While Fedexing my urine to Chicago today, I
No, let me start over. I ran into two people on 7th Ave. on the way to the Fedex place, both of whom are from the tiny towns outside Asheville, NC, although neither will ever meet. First was a girl whom I believe to be Rinn, one of the Zendik Farm folks who come up to Park Slope every season or so to spread the good word of communal living. Zendik Farm looks beautiful enough, and their mission statement gets more and more appealing every day, given how full of shit this country is right now. I’ve always been a fan of communes, and certainly participated in my share of communal living arrangements, but I’ve never considered an actual commune for myself, since it always seems like there would be a “charismatic leader” who couldn’t be trusted, and an insane amount of gardening. Honestly, when I think of a commune, somehow I always imagine humid, 8-hour days sowing goddamn cucumbers.
I’ve had many chats with the Zendik folks over the years, so this girl warmed up and told me about how their leader recently got ovarian cancer and needs to fly to Mexico to get “alternative measures” that “aren’t legal in the United States.” I said that ovarian cancer is nothing to mess with, and she assured me that they’d already done surgery. At least this commune is decked out with satellite dishes, the internet and modern medical practices; they aren’t just chewing on pine cones and hoping for the best. I’d actually support their artistic endeavors more, if everything they did didn’t look like a calendar from Heavy Metal magazine.
A few minutes away from Zendik Farm is the town of Swannanoa, home of Warren Wilson College. Strangely enough, Tessa’s sister Michelle was largely responsible for moving the school there in the 70s, but most folks in North Carolina know it as a fabulous place to get a writing and poetry degree or as a last-ditch, hopeless place for kids who have failed or drugged out of every other school they’ve attended. Check out their tagline: “We’re not for everyone… but then, maybe you’re not everyone.” I believe the senior retention rate for boarders is about 12%.
Anyway, my friend Sarah Adkins went there for a semester or two, and on one of my visits, a blizzard snowed us in. What was supposed to be a one-night party turned into a seven-day freak show of liquor, stinkweed and girls that were far too young for me (even then, in 1995). The thermostat in the dorm was broken, so we all wore all of our clothes at once, and half the hall gathered in Sarah’s room on the floor, radiating body heat and watching every movie the VCR could handle. With us was Sarah’s boyfriend Jay, whom I thought to be an awesome dude, full of fire and fun, but also sensitive and genuinely curious. Over that week, Jay and I bonded hard, played pool, drank fortified wine and then regretted the snow melting.
On my way out of town, Jay suggested I swing by his workplace one of those giant SuperDrug warehouses where you can buy 4,000 Zantacs for $3.95. When I arrived, he said, “take anything you want; I’m the cashier.” And being broke, and since toiletries in Chapel Hill are like cigarettes in prison, I damn well got as much saline solution and razors as I could carry. The second he got done ringing me up, however, I felt my arm grabbed – by a rent-a-cop in a blue polyester uniform.
Seems they had been watching him give shit away for weeks, and had to catch him in the act, and I was the guy. They couldn’t do anything to me legally (although the corpulent moron manager sure threatened to do so), but they tried to humiliate Jay for all he was worth, which at that moment, was about four bucks. The manager agreed to not press charges as long as Jay paid him back for approximately $225 of “given-away goods,” which seemed like a fair estimate. Jay looked so lost, so chagrined, so sad in that moment, I almost wanted to pick him up in my arms (he was about 5’6″) and whisk him out of that fucking shithole.
I was kicked out of the store and had to leave him there, and drove back to Chapel Hill. That was seven years ago, and I never saw him again.
Until today, when he shouted my name right after my encounter with the Zendik Farm girl. I didn’t recognize him at all, but the minute he started talking, it all flooded back, that whole era. After exchanging all the news of our current lives, I said, “god, I haven’t seen you since that thing, you know, at the Drug Warehouse…” and he looked at me with blank chagrin, as if he had suppressed that information long, long ago. He said, “I mean, those times, it was just forever ago.” Jay is now enrolled at the Culinary Institute, is married and has two kids. He has an amazing life built for himself, and plans on starting his own restaurant down south.
And here I was, almost psyched to see if he wanted to come steal some saline solution with me, just to see if we could still do it. But he is so past that shit, so far past sleeping in a dorm with fourteen people watching “Pee-Wee’s Big Top” under a giant comforter, not interested in scaring up some trouble for the sake of the community. He has turned from a great, scared boy into a great, confident guy. And as I turned home, I wondered why so much of me still longs for what’s left of the commune.