AND NEW FREAKS
I left Texas in June 2013 and moved to the Bay Area. I already knew a lot of people there. I ended up meeting a lot of new people. Many of them were fine and interesting people. I am going to write about a few of those people.
• • •
M found me in the beer aisle of the grocery store across the street from Golden Gate Park. I told her I was surprised they stocked Lone Star, which I used to drink all the time when I lived in Texas. We decided to get two huge beers and walk around the park brownbagging it. She said she didn’t know much about beer and I said I didn’t either. I said I only knew what tasted good to me and what didn’t.
She had me pick something out for her. I grabbed a bottle with a demon on it and handed it to her.. I got something with a high alcohol percentage. I was thinking economically because I was so broke. I wanted to get as twisted off five dollars worth of beer as I could.
At the register I looked at M. She was otherworldly. I had never seen someone look like that before. She had black hair and fair skin. She had a long thin nose. She looked like the protagonist from a 1960s French cartoon. I thought that was great.
We walked across the street and entered Golden Gate Park. The sun would be setting soon. The sky was beautiful. It was pink and streaked with orange. We passed a small encampment of friendly dopers. They offered to sell us whatever we wanted. They said, “Bud? Doses?” I held up the brown paper bag that had a beer poking out the top. One of the guys said, “Ah, you’re good then.”
It was probably a bad idea but we went to the playground and drank beers on the swings. I scaled the jungle gym and, beer in hand, went sailing down the long slide. There was no one else around.
We walked for a long time and it began to get dark. We decided to cut over to the street and find a place to watch the sunset. M saw a hill way the hell up there in a residential neighborhood populated with million-dollar homes. It took a while but we finally got up there. There was a couple making out on the only bench so we found a spot on the side. We sat down and finished our beers. We could see all of San Francisco.
It was very windy. I was wearing a T-shirt and my black denim jacket. The wind went right through my jacket. M pointed at the little cat pin on my lapel. “Your cat jacket looks too thin, Mr. Starsailor.” She got close to me and opened her jacket. She took me inside with her. I was warm after that. I thought that was very sweet. I had only known for her two hours.
We watched the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. The sky was real nice. There were some good clouds up there. She told me she lived in San Rafael so she never got to see sunsets like that. I told her I lived in Oakland. Oakland is flat. I never got to see sunsets like that either.
M asked me if she could kiss me. I thought it was a little cheesy to kiss during a sunset but I said yes anyway. It was a good kiss. I stopped being cynical about it as soon as I realized that it was a good kiss.
She drove me all the way back to Oakland. I thought that was very nice of her. She said she wanted to see me again the next day and I said that was all right with me. I told her I wanted to see her again too.
We hung out a lot over the next month. She never seemed interested in having me come to San Rafael. She always wanted to come to Oakland. We had a few bonfires and watched a lot of movies. We would get beers and walk around UC Berkeley campus. She told me she liked listening to stories so I told her a lot of stories.
One night we stayed up till sunrise talking in my bed. The only light was the glow from my television. We were watching ‘Blade Runner.’ It was muted. She looked very beautiful and ghostly. She said, “You look cute right now.” I did not look cute. I looked like space trash. I hadn’t slept in four days. I didn’t say that though. I told her she looked cute. She did look cute.
I walked her to her car after the sun was up in the sky. She said she had to work four hours later. She asked me if I was going to stay in California forever and I said I probably would. I never saw M again after that.
• • •
I met K outside the Powell Street BART station. She was sitting on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. She was wearing a big baggy sweatshirt. I helped her up and we started walking. We didn’t waste any time on social niceties. We decided together at the same time that we were already friends and so we talked to each other like friends. I thought that was great.
K lead me through some alleyways to get to an Irish pub a few blocks from Market Street. I had absolutely no money but I bought a bunch of beers anyway. She drank a few ciders. She said she didn’t like beer so much.
She said she was getting her master’s degree at a school in the city. She told me she had recently gotten a good deal on an apartment in Hercules because the previous tenant had died in the bedroom. The landlord lived on the couch. He was a strange old man who would disappear for days at a time.
Afterwards we got in her crappy old Geo Metro and drove to Oakland. We parked next to Lake Merritt and went into Ruby Room. The doorman said he didn’t need to see my ID because he knew who I was. I felt pretty cool when he said that.
It was a Friday night and the bar was packed full of freaks and weirdos and now there were two more. I loved it there. The lights were red and dim and the chairs and tables were black and decades old. There was a pool table in the back and you could sit there and watch old bikers play for hours.
K said she had never been there before. She said she didn’t know much about Oakland at all. We got a table in the darkest part of the bar and sat down. She said she was paying for my drinks and went over to the bar.
A guy came over to me with his dog. The dog was very small. He was holding it in his arm and drinking a beer with the other. He let me pet it. The dog was very calm. I asked the man how he was able to get the dog into the bar. He said he had him registered as a service dog because he was “sad as shit.” He said apparently that explanation was a good enough reason for the State of California.
K came back and pet the dog. The man said good-bye and walked away. She gave me a whiskey ginger. I drank it very quickly. We stayed for a long time. She asked if she could spend the night at my house because it was a long drive back to Hercules. I told her she could. We went back to my house.
It was winter. My house, like most houses in Oakland, did not have central heating. My bedroom was damp and cold. It was colder in my bedroom than it was outside.
There was no moon in the sky that night. The room was very dark. K and I sat on my bed in the darkness. She asked me if it was OK if she took off her shirt. I said that was fine. It was very cold so we got under the blankets. She turned and faced the wall and asked me if I would rub her back. I rubbed her back for her. I told her I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I spidered my hands over her skin and she told that was nice. I went on feeling like a moron anyway.
She asked me to take my shirt off too. She was still facing away from me. Even under the blankets it was very cold. She asked me to press my chest against her back so we would both stay warm. I did this. There was nothing strange or sexual about it at all. It felt nice to feel comfortable around someone that quickly. It was nice that someone felt that way about me too. We fell asleep.
• • •
N met me at Cafe Van Kleef in downtown Oakland. I was running late. I tried to get there before her so that I could drink a beer alone and be there for a while before I had to talk to anyone. I was sweating and my nerves were fried when I arrived. Back then I was taking too much Adderall.
She was sitting outside smoking and drinking a beer. She was totally at ease. She was small. She had a great voice. It was like a sort of old Hollywood voice from a black and white movie. I loved that. She was dressed exactly like me except all her clothes were blue instead of black. She had a cat pin on her lapel.
She said she loved mopeds. She said she could fix any moped you put in front of her. She told me she had been in a moped gang in New Orleans. She was bummed because she couldn’t find anyone to be in a moped gang in San Francisco. I told her that if I had any money at all I would buy a moped and start a gang with her.
It was very easy to talk to her. We talked like we were old friends. After a few hours I told her I had to be home because I was hosting a movie night. I was playing ‘Blade Runner’ for a room full of people who had never seen it before. She said she had never seen it before either. I invited her to come along and she did.
There were eight people crammed into my room. N sat next to me on my bed. We had our backs against the wall. She put her leg over mine. I was confused but I didn’t say anything.
We watched the movie in total silence. It was pure and beautiful. During the final scene in J.F. Sebastian’s apartment I heard a few people gasp. I loved that. The movie ended and everyone went home.
