The Wish Bathers, Chapter Six

Kick Out the Jams between your Toes

Chapter Six

Ninety coffee pots later, or three days as some would say, I’m not really sure what to think of Valerie’s vague behavior. I just want to know what the hell happened to my old man. Who is he? Why did he leave me? And why is it all a big secret?

Someone banging on my front door saves me from whatever kind of mental breakdown I’m about to have. I don’t know if I’m in the mood for company, so this should be interesting. I hope it’s Sydney, at least.

“Shalom,” Kat bows her head.

“Oh,” I say.

“I think I’ve decided to become more orthodox.”

“What?”

“Yeah, my folks are starting to put dating pressure on me. They want me to date some Catholic boys they have picked out. I can’t do it. I’ve started going to Temple.”

“You just had to tell me this right now?”

“I think it’s the right thing for me.”

“Sure, Kat. I think you’re fine just the way you are.”

“Really?”

“What is it about being Jewish?” I raise my left eyebrow.

It takes forever for Kat to respond. I really want to know what her deal is. It’s been more than ten years and I just don’t get it. She’s got some strange identity issues, but hey, at least I’m not the only one.

Suddenly, Kat looks down at her finger nails. She shows me some chipped nail polish to obviously dodge my extremely overwhelming question. It’s not nearly as cute as she wants it to be. I’m so over it.

“So, there was a lot of buzz on Plum Street yesterday. I heard John Sinclair is promoting a new show at the Grande Ballroom this month,” I say.

“What show?”

“Led Zeppelin.”

“Far out.”

“Yeah, it’s on May 16th. Do you know them?” I say.

“I think I know who that is. I’ll get tickets.”

“Wow, groovy. Wait, are you sure that good Jewish girls can go to rock concerts now?” I laugh.

“Give me a break,” Kat crosses her arms, unimpressed.

“Hey, I don’t know, I’m just trying to figure out these new Yenta lines.”

“Don’t make be brech, okay,” she smiles as she slings the Yiddish words around like a professional Frisbee player. “Besides, we don’t need to tell them we’re going to the Grande.”

To my luck, Kat finally splits, and I’m not in a hurry to revisit my last mental soapbox. Thank god. Another cup of coffee sounds much better and just as I’m about to take a sip of my delicious, warm, aromatic beverage, another distraction steals my moment of peace. The phone rings.

It’s Audrey. She’s annoyed and she can join the club. Apparently, Jazz is up to no good. Audrey didn’t get into too many details on the phone other than requesting my presence as soon as possible. I’m thoroughly excited to see what’s so important this time.

I get into Gloria and pull up to their pad around noon. Jazz is still in bed. I knock loudly on her door. No response. I knock again. No response. At this point, I can leave and say I tried, or I can walk in like a nosy best friend, so I opt for the second choice.

Her room smells like sex. Condoms are flung around like a latex minefield. It’s pretty gross. I’m extremely careful not to step on any sticky surprises. The thought makes me more than gag.

There’s a man sleeping next to her. It’s not Greg this time. It’s not even a stranger. In fact, the guy snoring in her bed is the last person in the entire world I want to see right now in this moment. This is so not cool.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I scream.

The remnants of white powder under her nose look about as classy as her choice of men. This scene is absurd. I don’t blame Audrey for not wanting to deal with it.

“What are you doing in my room this early, man?” Jazz says.

“It’s noon, man. What are you doing with HIM? What the fuck is going on with you?”

“You know, whatever,” Jazz says.

It’s Simon. The douche bag who’s been ballin’ Kat for almost ten years. The guy who took her all the way to Paris just to ditch her. You know, that amazing mensch of a man she just can’t seem to shake? Yeah, that guy. That’s the guy in Jazz’s bed right now. Great.

“So, what about Kat?” I remind her other people do exist.

“What about her?” Jazz yawns and stares at me with demonic eyes.

I don’t know how much cocaine one has to snort to completely lose all sense of human emotions, but I’m pretty sure she’s snorted twice that amount. What am I supposed to do now? What the hell do I tell Kat?

***

It’s another day. I unlock Aphrodite’s at sharp o’clock and start my opening duties with listless fervor. Mindless tasks can be excellent therapy, and today, I’ll take whatever therapy I can get. Fortunately for me, rolling hundreds of pieces of silverware into paper napkins is just as therapeutic as sitting on a cold, leather couch and staring at the ceiling. Deep thoughts make tight rolls. That sounds like a fortune from a cookie but there is something to be said about the depths of thought perfecting the artistry of the wrapped utensils. I think, therefore, I roll.

I know the boss is in the building when an unexpected waft of cologne floats past my nostrils. He enters the dining room confidently and walks over to me. I watch the ground as his shoes drag a trail of dirt onto the freshly swept floor and then make eye-contact. He stops in front of me, picks up a fork, and uses it to point at my face and then down to the ground.

“Look at this. How can you work on that task before the dining room is even ready for guests?” he moves his hand above the dirt trail, assuming I haven’t swept the floor yet.

I have nothing to say so I just get out of the table and start sweeping. There is no sense in having a hopeless conversation with a man like him. It will only get me lost inside another black hole that I don’t want to be in. He watches me for a minute and then returns to his cavernous office like a scorpion disappearing into the crevice of adjoining rocks. I return to my therapy session.

One coffee pot later, the death breath twins arrive for their shifts. I acknowledge them both with a nod but have no desire to assemble an irrelevant conversation this early in the day. Deb ignores my nod while she searches for her special cup and Pam smiles back at me. Within an hour, the place is packed and time is going fast.

Greg shows up eventually. He has a book under his arm and an orange and red satin Yarmulke on his head.

“Shalom,” Greg says.

“Oh no, you too?”

“What?”

“Nothing,” I say. I feel like I’m in an episode of The Twilight Zone. “How’s the Yiddish going?”

“One word at a time.”

“Um, has Jazz been hanging with Darryl?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“I thought she didn’t like him.”

“I don’t know, man. She’s been weird lately.”

“Hmm. Are you working tonight?”

“Yep.”

“Cool, I’ll see you later then. Let’s hang soon.” Greg hugs me and walks away mumbling vocabulary words underneath his breath.

“Wait,” he says. “I’m hungry. I came to eat something.”

“Oh, sorry, I’m a little distracted today.”

“No sweat, wild woman. It’s not your job to remind me to eat.”

Greg and the rest of the customers are gone in less than an hour. The death breath twins phase me from the floor so I can get out of this grease pit job. For me, it’s a place to make money. For them, it’s their life. I will not succumb to a meager existence of fry grease and fattening gossip to fill the bulk of my days on this earth. There is always something more. We just have to look for it.

The urge to see Sydney and break the groovy news prevails over returning to my quiet, empty pad right now. We haven’t spoken since the morning after our LSD trip and I can’t keep Led Zeppelin inside me much longer. There are some other issues taking up room now. Moral dilemmas are a real drag sometimes.

“Hello, foxy,” Sydney smiles when he opens the door.

“Are you ready for this?” I’m bursting to share the groovy news.

“Ready for what?”

“We are going to see Led Zeppelin next week at the Grande!”

“Far out. Really? I love the Grande. That place is out of this world.”

“Cool, huh? I thought you’d be excited.”

“It seems like forever since I’ve seen you,” Sydney says.

“Life has been heavy for me. Any progress with your old man yet?”

“No, I haven’t seen him. I’ve been inspired since our trip and have been working on songs.”

“No way. I’m so glad.”

“What have you been up to?” Sydney says.

“Uhhh, dealing with my insane mother. She isn’t too happy about telling me anything about my old man.”

“That’s a drag. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. Other stuff, too, but I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

I collapse onto his bad and curl into the fetal position. Sydney moves in behind me to cradle me like a spoon. He’s warm and soft like laundry fresh out of the dryer.

For hours, we lay molded together like an innocent ball of love resting in the tranquil safety of our own little universe. I drift in and out of lucid dreams that carry me through scenes with my old man, images of Simon snoring in Jazz’s bed, and that sad lion. I see his regal visage in my memory and imagine marble tears falling down his polished cheeks. My unborn tears feel that heavy.

