Rialto de lo Habitual- A Malachi Jones excerpt

I come from a family with genetically bad teeth, but where cavities are seen as a moral failure.  I ground my bad teeth together as I gathered up the courage to rush and take the leap, the jump that would finally bring me some sense of finality, a semblance of sanity. I guess. Or at least I would experience a dive into the dirty Grand Canal in Venice. That’s not really final. Life really doesn’t have closure on anything, except for the brick wall of death, and the only beginning that has any significance is when you peek out of the womb into the cold air of life.

As I galloped  up to the top of the bridge that’s when I knew that the acid had kicked in totally, not just a kaleidoscope of color but the full psychedelic surreal experience. I’m kind of a slow reactor. Plus hard drugs tend to cloud judgement and time frames, so there was a great deal of that going on. My last thoughts as I hit the air were of solid ground, just a little bit too late.

I walk around normal life a little weak, faded into the background. I’m like a moth with ghost wings, and the light is too bright for me. I rest on the floor in the weakest shadow, always looking up and wondering what it would be like to stand full in the crystal light of the porch of my own home. The journey from the floor to the light is heavy, and my webby wings won’t allow me to rise far before I come back down to the ground with a bump.

But LSD, it makes me brave. It makes my webs grow. The veins of my wings fill in, tissue grows together, and the wings can soar. That’s how I’d like to be all the time, except my “real” body is 54 years old, prone to fatness, and not terribly well suited to long bouts of acid mania coupled with the copious sweating and insomnia. So I don’t do Tim O’Leary’s preference  a lot. I prefer to smoke weed and veg out, mostly because it’s easier on my aging party bunny self. And drinking dehydrates the skin and ages one beyond one’s years, my friends.

So how did I end up tripping balls, running up the side of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy, Europe, Earth, Solar System, Universe, The Eye of God, wearing  tights, a metal mask and a tricorn hat? I’m not even a hippie. I’m just an out of control middle-aged self-destructive self-aggrandizing loser with a penchant for checking out pharmaceuticals, illegal hallucinogens and four star hotels. Was this jaunt within reasonable proximity of my normal behavior? It was in Mister Fuckup’s Neighborhood, so the answer is yes.

The last thing that happened before my pre-takeoff sprint was just around three or four corners and two or three hundred of those charming bridges over smelly canals away. All those charming bridges are worn from millions of touristy toes eroding the stone steps until they become a treacherous course to walk, even sober. It’s why the pace in Venice is so terribly slow. No one can rush anywhere without fear of a tossed basket or broken ankle. Fifteen minutes pre-Rialto-flight, I was running over small bridge after small bridge like some demented gazelle. I was looking up on the buildings trying to decipher the cryptic street signs and directions that were painted up on the walls almost beyond sight. The arrows pointed everywhere and at everything, St. Mark’s Square, Piazza de Tourist Trap, this way to the water bus to the Guggenheim. They all pointed to things I didn’t want. I seemed to be dyslexic, unable to read anything that pointed to or said “Ponte de Rialto”. Those slick Italians had the gall to put up unreadable signs in Italian and Spanish, neither of which I can read. Okay, I can read them, but at the point where the acid was kicking in everything looked like Pizza Pizza Pizza.

I’m too American for words, huh? Do you speak English? Oh but wasn’t I going to tell you about how I got to the Rialto bridge? Acid baby. I can think of ten things at once and remember none of them one second later. Ha.

The bridges and stone steps, alleys and tunnels, all of them sometimes dead-ended, so the crazy ballet I performed made frequent u-turns.  It started near the small hotel that I was staying at, four rooms to let, minibar stocked with crap. The TV didn’t work. It only got some sort of fashion channel, squiggly with snow and hiss that sent me out into the night in search of the pounding electronic beat of some exotic disco that I heard wafting in through my hotel window like carbon monoxide. I was like dead before I knew it, following the rhythmic zombie beat- I was hypnotized.

The hotel was tiny and quaint and had no concierge, just an open door to one of hundreds of quaint cramped alleys, medieval in feel in the way ancient cities have no real sidewalks, like Rome and that magic chaos they call traffic. The key to my room was large and old fashioned, and issued a metallic clank when I unlocked it to go out to see if there was a disco or dance club nearby with that Pied Piper music. Around the corner, over a stone bridge, through an archway, I saw the line of younger people waiting to get into the club which was, upon closer listening, playing an odd mix of 80’s dance hits and electronic rave beats. Dreadful wails of Culture Club drifted out into the stone walkway, and I rolled my eyes and groaned as I got in line.

