Drooling on the Pillow

Monday, October 03, 2005


We all knew people in high school who left us behind.

I could play a little football. But in my freshman year I played with Art Thoms who went on to the NFL. Just being on the same field and measuring the difference allowed me to cross big time football off my list of aspirations.

I wasn't completely unknown to the local constabulary in my youth. But one evening in the company of a kid named Mannion made me understand that my future wouldn't be in crime, either. I was in it for a few cheap thrills. He liked hurting people and destroying things.

It was the same way with Kenny. We were among a group of friends in high school that felt the ground shift under us in the late sixties. The war, civil rights, the music, drugs. We watched, astounded, as popular culture took off like a bottle rocket and behavior that was so outside the lines as to be virtually unthinkable became simply a challange.

We responded the way a lot of kids did. We got hammered a lot and competed for Most Outrageous Flameout. At a certain point, though, I wasn't up to the challenge. I had a vision that I might actually live into my fifties and for some reason it occurred to me that if that came about I might want to be doing something else at that point. Something, I don't know, useful.

There are a lot of ways of looking at this. I like to think of it as common sense asserting itself, but those who went on to the Pharmaceutical Hall of Fame probably just thought I hit my pussy point.

Kenny had no pussy point. If you told him wood chips soaked in benzine was a righteous high, he was there. He was always mixing, stirring and preparing foul-smelling smokables he'd read about in some mimeographed stoner's bible he'd come across. Nobody else would indulge him when it came time to ingest, but somehow the stuff never killed him. You have to understand that two years earlier, Kenny had been an Eagle Scout. Sweet, intelligent, funny and kind of shy. By 1966, though, when it came to drugs, he was as out of my league as Art Thoms was in football.

He, along with Roger, another friend, took off for Haight Ashberry immediately after graduation and that was the last I saw of him.

I heard from him about twenty-five years later, though. He'd gotten my number in New York from my mother and began a series of late night phone calls that were as much theatre as anything.

The calls would last for hours. He began calling at two or three in the morning and only by instantly hanging up on him a few dozen times did I get him trained to call in the late evening. It's hard to describe those calls. One sentence would last a half an hour. He had a junky's touch of knowing when he was loosing you and switching gears. He was angry, frightened, paranoid and megalomaniacal. He was often very funny. Mostly, he was just wasted.

He had a job. Something to do with computers in Denver. At least he said he did, but he would never provide details. As long as he didn't call in the middle of the night I couldn't hang up on him. Even though we referred to him as the Uni-Phoner, somehow I felt there was going to be something at the end of this.

The purpose of his calls were usually to warn me about the revolution that was coming. "It's coming, man. This spring. You want to get out of the city now, man. That's where we're going to start." It was sentiment, on his part that he didn't want people he remembered fondly to go down in the slaughter. It was always coming, it was always going to happen in the spring, it was always going to be unfuckingbelievable and the calls went on for five years.

And then they stopped. I was never alarmed by his calls or his message because I knew Kenny and there was no harm in him. And really, a revolution led by Kenny and his friends was not something you had to get out of bed for. I kept listening to him and even sometimes wondering why he hadn't called in awhile because part of me believed he was putting me on. This was a art project. Over the course of those fifty or so calls he was painting a portrait of the age in paranoia, psychobabble and wishful thinking. It was something he would do. Then again, that was probably just wishful thinking on my part. The alternative is that he was just wasted.
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