Don't Ask Me Why Excerpt: Family Heirloom
Trust what I say, but just know that we don’t see things with the same eyes.
A blindingly sunny Mid-December day.
That fact is lost on Uptown though, where the Oak trees careen slightly to make dark green twilight all day long. I ease my Mini over naturally occurring speed bumps and budget deficit potholes. New Orleans doesn’t fix roads. There will be 150 homicides in New Orleans in 2014. 50 of them will be solved. With the NOPD batting a cool .333 on murders, the roads can wait. Priorities. Maslow.
Freshman year I lived with Elijah Samuels. Junior year I lived with Reed Markum and Tony White and Andre Bishop. Sophomore year I lived with Dante Spinner. I have all of those people in me. If you wrote my life story then took me out, the remaining characters would give you an idea of who I am, who I was. In case that ever happens, I think it’s important that we meet Dante Spinner and Co.
The Mini bumps to a stop in front of the Dungeon. I get out of my car and look both ways. I look right down St. Charles. Mansion after mansion after mansion—New Orleans ancient-Mardi-Gras-Ball-couldn’t-get-it-if-you-wanted-money. This isn’t mere money—it’s prominence. That goes down a ways, that prominence money. I look left down St. Charles and I can catch the start of the riverbend, one of the bends that makes The Crescent City.
The Dungeon’s at the end of the Avenue, where the money starts to peter out. I mean, the money ain’t dead dead here, but it ain’t prominence anymore once you’re up this far. St. Charles goes down to the bend and then becomes Carrollton and then Carrollton irons out and goes straight into something that sure as shit isn’t prominence. But, that’s the way it goes. A bend in the river, a couple blocks, a few Oak trees, a new universe.
The Dungeon probably was a glamorous St. Charles mansion. But it isn’t anymore. It isn’t one of those patrimonial creations flying Mardi Gras flags from pristine white balconies.
It’s a birds chirping part of the street. There is no bustle, there is no hustle, only a silence cut through by other silent sounds, like the streetcar droning by, or cars bumping across piece of shit corrugated roadway. No human sounds—no one talking on cellphones, no tourists remarking on the droning streetcar’s charm. Just a few peepy avians. It makes the houses more intimidating and imposing. The life is hidden in there and you have to go in to find it. It’s the kind of street where you can hear your feet crunch when you walk and the moment you start thinking about your feet moving, you can’t hear anything else.
Shuffling up the shabby path to the driveway, you get the feeling there should be music behind you—not like any Morricone Godfather, pump you up with emotion sort of shit, but more like the opening credits to a crime show, True Detective, The X-Files or something. Walking up to the Dungeon, you understand that you’re about to cross into a new dimension—kind of like when you step into a rager, like a brand new, supplementary universe is on the other side of the door. But, it’s the opposing universe—the anti-matter to the party’s airy, sweaty beautiful dopeness. It’s not another world, insofar as another world implies a large expanse of distinctness. Nah, it’s a tiny pocket of dark unreality on St. Charles Avenue between the money and the bend.
Going up the steps now, I start to hear a loud resonant thump emanating from some crevasse. The dark green door looks soggy and worn, worn like it belongs on a shack on top of a rock in a Nova Scotian fishing hole or some shit. The door thumps with the house. I push the door, and to my idiot surprise, get spit out into the Dungeon’s foyer. Not only does the little green garbage door not lock, it doesn’t even close. I stand up straight and look around. At 1 o’clock is what I deem to be a squatter. They’ve got a rotating roster of squatters at the Dungeon. It’s an opium den without the decadence.
Lurch is the squatter’s name—that’s what they call him. It’s probably not his name. He’s sprawled across the couch, wearing nothing but cutoff jorts. His bony right arm dangles over the edge of the cushions, encrusted fingernails scraping the dust-filmed floor, nudge-spinning the remote in a circle. The couch has no cushions on it, but does have some exposed springs. Lurch’s head rests on a stained, coverless, pillow. The couch is covered in bizarre stains and Hot Cheetos. Some of the Cheetos have been ground into the plaid pattern of the couch, creating depressingly radiant orange spots. A half-eaten Jimmy Dean sausage-in-a-pancake on a stick lingers at Lurch’s feet. Once and a while, he nudges it with his big toe. I notice a pot of water boiling on the stove.
