The Silver Year: Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Madcap Laughs

 

“Stand up . . . stand up​​ . . . stand up mate! You’re sitting​​ in a fucking​​ pile o’ piss!” Two tattooed arms forklifted Walter to his feet.​​ He​​ staggered to​​ a​​ nearby canal​​ where he​​ again collapsed to the ground. He crawled on his belly to the​​ canal’s edge,​​ then​​ evacuated his​​ demons​​ into the water—about​​ four​​ still-semi-solid​​ pot​​ brownies. ​​ ​​ 

“God​​ damn it. Now you’re really fucked,” the Aussie stranger​​ said. “The locals​​ don’t take lightly to tourists chundering​​ in their​​ canals. That’s what these dunnies​​ and rubbish bins are here for. You’ve really got​​ your head on backwards don’t cha​​ mate?”​​ He​​ went over to​​ Walter.​​ “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here before the police find you.”​​ 

He helped​​ Walter​​ to his feet​​ again.​​ Walter stood​​ like a​​ wobbly​​ fawn.​​ The unknown Aussie put an arm under him for support.​​ “Holy shit​​ you reek,” he said. “Can​​ you​​ make it​​ a​​ few blocks? I’ve got a flat up the road;​​ let you​​ clean up and​​ get your head on​​ straight​​ if you’d like.”

Walter’s head​​ was​​ still spinning from his nosedive​​ back​​ into reality​​ from inner space.​​ As his vision stilled, his rescuer​​ came into​​ focus. He was a mustached man,​​ about the same age as Walter.​​ His mouth rested in a​​ permanent​​ smile​​ with​​ a severe gap​​ in the middle,​​ which was periodically interrupted by the cigarette he was smoking.​​ His medium build was dressed in black from his ragged Cleveland Indians cap to his dirty and frayed Vans shoes. His unkempt hair stretched out wildly under his hat​​ and his jeans only reached his ankles. His pulled-back​​ black​​ flannel sleeves revealed an extensive collage of horror​​ movie​​ figures,​​ obscure metal bands, and​​ bizarrely, more​​ Ohio​​ sports teams.​​ He was part clown,​​ truckdriver, and​​ bum.​​ There was something​​ frightening​​ about him, yet also​​ congenially welcoming as if he was​​ a​​ chimera stuck between two​​ orders​​ of character.

“Do I know you?”​​ Walter asked.

No you don’t, but now you do.​​ I’m Dug,​​ Dug DeMargo. And that’s spelt​​ D-U-G. You can thank my illiterate mum for that.”

“Okay…” Walter said still confused. “Then why are you…”

“Saving​​ you? Don’t know exactly myself. I’m a​​ wee​​ drunk, but it seems the right thing to do.​​ I’ve never laid down in the bottom of​​ one of these​​ dunnies, but​​ sure​​ felt like it​​ many times.​​ It was so dark I​​ almost​​ pissed​​ on ya​​ until you suddenly started talking​​ to yourself—or​​ somebody. Whoever it was, ya had me in stitches mate.​​ The least I can do​​ is help you out for the entertainment.​​ So how ‘bout it?”

Walter stared at​​ him​​ questioningly.​​ 

“What?” Dug said. “You afraid I’m going​​ to take you home and pull some Buffalo Bill shit on you?​​ Ha!​​ No, I just​​ wanna take that​​ purty​​ face of yours​​ to​​ bed.”​​ Walter’s eyes widened. “Sorry, just kidding. Never mind me. I’ve just got a sick sense of humor I​​ suppose. But really, nothing​​ nefarious, just one mate trying​​ to help another​​ mate. Just adding​​ to my collective of karma​​ you could say. Never know when you’ll need a withdrawal.​​ Plus, I don’t think you’re in any shape to be on your own. You can barely stand and you’ve​​ got​​ puke and piss​​ all​​ up and down ya.”

Walter looked down and realized​​ he​​ was​​ right.

“But your choice,” Dug said.​​ “Just thought I’d offer. I’m just as fine leaving​​ you here and letting​​ you be someone else’s problem—most likely the police.”

With​​ a broken​​ cellphone,​​ no clue where he was, and no recollection of the hotel he was staying in, Walter was desperately in need of a savior, and indeed Dug was a savior for the desperate. All points of logic advised against going to some stranger’s home in an​​ unknown​​ foreign land. However,​​ cluelessly​​ combing​​ the streets​​ covered​​ in excrement​​ didn’t​​ seem much better. And​​ a shower did sound​​ so​​ nice.

“I guess you’re right,” Walter​​ said. “Uh, thank you.​​ Thanks a lot.​​ My name is Walter.”

Walter?​​ What are​​ you​​ a seventy-year-old man?​​ I’m gonna call you Walty. And don’t mention it.​​ It’s been a​​ shit​​ night​​ anyway, so​​ I’m willing​​ to throw the dice​​ on​​ a dose of different. C’mon, this way,” Dug​​ said and​​ skipped away.

“So you like the Indians?” Walter asked, seeking to learn more about his​​ new friend. “You don’t sound like you’re from Ohio.”

That obvious, huh?​​ Nope, from a little place in Queensland, Australia​​ called Edmonton—nothing​​ like its Canadian counterpart. I had a roomie back in uni from Cleveland​​ who​​ turned me onto them and all American sports.”​​ Dug​​ tore​​ out his​​ right​​ arm from his flannel and pulled up his shirt​​ sleeve​​ to reveal a huge Cleveland Browns​​ helmet​​ tattooed on his upper arm and​​ a​​ Cavs logo on the inside of it. “Naturally, all​​ of​​ Cleveland’s teams became my favorite​​ . . . So​​ lemme guess, you’re from​​ Cali-for-nee-ya?”

