that infest it so I dump what was left of my laundry detergent into the fountain at the Square and drive out the tunnel.
I head upstate, maybe out of habit or maybe because the natural response to being out of school, out of work, and out of a place to stay is to run back to mommy’s house. When I roll back into town, I grab a plate from the fish fry place where I used to work and run into on my buddy from high school that still has a job there. His hair is grown out a bit and he’s a little skinnier than I remember him.
He tells me a story about hooking up with the girl that threw a house party down by the lake that we had gone to over summer break a few years back while he refills the pepper shakers. I ask him if she’s still angry about the throw rug.
“And her dad’s whiskey.”
“Oh, I’m sure he cared about a fifth of Jack.” I had snaked it from a mostly full case.
“Well, never mind that, she’s been running a porn site.”
He goes on to tell me about how she has an appointment to get a new set of tits installed and that there’s a poker game later. His shift is up at nine and he doesn’t drive now so I agree to pick him up. I went by my mom’s place three times and park on the street for about ten minutes on the second pass. It looks as though someone’s repainted the pin striping on the porch molding that my dad hates but the house came from my mom’s family so he doesn’t get much say in the matter. And he took off to Lauderdale with the bookkeeper from his country club.
The card game is out towards Syracuse and Cameron knows a couple of the people there from some shit job at the mall he picked up over the holidays. The lawn is fairly well overgrown and there’s a decaying Thunderbird in the side yard but most of the light bulbs inside the place work and someone had cleaned the bathroom recently. By dawn, it’s down to me and some chain-smoking guy wearing a tee shirt and a tuxedo vest.
I’m sitting on the jack and nine of diamonds and I double the blind because it’s late and I’m in no mood to be screwing around. He goes and raises me but I think his pupils dilate a bit so I call his bet. I feel like he’s bluffing but even if he has something, I doubt it’s much to be proud of. The bastard shoves the rest of his chips in. Maybe he’s just worn down and doesn’t give a shit anymore so I do the same.
I deal the flop and it’s a pair of queens, a diamond and a club, plus the ace of hearts. The son of a bitch lays two tens, neatly folded, onto the table. There’s some hefty cards out so he could be on a run but I’m not cool with being bought out so I throw down two twenties that I dig out of the bottom of my pocket, the second one rolled up and flattened, with a bit of residue to one end. His eyes light up like a lottery winner’s. He knows what I have but he’s going to have to earn it.
The eight of diamonds comes on the turn and he lays a strip of acid on the pot. I’m not about to put up my blow over forty bucks worth of L so I throw in my herb. He rolls his head back for a second and gets up from the table. From the freezer, he pulls a quart of Jager and slams it on the flop with the authority of an East German shot-putter. I sense there’s something else in him and the cards are showing me a lot of red so I call him with my watch.
The river brings a ten of diamonds. I’m on a straight flush so I’m in this thing now. The sun is coming up and the girls start fishing some eggs and potatoes out of the fridge. My opponent brushes his nose a little. It shouldn’t matter how much is there; if he’s anything like me, a meager bump will be sufficient to savor victory. He thinks for a moment, powers down his telephone and adds it to the take. It’s newer and technologically superior to the unit I’m carrying so I toss my cocaine into the mix.
We lock eyes for several seconds. I flip my cards and He flips his: pocket aces. In most circles, three of a kind will get you a long way but it’s not going to hunt here. I throw him a twenty for his travels and fix him up with a consolidation rail. Cameron’s passed out in a chair in the living room so I jerk him awake and head out to the car.
“I got a girl at the Phish show tonight.” He rubs his face. “I can get you in if you can get me down there.”
“You know, you pull a lot of ass for living out in the middle of nowhere with no ride,” I say.
“I guess I got game.”
I think about going to my mom’s for some food and a nap but opt out when Cameron says his folks are gone until the next night. We raid the MacKenzie kitchen for some eggs, three packets of microwave oatmeal, and some deli ham. There’s an old Scorsese movie on cable and we fall asleep on the den sofa for a few hours. Around one, Cameron wakes me up and says it’s time to go. I’m groggy and my head hurts so I make him drive.
We’re going south on I-81, between Cortland and Binghamton when the radar detector sings out.
“A little quick?” The trooper says. “Try eighty-seven miles an hour quick! You know what happens if you hit a deer goin’ that fast?”
“I don’t know, officer, I’ve never seen a deer run that fast.”
“Now don’t be getting fresh with me! Just where are you boys headed, anyway?”
“The show at Bethel, sir.” I wish he’d lie once in a while.
“I know about that show.” The officer looks over his sunglasses. “You wouldn’t happen to carrying any of that mare-ee-wanna in this car, would ya?”
