Wednesday 28 June 2023

How Has 1973 Been for You? by Barry Garelick, espresso con panna

 Something new to talk to Dr. Shapiro about: A few days after Nixon ordered the troops home from Viet Nam, Daniel met Bonita at a neighborhood café. Bonita sat at a table with a black man, both in their twenties. She wore lipstick and eye make-up, blue jeans, a thick sweater and an overcoat. He wore horn rimmed glasses and a long, thick, woolen U.S. Air Force overcoat. Daniel was wearing a Marine jacket.


            ‘Beautiful overcoat,’ Daniel said, as he passed by their table.


            ‘Nice jacket,’ said the man in return. ‘Where'd you get it?’


            ‘Salvation Army.’


            Daniel's Marine jacket frequently generated questions from the people he worked with regarding when he had served. He hadn’t served and he was finding out that military garb was not quite the hip fashion statement it was when he was in school, now two years ago.


            ‘What do you expect people to think when they see a Marine jacket?’ Dr. Shapiro had asked at Daniel's last session. Daniel had become indignant. But now Daniel had proof that Dr. Shapiro was wrong, and not up on current style and culture. It was still hip to wear military clothes – at least among certain people.


            Bonita shared an apartment with the black man, Larry. Both were art majors at San Francisco City College and unlike most of the people at the café, and most art majors, they were both outgoing. This was pleasant for Daniel who found that his out-of-school contemporaries kept to themselves. He had mentioned those ‘certain people’—his out-of-school contemporaries—to Dr. Shapiro at a few of their sessions.


        As he had explained on several occasions to Dr. Shapiro, Daniel disliked the taciturn crowd who hung out at cafés and for whom the reading material was usually The Diary of Anais Nin—at least for women. And as was usual when Daniel complained about this, Dr. Shapiro did not respond.


         Whether Bonita and Larry were just roommates or lovers was something Daniel could not tell. But when Larry left to meet with someone about buying a car, Bonita didn't seem uncomfortable to be sitting with Daniel. ‘Have a seat,’ she said.


         Daniel saw the corner of a book poking through a nest of lipstick stained tissues in Bonita's purse which rested between them like a centerpiece on the small white table.


         ‘You reading The Diary of Anais Nin?’ She smiled as if he had asked if she slept in the nude. ‘No, why?’


        ‘Just practicing being perceptive, and failed. I saw a book in your purse and assumed that's what it was.’


        ‘Nope,’ she said, dragging out Carlos Castaneda’s latest book, Journey to Ixtlan.


                 ‘Castaneda’s absolutely amazing,’ Daniel said.


     ‘He's definitely onto something,’ she said. ‘He's plugged into all these archetypes and myths of the world.’


            Bonita took a sip of coffee. ‘I like how drugs allow you to see the world in different ways’ she said. ‘Or maybe as it really is.’ This was looking promising: A woman who drank black coffee and was open about liking drugs at first meeting, and didn’t look upon conversation initiated by men in cafés as a sexual affront.


            ‘I used to wonder,’ Daniel said, ‘and now after reading Castaneda I wonder even more, if everyone doesn't go around seeing and hearing their own version of the world. It just appears that everyone agrees we are all seeing and hearing the same things.’


            Bonita looked puzzled. ‘That makes no sense,’ she said. She ran her hand through her hair and leaned forward. Her throat bore the remains of a slight scar. He imagined kissing her throat where the scar was.


            ‘It's like how do we really know that what we're both looking at now is a cup of coffee?’ Daniel said. ‘You may be seeing a little tarantula and you assume I see the same thing, and I assume you see a cup of coffee. We each are experiencing something different. But we think we’re seeing the same thing.’


            ‘That's the most bizarre thing I've ever heard,’ she said. He was about to go on, but his theory was getting beyond him, so he stopped. She opened her purse and showed him a joint. ‘Do you want to come up to my apartment and smoke some devil's weed?’ she asked.



Bonita's apartment was a block away, at a busy corner on Fillmore Street. It was in an old brick building with a marble-floored lobby and an old fashioned elevator  cage. Bonita had turned the one bedroom apartment into two by using the living room as her bedroom. The living room adjoined the kitchen where they now both sat. She inhaled deeply on the joint and passed it to Daniel.


            ‘What kind of work do you do?’ she asked.


            ‘Technical writer. At an engineering firm.’


            ‘You don't seem the technical writer type,’ she said.


            ‘I'm not. It's just a job.’


            ‘A lot of people I know say that. What do you want to do?’


            ‘Be an actor, I guess. I did some acting in college and I liked it.’


            ‘So you're a drama major?’




            ‘How'd you end up interested in acting?’


            He shrugged. ‘By the time I figured out that I liked acting more than physics it was too late, so I completed my major in physics.’


            His last words about physics rang in his ears as if it were the lyrics to a strange song. Their conversation became detached in a pleasant sort of way. He felt he could talk about anything, and so he found himself talking about recently giving blood as part of a drive they had at work.


            ‘I’ve never given blood,’ she said.


            ‘Not my favorite thing to do,’ he said. ‘I'm not fond of lying on my back looking at a mobile of Babar elephants. I don't like having holes poked in my veins.’


