The Burden of Empathy : Chapter 2

Chapter 2 

It all began in the summer of 2008.  My older sister Jill got a job at a charity summer camp as a cook.  My sister said she could have visitors, I had just completed summer school, and the time was perfect for my parents to get away on a trip and Jill would be their excuse.  How lucky was it for my stoned ass that it happened to be in a Mecca for potheads?

So there I was in my bedroom preparing for the trip.  I packed my bags while smoking Orange Kush out of my red plastic bong with the tiny metal bowl piece that gets too hot to touch.  I packed three medium band shirts; The Shins, Jimi Hendrix, and Beck, 2 flannel shirts, 2 tie die t shirts, four pairs of jeans and a coat.  I packed my brand new blue and purple pipe, three grams of weed, and a gram or so of hash.  I had a full ounce of pot I had bought from a friend at summer school that I could have taken, but I wanted to sample that Humboldt bud, so I brought a small stash.    

After I was packed, I smoked out of my bubbler and watched Goodfellas waiting for the time to go.  “Three o’clock,” my parents said.  It was still 2:30.  So I smoked another bowl.  Sacramento to Humboldt was at least an eight hour trip but I knew we were going to take two days going up and a day coming back, we always do that on these sorts of trips.  By the time it was 2:45, I thought Id smoke a bowl of hash to be extremely high for most of the day’s trip.  After the hash I put in Visine and chewed gum.  I heard my dad call, threw my stuff in the back of our 2000 Toyota Sienna, and we drove off by 3:15.  

I sat behind the driver’s seat, my father drove with my mother in the passenger’s seat, they promised to switch eventually.  The driving hurt my dad’s hip but my mom can’t drive at night because of her eye sight.

My parents are fairly short people, both are 5’5.”  My mother is redheaded with somewhat pale very freckly skin.  My father is so tan he looks Mexican, the black beard and ponytail both contribute to the illusion as well.  Let it be known my dad is white, at most he could be called a Jew, he is ¼ Jewish.  His full black beard and hair is sprinkled with random grays. His tan came from his growing up as a beach bum in LA during the 60’s.  An aging hippie from the love era, who had to put down the j’s when he started a family and had to switch to the blood of the suburbs unless you’re a Mormon or a pussy, alcohol.  My mother was a 70’s hippie and a college anarchist who read Marx.  My parents drank, they drank for the “health” of it, but you could tell when they were going to make me or my sister drive home. 

We eventually got onto the freeway out of Sacramento, as we were passing the bridge and the river my parents got into a discussion about the approaching presidential debate. They weren’t so much talking about the debate itself rather than just shit talking McCain.  Since I agreed with everything my parents were saying I felt no need to contribute to the conversation.  Plus I was so baked I probably would have just made it obvious that I was stoned.  So I pulled out my “cut-out-the-outside-world device,” better known as an “IPod”, and played MGMT’s “Time to Pretend,” on a loop.  As I meditated to the synthesizers I was so stoned I completely lost track of time, when it was four it felt only 20 minutes had gone by.  After my meditation I changed the track to my new album, My Morning Jacket’s EVIL URGES.  A group of white boy hippies who sound like Prince.   I then trailed of into my thoughts as we drove along.  I began to fantasize.  I day dreamed what would I be like if I was a musician?  What would my sound be?  Acoustic electric rock of some kind, probably a hip-hop rock/reggae/blues mix, and indie of course.  What would my look be?  I’d wear tie dye, flannel or random thrift shirts, with worn jeans handed down from my dad, and a blazer with a torn shoulder.  My fantasies took me into my concerts where I cover songs, and it’s always the song I’m listening to at the moment.  

I had put it now on “Charmer” by Kings of Leon.  The song reminded me of someone at my hellhole, I mean high school.  She was indeed a charmer, always looking at me, never trying to flirt or seduce, but always succeeding.  My thoughts always dwell on her but I wish they wouldn’t.  My brain hates me, it reminds me “You’re not good enough for her.  She is perfect, has friends and isn’t an addict, and you’re just a wasted loner.”  Just like I wasn’t good enough in Elementary school to play any sports or at middle school where I wasn’t good enough for friends and “fag”  became my nickname. 

