Sample Chapters

Select chapter:
Four – INFINITY  |  Thirteen – THE THING-IN-ITSELF


 
FOUR
INFINITY
 

Every summer, from the time I was four, my parents rented a small, wooden cottage in “Lake Kenosia Bungalow Colony” in Connecticut. It was a perfect way to escape the stifling summer heat of the inner city as well as afford the family a taste of country life. This small lakefront community was predominantly populated by young, lower-middle class, reformed Jewish families from the boroughs of New York.

The only thing that distinguished one home from the next, among the community’s approximately one hundred identical ramshackle bungalows, was that they were painted white, maroon or brown. Each bungalow consisted of two residences which were separated by a common wall that ran down the middle. Often, late at night when we were supposed to be sleeping, my friend Michael and I would hold secret conversations with one another through the paper thin walls of our adjoining closets.

“Michael, are you there?”

“I’m here. Are you there?”

“I’m here.”

“Can you hear me?”

“What?”

“I said, ‘can you hear me?’”

“Yes, I hear you. Can you hear me?”

“I can. Ok. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Ok.”

It was a place where mosquitoes bit and wasps stung, where we had torn screens for windows, cots for beds and got to toast marshmallows over camp fires but with a strip mall and convenience store just blocks away—good old quasi-country living. And though the entire grounds were shoddy and unkempt, permeated by the ubiquitous smell of leaking propane and mothballs, coming from the streets of Brooklyn, it was Shangri-La to me.

Every weekday morning, the entire community was jolted from its sleep at precisely 7:30 am by a bugle playing “Revele” over a series of loudspeakers which alerted the community’s children that it was time for day camp to begin. After slapping some cold water across my face, my mother would help me on with my official Camp Kenosia t-shirt, hand me my sandwich and twinkie in a brown paper bag and send me off with a kiss on the cheek. From there, I’d work my way down the hill that led to the beach area where I’d congregate with the rest of my sleepy comrades around the slanted flag pole the counselors referred to as Pisa. After completing our drowsy, uninspired salute to the flag, the rest of the day was spent in constant activity which included any combination of swimming, relay racing, arts and crafts, kickball, punchball, whiffleball, aggravating the counselors and having a grand old time.

On the rare chance that our group would be well-behaved, there were certain activities such as jumping on the trampoline or archery that were presented as rewards in order to encourage such positive conduct. One of the more exotic of these awarded activities was the sport known as turtle hunting. Turtle hunting consisted of cramming five hyperactive Jewish kids from Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx—each wearing an oversized fluorescent orange safety vest and equipped with his own aluminum turtle net—into a rowboat with one counselor, usually either from Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan or the Bronx, who would row them.

Our counselor, Joe Becker, was a community college student from the Bronx who was just the right combination of mean and cool that he inspired equal parts fear and reverence. With Joe at the helm, we were towed about the lake in search of turtles. The unofficial rules of the sport were that whoever caught the most turtles was the winner, but whoever caught the biggest turtle was also the winner.

On a typical turtle run, all talk on the boat was kept to a solemn whisper. With muted strokes, Becker stealthily guided us through the reeds, rocks and logs where the turtles often did their sun bathing. In anticipation, we’d hold our nets raised in the air, poised for the perfect scoop, our heads darting this way and that in the hopes of being the first to spot one. Meanwhile Becker, under his oversized Ray Ban aviator sunglasses, a lit cigarette deftly dangling from his lips, rowed on.

All was kept to a hush on the boat as was instructed.

“Remember. Total silence. I don’t want to hear as much as a peep from you morons.” Becker irascibly reiterated as we quietly glided across the lake.

Only silences didn’t last very long as it was always just a matter of time before someone would lose their cool and scream out, “Look! Over there! I see one!”

With turtle nets quickly raised into position, it soon became clear that the majority of turtle sightings were false alarms.

“What’d I tell you imbeciles about shouting? Had that actually been one, it would have been long gone before you dip-shits would have had as much as a chance at it.”

