Party at Rick’s. A lot of weed. Hearing things. Embarrassing himself. He doesn’t know the other people at all. He’s super uncomfortable around them. They’ve passed around a lot of pot. He’s getting really, really high and really, really paranoid. Drinking beers in an attempt to counterbalance isn’t working. In fact, it’s just making things worse.
The DJ is cool, he’s playing James Brown. All culture is better on weed, but especially soul music. He wonders if there is even a Rick? Could he be the DJ? Who even knows anyone named Rick these days? He’s thrown in a random comment or two; he’s trying to make connections with people but they always seem to miss. Like the C-Section comment. Nobody wants to hear that he was a C-Section baby. He’s high enough already but for some reason he keeps smoking more, a bong rip pulling thick weed smoke that opens the neurons in his brain like a flower in bloom. It is always so good until it turns bad.
And now it is bad. Are they talking about him? They’re laughing, but people laugh at all sorts of things. They could be talking about fucking god only knows what; he hasn’t the foggiest clue. His synapses are firing wavy gravy and missing. Badly. Like if someone says they’re hungry he perceives it as an inside joke referencing the time he jerked off using a slice of mushroom pizza, only he never actually did that, that never actually fucking happened. JESUS, what the fuck was he thinking about anyway? And NOW what were they saying? He spends so much time trying to parse through what was just said that he misses what they’re currently saying. Conceptually speaking, he’s perpetually behind. Missing the boat, as it were.
Brian can’t look at the girls because he’s convinced they’ll think he’s only thinking about fucking them, and that’s just not true. To be fair, he’s thinking about fucking many of them, but there’s more to it than that. He’s a nice guy. A good kid from a good family in a small town. But look at what he’s become: a stoned waste of space getting a semi from thinking about jerking off later to the brunette on the couch to his left who right now is doing her best to slowly inch away from him, though that could be because it’s been weeks since his jeans have been washed and they’ve been forced to repeatedly absorb marijuana and cigarette smoke odors, sweat from the occasional pickup basketball game, a handful of spilled beers, and more often than not, being used as a napkin. Brian, for the first time, is consciously aware that his pants faintly smell like the homeless guy occupying half of a car on the metro; his only hope is that the remaining scent from his kiwi shampoo is able to overmatch it.
Tomorrow he’ll be at the library by 9 am. Gotta just get up and go, no video games. He would dominate some FIFA soccer right now, but this isn’t a video game crowd. Maybe the guys would be into it, but likely not with girls around.
He’s dreading spending the rest of the night with these people, or any people for that matter. If they decide to go to a bar it could spell doom. As in end times. He might just fucking combust. The major internal battle at this point being: if he goes with them he maintains a modicum of dignity, but suffers from unyielding paranoia and nonstop urges to head for the hills, as it were. If he leaves early he suffers a long walk home, fraught with bums, gangsters, the potential to run into people he knows, girls he’s fucked over, and the ever present reality of metro police. But at least he’d be done with it; it would leave things in an awkward place for Jason, but he’d probably never meet these other people again.
Brian needs to speak. He realizes that it has been a noticibly long time since he’s contributed anything of substance, or really anything at all, to the conversation happening around him. What are they even talking about? Maybe the music? He recognizes the song. “I love Otis Reading”, he says, but he’s interrupted someone, and now it’s even more awkward than when he was silent; all he’s accomplished is pointing out that he knew something about anything. He needs like hell to get away from this girl talk, but how to do it gracefully?
The sexy brunette that has been shying away from his hobo jean stench turns her face slightly toward him but doesn’t totally face him, an awkward result of being seated on a couch and facing in the same direction as the people you’re attempting to converse with. “Is this Otis Redding?” she asks. Did she just fact check him? Is this a quiz? Are the others waiting for him to respond in the affirmative so they can pounce on his cultural literacy shortcomings?
"Pretty sure this is on the same album as ‘Cigarettes and Coffee’," Brian responds, unsure if people will find his answer condescending or merely factual, but nonetheless pleased that he’s proven that there is some movement in his currently drug-retarded grey matter.
"He’s right," replies the DJ, who Brian thinks might be Rick, holding up the record sleeve. It was a lucky guess, and now Brian is quaking that he might get grilled on other Otis Redding albums because this is the only album of Redding’s he’s ever heard. He checked it out of a library once on a whim in a half-assed attempt at becoming well rounded.
