By the time I got to Lenny’s place he was pacing up and down out front; his unusually frantic movement a poor advertisement for the stuff he was peddling; the stuff I was there to collect. He had his navy blue Boy Scout shorts on with a sleeveless t-shirt that allowed tanned biceps to stick out. His sparklingly clean teeth screamed ‘fake’, and his slightly balding black hair was gelled back so he could just as easily pass as a mafia boss as a guy working in hotel estates maintenance with me. When he walked his feet stood out ever so slightly, pointing to the left and to the right. For some reason my lateness, by perhaps ten minutes at most (deemed pretty acceptable where I was from), was stressing Lenny out beyond what I would consider normal. He really didn’t want to be considered a drug dealer. The house that he shared with his partner was at the end of a long row of typical island dwellings, two story detached wooden houses inclusive of a big porch out front; where the inhabitants could sit and relax in the evenings. A traditionally wooden white garden fence was just beyond the porch, decorative more than functional. A section of scorched grass lay underneath the fence, peppered by spurts of water from a nearby sprinkler. I strolled down around the corner to the house. Lenny slipped over, pushed his hand through his hair and said:
‘Where in Hell’s name were you? You should have been here ten minutes ago.’
There was sweat dripping from my forehead – the August so oppressive even in such close proximity to the sea – I exuded near monuments of it. That whole morning had been spent slouching from one end of the island to the next on various errands, the sweat from my bones burning in the summer sun. Taken aback by Lenny, I just replied,
‘I was hitchhiking over. Lifts were slow today. I didn’t think you’d sweat it.’
I was attempting to calm the air. But Lenny was still pacing up and down the path, the frantic movement that confronted me only slowly beginning to ease. He was chewing gum intently, biting into his mouth like crazy, before finally slowing down. He then walked around to the garage at the side of the house, swung the door open and ushered me in; slowly closing the garage door so that a bright sun gave way to a fully darkened room. Bits of storage stood out behind a small ford coupe car on which a number of boxes were left. The car had put been away for summer. Lenny grabbed a box from one of the top shelves and carried it down. He lifted a bunch of old newspapers that had become browned around the edges and left them on the ground beside the car. He mooched around with these for a few minutes, before taking out a small translucent bag, filled with dark green bundles of grassy textures. A waft of marijuana filled the room. He opened up the bag and took out a sticky bud. ‘Feel the stickiness on that one Dara,’ he said; the tension that had resided now flittering away in the stuffy garage air. Lenny’s disposition changed when the black bud was held up to his nose. ‘Look at the tentacles, he said ‘little beauties. Real Chappaquiddick Green.’
I took the bud and held it up to my nose, the little black squidgy form like a spider out of which red tentacles protruded towards me. The plant was so exquisitely tender and beautiful it seemed – at once – cruel to have to actually smoke it; its poignant odour so carefully organic while – at the same time – intrinsically seductive. ‘Wow, that’s lovely,’ I said to Lenny as he leant back, a horticulturalist’s gleaning grin making its way across his face like a Cheshire cat. I could see that my comment brought instant gratification; a certain pride in having procured this planted product bursting through his smile. Again, his hand pushed back through his gelled balding hair, and his teeth – no doubt false – glistened like they were commissioned for a new Colgate ad. I decided, given the degree of satisfaction he was receiving from holding up his product, to massage his ego even more. ‘So, you’re one of the main growers behind Chappaquiddick Green, number seven in The High Times list of top ten variants US weed? I’m impressed.’ Lenny has been telling me all summer about the plant he grew every year on the small island of Chappaquidick. He told me he just sprinkled the seed in an area of wild overgrowth only to return sporadically to water it throughout the summer months, when the drought hit. He harvested his plant in the final weeks of July. The island, whatever the geographic specificity, was particularly fertile, unearthing a potent strain of weed known far and wide across the United States. Chap green, he called it. I gave him fifty bucks in exchange for the luxurious product.
