Citation: Drip Drangle. "The Beat of the Beast That Drives Us: An Experience with LSD (exp72107)". Erowid.org. Oct 13, 2008. erowid.org/exp/72107
The Heart of Christmas, the Beat of the Beast That Drives Us.
It was Christmas break and I was returning home to Portland, the City of Roses. Since I was returning from Eugene, the culture shock would be nonexistent. Portland, at least the west side of the river where I grew up, is littered with coffee shops filled with ironic, sweatshirt-wearing indie rockers. Or pretend indie rockers, but it doesn’t really matter. They mix with the hippies who sold out and started running more corporate businesses. Portland is a liberal colony, and I was planning on being very liberal with my pursuits.
It had been immensely boring the past week; I was growing tired of the green glow from my Xbox 360. I had been out and about with friends, but nothing interesting had happened in a long time. Of course, in my experience, when things are not interesting is when they’re great (like a day at the beach where all you do is relax and enjoy), but since I have not had a nice boring year yet, I am not accustomed to a lack of action. Yes, it would be time for sightseeing, but since I didn’t need to see anything in the City it would have to be of a different nature. I made the phone call and a childhood acquaintance picked up. He was at work and he could arrange the sightseeing around 12 p.m. I was going to take substance ‘A’ in hopes of gaining some insight or intuition that would allow me to make drastic changes in my life and perhaps lead to world domination, but I digress. Mere boredom was more of a primary factor than anything else.
I met the man at 12 outside his office, which was conveniently located near my house. The problem was that his supply of “A” was on the other side of the river. Under the cover of night, away from my parents’ prying skepticism, I borrowed the car and helped him grab his movie collection from his old house and finally returned home. I was feeling somewhat apprehensive about doing the substance with this individual and was wishy-washy in my intent that night. This is, of course, a great character trait, and my friend was taking it like a true champ. Under constant peer pressure assault for the entire two hours that picking up substance “A” took, I finally relented when my friend had imbibed it and freaked out when I told him I didn’t want to join in his experience. The catch was that he freaked out in a public street and eyes were on me despite the late night hour. So I did what any rational person would do; I acquiesced his request so he would shut up and not blow our cover, the poor fool. I felt bad, and forced into a strange situation.
The restaurant I had worked at was open till 3, so we decided to go and allow the drug to kick in. Three “cougars” (slang for older 'horny' woman, the word changes every 10 years or so) descended upon me, so I thoughtfully reverted to childhood boyish antics. Unfortunately, this seemed to interest them even more, but finally my lack of commitment shook off the leader of the group, a completely-wasted 28 year-old blonde woman. Now was no time for sex; I was starting to lose basic functioning abilities. My ex co-workers were all veterans themselves save one; she was a rookie.
Drunks piled in and out, and I slowly began to notice that the restaurant I used to work in was filled with all sorts of terrible dark things. A plastic rat figurine creepily perched on a speaker overlooking the whole place; a clay snake with the head of Richard Nixon; a Superman figurines hanging from the ceiling with a condom taped to their backs; Wonder Woman mid-coitus with Spider-man by the bathroom; and the Queen of England with a Nazi Swastika imprinted on her face and horns added to her head above the entrance to the kitchen. My ability to speak sentences understood by human beings was slowly decaying and confused looks flashed upon my ex co-workers' faces. It didn’t matter. The male ex co-worker, not the rookie, understood. The awkwardness never settled in, and in retrospect the place I worked was full of interesting people. A real stepping stone into a future career in the restaurant business if I chose to take it, but such things took a backseat to a college degree.
The night itself was not particularly interesting or unique, but I played some good guitar and enjoyed Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” in a whole new light. City of God was watched and then my friend and I parted ways.
By then it was 7 in the morning. Sleep would not come to me. My mind was racing and my desire to accomplish something while I was conscious overwhelmed me. Lyrics to an album were quickly written down and 8 tracks later it was finished. Around 9 a.m., I called my best friend and said nothing other than to meet me in Pioneer Courthouse Square. He agreed and then fell back asleep, but at that point it was too late and I was in transit to the Square. It was the heat of Christmas shopping season, and although the main effects of the drug had worn off, my new perceptive abilities hadn’t changed. Under its influence, I started to notice all sorts of strange things about the people that I had filtered out before, and Portland is strange as it is. Everyone looked to be twisted in some way. Indecision, amidst the consumers flushed and in lines, deciding what to buy. The madness of the Christmas shopping was an intense sporting event for the women in packs, and the men were no different. There is a campaign called “Keep Portland Weird.” I’m not sure how a campaign like that could ever be successful on such loosely-defined terms.
I texted my other best friend in the peak of the drug's wrath, with the incoherent demand: “come Portland now kthxbai.” I did not expect to see him as he lived far away and was working for UPS, which of course was very busy at the time. At the Square, I played my guitar while my fingers froze and I bitterly waited for my best friend to show up. I ran into members of my college community in various states of Christmas shopping panic. The happy marketed outlook of the holidays was stricken from the eye of every soul. A collective chaos had descended upon the citizens, presumably due to the late date; procrastinators were abundant.
