Finding RichardIn 1984, in the Tokyo Hilton, I am musing on my month-long journey in and around Calcutta - - - feeling at one with the great world travelers of the past (Kubla Khan, Boswell and Johnson, Robert Byron) - - - and Richard sits down next to me at the bar. English, grown up in Singapore. Nineteen years of age, being deported from the United States, he tells me, at once, no shame, after being jailed for transportation of drugs into Seattle. He had been in the King County jail for over a month and was being returned to the arms of his unwilling parents and his all-too-willing (he claims) thirty-two-year-old Russian lover lady. The American Immigration Service and the British Consul have conspired together to make possible Richard's sudden trip south.
Ah, Richard: You do introduce me to the madness of the English-speaking culture again, don't you? A present-day Dylan Thomas, Holden Caufield, Jack Kerouac. Brash, noisy, loudly proclaiming his four-year dependence on morphine; that wild pride, which the young seem to favor, proclaiming the body's weakness, needs, tolerance, its survivability. "Have you got any pain-killers?" he says - - - shouts, rather, in case anyone in the bar might have any doubts over his wicked Western ways. Crazy, Richard, jangling all over the place, the spawn of Western Neo-Victorianism, the kid who will do anything, say anything, announce his lunacy with pride: "I'm cold turkey for the first time since 1980," he tells me.
How many times have I met Richard before? In San Francisco, in London, Spain, Amsterdam, all over the world - - - on the run from Immigration, the police, families, the world. There was Tommy in St. Louis who, when he wasn't shooting meth, wrote some of the most exquisite poetry, played the most exquisite harmonica. Or Rick from Portland, who just couldn't stay away from airplane glue, for Christ's sake: one of the most brilliant artists I've ever known, a mind turning to oatmeal under the constant onslaught of toluene. Rod, in Málaga - - - who described what it was like to be searched by the police on the streets of Berkeley when he was holding a "balloon" of heroin in his mouth, ready to swallow it. "If I did it - - - I knew I had exactly twenty minutes before the rubber burst and killed me," he told me, with that mix of pride, excitement, delight at his own wickedness.
Richard is brother to them all: just as bent on "totaling" his body. He and his Christopher Robin face, his lean, still (miraculously) functioning body: it is for him, and Ricky, and Rod, that all the drug laws were written. It is because of them that they are so useless. They are clever as cats in evading them. Noisy, proud, arrogant, and charming: who can resist this madness?
Richard was delivered in handcuffs to Japan Airlines in Seattle ("How do you respond to 'Smoking or Non-smoking?' when your hands are behind your back, in cuffs?"). Richard, the Charles Baudelaire of the nuclear age - - - willing to shoot or snort or inhale anything, anything that will take his brain on some merry chase - - - a merrier chase than the normal, dull-brain muddle. "They caught me because of the tracks," he says. "Look," and he proudly pulls up his shirt sleeves to show me his needle marks. I can see nothing. Maybe the light is too dim, maybe he doesn't have any. Who knows, who can answer? - - - for after all, we are dealing not with Richard the voluble who sits with me, swizzling saké like it was shortly to be rationed. No, we have here a dream-fantasy of a picaresque character: an anti-hero cooked up in his own brain, speaking (with wit and verve and fantasy) to anyone who will listen.
Richard, convincing all, if possible, of the truth of his fabricated persona. We both know he is spinning tales. Not necessarily about being a junky, or about being caught. Presumably, that has happened before, will happen again.
No, what he has to do is to catch me in a spiel with his wit and beauty and brainset; to use his narcissism to convince me (and him) that he is a master confidence man; that he's the elusive and charming Don Juan/James Dean/Thos. DeQuincey. Being caught is just a glitch in the roller-coaster that he has ridden so wildly, for so long. He is a confidence man, his brain skewed by arrogance. Man-power turned on its head - - - knowing that even if he is nabbed, he'll be able to talk his way out of it. This gives him a double system. If he doesn't get caught, he's mocking, masterfully mocking the system. If he does get caught - - - no difference! He'll worm out of it somehow. Both sets seed his imagined power. A no-lose situation; a perfect balance of potential and kinetic energy, fighting to a stalemate.
So here I am, six-thousand miles from my home, with my beautiful, alive, funny, smart son . . . so beautiful and smart and alive that he is going to maim himself - - - die with all that monster destruct-desire intact. Richard, my handsome, tall, funny, articulate boy, the flower of Western English-speaking culture. Given so much, he has to take even more, extract a price from his arm, suck the richness from his veins, take away from that which had been so generously given.