“Is it that obvious?”​​ Walter said.

Yes, all you​​ Cali-for-nee-yans​​ look and sound like people in the​​ movies.”​​ Dug​​ paused​​ in front of an upscale Victorian apartment complex.​​ 

“Is this your place?” Walter asked.​​ 

“Yep. Not a bad little shag pad,​​ huh?”​​ Dug​​ said, then​​ waved an electronic fob over a sensor on the entrance to the foyer. He then ran his fob over another sensor​​ to​​ the elevator, and they​​ took​​ it​​ to the top floor, then went​​ to a door at the​​ very end of a​​ long​​ hallway, where Dug waved his sensor again to​​ unlock​​ it.​​ 

When the door opened, the polarity​​ of Dug continued to perplex Walter. In contrast to his​​ black attire and​​ disheveled appearance, the immense apartment was​​ colorfully​​ and​​ immaculately​​ styled​​ in loud tones of red, orange,​​ and dark​​ blue.​​ ​​ From a windowed​​ balcony​​ door, the Herengracht Canal was visible,​​ and the lighting of an overpass below cast the room in a charm​​ that one could​​ only compare to Christmas—even if you weren’t a fan of it. ​​ 

“Shoes off,” Dug said. “And don’t even think about sitting​​ on anything​​ with those​​ stinking​​ fucking​​ clothes​​ . . .​​ Here,​​ you can put​​ ‘em​​ in this.” He handed Walter a trash bag from the kitchen. “Shower’s down the hallway,​​ and I’ll get​​ you some new clothes​​ and put ‘em in the​​ guestroom for you.​​ We look about the same size…” He​​ then​​ looked Walter over puzzlingly. “Shit, now that we’re in the light, you​​ actually​​ look like you could be my brother​​ or something.​​ But what’s up​​ with​​ those hideous flares mate?​​ You​​ go to​​ a throwback party​​ before this​​ or something?”

“I’ve​​ always worn​​ bellbottoms—or​​ ‘flares’,” Walter said. “Many have tried to get me out of them​​ Dug, but​​ bellbottoms​​ are just a part of who I am.”​​ 

“Ha, right! Probably because they’re so​​ goddamn tight.”

 

The​​ shower was a​​ renewing​​ lift,​​ just enough of home to help​​ Walter​​ find the rest​​ of​​ his mind. After, Dug​​ showed him the guest​​ room—or as he called it, the “Box​​ Room”. Dug​​ ran a small indie record label and it was chocked full of boxes of records, shirts, and other paraphernalia.​​ Boxes were stacked neatly three to four high along every wall of the room. Other than a queen-sized bed and a small nightstand, the boxes were the room’s only inhabitants.

“It’s nothing​​ big,”​​ Dug​​ said​​ of his operation. “Just​​ a grassroots type of thing. You probably never even heard​​ of​​ the bands,​​ real off-the-wall​​ metal stuff, jazz,​​ hard house—stuff no one listens to.”​​ 

“Seems more than a grassroots type of thing​​ to me…” Walter said gesturing to the elaborate abode​​ around them.

“Well,” Dug said​​ aloofly, “let’s just​​ say I​​ come from some money, and​​ that’s what pays for the digs.​​ This…” he gestured to the boxes, “this is just my rich kid pet project​​ you could say​​ . . .​​ But anyhow, here’s some pants, socks,​​ and​​ some unworn​​ undies I had,” he said throwing them on the bed. “Feel free to take whatever​​ shirt​​ you​​ want​​ out of these boxes here, but only these​​ ones,” he said​​ pointing​​ emphatically​​ to​​ four boxes​​ of band shirts​​ on​​ the right-side​​ wall.​​ “Anyway,​​ I’ll leave ya be​​ now.”

The pants Dug gave Walter were highwaters​​ like his. While​​ he​​ wasn’t fond of​​ them since they showcased his cankles instead of hiding them, his bellbottoms were​​ irredeemably soiled.

For his shirt,​​ he found​​ one​​ in the box of mediums​​ with a​​ woman​​ and words​​ painted on it​​ which​​ stirred​​ his​​ imagination​​ as to the band behind it.​​ The woman​​ was​​ feral-looking​​ and​​ blue-skinned,​​ with​​ wild​​ red hair​​ and​​ four arms​​ centered between two​​ encircling,​​ orange butterfly wings.​​ She​​ was formed​​ from a chaos of splashed paint and organic matter which​​ looked to be​​ swirled into ten-thousand​​ more, tinier worlds of chaos and organic matter.​​ Her​​ eyes seemed​​ to follow​​ his​​ as​​ his head​​ moved​​ back and forth​​ over the shirt.​​ He​​ then​​ faintly heard music in his head and a​​ voice​​ he imagined was her. She then began singing his thoughts into lyrics​​ as if​​ she was reading​​ his mind.

He put​​ down​​ the shirt.​​ 

He​​ took a few deep breaths and​​ shook his head.​​ Perhaps it wasn’t completely cleansed of bad chemicals yet. He then​​ picked​​ up the shirt​​ again and​​ read the​​ all-lowercase​​ Sanskrit-like print​​ ringing​​ the image:

 

to​​ say​​ life has no meaning is not to​​ say​​ it has no value​​ ​​ luna hunny

 

Why did that sound like an answer to a question he didn’t know he was asking? He then remembered. Amber’s suicide note.​​ 

 

“Who is​​ Luna​​ Hunny?” Walter asked Dug as he came out​​ of​​ the room. Dug was in​​ his​​ kitchen, behind an island counter,​​ pouring​​ himself a beer from a tap​​ built​​ into​​ it.​​ Dug’s​​ eyes shot up quickly, and for a moment Walter thought he saw a flicker of panic in them.​​ 

“Uh, sorry, what’d​​ you say?”​​ Dug asked.

