Come in out of the heat, won’t you?
Indeed, you honor me in showing up in your long coat and gloves. It must be a hundred and twenty in the shade out there. The hot air is sizzling up from the pavement. Maybe, it is my imagination after sipping a few too many scotch and sodas; but are there not devil surfers even now riding the flutter in the air, cackling vulgar innuendo in how the dried up leaves rub together, and thrusting out their forked tongues to taste the sulfur of rotted souls? Before you smile in disbelief, I urge you to look back outside from the relative coolness of my foyer and to see the truth of the matter. It may take you a while. Heat disorients and then dulls every one of the senses. Really, ask any Native American or Northern California hippie who has stolen a few hours in a sweat teepee; and when lucid again, he or she will admit that heat is the greatest (and deadliest) of the mind altering drugs out there on the market. There is a confused rush of stimuli (the brain frantic in the realization that it is about to be cooked in an oven); a brief moment of absolute clarity (all the moral and intellectual obfuscations we keep in our mind like old collectibles suddenly burnt away); and then a slow, relaxed descent into the wavy gravy grey. The grey darkens into death, if a friend does not pull us out of the sweat teepee in time. We are more than a little pissed as our friend pulls us out of the heat wave, because at that moment the blackness feels so very inviting. We get over it. Life is good, after all; but a nagging voice in our mind reminds us, now and then, that we had lost something irretrievable the moment we had been whisked away from that heat death.
But I digress. What matters is that it may take a while for you to witness one of those devil surfers riding the flutter in the air; but if you are patient and open minded (and if you consume without question one of the sweet cocktails I hand you in the meantime), finally you will see the flapping, acid tipped tail of one of those devil surfers just before he escapes back into thin air. Or if you do not see anything so peculiar, then perhaps you will hear his triumphant hiss, as he jumps one of the waves and slides back down into the asphalt. Or, maybe, if you do not see or hear anything, then at the very least you will catch a whiff of that dried, scratchy, sulfuric scent we associate with dead beasts baking under the sun, but which deep down we know has something to do with creepy devils crawling out from the hot sand to draw us out from the shade and into the fire.
I can tell from the expression on your face just now that, for some queer reason, you are not interested in seeing one of those devil surfers. I really hope that you are reticent because you have escaped from the intense heat just now and are as a result not so anxious to revisit its sick and perverted charms, even if only mentally and from the comfort of my foyer. I would hate to come to the conclusion that you are afraid of the heat. Children should retain a healthy fear of a hot stove. The memory of the very first time they touched a sizzling skillet should be etched into their nightmares; maybe reimagined as the grinning, red-faced ghoul that looks up at them from the bottom of a hot pan; maybe hinted in how a crackling bonfire suddenly seems to laugh at them, when they are just about frightened to tears by a ghost story. But as you presume to be a guest at one of my parties, an evening of conversation and cocktails that starts with the first word of my novel and ends sometime after the last word (or perhaps never ends, just as the very darkest nightmares continue unabated into eternity), you should be old enough to put away childish things, as Saint Paul said, and thus to put heat in its proper spot among the various and sordid demons. Yes, heat can kill us; but so can Cuban cigars, and hard liquor, and buttery foods, if indulged too much. But taken with measure, and countered with sufficient ice water and shade, and the heat can be a friend of sorts, or at least an eye opener. Surely, if it does not kill us, then it can reveal to us our worst fears and frailties; allow us a dip into the madness just beneath the surface of life; and so, when all has been said and done, render us either stronger or madder than if we had stayed all our years inside of a hermetically sealed, climate controlled, secure cocoon.
