It was Thursday morning December 13, as I came to consciousness in my bed in what had been my bedroom and was now my mom’s office slash guest room. I woke up from a dream where I was still traveling except I had lost my plane ticket home and did not have the money to buy another one. I was grateful it was only a dream and that I was in fact home. The light through the casement window was more subdued this morning. Yesterday’s sunshine had given way to a more typical gray winter day. My stuffed full backpack was still there leaning against the side of the Herman Miller chest of drawers, like I was still backpacking and just spending a few nights in my host du jour’s guest room. My head was kind of stuffy and achy too, from smoking all that weed yesterday. But I was still glad I had, and looking forward to firing up the joint Clark had “lent” me, at least at some appropriate point on this day. My clock radio indicated it was 10:25, so getting to bed after 2 AM last night it was still a good night’s sleep. I noted that my clock radio had the same sort of electromechanical mechanism of flipping metal slats displaying the appropriate series of numbers – on mine, one to twelve on the hour slats and double zero to fifty-nine on the minutes – as the big boards in the European train stations that I loved to watch and listen to them clickity clack.
My hand reached for the button on the radio and fired up my Greek Chorus. It was tuned to CKLW and a couple of commercials played before they flashed back to the 1960s and the funk of the Isley Brothers…
It’s your thing
Do what you want to do
I can’t tell you
Who to sock it to
The next song I had not heard before, but after a long mellow, even syrupy, electric guitar intro, I recognized the sweet voice of Paul McCartney…
Stuck inside these four walls
Sent inside forever
Never seeing no one
Nice again like you
Mama you, mama you
His voice soothed and reassured me as it always had growing up, listening endlessly to the Beatles on the radio, or more often than not, the record player now in my brother’s room. While the Beatles were still together, back when I was still a young teen (I was getting so nostalgic), I never really thought about which of the four of them had the lead vocals on a particular song, it was always just one of several aspects of the singular iconic voice of the Beatles. It was not until they broke up and were each putting out songs of their own, that I finally easily recognized the four different voices. Paul’s youthful sweetness. John’s edgier, adultier swagger. George’s blending elements of both John and Paul’s. And finally Ringo’s your favorite singing uncle baritone.
Paul’s song transitioned to more of an uptempo rhythmic R&B riff…
If I ever get out of here
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get outta here
If we ever get outta of here
It was like the song fragments strung together in “You Never Give Me Your Money” on the Abbey Road album, and then it transitioned again with a honky tonk guitar flourish into more of a countryesqe song…
Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you’re having fun
Band on the run, band on the run
And the jailer man and sailor Sam
Were searching everyone
For the band on the run
The phrasing of that last verse was catchy, as McCartney’s lyrics usually were, but none of it made much sense to me. Perhaps little plays on words or metaphors referring to his new post Beatles band Wings and their experiences. It was the title track from their new Band on the Run album. It still made me sad, when I heard a new song from from one of them individually, that the Beatles were no longer together. But all things changed I guess, even the best things. McCartney could still crank out the catchy poppy tunes with great craft, but the Lennon edge was definitely missing…
Band on the run
Band on the run
Band on the run
The line stuck with me as I stumbled from my room across the hall to the bathroom. I pulled off my t-shirt and pulled down my underwear, and joyously naked I contemplated the empty bathtub and its lack of a showerhead. My mom still kept a little saucepan by the tub for scooping up water to pour over oneself while sitting in it.
I had gotten used to taking showers in Europe, at least those few instances where the shower I had access to actually had warm water. And given my thick, long curly mane of hair, water coming down from a shower head above was way more efficient in getting my hair wet, and then rinsing out the soap, after washing my hair. I filled the tub about half full and sat in it. It took about 15 saucepans of water, scooped out of the tub, to get my hair sufficiently wet all through. It was a treat at least to be able to use actual shampoo, my mom’s Prell, green gel in its clear tube, rather than the simple bar of soap I had used in Europe for most of my hair washes. That was followed by rubbing the bar of soap over the rest of my body. All of which got the bath water pretty soapy and sudsy.