“Luna​​ Hunny.”

Dug​​ squinted at the shirt. “Bloody hell​​ if​​ I can remember,” he said.​​ I’ve had​​ so many bands​​ over the years, I​​ can’t remember​​ em all. I’m mostly​​ just​​ a​​ European​​ distributor for​​ vinyl reissues and​​ bands​​ outside Europe.​​ I hardly​​ ever meet bands​​ face-to-face, and they’re always coming​​ and going.​​ It’s a cool shirt though . . . Care for a pint?”​​ 

“I’m good​​ for now,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “Just enjoying being sober again for the moment.”

“Figured, but thought I’d ask.”

Dug then​​ viciously​​ clamped​​ onto​​ his beer and guzzled it like a crocodile swallowing​​ a small fowl.​​ It was followed by​​ two​​ less rapid​​ shots​​ of​​ Jägermeister,​​ Dug​​ seeming​​ to enjoy​​ them more.

Hm-hm-hm…”​​ he​​ said. “Don’t care what people say about it, but Jäger is the shiz tits.​​ Stuff tastes like Dr. Pepper​​ and always makes me feel better. However, it’s usually​​ also​​ what made me feel​​ bad​​ in the first place. But you know, the hair of the dog that bit you or some shit. But in that case…” a​​ large, Jack-Nicholson-like grin overcame his face—however​​ not​​ quite as sinister since he had that gap, “…there’s something​​ else I need to make amends​​ with.”​​ He​​ then​​ ducked beneath​​ the counter​​ and reappeared​​ with a​​ large​​ bag of​​ what looked to be​​ cocaine.

“Want some?” he offered​​ to​​ Walter.

“Never really been my thing, but don’t let that stop you,” Walter replied.​​ 

“Wasn’t planning to.” Dug​​ poured a pile onto​​ the countertop,​​ chopped​​ it into two fat lines, then​​ dove into them like a seabird. After, he​​ arose more relaxed than he’d been the entire night.

“I have a feeling​​ you’ll want my next treat​​ though,”​​ Dug​​ said​​ and​​ dipped​​ again beneath​​ the​​ counter, coming up this time with​​ a large glass bong blown into the shape of a​​ nude and​​ upside​​ down Marilyn Monroe. Her legs were wrapped around​​ the​​ mouthpiece protruding​​ from her crotch, and inserted into her mouth was​​ the​​ bowl. While the American icon looked absurdly degraded, it was hard to deny the awesome artistry of the piece.

“Wanna take a hit outta Marilyn’s pink bits?” Dug​​ asked.​​ “The finest​​ Pineapple Express​​ you’ll ever find. If you need up, it brings you up; if you need down, it brings you down. It’s never treated​​ me wrong; hangovers, spins, binges, depression, anxiety—it cures it all.​​ I​​ swear it’s fucking​​ magic!​​ I got​​ it​​ from this​​ Sinatra-looking​​ motherfucker up the​​ road. He grows it​​ for​​ himself and only shares it with​​ his friends—never sells it, but​​ I​​ managed to get a​​ couple of​​ ounces​​ by trading​​ him​​ some rare records.”

“Well, if​​ I need to pick a poison, that’s​​ the​​ one,” Walter conceded. “And after all, I am in Amsterdam.”

“Hey, I’m not forcing​​ you, but I guarantee you won’t regret it.​​ Let’s go enjoy​​ it​​ on the​​ balcony​​ though.​​ View’s​​ much better.”

 

Dug’s​​ weed was good—almost too good. But Walter had a better grip on the steering wheel this time​​ and a companion in the passenger seat​​ as​​ he​​ cruised​​ through the celestial orbits​​ of his​​ thoughts.​​ They both sat in silence, saturating the​​ sounds around them​​ while passing​​ Marilyn back and forth. The top-story​​ balcony​​ overlooked a bend in the canal, allowing their eyes and ears to venture​​ far into the city. Bicycle bells chimed,​​ water​​ lapped,​​ a classical guitar played​​ distantly,​​ a group of girls​​ giggled from below; the city was alive and​​ murmuring with a​​ cadenced​​ clarity.​​ A​​ freeform jam of life, Walter​​ thought.

​​ “Ya know…” Dug turned to Walter with his index finger pointed to the air​​ as if readying a conductor’s baton. “There’s music​​ in​​ the sound of life,​​ you just have​​ to shut up once in a while to hear it.”

“Did you just read my mind?”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “I​​ was​​ just thinking sort of the same thing.”​​ ​​ 

“Na mate, it’s this weed. It creates connections between people,​​ puts​​ ‘em on​​ the same​​ plane​​ of perspective​​ if you know what I mean.

“Yeah, maybe so​​ . . .​​ Either way,​​ this is​​ great​​ fucking​​ weed.”

“Walty, I don’t do anything​​ but great—or I​​ at​​ least​​ always​​ try. God knows I’m far from perfect​​ though.”​​ 

“At least you’ve never managed to end up in the bottom of​​ a​​ urinal​​ talking to yourself covered in piss and puke.”

Dug laughed.​​ “Well, while I’ve​​ never managed that​​ in a literal sense,​​ I sure have​​ plenty of times​​ in a metaphorical sense. I’ve really gotten myself deep in my own shit.”

Dug momentarily lost his loose posturing and fell into straight sternality​​ as he lit a cigarette.​​ “My life’s full of fuckups,” he said​​ after​​ exhaling his first puff, “great,​​ giant, donkey-dick​​ ones. But​​ it comes with the territory of​​ trying​​ to​​ live​​ in the moment; of trying​​ to live the​​ most exciting​​ life I can.​​ And​​ I’ve learned​​ over​​ the years,​​ that​​ my​​ troughs,​​ detours, and setbacks​​ are just​​ as​​ important as the​​ termini​​ in life,​​ because​​ there’s no peaks without valleys​​ if you know what I’m saying?”

