VI. ONWARD TO FALMOUTH.
After the work was all finished the sun went under the trees and we kicked back on the front porch, listening to a Sox game on the radio. They were beating the shit out of Tampa, and Ted and the other guys were putting down cans of Papp's Blue Ribbon in jubilation. The Boss Man was sitting in a lawn chair and enjoying a bag of Lays barbecue chips and laughing at the four of them. I was in my sleeping bag, right next to the radio. The Holy Cross kids brought a CD player with them and played rock and roll, softly, out of respect for the baseball game. I had a can of beer but I wasn't drinking much of it. Papp's Blue Ribbon is canned piss, in my fair opinion.
There's a good joke associated with beer that's sort of relevant to my argument:
The CEOs of Bud and Papp's Blue Ribbon walk into a bar. The Papp's CEO orders a glass of Papp's Blue Ribbon. The Bud CEO orders a Coke.
The Papp's Blue Ribbon guy asked the Bud CEO why he didn't order his own brand of beer. The Bud CEO said, "Well, you didn't order beer, so I thought I'd be polite."
I told this joke to The Boss Man and he looked like a swine on its back while he laughed in his lawn chair. I immediately regretted telling it.
The Sox beat Tampa by eight or nine runs, I forget exactly how much because soon after the game was over The Boss Man went into his white van and brought out, well, I'm sure you could guess what happens next.
When we finished with all that, I was lying on top of the roof with Ted, looking at the moon and the ocean in the east and smoking the last fading embers of my forbidden marijuana cigarette. I passed the butt to Ted. The band kids were dead asleep in the house. Here we were, lying on the roof of a million-dollar house in Falmouth, smoking borrowed weed and somehow still awake after twelve or thirteen hours of labor, chewing and screwing, ninety miles an hour, twice, down the length of Route 25 and inviting arrest in almost every conceivable way, and never getting caught. We were too quick for the Man, it seemed. We ate thunder, we shat lightning, and finally, rest and talk. And smoke.
This wasn't a manic or halfway-manic high, though. This was peaceful, reflective. This was a chance for us to smoke, sit on a roof, look at the moon and the ocean and the lights of Falmouth bent like a smile around the harbor. Ponder the universe. This was a chance for us to relax after a day of good work. We'd be asleep in minutes.
But before then, Ted and I took drafts of beer and mouths full of smoke and talked about what we'd seen of America thus far. It was pretty much a one-sided conversation, you can imagine. I tried talking to him about what I knew about the place, how I'd seen New York with my father right before the World Trade Center bombings. Then he'd say something so insightful and wise to what we were actually here for that I'd feel at once enlightened and like a total dumbass for not knowing already. Just talking to him was like talking to somebody at once years older than you and your age. He was a lot of things. He was wise, but he was just a kid like you were. He was smart and dumb like me and unlike me. It's hard to explain. I guess the only way to really get it would be to smoke and drink with him on a rooftop.
Ted drew breath through the joint and blew it out while he passed it to me. I took a breath and didn't cough it up. I felt good. My head was spinning a little but I was really alright.
We both took a sip of beer and I spat in disgust after I'd swallowed. Ted wore his with a grimace.
"Papp's is half horse piss and half fart," Ted decided.
"That's the truth," I said. I swished what was left in my can around a little, then tossed it out over the side of the roof.
"This house looks like it's coming along," Ted said. "Looks pretty good."
"We'll be done tomorrow?"
"Oh, yeah," Ted said. "We'll be done before noon. Less you want to do a second coat."
"Didn't think so." Ted beckoned for the joint again.
In the house, Kashmir struck up again. "Earlier Zep is so much better, this is so showboaty," I said.
"Any rock group's gonna have pretension. The Beatles did Hey Jude and KISS was KISS. It's rock's nature to get too big for itself," Ted said.
"What about the Sex Pistols?"
