The Legend of Clark Holloway

It’s about an artist-type character who navigates a tumultuous young adulthood until he finally makes it big, and then at the age of 27 dies...or does he?

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2. “Syllabus week” or “How I met Clark”

           

          It was about one month into sophomore year.  My bags were basically still packed from move in, and the only change Clark and I had made to our room was a Rasta colored Bob Marley poster on the wall.  It was a muggy September night, a slight breeze just making it in through the window.  Clark, my friend Seuss, and I were taking strikeouts in our dorm room in order to unwind; taking a bong hit of weed, then holding in the smoke while you took a shot of whiskey, then chugged a cup of beer.  Seuss had just arrived an hour ago from Auburn, he had driven here to watch Cam Newton and the Tigers take on UVA.  A huge waste of time if you ask me.  Clark was telling a high school football story, where he went head to head with the running back from DC Williams on the goal line, blacked out, and when he came to, he was sitting on two linemen’s’ shoulders and everyone was cheering. “We stopped the touchdown,” Clark said, “we had won the game.”  Then he took a strikeout and ran out of the room coughing.  My friend Seuss was laughing his ass off, and he asked me how the hell I met this shit head Clark.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” I said.

 

*

 

            It all started syllabus week, basically just an excuse to booze.  I flew down from New Jersey, and spent most of my first day on campus lying in bed, overwhelmed by a never-before-felt serenity.  At 9 p.m., I got up and joined some freshmen that were talking loudly about an off-campus party, the first real rager of the semester, which would be going on that night.  I drank with them, a group of six other kids, then we piled into a taxi-cab and drove to a shitty old house on the outskirts of town.

            Music was blaring from the house and we could hear it long before the taxi arrived at the driveway.  People were mingling on the lawn, but I beelined it for the front door, and as I burst into the living room I immediately felt at home.  Chaos reigned inside the house. The music was barely audible over the yells and chants that accompanied each group who were boozing together.  There was a stack of kegs in one corner, and a pile of thirty-packs in the other.  Two girls were kneeling at an ice luge while a third poured 101-proof bourbon down the top.  I turned to watch some kid get a beer bong loaded with three beers, then raise it up and swallow it all in under a second. Then he grabbed the girl next to him and started making out with her.  That was Clark.

            I filled a cup of beer for myself, and then handed it off to a cute little brunette in cut off denim shorts that showed her entire ass and a tiny flannel shirt that exposed her midriff.  I filled up another beer and walked to the kitchen, where I opened the fridge, saw some unopened redi-whip whipped cream, sucked the compressed gas out of it, put it back in, then walked off to the back of the house.  On the back porch, two guys were lighting bottle rockets and throwing them in the air so they spun and shot in any-which-way direction. A group of ten other people were running in circles to avoid the rockets, trying not to spill their drinks.  An old boxer bulldog lay in the corner of the deck, growling, clearly upset about all the noise.  Some guy came out of the house and pushed me out of the way, then hunched over and puked all over the deck.  What a shit-show! I walked around him, back into the house, to get another beer.

            Back in the kitchen there was a gravity bong made from a water-cooler tank draining water into the sink and onto the floor while roasting at least an eighth of weed on the top.  A live chicken ran past my legs, being chased by a short kid with a bum leg.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, any more surreal, I was waiting to fill my beer, staring absentmindedly, when I saw something move quickly by the window. 

A second later there was a bang on the front door, and from the other side someone shouted, “This is the Crozet Police Department,” and there was a loud noise but I had no idea what happened or what else was said because pandemonium had erupted and I was sprinting through the house to the kitchen.  In the kitchen, I pulled a kid back by the shoulder and was the third person out the back door.  I leapt off the back porch, barely registering the two police holding down kids to my right, and another officer to my left looking to cut off the escape to the street.  Instinct took over and I ran strait up the gut, through the backyard, and hopped the wooden fence in one motion.

            I was through the neighbors yard in less than five seconds, and gazelle leaped the low mesh fence on the other side, gained speed through the next yard, climbed that fence, and was digging in, churning my legs, adrenaline pumping, flying through the third yard, when all of a sudden I was thrown back and down by my neck.  I lay there, stunned.

            Then I heard somebody laughing.  “You just got clothes-lined by that clothesline,” the voice said.  After about five seconds the voice said, “ but seriously man, get up or else you’re fucked.” Then the guy helped lift me up by the shoulder and said, “Follow me.”

            We crawled around some bushes and watched five or six more kids running through the yard, then two police officers.  We waited a minute, then crept along the fence and found an opening that led to a path between the fences.  We followed it until we got to some patchy woods and a cemetery.  “We still aren’t in the clear,” the kid said.

            “What’s your name?” I asked.

            “Clark Holloway,” he answered, putting out his hand.

            “My name is Moondog,” I replied, shaking hands, “But if we get caught, I’m Brian Dowe.”

            “You’re not from Virginia, are you?” Clark said.

            “New Jersey.”

            “We aren’t going to get caught,” Clark continued, “I grew up on these streets.”

            “Sweet, you’re from Charlottesville.”

