(Here are two more chapters from my 2010 manuscript of The Madness Trip: A Surrealistic Pornobiographical Phantasmagoria)
The snake’s head levitates above my face. Its tongue flicks slickly at my chin, nose, forehead. My eyes focus on a light rectangular patch of skin at the snake’s throat. It’s a dingy spot at first, its white background contaminated with thin streaks of black, like pen marks on fresh paper. But as I stare, the patch gradually grows whiter, brighter. It even seems to grow larger, becoming impossibly huge, and I feel myself drawn toward it, falling upward like an astronaut into its whiteness. The patch draws me on and I float blissfully, dreamily, in perfect peace, until without warning the whiteness sunbursts in my face with enough force to whiplash my head back against the tub’s hard porcelain, and its blinding explosion becomes the opening pyrotechnic flash of a Great White Lion concert at Riverfront Coliseum. Screaming guitars buzzsaw together above carcrash drums while giant peroxide perms throw themselves across the spotlit stage and the audience roars itself hysterically hoarse. The entire arena becomes one unfathomably enormous scream. And I am part of it, standing atop my chair in the fifteenth row, my arm raised, fist pumping the air, howling mouth stretched open in unknowing imitation of Francis Bacon’s popes. I join in the general chorus of acclamation to proclaim the gospel MTV has taught us: Great White Lion rocks!
The stage flashpots burst blinding white again, and when my vision returns I see the crowd around me transformed into the ranked rows of Nazi troops at a Nuremberg rally. Since the flashes have bleached all color from my eyes, the vision appears in Leni Riefenstahl black-and-white: identically uniformed soldiers stand straight-backed atop their chairs, their right arms shooting out in identical fascist salutes, their penile helmets sealing their resemblance to long rows of mass-produced pricks. All arms aim at the focus of every eye, a spotlit dais backed by large swastika banners where Josef Goebbels, looking like a cartoonist’s caricature of himself, stands at the podium delivering an incomprehensible harangue.
Flooded by a sudden, head-spinning nausea, I lower my arm, leap down from the chair, rip the helmet from my head, tear off my tunic (gold buttons flying) and run for the doors. When I break ranks and charge down the wide central aisle–the red EXIT sign at its far end my only goal–several bulky football players in Nazi regalia appear out of the crowd and position themselves to block my run. I swerve to elude the first blocker, gouge the eyes of the second, knee the groin of a third (It’s easy to beat these guys if you don’t handicap yourself by carrying a leather ball and obeying arbitrary rules), and perform my patented duck-and-roll, causing the fourth and fifth to collide and knock each other unconscious. The EXIT sign flashes over my head and I slam through the heavy metal doors into an auditorium-sized classroom on the University of Cincinnati campus where a physics lecture is in progress.
“...and so the exact location of the electron at any given moment,” the corpulent, carbuncular prof drones on, “is concealed in a cloud of probability that we cannot–” The auditorium is designed like the vertiginous operating theaters of 19th-century medical schools: semicircular rows of seated students funnel steeply down to a central stage where the professor speaks from a microphoned lectern. “–penetrate. Now, philosophers can debate whether this uncertainty represents an epistemological or merely a methodological limit–but none of that need concern us here. We are scientists, after all, um, well, you are science students, after all. Yes. The rarefied heights of philosophical speculation are not our business. What we can say with certainty...” Spotting an empty seat on the aisle, I move slowly and silently step by step down to it amid the constant sound of hundreds of pencils feverishly scratching notes. “...the popularization of this concept, my friend Kip Thorne’s so-called ‘quantum fuzzball,’ has unfortunately replaced the theoretical and mathematical rigor of quantum mechanics with...” After easing myself into the seat, I discover that I have brought neither pen nor notebook and that furthermore, I am completely naked. Mortified, I scan the Izod- and sweater-clad students sitting around me, a veritable sea of Prep, and am suitably shocked to find that they have no faces. The front of every studious head is a sheer cliff of flesh falling from forehead to chin. Only the professor is humanly faced, and from his mouth the drone continues, “...and the differential sizes of electron and nucleus of course lead us to the familiar apparent paradox that substances commonly referred to as solid are in fact on the subatomic level largely consistent of empty space that...” Covering cock and balls with both hands, I stand up intending to run from the room. But my progress is blocked by the stairs, which have now enlarged to enormity, each step at least twenty feet high, so the whole forms a series of plateaus and cliffs unscalable without mountaineering equipment. Fortunately, my penis has also grown to pythonic length, so I’m able to toss it like a cowboy’s lasso (recalling the John Wayne westerns of my childhood), wrap it around the leg of an aisle seat, and so pull myself up along its flaccid shaft to the next step. When I have scaled three steps by this process (hindered only once, when I accidentally lasso a student’s ankle and he kicks himself free of my cock), a ripple of laughter passes across the room. I’m far too preoccupied to wonder how the faceless can laugh, so I ignore the sound even as it rises to drown out the professorial drone. Soon the laughter is accompanied by foot-stomping and desk-pounding. A few students laugh so convulsively that they fall from their seats and roll like boulders down the stairs, endangering my ascent. The din rises steadily to a floor-shaking, ear-puncturing level, and by the time I achieve the stairhead I’m wondering what all the ruckus is about.
