Chapter Fourteen: The Club
Do not stop dancing, you lovely girls. No spoilsport has come to you with his evil eye, no enemy of girls.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “The Dance Song”
Brought down from my lofty heights, I the Übermensch was brought inside, led in by Rayne and Sari each holding an arm.
Sari said, “Okay Cliff, you’re clearly the kind that needs to get out of the house for external stimulation.” She spoke to Rayne, “I think we can still make the last ferry. Bring him upstairs and get ready.”
Rayne asked, “Where are we going?”
Rayne got me upstairs and into the shower. I kept wanting to dive into the stream of eternity I’d recently discovered, wanted to contemplate the eternal now.
“Come on Cliff, use the soap, shampoo your hair.”
It was an effort but I did it. My body seemed to be a separate appendage, a nuisance I had to deal with. Shampooing my hair I became distracted by my skull as the thing itself, the bone shell encasing my gray matter, the ridiculous hinged jaw, the hollows for hard-boiled eyeballs. Hamlet contemplated Yorick’s skull—I was distracted pondering my own.
“Are you almost done?”
“Yep.” But it didn’t feel like it. It was hard to find the focus and motivation to lather soap onto my body. Oh this mortal coil, this pain in the butt armature we’re stuck with. All the feeding and crapping and repairing and dying. Clearly it would be much preferable to live as pure mind, maybe a brain in a jar in a laboratory, or data uploaded into a virtual world.
A naked Rayne stepped in the shower. We’d never showered together before. She went about soaping up my back and then herself. Normally I had the perpetual hots for Rayne. I was like a teenager that’s gotten his hands on a female for the first time and all he wants to do is screw day and night. But now in the shower, with Rayne looking as sexy as ever, a wet Venus come to shore raising her face into the shower stream, I hadn’t the slightest sexual urge. She was beautiful, a goddess in form and word and mind, but sex at that point seemed a disagreeable medical procedure.
She smacked my butt, “Time’s up sailor. Go get dressed.”
I got out dripping and endured the monotony of toweling myself. I looked back at the pointillistic Rayne through the textured glass of the shower door going about her business at a seemingly normal rate. Wasn’t she having any of the temporal and corporal issues I did? I managed to flap my jaw and speak the words, “Aren’t you at all de… de… debilitated by this drug?”
“It’s your first time. I was pretty messed up my first time, but you learn to incorporate it. You should do what Sari tells you. She knows how to control it. Now get dressed and don’t forget to put your underwear on first. We have to make the ferry.”
I had never been to Sanctuary Beach, a truly dreary town south of Fowl’s Point. Sari sped us out to Route 1 and went a couple exits south to bring us there in twenty minutes. The rhythms of Fowl’s point had already gotten me in its 20th century vibe; thrust out into the real world I stared in awe at the surreal hoard of vacationers tearing down the highway. Bros in their doorless jeeps, swaying motorhomes the size of starships, spaced-out soccer moms with flip flop stickers in their rear window. Sari and her BMW fit right in with the texting drivers going eighty down the highway, all on their way to million dollar beach homes in so-called Lower Slower Delaware.
Sari parked next to a closed vape shop and we hustled across the street to a boathouse. The girls were dressed up for a night on the town, Rayne wearing that black outfit with the little jacket I had first seen her in. I was dressed in my normal beach bum clothes.
The so-called ferry turned out to be not one for cars, but for people. An old guy with a big white mustache and a sailor’s cap ran some kind of motorboat back and forth across the bay to Jersey a few times a day for fifteen dollars per person. The boat wasn’t too small—it was big enough to have two engines—but it wasn’t huge either. Big enough to make you wonder why a man who can afford such a boat is running such a business, especially when the legality of that kind of rinky-dink operation was clearly dubious.
Another couple our age joined us on the boat as did a self-impressed gaggle of older teens swirling with selfies and self-consciousness. We were required to put on life jackets which smelled of mildew. I barely got it strapped on before the boat sped off due east. Daylight was vanishing quickly so our boat and others I spotted had their lights on.
My drugged state had evened out slightly in the commotion of getting there, but the boat ride took a while and my stupor reasserted itself as I took in the scenery—or lack thereof. The sheer volume of the olive drab water before us fed my musings on infinity. Midway where we crossed over the invisible border into New Jersey I could barely see land in either direction. The acreage of this stretch of the bay felt daunting. On a map it’s not a distance worth noticing. Compare it to a real ocean, the kind Melville types explored for years on end. Those wastelands must have been crushing, but at the same time liberating. Time and space are closer than we usually imagine. When the latter becomes expansive so does the former. Space grows and time slows, becomes something with which to be reckoned. And before distractions like TV or cell phones one had nowhere to go but inward. Muses incanted, mariners’ told their tales, shared epics that transcended our world. They must have forgotten the world on land existed after staring out at nothing constantly.