A panhandler came up to me demanding to play my guitar; I looked at him, decided he posed no threat, and in the spirit of the season let him have it. He sat down and began playing “Stairway to Heaven,” one of my least favorite songs for reasons I cannot understand. The song fills me with a terrible sadness. The panhandlers' skill quickly deteriorated after the intro bit, which is my least favorite part, adding to my contempt. The panhandler looked at me intensely and I looked back. He gave me the guitar adding 'Do you have a hat?'
'We could make some money. Here I'll go get a hat, actually come with me'
This, strangely, for an odd second, was appealing. I stood up and wiped my nose. My contact lens began attempting to remove itself from my eye and I countered its intent with unorthodox blinking. The panhandler looked at me while I struggled, waiting impatiently. He moved his arm in a 'follow me' motion, and I complied.
'Alright so first we gotta ask someone for a hat, or steal one. There's bound to be some silly Christmas hats around unattended and you could make some money with your guitar playing, and when you got tired I could play,' the panhandler reasoned.
'Uhm I don't know man. I'm just waiting here for my friend. He should be here any minute.' I began to want no part in this panhandler's design. Stealing is not something I condone, especially in the Christmas season. Making a quick buck to help score some heroin or crack was not in my Christmas plans. I glanced at the homeless panhandler's eyes. Yes he was definitely on something. I guessed an upper due to his disregard for social norms. A certain confidence exuded from his deluded state. I was sure of it.
'Come on it'll be easy. HEY! YOU Sir.” The panhandler approached a stranger with a Christmas hat on, “Which way is Forest Park!?' At this point I quickly left saying 'Nah man it’s alright, but I got to go.' The panhandler glared at me and I saw him move on to someone else as the stranger quickly removed himself from the homeless man's presence. I circled the Square just long enough to make sure the panhandler would forget about me, and returned to the amphitheatre. Bitterness began to exude from me. The idea of this season of giving and brotherhood began to take a backseat to mistrust of my fellow man. Fate had tried to warn me; my contact's loosening must have been an act of God to alert me to the panhandler's schemes. Or my still-dilated pupils. I couldn't be sure.
A girl approached me, demanding I play in the amphitheatre, and I reasoned with her that I wasn’t skilled enough and my fingers were too cold. After some small chat she wandered away only to circle around me and the rest of the amphitheatre’s inhabitants (one vagabond homeless man and one older woman waiting for someone) for what seemed like some time. I was pleasant with her the whole time, again testing the spirit of the season, but my pleasant polite indifference fueled her and led her to engage in conversation multiple times. But I could not be trifled with; I was on a mission; I had ideas.
What were these ideas? I couldn't be sure, but for a second I thought I had discovered some horrible truth about the situation I was in. A sleep-deprived coma became my state, but completely alert and aware, just lacking the ability to remember any of it in any real coherent sense. Two hours after the initial phone call my friend arrived. The moment I entered the car, he took one look at me and said “What did you do last night?” After I turned to make eye contact with him, he grinned and his question was answered. “How did you know?” I asked, but he merely waved his hand away and responded with “Can you get more?!!” Rodriguez apparently understood the desire to go sight seeing.
This delightful unexpected proposition put me into a crisis situation: Do I do it all over again, this time doubling my dose and try to make it the rest of the day, or do I thank my friend for showing up and then promptly pass out in his car? I decided to do it for scientific reasons and because living hard is something I had never really tried before. For science. I made the call and my friend was awake and we went to go meet him by my house at his new apartment. 2x was applied and 1x for my friend, and I started to think I had made a very, very bad decision. Such thoughts are not good for the mind when encountering an altered state. Happy thoughts, use with force, into existence: prime rib sandwiches, Philly cheese steaks; I was starving! I hadn't eaten in over 12 hours, or had I? I distinctly remembered breakfast with my mother with her only comment being 'You’re funnier than usual.' She had no idea.
Suddenly I got a call from my other best friend Smedly. He was coming to visit me and was already at my house. I was walking a fine line and I knew it, but no changes would occur for hopefully an hour, and maybe he wouldn't notice substance ‘A’s effect. He was not the adventurous sort yet, but a yearning for the unknown was definitely there, for we would not have been best friends otherwise, I'm sure of that. Rodriguez and I were walking on our way to Subway when we encountered him. 'I need to get a present for Syd (his girlfriend of 3 years)' he explained. I recommended the chocolate shop, but first Subway. He agreed. Rodriguez said 'I'll pay for your sandwich Phil, but you have to pay me back in some other lifetime.' I considered the implications.
I was terrified.
Maybe some caffeine was necessary.
Lots of it.
'Honey oat bread please'
Something had changed. The tense. The atmosphere. The Subway store.
My childhood acquaintance who had supplied this nightmare is accompanying us to Subway. He decides to take off for business purposes and Smedly becomes severely confused about his whereabouts. I try to explain to him that we couldn't be sure he existed in the first place. This explanation doesn’t settle so I propose: 'He clicked his shoes and vanished back home!' This rouses a good laugh and Smedly relaxes, but he will not be denied. 'No, Seriously where did he go!!?' 'How can you be sure he was there?!!' Rodriguez supports my hypothesis and the subject is changed. It would be very difficult to prevent Smedly from knowing. So far it had been a smashing success, but the lack of sleep and the nightmarish beginning only meant one thing. The trip had begun.
