RichardDaub.com, November 2023
Bobby showed up at a little after eight and Carl unwrapped the aluminum foil, revealing the three white tabs of cardstock each smaller than a fingertip with blue telephone receiver printed on them and laced with lysergic acid diethylamide-25.
“Are you ready?” Carl asked Bobby, who’d never tripped. Carl had done it for the first time two weeks earlier at college upstate and had purchased several extra tabs to bring home to Long Island for the summer.
“You guys said it was mild,” Bobby said.
“It was, but it’s loaded with speed, so it’ll last eight hours and then it’ll take you four hours to fall asleep. The difference is, last time we were up at school and could just wander off campus into the woods and go back to the dorm and do whatever. Now, as soon as we put these things on our tongues, we have to get the fuck out of here because my mother and stepfather are in the den directly below us and they aren’t gonna move until the Carson monologue is over.”
With a pair of tweezers, Carl placed one of the tabs on the tip of Bobby’s index finger, then picked up another and put it on his own.
“Don’t leave me hangin’,” he said, then put the tab on his tongue.
Bobby did the same, then stuck out his tongue to show Carl.
“Alright,” Carl said, setting the timer on his Casio watch for thirty minutes to remind them to swallow the tabs, “no turning back now. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
He refolded the aluminum around the last tab for future use, then retrieved his bowl, “Amanda”, and the fresh dime bag he’d purchased earlier that afternoon and stuffed both into his half-full pack of Marlboros.
To get out of the house from his room, they had to go downstairs and pass through the TV den, where his mother and stepfather had just returned with fresh cocktails during a commercial break from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
“So, where you headed off to?” his mother asked.
Concerned that the tab on his tongue would fly from his mouth as he spoke, Carl, semi-ventriloquistic, answered, “Taco Bell.”
“Taco Bell? Since when do you like Taco Bell? You always hated when I made tacos.”
“What are you going to do after that?”
He shrugged again and said, “Bowling.”
“Bowling? Where? Hopefully not at 300 Bowl.”
Carl shrugged and, fortunately, his stepfather cleared his throat to indicate he couldn’t hear the TV, so his mother told them to have fun and, moments later, they were sitting in Bobby’s white Toyota Celica.
Bobby, hand on key ready to turn the ignition, asked, “Are we really going to Taco Bell and Bowling?”
“I just said that to get out of there,” Carl answered, “but, I actually don’t have any better ideas at the moment, so, sure. Let’s go get some tacos.”
The nearest Taco Bell was in Seaford, the next town over. They went through the drive-thru and ordered Chilitos, crunchy tacos, and extra-large Mountain Dews, and Bobby parked in a space overlooking the Burger King next door. They had to wait six minutes before eating so they wouldn’t swallow the tabs too soon.
After they’d finished eating and smoked a bowl, Bobby asked, “So, are we really going bowling?”
“Sure, why not,” Carl answered. “Are you okay to drive?”
“Yeah, for now, anyway. But I don’t know how long that’s gonna last.”
“Well, alright then. Let’s just go bowling and see what happens.”
Bobby pulled the Celica onto Sunrise Highway, but, moments later, Carl instructed him to pull into a 7-Eleven.
“We need supplies,” he said to Bobby, “and we’d better get them before you can’t drive anymore.”
They purchased large coffees heavy on cream and sugar, a pouch of sour apple Big League Chew gum, a one-subject college-ruled spiral notebook, a two-pack of blue Bic Cristal pens, two bottles of Coke, four packs of Marlboros (box), the current issue of Playboy (featuring Playmate of the Year Corinna Harney and an interview with Ralph Nader), and a twelve-pack of Old Milwaukee (cans), which would likely require an ID check. Carl’s New York State driver’s license was altered, which worked at the college bars upstate, but, on Long Island, there was always the fear that some asshole would take it and turn it over to the police. The burnout dude behind the counter, though, gave him a knowing smile and didn’t even ask for ID, and, moments later, they were back in the Celica heading east towards 300 Bowl.