What if I was to tell a tale? At that moment it seemed the most fitting thing in the world that I break the tediousness of our trip and declaim on lofty things, but I looked out across the choppy strait again for some inspiration, some subject matter and there was nothing, nothing at least tangible with which to engage my audience about eternal wisdom brought down from the mountain.
As if in reply to my bardic aspirations, from the front where he manned the wheel, Cap’n Crunch raised a mute arm, pointed at something behind me, held it up until we noticed and reacted. I turned my neck stiffly in the life vest. At first I thought they were sharks but when one dove into the air I knew they were dolphins. Rayne seemed interested and the teens almost fell over, standing, leaning, trying to take pictures. I was surprisingly not impressed—not as much as I was by the miles of nothingness we were passing through. Uninterested too was Sari who watched them like they were just more waves. I wondered if her only interest in marine life was what she could make out of them in her laboratory.
If leaping dolphins weren’t going to inspire delphic speech, nothing was. My mouth remained clamped shut like it had been for the last hour, my entire exterior unmoving. None of the others had a clue that I had intended on holding forth about time and space and depths, that I was going to get all Übermensched-out on them, maybe toss in some Zarathustrian admonishments.
They sat nervously bored again, once in a while glancing forward for signs of our destination. We as a random group of passengers had spent enough time together that we felt comfortable with each other. We hadn’t spoken to the strangers—in fact nobody was saying much because the sawing roar of the engines required one to yell. But in nonverbal ways we had passed over that line where our limited shared experiences proved us harmless and made us members of a temporary tribe, people we felt like we came to know intimately at a certain level, but would never see again.
Then one of them spoke my name.
As soon as I heard the Mister I knew I was busted, spotted by a student. The odds of these encounters happening drop with the distance from the school—but not as much as you’d think. If I went to Disney World I wouldn’t be too surprised to run into one of them. But on a shifty ferry from Sanctuary Beach to New Jersey? Now the whole thing reeked of criminality, like it was a human trafficking operation we were unwitting participants of.
She was opposite us, up toward the front. She had been obscured under a wide brimmed beach hat but had taken it off so it wouldn’t blow off. I looked over and recognized her face: the freckled cheeks, the bangs, the nervous smile. Last year she had sat in my second period civics class, third seat from the front over in the window row. What was her name? Seating chart mnemonics warmed to life, latent associations, flashes of whom she sat next to. I was pretty sure her name was Megan. Yes, Megan Atley. Didn’t recall any other particulars.
I wasn’t one hundred percent on the name so I replied with the standard, “Hey! How ya doin’?”
Megan was still in shock, a plastic smile stuck in place. A student seeing a teacher out of context—especially in an extremely odd place like an illegal boat taxi disrupted all norms of behavior. An awkward exchange in the supermarket was one thing, but this demanded explanations.
The encounter spoiled my vibe. Now I was self-conscious, not only feeling the instinctive pressure to maintain some level of professionalism, but paranoid I had kaleidoscope eyes or a twisted smile and far-off gaze which revealed me as a manic Zarathustra.
I especially hoped she wasn’t somehow getting into the club. She was in high school, clearly under twenty-one.
I yelled, “Where are you guys headed?”
“My parents have a place over in Wildwood.”
“Ah, okay. Great. Sounds like fun.”
While we talked she glanced at Rayne trying to confirm it was who she thought it was. Rayne hid like a celebrity behind her sunglasses and played dumb. The gossip Megan would share on social media before our feet even touched the Jersey shore would be sensational. Two familiar social studies teachers having an affair and traveling by illegal ferry to a hedonistic club.
She tried to make the question sound innocent, “Where are you going?”
I fumbled, shook my head and held up my palms to feign clueless, “Some restaurant.”
The boat first stopped at a dock and let everybody off except for me, Rayne, and Sari.
The disembarked Megan turned, smiled, and said, “See ya!” In her tone I read barely suppressed delight at catching us, a bravado of flouting the teacher student proprieties, one that knew all rules were off and we knew she knew we were busted.
He then floated us less than a hundred feet away to another dock attached to the back of a huge three story building. With the engine noise reduced I could hear music from within. It looked like a huge beach house, the kind they rent out to large groups, but there were lots of signs, some advertising beer and some that told you what you weren’t allowed to do out there on the dock. A brand of liquor was emblazoned on the umbrellas over some tables and chairs.
We stepped out of the boat and Sari paid the Captain who throttled off into the deep. Then she caught me by the arm and looked intently into my eyes, spoke with the patronizing tone of a pediatrician, “How ya doin’ Cliff?”
