The Wish Bathers, Chapter Three

War for Breakfast in Bed

Chapter Three

Days fly by, the war keeps breathing, and the world seems heavier with each new calculation of death and defeat and lies. News of more bombings drop into our newspapers and radio shows like explosions of nausea and anger and it feels like the whole world is united in pain. I am fortunate to only know people who know people who have been shipped off to their imminent end for a country that survives on a wealth of deception.

I put a pillow, a blanket, and a toothbrush into my tie-dyed bag and book it over to Sydney’s pad. He opens the door as an angel of peace dressed in a woman’s long, white night gown with a large blue peace sign painted on the chest. Blue sweatpants hide underneath his ethereal gown and his bare feet bare bohemian mischief.

“Welcome to the peace zone,” Sydney says.

“I come in peace,” I laugh.

I walk through the doorway and set my bag down by the wall of records. The coffee table is moved to the side of the room and a mass of blankets and pillows fill the middle of the floor. It looks like we’re about to have some kind of ball in this place.

“Since we all can’t really fit in my bed I thought I would make the whole room like a bed,” Sydney grins.

“It looks groovy.”

“Thanks for coming.”

“I can’t think of a better reason to stay away from my grease pit job.”

“John and Yoko are in Amsterdam right now. The press has visiting hours during the day to speak with them in bed.”

“Is the press coming here?”

“That would be awesome, man, but no.”

“Sydney?”

“What?”

“Do you think you will get drafted?”

“I suppose it’s possible. I don’t know about Nixon, but he gives me the creeps.”

“I don’t like his face. Something about it doesn’t seem genuine and I don’t think he’s telling us what is really going on in Vietnam.”

“You are a smart ninja,” Sydney says.

“Do you know anyone over there?”

“My best friend, Will, is probably in the jungle as we speak. He got shipped off three months ago.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“He wanted to go despite all the times I tried to convince him otherwise. His old man was in the military. I guess he felt a family obligation.”

“I hope he comes home.”

“I don’t think he will.”

“Well then, I hope you are wrong.”

“Me too, man.”

“Do you ever think about leaving this town?”

“Are you kidding me? All the time. Don’t you?”

“Everyday.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“Somewhere peaceful, somewhere free” I say.

Kat, Jazz, Greg, and Audrey burst through the front door. We jump out of the bed and congregate in a circle on the floor. Sydney tells us his intentions for the bed-in. Even though he doesn’t agree with the war, he wants to pay respect to the people who volunteer their lives and wants us to take these days at his pad to focus our intentions.

“Sometimes I wonder if we would be in this mess if Kennedy was still alive,” Jazz says.

“Man, I won’t ever forget that day,” Greg says.

A cloud of remembrance hovers above our circle for a few minutes while we all revisit that fateful day in our minds. It seems like yesterday when I watched the TV and cried all the tears that Walter Cronkite held in while he delivered the horrifying news to a heart broken nation. Now, it makes a lump bury in the back of my throat.

“It seems like anyone who is good for our country, you know, and really tests the first amendment is murdered,” I say.

“What are we even fighting for?” Jazz says.

“Dr. King was right about so many things,” Audrey says. “This war is a war against the poor.”

“I’m leaving the country if they go lottery draft crazy, man,” Greg says.

“Where would you go?” I say.

“I think I would head down to Mexico. Man, margaritas and marijuana sound better than short hair and sudden death on the front line,” Greg rolls a joint in his lap.

“Is this really about communism or control?” Jazz says.

“The better question is why are we spending thousands of dollars on killing innocent people?” Sydney says.

“What a drag, man,” Greg sighs.

“So, let’s put our heads together and imagine a more peaceful time,” Audrey holds the joint in her hand and waves it around like a magic wand as she speaks.

I close my eyes and search for some kind of memory that makes me feel at ease. My mind goes blank until a pair of shiny keys appears. I remember my 16th birthday and the way I felt looking at my keys to supposed freedom. That was until I went to the driveway to find a bicycle instead of my dream car, of course. It was embarrassing and tragic then. My hormonal state at the time didn’t allow me to find it quite so character building as I do now.

“How do all the Christian types vote for a guy named Tricky Dick, anyway?” Greg laughs.

“Oppressed by guilt?” Sydney says.

“I don’t really get why communism sounds so horrible. It just seems like it is a more equal environment,” Jazz says.

“Yeah, man, it’s like my friend, Sammy, who lives in a commune down south,” Greg says.

“We can’t all run away and join the commune, though,” I say.

“But it’s the same kind of thinking on a smaller scale,” Jazz says.

