Fresno, California, in the late summer of '75. Dusk. And hot, hot, fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot; in this simmering air, the trees lining the sidewalks droop morosely, people's skins shine, and the dogs and cats in the yards we pass are flattened like carpets; too hot to move, their bored eyes and their panting sides are all that show they're still alive.
A few blocks ago, the starter in Carrie's truck gave out. Now Carrie and Marcie and I are walking the rest of the way to our destination -- which is the Van Ness house, where Sindy lives with a changing assortment of people and where we will be able to use the phone, score some drugs, maybe get a little help with the truck or at least a ride back up to Coarsegold; Carrie and Marcie have a place there and I have invited myself for the weekend; when ex-housewife Carrie and ex-teacher Marcie found each other, they ran for the hills. Now they have no privacy at all; everyone in town visits them, trying to get away from civilization and back to nature for a bit. You never know who you'll run into; even Sindy loves it up there, when she remembers the outside world.
The cops are out and about in full force tonight; in the last three blocks, we've gotten moody stares from two passing prowl cars. A trio of gaunt and gaudy hippie-dykes, the cops' eyes say. Pre-verts, their eyes say, and obviously up to no damn good. Dis- gusting. But the Van Ness house isn't far.
While we walk, we are deep in conversation, or, rather, I am deep in conversation about -- what else? -- Life. The Big L. With the tolerance that comes from long exposure, Carrie and Marcie nod now and then, occasionally throwing out a smile or a "Yeah?" or a "Really?" while I expound, full-throated, on all my benzedrine philosophies. As the dirty white clapboard front of the Van Ness house comes into sight I stop rattling on long enough to take a breath, and in that moment Carrie turns wide, innocent eyes on me and says, "But, Frankie, don't you realize that freedom isn't any good unless it's committed to something?"
Wow! I am stopped cold. This is the kind of question that keeps me muttering busily to myself for days. It also keeps me out of other people's hair, while I search for All The Meanings. I am not swift enough to know that Carrie knows this and has just bought herself and Marcie a little peace and quiet, and so we stroll on in an amicable silence. Even when we turn into the front yard of Sindy's house, even when Sindy herself, who is all beads and bellbottoms and metaphor, who has long earth-mother hair hanging down her back, who is a young-peach seventeen -- less than half my own years -- and keeps me perpetually weak with unrequited lust, answers the door I am still chewing over Carrie's words, amazed at the vast amounts of uncommitted freedom I have, peeved that I haven't thought this esoteric thought first.
Sindy gives me a langourous hug and, though she gently slides her knee between my legs to remind me of our relative positions of lust-er and lustee, I return her hug absently, and the throbbing in my groin as I inhale her Patchouli is more a small, sweet formality than anything else. I am still Thinking. Sindy, used to my usual sweaty-palmed, falling-apart reaction to her, glances at Marcie and Carrie. Marcie shrugs. Carrie, who must have the most beautiful mouthful of teeth that I have ever seen, grins and touches my arm. "Heavy-duty conversations," she explains.
Of course. Sindy nods, her gaze pure and peaceful, her dark eyes rich with the potpourri of drugs blooming inside her like poisonous plants.
We go down the hall, past the walls hung with gods'-eyes and black and white pictures of American Indians and the big poster Sindy has done (in dayglo paint) which has the flag of Vietnam and the words GIVE TO ONE, NOT TO THIEU on it, and file into the living-room, where the air is cool and smells of incense and pot and is appropriately candle-lit and murky. There is a pound of weed laying out on a trashbag on the floor, in the process of being cleaned and cut into lids, the rolling tray and a stack of baggies next to it. Nearby is a pile of baggies already stuffed plump.
Sindy is good with her dope: buy an ounce, get an ounce, and not all cut with seeds and stems, either. Usually it would be Pink Floyd or Jethro Tull or Led Zeppelin on the stereo, but tonight Ravi Shankar is plinking out sitar music; plink-plink! Plunk.
Sindy is on a Tibetan Buddhist kick lately.
