Thanksgiving: 11/23/06. It’s pouring rain and windier than a right wing talk show when I wake up and turn on the TV. For the first time that I can ever remember, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons are so low to the ground that it looks like they’re trying to have sex with their handlers. Like Spongebob Happypants here:
I go to the early matinee of The Searchers at BAM, because nothing says Thanksgiving like a scalp-hungry Civil War veteran chasing his Comanche squaw niece up and down Monument Valley. (It’s all about family, y’know?) (And seriously—they’re supposed to be traveling from Texas to Canada and yet they never once make it over the Utah border from Arizona.) After the movie, I go to Dave’s for dinner, where the discussion ranges from American Depositary receipts to The Long Man of Wilmington with British Mike and Dave’s mom. All this talk takes place before we actually eat a thing, because in true Thanksgiving fashion, Dave said the bird would be ready around 3— and since he’s always about three hours behind in his estimate, I told him we’d be eating by 6:30. Which we were. Because if it’s one thing I know, it’s turkeys.
I’m at the Pine around 9 PM (the séance has been rescheduled for 10). Randi and Nancy have already cracked open the bottle of Johnny Blue (“Don’t worry, we have a spare,” Randi says.) Ned is smoking his pipe. Dominic is drinking a Coke. Sunday is drinking Evian. And Jynah is holding onto a bottle of Cabernet like it’s a life raft. We trade holiday meal stories. (Everyone’s was at least three hours late.) We trade Thank You toasts. (“Thank you for this bar.” “Thank you for these people.” “Thank you for this awesome fucking scotch.”) I do my Bob Dylan Gilligan’s Island impression again (Nancy has never heard it, and everyone else is either drunk enough or polite enough to laugh like they’ve never heard it either.)
At ten o’clock we get down to business. We dim the lights. Sunday produces candles, which we light in a circle on the table. We join hands. We call on the spirit that haunts the Keg Switch. We ask The Professor how he likes his new afterlife. We call on any spirit who happens to be in the building at the moment. We each take a number 2 pencil and a piece of legal paper and clear our minds for automatic writing. We call on any ghost, poltergeist, demon, crisis apparition, kobold, ethnic revenant and random fucking strand of oozing ectoplasm in the Triborough area. And nothing happens.
“Balls,” says Nancy, “if I had ‘em I’d be king.” She turns to her husband. “Ned?” Ned sighs and pulls his tobacco pouch out. The moment he opens it, the cellar is filled with this musty, mouth-watering aroma that is as alluring as the smell of chocolate and as refreshing as spring rain on an oak leaf. If that’s tobacco, then I’ve just won a Tony, an Emmy, an Oscar, the Pulitzer, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ned tamps it into his pipe, lights it up with a gold Calibri, takes a puff, holds it in, and emits smoke as thick as San Francisco fog that’s as aromatic as a French tabac.
Ned’s dope is five times stronger than this. After two puffs I swear there are vines climbing the walls. After three puffs, I’m talking to the Professor, who’s not happy about what his family is going to find in the bottom right-hand drawer of his bedroom bureau. “I should have had a porn buddy,” he says. “What the hell is a porn buddy?” I ask. “You’ll find out,” he says confidently. And after four puffs, Ned is telling everyone’s future.
NED: You all get married except Wells.
GLYNNIS: I get married?
NED: Yes, but it won't take. Which will be fine by you.
Wait, I remember thinking, how did Glynnis get here? She wasn’t here when we started this. And then I realize that everyone is here—Sarah, Mike, Joey, Steve, Mauri, Maddie, Aaron, Matt—even people who are on the other side of the country are here—Allyson, Kadie, Doug, Riley (Riley! My first upstairs bartender!)—and there are servers behind them I don’t know, servers and patrons stretching down a long archway of tree branches that extends from our small table to the base of a silver mountain that’s so close I can touch it and so far away it would take me three lifetimes to reach it.
Ned answers questions from everyone. Like an idiot, I’m too amazed to take anything down, and then I grab a pencil and start scribbling down what I’m hearing.
JYNAH: When am I going to die?
NED: Between one moment the next.
JYNAH: That’s not an answer.
NED: That’s everyone’s answer.
MADDIE: How many children will I have?
NED: One of yours, but you’ll bring a lot more into the world. You’ll have a daughter. All of you will have daughters. Allyson, you’ll do nothing but mom commercials before you’re a real mom. Buy stock in Duracell. Wells, write that Burr play or you’ll always regret it. And stop falling in love with your friends.
RANDI: Yeah, pick an enemy for once.
NED: Charlie is a great name. So is Hannah. There are other worlds, but they are all part of this one. What you lose is always found again in people, not in things. Don't ever think you've won until the day after the game is over. Reading is not talking. Never stop dancing. Never start settling. Stand still and the world moves under you. Regret is for when you act and it doesn’t work out; complaining is when you didn’t act and you expect a second chance. Play the cards you’re dealt. Never bluff for a small pot. Never be too proud to ask for help. Nobody gets through this life alone; that’s just how we leave it. And if you want to leave it later rather than sooner, don’t drink so much.
There was so much more. Every one of us heard exactly what we needed to hear, whether we wanted to hear it or not. But I didn’t write it down. I couldn’t keep up. I was aware of everything, but it was like hearing fifty radio channels at once and still being able to comprehend every single one of them—everything else in my body had to shut down to make that happen. And I stopped writing. I didn’t write it down. And it’s gone forever now. Which is why this is me complaining, instead of regretting.
In the end, I found myself in that Boring Play Zone, where you close your eyes out of personal exhaustion or theatrical dullness, and the words you hear spin your mind off into wonderfully weird hypnagogic dreams, and you’re totally aware of your physical surroundings while you’re completely unaware of reality as we know it because you’re lost in the free-flowing billiard game of caroming, impressionistic abstractions. And then you SNAP your eyes open and they’re gone. The way I snapped mine open and saw Ned, Nancy, Randi, Sunday, Dominic and Jynah sitting around the candlelit table, groggily getting reaccustomed to their bodies as they returned to them from, well, where, really? A place of the mind? The cellar of reality? “There are other worlds, but they are all part of this one.”
And then Randi went “SHIT! Who drank the Johnny Blue and replaced it with milk?” and I just burst out laughing. And then everybody was laughing, and then we started laughing because we were laughing, and that is the way we parted when we left the Keg Switch. After we drank the milk.
Sunday was still chuckling as we headed to the subway. Randi and Dominic were walking ahead of us, and watching them was giving me an upset stomach. “So did you see the ghosts?” Sunday said out of nowhere, and I said “No! You saw the ghosts? Why didn’t you tell me?” “I thought you saw them too,” she said. I asked her what they looked like. “A man and a woman. The woman was dressed in a woolen coat. Light brown. She had jet black hair. The man was in uniform. Off-green. Officer’s cap.” Oh shit. “Medals?” I asked. “Yes—one on his left chest.” “A five-pointed star hanging from a red-white-and-blue ribbon?” Sunday looks at me like I’ve just read her mind. “I thought you didn’t see them; how do you know that?”
“Because,” I say. “Because I know who they are.”
Alcohol: Pinot Noir (1 bottle, Thanksgiving dinner) Johnny Blue (5)
Herb: Ned’s Magic Bud (5 tokes)
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells