Nashville, TN, June 14, 2012 (The Trip)

sanchez2

That evening I felt on edge, there was an itch for a little excitement. At least I had the visit of my good friend Neal from New York to look forward to, and a bag of mushrooms in my desk that we were going to take. The truth is my delicate constitution and mercurial psyche make me ill suited to experimenting with drugs, but from time to time I feel adventurous and the visit of my friend seemed like an exceptional occasion.

Jane and I closed up the shop. She would be taking me to the airport the following morning to pick up Neal. “Down for anything tonight?” she said. For Jane life seemed to be constant motion and action, there wasn’t a moment to lose because of all that was possible. I was flattered, still am flattered as I look back now, to be caught up in the whirlwind of her life. Forgive this moment of nostalgia, I write these lines without irony.

“Why don’t we take some of the mushrooms now?” I said. “Let’s do it,” she said.

So we chewed a few pieces down and drove to her house, where we would plan our next move. She texted a few friends as we smoked cigarettes in her backyard. The night was calm, the air mild and warm. The street lights in the distance began to glow more brightly, and it felt as if the cigarette were being inhaled into my whole body.

We decided to visit a few of her friends a short drive away and see what they were up to. “Look at these,” Jane said, pointing to some moon flowers in front of her house by her car. I kneeled down and smelled them, rubbing the dewy petals over my face. “Beautiful,” I said. Simply beautiful.

During the drive I admired the traffic lights. The warm air coming in through the window seemed to propel us forward. We glided over the roads, through the lights. “Should you be driving?” I said.

“I’m a pro at this, don’t worry.”

“Just livin’ on the edge,” I said.

We parked in front of a nondescript house. That is to say I could describe it, but I won’t. I had to shake myself out of the strange trance I was in as soon as we got out of the car, which I did by moving my head up and down and side to side in a rapid, jerking motion. The sound of the door slamming made me jump. “You okay?” Jane said, a big grin spreading over her face. “Just a little overstimulated,” I said.

In the house some dudes sat playing a skateboarding video game. It might have been two dudes, or four. Certainly not five, or one. Most likely three, but I can’t commit to that. I took a seat and watched, enthralled. It escapes me whether any greetings were exchanged, that was Jane’s business anyway. She was being quite personable and effusive, all smiles and laughs, while I was on another plane, eschewing speech for the moment.

But I was not insentient towards the other people in the room, if anything I was extra sentient, or meta-sentient, truthfully. A certain energy seemed to emanate from the guys, it was an indifference towards me, as if I was not quite unwelcome, but nor did I matter very much, or at all. And that doesn’t even really capture what I was sensing, which may have resulted from nothing more than my misfiring neurons.

I stood up and walked to the bathroom. Naturally I studied my reflection in the mirror. Something disconcerted me about it. Everything seemed fine, yet everything was in total disarray. I tried to explain to myself what is was, but language had stopped ordering my mind. After peeing I examined closely the patterns on the floor, which were shifting and morphing. In doing this I dropped my phone, but it appeared to still be working. Finally I made it back to the living room. “Perhaps it’s time to go?” I said to Jane.

Outside of her car I took out my phone to check the time and saw that something was poking out of the top, the SIM card perhaps. In any case something was wrong, because now it wasn’t working. “I think a part of my phone may have broken off when I dropped it in the bathroom,” I said, a sober expression forming on my face. Don’t ask me how it is I can describe my own features. And perhaps I am wrong, and I flashed the biggest of smiles. But a vague impression suggests to me that it was this way, and not the other way.

I braced myself to head back inside by shaking my head and arms and taking deep breaths, not unlike before, but yet so different. “You’ll make it,” Jane said. “I believe in you.”

When I knocked on the door one of them caught my eye and nodded, so I let myself in. “I think my SIM card fell out in the bathroom,” I said. It was as if there was a search light on me. Then something caught my eye: a revolver sitting on the coffee table. “Is that a real gun?”

“Sure is,” he said, picking it up and examining it.

“Well, I better check the bathroom,” I said, rather troubled. In reality it wasn’t a real gun, but I didn’t know any better. They were probably having a great laugh at my expense as I crawled on the bathroom floor. The SIM card was nowhere to be found. I made a quick exit this time, my eyes glued to the gun as I walked past the coffee table. “Thank you,” I said.

Back at Jane’s place we debated over what to do. She suggested watching a movie, she happened to have one called 50/50 on hand, a Seth Rogen flick. So we started that but its vibrations weren’t jibing with my soul, and I felt deeply unsettled somehow. So she dug up a DVD of What About Bob?, and that seemed to do the trick. Eventually I just closed my eyes, and strange visions appeared to me, things which I don’t have the courage to write. Soon it was morning.

***

Two days later Neal and I sat in my room, preparing ourselves to take the rest of the mushrooms. Even though Jane and I had dipped in, there was still enough for two hearty doses. It was about 2 in the afternoon. The weather was fine, warm, slightly humid, a sunny southern Sunday.

After eating them we decided to watch an episode of Seinfeld. Periodically I revisit this show, one should always revisit the masters.

“Did you ever notice the way the plastic on your laptop has these small dots?” Neal said.

“No, I haven’t, come to think of it.” We both examined the plastic next to the tracking pad while Jerry ran into Banya on the street. “That’s gold, Jerry, gold,” Banya said.

“They’re sort of fluctuating in size,” I said.

“I could study this for hours,” Neal said. And so we continued to study the small circles for what we thought were hours, but a glance at the clock on my computer revealed that it had only been about a minute. “Whoah,” I said.

“This is great.”

I wanted to go outside. “You wanna come with me?”