 The fact is I’m just not very popular.  I wish it didn’t sound like a line from a John Hughes movie, but it’s the truth.  No matter how much we won’t admit it, no matter how much we like to think that times have changed, they haven’t.  High school is still the same bullshit world it always has been.  Popularity is power, most (not all) teachers don’t give a shit about you and no matter what, everything is always your fault.  But I take solace in the fact when high school is the best time of your life how pathetic the rest of your life must be. 

 High school is full of self entitled immature brats, who have orgies known as “Dances”, pretend to be from Compton by smoking dope that should be reserved for only true stoners such as your’s truly, then they play the puppy dog eyed innocent every time they get caught.  High school sucks when you’re a logical person.  I’m not arrogant,  I don’t think I’m better than these people, if I did I wouldn’t feel like a reject just because I’m never invited anywhere by anyone, ever.   But I can’t help but think maybe the reason I’m so miserable is because I’m just seeing things they aren’t.  Maybe I’m just a little ahead of the curb, waiting for the others to catch up.  Or maybe I’m catching up to them.  But I’m sure my first guess is the right one, I’m just crazy.

The reason she was out of my reach was simply popularity.  I was one of the stoners, and she was one of the trendy well liked kids.  It was like Romeo and Juliet.  Except Juliet is a gorgeous redhead with a perfectly shaped  figure and long waving hair and Romeo is a lonely stoner who doesn’t shave, has shaggy hair, and talks like a mix of  James Franco in Pineapple Express, Tommy Chong, and a wanna be Hunter S Thompson.  All Juliet knows about Romeo is his name and the fact he’s always high.  Romeo can only admire her from afar because he’s too much of a pussy to even talk to her. 

 This is why I’m crazy.  If I could only silence the voice in my head that says “I can’t,” I could be free.  Weed frees me temporarily, but I can’t afford to smoke that much.  I would if I had enough money but there is no point in living in a fantasy, and there is also no point in liking a girl who doesn’t even know you exist, because that basically makes you a stalker.  I always told myself to move on because she was out of reach, but I couldn’t.  Once she was on my mind it would take something good to get me to move on.

I fantasized the sight of us kissing in the halls, of the two of us as a couple and what we look like as a couple.  How she would respond when I whisper I love you into her ear and actually mean it, unlike all the dudes who actually get laid in high school.  

As my mind reminded me I wasn’t good enough for her, I put on Nirvana.  Kurt Cobain was a hero to me, his music opened the emotions of a generation.  It’s just a shame that capitalism caught his work, and drove him to the grave.  Nirvana’s music summed up the angst I felt in whole, it’s no wonder Nirvana has such large appeal.  Its just a shame someone always has to make a profit and art cant just be available for the sake of art.  I dwelled on this to help get my mind off of her.  

I checked the time and it was 4:45.  After I was done listening to Bleach and Nevermind, I switched from Nirvana to shuffle. Then after skipping six songs I settled on Beck’s classic “Loser” another anthem of my life.  I, like the rest of my generation have several anthems set to a soundtrack only I hear.  We call these soundtracks “playlists.”

As I slapped my song and bobbed back and forth letting the tingle of the high flow throughout my body, I watched the passing forests and trees grow thicker.  We were approaching the Pacific Northwest, and the Mecca of potheads, Humboldt County.  Humboldt is a beautiful place, the redwood forests of Return of the Jedi next to beaches that look like Monterey. It is a beautiful place.

We stopped at a rest stop and my parents switched places.  As I listened to Vampire Weekend and MgmT more, I began to think about how our generation failed to peak, how the decade went without the revolution it deserved.  Bush was a Nazi, and he is guilty of war crimes and incompetence for his reactions to the attacks of September 11th.  Yet the people somehow never showed him their pitchforks.  He then exploited the horrific date and carved it into our minds.  Now the day of tragedy is associated with patriotism and an unspoken hatred for the freedom loathing brown people to psycho nationalists.  We failed to reach the peak that we envied of the sixties and this is how tie dye went from a symbol of the acid culture, to a school spirit dress day theme for squeaky voiced preppy girls masturbating to Zach Effron.