I was handing over the dough when Lenny pulled back the bag and reverted momentarily to his earlier frantic self. Jitteriness returned; the momentary calming of mood offset by the powerful odour of the product. This Irish kid he was selling his dope to could end up putting it in whiskey, getting so fucked up on it he’d need ferrying to hospital on the Cape. How could he be sure the kid wouldn’t smoke himself into such a slumber the cops would be called and the trail would make its way back to Lenny? ‘Lenny, relax,’ I said, trying to calm his nerves, ‘I’ll whack it into a bong and avoid any cookies, or any of that shit. You don’t have to worry. I’ve smoked a lot.’ But it didn’t seem to work. He remained beyond edgy. He started pacing around the garage again, banging into boxes, and knocking over old discarded items. ‘What the fuck was he giving me? Mango juice shit,’ I thought to myself glancing at my watch, wondering about my schedule for the rest of the day (meet Don, get home, get bombed, meet Sarah, get home again, get bombed again). I didn’t have time to calm the dude down; whatever the reason for his overly zealous jitteriness. ‘Calm the fuck down Lenny. I’m meeting my sister’s friend for a Chinese. My friend can’t get off work. She’s coming from Boston for a night to see her brother. We’ll eat and grab a beer. I’ll smoke a joint, play some pool. Nothing too far off the charts.’ It worked. He looked at me, and seemed, for a moment, properly relieved. ‘Ok, ok, man’ he then replied, moving back to his Lenny-is-a-bit-chilled gear, and then confirming that my attempts to assuage his many-years-smoking-weed induced paranoia seemed to work.
I worked with Lenny and his boss Sandy in the Harbour View Hotel in the village of Edgarstown that summer, doing maintenance around the estate. I got some standard Mexican weed off Lenny after a few weeks into the job. Lenny had no problem supplying the commercial Mexican stuff. But he kept waxing lyrical about the stuff coming down the line: the real stuff. Once that fancy stuffy arrived, so too did his paranoiac alter-ego, mistrustful of the same Irish kid he had worked with all that summer. I drifted away from his garage that day excited by the potential thrashing to be had from the infamous Chappaquiddick. I had a full schedule ahead. I had to get back to meet Don, give him some of the green, and find out where to meet his sister. Then I had to make my way back to the house, have a shower, get changed, returning again to Oaks Bluff to meet Sarah, show her around a bit, before making it back home. I had to be up early for work the following morning, so the level of blastedness had to remain low. I hitchhiked back from Lenny’s place, wandered up the main street of Oaks Bluff to drop off some stash to Don. He was dressed in his geeky Subway gear when he came out to meet me. I told him Lenny was more edgy than normal when making the pick up so he should try not to overdo getting heavily baked at work; who knows what might happen? He just replied ‘Jerry’s Dead.’ A whole street of kids standing outside shops had given a carnivalesque atmosphere to the village’s activities. The summer was really starting to kick off, and humidity levels were rising. ‘Jerry’s Dead’, what the fuck is he talking about? I thought before asking to elaborate.
‘Jerry who?’ I asked.
‘Jerry Garcia, one of The Grateful Dead. They’re a band, apparently.’
‘Never heard of him or them,’ I said, realising that there was more to it than a rockstar dying and that Don was somewhat perturbed.
‘You wouldn’t believe it man. Jamie and Shaun rang in to say they were out for a week. That depressed this dude is dead. It’s JFK levels of impact. I’m not shitting you.’
‘A week? What the fuck?’
‘Yea. It’s like their fucking mother died. Left in the dock. I’m practically on my own here.’
‘This Garcia dude. Some kind of Jesus figure or what? A whole week because he died?’
‘Yeah. Weird. Apparently, they’ve been deadheads for years…Some fan cult thing. Can you make sure to meet Sarah tonight? And I’ll see you tomorrow? Don’t forget?’
‘No problem, man. It’s all on the itinerary.’