“Doing great here,” Neal mumbled. He was rather enthralled with the texture of my laptop, there’s no way around it.

On my way out I passed Lewis, who was in his usual pose, hunched over a book at his desk. “Hey,” I said. “How’s it going?”

“Oh, you know,” he sighed. It was as if we weren’t in the same room, but we were in the same room, otherwise how else could he have been there with me? I slowly eased myself onto the couch and, following Lewis’ example, sighed deeply.

“What was I doing?” I said, or perhaps thought. In either case the question was posed. “You know, I hope everything is okay with us, that you enjoy living together,” I said, suddenly.

“What?”

“What?”

“I mean what did you say?”

I’d forgotten. How is it that I remember now? Don’t worry about it.

“We took the mushrooms,” I said.

“Oh,” Lewis said. “How’s it going?”

“I feel alright,” I said. But it wasn’t as if I’d said that, it was as if the guy from the deli down the street had said it. Suddenly I guffawed. “That’s what Jovan always says.”

“What’s that?”

“’I feel alright.’ Even if you ask him how’s it going, or what’s up, he says ‘I feel alright.’”

“Who’s that?”

“The guy from the deli.” An urgent sense of purpose came over me; I’d planned on going outside. “I’m going outside!”

Outside, the waves of heat pleasantly caressing my face and limbs seemed to take on an aural quality. A kid rolled by on his tricycle. Everything was vivid and sharp and undulating. It seemed to me I had never known such natural beauty before, the sunlight, the trees, the green lawns. I did not think, I exalted.

But I was worried, too, worried about Neal, I had left him all alone, and so I mustered the resolve to head back inside.

In my room he was lying on the air mattress, hugging a pillow, laughing. “You feel good?” I said.

“This is out of control,” he said. “Look at this.” He showed me a phone with a text message from our friend Lomax that said “I hope you guys aren’t just sitting around watching Seinfeld.” That was too much, I lost it and was seized by an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

“We are, aren’t we?” I got on my bed and followed Neal’s example. “Oh my god,” I said, me, not a believer. Neal was talking on the phone with his girlfriend now and suddenly I too felt the urge to call someone, the names of friends popped into my head and I called them, one by one, to tell them how great we felt.

Time passed. Neal was starting to feel overwhelmed as he lay on the air mattress, I think he was having an existential crisis and talking about it with his girlfriend. I was still entertained by Seinfeld for the time being. Then I remembered wanting to see Jane so I called her up. “It’s happening,” I said. What seemed like hours (20 minutes) passed and she arrived.

Together we watched a little more Seinfeld and then browsed through photos on Facebook that had me convulsing with laughter. Neal remained on the mattress. “I’m alright,” he said. He wasn’t alright. “Don’t worry about me,” he added.

“I’m worried about Neal,” Jane said.

“Don’t worry about me,” he repeated.

But I was beginning to worry I would go to a dark place too, so Jane suggested that we smoke a little bud. She seemed to know what she was talking about, so I trusted her and took a few puffs. We went outside for a cigarette.

“I feel…I don’t know,” I said. I was in fact heading to the same place as Neal. I had a glass of water with me and it seemed that if I just could pour it over my face, then that would shake me out of it. So I lay down and tried to dump it on my head but I overshot it, it all landed behind me and only a few drops dampened the top of my hair. This was profoundly disappointing, and I still regret it to this day. “I think I’m just going to lie in bed and watch TV,” I said.

“No! You should go outside, take a walk.”

It was time for her to go so we parted ways. I was sorry to see her go. I felt on the edge of despair—no particular thoughts came to mind but if I wasn’t careful I knew I would begin to examine myself and plunge, or is it plumb, the depths. And my depths aren’t that deep, it would be like diving headlong into a shallow pool.

So I lay in bed, watching more Seinfeld. I was vaguely aware of Neal, next to me on the floor, struggling with his own demons, periodically calling his girlfriend. There was no girlfriend for me to call. The show did not lighten my mood at all, in fact I began to feel disgusted with myself because I was seeing for the first time how deeply lodged in my subconscious it was. I felt insubstantial and trite, I was little more than a disappointing and fatuous conflation of various things I’d read, seen, or heard over the years of my seemingly indeterminable existence. I’d cracked the code to myself, and the results were decidedly underwhelming.

I thought of Jane’s words, “you have to go outside.” She was right, there was no sense in staying inside. I offered to Neal that we take a walk.

“Can’t do it,” he said, his voice anguished. “I’ll be fine though.”

Sure enough, once I forced myself to move and leave the house, I immediately felt more light-hearted. The sun was beginning to set and the air had cooled down. I pictured myself on the coffee shop porch with a drink and a cigarette in hand, and the image motivated me to head in that direction. On the way I stopped at Dragon Park and sat on a bench to admire the sky, the lawn, the strange playground, the bushes, in short everything in front of my eyes. A great calm descended on me, and I posed a series of questions to myself:

1. How does the language we use to describe mental life change mental life?
2. Am I more like other people or less like other people?
3. Is there a pure mental state, where longing stops?
4. Have I lost touch with something?
5. What is to be gained by learning?

There weren’t any answers, but questions, I told myself, were more important than answers.

On the way towards the shop, I felt both frightened by the people I passed and fascinated—what did they think of me, since I felt so alien to them? The porch was crowded as usual, all the regulars were there smoking and sipping their drinks. I did talk to a few of them but mostly I sat and watched, not a thought in my mind. After some time I heard from Neal; he had come out of the worst of it, and wondered what I was doing. I offered that he come my way and we could have some food at the restaurant next door.

“What’s up?” he said when he saw me. He seemed more like his usual self now; he had made it through.

“I feel alright,” I said.

Drawing by Courtney Sanchez