“There’s one, right there!” Another kid blurted out.

Before Becker even got the chance to complete one lambasting, someone was always ready for the next.

“That’s a rock, you bonehead! How many times do I have to tell you retards the same shit! Keep it to a fucking whisper! Pretend we’re god damned spies in the Soviet Union. Try screaming then and you’d be tortured to death. Is that what you retards want: to be tortured to death?”

Not understanding the concept of a rhetorical question, we’d hang our heads and answer in a dejected choir,

“Noooo!”

False alarms were the dropped fly balls of turtle hunting, and it was ritual that whoever “cried turtle” would inevitably suffer a few moments of disdainful glances and snide remarks before we would shove off again in search of the real thing.

“Good call, Eric.”

“Yeah, good one.”

“Maybe you need new glasses.”

“These are new glasses.”

“Yeah…well…maybe you need newer ones.”

“Look!” Richard Zuckerman quietly pointed, smart enough to keep it to a whisper. “Right there!”

As we turned towards Richard’s mark, our jaws dropped—even Becker’s. Basking in the sun, covering a long chain of rocks and logs, we had hit the motherlode—an entire turtle clan, both big and small, way more than we had ever seen.

Overexcited, Eric Fox rocked the boat and shouted,

“Quick! Let’s get them!”

When in an instant,

“Bloop!!!”

Right before our eyes, the entire turtle community sprang from their perches and quickly plunged to safety beneath the lake’s surface.

We earnestly turned in unison to Becker, hoping he’d have some wisdom to impart that might make it all better.

He nonchalantly lit another cigarette and then turned to us, “Now that Eric has officially ruined our day, I say we eat lunch.”

He began rowing.

Minutes later, Becker pulled the boat onto land under the large bough of a tree and soberly addressed us,

“Had this been the Soviet Union, there’d be no lunch today. Know why? Cause you’d all be dead!” And with that, for dramatic effect, he flicked his lit cigarette butt into the lake. Mind you, this was back in the days when it was still thought that litter was good for the environment.

Floating lakeside, the sun peeking through the leaves onto our bright faces, we heartily ate our sandwiches as we discussed the day’s highlights.

“Man! I’ll bet no one’s ever seen that many turtles before.”

“Definitely! There were like hundreds of them.”

“Hundreds! I’d say more like a thousand.”

“I’d say a million.” Someone else chimed in.

“A billion.”

“A zillion!” The grandstanding continued.

Meanwhile, Becker just leaned back shaking his head and rolling his eyes, amused at our ignorance, all the while stealing snacks from our bags.

“A billion zillion!” the hyperbole went on.

“A billion, zillion, jillian.”

“An infinity of them!” Someone shouted to trump us all.

“An infinity of them? Please!” Becker disdainfully intervened. “The problem with you clowns is that half the time you don’t even know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“Like what?” I asked. “What don’t we know?”

“You don’t know squat.”

“I mean about infinity?”

“What about it?”

“What don’t we know?” I had heard the term mentioned several times before and was intrigued by its seemingly mammoth proportions but still wasn’t sure what it meant.

“What do you want to know?”

“What does it mean?” I asked.

“What do you think it means?” Becker threw the question back at me.

“It means a lot, right?”

“That’s it? Just a lot?”

“Well, a lot a lot.” This was the most I was willing to commit to regarding my understanding of the matter.

“Let’s try this. Why don’t you tell me what you think the biggest number is?”

“The biggest number ever?”

“Yep. The biggest number ever.”

”Ok.”

“So, whatcha got?”

I took a deep breath so as to be able to articulate my long numerical soliloquy,

“A million, billion, trillion, zillion, quatrillion, quazillion, quadrillion, majillion, mazillion, brazillion.”

“Brazilian?” Becker snickered. “Jesus Christ, you poor bastards are worse off than I thought.”

“That’s not it?” I asked in earnest.

“Not even close.”

Not even close? How was this possible?

