The girls’ high-heels clattered on the slate disturbing birds as they ran ahead, hand in hand, swallowed by the darkness of the path down through the trees.
I adjusted the weight of a carton of beer, watched the tail-lights of our cab twinkle and disappear up the street. Took two steps.
A looming figure appeared from behind the fence.
Despite a stoop to his shoulders he towered above me. In the crook of his right elbow he held a large watermelon, in his left hand he clutched a walking-stick. Through my yellow Hunter S. Thompson shooting glasses and because the LSD had taken hold, he looked like an extremely tall three-legged pregnant hunchback.
—Can you help me with this melon son? he rasped at me, exuding a mist of second-hand store, damp cardboard and shaving cream.
Struggling to focus I looked at my carton of beer, then back at him.
Shaking my head I made my way down the path.
—Is this where the sex party is? he called after me.
—This is the number on the invitation dumb-ass, I say under my breath. —But not a destination for the aged.
At last year’s annual ‘Live Sex’ party we found a dead guy slumped in the neighbours garden, a pretty gay boy with blonde spiked hair and glitter on his cheeks. Someone revived him, or so I hear. The year before that a hairdresser got so wasted on drugs she began to get friendly with the household dog…sexually friendly…and the whole room looked on in disbelief. One year I was the unfortunate victim of a Red Mitsubishi – a notoriously bad batch of ecstasy tablets. Several people died, overheated, cooked inside.
The girls were at the front door arguing with a man in a police uniform, except in his utility belt was a pink water pistol. He waved a large double ended black rubber cock in their faces. —No invitations, no entry bitches, he used a mock authoritarian voice. I pushed past avoiding collision with the fairy-wings one of the girls was wearing. Struggling with the beer I handed the cop the invitations and he stepped aside, opening the door. —Keep all illegal drugs on your person at all times, in the eventuality of a raid all the contents of bags, purses and pockets is your own responsibility, he mouthed at our backs.
—Did you see that old guy with the watermelon? I said to the girls as we pushed down the hallway. —It was like a cross between Dirty Dancing and Naked Lunch!
The girls look at me blankly, not getting the references. —You know, Baby arrives to the party with a watermelon, and the guy looked like Burroughs in a dirty but dapper suit, all noble and crumbling, hobbling with a cane and shit.
My moment of insight is swallowed up by the party.
Inside the crowded toy closet a guy dressed as Zorro was holding court, entertaining the room with a story about an incident at medical school. My companions wisp away in a haze of chiffon, glowsticks and sparkles.
“So…” Zorro said, one hand on his plastic sword, “SO I say, can someone hand me the fucking drill…I’m practically a Doctor you know, I’m going in!”
The whole room falls about laughing. I needed to hear the whole story but I laugh anyway.
Zorro is holding his head high, too high, and he is clenching his jaw, drawing the air hard through his nostrils, the tell-tale signs of amphetamines. The first time I saw someone use a crack pipe was at one of these parties. Back then it was extreme, I had never seen a crack pipe before and it was produced so…casually…now the high-pitched, dull chemical stench of crystal burning above butane is part of the ambiance at most parties, nightclubs. It’s in toilet cubicles everywhere.
The crowd begins to dissipate and I make it to the bar. Next thing I know I’m on my sixth shot of tequila, contemplating my seventh. Faces are oozing in and out on the peripheries, encouraging me to the edge. I manage to bite down on my lip instead of a piece of lemon and somehow get a pinch of salt in my eye. As I bring the seventh shot to my mouth the tequila turns red and I feel faint. The bar is undulating, the tender looks like a demon cockroach, I need to piss. I stumble down the hallway, bile rising in my esophagus. Someone is wearing too much perfume. I make it to the kitchen and vomit, violently and silently, into the sink.
—That was very impressive, said a guy dressed as Dracula, complete with drawn-on hairline, —The quietest spew I’ve ever witnessed…so…clean! He chuckled to himself, busy with a small bag of white powder.
—Yeah, ha…fucking hate clichés… I thought, or maybe I said. “Keep the brain tethered…hold it down…any slippage now could be a landslide…” said Hunter S. Thompson in a book I read recently. Somewhere else in that passage he was unable to find his nose, I can still locate my nose…all is well.
Back out in the hallway a guy dressed as Cartman from South Park is painting a tuxedo jacket on a half naked girl who I am pretty sure I saw in a Coke commercial. As I pass he is sketching a red rose around her left nipple. She is giggling stupidly, making a point of not acknowledging that I exist. I trip, on purpose, over Cartman’s distended leg and the red paint he is holding splashes all over the girls white shorts. —Thanks ass-hat, he says, glaring at me. The girl fusses with the paint on her shorts, still ignoring me.