So then the trick was to properly rinse off. Pouring the soapy water on my hair got a lot of the shampoo out but not all. I had to fill the saucepan a number of times with water from the tap to get the clear water needed to rinse off the final soapiness in my hair.
The tub also had a separate hot and cold water tap. I was a wimp when it came to pouring cold water over my head, so water from the cold tap alone was too cold for me. And water from the hot tap alone was too hot. So I had to fill the saucepan with some of both.
All this to note that the bathing process at home was a hassle, given our old-fashioned tub, and my particularly big thick hair. But coming back home from Europe with my new attitude, I was totally about “going with the flow”. I reaffirmed that commitment as I dried off my naked body with a towel. I peeked out the bathroom door to see that the coast was clear and scurried across the hall back into my room holding my underwear and t-shirt rather than putting them back on.
As I closed the door behind me, my libido suggested I think about that Penthouse magazine I had bought yesterday, currently crammed in my backpack, and that maybe it was a good time to take my first tour of its contents. I fished it out of the top of my pack and lay on my bed, still naked and opened it up. I could feel my parts below tingling with anticipation, and when I found the centerfold spread, I quickly had an erection and was ready to masturbate.
There was a knock on my door and I panicked, it was my mom’s soft rap rap rap of her knuckles. I did not know if she would wait for me to say something or just come in. I quickly rolled out of bed and stuffed the Penthouse back in my backpack, saying, “Just a minute! I’m getting dressed.”
“Sorry to bother you Coop,” I heard the voice through the door, “I’ve got to get some stuff from my desk”, then correcting herself, “The desk. I need to prepare for my interview tomorrow morning at ISR. I’ll be in my room, just let me know!”
“Sure. Just give me a minute.” I was definitely going to move down to the basement. Today even, if we still had that extra mattress up in the attic. Go with the flow, but definitely go with it from down there in what could be more of my own more secluded world.
A few minutes later I was dressed and at her bedroom door, which she generally left open, except when she was getting dressed or other such things that required more privacy. She was wearing slacks and one of her signature turtlenecks and sitting cross legged on her bed. So many of the memories I had of my mom were of her in that position on her bed. During the day it had been her office of sorts, with piles of papers neatly arranged on her comforter, plus a little pile of paper clips, a stapler, and a scotch tape dispenser. Her little eleven inch black and white TV, the only TV in the house, was tuned to some soap opera. She had a yellow pencil clasped between her teeth. She definitely needed a real office, I totally got that.
She looked up at me, grinned, and only then took the pencil out of her mouth.
“I’m so sorry sweetie. It was getting late and I have a lot of prep to do for my interview tomorrow morning.” She sighed and looked at me with all her oodles of sincerity. “My life is finally changing and I need a proper office”. She gestured at the various piles of paper on her bed.
Part of me wanted to comment on the inconvenience of her interruption. Not what I had been about to do of course, but just the concept of not having a space that felt like one’s own. But I didn’t. I flowed, and just nodded with sympathetically pursed lips.
“All yours!” I finally replied, and I smiled right back at her. I had long since accepted that my mom was a force of nature, like the weather, to be predicted, prepared for, and accommodated.
“Thank you Coop! Good to have you home! We’ve missed you so much… everyone has!”
The attic door was right there to the right, chockablock with the door to her room and I continued my spoken thought, “I’m going to check out what we have in the attic!”
“Okay. You still thinking about trying to sleep down in the basement?”
I nodded again, once again with sympathetically pursed lips. She rolled her eyes, shook her head and chuckled.
“Well. You and Middie. Let me know if you need help moving anything. Don’t break your back!”
I nodded once again, but this time punctuated it with another “Thanks!”. My mom grabbed a couple piles of papers from her bed, and pencil once again inserted between her teeth, headed into my once and former bedroom, now to return to being her office slash guest room.