“Nope.” Becker stood his ground. “Infinity’s bigger than that. Way bigger!”

“Way bigger?” I shook my head in disbelief. “All right. Let me try again.”

Taking an even deeper breath, I was determined to nail it this time.

“A billion, quatrillion, quazillion, trillion, zillion, quapillion, dillion, skillion, billion…”

“You already said billion!” someone called out. I guess you weren’t supposed to use the same number twice when naming the biggest number ever…I guess.

Running out of steam, I concluded my imaginary number, “…magillion, squillion, pillion, jillion, killion, vrillion, shmillion!”

These are the types of neologistic numbers that my peers and I somehow imagined represented the biggest of them all.

“Damn!” I thought, practically out of breath, “That has to be it.”

“Well?” I asked Becker, “How’s that?”

“Not even close!”

“What? How’s that possible?” I sighed in disappointment. “Then tell us already. What is it?”

“All right. Presume, for the moment that the number you just said was, in fact, the biggest number ever.”

“Yeah?”

“Couldn’t we add one to it?”

After contemplating this notion for a few moments, I felt I got it.

“So that’s the biggest number ever?” I asked. “The one I just said…plus one?”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Is it?”

“How could it be? After all, couldn’t we just add one to that number as well? Don’t you see? No matter how big a number is, you can always keep adding one more to it. Right? I mean, why stop? You can just keep on adding more and more ones, forever and ever which, in essence, means there really is no biggest number. That’s where infinity comes in. Infinity, ya see, isn’t so much an actual number as it is a concept, the concept of a number that has no end. It’s the number you keep adding ones to forever and ever and ever.”

With that, he raised his arm and pointed up to the sky above, “Just like the universe. It keeps on going forever and ever without end—all the way out towards infinity. Get it?”

With our heads turned upwards, squinting as we looked into the sunny sky, from the corner of my eye I could see Becker quickly shove a “ring ding” he had just purloined from Andy Blum’s lunchbox into his mouth. But more important than that was the concept of infinity. It was like a place that really didn’t exist so that everywhere else could.

As I tried to contemplate the utter vastness of this concept, I felt a sudden pang of anxiety. My heart skipped a beat, and a sense of dread coursed through me. I wanted to scream, but suppressed the urge so as not to seem crazy.

As if inevitable death wasn’t bad enough, I was now being told that, in the vast scheme of things, I was smaller than the smallest thing I could possibly imagine—infinitely insignificant…less than a speck on a dot on a mote.

“So if we look up at night, can we see it?” Andy asked.

“See what?” Becker replied.

“Infinity?”

“No, you dunce! How could you see infinity? How could you see out to forever?”

“Maybe it ends somewhere.” I optimistically interjected, hoping I might not be as small as I was beginning to feel.

“How can there be an end to the universe? What do you think: that if you go far enough, you’ll run into a brick wall or something?”

“Maybe.”

“Yeah? So then what’s on the other side of the brick wall?”

“More bricks?” I ventured a guess.

“Fine, and if that were true, where would the bricks on the other side of the brick wall end? You see? It can’t. That’s the whole point. The universe has no end. It’s simply not possible for it to have one.”

“Hey!” Andy cried out. “Who took my ring ding?”

 

Walking home alone along the broken asphalt path from which crab grass and dandelions sprang from the cracks, the notion that you can always keep adding one to something kept rolling around in my head. With this one concept, the horizons of my universe had just been extended from the finite to the infinite. As when I first comprehended the notion of death, once again, the scope of my reality had just undergone an irrevocable paradigm shift. As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “A mind once stretched by a new idea can never return to its original dimensions.” No doubt, the confines of my mind had just been irreversibly distended.

Life was so full of weird mysteries and uncanny conundrums. How many more of these enigmatic truths, I wondered, would be revealed to me in my lifetime? How many more earth-shattering, mind-blowing, reality-shifting epiphanies would I have to experience before my existence would begin to make any sense? Would new questions continue to emerge or would there eventually be some all-consuming, life affirming resolution to it all?

