No one can convince me they aren’t out there. Just two or three blocks away, oh yes. I know it; feel it. My mind keeps seeing them sitting there in a black Ford panel truck; I see them hunched over their machines, wearing this special electronic gear they have, taping everything. Yeah. I’ve read about those devices. They can listen through walls, yes, blocks away, maybe miles! I’ll bet now they can even see through the walls. Oh, yeah, they’re out there. Looking — listening — laughing — waiting…
Yes, waiting for me. Ah, wouldn’t they just love to bust a college professor, stoned up his wahzoo. And with one of his students! You know they would. Of course, that’s what they want. That’s why they’re out there, isn’t it? They live for it. I know it. Out there looking for news the public loves to hear. Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha, Teach. Busted, busted, buddy boy. Cha, cha, cha.
Greg holds the joint out to me. Do I want another hit? Funny word — “hit.”
I guess I do. But I’m not really sure. I take it from Greg who has a grin as big as Martha Rae’s mouth. Is it spelled R-a-e or R-a-y? You know. That funny lady, the actress with the big mouth. Did Polident ads — or Polygrip — something like that for dentures. But Greg doesn’t need dentures, and he doesn’t really have a big mouth. It just looks big from where I sit, floating, floating. Nice.
Or am I standing? No, I am sitting, I think, here in my house. Yes. We’re doing some home schooling, an experiment, way long overdue. It’s new to me, this getting high—stoned—whacked—buzzed— enlightened. I’ve held off enlightenment all these years. But I’ve gotten more curious over time. This is the only way to find the truth, the truth that’s out there. Everybody says so. But the government denies it. Not enough studies done to prove it’s not harmful. More studies, they say. So why aren’t they studying it, like we are? Should I be taking notes?
They wouldn’t understand, the hunched over ones out there, listening in. Oh, I’m on to you boys in blue. No, you’d have DEA stamped in big letters on your backs. You don’t want what I’m doing to be legal ‘cause you’d lose your jobs. Go ahead; wag your finger.
Fear jabs, escalates. “Close the drapes. They can see and hear everything.” My usually authoritative teacher voice sounds mushy. Big pauses between syllables. Do I have a big mouth myself? Not a loud mouth. I mean big — physically? Size wise?
“You just closed them,” Greg tells me.
“You just closed the drapes. They’re closed.”
Greg, still grinning, takes the joint from me. Did I take a drag? Another funny word — “drag.” I don’t remember. Doesn’t matter. Another of the experiment’s glossary — pot, joint, stick, hit, drag, toke, kush, grass, busted.
Busted. Yuck! Such a hard sound. Bust-ed.
“College professor and his student arrested in drug bust! That’s tomorrow’s headlines,” I tell Greg ‘cause I just know they’re out there, laughing, enjoying my paranoia, waiting for the right time. I should not have ignored the possibility, the possible. Almost hear them laughing…
Greg tells me I’m experiencing wasted — wasted. Hmm. Like Eliot says in The Waste Land, “You are a proper fool…” Oh. I get it now. “Too old too soon; too wise too late,” yeah? I diddled my youth instead of fiddled.
I can’t catch my mind, my thoughts…
“Hey, come on, man, relax.” Greg sucks on the doobie, that’s what he calls it, holding his breath like he showed me. Hands the joint back between thumb and index finger. “Don’t be so fearful. Nobody’s out there. Nothing’s gonna happen. Relax. Enjoy. Enjoy your experiment.”
Greg, my best grad student, now my teacher, my medicine man. He’s sharp, this Greg. An Afghan vet, oldest one in my class. Seen some bad shit over there. Back home in one piece, though. Looks like that Italian actor, Marcello Mastroianni. Girls stare at him. He calls me The Man.
Oh, man, what’s happening?
Why’d I say yes to this? ‘Cause it’s my idea. I told him about my body pains. “Got what you need,” he told me. But I kept putting him off. What made me change my mind? I’m a little dizzy. My mind keeps slipping — wants to float. Me, the man. Gather yourself.