I headed up the stairs into the attic. It had a distinctive smell of unfinished wood and dust that brought back memories of my brother and I racing our slot cars on a big track I’d set up there on the old beaver board. We had spent hours together up there, finding just the right speed for each car so it could circumnavigate the winding track without spinning out on the sharper curves. Then we’d sit on the floor with the track on the beaver board just about at eye level and zone out watching the cars come and go. We even had a couple slot cars with working headlights. So when it was dark outside we would turn the light out in the attic and just watch the cars traverse their course, with their little headlights the only light in the room. It was deliciously mesmerizing. The beaverboard was still there actually, but now part of the storage, neatly slid between the mattress and the wall.
At the top of the stairs I felt the cold. The attic was not insulated, or heated in the winter. It was most habitable in the spring and fall. Cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. My mom and dad were both expert and meticulous packers and storers of things. And the items stored in the attic bore all the indicators of their handiwork – neatly labeled, stacked, encased in plastic where appropriate, and arranged so a quick scan of items and labeled boxes would give you a good sense of the entire inventory. An inventory which included a twin size mattress in a big clear plastic bag with a piece of masking tape visible clearly labeled in my mom’s block lettering “Twin Mattress”. Also a rolled up rug that had been in the basement of our old house, in the part of the basement where my dad had his office.
My basement bedroom was starting to take shape! I would drag the mattress and the rug downstairs, and also take the old set of drawers from my old room. It had been in my bedroom back in our old house when I was little and included an open up shelf on top with little storage spaces inside, along with four standard drawers below. That was the absolute minimum for a bedroom I figured, something to sleep on and a more permanent place to put your clothes than just a backpack. So I went into action. There were some awkward moments along the way, but with gravity mostly on my side I was able to maneuver the mattress down the three staircases into the basement.
The hardest part was getting the mattress around the corner in the staircase between the upstairs and the downstairs. My mom made good on her offer to help, coming out of the office when she heard the commotion. Grunting and groaning alongside me, we bent and forced it around the tight corner. My mom had always been athletic, strong even, and demonstrated it in this situation, holding up her end as it were. As we continued to wrestle with the big awkward thing she began sharing more details of her situation with me. Though more like comrades with a long shared history, I noted, than mother and son.
“So the ISR job, if I get it, involves canvassing, that is making phone calls, asking people survey questions.” She spoke between grunts. “Not sure yet how many hours a week, but it’s the same sort of work Mary Jane is doing. She says she has meetings at the ISR office and does some of her calls from there, but also does some of her calls from home.”
She slammed her shoulder into the side of the mattress to help clear it past a particularly stuck point. Her cheeks flushed as she let out a long exhale and wiped beads of sweat from her forehead, but then grinned again with a sense of satisfaction at our current progress and I assumed the larger progress in her life. Her face turned more serious as she looked at me intently.
“Coop. If I get the job it will mean more money for things, beyond the child support I get from your dad. Now that you’re eighteen he’s not required to pay for you anymore, just for your brother, but he said he would keep paying the same amount, at least for now.” Her clear blue eyes looked off into the distance.
Once we had finally gotten the mattress around the corner we let gravity take it down the rest of the stairs with just a little guidance from us. She looked at me with all her sincere seriousness.
“Your dad has always been good that way, making sure you and your brother have what you need. Even though he still makes me crazy sometimes!” She held her hands up by either side of her head and shook them, as a visualization of that craziness. Then she cracked a bit of a grin again and put her hands down.
We grabbed either side of the mattress and dragged it through the sitting room and kitchen to the basement stairs.
While we did so she continued. “The money I wired you in Europe actually came from your dad. Just so you know!”
I nodded, pursing my lips again to indicated my understanding of that fact and its significance.
The basement stairwell had a similar configuration to the one above it, except there was the side door where the stairs did their 180 turn. We opened it and took the mattress briefly out the side door and then down the rest of the basement stairs so we did not have to force it around the corner again. At the bottom end of the operation, I lost my grip and the mattress bounced down the last few stairs and banged against the side of the furnace, not doing any damage other that scaring the shit out of Midnight, who darted about and finally took refuge in a far corner of the basement behind the washing machine. We finally flopped it down on the bare slab floor to the right of the furnace, and both looked at it there, realizing that a mattress alone does not a bedroom make.
My mom looked at me. “You sure about this?”