“Turn on, tune in, drop out,” Sydney whispers Leary’s words of psychedelic wisdom as if he can feel the heaviness of the world pumping through my veins.

The wrong people always want to interpret ‘drop out’ as some kind of bad, lazy, drug-induced advice, but the right people know it means to disconnect from expectations and limitations and the lines and boxes that control our lives. It has to be the mantra of our current times. How else are we going to wake up?

“All you need is love,” Sydney hums and it’s like he is replying to my inner thoughts.

“The Beatles save me sometimes,” I say.

“Music is medicine. Why do you think I have so many records?”

“Yeah, Elvis saved me from my parents and Motown saved me from myself more than once,” I laugh.

“Fuckin’ A. Let’s go out. Let’s do something fun.”

“Okay, I guess I can get out of bed. Dragonflower?” I say.

The Dragonflower is bumping and thumping like one hell of a groovy time. The Gardener isn’t at his usual spot in the front of the line because he is putting something back into the trunk of his car; like certain kinds of gardening tools, perhaps? He looks in our direction as we cross the parking lot, waving with a crowbar in his hand, and gives an expected stoic nod as he closes the trunk. I know too much information from seeing that crowbar and can’t help wondering which poor girl was just released into the night from the bowels of the infamous pimp mobile.

“Does he always have a crowbar?” Sydney says.

“Seems like it,” I say.

It’s a relief to see Greg behind the bar mixing and mingling and moving to the beats. The music is loud and the people are lively. Jazz is nowhere to be found, of course.

“Isn’t Jazz working tonight?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Greg yells over the music.

“Where is she?”

Greg’s index finger floats high into the air and points to the black glass above the dance floor. I guess I’m not that surprised. She’s on some kind of destructive mission lately.

“Man, how long has she been up there?” I say.

“Don’t know, man. I’ve been slammed down here for a while.”

“We’ll take two beers,” Sydney moves to the sofas across the room. I dig the orange one, of course. It’s probably the dirtiest because it’s been around the longest, but it’s ratty upholstery is especially charming. It could also be the copious amounts of lude associations we all have with the couch, but it’s hard to say.

I get a sudden urge to go upstairs. Sydney follows and helps me push our way through the dancing crowd. We are blocked by two anonymous dancers near a dark hallway. At first, I interpret this as a coincidence of clashing bodies and then figure it’s definitely calculated as we are blocked a second time. The men dancing near the doorway appear to be guards and they make it quite clear that no one will pass. I am totally amused by Darryl’s art of camouflage in certain aspects, even if it means my efforts are momentarily deflected.

“Back to the bar?” Sydney says.

“Hey freaks,” Jazz appears behind the bar. Her blouse is one button off of the correct alignment.

“What have you been doing?” I say.

“I was in the office.” Jazz gives me a deep stare because she knows I’m fishing. “Sorry about yesterday.”

“What about it?” I ask, even though I know exactly what she’s referring to.

“So, uh,” Greg says, “Did you know that Jewish people go to church on Saturday instead of Sunday?”

“Thanks for the breaking news,” Sydney says. Jazz conveniently moves down the bar and tends to newly seated customers. Greg pulls out his mini Yiddish book and practices some vocabulary while The Band’s song, “The Weight,” shifts the vibe down a healthy notch.

“Where’s your Yarmulke?” I say. He cocks his head and pulls it out of his back pocket. “I hope you have next Friday off. You’ve talked to Kat, right?”

“No, man, what’s going on?”

“Four words, man,” Sydney leans over the bar counter and pulls the book out of Greg’s hands. “Led Zeppelin Grande Ballroom.”

“Far out! I’m there,” Greg’s curls bounce with his enthusiasm.

“Let’s drink some wine and Day-glo each other before the show,” I say.

Fifteen minutes later, Jazz is still chatting with some customers on the other end of the bar. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but given yesterdays’ circumstances, I don’t know how to feel any other way. She can ignore me all she wants if that’s how she deals with her guilt.

“Hello Star,” a voice says behind me. I turn around to find my favorite person, Simon, and my blood begins to boil.

“How are you?” Simon says. He acts cordial and proper and it makes me loathe him more.

“Isn’t there another bar you can go to?” I hiss.

I am not amused by his presence. Not one bit. In fact, I’m so not amused by his presence that Sydney pulls me out of there before I start a riot in the club. It’s probably for the best. Between being pissed off at Valerie and Jazz, I’m in the kind of mood where my words won’t bother sparing anyone’s dignity or feelings, including mine.

We coast along Woodward Avenue towards Highland Park. It is the birth place of the 12th street riots and hometown of forgotten dreams. Abandoned buildings, broken windows, and desolate faces are wedged in between the forested streets. The aftermath of the devastation is everywhere the eye can see.

“The City of Trees is still beautiful,” I say. “Where are we going?”

“You want to piss some people off?” Sydney says. “Let out some frustration?”

“Maybe.”

Sydney howls and squeals past Puritan St. A group of people huddled inside a small chicken shack turn their heads when they hear the tires. Our presence is noted. A few blocks later, a car without headlights follows closely behind us and the sound of a gun shot echoes very quietly in the distance; like a crack of lightning almost lost to silence. The night is long, dark, and volatile and it evokes memories of the riots.

I’ll never forget the smoke and the way it made the air so hard to breathe; hanging above the city like a dark cloud of frustration and hatred. I’ll never forget the number of soldiers or the bellows of the tank engines driving down the tree lined streets; or the piercing sound of repeatedly broken windows, broken homes, and broken hearts. I’ll never forget the way all of our parents tried to act like they weren’t scared but we knew they were going ape on the inside.

“When was the last time you went to the duck pond?” Sydney says. I say nothing.

The duck pond is a beautiful place during the day for all kinds of people, offering a wide range of activities, and notorious for being a make-out spot at night. I’ll admit it and say that I’ve never been here to make-out with anyone, but it isn’t a secret why most people come here once the sun goes down. It’s not the only thing, you know, that goes down around here.

Sydney turns off Gloria’s engine so we coast into a parking spot without offending already parked cars. Nobody wants a spotlight when they’re having a ball. The fogged up windows and creaky shocks are enough. This secret code of conduct is respected again when a new car pulls in, minus the head lights, and we both start laughing at all of the bouncing cars around us.

“This is where I come when I’m frustrated,” he says.

“Where do you come when you’re not frustrated?” I say. It takes a moment for his mind to meet me in the gutter, but I know he’s there when his eyelids slightly flicker.

“Don’t you already know?” he says and then turns on the radio, flipping through the stations very quickly, frantically searching for something specific.

“What is it?”

“It’s just about 11 o’clock and that’s when this one radio station plays an hour of MC5. They’re the house band at the Grande and when I’m freaking out about something, man, I come here for an hour and listen to MC5. Do you know them?”

Sydney stops sifting through stations and sits back in his seat. Silver moonlight lights up his face. The car next to us squeaks with every bounce. He waits for me to answer but I’m momentarily lost in the moonlight.

“I don’t know them,” I remember to answer.

“They’re out of sight, you know, like raw energy going wild and free. Unroll your window and follow me.”

He turns the knob on the radio, unrolls his window and then gets out of the car. Five seconds later, a crackling, screaming voice comes out of the speakers. “Are you ready to kick out the jams, mother fuckers?” the voice goes wild and then maniacal noise pours out of Gloria’s windows. Sydney tells me to dance as hard as I can and to kick the air, punch the air, be free.

“Just let it out,” Sydney screams.

For the next hour, we beat the night like a punching bag and become vessels for maniacal energy to move through. The sentiments of MC5 are radical and anti-establishment and it’s just what I need right now. Boundless limitations come out of their liberating sound and allow me to release so much tension. I give every frustrating issue an imaginary face as I pummel the darkness. How do my knuckles feel, Vietnam?

