Before I got out of college and realized I actually should have studied a little more and played a lot less, I became well acquainted with certain substances with chemical qualities very similar to Absinthe.
It’s all about the thujone, the active ingredient in Absinthe, which very closely resembles another terpenoid essential oil, tetrahydrocannabinol, which kept college students all abuzz, so to speak, in the 60’s and 70’s.
I was the guy in the corner, asleep at most parties. That is one difference with thujone: it heightens the senses, maybe makes me more aware. At least not quite as drowsy.
Bob had almost magically produced a chess set and set it on the table between us and proposed a game, and I looked at the white knight and while it was not talking backwards, I had somehow re-entered the room of my college roommate where we one night developed an alternate version of chess, one in which half the pawns were converted into trolls by attaching a clip to the top of each of the trolls. The trolls took the place of the four outside pawns and were probably as weak as the pawns—the difference between them being that they moved diagonally and captured vertically.
It seemed like a good idea at the time and we had loads of fun playing around with it that night, but the next morning, we explained it to the resident chess nerd and then spent the next three days playing game after game after game—which beat the crap out of going to the classes on Early American Literature, where the young and beautiful and sexy new PhD teaching it ruined everything by deciding to focus on the life work of Fennimore-Cooper and was in the middle of a series of lectures on the Leatherstocking series where Cooper’s Natto Bumpo made Davy Crocket look as comfortable as one images Woody Allen would have been in the great outdoors—trying to figure out the optimum usage and play of trolls. My games tended to end up with a muddle of pawns and trolls in the middle of the board, the castles took on almost Merlin-like power and the queen, because of the heavy traffic in the middle, was left to muddle her way around the edges of the board, losing most of her bishop-like characteristics, little more than a third rook.
It still seems like a good idea and would essentially ruin the opening books, but one thing led to another and before we knew it, Spring Break was upon us—which I spent most of the time banging out in the form of a term paper my hatred of Fennimore Cooper on my old Smith Corona, using as a guide Mark Twain’s catalogue of Fennimore Cooper’s literary offenses, hoping I could accomplish this without failing the course given that the prof seemed to be in love with the guy. Didn’t work out exactly as planned, and not only did she not fail me, we became a little more than friends. And the troll thing died on the vine when the resident chess nerd fell in love with a red-headed woman in her early thirties driving an orange convertible while visiting his sister in Tucson at the same time I was working out my issues with Natty Bumpo and last we heard of him was when he asked us to send his stuff to a small town in New Hampshire, general delivery.
And when I explained all of this to Bob, he shook his head back and forth quickly—almost a vibration—and walked to the bar, asked for a triple shot of whiskey and, leaving his half-full glass of Absinthe, disappeared beyond the far reaches of the bar.
Someone had dropped a few coins in the juke box—an old Seeburg—and Julie Cruise’s Floating filled the room, and I drifted around the walls, filled with 8 X 10 black and white pictures of people who all looked like they had seen better days. No one I knew or recognized—a Miss Galveston here and there from random years, a bowling team holding an out-sized trophy wearing shirts with the name “Pink Crustaceans” above a smallish crab on the right breast pocket. Random shots of people in the bar, one wall a sea of bleached blondes each wearing bright pink lipstick.
I sat at the bar and looked at the pictures above the bottles and looked around the bar and realized that the pictures above the bottles were of men in drag and that, to this point, I had not seen any women coming or going during the three drinks, asked for a shot of Turkey to settle down the green fairy, and asked the bartender if this was a gay bar I was sitting in.
He laughed and said, ” The Pink Crustacean? Nah, it’s as straight as Pat Robertson.”