Tanner's Tiger Page 20

“Heroin?” Randy looked carefully at me. “You’re no junkie, it can’t be that. What’s the bit?”

“What did you mean about turning on?”

There’s something to be said for answering a question with a question. Randy forgot his and answered mine. “Well,” he said, “like pot.”

“You have some with you?”

“Well, actually, yes.”

I turned to Arlette. “You’ve been this route, Joan of Arc?”

“Sometimes the boys come up and we all smoke.”

Seth said, “No offense, Evan, but if you happen to dig smoking-”

I just started laughing. I’m not sure why. Arlette, Seth, Randy, Emile, Claude, Jean, Jacques, the Chief, the helicopter pilot, the woman with the lost kids, the Cuban dungeon, my landlord, my air-conditioner, Sonya, Minna, the heat, the humidity, I don’t know.

“Oh, what the hell,” I said, gasping. “Why not?”

I hadn’t smoked anything in ages. I had smoked cigarettes for about three years up before I was wounded in Korea. Shortly thereafter I discovered that when you were awake around the clock, you smoked around the clock, and with my body deprived of eight hours’ abstinence from tobacco, I rapidly developed a chronic cough and sore throat. When cutting down didn’t work, I quit cold. That turned out to be infinitely easier than I had suspected, and I discovered that not smoking was better than smoking, and that was that.

Then about seven or eight years ago a girl turned me on to marijuana, and I smoked now and then for a period of about a year and a half. Toward the end I found that I was no longer getting the pleasant giggling highs that I’d had in the beginning, but that I was more and more frequently ending up with deep, moody, brooding highs, long sieges of introspection and philosophical self-analysis that were as often as not rather depressing. I decided that I didn’t have to smoke to get depressed, and that was the end of that experiment.

Since that time the closest I ever came to any kind of habit was on a trek through Thailand and Laos, in the course of which I found myself becoming mildly addicted to betel nut. If betel nut were available in the States, I might have stayed hooked, but it isn’t.

I am not entirely certain why I decided to smoke marijuana that night in Montreal. If the Chief were the sort of bore who demanded written reports of his agents’ activities, that would have to be one of many items I would neglect to mention. The determining factors, I suppose, were the great load of frustration I had built up cruising back from the Cuban Pavilion and the air of lunacy that overhung Arlette’s apartment. Add to that my usual list-making pattern – write everything down, read it over, get drunk – and the idea of turning on made its own sort of sense.

I might add, too, that I hoped I would hit on a deep, thoughtful high, and that my mind, liberated from its usual patterns of thought, might chance upon something that would put everything right, some mental philosopher’s stone to translate all the madness of the world into something meaningful. I might add that, but it wouldn’t be true. There were only a few hours left before Betty Battenberg turned into hamburger, and Minna had probably already been sold into white slavery in Afghanistan, and the Union Corse would get me if the Royal Canadian Mounted Police didn’t, and to tell you the truth, I just didn’t care anymore about anything.

This happens. Tighten a muscle long enough, and eventually it will relax of its own accord and remain utterly flaccid. Emotional muscles adhere to the same law. I had worried too much about too many things for a little too long, and the worry muscle had simply ceased to function. I no longer gave a damn. If pot would turn the next two or three hours into a restful groove, I was all for it.

Seth rolled the stuff. He kept the grass and a packet of Zig-Zag cigarette papers in a plastic bag in his pocket, the same sort of plastic bag housewives use for leftovers and teen-agers for condoms. He used two papers for each cigarette so that the resulting product would smoke slowly, and he rolled them thin and tight. During my own viper period I had never learned to do this, and used to buy packs of cigarettes and shake the tobacco out of the paper tubes, replacing it with the grass. I watched Seth roll the pot, and Arlette found some music on the radio that, if not psychedelic, was at least bearable, and we turned off most of the lights and lit up, smoking the joints one at a time, passing them from hand to hand, going through all the happy ritual of the pot mystique. The years, I noted, had added a few variations; the boys had a way of cupping both hands over the cigarette end and inhaling simultaneously through nose and mouth that I had never come across before. I suppose that was to prevent any smoke from getting wasted.

I had enough trouble smoking as I had in the past. The grass burned hot despite its double wrapper. Randy said he thought someone must have cut it slightly with green tea, which doesn’t change the taste but scorches your throat. The back of my throat was raw by the third drag, and a pulse went on, beating there for a long time.

There was no sudden moment when I went from straight to high, but a variety of sensations that began very gradually and increased steadily. I became intensely aware of things – I followed several different musical instruments simultaneously on the radio, I concentrated on various portions of my own body and became keenly interested in such bits of excitement as the play of warm air on my hand, the expansion and contraction of my rib cage as I breathed, the relentless movement of gases in my intestinal tract.