“Yo! Who's there? What are you looking for?” Lurch shouts with all of his zealous energy, not moving a muscle.
“Yo, what up? It’s Charlie. Rider. Where’s Spinner?”
“Oh. Yeah, Charlie. Dante? Ummm, I dunno man. I think he’s sleeping. Have yourself a seat. Make yourself at home. You’re in luck, Charlie. Lopez Tonight is on.”
“Your water’s boiling, by the way, I think.”
“Oh word. Thanks man. I forgot about that.”
I walk across the wood floor toward the couch—my Sperries cling faintly to the surface each time I move forward. Lurch kicks the sausage-in-a-pancake off the couch and scrunches his knees to make room. I sit on the couch’s arm. The TV is one of those old matted flatscreen pieces of shit—the ones that weigh 600 pounds and make me think of 1980s new money—like Walkmen, boxy Apple desktops, Pacman machines in the basement, and Cameron’s dad’s Red Ferrari. The whole place is a jumbled up anachronism. The TV is punctured and ripped across the right side. It emits fuzzy and distorted sounds. You can’t really hear the sound though, because of the malicious, resonant bass coming from somewhere.
“Sorry about the sound, man. Ozy is working.” Ozy. Ozymandias Wattanapanit, Half-Thai, half-Danish and grew up in São Paulo. When he moved to the Dungeon he purchased a Dom Perignon magnum full of LSD. I don’t know where you purchase a magnum full of acid, but this motherfucker Ozymandias Wattanapanit does. Ozy is the eeeee-pitome of waste. But he doesn’t just waste money like a sloth, like Lurch. The dude eats through cash in the most intense, terrifying ways. Like, he’s got exotic animals in this house. I’m told he bought a truckload of Cheetos when they let him back into school. Those rumors appear true, because this shithole is littered with dead Cheetos bags.
He’s trying to become a DJ.
“Nah. It’s all good, man. What—uh—what’s happening with you?” I squeak.
“Oh, you know. Just grinding. Making my way in this rat race, brotha.” Lurch notes.
“Yeah. I hear that man.”
Lurch flips over the remote. I notice it has no batteries! There are a few posters on the wall—an askew picture of Jon McEnroe screaming, a wide spread of a beachy skyline with the curvy message: Visit Myrtle Beach, and a giant purple plastic poster advertising Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu.
I watch silent Lopez Tonight for a few minutes with Lurch before my friend Dante Spinner appears on the stairs.
“Charlie Rider! Welcome back to the pad, man,” he screams over the bass. He wears these baggy purple Harem pants with little elephant prints that make girls like C-Fresh weak in the knees, and a faded gray tanktop. His curly hair flops to the side like an asymmetrical Sideshow Bob.
Dante. Junior, Japanese, Art
“Sorry about the bass, Charlie. Ozy’s working. So… let’s go smoke a J.” I see Lurch perk up at the suggestion and immediately perk back down. The sentence contained one too many verbs.
I follow Dante upstairs—the railing is cracked in two—and take a seat on his bed while he begins rolling a joint. The music stops abruptly, except for a muffled, looped backbeat, and a loud orgasmic howl comes from the other end of the hallway. Dante continues rolling.
“What a shithole this place is.” Someone had to say it.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Dante says.
“How is it, you know being in school again and doing slam poetry and all that?”
“School. Well, it’s ok I guess. I’m focused now. What do you mean by the slam poetry?”
“Nah, I mean, I heard that you’ve been doing slam poetry after dark or some shit. Reed told me.”
“Haha. No, not at all, Charlie. I’ve never done that in my life. I’m just focusing on school and trying to have some fun when I can.”
“Fucking Reed. I actually believed him.”
“Well that was pretty stupid.”
“What a bastard.”
“Haha. Reed Markum. Seriously, what a bastard. Toss me your keys.”
I toss him the Mini keys, he pokes the J, and sets them on the desk.
“So you like living here?”
“It’s alright, like I said. It’s kind of dirty, though. To tell you the truth, Albert and Ozy hardly ever clean. But, it’s alright man. I’m happy to have a roof over me and a place to lay my head.”
Dante’s room is comparatively reasonable. It lacks the intimate look of biodegrading garbage. Somewhere along the way, his fitted sheet had split with the corner of the bed. The blankets and pillows, of course, are caseless. On the walls are iconic dead people:
• There’s a Katana up on the wall—family heirloom.
