The Lost Weekend
Brewskie McFarland awakens to the sight of a large squid swimming past the porthole of his cabin. He knows intuitively that it's going to be a long day. He dresses quickly and makes his way to the main deck of the elegant but decrepit old luxury liner, the S.S. Providence. Neither the crew nor the other passengers seem aware or concerned that the old ship is gently settling to a watery grave. He stops a crewman and says, "Let down the life boats! The ship is going down"
"Nonsense, mate," says the crewman with a jaunty toss of his head. "Granted, she's riding a bit low, but she'll ride on up once we've eaten a bit of the groceries. Breakfast at eight. Chapel at nine. Don't miss breakfast. It's hot cross buns this morning, and our cook is the best. See you there." The crewman strides away whistling an old whaling chantey.
Riding a bit low, my ass, Brewskie thinks, and he believes he senses a subtle tilt in the deck. He looks out across the water and sees land in the distance on the western horizon. Another crewman emerges from a door. "I must see the captain at once," says Brewskie to the startled mariner.
"Captain? We don't have a captain. Think he got off at the last port. No one's sure."
"This ship is sinking," Brewskie blurts out. The crewman looks around to see if anyone has overheard them, and then puts his finger up to his lips.
"Let's not alarm the rest of the passengers," says the crewman in a whisper. "They're having such a lovely time."
"You're crazy," charges Brewskie.
"And you, sir, simply lack faith," says the crewman with a sanctimonious lift of the eyebrow. There is only one thing to do: Brewskie goes over the side and swims for the distant shore. Brewskie awakens wet with sweat and thrashing his arms. This business of awakening into a bad dream is a cruel new prank his psyche has learned. "We are obviously put out with ourselves," Brewskie says to his mischievous unconscious. "You wanna' talk about it?"
"Silly boy, you know better than that. Why don't you try some ink blots or something," replies his unconscious.
"Is this another dream?" he inquires, not really expecting a straight answer.
"It wouldn't be any fun if I told you that, now would it?" answers his unconscious with a nasty sneer. Brewskie peeks out from his sleeping bag--wooden floor with a light patina of dust, gray walls, two chairs, and a guitar case. This is Tony Brownstone's apartment, but am I really here, he wonders, and if I am really here, why am I here? Brewskie is not one of those people who awaken all at once full of life. Instead, he retraces the geological eras of evolution. Right now he's making the crossing between late lizard and early mammal. Fractured bits of dreams, memories, and things he is supposed to do drop into his mind creating a disturbing chaos of images and words.
Tony is already up and moving around. The squeal of the tea kettle joins with the sounds of traffic in the street and a lawn mower thundering between the apartment buildings to drive a spike to the center of Brewskie's head. He slips back into lizard brain to contemplate several acts of mayhem to be performed upon the operator of the mower. The phone rings and Tony walks in barefoot and to answer it. He's making arrangements, setting times and places, naming people to be called. Brewskie hauls himself up to a sitting position as Tony hangs up the phone. "What's going on?" he asks.
"Lost Weekend," says Tony.
Brewskie stands before an enormous talking rock, more like a mountain, dark and ominous. A flickering crown of lightning dances upon the summit while dark bat-like creatures flutter up and down the steep sides. "You haven't figured out your destiny yet, McFarland. You're slacking off," says the rock in thunderous tones.
"I keep having these weirdly erotic visions," says Brewskie, "and I can't make heads or tails of them."
"It's all a matter of how you look at it," replies the rock.
"What do you mean?"
"I just make cryptic, transcendental utterances; I don't explain them," rumbles the rock.
"You're about as much help as my unconscious," Brewskie grumbles.
"What?" thunders the rock.
"Nothing," answers Brewskie.
Tony orders another Kamikaze while Dudley fiddles with the flower arrangement in the middle of their table. The Liverpool Bar and Grill is noisy tonight. It's their favorite watering hole and the appointed gathering place for the Lost Weekend. Brewskie refocuses his attention to the table and tries to pick up the thread of conversation. "Where's Slim?" he asks. "Is Slim coming?"