“What’s so bad about it then? My folks are always talking about the commies,” Kat says.

“Rich people can’t keep getting richer,” I say.

“And poor people can’t keep getting more poor,” Audrey says.

“Aren’t you talking about Socialism?” Sydney says.

“You know, I do get them confused sometimes,” Jazz says. “I’m just throwing out other ideas to think about.”

The room goes silent. I don’t know what everyone else is thinking about, but I start to wonder what it would be like if Kennedy was still around. How would the world be for us? Would we be in Vietnam? This notion is just as confusing to me as when I try to picture what my life would be like if I knew my old man. Would I be the same then?

“Would you like one of these?” Greg opens his palm to reveal a handful of pills.

“What are they?” I say.

“Black Beauties,” Greg puts the pills back into his pocket. “We can save them for later.”

“Where do you get them?” I say.

“My folks have an endless prescription so I asked if I could try some and they gave me a bottle. They told me they didn’t like the pills because they couldn’t sleep,” Greg laughs.

“Wow. My folks go ape when I take an aspirin,” Kat rolls her eyes.

“My old man said the same thing about sleeping, but I was thinking that I didn’t get why staying up was a bad thing,” Jazz says.

I always felt bad for her old man, Ed. He had a really tough job raising a daughter by himself. Jazz was not an easy teenager. She did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted and he didn’t know how to handle it. Me and Kat didn’t help, either. I think all three of us learned how to drive with his car. Jazz was always stealing it in the middle of the night.

“Hey, how is your old man?” I say.

“He’s still Ed,” Jazz says.

“At least he’s consistent,” I say.

“Sydney, is listening to music non-violent?” Kat whines.

“Usually, yes,” Sydney says.

“Then maybe we can listen to some music,” Kat says.

“Of course,” Sydney crawls over to his records and starts reading off titles.

“Hendrix,” Audrey says. “You know that brotha was in the army?”

“Did he volunteer?” Sydney says.

“What do you think?” Audrey says.

“Elvis was in the army, too,” Kat says.

“Mexico, man, is what I’m talking about,” Greg’s face appears through a cloud of smoke.

“Are you experienced?” Sydney says, spinning on the floor like James Brown.

The first track of Electric Ladyland moves through the speakers and into our ears like strange, warped sounds of terror and excitement abruptly ending before the needle moves onto the second track. It’s too cool.

“This guy is crazy,” Kat says.

“I love it,” Sydney says and lies down on the floor.

We mimic his actions and all lie down in a circle, feet together, staring at our own piece of the ceiling while listening to each others’ voices. My part of the ceiling is cracked and peeling. One of the cracked lines looks like the profile of a rabbit.

“By the way, I love Babs,” Jazz points above her head to the poster on the wall.

“Wait until you see it later,” I say.

“What is later?” Jazz says.

“I can’t tell you otherwise I’ll have to kill you,” I laugh.

“I’m a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls,” Jazz says in a funny voice.

“Who are you calling an onion roll?” Kat says.

“Isn’t that what your people eat?” I say.

“Miss Stein,” Jazz laughs.

“Maybe you should hyphenate your name and be Smith-Stein,” I say.

“At least my distinguished ways continue to entertain your goyim minds,” Kat says, rolling her eyes.

Kat’s repugnant facial expression takes me back to the 6th grade. I remember sitting at the dinner table with her family, listening to Kat beg her parents to give her a Batmizvah for her 13th birthday, only to find out by her mothers’ dismay, that they were in fact Catholic and not Jewish. That was the first time I learned her real last name, Smith, instead of her self-adopted name of Stein.

“Okay, so, how can you tell if an elephant has been in your refrigerator?” Greg says.

“Let me guess, there’s footprints on the butter?” I say.

“Or footprints in the cream cheese,” Kat says.

“Or in the cheesecake,” Audrey says.

“I don’t see why everyone gets all jazzed up about these jokes,” Sydney says.

“But you all know them, don’t you?” Jazz kicks at our feet and we all crack up.

“Sydney’s never been on an elephant,” I say.

“Have you ever been to the circus?” Kat screams and sits up in shock.

“Nope,” Sydney says. “Strawberry Hill anyone?” he laughs.

“Yes,” we yell out together.

A few seconds later, I follow him into the kitchen. It has orange wallpaper and barren, white cupboards. The refrigerator has a jug of milk, orange juice, eggs, and baking soda inside of it. All four items are placed in a row on the same shelf. The cupboards are mostly empty except one that is filled with a few plates and bowls. There’s enough silverware for only four people and none of it matches, as if he picked up each piece somewhere completely different to make an intentional miscellaneous collection.

