By: Mike Sharlow
The house on 27th Street was nicknamed “The Baggy” which was ironically appropriate. Large areas of the asphalt siding were gone, compromised with age and torn off from wind. The boards underneath, the original siding from when the house was first built, were drafty. Steve, one of my roommates, was a science guy, and could put his talents to practical use. He could fix or figure out just about anything he put his mind to. He was about five-ten and lean. His forearms were thick and strong like Popeye’s from torqueing tools. He parted his shoulder length brown hair in the middle. He was of the only one of us who could grow a full beard, so he did, and he kind of looked like the picture one of those Caucasian versions of Jesus.
Steve could have put new siding on the house, but the landlord did not want to spend money on the materials. Instead he bought us a big roll of clear plastic sheeting. Steve got on a ladder and stapled the plastic over the large missing sections of siding on the house. The house was almost entirely wrapped in plastic. We sold bags of pot out of the house, so ergo the nickname, “The Baggy.”
It was an old farmhouse on the edge of town where all the farmland had been turned into subdivisions at least fifty years ago. It was two stories with two bedrooms upstairs. Outside the upstairs bedrooms there was an open area, probably used for storage in the past. Maury and his brother Devin had those spaces, separated by blankets.
There were five of us who lived in the Baggy. Don Madison and I got the bedrooms. I didn’t know how that happened. Don and I were the only ones who didn’t have girlfriends, and we had the most privacy.
The living room downstairs was split in half with a blanket and Steve had his bedroom there. He had the smallest space for a bedroom. There was only enough room for his twin bed, his dresser, and about a three-foot area in front of the bed.
As I walked up to the house, I knew we had a party. There was a line of cars parked along the road. Our house was a busy place. People came and went, as five pounds of pot we bought regularly left the house in bags as small as a quarter ounce and as large as an ounce. People came over just to hang out, get high, and socialize. Some parties were planned, but most happened organically. People dropped by after work and brought a six pack. Sometimes we bought a quarter barrel and charged two bucks a head to drink.
I walked into the house from the December cold, and my glasses instantly fogged up. We had a packed house filled with cigarette and pot smoke as wall to wall voices competed with the Scorpions on the stereo in the living room. The door led to the kitchen which had four people in it, two guys and two girls, all it could comfortably accommodate. Each had a can of beer.
“Hey, Mick, wanna a beer,” someone asked.
“Not right now. Thanks man.” I had been at school camped out in the student union reading Coleridge for my English Lit class. I wasn’t ready for a beer, but a couple hits of weed would be good. I went to the living room where Maury, Steve, and Don were passing around Maury’s big blue bong. It was transparent plastic and stood about three feet tall. They had packed it with ice to give cool mellow hits of the Columbian Gold we were presently selling. The five of us who lived in the house split the profits from the pot we sold, but it was Maury who had the connection. The rest of us didn’t know where the five pounds of pot came from that we moved through the house every couple of weeks. Most of the sales came via Maury. He really didn’t have to share the profits, but we all shared risk if the house got busted.
“Hey Mick!” Maury called out. He was the proverbial life of the party. He stood five-nine, a little heavy. His hair was long, thick, dark, and curly. He looked like a rock star, kind of like Ritchie Blackmore. He was also the reason everyone was here. Wherever Maury went or lived, the parties followed. He loved to have people around him, and people loved to be with him. If the Baggy was the Animal House, Maury was Bluto, John Belushi. Maury’s smartass comments and pranks were insightful, insulting, and sometimes abusive. They were also hilarious, unless they were directed at you.
There was a guy who always got shitfaced incoherently slobbering falling over drunk at our parties. His name was Kenny, and he was a friend of Maury’s from tech school. He would stumble around bothering everyone, until he would eventually pass out. Maury and a couple of other guys would strip him naked and chain him to the doghouse in our backyard. We didn’t have a dog, so he didn’t have any company or anything to keep him warm. He usually woke up at about four in the morning, unchained himself, and banged on our door. I wondered what the neighbors thought when they looked out a window and saw a naked, shivering, scrawny, young man screaming for Maury to let him in, but they never called the police. Maury and the other guys never did this to Kenny in the winter. He would have frozen to death. Instead they would strip him naked and duct tape him to a chair and put him in a closet.