I stare at my Subway sandwich with animosity that it does not deserve. I am very tired and nauseated, and feel like a balloon is trying to escape my esophagus. Smedly wants to go, and I wrap up the sandwich and take it with me. As we walk to the chocolate shop, I ask God if he would be so kind as to turn all the sidewalks into conveyor belts like at the airport. Solar power could run the damn things, with a Nazi-engineered weapon that magnifies sunlight to pinpoint the solar energy. God disagrees, and I trudge onwards slowly, feeling a descending sense of doom and despair. Rodriguez seems to be settling into the experience and is looking around every which way, while Smedly talks about some cool sound project or movie idea. However, words seem to appear in one ear and then leave my other ear straight into Rodriguezs; we can’t understand Smedly, but keep up the facade for we are in the middle of a public street. It is going well as long as the gesticulations continue to deceive.
We arrive at the chocolate shop and Smedly eagerly runs inside. I follow him and the moment I walk into the store, I swallow the gum I had been chewing. The nausea escalates and I feel like I am going to die. I turn around and rush outside and sit on the chairs outside frantically looking for a trash can or coffin. Smedly, unperturbed by my mysterious fleeing, buys his girlfriend the box of chocolates he had been planning on. Rodriguez comes outside and looks at me. We both laugh.
'I think that it’s kicked in!' I exclaim.
'Definitely, there are some weird uneven people out.' Rodriguez replies.
'This was a bad idea man. I feel awful, definitely like I'm done for. Tired. Going to puke--maybe.'
Rodriguez looks at me with haughty insolence. This rouses a good-natured grin upon my face that washed out as the bad waves of exhaustion and nausea crashed back again, stronger and not settling for less.
'You better not die on me.' A smile spreads as a goofy higher-pitched tone emerges from Rodriguez: ' Wai-T we'll just get some CoffeE.'
'Hey guys, got Syd her gift. Why'd you leave Phil?!' Smedly says, as he exits the shop.
'I swallowed my gum, give me a second I need to rest, bad vibrations you see, ominous dry heaving could be around the corner at any se--I contained the urge to vomit, there was no trashcan close enough--just give me a minute.'
'Alright, that's fine. We'll sit here then.' Smedly sits down as does Rodriguez and they watch as people go by. Rodriguez's brow is furrowed, awash in angst and waves of worry for my wellbeing, but it could also be the terrible drug that causes this perceived commiseration. Smedly looks thoughtfully at his box of chocolates and raises his eyes up to the sky. My eyes follow his and I noticed it is very overcast, but bright nonetheless. Two stragglers, shoppers in the Christmas spree of panic, hurry by.
The first shopper says, 'What a hellish Christmas.' The second shopper replies, 'It isn't going to snow in this city and Santa won't come on his sleigh.'
Words billow up inside of me and for a second I am not sure if I am going to actually vomit all over the white table where we are sitting, or speak. 'He'll COME on the last SLEIGH FROM HELL!' I exclaim to the passing shoppers. Of course, there were no shoppers, by the time the words left my mouth, they were down the street. If they had even existed. Had I heard that?
Rodriguez looked unsettled and Smedly looked like a tabby cat that had been rubbed the wrong way. It was becoming apparent that a change in scenery was necessary, if not for my mind, but for my life to continue. I had never felt so terrible and so sleepy and yet so awake. It was very much like a lucid dream, but stuck within the confines of some nightmarish reality. Perhaps this is what those bad trips are I keep hearing about, but I remain optimistic that it would turn out, and stare blankly with no expression at Smedly while the thoughts work their way through. Smedly blinks. This is his most notable tell to the vigilant poker face inspector, who might mistakenly think Smedly is bluffing, when he merely blinks. Often.
'Hey there's a Wolf's Cameras nearby!' Smedly looks away from my blank face and up the road towards the Plaid Pantry. Sure enough a Wolf's Cameras sign is there. Rodriguez gets up and explains he is going to the Pantry for a personal mission. I stare at my right hand and find a Subway sandwich there, deciding I had all the rations I need for the day's undertaking. I follow Smedly into the camera store.
Once I step inside the store, I feel instantly less nauseated, but am overcome by the geometric patterns of the building’s lights dancing on the display case. I was in a mad house with display mirrors and odd light fixtures designed to fill my mind with panic, and the two women behind the counter did not suspect a thing. Smedly calmly states that he'd like to see a particular model of Canon camera. Confusion settles upon the women's faces, and my bemused, irritated and somewhat scared appearance forces Smedly into action as four female eyes examine me. 'I would like to see this one.' he points at the camera. 'Oh of course.' said the woman and she hands him what appears to be a thousand-plus dollar camera. Her co-worker glances at me again with a raised eyebrow and looks quizzically at Smedly who blinks again.
Suddenly I feel my left leg give out. I swoop toward the ground and recover, awkwardly driving the store's inhabitant’s eyes upon me. Shit. If I stand still I'm going to collapse, CURSE taking this on no sleep, Fuck the science of things. Keep the mind active or else. I could kill for a cigarette, but do not possess the motor skills. The woman was looking at me, getting nervous. I would have to start talking to assuage her fears. To calm her down. 'We're photographers, see,' I lie. 'Really,' the woman retorts a little on edge. 'I just want to check it out feel it, compare it to the camera I already own,' said Smedly, ignoring my blatant lie. He is wise in the ways of the world, but unaware of it nonetheless. I mentally thank him for getting the attention off me, but the two women's eyes came vying back filled with mistrust and loathing. We weren't there to buy anything and we weren't there to pick up the girls. To the women, we were wasted time. 'Check the flash, gamma reduction, you know Smedly the fundamentals! How does this camera compare pixel-wise to my friend here's”—Smedly finishes the sentence for me with the Canon model number.