“I was made to live through this once… please for fuck’s sake tell me that we’re not going to go through a resurgence of pre-emo club music.” My thoughts must have appeared over my head in a balloon, presumably in Italian because I got withering looks from the local clubsters in line directly behind me. Or maybe it was because it looked like an old fat sweaty man invasion to the beautiful eurotrash waiting to perspire prettily on the dance floor.

This was when the colors started running around everywhere, leaving their rightful places- taupe oozing over to the place where red should be; where blue made its home, crystalline amethyst now resided; the hue of yellow from the corner light moved into the tint of beige plaster everywhere. I had already taken the acid, and I supposed that I bought it somewhere on the short jaunt to the disco from the hotel. Acid has a way of wiping out banal short term memory in favor of the phantasmagoric.

I should tell you about the reason my bad teeth had everything to do with everything that happened that day.

Two weeks before I took the trip to Venice for Carnival, I visited the dentist who recommended I see a periodontist for a small gum problem. Two days later the periodontist was telling me I needed a “small snip snip” then two days after that he was cutting my gums down to my jawline. I arrived in Italy with a mouthful of pulpy bloody teeth, complete with a few stuck on bits of dental dressing, a prescription bottle full of antibiotics, another bottle full of Canadian Vicodins. I spent the flight to Venice passed out on Ativan (real prescription),  Valiums (borrowed from friends), muscle relaxants (from an online pharmacy and without prescription), and six gin and tonics; my first instinct upon arrival at the airport was to go into the bathroom and vomit up some clear fluid, then pop another Ativan and a handful of Vicodins.

I was cooked up. My initial view of Venice and the famous lagoon and the hundreds of islands splashed and rocked in my head even before I got on the boat. The brick sidewalk where I was dragging my suitcase, the spinner not the wheelie, was new but just as uneven as cobblestone. How picturesque. Really efficient to texturize a sidewalk where hundreds of tourists have to trudge with modern wheeled luggage. Thoughtful. The drugs didn’t take the edge of my general irascibility. Obviously.

So the water bus was an experience, pleasant of a sort but quickly deteriorated into a sloshing mess of an event. The boat hung low in the water, and my seat had a window that looked almost out at the waves trundling by. The rocking, the rolling, the trying to read a map of Venice written in the dratted aforementioned Italian, which obviously should have been written in bigger Italian so my English-only drugged out eyes could find the small hotel where I was staying. The stops were confusing, and you could end up literally going over dozens of steep stone bridges if you made the wrong choice. The bus was infrequent, always crowded, and full-price every time you stepped a toe on it. There was no whoops I got off at the wrong dock. I thought this was patently unfair, and told the stony-staring ticket clerk just that after I got off three stops early. So that’s how I learned how many bridges Venice actually has, and of course, what fun it is to go over them with heavy luggage. Like I said, charming. And you’d think I would have learned a little bit of the lay of the land from that jaunt, so to speak, but the drugs and sea-sickness (which lasted onto land) had taken over, and my mind was a wall, with unknown Italian written all over it. My trip across the islands with my luggage didn’t help me on my Rialto dash later on. Not at all.

People now ask me why. Why did I take so many drugs? Why didn’t I yell “Geronimo” as I jumped off the bridge? There’s no reason to go into reason. I just accept facts as they come to me, and deal with them on an individual basis and reality. My therapist calls it magical thinking and  then reminds me of the story of the ants and the grasshopper. I remind her of the fact that we all end up dead. C’est la vie. La vie. Therapy for some people is a waste of time, even when court-ordered.

The hotel was across from a gelato stand, and like I said, had no lobby- just a steep staircase up to the second floor. The four rooms on the left were the rentals, while the family lived on the right. It was an odd but common arrangement in Venice where space is at such a premium. When I finally got there from the water bus, I was so tired, hungry, jet-lagged, and chemically-altered that I literally dropped everything and attacked the unfortunately well-stocked-with-overpriced-crap mini bar, 100 euros in ten minutes. Everything including the booze. Then I passed out.

I woke up hours later lying on the bathroom floor with a metal Zorro mask, a hat and tights on; I could not be exactly sure what happened. Everything seemed okay; even my head was clear. Normality reigned, so I chalked it up to a blackout and checked myself for bruises, stitches, or missing teeth. Besides the mini bar, there was nothing gone from the room when I awoke except for the pants and shirt I had been wearing being replaced with the costuming. I could only guess that somehow events unfolded and I ended up back at the hotel safe and sound though bizarrely dressed. Magical thinking. Is it wrong to just not want to know what goes on in your own life? I figured in my altered state that I had gone shopping at one of the hundreds of costume stores. There was an American Express receipt for $375 in my wallet supporting this theory.

