1. 33. Pot Pies and Assignations

    September 25, 2016 by Daniel

     

    Oxford neighborhood

    33. Pot Pies and Assignations – Saturday, September 25

    The Marijuana Harvest Festival was Garrett’s idea. He, Cindy and Andrew have decorated Tyler Avenue like a hippie farmhouse.

    Garrett’s baking a dozen apple pot pies. He sends me out to a feed store on highway 6 to pick up as many bales of hay as I can fit into my car, party decorations.

    The old guy at the counter is suspicious of my motives.

    “Hay? What you need hay for?”

    “Feed a horse,” I lie.

    “What you doin’ with a horse?”

    “It’s not my horse. It belongs to a friend. It’s visiting, while my friend has an operation. Hernia operation,” I add. “He was trying to pull the engine out of his F250 with a block and tackle that he’d strapped to a limb of a live oak in his front yard. The limb snapped under the weight; he tried to grab the rope, and pulled a hernia. My friend’s name is Ray. He’s from Utica. The horse’s name is Rocky. After Rocky Marciano. A gelding. Nine years old, about 15 hands high at the withers. Quarterhorse Morgan mix. Likes Cracker Jack, straight from the box. Can’t get enough of it. But who doesn’t love Cracker Jack, right?”

    “Your friend must be pretty stupid. Load up out back.”

    And now I have a problem: how to fit three bales of hay into a VW bug. The store’s two hired hands in back approach it as a challenge in structural engineering. The first bale’s easy. Tipped at just the right angle, about 57 degrees through the driver’s side door, it wedges into the back seat, bends a little, and then collapses into the space with a sigh.

    The second bale will fit, but only if we remove the front passenger seat. We take it out and strap it to the roof. The last bale we carefully dismantle into individual pads that are stacked on the floor. I save the twine to reassemble that bale when I’m back on Tyler Avenue.

    A dozen or so onlookers, other customers picking up their feed deliveries for the week, have assembled by the time we’re done. A cheer goes up as we fit the last pad into the glove compartment. My watch says 4:30.

    An ancient black man with a white beard has observed us throughout, from the shade of an eave over one of the feed sheds in the yard. As I’m shaking hands with the two workers, the old man yells at me.

    “Where you takin’ that hay to?”

    “Oxford.”

    “Fool. Town’s only five miles away,” he points out. “Why didn’t you just make three trips? Would’ve been finished an hour ago!”

    At Tyler, I unload and reassemble the bales, reinstall the front seat, sweep as much hay as I can out of the interior, and grab a shower. Voices of arriving guests sound from below as I turn the water off.

    Downstairs, I find all of last Saturday’s harvest work crew, Nick and Suzie (both looking beatifically pregnant), James’ sorority chick and other hangers-on. Dr. Hirsch, of course. Dottie Carroll has brought a stack of albums from the Nickleodeon, all new releases, she says.

    Amy Madigan is glowering at Garrett’s 48”x72” day-glo poster of Che Guevara on the parlor wall.

    “There used to be an original Chagall there,” she points out.

    “Yeah, we decided to take it down. Garrett doesn’t believe that surrealism is a legitimate art form. I’m surprised to find you here.”

    “James invited me.”

    “Oh-ho. So you and James are ….”

    “Don’t even joke about that. I’m warning you. He’s been trying to get me in bed since the novel was published. I’ll admit he’s pretty to look at. But I prefer articulate men whose resumes don’t include future time spent in federal prison.”

    “So you came for . . . ?”

    “I came to bear witness to the degradation of this beautiful old home at the hands of a bunch of drug-addled adolescents.”

    “How are we doing?”

    “It’s worse than I expected.” Amy glances from the Che poster to the centerpiece of Cindy’s purple lava lamp surrounded by a decorative assortment of dried gourds, in keeping with the harvest theme. “The pie, however, is excellent. It has an earthy quality, unlike anything I’ve tasted before.”

    “You should have another slice,” I urge.  

    Another unexpected guest in the living room: Joan, on the couch, sitting between a glum-looking James and his sorority chick.

    “I have fond memories of this couch,” she’s saying to the sorority chick. “James and I bought it a month before our wedding. And the first time I screwed Brother Leopold, it was right here.” She pats the cushions fondly.

    “I’d still like to know who invited you tonight,” James warns, “so I’ll know who to murder in the morning.”

    “That would be telling,” Joan says.

    I find a cloud of sweet smoke and a crowd of partiers in the kitchen. In the center, at our table, sits Ho, with a hookah. She gazes up at me smiling, eyes brimmed over with love and good will.