Another nod from me punctuated by a, “Yep!” Then continuing, “Now we need to bring down my old drawers.”
“Oh boy”, she noted, her big eyes theatrically opening even bigger, “If we take all the drawers out and bring them down separately it shouldn’t be too bad. We’ll just take it slow, one step at a time.”
We climbed back up the two sets of stairs and into the room I was vacating. We stood on either side of my old chest of drawers. She ran her fingers over the linseed oiled surface of the top of it and looked at me again, turning on all her serious sincerity.
“So even if I get this job”, she continued, her voice lowering indicating we were getting to the main point of her argument, “I’m going to need you to carry your weight around here, like another adult in the household. That means washing your own clothes and taking care of your own meals. I’ll buy basic groceries, pay the rent and utilities, put gas in the car and pay for its insurance, since I’ll be mostly using it. Anything beyond that I’d like you to pay for yourself. So I imagine you will need to find yourself some sort of job.”
I had a twinge of that old angry feeling, when I used to feel like she was lecturing me unnecessarily about something that I felt was already established, as if I wasn’t mature enough to understand it without the lecture. I acknowledged it in my own mind, but said nothing and did my best not to show it in my face. I focused on removing each of the drawers from the chest.
“That makes sense, mom. I figured I would start looking for a job after New Years.”
“Okay good!” She nodded thoughtfully. I could see her little speech and my positive response had lifted a load from her shoulders.
Minus its four drawers the chest was not too bad to carry, though she admonished me, “Remember sweetie, lift with your legs not your back!”
Another twinge, but I again took that comment in stride and we carried the chest down the hall to the stairs and then took it down one step at a time, resting it between each.
She was definitely more lighthearted now, and asked me if I had enjoyed lunch at Bicycle Jim’s yesterday.
“Did you like MJ’s map idea? She’s so clever sometimes!”
“She is. I thought it was really cool!”
“I so enjoyed hearing all your stories. You spoke like the sophisticated world traveler. And both your dad and I are proud of you for deciding to continue on when Angie left. He went to Europe during the War, but under very different circumstances of course. I wish I had had the opportunity to do so when I was your age.”
Whether she was just sharing feelings or playing to my ego, I still enjoyed hearing it, as we managed to get the chest, and then its drawers, down into the basement alongside the mattress. We looked at the two items, still looking forlorn on the slab floor in the otherwise big empty space.
“So what’s next?” She stretched her arms behind her head and I heard her shoulders pop and crack. “The rug?”
I nodded. I felt that energy of two comrades between us. It was a bit strange but felt good. I felt like I really didn’t need her to be my parent anymore, at least not psychologically if still financially. Once I had a new job I would figure out how to help in that department as well.
“Coop, I think I need to take a break. I can help you more later if you want, but I think I overdid it a bit.”
“Are you okay?” I knew that was the standard response to that statement, one adult to another.
“Yeah I’ll be fine. I’m going to go up to…”, she paused, and then with a grin, “My office and prep for my interview in the morning. I haven’t had a job job since before you were born.”
She thought about what she had just said and her feminism kicked in. “Well certainly being a parent and running a household is a serious job, but not one they pay women for.” Then after more thought. “Well child support maybe… Anyway.” And she smiled at me one more time, big blue eyes twinkling, and headed upstairs.
I was able to drag the rolled up rug from the attic down into the basement myself, gravity definitely my friend in this effort. I put the mattress on the bare floor against one of the two cinder block walls that formed that corner of the basement. The other wall, opposite the furnace, had brick and board shelves along it, four high, with some remaining toys from an earlier time when my brother and I had played together in the basement. I rolled out the carpet from the edge of the mattress, to begin to create the geography of a defined “room” within the larger space. The dresser I placed at a right angle to my bed between the furnace and the edge of the carpet. I stepped back and pondered my creation, such as it was. It reminded me of that crummy, bed bug infested, so called “hostel” Angie and I stayed at in London that first night after arriving by plane. The rug, which was made of woven wool, gray, with an abstract pattern on it of brown and dark red, really gave the beginning of a sense of a room. It actually looked more like the set of a play where the “fourth wall” was where the audience was, looking in. It still lacked the sense of truly being a room, needing something to create some separation, some “aesthetic distance” as my mom the artist might say, from the rest of the basement.