Turning around as I coil my phallic rope, I see that the howling is directed at a movie screen suspended above the stage. It shows a grainy black-and-white film of a man who looks exactly like me standing in the corner of a plain white room and masturbating. His knees are bent, his eyes squeezed shut, his lips pulled back against his teeth in an eerie rictus while he pounds his prong. When his mouth dilates into the blissful O of orgasm, the film breaks in the projector, the lights go up, and the uproarious laughter of the still mouthless students dies quickly away. On the stage, a bushy-haired Georges Perec lookalike presides over the university’s once-yearly Human Sexuality course. He responds to questions the students pass down on index cards and scraps of notepaper. “Ah, here’s one phrased in a sensitive and nonsexist way,” he remarks in an incongruous Jimmy Stewart twang, emphasizing words and syllables at random. “It says, ‘How many inches can a vagina take?’” Embarrassed laughter from somewhere in the auditorium. “Well, just remember, gentlemen, that a ba-by has to pass through that opening, and I don’t think any of you have anything that big between your legs.” As if to confirm his hypothesis, my anacondick shrinks to its usual few flaccid inches. The stairs have also somehow returned to original size. The professor reads from another card: “Is anal sex natural?... Hmmm. That’s an interesting question. While it’s true that because human beings are a part of nature, everything human beings do is technically ‘natural,’” he ironically pronounces and finger-quotes the word, “we should all follow the dictates of common sense and stay out of the anus, because it’s dirty, and bacteria and diseases lurk in there. Here’s an example.” The lights go out, the projector clicks to life, and the flickering, scratchy film on the screen, accompanied this time by a bouncy silent movie piano, shows my double standing naked and motionless in his corner, as though awaiting instructions. He turns his back to us, bends over and spreads his ass cheeks. The camera dollies forward, zooms in on the tiny bud of his anus, and disappears inside. The film cuts from a black screen to stock footage of third-degree burn scars, the gangrened limbs of disaster victims, facially disfigured WWI veterans, scenes from The Elephant Man, a fast montage of Diane Arbus grotesques, all culminating in a surprisingly clear full-color shot of a severed penis I recognize as my own lying on gravelly ground and covered with black ants. The laughter begins again. I run for the door, exiting the Cincinnati lecture room and entering the lobby of Olympic Oil corporate headquarters in Cleveland.
I am approached by a smiling, athletic-looking, middle-aged woman with brown hair cut in bangs across her forehead. Clutching a paper-filled folder to her chest with one arm, she extends the other to shake my hand. “Mr. Douglas? Can I call you Daniel? Welcome to Olympic Oil. We’re very happy to have you.” She speaks with the transparently artificial amiability of a late night talk show host welcoming the evening’s third and least important guest. “My name is Elizabeth Stewart, and I’ll be your intaker this morning. If you would please follow me.” I follow her across the lobby and into an elevator. When the doors close, she gestures at the company logo painted on them: two interlocking Os, one black, the other red. “The International Olympic Committee stole their logo from us, you know. We considered suing, way back when, but why bother? Everyone loves the Olympics, right?” I nod and grunt noncommittally, enough affirmation for her to continue. “I think you’re going to love working here. I know I do. We’re a very close company, do you know what I mean? We like to think of ourselves as more of a family than a business. In fact, we’re still owned by the O’Brien family who started Olympic back in the 1890s. Have they told you the story of the Founder yet? No? Well, the story goes that Edward ‘Eddie’ O’Brien, who was raised in an Alabama orphanage, came north to Ohio in the oil boom of the 1880s to seek his fortune. After his first well came in, he decided to move here to Cleveland. But on his way up, he encountered a strange man at a dark and stormy crossroads. They got into a fight, and somehow Eddie killed the old man. He continued on to Cleveland, married a wealthy widow–of a certain age, as they say–named Adriana Rockefeller, and continued to prosper until around 1905 when his wells began to go dry. That was about the same time that Senator T.P. Gore–he was blind, you know–began his investigations of the oil industry. Well, to make a long story short, Senator Gore discovered that the man Eddie killed at that crossroads–it was self-defense, you know–was his biological father. Can you beat that? And not only that, but the man was Gerald Rockefeller, Adriana’s first husband. And then came the real shocker: Eddie was Adriana’a son by Gerald, born out of wedlock when that scoundrel Gerald was still married to his fifth wife. Oh, he was a rascal!” The elevator stops, the OO logo separates, and we step into the corridor as Elizabeth continues her tale. “So anyway, when all this stuff came out during the Gore hearings, Eddie became clinically depressed. A famous doctor from England came over to give him a special treatment–and wouldn’t you know, it worked! Oh, it worked like a charm. After several weeks of intensive counseling, Eddie and Adriana were able to achieve closure. Adriana forgave him, and they lived happily and platonically ever after. Isn’t that a wonderful story? Oh, every time I hear it it almost makes me want to cry. Oh, and I almost forgot: two years after the Gore hearings, Eddie and Adriana’s son Prescott discovered the oil reserves in Kuwait and the company was saved. I love a happy ending, don’t you?”