'I don't know I just open the case and sell them. I know nothing about them,' the woman explains. She is another victim of the quick hiring policies of the Christmas system of business. My attention shifts to Smedly, who has a look on his face that says this excursion is doomed. Out of the corner of my eye, a street freak was looming and had entered the shop. As he enters, a strange smell secretes through the camera shop and I fight back the dry heaves. Now there are three non-customers and the shop keeps are getting afraid. The street freak shuffles about, his rank odor giving him an aura of stench so powerful that no adjective could describe it. It was time to leave. 'The camera's NO GOOD! Shoddy shutters and the like—goodbye!' I rush outside. Smedly follows. The street freak comes out and chuckles as he walks away. The smell was bad, but the fresh outside air provides relief, a cool and rushing sensation.
'That felt very weird. That street freak who entered was sketching me out,' Smedly said, still oblivious to my mental maladies.
'He knew too much,' I explain, but did not explain at the same time. Yes, that street freak had seemed uncomfortably keen on viewing my face. The dilated pupils must have given me away, hopefully he wouldn't perform any acts of vigilante justice on the unkempt youth today during the Christmas season.
'What!? You are making no sense Phil. The display case sure had a large number of cameras,' Smedly says as he shifts his gaze. 'Rodriguez is coming.'
Rodriguez was leaving the Pantry with a big silly grin on his face. The Cheshire cat had competition now. 'I got cigarettes,' Rodriguez proudly proclaims. 'You smoke?' Smedly asks.
'I don't know, I just bought them for today.'
'This is why you are my best friend,' I interject, overjoyed at a possible wake-me-up. 'Both of you, now please tell me one of you has a lighter.'
'Haha here you go.' Rodriguez extended the torch, a beacon of hope in a dreary nightmare. 'I never thought I'd say this, but cigarettes are saving my life today!' I exhale and a rush of wakefulness fights back the overbearing hellish feeling of doom that had previously descended upon me.
'How so?! What have you been talking about? I'm so confused. I didn't know you smoke!' Smedly shoots off rapid fire. I look at my best friend and realize that the middle of a Plaid Pantry parking lot was not the place to discuss theology of the drug user. 'Let's go to Urban Outfitters, I'll explain later.' This seems to settle Smedly for now, but there is one issue of importance before we descend into what is going to be a very packed store.
'Hey guys, one thing before we go. Do I look presentable?! My contact keeps trying to fall out my eye and my nose is runny, but I look fine right?” I ask the group. Rodriguez smiles and says that I look the same as I always look. Smedly stares at me for a second and then calmly explains, 'Phil, you never look presentable.' This rouses laughter from the two fools and I shrug. There was nothing I can do for the poor bastards. If I’m not looking normal and presentable at all, at any time, then it is a mystery to me as to why they would chill around me in the first place. Details though, minor details. Time to force the legs to move, look around and enjoy the Christmas spirit in a whole new light. I notice several souls in various states of Christmas stress. The stressful vibes on the common people's faces intensify as we enter the densely packed Urban Outfitters.
Gripping the large handle, I pull open the door as heat radiates from the building. My runny nose has intensified, a most unpleasant result of the dry air, but I cannot be certain. People are popping into perception. People of all ages are everywhere. A group of three moves past us, and I begin to wonder if my 'not being presentable' will become a problem. The thought is dismissed as silly and not important as we slowly move our way from the women's floor to ascend to the platform in the middle (male section) of the stairs, pushing people pleasantly aside as we climb. There is an assortment of gadgets and silly accessories like fuzzy slippers that any straight male I knew would never wear. I felt the slippers. The soft fuzzy feeling I expected quickly became disgust as I jerked my hand back. The slippers were sticky. I rubbed whatever horrible thing that had eaten my supposed soft–feeling slippers on the first thing I see, a polka dotted t-shirt.
Questioning how male this store’s male section is, I turn my gaze to a strange-looking book with an arch nemesis: George W. Bush, on the cover. Smedly and Rodriguez are scampering about, digging into the doodads and tacky objects like I am. We are out of our element here. It is unbearably hot. I open the book and stare at the abstract art that permeates every page. It is entrancing. For a moment that feels like a decade, my mind discerns what the repeating background art is. Che Guevara and George Bush in a compromising position. 'Hey you guys check this out, how rad is that?!' I sniffle and say.
Smedly examines the book thoroughly and thumbs through it in half the time it took me. He then re-opens it at about the halfway point, his hands on both covers as he states, 'It's pretty cool, I guess.' At this moment Rodriguez turns his attention to the book and stares at it. His large pupils are mesmerized by the page. He looks at me. I raise my eyebrows and glance at another abstract artist’s interpretation of George W. doing a Nazi salute with an endless array of swastikas in the background. A horrifying truth begins attempting to correlate Hitler to George in my mind, echoing at the edge of consciousness. This book is filled with ingenious design. As Rodriguez and I cannot even take our eyes off the page, the pages turn by Smedly's hand. Another hypnotizing image consumes Rodriguez and I, as thousands of George Bush’s fill the page, in a pattern similar to the four-paneled Beatles album cover. Only this time there is no musical creativity behind the picture, and what remains is an artist's ghostly ode to a completely differently-layered type of mind.