I don’t think any of our romantic neighbors appreciate the psychotic dance party happening around them because after a few songs, the cars start pulling away one by one; a promenade of red tail lights disappearing into the night. When the last car pulls away, Sydney turns up the volume just one more notch. It is officially only our moment now.

“Do you dig it?” he screams.

“Yeah, I dig it,” I scream back.

We dance until the last song plays the last note and the radio voice speaks calmly again. I sit down in the grass to rest. Sydney joins me after he turns down the volume.

“So, what do you think your mom is hiding?”

“Good question,” I say. “Right now, I’m sick of everything.”

“I know what you mean.”

The perfect reflection of the moon breaks apart as Sydney skips a rock into the water. It skips twice and then falls below the surface. It falls with my dismal thoughts. Tonight is just right.

***

The next few days are filled with bottomless coffee refills and debating death count totals. They say the death toll is dropping but I don’t know what to believe anymore in this land of doves and hawks. Only 266 dead this week, which is far better than the 300 last week, they say. I guess it’s easier to hear the numbers when your family members aren’t included in the count or you’re really into ornithology.

Nixon just told us that he plans on withdrawing troops, finally, but in several different phases. Do we really need to wean our people from the bosom of this war? The mere thought is difficult to process, but at least the Grande Ballroom waits for us on the horizon. It seems music is our only salvation. Strawberry Hill and Day-glo paint help a lot, too. Hopefully Led Zeppelin takes it to the next level.

We all stuff into Gloria and make our way to Grand River and Beverly. I park a few blocks away in front of some decent looking houses to avoid the crowd. Everything is groovy until we get out of the car and hear a total buzz kill from the shadows.

“Give me your fucking wallet,” a man says.

A dark silhouette with a deep voice stands in the darkness. His malicious energy vibrates through the shadows. I start to freak out. I don’t know what to do. The man threatens us with a knife but the blade and his tone shake with trepidation.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Jazz says.

“Don’t make me kill you, bitch,” he stabs the air with the blade.

“Let’s get out of here. This guy is an idiot,” Jazz says. The rest of us start walking to the Grande.

“HEY!!!!” the man screams.

My heart beat thumps inside of my chest like a bass drum rattling my senses. Kat’s eyes dart back and forth as she processes hypothetical danger. Audrey puts her hand on her heart as if she’s trying to reverse a panic attack. Sydney stands a few steps ahead of the group, on guard, and Greg stands at the rear of our entourage for back-up.

“What did I fucking say?” the man says.

Jazz puts up her fists and runs straight into the shadows. The rest of us are completely stunned and still. We hear grunting, punching, kicking, a few gasps for air, and then a high pitched scream. Adrenaline kicks in and, just as I start walking to the madness, Jazz pops out of the bushes with tousled hair, a bloody nose, and scuffed up knees.

“Let’s go,” Jazz says. She wipes her nose like a 250 pound jock and shrugs her shoulders at the sight of her own blood.

“Biiitchiiinnn’,” Greg says.

“Who was that?” Kat asks.

“Some panty waist with bad timing,” Jazz spits out some blood.

An eclectic crowd of all ages and fashions hang out on the sidewalk near the entrance to the Grande. Bitchin’ vibes pour out the front door smelling like reefer and patchouli. The energy is so alive I can feel it like electricity on my skin.

“Are you ready to make history?” Sydney says.

The air inside is thick and hot and the crowd is a sea of heads, groovy teens, Princeton cuts, punks, business men, and a hodgepodge of ethnicities. People are barefoot, shirtless, out of their minds in a psychedelic world, passing joints and bottles of Boone’s in the open like there are no cops, no boundaries, and no limitations.

We follow the sound of music up a large staircase. The ascent is coated with hungry couples making out. The mixture of incense and dope smoke becomes so dense we get a second hand high as we reach the top step. A girl on roller skates misses my toes by a millimeter as she flies by on her slick wheels, and a man with a snake on his shoulders smiles at us like he knows we are neophytes to this ballroom culture.

The smooth wood floor glistens underneath our feet and the arched corridors—supported by white and gold spiraled columns—are reminiscent of Spanish-Moroccan palaces of the past. It is antique royalty and poise juxtaposed with raw, untamed, fascinating mayhem. I wonder if this is what heaven is like, and if so, I can dig it.

We are in awe staring at the sea of faces through the grandiose columns; feeling gripped by the intense smells and the kindred vibrations. It is history in the making and I think everyone else knows it, too, because we all have the same smirk on our faces.

Jazz and Audrey disappear into the crowd. Greg and Kat find seats outside the main floor to continue some boring Yiddish dialogue from the car ride. It isn’t long before the energy of the dance floor pulls me into the sea of dreams.

A large, floral proscenium hangs above what looks like the stage but all I can see is thousands of heads from this far back in the crowd. Sydney stops to listen to the wacky sounds of Sun Ra bursting through the air and I continue pushing my way through the packed dance floor. Sun Ra’s music is, well, complicated, encouraging only the innovative or intoxicated to groove along, so it’s not hard to wiggle my way into the center of this bitchin’ madness.

I stop in front of a woman whose face is glowing with yellow and pink Day-glo paint like she is a psychedelic warrior, smiling, and staring at the wall above our heads. Curiosity lures me in the direction of her gaze only to find a trippy projection of crawling pictures decorating the wall—oozing and morphing like oils and liquids of different colors.

“Sooo, what do you think?” Sydney says.

“Far out. What’s on that side?”

“Watch out,” He yells and tries to save me from walking like a spaz right into a full sized claw-foot bathtub that just happens to be sitting in the middle of the ballroom dance floor. I mean, I think I’m totally hallucinating until my kneecaps register the pain of crashing into the ceramic tub and it hurts like hell. Fuckin’ A. I’m not amused by Sydney’s amusement as he laughs at me.

Two beautiful brunettes sit in the empty tub bathing in laughter and black light like sirens wading in the Grande’s spirit. They don’t even notice me slamming into their porcelain vehicle because they are obviously high on something good.

“Hey man, do you want some Visine?” One of the brunettes leans over, holding the tiny bottle, and then falls back into her tub of mirth—splashing the giggles around like a small child at bath time, except without the obligatory rubber ducky.

“This stuff is far out, man,” the other brunette laughs, also holding a bottle of Visine. Their mood is severely contagious.

“Let’s get closer to the stage,” Sydney says.

The guy with the snake gets on stage and begins testing the crowd for more energy. Without much coercion on his part, the audience gives more and more; like a riot for music and groovy times and, most of all, freedom. We are all open in this moment of sticky, thick air, and deafening speakers, and our hearts beat to the same alternative drum. We are united in the name of the Grande Ballroom.

“Where’s MC5?” I say.

“I guess they don’t play every night. Maybe next time.”

Sydney lights up a joint and passes it to me. As I inhale, the ambiance finally settles into my relaxed soul. Jazz, Audrey, Kat, and Greg manage to locate us in the crowd of all the stinky, patchouli perspiring, grass coughing, groovy heads.

“Did you find some chutzpa?” I laugh.

“I think we’re going to start studying together and going to Temple, if you must know,” Kat says.

“Yeah, man, don’t make me call you a shiksa!” Greg says.

“Did you see the crazy girls in the bathtub?” Audrey says. “They gave me Visine.”

“Wow, man, is that code for LSD?” Greg says.

“No, I didn’t eat it. I put it on my face.” Audrey tilts her head back so we can see Visine patterns picking up the black light like tribal designs surrounding her eyes.

“I like the guy with the snake,” Jazz says.

The lights go down and the crowd takes a simultaneous breath before four pairs of bell-bottoms and insane hair walk onto the stage. The first pound of the drum cracks something inside of my psyche that loosens me up and hooks me instantly into their groove. I look around and see that everyone else is diggin’ the same vibe and we are officially at the mercy of pure musical power.

The crowd freaks out as Jimmy Page bends notes, wails away on the guitar—pulling on emotional and psychological strings like he is leading us somewhere unexplainable but amazing. I watch Plant intensely as he leans into the microphone and sings with all of his guts and soul, spewing out revolutionary ideas with an unrefined tone.