            “Virginia Beach,” he said, “But all the streets in this state are the same. Virginia is my state.”

            “Fucking ‘A’,” I said, and we walked off into the night.

            Two hours later we were back on campus. We had talked about high school, parties, the police, music, and getting high, and then we had walked in silence.  Before parting ways to go to our dorms, I said, “Thanks a lot man, I owe you a blunt for saving me back at that clothesline.”

            “You do,” he replied, “I’ll see you then.”

 

Three days later, I found some good weed, rolled up a blunt and tracked down Clark’s room.  When I arrived, Clark was sitting on the couch next to a kid who looked like he was about twenty-five years old, with a beard and big gut. The kid had a guitar in his hands.

“Look who it is,” said Clark, when I opened the door, “I didn’t think you were going to turn up.”

“Time to get stoned,” I said, and whipped out the blunt.

“Meet Ian,” Clark said, pointing to the kid next to him, “our RA.”

“Shit.”

The kid looked right at me. “I would hate to write you up on the first week,” he said, “so just give me a thousand dollars and we will forget all about this.”

I was debating whether to make up some story or tell the kid to fuck himself, and ended up just standing there in silence for a few seconds.  Then Clark said, “Psych! He’s not the RA.”

I looked around in disbelief.

“He is just Roost, another student like us, and an idiot at that.”

“Thank God,” I said, “You look twenty-five.” Then, looking at Roost, who was still holding the guitar, I asked, “So what songs can you play?”

“I don’t play guitar,” Roost said, “But Clark does.” Then he handed the guitar off to Clark.

Clark took the guitar and strummed into one of his favorite songs, and me and those bull-shitters and some other kids from down the hall, and whoever else stopped by, smoked the blunt, and then, when we were at our most high, there was a knock on the door and Ian, the real RA, came in.

            “Are you smoking in here?” Ian asked.

“Sit down, Ian.” Clark replied.

            Ian sat down on the couch next to Roost and I, and was about to talk, when Clark cut him off.

            “Ian,” he said, “I don’t know why you had to walk in here without knocking. Last time I checked, RA’s can’t just walk into a room without permission.  But I can look past that. You’re not stupid, Ian, so I’ll meet you half way. Don’t come in my room for the rest of the semester, and we will not cause any problems for you or anyone on this hall.  We just need our own space.”

            Ian did not know what to say.  The room was practically hot-boxed.  We were all baked out of our minds, staring at him.  Then, Clark grabbed him by the arm and stood him up, gave him a hug, and then showed him the door.

 

            After that, things began to pick up speed. Things seemed to move in double-double time, like time-lapse photography.  Whenever we weren’t out partying or at classes, Clark, Roost, me, Clark’s British roommate Ishmail, and whoever else was nearby, would hang out in Clark’s room, smoking, playing music, reading, talking, watching TV or movies or football, drinking, having pre-games, having after-parties, banging random girls, sleeping off hangovers, smoking, and doing it all again.  At some point Cherry entered the picture as Clark’s main squeeze. She became like a sister to the rest of us, and together with her group of girlfriends we had all kinds of fun.  Those days were like a whirlwind. Days of hedonism.

            And while what I studied and read and listened to and was interested in was not the same as it was to Clark, we did share two favorites: For both of us, our favorite band was Person Zero, and our favorite book was “Ether Moonshine Family” by Leon 7.  That was maybe the main reason we became such good friends.  Whenever we were too baked to choose a song or had exhausted all other conversation, we could always put on Person Zero or talk about some part of EMF and everybody would be laughing or feeling good instantly.

            But that wasn’t all we talked about.  It was apparent from the beginning that Clark was a musician and songwriter.  But his curiosities and short attention span meant he was constantly doing something knew, something random.  He picked up painting watercolors, piano, French, tai chi and he read books by Neruda and about East-Asian Philosophy and the Pyramids, not just to yam hard body with the girls who were also interested in those disciplines, but also out of novelty. We talked about all this and all the things I was interested in and reading at the time, about Hilbert and Jon Von Neumann, about Chaos Theory, James Joyce and the political history of the Lakota tribes.  It was almost like we were smoking too much weed. Or micro-dosing.  Of course, we talked about Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Mojo, and the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead, and Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain, and we listened to all their music.  We listened to the Fugees when we smoked blunts and Cypress hill when we smoked bongs.  Sublime and the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the hot days. Marvin Gaye on the cold. GG Allin to be punk-rock. EDM to party.  And all this, the books and the music and the other diversions found their way into Clark’s music, everybody’s conversation, and the feel and sense of the room.  In and around that room we carved out our own chunk of reality.  Surreality.

           

But still, those days were lived in an autumn that was mild and bright and the hills turned from green to orange and yellow, time did pass, and before we knew it, it was Halloween and we were all dressed up, sitting and standing in Clark’s room, music playing, passing around drinks.  I was a chicken, Clark was the Scarecrow, our one friend was Ace Ventura, our other was Jesus, and a friend of a friend, visiting from High School, was Hugh Heffner.  Hugh Heffner’s real name was Charles Nightingale.