As I blew the winged seeds of a dandelion and watched them dance in the wind, I realized how little I knew of anything at all.

TOP


 
THIRTEEN
THE THING-IN-ITSELF
 

It was a typical Friday afternoon. I was on my way to David’s for another weekend of board games, stickball, throwing water balloons off his balcony and, of course, drinking, smoking pot and playing apothecary with his dad’s stash of pills.

But David had other ideas for this weekend. When we spoke on the phone the night before, he informed me there was to be a slight change of plans.

“After school tomorrow, don’t come straight to my place.”

“No?”

“No. Instead meet me at the entrance of the Stillwell Avenue station at around four.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“You’ll see.”

“Just tell me.”

“It’s a surprise, ok? Just meet me there.”

“Are we going on the rides? Cause I’m going to have all my shit with me.”

“This isn’t twenty questions, mother fucker. Just be there.”

“All right, all right. I’ll see you then.”

 

The “D” train screeched into the station. I headed down the stairs where I could see David leaning against a wall reading Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” He had been going on all week about how brilliant it was, but the idea of someone waking up as a giant cockroach—allegorical or otherwise—just seemed silly to me. Admittedly, David was the more literate between us. At the time, I was mostly just reading non-fiction—mainly science and philosophy.

“So, what’s the big surprise?”

“You’ll see. You have eight dollars?”

“I do. Why? Are we picking up weed?”

“I told you I’d pull it off.”

“Pull what off?”

“Follow me, and all will be revealed.”

We walked through the amusement park, past the Cyclone and Ferris wheel and up the ramp to the boardwalk. It was a chilly winter’s day, made all the more brisk on the windswept boardwalk.

“This is it. Ruby’s bar. This is where we’re meeting.”

“Meeting who?”

“Ray-Ray.”

“What’s a Ray-Ray?”

“Ray-Ray’s the dude who’s scoring us two hits of window pane.”

“What’s window pane?”

“It’s a form of LSD.”

“LSD? As in LSD LSD?”

“As in there is no other.”

“Wow! How’d you manage this?”

“The same security guard at my school who gets us our weed hooked me up with him. He said he’s one of the only people around who can score real LSD.”

“Do you know where he gets it?”

“Supposedly he has some contact in California, but who knows. Personally, I don’t care if he makes it in his bathtub as long as its good, and, from what I hear, it’s supposed to be amazing.”

“Well, it can’t be worse than the deaf-mute cards.”

“No, it could not.” We chuckled as the deaf-mute card incident was always good for a hearty reminiscent chuckle.

Before David had made a reliable pot contact at his high school, we would generally take the subway into Manhattan and head over to Washington Square Park to buy our weed. All we needed was to loiter there for a few seconds before we’d be solicited by several dealers.

The first time we decided to try LSD, we thought to try our old stand-by, Washington Square Park, to see if we could find anyone selling it there. After asking around, we were escorted to a scraggly older dude who claimed he once tripped with Jim Morrison and that he had tabs of LSD for sale. He told us he had a kind called “blotter,” which meant it came in the form of a small paper square, often the size of a postage stamp, onto which a pinhead’s worth of liquid LSD was dripped. Usually there was some iconic image on the blotter such as Superman or Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice. He was asking five dollars per hit. After giving him our combined ten dollars, he pulled out this little plastic baggie full of eighth of an inch paper squares.

He smiled as he placed two tabs of blotter onto my open palm before disappearing back into the shadows. On closer inspection, the two tabs were tiny little squares of cream-colored paper. One had the image of a hand with the index and middle finger raised in a “peace sign.” The other tab was a similar graphic but displayed a hand with the index and middle finger twisted around one another the way one might keep their fingers crossed for “good luck.”

“Cool! Which do you want?” I asked. “Peace or luck?”

David took “peace” leaving me with “luck.” Hours later, after having swallowed our blotter hits, we found ourselves riding the subway back home to Brooklyn as sober as we were on the ride in. In other words, the alleged blotter turned out to be a bust.