"Sex Pistols weren't rock, they were punk," Ted said. "Punk's different. No showboating, just show." He brought his can of Papp's up for a drink and then stopped. "Wait." He looked at me with bloodshot eyes all full of an idea too big to talk around. "Holy shit! Did you ever think of why the punk thing is ripped jeans and the rock thing is smoke machines?"
"You are stoned."
"Pleased to meet you. Pass it."
I handed the joint to him and laughed. One of the band kids woke up and flipped the repeat button off the CD player. "Got to sleep," he said. Why hadn't he shut the music off? I guess he was that out of his mind.
Ted looked at the CD player with teeming hatred in his eyes. Somewhere, muzak was playing, lightly, teasing us rock and rollers with bullshit. Neo-punk/pop. I won't mention the song.
Ted spat into the air. "Before high school, I didn't think I could kill a man."
I gave him an amen.
Kashmir faded out as we sat back onto the roof and passed the fading embers of out cigarette to eachother again and again. It eventually wore down so small that you had to hold it with your fingernails to avoid a burn. So I whipped out that cigarette I had forgotten about till now out of my shirt pocket and lit up.
Ted got a kick out of this. "Pass it," he said.
I flicked it over to him and he didn't catch it right. It rolled down the roof and Ted tried to lunge to get it while screaming shit simultaneously. I jumped forward and caught him before he fell off the roof. I don't think he realized he could have broken his neck, but he thanked me anyway.
He sat back now and pulled another joint from his own shirt pocket. "Not the only one who watches Clint Eastwood movies," he said, lighting a match on his pants.
"Tell me something," I said.
"Oh shit," Ted said.
"Where'd you go to middle school?" "Didn't." Ted gave me the joint and I took a puff.
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't go to middle school."
"What's that like?"
Ted gestured for the joint again and I gave it to him. He took a reflective breath of it and said, "Hell of a lot easier to put up with, unless you like looking at the same walls for four years." I gave a little shiver. He took another puff and continued, his every word said through smoke and not air, "It's weird for kids, you know, you get shut in no matter what you do, pretty much. But I work, too, and that's something like school bullshit except they don't cry or really piss around at all."
"Where do you work?"
"I park cars."
"I park cars for a living."
"But you're fourteen!"
"You don't have a license."
"Yeah, I do."
"You better be shitting me."
Ted reached into his wallet and brought out his ID. "Theodore Sebastian Gordon. Born February 16, 1980. Nineteen years of age. There's my height and shit."
"You rat bastard. Where'd you manage to get a job with a fraud like that?"
"With two illiterate Laotians, you can wing a lot of things."
"Where'd you get it?"
"Don't sweat it," Ted said. He put his license back. "I probably shouldn't have showed you that, so don't sweat it."
"I said don't sweat it," Ted repeated. "I'm serious. Forget you ever saw that. I shouldn't have showed you that ..."
"Alright, I can forget it." There was an awkward pause in which I looked at the ocean on the horizon and wondered if now was the time to roll over and go to bed.
"What do you do for fun?" Ted asked.
This was an odd question. I thought for a while and leaned up on my elbows to get a better look at the ocean and the moon. What do I do for fun? I thought. Well, I play video games and pretend I like it. I sit around on my ass and wonder what it'd be like to kiss girls and do shit for a change. I listen to Stairway to Heaven and try to memorize the guitar line so I can play it for other people, maybe next year at a campfire with other freshmen. I read the New York Times editorials and pick which one fits closest to my own opinion and plagiarize it and sound like a little smarty pants around the few people I actually entertain in school.
I'm the phoniest kid in the fucking state, I decided. I don't have fun. I try to be loved. There isn't fun, there's just me trying to get a girl to come close to me.
What do I do for fun.
"I don't know."
Ted nodded and took a third pull of the joint. "That's fucked up."
Behind us the music had stopped. I hadn't noticed when exactly this happened but it did, so why sweat it, like Ted said.
"You know," I said, looking up at the sky. "I don't really know what the hell I've been talking about. Rock and roll, punk, having a good time. It's all the same thing, right?"