I asked N if she had ever seen ‘Akira’ and she said she hadn’t. She asked me if we could watch it so we did. She loved the hell out of it. By the time we finished it it was very late. She asked me if she could stay over and I said that was all right with me.
She said, “Now don’t get any other ideas, all right? I just wanna make out is all.” I told her I did too. We made out. She was a good kisser.
We talked for a long time in the dark. She told me she had five older brothers. She was the youngest. She said they had taught her how to work on mopeds. They all had mopeds.
“And if ya break my heart, they’ll break your arms!”
Next morning I walked her to her car. She told me her birthday was that weekend and she asked me to come to her party. She and her friends were going to bar hop in San Francisco. It was nice that she wanted me along. I figured that was a good sign.
A few days passed. On the night of her birthday I was driving in the city. I was a cab driver back then. It was a Saturday night and I was very busy. The people were rotten. They were young and rich and spoiled. My last fare was an ER doctor. She was very tall and drunk. She told me the Hippocratic Oath was very important to her.
The doctor lived all the way out in Twin Peaks. I didn’t mind driving that far since she was my last customer of the night. After that I was going to meet up with N and her friends in The Mission.
I parked at the top of a hill. There was no one else around. I got out and stretched my legs. I drank the last bit of coffee in my huge Thermos. I could see all of San Francisco twinkling below. Across the Bay was Oakland and Berkeley. I could see them twinkling too.
I used to get a kick out of pissing on mansions in San Francisco. I hadn’t stopped the car for several hours so it seemed as good a time as any to piss on a mansion. I pissed on a mansion and got back in the car. It was cold out. I started the car and turned on the heat.
I called N twice but she didn’t pick up. I waited up there for a half hour. I watched the lights. It was totally silent. It felt very good to be up there.
I was listening to Iggy Pop when N sent me a message. It was a dry and sterile message. She didn’t say much. The subtext was this: “Please don’t come. Nice knowing you.”
I was mostly unfazed. I didn’t know her very well. I sat there and thought about it for a while. I decided I had to get moving. Because the people in San Francisco had been so awful that night I decided I didn’t want to keep driving. I took the Bay Bridge into the East Bay and went to UC Berkeley campus by myself. I parked in a lot. I took out a bag of psilocybin mushrooms from the glove compartment. I walked to the clock tower in the middle of campus and ate the whole bag. There was no one else around.
I walked everywhere. It was very spooky outside and I loved it. The entire campus was deserted. I could go anywhere I wanted and climb on anything I wanted and no one was there to tell me not to.
Around three a.m. I left the safety of the campus and headed into downtown Berkeley. I was jazzed on mushrooms. I felt great. I walked by a lot of storefronts. There were homeless people curled up in every entryway I passed. When I reached a Tibetan souvenir shop I saw a man with a crewcut and digital camo fatigues having sex with a woman on top of a sleeping bag. The man’s pants were at his ankles. The woman was wearing a ski cap. I didn’t want to stare so I kept walking. I was sure it wasn’t a hallucination. I hadn’t taken nearly enough mushrooms for my mind to invent something like that.
I walked for a mile down Shattuck Avenue. I befriended many stray cats. At some point I saw an old homeless woman sitting up in her sleeping bag in the entryway of a camera repair shop across the street. She was staring at me curiously. I stopped walking. I held my hand up like I was taking an oath. I kept my hand there. After a few seconds she smiled and waved at me.
• • •
R had just moved to Oakland from Pittsburgh. She was living with her aunt and uncle in Concord. She came to Oakland so we could walk around and talk about nothing. She said she didn’t have any friends at all.
She was completely insane. I loved that. We were walking down San Pablo Avenue near Emeryville and she told me she was thirsty. We went into a fancy pizza shop and she bought two root beers in glass bottles. We went outside and she cracked one of them open. I stood there and watched her gulp down the entire bottle. She handed me the bottle and then cracked open the other one. She drank it all in one gulp. She handed me the other bottle. Now I was holding both empty bottles. I carried them for a half mile till we came upon a trash can.
I was losing my voice. I was pretty sick. She told me the only way to get over a cold is to pour some whiskey into a cup of hot tea and relax. She lead me to a convenience store and bought me a small bottle of Bulleit. “My grandma used to buy me this shit. It’s the good stuff.”
On the way back to my house we passed three guys who were leaning against a fence. One of them said to me, “Is that your girlfriend, man?” I said, “No.” Immediately after this all three guys started saying awful things to R. They whistled and told her to come back and talk to them. We kept walking. We turned a corner.
“Ryan,” she said, “the next time someone asks you that, you say yes.”
“Oh, I didn’t know. I was just being honest.”
“You can’t be honest with these fucks. They only care about not offending you. They don’t care about not offending me.”
We went back to my house. It was the middle of the day. She filled the kettle with hot water and made me a cup of tea. She explained what the perfect tea / whiskey ratio was. She poured the Bulleit into the mug. It seemed like the same ratio you would use to make a mimosa. She helped herself to things she found in my refrigerator. It didn’t bother me one bit. I genuinely thought that was great.
I was totally delirious. I felt like hell. She handed me the mug and told me to drink it slowly. We went into my bedroom and spent the rest of the day watching all the ‘Indiana Jones’ movies.
Around midnight she said she had to go home or her aunt and uncle would worry about her. She was thirty years old. She said she had no way of getting home. I rented a car for two hours and we walked to downtown Oakland to pick it up. It was parked in a lot behind a crummy Chinese restaurant.
I drove her all the way to a suburban neighborhood in Concord. She told me to come inside. Her aunt and uncle were still awake. They were standing at the island in the kitchen eating sandwiches. They were very nice to me. They kept thanking me for driving R home. I tried my best not to sound like I was high on cough syrup.
R lead me out back and showed me a strange room that was separate from the house. The room was completely empty. It was enormous. It had white tile floors. There was a large square indenture in the middle of the ceiling. There were hidden lights pointed up towards the ceiling. She turned a knob on the wall and the whole room became blue. The light was very soft. She made it green and then pink. It looked like a room that someone would have in ‘Blade Runner.’
“Isn’t this like something from ‘Blade Runner’?” she said.
Before I left she gave me two books of poetry her friend in Pittsburgh had written. I groaned internally. She explained to me what her friend was like. He sounded like a serial killer. She kissed me on the cheek and skipped across the yard and went back inside.
I opened one of the books. The text was thick and unreadable. It looked like a font your mom would pick out. Most of the poems were about death. They were all free verse. I had figured they would be.
A few weeks later I tried to get her a job at the restaurant where I worked. She was a very good cook. My boss later told me he didn’t hire her because she was completely insane.
A year later I drove to a Those Darlins show in the Temescal neighborhood in North Oakland. R was standing outside when I got there. I hadn’t expected to see her. I hadn’t seen her in a long time. She was smoking a cigarette. She gave me a hug and told me she had come because she was friends with the band. “I used to be the Queen of Nashville ya know. Everyone knows me there.”
After the show I was talking to my friend Linwood. He played bass in Those Darlins. I showed him the decommissioned police car I had bought a few months before. He thought that was real neat. I told him I was friends with R. I asked him how long he had known R. He said he had no idea who that was.
• • •
A was leaning against a wall outside the 24th Street BART station. I saw her fumbling with a cigarette. I had a little pink Zippo in my breast pocket. I walked over and offered it to her. She was tall and thin and had red hair. She wore all black. She had a little silver pentagram hanging from her necklace.
