âUtterly fucking cool.â
âNo problem with like grease and germs and all that?â
âThe ants would be at it next day, the birds and the flies and whatnot. The sun. Rain.â
âLet nature take care of it, right?â
âYeah, thatâs right: let nature take care of it.â
Most of the brothers and sisters had already eatenâdinner was atsixâbut they lined up nonetheless, all except for Merry and Alfredo and a couple of the hard-core vegetarians like Verbie. (That hurt himâ Merry âbut she was adamant, every creature is sacred, wouldnât slap a malarial mosquito if it was perched on her wrist, and did he know about the Jains in India who went around with gauze over their faces so they wouldnât inadvertently inhale so much as a gnat?) Norm was there, though, glad-handing and effusing, ripped on something and shouting âLoaves and fishes! Itâs a miracle!â every two minutes. Somebody dragged the big speakers out onto the back porch and dropped the needle on Electric Ladyland, and pretty soon people were dancing out across the lawn in a kind of meat frenzy, and by the time it was over the steaks were gone, and a good time had by all.
At one point, stretched out on the grass with his plate, a transient joint and the dregs of a jug of wine he kept swishing round the bottom of his fruit jar in the hope a little circulation would make it taste less like recycled lamp oil, Ronnie found himself hemmed in by the professor and his old lady, the one whoâd let out that stone-cold shriek when heâd come staggering out of the woods with the deer wrapped round his shoulders, and if anybody thought that was fun they were out of their minds. Star was there too, and Marco, Lydia, Jiminy, a whole little circle of people off the main circle, and theyâd been discussing weighty matters like is Hendrix an alien and how many heads fit on the pin of an angel. And suddenly here was this professor sitting right there at his elbow with a plate full of gnawed gristle, and the professor was saying things like âSo, when did you drop out?â
Ronnie wanted to tell him to fuck off and go back to Berkeley with the rest of the touristsâ Canât you see weâre having a party here, man? âbut there was something about the guyâthe gray in his beard, the fruity rich mellow tenor that brought back all those somnolent afternoons in English classâthat just made him duck his head and mumble âA year and a half.â And it wasnât just that he was mumbling, he was exaggerating tooâsix months was nearer the truth. But the professor didnât want any six-month hippies, he wanted the genuinedown-in-the-trenches peripatetic lifetime dirtbags he could awe and thrill the reading public with. He had a notepad. He had aâno, yesâtape recorder.
âYou mind if I tape this?â the professor was asking.
Hendrix rode the night, supreme, astral, totally mind-blowing, and Ronnie mumbled Sure and the professorâs old lady moved in, thick legs in a long skirt and the joint pinched in her fingers like a deadly writhing South American bushmaster with its fangs drawn. Did she take a hit? Yes. And then she passed it on.
âYouâre how old? Here, talk into this.â
âThatâs right, yeah.â
âNo more than usual.â
âEver run away from home?â
âNot that I can remember. Or maybe once. Or twice.â
âYou were how old then?â
âI donât knowânine. I went to the bowling alley and hid behind the pinball machine.â
âBoth parents alive?â
His parents were alive, all right, but so was Lon Chaney Jr. in The Mummyâs Ghost. They were just like that, staggering from one foot to the other and grunting out hostile messages to the world and the