Carl hadn’t been to this place since eleventh grade, when he worked there for less than two months and was deservedly fired. Two days before the termination, though, he’d been tipped off by a coworker that they were gonna give him the ax at the end of his next shift, allowing him to exact revenge in advance. During this last shift, he unplugged the freezers with the snack bar burger patties, French fries, and pizza; he squirted ketchup and mustard into the finger holes of the balls on the racks and into the toe space of as many pairs of shoes as he could; he mixed a bottle of vanilla syrup they used for the egg creams into the tank of the lane oiling machine; and he pilfered a case of Miller Genuine Draft longneck bottles from the bar and stashed it behind the dumpster of the mattress store next door, where, after the firing, it was waiting for him to haul three miles home on the handlebars of his Centurion Accordo Tour de France Limited Edition LXE 12-speed racing bike. The following afternoon, the owner called his house screaming at his mother that he was going to sue them for everything they had and was considering filing charges with the police, but then nothing ever happened.
He knew it was unlikely the owner would be there late on a Saturday night, or that he would even be recognized now with his goatee, long hair, Rasta hat, and burlap hoodie. The place was crowded with Saturday night daters and families, and, to his relief, he didn’t recognize the guy behind the counter. They had to wait several minutes for a lane to become available.
“I think I’m starting to feel something,” Bobby said, looking a little paranoid.
They were eventually assigned a lane down on the lower level. There was a group date happening on the pair of lanes next to them, one of the women looking familiar to Carl.
“Shit,” he said.
“What?” Bobby asked, seated at the scorekeeper’s table.
“That woman over there, the one with the dark hair—she works at the employment agency I temp for.”
They watched them celebrate after one of the other women rolled a strike.
“You wanna split?” Bobby asked.
“Nah. I think I’m alright. Let’s just bowl. I used to have a 179 average.”
“Jeez. I think it would take three games for me to score that.”
On these very lanes, before his brief employment here, Carl was a decorated youth league bowler who once, on a Friday afternoon fueled by Twix bars, French fries, and vanilla egg creams, rolled a 220, the high game of the league season, for which he received a giant trophy. Now, however, his bowling skills had abandoned him and he was frozen in his stance on the approach. Sixty feet ahead, the pins were swaying in unison.
“You okay up there?” Bobby eventually asked.
Carl noticed the woman from the employment agency looking at him.
“My old pitcher’s elbow is acting up,” he said, then put the ball back on the return rack. At the scorekeeper’s table he said to Bobby, “We need to get the fuck out of here.”
Minutes later in the Celica—
“Dude, I don’t know if I can drive,” Bobby said.
“There’s a train station right up the road,” Carl said, lighting a cigarette. “Half-mile at most, straight shot east on Sunrise until you have to make that left turn. There’s a little cop booth at the station, so be careful, but, if you can make it into one of those spots, it’s free parking all weekend, and then we can just ride the rails until sunrise.”
It was approaching midnight and there was little traffic on Sunrise Highway. The cop cruiser wasn’t parked at the booth and Bobby made it into the station parking lot without incident.
The Babylon branch of the Long Island Rail Road is an elevated line that runs parallel to Sunrise Highway westbound into Queens and eastbound out to Montauk. Toting their supplies in a gym bag from the trunk, they rode the escalator up to the platform, where only a few people were waiting on the westbound side. The quiet was nice after the noise of the bowling alley.
“I’m definitely feeling something now,” Bobby said.
“Me too. But we’ve got a long way to go. I think we should board the next train that pulls in, whichever way it’s going. We’ll either wind up in Manhattan or Montauk. Or Brooklyn.”
“Okay. At this point, I’m following your lead.”
“The acid will lead us.”
They went inside the vacant, urine-stink waiting room and smoked a bowl, then went back out to the platform and lit cigarettes.
Sometime later, a pair of white headlights appeared in the eastern darkness, their silent, seemingly eternal approach hypnotizing them.
The train arrived at high speed, the breeze pushing them backwards.
It rolled to a stop and the doors slid open.
