The party was out there. The students hanging out at this set were nothing like the ones I’d grown accustom to at PSU. No uniform of pressed Chinos topped off with powder blue, yellow or pink button-down Oxford shirts. No loafers with a shiny new copper penny peeking out of the little half-pocket above each shoe’s leather fringe. They dressed a mad mix of Army surplus and Salvation Army. They wore olive green fatigues and basic blue work shirts. Or blue jeans and U.S. Marine field jackets.
The Rolling Stones were blaring. A bouquet of incense flowed in smoke streams that vanished into thick air here and there throughout the apartment. The furniture looked like it had been thrown out of some musty attic or had fallen off the back of an old beater of a salvage truck. A big yellow ceramic cookie jar, shaped like a pig with blue eyes and a red snout, squatted on the kitchen counter. A handmade sign hung around its neck: “Please feed me a buck or two to help pay for the goodies.”
Trey looked at me. I looked at him. He nodded. I smiled. My eyes said to his eyes: This is hip. Very hip.
We fed the pig. Somebody handed Trey a deformed, scrawny, crinkly cigarette. He took a long drag then passed it to me. I took a puff, smoking it as if it were a Kool Menthol. It didn’t taste like tobacco from Winston-Salem.
“It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black,” this redhead dude with a Beatles haircut sang, reaching out for the joint. “Hey, man. You’re wasting good smoke. Hold on to your toke,” he scolded, in words that came in staccato spurts through tightened lips as he tried not to lose any of what he had inhaled.
“My man is cool,” Trey said, apologizing for me. “He was about to choke.”
“I can dig it,” the Beatle-head said with only a whisper of smoke sneaking out before he continued singing loudly along with the Stones.
Trey took the joint from me. “Take a deep drag. Try not to let any smoke escape,” he said, demonstrating.
I tried. Inhaling deeply and holding it until my lungs felt like they were about to blow. I flew into a coughing spasm. Somebody passed me a plastic cup with some pink wine in it. It was too bitter for my taste. But I took several sips, then a gulp, followed by another drag of the joint. Then I waited. Nothing happened. I wasn’t high, I laughed. Marijuana wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, I giggled. Then I drank some more wine. It tasted a little sweeter the second time around.
“You’re telling me you smoked that shit and you’re not high?” Trey asked.
“That’s right,” I said, snickering. “I don’t feel shit.”
Trey shook his head, right before leaving with this hippie chick he’d been rapping to.
The next time I smoked some grass with him was a couple weeks later. That time, we both got high. After that, we got loaded every weekend.
“When did you stop blowing weed?” I asked, passing the joint to Monica. She took a quick hit and immediately passed it back. It had been a couple of years since Trey and I had had time to sit down and rap. After he got back from the Nam he only visited PSU once while I was still there. By the time he had re-enrolled to make up those two lost years of college, I had stepped out into the work world. “And why?”
“I quit while I was in the War,” he said, taking a small sip of wine. “I was in a caravan that was headed for Phu Bai when we came under attack. Half the men in the 101st Airborne were either killed or maimed. I was spared. Not a even scratch but I took a direct hit here,” he said, his index finger touching his temple. “I decided then and there that if I wanted to get out of that toxic place alive and well and in one piece, I had to be sober and alert at all times. It was a good time to learn an important lesson: If you go through life fucked up, you’re going to fuck up your life. Or worse.”
“That’s heavy, Brother Trey. Real heavy,” I said, taking another hit and passing it on to Allison.
* * * *