Prologue in the First Person -- Part One

"Poverty," he said musingly."Everybody's embroiled in this poverty thing."

"Quit musing!" I barked. "Put on a Dead album, an' I'll roll a spliff."

"How do you two expect to break this cycle of poverty," muttered Lenore, whining, spittle still streaming down her chin, "When all you do is spout euphemistically and get stoned?"

We had all been drinking since sunup, intermittently breaking the endless stream of cheap red to light up yet another reefer. There was no end in sight.

My retort to Lenore's obviously-jaundiced statement was only half-formed, when we were interrupted by a knock on what passed for a door on the crippled laundry van we called home. It was Maximilian.

"Can you front me some acid and a sandwich?" he greeted. Then he loudly passed gas, grinned, and collapsed comatose on the pile of carpet samples that we had acquired in a short burst of decorating zeal, inspired when I stumbled on an old copy of Better Homes and Gardens. It had been during another equally short-lived spurt, of what would have to pass for spring cleaning.

Max was obviously a bit of a fuck-up, but he could be counted on to bring about a shift of attention in almost any group. His well-timed entrance was a handy way of extricating myself from a potentially embarrassing situation; that of answering the hateful Lenore's point-blank question. I repeated my demands for someone to plant the Grateful Dead record on the bagged-out turntable, and began a clumsy attempt to construct a large cone-shaped joint, using a soggy page from a paperback porn novel as a cigarette paper.

Lenore had, just the night before, in the throes of cheesy ecstasy, used the same paper back to sop the juices of an act that could only be described as self pollution, whilst I smoked a joint and watched; the whole thing a strange screenplay to a stranger Spanish soundtrack blasting a tinny hole in the dank recess of our van/hovel. The small speaker of the transistor radio had been almost unable to handle the surreal nature of its own involvement in what was, well, frankly, an indescribably degrading scene. Although we had covered the windows with pulpy Spanish-language newspapers some time earlier, to afford a measure of privacy.

Come to think of it, I should've said to hell with privacy, and used some of the window coverings to roll the dope; this soggy yellow paper attempt, between the aroma of Lenore, and the lurid purple ink used to print the thing, was going to be a bit gamey-tasting.

To add to the aura of uncertainty, as if to aggravate the general feeling of angst which had slowly been building all morning, Armand, Lenore's half-wit adolescent son by some other anonymous liaison, had not yet succeeded in playing the Grateful Dead album. The only album in our collection. I knew it completely by heart.

American Beauty was its title. Obviously no reference to Lenore. Often, while asleep, I would dream lush scenes, to accompany the lyrics. Just the night before, a strange episode involving yellow shiplap-constructed canoes gyrating sensually to, "Inch your way through dead dreams to another land", had wormed through my absinthe-soaked consciousness.

It was probably the wormwood used to flavor that rotgut elixir. Did I say rotgut? My nether regions weren't the only thing in a state of slow decay. I feared for my acuity of perception -- my being, my raison d'etre. I, Milo Pavlov, once considered to be the leading accelerated particle physics genius at the University of Chicago, was obviously on a downward spiral. There was no denying it any longer. Smoking dope in a laundry van reeking of Lenore and Max was a long way from my comparatively palatial student residence room. And an even longer way from Kansas, Toto.

My parents had labored long and hard on the hog farm to send me to university. But after five years of unanswered letters, they were probably beginning to suspect that something was amiss. I should have graduated years ago....

If only... if only that night in the lab, working on an ambitious experiment, things had turned out differently. If only I hadn't discovered what General Foods really puts in lime jello. It was all so sordid. The secret was eating away at my very essence, a glowing green fog, pervading even my dreams of the Dead.