Walter somewhat did, but conversing with Dug was like a game of​​ philosophical​​ charades.​​ 

“I’ve​​ learned to​​ treasure​​ my mistakes,” he continued,​​ “because otherwise they’ll lead your life​​ astray from the moment. I see it all the time, and it usually has one or a mixture of three​​ flavors: people who don’t​​ want to face their​​ mistakes, so they​​ lead their lives in the future—real anxious types;​​ ones who​​ can’t​​ forgive​​ their​​ mistakes,​​ so they dwell in​​ the​​ past—real depressed types, and ones who​​ try to​​ mask​​ their​​ mistakes with​​ someone​​ or something​​ else—real pathetic types.​​ But it’s​​ only natural. Living​​ for yourself and with yourself​​ goes against the very success of our evolution. We are afraid to be alone​​ with ourselves.​​ However, if​​ you​​ can​​ find​​ comfort​​ in​​ that fear,​​ the world​​ gradually​​ becomes a much easier​​ place​​ to​​ navigate.”​​ Dug​​ then​​ relaxed back into​​ his​​ careless​​ manner.​​ “But again, I’m far from perfect, so what the fuck do I know?”

So what ‘navigated’ you to​​ Amsterdam?” Walter asked​​ genuinely wondering what kind of life​​ created Dug.​​ He​​ couldn’t pinpoint it, but he​​ felt​​ an odd​​ sense​​ of chirality​​ to​​ him.​​ ​​ 

“As​​ trite​​ as it sounds, a girl,” Dug replied. “But she was just the ending of​​ a​​ long​​ journey and the beginning of​​ a​​ much shorter​​ one.​​ I originally​​ came​​ to​​ Europe to study mathematics at Cambridge.”

“You studied​​ mathematics​​ at Cambridge?”​​ Walter said surprised.​​ ​​ 

“Yeah, but in​​ my​​ second​​ year I realized it just wasn’t my scene or thing, so I decided to move to Paris​​ since it always seems to be the​​ place​​ where​​ people​​ go to​​ figure​​ shit​​ out.​​ I got tangled up in the late-night jazz scene, and about​​ three​​ months​​ later​​ I​​ was putting​​ together​​ my first​​ operation, reissuing​​ old American jazz records that had long gone out of print. I then took on some local acts, and before you know it,​​ I was off and running.

Soon after​​ that,​​ I​​ met this​​ beautiful​​ Parisian​​ girl—and when I say beautiful, I mean​​ damn near​​ perfect.​​ She​​ also​​ had the best ass I still have ever seen.​​ Anyway, she was​​ a​​ cabaret​​ dancer, but her​​ true​​ passion was paintingreal abstract shit. She’d​​ mix​​ her​​ vomit into the paint, along with some other things at times:​​ semen, blood, pissit seemed the​​ weirder the better, and that​​ was also her philosophy in bed​​ too.​​ I mean,​​ sometimes she’d have me​​ put​​ four fingers​​ right​​ up her​​ bumhole​​ just​​ to make her cum properly.​​ Dug​​ held up his right four​​ fingers and spread them. “I’d​​ have to​​ spread​​ ‘em​​ nice and wide too!”​​ He​​ lit​​ off​​ a firecracker-like laugh.

“Anyway,” he continued,​​ “she was the freak​​ of​​ freaks.​​ And I’m not gonna lie,​​ daddy liked—actually, I loved.​​ I loved​​ her​​ so much I let her convince me to move my label to Amsterdam​​ after​​ only a little more than​​ six months​​ together. She had lived in Paris her whole life,​​ and as​​ an​​ artist she said she needed a ‘change of scenery’ for​​ new​​ inspiration,​​ and I was happy to appease. However,​​ three​​ months​​ after I moved here, she​​ told me one day she’d fallen in love with someone else and that was it.​​ I never found out who or​​ how,​​ but after a while I didn’t care. I realized it was my​​ prick​​ that was in love, not me, and​​ I​​ haven’t seen her for almost two years now.​​ Not sure if she even still lives​​ in the city, but despite everything, I ended​​ up really liking​​ Amsterdam,​​ a lot more than Paris,​​ so I stayed.”

Dug took a long toke of his cigarette, then blew out a perfect smoke​​ ring​​ before snubbing it out in an ashtray.​​ “Anyhow,”​​ he​​ said,​​ “been passing​​ out enough pieces of me.​​ What’s your story​​ Walty?​​ What​​ was​​ your​​ journey to the bottom of an Amsterdam dunny?”

“I’m still trying to piece that together,​​ but before that I was on a Contiki tour. Have you heard of Contiki?”

Dug began laughing. “Ah, you came on​​ Contiki,” he said. “Explains a lot. There’s hordes of you idiots running​​ around Amsterdam, but I don’t mind. Can’t tell you how many one-night stands I’ve returned to Hotel Nieuw Slotania.”

“Is that the Contiki hostel? I kind of forgot where I’m staying.”

“Jesus, and to think if I never found you?​​ Yes, and it’s not​​ that​​ far.​​ You​​ begin walking now and you’ll be there in twenty minutes. Hopefully you stick around​​ a little​​ longer​​ though.​​ I’m really enjoying​​ our time together. Haven’t laughed this much in a while.”

“Me too. I’m glad you found me​​ Dug. It’s weird, but I feel like​​ I know you​​ from a past​​ life or something.​​ I was​​ actually​​ a physics major at UCLA.”​​ 

​​  “Physics mate!​​ That’s what my uni roomie from Cleveland was studying—actually still is. Sometimes he still sends me stuff to get my take on it, but mathematics is obviously a much more leisure activity for me nowadays.”