“Wha’d you say this was?” I stare at the fat, tightly rolled paper with a long ash jutting out. Amazing how long the ash is. Yeah! Look how long that sucker is! Why hasn’t it fallen off? It holds my attention. Unbelievable. “Is this Blue Dreams?”
Greg lets out his breath all at once. “No. Acapulco gold.”
On my back now. I see Elvis. It’s an Elvis sighting and Ann-Margret’s with him. Fun in Acapulco. Movie clips dance, wiggle on my ceiling. “Been there,” I tell him. “I’ve been to Acapulco.”
“Me, too.” Greg takes the thing from my hand, making sure the ash stays on. Amazing. “That’s where I got this stash.” Elvis leaves. Ann-Margret lingers.
“Hot,” I say. I think I mean Acapulco. Maybe not.
I look at Greg as he takes a deep drag, holds his breath, puffs out his cheeks, blows smoke rings. He sees me watching, wiggles his eyebrows like Groucho. So different from in my class. One of my best students. So young looking. Everybody’s young looking to me. He’s so serious. A budding young scholar, testing the buds of gold. He found gold in Afghanistan. He’s sharing the gold.
Hey! This is a serious experiment. Where can I get my own gold? I start to laugh. I don’t know why I laugh, but I do. If they’re out there, maybe I shouldn’t be laughing. But I giggle, then I cough out my breath, try to stop laughing, but I let out a big whatayacallit — guffaw, whatever a guffaw is — but it sounds right for the silly sounds I’m making.
What’s so funny?
I don’t know. This is serious.
Greg thinks something is funny. He blows out all his air like a whale and starts to laugh, pointing at me. I don’t think I’m funny, but he does so I have to laugh. I can’t stop. I’ve never laughed like this in my long life. My side starts to ache from laughing so hard. I’m on the floor in the womb position. So’s Greg. I can’t think, only laugh.
“Hey, coppers. Get this on tape!” I laugh and give them the finger. Don’t care any more if they’re out there. Well, I do, but I don’t, know what I mean? I don’t.
We stop laughing. I look at Greg. This was his idea. No, don’t lie. It was mine. So don’t blame him. I just mean I mentioned in my office that day that I’d never tried this stuff. Surprised him. Thought I must have used by now. I guess he thought I was cool, hip. Told him, when others were listening to Hendrix or Janis I was listening to Segovia or Van Cliburn. Drugs not so out there back then. It all passed me by. He asked me if I wanted to try it sometime, can diminish pain, he said and I said yes. Body pains I have. He’s a nice kid, well, he’s in his late twenties. That’s a kid. But not when it comes to chemical intoxication. Says he’s been doing it since over there. Only way to survive what he saw, he says. And he’s got access, you know? I have no idea where you get this stuff. It’s not legal but will be soon, Greg says. Medical marijuana slipping in sideways. Matter of time he says. Matter and Time. Can matter and time be mixed? What would the results be? Can’t fathom it. Does time matter? Getting deep here.
The knock on the door sends liquid ice through my skin and my bones freeze. It’s the cops and now I know I do care. I shiver, feel an arctic breeze. God, there goes my career. I’m dead meat. It’s over. Tenure doesn’t cut it in this case. And so near retirement. Morals charge. Doping with a student. Dumbdumbdumb. My heart bangs louder than the door knocking. Now the bell rings. Oh, man, they’ve got it all on tape. They’ll break the door down, and I’ll have to pay for a new door. What a mess. Thank god Janet’s out of town and doesn’t have to be humiliated. When she finds out . . .oh, god, she’ll have to bail me out. But how? She’s out of town.
“It’s Sherry,” Greg says. He gets up—-he’s really tall—and goes to the door.
“NO!” I yell. I jump from the floor, surprised at my dexterity, but only for a moment because I fall down again, my frozen body now melted. This is my house; don’t open the door. The words don’t leave my head.
He turns and smiles a Polident Martha. He’s in charge, my teacher-student.
“She’s brought food, a vital component to your education,” he tells me and opens the door.
I expect dark blue, battering rams, drawn guns, bulletproof vests, batons, handcuffs.
It is Sherry. She holds a white cake box. No guns. No uniforms behind her. I check. My heart comes back inside me.