She had a great voice. It was husky. It was nice to listen to. She told me she had been smoking since she was fourteen. She said there was no point in stopping now.
She lead me to a dive bar. There was hardly anyone in there. We talked for a long time. She told me she ran a gallery in San Francisco. I told her I wrote dumb short stories and was reading ‘Moby Dick.’ She didn’t run away so we kept talking. I liked talking to her. She was the prettiest woman who had ever talked to me on purpose.
Eventually we moved to a round table and stretched out. I had brought her a box of donuts from the restaurant where I worked. There were six donuts in the little pink box. They were six different colors. She tried two of them. She said there was no way she could ever eat all six.
When we left we walked past a table where four people were drinking. The strangest thing happened. One of the guys sitting there said, “Ryan Starsailor!” I was horrified. My face turned more pale than usual. I turned to him and asked him how he knew that name. He said he had seen me in some commercials my friend Tim had made. I shook everyone’s hand. It was very odd. I introduced them to A. I couldn’t imagine what she was thinking.
I gave them the little pink box of donuts. There were four left. They were very happy about the donuts. I told them not to tell anyone they had seen me. They said they wouldn’t. I don’t think they knew I was joking.
A took me to a corner store. We bought a six-pack and walked to a dog park. It was dark outside. There was no one in the park. We sat down on the only bench there and drank all six beers. She only had two so I drank the other four. We made out for a while.
She took me back to her apartment. It was above a Mexican restaurant. It was very nice. She said she could never leave because she had rent control. We went into the kitchen and drank a lot of water. She introduced me to her roommates. They were very nice.
A came to see me in Oakland a few days later. She told me that one of the girls I had met that night had killed herself by jumping off the roof of her building.
• • •
K was from New Zealand. She had a thick New Zealand accent. K was sweet. She was shy. She told me in high school she had black hair and only wore Nirvana T-shirts. As an adult she dressed in an dark blue school uniform and had fiery red hair. She said she had gone to UC Berkeley for four years but had to move back to Wellington because her student visa had expired. She had just returned to the Bay Area because she loved it so much and found New Zealand boring. She said all anyone did over there was work on a farm or get drunk.
She lived in San Francisco but we hung around Berkeley. We got food and walked around the campus. When the sun set we bought two huge beers and sat in the park across the street from the police station and drank them. She was very nervous about drinking in public. She said she was afraid she would get deported.
We bought a bottle of wine and went to a movie theater on Shattuck Avenue. I hid the bottle in my jacket. The theater was huge and ancient. It had been around for a long time. We sat in the middle row and passed the bottle back and forth during the movie. Over the course of two hours we finished the whole thing.
I took the train with her back to San Francisco. We ended up walking around the city until four a.m. I walked her back to her house and she offered to let me sleep on the floor since it was so late. I told her I would kill some time until the trains started running again at five. Before I left she told me I could stay with her family in New Zealand whenever I wanted. I said that sounded nice and gave her a hug. She let me out the back door.
I walked alone through dark neighborhoods for the next hour. I felt pretty good. I wasn’t tired at all. I hardly saw anyone. Hardly anyone saw me.
I got to Market Street around five-fifteen. The sun had not yet come up. I passed a skyscraper that had dozens of identical newspapers scattered all over the steps. They were blowing around with the breeze. I picked one of them up. It said:
BART STRIKE IMMINENT
I didn’t think anything of it. I kept walking. I got to the station and went down the stairs. The steel gate was down. A homeless man told me the trains wouldn’t be running. He said the union had gone ahead with the BART strike.
I walked back up the stairs. My phone was dead. I was freezing. I asked five different convenience store clerks which bus line went to Oakland. None of them knew.
To keep my body warm I had to keep moving. I spent the next four hours aimlessly wandering around San Francisco. I got screamed at a lot. Everyone tried to talk to me. I didn’t want to talk to any of them. They were insane. I walked past strip clubs and strange bars. Somehow they were still open.
I knew there was a bathhouse in Japantown. I thought maybe I could get in the tub and spend a few hours there until I figured out how to get back to Oakland. I didn’t know where Japantown was. There were no friendly faces around so I couldn’t ask anyone.
By nine a.m. I was delirious and insane. I ended up in the Financial District. It was Sunday morning. It was totally dead.
A cab driver waved me over to his cab. I must have looked like a guy who needed to get the hell away from where I was. I told him I needed to get back to West Oakland or I was going to collapse and die. He said he’d take me for sixty bucks. I had a hundred bucks to my name. I said no way. He said he’d do it for fifty. I kept walking.
I tried to warm myself up in a donut shop. I was very tired. I got a cup of coffee and held it between my hands. I was seeing things. My brain felt like hamburger.
I asked the woman at the counter how I could get back to Oakland. She told me the 800 bus ran every hour. She said I had fifteen minutes to catch the next bus on Van Ness Avenue. She pointed me in the right direction and I left.
At the bus stop a tall skinny man with face tattoos approached me and told me he had just gotten out of the hospital. He asked me for ten dollars. I told him I didn’t have any money. He walked a few feet away and approached an old woman who was waiting for the bus. He sad the exact same thing to her. She turned him down. He went down the line. I heard him ask six different people the same thing word-for-word. They were all within earshot of one another.
I got on the 800 bus. It was full of psychos. It was an insane asylum on wheels. I got off in downtown Oakland and walked the mile back to my house in West Oakland. My roommates were up making breakfast. They said I looked like shit.
It was eleven a.m. I collapsed in my bed and slept for twenty-four hours.
• • •
C and I were drinking at a bar called Molotov’s in Haight-Ashbury. She had been wasted when I showed up. She would order me a shot and a beer, and if I took too long with either she would finish them for me. We stayed there for an hour or so.
We went back to her apartment. It was across the street from Golden Gate Park. It was nighttime now. There was a thick layer of fog rolling down the hill towards the Pacific Ocean. There was no one else out. It was spooky as hell. I loved it.
She put on a record and we sat on the floor. She smoked half a pack of cigarettes in twenty minutes. She told me she was adopted and that nearly half of the guys she had ever dated ended up killing themselves. I watched her do a few lines of cocaine off the record sleeve of The Cramps’ ‘Songs The Lord Taught Us.’
She ate a whole bag of chips in her bed. It freaked me out. I couldn’t understand how anyone could do that. The crumbs would get everywhere. She talked a lot and I silently listened. Eventually she fell asleep. I took my jacket off the back of her chair and slung it over my shoulders. I opened her bedroom door and crept out.
I soon discovered that the front door had to be locked from the inside. There was no way to lock it and then leave. There were flashing lights coming out of her roommate’s bedroom. The door was slightly open. Someone inside was watching a movie. I figured I would ask them to lock the door behind me. I tiptoed across the house and peaked inside.
In bed was a middle-aged man. He had grey hair. He was not wearing a shirt. He had a very hairy chest full of curly grey hair. He was asleep. His bedroom was covered in horror movie posters. I looked at the television. He had been watching a porno flick about vampires. There were two vampires fucking on the television.
I said to hell with it and walked out the front door. I sucked it up and took a cab back to Oakland. The guy charged me thirty bucks.