I squeezed in next to Maury on the couch. Steve passed me the big blue bong. The bong was so big, it was difficult to light it and take a hit from it at the same time. Maury fired it up for me. The hit expanded in my lungs, and I coughed out the smoke, at the same time feeling the high creep over my head.
A joint came floating my way, passed from Aaron, a guy who spent a lot of time at the house. He was a skinny drug dealer with straight dark hair and a scruffy long beard. We got into a conversation about the upcoming Martian Chronicles miniseries airing this January. Aaron knew I was a reader, and he assumed that I had read Bradbury’s book. I hadn’t. I did read The Illustrated Man though. While we were talking, his girlfriend-Bunky walked up. She had just arrived in from the cold winter night.
“Bunky, stand by the wood stove and warm up,” Aaron told her.
The wood stove was our primary source of heat in the house.
Maury’s girlfriend, Lisa complimented Bunky on her winter coat. “That’s so cute. And it looks so warm.”
“Aaron gave it to me for Christmas,” Bunky said and smiled. She had a plain face, big teeth, blonde hair, and a petite figure. She didn’t drink alcohol but loved to smoke pot.
Her coat was long and gray. It was difficult to tell from what kind of material it was made, but it became apparent rather quickly. She stood about a foot in front of the blazing stove and rubbed her cold hands. In seconds the coat began to sizzle, pop, and shrivel like a plastic baggy in a fire.
“Bunky! Your coat!” Lisa yelled.
Bunky looked down to see the melting of her new winter coat. Her eyes got big and she jumped back, but not before the bottom front of her coat had been scorched. Tears welled and she looked at Aaron like it was somehow his fault and then ran out of the house.
“Why do you have to have that wood stove so fucking hot!” Aaron yelled at nobody in particular, then ran after Bunky.
Those of us who had just witnessed the event, which appeared somewhat like a science experiment, tried not to laugh. Then Don said, “What the fuck was that?” like he wasn’t sure whether he just had had a hallucination.
Maury blurted out laughing and the rest of us followed.
“Maury!” Lisa scolded. “That was her brand-new Christmas present!”
“It’s made out of a synthetic polymer!” Steve yelled, as he was laughing.
Lisa gave him a puzzled look and struck a pose with her hands on her big hips.
“It’s made out of shitty polyester. It’s plastic. That’s why it melted,” Steve said.
“We probably won’t be seeing them for a while,” Maury said and shrugged.
As the night wore on, the house was warmed by wall to wall people, and the wood stove was allowed to burn out. In various corners of the house there were pockets of people talking and drinking. I was sitting in the living room passing a joint among a few other people. I decided not to drink tonight. After Aaron and Bunky left, both nondrinkers, I think I was probably the only one not drinking.
The mood of the house was festive, until I heard Maury say to Don, “Hey, Madstone Madman!” and slapped him on the back.
“What’s your bag, Maury?” Don was offended by the nickname. To Don the nickname insinuated that he was crazy. He was tall, thin, and slightly gaunt. His hair was like a brillo pad parted on this side. When he dragged a brush threw it, it sounded like potatoes getting shredded on a grater. He wore big wire rimmed glasses and had mutton chop sideburns. Don didn’t smile or laugh very often. He had issues. We all had issues, but there was something about Don that was scary and kind of creepy. He had a thick illustrated oversized book which was apparently the United States Government’s report on pornography. It looked official with the government seal on the cover. The book was primarily colored photos of sexual acts deemed deviant. Most of them were explicit photos of people engaged in explicit sexual acts. But then there were the disturbing ones of pedophilia and bestiality, and I wondered if this was the reason Don had the book. I wondered how he got his hands on it. All the other photos of fucking, sucking, fingering, and jacking off could have been found in any number of magazines at the porno shop downtown.
“Just joking around, Madman,” Maury laughed.
“Why are you always giving everybody shit, man? What’s your bag, man?” At this point Maury had walked away, but Don followed. But Don was right. Maury was usually giving someone a rash of shit. Most of the time it was funny, unless you happened to be the brunt of the joke.