I handed a nugget of Chad G from the bag Lenny had given me earlier, and began to make my way back along the country roads to the trailer park where we were staying, the stultifying humidity causing spots of sweat to burst into lathers of salt; white lines marking the blue t-shirt I was wearing that day. I took off up through the country roads, up through the part of the island where workers and all year-round inhabitants lived. Beyond the huge, ostentatious mansions, the billionaire estates, was the other part; the part of the island where those who had given their life to the island lived. Once beyond the sumptuous coastline, making your way into the inner beast of the vineyard, a distinctive odour washed over you; the smell of the large population of skunks that had become endemic on the island. When I got to the trailer-house I had a quick shower, and noticing no one was around, got the first bong of the day in order. I pulled the curtains, whipped my top off, and ploughed into the big bottle of murky smoke that hovered in the bottle as the water spilled out from the sides. Then, watching the water trickle out, the smoke hovered like a volcano about to erupt. The sweet smell of sumptuous marijuana filled the room. As I stood watching in my underpants, the smoke filtered out across the room like a genie freed from a bottle; floating up into air, sun rays cutting through it as little patterns of smoke dissipated in the light. The hit was inhaled deep into my lungs, the smoke soothing my senses.
And then nothing happened. I sat on the bed, feet sticking out, bong in hand, sweat dripping down from my hair onto a near naked body. ‘Lenny, talking shit, as usual,’ I thought to myself, plucking a significant portion of the black bud with the sticky red tentacles and readying it for another hit of the bong. Five or possibly ten minutes passed, most of it spent cursing Lenny for bigging up the product to such dizzying heights. I lay back on the bed, head resting against the wall, angry that someone had duped me who I had come to regard as a friend. ‘Fuck you Lenny,’ I thought again to myself, ‘you’ve stung me for half my wages for this powerdust.’ In it went again, folded neatly into the foil wrapped around the bottle neck, the water beginning to gush out again from the bucket, smoke hovering around the depleting watermark before – in one big breath – I sucked deep it into my lungs. Coughing and spluttering, I pushed the smoke out into the stuffy humid air. Again, there was nothing of significance. I waited. I waited more. And still, nothing of significance came to pass.
‘Fuck him,’ was the lurid expression of choice to curse my newly perceived conman workmate, as I dressed myself at the speed of Superman, checked my wallet for cash, and took to the road. It was a about a twenty-minute walk to Oaks Bluff where I would meet Sarah, take her out for a Chinese and a beer afterwards. I was hoping the bong hits would relinquish any residual social unease, so that the evening would flow. Tasked with entertaining my friend’s sister, a professional and holidaying banker, I need to be suitably caned for the occasion; to lighten the mood accordingly. Instead, I was deliberating on the non-effect of the previously purchased weed. It wasn’t working. I was down half a week’s work on a fucking placebo. I got to the Chinese, met Sarah and we started talking incessantly about the island. Then, as I was about to order noodles or something to that effect, I took a blow full blast to the back of my head from some imaginary psychedelic tennis racket, such was the speed which all sense of reason and normality evaporated from my reckoning. ‘It just creeps up on you, and then boomp’ were words trickling out from my increasingly fractured consciousness, a brain with which it was more and more difficult to maintain any rational contact. I stood up, dizzy and lacking in motion control, stuttering in Sarah’s direction ‘back in a sec.’ It was probably forty minutes since I had wandered skeptically from my digs, cursing Lenny for the low-grade product he passed off as high grade. Rushing out the door of the restaurant, I began cursing him for precisely the opposite reason: not informing me of the potency of the product. I began to see colour vibrations everywhere, waxed out collages on vineyard specific shop designs.
Beside the harbour where ferries pull in there was a restaurant I worked in, one that specialised in ripping off tourists before returning to the mainland. It sat beside a nicely engineered boardwalk; a buffer zone between Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape. Leaving the restaurant in a mess, I looked to dip my head in the seawater beside the restaurant; a last gasp attempt to push back the slow unraveling of my brain. There was no way I could conduct a civil conversation with Sarah, serious intake of food or not. The immersion of head in water, a head that seemed to be slowly severing from its body, was offered as the perceived panacea to newly ingrained paranoia.
