On the Heels of a Dilemma

by: Art Rosch ((Header photo by the incredibly talented Bertil Nilsson.))

A magical evening awash with crippling paranoia and sexual delusions….

1969.  Muir Beach, California

He had taken LSD three hours ago and now he was trapped in the bathroom. It was a small bathroom in a small beach house. The place, more of a cabin than a house, was at the top of a hundred and fifty wooden steps and looked out over the Pacific Ocean. A friend of Robert’s named Linda was renting it. She did tie-dye and batik, and her work sold well at crafts fairs and local shops.

Robert had taken the acid with some foreboding, but that was normal. He was with good people: yoga practitioners, Tai Chi enthusiasts. There were about fifteen people at the party. Linda dispensed a tab of LSD to each upon arrival. Now it was getting towards evening and the group had settled into serious tripping.

Robert was very high, but that did not preclude his responding to the call of nature. He had viewed the act of relieving himself as a comedic episode, a meeting of the sacred and profane, of the macrocosm giving way to the microcosm. The bathroom was tiny. It had a toilet, a single small window and a wooden table holding an incense burner and a couple of psychology and yoga magazines. An old tarnished mirror hung on the wall opposite the throne.

Before the toilet episode began, Robert had been watching Linda move about, her bun of blonde hair trailing cute little wisps. She wore a sleeveless iridescent green dress and a necklace of silver and turquoise. Her apple-sized breasts lifted the neckline of the dress and the effect was mesmerizing. Linda was beautiful, single and had given him a smile as she dispensed the LSD. Robert interpreted her smile in his own way. He thought she was telling him something. Ask me to make love, he thought she was beaming at him, Ask me.

The problem….that is, the problem before getting trapped in the bathroom, was working up the nerve to ask Linda to make love. Other couples were pairing up and vanishing into various nooks on the property, riding the sound of the mighty surf into psychedelic splendor. This whole weekend party was a juicy invitation to tripping and hooking up with someone sweet.

The party’s social math, its indices of affinity, seemed to put Robert and Linda together. Robert had never done this kind of thing before. He had never approached a woman to ask if she wanted to “go somewhere quiet.” She wasn’t a stranger, but she wasn’t a close friend, either. The complexities of a LSD high built a scaffold atop Robert’s social awkwardness. How do I just do that? he wondered. And he wondered and feared, and wondered and feared. He tried on several occasions to engage Linda in pleasant conversation, but an acid conversation can be very weird. There are multiple interpretations laying behind every word and phrase.

If he said, “Hi!” was he greeting her or was he making an insipid observation on his current state of psychic levitation?

“You’re beautiful,” he said to her at one point. That was not ambiguous. Linda merely said “Thank you” and the conversation jumped off a cliff and went splat. If only she would make things easier for him! Maybe he was wrong. Maybe she didn’t send the signal he thought she sent; but her fingers had lingered on his hand as she gave him the white tablet. He was sure she had given him a deep soulful look.

Then his stomach sent him another kind of signal. The bathroom was directly off the one large room of the house. This room contained the living space, a counter, a kitchenette, and a short flight of stairs that led to a loft bedroom. A thin plywood door separated the bathroom from everything else.

After taking care of his business, Robert was just about to flush the handle when a thought occurred to him: What if the sound of the toilet flushing sends someone into a bad trip? Or worse, sends everyone into a bad trip? 

The house was high up on a bluff and the toilet flushed with a distinct sound as the water drained forcefully downward. Sploosh! it said, Splodda-splodda-splodda-splodda, and all the pipes in the house went Whhssssh for what seemed hours afterward.

Everyone is so high! Robert thought. If I suddenly introduce this obvious sonic phenomenon, it will drown out the Ravi Shankar on the record player and it will enter people’s LSD-saturated inner landscapes as a downward spiral that will carry them into the underworld! People on acid are so suggestible! I’ll ruin the party.

He had closed the toilets lid and was frantically using a National Geographic to fan the fumes out the small, open window. There had been a merciful box of incense and a pack of matches on the wooden table, which he employed to work his way out of his self-inflicted dilemma.