The guy with the snake passes us in the crowd, staring at Jazz, like he knows she was talking about him earlier. He looks at her and then continues onto the dressing room at the side of the stage. It’s only seconds before she follows him and disappears into the thick smoke curling around the mass of bodies in the room.

The rocking sounds vibrate below our feet and the floor feels like it is loaded with springs. Everyone dances—somehow, some way—and no one cares what they look like because Led Zeppelin doesn’t care either, man. The music bounces on the walls like trampolines for noise and it adds an extra groovy effect once it falls back down into the crowd. We are experiencing a musical rapture, and at this very moment, we believe in the gods of music. Maybe angels really do sing rock and roll.

A random tap on the shoulder pulls me slightly out of my trance and then a bottle of Boone’s comes from a stranger standing behind me. I take a sip and try to pass it back to him, but he insists with hand gestures that I continue passing it along, so I move closer to Sydney and place his hand on the cold bottle. He takes a huge gulp and finishes the last of the bottle in one, long shot.

Many more bottles go hand in hand through the crowd and we are definitely on the road to communal inebriation. Greg and Audrey stand on either side of Kat, holding her hands, staring like they are possessed. Kat pays no mind to their romantic gazing because she is too busy wondering which band member is possibly Jewish. I don’t actually know that is what she’s thinking, but by the calculating look in her eyes, it’s not a completely ridiculous assumption.

The mood changes when Jimmy Page kicks it down a notch and Robert Plant starts screaming the blues. Languid movements, sexy noises, droplets of sweat falling off thousands of bodies, and the crowd goes into sensual overdrive.

“Lude?” Greg yells in our direction with several pills in his palm.

I take two and then tell Sydney to open his mouth. A large, mischievous smile parts his lips and then he sticks out his tongue. The emeralds twinkle like freshly polished gems seeking admiration. I am so gone.

Sydney grabs my waist and starts dancing slow and dirty—grinding me like he’s making love to the music through my body. I melt into his pelvic movements immediately, grasping the nape of his neck, and throw my head back as I release all inhibitions. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” pulsates through the crowd, and soon, everyone is dancing like us; making love to the music through our physical, intimate bodies.

“Look,” Sydney says.

Greg and Audrey have Kat sandwiched between them as they grind each side of her like they are schmearing their shticks all up and down her legs. I am truly surprised that she appears to be enjoying the attention. In fact, she looks like she’s getting off on it.

Who knew the night would turn out so, ahem, satisfying for everyone?

Led Zeppelin shifts us through a roller coaster of moods. Kat, Greg, and Audrey move through the crowd to a place that is more suitable for their love-in. Sydney wanders off, too, and then it’s just me and the guy we’ve been passing Boone’s and joints back and forth with.

“This show is far out, man,” he says. “It’s so nice to be home.”

“Where have you been?” I say.

“I just got back from Nam, man.”

“Brother, I’m glad you’re home.”

“Me too. I thought I was coming home in a body bag.”

“How did you get discharged?”

“I went crazy.”

“Did you really?”

“I’m not sure anymore. It’s not hard to go crazy over there.”

The lights go up and the rock and roll angels parade off the stage; marching into the dressing room before a large percentage of the crowd tries to stuff into the doorway behind them. The girl on roller skates whips past me again—her shiny hair parallel to the ground—and then circles around one of the majestic pillars before she launches herself across the glistening wood floor.

I find Kat, Audrey and Greg on a random couch draped all over each other obviously exhausted from exchanging so much sexual energy. I don’t know what other drugs Greg convinced them to take. Right now, he’s definitely some kind of sex god.

“Man, the show was out of this world,” Greg says.

“You guys ready to split? I’m starving,” I say.

The temperature of the air drops as we get closer to the front door. Outside, the Visine girls stumble around on the sidewalk like slap happy kids offering the secrets of the world from tiny plastic bottles. The night air is cold and refreshing on my sticky skin. I think the smell of patchouli is burned into my nostrils for life now.

There is no sign of Jazz or Sydney. It isn’t until we get through the crowd and then I see them down the street. Sydney grabs her hand and she pulls it away madly. He tries a second time and she retracts again. I try to keep the ugliness of jealousy from rearing its stupid head, that is, until Sydney opens his arms and wraps them around her.

I bolt for Gloria and assume that the rest of the gang will follow. Right now all I care about is getting some food and going to bed. The other stuff can go to hell.

“What’s the plan, man?” Jazz says.

“Coney,” I say.

“American?” Kat says.

“Man, you go to American?” Greg says. “I’ve never met one of you before.”

“Let’s take a vote,” Sydney says. “Who wants to go to American?”

“There’s no vote. We go to Lafayette,” I snap.

No one seems to mind my decision making, and at this point, I don’t really care if they do. Greg and the ladies squeeze into the backseat like sardines in a can reeking of salty incense. They laugh and chatter about the recent events so loudly that I can barely hear the stewing anger inside my head. Sydney sits silently in the passenger seat. I wonder if he can feel the distance spreading between us like a big, gaping hole. Something about it feels so vacant. Is there a sign I should turn on now?

Are you Good enough?

In these times of humanity, what have you realized?  What have you been thinking about?  What are you doing?  And most importantly. . .

WHO THE @!$% ARE YOU?

Mother Nature has made the call.  She is forcing us to go within.  She is telling us to look in the mirror.

So, do you like what you see?

For the past eight months, I have been in a quarantine of sorts.  Not because I’ve been socially isolated or having to decide what “essentials” are, but because I’ve been in a vortex of self-reflection.

Some days have been liberating.

Some days have been debilitating.

Some days are just like skipping along a forest path and giving zero fucks about anything other than the blissful sunshine.

But, that’s life, isn’t it?!

When we go within, we can discover all kinds of surprises.  Patterns that have carved deep grooves into our psyche, thoughts that don’t serve us, belief systems that fail if we look deep into their core, and sometimes, there’s an awakening.

What is your awakening?

The awakening comes when we figure out what has caused the patterns, what has enabled toxic relationships, what has allowed us to tolerate circumstances that we actually don’t like, what are our boundaries and limitations if we really, truly, just listen to our heart-songs and hear nothing but that little person screaming deep within our soul.

Have you been listening?

In my life, I have found myself in situations that don’t serve me.  I have loved people that don’t deserve me.  I have done things I don’t understand. I have forgiven the unforgivable.  I have mastered the inconceivable.  I have loved others more than I’ve loved myself.

And I’ve survived it all, which is great, because I’m a survivor.

But, why?

That is the awakening.

It is also the healing.

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Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to be liked.  I have always wanted to be accepted.  I have always wanted to be loved.  These notions are all part of the human condition that we’re all trying to master, but what I’ve realized is that somewhere, somehow, before I can even remember, I lost myself.

Maybe it happened in a previous life, maybe it’s karma, maybe it’s my genetics, or maybe there was some trauma that triggered this pattern within the patchwork of my soul.

If we can recognize our patterns, we can grow, we can heal, we can be better people, we can relate to others and ourselves in a whole different way.  We can even be found.

But, patterns are like allergies, and more often than not, we crave those things that we are actually allergic to.  We become too used to the adrenaline, or the sugar rush, or the stress hormones, or the makeup sex and suddenly dis-ease becomes normal.  Dis-ease becomes what we crave and we don’t even realize it.

Do you know what your patterns are?

Because I lost myself, I didn’t love myself.  Because I didn’t love myself, I got stuck for decades in a pattern of trying to convince people to love me.  I always found the haters challenging.  I had so much love to give, so why not turn them around?  Why not show them so much love that they will reciprocate and finally SEE me?  Why not try to teach these dark beings that love conquers all?  I am love, after all, and I have so much love to give out into the universe.

This abandonment of self enabled risky decisions, sometimes even put me in bad situations, made me friends with people I shouldn’t be friends with, and slowly chipped away at whatever crumbs I had left of any love for myself.  Like a vicious cycle, as patterns are, I kept running around and around giving out all my love to “friends” and lovers over the years and never realized that if I just really, truly loved myself, I shouldn’t need to convince anyone else to feel that way.  It wouldn’t even matter.