"Forget Slim," says Dudley. "Let's call Brunhilda the Savage."
"Lost Weekend," says Tony, "but not that lost."
Slim finally arrives and they order dinner just before a massive earthquake hits. The earth splits open and they fall all the way down to Hell where they ask the guards and demons a lot of awkward and embarrassing questions like "Which way to the steam room?" "Can you turn up the air conditioner?" and "Do you give visitor passes?" Dante, the poet, finds them and leads them out of the underworld and back to Brewskie's car. They set out for the apartment of the lovely Hialeah.
Tony and Hialeah disappear into the bathroom with a ukelele. Brewskie McFarland, Dudley Snowblind, and Slim Earbob sit at the bar having a great deal of fun imagining obscene and obnoxious ways to distract Tony and Hialeah from their ukelele lesson.
"Be sure to pluck the G-string, Tony."
"What pitch did you use, man?"
"You're just stringing her along."
"Dudley wants a lesson, too, Tony."
"Tony, quit picking on her."
Dudley's anxiety about himself and the universe surges up in front of his eyes as a huge primeval hulk of organic ooze, half living and half dead. It is rearing up to its full dreadful height. It towers against the night sky, issuing terrible noxious vapors into the wind and Dudley's beleaguered sense of self-esteem. At any moment, the monster will extend its massive, putrid claw and smash his ego. The monster will make him do something dumb, revealing him before his friends as the stupid schmuck he fears himself to be. Dudley takes another shot of Jack Daniels while a blizzard gathers force in the west. Suddenly strange and unfamiliar words begin to force themselves out of his mouth, "I have a cousin who they call `Leather Lips.'"
Brewskie looks at Dudley with numb disbelief, "Leather Lips? What for?"
"`Cause he could make a trombone sound like leather," Oh my God, what am I into? Why am I making up this stupid shit? My mouth's taken over. It's possessed by demons. He feels the shadow of the huge putrid claw.
"Why would you want a trombone to sound like leather? I think the band named him that after he gave them all blow jobs," Brewskie says as he turns to talk to Slim.
Dudley takes another shot of Jack Daniels.
Brewskie is phasing in and out of a distinctly Fourth Century thing, ducking into dark alleyways to escape the Roman guards and Champions of the True Church while distributing forbidden literature to other vulnerable minds, ready like his to be poisoned and corrupted. He pulls the hood of his robe forward to obscure his face, and from within the robe retrieves a forbidden scroll of erotic heretical scriptures. He's not particular; he wants to have sex with the whole universe, Roman guards and Champions of the True Church not withstanding. It is God's will. He's sure of it now.
Slim has a new Peter Shovett tape that he insists on listening to. The dramatic audio presentation of "Einstein's Appendectomy" is removed from the player and replaced by the Peter Shovett tape. The lyrics waft in breezy Big Band chords, "She ain't no lady; she's my trained seal." Brewskie is driving, phased back into this ragged tail-end of the Twentieth Century. Brewskie likes "Einstein's Appendectomy" better than the new tape, but he's trying to be nice to Slim, because Slim is the only one in the car still showing signs of sanity. It might come in handy later on...
Fourth Century. Brewskie steps from the shadows of the alleyway completely naked and accosts the first passerby that he sees with, "God told me to have sex with you." The first passerby happens to be a burly carpenter who obliges him. This isn't what Brewskie expected and he walks home very carefully thinking, I think I'd better read that last chapter again.
