Back in Black
In junior high I started hanging with Joe. He failed seventh and ended up in my science class. The teacher was a smelly old pervert who picked cute girls to go the chalkboard, then leaned his crotch into the lab table while they worked out problems at the board. The teacher really liked Edie, who had hips before anyone else. Edie and I were friends since fourth grade. In fifth, she had a crush on Joe. In seventh, he was at our table.
Joe took Edie’s cherry and gave her a reputation. But I think she wanted one anyway. She was certainly built for it: all hips and attitude. Rumor was her dad was in jail, leaving mom to raise three girls. Edie was the youngest. Both her sisters dated Duke a few times. He also got high with her mom.
Edie got high with us behind the library before school. Even after she and Joe broke up. There wasn’t much choice. We were a group forced together by weed and Led Zeppelin. We didn’t like sports or school or kids who did. After school we sat on the hill by Giant’s playing tapes and smoking joints. Sometimes a high school kid would play guitar and we’d sing Janis or Jimi.
Joe threw a party when he bought “Back in Black.” We crowded his bedroom after school one day to hear Bon Scott’s replacement, after he drank himself to death outside Ozzie’s house.
We piled on the bed or floor or dresser, wherever there was room. Joe pulled a bong from the closet and weed from his pocket. The bong said “Aqualung” on it. He shook the bag of weed, “I got a little. Anyone else?” He dumped it on “Dirty Deeds” and laid the album cover on the floor. A couple others added to the pile, but not enough for twelve of us.
“Well,” Joe said, “Anyone got money?” No one answered.
“I got five,” I said, remembering that I bummed my brother’s allowance.
“Five bucks. That’ll work. Anybody else?” Joe scanned the room nodding his head. No one responded. He looked back at me, “Let’s go.”
Joe’s neighbor was a college student with two roommates, horticulture majors. Their basement was a grow room with rows of lights strung across the ceiling. It was warm and humid and felt like a jungle.
“How much you want, Joe?”
“We got five bucks.”
“Five, huh? I’ve got something. It’s a little green, might be harsh. But I’ll cut you a deal. Cool?”
“Cool.” Joe looked at me and held out his hand, “Cool?”
“Cool.” I handed him the five. He handed it to College, who grabbed an empty bread bag and walked to the trash can in the corner. He clawed a handful of weed and shoved it in the bag, nearly filling it.
He held it up, “Good?”
Joe smiled and nodded his head, “Yeah,… good.”
“You might need to dry it out before it’ll burn.”
Back at Joe’s house, he spread the weed on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven. “Ten minutes tops.”
“You think this will work?”
“Why not? Should dry it out. Right?”
Upstairs, everyone was semi-stoned. They finished the weed from before and were listening to “Physical Graffiti.” They sat up when we walked in with a few fat buds. Joe laid them on “Dirty Deeds.”
“Here. De-seed this and let’s try to smoke it while the rest is drying. I got some ice cubes for the Aqualung. Maybe that’ll cool the hits a little.”
The weed lit fine and burned fine and got us all ripped.
“All right,” Joe said as he exhaled a huge bong hit. “Let there be rock.”
“Yeahhhhh,” came a half-hearted growl from the clothes pile in the corner. Someone was so stoned and splayed out I couldn’t tell who it was.
“Damn, Cheech, you looking wasted over there.”
“Naw. Um a yight,” a hand waved in the air. It was Half Pint. He was small, but he did his best.
Joe set the needle down and turned the volume up. It crackled. Then like thunder: Hells Bells: Bong…Bong…Bong…Bong…Bong. Angus started playing. Half Pint climbed on the bed and started playing, too. Air guitar. He looked like a bug-eyed Billy Idol. Others flailed drumbeats with their arms and some followed with bass, but every head nodded and every other boot tapped the floor.
By “Shoot to Thrill” the bong was passing again and didn’t stop until “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” I had no idea what the songs were about, but I liked them. What I could understand was sex and drugs and rock and roll. And that was good for me.