    “She brought hash,” Garrett tells me. “Dottie says she got an enormous brick of it up in the projectionist booth. You ought to try some. It’s the best shit you’ll ever have.”

    I’m chatting with Suzie about how it feels to be pregnant, some hours later, when Amy Madigan approaches, fails to halt her steps in time, tips me over and lands on top of me amid a scuffle of feet.

    “I’ve been poisoned,” she mutters as I try to help her stand.

    “You’re stoned,” I say.

    “Impossible.”

    “There’s pot baked in the pie. Couldn’t you taste it?”

    “Pot pie?” Amy giggles. It’s the first time I’ve heard her giggle. “Pot pie? We used to have that for lunch in grammar school. It never made me feel like this before.”

    She giggles like a horse, choking. The sound, modulated by the after-effects of Ho’s hash, sounds weird. She stumbles about, disoriented, back into the crowd. I lead her upstairs, by the hand, out of danger, into my room. She scowls in dismay when I turn the light on.

    “Is this where you live? Good lord, it’s depressing. You live like a monk. You look like a monk. Do you know that? You look like one of those Buddhist monks fasting in the wilderness. All you need is to shave your head and get a little bowl to beg for rice with.”

    Another giggling fit. Amy collapses on the floor and crawls to my pallet.  Somebody knocks at my door. I open it. Framed in the doorway, luminous from the hallway light behind her, stands Joan.

    We stare at each other.

    “Daniel?” she begins, before glancing into the room.

    Amy falls back onto the pallet with a witch’s cackle.

    “Oh,” Joan says, “excuse me.” And she’s gone.

    I stand in the doorway for another moment, wondering what just happened.

    “Was that Joan?” Amy asks.

    “I think so.”

    “Coming to your room? Did you have an ass?”

    “A what?”

    More giggling. “Sorry. Did you have an as-sig-na-tion . . . yes, did you have an assignation with Joan?”

    “Not that anyone told me about.”

    “I have a secret,” Amy says. “It’s about assignations.”

    “I’m not a big fan of secrets.”

    “You’ll like this one. Harold is having an affair.”

    “I’ve heard it rumored.”

    “It’s true. But you don’t know with who. No, I mean you don’t know with whom. With whom Harold is having assignations. It will shock you.”

    “I’m not easily shocked.”

    “Harold is sleeping with Dr. Giordano’s wife,” she hisses. “Mrs. Giordano.”

    “I take it back,” I admit. “I am easily shocked.”

    Amy rises, uncertainly, to her feet and moves toward the open door.

    “Where are you going?”

    “More pie,” she whispers. “Pot pie.”


  2. 32. Assault on South Lamar

    September 24, 2016 by Daniel

    32. Assault on South Lamar – Friday, September 24

    “Did we go to Memphis the other night?” I ask Clamor.
        
    She’s standing in the doorway to Blaylock’s Drugs, smoking a cigarette, hands in the pockets of her camouflage jacket, one leg bent backward, foot against the wall, doing what looks like a scene from Midnight Cowboy.
        
    Deputy Hacker is observing us from the park bench by the Confederate statue. He cranes his neck to keep us in view when a pickup truck hauling an upright piano crosses the intersection between us and him.
        
    “Now you’re just teasing me,” Clamor complains. “You’ve been promising for weeks.”
        
    “I thought I might have already done it.”
        
    “You haven’t.”
        
    “I’m free this afternoon. We could go now,” I offer.
        
    “I have other plans.”

    Clamor drops her cigarette to the sidewalk, crushes it with the toe of her boot, swivels, and stalks away. I turn right, to cross Lamar toward Garrett’s shop, when something hits me hard across the back of my skull.

    I fall forward, onto the asphalt. Tires squeal. A car horn sounds over my head. I open my eyes to find myself under the fender of a green Cadillac that seems somehow familiar.
    The driver honks at me again. I drag myself out of the street, and the driver pulls away, laying on the horn as it proceeds along South Lamar.

    I crawl back to the sidewalk, where Ho waits for me with a broom handle. She screams at me – something in Chinese, I guess – and brings the broom handle down twice more across my head and shoulders.

    A small crowd of onlookers has gathered. Deputy Hacker ambles across the street, laughing, muscles his way to the center of the crowd and lifts Ho into the air by the collar of her shirt, like a kitten. She flails in his grip, still screaming.

    “Get up, boy,” Hacker commands. “You’re a sorry excuse for an American.”

    I rise. A trickle of blood drips from behind my left ear onto my neck.

    “What have you done to this lady?” Hacker suspends her easily, with one arm, a few feet above the sidewalk. She hasn’t stopped screaming at me.