Twentieth Century. Darkened city street. Brewskie knows the streets but somehow can't remember how to get anywhere on them. No one in the car can give directions worth a damn, or even focus their attention that long, so they get lost and wind up in Brazil. Head hunters with poison dart blow-guns capture them and sacrifice them to their hungry jungle gods. Their heads dry in the sun on the tips of spears. With nowhere to go and no bodies to go there with, the heads discuss the thought of William Blake from their vantage points at spear tip. With their skin darkened and dried, and heads much smaller, no one will recognize them so it will be OK. They will be spared the ordeal of having to explain how they got lost in Louisville, ended up in Brazil, and met their embarrassing demise at the hands of aboriginal headhunters. "Everything in excess," says Slim. "I love that shit. Blake really had it happening."
"Lost weekend," says Tony. After what seems like hours or days of wrong turns and block circling, they arrive at Larry's Bar, a licensed distributor of risky business and awkward situations.
"Jerry Garcia's missing a finger. That's why he can play positions that nobody else even thinks about," Dudley says and tosses down another Kamikaze. The band has been on break and the absence of ear-splitting noise has provoked Dudley to start talking again. For Brewskie, the missing finger is an intriguing notion and he lifts his eyes toward the smoke-stained plaster near the ceiling.
"Kind of like having some emptiness built into his music--like zen," he says. The band is returning from its break. The keyboard player is doing something really weird with the sound system--talking from the deepest part of his voice into over-kill reverb, saying,
"Get up. Get up on your feet. Get ready for the FUNK," and he sounds like the Devil himself.
"I don't like that. I wish he'd stop," says Hialeah, putting her hands over her ears.
Jerry Garcia walks in through the back wall. He is almost substantial. He carries his guitar. Looking holy and sanctified, he casts his fire-filled eyes around the bar and begins to play. From the empty space where his finger used to be, spring samurai warriors. They carry trays of sushi which is still alive and squirming ever so gently. The samurai wear silk baseball jackets with "NISSAN" embroidered into their backs. They begin to mingle in the crowd asking all the girls for their phone numbers.
Garcia gets uncomfortable with the whole tawdry spectacle and changes the key. Tennessee--hound dogs, moonshine liquor, and guns. Emperor Tojo lays a gray plastic pistol case on the table between Brewskie and Hialeah. She doesn't seem to realize that the efficient looking, shock absorbing case is meant for carrying a pistol but Brewskie does. Garcia is completely gone now, leaving only the ghost of the space where his finger used to be.
The wind is blowing hard now, temperature dropping like a stone. It's already colder than Ronald Reagan's heart, but there's no snow. The clouds boil in the air, twisting, dipping, crowding the earth with their gray pregnancy, but still there is no snow. Dudley's having a bad time with this. It's mid-August and there should be some snow. He's got his dog sled all hitched up and he's ready to slide, but there's not a single flake of snow in the entire Arctic Circle. The dogs are hungry, and they turn their heads toward him, leering with a hungry glint in their wolf-like eyes. Dudley is getting nervous.
Brewskie and Slim Earbob are no damned help at all. They're down on the beach sipping Pina Colada's and trying to strike up sleazy liaisons with every young woman who comes walking by (well, really they're not totally that bold--they're thinking about it every time one comes walking by and talking about it sometimes, particularly when an uncommonly attractive young lady strolls by--but they talk mostly to each other)(and dream)(and do nothing because these days it's almost more damned trouble than it's worth)(...I said almost..). Brewskie observes that they are at approximately the same spiritual and evolutionary level as salmon when it comes to mating. Slim says, "Yeah, that's what I say. Fuckit. Do it and die."
"Cheery thought," says Brewskie, but he can't distance himself from the words quickly enough and they dislodge his already faltering hold on time and place. He is the love slave of an Arabian queen in the Ninth Century. His ship is wrecked on these strange shores and the Queen's eunuchs find him and bring him to the palace where he's held prisoner in a secret boudoir where the beautiful queen, sex starved by her husband's philandering, comes to him late at night after the king drinks himself to sleep. On a veranda covered with silken pillows, bathed in the smoke of hookahs and incense, they make passionate love night after night. But one of the eunuchs betrays him. The king's guards burst into the secret boudoir and seize him. The queen is stripped and beaten with a cane rod--she is too beautiful to execute, even for this capital crime. Brewskie is taken to the dungeon where he languishes in darkness for the rest of his life dreaming only of the veranda, the incense, and the lady. (The queen, by the way, becomes fat and shrewish as she gets older. Twenty years later, she castrates the king in his sleep for the stripping and beating she had received from his guards.)