She smiles and sinks to the floor, where she sits cross- legged. Carefully avoiding the other bodies that dot the rug, Marcie and Carrie and I hasten to join her. Drawing a finger across the middle of the carpet, near her knees, she says, "You have to stay there. Over here on this side is all mine."
Harvey, Sindy's straight housemate, of whom I am viciously jealous, (although I cannot be sure that they are making it or bear thinking of her as loose enough to play that game, and yet I know, I know), sprawls on the sofa, making little, bubbly, snoring noises through his beard. Her current female lover, Sunny, is a thirty-year old road bum type, who spends her time, when she's not at Sindy's, hitch-hiking up and down the coast doing vague things that bring in a little money; right now, she is sprawled on her stomach on the floor, engrossed in a greasy deck of Tarot cards and a jug of Mountain Red. Two women I've never seen before are also there tonight, stretched out, legs entwined, feeling each other up and smiling beatifically; they do not bother to look our way. In a corner of the room, what appears to be a very large and highly-animated blue sleeping bag is hitching from side to side.
Sindy reaches across Sunny for the Mountain Red and we pass the jug around; when it gets to me, I tilt my head back and take a long swallow. Then: "What's that?" I ask un-coolly, pointing to the writhing blue bag in the corner.
She looks over at the mound and laughs. "Oh, that's just Julius. He's got a friend in there. A sailor."
I pass the jug on to someone. "What's a sailor doing running around in Fresno?"
She shrugs. "Beats me."
The folds of the bag suddenly part and Julius sticks his head into the room. Oily pimples peep like sentries from beneath the makeup caked around his cheeks and chin. Julius is sixteen and is gleefully, dangerously corrupt; wearing the face of a cherub with acne, he will rip you off in a second if he can. But he adores Sindy, whom he sees as the pretty girl he would like to be.
"Hi!" Julius says, panting, then stares at Sindy. "I am so bent out of shape!" he hisses. "I am just so mad!"
Laughing, she asks, "What's the matter?"
"Girl, I can't wake him up anymore!"
Sindy considers this for a moment. "Well, Julius," she says, "after all, he did get pretty stoned."
"So? He's just flopping around like he's dead or something. It's not fair! I don't get that many tricks!"
"Sure you do," she soothes. "You get plenty of tricks."
"I do not! I wouldn't've got him if you weren't with me in the park. Oh, this is bringing me down! Shit!"
"Here, have a taste." She passes him the wine and he takes a long, gulping drink and hands it back. "Look," she grins, placing the bottle back near Sunny's elbow, "you just keep right on going, Julie. Pretend he's awake. Make like he's paralyzed or something, and you're a nurse. It'll be fun. Kind of different. Think about it!" Mama Sindy, lightly offering someone else's lollipop to her bad baby boy.
"We-e-e-elll..." Julius chews at a fringe of nail. Suddenly he giggles. "Just call me Florence!" he cries, and dives back under the bag, which once again begins to twist and twitch.
"I read someplace that diplomacy is the art of avoiding crisis," Sindy comments, winking at us as she busies herself with the rolling tray and papers.
Marcie shakes her head. "What a trip he is." "Everything's a trip." Sindy smiles. "Wanna get high?"
This is what we're really here for. And the problems of Carrie's truck, some help, even a ride back to Coarsegold lose all their importance. Carrie says, "I thought you'd never ask!"
"I know you do, Frankie!" Sindy licks her lips and gives me a long, pussy-teasing look. "You always want to. Get high, I mean."
Snorting, Marcie pokes Carrie in the side. "Frankie always wants to!" she says, and Carrie and Sindy laugh while my face flames. Marcie and I do not like each other; never have, never will. It is uncool, however, to allow this to interfere with the fact that we travel in some of the same circles; we restrict ourselves to occasional public barbs, and to talking behind each other's backs. Besides, she is right.
