All-Boys - 001
The acid had them mostly silent. There were a few started sentences, some small breathy laughs at nothing, some wow!s, some check-that-fucking-shit-out!s, but mostly they were wide-eyed guppies, occasionally touching their own arms and heads to make sure they existed, occasionally touching each other’s arms to say Me, too (sigh).
Anthony thought the thin bright grass on the hills above the parking area looked like green fur. Then he thought that was dumb, then he wondered what green fur might taste like, then he wondered if he was dead. But a week of afternoon thunderstorms had left the earth juicy, and down here among the cars, the muddy tracks looked violent and permanent. It seemed criminal that cars were being allowed to park on the beautiful lush grass. Anthony wished---so hard that his fingernails dug into his palms---for everyone but Laird and Brett away, but everyone stayed. They stayed, sitting on their cars, looking like spaced-out apes, or with their eyes closed, dancing to one of the thousand different threads of music swirling around, looking pre-historic. The bra-less hippy girls in dresses that were basically aprons. The guys, shirtless, some of them in skirts, all of them messing with their hair way more than you’d think people who seemed bent on demonstrating a distaste for personal hygiene would. Tables selling jewelry, tie-dyes, shots of tequila, and cucumber and sprout sandwiches. People walking around with “Need A Miracle” signs. Small bongo circles. Anthony wondered if Deadheads were like this all the time or just dressed up for the show.
Slowly, it began to feel like he was just his eyes. The only other part of his body that he could account for was his tongue that was a live uncontrollable thing, rushing back and forth across the cage of his braces, wanting to get out. He could see his feet but they seemed far away, incredibly small and possibly toeless. When he concentrated and looked inside his consciousness for a switch called LSD and flicked it off, and he thought he could recognize the sensation of humid light wind on his skin and it tickled, like the texture of the air was cat tongue.
Brett and Laird were quiet, slightly menacing, on the periphery. But then a hippy asked the boys if they wanted to buy a bracelet.
“That’s not a bracelet,” Laird said pointing at rope that hung from the hippie’s stick.
“Love rope, man,” the hippie said.
“Junk, man,” Laird said laughing.
“Hate junk, man,” Brett said.
“Hate junk crap with a stick through it, man,” Laird riffed.
Then they giggled. Anthony shook his head sympathetically at the hippie and said, “We’re broke, man.”
But Oh, my god was LSD horrific-slash-awesome. I’m never going to do acid again, or never stop.
Then he thought of his parents and wondered if they had ever done it. Find a payphone and ask. And tell them, We didn’t go to the Strassenburg Planetarium. I lied so you’d give me the Suburban. We are in the parking lot of Rich Stadium in Buffalo. We’re here to see a Dead show. We just put liquid LSD in our eyes. It’ll bring you closer.
Brett and Laird were now talking to a boy standing next to a hand-painted station wagon. He was nodding, his head was agreeing. Anthony watched as Laird handed the boy a small white tab and the boy gave them three beers from a cooler in the back of the car. Laird then handed one glistening can each to Brett and Anthony. Laird rolled his over his face. He looked at Brett and Anthony. Do it, he said. They did. Then Brett said his jaw hurt from smiling so hard.
“I know,” said Laird. “My soul is going nuts.”
“What’s that like?” Anthony heard himself say, immediately wondering if that was a cool thing to say, and almost just as immediately deciding it was a fuck-off stupid thing to say, and that he, Anthony Sinclair, was the stupidest person alive, too dumb to even do acid.
“I’ve always thought your soul was everything about you that you can’t touch,” Laird said. “Now, I don’t know. I feel like I can touch it, it’s spongy almost. Like cookie dough.”
“We should bake it,” Brett said.
They laughed until Anthony felt his joints shaking lose and his arms and legs beginning to wiggle free. They laughed until they had no idea what they were laughing at. They laughed until Anthony thought he felt himself getting a tiny boner. They laughed until they couldn’t breath.