“Sydney?” I say.

“Star,” he stops searching for the wine opener and looks at me.

“Why haven’t you—”

“Hey ginger twins, where’s the wine?” Audrey jumps into the kitchen like she was secretly spying on us around the corner. I am dying to know what Sydney was going to ask me, but the moment is gone now.

“It’s here,” he says and we follow her back into the living room.

“What is this? A sleepover? Who’s hiding the candy?” Audrey says in a playful voice.

“Man, I love Swedish fish,” Greg says.

“You would,” Kat says.

***

Several hours and bottles later, we’re lying around the living room floor like drunken, comical, non-violent freaks. Jazz demands a dance for peace because either she’s really excited about our current conversation or that funny strawberry stuff is working like it’s supposed to after so many ounces of consumption. Audrey shares in her dance for freedom and stands up to shake it alongside the hiccuping bombshell.

“What do you chicks want to hear?” Sydney makes his way over to the record player and puts Jimi back into the stack.

“Something with a soft beat, and feeling, and soul,” Jazz says.

“Miles?” Sydney pulls out Kind of Blue from one of the record stacks. Jazz nods her head and he lifts the needle.

The slow piano melody gets us into the mood. The light drums groove and then the horn cries softly—moving the mood into the ears and out through the fingertips. Jazz and Audrey turn towards each other and snap their fingers along with the delicately, persistent cymbal. Their bodies begin making small, languid movements that follow the rhythm of the horn and they close their eyes to surrender to the journey.

“You don’t know what you’re missing up here,” Audrey shimmies around, inspiring the rest of us get up and get loose.

“Do you remember when Nixon said something about how we’re spending more time on going to the moon than dealing with the war?” Jazz says.

“God, I hate him. He knows nothing about peace,” Audrey roars.

“What does peace mean to you?” Sydney says.

“Man, I’ve been reading about Buddhism and those guys really have the peace thing down,” Greg says.

“They’ve been practicing a long time,” Audrey says.

“So, I’ve been wondering, Jazz. Why do you call your old man by his first name?” Sydney scratches his head.

“Something happened when my mom died and his name changed from dad to Ed,” Jazz reveals herself reluctantly.

“Your mom died?” Audrey says.

“Yeah, when I was 10. She went out to get some Vernors for my stomach ache and she got hit by a drunken teenage driver on the way home.”

“Fuckin’ ginger ale, man,” Greg says.

“Tell me about it. I haven’t had the stuff since then. I actually hate it. I don’t know how anyone can hate a carbonated beverage, but I do,” Jazz says. She looks into the distance as she recalls that night waking from sleep to the sound of her old man falling to his knees—the cops standing in the doorway when she reaches the bottom of the stairs—and seeing the desperation dripping from three sets of eyes. I remember that night like I was there. Her old man called our house the next day and, to me, she never seemed the same again.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you drink Vernors,” I say.

“Not my thing,” Jazz says.

“Is it time for Bab’s?” I redirect the mood.

My question ends with a hiccup and then my noisy belly reminds me that it’s way past dinner. Time seems to be going by fast hanging around these groovy heads. I’m sure Boone’s is doing a good job of moving it along, too.

“I found popcorn,” Kat appears from behind the tapestry and sits down with a huge bowl of it.

“Cool,” Greg says. “Man, I was thinking, like what is war, really?”

“What are you fighting for? That’s the real question,” Sydney says. “That’s the question we all need to ask ourselves before we can ask out there. What war are we fighting within?”

“The color of my skin is confusing,” Audrey says. “I’m not white. I’m not black. I’m in the middle but there’s no place for me.”

“My mother,” Jazz says.

“What do you mean?” Sydney says.

“I can’t deal with her memory,” Jazz says. “What about you?”

“I’m struggling right now between what I want to do and what my family wants me to do,” Sydney says.

“I don’t want to go to war, man. I’m so scared of death,” Greg says.

“Well, I just want to be someone,” Kat says.

And then there’s me. What is the war I’m fighting within? I guess I don’t know who my father is. How can I know myself if I don’t know where I come from? I feel like something is missing. I feel like a stranger in my own skin. Who am I?

“I don’t know my old man. I don’t know where I come from,” I say.

***

It is daylight again, which means we must’ve fallen asleep in the middle of conversation last night. My head thumps at the back of my skull and my mouth is like the Sahara at high sun. I get out of bed in search for water and have to rub my sleepy eyes when I look at the clock on the wall. It’s almost 5pm. Sydney crawls out of bed while I’m looking at the time and walks past me into the kitchen.

