HOLIDAY IN THE SUN
When I opened my eyes, Robby was sitting opposite me, in the window.
“Hey, man, don’t cry.”
“It looks that bad, huh?”
“Your boyfriend and you still split over the chick?”
“Pretty stupid to cry over, huh?”
“Seems so, but if that’s what you feel.”
“I thought about looking for you guys.”
“Wanna get stoned?” and he pulled a joint from under his long hair.
“Why not? You always got weed?”
“Robby’s my name, weed’s my game.”
He lit it up, took a hit, then passed it to me, with a wry look. I took a hit but hardly got any smoke. He laughed, then moved over next to me.
“Here, let me help,” as he took the joint and stuck it in my mouth.
I got a massive hit and instantly coughed.
“You never hold back,” he laughed. “Look at the joint.”
He showed me a small hole near where the joint went in my mouth.
“This is a Robby Special. You’ve got to know where to hold it, so you get more than just air.”
He guided my finger over the hole. I took a slow hit. I could feel the quantity of smoke enter my lungs. He pulled my hand away before I took too much. He clamped his hand over my nose and mouth. I thought the smoke would come out my ears. I was about to explode before he let me free to exhale.
“Feel it expand, man. That’s real Colombian. You can tell ‘cause it expands.”
I was floating with the smoke, hovering in the window.
“Com’n, let’s fly away, before you lose your nerve.”
He was out the window, running along the roof. I followed automatically, and soon we were in the trees above our yards. He moved effortlessly from branch to branch, knowing exactly when to jump to the next tree. I stayed close, following his lead, and soon we came down in his backyard. He went straight to a rear window. We both slid into his bedroom. He sunk into a beaten-up easy chair, while motioning me to sit on his unmade bed. The room was more than teenage-messy; it was crammed with excessive paraphernalia, reminding me of Joey’s room. A set of drums was set up in the corner, next to an elaborate stereo components set. Speakers, four feet high, were in opposite corners. A black cat came over and rubbed my legs.
“That’s Rocky. Talk to her, she understands.”
“Yeah, man. Watch. Say hi, Rocky.”
I laughed at him. “You got to believe. Say something to her.”
“Come home with me, witchy woman.”
“Hiss,” she went and jumped onto Rob’s lap.
We both fell back, laughing.
“Far out, Robby. I do believe.”
We both laughed, then he gave me a serious look.
“So what’s up, butt fuck? You weren’t crying for nothing over there.”
“Just feeling sorry for myself. I told you I saw my best friends fucking. They still haven’t said a word about it. I feel excluded.”
“This is two guys?”
“No. You know, my ‘boyfriend’ and this team chick we’ve both been chasing for a year.”
“Well, maybe he’s not gay, man.”
“It’s not that we’re just having sex. We live together, been inseparable for months. I saved his life in May, and since that moment we’ve hardly been apart. Until this week.”
“Why ain’t ya talking to him about it?”
“I’m waiting for him to tell me. He doesn’t know I saw them doing it. Now it’s become a secret.”
“Well, it’s tearing you up. Did you tell him about our tree adventure the other night?”
“No. It’s like we’ve stopped being together. Now my dad wants him to move home. It’s all screwed up. Maybe I’ll move to his house in Kendall.”
“Lame, man, Kendall, like the Mall?”
“It’s just South Dade.”
“The Gables is where it’s at. Here, want a bong hit.”
He brought out a ceramic figure of a laughing Buddha, with a bowl stuck in its belly. While I smiled, he packed a bowl from his baggie of dope, and handed the bong to me. I just laughed.
“So, I’ve got to teach you how to hit the bong, too?”
I nodded yes, barely able to stop the giggles. He put my finger over a hole in the bong, lit his Bic, holding the flame over the bowl, while I sucked in the smoke. At first, little smoke flowed as the bong bubbled. As soon as he took his finger off the hole, the cool smoke flooded my lungs, quickly filling them to capacity. He took the pipe and placed it on the floor, then held my mouth and nose shut. The expansion made me think my eyes were popping out. My head swam, as my vision blacked out. Trying to break his grip, I fell back on the bed. Finally, he let go and I exhaled. Tears ran down my face, as my vision cleared.
“Now, that’s reason to cry, man.”
I laughed until I couldn’t get any air. My ears and face were as red as beets. Feeling hot all over, I rushed to the window for air. Finally composed, I turned around as he took his hit. He had it under total control. Finished, he offered me the bong.
“Ready for another hit?”
I shook my head in disbelief.