I follow her down a long corridor that seems to lengthen as we walk it, the door at its far end appearing always the same distance away. The office doors we pass are closed and neither voices nor noises are audible behind them. When Elizabeth’s story ends, the only sounds are the clicks of our respective shoes. We turn down another corridor as long and silent as the first. “Is this a holiday or something?” I ask. “Oh, certainly not. The quiet, you mean? Well, the O’Brien motto is ‘Industry Through Silence,’ you know. Before that, it was ‘Strength Through Friendliness,’ but Prescott changed it about the time we liberated the Iranians from that mean old Mossadegh.” I nod and grunt again. After countless turns down countless identical beige corridors, I ask, “How am I going to find my way out of here at five?” “Oh, there’s no need to worry about that,” she reassures me. I follow her tight, boyish ass, pumping sexily under her skirt, down several more corridors until we arrive at a door numbered 1226. “Here you are,” she says. “And I hope you enjoy your life with us here at Olympic. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.” She shakes my hand again, and with a whispered “Bye now,” a wink and smile, she is gone.
The door to room 1226 is opened from inside, and I hear a cacophony of voices that stops suddenly, as if a tape recorder has been switched off. “Come on in,” says a heavyset bald man in his fifties. With a mechanical hum, his robotic right arm extends itself, and I shake its rubbery hand. His other arm, holding the door, is likewise a lifelike mechanical prosthesis. “You’re right on time, son. I’m Bob Reynolds. Welcome to the Cutting Room. Come on, I’ll show you to your desk.” The door closes behind me, and I follow Bob’s bow-legged, chimpanzee-like walk into a large, white-walled room filled with a labyrinth of interconnected cubicles, each containing an employee working busily at his desk. As we enter the maze, Bob sways to the right and catches himself on a cubicle wall. Recovering, he laughs and taps his thigh with a synthetic hand. “Still getting used to this new leg.” He strikes it again. “Titanium. Olympic has a fantastic health plan. I think they got you over here somewhere. On our tortuous walk through the cubicles, I notice that all of the other employees, glimpsed in passing as they type at computers, fill out forms, talk into telephones, are missing fingers, a hand, an arm, and several wear prosthetic limbs. Feeling the need to say something, I remark, “Olympic doesn’t discriminate against the disabled, I see.”
Bob shoots a puzzled look over his shoulder at me. “How’s that?”
“Well...um...so many of the employees here are... handicapped and–”
“Oh, you mean they’re gimps like me. Well, that kind of goes with the territory.”
Passing more cubicles, I notice beside every desk a steel cylinder about five inches in diameter rising to desk-height out of the floor. These cylinders are topped with bronze lids stamped PLEASE KEEP CLOSED. I point to one of them. “Is that some kind of waste disposal system?”
“I suppose you could say that.” Bob chuckles softly to himself. “Ah! Here we are. Your happy home.” With a flourish he indicates my unoccupied cubicle, the shiny nameplate on its outer wall reading DANIEL A. DOOGLAS.
“That’s a typo,” I say.
“Par for the course. Mine said “Boob Reinhold” for fifteen years. Thought I’d never live that down. Have a seat. These chairs are damn comfortable–and that’s a good thing, too.”
I ease into the padded desk chair that molds itself to my body like a lover’s embrace and let out a sigh of relief and footache after so much walking. “Nice.”
“Yeah, it is,” Bob agrees. “Let’s see now, everything you need should be in the bottom drawer. Here, I’ll get you started.” He opens the drawer and inventories its contents as he places them on the desk. “One large knife, straight edge; one large knife, serrated-edge; one knife sharpener,” he presses a button and it whines to life, “operational; one meat cleaver, industrial; one role of gauze bandages, complete; one bottle of peroxide, large; two rolls of surgical tape. Yep, that should get you through today. We’ll see about getting you a saw tomorrow.” As he says this, a power saw squeals loudly nearby, accompanied by an extended anguished howl. Bob winces and says, “That’s a tough one...Stan Summers, I bet. He’s almost ready for a promotion.” He turns to leave. “Well, good luck.”