“Physics is for me too.​​ Mind if I throw some stuff at you though?”

“Of course not!​​ I hardly ever get to​​ talk shop​​ anymore.”

“Me too!”

And so for the next​​ half​​ hour they​​ did.

“Not that I’m any authority,” Dug said,​​ “but I think you​​ might’ve​​ undersold yourself on​​ theoretical physics.”

“Thanks,” Walter said. “I do miss it a lot​​ sometimes.”

“Hey,” Dug​​ thumped​​ him on the chest. “It’s​​ always still​​ in​​ there.​​ You can go back any time. You don’t need school. Fuck, they’ve​​ got MIT​​ courses online for free now. If someone wants to become a theoretical physicist​​ without school, it’s never been​​ a better time.”

Dug​​ looked​​ at his​​ wristwatch. “Well,​​ surprisingly​​ it’s​​ only a little after​​ midnight,” he said. “If you’re up for it, we​​ can blab​​ more​​ someplace​​ else—preferably an establishment with alcoholic drinks and​​ some​​ women.​​ Plus, it​​ is​​ your only night in Amsterdam.​​ But don’t worry. I won’t let​​ you end up back in​​ a​​ dunny.

“I am feeling​​ much​​ better now,” Walter said. “And you’re right. I do​​ only​​ have​​ tonight in Amsterdam.​​ Okay.”​​ 

“That’s the spirit mate. We’ll keep away from the Red Light District for now;​​ go to a locals’ sector. There’s a great lounge I like. But first, shall we partake​​ of another bong rip before we get on the bike?”​​ 

“The bike? What do you mean​​ the bike?”

“I’ve got a custom tandem bicycle—a beach cruiser from your part of the world.”​​ 

Walter let out a belly laugh. Nothing​​ could’ve​​ sounded better to​​ his​​ stoned mind​​ than​​ a​​ tandem bicycle ride through Amsterdam.

 

After pulling it out of his garage, Dug threw his leg over the beastly tandem. It was the gaudiest thing Walter had ever seen. It was more motorcycle than bike, painted candy gloss white with red pinstripes running down each​​ of its​​ oversized​​ fenders. Attached to the front handlebars was a chrome headlamp, large enough for a motorcycle, and a basket with a built-in stereo. Dug flicked a switch in the center of the handlebars and the bike became accented with more red and amber lights than a semi-truck. “Safety first,” he​​ said. “You ever ridden a tandem?”

“No, can’t say I have,” Walter​​ said.

“Well, you’re in for an adventure.​​ But first, some rules. First, the bike​​ paths can be hairy, so​​ leave the​​ piloting to me​​ up front. As you can see, you​​ also have​​ handlebars, but they are connected​​ to my​​ seat,​​ so if you try to steer them,​​ the only thing you’ll​​ be​​ steering​​ is my arse, and you’ll knock me off balance if you do. Rule two is synchronicity. Peddle with me and not against me.​​ And​​ lastly, don’t ring your fucking​​ bell unless I say so.​​ Now get on.”​​ 

Walter threw his leg over​​ the beast​​ and sat on the over-cushioned seat. “All right,​​ position yourself…” Dug said,​​ “…and on the count of three, we’ll take off​​ . . .​​ One, two, three!”​​ The bike had a wobbly launch, nearly tipping over.​​ By instinct,​​ Walter​​ tried to correct by steering. “Whoa! What’d I say about steering?” Dug shouted back.​​ “Never fails,​​ I swear.”

 

The streets of Amsterdam welcomed​​ them​​ back​​ warmly. A slight breeze carried the sounds of a city still very much awake at twelve-thirty in the morning as the enormous bicycle floated down the paths like an old, cushy Cadillac.​​ Cool wind tickled every follicle of Walter’s scalp and stretched his cheeks into a broad​​ smile. The sky had cleared, leaving a dark backdrop for the evening’s show of stars, while Dug blasted​​ Queen’s​​ “Bicycle Race” on repeat and barked incoherently at the moon. People’s reactions to the bike were mixed; they either shook their heads at its ridiculousness, or chimed their bells with approval as they passed by. In the latter case, Dug would​​ shout, “Ring the bell!” and took a swig of Jäger from his bottle riding shotgun in the basket. ​​ 

They crossed over three major canals, then went through a network of back alley residential streets that ended at a line of local​​ dives and restaurants along an intersection of two smaller canals. As they drew closer to one dive, Walter was hit by music and a voice unlike any his ears had​​ ever heard. A funky rhythm line loped like a three-wheeled​​ jalopy,​​ while a​​ wild​​ vibrato snarled with sensational​​ emotion. The music and voice then​​ lifted​​ like​​ a​​ geyser.​​ California!” The word waterfalled over the air. “California!” it spouted again.

“What bar is that?” Walter asked Dug.

“Which one?”

“The one with the music.”

“Some old man’s blues joint. You don’t wanna go there. It’s horrible. No girls, only grimy old men.”

“But that sounds like a girl singing . . . God, that voice, it’s-it’s . . . I don’t know, but it’s doing​​ strange things to me. It’s so​​ moving, yet strange and sexual all at the same time. I’ve never heard anything like it. We have to stop.”

“Believe me,” Dug said noticeably frustrated. “You do​​ not​​ want to go there. It’s not a place for tourists, just a lot of old men and seedy scumbags who will probably pickpocket you the moment you step in. Where we’re going​​ is much, much nicer; a lounge full of fine women​​ who get drenched at the sound of an American accent.​​ Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”

“But I’m more of a dive bar type of guy anyway.​​ Can’t we just check it out?”​​ Dug ignored him and kept pedaling. “Dug!” Walter shouted. Dug turned up the music and remained unresponsive. “Fucker!” Walter said then pushed back on his pedals and gave his handlebars a sharp jerk to the right.

