Skipping class on a gorgeous Friday afternoon, driving through town and over the bridge and into the backdrop of society on the same road running along the same stretch of river sitting in the backseat of Biff’s Land Rover drinking a twenty-four ounce can of some energy drink mixed with twelve-percent alcohol – a bit harsh on the throat but it sure packs a big punch with a quick burst of energy and intoxication after the first one and on to the second – on a blunt ride hitting corners at sixty miles an hour, trying to avoid crashing headfirst into that tree right up ahead which we gratefully do and that’s when Tim tells him to slow the fuck down and Biff, like a good little boy, complies leaving us all alive making me wonder why. “You’re beautiful,” Tim says as he passes the blunt back to me. “What?” I reply, loud and direct. He looks back at me again, says “I’m singing the fucking song man,” and I’m left with a sorry-ass “Oh.” Stoned and temporarily incapacitated, I put my head back in the plush leather seat and close my eyes, listening to the music and not the voices in my head.
When I open my eyes all I see are clouds of smoke courtesy of some giant rips Biff took from a small G-bong. Dan, sitting next to me in the back, has been ranting and raving for the past ten, fifteen minutes about the current state of our country’s political affairs – something he has always been passionate about. He must have run out of fuel because he suddenly stops and then Biff and Tim talk about a new TV show Californication which Tim tells me I need to check out, that it’s right up my alley. I tell him I’ll look into it and then Biff veers off the side of the road onto an abandoned river-lot not that far from the other one. Suddenly, I feel very sick.
“What are we stopping for?” I ask him. He opens the door, turns to me and says that he needs to take a piss, which apparently everybody thinks is a good idea and a moment later I’m sitting in the car alone. I look around the lot next to a couple other vacant ones – lots that’ll be empty until Spring rolls around. The house is small but the property big. I get out of the Rover and head towards the yard covered in leaves that crumple underneath my feet as I walk.
Biff finds a football next to the shed where he just took a piss and he, Tim and Dan toss it back and forth. “Heads up!” Tim yells and I instinctively catch the ball that, if I had acted a millisecond later, would’ve hit me straight in the face breaking my nose. “Thanks for the warning,” I say, tossing the ball back to him with a scowl on my face and a smirk on his. They continue to throw the ball and after a couple minutes of me staring at them in complete boredom, I look to the river and despite every instinct in me saying “DON’T!” I trot down the yard and onto the dock, old and rotten pieces of wood creaking beneath my feet. The dock is a solid twenty feet and at the end of it has a bench – much like this lake on a campground I went to with Bill, my cousin, when we were young. After a slow walk I put my hands in my pockets and zip up my hoodie, the wind coming off the water brisk, a bit icy.
The sky cloudy, the weather dreary – much like life itself. Such a dark, dismal existence. The countdown to the end of time, I think. And almost as if my thoughts were spoken out loud, The Three Stooges converge upon the dock talking about the end of the world. I sit there and listen to them, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer that Dan hands to me.
“It’s not unwise to think that this is the beginning of the end,” Dan says. “I mean, that’s all they talk about on the news. The Swine? Please, it’s a 21st Century version of The Black Plague … only this time I don’t know if we’ll all survive. Rebuild …” He looks up at the gloom overlooking us. “Economic downfall is inevitable, and the American voters can hope for brighter days all they want. Fucking Change? And the crazed idea that the black man’s gonna fix it all up, make everything better? Please, it’s all bullshit.” His cigarette ash grows longer than the filter before he tosses it in the slow-moving river, hissing as dies.
“The end,” Biff says. “Huh … isn’t that what the Mayans … the Mayan-Nostradamus thing? I think I saw something about that on the History channel.”
“Oh fuck off,” Tim says. “When was the last time you watched the History channel? No fucking way.” The veins in Tim’s neck look as if they’re going to pop, his forehead perspiring and the skin of his face is tight as if he’d gotten a facelift – those perfect white teeth clenched together with the muscles in his cheeks stretching his features back. How Tim could go from 0 – 60 in less than five seconds has always amused me. Tim Ruthers, Clinical Badass. One fight he was in with a dude 6’3 or taller, a jacked-up linebacker for RBU’s sorry-ass football team coming in at no less than 280 pounds, ended in black eyes and acute renal failure after Tim (an average 5’10, 5’11 and 160 pounds) connected with a series of harsh blows to the abdomen after initially surprising the linebacker with a head-butt hard enough to break his nose and blacken his eyes. That was when we were just Sophomores. Since then, I’ve been able to read his anger quite well and though it looks as if he is heated enough to knock Biff out for no real reason, I know it’s just Tim being Tim. “Biff,” he continues “watching the fucking History channel.” He takes a cigarette from Dan who lights it. “Unbelievable,” he says, laughing.
“It’s no bullshit,” Biff defends. “I read all about it.”
“Ohhh, and now you’re reading.” Tim winds up and throws the football as far as he can into the river. “Somebody please tell him to shut the fuck up.”
“Whatever,” Biff says with puppy-dog eyes while he does what he does best: rolls a joint.
“Nostradamus has nothing to do with the Mayans,” Dan says. “And I’m not sure if it was the Mayans that predicted this either.”
“Oh, who gives a fuck?” Tim says, and then the four of us all get quiet as we pass the joint back and forth watching ripples in the river, the surrounding trees casting long shadows on the water.
Nobody says anything for some time until, finally, Dan sighs and starts walking back to the car, Tim and Biff in tow, and after looking at the water for another moment – at one point I think I hear the faint voice of a young girl screaming “Help!” – I retreat back to the Rover and on the way home, ironically that song by REM (or is it REO? I’m not sure) “End of the World” plays on the radio and perhaps it’s a calling, a sign – maybe this is the end of the world; or is it just life and the way shit is?