Anthony considered Laird just a sort-of friend. Laird was seventeen, a year older. He was tall and thin and had a vacant sweet look that Anthony attributed to being fatherless. His hair was fine and coal-black. His large dark wet eyes seemed made of mica, and made him look kind of gloomy but Anthony felt, appealing to girls, and apparently, cults. Laird’s mother, Mrs. Toubon, was the Skaneateles High French teacher. They went to St. Mary’s, too. Anthony thought it was sad seeing them there, all these big Italian and Irish families, and then Laird and his mom by themselves.
Laird had almost been lost before, the previous April, in the Jacky Bueler Incident. On Easter Day, he, Jacky, and two other older guys, broke into a summer camp and stole a boat and some fishing gear. Blackfoot Lake is slushy until mid-March. They were drunk on the summer people’s liquor. Everyone except Laird was allegedly wearing stolen waders when the boat capsized. He was the only one who made it to shore.
Brett was a closer friend of Anthony’s but a geek, and the only Jewish person Anthony knew growing up. The Arnold’s lived three doors down, and Anthony and Brett had known each other since they were babies. Their friendship was slightly undermined by the fact the whole neighborhood often broke into the Arnolds’s house every Saturday when they family drove the hour or so into Syracuse for synagogue. Kids helped themselves in the sliding glass door on their patio and ate everything, poured over Dr. Arnold’s Playboys, and play Atari until noon.
Brett found a hacky-sack circle. Maybe it was the acid, but it occurred to Anthony at that moment why he didn’t like the game: it made people look like Muppets jerking-off. He shook his head when Brett tried to get him to join the circle. Laird, as if he sensed Anthony starting to freak a little, said, “Crowds are for lambs. Let’s go.”
They left Brett and walked up a knoll where small pockets of people were sitting on blankets, getting high, and watching the pink evening clouds stretch across the sky like God’s extra toupees. The boys sat down near the top. Anthony’s tongue worried at his braces. Earlier in the summer he’d drunkenly gone at them with pliers, so he wrapped his arms around his knees and made himself hold his hands together.
They watched the crowd below thrum toward the stadium. The acid had Anthony feeling there was some huge problem they should be solving, a quest to be fulfilled. He was successfully stopping himself from ripping his braces of, now what? He turned to Laird and had a gushing feeling: Laird looked so beautiful and sad in the evening light. A small voice in the back of his head said: Laird’s an angel, he’s a mermaid angel, he swam from death. Anthony knew he shouldn’t say anything, but he wanted Laird to look back at him, for them to connect, and for Laird to know that he’d always be there for him.
Then Laird held his hands up to his face and looked into his palms as if a message might appear, let them fall back around his knees, and said, “Whoa. This stuff isn’t kidding around.”
“How long does it last?” Anthony asked, snapping out of it.
“No more than a day, maybe two. Who knows?”
“I can’t do this for two days,” Anthony said. “I just can’t.” He felt his throat swallow, but it seemed like a disconnected action, like someone else was controlling his insides with a remote control. He lifted his hands and they were tissuey; if he shook them hard enough, they’d just dissipate like the seed heads of a dandelion.
“Don’t worry, man. I’m totally here,” Laird said. “We’ll do this. It’ll be fine.”
“Oooohhh.” Anthony, so grateful. Tears began to well up. He wondered if Laird was comforting the others when their boat turned over. Then he heard himself say “What was it like, when everyone drowned?”
Laird’s smiled straightened. He turned to Anthony and looked him in the eye, considering something other than the question. “Jacky pushed me up on the capsized boat,” he finally said. “He saved me. I never even saw Steve or the Palmer guy. It was pitch black as soon as we went over.”
“Was it messed up? It must have been.”
“Man, it happened fast. Lizard brain kind of took over. You know? I remember the flashlight, in the water, sinking. You know how deep that shit is, it went on for like ever. I could see the light down there for like a minute or two. Just sinking and sinking. That was tweaky. And how cold it was. Like electricity or something, my legs and hands were being shocked over and over. Everything stung.”
