Friday, February 20, 2009

The Farmhouse, Part 10

If you read “How to Break an Ankle” on this blog last year, then you might recall my friend Richard. He was the guy from my hometown outside New York who shared my apartment during the summer of 1969, attending summer school and annoying all the neighbors on North Avenue with his melancholic, feedback-punctuated electric guitar solos blasting through open windows.

Richard had been in a deep, self-destructive funk since breaking up with his longtime girlfriend and was in the habit of medicating himself with gin and whatever drugs he could get his hands on. We tried to keep a close watch on him, because his behavior seemed suicidal.

Richard and I took our amplifiers, guitar and bass to the farmhouse for the party in July, and that night forced the others to endure our renditions of the Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” and “All Along the Watchtower.” The music was loud and not good, and the reception cold, which made Richard even more depressed and surly. By the time the thunderstorm struck, we had quit playing. The lights flickered and went out for a while, and we lighted the house with candles. Then someone asked where Richard had gone.

Not finding him inside the house, I walked around it, dodging the large, stinging raindrops. No cars had left the driveway, so I figured that the only place he could be was in the barn. As I headed there, lightning flashed, and in the blue-white strobe I saw him ascending the ladder of the silo.
I screamed for him to get down, that there was lightning, that he’d be killed, but he ignored me. The rain came slashing in the gusty wind, and after each crack of thunder I heard his crazy laugh. I saw him through the splatter of the storm, standing at the top of the ladder, head thrown back. “This is just like ‘Night on Bald Mountain’!” he yelled. (The Mussorgsky composition was his favorite classical piece. He liked to smoke hashish and listen to it over and over again, for hours.)
Frantic and sure that he would be electrocuted, I ran back to the house (“Maybe he’ll listen to someone else,” I said,) and then back to the silo with a few others. “Richard, please!” we hollered over and over again, before giving up and retreating. There was nothing we could do.

When the storm subsided, we heard him come in the back door, whistling and humming and acting annoyingly normal. I remember his profile in the living-room doorway, arms akimbo, water dripping from his elbows, the lighted kitchen behind him.
He could not see us glowering in the dark.

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