by Jude Ellman
The times were light, it was early summer, and a generally melancholic 16-year-old boy was catching his first glimpses of freedom. He was spending a week at the beach with some acquaintances from high school. He was a year younger than them, he had something to prove. He could be freer than them, he was a man.
His days in Maryland marked the disintegration of his old life. His friends were friends no longer. It was two days into the trip when the beer ran dry. The liquor followed the next day. They’d always seem to be making new friends so long as they had things to give them.
It was at this point he realized he couldn’t tolerate a single one of the people he was staying with. Not sober at the very least. And he had paid for four more days of lodging. He sat in the condo contemplating death.
Eventually one of his roommates cut through the shared hangover’s palpable tension, “Yo guys, what are we doing tonight?” he said.
“We’re going down to the boardwalk in a few,” said the leader of the more responsible, and thereby boring, residents of the condo.
“Bruhh,” responded the future alcoholic who had originally asked the question. There were a few supporting moans around the room from those seeking inebriation and fornication rather than a pleasant evening stroll on some highly patrolled wood. The youngest boy groaned right along with them.
“There’s this party tonight on 8th street, some people I met are going. I think it’s like, going to be full of people,” said another resident who was the de-facto leader of the more criminally inclined miscreants who’d gone on the trip. The youngest boy looked up to him in a way. He thought that he was stupid, reckless, and blindsided, but he possessed a haphazard charisma that drew people to him.
“Sounds good,” said the youngest boy instantly.
“We’ve gotta pregame,” exclaimed the one who mentioned the party while unshrouding a bottle of vodka from his bag. This vodka was communal but was apparently in his single possession. A lot of the group’s alcohol likely wound up in his possession similarly.
The youngest boy was slightly frustrated as he was under the impression there was no more alcohol. He didn’t voice his frustration. “Let’s do it,” he said quickly standing up and walking toward the bottle like a moth to a flame.
One, two, three, four. Shots poured; points scored. His 140lbs of malnourished body was handling the alcohol remarkably well. Before long, he found himself at the party, looking for new friends and new vices.
He found the party intolerable. It was full of modern, unintelligible dance music, girls who would never associate with him, and many large brainless men who probably could not comprehend addition outside of a football game. There was plenty of cheap beer, and the continuation of semi-miserable drunkenness seemed preferable to not. He drank.
He didn’t see anyone he knew; he was watching the room carefully to find any conversations he might like to insert himself into, or better yet, women the same. He drank more. Eventually he came to notice a pattern. There was a very slender black gentleman, with long dreadlocks which were dyed green at the ends, who would like clockwork, walk with someone upstairs, spend a few minutes out of sight and then come back down with his very eager new friend. He would then find someone new to bring upstairs.
This meant one of two things. This gentleman was either selling drugs or blowjobs, and assuming based on his face tattoos, the latter seemed improbable. The boy sprang into action when he saw the man making his routine descent. The promise of drugs is a motivator like none other. He set his beer down and made way for the man, stopping him at the base of the steps.
“Yo, you trapping?” the boy said with a very noticeable tremor to his voice. It was obvious he was using words that weren’t his own.
“Yeah bro, whatchu want? Come on upstairs,” the slender man said in a surprisingly amicable tone that relieved the boy. He motioned with his hand for him to follow. The boy was simultaneously terrified and exhilarated.
“I don’t know man,” he said, “Whatchu got?”
“Everything,” the man replied stoically.
“What do you mean by everything?” the boy asked in giddy anticipation.
“Everything,” he repeated laconically. Their walk came to an end as they reached the bathroom adjacent to the master-bedroom where the man kept his briefcase. He opened the case to reveal an unbelievable assortment of drugs. He recognized the demonic smile on the boy’s face all too well. “I’m the Candyman, they call me.”
“Well, I’m very pleased to meet you,” the boy said, dropping his coolness all at once. He didn’t bother to return a name. Candyman certainly didn’t care, and it wasn’t nearly as cool. He looked at the box in astonishment.
“So whatchu want?” Candyman asked him again? The boy was overwhelmed, there was so much potential ahead of him. Should he try something new? Should he stick with what he knows? Should he take something to make him forget who he is altogether? Is he willing to ruin his life over tonight? He thought.
He decided to stay in somewhat familiar territory. LSD was his choice. You can never really be familiar with LSD, no matter how many times you’ve taken it. He had taken it far too many times already. “Maybe this time I’ll get the answers,” he thought incredibly arrogantly. As if there were answers at all, and if there were the absurd affront that he was anywhere near finding them. He paid $20 for three hits and took them all. Now more than ever, his night was in the hands of fate.