 When it comes to 9/11, the truth is 9/11 was a wake up call to Americans.  We went years thinking we could be free from fear, free from worry.   It was a pipe dream, a load of shit.  There is never a guarantee of safety and that is the price of a free society.  The belief we were immune to attack simply because we were the USA is simply egomaniacal.  The truth is when it comes 9/11 the nation needs to get the fuck over it.  Don’t call me insensitive, I’m not.  If you lost any one you loved or cared for in the attacks, or if you survived the attacks, you have a reason to feel strongly.  TO those who cling to their patriotism so they can have an identity, WELCOME TO THE REAL FUCKING WORLD!  Does the USA have to deal with suicide bombers, racial cleansing, drug cartel decapitations every single day?  No.  9/11 is a day that without a doubt stung, but we cannot cling to the past.  The same goes for the present and the future.  When you think about it time is nothing but a mirage.  It is completely relative to perception.  The moment we’re in is always infinite.  Time has no beginning and no end.  It’s simultaneous. 

This hung in my mind until around 6.   We pulled into another rest stop were I pissed and washed my face.  I did my best not to touch anything, these stops always remind me of dirty prison cells.   My weed was wearing off, but the hash was holding on.  I couldn’t help but wonder how obvious it was that I was high.  I didn’t have red eyes thanks to the Visine but I always peaked at my self in the rear view mirror.  My appearance had all the symptoms, eyes half closed, pointless grinning, senseless giggles, paleness thanks to lowered circulation, and the obvious sluggishness.  Yet I went unnoticed, and I enjoyed beautiful sights, songs, and thoughts. 

 We pulled back on to the road.

I could tell we were increasing in elevation as my ears felt swollen, so I began to chew gum.  The thickness of the forests grew as we drove up the road.  We approached a small town called Willits, and we pulled into a Best Western, it was 6:34.  We pulled out our bags, my parent’s laptops, the backpack cooler and the roller cooler up to the room.  My parents never pack light.  We settled our stuff, and used the toilet.  After we had relaxed and gotten the tension of the road out of us, my mom told me;

“We asked the lady upfront for a good place to eat, and she recommended a place called The Purple Thistle.  It’s supposed to be all organic and vegan friendly.”

“Sounds Good,” I replied.  I’m not a vegan I’m a vegetarian, but I got her point.

 I then snuck in to the toilet and smoked a bowl, I then rejoined my parents and we were off.

We got in the car and drove down the street for three minutes until we passed the Purple thistle, we turned around and parked on the street.  As we walked to the restaurant an old lady drove by who was so old and bony it looked like death was driving the car and I was so high that for a moment I actually thought it was death.  To this day despite my firm disbelief in the after life, I am not quite sure about who was driving that day.

The restaurant was small, it had few tables and limited space on the inside, but the back had a large porch with plenty of space but still few tables.  We decided that it was too cold for us to eat outside, the North is much colder than the valley.  So we ate inside the crowded restaurant, despite my mother’s claustrophobia which didn’t seem active.  

My parents ordered wine immediately.  I ordered an iced tea.  My parents then got into a conversation about traffic on the way up, and how tasty the merlot was, the conversation became more relaxed to the point my mother sought to include me in it.  

“So do you have any summer work for…” she paused searching for the words “school next year?”

“A little,” I replied hoping she didn’t see my dilated pupils, “I have a few essays for English, and I have to read The Crucible, which I already did.”

My mother nodded and sipped the wine.  “What did you think of The Crucible?”

I thought for a few seconds for the right answer, “I agreed with the anti McCarthyism of the book, but Miller is just a little to dry for me.”

“Yeah. I thought so to,” She said nodding.  “I haven’t read The Crucible in a long time though so I really can’t say.  What are your essays about?”

“Two are responses to The Crucible, and for the other I need to write my definition of the American Dream.”

“And you are going to write…”  I knew she was expecting something offensive, outlandish, or simply something one doesn’t expect an Honors English student to say.

