Part 3: The end of the world came on Friday night June the 12th, 1970- Chapter 1
The end of the world came on Friday night June the 12th, 1970. Who’da thunk it! Right?!
Richard Milhouse Nixon was President of the United States, the 34th to be exact. It was six months before the day he was to meet Elvis Presley. The Pittsburg Pirates pitcher, Doc Ellis, would pitch a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. The final score would be 2 to 0. Janis Joplin, the rocker and blues singer, after leaving the band she was in, Big Brother and the Holding Company, would perform her debut and final performance with her new band, Full Tilt Boogie in Louisville, Kentucky. In Brazil, it was Dia dos Namorados- Lover’s Day. It was World Day Against Child Labor. It was the day Saint Odulf of Oirschot died... only 1,155 years later.
School had been out for about three weeks already, so the teenage kids who incessantly cruised up and down the main drag in the family car or in their own jalopies, or hung out in the parking lots in front of the strip malls and burger joints or in the city parks and whatnot had already begun to arrive and commence their weekend socializing and recreating. It was a typical West Texas Friday night, more or less. As per usual there were Little League games scheduled at the city and county park diamonds so those fans were beginning to mill around and chatter and congregate as well. And in the downtown area, a decent sized line of moviegoers was shuffling toward the box office to purchase their tickets to BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES at the super modern Scott Theater- I think- if I remember correctly.
When me and Phil and Brazos zipped through the downtown area on our way to the Oracle’s crib, I recall thinking how the line had been wrapped around the corner the weekend prior. Most everybody by then was already waiting for CATCH-22 to hit town. There were a few die hard cinephiles chatting up TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARAH but not as many. I liked that movie. I remember checking out the marquee and wondering if the film would be like the book- CATCH-22 not the Eastwood and MacLaine flick- because I hadn’t really liked it all that much. I couldn’t even finish it. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that the author, Joseph Heller, had actually coined the phrase, which roughly translated means: a situation that you can’t get out of because basically no matter which way you turn you’re screwed... and you did it to yourself. Apparently it took Heller eight years to pen the tome.
We were in Phil’s red and white 1969 Ford Torino. I was riding shotgun and Brazos was in the backseat. Downtown Odessa, in those days, was all reflective trim metal on glass and brick and relatively squatty. Only a few buildings yet reached baby skyscraper status- a bank and an office building I remember. The city had begun to hang traffic signals, by that time, on metal arms that reached out across the streets which were all pretty well lit. The Oracle’s cave however was in that part of town that had still not been dragged kicking and screaming into modernity and the light- across the tracks it was- where a lot of the black folks lived and the midgets. There was actually a small neighborhood (no pun intended) inhabited by a diminutive community of “little people”. I don’t know why. I had never heard of it except in Odessa. We called it Midget Town. I mean, why wouldn’t we; it was the early 70s and we were rednecks yet and not politically correct? And of course, it is no mystery what we called the part of town where the black folks lived.
The Oracle was this dude whose real name was Rocky O’Reilly and he’d been to Vietnam and was all messed up in the head. He actually had a dent in his skull where they’d put a metal plate over his brain after he got blown up. He visualized tremulous visions and said weird things like: “Beware the Chinese! They eat dogs and cats and don’t play by the rules. They're gonna make the whole world sick one of these days.” And he sold drugs. He’d got the nickname “Oracle” apparently while he was “In-country”, as they say, because he had an odd knack for being able to predict when “Charlie” would attack. “Tonight...” he would say and sure as shit, Charlie would attack... mostly because that’s what they did... was attack... at night.
You’d think that he would’ve warned us about the stuff we bought from him that evening- that it would bring about total apocalypse and possibly free Charles Mansion and instigate Helter Skelter and possibly even summon down malign extraterrestrials or release a virus that would wipe out mankind... or something. But then again, Rocky O’Reilly the Oracle should also have known about the trip wire that a Viet Cong soldier attached to an American made grenade that would explode and send shrapnel into his brain.
“I find puppets terrifying,” he said. “You know... the ones on strings.”
“Marionettes?” I said. I think it was me who said it.
“Especially when they wear a badge. Beware the ides of June!” he said. “No wait... its tonight that you should be concerned about!”
“Tonight?” Brazos said. “What’s going to happen tonight?”
Rocky O’Reilly, the Oracle, lifted his hands up and jerked them woodenly as if he was being operated by strings from above him.