Out on the balcony, over 9000 hours later, I see him again, emerging from the sliding door, silhouetted by a clamor of voices. In place of the watermelon he is now carrying a badly made paper-mâché space helmet with NASA painted upside down.
He points at my packet of tobacco on the table. I nod.
—Do you think there is any purpose to life? he asked, rolling a cigarette.
He puts down the tobacco and looks at me over his bifocals. Earlier his face was obscured by acid and shadows. Now in the party lights on the balcony I could behold him in all his demolished splendour. His eyes had a peculiar flat gleam, like a store mannequin. He was about 90 with a prosthetic leg, peeling skin, and a face full of blasted capillaries. He loomed over me in a stinking tweed jacket, old ghost gray. As he turned his head a spectacular bristle of ear hair sparkled above enormous lobes.
He sat, creaking.
I shouldn’t have played that drinking game, not on top of the L.S.D. I struggle to lift my head, regretting already that I was about to speak, but I did anyway – a small compensation for my inability to help him earlier. I have the ability to not swear and be generally charming around old folk….my earlier attitude was the drugs…maybe.
—Depends what you mean by purpose. I hand him a box of matches, soaking up his Worzel Gummidge head.
The party continues on around us. We overhear someone asking when the live sex was supposed to happen.
—When’s the live sex? It says on here ‘live sex – late show – adults only’ and it’s fucking late now, past 3am. The girl taps the invitation impatiently on her hooker nails.
I chuckle to myself.
He struck a match, the head flew off, smoke trail like an exploded space shuttle, and landed on the table, bubbling the varnish. We both watched a moment before he bought down a gnarled old finger and extinguished it.
There was a playful scream in the house, much laughter, a small distraction.
—I guess by purpose I mean fate, he paused. —But I don’t like the world ‘fate’ so much…it’s too…fatalist. He faded out, minds tongue wrestling for an alternative twist of phrase.
A beautiful girl sashays past dressed like she is in a Jane Austen novel.
I watched the old man watching her, aiming his gaze at her arse with microscopic precision.
—There is no live sex you know, the people who host this party work in advertising…it’s just a joke! I say, laughing at him.
The people we overheard now overhear me and they fall silent, looking dismayed. I laugh at them. They glare back. The girl with the hooker nails is about to make an obscene gesture at me but I look away.
The old man sighed, slumped his shoulders, heaved his prosthetic up on a vacant chair, removed it and started to massage the stump. I try not to look but I do. I get that kick inside, like when you walk in on your grandmother in the bathtub and witness firsthand the tragedy of age.
The throb of the music stops. The whole party realises they are shouting and fall quiet in unison.
I notice Cartman and Dracula together in a corner. Dracula is showing Cartman something on his mobile phone. I worry momentarily that it might be a video of me telling the half naked girl he was painting that I thought she had ugly tits, and me screaming something profane when she looked past me and said “huh?” in response to my insult.
Into the momentary silence, feigning indifference to the amputation, I say: —Ever heard of the Butterfly Effect? You know, a Butterfly flapping its wings in a coconut tree on some far flung island can ultimately result in a tornado on the other side of the globe. Move a grain of sand on the beach and change the history of the world. That’s cause and effect, but as to whether there is any actual ‘purpose’ for the Butterfly flapping? That’s debatable.
Disturbingly, with practised care he unwinds the bandage.
A glass breaks somewhere.
—I have heard that term, the Butterfly Effect, but I never really knew what it meant. He drew heavily on his cigarette, puffing out the smoke slow. —Isn’t that the Butterfly’s purpose? To fly, eat, fuck, propagate the species, continue on…that’s a purpose…purpose is the reason …perhaps Butterflies exist to cause tornadoes? He tapped his cigarette ash into the space helmet. Aimed those faded eyes at me again.
—That’s a whole different can of sandwiches, I said, mildly irritated. The over indulgence in tequila had started to bubble up my throat, persistent waves of nausea, perspiration beading, my saliva tasted acidic. The whole day flashed back, the ecstasy table for breakfast, weed for lunch, half a bottle of Royal Muscat for dinner, to wash down the acid tab, the smell of hairspray and perfume as the girls got ready for the party, the cab headlights twinkling out like dying stars. Momentarily I think I see my future. Either I overdose and die in a garden like that glittery boy or I end up a hundred years old, peeling like an old fence, lucky if I’ve still got all my palings. Here the LSD throws up a clear vivid flashback of the boy, stretched out in a Jesus pose among the Roses, thorns biting his satin pants, silver glitter on his cheeks and in his hair…a fairy tale for the post-postmodern world. He looks peaceful, floating before my eyes.
