Listening to The Sun, Portugal the Man
My parakeet loves metal, apparently. Dude’s silent with Brahms, Zep, indie stuff, but System of a Down and Venom gets him going. In case you’re taking notes.
My latest rejection came yesterday. It was after a full manuscript request from a small publisher and it took months to get the shutdown. I was told, “There are some very good ideas here, but I didn’t find myself connecting with the characters.”
Probably no connection there because most of my characters are either stoners or racist assholes. So, I guess they never made it through Lolita.
If they’d read on beyond the conversations between brilliant stoners, maybe they’d have enjoyed this:
Flynn raised his hand for another drink, wide-eyed with the impression of the old man’s vital and imposing presence.
“Get me a shot, befo you drink this place outta every drop they got.” Gramps almost slammed his fist on the bar again but stopped himself to wince from his previous bar pounding.
Prince came on the jukebox, Let’s Go Crazy, and Flynn fell out laughing with some part of his day being absolutely absurd. “You had a dream, about Powerball. You live your life on what your dreams tell you?”
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. And I’m not sayin that dreams ain’t worked out too bad in my life.” The shots arrived but Gramps was not done talking. “This dream that woke me up? It showed me that I’d be talkin to you, Flynn. And here we are.”
After a silent toast, the two downed their shots and hoisted their shoulders, Flynn uncertain about the next steps. Leading the way, Gramps took Flynn down the elevator and led him into the dark passage beyond the cafeteria’s pantry, to where the consortium had a heavy-duty door installed. After Flynn cleared the lock, the two shuffled down the next three yards of caves to where a false wall hid fields of weed.
A stammered response was all that escaped Flynn’s lips when they arrived at the entrance of the hidden caves. “I don’t know if I can show you this.”
“Boy, ya ain’t showin me shit,” Gramps took a moment, scratched his ear, then pushed panels. The door released and slid back a few inches on its track.
Once the door was closed behind them and the two were in the anteroom—walls lined with tapestries, floors covered with Persian rugs, cushy recliners turned to arc around a large-screen television that bled cables to game controllers—Gramps whistled. “Woo. Shit. You boys livin large. Lookit whatcha got.”
“My dream and yeah, whatcha think?” Invigorated more than he’d been in months, Flynn danced in his moment of validation and the old man’s resurgence into the world.
“Ain’t been down here since Herman showed me how to work them panels. Mr. Pogo might a had reason for these caves but we never did.”
Waving Gramps onward, Flynn stepped down into the spaces beyond. “You’ll see it’s nothing like it used to be, Gramps,” his voice echoing up and down the chamber. “Space age.”
“Space age my ass,” Gramps hooted before they entered a room stacked with equipment blinking lights, screens filled with slithering graphs or images of pot plants. “This reefer you’re growin,” a finger stabbing at numerous screens. “How many acres ya’ll reckon down here?”
“About fifteen, to grow,” Flynn chuckled while waving his hand at screens filled with healthy green leaves or bud drying on clothesline. “Another couple acres where it’s just not suitable to grow or where we’re drying bud, and places where we got machines set up to run this whole scheme.”
“I’d say ya’lls schemin gotcha mo than ya need,” Gramps muttered after they left the grow’s control room and followed Flynn further into the cave’s crops. Sliding broad hands past rock as he moved from room to room, he whistled with wonder at each place they stopped.
Stepping into the middle of the Shroom Room, Flynn opened his arms and flapped his hands. “Indian Leo says this is the heart of our gardens, where the magic flows from. The only place where we can grow Powerball,” then sat on his haunches and looked at plants Leo had harvested. "Dunno if we got any bud to smoke with you, Gramps!”
Gramps knelt and snatched a branch, “What about this?” Snapping flower from a branch, he handed a fig-sized black and red bud to Flynn who sniffed it, then handed it back.
“Guess you scored, Gramps.”
After examining other fields, they arrived at Cacator Cave, took a moment to stare at the dark water, and then ambled the long and winding way back to the anteroom. There, Gramps sunk low into a cushy recliner while Flynn fiddled with the stereo and rifled through a stack of CDs. Putting on Sonny Rollins for the moment, Flynn popped the bud into a grinder, gave a few twists on the top, then dumped its contents onto a small tray. “You wanna listen to something else, Gramps?”
“Nah, I dig this cat. Good choice.” The old man slapped his knees in time to I’m an Old Cowhand. “Now… you gonna smoke with me?”
Flynn passed a pipe to Gramps. “There’s lighters in the pockets of that chair you’re sitting in. Help yourself.” Flynn walked over to the far end of the anteroom and leaned against the stone doorway leading to the gardens. “I’m not smoking any. I think you’re better off if I keep an eye on you during your trip.”
Gramps clicked the lighter, its flame flickering with the odd air currents that blew through the caves. “Boy, I’d be better off havin a rattlesnake watch me. Anyway,” then drawing fire into the contents of the bowl, he took a healthy rip from the pipe.
“You might wanna go easy on that, Gramps,” Flynn snickered from where he stood, as Gramps coughed out clouds of blue-gray smoke.
“Goddamn, that tastes like death stink.” Wiping drool from his chin, Gramps held the pipe at arm’s length and reconsidered another hit. “You tryna poison me, boy? Smoke damn near kilt me.” Whatever misgivings he might have had disappeared after taking a few more measured and cautious tokes. Once he was done, he sat up and placed the cold pipe on the table, his expression alight and jiggling. It was apparent he’d been swept into Powerball’s magic.
“Enjoy your journey, Gramps. Dunno if your dream prepared you for where you’re gonna go but the mindfuck is gonna stay with ya for the rest of your life.” With the smoke in the room dispersed, Flynn moved to Gramps and snatched the tray holding the remaining crumbles of Powerball, scattering its contents across the room’s carpets.
Turning to Flynn, Gramps’s dark eyes glistened purple with the glow of the room’s blacklight. “Takin me where I was meant to be, it seems,” his sly smile betraying no hint of fear.
In that moment, water surrounded him, black and warm, rising up from the bottoms of bare feet balanced on slick stones, gathering further up his legs, hips, stomach, chest, and shoulders, eventually overtaking him. Submerged in complete darkness, Gramps watched the remnant notes of Solitude flitter off into the void to abandon him in complete silence and stillness—no breath, no surge of blood—a void embracing and caressing him, lulling him deeper into its depths. There, even thoughts remained unspoken, unheard and nondescript within the absolute nothingness surrounding him. An eternity of blank darkness, and then a voice gently breaking through. “Papa, you’re here!”
It was Christmas.