Fall 2014, Volume 17

Nonfiction by Allen Long

Freak Out

When I entered seventh grade at Williamsburg Junior High in Arlington, Virginia in 1969, I was quickly despised by some of my classmates for my parent-imposed crew cut and high grades.  I had several good friends, but I felt generally disliked, although, looking back, I realize I was just teased by a dozen or so popular kids and their wannabes.

At the beginning of eighth grade, I hoped my slightly longer hair and fierce year-long campaign of keeping a low profile would shield me from ridicule, but as I walked into my English class, a popular boy named Steve Johnson sneered and announced, “Ew!  We have Allen Long in our class!” Steve had golden blonde hair in a Beatles cut, cobalt eyes, perfect teeth, and a tough-guy husky voice.  Whenever I saw him in the cafeteria, he was surrounded by a clutch of pretty girls.

Although I liked our teacher, Mrs. Waterbrook, she didn’t scold Steve for his comment—in fact, in junior high and high school, I never once heard a teacher censure a bully, a condition I hope has changed.  Anyway, I hunkered down and tried to get through the class without calling any negative attention to myself.  At one point that fall, Mrs. Waterbrook let us bring in our favorite albums to play and present to the class.  I brought in Led Zeppelin II and said I liked the heavy metal sound and searing guitar solos.  I suddenly achieved cool credibility with the rockers, especially a long-haired and semi-popular boy named Tim Rogers who was obsessed with The Who.  Soon we were hanging out, listening to music, and jamming at high volume at Tim’s house when his parents weren’t home.  An acoustic guitar player, I was teaching myself electric rock and blues, and Tim was learning electric bass.  I had a screaming loud amp I blew up several times, and Tim built a gut-wrenchingly powerful bass amplifier that towered over him—we’d heard a rumor that a certain bass note played at high volume could make listeners shit their pants, and this was Tim’s Holy Grail.

Not only did I enjoy jamming with Tim, but I felt my friendship with him boosted my cool status at school.  Also, by odd coincidence, our mothers had gone to college together, and they encouraged our friendship.

On the other hand, Tim and I didn’t have much in common besides music.  Take our attitude toward girls.  I was shy with quiet crushes on girls I found pretty and sweet, while Tim had no use for romance and just wanted sex.  He told me that in seventh grade he went up to a girl he’d gone to elementary school with and said, “Peterson, call me when your parents aren’t home, and I’m going to come over and fuck the shit out of you.”  Apparently, the call came and the deed was done.  Definitely not my style.

One fall evening, I spent the night at Tim’s house when his parents were out of town.  Only his sister Sally and her boyfriend Dave were at home.  They were seniors in high school, and Dave kindly bought us a six-pack of Schlitz Malt Liquor to split.  This was the first illicit beer of my drinking career.  I sipped my three SMLs and experienced a pleasant mellow feeling without getting particularly drunk.  I’m definitely doing this again, I thought.

Tim, on the other hand, chugged his three beers and banged on Sally’s locked door, yelling, “Sally, are you having a good time getting fucked by Dave?”  He repeated this mantra until Dave slipped out of the door red-faced and fully clothed and said, “Look, that’s a really disrespectful thing to say to your sister.  Can’t you guys just enjoy your beers and leave us alone?  We love each other, and we’d really appreciate some quiet time to ourselves.”

Dave seemed mature and his request was reasonable.  I didn’t pick up any vibes that he was taking advantage of Sally.  One could tell at a glance they were a happy couple.

“Yeah, so you can fuck my sister!” Tim shouted.  There was no heat behind Tim’s words, just intentional rudeness.

Dave was a tall muscular guy and could have creamed Tim, who was as skinny as a heroin addict—in fact, Tim liked to encourage this image by scratching his arms so they looked like they bore track marks.  Dave held his temper, but he pointed a finger at Tim and said, “You’re an irresponsible drunk—if you don’t get your shit together, I’m never buying you beer again.  Now get lost!”

I convinced Tim to jam with me, and the incident blew over.

A couple of months later, Tim invited me to spend the night again.  We would have dinner with his parents at home, and then they were going out to a dance that would end very late, and we would have the house to ourselves until then.  Sally and Dave would be away on an overnight trip with their class.

I accepted immediately—I was always up for listening to or playing rock and roll.

Just before we sat down to dinner with Tim’s parents that evening, he pulled me into the hallway bathroom next to the dining room.

