“Make more,” said Mayer [Mayo Vish-nugh] as he tapped the bong with his shaky hand. I’d bought it for him one Christmas after he cracked the very expensive vaporizer I’d bought him. It was a shatter proof purple plastic with an ergonomic pistol grip design, impossible for him to break. “Make more, Jon.”
I grabbed a nugget off the quarter pound that sat piled on top of a back issue of WIN Magazine and packed it into the bowl. I lit the thing and let the smoke collect before passing it over. “Here, man… you were talking about Tom Forcade right when he was raising the money for High Times.”
“Yeah, well we had umm, passed the pinnacle of our relationship… already starting to not get along. He trusted me a lot more than I did him, and he didn’t mind. He didn’t care about honesty. If he needed something from you he’d say anything and then turn around when he couldn’t come through and say ‘yeah, man, I lied.’ Well he uh, he was just a dealer then, or at least more than anything. And he rang me up at my storefront on 6th street and Avenue A and he, uhh, asked me to come over to this office he’d rented off of Union Square. When I got there he offered me a job as the managing editor for his ‘new magazine.’ I laughed him off and said ‘are you kidding me, man? I have a 25 dollar a week job managing a magazine with a 50,000 a month circulation and I’m gonna go and work for a Playboy rip-off about pot?’” He stopped to slap his knee and then shake his head and look down at his feet. “I’ve never been known for making the best predictions.”
“What did you call Springsteen?”
“Oh… uh, too frantic... At his New York City debut... Upstairs at Max’s Kansas City. I said he wouldn’t last.” He laughed again and looked up at the ceiling this time. “Yeah, well I laughed at the guy, Forcade…” He took his palm off the top of the bong which had miraculously stayed full of smoke. He raised his fist to the ceiling while he held the smoke in and then let the smoke out in a furious wet cough attributable to COPD. I grabbed his Advair off the table and handed it to him, taking the pipe with my other hand it putting it safely back on the table, far out of flailing distance. The bowl was already nothing but ash. “Jon, make more.”
It was a recent development that Mayer couldn’t light his own bong. For an old hippy, who’d lost most of his friends, his career and liver function; this was a final cruel insult. I hated the idea that one of the man’s few remaining joys was slipping away from him. Never the neat freak, he’d stooped to a new low: he’d only used the shower in the corner of his kitchen as urinal for the past few months and the whole place had therefore taken on a thick amonia smell. Compounded with the still bong water in the bottom of the sink, the smell smacked you in the face and held onto your clothes on the train ride home. His long yet pattern bald grey hair was starting to dread. He’d been wearing the same off-white Greenthumb T-shirt for a week, tucked into piss stained tighty-whities. His stomach was distended. His five oclock shadow was developing into a beard. The circles under his eyes took up a third of his face. The shaking was getting so violent that it necessitated his closest friends to meet one night at Veselka to come up with a schedule, ensuring he never spent a whole day unattended. We jokingly called the meeting our “Borscht Summit.” My days had become packed with errands. When I worked the night shift it was farmer’s market at 10, community garden to water the plot at 11, eggplant pizza from Arturo’s at 12:30, pick up his many prescriptions of benzos, antidepressants and inhalers from the drug store on Bleecker. I’d spend a few hours hanging out in his cramped apartment on MacDougal Street and then go to work stoned and already exhausted. This particular day I had off and didn’t have any plans until a little before midnight. I was content to sit in the kitchen and watch MSNBC until it was time to go. We were drinking fresh apple cider I’d just picked up in Union Square, his spiked with Stolichnaya. He’d been telling his greatest hits all day, in slightly higher spirits than usual; this is to say far enough from catatonic to entertain company. The place wasn’t looking too awful either, at least by Mayer standards. The week before he’d blacked out and “trashed” the apartment. I figured Elaine (one of the participants in our Borscht Summit at Veselka) had cleaned up as best she could. She had offered herself up to do the lion’s share of the cleaning, [historically] having the most intimate relationship with him, she had a way of moving the mounds of trash, papers, and laundry Mayer would generally protect with his body that would shame the most seasoned hoarding expert. I “made more” in the pipe and repeated the process. “The place looks good,” I said to him with only a twinge of sarcasm.
“I think Elaine came over… my laundry’s done.”
“I did it.”
“Oh… Well I guess she packed it in the bag. I, uhh, don’t remember. You’ve been over here…”
“Since two. I worked the morning shift today.”
“Yeah, man. What time is it now?”
“7:30, the second Hardball. What, you want me to leave?”
“Not yet. I need you to look at something” He extended his hand, trembling wildly. “Help me up.” Once Mayer was on his feet he made it way past me, past the shower and into his bedroom. There had at one time been a wall between the kitchen and bedroom but the landlord and Don, the third member of the Borscht Summit, had demolished it in the 1980s when Mayer was living in LA, “turning around” the LA Weekly. All that was left was the frame. Though it was initially to open the tenement apartment up, it wound up suiting the retired alcoholic perfectly twenty five years later. The open space made for a perfect view of the TV from his preferred perch in the kitchen. Mayer sorted through papers stuffed into his underwear drawer and produced a Xeroxed packet held together with a binding clip. “I want you to read this... Then I want you to tell me your honest reaction.” He came back over, using the wall for support and dropped the paper on my lap, pivoting off my chair and back into his seat.
“Anita and the Blowup Doll” I read out loud.
“By Paul [Krasner]…”
“Abbie’s first wife.”
“I’ve read this before.”
“What did you think?”
“Are you asking me to kill you?”
“Then why the fuck did you just give me this?”
“Because I want you to be there... like Paul did for Anita.”
“She had cancer.”
“And I’m dying too,” tears welled up in his eyes. “I’m in just as much pain...”
“This isn’t legal, man.”
“Neither is the pot... make more,” he pushed the bong over to me and I packed it and lit it for him. I went one toke over the line and signaled that I was done smoking for the time being. “As you can see, things are falling apart over here.” I looked over at the wall behind Mayer, it was stained yellow like his underwear. Paint was peeling off the walls. An old clock was hanging onto a nail for its dear life, waiting to fall, yet another milestone in the decline of a brilliant man.
“It does smell like shit in here...” That’s all I really could say.
“Thanks, Jon.” Mayer stood up and reached over to his pantry next to the stove which was packed with vintage health food and bochilized cans of tomato sauce. He grabbed a massive bottle of aspirin and chucked it onto my lap. “I’m not ready yet... that’s why I bought this bottle as opposed to the travel size. But I want you to keep this in mind. I’ll finish these eventually.”
“So the aspirin is some sort of... you go when the pills go?”
“Something like that,” he sighed, resigned to the fact that he’d keep living a while longer. “You wanna stay a little longer?”
“Is this some sort of test of loyalty?”
“To see if I’ll stand by you until the end.”
“What if I said no?”
“Wait before you do.”
“Fuck you man, I’ll have to live with this. Not you.”
“I’m tired, Jon.”
The cramped tenement apartment was morphing into a prison cell. The smell was getting overwhelming.