He walked down the stairs with the Candyman. It was going to be a little while. He didn’t resume drinking. He went outside and sat down at a picnic table. Soon enough, people came to join him.
One of the boys he was staying with approached the table with a group of unfamiliar faces. He greeted his friend as he approached and introduced himself to the others.
“I just took some acid, it’s not doing anything,” he said to his friend. A girl, one of those now sitting at the table, alerted like a pointer at the mention of the drug. His friend was nearly foaming at the mouth.
“Where did you get it?” he asked.
“The Candyman,” he replied.
His friend laughed, revealing just how intoxicated he already was. “The Candyman? Bring me to the Candyman.”
“I don’t even know if this stuff works.”
“How long has it been?”
“Like 45 minutes.”
“You need to wait longer, it’ll work.”
“How do you know?” he asked. The same girl was listening intently to the conversation. The boy looked over and made eye contact.
“You got it from the Candyman?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Then it’ll work, just wait,” she said.
“How do you know?”
“I’ve had it before, Skurr always has good stuff,” she said. “How much did you take?”
“Yeah, three. Why?”
“No reason,” she said, “You’re just in for quite a trip. Have you ever tripped before?” His friend now wanted the acid more than ever, and he wasn’t going to wait for the conversation to be over to get it.
“Where is the Candyman?” his friend interrupted. Conveniently the Candyman was out upon one of his surveying trips, looking for another love-drunk fool to send spiraling into the depths of the absurd. He poked his head outside, he towered over everyone else around him.
“There he is,” the girl said. The Candyman saw the boy and walked over to him.
“How you doin?” he asked.
“I’m fine, I’m not sure they’re doing anything,” he said.
“It’s good cid bro, trust me,” the Candyman said with a coy grin. “I didn’t come down to Maryland unprepared,” he said.
“Word, bro. I trust you,” the boy said pretending to be cool. He was terrified of the Candyman. “My friend wants some too,” he said while gesturing to him. His friend and the Candyman had a short conversation and then went together upstairs. He was left sitting with the girl.
“So, you’ve done a lot of cid,” he asked her.
“Yeah, I love it. It’s better than any other drug I’ve done. I mean, I’ve tried ket, and shrooms, and coke, and molly, but honestly I like feel the best when I’m tripping L,” she said.
“Yeah, I know where you’re coming from. I’ve never been happier,” he said. The world was beginning to warm up around him. Youth and possibility never seemed so endless, everyone and everything became unimaginably complex. He began to look at people as the sum of their entire lives, objects as the combination of the millions of impossibilities defied in the process of their creation. Everything and everyone was nuanced far beyond the realm of comprehension. Accepting the house of mirrors he was born into, the infinite madness and chaos of the world, leviathan hordes of unknowables were suddenly grasped with a graceful simplicity. “I am nothing and everything, none and all,” he thought. It was obvious there was an answer to everything, and that answer was love. “I’m starting to feel like that now,” he said to her.
The night got cold, the ocean wind was snaking its way over the dunes and through the town. The girl suggested they move their conversation inside. He followed her upstairs to the same room where he had bought the acid almost two hours earlier. They were sitting on the bed talking.
“Have you ever had ego-death?” she asked.
“Yes,” he lied to her. He didn’t know what ego-death meant, he didn’t want to seem uneducated in drug culture.
“It’s so weird and eye opening. I couldn’t remember my name, or where I was, or anything,” she said. She also did not seem to understand what ego-death was. He was pleased he had found some sort of a friend, but the world was melting around him. He couldn’t stand her anymore. He had to go. The Candyman came into the room then greeted him and the girl. He gave him a gravity-bong hit then asked him to leave. The boy walked out and shut the door and lingered in the hallway for a moment. As the acid and weed mixed, his sight began to betray him. There wasn’t a sense left he could trust. He heard the faint squeak of furniture being moved in the room; the music was loud downstairs. Then the unmistakable roar of fucking began. He left the house.
It was cool outside. There were not nearly enough streetlights to keep the peripheral demons at bay. In every shadow there was something, although he wasn’t terribly concerned. He made his way to the boardwalk, a place sure to be full of life even after midnight. The walk was treacherous and beautiful. He had no clue where he was going but wound up at the boardwalk soon enough.
The crowds he encountered at the boardwalk were not peaceful. George Floyd had been killed just weeks earlier. There were police officers armored in vests and helmets, they all had assault rifles and were in clumps like ants. He thought they would arrest him on the spot, they all seemed to be watching him. He kept his eyes away from them and continued walking. He made his way down onto the beach, there were no police there. There were no protesters there either. He was about 100 yards from a pier on which there was a Ferris-wheel.