“Do my pupils look normal?” he asked.  “My vision’s not exactly eagle-eye right now.”

“They’re dilated,” I said.  “What’s going on?”

“I took a tab of acid at school, and I’ve been tripping all day.”

“You serious?” I asked.  “That’s a heavy duty drug!”

Tim laughed.  “No shit!  This stuff’s great!  I don’t want this trip to end!”  He reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a square of white blotter paper about the size of a single cap for a toy gun and licked it.  “This trip’s going to last all night!” he said.

We had a delicious roast chicken dinner with Tim’s parents, who were warm and friendly.  Tim’s mother asked me questions about my family in her pleasant Southern accent, and Tim’s dad told us several humorous stories.  Tim cast conspiratorial glances my way, but his parents had no idea he was tripping.  After dinner, Tim took me aside, “Did the dining room ceiling turn like a page in a book while we were eating dinner?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “You’re really out of it.  You shouldn’t have overlapped that acid.”

“I’ll be okay,” he said, and at first he was.  We played our instruments for hours until we noticed a loud banging on Tim’s bedroom window.  When we opened the front door, Sam Billings and his friend Andy sauntered into the house.

“How’s it going?” said Sam.  “You still tripping?”

“Yeah,” said Tim.  “I took more acid before dinner.”

Sam was one of the school’s most talented guitar players, and Tim was dying to play bass in his band.  I suspected Tim had taken the acid to impress Sam.  Andy was Sam’s rhythm guitar player.  Both guys seemed okay to me—all I knew about them was they liked to drink beer, smoke pot, and jam—but there was a mischievous gleam in Sam’s eyes that made me uneasy.

We were in the family room now, where Tim’s father liked to smoke his pipe while he read or watched TV.  Sam picked up a box of wooden matches on the table beside Mr. Rogers’easy chair and shook it: full box.  He poured the matches over Tim’s head.

“No!” Tim yelled, falling to his knees, surveying the spilled matches.  “Look, there’s hundreds of them—I’ll never get them picked up before my parents get home—you guys have to help me—nothing can be suspicious!”

Sam threw an unlit match past Tim’s face; Andy followed suit.

Tim became fascinated.  “Wow, look at the trails!”

“Wow, man.  Look at the trails,” Sam and Andy echoed, throwing matches past Tim’s face until his senses overloaded and he begged for them to stop.

“Okay,” Sam said.  “We’ll stop.  We were just having a little fun since you’re tripping.  We’ll let ourselves out.”

“Thanks, guys,” I said.  “I don’t want him to freak out.”

“Wouldn’t want that,” Sam said, leaving the room with Andy.

I bent down and picked up the matches.

“Thanks,” Tim said.  “I’m not too functional right now.”

Just then, the lights snapped off.  Tim and I were in complete darkness except for the glow of the moon through the family room window.  Sam and Andy ran through the house screaming and banging hard on all kinds of surfaces; I kept waiting for something to break.  Eventually, they attacked us with their drumsticks.  They double-teamed me, shoving me aside and playing drums on Tim’s body until he began to scream and I regained my balance.  I’m a big guy—I grabbed both boys by their jean jacket collars, shoved them out the front door, and locked it.  I quickly restored the lights.

Tim writhed on the family room floor.  “Allen, you’ve got to help me!”  His face was twisted in panic.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “I got rid of them—everything’s fine now.”

“You don’t understand,” Tim said.  “I’m like on this giant rubber band and I’m stretching way into space—it takes me really far out, then it brings me back.  I keep going farther out.  If it takes me any farther, I won’t be able to come back!  You’ve got to help me, but don’t call an ambulance!”

“I don’t know what to do,” I said, my voice quavering with anxiety.  I kept thinking about the high school kid who lived across the street from me who fried his brain on acid and now lived in a mental institution, and I badly wanted to call an ambulance and let the experts handle Tim’s bad trip.

“Just talk to me, keep me from going out again,” Tim said.  “Shit, here I go.”

I lay next to Tim and put my hand on his chest and my mouth next to his ear.  “Tim, this is Allen, you’re going to be fine—just listen to my voice and stay with me.”  I repeated these words for over an hour until Tim sighed, relaxed, and softly began to snore.  




BIO: Allen Long's memoirs have appeared in The Copperfield Review, Eunoia Review, Literary Brushstrokes, Milk Sugar, and Scholars & Rogues. Allen is an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine, and he lives with his wife near San Francisco. Allen recently has completed a book-length memoir, "Less than Human."