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Timing the Infinite


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Stranger trips merrily through his college career by drinking, drugging, and daydreaming. Things get complicated when he falls in love.


College programmer Stranger is an anxiety-ridden over-thinker who takes psychoactive drugs while contemplating the heretical philosophical gambit of techno-anarchy to Satanism. Masking this underlying nerdiness with the public persona of an alpha-male heavy drinking frat star, he's coming to age as a mixed kid whose parents were born during the Civil Rights movement; one generation removed, he is increasingly forced to confront the myths of a post-racial America. Oh, and because these daily identity crises didn't cause enough trouble, Stranger falls in love for the first time, despite never having had a girlfriend or sex sober. He's become enthralled with the demure, soulfully morbid Gunny, who not only has a boyfriend but self-esteem issues that manifest in the self-harm practice of cutting, and she isn't exactly ready to leave the one guy who's supported her throughout the addiction. But don't worry, Stranger doesn't navigate this collegiate underworld alone, he has a whole cast of equally brilliant but disturbed misfits for his hedonistic, poetical high-romance odyssey. And throughout the chronicles of these madcap, absurdist tales, Stranger learns of the limits to love and the pains to be temporary, of failing friendships and intimate escapades, of youth and the aging world.

Early in Nathaniel Schmeling’s trippy novel, “Timing the infinite,” the main character, Stranger, explains “intelligence tests place me in the top .01% and the supplemental psychiatric tests indicated a 94% chance of sociopathy.” He possesses an insatiable mind capable of processing vast amounts of information, but his innate sociopathy manifests as an inability to focus or establish healthy relationships, and tendencies toward self-destruction. Furthermore, he is mixed race, drug-addled, unsure of is his place in the world, and hopelessly in love.

Stranger is a college student who keeps company with equally neurotic peers and hedonistic frat boys. Reinforced by a cafeteria menu of booze and mind-altering substances, Stranger creates exquisitely complex yet utterly inscrutable rationalizations for just about everything. As in a morality play, Stranger’s colleagues are given names like Jester, Manic, Variable, etc. They spend almost all their time getting wasted and discoursing on sex, drugs, philosophy, politics, popular cultural, and more sex. The one thing they never seem to do is study.

Gunny is the object of Stanger’s passion. She, too, is psychologically damaged — for example, she cuts herself — which largely accounts for the attraction. Gunny is his “fantastic fantasy,” and he is smitten “Not at her form but her internal figure.” Unlike the libertine Stranger, Gunny does not drink and remains faithful to her boyfriend. Their platonic distance agonizes Stranger, but also frees him to be totally candid. “There are two kinds of people, my dear,” he says, “hopeless romantics and hopeful romantics.”

Schmeling employs a clever technique to craft a narrative reflecting Stranger’s mind space.  Actions and events occur in the third person, present tense, which is interrupted repeatedly by Stranger’s erratic thoughts, conveyed in a first person stream of consciousness. Stranger’s physical reality and his mental world seldom interact directly. Fleeting moments sometimes give rise to meandering ruminations which span multiple topics, sometimes for several pages.  

There is no plot to speak of. The flow is driven by rapid dialog and circuitous albeit often insightful musings. Beyond the final chapter there is an “opuscule companion piece” with ten more chapters of breathless, continuous harangue. They hit the reader like a firehose in the face, and while there are some marvelous passages, the ultimate effect is that they pile self-indulgence upon incomprehensibility.

“Timing the Infinite” establishes Schmeling as a writer to watch, whose virtuosity with the language would benefit from a modicum of restraint. 

Reviewed by

Gregg Sapp is author of the “Holidazed” satires. The first three books are “Halloween from the Other Side,” “The Christmas Donut Revolution,” and “Upside Down Independence Day,” with “Murder by Valentine Candy” forthcoming. Previous books are "Dollarapalooza" and “Fresh News Straight from Heaven.”


College programmer Stranger is an anxiety-ridden over-thinker who takes psychoactive drugs while contemplating the heretical philosophical gambit of techno-anarchy to Satanism. Masking this underlying nerdiness with the public persona of an alpha-male heavy drinking frat star, he's coming to age as a mixed kid whose parents were born during the Civil Rights movement; one generation removed, he is increasingly forced to confront the myths of a post-racial America. Oh, and because these daily identity crises didn't cause enough trouble, Stranger falls in love for the first time, despite never having had a girlfriend or sex sober. He's become enthralled with the demure, soulfully morbid Gunny, who not only has a boyfriend but self-esteem issues that manifest in the self-harm practice of cutting, and she isn't exactly ready to leave the one guy who's supported her throughout the addiction. But don't worry, Stranger doesn't navigate this collegiate underworld alone, he has a whole cast of equally brilliant but disturbed misfits for his hedonistic, poetical high-romance odyssey. And throughout the chronicles of these madcap, absurdist tales, Stranger learns of the limits to love and the pains to be temporary, of failing friendships and intimate escapades, of youth and the aging world.