—Why? said the old man, leaning forward, breaking into my hallucination, reaching for the matches. The vision of the boy morphs into the old man. From behind his paper-bark face the two-legged child he once was, smart pressed jacket and trousers, skipped with a mischievous grin, beams at me, a mirror of my own larrikin youth.
I resign myself to the conversation, even though his face is slipping away like a winter tide.
—Semantics, I said, rolling a ball of stray tobacco between my fingers. —For example, to say something has purpose is to assume it exists. The word ‘being’ is the problem…what exactly is being? It cannot be described, try – and you end up describing ‘doing’.
—How does the dictionary define ‘Being’? he quizzed. —I can’t say I’ve looked it up.
I thought a moment. —From memory, something, an object, an idea, or a symbol, that exists, is thought to exist, or is represented as existing.
—And how does the dictionary define ‘Exist’? he said, with a hint of challenge in his voice.
—To have actual being! I exclaimed.
I had posted an entry on my blog yesterday, the dictionary definitions appeared through the fog like a siren.
—See, we have here a classic feedback loop…nothing but assumptions. I laughed. —But fuck it, you know, Jim Morrison got it right. I heard a recording of a live concert…Jim says ‘Anyone here believe in astrology? I’m an Aquarius.’ And the crowd goes nuts, women screaming, ‘Yes Jim, oh yeah Jim, woo-hoo’, and Jim says, ‘Well, personally, I think it’s a bunch of bullshit…I just wanna get my kicks before the whole shit-house goes up in flames—yeah, alright.’
The old man laughed.
I didn’t. Any reference to Jim gives me a clear visual of my dead Brother-in-law… I miss him terribly. Dead at 21…heroin…’tryin’ the hard shit, just once brother’ he said, from far away, like he really meant he’d been using for months. I’ve met a few boys like him, half concious, beautiful, doomed, headed for oblivion. I was beginning to realise that this old man was one of the few who made it through.
A famous artist dressed as a Nazi SS General trips out onto the balcony. Momentarily he measures us up, then with eyes narrowed he staggers to the handrail, groans and vomits over the edge.
—Shit fucked me up! he gurgled at us, wiping his chin with a swastika handkerchief, disappearing back into the crowd.
The old man’s face is still, like leaves in a collage. I cannot tell if he is angry about the Gestapo costume. He scratches his chin with a sound like a beetle in a matchbox, a fine powder of dried skin floats down onto his glass of red wine. He looks at me looking and sits back dismissively. I am about to display sympathy, to explain that the guy dressed as a Nazi makes it his business to provoke people, but he cuts me off.
—Do you believe in God? A Creator? he demands.
The moment has gone. Doing my best to remain indifferent to the sudden shift in tone, I retort —Just because you believe in something doesn’t mean it’s true…the concept of the Christian god interests me because, and only because, it is a paradox. A benevolent, all forgiving god that creates a predatory food chain is a paradox. But even then, when someone knows something to be true, beyond a belief, they don’t always choose to believe…
—So you’re an Atheist? he bites back, matching my tone. —You believe that there was nothing, and then nothing magically exploded and became everything? He looked at me directly, those dead mannequin eyes now sharp as an arctic dog.
I noticed then the fervour in his voice, an evangelical conviction that is the result of having embraced a belief for a lifetime. I grew up hearing people speak like him, in tent churches and school halls after dark. Crowds of outcasts desperate for better life in death.
The LSD at this point offers up a swirl of visuals. For a moment I entertain the thought that the old guy might in fact be a bum who just wandered in. The fake cop with the pink water pistol and the dildo truncheon wasn’t much insurance against unwanted guests.
Trying to cage my voice, to shift the conversation, I said —Well, I guess science has come full circle, suggesting some sort of intelligent design…nature routinely offers up perfect things, like eggs and roses, like the Golden Ratio. Phi.
—Pie? The Golden Ratio? What’s that? Like the Bermuda Triangle? He leaned forward now, genuinely curious, curling back his lips. For the first time I notice his teeth, a row of mouldy broken tombstones.
