It was the winter of ’15 and I’d just come crashing down from San Jose in a beaten-up Hudson with three college kids who only wanted to live and die. I swung by Dean’s pad — he was a freshman who talked Nietzsche and Marx and Duke Ellington, man, and he said Toad’s was the place to be on a Wednesday night. I didn’t ask questions because questions are odious. It was the kind of Wednesday, a bellicose, gray Wednesday, that makes men wage war and waitresses run away from home and drive across the country (which I’ve done loads of times, by the way).
I found myself sprawled on a shredded couch at Dean’s. We were drinking this poison called Dubra and man, it was the realest thing I ever drank. I saw a lost girl dancing in the corner of the room. Her eyes had only youth in them. She was exactly 19. I thought about how much I wanted to have a clothing-optional Yab-Yum session with her — that’s coitus between Wisdom and Compassion, by the way — recite the mantras, my own Bodhisattva right there, enlightenment in a temple of flesh.
Then the sickness overcame me: how weary the need of body, how desperate the need of extinction. So I looked for nirvana in the bottom of my glass. Then, Dean, the Lost Girl and I swung by Yorkside and I had a cheap slice of pizza. (It was the realest pizza I ever ate.)
Toad’s was a scene, man. There was music and sweat and people and dancing and music. Man, was there music. I returned in an effluvium of memory to that jazz club in San Francisco, when the night was hot and the arpeggios were burning. (I’d just driven across the country. That’s something I do.) I couldn’t find any saxophones or trashed pianos but I found love in a hopeless place. Over the basslines and the unruly rhythms, the Lost Girl asked me if I wanted a cigarette. I asked her to marry me in my head. We went outside.
“Got any Luckies,” I said with quixotic confidence.
“No. I have American Spirit.” (Oh baby, did she have American Spirit.) “It’s a brand? Of Tobacco?”
“Right. Yeah. Cool.” We shared a cheap cigarette and it was the realest cigarette I ever smoked.
Then, we went back in and Beatific Beyoncé showed me the ragged, ecstatic joy of being. I was afraid to dance but I was more afraid to die so I danced. One precocious cat who was known in the town for his fine spoken word came up to me.
“Man, there are some gone girls here. Gone, like the color blue. Gone, like America.”
I thought about telling him to maybe read books before he wrote them, but his turtleneck covered his ears. The beret disappeared into the crowd. I never saw that cat again. (Apart from once, when I was driving across the country.)
I finally beat myself up enough to go over to the Lost Girl. With religion in my bones I said, “Hey, let’s buy a piece-of-shit car and pull outta here — go to Mexico, go to Wyoming, go anywhere.”
She ran ink-stained fingers through her living hair, shrugged her Hepburn shoulders in her denim jacket, looked at me with the kind of eyes that make a guy understand sex and death, and said: “I have a paper due tomorrow.”
So, Dean and I slipped out, sex-crazed and self-loathing. I was restored to factory settings. He said, “Hey man, you can’t give a Dharma talk if you’ve shot yourself for one lost love.” (Dharma talk is Buddhist discourse, by the way.) So he took me to Ivy Noodle and we filled ourselves with hot Lo Mein. It was salty, fatty, and man, it was the realest thing I ever ate.
I stood on the corner of York and Broadway and saw hipsters and gone girls and geniuses and mad ones with man buns and I thought, Maybe I won’t go West anymore. Maybe the life force is here, on the East Coast. That feeling didn’t last: In the spring of that year I drove across the country. But that’s another dream, man.