“Hey, wait a minute.” He stops and gives me an inquiring look. “Uh...What’s my job here? What am I supposed to be doing?”
“Isn’t it clear by now?” I shake my head, and Bob steps back into my cubicle, explaining with infinite patience, “This is the Cutting Room, son. The job is to get yourself out. And there’s only one way out.” He taps the steel cylinder beside my desk. I flip up the lid and stare down into blackness and an odor of rotten meat. “Everything has to fit down the tube, you understand? Here’s a tip: start small. Don’t get ambitious and try to saw off an arm or leg on your first day. Hell, it took me fifteen years to get this,” he taps his left leg, “and another eight for this,” he taps the right. “So start with a pinky finger or a little toe. Ease into it. You’re a smart kind or you wouldn’t be here. You’ll do okay. If you need anything, just holler.” He ambles slowly away.
I stare at the utensils laid out on my desk, sniff the open tube, and take off running. I sprint like Jesse Owens down a row of cubicles that has grown to indeterminate length, its parallel sides appearing to converge at the ever-retreating horizon that has replaced the room’s walls. I glance down side aisles as they pass and see them all stretching away like background streets in a Renaissance painting. A man with dark sunglasses sticks out a leg to trip me, but the force of my stride tears his prosthetic limb free and sends it flying into the next cubicle, where a man wearing two eyepatches moves his plastic fingers over a braille keyboard and mutters, “Fucking new guy.” Turning down another aisle at random, I run past a mile of blurred cubicles until I’m finally winded and forced to stop. Bent over, hands on my knees, I try to catch my breath. In the cubicle beside me, a man uses a large pair of pliers to extract his last remaining front tooth. Seven other teeth, their roots bloodied, are laid out on his desktop calendar, one for each day of the week. Noticing me, he lowers the pliers and says, “Ish no yoosh, buddy, jush ackshept it.” I collapse to one knee and massage a sudden cramp in my thigh. Turning away from the sage oral surgeon, I discover that I’m kneeling opposite my own cubicle–or rather, Daniel Dooglas’s. I crawl inside and climb onto the chair.
Leaning over my desk, I stare at the red-faced, sweaty-haired reflection in the meat cleaver’s blade. Bob’s right. There really is only one way out. I lay my left hand flat on the desk and raise the cleaver. Looking up at the suspended steel, I see my face again, its mouth opened wide in a silent scream. I feel myself sucked into that howling reflection, and I become the blade as it falls.
Zoe is born from the confluence of William Blake, Jim Morrison and the Marquis de Sade. The snake’s tongue flickers across my open hand and I remember the feeling of heavy pages flicking past my fingertips as I flip through the old leather-scented volume of Blake’s Poems and Prophecies in the University of Cincinnati library. I’m supposed to be on the second floor with my engineering friends studying for an organic chemistry final, but instead I’m sitting alone at a table in the nearly deserted European literature section with Blake open on my lap, Justine lying atop Juliette on the table, and a Doors cassette spinning in my Walkman. Morrison is urging me to break on through while I pipe down valleys wild occupied by the isolated chateaux of torturing libertines when I look up from Juliette’s latest demand to be frigged thrice and frigged again till all her holes are filled with fuck (even her ears?) and see a smiling girl with candy-colored streaks dyed in her hair sitting a few tables away with a group of her friends. She laughs at a joke, throws her head back, tosses her hair in a technicolor dazzle, and I stare openly, frankly, willing her to look my way. Turn your head. Look at me. Look at me.
And she does. The guy sitting across from her shoots a forefinger in my direction and Zoe turns to face me. Our eyes meet and we’re in my living room with sounds of the Sixties blasting on the turntable and Zoe’s hair flying up to flashing windows as she dances and her voice is saying “Put this under your tongue” and we’re back in the library where she walks to my table and after a few minutes of mutual flirting, grinning, joking around, we talk about the usual nothings, exploring, feeling each other with words, both wondering are you a bitch am I an asshole am I a bitch are you an asshole how badly will you hurt me this time until she asks “What are you studying?” picks up one of my Sades and reads the spine with a laugh sounding loudly in the bookish quiet and says, “You must be a really weird kind of engineer.”