This theory is also a dicey suggestion- I was always in an altered state, from the moments before the transatlantic flight to the moments after flight off of the Rialto Bridge. After I hit the water, I sobered right up. But the entire trip remains one huge jumble in my mind, a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that just can’t fit, and others that are missing altogether. Scrambled eggs. The timeline is toast. When I dropped the acid is anyone’s guess. It’s my guess, actually, that I took the tab before I got the costume because I’m the only person that was there from the beginning and not just observing from afar the horrific and spectacular results of my drug loading. But then again, I wasn’t in control, so maybe I was an observer and can be forgiven for the problematic timeline. Or not. Drug abuse is like that. Scrambled eggs for brains and luck of the draw for having things fall into some recognizable order.

I do remember in some detail the sketchy man who had the LSD for sale. He was standing near a stucco archway with a corroded green metal lamp shade casting a weak filmy light over his thick wool coat. His face was unlined, but he seemed older, more like a contemporary than the other people I saw waiting in line to get in the club around the corner. His eyes had a glow about them, an inner light that shone even though he had a prominent brow that shaded his eyes.  His coffee colored skin was iridescent under that diluted light, and there was an aura of otherness about him. He didn’t belong at the disco. I didn’t think he belonged anywhere. He brought his finger up to his lips that were full and looked made of stone; he made delicate clicking sounds. I thought he was speaking an African click language, but it ended up he was sucking the rest of a rice ball from between his teeth.

“Your mouth is bleeding.” His voice was flat, the accent Spanish and thick. Castilian, I think. He had a slight lisp.

“It’s my gums. I had surgery and they won’t heal.”

“Do you want something for pain? Something to make you forget?” He held up his arm and twisted his right hand around as if loosening it. A large sapphire ring hung on his slender thumb, and a rhinestone bracelet swung on his wrist. He reached his left hand into a pocket of the dark wool coat and dug deep. “I have a lot of things to make you forget.”

I had a lot of pain killers. I had a lot of muscle relaxants. But I didn’t have anything that would make me forget about the mouthful of swollen gums and aching teeth. I leaned forward and put my hand on his shoulder. “I’m intrigued.” My voice slurred, and I pronounced the “r” as a “w”, my “i” broad and drawled- “Ahm intweeged.”

There are always people of this sort, stalking this earth with pockets full of forgetfulness. I saw them in New York City while I drifted from bar to club, always standing in the shadows near corners, whispering, beckoning, tantalizing. They were in my small hometown, hanging out in the bushes down dirt roads in poor neighborhoods. Hoards of them populate the Sunset Strip in L.A. and the Tenderloin in San Francisco. They know where to go, where the people who need them can find them.

So I found this one.

I was in a terrific need. My mouth, of course, felt like I had gargled with bees then had it frozen. The drug and alcohol cocktails I had been downing since leaving the United States had left my mind addled, but my body jonesing for more.

“Ha, man. I got what you need.” The strange glowing shadow man coughed, his voice slightly strained as if he had the beginnings of bronchitis.

“I need to forget.”

His delicate fingers pulled out a glassine envelope, the kind that holds about an eighth of an ounce of pot. Inside were a few small perforated sheets of paper with a can of spinach printed on each small section. Lysergic acid diethylamide. I knew what this was. How could I forget it?

If you have never jumped in your beater car and had it blow smoke for 120 miles while you drive to the beach to pick up your best friend, dropped four tabs of LSD each,  and woke up five days later in the Gay Dolphin gift shop bathroom wearing only an inflatable swim ring, then you have never done drugs like I’ve done drugs. Once you do acid, you never forget what it looks like. I pulled up my shoulders and straightened my posture.

His wool coat hung almost to the floor, and reminded me of a medieval hair shirt. He leaned forward a bit and whispered hoarsely. “This is what you want.”

There are other images that come through that night. At one point I had an extended and heartfelt discussion about life and passion with some costumed person with an impassible mask. I drank coffee in some out of the way cafe which was about to close when I invaded it. There was an entourage of misfits I picked up during the course of the evening, and most abandoned me at some point. So when I hit the water in the Grand Canal, I was virtually alone, and if one of  the vendors selling Pinocchio junk had not heard the splash as I hit the water, I would not have been seen by anyone. He and a few of his friends ran over the edge of the water and extended a long pole to me. As they dragged my wet, now sober ass out of the water, one turned to me, his voice high and amused. “Perché l’hai fatto?”

“Mi annoiavo.”

I’m just a reporter, nothing more. If you need the answers, ask my therapist. The only answers I can see, the only motivation I need, like any junkie in the world, is to wake up. And that’s how I found myself at the Rialto Bridge, habitually fucked up, unaware of my own motivation, and stepping confidently into midair.

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