I suppose, in hindsight, that was sufficient enough augury.
Phil had also been in the military but not to “Nam” and was more or less pretty normal except that he drank like a fish and smoked like a fiend. Brazos was actually James Braddock. He’d been our second string quarterback in 9th grade and came from a sort of upper middle class family... real smart guy... but half a bubble off plumb... as my step father used to say.
I am not exactly certain why we went back to the park that night, after we scored, except... that’s what we did Friday nights... mostly... after we’d scored... unless there was a party or something somewhere that we could crash.
It was a trip, in and of itself, Sherwood Park. Sometime in the late 1950s the city parks department had placed an actual World War 11 bomber in one corner of the park about two hundred yards from the swimming pool and baseball diamond. It did not take long for airplane and war enthusiast to strip out the control panels and gauges and whatnot. But the hull of the plane sat there for forever for the kiddies to play on and risk tetanus from being cut on the pieces of metal that eventually curled up on the wings and in the fuselage. There was a giant concrete octopus in another section of the park that had been painted with a big grin on its face and a goofy smile and weird cap on its head. A nine foot tall prairie dog in a ten gallon hat and a gun belt stood guard out front of that section of the park. There was a giant concrete spider with metal pipe legs eight feet long and a spider web made of rusty iron behind the fantastical arachnid, also smiling a goofy smile. There was also a metal ship and big pile of rocks that we called “the Big Pile of Rocks”. So it was a favorite place for us freaks to go when we were tripping, being somewhat hallucinatory just as it was; and of course a place for children of course to flock to after school or on the weekend.
Lynette Flanagan, a small girl, petite, and one of the most popular girls in our high school even though she was only just a freshman... soon to be a junior, was standing at the concession stand with another really pretty girl who was equally well known but not quite as popular because she was more aloof, kind of mysterious, and had a penchant for the bad boys- Robyn Weaver. She was quick to point out that it was spelled with a “y” and not an “i” and that made it a girl’s name. And the third girl in the posse of three, Benita Hoffman, probably the least attractive of the triumvirate, by a hair, but who had the reputation as being the one in “the Holy Trinity” most likely to “put out” was with them as well.
Lynette and Robyn were collecting their sodas from the concession stand attendant, some kid I had never seen before with red hair and freckles and braces on his teeth and large black framed glasses. Benita was chatting up one of guys who played... sometimes... on the varsity football team, Charlie Burk, or maybe he was chatting her up. Benita gave me a glance that sort of indicated respectful disregard. If I could characterize the way that she always treated me, that would be it- respectful disregard. And that is probably exactly the way I treated her... more or less... neutral.
“Hi” Lynette said and flashed me a smile... a real smile.
I don’t know why Lynette liked me. It’s not that I was un-likeable; I had a fair amount of friends- but usually, at that point in my life, the wrong kind. But there was something tender between her and me, from the start, and not in any kind of sexual way. We just had a genuine affection for one another- at least that’s the way I saw it. Maybe she was that way about everybody and I just didn’t know it.
“Hey...” I said.
Phil took a drag off his cigarette and raised a hand to acknowledge Lynette. He was one of those guys who always looked like he had bad posture- that he was slouching. He had sharp features and sort of reminded me of a crow I guess... some kind of bird that had one leg shorter than the other. And he kept his free hand in his pocket a lot. I have no idea why. He had straight black hair that fell to the left across his forehead and he would flip his head to toss it away from his eyes.
“Hey...” Brazos said and sort of wrung his hands a little. He was one of those guys who seemed like he always had to be somewhere or had something else that he had to do but couldn’t quite get to it just then. He was a fairly sturdy guy, about medium tall. And he had wavy, almost curly brown hair and green eyes. He was a smart guy... already said that... but sort of tightly wound... or at least... oddly strung.
All of a sudden, the sky lit up...
“Boom!... Boom! Boom! Boom!”
“What the...?” Brazos said and started sort of jumping around.
It looked like bombs bursting in mid-air and splashing across the heavens in a way that sort of reminded me of the synaptic neural net of a starfish I’d seen once in a book in the library.
“Do you have any pot?” Lynette asked without paying any regard to what had just happened in the sky.
“Pot?” I said, sort of surprised that she seemed oblivious, or at least indifferent, to what was going on above us; and also because drugs and alcohol was not Lynette’s thing.
“For me.” Robyn with a “y” said. She too seemed heedless of the exploding firmament.