* * * *

Down below one of the truer stars, there is a harping string of cerebral lights, deadbeats scattered on a dusty travel, periscoping question links OD'ing on a symbolic wasteland, the toted hero's heartbroken quest of short shadowed dots blinking as if pertinent, powerful, instrumental forces, lifting to the fiery infernos, this false charmed fairy dust of Zen dreams making it in America, as though childhood lore could not burn out… An injection infused the clouds with pulsations of pink, an aura of orange and purple pouring past, beyond the blue background. The singing of birds stinging Stranger’s ears as his hand hung limply on his left, ash trashing the front concrete beneath his feet from the tip of a not yet dead cigarette—a single glow, apart from the autonomous illumination of the morning star raging overhead. The shadow of the railing’s raise cowered as a fine line, breaking the heat rays charging towards the two men.

Jester coughed a drunkard’s spit onto his shirt. Three new spots darkened over the faded pink polo already covered with large drops of beer, wine, and vodka. His beady brown eyes squinted. His nose curved at the angle of a rainbow. He looked like a happy rat. Pockets of fat pooled together at either side of his face, deforming a smile.

Jester laughed then. A slow, whirling chuckle that increased in speed and pitch. Purple teeth jumped up and down in the violent laughs of his realization: There was a pause in the machine, a black blanket over some corner of memory.

Stranger reassuringly nodded, like the gesture a son receives from his father, when he comes to one of those great understandings his father had already told him, years before, when it would have been of use.

Jester snapped his face into a leering, quizzical look.

Stranger played with the beard on his jaw, entertaining the moment. His eyes darted towards the horizon, that ever-rising sun, the symbol of time and god and the presumed eternity of both. His gaze long and unflinching.

Sunsets bleeding in a bleak kind of madness. That wallowing whisper of the coming sunrise. A sedated boredom. And for all the hellish trouble, nobody asked, “Did I take it too far?” Just that communicative silence: “Why didn’t we take it all the way?”

Stranger began to recall the tales. They were tadpoles, popping through the water’s surface, not fully formed but growing.

In a wave of memory, he was pushed back, held under the current of time. Like being underwater, his eyes adjusted, waving away the filmy vision. A room of rich maple oak emerged, glass panels spread across the entrance, sealing the chapter room as a sacred space, a place where eager onlookers stared in longing envy and unwilling respect. Across the back wall, composites of past members hung, decorating and distinguishing the entire house as a fraternity home.

There was a wealth of half-eaten Chinese food from the local chain spread out across the sticky table, finished boxes of cheap beer piled on piss-stained carpet and couches soaked in semen. A boy crouched like a vulture in its nest. He rocked back and forth from the heel to the toe of his foot. A white beak extended from his face. His eyes closed nearly shut, a dopey smile stretched his lips from ear to ear. At that moment, in his resting face, Variable could have been confused for a newborn bird.

With Stranger’s back against the couch cushion, his feet hovered over the floor, swinging in some childish, exotic dance—playful, and yet, not wholly inappropriate. On his shoulder, Jester’s collapsed head lay, resting with all effort abandoned. Variable faced them; his head bobbed in the music-less air. The three sat mute under the strain of laziness. Letters from certificates, awarded earlier that year by conclave, shined gold and red, sparkling under the fluorescent light. They stood on the mantelpiece, carefully placed, as to attract the eyes of new visitors.

The double door entrance swung open; a single frame clashed into the wall, collapsing the silence. With shoulders slumped inwards and arms swinging in stride, Dudemeister appeared as though he was possessed by an anger, which not lying dormant, was, for the moment, controlled. Wispy blonde hair waved like wheat fields on his face. His eyes flickered between a timidness and an aggression, as though he were in constant battle. A toothpick stabbed through his mouth. He had the look of a blue-collar worker and talked in that simple language with an added complexity. Chemically balanced even on chemical substances, Dudemeister was Dudemeister, his perspective didn’t alter.

“You guys are gay,” he laughed. “Who has a cigarette?”

Jester lifted his head from the shoulder.

Stranger stood, brushing past Dudemeister, the two locked hands twice in a special grip, indecipherable, except for the last part, where they gestured sucking down fags. Jester slowly rose above the couch; his back hunched forwards, balanced by his sloping belly. He trailed behind Dudemeister and Stranger, stumbling, dragging his right foot and galloping with the left.

As any cult classic, the human cannon sideshow of patronizing intelligence is campy: That distinct uncoolness that was cool. I, the showman, give credence to the urban pastoral, unveiling that mystery exists only in ignorance, these secrets of the universe are not haute chic couture but an epicene vulgarity. What was I before the forlorn skies but a private third eye conducting the mad science of a peeping tom? Beneath me, the flickering lenses casting scenery as differentiated elements find alignment, and consumed, like designer drugs, in a brief reprieve from the unfeeling confusion that enwraps total separation, there is a sudden clarity, an oeuvre of sublime kitsch, the profound emotional effect of sensing some purpose, a rationale to the current state of affairs. And the religious and wanting of religion believe they have come into a communion with god, when it is instead a communion with oneself, an epiphany of thought called thinking. The one true spiritual act.