—The Golden Ratio is what Scientists call an ‘irrational mathematical constant’. It is observable in nature. All beautiful things, things that please the eye, conform to this ratio. Some have claimed that our circadian rhythm and natural biological brainwaves can also be measured with it. Besides…’God’ is a verb.
—So you’re a fucking scientist then?! he coughed. Loud. Exaggerated.
I feign offence, crossing my arms. —I am far from being a scientist, and if you think about what I just said, I was saying that scientists have come full circle and are beginning to consider the possibility of there being a ‘god’…they euphemistically refer to this god as an ‘intelligent designer’.
At this point I feel a dull liquid click in my brain, like something parting its lips in the darkness. A scene from the film Pi directed by Darren Aronofsky plays in the space between the old man and I. It is the scene where the protagonist, a mathematical genius driven mad by his search for the elusive mathematical equation which underlies all things, drills a hole in his skull with a Black & Decker. It is a film about obsession and paranoia. A chill crawls under my skin. The old man’s life is almost over and here he is, ancient, wasted, hoping to see some porn. All around me…Humans trying to escape the human condition. I look at photographs of Hunter S. Thompson and I can see pain in his eyes, the subtext of his literature steeped in the agony of the class clown, the court jester. The classical Fool…awakens to the folly of mankind, goes mad, makes jokes to disguise his pain. I knew a philosopher once, a long time ago. He was a genius, a student of Baudrillard. We used to get drunk together and he would speak about the perversion of reality. One night we were sitting around smoking joints and he experienced a psychotic break. He suddenly screamed ‘I don’t want to die!’ leapt up from the couch and, not noticing his skins whacking into the coffee table, ran from the house. After that, for years, he was like a copy with no original. Thinking about God can be dangerous, arguing about God leads to bloodshed, war, genocide…or worse.
I snapped back as someone elbowed me as they squeezed past, the old man was fidgeting with the space helmet. —Where was I? Oh yeah… ‘god’ is a verb…have you heard of Korzybski, I mentioned him earlier…his theory of being.?
—No. Who is he? Another rockstar?
I Laugh. He doesn’t.
—No…Korzybski was a Semanticist. He said that god was never meant to be a character. God is a verb, not a noun. He identified what he called ‘a virus in language’…now days we call it a ‘thinko’.
—You’ve lost me there son, Tzatziki wasn’t a singer…brain virus’s…what’s a ‘thinko’?
—A Thinko is like a Typo…a mistake in thinking or speaking…it’s Korzybski…and not ‘brain’ virus’s, ‘language’ virus’s…a virulent sickness in thinking or speaking.
—Lost me there again mate. Do you smoke?
—You just watched me, and bummed one yourself!
—I mean weed, he said pulling out an old Log Cabin tobacco tin from somewhere deep within his smelly jacket. Unscrewing the lid he pushed the tin across the table, looking like a guilty school boy. —Roll us up one will ya son. This shit is medicinal, I use it for pain management.
I’m about to say that I don’t, that weed makes me ill, but then I realise that I’m up for anything tonight, but I do not, under any circumstances, want to share a joint with this old man. Beyond the fruity scent of the buds in the tin I was holding I could smell the moss on his teeth. Hands shaking, I vomit a little in my mouth.
At this point I swear he knew what I was thinking. —Hell, he said, roll one for yourself.
I was fumbling about trying to crumble up the weed in the breeze on the patio when he launched into a rant.
—The whole world’s going to Jim Morrison’s shit-house you know…he was right…I was a big fan…still am I guess. The end of an empire is what we are witnessing. Just look at history, all the great civilisations had the same symptoms, just before the end…moral decay, perversion everywhere, child abuse spreading like it’s a bloody virus…mark my words son…the last generation in the world as we know it has already been born.
I contemplate his tirade, handing him a clumsy looking joint. While he’s lighting it I steal a bud for later.
A telephone rang inside the house, warbled, struggling to be heard above the music and cacophony of inebriated voices. The old man, disturbed by the ringing, reached under the table bringing his prosthetic limb back into view.
I notice the artificial pink shin is chipped. A blush of unusual guilt flowered for a moment.
I screw the lid back on the tin of buds and slide it back across the table.
About a dozen people suddenly push out onto the balcony, a guy dressed as Merlin pretends to slam his beard in the sliding door, laughter all around.
—Mate, he said, strapping up his stump, fussing with the Velcro. —I tell you what, I’m headed for my first century and I’ve worked some shit out. What would you say…I mean, you seem like you’re open to new ideas..what would you say if I told you that I know the secret of life?
—I’d get up and leave, I said, rising.
© Brentley Frazer 2010