FOUR

Standard College Dictionary, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1963:  Paranoia:  A form of mental disorder characterized by well-systematized delusions of persecution or of grandeur, often without markedly affecting the rest of the personality.

Delusions?  We didn’t have no fucking delusions!  They were after us, or at least we thought they were.  Nixon, Agnew, Hoover, Mitchell, all of them.  Sometimes, they actually were after us.  Have you got your FBI or Military Intelligence file?  I’ve got a couple of inches stuffed in a folder in a box up the attic somewhere.  Wiretaps, mail cover, even a little physical surveillance for awhile during Watergate.  Heavy stuff, man.  At least it seemed so at the time.

And what’s this shit about a “disorder”?  Paranoia was how we survived.  If we didn’t look over our own shoulders, who would?  To us, Nixon and the rest of them weren’t the establishment.  They were our enemies in some unfocused war we were fighting against…well, against what?  Because most of us sure as hell weren’t fighting for anything.  And truth be told, most of the time we weren’t fighting.  We were talking, and we were stoned, or drunk, or stoned and drunk and always talking talking talking, as if words were rogue free radicals that could alter the nation’s DNA…a little amino acid here, a little Ribonucleic acid there, add a little deoxyribose and we’re talking some real power.  All those words we spoke and wrote and listened to and watched were magical, man.  Easy Rider?  Bonnie and Clyde?  I mean those movies challenged the conventional wisdom, altered the way the world worked, didn’t they?

We would flip from Cavett playing the impish ref between Mailer and Vidal to Saturday Night Live, where Mr. Mike was driving knitting needles into eyes rather than gaze into the living hell all around us.  Then we’d be off to the 8th Street Bookstore and buy “Howl,” or “Gravity’s Rainbow,” or Don Delillo or Ken Kesey or “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and we’d wallow in the wordiness and wonderfulness of it all.  It was our world and all of those straight assholes were just living in it…

Until one day John Lombardi and I pulled up to the Boathouse Restaurant on Great Pond out in Montauk and walked straight into the future.  The place was wall to wall with Wall Street swells in their pale yellow polo shirts and pink sweaters tied around their shoulders with their hair-helmet girlfriends and all of them smiling satisfied smiles with straightened whitened teeth.  Never as long as I live will I forget what Lombardi said as he gazed at all that tanned flesh and Rolex wealth on display.

This place is filled with our natural born enemies he said through clenched teeth.  Aw, c’mon let’s just have a beer, I implored, thirsty from a day at the beach.  Just then, one of the tanned pink-and-yellow swells leaning against the bar turned to us in our faded swimming trunks and salty t-shirts:  Oh, my god, what do we have here?  He called out loudly.

I had to grab Lombardi’s clenched fist in mid-swing and yank his arm behind his back to steer him out of there, or we’d have ended our day in the East Hampton lock-up for sure.  They were indeed our natural born enemies and we were the ones their mothers warned them about, but we didn’t clash at that restaurant that afternoon in ’84, I think it was.  We didn’t go to war against them, and our presence didn’t cause even a ripple on the Great Pond of their world.  But now, here we are about 30 years later, and somehow the train we were on got run off the tracks, and all we did for all those years was stand around talking about how we were going to fast, there was a big curve ahead, the tracks were old and out of repair and suddenly someone yelled out, there’s no one driving this thing?

Paranoia?  Delusions?  We were losing it?  We didn’t lose it.  We wasted it…on beaches and bottles of Ripple and tumblers of Jack Daniels and tall gorgeous women in short Azzedine Alaia skirts and short gorgeous women in very tall Manolo Bahniks and copious baggies filled with herbs and powders and yes, even the occasional Gristedes bag filled with jimson weed.  And to what end, you ask?

Well, to this one:  to the med-bed and the Risperdal keeping the terror at bay and Senor Zoloft slowing down the verbiage to a manageable level and just enough Ambien to flutter the old eyelids so they can be bright and wide open to the wonderfulness of yet another day in the world we built.

Dying of a broken heart, you say?  When you personally broke enough hearts over the years to qualify for the Legion of Merit in Assholedom?  Who the hell are you kidding?

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