A novel by EJ Spode.
Chapter 8: San Pedro
While I sincerely planned to meet Penny that day, around 4:00 PM I got a call from Bigfire. He and Funmaker were all jammed up in court and they wanted me to run an errand – basically take a package out to Funmaker’s cousin’s place, which was on a Bison ranch about an hour south of town. There was no way I was going to refuse to do a solid for Funmaker as sketchy as it might seem, so I agreed to do it, and then I called Climax, because there was no way I wanted to run that errand alone.
I only knew Funmaker’s cousin by reputation, which is that he was a Funmaker-style badass that was into his own brand of shady business in Sioux City, which was about a mile away, give or take.
I picked up Climax at 4:30, and we headed south to Sioux City. While both towns are technically on the prairie, Sioux City is substantially more ghetto, and possibly as a consequence Climax was all about going there. When I picked him up he had a fifth of Maker’s Mark bourbon, and a little bit of meth, which I don’t mind in small doses. I do object to meth becoming a lifestyle choice though.
So we hit the meth, cracked open the Maker’s and headed south. It was already dark of course, but for once it wasn’t particularly windy and the road was clear the whole way. Our instructions were to use a key we had been given, drop off some supplies in his cousin’s greenhouse, and be on our way. The supplies were substantial. There was a fair bit of fertilizer, and a couple of boxes of grow lights, and another unmarked package that I didn’t ask about. It didn’t matter. I had GPS, and I had the supplies, and this simple favor was going to score me mad points with Funmaker.
We got to the farm a little bit past 5:30, I used the key Funmaker gave me to open the front gate, and then we drove down a long farm driveway to a farmhouse, a barn, and a well-lit greenhouse. I have no idea why no one could be around to accept the package, but whatevs; it was not a thing.
But as it turns out it kinda was a thing. The second we stepped into the greenhouse, I knew we were in trouble. Climax was a kid in a candy store.
“I know, Climax, I’m looking at it.”
“Just shut up and help me unload this shit.”
“OK, but before you do, you realize that is peyote there, right.”
“And that… that is fucking San Pedro cactus!”
“I’ve never had it before…”
“Me neither, help me with this fertilizer.”
“There is a shit ton of it.”
“Yeah ok, you gonna help?”
“Let’s take a bit to check it out.”
“Are you fucking with me?”
“No dude, seriously…”
“No, be serious, this shit belongs to *Funmaker’s* cousin.”
“Dude, I’m just saying let’s take a piece of cactus. We won’t even take any peyote buttons.”
“OK, explain this to me, why do we need this?”
“Cuz we’ve never had it.”
“It’s some seriously spiritual shit.”
“So is the peyote.”
“Yah but we’ve never had San Pedro cactus before.”
“Is it really that much better?”
“I dunno, but we’ve never had it before.”
“Dude, we aren’t collecting stamps here.”
“Oh fuck, right. Says you!”
“Jesus fuck already take some fucking cactus, but like, don’t make it obvious. Just whack off an arm from that one, but make it clean.”
“Yes thank you, yes, you will thank me for this, you will, this is going to spiritually help us.”
“Yeah yeah, whatevs, do you have a knife?”
“Dude, does the Pope have a crucifix?”
“I dunno, does he? On him? Or does he have lackeys carry that shit around for him.”
Climax pulled out a switchblade and cut off an arm from a fairly recessed cactus arm. I was kind of surprised he picked such a discrete target. “There, see? Cousin Funmaker will be none the wiser.”
“Fine, what do we do with that shit now.”
“I dunno, make tea with it prolly. We’ll boil it down tonight.”
“Yeah tonight, why not?”
“What about the Stockman.”
“Well yeah, we are gonna make some San Pedro tea and then go to the Stockman.”
“Are you going to make this shit?”
“You know I am.”
“Do you know how to do this?”
“Dude, this is what the Internets were invented for.”