“What da fack!” Dug yelled as the bike went squirrely. Unable to regain control, it eventually ejected them off, and came crashing down on its side, its bells shrilling painfully as it skidded down the pavement.

“What the fuck did you do that for?!” Dug​​ screamed.

“I’m sorry,” Walter said. “I don’t know what came over me. I just wanted you to stop.”

“Well, we’re stopped! You happy?! Jesus Christ, I save you,​​ bathe​​ you,​​ and​​ clothe you, and you repay me by wrecking​​ me bike? You’re a real fucking​​ wanker, you know that? . . . My baby!” Dug cried as he lifted the bike and inspected it over for damage. “Great.​​ I’m gonna have to get it repainted now. Look at all these scratches.”

“I’m sorry Dug. I’m really sorry.​​ I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll give you everything I have left for repairs. I’m so sorry.”

Walter’s beggarly face seemed to soften Dug a little.​​ “Oh fuck, it’s fine,” he said. “It’s not that bad I suppose. I can probably paint ‘em over myself. But just why Walty? Why would you do that when I’ve been nothing​​ but a mate to you?”

“I don’t know,” Walter said just as confused. “I just wanted you to stop so badly. It was like this sudden urge. Then when you ignored me something came over me…”

Walter’s attention trailed back to the music which had continued to chug along unchanged. Dug noticed and shook his head​​ cynically.

“Please Dug?” Walter begged again. “Just a song or two?​​ It’s my only night in Amsterdam. Shouldn’t we be spending it how I want to?”

“No.​​ You lost that privilege when you decided to crash my bike.”

“It seems I never had that privilege to begin with.”

“Well, if it was any other bar, I’d be fine, but not that one. Really, I’m looking​​ out for you. Remember, I’m supposed to keep you out of trouble,​​ and that bar is not a tourist-friendly place. C’mon, the other place is just five minutes​​ more​​ up the road.”​​ Dug​​ then​​ put his leg back over the beast.​​ 

Inside, Walter was being torn apart.​​ The music—and especially that voice—had gaffed his heart​​ and wouldn’t let go.

“Fine,” Walter said​​ after a while. “If it’s five minutes up the road, I’ll meet you there. I’m sure​​ the​​ big bike out front will​​ make it​​ easy​​ to spot. I just need to see who that band and especially that girl is. I’m sorry.”

Dug shook his head.​​ “Of all the bars in Amsterdam,” he said,​​ then pressed​​ the​​ pedal forward,​​ soon disappearing​​ into the night. And like that, Walter was alone again . . . alone again. ​​ 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 13

SIDE​​ B

 

 

Chapter 13

A​​ Love Most Supreme

 

Each palpitation of​​ bass​​ pushed Walter​​ farther​​ away from himself.​​ But really,​​ who is myself?​​ the quivering voice inside​​ his head asked.​​ I’m thousands of miles away from any type of familiarity. I don’t know these people,​​ their language,​​ this country,​​ this​​ city, or even what type​​ or how many drugs I’m on.​​ I don’t even know how I got here​​ . . .​​ Am I at​​ a​​ rave?​​ 

Electronic dance music chomped with the precision of pneumatic machinery, slicing the air around​​ him​​ into rhythmical bouillon cubes of music and noise. Blacklit glowsticks and the smell of​​ Vicks​​ VapoRub pulverized​​ the dark​​ as glistening skin pumped and humped around him in an​​ orgy of​​ neon​​ movement.

What beautiful oddity allured me to this strange plane of existence and time?​​ He​​ soon​​ found his answer​​ in the half-naked​​ woman​​ bouncing​​ her buttocks upon​​ his hips.​​ His​​ females are friends only policy had​​ apparently​​ gone out the window.​​ 

Walter’s body​​ had a tendency to “go exploring” when​​ he​​ was blacked out—which wasn’t often, but it was​​ a fatal flaw in a city​​ as​​ bipolar as Amsterdam. In the sobriety of day,​​ she was​​ a​​ serene​​ Dutch beauty, but in the inebriation of night, a shape-shifting she-devil, and not the​​ place you wanted to​​ come to​​ in not​​ knowing​​ where​​ you​​ were, how you got there,​​ or​​ where your friends went.​​ 

Hello​​ Planet Amsterdam!​​ You are strange and so am I, so please accept me as one​​ of​​ your own​​ . . .​​ Please?​​ Walter begged​​ as the​​ inside​​ of​​ his head​​ began running wild.

Tracers of light​​ started​​ to sputter and freeze,​​ faces within his vicinity​​ started​​ to​​ change and​​ unhinge.​​ He​​ felt himself​​ suddenly​​ falling,​​ cannonballing​​ down​​ a​​ mineshaft​​ inside his​​ mind.​​ How far above reality was and what​​ waited​​ below was unclear,​​ but if he could somehow find a tether,​​ perhaps​​ he could​​ still​​ save​​ himself.​​ He​​ just​​ needed to find​​ out​​ when and where reality​​ began falling away.

I am​​ Walter​​ Huxley—for the most part,​​ I am Walter Huxley,​​ he started with what he​​ could last remember​​ to be true.​​ I​​ am in​​ Amsterdam.​​ I came here on a Contiki trip…​​ And that was all memory​​ gave him.​​ Thunderclouds of​​ fright​​ began​​ gathering.

