Stoned English Majors

By on Sep 4, 2023 in Featured, Fiction

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Flying Valiant on a psychedelic road

As I already had dispensation to pilot the family car, a green, aging Plymouth Valiant with push-button automatic transmission, I hustled Phil down my hall, where he lasered an exaggerated Groucho Marx leer in the direction of my sister’s shut bedroom door and bounded the steps in twos, shot a “see-you-later” at my parents and led me out onto Williams Avenue and our waiting metal steed.

I started the car and Phil let out with a carnival-barker entreat—“Let’s ponder what’s on the radio!”—and ushered us into the stormy, transcendent guitar solo in Jimi Hendrix’s jolting cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Once the song evaporated, goosing the cosmos, Phil took the lead, as always, to the night’s explorations.

“Two pizzas, man, TWO…for the price of one! Wake up and smell the pepperoni.”

Another glorious odor wafted our way ahead of pizza toppings. As I edged into an Ogontz Avenue parking spot facing a nails-and-facial establishment abutting a Frank’s soda machine, Phil produced three-quarters of a Zig-Zag rolling-paper treat.

“My sister shared a bit of this doobie with me on the way to your house, man. A little something to enhance our percep-tit-tudes.”

Phil toked cheekily, held his breath, leaned back with slow theatrical joy, then handed over the joint. I partook, then Phil, and on-and-on, as we consecrated our illegal hors d’oeuvre until it crept toward glassy-eyed eternity.

But not before I slurped in as much marijuana as I could, almost singeing my thumb and forefinger as the roach burned closer to finality, then quickly passed it back to Phil, who vacuumed deeply and slammed it over, red-hot Olympic relay baton, as I exhaled a happy sigh of smoke into the Bozo-Mobile.

Just ahead of a well-worth-it fingertip burn, I sucked in the pot, urged it inside and caressed its wonders until Phil’s exquisitely-timed held-breath killer destroyed what seemed an eons-long silence and tricked me into losing my final toke.

“I saw a big truck today.”

I couldn’t help tumble for the zest of his non-sequitur—I envisioned a Peterbilt 10-wheeler, tires huge as my parents’ car—as it ripped my resolve to hang onto the pot, which escaped my lungs, swam up my laughter and swirled the Valiant’s ragged ceiling.

Buzz detonated and extinguished, joyfully so, I muttered something about how we were “merged with our environment” and joined in with Phil as we pounded our palms against the Bozo-Mobile dashboard to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Who’ll Stop the Rain until I shut the motor and sneakered onto Ogontz. There it was, on Continental’s window, a scrawled sign (really just loose-leaf paper, smeared in what looked like tomato sauce) trumpeting, “Buy 1, Get 2d Pie Free.”

We were clouds floating into the restaurant, where there was no crowd we needed to beat: 9:30 Thursday, just a dark-haired, middle-age guy with a moustache at the cash register, a kid palming a pizza from an oven, a dozen empty booths.

Only 11 now—stoned English majors, we plunked down, ordered two pies with mozzarella-and-pepperoni, along with two large Cokes, urged on by Phil’s best ersatz-respectful Eddie Haskell request: “Easy on the cubes, sir, we don’t wanna get cheated on our soda.”

By the time drinks—mostly ice—smacked against the table, Phil sat transfixed by our napkin holder, reverently hovering it towards the grease-spattered ceiling.

“Amazing, really,” Phil intoned. I sat 10-percent entranced, 90 annoyed, as he stared at the gizmo until it passed from the realm of the taken-for-granted into some cartoonish netherworld, bestowed with magical properties. “Have I ever told you, no, don’t think I have, but I read somewhere, maybe in a science book, maybe Action Comics, but, anyway, I’ve been seduced into believing one can drive a car through a napkin. If you deliver the proper foreplay.”

Once again, here I was: Letting Phil take over, like switching on a TV, I don’t have to think, entertain, neither in my given name of Stuart, Clark Kent, or as the Stutz dynamo I seldom was, Superman, for-real running the game.

“Phil, one thing, though. Action, all those comics, they were wonderful in elementary school, a reliable little world, thought bubbles, word balloons, those little explainer phrases above the pictures, like headlines.”

Phil jockeyed with his hands, elbows on table, fingers outstretched to cholesterol heaven. “Getting metaphysical, before we burn the roofs of our mouths? Spare me, please.”

“Wait, Phil, listen.” Not one of his strengths. “Ever notice how when comic-book characters, superheroes, even supervillains, speak, they don’t really talk?”

“D.C. Comics exposition, Stutz. Absolutely.” I detected a “firm-grasp-of-the-obvious, man” treading water in his thought-balloon. “Jimmy Olsen telling Superman things, in painful detail, that Supes already knows, so the dork who just plopped down his 12 cents or whatever it costs now, gets the idea.”

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Stuart Michaelson is a semi-retired journalist and Philadelphia native. He spent 22 years working on newspapers in the Philly area, Connecticut, and New Jersey as a reporter, editor, columnist, and supervisor, as well as more than a decade at TV Guide magazine, where he contributed to three books on television history. He started writing fiction in 2017, and had a short story published in 2018 in the Schuylkill Valley Journal. Apart from writing fiction, as well as part-time freelance non-fiction, he spends his time reading political and rock-music bios, listening to CDs, and watching old TV shows, ranging from Lost to such escapist fare as "Melrose Place."