When we got to the top of those stairs, I thought I went mad. “Opulent” was not strong enough of a word to describe what we saw. There was a mixture of Art Deco and Art Nouveau and it was all authentic and original (I should know, it was the specialty of father’s antique business). Real Tiffany lamps gave the halls a warm glow, and Afghani and Persian carpets covered the lacquered floors.
A woman wearing nothing but a thong and a smile, scooted between Marty and me. She was talking on a cordless phone with one of the most melodic voices I’ve ever heard about someone named Wong and how she didn’t want to leave. I wanted to go back outside and see if this was truly the entrance into Heaven, but I didn’t want to climb those stairs again unless it was absolutely necessary.
“Did you bring what Mr. Wong asked for?” Marty and I turned around to a woman wearing even less than the first, not a stitch or a smile. I was trying to be polite and maintain eye contact, but Marty wasn’t going to bother with any such pretense.
“Did you bring what Mr. Wong asked for?”
I elbowed Marty and he opened the bag. She glanced it over and motioned for us to go up another flight of steep stairs. This time I kept my head low and I walked up slow and deliberately, yet I was still dizzy when I got to the top. The top flight was as ugly as the exterior of the building, it looked like J. Edgar Hoover’s nightmare from 1971.
There were black light posters that I’d only heard about in all their garish glory. The twelve Zodiac positions, Wiley Coyote finally capturing the Road Runner and the caption, “beep, beep, yer ass!” Semi-nude and nude women standing next to or striding jungle cats or mythological animals.
There were cushions from the Johnson administration that probably came brand new with that grunge and funk.
“Like my launch pad?”
Marty and I turned around to see an old Chinese hippie. He was bald on top, but he had a ponytail that looked Repunzle had a queue that had gone wrong. I was glad that unlike the rest of the house, he had clothes on. Tie-dye and Khaki, patchouli and The Gap.
“Mr. Wong?” I asked.
“Call me Wayne, only the chicks call me Mr. Wong, if you know what I mean.”I could not reconcile the fact that his voice and patois were like Garrison Keillor. His eyes were on Marty, who was about to bang this ornate gong, when Wayne threw a hunk of granola bar and plunked Marty in the back of the head.
“You don’t touch a man’s gong, son! You might as well be touching his woman!” Marty had a look of surprise and shame that made me regret that I didn’t bring a camera.
“Hi, Wayne, I’m Tom. Give him the book, Marty. ”We shook hands and Marty took the book out of the bag and handed it to Wayne. Wayne took the protective plastic off and gently looked it over.
“There you go, Wayne. A first edition of ‘On The Road,” just as we agreed.”
Wayne put it back in the protective plastic and held it as gently as a newborn.
“Finally! He promised me this, you know? He never made good on it either.”
Marty whispered “are you crazy?”
I hissed back, “shut up, this is a once in a lifetime experience. A dozen people have swore to me up and down that it will be worth it.”
Wayne put the book in an already opened safe, then he brought out a scrapbook and closed the safe. He opened the scrapbook and I was stupefied for between the covers were scores of famous people. Each of them were laid out on a carpet in a state of bliss.
Alfred Hitchcock and Kim Novak. Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassiday. Eric Burdon, John Kay, Jimi, Janis, Robert Plant, Steve McQueen, Jimmy Carter, and too many to mention.
“Do you know where the concept of the ‘magic carpet’ came from?” giggled Wayne as he put the dirtiest hookah in existence on the very same carpet that all the people in the scrapbook laid upon. I mean this thing looked filthy I wouldn’t have touched it with arm length rubber gloves and a pair of steelworker tongs.
Wayne must’ve seen the look of disgust in my face and he grumbled, “that’s the residue that will make it easier to get over Coit Tower.”
“What?” Marty laughed.
Wayne ignored him and focused on me, “the idea of the ‘magic carpet’ was in existence even before “The Arabian Nights” in the 14th Century. It was said that they had so much hashish, that they believed that the carpets they were zoning on, could levitate.”
Wayne put a bong before us and tamped the bowl. I picked it up and he lit it. The smoke wasn’t smoke at all, it was smooth and more like pure oxygen, if anything. Marty did the same, then me, then Marty, until we had eleven hits between us.
I didn’t feel a thing, but Marty’s eyes were glazed over. I had another hit, but Marty refused to have any more, against Wayne’s protests. “You will not clear Coit Tower, Marty.”
Marty waved him off and collapsed on the carpet like a balloon with its air let out. I laid down and still didn’t feel anything, until the floor felt like water. The floor shifted left, then right, then we started to float. At this point I realized that it wasn’t the floor but the carpet itself. Wayne waved his hand and the ceiling opened!
The bright sunlight stung my eyes as we were over Broadway and Stockton St. in an instant. The smell of Vietnamese noodles wafted into my nose as we entered North Beach and that smell gave way to the garlic and tomato of Italian food. We were over Washington Square Park and on our way up Telegraph Hill where Coit Tower stood at the top.
Marty woke up and smacked his lips, then his side of the carpet sagged. I barely got a hold of his arm when that side of the carpet gave way. The askew carpet snapped at me like a whip and flew right out from under us, homeward. We both plummeted toward the tower parking lot like lead balloons and the sunlight blinded us…
…We landed on our feet in front of Wayne’s house, with our backs to the door and it felt like we had fell just inches, instead of hundreds of feet. Marty and I looked at each other, disoriented. Like the Three Stooges with a ghost behind them, neither one of us wanted to look back at the house and we slowly walked away.
I heard a window open and Wayne’s voice cackle, “hey Icarus, don’t fly so close to the sun next time and maybe your wings won’t melt.” He laughed heartily as he shut the window.
Note: Wayne's last line was from a failed screenplay of mine and Wayne himself, was based on a philosophy professor that I knew from back in the day. JJ had us utilize the following:
A Pair of Tongs
Someone named Wong