Brian thinks about admitting this, which would sheild him from being asked too many questions about soul music, a topic he is about as conversent in as he is in Flemish art, and have the added benefit of not only displaying his modest side but also showing that he frequents libraries in the persuit of knowledge and truth. But it’s too late, his body has floated itself into the bathroom. In the mirror his eyes are red and his hair looks ridiculous, it needs a cut but there’s nothing to be done about that now. He tries to fluff it up a bit while inspecting the zit on his chin. It appears to be getting worse, but he hopes it’s just perspective. Conceptually speaking, the bathroom’s harsher fluorescent light rays reflect more violently off of reds, yellows, and any combination therein, meaning zits are primed to appear much, much worse in these conditions. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
The other currently prominent zit, just to the right of his temple, the one he’d popped earlier that day, is really red, but that’s a better condition than it being white with protruding puss. It will probably scab over by tomorrow and be a memory by Saturday night. Better piss and flush before they wonder what he was doing. Did he just hear someone ask aloud if he was jerking off in the bathroom? He was sure of it, but who actually has the gaul to ask that? He sure wouldn’t. Maybe he is hearing their thoughts. This isn’t the first time it’s occurred to him that maybe everyone can hear everyone’s thoughts when they’re high.
He pisses standing up, only after making sure the seat is up, and wipes the toilet down when he is finished to make sure he doesn’t leave anything behind. He even cleans up the spray and pubic hair that isn’t his before putting the seat back down, hoping the next girl that comes in sees his thoughtfulness and realizes that someday, though maybe not today, he’d be considered quite the catch. He is nothing if not a gentleman.
Brian’s body has now floated into the kitchen. He fumbles around in the fridge for a beer, but he isn’t sure what he can take. He’s mindful that his social standing at this gathering dictates what he can have and he wonders if he should take a more expensive craft beer or a can of the cheaper football ad stuff. And then: should he chip in and, if he doesn’t, would he forever be a cheap prick? And if he does, is he trying too hard to win friends? Someone in the other room hears him having this internal debate and sighs audibly, prompting laughter from the rest of the room, as well as planet Earth. Brian is unclear whether the sigh is out of annoyance that he’s considering not only smoking their weed for free but then taking a premium beer, or if it is because they can’t believe anyone could be having such a lame battle raging inside his head. He decides to take the cheap one, always easy enough to claim he doesn’t have much of a beer preference. He also decides he won’t chip in now and instead he’ll buy a round at the bar later, or maybe he could repay them by straightening up the kitchen.
Brian empties three nearly empty beer cans into the sink and rinses them out before realizing that A. he doesn’t know where the garbage can is, B. it is entirely uncool to clean someone else’s kitchen in the middle of a party, and that C. neither A nor B alone would cause him to stop straightening the kitchen but that the combination of the two factors could. It is a greater than the sum of their individual parts equation, as it were.
Before finishing that equation, however, Brian’s body has somehow placed him at the living room / dining room table, which means that he must have floated right by the girls he’d been talking to just minutes before, and has now totally snubbed them, likely eliminating any outside chance he may have had at scoring with any of them. The table is covered in solo cups, bottle tops, semi-translucent lighters that show how much fluid is remaining, which doesn’t matter since the thing is going to crap out long before its owner ever has the chance to get his $1.99’s worth, a half dozen spent bowls, the resin scraped from two and the rest prime for the scraping, and a ping pong ball that appears to have recently found the ashtray. The guys are talking about football, which is the sport he knows the least about, but at least he stands a better chance than he did with women’s issues. The air is heavy with weed smoke and is wretchedly hot, or at least it feels that way. He can feel the heat increasing the pressure on the zit growing on his chin, it feels like it is rising like a loaf of bread. The filthy beige carpet, covered with brownish black stains, stemming from the lack of a proper shoe-free policy and months of dirty snow melt, can’t be helping.