and I’m lying in the bed we’ve already broken, a stack of chemistry textbooks replacing the splintered fourth leg, and Zoe crouches above my face, her thighs moving apart as she lowers her opening pussy to my mouth in a yearningly slow motion that still gives me a hard-on whenever I watch NASA footage of spacecraft docking in orbit
and I’m burying my face in her hair, drowning in color, as we lie on our sides and I fuck her from behind, red hair in my mouth between pressed lips I’m running its smoothness across my tongue, orange and green in my face neoning my vision, violet and yellow curling around my ears to stain my greasy brown, and I press my lips to the back of her head in a rush of tenderness while our bodies push each other off the bed and we tumble to the floor still together, Zoe lying on top of me now as I come, burying my cry between her shoulder blades
and we’re face to face our faces Bergman huge, her dark eyes and long thin lovely nose pressing into mine as our mouths meet softly in a gentle kiss, no sound save our lips barely brushing, chaste as can be in this busy restaurant where the lights are low and no one sees Zoe’s hand under the tablecloth curled around my cock or notices the uncontrollable tremor in my hand as I raise the waterglass clicking with ice and take an innocent, breathless drink
and Zoe’s riding me now, back on the broken bed, her breath quickening to mouth-open, eyes rolled back climax while I caress her swaying breasts, two perfect handfuls, one dark nipple pointing straight ahead, the other pulled to the side like Sartre’s left eye, and the call in her throat sets me off and I thrust up harder as she bears down, crying out, hair flying, breasts bouncing wildly, pounding in the suction and slap, and we come together, calling in harmony to the walls and the books and the records in the sunlit bedroom
and her hair fans out on the pillow in a sunburst rainbow while I kneel above her stroking my cock and her tongue flicks at the underside of its head and I think that all the roy g biv colors combine to white and shudderingly shoot white streaks upon her hair, forehead, cheeks, black eyes nothing like the sun and she tongues the last drops from the tip and says You taste good So do you my love so do you
“I like to think of myself as an engineer of human souls,” I announce with comic grandiloquence.
Zoe laughs again. “Really? That’s a Stalinist line, isn’t it? That’s what Stalin said artists should be, right?”
“Oh wow. I’ve never met a real, live Stalinist before.”
“Neither have I. Kronstadt was my Kronstadt.”
“Lucky you.” She thumbs a few pages of the Sade, puts it down, and extends her hand. “I’m Zoe, but that’s not my real name. That guy over there leering at us is Danny. He’s a bit of a cross to bear, but he’s cool. The two girls who can’t keep their hands off each other are Abby and Annie, a real pair of lugs. Do you know that word? L-U-G, Lesbian Until Graduation. Annie and Abby and Danny and Zoe. We all sort of rhyme, I guess. My real name’s Rebecca, but I changed it. Zoe means life.”
“So I’ve heard. I’m Danny.”
“Oh Christ!” she shouts in mock outrage and calls across the room to the others, “he’s another fucking Danny!”
“Great name, dude!” the other Danny calls back, giving me a thumbs up.
and we’re in Zoe’s car, climbing up Ravine Street after a buy in Over The Rhine, the little engine whining in complaint while terraced rows of houses slip slowly past. (Ravine is surely the steepest urban street in the entire midwest, like driving up a waterfall in summer and impossible with ice in winter.) I bend down below the window for a surreptitious hit from my chemical engineer’s crack pipe, a medium-size pyrex test tube stolen from the lab storage room one day while the grad student attendant took a smoking break. I kiss the tube’s top, flick my Bic around its bottom and watch those little rockies turn and burn. A sharp inhalation sucks the white clouds from the glass and when Zoe turns onto Warner Street I feel the hit like an ice cube melting in the middle of my brain on a humid 100-degree summer day, relieving coolness traveling with delicious slow steadiness down my body to the tips of my fingers and the tops of my toes. “Oh fuck...” I sink back into the seat. “You wanna suck on this?” Passing Zoe the pipe, hearing her hoover up the smoke, feeling warm glass in my hand again. Zoe’s voice: “Shit, man...Oh.” Mine: “You wanna suck on this?” My zipper down, free hand fishing for my dick. Know the damn thing’s in here somewhere. Zoe’s laughter: “Wait till we get home, hornboy.”
Home is a little green house on Warner surrounded by a hedge that druggy indolence and lack of tools have let grow completely out of control, ten to twelve feet high in places, with scratchy branches sticking out like unshaven whiskers and a wildly uneven top that the wind contorts into a constantly shifting series of natural topiary patterns. One moonlit night after downing a few tabs of Danny Prime’s acid we walked around the hedge and saw sculpted along its top: Nosferatu rising from his coffin (Zoe); the Mad Hatter’s tea party (Annie); an upside down Statue of Liberty turning into a California Condor (Abby); a big green bong the size of a Volkswagen (Danny); the arms of a drowning swimmer signaling for help (me). The best our complaining neighbor can do is cut his hedge to look like a horse. Fuck him.
