The Zombie Expatriates have not been devoured by zombies (yet).
The rest of the night was kind of a blur, but in the best sense. Sam used to ask me, “Clive, why do you do drugs?” And while I suppose I didn’t have a good answer at the time – I’m pretty sure I was inclined to punch him in the nuts or at least scowl, because honestly it’s a question that’s sanctimonious and infuriatingly stupid at the same time – the answer was in the easy camaraderie of that beautiful night. Truth is, we didn’t need drugs to have a nice night. Our moonlit stretch of beach was pristine and gorgeous, it was around 65 degrees, we had plenty of beer and delicious fish and beef stew and, um, each other. That plus a bonfire ought to have been more than enough. But speaking only for myself, I think I needed something more. I was, after months of clean living, chemically understimulated.
Once we set up camp, Haroun, who was good for something after all, opened up his sleek little black case. Inside were three pale green facemasks, all connected by long thin tubes to this contraption that looked kind of like an old school humidifier. Clearly the whole set-up was very pricey, and I’ll bet it was all the rage with Harry’s finance friends.
Anyway, we all took turns inhaling this amazing vapor that smelled like a mix of apples and raisins and something a little more exotic, like mango chutney. Even Pete, who was never one for the drugs, joined in. Haroun half-apologized, because apparently the whole experience was way, way better when it was customized. “No, seriously guys. Come to London. What they do is take a swab of your spit, and then they adjust the balance. It’s incredibly elaborate. And it’s amaaaaaazing, friend. Amaaaaaaazing. I mean, it’s fine without, but not the same.” Now, if I had any dignity or self-respect I’d have called bullshit at this point, but I really, really wanted to smoke or inhale or whatever. As much as I loathed that man, he knew his drugs, certainly at that high-flying point. I called him Brown Gatsby behind his back. I also knew myself well enough to know that I wasn’t man enough to not do his drugs.
Long story short, dignity and self-respect are overrated. The mystery drug (these things change too fast to even have names anymore) was sublime. It’s hard for me to describe what exactly it felt like, let alone what kind of terrifying biochemical processes were at work. I know I felt lucid and loopy and the same time. Everything smelled really good. Then there was the weird electric current, which I associate with, what else, walking too-close to Imogen with my arm-hair brushing against hers, but that was sustained the whole time I – we – were on the drug.
So while we were in this blissful drug-induced state we ended up dancing for what must have been two or three solid hours to The Cars and The Cure and other borrowed favorites of our misspent youth. One moment that’s particularly vivid: “Since You’re Gone” is playing and Imogen is doing this shoulder-y lip-synching comic-strut, which is about twice as dance-y as I’ve ever seen her. She was jutting her chin, she was belting into her faux-crophone. Gosh, she looked like a moron. A fetching moron. Normally she, like all skinny cerebral girls, would do an ambivalent half-sway. Not like Lucy, who always had a sense of fun and a crazed intensity that translated into all dancing to all songs becoming a jazz-hands driven jitterbug. I thought, huh, Lucy will be both an amazing mother and the most mortifying mother in history. But Tad, who gamely tried to keep up, with a permanent half-smile, wasn’t going to find that out firsthand, alas.
At some point Pete played “1999” a couple of times and we all wound up lying on the ground and laughing our asses off. I was kind of keenly feeling the massive gender imbalance at that point, which was definitely weird. Haroun was quite attached, but, for lack of more decorous phrasing, he kept grabbing Imogen’s ass, and she wasn’t exactly fending him off. Trevor’s girlfriend Liz, possibly the most boring girl in the world, was mercifully with her starchy family, or being eaten alive for all I cared.
My broken family, meanwhile, had basically forgotten me or I had forgotten them. Can’t remember. I mean, my mum called and my little brother emailed. But by then mum was pretty enmeshed in her new boyfriend’s family. I was only 27, but as my decade ended in a jittery come-down, the only not-flawless part of an otherwise beautiful trip, I was fully aware that I was entirely alone. This despite the fact that I was literally pressed against my closest friends while wearing short-shorts and my now-ragged WOXY T-shirt. Blah blah blah. It’s no wonder all the men in my family commit suicide.
Everyone else seemed quite at peace. Maybe Haroun was right and I needed a custom-job, or maybe I was just cranky and, um, desirous. Which is not to say I would’ve traded those quite nice hours.
I think I told you how I met the girls, but maybe I didn’t explain exactly how it happened. I will. But for now I’ll just say I had no idea then how things would shake out for all of us. Luce was a kid like us, but she had already made a feature-length documentary that actually appeared in legit movie theaters and on top of that she’d published a pretty good book about the ’50s. Haroun was a smashing success, which stung more than a little, and he had his porcelain-perfect Gong Li clone to tote around. Pete and Trevor rode the boom, kind of like me, but were able to keep their heads above water after the crash, unlike me, and both had the look of young men who knew they were well-loved. That’s part of why I harbor this strange resentment towards scrappy immigrant-types, like Pete and Haroun: the intact families. Makes ‘em smug.
You might say I left America to them, to the scrappy high-achievers. Take it, wrestle it to the ground, do what you will. I give up.