Out of the driving wind and the darkness comes Emperor Tojo with his gray plastic pistol case in hand. Emperor Tojo is a Shinto priest and he knows the secret of power over the elements. Dudley runs to Emperor Tojo and greets him with hugs and kisses. He says, "Enlightened One, you can make it snow."
"Not tonight," says the Emperor with a cryptic smile which hints at the edges of sadism. "Try me tomorrow night, at the Zero."
Dudley isn't prepared for this, and he protests, "But Celestial One, my dogs will freeze from sitting still. They're already starving and mean, and I'm not having a very good time either."
"Tomorrow night. The best I can do," says the Emperor.
"You're holding out on me, you asshole," says Dudley and the Emperor's eyes fill with angry sparkles. The dogs gnaw at their tethers. Dudley knows that they'll rip him to pieces when they get free.
"I am not, and don't call me `asshole,' asshole."
Tony and Hialeah sit down on the sand with Brewskie and Slim. "Dudley's giving me a headache," says Slim.
"Me too," says Hialeah. "He's got a problem."
"He's gonna' have two if he doesn't get out of Tojo's face," Brewskie adds. Brewskie and Slim come up with a plan. They will shanghai Dudley. With the able assistance of Hialeah, they will lure him into their banana boat, and sail for southern waters. Forget the dogs. There's plenty of beer. They get Dudley onto the ship and make it as far as the Azores, but there Dudley jumps ship and swims back to the Arctic. Brewskie and Slim follow him until the icebergs become too thick for the boat to pass. The last they see of Dudley is his distant, frostbitten form struggling off across a glacier.
Don't ask how it happens--it's just too difficult to explain--a bizarre chain of events involving keys, cars, a bat, and a blues band destined to vanish in a cloud of well-earned obscurity--but soon Brewskie and Hialeah find themselves alone in a car together with nowhere to go but her apartment. While most horny young adults might welcome such a wonderfully happenstance suspension of the rules, Brewskie and Hialeah don't. They find each other dangerously attractive, but Brewskie is still fighting off the Fourth Century thing, and Hialeah isn't sure she wants to be everybody's baby tonight.
Where the hell is Tony Brownstone? They cruise Pickertown Road, probing the shadows with their eyes, hoping that from one of them Tony and Slim might emerge. No such luck. They cruise the bars, the restaurants, the pool hall, but there is no sign of Tony.
In a parallel universe, Tony and Batman are cruising Pickertown Road looking for the Joker. They're looking for a really good joke, a joke to end all jokes, a joke that will make them laugh for the rest of the night, laugh all the way through into the early morning. Batman gets confused and makes a wrong turn. Suddenly Tony and Batman find themselves in Terra Incognita. On every corner there are guards, and Batman pulls the car over to ask directions. The guard speaks some strange foreign tongue, but it's obvious that he likes Batman's leather suit. He motions Batman to come into the alley with him, but Batman declines and roars away from the curb. The Batmobile's afterburner instantly reduces the guard to a cloud of white ash. "Got to get that thing adjusted," says Batman with a twinge of remorse.
"You don't know where we are, do you," Tony inquires.
"Of course not," snaps Batman, "We're in Terra Incognita. You're not supposed to know where you are. It wouldn't be Terra Incognita if you did."
"What good is that?" Tony asks, frustrated, and altogether unsure of Batman's driving.
"It's a soul thing," says Batman, waxing metaphysical. "It's a finding by losing sort of thing. Haven't you ever felt a need to just lose it?"