He’s forgotten all of their names except, of course, Jason, who he came with. Brian worries that there could be a confrontation on this point later, that potentially Rick could bring the music to a screeching halt and say “hey new guy, do you even know what our names are?” And, of course, Brian would have to say something to the effect of “no, but conceptually, it is only because of a chemical imbalance; I’m really a very nice, thoughtful person. From the old school, as it were.” But they’ll crucify him. How are they all so poised when he’s so incondite and paranoid. Why is his subconscious so afraid and why are theirs are so mean?
Is Rick actually the DJ? Or is Rick the one wearing the bunny slippers talking to Jason about the Broncos offensive line? It’s hard to believe someone would go to someone else’s house and change into fuzzy bunnies. The notion finally hits Brian that Rick probably has two, maybe three roommates. This further complicates the analysis.
He drinks quickly. His mouth is dry but he’s also got the notion that being drunk is a much better idea than being as stoned as he is, that all that has to happen is to tip the balance of power away from the weed and towards the booze. Always a fool’s errand; it just makes things worse. The paranoid delusions coupled with poor judgement promote a verbal liberalism that can be highly awkward and embarrassing, and which have the potential to make the paranoid delusions even worse. And so on.
It hasn’t been five years since some pot in Brian’s belly was A-ok. Get high and go watch the high school tennis team, even rub elbows with his friends’ parents. He was cocksure in that epoch, fully capable of driving home and recounting the forehands and volleys of the major game, set and match points to his parents before and while wolfing down half of the pizza his dad picked up on the way home. “He’s a growing boy,” his Dad would say. “I grew until I was a sophomore in college.”
"He’s a growing man," his Mom would rebut with a smile, maybe even tussling his hair, proud of the man her son was becoming and relieved about not having to concern herself with the evils of drugs.
So what changed? How is it that he was so capable of handling his weed in high school? Obviously the supply filtering its way to his podunk hometown was of an inferior quality when compared to what they smoked in the city. That much was clear. Anyone who’d ever tried to buy the best looking peach at a grocery store could tell the difference: aromas of pine with a dark, ripe, green hue versus a greenish brown grassy substance with a dried dirt smell. Fresh thyme versus dried, brittle, old thyme. He had no understanding of why the quality of weed would be better in the city, theoretically weed was grown in small farming towns just like the town he hailed from, but that hypothesis showed a serious gap in his knowledge of illicit substance supply chains and portended bad things for his looming macro economics exam.
It probably also doesn’t help that the smoking vehicles employed by his matriculating contemporaries are of a vastly superior quality compared to those of his high school chums. What was once simple glass bowls, small, with a small chamber, and resin lined after a handful of uses, was now water-filled bubblers or giant bongs, bases filled with ice water to promote mammoth chambers of milky-pure white smoke, not to mention vaporizers or entire fucking bathtubs stopped up and filled with water with the sole intention of helping you meet your maker. He was probably inhaling twice as much weed at triple the purity. But then again, so was everyone else.
Jason and the other guy, which, could it be Rick, are talking Egyptian politics. Is Rick Egyptian? He doesn’t look it. He looks Jewish, whatever that means. Brian wants to offer something, to show he is still alive, with a pulse, and actually a pretty smart guy, but his jaw is locked. His brain races for something Egyptian to offer, but all he can drum up is the Sphinx and scenes from Stargate. Ra. Bawk. Chicken. These stale pop-culture references would not do. He looks for anything middle eastern that he can offer, but he knows little of the political upheaval currently affecting the region. He’d recently read an article on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but, while he has a general understanding of the concepts, he doesn’t have enough knowledge to contribute anything of substance. On top of that, Brian isn’t clear on the political correctness of starting that conversation. Is there some unwritten thing that a non-jew can’t talk to a jew about middle east peace? Would it be like talking to a black guy about slavery? He doesn’t want them to get angry with him, he’s typically very non-confrontational. He’s picturing them throwing him out the front door by his arms and legs the way a scrawny kid gets tossed into the lake, only he’d end up on the sidewalk with cuts and bruises and would likely get mugged by a bum and arrested for any number of misdemeanor offenses.
"Did you guys catch the Redskins game?", he offers, meekly. He’s changed subjects on people again.
"Just the highlights," says the possible Rick in the fuzzy bunnies, sipping his beer and seeming outwardly disinterested in anything Brian has to say.
"Me too," said Jason, "good game?"
