Meanwhile Joe hasn’t bothered me much over the car theft. To pontificate about it would have the effect of trivializing his carefully compiled list of my lesser crimes. The harangues take place every three weeks or so, after a buildup of hostile silence. I never know what he is angry about until the harangue begins, but whatever it is, it always concerns the same petty infractions. They are permanently registered on a yellow pad of legal paper, the list filling up more and more of the pad over the years, so he can flip through the pages to remind me how many instances of the same infraction were previously committed, dates recorded in the margins. Nothing is ever forgotten or forgiven. Here he bares his Jesuit fangs: the pad of paper is my soul, with many-layered sin written all over it.
Let’s take the sole remaining bruised and wrinkled apple sitting in the back of the refrigerator in its clear plastic bag aerated with holes. The bag has been there for months. I have admittedly eaten most of the apples. My mother also ate a few. The last one stays there for the taking. Joe deliberately refrains from eating any of the apples, so the crummy little apple never gets eaten. But it doesn’t matter. It’s the point that counts.
“Sit down,” he says. Whenever he invites me into the living room, I know he’s launching into the next tirade. “You didn’t consider that there are other people in this household besides yourself, did you?”
“I guess I didn’t.”
“I wonder if you could point out the latest evidence for this, which just struck me like lightning when I opened the refrigerator.”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know. If I hit you on the head with a hammer you wouldn’t be aware of that either, I suppose.”
“. . .”
“Answer me when I talk to you!”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Just now I wanted to have an apple and I noticed the whole bag was gone. Perhaps you could comment on that.”
“The bag was sitting in the refrigerator for a long time.”
“I don’t know, three months.”
“And what happened to the bag during those three months?”
“The apples got eaten.”
“No, the apples didn’t get eaten. Apples don’t get eaten. People eat apples. Who ate the apples?”
“Me and mom.”
“So you’re going to blame your mother.”
“You have to admit you share a large amount of the responsibility. It’s always you I see eating the apples. And naturally rather frustrating to find that there are none left when I happen to want one. Does what I’m saying sound reasonable to you?”
“You only guess.”
“I share responsibility.”
“For eating the apples.”
“But there’s more to it than that. Let’s admit there’s a pattern here. It’s not just this bag of apples that disappeared before I had a chance to eat any. It seems to happen with every bag of apples –”
“The apples were getting old.”
“Don’t talk back to me! No, the apples weren’t getting old. I’d say it’s a question of selfishness, don’t you think?”
“The whole world revolves around yourself. Or that still hasn’t occurred to you yet, has it?”
“No, it hasn’t.”
He flips through the pages of the list. “The same pattern again and again. Taking the garbage out. Walking the dog. Mowing the lawn when you know it needs mowing. I shouldn’t have to keep asking you to do these things. Taking the initiative yourself might show some progress. But I don’t see many signs of this. Or can you present any evidence?”
“I don’t know.”
“I wonder why you don’t know. You really have nothing to say for yourself, or do you?”
“Can’t name a single instance of progress.”
“I could go on and on. Repeatedly being rude to your mother. Throwing the silverware into the tray while putting the dishes away – ”
“I didn’t throw them into the tray.”
“So I was hallucinating?”
“Then whose fault was it?”
“. . .”
“Answer me when I talk to you!”
“It was my fault. But I didn’t know I was – ”
“Don’t talk back to me! Or hitting your brother. Not a single sign of progress to weigh in the balance – ”
“You didn’t think I wouldn’t notice it when you hit your brother, did you?”
“I never hit Peter.”
“Sure, you did. Last Sunday evening in the bathroom.”
“He was spitting on me. Deliberately spitting on me. I didn’t hit him hard. It was just a playful slap.”
“So you’re contradicting me now. And what about practicing the violin, when I pay a lot of money for your lessons?”
“I never asked to play the violin. I was forced to.”
“Oh, you were forced to. That’s a nice attitude. I wonder if you could name any constructive activities you’ve engaged in on your own. Any you happen to have thought of. Such as might make a person well rounded. Can’t think of any, can you?”
“How about your homework and the problem with your short attention span. Can’t concentrate long enough to finish your homework. And what’s the result of that?”
“The steady deterioration of my grades.”
“Can you propose a solution to this problem, or do I have to consider the army or navy when you turn eighteen?”
“I’ll try to read more.”
“I’m not sure reading a few more books is going to help. One or two sparrows doesn’t make a spring. It takes a large flock,” he concludes with a sweep of his hand, the lecture not yet over, on his way up the stairs. I remain where I am.
“And another thing,” he says, returning a moment later. “You went out Friday night, didn’t you?”
“Who did you go with?”
“That disreputable character. And how did you spend the time?”
“Went to a movie.”
“Beneath the Planet of the Apes.”
“Beneath the Planet of the Apes! That puerile movie? I bet it never occurred to you there are more worthwhile movies around. But you wouldn’t know about that, would you?”
“Such as The Fiddler on the Roof.”
“. . .”