Inside, Danny’s bent over the coffee table doing lines from a mirror while two joints burn in the ashtray. (A week later we walk in and find him facedown on the floor like a Muslim at prayer, doing spilled coke straight off the carpet. Zoe says, “If only your pupils could see you now, Mr. Dorfmann.” Danny’s a piano prodigy and more teacher than student at the College Conservatory of Music. “If my pupils could see me I’d save money on mirrors,” Danny replies and returns to the rug.) “I’m crackin’,” I announce as soon as the screen door shuts behind me. Danny straightens, flares his white-powdered nostrils as he sniffs hard, and gives me an appraising glance. “Yeah, you’re cracked, I’m cracked, the whole fuckin’ world’s cracked, dude. Especially the Chinese. They just cracked down.” He points in the general direction of the TV, where CNN shows a shaky nighttime video of troops marching into Tienanmen Square, intercut with daytime footage of a single man standing in front of a tank and blocking its progress. “Tienanmen’s over, man. The Chinese government killed them all.”
“Oh shit,” say Zoe and I in unison. Even through the fog of crack, this news feels like a gutpunch.
“You’re already cracked, man,” Danny continues in his chronic tooter’s nasal twang. “You’re a goner. You’re a groaner. Even Nancy Reagan herself can’t save you now. You Just Said Yes, dude, and now you gotta go all the way. To the top. The top, dude. We gotta little song about that.” He rushes to the stereo, rummages through a plastic milk crate bulging with albums, and eventually drops the needle onto Sly and the Family Stone. I take Danny’s place on the sofa, bend down to kiss my reflection in the coke-streaked mirror–a razor blade covers my right eye–and my main man Sly promises to take me
High-er. The same song blares from the radio days or weeks later when we glide down Ravine in Zoe’s funky psychedelic Volkswagen, a car of more colors than her hair. At the bottom of the hill, corner boys look up with guarded eyes and quickly return their attention to Tone Loc on the boombox rapping about his wild thing. They know us by now, a pair of characters: the white bitch with the crazy hair and the toy car and the skinny ass boyfriend who’s even whiter than her, so white you can see the veins through his skin and they’re green, man, green, like he’s some Vulcan shit or somethin’, no joke. And the pair of bloodshot eyes in the doorslot where we buy dope knows us on sight, doesn’t wait for an order, just gives us the price and a baggie and slides the slot home. Today Zoe doesn’t need her gas pedal; the momentum of our descent carries us through Over The Rhine. We cruise into the smoked glass corporate canyons of downtown, a city like any other in America, with sidewalks of moving suits observed by mannequins in shopwindows and elevators lifting everyone to his day. On the street between Riverfront Stadium and Coliseum, Zoe revs the Beetle’s tiny engine, lifts the break and rockets forward, tires squealing, g-forces pushing me into the seat. “This is what I’m gonna do when I can’t take it anymore!” she screams. Cars blur past in honking colors and snippets of obscenities trail after us descending below street level to the Public Landing, a paved ramp leading straight into the river, no barriers, as though the street has suddenly gone under flood. We’re speeding toward the endlessly wide water and I’m screaming “Zoe! Stop!” and bracing myself against the dash when she cuts the wheel, hits the brake and brings us expertly to a skidding stop at river’s edge. The water almost kisses the bottoms of our wheels. “Jesus Christ!” I exclaim, heart pounding in my head. Zoe’s smiling. “Into the river,” she says, “just like a frog.” The Ohio River looks big from the bridges, but down here it’s huge: a choppy, fast-moving lake of current dyed the colors of Appalachian mud and Pittsburgh industry. I look up at the highway bridges striding across it like giant robots, but Zoe says, “No, they’re mired in it, like big steel dinosaurs.” Downriver stands the bridge Roebling built, a first rough draft of Hart Crane’s Brooklyn myth, its tall towers shining in the sunlight. I think of a madman’s leap: to soar from one of those towers and fly into annihilating nothingness. To pass from the earth without memory or mark, no name carved on kitschy marble or printed in papers to be ignored for a day. The river is a mouth that swallows everything. Its tongue laps at the car.
I: This is how you want to die?
Z: Every single day.
She shifts into reverse and our tires crackle in the driveway of my old house on Lyon Street. “I lived here last summer,” I say with dopey dumbness. “Nonsense,” Zoe corrects, “Danny’s lived here for years.” “Yet another Danny?” “You’ll see.”
She knocks three times (two fast, one slow) and the front door is opened by a guy who looks like me except for the heavy mascara, eyes ringed with kohl, and silver cigarette holder pinched between puffy, Marilyn Monroe-red lips. It’s like looking into a campy mirror. “Darling,” he says softly and affectionately, encircling Zoe with the sleeves of his imperial purple robe, “No kiss-kiss today, my love. I’ve been collagened by a he-man of a doctor wearing the most perfectly atrocious bowling shoes. I blew him in lieu of payment.” He puffs the holder and casts an appraising glance at me, eyebrow archly raised. “And who is this elegant young roughneck you’ve lured to my lair today?”
“Danny Prime, meet Danny Douglas, and vice versa.” We shake hands, and he holds mine as though not wanting to let go.