I arrived as a mass of energy, stumbling from the street where the restaurant was situated, sound and vision forming symphony of its own accord, to the sea. In it went. The water ebbed and flowed, trinkets of foam pushing up from the sea onto the lathered wood of the boardwalk. Past, present and future were no longer distinctly discernible as moments giving rise to others, but one long durational flow. I lay down on the boardwalk, my hands withholding my body mass from slipping into the water. In it went again; immersed in the cold saltiness of the water. Out it came. In it went again; before the rush of the marijuana induced caning slowly subsided. But not gone.
Not gone. Instead, it mellowed to a manageable state, defined by the slightly less crazy universe my head emerged back into. Time became a lovely fuzzy concept. Brain fog gave way to a sudden appreciation of my surroundings: the beautiful sunset in the distance, the sound of families nattering to one other; holiday time emerging in its essence. Newly self-baptized, I stumbled back towards the restaurant, ringing the water from my shortly cropped hair; a hardly noticeable after effect of the immersion. Sarah’s laugh made for a mutual laugh, as the night began with noodles and chat.
We finished the Chinese with some sort of weird oriental ice cream and then made our way to a pool bar on the main street, where – in typically American fashion – we shot pool. We ordered a tray of bottles of Bud, before a feeling of breezy elation carried me through the two or more hours we spent there. Like a living replica of the Paul Newman hustler in The Color of Money, every shot I hit seemed to hit its target. The earlier discombobulating unease surrendered to merry exultation. I moved around the room with a swagger, the exuberant array of colours generated from the lighting that fell on the red-carpeted pool tables, giving an intense aura to the balls that lay upon on it. By the time we said goodbye, Sarah still brushing off the final traces of jetlag, the sun was setting outside, and the sea was calm. The boats moored at the harbour were lying motionless, a pink afterglow over the setting sun making for a serenely painterly affect. I sat at the edge of the seashore, and smoked a one-skinner joint of pure Chap Green. Darkness came in in a blanket of incursions; my head pushed back upon the wooden boardwalk as I imagined hugging roguish Lenny; a person I had since given his VIP status; most important work colleague in the world.
I still had to get home: the morning promised a wholly different experience cleaning up recently let condominiums. My second job was usually undertaken in the throes of a mind-numbing hangover, brought on by the reliably miserable quality of bar tap beer. The weed was proving itself to be all things Lenny had promised: slowing time down so that my presence alone seemed to sync seamlessly with the island’s inchoate rhythms. Once I said goodbye to Sarah, a moon began to shine upon me; ushering in all sorts of strange prisms; its rays no longer extraneous to nature’s form but part of a mysterious essence; the universe clicking into being as a monolithic life force. It was a force slowly propelling me back towards the trailer where I left the main stash of luscious Chad, a piece of which was nestled in my pocket. Darkness slowly introduced itself, and the trees that line the road reached out to say hello. I moved back and forward across the road with trucks steaming past, lights momentarily blinding me before pushing off into the night. Dogs barked from the back of trucks, echoing like drum beats from an evolving consciousness. I passed through the ever-changing shadows; the smell of the unseen community of skunks one of the island’s unyielding mysteries. I was about to skip over to the other side of the road when a long, elongated Cadillac came around the corner, driving at the speed of a casual cyclist, before brushing up towards me. Once lit up by the moon, I could see the spray-painted gold surface of the old, yet well-kept automobile, flowers decorating its surface along with a load of signatures written with permanent coloured markers. The Caddy had been custom designed, like some trace of a forbidden past; parsed with an accumulation of markings of a once forgotten land. I struggled to adjust my eyesight to the newly arrived vehicle, struggled to account for an intrusion of immense colour upon the dusty island road. Trees shepherding the walker from swirling Atlantic winds cast shadows all around. A man resembling Arthur Lee from the sixties psychedelic band Love, hair banded in the same manner, smiled up at me from the driving seat, before declaring – punctuating the slow drone of crickets nestled invisibly somewhere in the roadside ditch – ‘Ok, brother. Jerry’s Dead.’ I stopped in my tracks, the spoken words echoing some earlier moment that day – travelling from a past that existed only as memories rolling along the surface of a disaffected consciousness. ‘Jerry’s what?’ I said, trying not to attract undue attention in response.