“Man, what time did we fall asleep last night?” I say.

“Thirsty?” he says noticing my parched voice.

“Like the desert, you know.”

“Star, I really dig you in the mornings.”

“But not in the evenings?”

“No, I mean to say, that I like starting the day with you.”

“Sydney, that’s—”

“Man, I’m so hungry, I could like eat a whole house,” Greg walks into the kitchen, yawning, with his eyes barely open. He gets up on the counter, crosses his legs, and lights a joint.

“Do you pull doobies out of the back of your ears, or something?” I say.

“What do you mean, man?” Greg says.

“Like a magician pulling coins out of your ears, you know?” I say.

“No, man, I just roll them, man,” Greg says.

“Is everyone else awake?” Sydney asks.

“I don’t know if I’m awake,” Greg laughs.

“Maybe we’re all dreaming,” I say.

“Oh, man, I gotta split before she gets too deep. My head hurts from yesterday,” Greg says and then disappears, leaving a trail of pungent smoke behind him.

Finally, we can get back to where we were. But wait, what were we talking about? Why does the moment always get interrupted? What the hell is going on?

“You want to be on pancakes or eggs?” Sydney says.

“I’ve got dibs on the pancakes,” I grab the spatula out of his hand. “Take care of your eggs, man.”

“Star?” Sydney traps me against the counter.

“Yes?”

“Look me in the eyes and tell me you don’t trust me.”

“What?”

“Just do it.”

So, I look into his eyes. I get all lost and dreamy in a daze. His lashes catch me as if I am a sunbeam descending through the trees, penetrating each leaf, in search of the forest floor. I splash into a brilliant green natural spring with a flat, black rock resting in the center and I am overwhelmed by the warm, healing water that surrounds me. Nothing but the thickness and density of the forest can bear witness to my exposed body. In this untouched moment, I lay my head on the rock and let everything go.

“Oh Shit,” I snap out of it.

“What is it?”

“Your eyelashes are long.”

“And?”

“The color of your eyes feel so nice,” I say and drift, for a moment, back to my optical pool.

“Well, that’s something I haven’t heard before, but do you trust me?”

“As much as I can trust someone that I’ve only spent a week with.”

“Okay, that’s fair.”

“Don’t sweat it, man. I think you’re really cool.”

“Yeah?” he presses his body against mine again. The energy exchanged between our pelvic bones is fierce.

“What’s going on in here?” Jazz walks into the kitchen and interrupts our moment. Sydney jumps back and tends to the eggs.

“A little breakfast for the protestors,” I say.

“A peace meal. I dig it,” she says and then grabs the only plates and silverware available and returns to the living room.

I want to get back to our interrupted moment. The feeling of not being able to escape this kundalini master is not the worst thing in the world, but somehow, the moment has passed. I missed the boat again. I’m not so good at boat moments lately.

“Man, I had the craziest dream last night,” Greg says.

“What was it about?” Kat says.

“The moon. It was like a big ball of cocaine and every time I took a step, man, the powder would swirl into the air and go right into my nose. I got so high and then I got scared because I didn’t want to be any higher, you know?”

“So, what did you do?” Jazz says.

“I just stood there because I didn’t want to kick up anymore dust and all I could hear was my heart beat racing faster and faster.”

“And then?” Audrey says.

“I don’t know, man. I guess I woke up,” Greg says as he bites into a pancake.

“Do you think they’re really going to do it—go to the moon?” Audrey says.

I look down at my plate of pancakes and eggs and wonder why it even matters. Who cares if we go to the moon? What will it fix on Earth? Or in Vietnam? Or hell, what about Detroit? What about all of us that are hanging on trying to find good in this world? Does going to the moon give us some kind of hope?

“What is the point?” Kat says.

“The space race, man,” Greg says.

“Anything in the name of science,” Sydney says.

“Racing the Soviets is more important than saving our people,” Audrey says.

“Do you think so?” Sydney says.

“Well, that’s what it seems like, doesn’t’ it?” Audrey says.

“Mexico, man,” Greg says, holding up the peace sign with both hands.

“Do you even know how to speak Spanish?” Kat asks.

“I’m a fast learner,” Greg says confidently.

“Of course you are, amigo,” Kat rolls her eyes.

I get this funny vision of Greg in a sombrero on the beach. He’s got a fruity umbrella drink in one hand, a joint in the other, and he’s surrounded by mounds of grass and some foxy babes. Now I see why he wants to go to Mexico.