“Vice versa, I’m sure,” he says. “You look familiar, don’t I?” Chuckling to himself, he turns back to Zoe and I catch from the end of his holder a whiff of exceptionally sweet-smelling weed, as mellow as pipe tobacco. “Shall I lead you two urchins to my sanctum sanctorum?”
Following Danny into my former home, I immediately see in the kitchen at the far end of the hallway my clean-shaven, shorter-haired self of the previous summer standing at the sink and washing dishes while Jenn dries. When we walk past the living room, I see Jenn riding another naked me on the sofa. Danny claps his hands Cleopatrically at them and commands, “Get a room, you pair of overheated bitches.” This third or fourth Danny and second or third Jenn flip him a pair of birds and continue fucking. “It’s like being den mother to a house full of rabbits,” Danny Prime complains as he leads us on.
In the kitchen I reach out and press my forefinger into the upper arm of dishwashing Danny. It feels like living flesh. Our eyes meet; he grins mischievously and says, “Are you gonna fuck me now or later? Jenn’s cool with it.” “Sure, go ahead,” says the Jenn beside him, sounding bored. Zoe takes my arm and whispers, “Don’t pay any attention to these assholes. Danny owns them all,” and we follow his purple robe down the back stairs.
Two flights down through a cage of bannister bars I see a naked me, cock and balls bouncing as I run down the stairs, chasing a naked Jenn, small breasts likewise buoyant, into the basement. But when we come to the bottom of the stairs and Danny turns on the single bare bulb that illuminates the large room, the latest doubles are nowhere to be seen. “Did you see--” I whisper to Zoe. And Danny Prime interrupts, “The goddess of life sees everything. And some of it’s even real.” He points to a refrigerator humming against one wall and says, “Don’t touch that. It’ll shock you.” “I know,” I reply. Danny stands behind the rusted out Model T and easily pushes it forward several feet, revealing a square steel door fitted into the basement floor. He unlocks it, hauls it open, and beckons us to follow him down the steps below: “Abandon all hope, and so forth.” Producing a flashlight from his robe, he leads us down a steep but expertly constructed stairwell, the steps steel, the walls smooth concrete, which ends at another steel door, this one upright. Danny unlocks, flips another light, and leads us into a room filled with loaded metal shelves. A desk near the entrance is cluttered with a glass bonsai forest of droppered medicine bottles. Danny leans against the desk and explains, “The dear departed occupant of this house during the early 1960s built this room shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis. He planned to ride out the apocalypse with two thousand five hundred and fifty-five cans of pork and beans. No, I’m serious. That’s what we found the first time we opened this place. One cot with no pillow and shelves full of bean cans with no can opener. Apparently, our former occupant was not a detail man. And oh yes, there was also the skeleton of a cat in the corner. God knows how he got in.” I look around at the bulky plastic boxes filling the shelves. Danny continues: “I tossed the beans and ate the cat, or vice versa, can’t remember now, and transformed this dreary room of doom into my personal Museum of Trips.” One robed arm gestures operatically at the shelves. “This is my acid. Here. Here. And here. It’s all blotter acid, sealed in plastic in airtight containers. Some of it goes back decades. I have a sheet of original Albert Hoffmann, supposedly from the batch he cooked up just before his famous bicycle ride. There are several sheets of Owlsley from the early Kesey period, before the bus. I even have a few tabs purporting to be the notorious Woodstock Brown, but I’ve never sampled them. Not a fan of bad trips. Speaking of which,” He takes a bottle from the desk, unscrews the dropper and holds it up to our faces. “Present tongues, please.” We stick out our tongues as though comically deriding him, and he lets two yellowish drops fall on each. They have an oily texture and a surprisingly cool, pepperminty taste, but no noticeable immediate effects.
“I don’t feel anything,” I confess after a couple minutes of standing before him like a soldier awaiting orders.
“You will, darling. Both of you will.”
and immediately Zoe and I are sucked backwards into a film of the past hours rewinding at high speed: up the stairs, through the house, into the car, downhill to Warner and the hedge looking like victims of a gas attack reaching up to the sky as they gasp for breath, and backwards into the house, taking off my clothes and carefully dropping each article at a different place on the living room floor, backing up the stairs to the bathroom where I catch several soiled squares paper flying up from the toilet, wipe them clean between my ass cheeks, magically stitch them back onto the roll, and sit on the toilet until a large turd shoots painfully into my anus, distending my belly, and then back down to the living room, collapsing beside the broken coffee table, and after a few minutes rising exhausted and using my suddenly stiffened dick to hoover jets of jism from the floor, sofa, wall and Zoe’s tits while she laughs and we roll into the wreckage of the coffee table, climb atop its broken halves and fuck them back together like a master carpenter’s wet dream.