Three girls suddenly were starting up the hill. They looked like they were coming at Anthony and Laird but then they stopped a little ways in front of the boys and spread out a ratty Guatemalan blanket. One girl was dressed kind of punk, bright green hair with a mini skirt showing athletic legs. The other two were wearing those loose floppy dresses and had hair down over their faces. They were there to enjoy the sunset, too.
When they were settled, Laird started again: “Jacky grabbed me by my jacket,” he said, “and pulled me up on the bottom of the boat—it had turtled. We hung out there for a few minutes listening for the other guys, but all you could hear was water splashing and we couldn’t see anything except some lights from the country club. Everybody says Jacky had waders on as well, but it was only the other guys. He was with me for a while.” Laird’s voice didn’t sound different but his eyes were wet, and, Anthony noticed, the tops of his knees bloodless.
“We tried to turn the boat back over, but it was too heavy. We yelled our heads off, for help, screaming, but we were down by the country club… you know where it’s wide?”
Anthony nodded, watching the strong shoulders of the punk girl.
“Then Jacky started freaking out. ‘The only way to get things done, is to do it.’ He wasn’t talking to me. He was like ‘Come on Jacky.’ ‘Let’s go Captain Naptain.’ ‘Vishue is the Issue.’ Just total freak show, you know? Then he just turned to me and said, ‘We need some butter or lard. I’ll be back,’ and started swimming like crazy into the darkness.”
One of the floppy dress girls turned to us and said, “Peace!” Her eyes burst with a vacant druggy enthusiasm.
The boys nodded, coolly.
“You guys want to smoke up?” Laird asked them. Anthony felt himself gag, any more drugs his head would fall off.
“Come down here,” the punk one said.
“I can’t smoke anymore,” Anthony whispered to Laird.
“I can’t either,” he said. “But I’m going to.”
Anthony will eventually decide that acid is heartbreaking. He’ll come to feel it’s like sandpapering parts of your brain. In his twenties, Anthony will think of things that he knows he knows, but they won’t come to him. Before the hundred-odd hits of acid, he had always tested well, then bombed the GREs. He will begin to interview poorly. Anytime he tries to sound smart, he’ll sound bitter. Irreparable damage will be done and that’ll eat at him. And then his little boy, and what he might have done to him? Drugs piled up at the base of Anthony’s spine, fiddling with his DNA, the boy’s.
And he had had warnings.
Laird came home after the cult. Just for a few months. The summer after Anthony’s freshman year in college. Laird had had a daughter, Wells. She had a beautiful loose afro of corn-colored hair. And she was already three or four, so it must have been soon after this concert. Anthony went over to his house to say hi. He hadn’t seen Laird since the show. It wasn’t too weird at first. Anthony had put on twenty pounds at college, but Laird was tight, his biceps defined as if he worked out. He hugged Anthony and said he thought of him often. He made them some hippy tea. He told Anthony he was going to work for National Geographic. Anthony said that sounded cool. Then he said he was going to work for Ralph Nader. Anthony said that sounded cool too. Then he said he was going move to Alaska and raise Wells within sight of the migrating whales, the last dinosaurs. He stopped looking Anthony in the eye. Anthony said he’d heard you could get killer jobs there—Valdez had happened that spring. Laird’s eyes began to water.
“Tony, man, Anthony. Someone’s got to do something. Real eyes realize real lies, man. When you have a kid, man, you just think about the future, not just mine and yours, but the future, the world’s, the rivers and woods my little girls going to grow up in. You know?”
When he left—under ambiguous circumstances—Laird left Wells with Ms. Toubon to raise, which she did for a few years, until a mother showed up and took her to Manhattan.
They walked down and sat with the girls.
“Lemmings,” the punk girl said pointing at the crowd.
“Are you guys from here? Or on tour? Or what?” Laird asked.
“On tour,” one of the floppy dresses said. “You?” She swayed to some drums that rose from the parking lot.“Syracuse. That way.” Anthony pointed east.
“It’s so green,” she said. “It’s crazy pretty. We swam in this way blue river this morning.”