Well, this is a new high.​​ I’m not even sure if I’m really alive.​​ This feels like a dream . . .​​ Well, you did it Walter.​​ Your greatest fear about this trip came true.​​ Whatever​​ drug​​ or drugs​​ you’ve taken has made you lose your mind in a foreign country,​​ or possibly​​ killed you​​ or put you in a coma or​​ somewhere in between,​​ because​​ whatever this is,​​ this​​ isn’t real life . . .​​ But then what is it?

No this is real. This is real. It has to be real. I just​​ need to find a restroom because​​ not only​​ do​​ I​​ suddenly really need to pee, but this​​ orchestration of strobing​​ lights​​ and​​ merciless​​ EDM​​ is​​ fucking​​ my​​ psyche with the​​ grace​​ of a jackhammer.​​ Once​​ I’m​​ there,​​ I’ll​​ get​​ a​​ good​​ look over​​ in the​​ mirror to reaffirm​​ my​​ existence,​​ and that will​​ fix everything​​ . . . I hope.​​ ​​ 

Fog​​ machines​​ then​​ began​​ dusting​​ the dancefloor​​ with​​ a pulsating cloud of​​ color​​ and​​ confusion​​ as the music crescendoed. Panicked, ​​ any grip he had on​​ reality​​ suddenly​​ left​​ as​​ he was sure​​ the​​ ground​​ was​​ lifting​​ with​​ the​​ music.​​ 

Doooo​​ you know where the bathroom​​ izzzzz?”​​ he​​ yelled to the​​ behind he’d been​​ humping.​​ Inside his head, his voice​​ sounded like​​ it​​ was being run through a pitch-shifter.​​ The music was so deafening it was not only affecting​​ his​​ hearing, but blurring his vision from the reverberations of his skull. Certainty’s outlines kept going in and out of focus.

The owner of the behind​​ looked back quickly and​​ shrugged, then​​ continued​​ rubbing​​ her behind on him.​​ He turned her back around.​​ “Is there a proper place to urinate, or shall​​ I just go on this dancefloooooor?!​​ he cried.​​ Punch​​ drunk​​ and​​ now​​ sure​​ he was in a​​ lucid​​ dream,​​ he​​ unzipped his pants and exposed himself to the girl​​ in a challenge to reality. “Wheeere​​ do I take this​​ guyyyy?

The girl screamed, but before Walter could start​​ discharging​​ himself, two hefty​​ and very real​​ security guards​​ hauled him​​ out​​ of the cloud and onto the cobbled streets of the Red Light District. “Thank​​ yooooou!” he yelled​​ as​​ they​​ tossed​​ him​​ onto​​ the ground.​​ 

 

The industrial stomp​​ of the​​ nightclub​​ soon receded​​ into​​ sounds of urban nightlife​​ as​​ Walter’s​​ mind calmed​​ for the time being.​​ Okay, so I’m still in reality,​​ he thought​​ as he petted the​​ hard​​ ground.​​ Im​​ still​​ in Amsterdam​​ . . .​​ God, I need to take a piss.​​ He​​ then​​ remembered​​ a​​ green,​​ spiral-shaped public urinal​​ he’d​​ pissed in​​ earlier​​ on his way to…​​ 

The sex show!​​ the memory climbed out of the abyss.​​ I went​​ to​​ a sex show​​ and​​ . . .​​ and​​ I ate​​ a​​ banana?​​ . . . I ate​​ a​​ banana out of​​ a​​ girl’s vagina​​ . . .​​ I was pulled onstage and ate a banana out of one of the performer’s​​ vagina . . . Okay, nope.​​ I excitedly volunteered myself.

The​​ memory flow​​ ceased.​​ Walter’s​​ thoughts​​ went back to his bladder.

Setting out in search of a urinal, the air was cool as it hit​​ his​​ lungs. The​​ roads​​ were​​ polished​​ by​​ a​​ recent​​ rainstorm​​ and were​​ gleaming​​ and​​ menacing​​ as the District’s​​ red​​ lights echoed off them​​ as if the city was bathed in blood, battling Walter’s bearings as to what was real or imagination. Soon, an​​ animated​​ symphony of demonic voices​​ arose from the blood, and​​ began​​ cooing​​ and​​ cackling​​ at him​​ from​​ every​​ corridor​​ and​​ every​​ passerby,​​ faces contorting​​ and​​ warping​​ around his mind’s eye,​​ enfolding​​ him in​​ paranoia​​ like a​​ boa constrictor,​​ squeezing​​ him to​​ surrender, but he slipped out and ran.​​ 

Setting a frenetic​​ pace,​​ he​​ bounced​​ down​​ alleys​​ and​​ roads​​ like a pinball off​​ bumpers. The faster he​​ ran​​ and the more he changed direction,​​ the less time his​​ psychosis​​ had to play tricks​​ with​​ his environment, and fortuitously​​ by this method,​​ he​​ almost ran straight into a city urinal.

Shelter!​​ Walter​​ thought as he​​ clambered into​​ its​​ piss-soaked​​ walls.​​ Surrounded by​​ only​​ green-painted​​ steel and darkness,​​ the​​ malicious animations​​ of his mind​​ had little to work with.​​ The urinal was​​ just​​ a spiraled shade around a hole in the ground.