When the album ended we were so stoned we sat staring at each other, wondering who would lift the needle. Half Pint burned out and fell asleep in the clothes pile. Everyone else was just as mellow. Even AC/DC couldn’t keep them from floating off.
I was there too, in the periphery, wondering what happened to the music. I was squinting through the fog, toward the stereo, to see if anyone was putting on another album. But I couldn’t remember where the stereo was, and then I couldn’t remember where I was. I felt my way around on the carpet and realized I was in someone’s bedroom, but I couldn’t remember whose. And when I concentrated hard to remember, I forgot I was in a bedroom again. Then I remembered that I was with Joe, but I couldn’t seem to connect the two. And then, AC/DC, and then it was gone. As soon as I was certain I had figured it all out, I couldn’t remember what it was. Then I forgot why I was trying to figure it out at all. Then I remembered that the music had stopped.
“Hey,” someone called out. “What happened to the music?” Then I realized I was the one calling out.
“Wuh?” A couple of people stirred. I looked around as best I could. It was still foggy. My head felt foggy, and the whole room was thick with smoke. We smoked a lot of weed, but the window was open and the fan was on because Meg’s man hated weed. Which of course meant Meg hated it too. I remembered Joe saying that, but then I forgot who Joe was. I knew he was there with us, though. Somewhere. I looked for him around the smoky room, staring from face to face trying to remember what he looked like. Edie was there, staring at the ceiling fan. A couple of dudes I didn’t know were on the floor in front of the bed. Another chick was in the chair by the stereo and Joe was sitting at her feet. He was leaning against the wall and fucking with his shoe lace. When I recognized him I said his name out loud to myself, “Joe.”
“Huh?” He thought I was calling him. He looked up. His eyes were glassy and bloodshot and barely opened. He looked around to see if anyone was calling, or if he just imagined it. When he saw me staring he tried to ask what I wanted. But he couldn’t focus and kept looking around confused, first at all the people in his room, then at the air in general. Then he looked at me again, “Wuh?”
When he said that, I snapped from my haze, “I didn’t say nothing,” which snapped Joe from his haze and got us both looking around trying to figure out what was going on. It felt like a dream that I couldn’t quite shake from my head. I still couldn’t move but I did figure out where I was. When my head cleared I could feel my heart pumping. The room was still foggy though. I looked around again, shook my head again. I could tell Joe was doing the same. He kept glancing around and I could tell that he was trying to remember something important. He called over to me, “What time is it?”
I looked for the clock. It was next to his head. “Five thirty.”
“Ah shit, Meg and Bob. We gotta get out of here.” He sounded serious but he didn’t get up. He just looked around again, as confused as before. “It’s smoky in here.”
“Yeah, I thought it was me.”
“You thought you were smoky?”
“Huh? Naw. I thought…I noticed…”
“Naw,” he repeated, “It’s smoky in here.” Then we both spaced again, watching the smoke, wondering why it was so smoky, looking at each other to confirm that yeah it was smoky, nodding our heads in agreement while scanning the room, about to nod our heads again when reality sliced the fog and screamed in our faces. The room was smoky. That meant smoke. That meant fire. That meant something was on fire.
Joe jumped up, “OH SHIT! THE OVEN! THE WEED!” He ran out the bedroom and fell down the stairs. I jumped up and followed him and fell down the stairs on top of him. Fucking stairs. The house was thick with smoke. Joe opened the oven door and a cloud billowed out. He grabbed the tray and threw it in the sink.
“Ouch. Ouch. Fuck, Ouch.” He turned the water on and then the garbage disposal. The weed wasn’t on fire, but it was smoking a lot. And it was all burned up. The whole pile turned to little dark ashes.
“Shit,” Joe said, washing the last of it down the drain. He looked up at the clock, “Shit. Shit. Meg’ll be here in ten minutes. I’ll never hear the end of it. Bob’s gonna freak. Fuck.” He looked around at the house full of smoke. “Fuck.” By now everyone was standing in the doorway. “We gotta get out of here. I can’t deal with that grief.”
We opened all the windows, grabbed our shit, and filed out the basement door and down the alley just as Meg and Bob pulled up out front.