"You always get out, don't you?" I say.
"Out of what?"
"Out of trouble?" I say.
"No, no - - - you don't understand. The British Consul had to bail me out."
"And who got them to do it?" I ask.
"Your father did?"
"No, no - - - they . . . no, yes, maybe you're right. Yeah, I guess that's what happened . . ."
Never thinking ahead - - - the perfect Zen Now: never examining consequence, responsibility, lines of power. "You always get out, don't you?" I say.
"I don't know. I don't know. What's wrong?" he says.
"O nothing, nothing," I say. I refuse to tell him that I am grieving over him - - - grieving over me, me and this beautiful tall flower cowboy-ruination-junky inside all of us. He sweeps through our lives like a cyclone: knocking out power lines, uprooting the flowers, tearing them to bits, or setting them, so artfully, intact, in the carcass of the house; the cars in the trees, the chickens denuded, squawking.
"Do you know I've put $25,000 in my veins in the past four years - - - and I haven't stolen a thing," he says, and I feel for my wallet. "I broke down," he says. "After I'd been in jail for three days . . . I broke down and cried. I hung onto the bars and cried. And there was this black guy, this huge black guy. He was OK. He held me, told me everything was going to be OK . . . Hey, listen, thanks for talking to me. I really appreciate it . . . and the drinks."
"I'm just another one of the countless people you've got wrapped around your finger," I tell him. "Do you want to go to your room, or mine?" I will go, first, down to the desk, give them my wallet, passport, travelers checks to put in their hotel safe.
"We can't go to my room. There's a guard there. No - - - I think I'll just stay here for awhile. Listen, thanks for everything. . ." And he takes my hand and looks in my eyes, laughing, the nuclear Holden Caufield looking into me and smiling. It's the smiles that do it, right? Smiling that wide warm gentle loving fake smile - - - the all-encumbering smile of all the miscreants of all times, so taken with themselves, so taken with what they can put over on the world, so taken with taking the rest of us so completely, knowing we'll give them everything, even without their asking; giving them even our Christly tears, for Christ's sake.
Twenty hours later, I am looking out the window of Flight 50 - - - Narita to LAX. Dawn - - - those spectacular 36,000-feet-up-in-the-air dawns that we now take for granted - - - lancing the arc of the earth with such blues and golds. Our flight has gone to the east, and on reaching the California coast, will turn to the south. Seven miles below me I can see the peninsula, the bay that so astonished the Spanish in their tiny barks, three centuries ago. They saw the land cascading wild-to-the-waters' edge trees, austere trees, rising up like monoliths, spiking the fog that lapped at the water-ragged edges. The relief of the peninsula so astonishing; the land so naked, so uninhabited. The thin gray thumb of it outlined atop the gray sea, the gray inlet, descried in a thousand maps from the past; yet by no cartographer's art is it as spectacularly subtle as what they give us out this tiny window.
"It's a damn good thing I didn't take up with that junky," I think sleepily. I huddle in my seat with a blue blanket up to my chin. "That's all I need - - - some twenty-year-old James Dean, getting me hooked on him." Going crazy with crazy Richard. My own personal hobgoblin, waiting there in my veins, ready, just for a poke (a pig in a poke) to come frothing out all over the place, capturing me (innocent me) for the next year or however long it lasts. I - - - Richard's slave - - - howling through yellow dogsbody streets of Singapore, screeching into every hole in the wall for his next fix. Jesus! That was a close one.
We turn - - - and the gray-on-gray bas relief of the vision edges behind me. Crazy Richard! His flight was to leave at ten. The telephone at my hotel room rang once at eight, and then gave up. Thank god I didn't get to it in time "Say, how'd you like to. . .?" he would have said. And I, boob that I am, would be heading back into the swarm of Asia with him, my blood in his blood, his curse my curse. It was a close one for both of us.
I have journeyed. I have gone into and out of the dawning again. It blasts the dark edges out of our existence as it has for so long. It flares into our lives (as it has for so long - - - for all of what we call time) with a welding of desire and fulfillment, a mass that turns all it touches to gold, all it touches to ash. "How was your trip to India," they'll ask me when I get home. "Did you have a good time in India?" "India?" I'll say. "India! O no! I said I was going to Indiana. Kokomo. That's where I always go for Christmas. I wouldn't be caught dead in India. What lunacy that would've been!"