It all began when Kathy Perdue said her grandpa was the Perdue Chicken Perdue, not just some regular Perdue like we all knew he was. She told me and Greg in Greg’s basement, where the three of us were staring straight up at the paneled ceiling and letting the skunk-weed billow through our bodies, feeling the air vents beneath us turn off and back on again.
She said it right there—she said, “He is. Frank Perdue. Same guy—that’s my Pop.” I knew her dad had died the year before, and there wasn’t a chance in hell he was running a whole damn chicken operation from the grave, so I thought Pop must have been some back-hick slang for grandpa. I wasn’t buying it, either way.
“Bullshit.” Only I said it more like, Bull-SHIT, vis-à-vis, “Bull-SHIT he is.”
“Yuh-huh,” she shot back, exposing her back-hickness like she wasn’t even ashamed of it.
And that shut her up. “Yuh-huh,” was all she could say, again, but only quieter this time and then she lifted her head just far enough off the carpet to find the embering roach in the ashtray and bring it up for another hit.
We all just lay there for a little bit listening to Super Trouper, which Greg always said was Absolutely posifuckingtively the best ABBA album, which was kind of crude, I thought, but he still made a good point. Side One alone had both “The Winner Takes It All” and “Andante, Andante” going for it, so who could argue with the man? It was, in fact, the best ABBA album. Absofuckinlutely, or whatever.
We were in the throes of Side Two, though—“The Piper,” probably, or “Lay All Your Love On Me”—when someone heard the garage door open from the dark belly of the house. I say someone because it doesn’t matter, really; the garage door made the guttural pains of its opening, and the three of us shot into motion like startled insects under the kitchen light. Only problem was, we were all, to be frank, rather stoned out of our gourds.
“Fuck shit fuck fuck shit,” Greg kept saying, only it came out more like a mantra: Ohmmmfuckshitfuckfuckshitfuckshitohmmm. Then I was picturing Greg, six-feet-tall and bigger-boned than any friend I ever had before, shave-headed in one of those auburn sarongs with his hands pressed together in prayer—and then I was laughing.
And I mean laughing hard, like, red-faced bent-double choking-hacking laughing—and then I was on my knees trying to catch my breath but also starting to study my own laughing, like, what it felt like to laugh and why it felt so freeing to laugh in a ball in the finished basement of Greg’s separating-but-not-yet-divorced parents’ little suburban three-level.
“What the fuck are you doing—shit fuck shit—help me out, man! Shit fuuuuuck fuck—go get that window or something—shit!” Greg floundered around waving his hand back and forth around where the ashtray still sat, like a scarlet A for asshole, in the middle of the floor. Nobody thought to move it. I had no clue, even, where Kathy Perdue went to.
Super Trouper was winding down on “The Way Old Friends Do,” which is the last song of the album, and it ends on a live crowd’s wild applauding. Someone had the genius idea to make the thing a locked groove so that you have to manually lift the needle to get it to stop. Otherwise, the applause just goes on and on and on in a loop. Which is what it was doing just then, the volume still loud as it could go.
At some point I stopped laughing—just like that, vvvt, like a zipper zippering up—which was about the same time Kathy Perdue reappeared. By reappeared I mean I suddenly realized where she was: standing at the foot of the stairs that led up to the main floor, clapping wildly with her hands raised over her head and her head lifted completely back. Just like that, applauding with the live crowd on the looping last ten seconds of Super Trouper, grinning close-mouthed except when every now and then she would move her jaw and it would click loud enough so we could hear it over the music.
“Wooooooooooooooooooo!” she suddenly said.
“Shitwhatthefuck!” Greg responded, finally lifting the still-glowing butt of the joint from the tray and moving to the high window to toss it outside. I watched as he hopped up again and again to try to get the latch—stopping once to take a desperate last, deep pull on the bud—unhooked to open the window. I suddenly felt sad for him, or more like sorry for him, I guess, and tried to get up from my Indian position to get a chair for him. I didn’t know where one was, but I was getting a vague sense of chairness coming from the room, so I knew I could find one if I looked.
I say tried, though, because I couldn’t do it. I mean I just couldn’t—the carpet was comfortable under my ass and my crossed ankles and I rubbed down a little into its fibers to show it my appreciation.
The sound of Greg’s name began to float down from the floor above us, softly at first and then escalating in volume, which meant escalating in proximity, too. I wondered what his mom would make of the three of us—she’d see Kathy Perdue first, clapping her hands over her head like a maniac at the base of the stairs and sometimes—when the spirit moved her, maybe—shouting. Then she’d find me cross-legged and swaying in the middle of the floor, sliding my hands over my face and make-believing all the applause in the room was for me. Finally she’d find her son holding the joint and she’d make a fuss and we wouldn’t see him again for the rest of the summer and I’d hold it against Kathy Perdue for distracting us all with her complete bullshit to begin with.
What happened, though, was that Greg’s mom opened the door and without seeing her we heard her holler down, “Greg! Oh, hello Kathy, dear… Greg! What in God’s name is with the noise down here! Turn it down! Greg!”
And Greg realized not all was lost and almost tripped over his own feet sprinting to the hi-fi to lift the hopping needle off Super Trouper, the applause suddenly stilled, the rank weed-smoke coagulating in the air as we heard footsteps, preceded by a curt Thank you, fall further into the house, oblivious and trembling in its complete and utter fucking luck.