by Michael Davidson
Even today, when relativism is common practice, there must be concrete opinions that I’ve worked out, that I would fight for if it came to scraps, right? I am an adult, my ideas must be ready for action, this much I know, and yet I find it hard to carry conviction.
There was a time when I was younger and more virulent. I would pique people’s interests with words that stood for a definite cause, but now I am unaware of what it is I stood for. I can tell you this: my ideas, whatever they were, took me to strange corners of the world.
The place is San Diego. The year is 2003. I am in a Toyota Dolphin, which is an RV that can run forever as long as the spark plugs, slave cylinder, and carburetor are maintained. Locust, the owner of the RV, is driving. We struggle through the bulge and roll of La Jolla. There is no destination in particular, just one of those late night drives inspired by indoor inertia. He downshifts into second to get more torque for the uphill climb. I hear the gearbox and wonder if we’ll make it to the top alive. In the passenger seat rides Rob. His cowlick touches the roof at every hiccup.
You guys wanna smoke?
That’s Diego speaking. He is the only one wearing sandals. When no one answers, he looks at me
Morse, you wanna smoke?
I shrug. He knows very well that I just started drug use last weekend, when we grilled too many brats at the Padres/Astros game. Perhaps worried that no one will take the initiative and answer, thereby forcing Diego to assume that there are in fact no takers, Locust interjects
What’s that Diego? I can’t hear you from up here. The Dolphin’s pur, you know.
I was just wondering if anyone in this place wants to smoke.
That takes care of it. Diego has found purpose in the back of the RV. He digs deep in his cargo shorts and pulls out a bubbler and bag of weed. With dexterity he picks a ripe nugget off the stem and packs the bowl. He asks if I want to chew on the stem
Does that do anything?
What do you mean?
I mean, does chewing on that stem get you high?
To reprimand my odd mixture of ignorance and innocence, he tosses the hairy stem into his mouth for himself and smiles. Rob asks
Is that thing ready yet?
Diego finds a yellow lighter in another cargo compartment and, in the darkness of the RV, cranks the flint and applies the tip of the flame to a corner of the packed bowl. I watch in a sincere effort to learn. Tonight, here in San Diego in 2003 in a Toyota Dolphin, I will hit from a bubbler for the first time. My nervousness dilates as the paraphernalia makes its round. Rob is second in line. He assesses the situation and decides that the lighter is not necessary. He sucks merrily and passes it to Locust
Locust looks at the bud to confirm this and takes his pull. Even though they are in the front cab and I am in the back, sitting on the sofa, I can hear the water purl as each of my friends grab at happiness. Already the Dolphin is foggy and redolent. I pick the curtain away from the window and see an elephant wag its trunk at me. I remember this elephant. I found it in a boutique, sitting silently on a shelf and fashioned from marble. This elephant was the first gift I gave to my mother on Mother’s Day. I was in eighth grade. What would she think if she knew that I was in this strange corner of the world, her son? The miniature pipe bundled with the lighter gets to my hands via Diego
I don’t think it’s lit anymore.
It’s not? What do I do?
Just spark it up.
What? You want me to light it for you?
It is clear that he is not trying to emasculate me. There is no antagonism in his tone, just incredulity. I take the lighter in my right hand and hold the bubbler in my left. I crank the wheel to get a spark, but that’s all I get. I try again. More sparks flit about in the air and then dissolve, only to remind me of the original state of the universe. I get dizzy with Sartre’s nausea. I am incapable of imagining that vertiginous vacuum when there was no sound and no matter without suffering a spell of sickness.
Pride does not keep me from letting Diego come to the rescue. I relinquish the lighter and wait for him to apply the flame. What remains of the bowl burns a hot red. Diego observes my reaction as I swallow the toke
I nod, docile like a lamb, and return the bubbler