The Ferris-wheel was not operating, but the lights were still on. He clutched onto the cool sand while sitting on the beach staring off at the wheel. The lights changed pattern and color continuously. Sometimes there was a very large smiley face which spun. The happiness of the face irritated him. He thought of the Nirvana smiley, its wavering smile expressed nuance much better. “All beauty is in nuance,” he thought. For about an hour he watched the wheel change shape, size, color, and dimension. New images came from the flashing lights. Like a burning bush, it spoke volumes to the insane.
His time with God was over. He stood up, un-sanded himself, and began his journey back to the party. He wanted to go home, not back to the condo, but all the way home. He saw there was nothing for him in Maryland, he wasn’t sure there was anything for him anywhere, but Maryland definitely didn’t have it. He reached the boardwalk and began weaving through protesters and cops. “There’s far too many people out for this hour,” he thought. He made it off the boardwalk and back onto the street before he was approached.
“Hey man,” said a man who appeared to be in his early 20’s. He was wearing a tank top and athletic shorts. The man was with another gentleman dressed the same.
“Hey,” the boy replied wearily. The man’s face appeared quite monstrous to him.
“The boardwalk is beat,” he said, “You look like you’re having a good time, where are you going?”
“I’m going back to a party I was at before, it was pretty lit,” he said wearing his party-boy facade.
“Yo… You’re going to a party?” the other man asked. “Can we tag along?” The two seemed like the average sort of drunk baboons who were stumbling around the party, he didn’t see any harm in allowing them to follow.
“Yeah, you guys tag along if you want,” he said naively. He was happy to have made new friends. The drugs were weighing on his social inhibitions.
“Sick,” one replied.
“I’m crazy high,” the boy said to the men. “It’s been a wild night.”
“Yooo, did you get high at the party?”
“Yeah, I got stuff there. They have free alc too.”
“That’s lit man, what did you take though? I want that!” the man said and then laughed with his friend.
“LSD,” said the boy without wasting a second. He was proud of what he had done. The men looked at each other and nodded. The boy didn’t think anything of it. They continued to follow him down the road. The three were now far away from the well-lit boardwalk. The buildings cast moonlight shadows over the already dark streets. There was no one else in sight, yet the city was as loud as always.
The group heard the beginnings of an argument somewhere ahead of them. It sounded like men were about to fight. They continued walking until they had a clear view of two men who were now grappling in a 7-11 parking lot. There were a few people watching. The boy kept walking, he wanted nothing to do with this. The two men stopped once they were parallel to the fight. The boy turned around to see what was going on and why his new friends had stopped following him.
The men were speaking and looking back and forth between the boy and the fight. They were nearing closer to the altercation.
“Yo guys, what are you doing?” the boy shouted over to them. The men looked over at him. One of the men involved in the fight had taken out a knife. The other fighter didn’t seem to notice. The boy’s friends turned back toward the scuttle.
The man plunged the knife into the other’s stomach. He pulled it out. A stream of liquid spat out of him as he fell to the ground. The boy watched in morbid amazement. Running would have been ideal but he was frozen in terrified curiosity. The men he was walking with reached behind their backs and drew pistols.
“Hands up! Police!” one screamed at the stabber. The stabber dropped his knife and threw his hands up. The two men ran towards him. The boy’s curiosity had drawn short. He doubled his pace and continued back to the party.
He arrived shortly after. Outside the house there were multiple vans that were not there when he had left. He saw very similar vans being used for mass-arrests on the boardwalk. He decided against going back into the party. He texted his friends so they would come outside. They paid for his Uber, and they made their way back to 112th street from the perils of 8th. He didn’t mention what he had seen to his friends. Not anything.
“Where were you bro?” one asked him.
“I saw Headman go upstairs with some girl,” another said. They called him Head-man because of a previous misunderstanding.
“Ahh so you were getting some puss?” the first one asked.
“Yeah,” he said. They didn’t know him, and he was fine with that. “Better to be cool than traumatized,” he thought.
He reflected on the night’s miracle. Somehow, he avoided arrest. Someone died for his sins that night. He never met his Jesus, although no one ever really does. “Is there a cosmic relevance to all this?” he thought. “I didn’t get caught; I should have gotten caught.” The insight of the evening was lost on him. Awareness was mangled into egoic delusions that supported a kind of invincibility. He was not invincible; the scars of this night would show with time.