“Listen to me. You need to be conscious of the drug’s effect and put it in the background. Draw on it as a tool, don't let it overwhelm your experience. Focus on being in the moment, what’s present and real versus what’s created by the mind. Tell me you'll work on that?”
“Let's go in and enjoy ourselves.”
Francesco’s wasn’t the place’s name, but rather the name of the owner. The place was actually called Baydacious, a popular club on the bay side of the lower Jersey peninsula just above Cape May. For no added fee our Captain Ahab drops off patrons he ferried at the dock in the rear. This allowed you to skip any lines that form in the front which, I learned from Rayne, could be hours long. I suspected the place was what we used to call a meat market, a drinking hole for twenty-somethings to pick up, or try to pick up, members of the opposite sex. I had never spent much time in these places because I was always too much of a closet nerd and didn’t know how to act.
A muscle-shirted man with a shaved head who acted as a bouncer and inspector of IDs let us go in uncharged and unhindered. He had a big smile for the girls but lost it, giving me a more challenging look, a deadened primal stare to which my reciprocation was supposed to establish our place along the alpha-male spectrum. Was it the way I was dressed? Honestly at that point I felt like the sole Übermensch on the eastern seaboard if not the entire world so I easily disregarded his challenge as invalid, of all-too-merely-human value. I had come down from the heights to his mental village and was not going to spend any energy on pedestrian tasks and sub-morality. For me there would be no lugging of water, harvesting in the fields, no groveling before the sky God. And certainly no chest-thumping or pissing contests for territory or breeding rights. I had a right to be in this place and these women were mine. I didn’t give baldy another glance.
The place wasn't too crowded but there were enough people there to take up much of the bar and the dance floor. Rayne led me by the hand and we followed Sari up some spiral stairs to another level where there was another bar and another dance floor with fewer people.
I was still half distracted with my Übermensch embodiment, pondering my higher new-found morality vis-à-vis that troglodyte I had left behind at the door. But then again, the train of thought now took me, even the philosopher-king must enter the arena to prove his mettle in an ax fight. This New Jersey version might be something more along the lines of a West Side Story knife fight out on the docks, with factional screams from the periphery. Clearly I had the dexterity and presence of mind to best Mr. Clean the bouncer, whose only threat was his superficial tough guy persona...
Sari was leaning up into my ear speaking, “Cliff, this is Francesco. Cliff!”
I rocketed back to earth just in time to find an offered hand was awaiting me. I shook it. It belonged to a man my height with a stack of wavy dark-brown, almost black hair and eyes to match that were close together--normally an attribute that made a man look stupid but they had a lively sparkle--as did his teeth--which compensated. He wore a chain around his neck consisting of larger loops and his ears were a size too large. Another bar-owning Italian man that Sari’s friendly with? First Jerry with whom she’s having an affair, now this guy who had his arm around her while she introduced us and who all but patted her ass as she excused herself and Rayne and went to the bathroom to repair their windswept boat hair.
Did Sari have a thing for Mediterranean men? I’d met a girl like that before, friend of a friend. We were throwing together a going-away party for another intern, picking up snacks down the street at a Philadelphia convenience store. I had picked up a bag of spicy nacho chips which we opened on the walk home. When this Italian fellow, who looked like Jon Lovitz (“yeah, I get that a lot”), tasted one he spat and asked why had I gotten spicy? He hated spicy. I said I was sorry, didn’t know he didn’t like spicy chips. This triggered an overblown reaction in which he played the ethnic wounded by my stereotyping. A dark cloud settled over him and he shook his head in righteous outrage that I would assume he liked spicy foods because of his “Mediterranean background”. I tried to convince him I hadn’t taken his background into account when choosing the chips, but he was hearing nothing of it. His girlfriend, a cute blond whom all the guys were interested in, coddled him as he sulked back to the party. I learned from another girl that she would only date “Mediterranean men”. From then on I assumed this rare subspecies of woman existed and had for years expected to find another. Is Sari one of them?
He filled the vacuum with talk about himself. His ex-girlfriend, he said, had made him a wine snob and that’s what he sipped at the bar, hairy knuckles clasping the glass stem, his dodgy eyes scanning the space in back of me. He was a fidgety collection of nervous movement. He compulsively pinched at his nostrils and wiped at them with the front of a finger as if to remove embarrassing phantom boogers he was self-conscious of, but which were not there as far as I could see; his feet never stopped moving below him as if he was constantly recentering his weight or subliminally warming up for a boxing match; he ran his thumbs through the waistband of what looked like running pants as if to make sure they were properly aligned. When he smiled the corners of his mouth pulled back Jack-o'-lantern-like and pushed out further his prominent raptorial nose. Overall he was a sleek man best described as weaselly, reptilian perhaps. Quite different from boyfriend Jerry who was, if anything, chipmunk-like with his round cheeks, visible incisors and bright eyes.