“Are we really doing this?” Bobby asked.
“I see no other alternative,” Carl answered. “We must board this train and let it take us there.”
“Wherever we’re supposed to go.”
The train was mostly empty, but, to stay out of view of the doors at either end of the car and also make a quick escape if necessary, they stood in one of the vestibules where the sliding doors were. Several stations later, the conductor still hadn’t appeared, but then, through the dirty window on the door at the eastern end, they finally saw his zombie-like form approaching from the next car.
“Let’s keep moving ahead and get off when we get to the front of the train,” Carl said.
They pushed their way through the heavy doors at the end of each car until they were at the front of the train as it arrived in Rockville Centre, the town where Carl had been born nineteen years earlier. The conductor was still a car behind and had to open the doors, allowing the trippers to disembark without paying fare.
Inside the train, the bells started ringing and the doors slid closed. The conductor, arms resting on open window, was looking at them, but said nothing.
“I’m pretty fucked up,” Bobby said as the train pulled away.
“I think we’re starting to peak,” Carl said.
They sat on the platform and packed a bowl, and each cracked open a can of Old Mil.
“I think my beer is breathing,” Bobby said, his can resting on the concrete dripping with condensation.
“Holy shit, it is,” Carl said, both leaning in for a closer look.
They smoked and drank until headlights appeared in the west.
“Should we go back?” Bobby asked.
“No fuckin’ way, man. We don’t want to be trapped with the swine in that electric missile while we’re peaking.”
They concealed their beer and the bowl before the train pulled in. Several people at each door stepped from the cars onto the platform, then quickly disappeared into the stairways.
An hour passed and they smoked cigarettes and stopped talking when Carl started losing track of where he was and what he was doing there. He was also starting to mistrust Bobby and was aware that Bobby was starting to mistrust him, but he knew it would be dangerous to reveal his suspicion, so he tried to focus on his anchors to reality, the sipping of the beer, the smoking of the cigarettes, the occasional car going by down below, the pen, the notebook.
“I feel like we’re being watched,” Bobby said.
“It’s just the acid,” Carl said, as much to himself as to Bobby.
“No, man, look behind you.”
There were two men standing in the stairwell, one appearing to be in his forties and the other in his early twenties, the latter holding a boom box that he placed on the platform and pressed PLAY.
Bells started ringing. Pink Floyd’s “Time” from Dark Side of the Moon. Carl had listened to the same CD when he tripped upstate.
“What the fuck?” Carl wondered aloud, then stood.
“What are you doing?” Bobby asked.
“They’re sending us a message.”
“I want to go over there and find out what it is.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
The younger guy pressed STOP, then the older guy yelled, “Yo!”
“I’m going over there,” Carl said.
“What if they’re killers?”
“They’re not killers.”
“What if they try to mug you?”
“Then they’ll be disappointed. But they know we’re tripping. The acid has tapped us into their frequency.”
“Well, it’s all you, man. I’m staying right here.”
Near the stairwell, Carl approached the men slowly.
“Dude’s high on acid,” the older guy said.
“For real,” the younger one agreed.
“How can you tell?” Carl asked.
“Clear as day, man. Two college boys sitting on a train station platform at one in the morning, smoking weed, drinking Old Milwaukee, writing in notebooks—”
“Whoa,” Carl said.
“That’s right, G,” the younger guy said, “we just blew your mind.”
“You did, man. We were hoping just to chill and not be noticed.”
“Not be noticed?” the older guy laughed. “It’s impossible not to notice you.”
“Do you guys hang out here a lot?”
“Yeah, dude. This is like our living room. You guys are our guests, and I see you brought beverages.”
“Yeah, man. You guys want an Old Mil? We also have some weed if you want to smoke.”
“Now you talkin’,” the older guy laughed.
Carl turned and waved at Bobby, who remained motionless.
“Your boy might be having a problem,” the younger guy said.
“Well, do you guys wanna join us over there?”
“No way, man. You guys are sitting right out in the open. It’s okay to make a little noise up here, as long as they don’t see you from down there. Stay outta sight and bring your boy over here.”
