The Bohemian Experiment

The Lost City

Posted by beckert10 on June 20, 2009

Namibia 330

“The drugs! Ditch the drugs! He’s coming!”
I chuck cans of beer into the brackish water, seize Pete’s bag and prepare to throw it as well.
“What are you doing man? Take it easy!”
“You goddamn hippy! This is your fault!”
Hunter has no reaction. He expressionlessly pilots the boat via his position in the back next to the outboard motor. We’re in the middle of a small lake that the river we navigated down empties into.
“Head for that bank captain, it’s our only hope! No, fuck that, let’s swim for it!”
I’m about ready to plunge into the bayou water when all I can see are alligators, snakes and snapping turtles writhing just below the surface.
“Ahhh! Look at them all!”
I snatch the bag again and rear back, ready to fling it, but Pete grabs my arm. I stumble and the boat tips dangerously. In the distance the other craft is steadily closing in. I’m not sure if a lake of vicious reptiles or a backwoods marine patrolman is a worse fate. I imagine him docked beside us, a toothpick hanging out of his mouth, an unblinking stare hidden behind insect-like reflective shades. He spits a big wad of tobacco and slurps up the spittle from his lips, drawling, “Let me see some ID boys.” As I hand him my New Hampshire driver’s license he says, “So, a Yankee hmm? We don’t much care for your kind round here.” He tilts his shades down and his gaze sizes up the unregistered boat littered with beer cans. “Well, looks like we’ve got ourselves a little party here.” He then proceeds to search Pete’s bag and as he pulls out the weed, mushrooms and prescription opiates he shakes his head and makes a sort of clicking sound with his mouth. The next image is vague but I can make out Mr. John Q here with a Confederate flag draped around his naked body while indistinct banjo music plays in the background. He directs a collection of potbellied, gap-toothed men lined up behind me, preparing to deliver a proper Southern welcome. Pete slowly rotates over a spit with an apple in his mouth and a cucumber hanging out of his ass. Hunter sits off to the side staring at us with the same blank look.
Seized by terror I abandon all hope, slump down to a sitting position and cover my eyes, thinking if I don’t look at the boat creeping ever closer that this nightmare will somehow end.

“Hah ha! Man, you’re a riot!”
You fat buffoon. I wasn’t trying to be funny.
I close my eyes and pretend to sleep but he keeps right on. “I think I’m most excited to see the Boss. I tell you man, wait until you see him live.”
My first mistake was establishing a common bond with this man. I should have told him I’m a traveling abortionist who specializes in extreme late-term procedures en route to Baton Rouge, that I first found my calling in baby-killing after tagging along with my father to a neo-Nazi rally at the age of seven. But even that probably would have earned a slap on the back and a hearty guffaw. Instead, I admitted that, like him, I was bound for Jazz Festival in New Orleans and for the past three hours he hasn’t shut up. He hits the call button and when the stewardess comes over he orders two Jack Daniels. She comes back with the small bottles and he offers one to me. “Cheers, brother. Here’s to Jazz Fest.”
Damn you and your meaty calves. Only one and a half more hours.
At half past two the planes’ wheels skip and squeal as they rejoin with the ground in New Orleans. “Yeah buddy, we made it!” he says.
No, you made it without me fashioning a shank out of airline cutlery and plunging it into your folded neck.
As I exit the plane I bolt down the corridor. “Hey buddy, wait up,” he shouts.
“Got to piss bad, man, I’ve got gonorrhea!” I yell over my shoulder.
At the baggage carousel I pray my suitcase appears quickly. While I’m waiting I call Hunter and tell him to pick me up at Terminal B. I see my suitcase drop onto the conveyer and at the same moment feel a familiar meaty paw on my back. “Have a good piss buddy? How about swapping numbers? Maybe we can meet up this weekend.”
“Well, I don’t have a phone. It’s forbidden by my church. I’m a sect of Amish.”
Hunter’s truck lurches to a stop outside. My bag is within reach. In one movement I grab it and sprint towards the door.
“Buddy, hey buddy!” he calls and starts chasing after me. I run through the automatic doors and try the truck’s handle. “Open it damn you!” I scream. Hunter reaches over and lifts the lock. As I open the door a mass of empty beer bottles spills out onto the curb. I look over my shoulder. He’s coming. “Hey pal, at least take my number!”
“Drive man! Drive!”
As we squeal away Hunter asks, “Who the hell was that?”
“A true psychopath…a Nazi abortionist of some kind. Never mind him, though, how the hell are you?”