A vision then comes to me, flooding my minds eye with a future America: consumerism at its peak, large corporations raking in the cash, subduing the buyers with bigger buildings. The American dream of two cars in every house destroyed, giving way to the corporate American dream. I see four large buildings each with a neon sign taking up a four different blocks. The buildings rise into the night sky as I glance down upon them from the heavens. Wal-Mart glows in blue, K-Mart in red, Disney in black-white neon, and U.S. Government in red, white, and blue. My view from the heavens quickly returns to Newton's laws as I see my point of view fall rapidly down to the sidewalk, on the intersection of this future hell, looking in the windows as my neck cranes up looking at the bland buildings blur into the night sky.
I enter the store and a directory flashes into my mind. 'Find your healthcare needs, 4th floor. Starbucks, 1st floor second building to your right. Military, 5th floor, Women's undergarments, aisle 6.' Each building is filled with the same thing. There is no existence outside these stores. Everything you could ever want or need is within them. Apartments trapped between floors. No more real estate. Socialism, disguised under an illusion of choice. My mind ascends up the building, adjacent stores as each store’s layout proves the same. At the top floor, there is a sky-bridge connecting each of the four buildings to one another. A large fat man smiles from his desk, and on the other side of this room, across from the desk, was a screen filled with an image of the same disturbing image of a fat man, just with a slightly different toned tweed suit. This was America's future if run by the major corporations. I was sure of it.
The loud snap of the book closing brings me back to reality. 'There's nothing I want here.' said Smedly. Rodriguez looks at me, his eyes wide. 'Pretty cool book, huh,' I say to him. 'Yeah, that was pretty abstract art,' he replies. 'Let's go then Smedly, Rodriguez, to Starbucks for I need fuel, we will find one soon enough as there are three within ten blocks that will take us back to around my house.' I propose with shudders coursing through me. 'Alright Phil, sounds good let's go to the one with the plush chairs,' responds Smedly. 'An excellent idea,' says Rodriguez. As we turn to leave a group of people follow us, and by the time we leave the store, we leave as ten. Our crowd disperses as we move down the sidewalk, I ponder the strange vision. Starbucks' number was at five within my neighborhood. The remnants of a Blockbuster from last year had recently converted to the coffee cause. Strange tidings, paranoia, as they open stores close to one another in this overpopulated neighborhood.
Two homeless citizens huddle together in one of the bus-stops littering every two blocks. None of the frenzied frantic shoppers spare them a dime. I ridicule my changeless pockets as we march down 23rd avenue. We decide to stop at a novelty store, but inside there are too many people and Rodriguez leaves. I find a 'Ministry of Silly Walks” t-shirt and show it to Smedly. He smiles and we both re-enact the silliest walk we can remember from the sketch. This drew a few eyes, but everyone is busy and locked in-to a shopping frenzy, so our antics are ignored. We conclude we are done with this silly shop and proceed outside. Rodriguez is there smoking a cigarette and the adventure continues as we pass an inadequate Starbucks, one without comfy chairs for lounging.
We venture down the avenue and walk through the crowds gathering around the streetcar. My stepfather was very involved in bringing the street car to the City, but I would argue, thinking that the era I live in is one with scientifically feasible jet-packs. An awful thought enters my head. What if I encounter my parents walking along the avenue?!? This hadn't occurred yet, so the terrible idea was fresh and powerful. We arrive at the Starbucks, which is a place my mother frequently visits, and I dart for the comfy chairs. Rodriguez looks at me with a worried face, for he would have to order the drinks; I had beaten him in. The girl behind the counter was exceptionally attractive, so my friend’s fate would not be entirely negative. Smedly gets a chia tea, as he enters first, and comes to sit down. The challenge of ordering drinks is overcome by Rodriguez and he comes with two in hand.
'You get me something?' I ask.
'Yes, a Carmel macchiato,' Rodriguez replies.
'Excellent, I can't wait for the caffeine to kick in.'
'Phil you want to go to your house?' Smedly asks. This was a question I had hoped would never come up, and I try to look grim as I sip my coffee.
'Let's see a movie!' Rodriguez summons up a perfect response. I telepathically send him “thanks,” but there is no need. He is one step ahead of me already, and is nodding before the message is sent.
'Yea, my house is lame, we are facing some unusual circumstances. The outside world is far more interesting at the present moment; my house is filled with nothing to do.' I inform my friend.
'Into the Wild looks pretty good.' Rodriguez suggests.
'I'm down, what else is there?' Smedly implores.
'Golden Compass, Charlie Wilson's War”--'No thanks!' Smedly adds and I agree wholeheartedly—“Juno, Atonement,' Rodriguez lists them off. Strangely, Into the Wild seems like the only good choice on the list. There is unanimous agreement. 'My financial situation is not good. I don't know if I have enough cash for the movie,' I say, examining my destitute status and empty wallet.
