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Days of Wine and Roaches
James J. Slattery
Yesterday afternoon I chanced to tune my truck’s Sirius radio into the opening of “Box of Rain,” an elegiac composition honoring Phil Lesh’s dying father, its title featuring “Box” as a stand-in for any of the other possible terms referring to that which we average, unimaginative souls might term “World.” In some sort of synchronous manifestation of merest coincidence the song also stands as the last live offering of the last live performance of the Grateful Dead before Jerry Garcia’s death. As some might have said were such to have happened in 1965 or even ’75 rather than ’95, “OH WOW”!
Now, this particular tale has little to do with rain or for that matter Phil Lesh and the Dead, at least not in its ultimate purpose; however, the song awoke in me the sleepy dawn of some sort of inspiration. Rain does not come in boxes. My early morning muse ─ I choose Melpomene for the ironic effect ─ with a bit of assistance from her sister Clio freed my mind from the bonds of attention to navigating the potholes of route 4, and as the truck steered itself along its restricted little way, my imagination departed for fields never really too far removed at all. I imagined that I remembered a story, and I had. It involves a strange and hazy tale from days of Owsley Stanley and the sunshine bright orange of the inquiring mind.
It seems the members of the band were on some sort of camping trip upon the shore of an unsilent sea when, lo and behold what should appear but a box, wooden and abandoned. Inside did they discover a most alive lizard. In most humane fashion they all did return to their “bus” ─ was it Further only they can know ─ whereupon Phillip fell into a most natural-seeming sleep, dreamt of those synaesthetic precincts wherein only the initiated may gain admittance, and, upon awakening, there upon his very breast stretched the lizard; its breath no more; its life-force spent. The box was closed. How then, except miraculously, did the Gecko escape? But further, what greater secrets might be lying upon sea-washed shores awaiting the dawning of their new day as an unwary hand opens the lid so long confining their mystical natures. In other words, Phil wrote the music, and Robert Hunter, who wasn’t even there, wrote the lyrics.
Anyway, absurd introductions finally gotten by, I was led to think how not only does rain not come in boxes, but once upon a time within the range of my three-score and ten-year memory neither did other liquids of any sort. Milk and soda came in bottles, juice in bottles or cans, and alcohol of all sorts, way, way back, came in bottles only, eventually graduating to cans, but never evolving further. To this day have you ever seen or even heard of a “box of beer,” or of Pepsi… or even milk — uh oh — milk does now come in cartons. But a box of Scotch…? Really!
Then, however, just as my little truck pulled me safely into our driveway, the abomination of a “Box of Joe” rose up before me, blotting out whatever straight-on vision was left me. And then, horror upon horror, an abomination of cosmic proportions. A box of wine! What the hell? Only the great deceiver, the evilest of the evil could have envisioned let alone created a horror of such dark proportions. Did not Pandora’s Box (actually a jar as I understand it) contain all the evil of all the universe? Who do you think put all that stuff in there anyway?
According to the myth, however, the jar also contained Hope, a comforting thought perhaps, but in a box of wine, what hope might remain once the contents have been drained and then released into the world via… well you know that process, I am sure. Some days, a big old chair in our living room sits directly in the warm path of a sampling of the sun’s energy upon the last few feet of its cosmic journey. There I sat, and there a fitful somnolence overtook me from which arose the following:
Thank you Clio, the box of wine originated in 1965 the result of a malpassant inspiration of Thomas Mangove’s. In truth, the vintage is held inside the box inside a plastic envelop of sorts, not unlike a pig’s bladder—or a human organ for that matter; thus eliminating the danger of cardboardiness replacing the dreaded corkiness of the bottled product. Anyway….
One otherwise uneventful evening a particularly alcoholic blatterian — cockroach — scuttled her errant way across the edge of a great vat in the process of receiving a copious infusion of rosé. From a broader perspective the vat was merely a moderately sized tub, but then one must forgive the limited awareness of those counted among God’s lesser creatures. Along the deliciously slippery edge did she venture until…. It may have been a gust of non-existent wind or even a gloved and mischievous hand—can anyone say—that toppled her over into the most delightful sea of dreams ever a roach set sail upon.
In no lengthy order, the process, moving inexorably toward the denoument of another story entirely, had spit the contents, including the little Periplaneta Americana into a plastic sack and then thudded the whole thing into a dark and most comforting container of some mysterious construction. Never would the roach awaken from her miraculous state of intoxication. For several days she floated in a most heavenly state of sensual deprivation. Except of course a deeply-held awareness of her intense intoxication. She needn’t even wiggle her weightless legs or attempt to unfold her useless anyway wings. At first she merely bathed in the warm liquid baptism of near total immersion, but soon she came to realize, somewhere way outside of her limited self, that she was no longer afloat upon the crest of something deeper than any blattarian understanding could fathom. No! She was slowly becoming the substance, the liquor surrounding her. She was merging with the divinely intoxicating, most holy nature of life and death itself, all being and non-being, time and no-time. The grapes into wine, the roach into spirit accomplished, Hope (for that was her name) floated about in segments coming apart and drifting in that cavern measureless to man but not to cockroach until a party of innocent women, lead by their hostess Dora, drained the box over the course of an evening spent in the kitchen of the house wherein, in another room, men, their men, snorted, howled, and stuffed their maws with salted snacks of infinite variety, chewed upon varietious Pizzas, and drank beer. Yes, beer, clear and hopeless from…. Again you guessed it, Bottles.
“The lyrics come from an old story from the band. The whole band went on a camping trip one time and they were walking on the beach. They found a small wooden box abandoned on the beach. When the opened it they found a lizard living inside it so the took it back on the bus with them. Later that day while the box with the lizard in it was left on a table on the bus Phil took a nap. He had a very strange and apparently really trippy dream that had to do with his father. When Phil woke up the lizard was dead but it was lying on his chest. Nobody knows how it got out of the box but after that happened it rained nonstop for 6 days.
I did not make this up, my father was on Dead Tour and met Jerry Garcia, Jerry told him this story.”
– Graham, Middletown, RIBottom of Form
©2014 James J. Slattery. all rights reserved. The people and events of this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people and events is coincidental and unintentional. No portion of this work may be reproduced by any means without written permission.