Inside the apartment I drop my suitcase on the floor and survey my home for the next few days. The only things in the living room are a weight bench and boxes stacked up against the wall.
“Home sweet home,” says Hunter, extending his arm like a game show hostess presenting a prize. He walks through the kitchen and into this bedroom where the décor is much the same as the living room except there’s a mattress on the floor with a bag of moldy shredded cheese on it. He kicks it to the side and flops down.
“You call this a home?” I say. “I’d be better off sleeping at the bus station. There at least better be some drugs in this den of squalor.”
Hunter pulls out a cloth bag from under the mattress and takes out bottles of oxycontin, percocet and adderol. He taps out one of each into his hand and swallows them. I do the same. “How did you get these?” I ask him. “What sort of scheme do you have going you degenerate?”
“I have a passport to an unlimited cocktail of prescription delights.” he says.
He digs through the cloth bag but comes up empty handed. “What the fuck? Where is it?”
“Where’s what?”
“IT man, the holy grail! He frantically searches under the mattress. “This is bad. Look for a little yellow notepad!” He jumps up and starts rifling through boxes, throwing things around the room. I hear him cursing as he opens up drawers in the kitchen then moves into the living room and goes through the boxes in there.
Thirty minutes later it looks like a small tornado touched down inside the apartment. Hunter sits on the edge of the weight bench with a serious look. “Luckily I have a backup plan. I hate to drag you into this but it will make things easier.”
“What? Talk sense man.”
“I’ll explain on the way over. Mount up!”

The composition of the neighborhoods slowly changes from run-down government housing to family homes until we’re on a street with tall, Victorian style houses. We pull up outside of a particularly well-maintained white one.
“Now remember, my grandparents are respectable folks, real southern gentry. None of your Yankee candor.” Hunter says.
As we approach the gate an older woman emerges wearing dirt stained pants and a broad rimmed hat. Hunter’s demeanor changes to that of a charming grandson and he greets her with a big smile and a hug. He introduces me and I try my best to look god-fearing.
“To what do we owe the occasion of this unexpected visit?”
“Well, we were in the neighborhood and I thought we could borrow your air mattress for my friend here.”
“Of course. Come inside, I’ll put some water on for tea.”
We follow her into the kitchen. She puts the kettle on and leaves the room.
Hunter hisses at me: “I’ve got to get up there alone. Keep them talking so I have time to look.” He runs up the stairs. His grandmother comes back in the room leading her frail looking husband. She speaks slowly and loudly to him. “Richard, Hunter’s brought a friend. Say hello.” I smile and he gives me a curious look. The men sit while she arranges a platter with cups, saucers and biscuits. The old man is staring at me. “You have a beautiful home,” I say.
“Look at all this celebration,” he says. “Just say yes yes.”
“Yes yes,” I reply with some hesitation.
There is a photo of him on the wall as a younger man dressed in physician robes. The grandmother sits and I pour both of them a cup of tea. The old man places a hand on my arm. “I’ve got it,” he says.
“Yes, you do.” I say. “I can see that. So, New Orleans is lovely.”
“We’ve lived here our entire lives,” his grandmother says. “Though after this last storm I have to confess we’re a little spooked. Richard, will you pass the milk please?” “What?” he says turning his gaze to me. “It was him? He did it?”
“Sorry dear,” she says. “I’m afraid he’s quite confused these days.” The old man is eyeing me.
“That’s quite a garden you’ve got out there,” I say.
“Thank you,” she says. “It’s my pride and joy.”
“Niggers,” the old man says.
“Richard, please don’t use that kind of language.”
“Goddamn spooks!”
“Richard, stop it! I’m terribly sorry. How long will you be staying in New Orleans?”
“About four days.”
“Bastards!” He grabs my hand. He may look frail but his grip is strong. “It’s them you know.” he says. “They’ve done it.”
“Yes, probably,” I say.
“I wonder what’s taking Hunter so long? Maybe I should go give him a hand.”
“I was actually hoping we could take a walk in the garden. I’d love to see it.”
“Yes, of course. Some fresh air might be good for Richard.”
We take our cups of tea and step out into the warm afternoon sunshine. She leads her husband by the arm and he eyes things suspiciously. He picks up a trowel and says, “They’ve done it. Did you know that?” I nod my head in agreement. As we’re inspecting a bed of marigolds the old man trips and lands face first in the soil. He kicks his legs and yells, “Look what they did!” His wife attempts to calm him but he’s thrashing and yelling racial obscenities. I try to help him up and he screams at me, “You! You’re one!” We manage to get him back on his feet and inside the house but he’s still wound up. Amidst the chaos Hunter comes down the stairs with a blue folded air mattress asking, “What happened?” His grandmother explains and they take him into the next room. After the confusion has settled she apologizes profusely. Hunter explains we should go so that the old man can calm down.
“Son of a bitch!” he yells from the other room.
We say goodbye and as we pull away Hunter says, “Good work sir, that was perfect,” and slaps a fresh prescription pad onto my crotch.