He had that shit when we lived together sophomore year. Back then the kid Dante was pretty bad with the Oxys and the getting shitfaced and I’ll tell you, I never liked the fact that there was a deadly family heirloom on the wall. But, whatever, I survived.
Ozymandias. Sophomore, Puppetry, Music Theory
A frantic pound on the door.
Ozymandias Wattanapanit and his frosted tips mullet hair spring forth. Ozy, psychotic, wholesale buyer of acid, is flustered, which makes me flustered because he’s weird and unpredictable. He wears a pitch-black suit jacket, unbuttoned, with an imitation corsage dangling loosely from the pocket. Nothing else on top and a pair of crimson-red jeans plastered on his thin lower half. He looks sick as a rat—like someone coughing on a cigarette outside in February. Like someone who belongs in Greenwich Village with Ginsberg and Kerouac. But weirder and sicker.
“He’s loose!” He pants, frenzied, in that vaguely enigmatic accent of children of exotic, worldly intellectuals. I’d like to say that Ozy has some naturally crazy eyes, but he does a shit ton of drugs, and anyone who drops acid before noon has abnormal optics. “Fuck, fuck. Dante. Ramses is loose.”
That wakes Dante up. He rises in a stammer, involuntarily. “No way. What the fuck, man? Are you sure, though? We’re fucked. Shit, at least close the door.” Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
We’re fucked? How broad is that “we?”
Ozymandias closes the door, but realizes he’s stranded on the outside. He shouts “Huaaak,” and bursts back through. He closes the door, back all up against it like Shelly Duvall in The Shining, pupils eye-sized.
“What’s Ramses?” I ask Dante.
He shakes his head and motions helplessly at Ozymandias Wattanapanit.
“What do you think he is?” Ozy shrieks.
“You think it’s a fucking bunny rabbit? Or a spruced up Chow Chow? Ramses is a Sunglow Colombian, you damn idiot!” He twitches.
I ease back and stare at Dante again who’s still shaking his giant roost of a head.
“Snake. Big snake.” Ozy murmurs.
Just past noon on a blindingly sunny Friday. Locked in a room with a real live human Albert Hofmann experiment gone to shit. Quivering my ass off thinking about a big snake gliding across the slime film filth floor of the Dungeon—pissed off about his acid-fiend captor. I wonder if Lurch (Albert, who actually lives here—in a house… with a roof!) is prepared for the day’s second guest. I wonder if he’d care. He doesn’t seem to care about much.
Ozy looks heavenward. “Alright. Alright. Alright. Dante. You’re going to go out there. You’re better as this type of thing. Go! Go! Go! Go, like the hurricane winds, go forth, you!” Ozy twirls and whirls in what in his Diethylamine-soaked peptide reagents is probably some kind of William Wallace-saving-Scotland shit.
“No.” Dante responds.
“Yes! Yes! You are right! It’s my problem! Let’s take care of it. That!” He yelps, bounding over to the broom resting on Dante’s chair. Sunlight streams in meekly through the broken blinds.
Ozy inches back toward the doorway, holding the broom close. I recognize this as my best chance to get out of here. I could run out, push Ozy to his death, hit the stairs, and flee down St. Charles, running real fast toward the money.
But, I’m fear-glued to the bed.
“Alright motherfucker. Ramses! You motherfucker! I’ve raised you up and now you make my guest live in fear! In fear! You are pathetic, you ass-snake. Pathetic…” He whispers to himself.
It’s clear to me that Ozymandias Wattanapanit is a person who occupies a singular mental dimension. True, he lives in the same physical realm as Dante and I. Factually speaking, he’s in the same room. But, he isn’t. Though he may be touching the broom and though he may be at the imminent whim of the same deadly snake, he’s not synthesizing, processing, and codifying that information in the same way. Yeah, of course, that’s true for everyone, but this son of a bitch is different.
This physical earth-world is nothing more than an ambiguous suggestion fed to his mind. Ozy is blessed with the rationalizing capabilities of an infant or a fly under attack—a perpetual state of action, reaction. Thing is though, the dude’s action, reaction connection is way off. Like, flies fly away from the flyswatter. The baby removes its hand from the stove and wails.