Jazz and Kat collect all the dirty dishes and take them into the kitchen. Greg wanders over to the window and sits down on the ledge next to the beautiful virgin and her beads of faith—exhaling puffs of smoke into the fading light of dusk. Audrey stares at the Dali painting above the records and I sit on the bed thinking about Sydney while he sits next to me and feels so, gulp, far away.

“What is this painting?” Audrey says.

“Metamorphosis of Narcissus,” Sydney tells her.

“It is amazing.”

“There’s just so much going on in it, you know. I can stare at it for hours.” Sydney says while he puts his hand on my knee for a moment and then walks over to Audrey.

“Aren’t we like Narcissus and the war is our reflection?” Audrey says.

“So if we stare at the war for too long than we’ll become death and decay and rise up as beautiful flowers?” Sydney says.

“Man, that sounds like we’re fertilizer,” Greg seems bummed.

“Anyone who wants to be buried is fertilizer,” Sydney says.

“Okay, okay, stay cool. So, is she ready yet?” I try to change the mood again.

“Who?” Sydney says.

“You know,” I point to Bab’s with my eyes.

“Oh, yeah,” Sydney then turns off all the lights in the room.

“Right on. Is it naked time now?” Greg laughs.

“Not exactly,” Sydney says.

Sydney turns off the lights. His apartment is just dark enough to see how sweet that funny girl truly is. She glows, indeed, and Sydney looks completely amused at his treasure.

“Oh man, that is far out,” Jazz says.

“Yeah, it’s actually pretty rare, man,” Sydney says proudly.

“That you have a Barbara Streisand poster in your room?” Kat says.

“No, kitty, that it’s a black light poster. They don’t make many of them,” Sydney says.

“Don’t call me kitty,” Kat says.

Sydney lights the virgin and a few other candles around the room. Two bottles of Boone’s appear. I really just want to tell everyone to get the hell out of here so I can get laid, but it’s not my place, or my bed-in, and it’s not so John-and-Yoko’ish of me, I guess.

“I’m really craving some Creedence,” I say.

“I’m really craving a cigarette. Any of you heads have one I can bum?” Audrey pleads.

“You smoke?” Kat says.

“Doesn’t everyone?” Audrey smiles.

“You know what? I think the government needs a spanking,” Jazz randomly says.

“Yeah, that would be great. Public government spankings. Like instead of public hangings,” Sydney laughs.

“Oh man, I wonder how they would hire the spankers,” Greg says. “That might be a totally groovy job. Can you imagine? I wonder if they’d use a paddle for the spankings,” Greg laughs. “Ooh, maybe they’d have different tiers of spanking, man, depending on the charge, so some people would get the bare hand spank. I would definitely sign up for that job.”

“Oh no, not the bare hand spank,” Kat says in a playful voice.

“BHS, they call it. For when it’s real bad,” Greg says.

“Wow! Vietnam is teaching us so many things,” Audrey sighs. “Too many.”

“Like that we know how to be prisoners, but we’re still learning how to truly be free,” I say. “I think the spirit of our country is answering and what does Nixon say about it?”

“That he’s not ready to pull out yet, man,” Sydney says.

“Really, man, are we fucking the war or are we trying to end the war, you know?” Greg puts a peace sign up.

Hours later, everyone is asleep except for us—the red headed freaks—and we lie on Sydney’s bed in the purple glow of the black light, staring at the ceiling and blinding each other with our neon white teeth every time we laugh. Greg is passed out in the bean bag chair, half naked, and the girls are huddled together on the floor—each one snoring softly to their own rhythmic breathing.

Sydney turns on his side, facing me, and rests one hand on the slit of exposed skin near my belly button. His fingers are warm on my stomach and the moment is lucid and calm. I try to absorb as much of these moments that I possibly can.

“So what happens tomorrow?” Sydney says in a soft voice.

“We get out of your bed.”

“What else?”

“I guess we go back to work.”

“Do you think it will be the same as before?”

“What do you mean, Sydney?”

“I don’t know, you know. I just feel a little different.”

“What feels different?”

“The last two days have been real cathartic for me.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m glad we did this.”

“Man, I’m so glad I’m not in the jungle right now scared and restless.”

“I know, Sydney. Me too,” I say.

The next morning, I feel content to walk through the door of my apartment and revel in the fact that I am fortunate enough to enjoy the notion of home while so many other people across the oceans fight just to breathe; confined inside vulnerable lines of fear and anger, struggling for an intangible victory. Melting into my sofa, my mind tumbles around ideas of deconstructing the fucked up state of our country and finding ways to break down the walls of power and ego that are drawing too many boxes for all of us to fit in. We cannot be confined anymore. We shall overcome.


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