Then it hit me, I have been doing things the wrong way for a long time.

Instead of starting with myself and emanating that deep love, I tried to give it out first to get it back.  I was essentially giving myself for free for what?  To feel loved?  To feel validated?  To feel accepted?  But I wasn’t anything except borrowed and spent.  No love coming back to me and nothing left to conceive of giving to myself.

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When we don’t love ourselves, we don’t know our own self-worth!

When we don’t know our own self-worth, we invite bad energy into our aura.  We invite bad people into our hearts.  We invite opportunities to be taken advantage of, deceived, and manipulated.  We invite reasons to not love ourselves.

After too many years inside this deep pattern, I found myself asking the same question again and again–with oceans of tears and on the brink of insanity. . .

“Why am I not good enough?”

Each time I would wonder what I was doing wrong, what did I need to change about myself, how could I be good enough to make the other person happy?  But, the funny thing is, I never cared about my own feelings, and the more I did that, the more I was called selfish.  That’s something, isn’t it?!  I was my own worst enemy.

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Relationships are reflections.  Whether it is platonic or romantic, we are mirrors for each other.  If I don’t love myself, then I invite others to disrespect me.  Narcissists are like moths to a flame if you don’t know your own self-worth.  Don’t give them a comfy place to lounge around in or else they will do it, happily, and the pattern continues.

Suddenly, after loops of thoughts deconstructing all these years I’ve spent wondering why I’m not good enough, I have realized that the people who reflect that sentiment DO NOT REFLECT LOVE, which in turn, does not reflect self-love.

The real question all of these years should’ve been:

Are YOU good enough?

In the dawn of this awakening, I have realized that I am on a path of deep healing.  I surround myself with people who reflect self-love, self-respect, and self-worth.  I don’t need any other reflections deterring me from the love I have inside myself and for myself.

If you are ever finding yourself in situations that question your own self-worth, just remember:

YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH! 

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*I don’t own rights to these pics.  They are just beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wish Bathers, Chapter Five

Do Rubber Band hot dogs really Exist?

Chapter Five

“Hey honey bunch, are you going to sleep all day?” Sydney says. My eyes flick open at the speed of light due to the strange sounds traveling into my ears like an annoying alarm clock that won’t go away.

“Honey bunch?” I say.

“Norman says it’s time for breakfast.”

“Norman?”

“Maybe you didn’t like those books,” Sydney scratches the top of his head as if he is solving the most complicated math equation. “Anyway, Plum Street is waiting for us. Thanks for letting me crash here last night,” he pulls me out of bed and into his gracious arms. I half forget that I’m naked or maybe I just don’t care.

“No problem. I have a weakness for red headed strays on my doorstep.” I get lost inside those damned lash traps again and try to send smoke signals from my brainwaves to invite the uniting of our lips, but it doesn’t work.

“Let’s get a move on this day, beautiful.” Sydney releases his embrace and heads for the living room.

“Honey Bunch and Norman, right, got it. Does that mean we can’t fuck?” Sydney stops in the doorway and turns around to look at me.

“What?” he says.

At this point, all I can do is smile. I know he heard me. He knows he heard me. Now what?

Silence ticks away increasingly louder as the wall clock thumps through the seconds. Sydney holds his stance in the doorway and studies my eye contact intensely. His unwavering stare is passionate and present, never indulgent of my bare skin buffet, and his demeanor glimmers like a late, golden, fall sun.

“You’re confusing,” I say.

“Man, I am confused,” he pushes me down onto the bed.

“Please tell me you’re not queer.”

“What are you asking?”

“Just kiss me,” I pull him close and then, for the next two hours, we ball. It’s experimental, it’s raw, it’s completely uninhibited and totally free; in the grooviest of ways, of course.

“You are wild,” he says.

“Did you get some LSD?”

“That’s why we have to go to Plum Street. I know this guy, Country.”

“Country?” I ask.

“Exactly,” Sydney jumps up, turns on the radio, and dances naked around my room—shaking and gyrating his man parts and exposed crevices like a comical mating ritual. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

“So, next time you do that dance can you put on your fringe vest?”

“Anything else?”

“No, just the vest.”

When we get outside, Sydney’s raging smile is infectious to every passerby on the street. He walks in such a relaxed way that his body moves like the ground is Jell-O and his good vibes bump into each consecutive person that passes us—striking their psyche for a fleeting second, which is visible when their eyes widen momentarily. I am a few steps behind him silently reveling in the intoxicating vibe of our afterglow.

In the back of my mind I wonder if this energetic elevation will eventually fade and become awkward, but in the forefront I see nothing but free love and fun. The sexual revolution is cherry like that. We can just be, you know, and ball, and it’s all about the freedom to experience.

I am startled when Sydney grabs my hand and pulls me into running speed. We take off down the sidewalk, joined by a knot of fists, like little kids racing to an imaginary destiny. A few seconds later, he gives me a big grin and then yells, “Now skip!”

We start skipping like we’re off to see the wizard, eventually singing like Dorothy and the gang as they journey to the Emerald City, or in this case, Plum Street. Sydney’s grin widens and then he yells, “Fly like a bird!” and we break apart, our arms becoming white dove wings and we are flying for peace and love. I lose control because I can’t stop laughing.

I crash land on the same bench we shared with Carmelita. Sydney flies over and lands next to me.

“Am I having déjà vu?” he says.

“If you are, it means you’re on the right path.”

“Who said that?”

“Me.”

“And what else do you say?”

“I guess you’ll have to keep listening to find out.”

“Uh huh, let’s go. We’re almost there.”

“I’m ready, man,” I jump up, spread my arms, and fly down the sidewalk.

Plum Street is half bustling with bums and freaks and broken windows, but the sun is shining and our kundalini energy is unraveling towards the unknown journey that awaits us. Thick incense smoke curls out of the door of one head shop as we pass by. It sounds like an Indian temple with sitar music blaring from inside. The guy behind the cash register looks like Jerry Garcia.

Sydney stops next to the head shop at a bright pink and green staircase. Sensations of the temple fade as we reach the top of the stairs and a perfectly white door with a polished gold knocker guards whatever lies beyond this point. Sydney gives me a silly look and then grabs the knocker. He bangs the door in a pattern like a secret code.

The door swings open and a tall, blonde, chiseled man stands in front of us. He has an embroidered tunic hanging from his stature like a holy man’s robe and an enormous piece of amber swinging on his chest. I can’t help but stare at the glowing amber.

“Sydney, man, it’s good to see you,” he says with arms wide open.

“This is Star,” Sydney says.

“Righteous. I’m Country. Welcome.” His hand glides through the air and points to a purple couch in the next room.

“Got any groovy medicine?” Sydney says.

“Man, my guy just brought me some really good shit—like pure LSD, man.”

“Righteous. That’s what I wanted to hear.”

“How much do you want?”

“Four hits.”

“Twenty bucks, man.” They make the exchange and then Sydney tells me to stick out my tongue. I do, of course, and he places a piece of paper on the tip and then feeds himself an identical portion.

“Let it dissolve for a few seconds and then swallow,” Sydney says.

“Do you always talk to the ladies like this, Norman?” I know I should get my mind out of the gutter, but wait, should I? A wise person once told me that we must never ‘should’ ourselves. I think that definitely proves I am just fine walking through the gutter on a sunny day and enjoying the view.

“I hope you two have a great journey,” Country sparks up a thick joint.

“Hey Country?” I say.

“What’s on your mind, sister?”

“Is that really your name?”

“Funny you should ask, Star.”

“Good point. So, how long does this stuff take to work?”

“It’s hard to say, maybe an hour, but you will know when it does,” Country smiles and side glances Sydney like they share a funny secret that I am not privy to.

One joint later, but who really knows how long, we are peeling ourselves off of the purple sofa and heading on our way to a magical destiny.

“Later, man,” Sydney says.

“Peace,” Country waves.

“So, are you feeling anything yet?” Sydney wonders about me.