‘Jerry’s Dead,’ he replied again, the Caddy glistening in the heavy moonlight. A big flower was painted on the gold-sprayed bonnet, under which the words ‘The Bad Cat’ were lightly scrawled. My eyes squinted to recognise the driver in profile, but as soon as I did I could see that he was the same guy tourists gathered around on sunny days, when he drove his Caddy slowly through the island villages. Throngs of tourists would gather around his car, looking to make out the myriad of famous signatures that adorned its sides and rear. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Robert de Niro, James Taylor and Carly Simon, Spike Lee, were just a few of the famous autographs that people spoke about as they walked around the Bad Cat’s Caddy. Every time I had tried to get near, tried to nestle up beside the fawned over Caddy, I was usually brushed aside by over eager tourists. ‘Rick, aka The Bad Cat’ he said to me, one hands lying over the side of the car. Before I could get my bearings, light piercing my vision, I heard the words ‘hop in.’ I pushed my body over the side of the car, as we journeyed into the night. ‘Jerry’s Dead’ the Bad Cat said again, words to which I muttered some episodic sense of affirmation, before passing through the island’s belly like surfers cutting into the sea.
Suddenly, the Bad Cat, who was by then smoking a joint he quickly passed back to me in the rear, took a turn down a small road where a white-sanded beach lay empty in the sullen moonlight, small waves trickling in upon the shore. It was a picture of exotic serenity, so unlike the tourist hotspots adjacent to the island’s main villages, most notably The Inkwell Beach in ear shot of Oaks Bluff. We swooned down upon the white fluffy sand where the wetter sand glistened in the sumptuous moonlight, the smoke from the final embers of the Cat’s joint lingering in the sea breeze before drifting off into some alternate stratosphere. Very little was said as the Caddy pulled in at the dunes. All that was felt between us was our mutual recognition of the night; an ostensible collective hymn to the legacy of a dead man. ‘What’s happening?’ was the question that first left my lips, as the Cat walked around to attached massive audio wires to the car stereo. He opened the boot and then proceeded to take out two considerably sized speakers. ‘The music of the spheres,’ he remonstrated smiling in my direction, my head fizzing as the beach at night began to open up and entice us in. I was standing in the presence of a stranger, but the pulses of time were moving to a kind of rhythm. ‘Muzak,’ I spluttered, still unsure as to how the night had taken its turn; wondering if the Cat was an hallucinogenic vista or a dream I had come upon walking home; my brain’s unfettered response to the mysterious impact of the Chad G. ‘Yeah, cool,’ I said, ‘put on some tunes.’ Then the Cat placed the two speakers on the bonnet of the Caddy, just above the painted on pink and yellow flower. He then rumbled around in the glove compartment, before producing an old battered cassette.
At that point the night began to calm. Lights began flickering on the horizon, fireflies buzzing in the moonlight sky, waves dancing along the shore. Sand bugs jigged around at our feet. The Cat blew the dust off an old cassette that he took from the glove compartment, that he then pushed above him in order to see the title. He glanced over at me and smiled, whispering the words ‘music.’ Before I got a chance to respond in any way he declared aloud ‘I’ll play you two songs before the other cats arrive.’ My mind seemed to slow to nothing, before I eventually asked ‘what other cats?’ still piecing together the prior events of the night to include the present destination. Any trace of linearity had banished, time taking the form of a continuum of moments, a seemingly never-ending present. I still struggled to respond to his statement. ‘The deadheads, who else?’ he said; fiddling with the cassette player. He then walked over to the car bonnet, before throwing a warm Pabst in my direction.