I went back up to the attic and rummaged through all the carefully labeled boxes. Searching through one labeled “Misc Decorations” (not to be confused with another box labeled “Xmas Decorations”) proved fruitful. Amidst the “Happy Halloween” and “Happy Birthday” banners, and other similarly themed wall hangings, streamers and spooled paper ribbon, were six foot by eight foot sections of fishnet. I recalled my mom had had a nautical themed party, she the consummate party planner and giver, where she had bought the fishnets at a surplus store to decorate the walls. After the party they had been neatly folded by either my mom or dad (they both being positively compulsive about storage). “Why bother to store it if you can’t find it!” I recalled my mom lecturing me once, magic marker and masking tape in hand.
I brought the fishnets down to the basement and started creating “walls” by using thumbtacks to fasten and hang the nets from the rafters in the basement ceiling. I created one “wall” separating the foot of my mattress and the dresser next to it from the furnace, extending to the far corner of the rectangular rug. A second fishnet “wall” ran diagonally from there to the corner of the wood walled “coal closet”, an interesting vestige of an earlier time when the house had a coal burning furnace. We used the room to store our bicycles and what old lawn furniture we had during the winter. It even had a very cool, though now nonfunctional coal chute to shovel coal into the room from the outside.
So I had enough nets to hang them overlapping and even three thick and give more of the aesthetic sense of a wall, though one could still see through it of course. That was actually kind of cool, given the basement had only two small windows, up near the ceiling, that brought in natural light. That along with light from the window in the side door, which filtered down the stairway into the basement. All of which were outside my “room”, and which real walls would have separated me from. There was one overlap of nets, by the base of the basement staircase, that was the “entrance”.
I sat on my mattress and took in the space I had created. Two cinder block walls and the wall of the “coal closet” forming three walls of a room. A fourth wall being essentially the furnace with the fishnets in front of it. And finally a diagonal fifth wall of nets, completing the somewhat cloistered space. As I studied it, I realized it was definitely the rug that gave the space any semblance of coziness. My new ‘room’ needed lots of work, but it would do.
My mind thought about eating something, and I headed up to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and scanned its contents. Since my mom had gone grocery shopping yesterday, the fridge was as stocked as it ever was. Several boxes of Kellogg’s Concentrate, two six-packs of Tab with three already drunk, a loaf of Wonder bread, a package of sliced ham, another of salami, American cheese slices, a more real chunk of Jarlsberg Swiss cheese, a big jar of peanut butter, two half gallons of milk, a quart of grapefruit juice, a package of hotdogs, one of pork chops, and another of Polish sausage. That plus a couple bottles of Heineken from the six-pack my mom bought me on my return from Europe. In the upper freezer section, lots of Chicken Pies, “Banquet Bags”, and Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese. Each frozen box with a very appealing picture of the prepared product on one side, and a huge list of ingredients on the back including various multi-syllable chemicals toward the end.
I decided on a “Banquet Bag”, Chicken ala King, which consisted of a frozen plastic bag containing two frozen blocks of white meat boneless chicken in a white cream sauce. I filled a small saucepan half full of water from the sink, fired up a burner on the stove, and set the pan on it. When the water boiled I slid the frozen bag into the hot roiling water, turned down the flame so it wouldn’t boil over, and let it “cook”. Thaw really. In five minutes or so I gingerly used the scissors to cut the top of the bag open, making sure none of the now liquid cream sauce spilled out. I then took two pieces of Wonder bread out of its bag and put one down on the plate. With a fork I fished the two rectangles of chicken meat out of the pool of thick white sauce in the bag and placed them on the piece of bread, pouring on some of the sauce for good measure. I then put the second piece on top and poured the rest of the sauce over it. Hot and tasty and ultimately satisfying, I didn’t know for nutrition.