“Don’t ask me what my bag is, Madstone?” Maury was losing his smile.
“Really, Maury, what’s your bag, man?” Don was almost pleading for explanation.
“Don’t ask me what my fucking bag is, man,” Maury warned.
“C’mon, what’s your fucking bag, man?”
Maury grabbed Don by the collar and slammed him against the wall. “Don’t ask me what my fucking bag is ever again!” Maury banged Don against the wall a couple more times, until Don crumbled to his knees. When Don was down, Maury gave him a knee in the head for good measure. Don struggled to his feet and tried to continue to engage Maury again.
Just give it up, I thought.
Steve stepped in and guided Don away, and the party continued like nothing had happened.
I looked at the clock, and it was shortly before 9:00. I went up to my room to pound out a few words on my Olivetti typewriter. I was working on a science fiction story about time travel, but I should have been writing about the people and events in my life right now. I read or heard, that writers should write what they know, what’s in their backyard. And my backyard was really interesting right now.
The sci-fi story wasn’t going anywhere, so I decided to work out. I stripped down to my tighty-whiteys to do push-ups. I did my first set of fifty then took a breather. I read over what I had written and was unimpressed. As I was doing another set of pushups, Winnie Fritz opened my bedroom door. She stood in the doorway staring at me with a beer in her hand. She was intimidatingly beautiful. She had long wavy brown hair and a face you could see in a Covergirl ad. I stopped doing the pushups and stood up. “Hey,” I said. She looked me up and down, giggled, then then left with the door open. I ran miles every other day and did five hundred pushups on the opposite days. I wasn’t embarrassed about my body, and this was a moment a young man like me fantasized about, but fantasy and reality didn’t usually coincide. Maury was upstairs outside my bedroom weighing out a half ounce for someone downstairs. He had witnessed the Winnie Fritz encounter, and as she walked away, he laughed and said, “Give her what for, Mick!”
Give her what for? I was a twenty-year-old virgin. I had never given anyone, “what for.” I smiled and closed my door to hide. Winnie was a quiet girl who was friends with Maury’s girlfriend. I had never had a conversation with her, but I had heard that she ran away from home a lot.
“Hey Mick?” Maury rapped on my door. “I’m ordering pizza.”
“Okay, sounds good. How much?” I said from the other side of the door while I got dressed.
“No prob.” That was the thing about Maury. He could be such an asshole, but then he could also be kind and generous. I think he felt guilty for embarrassing me.
Later that night when the party was peaking, Maury came up and handed me a hunting knife. “I took this away from Don. He was threatening to kill himself,” he whispered in my ear. “Find a safe place for it, Mick. Don’t tell Don I gave it to you.”
I looked for Don and found him sitting on the couch looking catatonic. Then I went upstairs and put the knife under my mattress and forgot about it, and so did Maury. The knife remained there until I moved out, and I was the first one to move out about a year after we moved in.
The partying got old, and I worried about the drugs funneling through the house. There were too many people showing up at the door whom I didn’t know. I didn’t have to be at school until 1:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and since the house was empty at this time, I stayed home until about noon. It was amazing how many people banged on the door looking for a bag of pot before noon. The door fit loosely, and it rattled loudly when someone knocked. It was almost always someone I didn’t know.
“Hey,” I answered the door.
“Can I get an ounce?” a blue-collar looking guy with factory grime on his clothes asked.
“No, sorry man, nothing here.”
“Maury said I could get a bag if someone was home.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know you.”
“I’m Bill. I know Maury.”
Everyone knows Maury.
“You’ll have to wait until he gets home.”
“What time will that be?”
“Later this afternoon.”
“Come on, man. Sell me a bag.”
“Can’t.” I knew this guy had just gotten off the night shift at a shithole factory, he wanted nothing more than to ease the pain by getting high, but I had my code: I will not sell a bag to someone I don’t know.
A few months after I moved out, everyone also moved out. Maury moved into an apartment with his girlfriend, and Devin moved in with his girlfriend too, Steve’s girlfriend broke up with him, and she eventually became my girlfriend, but that didn’t matter right now. I didn’t know where Don went or what happened to him.
I went on to write about things in my backyard like the Baggy.