            A brief silence followed that he felt compelled to fill. ‘I'm afraid of holes,’ he added.


            She leaned forward, elbows on the table and head in her hands. ‘You're afraid of holes?’ she said and smiled.



‘I never should have said I was afraid of holes,’ he said at his next session with Dr. Shapiro. ‘It's like admitting that I was afraid of her.’


            ‘I don't know,’ Dr. Shapiro said, in a rare instance of disclosure. ‘She was probably tickled pink that you were interested in her vagina.’


            ‘How do you get that?’


            Dr. Shapiro hid a smile behind his hand.


            ‘I don't see that I said I was interested in her vagina. If anything, I was admitting I was afraid of it. I may as well have said ‘women frighten me’.’


            ‘Did she act like she thought you were afraid of her?’




            ‘What happened after that?’


            ‘We talked, I guess. We were getting pretty stoned. We ended up talking about the early Mad Magazines. You know, when it was a comic book?’ Daniel assumed that Dr. Shapiro was as familiar with the early Mads as he was with vaginal imagery.


            ‘She left the room to look for this old Mad paperback she had, and while she was gone I got a good look at this poster that she had hanging over the kitchen table. It was a girl who was topless, wearing blue jeans, with her hand underneath in the crotch area – a tough girl expression on her face.’


          ‘That would be intimidating,’ Dr. Shapiro said. 

            Daniel was silent.

          ‘What are you thinking?’ Dr. Shapiro asked.


            ‘I guess it was. Intimidating, I mean. I left shortly after, kind of angry that I didn't at least try to go to bed with her.’


            ‘Most women don't like to have sex right away,’ Dr. Shapiro said. They were both silent, and then Dr. Shapiro said it was time to go. Mental note to himself about next session: Begin with the artwork in Bonita's bedroom--a watercolor of a face with a white mime mask, eyes brimmed with tears running down each cheek in a very straight line. ‘I did that after I saw the movie Performance,’ she had told him when he looked at it.



He had visited her a few more times after that. They would get stoned, talk about Castaneda, or Jung and archetypes. Her roommate Larry was never there and though the possibility for sex would present itself, he would feel he had to leave.


            On one visit he told her about a dream he had about a spider. A bicycle wheel rotated in the middle of a swimming pool and there, in the hub of the wheel was a very large bright, orange spider. He couldn’t move, and remained staring at it, at first frightened and then finding it beautiful.


            ‘I'm very excited about this dream,’ he said. ‘I think it’s an archetype.’


            ‘It's a great dream,’ Bonita said. ‘I wish I could have a dream like that.’


            They sat once more sharing a joint in the kitchen, the poster of the topless woman looming over them. ‘I have dreams sometimes where I'm crying,’ Bonita said. ‘It's such a deep type of crying, from way inside me, the deepest crying I've ever done. I've never felt such sadness in real life; I only feel it in dreams.’


            The conversation moved to drugs and Bonita told Daniel about a Quaalude party that her friends at school were having at the end of the week.


            ‘I don't know,’ he said. ‘I've never done Quaaludes.’


            ‘They're nice. Not as good as methadone, but pretty good.’


            ‘Methadone? Were you addicted to heroin?’


            ‘No; I did it once with some guy. It's a lot stronger than heroin, you know. They get you off heroin by hooking you on methadone, then getting you off that, gradually. You get so relaxed you have to remind yourself to breathe.’


            She stretched her arms out in front of her, like a cat and then pointed her finger at him. ‘Stay right there,’ she said. ‘Don't go away.’ She ran into her room and emerged with a basketball, which she bounced on the floor, the hollow, ringing sound filling the room. ‘Whattya say?’ she said. ‘Wanna play?’


            A few minutes later they were at a multi-level park which Bonita called the ‘ziggurat’. At the top level were tennis courts and a small basketball area in which they played one-on-one. Either Bonita was good, or Daniel was bad; it was hard for him to tell. Afterward, they sat on a bench, a mercury vapor lamp behind them turning their faces pale and their lips purple.


            ‘I used to play basketball with my brother's friends,’ Bonita said.


            ‘That's the problem, then. My brother didn't play basketball, so I didn't get to play with his friends.’


            This tickled Bonita and she laughed – a whole-hearted laugh that shed all pose. She hugged her ribs as she laughed and at the end said ‘That's wonderful’ to no one in particular.


            They sat with the basketball between them. A breeze came up, blowing the powerful smell of magnolias toward them. ‘What a fragrance,’ Bonita said. Her lips had the same look of a girl Daniel knew at school when the opportunity had come to kiss her. He let the opportunity with Bonita pass, however, and he walked Bonita home.



           ‘Why didn't you kiss her?’ Dr. Shapiro asked at their next session.


            ‘I don't know.’ He looked at the Miro poster behind Dr. Shapiro. When the silence became unbearable, Daniel started speaking. ‘I’m afraid that if I get involved I’ll get clingy and possessive.’


            ‘Why do you think you’ll be possessive?’


            ‘It’s happened before,’ he said. Daniel said nothing more, and the two of them were quiet.


            ‘She might be getting tired of you not making a move.’