Sherry kisses Greg on the lips. Sherry’s his girlfriend. They live together. I’ve met her a few times at campus parties. Lovely.
“Shut the door!” I still think they could be out there, waiting to see how many people they can catch in this den of iniquity, my home. They want to make me look as awful as possible, an appalling influence on my students. Stoned with plural students reads better than singular.
“Hi,” Sherry says to me. It’s a coy “hi” and I imagine she feels a little awkward. She doesn’t know whether to call me by my name or the man, or professor, or doctor, or mister, or dopey old fart. Or, is it me that feels awkward? Of course, I do. I should feel awkward. I should feel ridiculous. This is ridiculous. My wife’s out of town, I’m having a pot party with graduate students, and the police are waiting outside to arrest me. And what would my own children say? It’s after nine. Do you know where your dad is? Are my children, like Greg and Sherry, experimenting at some other teacher’s house? Are they pot smokers and I don’t know it?
I say hello back and see in her every woman I’ve ever wanted to have sex with. Maybe I’ve never let myself look before. I want to run my tongue along her cheeks, absolutely the woman you want to be with on a boat sailing off to anywhere, her long, blood tresses caught in the wind. She’s so young looking it makes me hate that I’m oldish, never done drugs before, and doing it for the first time with a student. With students! She makes me sad, so I fall into that state.
I’m crazy — no, mad! I don’t need to look in the mirror to see my double jowls, my soft middle, the hair in my ears and nose. I am Methuselah. And she’s Ann-Margret come from Acapulco. I’m trying to experience what I think I missed in my twenties, when I was young like these two. Me, old goodie two-shoes. It’s not working. I’m — I’m — what am I doing, for god’s sake?
Why did I wait for Janet to be gone to do this? Shouldn’t she be involved? Think. What are my excuses, Janet? Maybe I’ll learn and I can teach you. Should I be embarrassed? What would she think of Sherry? Not what I’m thinking.
From the floor, I stare, beckon Sherry to come in, try to act straight. She raises the white cake box. “Brought a strawberry pie.”
“Kitchen’s there.” I point. Then I remember my manners.
“Welcome. I love strawberry pie. Thanks.” I try to stand up. The floor tilts. It’s going to need fixing.
“I’ll show her.” Greg doesn’t seem zonked like me. He takes the box from her, smiles, kisses her on the cheek. Oh, god.
Sherry smiles and I want her to kiss me, look at me like that. Can you believe that? As they walk to the kitchen, they’re what I want to be in that moment, a tall, dark Italian actor with a confident smile, arm around a tanned, red-haired Ann-Margret…oh…sorry Janet. I love you. A lifetime of Janet envelopes me.
The moment passes. A gigantic swizzle stick stirs my mind. Nothing focuses. The swirling stops on a thought.
I’ve made a doobie of a mistake. Why did I think I needed this? The question lingers a long time. I think it’s a long time. It’s a long enough time, that’s for sure, because I don’t think I like whatever it is I’m thinking. What am I thinking? I’m thinking I’m a poor player, strutting and fretting my last hour upon this stage, and then no more will be heard about this tale told by an idiot, full of significant nothing.
Sherry and Greg sit next to me on the floor. She leans against the divan, her skirt rises, and I see the little butterfly tattoo on the inside of her smooth, tanned thigh. I stare. She sees my wide eyes, smiles, doesn’t seem to care I stare. Sherry takes a hit from a new joint. That’s what they call it. I said that already, didn’t I? That’s what they called it in my day. When was it ever my day? Why did it take me so long to do this? How did I talk myself into this? Oh, god.
Sherry hands me the new one. I wonder what happened to the one with the long ash? I ask. Greg laughs. I take a hit like my teacher, my medicine man, showed me earlier. I hold it in. What a good student am I. Am I?
Uhhhhhh. Out, out, blue haze. The haze. It must really smell in here. Can they smell the haze through blue walls? Probably. Wouldn’t surprise me. A snooping sonic smelling device. Remember smoke dreams while a Chesterfield burns? Perry Como was it? These two have no idea who he was. So young.