So I throw Marcie a fuckyou look, and turn then to Sindy, who is now rolling a fat joint, a real bomber. "You got any whites to go with that? I'll buy." We all know my offer is a lie; Lil has helped me get into college, once I passed my GED, steering me to a program for ex-criminal types and getting me a place to live, and I am happily going to school by day, partying at night and on the weekends, and even maintaining great grades -- but I hardly ever have more than a few dollars at a time in my jeans; offering to pay Sindy for the whites, I am merely observing etiquette, not pressing my luck; though she refuses so far to let me fuck her, (and fuck is what I want to do, long and down and dirty), Sindy enjoys keeping me high. I never have to pay; when I can treat her (rarely) to a book or movie or a meal I do it to be around her, my pale bribe for her exclusive company for a while, and it has nothing to do with the dope.
Sindy glances up, and favors me with a long, long stare as she slides her tongue down the joint and expertly twists its ends shut. "Greedy lady. Sure. You can owe me." Then she laughs softly, and I marvel once again that even when she is playing games she retains the look of one who has been unspotted by the world. "I'll put it on your tab," she says. She hands Carrie the joint, and while Carrie is fumbling through her pockets for matches, Sindy pulls at a leather thong around her neck and a small pouch appears from be- neath her shirt. Lowering her head, she draws that incredible mane of strawberry hair through the thong and tosses the pouch into my lap. "Here. You guys split that up, okay?"
Carrie has fired the grass, taken a deep toke, and passed it to Sunny, who does the same. Marcie takes it next and then nudges me, but I shake my head no; this way, the joint should go to Sindy and then back to me, and I will get a second-hand taste of some of her anyway; feeble, but a bit better than nothing. Besides, I am busy with the pouch, which is still warm from her skin. Sindy does take the next toke, then leans forward, holding the joint for me, and I crane my head, knowing how transparent I am but still sucking greedily, feeling the tips of her fingers hot against my lips and drawing the smoke down past the point in my throat where it hurts.
The grass is smooth and quick; leaning back, I can already feel a buzz beginning to hit. "Wicked!" I grin, turning my attention back to the pouch in my hand as the joint starts another round, but I do note that Sunny waves her turn away with a surly "Pass it!".
The pouch is full (beautiful, sexy, generous Sindy!) of loose bennies. I pour some into a baggie for Marcie and Carrie; the lion's share I drop into my shirt pocket and button the flap. Then I remember my manners: "You want to keep any back for yourself, Sin?"
"Uh-uh. Go for it." Of course she has more; probably a keg. She drops the empty pouch, and lays the second joint she has rolled on top of it. For a moment, Sindy regards the two women on the floor, who are still feeling each other up; then, turning to face us, "We're gonna have some OJ with this," she announces, nodding.
"OJ?" Carrie asks.
"Yeah. Orange juice." She waves a slender arm. "You know. Oranges? From the trees?"
"Wow," Marcie says, leaning back on her elbows and crossing
her eyes. "What a treat."
Sindy jumps to her feet. "This OJ is!" she grins, and runs into the kitchen. The refrigerator door opens and shuts, and then a drawer, and when she comes back into the room she carries a gallon bottle sweating with cold, some Dixie cups, and a strainer. Settling down, she says, "This stuff's been stewing for a couple of days. We've been drinking on it, but I just keep adding more OJ. And more goodies. Take a look."
We all lean forward and peer into the bottle, where a thin layer swirls sluggishly on the bottom like tiny, square leaves at the bottom of an orange lake.
"In-fuckin-credible!" I whisper. I tip my head toward the two women. "That what they had?"
"Yeah. Hours and hours ago."
"Sindy." Carrie laughs. "I do thank you. My drug of choice! That's quite a bit of acid in there."
"I know. Isn't it great?" As the hostess, Sindy sets out the Dixie cups, and carefully fills each one, holding the strainer below the mouth of the jug, balancing the jug on her knees. Then she peels all the leftover sludge from the strainer with her fingernails and drops it back into the bottle, caps the bottle and gives it a good shake. "This is the best blotter-acid around in a long time, I'll have you know." She hands each of us a full cup, sets another beside Sunny, and takes a cup herself, saying, "I tried the last batch with sun tea, but the OJ's a lot better".
Sunny stares at her, then: "Shit!" Sunny grunts, throws down the Tarot cards, and stalks out of the room.