There is a reason people rend their clothes and escape to the desert. All that baked sand and blue sky, that sun near enough almost to be touched, why there is love to be found out there. There is also considerable danger, but what is love without the hint of danger in the background? What is love without just a dab of madness? Surely, not the love of poets, scoundrels, and whores; and so should we be all that surprised that some people venture out there for years at a time, others for a few days at Burning Man, still others for a few stolen hours off of the interstate? We are men and women, after all; creatures of love; sick, deranged beasts, but for the fantasies we indulge and the stories we pass on to our children. And where better to sense how fantasies can come to life, and to scare the little ones with the same stories that had scared us, than somewhere far away, out there where the wind kicks up the sand, and the bonfires literally sing lullabies to the desert moon?
Of course, unless you just happen to be reading these pages while sitting in a tent in Nevada or Northern Mexico, you are probably not now in a real life, sand up your ass, sun down your back desert. No worry, because your body can be anywhere, but if you are willing to accept the hospitality and the party gifts that I offer in these pages, then your mind already is starting to unwind within my foyer. Can you smell the floral arrangement on the round table before you? Can you hear my wife speaking to the other guests in the living room up ahead? Surely, you can. The imagination truly is effortless, the easiest of the levers we can pull; and so if you can imagine that I am your host in the story that you are about to read, then surely you can imagine a trip out to the desert and a brief, though intense, embrace with that heat wave out yonder. I have no doubt that you can imagine how that heat wave caresses you, whispers sweet nothings and sick treacheries, excites and relaxes you. Yes, you want it, and though you may be a bit frightened now I am confident that you will step into it, when the time and the circumstances are just right. Otherwise, let us face it; you never would have put on your long coat and gloves, and travelled through all that oppressive heat to my humble abode. My mimosas and my shrimp and dip appetizers, even though much heralded, will not alone account for the fact that you are here in my foyer, rather than in your home catching up on sleep or discarding the mail.
A warning before you venture into the living room. Manuel is carrying an ornate, silver platter with a roasted hog’s head. Frankly, I had thought that the hog’s head would be too gruesome even for my own macabre sensibilities. It is one thing to see a honey glazed Wilbur staring at you. It is quite another to ask you to reach into the back of Wilbur’s open skull to pick up a small bite of ham and cheese on a toothpick. Manuel had insisted, though, and he has been such a good help over the years I indulged his peculiar fascination with decapitated, glazed heads on a silver platter. Maybe, it has something to do with how he and his relations celebrate the Day of the Dead every year. I should not talk, given my own quirky fixation with death and dying. We cemetery strollers are all just damned fools of one stripe or another, and who am I to pretend that my scotch and soda is any more sophisticated than his tequila and cerveza?
Still, you should be warned. You have been out in that intense heat for a while. God knows how much of your sanity you lost along with that warm sweat pouring down the inside of your long coat. For all we know, you may be already half mad, or at least mad enough to imagine that that hog’s head is in actuality the severed head of the great aunt or the grandmother, who gave up her ghost some years ago. When you see her grandmotherly smile, that soft crinkle in her glazed eyes, that single breath coming out from her hog’s nose, you should look away at once. Smile at someone across the room, or take another dainty sip of your cocktail, lest you start to hear her sweet, old lady voice enticing you over for a spell. Believe me, that will be the heat wave talking to you, whispering in your dreams, playing on your secret desires; and though the heat indeed is your friend in other circumstances, it is in that one situation a devil to be avoided at all costs. Some horrors cannot be buried, no matter how much we try; and this is one of those horrors. So heed my warning, and steer your eyes away from the honey glazed Wilbur staring at you from across the living room.
Now, with that out of the way, follow me to the bar. I know that I should hydrate you; but, frankly, what fun is that? Better to see what happens when a water deprived, sunken eyed, half mad guest is unleashed upon the other quiet and affable guests with a strong drink in his or her hand. You are liable to strip off your clothes, or discover in your ice cubes the unified theory of everything, or just to pass out. I hope for more than the last option. It is just so common, is it not? Regardless, do here as you will, because you and the other guests are all together the men and women who have chosen to read my novel. Yes, the book exists without you; but the story does not; and the story is everything.