An hour later we’re back at his place with a small arsenal of pills. We ingest a mouthful of various painkillers and I begin inflating my bed.
“So, when is this buddy of yours arriving?” says Hunter.
“He’s supposed to be here about 5:30,” I say.
“And he’s bringing the stuff right?”
“Don’t worry. He’ll come through.”
The previous week I’d finished work at a seasonal job and decided on Jazz Festival as a reward for myself. A guy I’d worked with was driving from Colorado to Austin, Texas where after briefly visiting his family and securing a bounty of psychedelics he would proceed on to New Orleans. It’s Friday. The plan is to check the music out for two days. Hunter has prepared something special for Monday, something he’s still keeping a secret. He changes into work clothes and goes outside to do a few things. With my bed blown up I sink down into it with the beginning of a buzz creeping over my body. I bask in the perfection of the next few days until sleep vaults me into a realm of opium dreams.

I awake about two hours later to Hunter poking me with a pair of long garden shears. “Up, you lazy bastard,” he says. I rub the sleep out of my eyes and sit up. Hunter is wearing a t-shirt that reads, ‘Somebody Should Have Aborted Pat Robertson’ “What time is it?” I say.
“Five o’clock. I took the liberty of answering your phone. This Pete will be here soon. We’ve got to go meet him.”
I stand up and work my way back into reality. Hunter is in the kitchen grinding up pills. “This ought to wake you up,” he says and whiffs a thick line. Almost immediately he doubles over in pain screaming. He staggers into his bedroom and collapses on the mattress holding his head. “Are you alright?” I ask over and over but no answer. Finally he sits up and shakes his head. “Your turn,” he says. “The hell with that,” I say. “Just grind it up a bit more. It’s too thick.” he says. I follow his instructions and snort a line. Right away I too am in agony. I curl up on the floor and all I can see is a red blur. As I’m laying there I think that my entire life thus far has lead up to this moment. The sum total of my choices has gotten me here, writhing in pain on a filthy carpet after snorting an unknown powder. I’m convinced I will die. I can see a newspaper headline reading: “Yankee tourist found dead from drug overdose; Locals rejoice.” Hunter is patting me on the back, shouting “Arms up!” I blow my nose on my shirt and a clot of powder and blood comes out. As the pain at last recedes I stagger to my feet like a fighter trying to beat a standing ten count.
“Ah ha,” says Hunter. “We didn’t remove the time release plastic coating.” This explains why it felt like broken glass had shot into my brain stem. He peels the covering off of fresh pills and we repeat the procedure only this time instead of pain there’s an instant rush of pleasure and a bitter post-nasal drip. Sufficiently medicated, we set off to meet Pete.