The slow silence that followed ended with music spilling out from the attached speakers like sun piercing through drawn curtains, drumming a mysterious essence into the warm summer night. A fast-paced bluegrass beat began to play as the Cat suddenly jumped up onto the bonnet of the Caddy and shouted out the words ‘Cumberland Blues.’ He started to sing along to the beat, stamping his feet to make a clanging noise on the bonnet. The last thing I expected was a rush of energy propelling me onto the sanded area in front of the Caddy. Before I knew it, the Cat was jumping liked a lunatic, singing the words ‘I can’t help you with your troubles, if you won’t help with mine.’ As his arms and legs splashed out in all different directions, he bellowed out the refrain ‘I GOTTA GET DOWN, I GOTTA GET DOWN.’ I looked over to see his whole physical demeanour transforming in an instant. He leapt up and down at rapturous speed; his whole life looking to depend on making as big a movement as possible, pushing out the words into the hazy night sky.
Soon my heels could be felt skipping to the beat with him, with each verse accompanied by the refrain ‘I GOTTA DOWN.’ A baseline arrived, making our bodies more susceptible to the pulsating rhythms of the night. The Cat jumped down on the sand again, syncing movement to the pervasive rush of a banging refrain ‘I GOTTA GET DOWN.’ As the song pushed to a close, the Cat leaned over to press stop on the stereo, before a short monologue ushered from him. ‘Now, listen sir,’ he began. My t-shirt was ripped at the side, so as to reveal red lines of sunburn. My converse runners had begun to tighten around my ankles, their sides filling up with sand. Then it suddenly dawned on me that I had hardly spoken with the Cat; that he was on some sort of night crusade; that he barely asked my name. He was staring into the night sky, over across the Atlantic, his baggy trousers accompanied only by near worn out sandals. His hands were pushed in front, his tie-dyed t-shirt a perfect match for the loose headband that was now used to keep his Afro in place. Then he spoke:
The mines man. All fuckin day. The government owned mines. You work all day. You know nothing different. And then the light. You see the light. You dig? You can’t not see it anymore. You dig? Fuck Cumberland. You’re not going down anymore. Jerry knew that man. He knew it in his heart. I gotta get down…a double fucking metaphor man. You dig. I gotta get down the mine. And I gotta get down..you know.. You know like get the fuck down…I gotta get the fuck down.
He began bopping his head up and down, waving his hands waving around like some manic preacher, spelling out the words ‘I gotta get down’ over and over again. ‘I never heard of this guy Jerry. I never heard anything about this guy before today. I only heard he died from my friend earlier,’ I shouted back, yet he was oblivious. The Cat kept shuffling around; looking so unconvinced that I had never heard of the band. The Cat simply wasn’t buying my protestations; such was the impression his body gave off of sheer and utter disbelief. I gathered myself to pluck out the ends of a joint from my pocket, before playing around with it for a few minutes and then passing it towards the Cat again. ‘Rickie’ I said, ‘he was obviously some kind of Dylan dude?’ For whatever reason, once the song ended time seemed to stagnate, with just the waves crashing against the shore a sign of the island’s intrinsically calming force. The Cat still wasn’t offering to answer my question; his mind seemingly elsewhere entirely. Raising his finger to his lips to make a ‘ssshhh’ noise, he leant back over the windscreen of the Caddy and pressed play on the stereo again. At that point, I considered running back home so as to make it to work the following morning, but I couldn’t just leave. It would be so unmannerly to go. But then a punchy base line pulsated through the speakers the Cat had placed on the sand. My body began to jerk in all directions, to a rush of harmonic vibrations. A luscious Hammond organ echoed in the night, before an electric guitar solo intervened and the refrain rang out. All I could hear was the Cat singing along to the song, bellowing out words to the effect of ‘China Cat, China Cat;’ instruments meshing into an cacophony of sonic commotion.
