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Paulie Eyes

July 9, 2014

Jed Engine started coming around just about the time Paulie was going away.

Paulie’s parents found a bag of weed in his room and decided the best course of action was to relocate him as far as possible from his bad influence friends. As far as possible turned out to be somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, where an aunt and uncle lived. They agreed to take him in, provided he stayed clean.

Jed had spoken to Paulie once or twice and thought he was a sensible dude, but Jed wondered if relocating to a strange place where you’d be alone and without friends wasn’t a bigger incentive to do drugs than the influence of the friends you were getting away from.

Then again, maybe Paulie’s parents were doing the right thing, after all, it was 1969.

The night before Paulie left, a few of his friends got together in Riccio’s apartment, which wasn’t an apartment at all but a boiler room for an apartment building where Riccio’s grandfather was the superintendent. In winter, some of the teens took shelter from the cold in the boiler room.

On the way over, it started snowing. Jed’s frozen hands could hardly knock on the boiler room’s metal door. Famous Nicky opened up, and gave one of his famous stares, a look that expressed without words just how insignificant you were in Famous Nicky’s eyes. Of course, that’s the look Nicky gave to everyone.

Jed Engine felt grateful to be inside, even in a place as depressingly dreary as the boiler room. The walls and floor were concrete and soot covered, and to brighten up things someone tacked Miss July onto the asbestos covered pipes. The only light was a single naked bulb that hung like a miniature pear-shaped horse thief suspended from the ceiling. Still, the room was warm, and the air forever filled with the sweet pungent aroma of cannabis.

Everyone knew the chances were slim that Riccio’s grandfather would check the boiler room. Riccio, who had the most to lose, never seemed to worry, and that was good enough for the others.

The aroma’s source was one Pinhead, a named bestowed on him by Famous, who had a knack for naming.  Pinhead was alleged to be a descendant of some Hindu god, and could roll joints in his sleep so thin, they could be used in restaurants as toothpicks.

Jed sat at the small table Riccio had set up for card games. Pinhead was sitting there filling a pipe with reefer. It was one of many bowls they’d share that night.

Pinhead took his time, as if performing a sacred ceremony, which to him it always was, while being careful as he packed it so as not to let any seeds enter the pipe’s bowl, for as everyone knew, when burned, seeds popped just like popcorn. Cory Dawes almost lost an eye when a red hot seed from a bowl of Chiba flew into his eye.

But that was before Jed’s time.

Pinhead had an impish air about him. Just as Famous had his distinctive expression, Pinhead sported a smile like the Cheshire cat. He looked over and gave Jed one now, a sure sign he’d already indulged.

“Master Winston,” he said with a nod. Winston was a reference to the brand of cigarettes Jed smoked, although tonight he’d bought a pack of Marlboros.

When Jed opened the pack, Pinhead laughed. “Caved to pressure?”

Jed had been catching crap since he first got here because of the Winstons. Pinhead knew that was why he switched. He was right. Jed had caved.

Pinhead extended his arm across the table, offering the pipe.

“Light up, Master Winston. Let’s celebrate your conversion.”

Pinhead had an easy way about him, a mellow disposition Jed had never seen anyone possess, except maybe the Dali Lama. Riccio and Famous believed it was the huge quantities of pot Pinhead smoked. Maybe they were right. If so, the side effect was a helluva lot better than the alcohol-triggered belligerence Jed knew that drinking brought out in most people.

“Good shit, Pin,” Jed said, slowly exhaling.

“Courtesy of our companeros south of the border.”

“Ever been there?” Jed asked.

He shook his head. “Amsterdam’s the place.” That Cheshire smile returned.

“Where?”

He took a hit from the pipe, handed it to Famous.

“The Netherlands,” Famous answered, holding his breath. “Pot’s legal there.” He let out a slow steady stream of smoke.

Pinhead nodded, and Cheshire radiated like the sun. It was as if Amsterdam was home to the fountain of youth and every centerfold on the planet.

Jed was in the dark about such things, and especially ignorant about geography. Mr. Grumwald had just about given up on him passing geography. Well, maybe if Mozart or Beethoven or even Chopin had been born in Amsterdam, Jed might have known about it. But they weren’t, and as far as he knew, no major composer had ever been from Amsterdam. He wasn’t even sure what language they spoke, but apparently neither Pinhead nor Famous cared about such things. You could light up in the streets and not get busted. That’s all that mattered and all they needed to know.

Someone knocked on the door. Famous opened it.

Paulie Eyes entered.

Pinhead got up, bowed, and handed the pipe to Eyes.

“See this?” Eyes was looking at Jed, waving the pipe in the air. “This is why I gotta leave. I can’t go ten friggin’ feet without somebody sticking weed in my mouth.”

Famous looked surprised. “Ten feet? The rule is every two feet.”

Eyes shook his head, then taking a hit from the pipe, turned serious. “I’m gonna miss all this. And especially you guys.”

The mood turned somber as the true impact of what was happening hit home. Losing Paulie Eyes, they were losing a part of themselves.

It would happen again, many times over. But for reasons other than well-meaning but paranoid parents.

Someone lost to drugs. Someone lost to the war in Viet Nam. Someone lost to the phantoms stuck inside his head. Even when one of them happened to piss off the wrong guy, ending up in a ditch, a bullet to the brain.

“I’m gonna go crazy there,” Eyes said. “I’ll be a basket case in a month.”

Famous tried to talk some sense into him.

“No, Eyes, you won’t. You’ll be fine. Better than fine. You’ll hook up with some foxy Seattle babe and forget all about this. You’ll be fine.”

“Eugene.”

Famous looked at him. “Who?”

Eyes smiled. “Not who, where. Eugene, it’s in Oregon. That’s where I’ll be living.”

The Famous look transformed Famous’s face. “Eu-gene? Eu-frickin’-gene?”

It was a while, a long while, before they finally stopped laughing.

At seven o’clock the next morning, a Tuesday, Armand DeStefano and his wife Camille drove their seventeen year old son, their only child, to Kennedy Airport and kissed him goodbye just before he boarded the 8:33 flight to Eugene, where he would live with his aunt Millie and uncle John, until one summer night two years later, when while driving home from classes at the University of Oregon, he was broadsided by a drunk driver. The DeStefano’s flew out for the funeral.

2900 miles away, in the boiler room of an apartment building in Brooklyn where Paulie Eyes had spent many cold winter nights, his closest friends got together and over a bowl or two of Panama Red celebrated his life.

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