“Maybe it was just weak stuff.” I offered. “Maybe we should have bought two tabs each?”

“I don’t think so. I think it was all bullshit. Give me a break! That guy’s tripped with Jim Morrison as many times as I’ve had sex with Farah Fawcett.”

Our doubts about the blotter hits were confirmed a few weeks later when, again while riding the subway together, a woman who was panhandling worked her way down our subway car handing out small business-sized cards. On one side of the card, the recipient was instructed that the person handing out the cards was a deaf-mute and that any donation would be greatly appreciated. On the other side of the card was the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet—the hand signs for each letter. After she finished distributing the cards to accepting passengers, the woman turned around and began collecting them back. The deal was, as it was written on the card, if you gave a donation, you were allowed to keep it. Wanting to keep ours so that we could teach ourselves to sign various curse words, we gave her a handful of loose change. Just as we were in the midst of trying to figure out how to sign “f-u-c-k,” our jaws simultaneously dropped.

“No fucking way!” We gasped.

Not only was the card the exact same texture and cream color as the alleged LSD blotter hits we had purchased a few weeks earlier, but the hand sign images were identical. Within moments, we realized that the “luck” I had ingested was the letter “r,” while David’s “peace” sign was the letter “v.”

“Mother fucker must be cutting up these deaf-mute cards and selling the letters as blotter hits. Son of a bitch!”

And though we tried to glean some sort of redemptive wisdom from the experience, we couldn’t for the lives of us come up with anything more profound than that one shouldn’t eat deaf-mute cards.

“You have your eight dollars? I want to have everything ready for Ray-Ray when he arrives.”

“Sure.” I opened my wallet and handed David my share. “So have you met this guy?”

“Nope. My security guard set the whole thing up for us.”

“So what exactly is this window pane you were talking about?”

“It’s just another form of LSD. Supposedly, it’s a tiny little gelatin square that melts in your mouth, but it’s known to be one of the purest and most potent varieties.”

I tucked my hands into my pockets to protect them from the bitter cold as we both looked up and down the boardwalk for this Ray-Ray person to arrive.

“You know Jimi Hendrix used to douse his bandana in liquid LSD before doing a show,” David shared. “Then when he would sweat, the acid would drip down his brow and seep into his pores. Supposedly, he would trip like that for days at a time.”

“Sounds a bit extreme.”

“That was Hendrix—extreme!”

“Damn, it’s cold. You sure we’re in the right place?”

“He said to meet in front of Ruby’s bar which is that run down place right there, so I suppose so.”

“Ya know what he looks like?”

“No idea.”

At that moment, a tall, skinny guy, probably in his forties walked onto the boardwalk from the entrance ramp. He was wearing jeans, a denim jacket, navy blue converse sneakers, a thick black and white striped knit scarf wrapped around his neck and a “NY Giants” cap covering a head full of wild and frizzy salt and pepper hair. He was puffing on a cigarette when his eyes met ours. He beamed us a smile and immediately made his way over to us with his long, wiry hand extended out to greet us.

“David, right?”

“Hey, you must be Ray-Ray.”

“You know it.” He enthusiastically shook David’s hand.

“I’m Matthew.”

“A pleasure.” He now shook mine.

“Sorry I’m a little late, especially in this God forsaken cold, but, hey, you know how that goes. Anyway, with the shit I got for you boys, I assure you it was worth the wait.”

“It’s good, eh?” David asked.

“Good?” He sniggered.

He looked about the area and on spotting a small circular plastic table in front one of the boardwalk’s souvenir shops, he beckoned us to follow.

“Come.” Ray-Ray summoned us as we followed him to the table. “Step into my office.”

The three of us sat down around the white plastic table with its grainy surface that held the dirt of a thousand patrons. From the table’s center rose a faded orange folding umbrella that was down for the winter, an inflatable pink flamingo tied to its top, blowing frantically in the wind. Ray-Ray lit another cigarette, rubbed his cold hands together and got straight to it.