The instrumentation and chorus reached a near transcendent crescendo only for the sound of numerous cars on the dunes above us to interrupt the scene. Flashing lights arrived with the cars, piling along the road towards the beach where we parked. The Cat was pushing his arms up in the air, as a mass of bodies, all with similarly styled hair – all wearing black t-shirts with a skull like form just about discernible in the flittering darkness. There must have been twenty or more in the crowd of people who made their way from the number of cars that had suddenly arrived, quickly descending onto the beach and forming a crowd of people around the Caddy and the Cat. The Cat jumped onto the car’s bonnet again and screamed out ‘the Dead!!’ Like a murmuration of swallows that had descended from rooftops on a warm spring evening, a crowd of people – impossible to discern as individuals in the dark – formed a circle around the Caddy and the speakers. Once a lone voice singing out the words ‘China Cat’ in a moonlit sky became upwards of twenty people in a group that moved only in rhythms; an inchoate meshing together of people into a singular multiplicity.
‘China Cat’ was the last refrain to stick in my head as we danced until darkness was slowly swallowed by the dawn. As the sun rose over the sluggishly beating waves, my head spun off into a distant universe; the once shadowed figures who emerged from the series of cars at the side of the beach – the vast array of Deadheads as the Cat called them – suddenly emerging as individuals in a drug and booze haze. As the dial on my hand watch edged towards ‘4 am’ I made my way through a crowd of people all wearing black t-shirts with a variation of skull illustrations, perhaps grieving but joyously celebrating the life of a once great American icon. There were a number of small stalls, put together with pieces of board and collected beach pebbles, selling off juice drinks and long elongated mushrooms, various strands of weed and homemade beer. It was like a little festival had initiated itself around me, the exact point of installment a mystery from the night that had engulfed me. The Cat was no longer at his Caddy. He was with a group of oblivious Deadheads. When he saw me alone, he stood up, brushing the sand off his shorts and t-shirt, smiling over in my direction. He was no longer delirious with excitement, but calmer in his demeanour. The night had moved on and the Caddy’s sound system had played a significant part. A bright red glow of a newly arrived morning sun, appeared to cast its rays onto a glittering sea, marked the transition from night to morning; the point when time would remerge intact. I was about to leave the last remnants of the party, the words ‘Jerry’s Dead’ still echoing in my mind, when the Cat put his arms around me and said ‘One minute, good sir.’ He began walking me over towards the Caddy, where the shiny gold spray paint adorning it could be seen clearly in the light. There were loads of signatures written in permanent black marker along the sides of the automobile, some even on the boot. The Cat pointed to a scrawl from which, once focused on, the words, ‘Hi Rick, thanks for the ride, Bill Clinton’ appeared. He smiled to say ‘here last summer.’ Then he spent a few minutes eyeballing the other side, pushing his nose up against the panels to make out what I presumed was another signature by some visiting celebrity.
Standing back, he pointed his foot again at another scribble. ‘Hey Rickie, thanks for the ride, Jerry Garcia, 94’ was a near illegible scrawl, the Cat proudly asserting ‘he sat right where you sat.’ I tried to reciprocate his enthusiasm; such was the considerable distinction of fan revealed to me over the course of the evening. Nodding in affirmation, my feet still dragging in the sand, I again moved to get away. But before I could turn around to begin the slow walk home, with two or possibly three hours sleep beckoning, the Cat made his way to the other side and began pushing me down towards the shore. The speakers had all but silenced, although people’s voices could be heard speaking in hushed tones against a mellowed-out flutter of psychedelic guitars and singing voices; the tempo of the music altered to fit the sun’s morning glow. ‘I want to tell you something before you go,’ he said. He began to walk again towards the sea, turning around and nearly tripping himself on the soft sand. His baggy pants were hanging down by his sandals, and a tie-dyed sleeveless t-shirt that reflected the early morning sun revealed an array of colours: yellow, pink, and mauve.
I stumbled along the sand wanting to initiate the conversation that hadn’t taken place when the Caddy pulled up beside me the previous evening; memory that now seemed liked a scene from a television series I had somehow played a starring role in. The connection between then and now was a blur; like two islands separated by a vast sea, not unlike the sea that had confronted me walking with the Cat. Like the post all night partying Marcello who stumbles on the seashore in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, when an amorphous sea creature confronts the unsavoury hedonist, I staggered in a disheveled state down towards a lightly trickling sea upon a cleanly kept seashore. The small granules of crushed seashells mixed in with the sand were like diamond crystals reflecting back the low din of newly expressed sunlight. In the distance was a glimmer of sunny haze, lights that speckled out upon the skyline like the morning dew in a garden when the party is over and daylight penetrates the newly evacuated space.