What am I going to do? What am I going to do?

Another part of Robert’s psyche was laughing at him. This is pathetic, he thought, You’re wasting your whole fucking trip on idiotic paranoia. But it’s unselfish paranoia, he reasoned, I just don’t want to send anyone down the toilet. Acid’s unpredictable. Hell, people are unpredictable and acid is just a catalyst for deeply buried psychic material. I can’t take that chance!

It seemed that hours passed. Robert fanned fumes out the window, lit incense, and lit matches until the pack was gone. Then finally there came a breaking point.

Fuck this, Robert decided. It’s inevitable. He reached out and touched the cold metal handle with its contoured shape. He caressed it for a moment, wondering who designed this standard American crapper handle. Then, in an act of passionate courage, he pressed down and released the water.

Sploosh! Oh god it was deafening! Splodda-splodda-splodda, down, down and down into the depths of the netherworld the water plunged. The pipes went Whhhsssssh like 747s lining up on the runway before takeoff. There were at least eight people just a few feet away from this sonic extravaganza. What would happen to them? They might tear him to pieces when he emerged. They might ostracize him forever, banish him from any further weekend retreats at Linda’s house.

His heart was beating frantically. Okay, let’s face the consequences of my irresistible evacuation. Robert turned the doorknob and exited the bathroom, closing the door with the barest of clicks.

It had gotten dark. The sitar music had changed. It wasn’t Ravi Shankar filling the room with his twangy sitar. It was better. Robert was no expert, but he thought it was Pir Vilayat Khan. The music came gently through the hi-fi speakers, playing an evening raga. Candles were lit and most of the group sat rocking to and fro, laying on beanbag chairs or prone on yoga mats. Nothing had happened as a result of Robert’s flush. Nothing at all.

Linda was alone on a cushion, arranged in a yoga posture with her eyes open.

She glanced at Robert but there was no reproach in her eyes. The whole episode had passed without a ripple. It was just a product of Robert’s self-conscious agony.

What the hell, he thought, just do it. He found a cushion and sat next to Linda, replicating her full lotus, displaying his credentials as a yogi. His feet rested easily on his thighs and his spine straightened as he gathered the nerve to approach this beautiful woman.

Linda’s shoulder looked velvety in the candle light. Robert gently put his fingers on her body, just the four tips of the fingers of his right hand. He watched Linda’s response carefully. She didn’t flinch or move away from him. Nor did she move towards him. She was set in her own center. That’s okay, Robert thought. That’s okay. Again, his heart beat fast, his stomach turned over with anxiety. I’ve got to do this, he urged himself.  You get nothing if you don’t ask. So just ask while you have the chance.

“Linda,” he said again, “You’re beautiful.”

She smiled a subtle little smile but remained facing forward. Robert was about to speak but was overtaken by the implications buried the arrangement of his words. How should he put it? “Linda, will you make love with me?” Or the more commanding, “Linda, make love with me.” That would convey the power of his desire. But it might seem too aggressive. How about, “I would love to make love to you, Linda, you’re so beautiful!”  Oh, that was clumsy. Love to make love? Oh fuck it! He leaned in close to her and quietly spoke into her ear. “Linda, love make me, oh, uh, you know, I really dig you, um, um, this is hard. What I mean to say is, I want you to make love to you. I mean me…to make love to you. There! Whew!”

Linda seemed to emerge from her trance and turned to face him.

“Robert, you’re sweet, but you’re just not my type.”

Robert’s hand gripped the pillow, almost pulling it out from under him. “Okay, okay, that’s cool, I understand that, it’s just that, well, okay….thanks.”

He stood up holding the pillow, then dropped it back to the floor and walked onto the deck, where he could see the last of the sun’s rays as they vanished into the star-lit night. His vulnerable heart opened and wept. After a time, as he watched the sky, he realized that at last he was free from all the ridiculous bullshit he had just put himself through. The sky was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

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