Stranger thrust open the silver front door. A royal blue sky emerged. Distant stars fluttered over the heavens’ canvas. Stranger spun a smile as Jester handed him a cigarette. Dudemeister extended his hand towards Jester. An orange flame sliced through the pervading night. Jester cauterized his cigarette, passing the lighter onto Stranger. Dudemeister inhaled deep. “Why didn’t Variable come out?”

Stranger grinned, slightly off-colored, but still-framed, like he was posing for a 1950s teenage movie poster. He was the wild one, a rebel without a cause. Gray smoke escaped through his teeth, until he opened the cage, unleashing a tailing trail of smog. “He quit. Like two weeks ago. He doesn’t smoke anymore.”

After all life is lived and done, the proactive version of waiting around to die, suicide, is the only exercise in futility. God doesn’t curse people. The world does. There was no one to hurt but the world. And hurting the world was what cursed people.

“Oh,” Dudemeister sighed. “Well I bought booze last time.” He pointed towards Stranger with the tip of his inflamed cigarette. “You should buy us booze dude.”

“Dude,” Stranger whined in an elongated groan. “I bought booze last time.”

“Okay Jester,” Dudemeister commanded. “You should buy us booze.”

Jester grinned, his cheeks bundled in fat wraps. “Fuck you.” A small white stream gleamed in his dirt brown eyes. Glasses rested midway down the bridge of his nose, the frames a regal purple. Like wild grass his unkempt matte black hair spread, vines up the sides of his face, a wiry beard, with an undergrowth bush covering the chin.

“I’ll get us booze,” Jester submitted.

The night swelled in silence, until a voice burst through. “I’ll drive. Stranger,” Dudemeister said sarcastically. “Do nothing.”

He revved the car, the key twisting in the ignition. Snapping back twice, Jester finally hoisted the seatbelt across his chest into the slot. Stranger sat sprawled in the back; his head cocked, facing the window, his shoulder lying against the unused nylon strap and death metal buckle. I confess, dearest mind reader, you are in my world. And to preface this tawdry affair that shall take place between us, I am loath to say that intelligence tests placed me in the top .01%, and the supplemental psychiatric tests indicated a 94% chance of sociopathy, without the psychopathic tendency towards violent behavior.

Speeding backwards, the car paved through the front lawn. Grass spewed out from under the rotating rubber. In the turn of a wrist and the tightening of a forearm, the gear shifted from Reverse to Drive. The engine hummed over smoothly paved blacktop. Stranger eyed gas stations fade into wild weeds and packed dirt. Before he blinked, Dudemeister swerved into a parking space.

I normalized a host of such undesirableness, those traits that had vanquished the indiscreet creeper—long archived in the canon of loserdom—to banishment by social exclusion: Atrocities of canceled prom dates who show up with somebody else, court king of the virgins, intimate insider to the passive introvert life, all those dark room reds, like light for campfire horror stories, where as a cadet, my mind photographed the negatives of the human experience. Heaven had no merit in the Hell of the moment—but enlightenment: To be aware, awake, and alive is what I craved. To be free, I laced up, kick pushed it solitaire, doing it alone like the man on the moon, vibing Beast Coast, Earl Sweatshirt, or Mick Jenkins, and dreaming pioneer icons like Cannibal Ox in the hallowed halls of fame (I’m talking Lady Pink, Claw Money, and Patti McGee. I’m saying Saber, Rodney Mullen, and Dondi. I’m spouting Revok and Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, Lavar McBride and Tkid 170.), so I skated, rapping these thoughts to myself, with a spray can filled backpack and a fro-hawk covered by a blue, knitted beanie. Cause where every day is judgment day, induction is based on the neophyte’s recitation of nerdcore history, an exclusionary determinant of authenticity equally popular in old school hip-hop show and tell, a freestyling revisionist sharing of communal sentiments that bound the culture into a golden age. Me, I came of age in a sweltering post-high-school summer, blistering like Southern Selma, where the back of my mind knew from the bottom of my heart, all the escapist comic book lore I studied religiously was modern mythology. And I left on pilgrimage, seeking to serve as a living embodiment against any populist anti-natalist argument. But those motives relied upon subsequent data taken under sober conditions, an index skewed in an inverse tangential proportion to the time since experimental conduciveness started an exhibition of effects for this predisposed classical conditioning.

A small overhead brass bell swung. As they traipsed in, three tings echoed the shop in successive chimes. Displayed under sterile white light was a rainbow of hues sprayed across cardboard boxes. A row of country wine jugs—red and white—lined up next to machine-made moonshine. The dazzle of gin. Matured whiskey in glass bottles, sealed with imitated fine paper. For the under twenty-one, it was the modern speakeasy. A refuge of relief for the damned, the down-on-their-luck. The forgotten.