“I don’t think so, but were these colors this vibrant before?” The green and pink colors painted down the staircase feel so intense, as if their volume is turned on high like neon lights, and there is an underlying buzz of electricity that hums inside the brightness. A butterfly of excitement flutters inside the middle of my chest when I feel the colors surrounding me like warm, happy, vibrations. I’m sure the look on my face gives it all away.

“This is going to be fun,” Sydney says.

I get lost in the shifting colors and feel like I am riding an escalator down through the guts of a ripe watermelon. It’s weird and cool and pretty far out, actually. I haven’t felt this good in awhile.

“Wow! Do you smell that?” I say.

“What?”

“Watermelon, man. This is far out.”

Sydney waits for me at the bottom of the staircase with the most satisfied look on his face. I know he’s entertained by me. It’s cool. I’m entertained by myself, too. Suddenly, I get attacked by uncontrollable laughter.

“Come on, cutie,” Sydney holds out his hand.

I feel confused and slightly disoriented. The ambiance of the head shop is confronting for multiple senses. Jerry Garcia smiles behind the cash register. We pass the open door to the store in what seems like slow motion. Time morphs. My super sonic hearing kicks in when I notice one miniscule drop of sweat fall from Jerry’s face and hit the counter. It echoes like it’s the only noise in the room as it splashes onto the glass by his elbow.

“Where are we going?” I say.

“You tell me.”

“Tell you what?” I start giggling again.

“You cool?” Sydney sits down on top of a red mushroom with white spots. It stands about two feet high and appears animated.

“I’m great but that mushroom is huge,” I start laughing and then realize it’s one of the trash cans painted like a cartoon mushroom. “Crazy shit, man.”

“Yeah, woman. Let’s keep walking.” Sydney loops his arm around mine and takes charge of our awaiting adventure.

The morning sun is alive and rising for the afternoon. Sydney and I walk with linked arms like two, silent, happy bubbles floating along the psychedelic breeze. An overwhelming sense of calmness possesses me into a surreal state of clarity and I feel at peace with the world and the universe and just being with Sydney. Everything starts to make perfect sense until we hit Michigan Avenue like slamming into a brick wall. It’s loud and busy and I start to get a little uncomfortable.

“If we go that way,” Sydney points, “We’ll make it to Belle Isle.”

“Isn’t Belle Isle far from here?”

“Do you have an appointment today? Don’t worry. We won’t walk the entire way, but if you want to get into semantics, it’s only about five or six miles from here.”

“Semantics? Whoa, I feel funny.”

“Me too. Let’s jam,” he whistles so loudly every head within a mile of us turns in our direction, I think. A cab missing hub caps pulls up and we get in. The inside of the car smells like fried chicken, curry, and mold all wrapped up into one pungent concoction. I don’t like it at all.

“Where?” The cab driver says.

“Belle Isle, please,” Sydney says.

Watching the approaching traffic through the windshield is a strange thing. It’s like watching a movie for a moment and then the cars seem like they’re space ships and it feels like we’re flying in space, too. This is a little unsettling at first and then it’s just fucking hilarious.

“Did you see that?” I buckle over and laugh hysterically.

“Is she okay, man?” The cab driver says. I keep laughing.

“Oh yeah, she’s just a happy person,” Sydney says.

We get out of the cab in front of the infamous fountain and I am bombarded by images of Darryl—soaking wet, crying mercy to the stars—and a few tears well up inside my eyes and descend from my cheekbone down to the ground. A few seconds later, I am moving on and twirling to the fountain like I am Leslie Caron in a green dress dancing to Gershwin. There are no other people in sight and it’s like we have the whole island to ourselves.

The bottom of the fountain pool sparkles in the sunlight from random wishes that have been tossed in over time. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful before. Sydney sits down on the white marble and dunks his hand in the water.

“Wishes are beautiful, aren’t they?” I say.

“Wishes, yes.”

“What do you wish?”

“I want to be a songwriter. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, you know. My old man thinks I am being stupid if I talk about it, so I keep it to myself. He refuses to know about it and instead wants me to work at the shop.”

“I would love to hear your songs sometime.”

“Thanks. I love sharing when I get the opportunity. I’m not much of a performer but I do like the words.”

“You know, your old man means well.”

“I don’t know about that. He threatens disowning me a lot, man.”

“I guess I don’t know what that feels like.”

I wonder if it is better to have an old man that threatens you or not have one at all. I never realized how estranged I feel about so many things in life until my confession at the bed-in. Not knowing my father has left so much uncharted territory in my world. It makes me realize I don’t really know much of anything at all.

“Where is your old man?”

“I have no idea. My mother never said much about him while I was growing up. I just know that whatever happened between them caused her a lot of pain.”

“Do you want to find him someday?”

“Maybe.”

“Do you think he’s dead?”

“I don’t know but I suppose anything is possible. I think you should keep writing and prove your old man wrong. I know you can do it.”

“I hate having to hide my dreams from him because in every other way we are very close. He can be so rigid sometimes, you know. He actually thinks that songwriting is for women.”

“What?”

“I know. So old school, man.”

“Well, let’s make a wish right now,” I say.

I get two nickels out of my purse and hand one to Sydney. I kiss my nickel before throwing it into the water. Sydney crosses his chest and throws his silver coin into the air. Two consecutive splashes later, our wishes are cast into the marbled depths below. It is cathartic to watch them sink.

“Where do you think the wishes go?” Sydney takes off his shoes, rolls up his pants, and puts both feet over the edge into the water. “I mean, eventually, someone has to clear them out, right, because otherwise there would be too much change.”

“What a horrible job—being a wish cleaner,” I say while the idea still bends my mind. “I’d rather be a wish bather. Like instead of a fountain of youth a fountain of wishes. It would be like bathing in groovy vibes, you know?!”

“Haha. Groovy.” Sydney kicks his feet and splashes water. The rippling effect forms an intriguing pattern that continuously blends into another sequential pattern.

“Kick the water again,” I laugh.

“Wow.”

“I know.”

In this juvenile moment, I feel very connected to Sydney. It’s probably the insane chemicals I have floating around in my body, but I have this overpowering sense that we have a divine connection and purpose. I wonder if he thinks the same way. I don’t need to ask. I just feel so at peace with everything, man, and I love it.

“Is it getting hot?” Sydney says.

“I think so.”

“I still don’t see anyone here,” he looks around a few times and then jumps into the water. I am totally inspired to jump in. After a few rounds of splashing, my legs turn into a long, glimmering mermaid tail and I feel a mystical power moving through me. I leave Sydney to swim around. I find a friendly turtle floating in the sun.

“Hey, ma’am, where did you come from?” the turtle says.

“Over there,” I point to the downtown skyline across the river.

“But how did you get here?” the turtle says.

“Magic.”

“You are a beautiful creature,” the turtle says.

“And you are a kind turtle. Who’s that guy up there?” I point to the lion sitting above the turtles on another tier of marble.

“That is Roy. He’s grumpy today,” the turtle says.

I swim past many more turtles before I find my way back to Sydney. He’s floating with arms and legs spread wide smiling at the sun. I feel like this particular part of the pool is a safe haven from life’s demons, and maybe even, lions. The silence in the air turns into angelic arias that weave above our heads like golden, Celtic designs. The clouds are the puffiest marshmallows I’ve ever seen.

“Sydney?” I say. I gently move my hands under his head and cradle his thoughts like a precious stone resting in my joined palms.

“Hiiiiii.”

“I can feel the thoughts inside your head right now.”

“Really? What do they feel like?”

“Warm, electric,” I laugh at the notion.

“This is a good journey,” he flips over and sits up, facing me. “You are an interesting chick.”

“Um, I would kiss you right now but I don’t know if it will freak me out, so maybe it’s not a good idea,” I say.

“Freak you out?”

“Well, you know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t.”

“How long will this last?” I say.

“It could last a long time,” Sydney says.

“What is a long time?”

“Wait, are you talking about the trip?”

“Yeah, man, what are you thinking?”

“It can last twelve hours sometimes.”