“Where the fuck is this guy,” shouts Hunter, digging at his skin. After the initial euphoria of oxycontin wears off it is occasionally followed by extreme itchiness and irritability. Hunter is in the grips of a powerful fit. I phone Pete and get the intersection where he’s parked. What kind of idiot waits there?” screams Hunter and he snatches the phone out of my hand. “Listen up. Where you’re at, that’s bullshit. Drive up until you see Church Street and meet us on the corner of Fourth.” He hangs up and throws the phone back at me. “Relax man,” I say. “Remember your manners or he might just take his drugs and bail.”
“Yes, the drugs” he hisses, whipping down a side street and nearly running down a pedestrian.
Up ahead is Pete’s green truck and we pull along side it. When I introduce Hunter he mumbles something and scratches at his skin like a flea-bitten dog. In mid conversation he starts revving the engine loudly then pulls away, not even waiting to see if Pete is following.
Back at his place Hunter gives the grand tour by saying, “Shitter’s in there and here’s where you sleep,” pointing at the floor. “We can take turns with the air mattress,” I say, trying to assure him a little. Surely he didn’t anticipate a madman twitching and scratching himself raw at the end of his thousand mile journey. I see doubt in his eyes as he looks around the disheveled apartment, at the blood and mucus stained t-shirt and the remains of powder next to a rolled up bill. Hunter disappears into his room and locks the door. Creedence’s ‘Born in the Bayou’ begins blaring. “Only one thing left to do,” says Pete, and he quickly spins up a massive cone joint. After taking a hit I walk over to Hunter’s door and knock. It opens a crack. “Hit this man,” I whisper. “Take it easy. You’re scaring this good-natured oaf. He’s not like us. He’s happy. He doesn’t appreciate the finer points of an anti-social rage. Straighten yourself out!” The joint disappears into the crack for a moment then he hands it back and shuts the door.

