I took the joint carefully from his fingertips, all too aware of how unaccustomed the motion felt.  I must have hesitated for an instant, but I coolly played it off to the slightly buzzed observer. It was just a mindful passing of the party torch, a model of responsible practice to not squeeze too hard or too far up.  It was not my first rodeo.

The night had lent itself to some bizarre happenstances and a delightful synchronicity of events – so fueled by vodka and the arrogance in which unbridled entertainment affords one, especially when that one is entrenched in a semi-ungraceful exit out of their 20s.  Everything about the scenario screamed that I absolutely should not be doing this. Not tonight, just hours before daybreak. Not in the midst of absolute strangers and weirdoes and bizarre small group dynamics existing between the friends and frenemies there. I knew it all. I knew it for the better of myself. But, it was all part and parcel of “carping the diem,” as they say, and the occasion certainly called for it.

“This is good shit,” he said, with strangled effort. A voice on the short leash of a breath held in quarantine.

“Sweet,” I mustered.

Yes, there had been some markedly great times in the past, but the stuff had often taken me too deep into the recesses my mind, down some very dark corridors and into locked closets where I kept all my anxiety and fear stored next to lightly used winter sports gear and a well sized TV/VCR combo.  I even spent a good number of years immersed in empirical study; some heavy field research with several control groups and placebos in place, some even double-blind,  to ensure the systematic isolation of all potential factors at play and varied forms of ingestion. The results were as conclusive as a game of reverse Russian roulette, in which every slot, save one, held a bullet.  The odds were rarely in my favor.

I pushed that all down now and glanced about the room in a self-conscious scan, hurriedly seeking any opportunity to be interrupted. I met no one’s gaze; in fact, I couldn’t have been more insignificant at that moment in time. The group seemed to be melding, enjoying themselves enjoying the company. That was some solace at least, the charade of camaraderie holding up soundly even between the most staunch of frenemy camps.  They all melted behind the haze and into the soft-edge glow of an early 90’s soap opera.

In silent negotiation I brought the spliff steadily to my lips, hoping that this would be a time when I could let loose, give way to euphoria, keep Pandora out of my box and will a blank in the cylinder of this cocked fucker.  Just this one time, fortheloveofgod.

Slightly moist from its passage through careless or greedy takers, I took a decent drag off the tip, even thinking myself conservative.

The contents of my exhale proved otherwise.

A sizable billow of opaque, white smoke poured generously out of my open mouth, tilted 45 degrees up towards the ceiling. The dense fog hovered there, indignant, and far for too long.

 It was spiting me, I thought. It knows.

Play date with Pavlov.

It wasn’t the most desirable of positions, but it had its virtues.

For one, the entire length of my backside was privileged to a cloudless, unadulterated view of the sun as waking civilization clamored behind me.  Affixed at a muted yell, or a very loud whisper, the symphonic hum hovered just below the line of offensive – a typical soundtrack to an urban, bucolic landscape (if there ever was such a thing).  The pulsing woosh of passing traffic in the periphery carried the rhythm of jingling dog collars, chirping birds and cawing crows; banal conversation between owners and strollers, friends and lovers.  Bodies stretched leisurely in repose on blankets or wood-slated benches, or mingled through manicured pathways in tightly clustered caravans, clutching designer coffee and name-brand sunglasses to rival.  

The occasional OMG(!) or guttural laugh punctuated the hubbub.  Spontaneous and organic motions, all well suited to the script.

I lay loose and languid in a not-so-elegant adaptation of what could be only described as left-set spoon (minus another body nestled onto, or to be set within).  The warmth was unrelenting and unbroken, spilling into every exaggerated twist and concentrated at the folds.

The undesirable part, you might be wondering, was the mere fact that the sun in all its glory and firm direction left me little choice but to lay facing east in order to avoid the glare, thereby forcing the entire burden of my weight to rest on my left hip (bruised in both ego and in physicality) after a very hard and very public fall a few days before. The mere memory of this embarrassment, made worse by the averted eye contact by second hand embarrassment sufferers was disquieting, but not as quite as unnerving as the aggressive barks and snarls which would periodically approach my exposed ear paired with wet, ragged breaths.

I’d roll my eyes if I could afford such an expenditure. Instead, my gaze meditated down into the porthole view: arms outstretched, left thumb tucked into a page of an worn text, knuckles grazing the edge of where my blanket ended and the thick carpeting of vivid, green grass began. The shag undulated with the gentle slope of the terrain, its momentum sweeping up to a unidentifiable tree, leafless but expecting buds at any moment. The tree stood alongside a cheerful, white Victorian, the geometry of it  more crisply defined by shadows cast from its beveled trims and sidings.  Freshly painted, dark green windowsills sat like kohl penciled under blank but watchful eyes.

Did I mention the occasional waft of sour, pungent dog shit from an indeterminate direction?

It was only then I’d tense to hold my breath in listless and futile attempts to protect my orifices from the onslaught of these uncouth beasts.  By luck or divine intervention a consistent, gentle northeasterly wind inserted fresh air up into my nostrils, a fantastic and fruitful antidote to mitigate the badness. Oh Rejoice! My passion for the natural world in all its indefatigable morphines is reclaimed!  What is more, as if by some sonar detection of human contempt, the owners would come swiftly behind, scolding their precious Zoe or Theo or Clyde while producing  a treat with which to lure them away forever. What they really needed was a play-date with Pavlov.  I’d give it to them, if I could afford such an expenditure.

This is when I’d throw a sideways smirk to mark my amusement and thanks, usually feigning the former.

In jagged, unpredictable intervals, the rumbling began, slowly at first then fast and steady, gaining in speed and certainty as it swelled into a brilliant crescendo! casting all sounds and sensations asunder. Beaks hissed then halted, and in a one-two-badaboom, doors popped in and out of socket as passengers fluttered and twisted between, exchanging brief glances in an unceremonious exchange of positions, one seemingly more joyful than the last.