“No sir. Of course not,” Cameron says.
“Of course not, you say. Well I’m not sure if- excuse me.” The cop steps away yo answer a call on his radio.
I’m paralyzed by the pending doom. Cameron mutters, “Chill the fuck out,” under his breath.
I was a little high-strung when I was younger and it used to annoy the shit out of Cameron. There were only eighty kids in our class but I never really knew him until we shared a room at lacrosse camp during the summer after eighth grade. He had smuggled in a few joints from his older brother and he made me smoke a little to tone me down. We stayed in touch and his parents took me in for two weeks the following summer when I busted my dad with the golf slut and didn’t want to deal with it. He sucks at school so he was banking on getting into school on athletics when he jacked up his knee on an ill-fated trip to Tremblant. I think he tried the community college route for a while but had to go work full time to pay off his drunk driving ticket.
“Well you boys just got lucky. Something tells me that you ain’t telling me the truth but it just so happens that someone’s hot dogging out here in a stolen Camero and I think this is him coming. Gotta run.” The cop runs back to his cruiser as a speeding red blur blasts by, nearly clipping us. He and takes off with full sirens.
I cuff Cameron in the back of the head. “What the hell was that all about?”
“Ha. I thought it was a dumb question.”
“You stupid shit. There’s half-drank bottle of rum in the back and a zombie apocalypse stash of drugs in the glove compartment.”
“Aww quit your trippin’ and pack us a pipe.”
We get to the venue and some girl met us that wears dreads and claims to have been raised by a utopian commune somewhere in the Deep South. Barefoot in the dirt parking lot, she grabs Cameron’s ass a little when they hug and introduces herself as Jane with a ‘Y’.
There’s some junkie with her that has stained teeth and may or may not be her brother. He’s toting a grey backpack containing a small arsenal of narcotics that needs to be locked in the car before we went into the show. He hands out a round of blue pills and divvy up the acid amongst us. Jayne pulls a wad of tickets out of her crocheted purse and we head in. A sea of hippies fills the lawn, decked out in an assortment of cyans, magentas, and chartreuses, all wandering around haphazardly getting stoned and becoming familiar with one another. The place smells like weed, patuli, and feet and I catch the junkie itching his neck.
The drugs start happening at the beginning of the fourth song. The whole place erupts with sound and beams of multicolored light emanating from the stage. Waves of energy, synchronized with the music, flow up and over the crowd while we danced like fools, bending and shaking under the clear moonlit sky. Part of the way into the second set, people toss glow sticks in the air that they pull from hammer space, illuminating the venue with a nuclear glow for a brief moment. For hours, strangers take hands and act merry while the band plays on.
At the end, we return to the car, ecstatic and spent. I unload box of textbooks I forgot to sell and a bag of dirty laundry that hadn’t been washed in six months to make room for Jayne and her junkie sidekick. On the way back to the highway I decid to stop for gas and a coffee. After I pay, I turn around to find two police cars behind mine. Apparently, Cameron had pissed on the side of the building in plain sight of a cop who had been patrolling the interstate earlier in the day when he was almost hit by a stolen car while trying to shake us down.
“I found a refer joint in your buddy’s pocket after I caught him takin a leak over there. That means I finally get to search that car of yours,” the officer said.
I stared at the phone in the trooper’s barracks for a solid five minutes. My bail was two thousand dollars and Jayne and her cohort ran off while Cameron was getting searched. I bite my lip and dial my mom’s number. She turns her phone off when she goes to bed so it goes straight to voicemail. The beep comes and goes and I sit there, mouth half open with my words stuck someplace between my larynx and my lips. After about thirty seconds, I hang up and the cop takes me back to the holding cell.
I wake up to a large woman in a blue trooper’s uniform rattling the gate to our concrete cube. I’m propped up on a musty cot, leaning half on the wall and half on Cameron who had also been napping.
“MacKenzie. Cooper. You guys made bail,” she says.
We wander out into the lobby and I’m trying to rub a knot out of my shoulder. Cameron’s dad is there, shaking his head. My car had been impounded with all my shit in it so I ride back with the MacKenzie’s. I say nothing the entire trip and they say very little. We pull up in front of my mom’s place and I open the door and stare into the side window for a minute, watching her unload a waffle from the toaster.
“You didn’t have to-“
“Go take care of your shit,” Mr. Mackenzie says and motions toward the house.
I stand on the porch for what might as well be an eternity, my left hand poised over the ancient glass doorknob. Mr. MacKenzie blows the horn. I wave him off and go inside. It smells like coffee and syrup.
“Hey, Ma? Can we talk?”