“Before we go any further, what do you say we get the business part of this out of the way?”

“Sure.” David answered as he pulled a disheveled stack of bills from his pocket.

Ray-Ray looked nervously about,

“Discrete, man! Discrete!” He said to David in a hushed voice as he put his hands under the table gesturing for David to do the same.

As David reached under the table and handed Ray-Ray the money, Ray-Ray adeptly slipped David a small brown paper bag.

Ray-Ray leaned back and peered down under the table to count the bills.

“Yup, yup. Looks like we’re all good here.” He grinned as he stuffed the money into his pant’s pocket.

“From what I understand, this’ll be a first for you two. Is that right?”

We nodded in unison.

“Ok, but you do realize this is some heavy duty shit, yeah? I mean, do you have any idea what you’re getting yourselves into?”

“Well,” David took the initiative. “I’ve been reading Huxley’s ‘Doors of Perception’ as well as some of Carlos Casteneda’s stuff.”

“Also,” I thought I should add my two cents, “we have this book called ‘Recreational Drugs’ which gives a pretty good description of every drug out there. Everything from its history to its chemical make-up to, you know, its effects and whatnot.” I feebly interjected.

“Alright. Let’s put the kibosh on this right here.” Ray-Ray interrupted. “No disrespect or anything, but the two of you sharing your thoughts on what you imagine an LSD trip might be is tantamount to having virgins describe the sex act to me. You know what I’m saying?”

“So then can you tell us what to expect?” I asked.

“First off, whatever you’ve read on the subject, whatever preconceptions you might have, erase that shit right now. Really. Just wipe it clear from your heads. If you go into this with any expectations whatsoever, trust me; it’ll just block you from having a genuine experience. You just have to let the acid take you where it takes you. Hell, I’ve done this stuff well over a hundred times, and I still have no idea what to expect with each trip.”

“So, in other words, there’s really nothing you can tell us.” David quipped.

“That’s not what I’m saying either. Granted, describing an acid trip is as elusive as bagging a snark, but there seem to be a few universals that hold true for most experiences.”

“Such as?” David asked.

“What’s a snark?” I followed.

“It’s a Lewis Carroll thing. Not important. Anyway, let’s see. How should I explain this?”

Ray-Ray pondered for a moment and then peered down at the ground as if he was looking for something. Within seconds, he leaned down and picked up a small seashell that was at his feet and placed it on the table before us.

“Ok. How many shells would you say I just put down on the table?”

David gave him a look. “You serious?”

“You betcha.”

“Uh, one?” David retorted.

Ray-Ray now turned to me.

“You agree?”

“I’m sure there’s some kind of catch here, but since I don’t know what it is, I’ll go with one as well.”

“As to be expected.” Ray-Ray replied.

“Because it’s the right answer?” David asked.

“To the inexperienced eye perhaps.”

“And to the experienced eye?” I asked.

“To the experienced eye, there are exactly four shells on the table.”

“Four?”

“That’s right. Four. Four distinct shells sitting right there on the table in front of us. Would you like me to name them for you?”

“Sure, let’s hear it.” David urged him on.

Ray-Ray reached out and, looking directly at us, tapped gently down on the seashell as he exclaimed,

“There’s shell ‘a’.”

He now tapped down on it a second time,

“There’s shell ‘b’.”

He repeated the gesture yet again,

“There’s shell ‘c’.”

And then, one last time,

“And, most interesting of all, there’s shell ‘d’.”

With that, he beamed us a big smile.

David and I exchanged puzzled glances.

“You do realize we haven’t taken the acid yet?” David facetiously asked.

“Cute, but let me explain. There’s shell ‘a,’ otherwise known as the shell according to you.” He pointed to David.

“Then there’s shell ‘b,’ otherwise known as the shell according to you.” He now pointed to me.

“And, of course, there’s shell ‘c,’ the shell according to me. Ya follow?”