“We live on a lake,” Laird said.
“Awesome,” one of the floppy dresses said. “Lakes are perfect.” Then she turned and asked the other floppy dress: “What was that lake last night?”
“Seneca. We slept in Ithaca,” the punk girl answered. Then she asked about the smoke and Laird pulled out his bag.
Later Anthony walked toward the stadium with a floppy dress girl named Callie. She was originally from Connecticut but was on tour all summer and heading out to Santa Cruz in September. She had blue eyes, blonde sun-bleached hair and freckles sprinkled across her nose.
“You go to school?” she asked.
“In Rhode Island. A boarding school. I’m leaving in a few weeks.”
St. Georges sounded like a Caribbean island, but then he wondered if maybe it was an island off Rhode Island. “Portsmouth Abbey, a boarding school. You live there,” he said.
“Oh my god, an Abbey fag! Get out!”
“My parents are making me go.”
“What’d you do to deserve that?”
“It’s where my dad wanted to go, but couldn’t ‘cause he was poor. But now he’s rich, lucky me.” He held up his hand, then left them there as if he forgot or as if with enough momentum, they could fly away on their own. “But I guess it’s supposed to be a good school,” he said.
She had her arm through his, leading him through the halls, rushing to get to a gate near the stage, when the guitars sounded and then silenced and then Bob Weir sang out “Saint Stephan will remain, all he lost he shall regain!” and then the instruments cranked in again and the crowd began screaming and jumping up and down, like on pogos. And Anthony and the girl, and all the people still in the halls, rushed through the gates as if being sucked to the stage.
The only other concert he’d been to was a Beach Boys show at the New York State Fair. He was thirteen. He’d gone with his mom and Mrs. O’Rourke. Now Anthony wanted to take off his clothes. He felt Jerry was going to look at him and he needed to be demonstrating some sort of confidence in free-ness so Jerry would nod to him and rip some chords and the hippy girls would see this and know Anthony was sweet and confident and full of love and in league with Jerry, the big gnomish Peace-Being. And Bobby, a sexy wolf. Anthony wanted to be a combo of both, a sexy wolfish Peace-Being.
They began playing “Bertha.” It rose in waves. The refrain, “I’m down on my bended knee/Bertha don’t you come around here, anymore” Her name made Anthony think of overweight women and Oakies, but she was being begged to stop the heartache. As the song rose and rose… “Anymore! Anymore! Don’t you come around here anymore!” He was boogieing until he couldn’t really control his body and he just started jumping up and down, feeling his hair land lightly on the back of his neck. Bertha encapsulating perfectly how the best things are bad. The song’s narrator was such a man that he couldn’t stand it if she came around even one more time. He was begging her. God, Anthony hoped she didn’t come back.
They were both closing their eyes, but Anthony kept peeking to see if she was looking at him at all. He wanted to be ready if she needed to hug or kiss. Pretending to let the crowd push him into Callie, the back of his hand touched the back of hers. Maybe he could tar driveways in Santa Cruz? Before this, he had kissed two girls, once apiece: Angela Lombardi after a church field trip to the Renaissance Fair; and, one night during a high school lacrosse game, while he stood on the curb and she stood in the street, the Amazon Vicki Bell. But Callie’s breasts were catching air. They were right there barely contained by her loose dress. Anthony could have fit under there with them. Her whole soft smooth body under there naked.
And then the song ended and with it the first set. Hot water in the shower running out. They were splotchy and covered in sweat. They stood around grinning, trying to catch their breaths. Anthony couldn’t think of anything to say so he told her he lived eleven miles from Auburn where Robert Chambers, the Preppy Murderer, was locked up.
“A murderer? That’s not mellow,” she said.
“I know,” he said, “but it’s crazy, isn’t it?”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just weird, the guy had nice life, he was rich and shit and then he kills someone.”
“He killed an innocent girl,” she said.
“Right, it’s fucked up, huh?”
She said she had to go find a bathroom. He asked her if she wanted him to come, too.
“Why don’t you just save our places?”