Brian had only seen the highlights too, he’d hoped they’d missed that and he’d be able to recant them with a solid-enough narrative of what transpired. Luckily, he’d seen the SportsCenter highlights like six times last night after getting too high and keeping ESPN on repeat for three hours; he knew the major plays of the game intimately.
"Oh so you saw Marquez’s one hand grab? That forty yarder?"
Potential Rick shuffles one of his pink bunny rabbits and is looking down into his red solo cup as if he’s misplaced something.
"You okay bro?", Jason asks, looking directly at Brian. Rick must have found what he was searching for and was now taking a huge swallow from the cup.
What the fuck kind of question is that? Why wouldn’t he be okay? “Yeah why?”
"Because we were literally talking about that play like three minutes ago." Rick continues to appear disinterested. He picks up the ash smudged ball and is looking for a cup of water on the table to wash it off in.
"Were you?" Brian asks.
"You were standing right here!" Jason says, a bit louder than Brian would have preferred. Snickers could be heard as far as Deluth.
"I guess I’m a little fucked up," is all Brian has to offer by way of an excuse. "Obviously," someone thinks in their head, eliciting an eruption of mental laughter by everyone within a six block radius; the girls behind him on the couch are pointing at him with accusatory fingers. When he turns around the girls appear to be involved in some quiet conversation amongst themselves, they didn’t seem to be pointing and laughing at him at all, but they had, he knew it, and what was done was done.
The air in the room feels like a sauna. The heat has brought about generous amounts of sweat, and it doesn’t help that Brian is wearing a heavy, black sweater. He is debating taking it off but is nervous about the prospect since all the other guys are already wearing t-shirts, he doesn’t want to come off as a poser. The t-shirt, the one with the squirrel blowing up a skyscraper with the laser beams that are coming out if its eyes, is always a crowd pleaser, which might actually given him some cachet, but what to do about those armpits? He can already feel the pooling sensation. It would certainly be noticible. Did these people not sweat? How could it be that he tries so hard to look like a normal human being and all of these people do it effortlessly? Maybe he can open a window? Brian contemplates this for a minute, or probably more, and decides that the social ramifications that would stem from opening a window in the dead of winter are more than he could wrap his head around and far more than his fragile psyche could bear. It is thirty degrees outside, but a cool blast of air was exactly what he needs.
Brian begins weighing the pros and cons of going outside for a cigaraette. Pros: cold air, time to get away from these people, the cigarette itself, the glimmer of hope of a return to normalcy, cons: what will they say about him while he was gone? He pictures a tiny Brian voodoo doll being passed around the room, each guest taking their turn with it. “Take that freak!” shouts that one girl happily putting a pin through mini-cloth-Brian’s crotch. Another con, smelling like cigarette for the rest of the night, and walking around with the tag “the cigarette smoker”, for the remainder of the evening, even though it’s 11pm and it would be his first of the day. Fortunately they’re still young enough that an occasional cigarette doesn’t mean communal ostracism. He decides, as if it wasn’t already decided, that the pros outweighed the cons.
"Jay, wanna have a cig?" he asks, uncertain if he’s interrupted someone mid sentence, marvelling at the unfairness of the fact that when social cues dictate that it is his turn to speak he can’t conjure anything to say, always grasping at straws, and yet he hasn’t the slightest qualm blurting random nonsense in the middle of someone else’s sentence. Conceptually speaking, his timing is all askew.
"Yeah I’ll go," Jason replies, almost sympathetically, or at least it seemed that way to Brian.
Out on the street the cool air is refreshing, dirty snow mounds, only a week ago much higher, cling to their last life on corners of the city that stay shady during the day. Within seconds Brian’s thoughts turn to how eerily quiet the city is at this hour; as if everyone has escaped indoors within a five block radius to avoid him. As if people are afraid to be on the same sidewalk as him. A social pariah, as it were.
The motions of lighting the cigarette, pulling it out, smelling the sweet smell of a new cigarette, as opposed to the rancid smell that would be clinging to his jeans later, the multiple flicks needed to light it, especially in the wintery winds found in the city’s cavernous avenues, and the actual act of smoking, the three fingered approach, always left hand, is a balm for Brian when he’s too high; it gives him an excuse for taking too long to respond to someone, since the act of smoking forces him to pause. It hides the reality, which is that instead of speaking he is actually debating the stupidity level of what he’s about to say, itself being a futile effort since he’ll end up saying whatever it is anyway, irrespective of the final outcome of the stupidity evaluation.