It had been years since my mom had done any sort of cooking for my brother and I. We were basically on our own to make our own meals from the array of prepared foods she bought, or sometimes sent me to buy, at the grocery store. Maybe once or twice a month she would make one of the few dishes she knew how to, usually something with chicken breasts. We rarely ate together, even on those occasions when she actually cooked something. It was mainly once or twice a month when she took my brother and I out to dinner at a restaurant – Friar Tuck’s, Howard Johnson’s, or the Flaming Pit – that we actually sat together and ate. Or maybe also when she decided to order a pizza from Domino’s.
I finished my hot creamy concoction, rinsed my plate to some degree, and put it and my fork in the sink. In terms of caloric consumption, I had had enough, but psychologically, like a kid in a candy store, I longed for something more, some sort of treat. I thought about that half full pint of Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream my mom had in the freezer. But I knew that was my mom’s favorite and I figured she knew it was still there and counting on her “fix” at some point.
Then it struck me that it might be a good time to take a few hits from that joint that Clark had “lent” me last night, now tucked away in my wallet. My “pint of Haagen Daz”, as it were. Put myself into that delicious altered space outside of time as I created my new basement bedroom. I did have some trepidation about getting high with my mom around, something I couldn’t recall doing before. She was so intuitive and could often, maddeningly, see right through me. It would be like in Amsterdam when I was stoned and trying to get my plane ticket home from that officious young woman at the BOAC office. But then, this was what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t doing anyone any harm, except maybe a bit to my own lungs and brain.
Still wrestling with the pros and cons, I grabbed a pack of matches from the kitchen table and turned to head down in the basement. I saw the plate and fork in the sink, and it struck me that if I just left it there my mom would see it later and end up washing it with any other dirty dishes she had generated. If I was back home from my travels with a new mission to contribute in any way I could to my little family, was leaving another dish for my mom to do part of that mission? I mean it was only one fucking dish, no biggie, but still. If I was still travelling and say at the Joneses, or Giselle’s, or Angelica’s, would I just put a dirty dish in an otherwise empty sink where my host obviously intended to keep it clean? Well maybe, but not when I was trying to be on my best behavior and impress my host that I was an aware and grateful guest. Still feeling like a traveler (hey my backpack was still not unpacked), though perhaps not a guest in my own home, I was grateful to be here too.
So I set my intention. I was going to clean that dish and that fork, and look for every other little way I could “carry my weight around here” as my mom had framed it. But I was also going to do things I wanted to, like take a few hits from that joint, as long as they did not negatively impact others. To be honest, that trepidation crept back into my mind, but I pushed it back, it was just my natural fucking timidity, as i cleaned the dish and the fork with a little dab of dish soap in the sponge.
Dish and fork in the dish drain, the next question was where to smoke it. Obviously not upstairs here. But in the basement or outside? If I smoked it in the basement the smell could linger, burnt weed had a very distinct smell to it and I knew my mom had smelled it before and even recognized it. If I smoked it outside maybe a neighbor would see me, we did not have a secluded yard. What if our landlords who lived in the adjoining half of the double somehow saw me and it put our rental in jeopardy. The basement definitely had fewer cons.
I walked down the stairs and parted my newly hung fishnet “walls” and entered my brand new room. I plopped down on the still bare mattress, folded my legs and extricated the joint from my wallet and studied it. White rolling paper expertly rolled including nicely twisted shut on each end but nice and evenly thick in between, unlike the generally scrawnier jays I had learned to roll for myself. Clark, sweet Clark, had given me a really big one, my welcome back present. “Thanks Clark!” I said audibly, hoping somehow he could hear me.
I was swept up in the portent of the moment. Yeah I had smoked more jays and pipes of weed or hash in the last year and a half than I could count. Yeah I had come home high several times hitching back from school at Western in Kalamazoo. But this was the first time I had lit up in the house, and with my mom twenty feet above me.
“To moving forward”, I thought as I struck the match and lit one end of the thing. I sucked the burning smoke into my lungs and held it in for as long as I could before exhaling. Certainly it would take maybe fifteen or twenty minutes for the THC to really do its number on my brain, but like Pavlov’s dog, even the taste, feel and smell of that first lungful triggered a change in me. I knew I was leaving, or at least would be leaving, one realm of space, time and the associated perceptions for another.