Months later I got a call from my friend Rachel. She said she was very sad. She asked me if I would bike down to Lake Merritt and sit with her in Ruby Room. She said she wanted to talk to me because she knew I wouldn’t try to talk her out of being sad.
We biked through the rain. It was very late. We locked our bikes up beneath an overhang and went inside. We sat down at the bar. There were maybe six or seven people in there. It was “Punk Night.” The DJ was playing records for hardly anyone.
A man came out of the bathroom and sat down next to us. He put his arm around me. I knew him. He had been the delivery driver at the restaurant where Rachel and I worked. He was very nice. I liked him a whole lot.
He told us stories about being a DJ in Germany in the mid-80s. He said he had met David Bowie once.
He said, “Man, who’s this DJ? She’s good.”
I looked across the room at the DJ. She was flipping through dozens of records in a milk crate next to the turntable. I knew exactly who she was. It was C.
“Oh, God,” I said. “I know her. She’s insane.”
The delivery driver squinted his eyes. He was twenty years older than me. I figured his vision wasn’t as good as mine.
“You know C?” he said. He elbowed me. “Hell, I know C too.”
Next day at work I told the cook at my restaurant about what had happened. His face went pale. “Wait,” he said, “what’s her full name?”
I told him.
He shook his head. He slapped his forehead. “Jesus, man. I dated her for a month.”
• • •
I went to a house show a few blocks from my place in West Oakland. I didn’t care about the bands at all. I just wanted something to do. I thought it would be funny.
There were about a hundred people crammed into the living room of an old Victorian house. They were listening to some music that was completely awful. No one seemed to realize that the music they were listening to was completely awful.
One of the bands was a duo. One girl played bass, and the other played drums. They both had powdery pink hair. They had flowers in their hair. Everything they had on was pastel. They played five or six songs. They were the best band that played that night, which admittedly doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Later I was out back having a smoke with my friend. People were gathered in little circles passing joints around and talking. I was sitting on a pile of junky old palettes. My friend was standing in front of me. We were lamenting the state of music.
The drummer with the pink hair came over to us. She told me her name was E. She asked to borrow my lighter. I handed it to her. It was the same color as her hair. She mentioned this to me. I don’t know why but we ended up exchanging numbers. She was very beautiful. She had cat eyes. She was very funny.
She called me a week later. She told me she was bored and to come pick her up. She told me to take her on a date. I told her I had never taken anyone on a date before. She lived three blocks away. She lived in the house where I had seen her band play. I drove the police car over and picked her up.
She came outside and got in the car. She was dressed like an anime flight attendant. She told me to guess her ethnicity. I guessed Hungarian. She slapped my shoulder. “Who told you that?” she said. She laughed. “Good guess.”
I took her to Cafe Van Kleef. When she showed the doorman her ID I looked at her birthday. She had only been twenty-one for three months. I felt sort of weird about that.
I told her Cafe Van Kleef was famous for their greyhounds. I don’t know why I said that. I think I had heard someone else say that. She ordered two. She told me I had to pay for them since we were on a date.
We sat down in the back. She gulped down her drink very quickly. She put her hand on my thigh. Her hand was an inch from my crotch. I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into.
She put her other hand on the back of my head. She pulled my head towards hers. She kissed me on the lips. I pulled back. There were a lot of people in the bar. I didn’t want to make out with someone in a bar with all those people there. I didn’t want to make out in a bar at all.
“What is it?” she said. I told her I couldn’t stand it when people made out in bars. It seemed sort of rude to me.
“Aw, hell,” she said. “You’re one of those guys!”
I guessed I was one of those guys.
Eventually we left. I drove her back to her house. She told me I had to take her on another date the following week. I said, “All right, yeah.” She went inside.
Three days later I got a call at two in the morning. It was E. She sounded panicked. She asked me if I could come pick her up from the parking lot of a Korean restaurant in the Temescal neighborhood. She said she would explain everything later. I told her I would come get her. I got in the police car and ripped down the street.
I parked in the lot. I didn’t see her anywhere. I called her but she didn’t pick up. I took a paperback novel out of the glove compartment and turned on the dome light. I read for a few minutes. I waited. I kept the engine running.
E burst out of a row of bushes bordering an apartment complex. She was wearing a long black fur coat. She was wearing a black dress. Her hair was silver. She opened the passenger door and told me to drive. I drove.
“Do you mind if I hide out at your house tonight? There are some people after me.”
“What? What people?”
“Some guys I live with. I live with a lot of people.”
“What . . . are they trying to do to you?”
“It’s a really long story. Can I stay with you?”
I said she could. She said no one would be looking for her there.
I parked on the street and we went inside. My roommates were in the kitchen drinking tea. They were talking in quiet voices. I introduced them to E. She waved and walked down the hallway to get to my bedroom. I didn’t know how she knew which bedroom was mine.
My roommate said, “Is she OK?” I was still standing in the kitchen.
“I think so.”
“She seems a little out of it.”
“I think she’s always like that.”
I made some tea and took it back to my room. E was under the blankets. Her clothes were on the floor. She was completely naked. She apologized and said she didn’t like wearing clothes when she sleeps. I said that was all right.
I turned on some blue Christmas lights. I sat down next to her on the bed. She was crying. She told me she had to get out of her house. She said she couldn’t live there anymore. She said she had to stop doing heroin. I thought she was joking. I said I had to stop doing heroin too.
“Really? I’m being serious you know.”
“Oh, uh, no. I do not actually do heroin.”
I asked her how long she’d be doing heroin. She said she had been addicted since she was eighteen. She said everyone at her house did heroin too. She said it was destroying her life.
She asked me to lay next to her. I did. She started to fall asleep. She said this:
“My parents can never meet you.”
I didn’t ask what that meant. I said, “OK.”
On a rainy night a few weeks later I was sitting at my desk doing a great deal of self-loathing. I was staring at the blue Christmas lights. I wasn’t really thinking about anything.
E called me. She told me to meet her and her bandmate at Ruby Room. I put my jacket on and walked to 27th Street where my car was parked. It was raining very hard. I got in and drove downtown. I turned the heat on to dry my clothes.
They were sitting in the back drinking crappy beer. There were empty crappy beer cans littered all over the table. I sat down. E introduced me to her bandmate. She said she was her best friend in the whole world.
We were there for several hours. At one point I got up to use the bathroom. I was gone for maybe two minutes. When I came back E was gone. Her bandmate was sitting there crying. I asked her what could have possibly happened in the time that I was gone. She said E got mad at her and stormed off. I told her to grab her coat. I told her we had to go looking for her. It was late and it was raining outside.
We went outside. The rain was still coming down hard. I looked down the sidewalk both ways and didn’t see E anywhere. I asked the doorman if he had seen a girl leave a few minutes ago. I started to describe her.
“Trust me dude,” he said, “I know which one you’re talking about. She went that way.” He pointed west on 14th Street, away from the lake. E’s bandmate and I hopped in the police car and gunned it up the street.
We didn’t see her anywhere. We did several laps around downtown Oakland and checked the nearby streets. E’s bandmate said, “E does this sometimes. She’s impulsive.” E had been wearing a tiara with cat ears attached to it. She had been wearing a white tutu. I didn’t say it, but I had a bad feeling that there was no way she was going to make it home alive.
I dropped E’s bandmate off at home. She told me to wait there. She went inside for a moment. She came back out. She told me E was in her bedroom crying. She thanked me and I left.
