The novel in question, my third and last to date, The Best of Brand X, was written in New York and Paris in the late 1960s and early 70s. My first two novels, also unpublished, written successively in high school (The Manufactured Country, 1961) and college (Away from Here, 1965), were both partially autobiographical family chronicles that mainly juggled with the same characters and materials; the third was more experimental and abstract but no less personal. — J.R.
Mr. Deejay Pays a Visit
Mr. Deejay has a long way to go. Straight through a bumper crop of twenty thousand of his listeners -– all of them senior citizens of the lower and middle income brackets, planted in the hot Texas ground up to their necks, each bearing a set of earphones that enclose their gravestone faces like parentheses. A long, long way to go past nurses with medical carts and trays on the narrow paths dividing the twenty thousand heads into neat rows, carry a hand-mike with him as he chatters compulsively against the midsummer heat: “Hot piece-a weather we’re havin, 96 degrees and cloudless sky here on Havingford Acres, givin these people some cool hot-weather music with lemonade, iced tea and all the best medication to see that they look up at the day and smile, my name’s Mr. Deejay Deejay is right and I’m on my way across the vast reservation towards the gates of Forever Dreamland. Yes indeed. Parked my car in the Dreamland lot over yonder under D for Deejay that’s me Mr. Deejay himself, heading towards the big grounds so I can help get the show rollin tonight if you know what I mean I’m sure you do, oh Jesus is it hot.” He pulls a steaming handkerchief from his pocket, wipes away a thin line of sweat beneath the brim of his two-gallon hat. “Jesus God it’s hot, but I know I still got a long, long way to go.”
One of the old ladies in the ground is freaking out on psylocibin that the nurse brought her for her birthday. No matter how cool the music gets, it keeps coming apart in her head like tangled yarn and she just doesn’t have the mind or body or gumption to put it back together again so she freaks instead, quietly and calmly, letting the music weave its way through her body like veins. The lemonade she sips through a glass straw branches out into her body like veins too, and the separate networks, music and liquid, keep getting mixed up in her mind like conflicting roadmaps, so she resolves not to think about either one, and tries to sleep. Can’t do that either, so she starts to imagine.
Imagines she’s a twenty-two-year-old girl on mescaline, alone in a room by herself in a house full of strange people. She doesn’t want to be alone. She goes downstairs and wanders into the kitchen, where all of the others are. They are on mescaline too, but this is not their first time. One boy named Noodle is tuning his guitar. Another named Brand is polishing a piece of driftwood. A girl and boy are busy eating eggs –- eggs that she had bought herself in the supermarket today, only an hour before she took the mescaline – eating her eggs without asking; their names are Mitch and Beth. No one is speaking so she speaks: “Oh there you are.” Noodle looks up briefly from his guitar. No one says anything. “How’s it going?” Mitch says. “I don’t know. Every split second I don’t see anything. It’s like everything looks like an old-time movie, and it keeps flickering. It’s hard to move around, or look at anything for long. I don’t like it. I guess I’ve been a little scared, being in that room all by myself.” “Poor drugs,” Brand says. “They’re always blamed.” No one says anything. The Noodle says, “How can you feel alone in a house full of people?” “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she says, feeling weak and silly like an old woman. The she is an old woman again, sipping lemonade and listening to cool music and watching Mr. Deejay, good old Mr. Deejay, as he strides past her, off into the distance, mopping his brow with a handkerchief, muttering to himself.
WELCOME TO FOREVER DREAMLAND
ONLY ½ MILE TO THE CHINESE RED LOVE PAVILION
Next we see Mr. Deejay enter a hospital room, one that is tactfully decorated in such a way as to resemble a luxurious hotel suite. Debussy piano pieces are playing softly on the stereo console, and one hears the quiet purr of an air-conditioner. On the bed is a woman in her mid-fifties, turned away from the camera, sobbing into a pillow. With her right hand, she attempts to hide her profile.
“Shut off the camera,” Mr. Deejay says quietly. Then he confers with a nurse. He learns that this is the tenth time the patient has been given acid, but the first time she has shown any difficulty with it. Frequent complaints: fear of death, inability to sleep due to noise made by the film crew upstairs, loneliness. “She keeps asking for her son,” the nurse says. “I tell her he’s busy working at Forever Dreamland, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.”
“Let me see what I can do,” Mr. Deejay says. He sits in a chair by the bed and begins to caress the woman’s left hand. “Don’t you want to see your son on TV tonight? It’s gonna be a special show tonight, believe me. A shame you don’t have a color TV to see it. Do you want me to get you one? I can get you a color TV for only fifty cents a night, two-fifty a week. Now what seems to be the trouble?”
The woman looks up suddenly with hatred in her eyes, her face shining with tears. “You know damn fucking well what’s wrong. I want to see my son and she tells me I can’t.”
“But you can,” Mr. Deejay says. “Don’t you know that your husband is coming over soon, to watch Brand on TV with you? This is Brand’s big night. He can’t be everywhere at once.”
“That’s not true!” She sits up violently. “You know it’s not true! How do I know that you’re not Brand?”
“I’m Mr. Deejay,” Mr. Deejay says. “Your son is in Forever Dreamland, getting ready for the show tonight.”
“But how do I know you’re not?” she says with a cry. Clutching his hand, she pulls him closer to her. “You look like my son. You sound like my son. Why do you pretend to be someone else? Why won’t you talk to me?”
Mr. Deejay motions briefly to the nurse; she nods, and steps over to a medicine cabinet where she begins to fill a syringe. “Oh please don’t do that again,” the woman says, a hint of terror in her voice. “You’re going to give me thorazine, aren’t you. Don’t you want to talk to me? Don’t you want to ask at least how I am?” Mr. Deejay gets up from his chair and walks over to his phonograph. “Just take it easy,” he says softly. “Your husband’s on his way.”
“I don’t want to see my husband! I want to see you, my son! Please, please, please, please, please stay and talk to me. Don’t play games with me—“
Mr. Deejay takes the record off the phonograph and replaces it with another, Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, while the nurse steps over to her bed with her syringe. After the injection, Mr. Deejay says, “Give her a sedative, too,” and steps over to the bed again. He picks up some earphones from the bed table and places them on the woman’s head as her features fade into blankness. “I’m sorry Mom,” he says. “I’m only a disc jockey. That’s my job. All I can do is play the songs you like to hear. I can’t bring you back your children.” He shrugs, turns around, and leaves the room.