‘Look out over there,’ the Cat said, pointing out at the sea, towards the glimmer of light that shimmered against the dawn signaling another island day. ‘America,’ he said, pointing out again. Feeling a new brush of sobriety, the wind pushed through me, my words trickled out from a newly alerted consciousness ‘this is it, Rickie. The real America. This reason I came here. Jerry is the Elvis I never knew.’ The Cat went quiet all of a sudden, his silence a cue for me to leave. But on turning around, hoping to avoid another soliloquy about a song, I was soon sucked into another chapter in a night in thrall to the shape-shifting legacy of the band. I had to wait, had to listen, and to hear. Just as the capricious residue of night began to lose sway in the chirpy magnitude of an incoming morning, the Cat lost all sense of reason. ‘This isn’t America,’ he began shouting, suppressing the sound of music still loudly discernible from the Caddy parked at the other end of the beach. ‘This isn’t America, you fool, how can you think that?’ echoed out like trinkets across the island bay, cutting through the temporary lull. The changed atmosphere hit me straight away. He kept shouting out the words, more animated with each passing gesture. ‘This isn’t America,’ he raged, wagging his finger around. And then, pointing to the sea, towards the Cape I imagined was the repository of light sparkling against the shedding glow of the moon, he shouted out ‘that’s America, over there. That’s America.’ When he spoke, white froth began to build at the sides of his mouth, fury spat out into the wind.
An eerie quiet descended from all directions, the Cat’s once serene behaviour relenting to the inchoate ramblings of a megalomaniac. The need to stop him – to avert the look he directed at me – penetrated my own illusory attempt to cut through the malevolent anger; anger that seemed to be a cosmic corrective to the tantric balance of the previous night: the return of some deeply repressed energy to the world’s wholeness. ‘Look Rickie,’ I muttered, the sound of the music tempering – somebody had obviously turned it down – ‘I’m just saying thanks. I’m only here, on the island, in America, for a few months. A J1.’ A flock of seagulls swooned down from beside a small group of rocks at the edge of the shore, before some litter blew from one of the groups of people still huddled together in the aftermath of the party; a party that seemed like a celebration and a wake. The Cat began to hyperventilate as soon as I said this to him, becoming more and more animated in the interval between my words leaving my lips and gathering relevant meaning for him. ‘I didn’t mean to upset you,’ I rushed out in an instant, a futile attempt to calm his nerves. But then he shouted out ‘this isn’t America,’ before pointing out again towards the sea, at the flickering lights in the distance that intimated a remote otherworld, ‘that’s America.’
Morning’s arrival saw the lights fade on the horizon; curious markers of a land of which the island was a surrogate child. The distant lights were the embers of another universe; an affirmation of a distant elsewhere. The Cat fell to his knees holding his head, screeching the words as before ‘this isn’t America.’ And then, with the aura of the previous night dissipating into the morning light, he held his hands out crying ‘Jerry’s Dead.’ He bellowed out the words with such force that his whole body was thwarted on the sand. Some of the deadheads careful not to interrupt the discussion until then dropped everything and rushed from the congregations on the beach. A bunch of them ran down to the seashore in a desperate attempt to help the Cat to his feet. They came to form a circle around him as he shouted out the words again: ‘Jerry’s Dead.’ I took a chance to run back to the Caddy, along the road we had driven the night before, when we travelled to the beach for the first time. The mood, by that point, had changed. There was no longer any mysteriousness to the day. I skipped out along the road with my thumb held out, hoping to hitch a ride to Oaks Bluff to begin a new workday. Some semblance of music tickled my consciousness. But it was impossible to know if it was real or my hallucination. Perhaps it really was music emanating from another cosmic dimension; the hidden recesses of a new America.