Her place was swallowed up the instant she stepped from it.
He danced by himself for the next two songs. He kept feeling his hair and was pysched that it had gotten respectably long. But when it slowly dawned on him she wasn’t coming back, the acid got him furiously looping: why had he brought The Preppy Murderer up? He wanted to believe those thoughts were some core evil weakness of his soul that only acid could reveal, but in fact, he had been pre-occupied with Robert Chambers that whole summer. Chambers had started his sentence in the Auburn State Penitentiary in June. The jail was the birthplace of the electric chair and eleven miles from Skaneateles. Chambers had strangled a girl with her own underwear outside a Manhattan bar. Anthony had followed the case closely and tried to get his parents concerned so they wouldn’t make him go to prep school. He left the newspaper open in the living room to the story and turned up the volume when it was on the news, hoping it would occur to them that the kids at the Abbey were going to be murderous rich kids who went to bars and could relieve girls of their underwear.
The crowd began to look wide-eyed and rubbery. Everyone seemed archetypal, like an early version of someone he knew. And in some ways, they registered as ‘not alive’, like if they were to be dead, it wouldn’t be murder. Anthony begged himself to think of something else.
A girl came up to him and said, “Brother, Welcome to the Land of the Brightest Love,” and she handed him a daisy. All he could manage was: “I can’t talk.” Then he asked her if she knew Callie and she looked him in the eyes and held his arm and said, “You’ll be ok. Just ride it out. You’ll be fine.”
“I lost Callie,” he said.
“She’s your friend?”
A friend was a person was what?
“Do you want to get out of the crowd for a second?” the girl asked.
He nodded and followed her out into the halls of the stadium.
But then just as he started to hyperventilate, he looked up and saw Laird and Brett up on the deck above him. Brett was grinning tenderly, like he had been watching over Anthony this whole time, waiting for him to look up.
Anthony pointed to his friends and the girl smiled and swept her hand toward the stairs.
“I can’t talk,” he said when he made it up to them.
“Us neither,” Brett said. Laird was beaming, but held up his hands to demonstrate his helplessness. Brett shook his head like a dog getting out of a lake and howled and then they howled too.
Laird must have gotten bored dancing and doing I-squish-your-heads to people out on the floor, because he had wandered off. The show was over and he wasn’t at the Suburban where they all promised to meet. The acid was dying but Anthony felt awake enough to drive and pumped at the possibility of making it home after all.
He and Brett ended up walking around the parking lot for hours. They looked under cars, they called out Laird’s name, they asked hippies. It was fun---it gave their buzzes a mission.
Finally they checked the Buffalo emergency room. When they pulled up, a security guard was trying to make two hippies stop dancing because they kept tripping the door sensors. In the ER, there was a person dealing with hallucinations who had completely wrapped himself in tinfoil, a drunk man with grill burns across his glowing-pink face, and a shaken-up family post-car wreck.
Before dawn, back in the parking area, it became freezing cold and most of the thousands of other cars were gone, leaving hundreds of thousands of empties and pieces of random trash. Security guys were lurching around like monsters telling people they had to pack it up or get towed. There were a few abandoned cars, but Laird wasn’t in any of them. There was mud and trash everywhere, and lost people, and the hangover from the acid and a tremendous zit surfacing under the opening of Anthony’s right nostril made him feel bleak and miserable. He wanted to but couldn’t bring himself to call his mother. Eventually they’d find Laird.
After a security monster threatened to arrest them, they navigated the Suburban out over to a Rite Aid parking lot and tried to sleep for a few hours. Laying on the front seat, Anthony was thinking how Jacky Bueler had tried to help Laird. Everyone had thought he was alone out there. They thought the others were all wearing waders and went down immediately. Anthony wasn’t a good friend, but he was as good as Laird had. Anthony was the only one who knew the last minutes of three boy’s lives.
The sky was lightening with dawn. Like the world was coming up from chilly dark water. Brett started the car. And they drove back to the stadium parking to see if Laird had shown up. They drank lukewarm O.V. Splits from the cooler full of melted ice. Bits of grass and beer labels floated in the water.
