Stoned English Majors

By on Sep 4, 2023 in Featured, Fiction

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Flying Valiant on a psychedelic road

Suddenly I was in the bottle city of Kandor, shrunken to miniature size by the evil Brainiac. “Superman! Don’t be so brave here in Kandor. You have no powers here. We need anti-gravity shoes to traverse this once-proud city, ensnared in your snow-encrusted Fortress of Solitude.”

“OK, Jimmy.”

“Maybe I don’t need to call you Superman down here, huh?”

“Uhh, Stutz, I don’t know about all that. I kind of dig being Superman.”

No shit.

“Anyway, man,” he continued, “by the time the pies arrive, the truth, far stranger than any comic book, will embrace us.”

It did. Phil freed a napkin from its holder, pierced a tiny hole at its center, delicately widening it until an empty middle revealed the table pattern, fractions-of-an-inch at a time. For at least 10 minutes, he expanded it, with tender massages, while I leafed through the sports section of a Philadelphia Daily News left on the booth behind us. Finally he set it aside, but not until it became a long white strand circling itself in an almost-endless spiral.

“OK, man, break in the action. Need sustenance before I can finish my masterpiece.” Phil sprinkled crushed hot red peppers on a slice, we touched the points of our opening pie-pieces like we were toasting with Champagne, and he poked his beady eye-glassed peepers at mine.

“When,” he probed between bites, “are you gonna get off the dime with Rise? You know she hungers for you, man. What are you waiting for? Expect her to fly into your bedroom like Peter Pan?”

I gobbled down slice one and hesitated. Truth was, I’d already had a couple dates with her, and things were popping along. Still, I had a hunch—more than that really—that whatever I said, he’d “come-on-man” me, like the time I had a truly wild night with someone named Susan, came bursting post-date onto Phil’s street after motoring so gaga I’d forgotten my headlights, chucked a fistful of pebbles at his window to get him outside at 4 a.m., and endured a lecture on physical relations. High points memorialized on a Fudgesicle wrapper.

I let discretion be the better part of mozzarella. “One of these days, Phil.”

We dove into our next slices. “If you’re saving yourself for your wife, you really missed the Lesson of the Sixties altogether.” He shook out a few more red peppers. “Know what your problem is, Stutz? You think things are just gonna come tripping your way, effortlessly, as long as you devour those pretentious books, blast your albums and get all slobbery around your sister’s friends. You gotta grab things with both hands.”

Which he did, snapping up his last two slices, pie one, mooshed as one in his left hand. Once we’d demolished game one of our double-header, he put the nightcap atop the empty metal dish it once occupied, took a pretentiously long breath and shifted his attention back to his metamorphosing napkin.

“This will soon envelop the Bozo-Mobile. And once it does…it will truly be Valiant.”

He returned to his vision quest, tenderly tearing the napkin, never allowing it to  separate along its perimeter, and, there, in the middle of our sophomore year at Temple University, amid the pizza smells, the parched longing in my throat as my glass held only ice, the inevitable ordering of second sodas, I waltzed seriously, not for the first time, with a nasty truth: If I didn’t sever myself from Phil, hop a few pavement cracks without training wheels, piggy-backing on his A-level experiences, which, granted, topped my B’s, I’d never be me.

But all that was whisked away as we started the second pie, napkin once more pushed aside, and again I addressed Phil in Exposition World Speak.

“Hey, whatever happened to the song you composed about that short brunette who inspired odes reminiscent of dapper Canadian folk singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen? You two dated for most of freshman year before she dropped you for someone more secure and less neurotic. I can only summon one line from the least inaccessible one, something about ‘Judy, I still see your naked body coming close to me,’ though if anything like that actually occurred, you’d have told me. Twenty-nine skillion times.”

“Ahh, I dunno, man.” He leaned hard on his elbows and shooed off the remains of the second pie. “Not worth it, you know? All the great songs have been written. I need to devise a new form of communication.”

“I would expect nothing less.”  

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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."