I look into Sydney’s eyes again. His lash traps are doing that thing they always do. It usually makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but in this state, I feel fine. I think his eyes are so totally dreamy, dammit. Help me.

“Hello,” a strange voice speaks. Sydney and I look at each other with baffled eyes because we know the voice is neither of ours.

“Hello?” I say.

“Hey, up here,” the voice says.

“Uh, God?” Sydney says.

“I ain’t no God, son, just an old marble lion,” the statue above our heads speaks as water flows out of his mouth.

“Oh, hello, Roy,” I say.

“Roy is on the other side. He’s the grumpy one. My name is Hercules,” the statue says.

“Well, hello Hercules,” Sydney says.

“May I ask you a question,” Hercules says.

“Go ahead,” I say.

“Well, for many years I have sat here and watched the city from afar. A long time ago, we had visitors with happy faces and children making wishes. Not so long ago, I watched the city blazing with flames and screaming with sirens. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on but I could feel the pain and the struggle. Now, the city looks sad and quiet and we don’t get as many wishes. It can be very lonely,” Hercules says.

“The riots,” I say.

Memories explode inside my retinas. Flames and screams move around in my ears and the pain aches in my bones so deep down. These memories will keep the riots echoing in eternity as a constant reminder of what we can overcome. A constant reminder to keep hoping for the best in people, in situations, and for our beloved city.

“Riots?” Hercules says.

“Yes, that’s what you’re talking about. A couple years ago there was a war in the city. A war of hate and color. Some people left the area. Some of us struggle to stay and survive now. It’s vulnerable and tough in the city but it’s still got a lot of soul,” Sydney says.

“I can feel it and if I wasn’t stuck here I would do something about it,” Hercules looks down at his marble paws. “A tricky situation, isn’t it?”

“You do have a great view,” I say.

The marble lion lets out a long sigh, and just a few moments later, Hercules is hard as marble again and there are no remnants of his vitality. I look at Sydney, he looks at me, and we both know it’s time to split. Plus, all the good vibes bathing has pressed into my fingers and made them look like prunes.

“I think I was baptized at least three times today,” Sydney says.

“I know what you mean.”

“Back to my pad?” he wiggles his eyebrows.

“Yes.”

Sydney’s pad seems just right for now. My buzz is past the peak but it’s still there. The clock on the wall reminds me that time can exist and I calculate that it’s been about six hours since we were sitting in Country’s apartment. It seems like light years and seconds morphing together as if time could just be a rubber band stretching and shrinking over and over. I hope I never forget this rubber band time in all of my rubber band years. Or Hercules.

Sydney attacks the record spines with his thumb while I stare at good ol’ Babs. The cat like eyeliner and the angles of her facial bone structure persuade me to believe she is definitely elfin. I never noticed before but now it seems so obvious.

“Do you remember what you said on my bed last night?” I say.

“Not really. Was it bad?” Sydney says. We stare at the crazy poster for awhile.

“It was heaviness about not being able to do something anymore, and then you passed out.”

“Shit, sorry, man. I came to your place after I had a huge fight with my folks.”

“Cool. I was a little concerned. Is everything fine now?”

“No, you know, but hopefully the gap is getting thinner.”

“What do you think? Elfin?” I point to Babs.

“Do Jewish Elves exist?” he says.

“Do Irish Mexicans exist?” I laugh.

Sydney disappears into the kitchen. A very soft drum beat comes from some place behind me. At first, I think it’s a record playing, but then figure out I am mistaken when I see the turntable empty. An Otis Redding album sits next to the player waiting for Sydney to return. I hope he does.

Boom. Boom-boom. Boom. Boom-boom. The drum beat is relentless but so very quiet. I follow the noise above the stacks of records and find nothing but the Dali poster. It’s mesmerizing. The colors are vibrant and the image is fascinating to me in this state.

The drum beat becomes progressively louder as I scan the perimeters of the picture. The fine lines drawn seem to be hovering a millimeter above the paper, breathing. Boom. Boom-boom. Boom. Boom-boom. The center of the picture vibrates with every beat, and as I look closer, I realize that the people in the painting are dancing to the same sound. I become infected with their primal groove.

Suddenly, I am there with them, dancing gods and goddesses, and we are so free. Flailing limbs, echoing chants, expressing ourselves with the music in our souls. I am a wild woman pounding the ground with my passionate feet, stomping the earth so it can feel my intentions and hear my cries. Each strand of my hair becomes fiery flames adorning my head like Medusa’s snakes. Sweat and passion rip off my clothes and the drum beat guides the cosmic power inside of me. I am primal fear turning into primal love.

“Hey, are you hungry?” Sydney’s voice breaks my trance like nails on a chalkboard.

“Not really.”

“You haven’t eaten all day. Your body needs nourishment, my dancing goddess.”

“You saw me dancing?”

“I saw more than that.”

“Sydney, do you think my father is looking for me?”

“Yes. Do you think my old man will relax?”

“I know he will. You just have to help open his mind.”

“Try this.” Sydney hands me a slice of a juicy pear. The flavor and texture are out of sight.

“This is the best pear I’ve ever had.” I moan.

“Yeah, man, I know.”

Many hours go by while Sydney and I lounge on the floor and stare at the ceiling together. We bounce ideas around like ping-pong mind games and toss around shared visuals like a game of catch. It’s funny and liberating and so free of expectations. I could go on forever in a world like this.

Eventually, dusk seeps in through the window, dimming our reality, and reminds us that the day keeps moving forward. Time stops for no one. Not even two red-headed freaks wearing their birthday suits.

“Will you put on your vest?” I say.

“Anything else?”

“No, just the vest.”

Sydney finds his fringed friend and puts it on like a slow strip tease in reverse. He walks with a purpose over to the Otis Redding record and slides it back into a stack, promising a loud to return to it again. A few minutes later, he pulls out a new record and turns around.

“Are you ready for this?” he points his index fingers in the air just as the first note travels through the speakers, like he controls the music with his hands. The funky melodies of ‘Hair’ fill the apartment and I am humbled and amused while watching Sydney dance around the room—the fringe swishing like extensions of his personality dangling in the effortlessness of fun.

***

I kiss Sydney on the forehead and leave him snoring like a baby in bed. I feel slightly sad to leave him before he wakes but I have too many things on my mind to let another day melt into the horizon, even if the day is accompanied by ballin’ and groovy conversation.

I walk over to Jazz and Audrey’s pad. Their apartment building is completely representative of the architecture around the city. Tall, red, and white brick walls filled with carefully crafted arches around windows and doorways that make even the passerby bums feel like royalty when they try to walk inside. Next door is a classic Tudor Revival home fully equipped with sparkling cars in the driveway and a fountain percolating in the front yard. At first glance, I think Palmer Woods might have a runaway, but then I realize it’s not quite that nice.

A tall man dressed in a fancy, gray suit with shiny, black, Ferragamo shoes closes Jazz and Audrey’s door. He nods at me and continues on his way. His class and grace is exhibited by the angle of his jaw.

“Good morning,” I knock on the door. Audrey opens it and yawns. “Who was that bourgeois white guy?”

“That white guy is my old man, sister,” Audrey says.

“Oh, sorry. Is Jazz home?”

“Yeah, she’s in bed. I’m going back to sleep. You have fun.” Audrey leaves the door open and walks back to her bedroom.

“Hey blondie!” I say.

“Huh?” Greg’s head pops out of her covers.

“Greg?” I yell.

I am totally confused. Jazz sits up like a crack of lightning. Truthfully, I don’t really care who the hell is ballin’ who around me, but don’t come knocking on my door preaching love for the person you are not ballin’. It’s just not integral, or something. I don’t know.

“Oh, Star, hey!” She bites the corner of her lip and shrugs her shoulders like she’s explaining everything by taking passive responsibility in silence. Things always just happen to her.

“Don’t sweat it, man,” Greg says.

“No, it’s cool. I thought you were into Kat,” I say.

“I am, you know,” Greg says.

“Uh huh,” I say.