On such occasions my mind’s jukebox generally tried to contribute some sort of a soundtrack, and from perhaps the most prolific and wide ranging voices of my personal Greek Chorus, The Beatles, came the lyric from “Tomorrow Never Knows”…
Turn off your mind relax and float downstream
And play the game “Existence” to the end
Of the beginning, of the beginning
The song had always struck me, each of the hundred odd times I had heard the second side of the Beatles Revolver album playing on my brother’s stereo. All its weird unnatural sounds and backwards tracks. I got from the first or second hearing that it was about drugs, LSD in particular, which the thought of ever trying scared the shit out of me. Weed I had learned to handle. Acid was another thing entirely. I had heard the stories of “bad trips” and I knew my mind was susceptible to my imagination going ballistic and major league panicking. I imagined I could easily fling myself off the top of a building in a moment of extreme imagining.
I took three more big hits from the joint, I had smoked maybe a quarter of it, and I put it out and stuffed the remains back in my wallet. Three days ago I had still been in Europe, at the end of a very long adventure, longing to finally be home. Now here I was. But even though everything around me was familiar – my friends, my mom, my brother, Mary Jane – I was in a very different place.
Looking for inspiration, the Beatles spoke to me again from their exalted spot in my Greek Chorus…
Life goes on within and without you
I chuckled as I thought, “Indeed!” This was a new chapter of the adventure of Cooper Zale, now in the persona of “The Coopster”, to be coordinated from his new command center, his new “Bat Cave”, in the bowels of 1139 Martin Place. I heard the rattle and whoosh of something coming down the laundry chute and landing with a dull thump on top of the other dirty clothes already in the hamper. It sounded like some big items, probably towels or sheets.
Sheets! I needed sheets, a mattress pad, and some sort of blanket and or comforter to sleep on and under. I had worked last summer mostly as a chambermaid, so I knew about making a proper bed, even if it was only a mattress on a concrete floor. If nothing else I could probably steal the sheets and pad off my bed upstairs since my mom would probably throw that special fitted comforter back on, along with the throw pillows to turn it back into more of a divan than a bed. I wasn’t actually high yet, so I figured I would venture upstairs and secure some linens. I peeked in the door of my once bedroom and saw my mom at the table, now her “desk”.
“Hey mom. I thought I’d take the sheets off the bed up here and use them for my bed down in the basement.”
Taking a pencil again from between her teeth, she spoke to me as she continued to look at a legal pad with lots of her writing on it. “There’s a clean set of twin sheets and mattress pad in the linen closet. Go ahead and use them. You can take the blanket off this bed for now, and pull the sheets off so I can wash them. There’s another old blanket in the linen closet if you’re freezing to death down there.”
“You’re welcome sweetie.” The pencil went back in her mouth.
Like the pro chambermaid that I was, I took my pillow and deftly pulled the blanket off the bed and stripped the sheets, straightening and tucking in the sides of the mattress pad. I then replaced the fitted comforter and neatly arranged it as well, finally placing the throw pillows back on, in an artistically random sort of way, to return the whole thing to office slash guest room divan status.
“I’ll be in and out moving things downstairs!”. She nodded acknowledgement, pencil still in her mouth as I exited the room with my arms full of various linens. I sent the sheets down the laundry chute and got the fresh ones and mattress pad from the closet. There was a clean pillowcase so I replaced the one on my pillow. Might as well start with all clean stuff!
By the time I got back down in the basement with my load I was feeling the THC doing its thing in my brain. It was truly a nice light but profound buzz like Clark had said. I really couldn’t tell last night at the concert because we had also smoked Jerry’s stuff and with all the loud music and such. I was a budding marijuana connoisseur and proud of it. Those whisky snobs of my parents’ generation had nothing on us.
I made my bed, or rather my mattress, as best I could given it was resting directly on the concrete floor. Surfing my buzz, I hyper focused on the task, and carefully used the folding and tucking techniques I had learned to secure the top sheet and the blankets at the bottom of the mattress. They were basically the same techniques my mom had taught me previously. I noted that the sheets had that slightly chemically smell that registers as clean in our industrial society. I carefully placed the pillow at what I’d defined as the head.