The boys were talking, but I couldn’t pay any attention to them. I could listen to every word, very much wrapped up in what they were saying, but my mind would wander off and I would forget their words almost as quickly as I heard them. I had no urge to reply, or to talk about anything at all, or to listen to what anyone else had to say. They seemed to be having one of those long, involved pot conversations with baklava-like layers of meaning and unmeaning, and I’m sure they enjoyed it very much, but it was not my kind of high. My mind was telling me it had things it wanted to think about, and if I tried to fight it, I would only get confused. I didn’t fight. I stretched out on the floor in the relaxation posture and let myself get loose.

I had trouble at first. My head was on bare flooring, and my pot-heightened sensibility made this contact very uncomfortable. After a while (perhaps a minute, perhaps an hour; my time sense had disappeared completely) I sat up, took off my shirt, and used it as a thin pillow. Then I relaxed in the usual Yoga fashion, and the pot and the Yoga reinforced one another, and I went in very deep, very deep.

I cannot tell you precisely what happened after that, because the experience does not lend itself to verbal description. I didn’t actually think about anything. You couldn’t call it thought. I was, in a sense, a screen on which a movie was being shown. There was an endless parade of images, connections made and connections broken, spirited mental leaps, occasional false starts, a touch perhaps of madness, and, well, something else that defies explanation.

Once I saw a Haight-Ashbury hippie interviewed on television. He had taken LSD and wound up in a mental hospital. He explained that the acid trip had been worthwhile, that it taught him some extraordinary things about himself. What, asked the interviewer, had it taught him? “I know now,” said the acidhead, “that the present is where the past and the future meet.”

At the time, I couldn’t avoid the suspicion that someone might have come to this pinnacle of wisdom without dropping acid. Now I’m not so certain. I’m willing to concede perception to that hippie. The fact that he was unable to articulate the insights he hit on does not necessarily mean that they weren’t there. He simply didn’t know the words that went with that particular tune.

I do know that when my high lost the first portion of its edge, I turned from mental to physical gymnastics and tried some yogic techniques that I had never previously mastered. I made my left eye look to the left while my right eye was looking off to the right, and I contracted various abdominal muscle groups that I had never before had voluntary control over, and at one point I either stopped my heartbeat or thought I did, which may or may not amount to the same thing, depending upon your point of view. I guess I could have lived just as well without being able to perform these little tricks, and I can’t honestly say how they might be of value in time to come, but they pleased me no end; I thought of them as physical proof of the validity of the mental exercises I had undergone. If I could really manage exercises while high that I could not perform otherwise, then perhaps it followed that the mental connections I had made might have a certain amount of substance, that they might be more than a waking dream.

Well. That, in any case, is about how it went. When I came out of the trance – you’d have to call it that – I was out of it all the way, wide awake, refreshed, alert. The radio was still going, bringing in nothing but static now. I hadn’t noticed the static before. I turned off the radio and checked the clock. It was a quarter to seven. The high had lasted a little under three hours.

On the bed Seth and Randy and Arlette slept nude in delicate obscenity. They had evidently spent their high making some sort of triangular love, as unaware of my presence as I was of theirs. I drew the tigerskin over them and went into the bathroom and showered and shaved.

I got dressed again and put up water for a fresh pot of coffee. The three of them went right on sleeping with occasional groping noises issuing from beneath the sheet. I ignored these insofar as possible. I measured out coffee and poured the water through it and hunted around for something to eat. I was suddenly ravenous and the cupboard was bare. I settled ultimately for a bread sandwich, a slice of whole wheat between two slices of white. It wasn’t very much better than it sounds.

At eight o’clock I carried three cups of coffee to the bed, set them down upon the bedside table, and shook each of the bed’s occupants in turn until they were sufficiently awake to accept coffee. Seth and Randy woke easily, and Arlette was not nearly so foggy as she had been in the past.

She looked at me and blushed. The boys didn’t notice, I don’t think; it probably would not have occurred to them to be embarrassed about their little homage to troilism. I’m sure they didn’t regard it as an orgy or anything of the sort. Just three good friends getting high together and being friendly and warm and tender to one another. For my part, it was just another item on the lengthening list of things I did not really give a damn about. But Arlette, the Oft-Made of Orleans, was the sort of angel who manages to behave like a free spirit without ever quite feeling like one. I didn’t know how to respond to her, unable to make up my mind whether it would be more insulting to scorn her as a slut or convey to her the idea that I didn’t really care.

So instead I said, “I woke you early for a reason. We have twelve hours before the Queen hits the fan.”

Seth looked at me. “You straight, Evan?”

“Straight as a hoop snake. We have twelve hours. That’s plenty of time. I’ve got it all figured out. We’ll fix things so they pop the right way, and then we’ll pick up on Minna before the sparks go out.”

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