'I'll cover it. Just pay me back later,' Rodriguez states.
'Alright, where is the movie going to be?' I question.
'Pioneer Courthouse Square,' Rodriguez informs.
I look at him with mounting skepticism. I would be returning to that crowded cesspool of Portland's strange, weird, and busy landmark.
'The Square?!? Are you sure?! I guess we could take the streetcar. First I have to go to the bathroom.'
'Yes, that sounds like a good idea, we can ride for free,' Smedly says.
I stand up and walk toward the bathroom. A man is sitting about 6 feet from us, busily typing some career-defining paper, or so it appears, for he looks intently focused. I pass him and continue on towards the bathroom and as I approach the door, a man exits looking most uncomfortable. My head follows him as he passes me, but his eyes do not waver, determined to find whatever destination brings him away from his experience in the bathroom. I put my hands on the door and push it, opening into a scene with a dirty man at the sink, intently focused on something, and making strange grunting and intense sniffing noises. A wave of absolute terror comes over me and I do not look at the man again, bolting for the urinal.
Great, some man in the depths of some drug experience is behind me and going to shank me at any second! The fear overwhelms me. I can't pee. Focus, dammit! Use your enhanced imagination abilities to work Niagra Falls past the fear. It works, and I let it flow. I slowly turn my head, ready to face the monster in my mind. Ignore this horrible drug, he is most likely just fixing his teeth. My eyes look at a mirror—reflection of a man using a straw to snort cocaine. In a public restroom, at a public Starbucks, in my neighborhood. We share a moment, me and this man. A fragment of time, of deep understanding, a strange rising feeling in the depth of my soul. He knows I am impaired, and he is scared. My pupils are ginormous, and his right blue jean leg is holding him on the sink, closer to the mirror, closer to the cocaine. My contact tries to jump out and I blink awkwardly. I turn and flee the bathroom as he sniffs again. Outside I zip my fly and apply my belt, and rush to the comfort fifteen feet away. My friends look at me with amusement and smiles. I return the smiles with a frown and sit down, only to stand quickly and say 'Let's go! I'm ready to leave.' I grab my coffee and walk out the door.
As I leave the Starbucks, I take the moment alone outside to gather myself. I am shaken by the encounter in the restroom. A travesty, a terror, a freak like myself was trying to enhance the holidays, but with a different poison. The entourage assembles outside and as we walk to the streetcar, I try to explain the monster in the restroom. My friends agree that it would be an uncomfortable situation and the moment is lost as we board the streetcar.
The streetcar never checks for tickets, and we take advantage of this and ride for free. It is a packed car, white on the inside with grey paneling, and I, now aware of my large pupils, sit down in the only single seat. My friend drops a cigarette during the ride, and a large black man mutters, bringing it to my attention. I look at him thankfully as he pounds his chest, acknowledging and understanding without a word being said. This form of communication is appealing and advanced, but impossible to duplicate without such prior understanding. I turn and hand Rodriguez the cigarette, and he asks me where it came from. I tell him a guy in the other section called out, but he did not hear it and doubts me.
'Where do we go when we get off the street car?' Smedly asks, a perfectly logical question that had yet to occur to me. 'Uhm, I can't remember right now, but we'll figure it out when we get off,' I reply. 'Alright, where do we get off and how many stops are left? Smedly counters. 'Uhhhh....' I have no idea. Looking at the map provided by the streetcar provides little help. Surely there is some solution to his question. But a solution fails me. 'We'll find out when we get there.' I say hoping that will suffice, but Smedly would not be satisfied. 'Hmmm, that does not bode well for our future endeavors,' he sagely states.
I look at my friend, my best friend of many years. He is wise beyond what I, and he, can imagine. We must find the solution to his question in order to make it to the mall. The distance between words and reality is starting to increase. It appears the peak is at least one hour away. At that point, we should be in the audience of Into The Wild. The thought settles my mind and my soul. An intense movie like Apocalypto would not be viewed this time around, not on this experience. Intensity is already around anyone and everyone, angrily advancing through the shops. Instead, a more pleasant flick involving a man who decides to throw away all his worldly possessions, and go into the wild.
Throwing away all possessions at a time like Christmas was unfathomable. The buying of future possessions is what keeps this season alive. No more do we practice arcane pagan rituals of saying what we are thankful for at the time of humanity’s supposed savior's birth. At least, not at the families I visited. The majority, 70%, was not even as heavily practicing as my own. The heavy moral consequences were weighing on my mind. A distraction from Smedly's important question to be sure, but what was the most important question? What was more important? The implications of everyone I had seen, ignoring their fellow man, and frantically buying strange and 'fad' items. What was I witnessing? I was not sure anymore, of anything, much less where I was.
Rodriguez quickly straightens up and looks around, I take a quick look at my pants pockets, and Smedly looks at the passengers around him. We are currently passing the Pearl, the booming business/residential district. Despite my years in this part of town, the terrible triumphant drug has effectively rendered my terrible sense of direction null. I am lost. I look at the upcoming stops. Jefferson Street. I always liked that president. Yes, it will have to do. I turn my eyes and look at Smedly, 'We will get off here, at Jefferson.' I inform him. 'Alright, how far is the mall from there?' He retaliates. 'Smedly, to be honest, I haven't been to this part of downtown in awhile, and I can't remember.' Smedly looks at me quizzically. He doesn't know yet, he does not suspect. He trusts me.