Cherry and her girlfriends had made about twelve dozen Jell-o shots and we were working our way through them.  They came in green, red, blue, clear and purple, but they were all the same flavor: grain alcohol.  We were gobbling them up by the handful and feeding Nightingale a shot for each one we took. Things started to get out of hand and Clark was playing guitar with Cherry on his shoulders, and I was already making out with one of the chicks, and our buddies were scraping up the last of the Jell-o, when we decided to hit the streets.  Charlottesville had transformed into a carnival street party, with Broadway being shut down to traffic and people dressed up as all kinds of things mixing and mingling between bars.  There were tents and other circus shit too. 

I was totally fucked up from the minute we left the dorms on, so it was all pretty strange to me.  But I remember walking down some poorly lit streets then emerging in the crowd of people, and one person gave me a beer because they saw I was a chicken, and Clark and Cherry were leading us, but my buddies who were Ace Ventura and Jesus decided to buy some vodka mixed with energy drink, so I got some too, and there was a baby dressed as Mr. Peanut, and a guy dressed as a baby, and I felt like throwing up for a second, but Clark passed me a joint and I chilled out.

As the night went on, my friends dressed as Ave Ventura and Jesus disappeared into the vaudeville crowd, I ended up losing the group, and the last thing I saw of Clark was him at a colorful bar, taking a shot of bourbon with Nightingale, Cherry on his arm.  Eventually, Nightingale disappeared also and Clark and Cherry were left alone in their own world, laughing, making fun of people’s costumes, making out, and just barely keeping it together enough to find their way from bar to bar. 

They seemed happy together, Clark and Cherry, but they had not known each other long. They had slept together loads of times, of course. But how well could you know someone who grew up in a totally different part of the country, who you had met only two months ago? Plus, they had shared their first kiss immediately after Clark had taken a beer bong.   These thoughts certainly passed through Clark’s head, and maybe even Cherry’s, but the revelry seemed to indicate more revelry, with no end to the revelry in sight.  Of course, Clark considered all strangers his friends until proven otherwise, and Cherry had a taste for new people, new places, she had grown up near D.C. and loved newness in everything.  But still, Clark could not help feeling slightly off, guarded just a little, even now, at the height of the grand Halloween ball, and just then, when the clock struck midnight and Clark kissed Cherry, then pushed her out the side exit of the bar and pulled her into an alleyway, when the tension was fully mounted, at their finest moment together, Cherry said, “Oh my god, is that someone on the ground over there?!”

Clark looked over her shoulder and saw a big mass lying crumpled on the pavement.  He approached it, and the worst was evident: it was Nightingale lying facedown in a pool of his own blood.  Clark got down on a knee and checked his pulse, then turned Nightingale over.  The blood was coming from Nightingale’s mouth and nose, which had been smashed on the pavement.

“Call him a cab, and lets get out of here,” said Cherry, pulling on Clark’s sleeve.  Clark made no indication of having heard Cherry, so she continued, “Please, Clark, call him a cab to the hospital and he will be ok, we should get out of here or else we might get in trouble.”

“No,” Clark said, “I am going to make this right.” He hoisted Nightingale up onto his shoulder and started walked towards the bustling street.

“Where are you going, Clark?”

“I am going to make sure he gets to the hospital and is taken care of.”

“If you go to the hospital they will throw you in jail, don’t be stupid. Don’t try to be a hero.”

“Get lost,” Clark replied. Then he turned around and tapped on a cab window, and he and Nightingale piled into the back seat, and the cab sped off into the night.

At the hospital, Clark realized how drunk he still was despite the shot of adrenaline he got when he saw Nightingale in the alleyway.  He stood there like an idiot as the nurses loaded Nightingale onto a gurney and rolled him through the double doors and out of sight.  Clark felt warm and relieved for a second, knowing his new friend would be ok, then he decided to get the fuck out of there and turned and ran strait into a uniformed police officer.  The officer put Clark in cuffs and made him sit in the waiting room for a half hour, then loaded him into the police car.

“How about I just go home and sleep it off,” Clark said, as the officer turned on the radio.

“You’ll be sleeping in the station tonight, drunk-ass,” said the cop, and he turned up the volume on the radio, which was playing ‘Jeremy’.

 

The next morning, Roost and I pulled up to the station in Roost’s Escalade. Clark sauntered out, yelling something back to the officers before the door closed.  He cracked a big smile when he saw us, and hopped in the backseat, and we each lit up a cigarette as Roost turned onto the road.

“I don’t feel half bad for sleeping on a concrete floor surrounded by drunk hobos,” said Clark , “they were kicking us awake every two hours too, fucking pigs.  How do I look?” Clark grinned, his hair disheveled, shirt unbuttoned, huge mustard stain on his paints.

“A hell of a lot better than Nightingale,” I said, “we just saw him in the hospital and he said he would never drink again.”

We all laughed and sped off towards our local diner for some breakfast.

 

*


“And that’s how I met Clark,” I said

“So he got blue-balled and busted for helping the kid?” asked my friend Seuss, “I don’t think I would have done the same.” 

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