“The liquor mart is the adult version of a candy shop. The strip club, the adult version of the toy store,” Stranger proclaimed. Whence emerged a Poindexter in straw-hat, grifting soap opera megalomaniac, lecturing without notes, “In this reading, I am Huck Finn and you are Jim,” granting the cubism side of the story, perception-less, an ushering out escape from Plato’s cave, that confining back of the bus tribalism, which started skipping, the grooves blasting Dead Prez, soundtrack of a runaway slave, my theme music, for legs 3/5ths underneath the lunch counter commenced in dancing, at once lifeless Prologue intertwined with its paramour partner, purgatory Epilogue: Give yourself liberty, or give yourself death! How now, supplication? Nay, lend me your mind, and supplementing a doublethink point of view, by the running of garbage collection, I will return you as a political junkie with clearer thinking.

Jester browsed the boxed wines. His brows furrowed in furious contemplation. “What should we get?”

“A case,” Dudemeister complained.

Stranger strolled down the narrow aisles, swiftly dodging two chunky white women with hands full of jugged wine. They snorted in derisive laughter, caught up in their gossip. “He said I eclipsed the moon with my beauty.”

“Well, he said I gave the sun pause. That it almost submitted to me as center of the galaxy.”

A black man swayed from side to side with successive strides, the swagger of a don. He gave a nonchalant nod to Stranger as he passed. Like the slight gentleman tip of a top hat, without so much as a stocking cap in hand, which Stranger naturally returned. An interaction in no way peculiar, even as it was particular. Like all others, the mediation of forces in front of our control. Yet estranged, white supremacy cast it in a paler light. The man became a brute. Brooding and so distant. Heavy brows, heavy shoulders, heavyweight. The status quo blurring him into an indefensible animal.Take, as example, the phrase dumb nigger—denoting an uncivilized savage heathen—came the boldest lie. For the African was enslaved as much for his Benjamin Banneker and George Washington Carver agricultural know-how (especially his pimping out of sugar cane), his goldsmiths, and his metal workers as her body. The richness of history recalls too, unbiased, the First Nation people discovered tobacco and taught the Europeans how to survive in their world. From here, mother being part native daughter, my lineage diverged from the Negroid species, crossing the Mason-Dixon line with my Aryan father, whose niggardly hate gave birth to a black WASP. Mixed. Multi-racial. Mulatto. I carried the birthright of a genealogy which traced the Mark of Cain. (That victim mentality, when you call me nigger and expect me to be ashamed? You dragged me to this country a slave, and I became the leader of the free world.) That baroque curse of a black intellectual (Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander were successors tracing the lineage of rightfully legitimized Cornel West polemic academia protests which, incidentally, were first prompted by the agitating advisory conversational calligraphy lines of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson street antics, whose great fight against an inner fear of appearing like sassified Uncle Tomfoolery, created exhorting extortion by the rock star power leadership of demagoguery and its imposition of media manipulation which, with whatever intentions, at least gained the ground of influence necessary for a people missing any real representatives), so scarce and in-demand, to be unrepudiated—like the pharaohs of old. Where a third world Queen of the Nile, barring her impassioned evocative eloquence, did not invoke Staten Island’s erratic penchant for hypocritical viciousness, loved and was loved, peacefully, by a man from a newly westernized, first world—a promise land—to which all roads now lead. By this bind of racist duality, my stream-of-consciousness became a devil’s advocate Montaigne essayist: As my only fear of death is reincarnation and sleep is the cousin, what do dreams have me feeling? Because I am role playing, from Sidney Poitier to John Amos to James Earl Jones to Forest Whitaker to Laurence Fishburne to Morgan Freeman to Don Cheadle to Danny Glover to Denzel Washington to Samuel L. Jackson to Cuba Gooding Jr. to Jamie Foxx to Wesley Snipes. Like who am I, if we’re all the same? Inscrutable, but I asseverate so well-practiced, I don’t even sound rehearsed, like I’m Halle Berry, or Kerry Washington, or Viola Davis, or Regina King, or Phylicia Rashad, or C. C. H. Pounder, or Ruby and Vivian Dandrige, or Ethel Waters, or Hattie McDaniel, or Louise Beavers, or S. Epatha Merkerson, or Alfre Woodard, or Angela Bassett, or…? (No Cicely Tyson, so cue Donald Glover, Shonda Rhimes, Antoine Fuqua, Darnell Martin, Thomas Carter, Ava DuVernay, Paris Barclay, Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Robert Townsend, Mara Brock Akil, John Singleton, Issa Rae, Quincy or Rashido Jones with my line.) Language, how you fail me, for I am master and you servant. Bojangles cadence in my poetry, rap-alongs to my contraband life, as the clouds never part, an ode to all things black. Whilst contrarily, black nationalism exalted such psychical features of ancestry to royally epic proportions. Raising respect by the command of fear. For he was more than human. The voice of a generation, who could say things others couldn’t, as an editorial piece, who had experienced what others hadn’t, as a live performance art of ideas existing at the intersection of race and culture, who became a doctored surgeon of theoretical journalism reverse engineering without last or final words a unifying thesis.And in all these swirling perspectives, censored, obscured, lost: A real being, the person—whose father, a Southern Baptist pastor, preached the farewell sermon to his own son’s mother, spirited away in the kid’s youth—who grew to care for himself, surviving on athletic scholarships. A bear of a boy, setting records in powerlifting and playing both sides of the ball’s pigskin. A prowess that, by financial contract, kept him playing for a fifth year. But being goofy as big, he enjoyed it more for the fraternity shenanigans and off-wall classroom discussions. There is a terrorism of systematic injustice, a tyranny, which figuratively burns every freedom the flag is raised for, lowering it below half-mast, so that dipping, it lies unfolded, touching the ground.It is an indoctrination that mutates the destitute companies of stereotyped white trash into full-fledged stereotypical rednecks, a prejudiced commitment to that doctrinal and time-honored way of life which superficially covers up facts of an aplomb depiction with hypocritical pretense. Slavery is not the only racist crime of American corruption. Nor is absentee fatherhood tantamount to the failure of Reconstruction reflected in the black nuclear family unit still for sale, but sold separately, a redlining New Deal of the Black Belt ghettos which denied forward progress, favoring an antebellum era alive and well in the undivided inheritance of its slave owners’ segregated progeny, the foundation of American generational wealth. No repatriation is ever offered as a salve to these wounds, only silencing pragmatism, in which a keen observer sees prestige as conventional recognition. This enterprise of white society a liability to technological advancement by patenting black owned black expression as inferior, ensuring a monopoly of white dominance. It is an abduction of self, the American spirit, snatched by kleptomaniacs in taxonomy classifications of phenomenon. Except, the old scar has festered untreated and now its pus causes a great pain that can only be healed by confronting what mumbo jumbo was cast out there. So to face whatever posed a risk to their hard-earned personal safety, the poised nod levied this enduring unspoken bond, unbroken by bondage.Hook or crook, blood and iron. The monumental power of suggestion mounting in peer pressure, the infrastructure of a pathological robber baron who stole valor from the private sector. When then an armistice of industry is declared, the last uppity tycoon—bowler hat replaced with kofia—still will stand on the shoulders of war heroes, those lead packed toy soldiers, saying goodbye to freedom in drawn out death notes never mailed to a living recruit. The veteran Wall Street con man sold the line as a public service announcement on bald eagle stamps, “We shall overcome.” It meant power, once thought transitory and zero-sum, is perceived.