I look at Sherry. Sherry now looks like Angie Dickinson in that old television police program. What was that program? What if she’s really an undercover cop? Get out, Angie. Find another role. Come back Ann-Margret. What if this is all a setup? What if Greg’s an undercover cop? It happens. Everything happens. This happens. Under the covers happens. Shit happens. I shake my head. Something’s loose in it. A screw?
I’m flat on my back on the floor, eyes closed. I push my fingers into the carpet. Deep pile. I’ve forgotten what color it is. So many samples we tried. I gave up. Whatever Janet wanted became okay with me. The carpet of many colors. I try to remember by its feel. Brown? Tan? Beige? What do I care? I float on the magic carpet as it changes colors, swirl through the air, a transcendental meditator, chanting mantras. Om. Om. Um. Yum.
“Want some pie?” I think it’s Sherry. Do I want to stop floating for pie? For strawberry pie? For Sherry I’d do anything. Why? Because. Because. Because. It’s the wonderful world of Oz. Greg’s the wizard of pot. I look for the yellow brick road.
I land. I open my eyes and the light blasts through my skull. I sit up, air sick. I smile at Sherry’s smile. It takes all my effort to be a mature English professor entertaining student guests in his home. The thought makes me laugh. A Stevie Wonder memory tape rolls, “My chérie, amor…”
“Oh, no,” I groan, feeling the laughter coming again. I don’t want to laugh. Nothing’s funny.
Sherry picks up on it. Then Greg. Giggles become wet-eyed laughter.
“Stop!” I can’t take it any more. I hurt. Laughter finally fades, slows, dies, dead. I’m dead.
“Pie? Any one for pie?”
“High in the sky with my pie is my idea of ….” I don’t finish my song parody.
I can’t help it, and I have no idea why, but I start laughing again. So do they. Who are these people in my home? I hardly know them and here I am experimenting, stepping out of myself. Or, into myself. Shouldn’t I be ashamed, humiliated? They’re still out there, building their case. Too late now.
“Mm, this is great.” Greg extols on the pie he’s eating. I watch him take another bite and show a face of pleasure. Sherry is also yumming. She’s yummy. Can’t seem to control my thoughts. Sorry, Janet. I don’t want these unfamiliar cravings. Yes I do. I’m old but I still see. Please no.
Where have I been all my life? I see a large piece of strawberry pie on a dish in front of me, fork at the ready. I take a bite. It’s the best bite of pie I have ever eaten in my whole entire life.
I tell them.
“The best bite of pie I have ever eaten in my entire life.” I am sincere. Strawberries never tasted like this. Just now invented. Oh, crispy crust. Taste lives. Long live this taste!
Greg and Sherry say nothing, but nod and munch in agreement. We are all three having an orgiastic moment, no words needed, all in the same place, sharing, communicating at a level I never knew existed, intimate friends. I love this moment of sharing. I wonder why it has taken me so long to get here. My, god, I could have known this in my twenties. What a slow learner!
As an English major — professor — I should know about drugs and things first hand so I know what Kesey and Ginsberg are talking about, right? I mean, I’m branching out, right, into biology, right? Bio means life, right? And ology means the study of, right? So, I mean, this is a lab experiment to help me understand about a plant, the effects of a plant. The study of the life of a plant. Cannabis. Cause and effect, right? You two are my assistants. No, I’m the assistant getting first hand information here, right? I’m learning about sativa and indica and kush. We couldn’t do this in the school lab, could we? The government says no-no. No can do. Bad stuff. Ho-ho-ho. The fools on them. I mean the joke. Well, really the joke’s on me. ‘Cause I wasn’t ready back when everyone was—- well, anyway, I just didn’t think it was right. Old school me. I still don’t know about it being right, that’s what this is all about, but… I stop, remembering the pie and eat some more.
“God, this is good.”
“Way — to — go — Man.” Greg stretches out the words, points his fork at me, laughs.
Sherry nods, smiles. She has pie on her face.
I reach over and wipe her chin, lick that finger clean. Yummy. Daring. Sherry looks at me. The look scares me a little. What did I just do?
“You should get stoned sometime with your wife and have sex,” Greg tells me, scraping his plate with his fork trying not to leave any red traces.