"What's with her?" I ask.
Sindy shrugs. "Who knows? Too much OJ, maybe. Too much speed. Or not enough." She giggles. "The woman never was what you'd call mellow. C'mon, cheers!"
"Juice in your eye."
The orange juice tastes bitter going down, which has to be my imagination because in 1975 LSD doesn't have any taste; it isn't stepped on and cut with all sorts of strange crap like it is now, everything from speed to minute amounts of strychinine; back then, the only variables are does it comes in blotter or windowpane or tablet form and just how strong is it, how far out can the trip take you if you're just willing to relax and go....
"I should prob'ly pour them some," Sindy whispers, jerking a thumb at the women on the floor, who are still sucking face and feeling bod; just then the women get to their shaky feet; holding hands, they stare around the room. Sindy says, "Kitchen? Bathroom? Bed?"
One of the women says, "Oh, bed. Please."
"Sure!" Sindy leaps up again. "C'mon!" she grins, winking at us, and the women follow her down the hall. When she comes back she says, "I put 'em in with Sunny. That oughta be fun!" Moments later, Sunny stomps up the hall; from the doorway, she looms above us long enough to snarl at Sindy: "If you're gonna throw me company you could at least come along yourself!" Then Sunny is out the front door, slamming it hard enough to make the house shake. And I rejoice. But when I look into Sindy's face, she stares back at me with such complete and womanly awareness of what I feel that I must turn away, embarrassed.
Marcie is cracking up at Sunny's exit. She shakes her finger at Sindy. "Bad! You're so bad!"
"Don't scold!" Carrie says, laughing her ass off. "She's just a child."
Now we are all cracking up.
Slowly, turtle-like, Julius's head and shoulders slide from the sleeping bag. His cheeks and chin are wet, his small red mouth glistens. "What's goin' on?" he asks, with a deep yawn.
Sindy shrugs, still giggling. "Sunny's pissed off, as usual. Hey, you want another taste of OJ?"
"Nah, I'm whipped. I'm gonna crash. Not out here, though!" He snickers. "I don't think the Navy'd like waking up with me, do you?"
"What are you gonna tell him?"
"Nothing. He won't remember, not for sure; he's too fucked up. We'll just say he was here with some chick he met, and when he passed out she split. It'll work fine; all I did was give him some head."
Sindy nods, and says, "Now, keep to your own space, okay?
Don't go poking around in my room. There's guests in there."
Miffed, Julius whines, "I don't poke in your room!"
"Great, fine." When he's gone, she says, "God, people're so sensitive around here." She shakes her head sadly. "People just need to be cool, mellow out. You know?"
This strikes us as deeply profound, and we all take a moment to contemplate the prospect of a world filled with cool, mellow people. On the couch, Harvey groans and rolls over, flinging an arm above his head. Coolly, mellowly, we glance at him and smile at each other. I say, "So who put the `Sin' in `Sindy'?" and she reddens, pleased. The acid is starting to kick in.
Then, from beneath the couch, Sabi, Sindy's tailless white cat, pulls herself into the room and staggers over to say hello. Sabi has spent most of her life contact-high on grass, imbibing a goodly amount of acid over that time as well; she's pretty much brain-fried, has to be reminded to eat, and kills a lot of time just lying on her side and sucking her fur. There are always raw patches on her, somewhere.
"Sabi....," I croon, leaning over to scratch under her chin, but her fur, her skin are white-hot; my fingers sizzle and though I know it's the acid I still snatch my hand back, startled.
Sabi is not interested in me; she jumps into Carrie's lap, where she curls into a ball, sucking noisily at her right paw. Carrie strokes her head, and I wonder if Carrie's fingers are burning, too; then I realize that's silly, because if they were, Carrie would stop.
Sindy begins to tell a story about Indians, about how when they had a horse they couldn't break and ride they would call it a bad pony and turn it out to spend its life running free, and I think this is a wonderful story but when she finishes and I ask her what tribes used to do this, she says she can't remember offhand, and so I know she made the story up.