“All you can do is sulk. Now why is it your disposition regularly gets worse whenever you go out?”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s always a noticeable downturn in your mood the next day. Yesterday it was written all over your forehead: BAD MOOD. Any suggestions for tackling your recurrent disposition problem?”
“Try to be in a better mood.”
“Try to be! It’s not a question of trying. It’s a question of doing. But I wonder if you’re capable of that, or need help. The army will put some discipline into you. Stand up!”
I stand up. He strikes a boxer’s pose and takes a mock swing at me.
“It’s discipline you need,” he shouts, spitting foam, “or do I have to pound that into you!”
He heads back up the stairs. One of these days he’s really going to hit me.
Bounding back down again, he grabs me by the shoulders and slams me against the wall. In a contorted face he yells, “I’ve just about had it up to here with you! You’re pathetic, you and your shabby Roman lifestyle. What do you have to say for yourself? Too inarticulate to speak, eh? It’s the rock music and your sick friends that’s addled your brain. Well, the army will take care of that. Put a little iron into you!”
I wait five minutes to see if he makes another appearance. I don’t want him coming down to my room.
The following summer Joe buys me a used car after I earn my driver’s license, a Ford Cortina with a rusted chassis. Although it might seem an act of generosity, it’s nothing of the sort. We need to drive down to the summer cottage in Invermere, and they can thereby get me out of their face for the long drive, not to mention that one does need a car to get around in Edmonton. But he’d never let mere convenience off the hook; the real reason he’s bought the car is to test me. Driving is fun, most of all when you first get your license, and Joe is not into fun.
Invermere is a lakeside town in British Columbia a few miles from the summer tourist resort of Radium Hot Springs. Both towns are rather drab but the mountainous terrain is spectacular. They take the Buick, I take the Cortina.
With nothing else to do in town, I drive the car. After a week, Joe’s had enough. The tirade is on the selfishness of driving everyday instead of engaging in more “constructive” activities. I don’t speak to them and hole myself up in the bedroom porch. The next evening, my Invermere friends stop by to invite me to a movie. I jump in their pickup truck.
When I return, Joe is waiting for me, trembling in anger behind the front door of the cherry-colored cottage, chain-smoking, scattering ashes, mumbling hate. His hand is on the inner doorknob. When I reach for the door, he opens it for me and shoves a cardboard box containing my belongings in my face. “Get out!”
I walk down 12th Avenue to Kinsmen Beach. A thunderstorm breaks out and I take shelter in the toilet stall of a public lavatory. The hard floor, bare lighting and the cold make it impossible to sleep. I go back up into town, recalling an abandoned house, which I enter through the basement window. There’s an old couch with broken springs sticking out: a five-star hotel compared to the lavatory. It’s home for the next few days while I look for a job. With my fifteen dollars of cash I live on milk and iced oatmeal raisin cookies.
They need a dishwasher at the Radium Hot Springs Hotel and pay three dollars an hour. We can room on the upper employees floor for fifty dollars a month. I share my room with George, a bartender in the hotel tavern who teaches me how to shave my face. He’s an okay older-brother kind of guy but is addicted to amphetamines and loses his temper in paranoid rages.
There’s a party happening every night after work in someone’s room till dawn. What a group. Chris, the funny twelve-year-old busboy who supplies our marijuana. Don, the tall teenage freak with Jesus knowledge and hair down to his bum whose parents started feeding him acid when he was six. Ralph, the bartender working in the hotel lounge, a former RCMP in his 30s who crept into my bed one night to suck me off, with George in the other bed pretending not to notice. There’s Adrian and Mary, who always leave their door open in the morning and fuck in full view, their little kids wandering about. And Helen, a girl my age hired as a chambermaid during the summer break, a freckled brunette who locks her azure eyes onto mine every moment we speak with a calm intensity and wisdom no one has ever graced me with before. I didn’t know it was possible to stare like that without causing one to blink or turn away. I fall powerfully in love with her. She tells me she’s got a boyfriend, but I can’t bear to let her out of my sight.
One day we’re all laid off when the hotel restaurant is shut down for sanitary violations. A co-worker with a car drives me and Helen to Banff, where the three of us will look for a job. As soon as we get there Helen is homesick and jumps on a train back home. I find a camping store and buy my first backpack and sleeping bag. In the town center lawn is a crazy quilt of motley freaks smoking pot and playing guitar. I tag along with two of them for the night, an American AWOL with a brush cut, and a self-professed scavenger with a Jesus mien. We sleep in a shed on a dirt floor.
The scavenger boasts he eats better than us: “Let me ask you, what do you eat everyday? Burgers, right? Well, I get to have fresh tomatoes, green peppers, salad, ham and pineapples on uneaten pizzas, all dumped into the bin behind the restaurant.”
Fleeing Banff only days later after a reported RCMP sweep, I make a last-ditch effort to win Helen over by stopping off at her hometown of Kimberly. She doesn’t know I’m coming, but that’s acceptable considering the easy informality of our generation, and our fondness for each other. I get to Kimberly in the evening and ring her up on a pay phone. Her mother says she’s out. I go into a tavern for a beer. Upon leaving I notice a young couple across the street. I immediately recognize the girl’s oval face.