“Well, ladies, I think I’m going to split so you can have some girl time,” Greg says.

Greg gets out of bed and frantically searches for his clothes. It’s sort of funny watching him hop around naked. His awkward movements make me so glad it’s not me under pressure with my genitalia swinging around.

There’s a loud knock on the door. I decide to follow Greg, and when I open the door, a beautiful black woman with a half-smile stands erect and proud on the doorstep. She does not seem lost.

“Is my daughter around?” the black woman says.

“Hi, I’m Penelope.”

“Hello, my name is Josephine. Audrey is my daughter.”

“Ma, what are you doing here this early?” Audrey yawns.

“Girl, look at your hair. There ain’t nothin’ good about it. At least he could’ve given you something,” Josephine shakes her head as she picks into Audrey’s fro.

“Woman, stop touching my hair. It’s too early.”

“Can you please ask your father for some money? I am behind on rent.”

“Yeah, ma, I’ll ask him,” Audrey says.

Josephine dusts off her outfit, nods her head, and then vanishes again. The abrupt, curt, and unfriendly encounter makes me think maybe my mother isn’t so bad after all. I suddenly feel terrible for Audrey. Imagining how she’s endured that woman all these years is so depressing. It’s no wonder she doesn’t like herself.

“I’m going back to bed,” Audrey says.

“Wow, what was that all about?” I say.

“Man, Audrey has some weird luck,” Jazz says. “Did you know she grew up in Palmer Woods? Anyway, back then her old man was a lawyer and Josephine was his maid. They had an affair for years. He finally broke it off when he married some white chick and she moved into his house. Shortly after the marriage, Josephine found out she was pregnant and wound up on their expensive doorstep with a huge belly.”

“So he left his wife?”

“Nope, the wife freaked out when Josephine came claiming his seed and they banned her from the house. After that, he met with Josephine in secrecy to give her money from time to time and to see his Audrey.”

“Her mom seems tough.”

“Yeah, if birthing a rich white man’s child in 1940’s Detroit doesn’t make you tough, I don’t know what does.”

Anyway, I’ve had enough of this drama and I’m starving, so I split. I follow my hunger pains right to a table in the Lafayette Coney Island. I’m wagering the options of a Coney hot dog or a Coney hamburger with chili cheese fries and then a heaping plate of the prospective fries floats by on a mission to another table. The steaming visual is just enough to sway my decision and go for the gold.

“Penelope?” Mr. Baxter’s voice startles me. “I didn’t know you were a Lafayette girl.”

“I guess we have more in common than we thought. How are you, Walter? It’s nice to see you.”

“I am doing fine. I come here about once a week because I’m friends with the owner. He is a good man.”

“This place has been around forever,” I say.

The Formica tables and cramped interior give it a special charisma. There’s usually some interesting characters hanging around, too. Lafayette is a townie staple.

“Have you ever been next door?” I say.

“No, no. I would never.” Mr. Baxter says. “We go to Lafayette or to American. We never go to both.”

That’s exactly how it goes around here. I’m so guilty of this cultural phenomenon that I’m pretty sure I don’t actually know one person who goes to the American Coney Island instead. Families pass their Coney loyalties down through the generations and it’s like a caste or a religion for some people.

“I noticed your car isn’t outside. May I give you a ride somewhere after our meal?” Mr. Baxter says.

I don’t know how he can talk with all the chili and cheese between us. It turns out that he likes to eat the same kind of food I do here. Mr. Baxter always surprises me with his sharpness and wit. He is more observant than most people my age and that is tragic for my generation and awesome in terms of his own health.

We look at each other and then continue devouring our messy heaps of Lafayette magic. Twenty minutes later, we are lethargic, gassy, and bloated. It’s funny and stinky and purely disgusting, of course, but we find the greatest humor in our shared flatulence. A few bombs later, our waiter comes over to the table to clear our plates. His nostrils wiggle as he processes our Lafayette stench and then he silently looks down at us in disbelief. We crack up like six year olds rebelling against the world around us, or at least, the world around the beautiful Formica tables.

“Hop right in,” he opens the car door for me.

“Do you have any children?” I say.

“I do. I have a son. He works with Berry Gordy in the music industry. I don’t see him much.”

“Oh, he sounds busy.”

“Honestly, Penelope, he was never very close to Mildred and me and, when she died, I think he took that as an opportunity to disappear.”

“I’m sorry he doesn’t appreciate you.”

“I don’t know for sure, but I think he was hooked on some kind of drug. He changed one day. The look in his eye went hollow and distant and he never returned to his old self. I always thought he was hooked on something and Mildred never wanted to believe it.”

“Forgive me, but since you bring it up, have you tried any drugs, Walter?”

“Oh, not really, but I would’ve tried some of that marijuana,” he laughs. “I just never came across it. I guess you could say I spent time with a lot of squares back then.”

“Well, you’re safe now because I am not a square,” I wink.

I step out of the car and wait on the curb until Mr. Baxter drives off into the neighborhood. When his little red car vanishes, I swivel around and walk to my home. My building isn’t nearly as glorious as Jazz’s but it’s always soothing to return to it. There are lush green vines that crawl up one side and it always looks so mystical to me.

As I approach my front door, I notice it is slightly open. Panic starts to move through my blood. Who the hell has broken into my pad? I don’t even have a weapon with me, so I push the door ever so slowly to investigate the scene. To my good luck, or not, it’s the most usual perpetrator.

“Valerie! What are you doing here?” I say.

“I am not Valerie. I am your mother.” She puts her hand on her hip. “I came over yesterday and let myself in. Where have you been?”

“Wow, mom, you really know how to respect one’s privacy.”

“I’m sorry, dear, but sometimes it gets so lonely at the house, and you know what the neighbors are like. I haven’t heard from you in a while, so I thought we could spend some quality time together.”

She is right and I am guilty. Time flies when you’re working and partying and ballin’ and dancing, but I can’t tell her any of that. At least, I don’t think I can jive with her like that. I don’t think my extra-curricular activities would pass the “Lawrence Welk” test.

“Who dropped you off?” Valerie says.

“He’s a nice regular from my work. We met at Lafayette earlier.”

“That was gracious of him, but why don’t you have your car?”

“Man, he’s in his 80’s and is still rocking the clock. I want to be like that in sixty years.”

“Penelope?”

She exudes her generation with the interrogative, full name approach. I don’t know what it is about people her age but they really know how to make a name sound unpleasant. I recoil when her voice drops into that elongated, slow tone. It’s really uncool, you know?

“Sometimes I walk places. Just because this is the motor city doesn’t mean I have to use my car every single day.”

“Well, anyway, I made some coffee if you want any.”

At this moment, all I can do is pass her and go straight for the shower. I’ve got to rinse off these old layers, and who the hell knows what was in that fountain water that I baptized myself in. Dirty wishes do exist out there. I know I make them sometimes.

I get a sudden inspiration to confront my darling mother about my mysterious father. I’ve never pressed the subject before and it’s been heavy on my mind since the bed-in. I think today is as good a day as any.

“So, Mom, why did my father leave?” I blurt out. Her eyes look as if they go to the boundaries of her memory and are unsatisfied with what they find. “I know you never want to talk about him but I feel like I’m old enough to know something now.”

“Really? Is that what those long hairs are putting into your mind?” She says the phrase ‘long hairs’ like she is talking about the plague.

“What did you say?” I get pissed.

“You heard me.”

“I don’t even know who you are right now. Leave my friends out of this.”

“Your father was selfish,” she says.

“Is he alive? Does he live in the city?”

“I haven’t seen him since he walked out of the house 25 years ago. I haven’t looked for him and he hasn’t tried to contact us once. Maybe he is dead.”

“Did you ever meet his parents?”

“No. We were supposed to but it never happened.”

“Did he have an affair?”

“Penelope! Of course not,” she squeaks. “I think I’ll be on my way now. Glad to see you, honey.”

She grabs her purse and disappears. Her timing is impeccable, of course. I don’t know why my mother has to be so boring all the time. Maybe it just comes with the job.