“Now all I have to do is lie in it!” The thought sauntered through my mind and made me audibly chuckle, as I flopped onto the mattress on my back and my head sank into the pillow. I studied the rafters above me. The boards of the subfloor of the living room above me were at a fortyfive degree angle to the rafters. I wondered if builders did it that way because it was structurally stronger. Time passed. Could have been a minute or a half hour, couldn’t tell you.
Suddenly a verbalized thought again. “What now?”
I proceeded to make several trips up to my old room to take my clock radio and some stuff out of my closet and bring it all down to the basement and put it on the brick and board shelves. Board games, books, baseball and glove joined some remnants of our more childhood toys that had sat forlorn on the shelves previously – a big cardboard tube of Tinker Toys and a wood Cutty Sark Scotch crate with the remains of our old Skaneateles wooden train set in it. I recalled some eight years ago, after I had read the sci-fi books The Angry Planet and The Red Journey Back, that my brother and I had played out the books’ story in the basement here using those Tinker Toys to create the two races of Martians, the “Beautiful People” and the “Terrible Ones”. Now the Tinker Toys and wood trains had company once again!
With everything else moved out of my old room that I wanted to at this point, all that was left was my backpack, still stuffed with all the kit and kaboodle from my Europe trip. I studied its unpainted aluminum frame and now stained red nylon bag with its various sections, pockets and brass zippers. It had carried me through my rite of passage as I had carried it on my back from one destination to the next. As my human travel companions came and went – Angie, Jack, Steve – it alone had stayed by my side for the duration.
I hoisted it one last time up onto my back. I felt that familiar weight of all its contents, that I had carried for the past eleven weeks. My mom watched me.
“I tried to lift your pack yesterday and it weighed a ton. I can’t believe you carried that thing on your back everywhere you went. Wow, Coop, I am impressed!”
I appreciated the compliment but felt that old shyness kicking in. I was high after all and my mom might intuit that fact somehow, and I wasn’t ready to have that discussion about marijuana, particularly while I was stoned on the stuff. I nodded, chuckled, and then shook my head, saying nothing.
But she continued, her intuition apparently in gear, at least to some degree. “I read a story in Time magazine about all the hashish in Europe and American kids smuggling it back to the United States.”
I anticipated a follow up question but there was none, just the implied expectation it was my turn to say something. I nodded again, struggling for how to play this.
“There certainly was hashish in Europe…” I said it in a way that anticipated me completing the thought, but I struggled with what to say to complete it. Rather than get panicky at this point, a sort of focused hyper calm came over me, like the, what I called “reverse stage fright” I got before I went on stage as an actor. The appropriate rejoinder came to me.
“But I’m smart enough not to try to smuggle any back to the States”, I said, glancing at her and raising my eyebrows for emphasis.
She nodded and smiled. “Good!”
With that good judgement in my plus column, I suddenly and unexpectedly got bravely candid.
“I did try some a few times while I was there!”
“You did!” She nodded and pondered. “I ate one of those brownies that my co precinct chair John made for a party we co-hosted last summer. He neglected to tell any of us they were hash brownies. I felt very strange and uncomfortable for several hours afterward. It was not a pleasant experience.”
“I was there too and remember that day. I ate one of them too!”
“You did?” She looked at me, interested.
“I did.” I nodded, my lips pursed for emphasis. “I enjoyed the feeling. To each their own!”
I could see behind her eyes the synapses of her mind firing as it struggled to process all the permutations and loose ends of our little discussion.
“Hmm… I guess so!” was all she said. She looked at me.
I felt good that I had been somewhat candid, but time to take my little victory and make a hasty retreat before she pursued any of those loose ends.
Pack still on my back, I delivered my exit line.
“Well I’m finally going to unpack my pack. A big moment I guess. I’m finally accepting the fact that I’m really back!”
“Glad you are, Coop!” And she smiled at me as I exited my former room, now her office slash guest room.