Another “boom” accompanied another spate of explosions ripping the sky that looked evermore like the biological neurons in the newly forming Constellation of the Jellyfish.
“What the fuck is going on?” Brazos said- his pupils so large by then that they looked like onyx black marbles buried in hard boiled cue balls.
He was holding his hand up near his face and scrunching up and opening his fingers which had become amazingly long... elastic it seemed and misshapen like something from a Salvador Dali painting. His face however looked more cubists like a Picasso.
People were scurrying in every direction; it seemed, away from their shadows which looked like they were cast by light through a broken prism and chasing desperately after the bodies they were supposed to be attached to.
This would be a weird place to die- I thought. All these people running around and my forever shadow chasing me.
“We don’t have any pot.” I said. Marijuana was frequently difficult to get in that era in West Texas.
“But you’re on something” Benita said. “I can tell by the way James is acting.”
“The sky is falling!” Brazos said, almost on cue and sort of to himself but aloud to everybody without really knowing that he was doing it, as he stared upward at the embers scuttling downward like crabs. He was genuinely gripped in abject terror.
“We’ve gotta go tell the king!” I said, half mocking, half serious.
And with another loud “Crack!” that sounded like one of the twins in the Constellation Gemini had just clubbed the skull of his other brother, the sky hurled chunks of color again that burst into a thousand streams of electric confetti.
“What did you guys take?” Lynette said.
“Barrel acid” Phil said. “Barrel acid?” Benita asked.
It was called “barrel acid” on account of the tablets were shaped like little barrels.
“Yep... More fun than a barrel of moon pies...” I said.
“More like shooting flesh in a barrel...” said Brazos drearily.
“But not like skating on the bottom of the...” I said but was interrupted when the heavens exploded once again into a million huge multicolored asterisks.
“I think this stuff must’ve been cut with strychnine!” Phil said.
That was one of the common misconceptions back in the day; that LSD was sometimes cut with strychnine to induce an acid trip with more colors. But it was just an urban myth: like the notion that a person could get “bad acid” and that it would cause a “bad trip”. Generally speaking, if strychnine was actually found in LSD it was because somebody was attempting to murder somebody by poisoning them. And as a rule, a “bad acid trip” was caused by the state of mind of the person taking the drug, prior to them taking it.
“We’re all gonna die!” Brazos said starting to trip really hard. “It’s the end of the world!”
No, it was fireworks that were supposed to be exploded in the skies over the Juneteenth celebration that was scheduled the following weekend but some idiot thought that it was June 10th... and not... Juneteenth. It had not become an official state or national holiday yet and though it was referred to as the “Black Fourth of July” by many because it celebrated the day that Union Troops arrived in the state of Texas to enforce the end of slavery, which had actually been ordered by law, two years earlier, January 1, 1863 it was still widely celebrated mostly unofficially, more or less.
“I’ve got to go warn Carol!” Brazos said as he turned to Phil.
Carol Richards was a short girl with really big breasts. Her family owned a fairly popular Barbecue Joint in Odessa and James Brazos was obsessed with her. They were actually sort of boyfriend and girlfriend but it was mostly on the sly. Her parents knew that they were dating more than they were supposed to be but were actually pretty cool folks anyway and realized that forbidding Carol to see Brazos would most likely cause her to see him more. Carol had an infectious smile that seemed to always be on her face. And who could blame James Brazos for wanting to warn her that life on Earth as we knew it was about to come to an end?!
“Don’t look at me.” Phil said. “You can’t go over there in the condition that you are in. And I can’t take you! You’re a minor on drugs and I’m over 21!”
“Then I will walk!” he said and began to run toward the edge of the park.
“You can’t just let him go by himself!” Lynette said. “Not in the condition he’s in.”
“I know. I know.” I said and hesitated for a second longer.
As stoned as I was, reason managed to poke its head through the multicolored clouds of hallucination and delusion swirling and swelling in my LSD sodden cerebrum, and for a fleeting instance I knew the prudent choice... if oh I had listened to my better angels.
“Okay then...” I quipped reluctantly. “I’m off to kiss a lizard, I guess- the wonderful izard of Loz. If ever a liz there was there was there waaaas...”
“Hey...” Lynette said. “How come you never call me?”
“Ieeee... didn’t know I was supposed to.” I said. “James is getting away...” she said sweetly, innocently.
She was such a sweet girl. How could I have known that that was the last time I would ever speak to her.