A few months later I was sitting outside on my stoop writing a letter to my friend in New Orleans. It was very late. The street was dead silent. I heard a pair of high heels turn onto the street. They got closer and closer. I looked up when the sound was just outside my gate. It was E. She was wearing a kimono.
“E?” I said. “What the hell are you doing? It’s three in the morning.” I figured she was going to tell me she needed a place to hide again.
She seemed startled to see me. She looked out of her mind. She said, “Oh, Ryan, it’s you. Uh, I’m seeing my friend. He lives next door to you, actually.”
My friends lived in the house next to mine. “Matt? Woody? You know those guys?”
“No, a guy named Sal.”
I remembered Sal. He lived with Matt and Woody. They hated him. Sal lived in the front of the house. His bedroom light was always on. Sal sold heroin.
• • •
I had just gotten off the train at the Civic Center BART station. My phone vibrated in my pocket. I took it out. My battery had minutes left. There was a message on the screen. The message said this:
“I almost overdosed last summer. I have been hiding in the mountains trying to recover. Anyway I thought of you last night and realized you probably understand me more than anyone else in the whole world. I know that sounds strange but it’s true.”
It was from a Santa Rosa area code. I had no idea who this person was. My phone died immediately after.
I was in the city with my friends to see a movie at the Metreon. I couldn’t pay attention to the movie. I wondered who the message had come from. I wondered this for hours until I finally got home to charge my phone.
I replied to the mystery person. I didn’t let on that I didn’t know who they were. I figured if they had sent me a sort of intimate message like that it would offend them if I didn’t know who had sent it.
They told me they were living in a yurt in Santa Rosa. They were teaching yoga and studying astrology. They said they wanted to visit me in Oakland soon. They asked if I still had chickens.
I spoke to this person for months. I had reached a point of no return. There was no reasonable way for me to admit to them that I didn’t have the slightest clue who they were. They seemed to know a lot about me. They knew a lot of personal details about my life. They knew what my cat’s name was and knew where I worked. At some point I started to wonder if it was all a big joke.
I told my roommates about this. One of them suggested I ask for their email address. He said people usually have their names in their email addresses.
I told the mystery person I wanted to send them a long email. I really did. I asked for their email address. They gave it to me. Their full name was in their email address. It was RM.
I had never actually met RM. We had written each other long letters the year before. She was very interesting. She was the smartest person I had ever talked to. She said she was mildly autistic and because of that she had had a terrible childhood. She said everyone made fun of her. She was a writer. She had a lot of published essays online. For one assignment she got hired as a stripper. She said she wanted to explore the seedy underbelly of the stripping world.
We both called people “mutants.” I loved that.
Sometimes she would write to me and say she was coming to Oakland. She asked if we could play with the chickens in my backyard. I told her I would be very happy if we did that. I wanted to meet her. She had a good brain. I wanted to talk to her for a long time.
She would disappear for weeks and then reappear. She would keep telling me she was coming to Oakland. She never did come over though.
Eventually she disappeared for good. The last thing she ever sent me was a picture of her wearing a tiara. She told me her life was hell again. I never heard from her after that. I have wondered many times if she is still alive.
• • •
H had come from Chicago. I had never met her before that. She was friends with my friend. They had met on the internet in Illinois. She moved to Oakland because she didn’t know what else to do. She had nowhere to live. I told her she could live with me.
We were good friends right away. We had the same sense of humor. She was very funny. She was the funniest person I had ever met in my life. She had a thick Illinois accent. It was like a voice from the old world. I loved to listen to her talk.
We had a lot of fun driving around. We would go to Grizzly Peak at night. We would sit on the felled redwoods there and talk for a long time. When it got cold we would sit in the back of the police car and listen to music.
One of our favorite things to do was to hang out at the grocery store for hours. We hardly ever bought anything. We would make jokes and laugh like hell. No one seemed to like that. They were very uncomfortable that two people were having so much fun in a grocery store.
At night we drove to UC Berkeley and went into unlocked buildings. We ran around beneath the clock tower. We laughed like hell. Sometimes we would go into the coffee shop in the library. There were a lot of students there at night. They were drinking coffee and staring at their laptops. We would take flyers off the cork board and hand them to random people inviting them to join math club or Latin club. Nobody except us thought that was funny.
H got a job at a chocolate factory. I thought that was hilarious. She liked it for about a week. She said she worked for eight hours straight under a dozen florescent lights. She said the room where she worked was windowless. She said her coworkers were all on parole.
H’s job was to fill the chocolate bars with a sort of jelly. She did this ceaselessly. She said nothing ever changed. By the time she left the building she felt completely insane.
My boss had just bought a new restaurant in Albany. I got her a job there. She liked it for a few weeks. She said the woman my boss had hired to run the place was a psycho. She said people took money out of the register and stole food.
H dyed her hair bleach blonde. She shaved her hair off. She smoked a lot of cigarettes. She bought a tarantula. She felt very sad. She said she didn’t like living in California. She wanted to go home. She decided to go home.
The night before H left Oakland we got in the police car and drove to Grizzly Peak. We stayed up there for a long time. I had some glow sticks in my pocket for some reason. I had forgotten they were in there. One was red and one was blue. I cracked them in the center. I brought them to life. I handed H the red one. I waved the blue one around. Down the slope all of Berkeley and Oakland were lit up. Across the Bay was San Francisco. It was lit up too.
We got on the highway. The highway hovered over Oakland. We looped “Moonage Daydream.” I looked over at H. She was staring out the window. She was staring at the Bay and the orange lights of Oakland.
We drove to Albany Bulb. I parked the car next to an enormous parking lot that was stacked mile-high with hay bales. It was very cold outside. I took a blanket out of the trunk and wrapped it around us. We walked in the darkness to the shoreline connected to the San Francisco Bay.
H stepped out of the blanket and walked across the beach. I wrapped myself up and watched her from the hillside. There was a full moon in the sky. It was very bright. It dripped into the water. The Bay Bridge was twinkling across the way. It was very beautiful.
The wind was cold. The water was cold too. H walked into the water with her clothes and shoes on. She walked until the water was up to her chest. She stared across the Bay at San Francisco. Her body was lit up by the moon. Tiny waves rolled past her chest and broke on the sand.
She slept in my bed that night. I was very sad that she was leaving. She was my good friend. I woke up a few times in the middle of the night to find her crying.
H woke me at five a.m. The sun had not yet come up. My room was blue and hazy. It was dark and gloomy. She was hovering over me. Her bag was on the ground. She said she had to walk to the station to catch a train. She said her flight was in a few hours.
My mattress was on the floor. She kneeled on the floor next to me. I sat up. We were both very sad. She was crying. She wrapped her arms around me and I wrapped my arms around her. She cried into my shoulder. I rubbed her back.
“I love you, Ryan. I love you.”
“I love you too. I love you very much.”
“I have to leave.”
“I know you do.”
“I will always be your friend.”
“I will always be your friend too.”
She wiped her face on her T-shirt. She stood up. She picked up her bag. She said good-bye. I lay back down. I stared at the ceiling. I heard the front door open. I heard it close.
• • •
[T & L]
I had a pen-pal in Australia. She lived in Sydney. I lived in Austin. We sent each other long letters for two years. We never directly responded to anything the other had written. We just described what our lives looked like. I loved that.