Yeah, not Ozy. Like, if you throw me a ball, I’m going to reach out to catch it. If you throw Ozy a ball, he might reach out to catch it. He might strike it down, fall to his knees, and exalt it. He might ignore the ball, walk over to you, and bite you in the dick. Maybe it’s just the drugs. But, drugs and insanity are fundamentally the same thing—a chemical imbalance. One just wears off.
Ozy flips around and foists open the door. I expect him to run down the hallway, but he doesn’t do shit. He stands in the threshold, looks directly back at me, smiles the creepiest smile ever smiled and starts nodding nodding nodding. He brings his finger slowly to his mouth and exhales a whispy “Shhhh,” turns his head to look at the hallway, turns back to the room, and shrugs. The frivolity of this deadly moment overtakes him. He abruptly bursts out laughing a passionate, uncontrollable laughter and wildly thrashing the broom against Dante’s door.
“Snake. Big snake. Huge snake.” he repeats, devolving into a frenzied fit of wheezing and coughing.
“Dude, what the fuck?” I whisper to no one in particular. I don’t pinch myself—I can’t imagine that’s something people actually do—but for a moment I think long and hard about how much reality there is in this scene. When you’re dreaming, it’s very hard to convince yourself that you’re dreaming. But, when you’re awake, it’s pretty much impossible to convince yourself that you’re dreaming. Doing so requires that you redefine the concept entirely.
“What should we do?” Dante whispers back without looking at me, I presume, because I cannot tear my eyes from Ozy. I’ve got no idea what’s going on outside the room, in the hallway. I’m picturing a jungle beast, firmly out of place in this chirping birds residential neighborhood, staring down its psychopathic owner in a sort a viscerally vengeful way—something like a circus lion about to make an all-or-nothing play on the prancing handlebar mustache dickwad that plucked him off the safari and made him jump through fiery hoops. Strangely, Ozy slowly stops thrashing and laughing. He slows down, like a wind turbine, settling itself after a strong gust. His eyes go all hazy, like he’s overcome by the moment and the acid. Facing us, he slumps to the floor and goes silent, half in the room half out, half in the world, half out. He abruptly passes out. Honestly, I kind of hope he’s dead.
“Dude. Charlie. Holy. Fucking. Shit.” Dante whispers.
There, edging through the triangular passageway made by Ozy’s bent right leg and the ground is what I assume must be Ramses. I crawl backwards on the bed, tearing the fitted sheet off of the last remaining corner. The snake doesn’t move. It flashes some tongue. Oh Jesus Christ, I’ll stop having sex. I’ll stop doing drugs. I’ll stop laughing at pictures of Ganesha cupping your balls. Just save me, you bastard.
Dante looks down at me skittishly—he’s standing on the bed. “Can we jump? What do you think? Can we jump?”
He flicks his head toward the window. “I almost did it once, one time we did a bunch of salvia—and you know. But, I mean, I didn’t.”
“Chill, chill. What if we call the cops?”
“Are you fucking kidding me? I could tell you 17 different reasons why that’s a terrible idea. With Albert and all the shit in this house. Plus, that snake could kill us by the time they get here.”
“Yeah, ok. So?”
He pulls out his phone, cracked on both sides.
“Alright, fuck this. I’m calling Albert.” He squints through what’s left of his screen to find the number. Ramses—the Sunglow Colombian—lingers at Ozy’s foot and dick area. Ozy is now snoring. I wonder what’s going through his snake head—if snakes even have heads.
“Yo. I need you… It’s kind of important, no its super important… busy with what… fuck that, the TV is broken you piece of shit… look, I need you to go in the drawer and get a fucking knife or hammer or some shit… no, worse, Ozy’s snake is loose and it’s standing in my motherfucking doorway… alright lying in my doorway, whatever… No. Right now, you son of a bitch, I don’t care how long is left in the show, there’s a snake in my goddamn room… Alright, if you don’t do it, then I have to call the cops… that’s what I thought.”
Moments later, I hear the sound of Lurch-Albert lurching up the stairs, whistling the Lopez Tonight theme song. Then he stops, right before coming into view.
“Dude! The snake, is like, right by Ozy’s dick. Dude!” Lurch laughs.
“What’s your plan, Albert?” Dante dictates through his teeth.
Lurch’s remaining brain cells echo from behind the wall. “Dude! It’s a good plan. I remembered I was making this Ramen, and….”