Now we (they) are talking about Janis Joplin, about her total defiance of any standards but her own, and how this comes across in her music like a fist of honesty, but their lips are moving 'way too fast for their words; when the sound of one word hits my ears they are already on another word, and though I badly want to tell them about the time I saw Janis in concert at the Fillmore West (on acid then, too) and about how hundreds of people sat and lay on the floor, all of us sharing our dope and feeling the music blast into our bones and our ears and the palms of our hands, all of us mesmerized, transported, looking up at the stage while Janis waved her bottle of Southern Comfort like a banner and her heroin-soaked voice growled and moaned and screamed her soul out, it just seems like too much work to talk about anything right now so I only smile and listen and watch the mouths outrunning the words spilling into the air. I wonder what Lil is doing right now, on the other side of town, in her fine house with all her books and her music and her lover,wonder waht she will be doing until I see her next week for dinner. I wonder what Lil would be like on acid, would she hear the roots push the grass up out of the earth, would she see the bark on the trees move as it grows? The acid is buzzing through my skin, now, through my bones, between my legs. The walls of the room sway slightly and curl and lean toward each other, and I feel good, good, oh much better than before, and I reach out and push Carrie's hair away from her eyes and Marcie laughs and laughs and Sindy asks Do we want some more OJ? and of course we do so she fills our Dixie cups and we chug the cold juice down wiping our chins on our sleeves and Sindy lights another joint and we all toke up, Marcie giving a friendly pat to the sleeping bag, and the sailor inside says "Wha'?" and as this occurs I light the wrong end of my cigarette and the filter flares and melts while we laugh and laugh and Sindy stares at me and runs her pointed tongue over her teeth and I think of the Cheshire cat and soon one by one Sindy touches our faces and we open our mouths while she drops a square of acid onto each of our tongues, gentle as the priest at Holy Communion, and we suck and roll the paper around in our mouths before we swallow, the paper feeling rough and hairy, and I light another cigarette but still can't think of anything to say out loud so I start writing poems in my head which I'll never remember when I come down.
I can see the blood beating and glowing just beneath Sindy's skin.
And then Marcie turns her head and mumbles and Carrie nods and they get to their feet weaving a little, Carrie saying "Back soon" as they go outside to sit out in the yard and feel the night bat fold its wings completely about the house, while I worry that maybe Sindy wants to follow them although it doesn't matter because just then Harvey rolls off the couch onto the floor whack! but he keeps sleeping and Sabi goes flying back under the couch and it is the sailor who bursts from his covers like Neptune, wanting to know what's happening, wanting to know if it's time for a bit of the old rough-and-tough, and who are we/where the hell is he anyway?, him looking suspiciously around until he realizes he doesn't have any clothes on and goes diving for his pants but stops to check his money first, Sindy saying "Don't worry, it's all there," and he takes a short step toward us anyway with his face mean, only before he can get too rambunctious or register any thoughts about dyke and dykelet Sindy child-smiles at him and pointing to Harvey all crumpled on the floor she tells the sailor "See that dude? That's my husband and he's really going to be pissed off at you when he wakes up!" and when the big muddled sailor asks "What are you talkin' about, bitch?" lets her face cave in as if she's going to cry and then she says "Besides, I'm only seventeen!" which panics the sailor, really freaks him out, and now he is pulling on his clothes now sliding his pants up over his poor raw shriveled cock and now he is headed out the door moving fast and carrying his shoes and when he is gone Sindy laughs and laughs and says "Far out!" before she reaches for my hand and jams it between her legs, pressing my fingers into her and finally letting me feel where her jeans are wet and I close my eyes for just a moment and when I open them her jeans are somehow down and her legs have clamped around my hand and her face is streaked with sweat and this is really happening and as I slide my fingers deep inside her I notice that the hair between her legs and on her head is on fire and she whinnies with laughter, shaking her blazing mane at me, and my mouth opens in wonder while sparks trail through the air where the bad pony is tossing her incredible head, and it is so beautiful then as the shadows in the room leap for the ceiling. The shadows in the room leap up, and I am bathed and held aloft in that red light, I am given her benediction in flames.