And then comes night, faster than an eyeblink. The drug wears off, polarities reverse, and I’m out on the sidewalk, moving forward for a change, crossing Ravine and walking up the dark winding path to Lookout Park. I stand atop the low retaining wall that separates the hilltop playground from the steep, weedy drop to Over The Rhine and watch the constellation of city lights blazing down to the river and the rarer, fainter lights on the Kentucky side. This city is only beautiful at night, I think, when darkness and distance transform its boxes into towers of light. Several men pass on the path behind me, their silhouettes alone and paired, but none seems to notice the solitary wall-stander until a voice close to my ear says, “Hey man. Hey, remember me?” It’s the kitchen Danny from Danny Prime’s house, last summer’s me. He’s standing beside me on the wall.
“Yeah. You’re vaguely familiar.”
“You like the view, huh? It’s pretty sweet.”
“You know what this reminds me of, standing here on this wall?”
“I could hazard a guess.”
“Elementary school, remember? That wall at the end of the playground?”
“How could I forget?” This me is really getting on my nerves.
“You lookin’ for a good time, man?”
“I think you know I am, don’t you?”
“Huh?... Oh, you mean because I’m you?”
“It doesn’t quite work that way. You see, you’re a year smarter than I am, and at our age a year makes a big difference.”
“It certainly does.”
He’s quiet for a few seconds and then says, “So, you still wanna fuck me? I like the tube over there. I’ll show you.”
“There’s no need to show me, Danny.”
“Yeah,” he laughs dumbly, “I guess that’s right.”
We cross the path, crunch through the gravel of the deserted playground, and climb inside the plastic crawling tunnel atop the jungle gym. Two grown men are a snug fit, but we can maneuver well enough. Danny lies on his belly while I pull down his pants and shorts, spread his cheeks and lick the hairs around his anus until they lay wet straight and black against his skin. I catch myself wondering if I would perform this service on an ass not my own.
“You have lube, man?”
“Do you have to ask?” As prepared as a Boy Scout for my nightly adventures, I take the small tube of KY from my pocket and squeeze a circle of the cool gel around Danny’s anus. With this ring, I me fuck. I work the lube in with my finger while he moans pleasantly. “Aw, fuck me, man, plug me, do it. I know you’re hard as a rock for it, man.” I pull myself up to his shoulders with one hand and with the other hand guide my cock along his crack. “You got a condom, man?” he whispers.
“I can assure you with absolute certainty that you will not contract AIDS this summer.”
“Huh? Oh, that’s right. Then ram that fucker home, man.”
Once the head is in, the shaft goes easily, and soon we’re bucking against each other in a panting, athletic rhythm, interrupted only when the spotlight of a police car, a cruiser cruising for cruisers, sweeps across the playground and sees nothing. We resume, and when my climax is closing in, I whisper in Danny’s ear, “Don’t... kill... Zoe.”
“What–uh, uh–Who–uh–the fuck is–uh–Zoe?”
and I’m fucking Zoe’s ass on the Public Landing under a clear blue summer sky, pressing her face painfully into the pavement with one hand while I pound to an orgasm that sweeps us both screaming away for a few seconds, then hurls us back into our selves, naked on sunwarmed concrete while city traffic zooms above us and long blocky barges slide slowly down the river. No one notices us here, Adam and Eve buttfucking at the river’s edge. We roll apart, panting. Zoe scoots down the ramp and lowers the upper half of her body into the water. The current turns her over, and I watch her floating there, face-up on the surface of the river, anchored by her legs spread in a V on the pavement. The water’s force buoys her up as it drags her colored hair awry. She says, “Danny, take me all the way. Do it now.” I pull an iron rebar clumped with concrete out of the rubbish at river’s edge and bang it against the pavement to test its strength. It neither breaks nor bends. Standing between Zoe’s legs, I lift the rod high above my head and bring it down full-force into her face. I lie in the bottom of the tub and my mother stands above me, her feet against my shoulders, skirt bunched about her waist. She crouches and forces from her vulva a weak stream of urine that splashes acridly about my face and neck. With another crouch she releases a warm turd that slides slowly, smearingly down my chest. The iron smashes through the center of Zoe’s face, flattening her nose and mangling her teeth before bouncing off the skull at her forehead. I raise it again, swing it down even harder, and now it breaks through, caves in her face like a plastic mask. I strain to pull the bar free, then bring it down again in the red-stained water. My mother’s face wavers above Zoe’s on the river’s surface, and I swing the rod again, smashing it. The water calms to reveal my own reflection, dark against the light, shadowing over Zoe’s submerged and sliding body. My father stands at the edge of the tub, aiming his limp penis at my face. He shoots a stream of burning urine directly into my eyes. I swing once more, cutting through the water, shattering my image, and burying the rod in Zoe’s skull.