    “Nothing. You were watching. She attacked me.”

    “Nothing? I can’t believe that. This little lady clearly wants you dead. So what have you done to deserve so much hatred?”


  3. 31. Waking Up Alone

    September 23, 2016 by Daniel

    Steeple

    31. Waking Up Alone – Thursday, September 23

    I seem to have been out last night. Somewhere.
        
    But I wake on my pallet on Tyler Avenue. The clock says 2:17. I’ve missed German class, which doesn’t concern me. I’ve also missed Greek History. Not so good. Dr. Copeland will expect me to drop by his office with some excuse about my absence.  And I’m two hours late for the museum. Goodleigh will wonder what happened. If I can reach campus before 3:00, when her class ends, I might be able to bullshit a plausible excuse for being “a little” late this afternoon.
        
    I dress, throw cold water on my face, and descend the steps, hoping to discover a little coffee left in the kitchen pot.

    Cindy’s on the living room couch, watching Another World on James’ television. “You’re finally awake.”

    “Do you know where I was last night?”

    “No clue. Do you know where you were last night?”

    “Maybe . . .  that bar at Overton Square?”

    “The Looking Glass?  That sounds like fun. You might have asked the rest of us. We wondered where you’d gone off to. Who did you go with?”

    “I don’t remember.”

    “A girl? I bet it was a girl.”

    “Possibly.”

    “Was she fun?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “She didn’t sleep with you, though.”

    “Why do you assume that?”

    “You woke up here. No girl’s going to sleep with you on the floor.”


  4. 30. The Looking Glass

    September 22, 2016 by Daniel

    Mary Buie Museum

    30. The Looking Glass – Wednesday, September 22

    I’m in Memphis, at the The Looking Glass in Overton Square. That’s what the matchbook on the table says.

    I’ll take it at its word.

    The windows are dark. It must be night.
        
    I don’t recall at this moment what I’m doing here, how I got here, or who I came with, if anyone.
        
    I’m drunk. I know that much.
        
    And I think I’m happy.
        
    In fact, I’m sure I’m happy.
        
    I just don’t know why.


  5. 29. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Po’ Boy

    September 21, 2016 by Daniel

    The Commons

    29. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Po’ Boy – Tuesday, September 21

    Amy Madigan isn’t happy. Her mood, however, has nothing to do with the disgusting entree called a “Mexican Meat Stick” that the cafeteria is serving today.
        
    “Daniel isn’t even in our department anymore,” she argues. “He defected to Classics, remember? The magazine is supposed to be an English project.”
        
    Across the dining room, Giordano is singing an aria from Tosca to his student group. Everyone in the room has turned to watch, except Amy – who’s glaring at me – and Dr. Evans, who’s fussing with his pipe. It won’t stay lit. It never stays lit.

    “I think we can give him a pass,” Dr. Evans replies. “Daniel is the best poet we’ve got.”

    Amy jumps on that statement. “Really? Daniel, how much poetry have you written in the past year?”

    “None.”

    “None?”

    “Not a line. I agree with you. I’m a terrible choice for poetry editor, but Dr. Evans seems to have his heart set on this.”

    Clamor chooses this moment to spot our table and approach. Dr. Evans stops fiddling with his pipe to gaze in amazement as she looms over us.

    “Hi,” she says to Amy.

    They appear to know each other, but I have no idea how that could be.

    “Good afternoon,” Amy replies, stiffly, and turns her attention to her meat stick.

    Clamor looks to me. “Will you take me to Memphis today?”

    “I have to work in the museum. Someday soon.”

    “You won’t forget?”

    “I won’t forget.”

    Dr. Evans watches her leave the dining room, his mouth open and his eyes wide. “What an interesting . . . person?” he says. “What were we talking about?”

    “The magazine.”

    “Ah, that. I have news that you’ll appreciate, Amy. We can’t use ‘Southern Comfort’ as our title. The alcohol reference would upset the Baptists. They’d retaliate by buying the third floor of Bishop Hall and throwing the English department out of our offices.”

    “So we’re back to ‘Fire Thorn.’”

    “No. We need another name. Put your heads together and choose one.”

    “Professional Southerners,” Garrett suggests this evening, as I request ideas from the crew on Tyler Avenue.

    “Radio for the Deaf,” Andrew offers.

    “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Po’ Boy.”

    “Toothpaste Delivered to Your Door.”

    “Ramshackle Moon Pie.”

    “You should name the magazine after Amy,” James growls. “Full of Shit.”