He​​ waited​​ until his heartrate and breathing regulated​​ before​​ finally​​ relieving​​ himself.​​ The​​ piss​​ felt as good as an escaping possession, but​​ stirred up​​ a​​ foul odor of stale​​ urine, vomit, and spoiled milk.​​ 

After finishing, he​​ fished​​ into his pocket for his cellphone. He couldn’t make a call, but it did have a front-facing camera​​ and he needed to see his own face just to assure himself he’d​​ found​​ the​​ way out of​​ his mind.​​ But​​ when he turned it on,​​ he​​ was only greeted by a black screen.​​ He pressed the​​ screen​​ and his face​​ against​​ the steel walls, hoping to catch some​​ reflecting rays,​​ but​​ the darkness ate them all up.​​ He​​ then​​ resolved​​ to​​ using​​ his​​ phone’s​​ primary camera​​ which​​ had a flash, but​​ his eyes and mind were in a tenuous state,​​ barely beginning to reclaim​​ normal function.​​ So with eyes closed, he pointed the camera​​ at​​ himself​​ as if it were a loaded gun. The flash​​ ignited​​ and​​ an imaginary force of voltaic monsters​​ came rushing​​ in under​​ his eyelids.

Reactionarily, he threw the phone,​​ and after several seconds of blindness, a​​ sad image​​ waxed​​ into view.​​ There,​​ in a pool of public​​ excrement,​​ it​​ lay like his spirit:​​ shattered.​​ He squatted down and picked up the splintered device and its assorted pieces. He pressed the power button with both thumbs as if​​ choking​​ it, but​​ to​​ no avail.​​ Unable to confirm himself,​​ he gradually​​ waned back​​ into the ether, left to swim again with his​​ chemical demons.​​ 

Inner​​ catcalls​​ began​​ oozing​​ in​​ from​​ grates above​​ as​​ Walter​​ cowered fetally​​ onto the floor and​​ over the urinal’s hole, covering himself and his hands with a mucus-like filth coating the ground.​​ Unthinkingly, he then​​ held his​​ hands​​ to his face​​ to cry,​​ putting the​​ filth​​ in his eyes,​​ soon making​​ him​​ blind.​​ But sight wasn’t the last of​​ Walter’s​​ senses to​​ forsake​​ him.

Slowly, he​​ retreated from any​​ bodily​​ sensation until there was nothing left but​​ thought,​​ then​​ only​​ one thought:​​ This​​ must be what death feels like.​​ It​​ bounded down​​ the halls of​​ his empty consciousness until it was​​ nothing​​ but a whisper, then​​ impenetrable​​ silence.​​ 

Undisturbed​​ by​​ the outside world,​​ he​​ was left to​​ wander​​ within himself in search of any trace​​ of himself;​​ any proof he​​ had​​ ever existed. An ember of life​​ then​​ flickered. It was the oldest memory he could​​ conjure​​ from the database of​​ his​​ existence.​​ A young woman​​ was​​ humming, the light hush of her breathing and the rhythmic pulse of her heart pressed against his ear.​​ There was no sight, only sound.​​ He​​ was in his mother’s womb.

Walter​​ always felt​​ unwelcomed​​ by the world he’d been born into, but​​ now​​ in​​ her womb,​​ he​​ realized​​ that was never​​ quite​​ true. There was​​ and​​ always would​​ be​​ one person​​ who​​ saw​​ worth in​​ his existence—she gave her life for it.​​ And although he never knew his mother, he’d always known her love; it was his life.

Soon her​​ heartbeat​​ became​​ all​​ he​​ could hear. It​​ beat​​ like​​ a war drum until​​ his outside tormentors​​ withdrew.​​ Gradually,​​ corporeality​​ returned​​ to his soggy corduroy bellbottoms,​​ rinsing​​ in a marinade of​​ urine,​​ rain water and​​ whatever​​ else​​ he was​​ sharing​​ the floor with.

Pretending it was still operable, he​​ then​​ put his cellphone to his ear. ​​ “Hi​​ Mommy,” he said.​​ Mommy,​​ he wasn’t​​ sure if​​ he’d​​ ever said the word​​ before.​​ “Even though​​ I’ve only met you in​​ pictures​​ and Grandma’s stories,​​ I​​ realize​​ now​​ I’ve been meeting you all my life​​ through your love.​​ Your love is my life,​​ my​​ love​​ most supreme. And​​ I don’t know the last time or if I’ve​​ ever told you this​​ directly, but I love​​ you. I love you with all​​ the​​ heart and life you gave me,​​ and​​ I’m sorry I​​ forget that sometimes.​​ I love you Mommy. I love you.”

Walter sat up​​ from the floor​​ with a​​ more​​ peaceful mind.​​ He was still high as shit, but at least the monster was manageable​​ now.​​ 

“I thought you came here​​ to be inspired and to honor Amber?”​​ the​​ therapist inside​​ his head​​ now​​ spoke.​​ “I don’t think the bottom​​ of this​​ urinal​​ is doing much for either.​​ But I suppose,​​ once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right,​​ including a goddamn urinal.​​ But still,​​ you shouldn’t be​​ wasting​​ time​​ in a​​ goddamn​​ urinal​​ reflecting​​ on​​ your​​ past. You should be outside​​ of this goddamn urinal​​ creating​​ a past worth reflecting​​ on;​​ inspiring​​ a story​​ to​​ keep you entertained for​​ an eternity,​​ because​​ in the end​​ your life may be​​ the only story​​ you have​​ left​​ to read.​​ 

Now as​​ you know,​​ Im an advocate of​​ moderate​​ drug​​ use, but you’re​​ doing it​​ all wrong.​​ Traveling the world is​​ already a​​ mind-altering​​ experience​​ and​​ additional intoxicants should be​​ taken with extreme​​ care—especially when you’re in a place you’ve never been​​ before.​​ And​​ while​​ drugs​​ may open the path to enlightenment, they’ll never​​ get you​​ to the​​ destination.​​ But there’s hope​​ for you Walter.​​ I’m glad I found you when I did. You still have a chance to salvage​​ your​​ one night in one of​​ the greatest cities in the world. Don’t blow it on account of​​ a bad trip. We all have them. But that’s why it’s called a trip, you can always​​ stand up