Carl headed back down the platform to the soundtrack of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” playing on the boom box.
Bobby’s teeth were clenched and he looked paranoid.
“You alright?” Carl asked, realizing he too had a bit of jawlock. “I think it’s time for some sour apple gum. But those guys over there are cool and invited us to hang out.”
“Yeah, man. This is, like, their living room.”
“Maybe we should stay over here.”
“No, they said it wasn’t safe here out in the open. We need to get out of sight.”
Bobby didn’t respond.
“Okay,” Carl said, “just get up and follow me.”
Bobby stood and Carl picked up the gym bag and they headed over to the stairwell.
The older guy’s name was Earl, and the younger guy was Johnny.
Carl packed Amanda and offered it to Earl.
“Why you call this bitch ‘Amanda’?” Johnny asked Carl, inspecting the green, orange, and yellow tie-dye pattern on the rubber grip around the chamber.
“I had a crush on Amanda Whurlitzer from The Bad News Bears. The novel based on the screenplay. I read that first, then saw the movie later with Tatum O’Neal. I also like the Boston song.”
They passed the bowl and sipped their Old Milwaukees, except Bobby, staring at the large cross atop the bell tower of St. Agnes Church across the street.
“Is your boy Bobby alright?” Earl asked.
“He should be. We’re peaking.”
“How come you’re not staring off into space?”
“This is his first time. I tripped on this same stuff once before.”
“No. I got this stuff upstate. This was the last of it.”
“How’d you wind up here anyway?”
“We were driving around, then Bobby couldn’t drive anymore, so we got on the train and it took us here.”
“Where you from?”
“Massapequa. But I was actually born here, Mercy Hospital, 1973. And now I’m back. The acid has brought me full circle.”
“Is Bobby from Massapequa too?”
“No. He’s from Lake Grove.”
“Lake Grove? Where the fuck is that?”
“Out east somewhere in Suffolk.”
“You guys know the next eastbound ain’t gonna be for another two hours?”
“Shit,” Carl said. “Well, the peak will be over by then.”
They finished the beer and weed as the sky changed by degrees from black to blue. Eventually Earl and Johnny left, leaving the trippers alone to ponder the sky turning ever bluer behind the white cross atop St. Agnes across the street.
“I think I’m coming down,” Bobby said.
“I’m definitely coming down,” Carl agreed, “but we’re still gonna be pretty wired for a while because of the speed.”
Down on the street there hadn’t been any vehicles for a couple of hours until a Newsday truck slowed and dropped several bundles of newspapers in front of a still-shuttered newsstand.
“It has officially changed from late to early,” Carl said. “We just spent the night at a train station.”
“Wonderful,” Bobby said.
“If we hadn’t taken the acid, we would have gone on thinking these were mere train stations, and not places that some people use as living rooms. There might be a Johnny and Earl at every station, and we never would have known. We have been ignorant, but the acid has opened new doors for us and we will never be the same.”
They were hungry, but there was nothing open in the vicinity of the station. All they could do was sit on a platform bench like regular passengers and wait for the next eastbound train, lungs hurting, but still chain-smoking cigarettes. An hour later the train finally arrived and this time, wired and exhausted, they took a seat and paid for tickets, longing for the relief of sleep that seemed far in the future if their brains would only slow down.
Bobby was okay to drive and they went to 7-Eleven for buttered rolls and coffee hoping the caffeine and food would relieve the exhaustion, which it did a little. Afterwards, Bobby dropped Carl off at his house, then headed back to Lake Grove.
It was just before six and Carl managed to make it through the house without waking anyone, a relief because he knew he was a grimy trainwreck and surely reeked, though he couldn’t tell himself.
Exhausted and wired, he turned on MTV, which was playing the trippy new Beastie Boys video, “So What’cha Want”.
“I want sleep,” Carl scribbled in the notebook, but then there were no more words and all he could do was stare at the TV until, as the rest of the house began to stir, sweet relief finally came. ▪