From the stone tablet dynasties of Gilgamesh, epics rising again, place here, time now, an alter-ego alive and unwell, like an offbeat funk, Stranger’s collegiate years of the Zodiac were ordained before celestial constellations, an eightfold path which baptized by seclusion, sheltering the four noble truths from its reflection in mythic reincarnations—shooting out, burning on either end, a flapping of wax wings, melting into an exposedthought, previously held sacredly unshared beneath his normally mild-mannered behavior: “Sowing wild oats, hoping none of them grow into opinionated facts. I dress like a homosexual, stylish as fuck. Debunking self-deprecating conventions through stanzas of common decency conservatism, some liberal fastidiously scatting the controversial in politically correct statements. A poet, making the ugly truth pretty, I’ve got to get out of my head before I lose my mind.” Where now the genius and the mad man worked in joint collusion. With sincerest welcomes from the mister and the doctor. Hulking intellect by which were mental portals where time-sensitive lapses tumble in a zombie sequence of fluidity mediating the spatialization of time, the “I” of perception entered the labyrinth. Triggered by an intangible memento, automagical transference, as the inception was, Stranger stepped through some misplaced sense of self, his brain burning in a series of euphoric epiphanies, a supernova flash of post-consciousnesses, till, in a now not so uncommon incident, he was enveloped into an all-consuming acid flashback. With great care, I invite an audience into the institution where it resides, escaping by way of my private lair, uncountable to the credibly sane. It is the first-person odyssey of the quintessential third person story. In a now classic choose your own interpretation, simply follow the Ringmaster’s pentagram trail of ideas and solve the philosophical conundrum. Here, one hint: The way of the world is only the skeptic can discern between the narrative and the narration and the narrator. Call this unholy trinity the gospel and drink of the Baphomet’s sigil grail and be again one with the indigo children. Too close to the screen of this American meta exposé (when you should be reading between textbook lines in the nascent form of erudite catch phrases by an overthinking lucubrator—wait, what’s that in non-obfuscated layman’s terms? How quick and right, a smart-ass). Off you go, cottontail, better to pace yourself all in all, after all, what is waiting?

