Larry Winchester (“cinéaste, bon vivant, raconteur, et romancier par excellence” -- Alain Robbe-Grillet) now once again easily and all-but-unnoticeably switches to the voice of that endearing adventurer Dick Ridpath as the plot slowly but surely picks up steam in our Merck Literary Award-runner-up serialization of the novel Harold Bloom called “Western civilization’s last, and noblest, gasp”.
The time: an evening in early September, 1969.
The place: an “old-fashioned New Mexican barbecue” at the ranch of Big Jake Johnstone, just eight or nine miles outside of a town called Disdain...
To be quite honest, I felt that things were getting even more out of control than usual.
I mean really. You go through life accepting chaos as best you can, maybe it’ll all start to make some faint sense in a few hundred more reincarnations, but sometimes you’ve just got to try to do the sensible thing --
The musicians started to play a waltz, and I suddenly asked Enid to dance.
The band was almost falling-down drunk now but very peppy, and Enid’s body gave off a reassuring warmth and a faintly sandalwood-incensey smell.
How could I forget that one drunken and drug-addled night in New York when she wound up sharing Daphne’s and my bed at the Royalton. Those two had passed blissfully out while I lay there, my mind racing on LSD, and suffering a truly tortuous and endless erection. Oh believe me I was tempted. But finally, after a considerable amount of effort, I was able to arrange my own discharge, without awakening either of them, as far as I knew, anyway.
I remember lying there afterwards panting for what seemed like an hour, feeling both of their warm bodies on either side of me. And then finally climbing over Daphne to go to the bathroom and dispose of the evidence...
But I did my best to put all that out of my mind, and I got down to the business at hand.
“Y’know, Enid, I’m worried about Daphne going to this peyote thing with you.”
“Are you afraid we’ll run into those Motorpsycho guys?”
“The motorcycle guys? Well, yeah.”
True. The motorcycle guys. And Grupler and Marlene. And Philips and Adams. And the stupid radio --
“Well, maybe she’d better not come,” said Enid.
“Oh, no,” I said, “there’s no stopping her, I know that. But I was wondering if I could come along too. And, well, I’d like to bring this kid Harvey along.”
“You know him I guess?”
“Sure. Nice kid. But, Dick, you can’t just bring a crowd of people to one of these ceremonies. It’s their religion.”
“I mean, I figured Paco -- that’s the medicine man -- would let Daphne take part because she’s so --”
“Well, yeah,” she said.
“But I was wondering if maybe Harvey and I could just sort of observe, or wait outside. I didn’t really want to take the peyote. I mean, normally I probably would like to, but it’s just that I’d really feel so much better if I could -- just --”
I was doing my best to turn on whatever I had left of the old Ridpath charm. I gave her a little twirl, my hand on the small of her muscular back. I probably batted my baby blues.
Oh God, she seemed to be thinking, what the hell.
“Okay,” she said. “You and Harvey come along, and we’ll see what Paco says.”
“Gee, thanks, Enid --” I started to say.
And then no doubt my expression changed, turned somber, or pensive, one of those sorts of words.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Oh. Nothing,” I said.
Actually I had just placed -- or, in the parlance of my old trade, “made” -- that nice new young couple.
As we swung past this profoundly boring-looking duo I’d felt someone watching me, and as I executed another twirl I saw the guy turn his head away from me, and then in his profile I recognized the duplicitous fucker.
I felt a depressing feeling in my solar plexus. Or was I going mad? Had I overdone the drugs? I glanced at the guy again and then my glance met the girl’s, and -- yeah, right, okay:
McKuen’s Labor Day party. It had been a wild one. Drag queens, merchant seamen, strippers, a folk rock combo called the Fugs, two Tibetan monks, a fistful of Black Panthers, Joey Giardello trading boxing moves with a poet named Hank Bukowski, Alan Watts trading dirty jokes with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs discussing ESP with Professor Irwin Corey, Claudia Cardinale doing the frug with Gore Vidal, Phyllis Diller taking her blouse off, Phil Ochs strumming a guitar and chatting with Françoise Hardy, and a guy Rod laughingly introduced to me as the Acid King.
The Acid King and I hit it off right away -- it turned out we were both big fans of Jorge Luis Borges.
A half hour later the Acid King and I were sitting fascinated, high as kites, watching Buddy Greco on the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Buddy was singing “What Kind of Fool Am I” while a stoned-looking Jerry mugged it up off to the side of the stage, and I suddenly couldn’t take it any more, it was too intense, I turned away and there they were, this Hippie Couple from Central Casting -- the man in bright swirly pants, sandals, Nehru jacket and love beads, a walrus moustache, a Beatle haircut and pink granny sunglasses; the girl in this long multicolored Lady Guinevere gown with long blond hair, a purple Chinese coolie hat and oversized shades with blood-red heart-shaped lenses. Pluperfect 1967 hippies, but this was 1969, and I just knew they were phony, and probably narcs.
So I tipped off the Acid King guy. I knew he was a fugitive, but he seemed like a nice guy, and, after all, he had turned me on.
The Acid King glanced at the hippie couple and nodded. He said, “I owe you, man.” I said, “Oh, no, not at all,” and he drifted off to the bathroom, whence he crawled through the window and out onto a rooftop and away, leaving the hippie couple still standing by the drinks table, swaying psychedelically as Jerry joined Buddy for a freeform scat finale to “What Kind of Fool Am I”.
And now here were the hippie couple again, but in the guise of Young Mr. and Mrs. Straight America.
The waltz ended and Enid stood there looking at me quizzically.
“Um, let’s dance another one,” I said.
“Okay,” she said, smiling.
The band lit into an odd fast herky jerky thing and Enid and I looked at each other.
“I think I can dance to this,” I said.
“Lead away,” said Enid.
I shrugged and duly led her into a rhumba, a dance I had become quite proficient at during a stay in Havana back in ‘58.
I wanted to dance and I wanted to think. It now occurred to me that this young blond guy and his partner -- Mr. and Mrs. Masters of Disguise -- had been watching me at McKuen’s and not the Acid King at all.
What kind of fool am I indeed.
(Enigmatically continued here.)