“Isham?” she calls out to me in her soft voice.
The guy she’s with is her boyfriend. She parts with him and takes me home with her. Her mother lodges me in a room upstairs, away from Helen. She’s lovely with me the next morning, but it’s apparent I have to leave.
I set about hitchhiking back to Alberta. Bad luck leaves me stuck on the highway for hours. By the time someone stops for me it’s already dark. The ride is a station wagon with four suspicious men, who find space for me in the back seat. They seem drunk or drugged and mumble incoherently. The car picks up speed. All of a sudden the driver throws the car into reverse and it slams to a halt.
“What happened?” the driver himself announces.
I’ve had enough and get out to wait for another ride.
Back in Edmonton that winter, a new supply of white blotter hits the scene. By this point I have tripped quite a few times and I’m no longer sure I need acid anymore. It’s not even a drug. I don’t know what it is. Some kind of device. Where other drugs embellish, acid slices away, subtracts rather than adds. Instead of wafting you along on a magic carpet, it pulls the carpet out from under you. It drops your clothes, opens the window, wipes away the garbage of your habits and thought patterns. It reorganizes priorities. It shows you what’s important and what’s not. What’s important is the realization that heightened states of awareness are not only possible but desirable. Clearly what’s not important is the rate at which it is acceptable to go through the family bag of apples.
Three things I would not recommend doing, however, are 1) dropping acid at night, 2) dropping when you’re not in the mood, or 3) dropping a second hit because the first one isn’t working. Like the time all three happened.
It’s around eight o’clock one evening and I’m with some friends. As we have nothing else to do, we all drop a hit, though I have second thoughts. Almost two hours go by and I’m not getting off, as if my mind is somehow resisting the drug. But Ray, Earl and Kevin aren’t getting off either. We suspect a quality problem with this batch of acid. What the hell, I drop a second hit. Bored, we head over to the pool hall across from Scona, our high school.
The pool hall is a large loft on the upper floor of a building across the street from the southeast entrance of the school. This is “our” entrance, being the one place inside the school where smoking is allowed and a lot of hash oil consumption goes on before morning classes since no teacher would dare invade our space. The pool hall couldn’t be more conveniently located and is packed with students during lunch hours and all day as well with those skipping class. There are ten professional-sized billiard tables, pinball and video machines along the sides, and a foosball table near the entrance, where we line up at lunchtime for a chance to take over the winner or be eliminated. Plus tables and seats in front of the counter, run by a portly woman named Diamond Lil who cooks the burgers and fries and runs the place and is likeable enough as long as you don’t get on her bad side.
I’m getting off by the time we get there. We go over to mess around with the pinball machines. Someone shoots a ball off a pool table and it flies by with a long tail like a comet. My hands too make brilliant trails as I wave them before me. I finger-paint on the air. Next we play some foosball. The game I am normally so proficient in, even when stoned out of my mind on pot, proves difficult and absurd. The hard plastic players now appear to be made of gooey rubber and are useless. We play one or two balls before throwing them all in at once. I go to a video console and try a stupid game of jumping figures and obstacles. But I’m now feeling pretty wiped and stop playing before my quarter’s worth is finished.
When I turn around I almost pass out: the large hall has shrunk to the size of a home living room, the pool tables now the size of baby cribs, with fern-like growths of words and letters bobbing up and down in the liquefied green playing surfaces. An overwhelming suffocating sensation is bearing down upon me and I’m going to be crushed. I tell Earl I think I need an ambulance.
We decide the best thing is to leave and go for a walk. We head to an all-night diner of the orange plastic decor variety and order some coffee. I am dying: the restaurant interior is already plastered over with newspaper headlines announcing my death. Taking two hits doesn’t just make you twice as high but ten times as high. I might as well have gotten in a bad car crash and they brought me into this garish restaurant while waiting for the ambulance to come and I don’t know if I’m going to make it.
With nowhere else to go we head over to Ray’s place and settle into his basement room. It’s around midnight, and until seven o’clock in the morning I have no choice but to ride it out and try to keep the stallion of my sanity steady under my hips. The others, having ingested less acid, are doing better than me but they aren’t about to go to bed or anything since you don’t sleep on acid. I ask Ray to replace the Blue Oyster Cult on the record player with the radio, to provide more of a connection to reality. He serves us water. The loudspeakers form faces, which mouth whatever music or obscene curses happen to dribble out. My thoughts swirl around, splattering the room. The room keeps dissolving into a kaleidoscope of words and letters. The water in my glass sparkles with stars and galaxies and my thoughts too and they along with the room itself swirl down my throat in one gulp.
Before dawn I’ve come down enough to go home. I am able to sleep and, remarkably, feel fine the next day, if a bit spaced out. I go downtown in the afternoon to do some Christmas shopping, by which time I’m back to normal.
* * *