Cold buried into his chest, causing him to cough as the left open freezer door fogged over. Stranger hoisted a thirty pack from the bottom shelf with a recently composed ease. The box, nearly the size of his stomach, caused him to waddle as he walked.

The owner, an overweight brown man, watched cautiously. “How are you doing?”

“Uh, what? Great,” Stranger replied. “You?”

“Good. Good. Can I see your ID?”


Jester and Dudemeister approached the counter. The owner unleashed a friendly smile at Jester. Both began to banter in their native tongue: Urdu. Stranger stepped back. In the midst of conversation, Jester handed his credit card. The owner pushed through the sale.

“Do you want a receipt?” The words rushed out of his mouth.

Jester patted the air, waving it off. Stranger grabbed the case, struggling to lift it off the counter at shoulder level. The owner grinned. Dudemeister noticed, snatching it away. “I got it, bro.”

The car doors slammed shut, and the headlights beat back the darkened night. “He didn’t even ask for our IDs.” Dudemeister arched his neck towards the back where Stranger sat. “He definitely should’ve asked for yours.”

“The dude knows Jester.” Stranger smirked. “Besides, I’m free, brown, and twenty-one. It’s not like the time your dumbass handed the lunch lady a fake ID instead of your school ID.”

Picking up speed, they lashed through the lanes. Halting at an unexpected stop light, Stranger slid forwards, bracing his body upon his fingertips against the back of Jester’s seat. A round of cigarettes spread through the car, smoke pouring out lowered windows, ashes decorating the faded finish. Stranger inhaled the poison with a Cheshire grin. “It’s gonna be a good night.”

The chapter room remained empty. Variable slinked in with plastic Solo cups.

“We got beer,” Dudemeister yelled, a heaviness to his voice.

“We don’t need cups,” Stranger affirmed.

“Oh.” Variable waited expectantly.

“Grab a beer.” Jester friendlily motioned.

Variable smiled happily, flowing through the air with his own melody.

“When do you turn twenty-one?” Shifting his eyes from to Stranger and Jester, Dudemeister suddenly said, “We should go to the bars tonight.”

They matched eyes and expressions. But only Jester flaked with an excuse, “Fuck that. I’m foreign, dude. I can’t get in without my passport. Last time I thought I fucking lost it before looking in the fridge. Let’s just stay here and drink.”

The cans popped, a short celebratory fizzle leaking through the tin hole. Stranger wordlessly raised his beer, the others following suit. He took a large gulp—glug—the swallow louder than his thoughts. His sore, smoker scared throat relinquished under the cold beverage.

In a sudden surge, the volume had risen, rebounding across the glass pound. A mess of bodies filled the room—yelling, laughing, chanting, singing. Everybody talked. Nobody listened. Nobody cared. Everybody was happy. Vibrating like a transmission, sockets and outlets, prongs, the human robot’s electric mechanics getting on as one big function of the wave. Sine signaling cosine, tangentially linked in seamless non-Euclidean pattern, a motion of thought. The normal was a radio station, commercial, with loud long-ranging capabilities for and from the mass. Outside these cell towers broadcasting in tandem were fringe antennas, and on those airs were bootleg stations of pirate radios. Devil knows what you could hear… Here, let’s tune in—just put it on in the background—all the rest of the noise will cancel out anything anyways. (The entertainment circuit always does, till DC follows the surging course of AC.) This is Non-Sequitur channel hopping, untethered, but in a sequential sounding series of conciliatory fire-side chats—soft and fuzzy, signing on from the scattered-brained brainwaves of yours truly, a revisionist rabble rouser and master of ceremonies, telling it like it is, was, and will be. The message is the truth and the truth is the message. Boppers, can you dig it?

A white skinny guy in an open flannel shirt with his snapback hat swung backwards and hanging over thick rectangular glasses spoke in an unexpectedly low and deep tenor. When his balls dropped, his voice dropped; the baby fat mocked and bullied thinned out, hiding away in crevices as his bones creaked, growing till his skin stretched over a bobbing Adam's apple. “Yo,” his voice slung out, ducking up and down, “we should do some Molly.”

“Fuck yeah,” Dudemeister agreed.

Jester shrugged.

“We can do that,” Stranger evenly announced, a slight edge of excitement tapered underneath his composure.

The three trailed behind the flapping flannel. A dark room opened up, like the lifting of a tent. Neon beer signs flashed ultraviolet. A black light poster of a gigantic red mushroom with white spots hung beside a near naked woman with enormous breasts, her nipples concealed.

The whole fucking key to unlearning is division of concept. And on that glorious note, may the meek never have to inherit the earth, or need its mineral rights, or pay the shrewd. Devil be damned the whole obstruction of power to peace. My proletariat brethren, chastise the chaste with the hedonism of unrivaled revelry, rioting respectfully, and giving hell a human nature. Guidance can be found in the ancient textual wisdom of the martial arts.

