Stoned English Majors

By on Sep 4, 2023 in Featured, Fiction

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Flying Valiant on a psychedelic road

Phil yanked up his jacket and shirt, took a look. “I don’t, man.” His “man” lacked starch. I soldiered on.

“I just… I don’t want to blow the money I’ve saved to spend two months in Europe, traipsing behind in your sandal steps. Even if I don’t seduce a beauty in Barcelona, or gobble blotter acid in the Louvre. I might have more thrills at Cedarbrook Mall.”

“What are you saying, Stutz? Are you saying I, like, push you around?”

“Not exactly. More like you overwhelm every conversation, tsunami everything back to you.”

“Fire up the lava lamps, man. This is getting way too heavy.”

“Maybe, but, seriously, and you don’t do it in any kind of, like, bullying way, but it’s like when we wound up at different high schools, you, brainy Central, me, gritty Germantown”—at this he arched his eyebrows—”and we hadn’t hung out for a few months, and you came over my house and perused, assessed, judged, my record collection.”

“Dylan, Stones, Beatles. Mixed with Motown. Smokey. The Tops. The Tempts. The Germantown flavor. It was cool!”

“Yeah, yeah. But for me, I had this weird, nervous thing. Hoping you approved.”

“Right. I did.” He gathered up the napkin like it was a cross between a precious jewel and his first-born. We left a small tip. But Edison’s bulb glowed in Phil’s eyes. He walked the dough to pay for our dough over to the register and conferred with the manager.

When he returned, he pushed on, rare glint of doubt. “OK, then, I approved. What’s the hang-up?”

I started to conjure more words, but let it pass.

All but one overhead light was off. One for the cops, I guess. We slunk towards the door, manager following. The three of us hit Ogontz. Under the street lights, Phil and the manager gripped parts of the stretched-out napkin. I entered my car, moon through my windshield, turned on the radio and waded through a stream of commercials until the infectious opening to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” caromed the innards of the Bozo-Mobile.

They stood a few feet from my car’s front bumper. Phil hunched to my left, the manager, to my right. I flicked on the headlights and slowly motored through the outer limits of the napkin, breaking it only beneath my wheels.

A paper portal. My car and I, crashing some invisible barrier, all along the metal tracks.

I drove through the napkin.

And, remembering that whenever “I Want You Back” shook my speakers, speed limits disappeared, I did the same, bouncing down Ogontz, trolley tracks, napkin, the moon, the manager, and Phil, his domination dwindling along with his vanishing profile, fading in my rear-view mirror. No more, I vowed, would I be the pinball, Phil the flippers.

More than that. Phil’s seemingly unshakable grip, stretching from his outline behind me, like a meteor’s tail connecting us, sliced in two, a rope across some grand divide, snapped, cut apart, limp, falling along the the tracks between us.

Fuck the rear view. I’d go back and round up Phil, eventually, maybe, but for now, and until what—the millennium?—I’d peer front view.

The Louvre, I knew, would come, as would more searching, and, undoubtedly, an interesting woman or three. All that could wait. Had my own masterpiece to paint.

And as Michael Jackson’s explosive lead vocal yanked my feet like he was an 11-year-old marionette master, it struck me that maybe Phil wasn’t actually Goliath after all.

I wanted me back. I’d been shadow-boxing, thinking I was merely breaking free of Phil’s force. Those stones I gripped, they wanted slinging. They needed a target I could reach, one I’d coated, disingenuously, with Phil’s face, and really there was something else, something vast, a wall looming up ahead, far beyond his slouched shoulders. I lowered the windows, liberating the pot smoke into the heavens, thinking, if there’s a Lord, and I hope there is, maybe He’s enjoying his High.

I embraced mine, but not without choking. Freedom, I learned—long after I picked up Phil, without ever letting him lead me again—tastes fine, but it can sting, too.

All that, though, for another day.

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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."