I knew T because she was dating my friend long-distance. She had met my friend on the internet. She was a journalist. She was aware of who my friend was because of what he did for a living. She had written about things he had done. They met up in Hawaii and said they loved each other. She moved to Oakland to be with him.
I moved to Oakland six months after she did. She lived with my friend. I would go to their house and visit them a lot. I liked them both a whole lot. I never really understood their relationship though.
T seemed pretty sad most of the time. She worked in San Francisco. My friend worked at home. They lived in a loft. When my friend was working on things he was very quiet. T told me she felt like she was living in someone else’s house. She said she didn’t feel like it was her house too.
They dated for another eight months. My friend went to Japan on business in September. T told me they had sort of broken up before he left. She decided to move out. She got an apartment overlooking Lake Merritt. The building was old. It was well preserved. There were only six units in the whole building.
T didn’t have a driver’s license. She asked me if I could rent a car and help her move. I rented a car. I drove to my friend’s house. T was standing outside with all her bags and boxes. We loaded them into the rental car. We drove to her new apartment. We carried everything upstairs.
I visited T a few times a month after that. I liked that we were still good friends. I helped her build her furniture and she made dinner for me. She would always tell me she was using a new recipe. She was a very good cook.
In February T told me it was her one-year anniversary in the United States. It was Valentine’s Day. She said she didn’t have a Valentine. I picked up her in the police car. I had just gotten it the week before.
We drove to the top of Grizzly Peak. When we pulled up there were a lot of people there. Some of them scattered. They thought I was a policeman. I parked and we got out. A guy who was parked next to me was sitting in the passenger seat smoking from a glass pipe. He looked at my car. He said, “Not cool, dude.”
T and I sat on a felled redwood. She told me she was still sad about breaking up with my friend. She said it was better they weren’t together. She was still sad though. I tried to explain my friend the best I could. I had known him for many years. I had known him a lot longer than T.
A man in a baseball cap burped nearby. He announced to his friends and anyone else with ears that he had just gotten out of jail. “Was in that shithole since I was seventeen, man. You learn a lot in the fuckin’ slammer.” He crushed a beer can against his massive forehead and tossed it down the slope. It rolled into a cluster of dark trees.
T and I walked back to the police car. There were eight or nine kids gathered around the trunk. Three of them were sitting on the car. There were beer cans all over the roof. I told them to get the hell off my car, and to take their garbage with them.
One of the kids replied, “Sorry about that, officer.”
They disbanded. We got in the car and drove away.
A while later I was living with a woman from Montreal. She was L. Like H, she was my good friend right away. H was still living in the room next to mine. L lived across the hall from us. I lived with two of my good friends. I was very lucky.
L and H and I lived on a fairly dangerous street in West Oakland. It was a strange and unpredictable street. There were a lot of crackheads. Some of them were very nice. Some of them were very scary. The neighborhood surrounding our street was a bleak and desolate wasteland. There were no trees or birds. There was garbage everywhere. My car was stolen there twice.
H went back to Chicago a month after L got into town. L and I had to find a new roommate. Our landlords lived upstairs. They said they knew someone who would take the room. Her name was B. B had just come from Brooklyn. She moved in a few weeks after H left. She owned a thousand pounds of worthless garbage. It cluttered our house. She had kittens preserved in mason jars. She put them on the mantelpiece. I felt like I was living in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.
L and I didn’t like living with B. She wore heavy boots and would stomp down the hall at five in the morning. She was always drunk or stoned. Sometimes she would fall asleep on the couch with all the lights on. Other times she would fall asleep in the middle of her bedroom with the door open and all the lights on. If she struck up a conversation with you it would last for an hour. Once she stopped me in the hall and talked to me about how much she hated her ex-girlfriend. I had a hot bowl of soup in my hands. By the time I got to my room the soup was cold.
L and I had a string of bad luck. We were miserable and homesick. We were very lonely. B was getting progressively worse. She often left the front door wide open on a street where someone was shot about once a week.
We decided to leave West Oakland in the fall. We found a house in North Oakland. It was close to the Berkeley border. It was a block away from the restaurant where I worked. It had a big backyard with lots of trees and flowers. It was very expensive. We needed to find a new roommate. I asked T. T said she would be very happy to live with us.
Our landlord was insane. She was a sort of cosmic guru in Berkeley. I once found her website for her business. Everything she wrote was total bullshit. She had a lot of money. She was very greedy.
We signed the lease at the end of October. Our landlord said we couldn’t move in till the sixth of November. She gave us the keys anyway.
L and I figured it would be OK to store our things in the empty house as long as we weren’t sleeping there. We wanted our things out of the house as soon as possible. One night we rented a van and filled it with boxes. We drove to our new house in North Oakland. My landlord happened to call me as soon as I pulled up. She asked me when we were moving in. I told her we were going to store a few boxes in the house. I told her we wouldn’t actually be sleeping there until the sixth.
She was horrified. She told me we could not store any boxes in the house until the sixth. She said it seemed like I was taking advantage of her. I apologized. I told her I wouldn’t put anything in the house until our lease began.
I was sitting in a van filled with boxes. I felt like screaming. I didn’t scream. L rolled up on her bicycle. I got out and told her what our landlord had said. She started crying. We put her bicycle in the back of the van and walked down the street together. I put my hand on her back. I rubbed her back. I didn’t know what else to do. I told her it was OK. I didn’t actually think it was OK.
L and I drove the van to our friend’s house. He told us we could store everything in his basement. It was midnight. We moved all the boxes into his basement. I returned the van. L biked back to our house in West Oakland.
I took some empty boxes out of my friend’s basement and put them in the police car. The police car was parked in his driveway because I was hiding it from the world. It had been stolen the month before. I was hiding it because I didn’t want it to get stolen again.
I drove back to the house in the police car. I parked on 27th Street and walked a block to my house. I had three apple boxes in my arms. I intended to use them to collect dishes from the kitchen. They were all I had left in the house.
Twenty minutes later I walked back to the police car. It had been parked between two cars. The two cars were still there. The police car was missing. It had been stolen from the same parking spot off the same street that it had been stolen from four weeks before. I was very sad. I felt like screaming. I laughed instead.
I walked back to the house and told L. I called the police. They said they would be there shortly. L came out onto the street with me. We waited for the police. I told her I didn’t want to live in Oakland anymore. I told her nothing good ever happened to me there. The people I knew were the only reason I had stuck around. She hugged me. She said she hated Oakland too. We went back into the house and went into her room. Her bed was already gone. We curled up on the floor in a nest of blankets and went to sleep.
Four days later we moved into the house in North Oakland. L and I moved everything at midnight. We figured at that point it was technically the sixth. I had to rent another van to move the boxes from my friend’s basement. By that point I had spent nearly a hundred dollars renting that stupid van.
T took the sunny room in the front of the house. L lived in the big room in the back of the house. I lived in a small monk’s den connected to L’s room. You had to walk through her room to get to mine. It was awful. We hung up a curtain so I wouldn’t walk in on her naked.
My room was painted solid blue. It absorbed light. It was very dark at night. It had hardwood floors. There were double glass doors along the far wall. The doors opened out onto a wooden balcony. I opened them the first night I lived there. It was silent. At my old house you could hear gunshots and crying children for miles.