  6. 28. No Yankees in This Book Pile – Monday, September 20

    September 20, 2016 by Daniel


    Tyler Avenue

    28. No Yankees in This Book Pile (Monday, September 20)

    I’ve built my first piece of furniture. It’s a bookcase made out of five 60” boards from the lumber store and ten cinder blocks I found in the empty lot behind Colemans barbecue

    I feel very proud, very manly, at my accomplishment, and invite Cindy up to admire my new bookcase.

    She stays to help me unpack the seven boxes from Charlottesville and starts a small book pile of her own to borrow from me, mostly based on the cover art – Journal of the Plague Year, Sirens of Titan, and Eyeless in Gaza for starters

    I’m keeping an eye on the slip knot she’s used to secure the halter top over her neck, and praying fit to slip.

    “Do you think you could build a bed next? You’re not going to get any girls up here without one,” she reminds me. “We don’t like to make love on the floor.

    “I can’t afford a bed.”

    “You can. James says you all made a lot of money from the Harvest. Say, what’s this book about?” She raises my copy of Winesburg, Ohio with the cover illustration of the 19th century Victorian house, the oak tree and the swing.

    “That’s a very good book.”

    “What’s it about, though?”

    I have to think for a second. “Yankees.”

    She tosses it aside. “Boring. Who would want to read about them?”


  7. 27

    September 19, 2016 by Daniel

    27. Catechism Lesson (Sunday, September 19)

    The anonymous Christian has struck the Square again, with handbills on every shop front reading “Hebrews 8:12.”

    “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,” Garrett recites.

    “So your god is kindly, but forgetful.”

    “A distinct advantage to us sinners.”

    “My god doesn’t forget sins. He misplaces his glasses frequently, and sometimes forgets where he parked his car, especially after a night on the town. But not sins.”

    “Your false god sounds like a tight ass. I really don’t understand what you see in him. You ought to be worshipping mine instead, especially after yesterday.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “That particular act of theft wasn’t a Christian thing to do,” Garrett says.

    “No?”

    “Question: Why did the Lord create marijuana? Answer: He created marijuana because He loves mankind and wishes for us all to get stoned.”

    “You obviously have a different catechism from the one I grew up with.”

    “In liberating all that pot,” he continues, “and distributing it to the masses, we have been performing the Lord’s work, and I believe He has been well pleased with us. But yesterday’s theft transformed His holy will into an act of commerce. We served as profiteers instead of liberators. Now we’re just dealers, you and I, scheming with James’ criminals. According to my god, there’s only one way to atone for our iniquity.”

    “I can’t wait to hear.”

    “The money that we made yesterday must only be used for good.”

    I consider his proposition for a moment. “My god concurs.”

    “As I’ve told you before, the opinions of your false god are irrelevant to me.”


  8. 26

    September 19, 2016 by Daniel

    26. The Harvest (Saturday, September 18)

    Harvest Day. Andrew was right – the gym is unbearably hot.

    I’m dressed in jeans, sandals and a t-shirt that’s already soaked with sweat. Clamor is working alongside me, in her camouflage jacket, but seems to not mind the heat a bit.

    Piled before us is a small mountain of cannabis sativa, freshly cut and delivered in armored vans. The work crew consists of 15 students, most of whom I know at least by name. Our task is to cut the stalks into 36” lengths, thresh the dirt and the insects by beating the lengths on a mat, and pack the plants in canvas bags that are then loaded onto a dolly and carted back to the vans.

    We’re given a 10-minute break every two hours, to grab a snack or a smoke, take a bathroom break, whatever, but we’re warned not to remove our face masks while we’re in the gym. Good advice. As James promised, the fans aren’t working, and an almost tangible haze of TCP floats across shafts of sunlight coming through the clerestory windows.

    By noon, even with our masks on, everybody on the crew is stoned. But we’re used to it.

    The troopers, apparently, are not.

    The pair guarding the west exit have caught a major case of the munchies. Back and forth to the vending machines in the lobby. Empty potato chip bags, candy bar wrappers and cellophane from packs of peanuts and cookies lie strewn about the doorway.

    One of the east guards is wearing his hat backwards and writing on his hand with a felt marker. His partner is asleep on the floor. The south guard has wandered away from his post. The north guard is twirling his sidearm like a western gunslinger, and laughing.

    James catches my eye and nods. I pass the signal along to Garrett, who then makes eye contact with Andrew. The deed is done in under than 20 minutes. One at a time, in seemingly random order, each of us ducks behind the bleachers, which have been stacked against the walls to make room for today’s project, to retrieve the plastic bags that James planted earlier in the week.