On the way back home Climax was telling me all kinds of stories about the medicinal and hallucinogenic properties of San Pedro cactus. Like, for example, it was called San Pedro (St. Peter) because it was the key to heaven. It was also known as the cactus of the four winds and had been used in South American shamanism for over 1000 years. It was all sorts of interesting, but I had this gnawing sense that we had probably made a mistake in hacking off a chunk for ourselves.
When we got back to Sioux Falls Climax found a website that talked about preparing San Pedro cactus, but all the prep advice was based on a really bad movie starring Michael Cera. It seemed Climax wanted us to count on a work of fiction to tell us how to make magic cactus juice. I found another website that said the movie was bullshit regarding how to cook San Pedro and it said we needed a food processor if we didn’t want to boil the shit for 14 hours, so we went with that advice, and yeah, I know, Internet advice, but whatever, we chopped the cactus, threw it in the food processor, then boiled it for about 4 hours, and then strained the remaining goo, resulting in a couple tumblers of chartreuse colored liquid.
Ok, now, the high from this stuff was much more interesting than your standard buzz, and in hindsight I want to give Climax some credit here. It was not like peyote or mescaline exactly. It was a cleaner and yeah somewhat more spiritual high. I saw what the hype was about. My only complaint about the whole thing was that maybe it should have been saved for a better time.
The juice was sort of nasty and bitter so we cut it with some honey and Tabasco sauce. About a half hour after drinking it I felt it coming on, felt a kind of mild nausea, and then my senses started coming to life. Noises became really crisp. Smells became really vivid (if that is a thing). And then I started to de-stress. It had been a stressful break, even if I hadn’t noticed, and this great sense of chill came over me.
I put on my coat and walked outside into the Sodak winter night air. I was really taken by how fresh it was. And I could feel and smell the ancient prairie surrounding the town. It was really speaking to me. I fired up a cigarette and felt the nicotine flow through my body.
At that point I felt my body numbing out and I felt myself starting to get in synch with fractal patterns in nature – waves, galaxies, Fibonacci series in population growth and the mathematics of networks. It was really beautiful.
At some point I sat down in a snow bank and felt my inner self bending into a fractal pattern itself, and I was one with the mathematics of nature, and at some point I felt that was the key to it all – that I could bend space and time. And then my thoughts went back to Penny, only this time I felt a lot of clarity.
I mean I felt *exceptionally* close to Penny. The San Pedro had cut away all the bullshit and the button pushing and the triggering and the infidelities and all of it, and I had this sense that I was meeting Penny soul to soul in that moment, and she was so familiar, so pure. And I realized that when you strip away all the shit and all the years of piled up anger and disappointment and all of the dazzling good times – stripped it all down until it was just us, then that’s what it was all about. Me and Penny. Nothing else mattered. But how to get there.
I had this idea that I should get some San Pedro cactus and trip with Penny and maybe we could work through it together. I also had the idea that my ass was probably freezing solid from sitting in a snowbank, so I got up and went inside. Climax was in a state. As soon as I got in the door he had a bizarre question for me.
“Dude. What the fuck are we doing?”
“What you mean?”
“I mean, what the fuck are we doing?”
“OK…the thing is, you just repeated your question.”
“No, yeah, what I mean is, what the fuck are we doing?”
“You mean like, here?”
“No man, everywhere.”
I still had no idea where Climax was going with this, and I was a bit concerned about him. He’s the guy that keeps skating really fast all the time so he doesn’t break through the ice and here he was, in the water, and going under. Some people don’t handle existential well. I decided to lead him to safety.
“Dude I see what you mean.”
“Yeah, no doubt. You are asking like, what the fuck is this about?”
“Well yeah, kind of, but I was more asking what we are doing.”
“You mean why does what we are doing matter?”
“No man, I never got that far. I’m asking… what are we doing?”
“Well, we are tripping and talking…”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Do you mean what else are we doing?”
“No I mean, like we are breathing, right?”
“And like digesting.”
“Yeah no doubt.”
“And converting sugar into energy and shit.”
“Pretty sure that’s right too.”
“So then, all kinds of shit.”
“Zillions of kinds of shit. We are mad busy.”