I wish he hadn’t said that. I don’t know what to say. My sex life does not seem an appropriate subject for my students. Today we’re studying plants.
“Yeah?” I hear myself say. Did I want that to be a question?
“Yeah. This stuff really heightens your sex buds, huh, Sherry.” He doesn’t really ask Sherry. Just says it. But she nods.
“Um, for sure. Very tactile — great orgasms.”
Sherry said that? I don’t know the girl and she’s telling me about her orgasms? I look at her. She has a look on her face I can’t decipher, not Ann-Margret, not Angie. I wonder what look is on my face. Can she decipher me? I shiver.
There’s a silence I can hear, then Greg says. “Time for some music. This experiment of the senses can’t be complete without music. ” He crawls over to the stereo system. “Brought the perfect CD.” He pulls it from his jacket pocket — like magic — and inserts it in my CD player.
I recognize it. Ravel’s “Bolero.”
We sit in silence, supposedly listening. Maybe Greg and Sherry are. I’m not sure what I’m doing. I hear the music, but I don’t, you know? I’m shivering but dripping wet down my armpits.
Greg has his arm around Sherry. She leans her head on his shoulder. Greg sees me looking, smiles. Come join us, I think he says. Or is it what I want to hear? I want my wife to be here.
Sherry pats the floor, inviting me to sit by her. What are the boundaries here? Visions come. Time’s gone. I’m gone. Does that mean there are no boundaries to this experiment? Did I set up a hypothesis? I’m not sure who I am. I see a fish taking bait, running with it, running, running, like my heart. I’m the fish. They are experimenting with me. I’m under the microscope. I’m their guinea pig. What’s their hypothesis? Will I prove their theory? What do they want the headlines to be?
I sit next to her. Ravel continues rising, wide, circling. The Experiment — the big E is building, uniting us. I close my eyes, waiting, shivering. A hand rests on my leg. I know it’s hers. I don’t move. I want to stroke her butterfly. Afraid. Very afraid. What would Janet think? What does Greg think? Sherry’s head leans on my shoulder now. Or is my head on her shoulder? My head tilts into soft smells of lavender — not the usual lab smell — the fragrance grows, permeating, blending into the closing, tightening circles of Ravel’s repeating chords, drums taking over, taking me, my five senses now all one, no distinction between where I’m going and what is supposed to be as I lie back and Sherry’s lips touch mine — me — and that’s all I want, all that matters, not sure that’s what is happening, not sure what I’m wanting to be happening is happening, not sure I haven’t fallen back into time, not sure what Greg must think, not sure of anything. Does anything matter?
Forget Greg. He’s just your teacher. Be the man. Feel only lavender. Feel all those lavender dances you think you missed…dig into the senses…
Something’s wrong. The Bolero sounds strange. It’s the ringing. It doesn’t belong. There is no ringing in this piece, but it’s there. Ravel’s ringing. Distracting. Dissolving the lavender.
“Don’t answer it,” Greg says.
He’s the teacher, but I must answer, because I know deep inside what’s old in me — it’s my wife.
Janet’s out there. She wants in. Do I want her in? Can she see what’s happening? Have I done her wrong?
I crawl from the floor, where most of me wants to be, find the telephone from habit.
My voice sounds funny, Janet says. She wants to know why it took so long to answer. She was about to hang up. What are you doing? Are you okay? Is that Bolero playing? Is someone there?
I try to answer correctly, straight arrow. The Man. Big mistake. “Yes, it’s Ravel and yes someone is here.”
“What students? What are they doing there so late? Why are you playing music?”
“They brought it to study by. We’re experimenting.”
“Experimenting? At home? What’s going on? You sound so strange.”
I sputter a laugh. “Nothing,” I say. I laugh again, nervous, knowing nothing is the wrong answer.
I look at Greg and Sherry. We start laughing, witless, uncontrolled laughter that I know brings fear to my wife, brings me tears, cold tears, washing away the experiment, washing away the lavender, washing away my experimental senses, opening my eyes, seeing through the blue haze the drying stains of strawberry pie on Janet’s good white dishes.