I spent the next year alone. T and L were my only friends. They were very good to me. They baked a lot. T made soup every day. We thought Oakland was miserable but our house was very good. After three hundred and sixty five days of sharing nine hundred square feet with T and L I decided they were some of the finest human beings this stinking ball of garbage called Earth had ever produced.
• • •
I met D at a grocery store in Los Angeles. She rang me up. I was having a terrible day. I was having a terrible month. I had just had one of the most terrible years of my entire life. She didn’t know any of that. She was very nice to me anyway. She told me where to go in LA to see the good stuff.
I wrote her a note in the parking lot. I gave her my phone number. I told her if she was ever in Oakland I would show her where the the good stuff was. She sent me a message the next day. She said she was coming to Oakland in three weeks anyway. She told me she would call me when she got there.
Two weeks later she sent me a picture. In it she was standing next to E. I hadn’t seen E since the night she came walking down my street in high heels and a kimono.
D said, “Look who I found.”
I said, “There she is.”
D said, “She has lots of great things to say about you.”
I figured this was sarcasm. I asked D how she knew E. She said they had a lot of mutual friends. They were at a party together. E had moved down to LA to escape her heroin addiction.
At the party D had been telling E how she was going to Oakland the following week. She said a strange thing had happened to her at work. A guy named Ryan from Oakland had given her his phone number. She told E that Ryan drove a police car.
E had said to D, “Oh, Cop Car Ryan! I know him!”
I figured maybe there weren’t too many of us in the world. E told D that I was not a serial killer. I thought it was nice of her to say that.
D came to Oakland the next week. She took a bus up from LA. I picked her up in the police car from West Oakland BART station. She had asked me to bring a little pink box full of donuts from the restaurant where I worked so I did. They were sitting in the passenger seat. She got in the car and we started driving.
I took her to Jack London Square. We ate at a famous restaurant there. While we were eating she pulled a little plastic bag out of her purse. In it were two blue breath mints. She told me they had LSD dripped onto them. She asked me if there was a good place we could eat them and wander around. I told her Golden Gate Park was the best place for that sort of thing. It was long and wide and terminated at the Pacific Ocean. There were big windmills down there too.
Afterwards we drove to the biggest retail outlet in Oakland. We went inside and found the one-dollar section. We collected bubble wands and glow sticks and little pink flashlights. We were going to have a hell of a time in Golden Gate Park.
The sun was setting by the time we got on the Bay Bridge. I drove through the city to get to Haight-Ashbury. D told me she hadn’t been in San Francisco since she was thirteen. She told me she hadn’t been anywhere really. She was very excited to be in San Francisco now. I told her to hold up on falling in love with San Francisco. I told her San Francisco was a piece of shit city full of awful people.
We parked near the grocery store across from Golden Gate Park. We got out and walked to the entrance of the park. A few small encampments of dopers and freaks and weirdos were gathered nearby. They were playing drums and hugging their dogs. As we walked by they would say, “Bud? Doses?” I told them we were all good and they carried on as before.
I took D to a sundial surrounded by flowers. The sundial was old. It said this:
AMIDST THE FLOWERS
I TELL THE HOURS
That seemed like a good place to blast off. D ripped open the little plastic bag. It had been hermetically sealed with a lighter. She took out a blue breath mint and placed it in my palm. She had the other in her hand. We ate them at the same time. We got to walking.
We found a bench near a jogging path and sat down. D took out the bubble wand and started making bubbles. The wand was very long. It made gigantic bubbles. I had one too. Pretty soon we had made hundreds of bubbles. They blew into the legs and chests and faces of yuppy joggers. We laughed like hell about that. Only once did a jogger run through them smiling. He gave us a thumbs up as he ran past us. We knew he had to be an all right guy.
We wandered around the park for a long time. D said she wasn’t really feeling anything. I told her I didn’t feel anything either. It had been two hours. There should have been something going on in our brains by then.
D asked me if we could go back to Oakland. I wanted to go back to Oakland too. I told her San Francisco bummed me out because the people were so terrible there.
On our way out of the park a chubby bearded man in a soiled Ghostbusters T-shirt approached us. He was very friend. He looked like he had been living outside for a long time. He had a joint between his lips. He asked me if he could get a light. I took a pack of matches out of my breast pocket and gave it to him. I told him to keep the whole damn thing.
“Thanks brother,” he said. He lit the joint. He took a drag and leaned in close. “Are uh . . . are either of you looking for some doses?”
“Actually, yeah,” I said. “We had some but it was worthless. It didn’t do anything at all.”
“Well listen—“ he said. He was talking very quietly. “I’m staying at a camp nearby. And it sounds to me like y’all got burned big time. How’s about I cut y’all a deal here. How’s seven a drop sound to you?”
“Yeah all right,” I said. I looked at D and she nodded. “That’s a fair price I reckon.”
“How many drops you lookin’ to get? See I’m a fifteen strip kid. I wanna see the, you know, the fuckin’ sky open up. I wanna see the portal open. I wanna crawl inside that thing, you know?”
I thought to myself in the nicest possible way that he sort of looked like the kind of guy who would want to crawl into a portal in the sky.
“Just two between us,” I said. “We’re not trying to see any portals tonight. We just want to run around and laugh like hell.”
“All right, all right, my brother. I hear you loud and clear.” He motioned with his hand. “Follow me.”
“Wait—“ I said. “Can’t you go and get it and bring it back here? I . . . don’t really want to go over there.” I looked at D. She was shaking her head.
“Nah man, these guys are fine. Trust me.”
I trusted him. We followed him back to his camp. There were six or seven guys leaning against dirty hiking packs. The guy in the Ghostbusters T-shirt introduced us. A few of them made some sort of primordial mumbling noise. None of them looked up. They were totally gone. They were fifteen strip kids.
Ghostbusters T-shirt approached a man who I assumed was the de facto leader. He was holding a phone above his head. He was playing a game with his thumbs. He was drooling a little. His eyes were big pale zeros.
“Listen, man, my friends here got burned on some bunk doses. I said I’d cut them a deal for seven each.”
The man with the empty eyes shooed him away with his hand. “Uhhhhnn,” he said. “Whatever.”
Ghostbusters T-shirt went into the pack the man was leaning on. He took out a long glass vial. It was filled with a clear liquid.
I handed him fourteen dollars. D gave him four cigarettes. Ghostbuster’s T-shirt shoved the cash into his pants. He assured me that he wasn’t greedy. He said he just wanted to buy “a coupla fuckin’ cheeseburgers.” I told him I didn’t think he was greedy at all. I thanked him for being so nice to us.
He had me open my mouth. He held the vial above my head. “Lift your tongue up, man,” he said. For some reason everyone at the camp repeated this. “Lift up your tongue!” they said. I lifted my tongue. He dropped the clear liquid into my mouth. It dissolved instantly. It tasted like a breath mint.
He had D do the same. He accidentally gave her way too much. He said, “Uh, whoops.” She closed her mouth before any more fell into her mouth. A small drop landed on her lip. It rolled down her cheek. One of the guys said, “Ruh-roh!”
“How many was that?” she said.
Ghostbuster’s T-shirt said, “Uh, it was kind of a lot. Like four.”
“Aw shit,” she said. “Is that bad?”
Ghostbuster’s T-shirt said, “Nah man. Nah. You’re gonna have an awesome time.”
“Am I going to see portals?”