The stop arrives at that exact moment and I jump off. Smedly grabs Rodriguez, who is starting to succumb to the drugs almighty wrath. His scanning eyes are black orbs, and he nods as I ponder the situation. We all look around us at the scene. I start walking in a random direction, confident that a solution will present itself. Sure enough, about two blocks later we encounter three street musicians, twenty shoppers, and two homeless people. I smile, for we are not even into the heart of downtown. A metaphor was growing within my mind: Christmas, the season of giving, was currently being consumed by some sort of beast. The beast of consumerism? The beast of greed? The beast of bastardized Santa outfits being worn by 1/6 of the people we pass? I was not yet sure of what type of beast it was, but it was littering the City’s streets. I explain this hypothesis to my friends:
“Well Smedly, Rodriguez, we are walking at a good clip and should arrive at the mall soon. Take notice of the large number of people, all possessed with the desire to give, two days before the giving's proper time.”
'What's your point?' Smedly candidly counters.
'My point my friend, is we are about to enter a monster at the mall. If for any strange reason I myself or our friend Rodriguez here, should raise up our arms, and turn and flee, please just meet us back at the Square which we should... be passing shortly. I'm not sure what we may encounter in there, but I do know that it may be terrifying, a quirky fear of mass claustrophobia magnified by the masses.' I end my monologue to Rodriguez's agreeing smile, and Smedly's doubting stare.
'Flee the mall? Why would we do that?!' He asks. The words come out to me wrongly as, 'Freeeeee the MAAallL? We should DO that.' Naturally I do not respond and eye him suspiciously, so he asks again.
'Oh sorry, well, uhm, you see Smedly nothing about today is normal. You see, well...' I had no idea how to proceed with the sentence. It fell off a cliff in my mind as I stare at a Santa citizen chugging a bottle of Jack Daniels. Dear God, this city is filled with chaos. Soon they'll be breeding. What will happen then? Images of different Santas, some large, some fat, some strapped with vodka, dancing about in a drunken Christmas orgy, engaging in sinful satanic rites, gluttony . . .these thoughts take over my consciousness. We have now entered the Square. I now notice, strange I had not before, a giant Christmas tree smothered in dancing lights and ornaments, reflecting the flickering image. I need something to snap me out of this, this horrible funk.
'Smedly, what Phil is trying to say, is we may not want to go through the mall at all.' Rodriguez says, understanding and absorbing the fear.
'What about the movie?!' Smedly is clearly confused.
'We must see the movie! Screw the Satanic Santas, Fuck the panhandlers, I'm ready to enter this hellhole!' I cry.
A pause among our group. Rodriguez looks at me, his mouth is slightly askew with a downward tilt, and he says 'I do not know if I can do this. Let's smoke another cigarette before we go in.' We all try to walk faster, to get past the crowds, but I trip and wipe my nose, disturbing the pedestrians. 'What are you about!' the old lady pushing the stroller cries, and I respond with 'sorry about that, just trying to pass, enjoy the holidays...ho ho ho.' I adjust the cigarette lighting it. 'Just passing through, don't mind us,' Rodriguez politically pontificates, and the old lady smiles. What we are about would never be possible to explain, and why she asked consumes me.
'What, you guys really don't like the mall or something huh?' Smedly asks us, but does not expect a reply. I can see it in his eyes, he assumes that it is his fault he doesn't understand. Or so I suspect. Doubt on both sides must be settling in. Scrutiny.
'Apparently, you haven't considered everything,' I say, adding: 'expect the unexpected.' The cigarette adds relief, another snap of energy fighting back the cold and nose drip. Morale must remain high or the mall will be unbearable. Right as Smedly is about to ask me what I mean by everything a man in a white bunny suit walks up the Square's brick stairs. He is wearing a black star emblem eye patch. Did I just see that? Smedly's mouth drops affirming my suspicion as another bunny figure pops out behind a crowd, and another from behind the tree. This one has a different eye patch. They are gathering their forces. 'Quick! Into the mall!' I shout, and dart in as we enter the entrance, redundant as it may seem. We move past the crowd gathered around a silver statue man. His eyes follow us, haunting my reality. As I turn my head, a man juggling five golden balls, comes into my vision and I step aside, tossing my finished cigarette. Jesus, we have not even opened the doors and already we are sucked into the madness of sensory overload. My senses were heightened enough, or so I thought.
The two large glass doors open, and the first thing I notice is that the Sharper Image is not a sharper image at all as snow hits my eye. Snow?!? Here?!? What the hell? There is snow everywhere. People are everywhere too. The Urban Outfitters was a populated puddle with tadpoles, compared to the algae-infested lake of people filling the mall. I sneeze a snowflake that does not melt, but sticks to my clothes. Fake snow, an enemy I had not considered. This is sheer madness! Christmas songs beat to chatter that rises, but never seems to fall. There are more people in this mall than there were people in the Square. I stand there, thinking these thoughts while Rodriguez is pressed against me and Smedly behind me. Football tactics would have to be used to traverse the terrain. Madden moves.