We furled our brows expressing uncertainty.

“You two are as green as freshly picked cannabis. Let me ask you something. You both study science in school, right?”

“Sure.” We answered.

“Then you’re aware of the fact that every person perceives reality through their own unique filter. Right?”

“How is that science?” David asked.

“Because the physical make-up of my eyes—you know, my retina, the rods and cones and such—is slightly different than either of yours, means that my version of the color red, for instance, is slightly different—even if just by a few wavelengths—than either of yours. Now that’s not my opinion. That’s science 101. Basic ophthalmology.” He paused. “Or would that be optics? Anyway, that’s true for all the senses. On some small, imperceptible level, each of us sees the world differently, hears it differently, smells it differently, tastes it differently, and so on and so forth. Consequently, each person perceives reality from a slightly different perspective than everybody else. In other words, we each experience our own unique interpretation of reality. Ya with me?”

We both warily nodded in the affirmative.

“Excellent. So now add to that the fact that each of us lives a unique set of life experiences. Whereas one person’s raised a Rockefeller, another’s brought up in the ghetto; one’s raised by loving parents, another to total nut jobs, and so on and so forth. Undeniably, life experience, once again, plays a crucial role in how we perceive reality. Agreed?”

David and I again both nodded in the affirmative.

“Ok, so given the fact that we’re all wired so differently on top of the fact that we’re all shaped by life experience so differently means that each one of us inevitably interprets reality from his or her own unique perspective.”

“Sounds reasonable.” We both concurred.

“Ok, well the same holds true for this seashell right here. Even though we share similar enough sense organs as well as life experiences that we can all agree on the basic fact that this is, indeed, a seashell, on a much subtler level, each of us perceives this same shell through his own unique filter, which is why, while you,” he pointed to David, “experience shell ‘a,’ and you,” he pointed to me, “experience shell ‘b,’ I experience shell ‘c.’ You get it? Whenever we perceive something, we can’t help but to project our own personal slant onto it. That is, we subjectify it, thus turning the shell into our shell, which is why the-shell-according-to-you is different from the-shell-according-to-you which is different from the-shell-according-to-me. Starting to make sense?”

“Ok, but you said there were four shells on the table. Whose shell is shell ‘d’?” I asked sensing there had to be some sort of punch line here, some method to his madness.

“Ah hah! I was just about to get to that. Shell ‘d,’ you see, is the shell that exists independent of any of our perceptions of it. It’s what the German philosopher Immanuel Kant called ‘the thing-in-itself,’ or in this case ‘the-shell-in-itself.’ It is the pure, objective shell that exists independent of and untainted by our subjective impressions of it. Being that it’s impossible for us to escape our own subjective realities, the world of ‘things-in-themselves’ is inaccessible to us. It’s beyond our mental reach and therefore something we can never know or experience.”

He paused and smiled.

“Never, that is, until you drop those hits of acid you’ve got sitting in that paper bag. Those tabs will free you from the confines of your limited subjective realms and allow you your first glimpse into the much grander world of ‘things-in-themselves.’ In other words, brace yourselves, boys, cause you’re about to experience shell ‘d.’ And once you’ve gazed upon it, I promise you: shells ‘a’ and ‘b’ will never be the same again.”

Ray-Ray stood up from the table.

“And on that note, here’s wishing you happy trails wherever they may lead you.”

With that, he tipped his sports cap to us, turned and walked back down the boardwalk’s ramp out of sight.

David turned to me. “What do you make of that?”

“I’d say he’s either really smart, insane or some combination of the two.”

David held out the brown paper bag and shook it,

“I guess we’re about to find out.”

We stood up and headed back to David’s, but not before I quickly snatched shells ‘a,’ ‘b,’ and ‘c’ off the table and stuck it/them in my pocket as a souvenir…with the hope that before the night was through, I might catch a glimpse of the elusive shell ‘d.’

TOP


Click here to read as Word file: SAMPLE CHAPTERS