    Again in seemingly random order that actually follows a pattern worked out by Andrew, we pack the bags and stash them back behind the bleachers, where James’ “associates” (his word) will find them after breaking into the gym tonight. The other members of the crew appear to be as clueless to what we’re up to as the cops are.

    We’re finished a little after 3:15. We sweep plant debris from the floor with wide brooms and pack this chaff in two more bags, the last to be loaded on the vans. The cop who slept through the day is now awake, and emotional. He’s waiting at the vans and insists on hugging each of us as we exit.

    “Good-bye. Thank you! God bless,” he stammers with a bear hug and three pats on the back when my turn arrives.

    We gather on the sidewalk to watch the six cops fire up the three vans, one driver and one shotgun rider to each, and pull away from the curb, a caravan of pot headed toward a secret destination for drying and curing, which one of the cops already told James is an old cotton warehouse outside Rosedale.

    The caravan pulls slowly around the curve of Library Circle. Moving at around seven miles per hour, the lead driver fails to navigate the curve and runs over a fire hydrant at the corner. There’s a sickening thud of metal as the hydrant tumbles to the ground and a geyser of water erupts from the sidewalk.

    The caravan shambles to a halt. The cops get out of the vehicles, laughing, and pointing at the clumsy driver in the lead. I’m one of the first to rush into the spray, to cool off, followed by the rest of the work party and the cops.

    We’re all wasted. We dance. We slip on the wet pavement and fall down. We laugh. We hug. Clamor manages to slap the asses of all the males in the party, including mine. The fun continues until the campus cops arrive, followed by the Oxford fire department.

    I wander off into the Grove and pass out under my zazen tree. When I wake, it’s dusk. I trudge to Tyler Avenue, upstairs to my room and my pallet. When I wake again, it’s full dark. James is kicking my leg with the toe of his sandal.

    “Wake up! I have something for you.” He hands me an envelope, containing cash.

    “What’s this?” I ask.

    “$350. Your cut from the Harvest.”


  9. 25

    September 17, 2016 by Daniel

    25. Man with a Mistress (Friday, September 17)

    Lunch. Dr. Goodleigh and I are at Giordano’s table once more, at his insistent invitation.

    I’m puzzling over the postcard from Valerie that arrived today with a photo of Lincoln’s tomb on it. The postmark, however, is from Provincetown, Massachusetts. The message itself does nothing to explain the disconnect:

    Daniel – Smoked grass last night with some new friends I’ve met here. Thought of you. Hope you’ve found that hippie chick. – Valerie

    Giordano’s graduate students are arguing over whether Daniel Ellsberg should be executed for treason. The majority opinion favors the death penalty. Great minds at this table.

    “There goes a man,” Giordano comments, cutting the debate short and pointing an impaled slice of Polish sausage on a fork in the direction of Dr. Evans, who at this moment is crossing the dining room toward the east doorway. “Maybe he’s just an Anglo-Saxon, but he’s a man.”

    Dr. Goodleigh sighs. “What are you talking about now?”

    “Look at him. Look at him. Watch the way he walks. Like a lion. He walks the way a man with a new mistress walks.”

    I look, but see nothing remarkable in the way he walks.

    “Oh, Aldo,” Goodleigh says, “you spread gossip like an old fishwife.”

    “Ha. You just don’t like to hear it because the mistress isn’t you.”


  10. 24

    September 16, 2016 by Daniel

    24. Sabotage (Thursday, September 16)

    These are some rough-looking men. Not students. Not hippies. Not, all of them, Americans, either. But James has called Garrett and me to his room to meet them.

    No one makes introductions, though. The head man of the foursome merely looks us over and nods at James.

    “They’ll do.”

    “What the hell was that all about?” Garrett asks, after they leave.

    “You’re in.”

    “In what?”

    “The plan.”

    “What plan?”

    “The plan to walk off with a dozen 30-gallon trash bags of Rebel Red from the Harvest on Saturday.”

    “Can’t be done. The cops will see us.”

    “True. But they won’t understand what they’re seeing, or care.”

    “There will be 15 of us in the work crew,” Andrew explains, “actually handling the cannabis. We’ll be wearing oil-resistant particulate face masks, the kind construction workers use. Six troopers will be guarding the four entrances to the gym, positioned roughly 10 yards from the work area. They won’t have masks.”

    “The assumption is that the cops will be far enough away from the fumes not to need protection, because the exhaust will be going through the ceiling vents, with the fan system. However, the fans won’t be working on Saturday.”

    “You’re planning to get the cops stoned,” Garrett realizes.

    “Without ventilation, the gym will be hot,” Andrew warns, “so pass the word to dress appropriately. We’re going to suffer in there. The troopers, however, will have the best day of their lives.”