            ‘What do you mean?’


            Dr. Shapiro responded with his usual silence, and then announced that they were out of time. ‘Let’s talk about your fear of possessiveness next time. In the meantime, I don't recommend you go to any Quaalude parties.’


            A few days later Daniel called Bonita and asked if he could come by. ‘Yeah, OK,’ she said, in a spacy voice.


            Across from her apartment, a young man who Daniel had seen on previous visits, staggered in the alley behind the donut shop on the corner. He saw Daniel and nodded toward him as if the two were old friends. According to Bonita, the young man was a junkie. She had talked to him once in the donut shop. ‘He was kind of a creep,’ she had said. ‘I went there a few weeks later, and he was there. He sees me and asks ‘How come you don't come by here anymore?’ ’


            At Bonita’s apartment, he knocked on the door; receiving no response, he walked in. All the lights were on in the apartment; he could see into Bonita's bedroom where she was sprawled on the bed.    

         ‘Hey, Daniel, how're ya doin'?’ she said when he walked into the room.


          ‘You all right?’ he asked.


            ‘Yeah, I'm OK,’ she mumbled.


            ‘What are you on?’


            ‘I'm all right.’


            He knelt beside her bed. ‘So, Daniel,’ she said. She tried to point a finger in his direction, but could barely lift her arm. ‘How has 1973 been for you; does it look like a good year?’


            She seemed to be focusing on a faraway object; her eyelids became heavy, then closed, and her breathing became deep and regular. He bent over her and looked at each of her arms to see if there were any tracks, as if it were something his parents might have taught him. He saw no evidence of needle marks and decided she was probably on Quaaludes. Perhaps tonight was the night of the Quaalude party she had talked about.


            Daniel walked over to the window. The street was empty except for the young man stationed at the donut shop, now looking up at Bonita's window. The two saw each other, but neither acknowledged each other's stare. The young man knew where Bonita's apartment was. He probably stared at her window every night, Daniel thought.


            He looked at Bonita once more before pulling down the window shade, turning off the light in her bedroom, and leaving the apartment.



All the next day he thought about Bonita, how she might possibly have died from a drug overdose. He called her number several times but there was no answer until in the early evening Larry answered and said that Bonita was out. ‘I'll call back,’ Daniel said and realized that this was the first time Larry had ever been home when he called.


            He wouldn’t see Dr. Shapiro again until the end of the week. He took the next two days off, calling in sick each day. On the first day, he went to City College; San Francisco State the next. Both days he wandered around the campuses, the thought of going back to school crossing his mind.


            He thought about Bonita's strange question about 1973, wondering what meaning her question could possibly have had. It made little sense given that it was still only February. In fact, he didn’t think it was going all that well. He was having doubts about the philosophy that what you wanted to do in life was what mattered. Not everyone was an artist; not everyone was a genius even though it seemed that most of the people his age were one or the other.


            Calling in sick for one day almost always was a sign of playing hooky; two days in a row made it seem legitimate. His boss asked him how he was feeling when he came back, and others seemed concerned as well. He told them he was fine and went about his work without saying very much to anyone.


            At the end of the day, he took the bus to Mt. Zion Hospital where Dr. Shapiro was a resident psychiatrist. Daniel was silent for five minutes and then began talking about his last visit to Bonita's apartment, her lying on the bed, how he thought she had died, his visits to the schools, and then was silent. After several minutes Daniel spoke again. ‘I think it's hopeless to get anything going with Bonita.’


            Dr. Shapiro again said nothing, and Daniel was sure that he would eventually ask what Daniel was thinking about. Instead, he surprised Daniel by talking. ‘I think you've been assessing what you want to do,’ he said. ‘Perhaps visiting those schools was a way to revisit what you've left and where you want to go,’ Dr. Shapiro continued. ‘The fact that you thought Bonita was dead might even point to you making a break with your past.’


            This assessment seemed mundane and obvious; the mark of a resident trying to be the real thing, Daniel thought. He had expressed those thoughts to him in the past, but Daniel decided to keep those thoughts to himself this time, instead savoring the rare occasion of a pronouncement. This must be the reward for being honest, for question­ing his life, for avoiding people who did drugs, for conforming to the norm. Dr. Shapiro wasn't like Castaneda’s guru Don Juan, but this was the best Daniel could do.


            ‘I'm sure this is very painful,’ Dr. Shapiro said. Daniel knew this to be true and felt like crying. More words followed, all of them obvious, including ‘plenty of other fish in the sea’. He could have gotten such advice from his father, for God's sake. But he could see that Dr. Shapiro meant well.


            There was still much ground to cover, Daniel knew. His difficulty adjusting to life outside of school, why he felt sexually insecure, why he felt like he didn't fit in. And of course, the inevitable confrontation about the seriousness of his half-hearted pursuit of an acting career was bound to come up soon. But not too soon. Maybe in a year. Or maybe never. There was time.


About the author


Barry Garelick has written non-fiction pieces that have been published in Atlantic, and Education Next. His fiction has appeared in The Globe Review, Cafe Lit and Fiction on the Web. He lives in Morro Bay, California with his wife. 


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