Why was I here? The movie! Of course! It resides on the top floor, but before that goal could be achieved, we'd have to work our way through the chaos. 'I'm dreaaaaaaming of a white Christmas' bellows, but babies bawling add an adverse negative connotation to my ear. 'I want I WANT I WANT!' passes my left ear and I feel the fear rising in me. I want to get out of here. I break free of a cluster of people and gasping, I grab the escalator handle. Smedly has passed Rodriguez now, and is four people and five steps behind me. My fear of heights jumps to my attention so I look up. There, at the top of the mall, the apex of the architecture, lies a fake snow machine pelting out white flakes that harass everyone. I see Rodriguez struggling to break through, but finally he does and he smiles, apparently avoiding any semblance of the fear consuming me, as he rides the escalator. He likes heights. How many more of these were there? I look up. Two more. There is no movie theatre on the top floor as I had remembered, we must be in the wrong section of the mall. Stiff-arming my way through two jovial Santas I spin move past a group of five, and creep onto the next escalator.
I stare over the edge, trying to fight the urge to jump off, screaming 'Damn you, Pioneer Courthouse Square Mall, Damn you for ruining order, the pristine condition of prior Christmas.' But I know it's not the mall's fault. It is just a building after all. I don't want to die, not to make this point, not now. Into the Wild will provide relief, the great outdoors, images of nature not defiled by 'tickle me Elmo's' and Nintendo Wii's. Fake snow gets in my eye, and my contact decides at that moment to try to jump out again. My contact adds to the ante of chaos. Curse this decision, the science of things is a science I no longer want to understand. I stumble and fall, but Smedly’s hand catches me. I mumble thanks and look at him trying to point and explain where the movie theatre is. 'WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!' is his reply. Rodriguez is catching up to us, but this floor is louder then the last.
The beat of the beast that drives us rears its ugly head as a small army of Mexicans, Koreans, and other melting-pot families converge on our location bustling with boxes of gifts. Five children forming a pentagram outline scream 'I want to see Santa,' as a drunk man in a Santa outfit stumbles to a bench. 'You can't see this Santa, he is not the real one,' a mother replies. The Santa burps. Two of the children start to cry, the other three join in realizing that Santa, may not appear as he seems on the hallmark cards that sit on top of their boxes. 'YOU TOLD ME Santa was real!' they wail, a zooming, piercing sound that fades out thankfully, as I climb the next escalator. I peer over the edge and my heart leaps into my throat. My contact tries to escape and begins to fall out of my eye, but a blink and a finger poking it stop it. This of course hurts, and I cry out, but stop to sneeze again, shedding fake snow onto the handle of the escalator. We have reached the top floor. Thank God, and his son Jesus, there's a sky bridge leading to the next part of the mall!
On the top floor, there is an Electronics Boutique, filled to the brim with gamers of all ages. Inside, parents too confused to know the difference between a game and a game console scream for verification above the racket as employees' faces fluster. Maybe we do practice the arcane pagan rituals, I begin to consider. Just replace praying, with spraying, fake snow, so that the people do not know, what hinders them, the beast of greed within. Yes greed, or the need, to bring Christmas to the lead, of buyer's impulse decisions. Do I buy the collector's edition game with the sexgunsrapetheftfun4 on the cover, so my son can gloat like no other, or do I buy some other game, for a different console, the right console, this is driving me insane, goes the prayers refrain. But I do not remain. I no longer want to hear, what it is that these buyers fear.
I must get out of this madness. I walk across the circular floor determined to arrive at the surprisingly sparse sky bridge. Smedly has gotten ahead of me, and is looking out the window, and Rodriguez is not far behind me. I walk up, grab the silver handrail, and peer over the railing at the streets below. Thankfully, within this haven, there is no snow. 'Come on, let's press to the movie. It should be at the end of this sky bridge.' As the words leave my mouth I decide now is the time to explain to Smedly, what exactly causes my weird mannerisms. 'Smedly before we continue, Rodriguez and I took substance ‘A’ before you arrived, because we didn't know you were coming.' I feel no weight lifted from my chest. The ball had moved into Smedly's court, and I wasn't sure where he would dribble.
'Seriously?! This whole time?!?' His voice rises and I prepare for condemnation. Rodriguez pulls the draw-strings on his hood. 'Man, if you hadn't told me, I would never have known.' The words leave his lips and bounce off my mind’s wall, hitting me with stupefying surprise. 'I couldn't tell at all. You guys were acting completely normal.' He finishes this startling thought, and a long moment of silence passes between us. Completely normal does not even begin to describe what I have seen. Fuck it. Along with not being presentable, Rodriguez and I must always appear as if on drugs. The peripeteia of our unusual circumstances begins to dawn upon me.
Oh well, at least honesty is being achieved in this dishonest location.
Rodriguez starts to laugh, a chirping sound that echoes off the sky bridge wall as my laughter joins in. Smedly does not understand the ridiculousness of the situation, but he joins in and he is right in doing so. We are alone, the three of us, on this abandoned sky bridge; as if in another world, but 15 feet away, the beat of the Christmas beast continues to bellow. We have conquered him, for now, for on the other side of the sky bridge lies a vast and barely populated movie theater. Sanctuary. What we consume will provide us with food for thought. This is what our Christmas hath brought. Anticlimactic I suppose, but what the truth is . . . who knows?
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