“I’m going to write…that it is a pure bullshit illusionary anomaly created in order to establish a false sense of security in the public in order to encourage consumption and prevent upheaval.” At this point in my life, my mother had given up on trying to get me to stop cussing.

“Ah,” she nodded and cracked her trademark smile, a smile that always said “I’m Proud you’re my son but to be a good mom I can’t say I support the crazy shit you say even though I do.”  It could have been the weed making me paranoid, who knows.

My father was simply nodding, looking at me through his square glasses on the end of his nose with the stern look he gives, almost always by accident.  

My parents went off into another idol conversation, so I trailed off into my thoughts.  This, always when unguided, circled around to her.  Her just looking at me, the charmer Kings of Leon sang about, “She’s always looking at me.” Every time I look at her we catch each others glances and awkwardly look away within a second, as if we weren’t looking at each other at all.  

  Her look just hypnotizes me, but she isn’t trying to hypnotize me so I try to break the trance.  I pictured her walking up to my car in the parking lot, and we’d hug and grope, and kiss just like all the other couples in high school.  I pictured us cuddling after sex, her slim body holding my average torso and me stroking her back, gently clutching her perfectly sculpted ass.

The waitress taking our order snapped me out of my trance.  My parents each ordered the chicken, I ordered the Cajun prawns.  I still ate fish.  The waitress then gave me a refill, and then my dad made some embarrassing joke about how she was checking me out when she left.  I just replied by giving the standard teen “tsh.”  A sound that could be a laugh or a grunt.  Then my mom assured me of how handsome I was and my father agreed.  It’s weird how when your mom gives you a sincere compliment you feel like it’s an insult.  I was such a jerk, I’m so sorry mom.

 Then my parents and I returned to our activities.  I then decided to absorb my surroundings as I always do.   The street outside the window resembled that of a small forest town,  store fronts and wooden and brick buildings with a background of skyscraping redwoods.  Yet the neighboring shops ,“MAD ABOUT TYE DYE” and the head shop “PIPE WORKS” were  two shops you would never spot in Sarah Palin’s Wasilla Main Street, unless the pipe shop was specializing in meth.  Can I get a “Hi! – OH!” (Rest in peace Carson and McMahon, You would not believe how many people my age don’t know who they are, comic legends.  So many people I know don’t even know who the Marx Brothers are, the fucking Marx Brothers!  The inventors of all modern comedy.  My generation sucks.  Except the Pacific Northwest scene is jamming.  Oh shit, I’m rambling again, sorry, I’m high.)  Any way…

Near the window by the table next to us was a woman in her mid twenties or early thirties eating with four other gentlemen around the same age range.  They were all dressed very trendy and all very effeminate, lots of tight jeans and sequins.  I overheard them talking about Gossip Girl and a concert of some kind.  I think they said Madonna.  Behind us was an elderly man and woman, and the man was recounting of his confrontations with intolerance, apparently he was a homosexual.  With the young gays to my right and the older gay to my left, I could see this place held true small town values.  I hope you catch the sarcastic overtones of that sentence.

  It was a very open and accepting place.  The truth is at my school, and not quite all of Sacramento, but these guys would have to be deep in the closet.  At my school there were only a few out loud and proud men and woman.  And the fact I was in a tolerant environment was a breath of fresh air to me, I m usually in intolerant self-centered surroundings. Finally to be out of the jockish rich kid hipster prison hell that was my school was a relief no word could describe.  This place has the sense of community I didn’t have access to at this point in my life.  This place was the scene I was looking for.   This place got it.  It simply understood that a revolt was due.  We failed to achieve it, but this place was trying.

That thought began to weigh heavy on my mind again, how had this generation failed to reach the peak of revolution that came during my parent’s time.  I didn’t understand why we failed to achieve a revolution, we had more excuses than the 60’s could have begged for.  The Iraq War was more financially crippling than any other battle and Bush and his crony’s were all pure white collar criminals.  Hypocrites, liars, and exploitationists that put Nixon to shame.  Yet thanks to their reactionary incompetence, we saw the election of the first black president which was long overdue.  Perhaps the change we begged for so much will come, and perhaps that change will welcome the social revolution we failed to insight.  The end of a long streak of conformity and create a sense of community.  Maybe Obama’s election was our first step towards that revolution.  ‘The Times they are a changing,” as Bob Dylan said.  Of course none of this went through my mind at this time, Barack hadnt even been elected yet.  He also hadn’t broken our hearts yet.

