1. A fever of one day’s continuance only.
Self Loathing and Salvation at the Seventies’ End, on Acid
I am transfixed by the excessive make-up on the homely girl sitting next to me. Color has taken on a familiar and peculiar quality; things are sharpened and outlined with a current of acidic light about the edges, as if superimposed on film. Everything has a blood-filled look. The physical world is flattened out before me, I’m viewing it on a screen in my mind, and all is roiling beneath this surface, masking some teeming atomic boil. I have developed novel abilities; my focus is now superhuman. I can see the molecules binding things together; I can see the space in between.
My new screen-vision is faulty; an area of distortion moves about it, a ball rolling about on a suspended sheet of plastic. For a moment I understand, perfectly, the space-time continuum. Just as quickly it is lost to the ether. The girl’s face won’t stay still, swelling outward here and there momentarily. The ungainly contours of her face are shifting endlessly. All of this as she sits perfectly still. Later I realize it. She’s terrified too!
The two of us make up the back row of the sparsely peopled classroom, where we take cover from humiliation. We never spoke; we never made eye contact. We studiously avoided giving any hint of recognition of each other. We are cowering through high school, developing strategies to avoid being caught out in the open. We fear even the sympathy of kindred souls.
I am overwhelmed by empathy for the homely girl, for the pain of humiliation that has nowhere to go and must continually consume our rapidly diminishing innocence like an electrochemical reaction. Our batteries are already low. But I haven’t named these things yet; inside it can only resolve in self-loathing and a heightened sense of this vague, maddeningly pervasive fear.
Now the walls are breathing, like we’re inside a great bellows. I can hear it; nobody else can. They don’t have my heightened senses. My hair is straw; my skin is cardboard. I marvel at their touch. I want to flee. I need to get out of the constricting room, away from the bughouse that is our school, out of these filthy clothes. I want to shed my skin. I feel filthy, right down to my core. But there is no escape because everything is implicated in the fraud. Everything and everybody is newly exposed; ugly, mean, common, false. None of us are real; we are mere representations and facsimiles. Just like the false plastic veneers all about us. We are projecting these images like holograms; they shimmy and stutter occasionally. This too I now see clearly.
The interior of the room, dusted with a film of harrowing school-room light, is a deliberate, menacing kitsch. Everything looks ugly and cheap, second-rate. It all looks as if it’s about to fall apart, to burst at the seams. Everything is about to melt into one formless, indistinguishable mass.
I’m not sure how I will be able to continue, having seen this. I’m beginning to worry. I need to move, to shake this presence somehow. I can’t escape but I can keep moving. It seems like I’ve been sitting in class for hours, yet only five minutes have passed. And I’m starting to peak.
Mr. Hino, the Born-Again history teacher, is oblivious to my condition. Every Pearl Harbor Day Mr. Wong–being Chinese, and therefore duty-bound–recruits a class to launch a paper-airplane surprise attack on the Japanese Hino, assailing and pelting him in mid-period. He takes this like he takes most minor indignities, with slightly annoyed, patient grace.
Mr. Hino is rightfully appalled at the condition of the youth he tends, and still he has no idea how degenerate we are, the ignorant, oblivious contempt we have for decency. He has no idea how far the rot has progressed, because no one does yet; it is overtaking even itself. He doesn’t know the levee has already been breached, and it is only now a case of water finding its level. He will not be here to see its later stages; he will not suffer the realization that it has no end, no breaking point, just an infinite, endless degradation. I do hope Mr. Hino never looked down to find there is no bottom.
But, God bless him, he is forever looking upward. He occasionally tries to better us, railing, gently, against decadence. Today he announces a special guest. An alumnus from a few years prior has come to give us a talk. An eminence of a sort, he is a local legend; a gang-banger known for his oversized arms (“Chops” was his nickname) and his bravery. He is regarded, in the highest praise granted one of his milieu, as being “crazy.” Chops is impressive too; squat and powerfully built, with a jet black pork chop moustache and heavy lidded eyes giving him a look of latent ferocity. He wears the basic cholo uniform of the time: khaki pants, plain white t-shirt. He’s here to tell us the tale of his redemption. In the throes of my chemically-induced paranoia, I’m about to be scared straight. I‘m panicked anew.
Apparently Chops laid waste to the dowdy suburbs of Norwalk with no lasting consequences, and it would take a purely accidental brush with death in the army to open his eyes. Something about a failing tank turret threatening to decapitate him and a prayer answered. Chops finishes his testimony by asking for volunteers to rise and pledge themselves to Jesus. A whole new dilemma! Rise and risk being torn to shreds by your fellows; remain seated and renounce God. For all but two of us, God proved less fearsome than the mob. The bell rang.