“Right, but how much of that did we dial up.”
“How much do we do on purpose?”
“Mmm, not much?”
“Right bro, because I did not ask my heart to beat or my lungs to breathe, or my cells to turn sugar into whatever.”
“Definitely no on that last one.”
“So the question is, of all the shit we got going on, how much of it are we actually doing.”
“I dunno, the talking and thinking part?”
“Yeah, maybe, but maybe those thoughts are like heartbeats – they just happen, and maybe the talking is just like breathing… you know?”
“So you are saying we aren’t actually doing shit.”
“Pretty much I guess.”
“OK, you aren’t going to start talking about God and shit because if you are I’m leaving.”
“What the fuck does this have to do with God?”
“I dunno… nothing?”
“Do you wanna talk about it?”
“Did you know, that once when I was a kid my dad took me to see the Flying Farmers of Oklahoma?
“OK, I did not see that coming.”
“Yeah, it happened though.”
“What I’m trying to wrap my mind around is Flying. Farmers. Of Oklahoma.”
“Yeah that’s what they were called.”
“OK you know what, I need to go outside and get some air.”
“Yah but before you do, my point…”
“Right… you had a point…”
“Well, those flying farmers… that was their jam. And they could have said, I’m a fucking farmer I don’t fly…”
“But instead they were like, cool, an airplane. And they got in and flew around and shit.”
“Dude you said you had a point.”
“My point is you can hold your breath, but sooner or later you are going to breathe.”
“So why hold it?”
I nodded for a bit, and then Climax added.
“Just breathe man.”
“Wait, isn’t that what Miley Cyrus has tattooed under her left breast? Just breathe?”
“I dunno, maybe, but then she’s onto something, amirite?…”
I went outside and fired up another cigarette and stared at the burning-magnesium-bright Sodak moon for a bit. That was classic Climax advice: Just fucking breathe. But, the thing is, I don’t think that advice works for me. If I’m just breathing, there is no Penny. If I’m just breathing why bother with Penny? She’s work. Being with her is like trying to control your heartbeat and your breathing at the same time. It’s hard. An epiphany came to me. I had to write Penny.
I excused myself from Climax, who still seemed to be all existential with his one-man be-in anyway, and drove home, sat down at my laptop, and drafted a letter to my muse even as the San Pedro high started to subside.
Sometimes there is a rare moment of clarity – a moment when the bullshit and anger and fears and jealousies get pushed aside and the only thing left is the reality of you and me. But here is the problem…
What good is this reality when we’ve buried it under all that anger and jealousy and resentment? What fucking good is it?
And the problem is, there is no fixing, no repair, there is no thing to be done there is just too much wrong, too much that is fucked, too little that we can do, there is in fact nothing we can do, it is just fucking hopeless it is…
And you know, you want to scream you want to cry out you want to get on your knees and beg someone – really, fucking anyone – to step in and fix this shit but who is going to do that?, who could do that?, who even would do that if they could? You see, no one gives a fuck – they are all like suck it up and suffer like the rest of us and I just want to scream NOOOOOO!
No to that shit, no to giving up, no to fucking all of it.
I will hold my breath until the end of time
I will stare into the sun until it burns out
I will throw fucking tantrums and I will curse every god ever invented.
I will meet those gods in their stupid heavens and their shitty hells and I will challenge them on their crappy battlefields, war chariots or no, those gods will pay!
No I won’t suck it up I won’t get over it I won’t just shrug as my relationship with the love of my life gets buried under a mountain of pain and anger and jealousy and despair.
I JUST WON’T FUCKING DO IT. I JUST CAN’T FUCKING DO IT.
I will not quit.
This love is going to kill me it is going to kill both of us but I don’t care anymore it can kill me over and over again I don’t care. This is not about winning it is not about fixing it is not about happily ever after. It is about saying here I stand Universe, kill me if you must, but I. Will. Not. Quit.”
I finished the letter, but for some reason I could not hit send. I went to bed.
Images: Jana Astanov
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, December 19th, 2016.