Space is the place

A guy from the Rainbow cult showed up at my door selling acid a few days before I moved out. I didn’t have much left in me as far as acid goes. I don’t know how much of that people can take but I had the feeling my brain was starting to tear like something elastic pulled too hard. But I got 10 hits because it’s nice to have around. He broke off a section from the sheet, an M.C. Escher print with two faces cork screwed together, eyes and floating balls.

I didn’t have much to move but was going cross country with two cats and a fair amount of stereo gear and cassettes. You could ship things book rate, it took a long time via train, but didn’t cost much. I had a dictionary that must have been more than a thousand pages and that’s where I hid the acid, on page 666.

My mom and John had two dogs and by extension a third one living on a farm down the road. There was Chumley and Emmet, then Ben. We called Ben Ghost Dog because he crossed the highway every day to visit and never got hit. Emmet was Screwface (like the Dick Tracy character); he’d been beaten so badly his face was disfigured. Chumley was a golden retriever who never did anything wrong to anyone, mom said.

I got down on all fours and galloped around the house with the three dogs. The house had glass the entire two stories facing east, built into the side of a hill overlooking a valley off route 100 deep in the country. Everyone had guns, dogs and satellite dishes. Hex signs and witch balls, Pennsylvania Dutch. I was alone for three months house-sitting for my mom and John. They had strange friends, they took people in who didn’t have anywhere else to go. One was a guy named Kenny who was really into aliens. He had a startled look with red hair and a beard. Internet porn had just arrived and it seemed Kenny was the first to discover it. He was playing around with some photo editing program and said you could make multiple sets of genitalia on a nude woman, said it in a conspiratorial tone like it’s something I’d be interested in too. He lived alone with several cats and I offered him some of my acid but worried later what might happen to him.

I started getting antsy for company and driving into town in John’s Volvo. That’s where I met Pete Snyder, at a bar called PJ Houlihans. Pete was a scrappy kid I’d known in grade school, always getting into fights. Oddly quiet and withdrawn. I think he was messed up from a bad upbringing and prone to mood swings.

But Pete was a musician now wearing thrift store clothes and listening to Sun Ra, gigging with guys in Philadelphia. They could come by the house and we’d record with my step-dad’s equipment. They could spend the night and we’d get a case of wine, whatever. I spoke expansively and Pete was all game.

Before the big session Pete came by with his friend Ray and Ray’s girlfriend Kendra. She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. I actually stuttered and got cotton mouth around her. She was a puppeteer and both she and Ray were straight edge, meaning they didn’t do drugs or eat meat or processed foods. She had this Egyptian goddess look with black hair and bangs and big clear eyes. She looked like one of the puppets I imagined she made and her skin glowed like porcelain.

But they had so much gear it felt like they were moving in. Pete brought a drum kit and Ray a bunch of amplifiers and guitars. He was an engineer and understood how electronics worked inside out, could take things apart and put them back together again. I felt immediately guilty around Ray, like he’d be able to tell I had eyes for his girlfriend.

Pete also had a pit bull he’d bring around named Mimi. Mimi would get behind Chumley and start pumping him and we’d all laugh and then break it up. And I’d catch myself looking at Kendra and her looking at me, then looking away quick like she wasn’t looking.

I’d told Pete at the bar I could sing but that wasn’t true. I could but I didn’t, really. Pete and I got into the vodka and set up the equipment. I handed out caftans John got from J. Peterman and showed everyone to the hot tub out back. It was late January with snow in the air and everyone was welcome to spend the night.

Pete played bass and Ray, guitar. Kendra and I sat and watched, Pete tried to get me to sing but I wouldn’t. I wasn’t ready, I said. Ray also had something going on like Pete, some undiagnosed mental thing. He got frustrated about the smell in the guest room, the fabric on the pillows, said it was giving him an allergic reaction and they had to leave right away before the snow came. So that was that: he and Kendra packed up and left, and it was just me and Pete and the dogs.

I had a hard time that night falling asleep not thinking about Kendra, the shape of her shoulders in the caftan and how it fit her, the look of her skin in the glow of the night in the hot tub with Ray, the pagoda doors slid open and the steam all around her.

Pete said Ray had gone weird and wasn’t coming back for the big session, something about bad energy (likely mine). Instead about 10 guys pulled up in a van with a shit-load of horns and cables and amplifiers and everyone of them had to wear a caftan I said. They had hats and looked funny wearing the African robes playing their horns as we drank out of Mason jars and the dogs looked on.

That night it did snow and in the morning I woke to the sound of them playing again. All the chaos of the previous night, the bleating horns and cacophony, had been replaced with calm and gentle jazz, sultry trumpets, soft piano. It took me back to my days in Philadelphia listening to jazz radio. Pete and I would drive the country roads in his old car listening to tapes like that for weeks to follow, but years later we’d part ways. 9/11 came and Pete implied he was all for it. The uprising, the tearing down of Western culture. I couldn’t tell if he was kidding but I didn’t like it one bit. He wrote after I moved back to Seattle but I didn’t answer his letters. He signed his name Pistol Pete and wrote in jagged angles. The P looked sharp like an Indian arrowhead. I wish I’d written him but it seems there are too many Pete Snyders now and any connection we once had is lost. Time moves with the same erratic force of those bleating jazz horns like locusts devouring everything in its path.

PJ Houlihans is gone, replaced with an upscale place that does microbrews and small plates. I went back with my family to visit my aunt Sue and tried to picture what it was like that first night I met Pete. The dark crowded feeling of the place now had an open airy vibe in the late afternoon. A guy was setting up to play for open mic and we held eye contact while he played, he was really good. I gave him a nice tip on the way out. And I went back a few times while we were there, but it was never the same.

Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: , ,

19 replies

  1. This is a really sad story. We used to pregame Saturday night at a fern bar called Houlihan’s. They made a fru fru drink called a houli-cooler. a tall glass with pina colada in the bottom and a daiquiri on top–separated by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. For some reason, those are sad memories too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered if you might know that bar since I’m guessing you’ve spent some time in Allentown. Seems there’s a template for those droll Irish-American bars and they all have names like that. I’ve been reading Flannery O’Connor short stories and I think some of her melancholy characterization is getting under my skin, hopefully in a good way. She about slays me.


  2. bittersweet times and disillusionment

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hell of a tale and there were the highs and disappointment. But, then what’s life without the good and bad. Compelling writing as always, Bill!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Time as a biblical swarming of locusts devouring everything in their path, pretty intense dose of acid uneasiness and loss, Bill. Wow, good stuff, short ride in a fast machine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks Robert and good day to you! Here’s to our friend Frank Lloyd Wright, that house I lived in was done by one of his students. Truly hits a magical chord, that kind of design.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “Time moves with the same erratic force of those bleating jazz horns…” Yessir.

    I always wondered why there was a book rate to begin with, and why you could use it to ship things that weren’t books.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This feels like a movie Bill. The descriptive writing is good–I can see it all pretty clearly. A very fine piece of memoir. Just disturbing enough to hold our interest, with some reflective reshuffling of values in the end. Reminding us of how the passage of time amid major events like 9-11 can change or clarify our values. Really like this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there Ilona! Happy February and nice to hear from you, glad you enjoyed! Too true about the reshuffling values, isn’t it? And then regretting maybe how we can end friendships. Sigh…you be well and thanks for checking in and for reading! Bring on the snow!


  7. A fine piece of work, Bill.
    Thank you,

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Now that’s a cast of characters.

    Liked by 1 person

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