Francesco was trying to figure out my situation with the girls. He gestured in the direction they had gone, “So, are you uh, going out with…”
I saw something adjust in his brain; whether it was relief I wasn't with Sari or disappointment I was with Rayne, I did not know.
Francesco talked more about himself. About how he always came down to Wildwood when he was a kid. Always wanted to open up his own place. Et cetera. Watching him talk I was getting overly-focused on his physicality again, his corporeality: the dark stubble sprouting around his mouth like trees on a hillside shorn by a catastrophic blast, the fixed simian outline of his brow like one in a paleontological exhibit, the ropey tendons which popped out of his neckline like momentary suspension bridges and which, I realized, sealed the reptilian vibe.
Finally he ran out of things to say or got tired of being the only one talking and asked, “You spend much time down here?”
This made me self conscious of my staring silence, paranoid of looking like a drugged zombie. I recalled what Sari had told me about backgrounding the drug, to work on the here and now. I snapped myself out of it, took a breath and focused on basic operations of my own body. It was like one of those movies where the stroke victim or war vet has to learn to walk again, feed themselves. What I found I had to do was act the role of myself, not expect the highly suspect and nebulous Self known as Cliff Chambers to behave.
“I have a place over in Fowl’s Point.”
“Oh yeah? Like it over there?”
“Nice town. Quiet.”
The girls returned looking undrugged and normal. I could be normal too, I encouraged myself, I could play the role of Cliff. I smiled and kissed Rayne and asked if they wanted a drink.
Francesco made a todo about getting us a round on him.
Sari and Rayne took sips of their drinks and started dancing right there, looking at Francesco and me. Sari cocked her head to the dance floor and said, “Let’s dance.”
I balked, then Francesco balked with me in guy solidarity. Dancing has always been an issue with me. The syllogism is watertight and simple. People that can’t dance look like fools. White guys can’t dance. White guys shouldn’t dance. An old-school matter of human-and certainly superhuman-dignity.
I told Sari, “I ain’t John Travolta.”
“You don’t have to be. Trust me, it’ll be fun. Come on.”
She slinked and gyrated out onto the parquet flooring where half a dozen others danced. Rayne pulled at my arm and smiled her most loving smile.
Maybe I needed to get with the program. Zarathustra certainly danced a lot, I told myself. Didn’t he? His landlady espied Nietzsche dancing naked in his room. He called dancing ‘Dionysian wisdom’. Come on Cliff, play the role of a man dancing at a club. And Sari asked me to trust her. She was after all my drug guide, my mix queen.
I gave Francesco a weak smile of concession, swallowed my white guy pride and allowed Rayne to pull me out there.
Rayne got down white-girl boogieing, fists milking before her, making serious our attempts with scowls and pursed lips. Rayne was more dorky than Sari who knew how to maintain her stately demeanor while letting go, making herself sexy by running her hands over her hips or through her recently brushed hair.
Her pelvic-centric satyr Francesco materialized next to Sari, soon holding her by the hip and easing into some semi-dirty dancing. Francesco could dance and I saw in his dark stare a confidence I thought might be what girls liked in these Mediterranean types.
Tired of the cardboard virility of these steroidal doormen and the cheesy suave Adriatic business owners, I took this dancing thing as a challenge. I drew on the drug, sought its aid in releasing my inner Bacchic. The next song was of faster tempo, some current pop number that rippled along fast pace with the solo female vocalist bewailing lost love. The pulse found a place in me and at once I understood this dancing thing, found the Dionysian fire and was soon carried away by my loins, doing some air-fucking, ass-swinging, lasso-throwing dance of my own which was powerful enough to pull Sari into my gravity and soon Francesco was gone and I had a girl in each arm and they were swinging their hair and shaking their asses and bumping and grinding. I didn’t know which girl was which at points, ecstatic in a sensual swirl of elemental movement, of decadent bacchanalia, a half-erection tightening my cargo shorts.
The surrounding lights seemed to have dimmed, flashes of disco mirror and strobe shattered time. We spent hours dancing around our pagan fires, frenzied dervishes on another plane I had never encountered before, never imagined possible. Now that I had overcome the paralysis from the drug I was feeling on top of the world in every sense: confident, euphoric, young. With the mix, both mental and physical senses were heightened and fine-tuned to get the most out of them. I felt I had locked into the flow of Life itself, left behind the Spirit of Gravity and my former life of quiet social studies teacher desperation. I was the embodiment of post-human superiority, truly having recreated myself into the Übermensch formerly known as Cliff Chambers.
Next Chapter: The Twilight Zone