“Just fucking do something.”
The snake shifts. Ozy snores.
“Chill out, Dante. I was gonna tell you about my plan. But whatever.”
A large, scuffed tin pot emerges through the threshold. At its side, emerge two Christmas-themed oven mitts occupied by Lurch’s hands. Thick steam whisps toward the ceiling. Lurch begins to empty the shit—the water and the noodles—leisurely. The complete contents land squarely and pool on Ozy’s tight-pants-crotch area. In fear, Lurch slams the pot at the ground—pummeling Ozy in the knee—and GTFOs down the stairs.
Crazy Ozymandias Wattanapanit, offspring of exotic citizens of the world, wakes up.
“Fuuuuuuuuuck.” His eyes engulf his whole forehead.
He kicks, stomps, screams, clomps, palpitates, and stamps his hands on the ground. Ramses freaks out and begins to encircle Ozy’s moving foot, to which Oz is impervious. The snake grabs hold.
I leap to my feet, grab a rotting orange sitting on Dante’s desk and hurl it at the snake, but miss by a wide margin and cream Ozy in the side of the head. He twists in agony. The snake advances ominously around his ankle. I snatch a hardcover copy of Gravity’s Rainbow and shotput it in the direction of Ozy’s foot. Bang! Hit! But, the hit freaks the snake even more out. He tightens. Ozy notices.
“Filho de puta. Filho de fucking puta.”
“Ramses, man. It’s got me! Kill the fucking thing! Finish him!”
“Fuck it.” Dante says.
Dante springs out of bed. He glances at me and moves to the wall. He removes the comically long Katana. Family heirloom.
I’ll get PTSD, I think to myself.
He moves toward Ozy, frustrated steadiness in his walk.
“Dude, what are you doing? Dude. Dude. Be careful with that.” Ozy cries, horrified.
For a brief moment I’m certain Dante’s going to behead Ozymandias Wattanapanit. Half of the snake still lingers across the floor, the other half fastened around Ozy's lower leg. Dante rounds the bed. Ozy’s paralyzed. The snake, too, having been body smashed by a massive hardcover book, is locked in fear. Dante raises the Katana, cocks his head to the side, and hunches his shoulders.
Ozy’s looping beat plays on in the background. Unce, unce, unce.
I lean… lean… lean forward.
“Arai waaaa.” Ozy screams and flinches. Dante zeroes in.
He brings the sword down in one abrupt, soundless, massive chop and holds his stance for a second and finally the Katana falls from his murderous hand. The sword doesn’t move, stuck in the floor. He staggers backward. The snake’s cut in two—half lifeless on the carpet. The other half pulsates around Ozy’s ankle and relaxes, limply, mercifully. Dead.
“Oh my god.” I say, motionless for less than a moment.
Then I vault over the bed, out the door, and down the ratty, piece of shit stairs. On my way out, I catch sight of Lurch half-heartedly stooped over the stove whistling the Lopez Tonight song, prepping another pot of Ramen. I burst out the door and down the steps—blindingly bright, still. I trip and tumble onto the front yard grass-rock-dust, spit back into reality after a brief soiree in a living, breathing, snake ridden, black hole.
I feel like I just had some of that sex where I forget my own name or like I just cleared a houseful of Jihadis or jumped out of a hundred-story building and landed on a 90-story stack of pillows. I feel alive as hell, unfit for a chirping birds street. I didn’t expect to feel alive today, man, not like this. I stagger to my feet and reach in my pocket.
“Shit.” Dante’s desk.
Well, I sure as shit am not going back in to the Dungeon. And my keys aren’t coming out. I leave the Mini on St. Charles and jog-walk for a few blocks until I’m sure I can’t even see the street before the street before the Dungeon. I slow down at Maple and signs of life. Yeah, there are birds here. You can’t hear them chirp, though. I look around, feverishly, slowly getting my shit back together. An unremarkable mailman, a mother in a sunny yellow sundress pushing a stroller, a sprinkler, a leashed dog. I’m back, like a soldier behind enemy lines reuniting with his ranks after some real shit went down.
Fuck. Does this mean I have to stop having sex and doing drugs and laughing at Jesus getting his balls cupped by Ganesha? I might renege. I put my chips on the table way too hastily.