We laughed while he took a third hit. I realized I was spinning and was afraid I’d barf in his room. Looking panicked, I stood up. Robby came over, placing his arm on me.
“Relax. It’s all in your head. Don’t be paranoid.”
He sat with me on the bed until I cooled off. I felt intense relief. Finally, I could talk again. He was sitting in his chair, looking smug.
“I guess I’m a lightweight, huh?”
“For sure, dude, but it’s okay. You’ll learn.”
A head stuck through the window, Dave from the other night.
“Bong hits, for sure, for sure. Am I interrupting anything hot?”
“Fuck off, fag,” Robby replied.
I tried to tell him I wasn’t gay all the time, but he cut me off, “Don’t be so gay, man.”
They both laughed, until I joined in.
Robby passed him the bong, which he quickly fired up.
“That’s better,” he sighed, and collapsed on the bed next to me.
I detached from myself, watching the other two, aware that I was ten times higher than them. I floated around the room as they discussed what to do that night.
“Wanna climb the tower at Holy Family?” Dave asked. “I left the back door open after altar boy practice this afternoon.”
“Still pure in the eyes of the Lord?”
“You know my dad will kill me if I stop going to Church.”
“Ya still go to confession, huh? What do you tell the priest about us?”
“Nothing. Just that I get high. The priest really gets off on it, going on about breaking the law and all that.”
“So, he thinks I’m your pusher. Come here little boy and have some of this candy.”
“He says you’re worse than that.”
“Could it be the Devil?”
“You got it. He says you’re leading me to hell.”
“Well, I guess you don’t want this bong hit.”
“Only if’n you twist my arm.”
“Come here and I’ll twist your brain.”
While they argued and Dave finally got high, two more faces appeared at the window.
“Can we come in, Robby?”
“Oh no, it’s the junior high crowd. The road to hell runs through my window.”
The two boys piled in, sitting between the chair and the bed, looking expectantly at Robby. I leaned back against the wall, pulling my feet underneath me. All at once, everyone stared at me.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Shoes on the bed. Shoes on the bed,” they all shouted. I pushed my legs out so my feet were beyond the edge of the bed. Everyone relaxed. I checked Dave, who had his feet tucked under him.
“What?” Dave asked.
“Just that you’re doing what everybody yelled at me for.”
“Well, I don’t wear no funky clodhoppers.”
Robby said, “Just go barefoot, man. I don’t like anyone dragging dirt into my bed.”
I took off my sneakers and tossed them out the window, breaking everyone up.
“You could also upgrade those jock-head clothes, Jeans and tees? Come on.” Robby chastised me. “Wait,” he added when I started to rip off my shirt, “I don’t necessarily mean right now. And my Mom’ll flip out if she finds all these clothes in the backyard tomorrow morning. Remember the no orgy rule?”
“I’ll go barefoot the rest of the summer,” I promised.
“Hey, are we gonna check out the Church,” Dave changed the focus away from me.
“Not until we get high, at least,” the two new guys intoned.
“David’s priest says I’m sending him to hell. I’m sure as hell not invading his church after getting you little kids stoned. That’s testing fate.”
“Ah, com’n, Robby. We wanna go to hell.”
“Okay. But you have to kneel in front of me, so I can pray for your souls.”
“I believe. I believe,” they chanted, while Robby put the bong in each one’s mouth. Dave lit the bowl each time they took their hits. They both genuflected.
Sitting in Robby’s room that night, stoned to the gills, I observed the rest of the gang hang out. First was Dave, not fully grown, he had that lean look that said he was going to be tall. His friend Jazz was more like a frog, slumped over with big eyes that watched everyone at once. Iggy was a greaser, with a leather jacket and a snarl on his lips; I never learned his real name; he was Iggy because he was into the Stooges. John was the innocent angel, still an eighth grader, allowed to hang out with us because his older brother, Jace, was cool about it. Max was his and Jace’s dog. Michael came in last and was Robby’s equal. They had been best friends since grade school. Dawn was Jazz’s older sister; why she hung out with a bunch of immature stoners was clear; she liked to get high. Mary was Robby’s girlfriend, who had a mind of her own; she was Puerto Rican and didn’t live in the Gables. Rob was the center, if not the leader, because he had the weed; he shared with all who hung out; there were occasional buyers but dealing never happened when we were there; he had just turned seventeen and was out of school. Whether he had graduated was never discussed. The normal response to anyone showing up was to light up a doobie for the newcomer and pass it around. With the gang all there, the question of the night’s activity was discussed. After the topic changed several times, it was agreed to climb the Catholic Church’s bell tower. Dave’s objection that it was sacrilegious was trumped by Rob’s assertion that it was religious to (literally) get high.