The drug man’s hands moved in a pristine madness, pouring out pills, crushing them into powder under Stranger’s school ID. He had the flow of a master chef or professional violin player, seamless and natural. Fast, yet controlled. Three pounding knocks interrupted his work. Their eyes darted to the door.

“Come in,” this drug connoisseur shouted, never looking up.

An athletic man in a brown letterman leather jacket strolled in. His shoulders bobbed like tackles in the water. From the surface—a multi-layered array, geometric in design—his straight brown hair sprouted up and sideways and slantwise, as though a hand had orchestrated the chaos with a meticulous, mathematical attention to detail.

Behind him, a man resembling a frog followed, with lazy half-closed eyes that bulged against the pale lids. The tip of his tongue hung from between his lifeless lips.

Several females traced their trails. Silent ghosts sedated by alcohol into a waking slumber. Night drew soon to her periodic murder by day and his ever-rising sun.

Suddenly, the frog eyed man pulled a medicine pill bottle from a green drawstring bag. Scratches of a leftover white seal lavished the see-through orange. A lovely scent diffused into the room, filling the nostrils with a healing feeling.

He drew a metal grinder stamped with a Rastafarian king’s crown from the bag. Tossing a couple nugs into the chamber, his fingers turned in opposite directions creating a grating sound. Sprinkling weed onto the emptied cigar paper, he licked it like an envelope, sealing the blunt. Holding each end between the tips of his forefingers, he treasured his effort.

“That’s a terrible roll,” taunted the leather jacketed man.

“Whatever,” the drug man mouthed. “Yo, let’s smoke this shit.”

Dudemeister held the blunt to his mouth, inhaling. He crowded the room with great billows of white smoke. The red fire detector lay hidden under a green plastic bowl; a circle of blue masking tape upholstered it to the ceiling.

An open window, the curtains drawn, gave a beautiful breeze that the clouds fled upon. After his second hit, Dudemeister ushered the blunt to one of the girls.

The frog man slammed the window. A haze fogged the room. The air was tight. Stranger’s chest took short breaths, gasps in between sips of beer as his mouth unrelentingly dried. A familiar sereneness overcame him as the heavy bass picked up and pounded.

“What about the Molly,” Jester quipped.

Joy struck the drug man. In the haste to get high, he had forgotten about the Molly. The precious Molly. It lay ready in a dust mountain goading the fiend, the degenerate, the miscreant tamed in so many of us. Stranger rose, exiting to piss.

A smell of bile stained his nostrils. The lone urinal, piled with puke, overflowed onto the checkered brown and tan tiles. He stepped over the stream, watching it run through the grout, rising over the slight raise of a corner.

Washing his hands, Stranger stared at the mirror from different angles, constantly trying to bring his face into full focus. It was fragmented. If he fixated on his ear, his nose lay beyond his vision: blurred. If he fixated on his lips, his ear became blurred. If he fixated on his nose, his lips and ear were blurry. Darting around from ear to lips to nose, Stranger realized mid-cycle how foolish it all was. An intimidating deep laugh boomed into the empty, echo friendly bathroom.

Reentering the dorm room transformed to drug den, Stranger noticed one of the girls spread across the bed, the curve of her white bare ass luminescent in the midnight chamber. A lemon-yellow line lay across the top of her left cheek. Energetically, waving his arms as though they were chorus line legs, Dudemeister called Stranger over. “Yo, bitch, come do this shit.”

An errant knight, Lancelot, and his mistress, thy kingdom cum. After a biblical act of the beast making two backs, Millicent Fenwick’s puff-cobbled pipes in open, smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors. What confusion tantalizes with is the belief that there is a meaningful content obscured from knowledge through willful ignorance—on accident by purpose. It grows exponentially indecipherable, for a disposition of charm is in large part the illusion of control. A seriousness buried in palpable threats, like the noble Patriot Act, without accountability becomes a journalism without source. Authority cannot belong to badges, to institutions; it is the property, the substance, of principle. As one studiously examining the layout, questioning not only myself, I ask, have we used our freedom so worthlessly, we carry no qualms on forfeiting the imperative pieces to combatants? The scholar plots in the ebony tower assembling a round table, manipulating for all the resources denied to restore choice, with herself at the head.

The drug man handed him a tightly rolled hundred-dollar bill. Stranger snorted the powder, licking up any remnants.

“What now?” Dudemeister asked.

The athletic letterman jacketed man and his friend had left. Nestled into a bowl-like chair made of bamboo with a gigantic plush cushion, the drug man swirled a Styrofoam cup. Eyelids a quarter open with red veins lacing the sclera; he had no intentions, no plans. His mind obstinately cemented in the now.

“Goliath told me to come over,” Jester grumbled in a slight slur. His eyes taped to an ancient cellular phone, circa 1990, just under two decades prior, struggling to type on a small screen with the numbered pad lacking individual letters.