The next morning we’re up by seven and hard into the rum by eight. Pete has a couple of drinks but seems content to sit back quietly and puff away at the incredibly large bag of dope while Hunter and I jabber in the kitchen, every once in a while one of us reaching down to pour a stiff drink or grind up a pill, take a line, and pass the sniffing straw to the other.
“Nothing has changed. Human history is just the continual reorganization of the power structure but the general format remains the same. As far back as the first civilizations there were slaves and people are still slaves.”
“But people today earn a salary and enjoy personal freedoms. How do you account for that?”
“As I said, it’s merely a different form of slavery. What man actually has any freedom? He is owned by the necessity of work. Men are helpless without society. Those who own the means of production know people must work in order to afford a life of comfort. If one wishes to avoid complete alienation from society he must trade his free time for wages.”
“But shouldn’t all people contribute something to a society if they wish to reap its benefits?”
“Yes, but how many are contributing anything but keeping the system in motion? Progress, men call it, but it’s really more of the same: a few with the power, the rest struggling to just maintain a lifestyle that keeps them above the level of an animal.”
And so on.
We arrive at the grounds by eleven, swallow a brave amount of cubensis, and head inside.
Our first stop is the Jazz Tent where Herbie Hancock has just begun his set. Hunter shoves to the front of the crowd while Pete and I hang to the back. About halfway through “Cantaloupe Island” the trip hits me hard. I think something like: I’m the funniest man in the crowd. My talent is going grossly underappreciated. “Not a morsel of humor among them,” I declare to Pete. “We’re wasting our time.” I make a move towards the exit and he follows. As we wander through the grounds and pass different stages I can feel the different music like one would temperature. An acoustic blues band feels too cold. I don’t like the feel of a Zydeco ensemble either. We pass an instrumental jam band playing a cover of, “When the Levee Breaks,” which feels perfectly temperate and I flop down on the grass among the crowd.
While I’m sitting there enjoying the tunes a drunk stumbles and nearly lands in my lap. “Whooo!” he yells. I’m paralyzed. It never occurred to me that I’d have to protect this plot. “No trespassers,” I say firmly. I look around, suddenly aware of all the rival males. “Of course,” I think. “This is prime territory. Resource competition is the key issue of the twenty first century.” A man dances with his shirt off, coming dangerously close to the square I’ve carved into the dirt around us. I growl and bare my teeth. “Come on man,” I say to Pete. “You’ve got to help. There’s too many of them for me to take alone.” He laughs uneasily and turns back to the stage. “He’s too far left,” I think. “An idealist. He couldn’t appreciate a real world problem such as resource scarcity.”
Luckily, before I have to prove my worth in physical combat, Pete suggests we go check out Bob Dylan. I follow him and we squeeze to the front of the crowd. Up on stage Dylan looks old and skeletal. An aging hippy in front of me wears a shirt with a young Dylan, bright-eyed and curly haired, who rode to fame a wave that change was in the air, a time when it looked like maybe, just maybe, people could change the world. But then, one by one they awoke to the bleak realization that beyond their indulgent circles the world was carrying on as it always had. Those with power were doing as they pleased, waging wars and creating misery while the rest tried to hang on to a scrap of human dignity.
That same hope is a marketing tactic now. It’s used to sell t-shirts and concert tickets but nobody actually believes it anymore. Hope and change are retro hip. I’m standing in post-Katrina New Orleans, a city in ruins which seems to foreshadow the future of the entire planet. A lost city one day. A lost world another. “Oh my god,” I think. “We are Atlantis. The lost world is our own.” I grab Pete’s arm and say to him, “It’s a symbol. Atlantis is Earth. That fabled lost place is our planet!” He can’t hear me and nods his head to the tunes and as I look around almost every head is bobbing up and down as if in agreement that yes, the world is well on its way to obliteration. I think of Charlton Heston in “Planet of the Apes” pounding the sand shouting, “Damn you all to hell!” and as I look over the crowd nodding mindlessly the phrase plays over and over again in my head.

It’s now around 3:00 and we head over to check out Springsteen on the East stage. During the walk Hunter explains the singer’s appeal.
“Springsteen is just a blue collar guy from Jersey. He puts in a day of song writing or performs a concert in the same way a factory worker punches a clock. Good old-fashioned hard work. His music is written for the average person, weaving tales of everyday life. The people in his songs have common names, Mary, for instance, someone just like us, struggling just like us.”
Even from a hundred meters away I can feel the energy pouring out of him as he runs across the stage dripping sweat. The musicians are an extension of him, playing tubas, trombones, accordions, working the burdensome instruments, earning every bit of sound that comes out. They begin to play a cover of the old song, “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep.” “This is for you, New Orleans,” the Boss announces before launching into the ballad. “Pharaoh’s army got drowned, oh Mary don’t you weep.” he sings. The song’s message is clear. A trademark of humankind is degradation at the hands of their fellow man. The only consolation may be the fact that it is universally true.
Roaming down Bourbon Street later that night reveals that it is compensated for in another way. I realize it as we pass in and out of the neon-splattered haunts, bar to bar, band to band, new friend to new friend. The hum on Bourbon Street at night, of a festival, of clinking glasses and guitar riffs, raunchy rock music and greasy food stands, dank alleyways, the smell of sex and cigarettes and shit, is catharsis.
I’m sitting at a bar, stooped over a glass of whisky. I feel a hand on my back. It’s the man from the plane. Now, I accept him with a grin and a toast. We are brothers taking up arms in the dark, sad night.
The next morning Hunter and I are in no mood to return to the concert grounds. We stayed up until well after the sun had risen trying to gain release from the futility of being a man. The dawn of a new day holds no promise of reconciliation with our frustrations, only a grim stubbornness to not die this day.
Pete goes alone to the festival. Hunter and I go for what he calls, ‘The Armageddon Tour’, a drive through the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. We drive through block after block of abandoned houses. On the front lawn of each are piles of destroyed goods. The front doors are spray-painted with a mark that labels them condemned. It is haunting to drive through once-bustling neighborhoods that now lie in ruin. The silence holds phantom sounds of human activity.
One of the houses bears an uncanny resemblance to a fraternity house from my university. On Sunday mornings it displayed the signs of a weekend of reckless abandonment. Broken furniture littered the front lawn. Beer cans and other garbage lay in piles. A person or two wandered wraith-like over the grounds, as if in disbelief of the wreckage. That same incredulity is expressed on Hunter and my faces. Here, it looks like the aftermath of the most outrageous bender of all time, of a mad pursuit for pleasure turned to hopeless destruction.