“We can’t wait here all day.”
“No shit. I can’t believe he did this.”
“We’ll wait ‘till nine. Then go.”
They let the engine run. The heater on full blast and the car quickly became a sauna.
Brett said, “School will be cool. Getting away from all this shit, your parents, douche-bags like Toubon.”
“I can’t believe he did this to us,” Anthony said. “It’s so lame, my fucking parents are going to freak.”
“Do you know if you’ll have a roommate?” he asked.
“Probably some Connecticut fag.”
“Connecticut is all WASPS. Your school is Catholic, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s run by monks.”
“I’ve read prep schools have rich kids from all over the world,” Brett said. “Spanish dudes… or Ireland. I bet it’s going to be cool. You should be psyched you’re getting out of here.”
“I guess.” Anthony didn’t know what WASP meant. Spain and Ireland sounded ok. His parents sponsored children from Belfast to come over during the summers when we were little. A kid named Kirin showed us how to make Molotov Cocktails. He threw one at a raft full of sleeping ducks. They flew off on fire before they fell from the sky like drips. But Anthony was the only one in town not going to Skaneateles High. Kids were already giving him shit and they didn’t even know the Abbey was all-boys. To them prep meant preppy, and preppy meant rich fag. He felt he had suffered through the indignities of being small in 7th and 8th grade just to go suffer through new and more pointed ones.
“Plus Boston’s pretty sweet,” Brett said. “The Model UN was there last spring. They’ve got a killer aquarium. I think Rhode Island is only an hour or so away. You’ll be able to take a bus up.”
“Maybe,” Anthony said. “I think we have the weekends off.”
The trash and mud of the parking lot had him thinking of The Red Badge of Courage, which was on the Abbey’s summer reading list. The air seemed perfectly still, like they were under a bell jar and if Anthony blurred his vision he could image bodies writhing around in the mud and garbage and that he was sitting in the battlefield the morning after Gettysburg. He imagined they were stuck in some sort of futuristic museum piece, like they could take a scene from anytime anywhere and display it under some glassed-in stage. Then Laird walked up out of the scene.
“Hey people,” he said. “Amazing show, huh?”
“Dude we’ve been looking for you all night. What the fuck?”
“Oh, man, I’m sorry. I just met these people. I looked for you guys.”
“Dude, what the fuck. We’ve been here for hours. My parents are going to freak. Get in the car.”
Laird shook his head. “Can’t,” he said. “I’m not going back. I can’t do it. I’m going with these people. They’re kind of fucked up, but they’re cool. They have a place outside Burlington. They make goats milk and candles. Completely self-sufficient. Off-the-grid.”
“No, man, just people. And it’s not about that. I just can’t go back. That town hates me.”
“Laird, get in the car.”
“Anthony, why are you always so uptight?”
“Toubon, this is my dad’s car. You’re being such a dick.”
“Anthony, it’ll be fine. Your parents are cool. Parents have to love you, except the dead ones.” His smile was beatific. “Anyway man, I’m sorry. Because I’m not going home with you all. I’m getting on the bus.”
“No, you’re not.”
“I’m taking a new path.”
Brett stuck his head out the window. “Laird get in the car now.”
“Sorry, guys.” He held his hands up like he had done when he couldn’t talk. “I’m going. You can come too. We could unload the Suburban.”
“What about your mother?” Brett asked.
“Tell her I’m with the People Who Live in The Land of The Brightest Love, man. Tell her it’s cool”
“This is such a dick move,” Anthony said.
“Let me just get my sweatshirt, okay?” Laird climbed into the Suburban and grabbed his duffle bag from the backseat and got out. He hugged Anthony. “My man, it’s been cool. We’ll see each other again, you’ll see.” He tried to hug Brett but Brett told him to fuck off. Laird nodded and turned and head across the parking lot toward a colorful old bus that was on the other side of fence. People were packing it up and when he reached them two older women hugged him then ushered him up the stairs.