“The Peyote Factory” by Jonathan Santlofer
Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuana, cocaine, speed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)
Thursdaze kicks off with a nail-biting “trip” to the 1980s East Village with Jonathan Santlofer, the editor of our current Drug Chronicles Series print release, The Marijuana Chronicles.
I always told myself that I’d never use anything stronger than pot. I was a middle-class kid away from home, at NYU for my second year of art school, and hard drugs scared the shit out of me. But pot, I loved it. I smoked in the morning, afternoon, and night. I’d go to school stoned, paint stoned, fuck stoned. It was 1970 and I was living on Avenue C. It looked like the set for an end-of-the-world movie: deserted tenements, bums, hustlers, junkies, and pushers on every corner.
I thought I was cool.
You should have seen me strutting down those East Village mean streets: dirty-blond hair to my shoulders, John Lennon glasses, the mustache to end all mustaches, a hundred and twenty pounds dripping wet. I never ate. Except when I was stoned. So, I guess I did eat: donuts, brownies, potato chips. But nothing stayed on me. The girls loved me. The boys loved me. And I let them have me, a passive stoner: do with me what you will. I never remembered the details, just fragments: Grace Slick singing White Rabbit while someone did something to me. I floated above it. Beside it. Never quite there.
I would never have gotten through school except for my talent, which saved me. I was the star of my art class. I could draw anything. My drawing professor gave us an impossible exercise: draw an egg with a super-hard HB pencil. I got stoned and drew that egg so perfectly, you’d have thought you could pick it up off the page, crack it, and make an omelet.
I lived in a basement apartment with three other guys: Johnny, Al, and Juan. There were tiny windows near the ceilings that were just above ground level on the outside, but the place was basically a cave. We painted the bathroom with black enamel; it looked like patent leather. Al and Juan were stoners too, Johnny a drunk. Juan had a Spanish mother and a rich father. He’d been brought up in Manhattan, hung out at Studio 54 and Warhol’s Factory, knew Andy and Viva and Candy Darling. He was daring. Crazy. But he was flunking out of school and his father threatened to cut him off. He had an idea: go down to Mexico, buy peyote buttons, bring them back and sell them.
We did the research, learned how to boil the mushrooms then put them into capsules. Soon we were making a bundle selling to students and street kids, our little peyote factory thriving. Of course we sampled our product.
One thing no one tells you is that after you ingest the peyote, you vomit; what you manage to keep down is what makes you trip. Somehow we got used to it; we were like bulimics. But the trip was really something: wild colors and hallucinatory images like you were living inside some fucked-up Fellini movie.
It was late spring—the semester almost over with coming attractions of a Manhattan summer, hot and hazy, the air in our apartment thick and stifling with no air conditioning—when the Mexicans broke in. Juan had neglected to tell us that he was buying on the installment plan and he owed them money. Al and Johnny were at school, Juan at Warhol’s Factory making a film with Edie Sedgwick and Gerard Malanga (which I saw years later: the three of them sitting around in their underwear for two hours, smoking cigarettes and weed and talking nonsense).
The Mexicans were three skinny teenagers, drug lords in training, and they wanted to get paid. Two of them held me while the third waved a knife and threatened to remove my pinkie. I showed off our product, how we’d put the mushrooms into capsules, and offered them a taste. While they were tripping I thought about calling the police, but how could I explain it? Instead, I smoked a joint and drew their portraits, detailed and perfect—though I made them look better, like Latin movie stars. When they sobered up, I gave them the hundred or so peyote capsules we had left, plus my drawings, in exchange for what we owed them, and they took it. I felt like Peter Minuit buying Manhattan from the Indians.
When Al and Johnny came home, I told them what happened, but I didn’t wait for Juan. I packed my bags and moved in with a friend on the other side of town. I never tried peyote again and stopped smoking pot. Without it, I no longer had the patience to draw an egg perfectly, but I had all my fingers, and that was even better.
JONATHAN SANTLOFER is the author of five best-selling novels, The Death Artist, Color Blind, The Killing Art, Anatomy of Fear, and The Murder Notebook. He is the recipient of a Nero Wolfe Award, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and has been a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome, the Vermont Studio Center, and serves on the board of Yaddo, the oldest arts community in the US. He is coeditor, contributor, and illustrator of the anthologies The Dark End of the Street and LA Noire: The Collected Stories. His short stories have appeared in several anthologies and magazines including The Rich & the Dead, New Jersey Noir, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Also a well-known artist, Santlofer’s artwork is in such collections as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Newark Museum, Norton Simon Museum, and Tokyo’s Institute of Contemporary Art. He is the editor of The Marijuana Chronicles and is currently completing a new novel. A native New Yorker, Santlofer lives and works in Manhattan. Visit his website here.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected], and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry Stahl, Lydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).
For a limited time, you can order the complete set of books in the Drug Chronicles series for only $30. Please click here for more information.
Posted: Jul 11, 2013
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