I have this strange feeling that I’m not myself anymore. It’s hard to put into words, but I guess it’s like I was fast asleep, and someone came, disassembled me, and hurriedly put me back together again. That sort of feeling.
It has been an interesting few days break, seeing family and old friends. One of my old buddies, Kenny has been in town. I finally went to see him last night, he and Saul were out in the next town over, a place we all grew up. One of those sleepy little towns sandwiched between the city and the tourist destination areas. It itself isn’t a destination, just little place that cropped up feeding the ever growing need for housing for those who couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices of the city life or the inflated market of the neighboring resort towns. Inhabited largely by retirees, old hippies, and those that worked in the city and resort towns, but either preferred a quieter life, or just couldn’t justify the price tag of living closer to work. Most of the young people from this town grew up and went off to college and to jobs far away, few returned. That said, the night life was practically non-existent in this town compared to the raucous and upscale scene of the city with its population of working professionals and university students, or the laid back bar scene you’d find twenty miles down the road at the closest destination spot. The few dining establishments were rolled up along with the pavement by 9 pm here, as the street lamps and gas station signs winked out not long after.
There were two bars here, about a block from a little dock where the sheltered sea-water sloshed calmly, sitting among rows of ordinary looking homes. In one you’d find the regular drunks who’d been at it for untold years, like their respective barstools had sprouted gnarled roots and entertwined their bodies till you couldn’t tell where the patron ended and the stool began. The other was a nicer place by appearances, it served craft beer at ridiculous prices and had a nice patio. The patrons seemed to be those poor young souls who, through ineptitude or more likely some cruel twist of fate had failed to make it out in the real world, and were vomited up on that shore a block away, and still dripping, sat down at the bar here to order at what may as well have been the end of the world. They generally had come crawling back to their parents, or found a small rundown apartment they shared with two or three roommates trapped in similar circumstances.
Kenny and Saul fit in well with the crowd: only three other patrons sitting huddled around a table on the patio in a cloud of cigarette and marijuana smoke, wearing ill-fitting hoodies and jeans. Not to say I don’t think well of my friends, I do actually, I love these men like brothers. But, life, the fuckin’ bitch, hadn’t been kind to them in many ways. I wasn’t surprised that Kenny had a new dog he’d brought along, a cute shaggy mutt. Also, he’d grown some outlandish facial hair, and wore a coat that looked like it belonged to a 60’s drug dealer. Honestly, you’d never imagine this was the same lanky kid who would only stay home and play video games in high school. He and Saul were pretty hammered when I arrived, pulling up to the place in my wife’s SUV baby-hauler. I wasn’t quite prepared for the exuberance of their welcome, yelling at me from across the patio and squeezing the life out of me with their embrace.
In any case, I’m glad Kenny’s life seems to be on the up and up. His cannabis growing operation a few hours away is having a bumper crop and Saul’s even been lending a hand on the farm from time to time. He showed me pictures of his plants, and I showed him pictures of my son. After a couple of beers at the bar, we sat out on the patio and smoked a bowl, eventually merging our party with the three sitting out there. Unsurprisingly, for a small town, we went to high school with one of them, a girl. She only recognized me at first, but she remembered my two friends after their names came up. Her and her girlfriend (I assumed lesbian lover by the looks of things) and their third-wheel guy friend joined our circle as we passed Kenny’s elaborately twisted hand-blown glass pipe filled with his fresh crop, burning its pungent fragrance. Of course, my job and family were favored topics. Nobody from high school ever seems to believe that I had either, at least at first. After we get through with me, nobody seems to want to continue those lines of discussion from their personal perspective, so we move onto more appropriate stoner discussion such as fate, mystical energy fields, achieving world peace, and facts gleaned from nature TV shows. I hadn’t smoked pot in probably 4, 5 years? I pulled out a cigar, cut the cap and lit the other end, had to mask the smell of marijuana before I headed home. The wife could abide the occasional cigar or pipe tobacco, she even thought it somewhat dignified, but she had made it pretty clear that pot was off limits under any circumstances (she was afraid of the reifer madness). Kenny packed another bowl and the circle continued as I blew my own puffs of white smoke that gave off a leathery-earthen scent against the background of the pungent herb.
The outdoor lights switched off as the bar closed down (around half past 10 pm), the owner and his bartender-employee locked the door behind them and joined the circle for a couple of hits before telling us to stay as long as we want as they walked off to their cars. The fog had rolled in and no stars or moon could be seen in the sky. Practically pitch dark, and the bar at the world’s end had closed for the night, the little light came from the smoldering red embers of Kenny’s pipe and my cigar, and the occasional glow of someone’s smartphone screen. I don’t really recall much of the conversation at this point, soon Saul and Kenny and I were left alone as the other three walked off into the darkness. As I finished my cigar, I was tempted to tell my two friends what I’d been up to lately, what was new in my life. Probably would be harmless, besides the fact that I don’t think either of these men would ever betray me, they also had no connection to the circles I now ran in. Besides my wife thought Kenny was an idiot, though she did have some affection for Saul, in a lost puppy sort of way. But, I didn’t want to complicate matters. The conversation remained safe and innocent, and shortly thereafter, I put out my cigar, said my goodbyes and was on my way home.
As I drove home, I put David Bowie on. I’m not sure if it was because I was mildly high, but I felt strange, like I had been fragmented so many times at this point that I hardly knew who I was, but it was effortless, the appropriate mask and role coming out naturally and seamlessly as needed. Seems that when I’m driving alone is the only time all the masks are off. Could I know that? Was I even me to me? There was the shy awkward boy who just left his childhood friends at a bar, there was the guy who goes to work every day and is a dedicated Christian husband and father, then there is the guy who is fucking and hanging out with some girl who was ten years younger. Which one of these men am I? I couldn’t recognize myself anymore.
I remember when I was in high school and college, I used to drive around all the time. I’d be listening to some glam-rock like Queen or Bowie, I’d come rumbling up to a stop light in my beat up old car, when the light turned green I’d accelerate smoothly, I’d turn up the stereo to blasting after I dropped her into second, and would listen to the smooth climb of the engine RPM’s and the world would streak by faster and faster. Gear by gear, as I would reach the final gear I’d just imagine that the RPM’s would keep climbing until they blended into a soft white noise and the world would blur past as the car’s wheels lifted off the ground as I reached the speed of light. Silly I know, but it was a freeing fantasy, like I could go so fast I could outrun all of my problems and fears. Finally, I let off the accelerator and put on my turn signal, the SUV’s motor purred meekly as I exited the freeway a few blocks from home.