“Hell no. You’d need, like, at least twelve for that. That’s why I’m a fifteen strip kid.”
They told us to have a good time. We thanked them and walked away.
D said, “Um. Have you ever done anything like that before?”
I said, “No, man. Not at all. I have no idea why we just did that. I guess I figured you had. I don’t know.”
“Oh my God,” she said. She laughed like hell. “We just let a bunch of strangers dump an unknown liquid into our bodies.”
She needed to find a restroom before we headed back to Oakland. I told her we had to hurry. We only had about twenty minutes before we went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
D ran into a comedy club. Despite my great aversion to comedy clubs, specifically ones in San Francisco, I followed her. D said she would be back in a moment. A man at the counter waved at me. He told me the show was free. A few seconds later I realized why that was the case.
I stood in the back of the room and listened to the act. It was so bad I wanted to die. People laughed on cue. They laughed after every godawful soul-siphoning joke. I figured they all worked in the tech industry. I looked around for a fuse box to sabotage. I knew that was the only way the show was going to get any better.
D grabbed my arm and lead me outside. She said she felt completely insane. I told her I didn’t feel anything just yet. We got in the police car and raced back to Oakland before my ability to operate a vehicle disappeared from my brain.
We parked next to Lake Merritt. I told her we could lay low in a bar that was nearby. We got out and walked to Ruby Room. There was a group of guys standing outside smoking cigarettes. One of them said to me, “That your girlfriend, bro?” I said, “Yes.” They were silent after that.
Ruby Room was very dark. It was a Friday night. It was crammed full of people. I bought two crappy beers and handed one to D. I asked her if she felt overwhelmed. She said she was fine. The bar was full of very friendly people. I knew most of them. I told D that if there was any place in the world where people would understand the sort of images her brain was producing, it was Ruby Room.
We sat down in the back near the pool table. There were two bikers playing. Their leather jackets said “EAST BAY RATS.” D asked me what that meant. I told her they were a motorcycle gang from Oakland. I told her their clubhouse was two blocks away from my house in West Oakland. I told her one of the Rats owned Ruby Room.
D and I talked for a long time. She was very friendly. I told her that I thought it was amazing that she would do hallucinogens with someone she had only known for an hour. She said it seemed like it would be a nice thing to do. She described to me what she was seeing. Her hallucinations were much more vivid than mine. She said there were kaleidoscopic patterns everywhere. She said when she closed her eyes it was very intense. She said she couldn’t stay there too long. I told her I just felt energetic and giddy. It was a fine feeling. I felt very good.
I pointed to a table where some goths and some cowboys were sitting together. I told her Oakland had a lot of different people in it. I said that Ruby Room was the most egalitarian place in the whole universe.
She got up to use the bathroom. She was gone for a long time. A man sat down next to me. He asked me how I was doing. I told him I felt very good. I told him a camp full of strangers had dosed me with LSD in Golden Gate Park. He said, “Aw hell yeah, man.” He gave me a banana.
D came back and sat down next to me. I patted her on the back. “You doing all right, man?” She was smiling. She said she had met some wonderful people in the bathroom. She said when she told them she was on LSD they were very supportive. She asked me why I was holding a banana.
Across the way we saw two people making out. I told D I couldn’t stand it when people made out in bars. She said she didn’t like it either. She started laughing. “Do you notice something about them?” I looked at the people making out. They were both wearing striped shirts. It looked like a man and a woman. They also looked like each other.
“They look like they’re making out with themselves.”
“Oh my God!” she said. “That’s what I was thinking! Maybe that’s all we’re ever really looking for. Maybe we all just want to make our with ourselves.”
D and I finished our beers and got back in the police car. I was having a very mild trip. I could drive a car just fine. I told her there was a good place we could go. She was very excited. She knew nothing about Oakland. She wanted to see everything she could.
I drove the police car to Berkeley. I drove all the way to the Claremont Hotel. I took the side road up the into the hills. I told her we were going to a place called Grizzly Peak.
The road was very foggy. I drove slowly. We twisted up the hills to get to the top. I could hardly see anything. D took out the big tube of glow sticks. There were a hundred of them in there. They were long and thin. She cracked them all in the center. She brought them to life. She handed me half and we put them in all the windows. The police car looked spooky after that. It felt like driving a spaceship.
Outside the windows was the great black void of death. It was not a bad thing to look at. It was very peaceful. I told D that I was Charon and that the police car was my ferry. I told her I was taking her to the afterlife. I told her the afterlife was very good because it was dark and quiet no one ever bothered you.
She said, “That’s great. I’ve always wanted to be dead.”
We parked on the summit. We were the only car up there. I got out and looked around. It was cold as hell. It was the darkest place I had ever been. The fog was thick and heavy. It rolled by me and fell down the slope. I stood on a felled redwood and looked into the depths of the fog. I couldn’t see Berkeley or Oakland or San Francisco at all.
D jumped on the log and stood beside me. She was holding some glow sticks in her hands. She tossed a few of them into the void. They fell to the ground and lit up the nowhere nothing below. I could see the colors in the dark. They were like alien worms.
She told me she was cold. I took off the sweatshirt I had on beneath my denim jacket and gave it to her. She said she liked that it was maroon. She said she was much warmer after that. We stood there for a long time. We stood there until it was too cold to stand there any longer.
Back in the police car we put on Boris’ ‘Flood’ and spaced out. I dimmed the console lights. Little raindrops fell onto the windshield. The fog rolled past the car and disappeared into a thicker blanket of fog hovering around the hills like a halo.
At three a.m. I started the engine and drove back to the main road. On the way down I didn’t touch the accelerator. I let the car gently snake down the hill. We couldn’t see anything in any direction. At the bottom of the slope we cut through the fog wall and ended up in a very nice neighborhood. I drove around for a long time. We were totally silent. We were very relaxed.
I drove back to Oakland. I drove slowly. It took a long time. There was no rush. I parked on 27th Street and we walked the block back to my house. We went inside and I made us some tea. I put on ‘Blade Runner.’ I always put it on when I got home late at night on because it has nice nighttime colors. I muted it. We drank our tea and talked.
D asked me if she could sleep in one of my T-shirts. I let her pick out which one she wanted. She picked my favorite T-shirt. On it was the skull of an animal that doesn’t exist. In the background was a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The shadowy outlines of two riders on horseback stood in the distance against a dead purple sky. One of the riders held up a rifle. I turned my head so she could she put it on.
We got under the blankets. My mind was completely worn down. It wasn’t a bad feeling. I fell asleep a little while later. I had beautiful psychedelic dreams.
I woke at eleven. I turned to D. She was lying on her back staring up at the ceiling. She told me she had never gone to sleep. She said she had felt completely insane and couldn’t close her eyes. She said she felt a little better now. We went into the kitchen and I made her breakfast.
In the afternoon her friend came and picked her up. D said she was going to stay in the city for her last two days there. She introduced me to her friend. She said, “This is Ryan. We ate drugs in Golden Gate Park and then he ferried me to the afterlife in a police car.”
Her friend said, “Um.”
D hugged me. I hugged her back. I told her I would come visit her in Los Angeles. She told me that would be a very nice thing. She and her friend left.
A few days later she sent me a message. She said she was on the bus back down to LA. She told me she had accidentally stolen my favorite T-shirt. She said she was still wearing it. I told her to keep it.