"How you doing?" Jay asks. The street is too quiet. Brian hears sirens a handful of blocks away and thinks for more than a few seconds that they could be for him before shaking that notion out of his system.
"Eh, I’m not really feeling it." He’s feeling much better being alone with someone who knows him instead of being in an apartment full of people who don’t. People judging, girls way out of his league looking at him like they know that they’re way out of his league, guys far too worldly and cool for him, also looking like they know it.
"You aren’t leaving are you?"
"Yeah, I think I might. I gotta get up early and I’m pretty fucked up." A pack of drunken frat boys cross at the intersection fifty yards down the block. Thankfully Brian doesn’t register them.
"Come on man. You do this to me every time. You don’t have shit to do tomorrow!"
It is true, he does do this to Jay every time. It isn’t like freshman year where he can hang all night, tolerate the paranoia enough to at least save face. No, now it was get high, race home, and hide away in his studio apartment, subsiding on moldy fruit and slices of ham and cheese that he would roll into a crude hors d’oeuvre, smoking cigarettes out of his window and using a crystal water glass his mother had set him up with as an ashtray, maybe venturing out to the 7-11 around the corner to stock up on microwave dinners, only when the current pack ran out somewhere in the next twenty four hours, and more than a handful of times finding looping forty five second free porno clips on the Internet, with all that entails, before erasing his browser history and vowing that he’d never do that again.
All in, the recovery process from getting too high these days was a thirty six hour affair that involved a period of sloth, a period of unsuccessfully attempting to sleep with a movie on in the background, a second period of unsuccessfully attempting to sleep with a movie on in the background, a period of sleeping with the TV finally off, a lot of showers, an unhealthy period of video games, a period of reading a book in an attempt to counterbalance the previous damage done to the brain, getting to sleep the next night impressively early, and waking up the next morning ready to begin a new existence of discipline, refraining from temptation, and a general acceptance of the early to bed, early to rise principle.
"I have to study," Brian responds meekly, the words getting as much prominence out one corner of his mouth as the smoke that was coming out the other. It was true, midterms are in session, but there is very little actual chance of much studying getting done tomorrow. Tomorrow it will be all about resetting his synapse pathways while trying to forget this episode at Rick’s ever occurred.
He drops his cigarette into a shoveled snow mound and begins his walk. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He won’t. “Tell Rick thanks.”
"Dude!," Jay calls to him as Brian quickly became a speck on the horizon. "Who the fuck is Rick?"
C.O.G. is the story of someone looking for answers. It follows Daniel, a preppy Connecticut kid with a master’s degree from Yale, out to an apple orchard in Oregon where he’ll spend time picking apples on a farm and sorting them in a factory.
In leaving his pedegree behind, it isn’t completely clear is if Daniel is escaping or hiding. One suspects it is a little bit of both. Either way, Daniel makes multiple attempts to find a place where he feels comfortable and accepted, and every time it comes completely crashing down.
The film is infused with a lot of humor, so much so that it sits in the Netflix comedy section, but nearly every moment of humor is sandwiched by sadness and suffering, even if you can’t fully understand its source. Everything becomes clear eventually; C.O.G. leaves you with this shitty feeling that things in many parts of our country are a little fucked, but that people are also crazy. And for some strange reason, that fucked crazyness is a source for optimism.
Real Estate is back with Atlas, their first album since 2011’s Days. I loved Days; it introduced this Indie, beachy sound that makes me long for the convertable I’ve never had and the long, sunny, traffic-free stretch of I-95 that I’ve never seen before.
Atlas' sound hasn't evloved too incredibly much since Days. Its dreamy, lolligaging melodies follow the same formula which evokes a feeling not far from that post beach, post ocean, tired feeling. You know, the good tired.
Real Estate might become the official music to listen to when eating ice cream cones in Edgartown. It should be the official band of the Warby Parker sunglasses division. If Real Estate was actually a real estate company, they would only sell houses that were white or light grey. Their mascot would be a seagull. They’re like a not-shitty version of the beach boys.
Maybe their sound hasn’t moved too much, but why would you want it to?