“Father Joseph’s always saying you guys are sinners,” Dave pronounced.
“That’s because you’re always confessing we are to blame for all the trouble you get into,” Robby countered. “You blame us to get out of trouble with your folks.”
“Right, like they care what I do.”
“No, you care what they think, ‘cause they still beat your butt.”
“No one wants yours.”
Finally we got out of there and wandered up Riviera to the Catholic Church. Dave led us to a back door, while I followed the gang. Once inside, Rob split toward the altar, but Dave held him back.
“Com’n the bell tower stairs are over there.”
“Where’s the wine you snappers are always drinking?”
“Forget it, Robby. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Is the little altar boy afraid I’ll desecrate his church.”
“You’re an idiot, asshole,” and Dave pushed him toward the bell tower door.
We silently filed up the stairs, coming out on an open space below the tower’s roof. All sides were open on a spectacular view of the Gables. Street lights were like illuminated lines on a map, defining our town. Immense dark spaces represented the country clubs and parks. The lighted fountains at various intersections reminded me of Disney World, seeming small and precious. The only other building as high as we were was the old Baltimore Hotel, but it was unlighted and supposedly abandoned.
“You guys ever check out that old hotel,” I asked.
“You think it’s haunted?”
“Naw. Just looks cool to check out.”
“Robby claims that he and Michael climbed along the roof. Michael almost fell and they didn’t reach the tower.”
“It’s true, man, I almost died and Robby saved my life,” Michael confirmed, checking out our reactions. Then, he and Robby started to laugh. I withheld judgment as to the truth, but I couldn’t help feel a kinship between Scott and me and them. It was not a thought my stoned brain wanted to explore just then.
Robby produced the de rigueur joint. We maintained the high we had set for the night. Everyone was lounging on the tower’s railings, relaxed and enjoying the superior position above the rest of the Gables. Robby got fidgety and crawled out on the roof. David hissed at him, saying he would cause trouble, which only egged him on. Soon he was at the roof’s edge, looking down about forty feet.He turned around, lifting both arms to capture our attention. Bending down, he went over the edge. Dave and I rushed to the roof’s edge in time to see him finish sliding down the drain pipe.
“Com’n you pussies. Let’s see you match that.” He yelled at us.
“Shut up, you’re making too much noise,” warned Dave.
But it was too late, as lights started going on in the rectory, where the priests lived. We were frozen at the edge of the roof.
“Move,” Robby yelled. “The only way out is down.”
I ran to the pipe, slid over the side, grabbed it with both arms and legs, and began to slid down. At first it went well, but soon I was going faster and the pipe was cutting my hands, arms, legs and feet. About ten feet from the bottom, I pushed off and fell to the ground. I lay there with the breath knocked out of me. Robby picked me up, dragging me across the street, where we hid behind a hedge. The others had not fared so well. We watched as the priest caught them before they could get out of the side door. I gasped for air and Robby choked from laughter at their predicament. The head priest, probably Father Joseph, dismissed all the kids except Dave, who he led away by the ear. When they walked by, we whispered to them, and soon everyone was rolling around, behind the hedge, laughing uncontrollably. Finally getting my breath, I sat there stoned and bleeding, enjoying the pain and embarrassment. I left them at Robby’s as they went in for a final joint. Before going in, Robby patted me on the back for being the only one to follow him down the drain pipe. I wondered how I would explain all the cuts at morning workout. I also wondered how I was going to get up for practice.
When I walked into my room, Scott woke up, turned on the lamp, and looked at me in shock.
“Man, you look like you’ve been in a fight. How’d you get so cut up?”
I decided not to evade him questions.
“From sliding down the drain pipe on the Catholic Church’s roof.”
“What were you doing up there?”
“Just screwing around with the neighbors. Where were you tonight?”
“Over at Lydia’s. Oh, I waited up to give you a message. Tina called from New York. She said to call her and sounded like she really needs to talk with you.”
“What did she say?”
“Not much, but she was kinda upset you weren’t here.”
“I guess it’s too late to call back.” It was past midnight.
“She’s probably pregnant. No big deal.”
“Yeah, it was the Immaculate Conception. I think I’ll call anyway.”
Scott rolled over to go back to sleep. He was starting to disappoint me.
HOLIDAY IN THE SUN