After a forty five minute wait our food arrived, we were irritated but the food was so goddamn good we were in absolutely no position to complain.  I began to talk about the election with my parents.  It was the same old shit, we agreed prop 8 was outrageous and shouldn’t even be on the ballot.  Then we talked about the possibilities of McCain or Obama winning.  We painted the portrait of the hellscape our country would be if McCain won.  Four more years of white collar crime.  McCain could have won if he hadn’t sacrificed his integrity, he sold out his entire set of beliefs merely for the sake of winning.  He was a whore, a bigger whore than Bristol and Sarah mixed into one.  I take that back, Bristol is less of a whore, she didn’t give in to her shotgun marriage and she had the composure to admit abstinence for teens is not realistic.  But Sarah is the biggest whore on earth.  She exploited her baby’s syndrome and all of the rest of her family’s tribulations, they all should be indicted and hung, and except Bristol cause she looks like a good lay.  I’m sixteen at the time so I think with my dick.  Plus how could she be off serving the public and take care of her disabled child herself.  My mother is a REAL feminist, and even she admits a mother with a baby with down syndrome shouldn’t be off in the public eye but at home caring for the child, because a disabled child takes a lot of attention and care, she ran a state into the ground with lies and corruption due to an addiction to vanity and attention left over from peek years on the runway, and the state was to stupid to realize it.  Jesus, another rant!  I’m sorry I really am trying not to do that so much.

My parents conversation had shifted from the election to the whole point of the trip, visiting my sister Jill. 

“So it will be nice to see Jill.”  My mother decreed.

“Yeah, it will be,” was my father’s only response because that’s all that was needed.

My mother turned to me, expecting a reply. “Yeah I’m Excited,” I said without true emphasis, but I truly was excited.

I began to worry my mom knew I was stoned because I ate my entire dinner of cajun prawns without blinking, and she gave me that look parents give when they know your stoned but they’re lingering suppressed Suburban instincts prevent them from talking about it at the dinner table.  My mother attempts to avoid any notions of my smoking, she’s torn between her beliefs of legalization and the risk of her child getting arrested.  She essentially trusts me to just not get in trouble, she sweeps conversations of my pot use under the rug as do her middle class counterparts, but unlike them she lets me toke.  My parents are probably the only truly understanding parents.  This is the benefit of being the products of hippies who in my opinion actually would smoke if it wasn’t illegal and if it was socially acceptable for parents to smoke.  But they are understanding, when Cheech and Chong reunited my dad took me to a show where he rolled the fattest j I ever saw and made me promise to never tell mom.  Then mom bought me booze and made me promise never to tell dad.  Parents are funny sometimes.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how she does at her job,” my father said.  He was referring to our scheduled dinner with Jill.  We would be having dinner with her liberal Christian campers who were constructing houses for impoverished Native American reservations.  She would be cooking for us and all of them.  It was to be an interesting experience, although I support the organizations deeds I have a difficult time dealing with organized religion.  But I was damned proud to have a sister working a job this noble.  And I have no problem with people having beliefs just so long as they are subtle, humane, and reasonable.

My dad paid our bill and we returned to the hotel.   This room wasn’t a suite, so we shared it.  I had the bed closest to the TV, which to entertain my parents and myself, I put on Futurama.  My father laughed vibrantly at the jokes as he swigged the Mickey’s and ciders from the cooler, my mother had a Mike’s Lemonade, while I snuck a Mikes Lime and a Mickey’s.  I snuck another toke in the bathroom by ghosting my hits, which means to hold your breath until there isn’t anymore smoke, and I hid the side stream smoke by covering the bowl with my hand.  If my parents can’t smell it they can’t complain.

I returned to watch more TV, I then got under the sheets and I looked at the clock and it read 10:15.  This was the last thing I saw before I passed out.

Published by James J Jackson

I'm a poet from California.

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