"Yeah, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what does a musician do, he plays occasional gigs in a club or in a coffee house, he has a job by day and he practices with the band every so often to keep his chops in shape, he lives an ordinary life. And what does a writer do besides working a job, writing every day and occasionally getting a story he wrote published for a little extra bread on the side."
"What do we do?"
"I dunno, what?"
"We work, do what makes us happy on the side and occasionally that'll pay off."
Ted stared at me for a while. I could see his face by the moonlight.
"So that's how life's supposed to be?"
"I dunno, that's what I'm trying to figure out. I mean, I get that that's as good as it's gonna get, that the most I'll ever get off of doing what I like -- whatever the hell that is, I haven't even figured that out yet -- I realize that the most I'll ever get off talent is an extra hundred bucks from a poetry contest once in a blue moon."
"But am I supposed to say something with that?"
"What do you mean?"
"Should I just accept that what I'm doing -- what the fun's supposed to be -- should I accept that as just fun or should it mean something?"
"Like sticking it to the man?"
"Yeah, man, exactly."
Ted leaned back on his elbows like I did with the joint in his mouth. I hadn't asked for it and didn't plan on spoiling his fun.
"Like, today," I said, "we chewed and screwed and it was good, cause we'd stuck it to the man. But in Boston it was just fun for fun's sake."
Ted held the joint over and I took it.
"You're just down cause you're done with middle school."
"It isn't bullshit. You're gonna be a freshman next year, man, you'll be in high school, you'll grow a beard and start workin' and find out what you like and all that shit, and you'll do it in one building." I took one toke and handed it back. Ted spoke with it between his teeth. "And after that, you'll be in college, then working until they nail your coffin shut. You want to do your living when you can, right? Why not start right now?"
He held over the joint.
Was it death or life, that cigarette? I didn't know.
I took it and breathed deep.
The moon was big in the sky. Full moon. The biggest I'd ever seen. It looks real whole and beautiful on the coast. It was a warm night with a little breeze, west moving east, inland moving out to shore. It played with my hair and felt good on my face for once. A gentle breeze. It carried the smoke we were making over the porch and into the ocean.
The moon was so bright you had to squint to make out the face on it. It was moving west slowly, and if you stayed in the same place for a while, if you didn't move at all, with the right eyes, you could almost see it budge.
There were only a few clouds in the sky, and the moon lit them up brighter than the stars. It was a beautiful, clear night, you could look east and see the ocean. I was glad to be alive. At the same time I felt like a fool for not going out to see all that, for not waking Ted up, sticking a pot of black coffee in his face and saying let's go to Falmouth town tonight. The man who was sleeping in the lawn chair underneath me was a Vietnam war veteran, he used to work in a chrome plating factory with swimming pools of cyanide and hydrochloric acid, he used to hitchhike and pay his own rent and wipe his own ass like I never have and, if I do well enough in school, like I never will, maybe. He learned about life the hard way. He had something to teach, and I had judged him for a fat lump immediately upon seeing him. What the fuck did I know? I was just a kid. What had life taught me?
I didn't know what I did for work, I didn't know what I did for fun. I didn't even know what those things were. I didn't know they existed. I didn't know for shit what thirty years of thirteen hour work days feels like. I didn't know much of anything at fourteen.
The world outside of school was surrounded in mystery and hype to me, it was always deep and important affairs that my puny adolescent mind could not comprehend, and if I tried to figure out how the machinery worked I'd end up sawing a finger off or something, so don't even try to pick it up. And yet the only words I could say in protest were a sort of half pessimist, half optimist statement about working more, doing more, though everything I was doing looked vain when the grownups looked at it. I should be living so much more. Then do it, you pansy, quit bitching about it.
"I am sick of boredom."
Ted laughed, shook his head, took the reefer again. "You want to go to Falmouth?"
"Yeah, sure, why the hell not."
We got in his Celica and drove east, our hearts full of poetry, ready to shout it to the city when we got there.
When we got there.
-- Sam Virzi, Holden MA