Pete returns from the show all smiles. We ignore him, staying in Hunter’s room, lamenting the fatalistic doom of mankind. We stay up all night, tearing through pill after pill, bottle after bottle. At one point I raid Pete’s bag for shrooms and pot. I creep up next to his sleeping body and grab for the goods. As I do he wakes up. We make eye contact and hold it as if in a duel. He gives in, rolling onto his side wordlessly.
In the morning Hunter reveals his surprise. He’s taking us boating. While he picks up the craft I cut Pete’s hair in the parking lot. He sits in a chair and I run the clippers over his head. Blonde hair comes off in chunks like a lamb’s fleece. Doing my best to ensure he’s perfectly streamlined is the closest I come to apologizing.
Hunter returns with a 15 foot flat-bottomed boat with an outboard motor. We drive southeast, leaving the New Orleans city limits and entering the bayou. We stop for gas in a small town. A group of men drink coffee and exchange gossip around their trucks. It is a snapshot of mankind’s stubborn march to death.
After about an hour we arrive at the boat launch. The prospect of a trip down the river eases the tension between us. The launch into the water unites our life in a purpose.
To aid in our effort we take a heroic dose of mushrooms
We’re three men making one more desperate push towards an existential reprieve.
We’re three men leaving our happiness to the mere chance of a chemical reaction.
The first wave of the journey is chummy and amiable. We laugh over the weekend’s exploits. Unspoken forgiveness hangs in the air. Birds swoop all around the boat. Fish leap out of the water. Turtles and alligators drop from their rocky perches into the river. Nature, while brutish, at least leaves a man with his dignity in tact.
We’re safe for now.
The temporary peace comes crashing down as we drift through a river shantytown. People flying confederate flags stare at us from their docks. I’m certain they can spot us as outsiders. It’s only a matter of time before an angry flotilla is giving chase. Then, we pass him. He’s docked in front of a house talking to someone. As we pass by he has more than ample time to appraise the unregistered boat and its nervous, googly-eyed passengers.
The psychedelic dark side is the event horizon of a black hole. The terror that seizes my heart is too powerful to pull back from. Hunter refuses to speak, ignoring my pleading to turn around, speed up; anything.
We’re sitting ducks.
We’re men seeking pleasure while being pursued by forces that seek to oppress them.
But then, something happens, or rather, doesn’t happen. The patrolman, about fifty meters away, turns his boat around and heads back up the river. We’ve been spared. However, the terror does not go away. The resin of fear lingers long after its source is removed. Pete and I join Hunter in silence on the return voyage, indeed, all the way back to the apartment. Once home Hunter retires to his room and I go for a walk around the block to try and clear my head. When I return Pete’s truck is gone. Inside, I find his bag missing. The only trace of him is a tuft of yellow hair blowing across the parking lot like straw-spun tumbleweed. I never hear from him again.

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