"Yeah, but not with a guy in a leather suit in some strange place where no one speaks my language."
"Everybody's ragging the suit tonight," complains Batman. Suddenly he stands on the brakes and the car screams to a stop. "If you're going to be that way, you can just GET OUT AND WALK."
Across the street, Brewskie and Hialeah watch as Tony steps out of a brown 1976 Plymouth. The collective sigh of relief is almost audible in the city street, but Brewskie thinks, Next time, I'm not going to look for him quite so hard.
There's a bar in the living room of Hialeah's apartment. There's a dainty old couch with wooden legs which looks like it will shatter into kindling if anyone sits on it. There is a gray tabby kitten who likes men. A bat in Tony's apartment is running dive-bomb patterns on Brewskie's sleeping bag. Tony and Brewskie will spend the night in Hialeah's apartment. The gods must have sent the bat...some kind of message, some kind of kinky transcendental prank. The bat has driven us here, into this awkward situation, but what could it mean? Brewskie asks in the muddled privacy of his own skull. Hialeah fetches a quilt and pillow for Brewskie and lays them on the dainty old couch. "I think you'll be comfortable there, if you're not too tall," she says.
"I am, but I could probably sleep in a trash can tonight," Brewskie says with a sigh of resignation.
"That doesn't sound like any fun at all," she replies.
At the edge of another dimension, dark primordial beings--archons, titans, gods, and who know what else--are pushing at the fragile envelope of Brewskie's consciousness. They are naked or nearly naked. These ancient beings are lusty and wanton, casting bolts of desire and passion into the frustrated human world. Their bolts of lust break like tidal waves across the mortal sphere, causing madly erotic dreams in those who sleep and unbearable longing in the wakeful. Why the damned Fourth Century? Brewskie laments secretly, Why not sometime fun, like Elizabethan England or Golden Age Greece? What did I do to deserve all of this Hermetic Gnostic crap?
Hialeah produces from her refrigerator a bedtime snack of oddly fermented grapes, Wild Turkey, and cigarettes. The three of them make a feeble stab at conversation, but Tony is distracted and dazed by his encounter with Batman. Brewskie takes his leave and retires to the rickety couch while Hialeah and Tony pile into the sumptuous king-sized bed. Lucky bastard, thinks Brewskie. Next time, I'll sure as hell not look so hard for him. He turns off the light, stretches out on the creaking couch and pulls the ancient quilt over him. A piece of flying cactus lands on his solar plexus. It's the gray tabby kitten purring, "Hey, I like you. Let's party."
"I like you, too," says Brewskie, "but you will cease and desist with the pouncing unless you want to spend the rest of the evening in the microwave." Reluctantly, the kitten settles down to a place near Brewskie's feet. Brewskie notices an odd electricity in his body. Hialeah giggles in the next room.
An especially promiscuous Mayan deity whose name and ritual have long since been forgotten hurls a bolt of lusty longing and it catches Brewskie solidly in the midsection. He hears another giggle from the next room, this one distinctly more libidinous than before. He thinks of the bugs outside singing their mating songs, and the lightning in the clouds jumping from positive to negative charge. The very grip of the earth's gravity seems suddenly erotic. The whole damned world's having sex, everything and everybody but me! I think I'm going to just keel over and die, he thinks, his psyche racked by the onslaught of his unrequited libido. The cat pounces again, but this time he's ready. He catches her and locks her in the microwave.
Suddenly he sees it all: the archons, gods, and titans all banging away to beat the band; trees, rocks, planets, and bugs all doing it in their own ways--some one has to see it. It has to be experienced to be made real. There is but one window on the universe, and he is standing in it--in a flash it all makes sense. Brewskie understands his destiny: he is the Cosmic Voyeur. This matter settled, and the cat safely tucked away in the microwave, Brewskie slips away into unconsciousness.
"Well, I figured you'd come crawling back," says his unconscious.