“Fuck that,” Dudemeister loudly responded. “It’s gonna be boring.”

He searched for affirmation.

Causal euphoria rushed into Stranger. His mind ran smoothly, a train, cruising along preset tracks. “Better than here,” he propositioned mildly. “We’re not doing anything.” The colors, though stagnant, became infinitely interesting. They produced a profound effect on him—not emotional, but hypnotic, blocking out all other thoughts.

“Let’s go.”

He tore his vision away. Focusing on the campus, a naturalist arboretum, an earthly garden of paradise.

Trekking beyond these green fields of grass, over trails of cement, across the black landscape of a parking lot, the three traversed to the neighboring fraternity house. Stranger walked upright, conscious of each step, every movement. Jester stumbled in a zig zag, keeping a goofy smile as penance for his intoxication.

Two women, one tall, tucked into skirts as tight as corsets, carried their fashionable high heels in hand. Unshaven armpits and legs, makeup-less—lips and cheeks bare—no perfume but the bodily aroma. Jane now swung on the same vines as Tarzan. Free at last. Thank woman almighty, for she is the Amazonian.Dudemeister noted aloud that he would fuck them. Jester proposed they try now. Stranger just commented yeah, wondering how far the trio’s thoughts carried into the hushed night.

In back, the door was propped, guarded by a battalion of smokers, a mixed mingling of men and fems. The toxic smog served as a smokescreen, a final warning for the innocent. Blinding light flashed across the arena. A muscular man, biceps bulging through an orange polo, belted aloud, “Do you believe in death after love?”

Stranger glided, an envoy on a conveyor belt. In a darkened room, green and red and blue lasers danced overhead a pit of writhing flesh. Fear stirred in his stomach at the thought of being intimate with the unknown. Some person pressed against your body, rubbing you with pleasure, but never learning the details of your figure. Their motions generic, missing all the idiosyncrasies of a lover.

Sex is revealing,Stranger suddenly realized. Not just in the physical way. A laugh trampolined around his head. No, it’s this further display of personality.Brilliant, kaleidoscopic images beamed through his skull. An anonymous acrobat shrouded in a polychromatic performance suit flipped through the air, grabbing a bar suspended by nothing. This same movement again and again. Yet, different, each time, as a new person donned the costume. In the eyes of the beholder, beauty is a performance. And one does it a great service simply by bearing witness.The thought whipped at him as though it were reason cracking through the madness.

Except, how was one to know what one knew?

The anesthesia of this drug dream drowsing him through the exhaustive lenses of a fun house mirror. Even sober reality was a fickle thing, altered by the slightest emotion, reinventing itself with each new idea, concept, scheme.

Stranger’s heart stopped, gaining pace as a tall girl with brown bangs, palm linked to another girl’s, fingers interlocked, snaked the oppressive crowd. Her tits were beautifully confined beneath her dress. Feelings pulsed through Stranger, an immediate longing. The loneliness of his life set in. He had no one to kiss, cuddle, stimulate. An urge uttered through his body. Stranger gazed into that dark mosh pit, slowly settling into the sensibility ofstudying some woman intimately, briefly, never knowing the full contents of her mystery before she flew into the morning.

Nudging Stranger to his side, Jester slurred the words, “We need coke.” He throttled a bottle of rum, brown liquid sloshing just below the label in his unsteady hands. Stranger nodded, taking the bottle and a swig. Drunk sleepiness shaded his existence. A proper upper could fuel them; they could drink into the evening of another night.

Against the wall, Dudemeister leaned, fisting a red Solo cup. He exaggerated his movements, the girl next to him laughing, a relaxed expression held across his face. He was a seasoned veteran, raised by the hunt.

The tempo slowed, and the crowd left in pairs. On their way out, the muscular man lifted Jester, shouting his name across the emptied stadium. Jester swung overhead in a wide arced circle. Stranger grinned, the sole viewer for the final act in a spectacular show.

“To be the only sane, rational man in a circus is a wondrous thing,” Stranger whispered in awed astonishment.

As the curtains were drawn back, and an outside world unfolded, head razzling on a dose of Molly: The static in his brain synced in with the rain—dancing to the pitter-patter of a world’s joyful tears—and had anyone heard it, they would have fallen back in love with everything. But as it was, there was just the rain.

Sun rays spread like fingers, touching all beyond the shadow of the porch. The two men lounged, talking forgotten memories, encased in their enduring mirage.

About the author

Nathaniel Schmeling made a mixtape under the moniker GhostOfAnEgo called Runaway Tales: The Ballad of the Midnight Rider (on SoundCloud and Bandcamp), pitched a cartoon to Frederator Studios, runs a podcast called Signals from the Home World (on SoundCloud) and wrote Timing the Infinite. view profile

Published on July 13, 2017

Published by

150000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Literary Fiction

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