I’m the idiot sitting in my hot tub at night looking at the skies thinking about how when I was a kid, I used to stare at the moon finding it awesome to watch something that the first humans looked at, that Jesus Christ looked at, that even Charles Manson looked at for God’s sake.

My dad told me one time that I had a death wish. It was just a normal day too when he said that too. No wishing of any special kind was going on. He must have been remembering the good old days.

I once told a kid in high school that tripping on acid was bad for the soul. Just a year later in college I told a different kid: “Sure, I’ll drop some acid with you. Why not?”

My friend and I had a good time. We saw funny things bend that shouldn’t bend and we laughed until the skin slid off our cheeks and we were nothing but a bunch of laughing bones. We drove around Cedar Falls in my Toyota and no souls seemed damaged.

No one had to ask me after that if I wanted a hit of acid. I just took them. I honestly think I had completely forgotten the whole bad for your soul conversation. Of course, I also hadn’t had the death wish conversation yet with my dad. Too busy wishing.

We did have conversations about how revolutionary it was or wasn’t. Were we really breaking on through or were we just getting really fucked up?

That was a valid question.

I forgot my whole soul argument, but I generally took the side that nothing profound was happening.

Maybe the best thing that ever happened to me on acid was watching The Golden Girls. It’s not like I sought the show out. It just happened. But it was profound. On that little black and white television, I saw the space between the laugh tracks. The universe of the non-verbal. That’s a hell of a constellation right there. All the words that were not being said. Those were the funny ones.

Here’s something kind of profound. The worst trip I ever took was the one I hadn’t taken. What kind of riddle was that? I wanted to know too but there was no map to these stars I was seeing. I hadn’t done any, but I had done it all. I was just sober and then I just wasn’t. I didn’t know what to do about it, so I went to bed. But when I woke up, I was still in the same place. Still tripping sober. That lasted for about three months and then it was just gone.

I never did it again.

That’s one way to learn what is or what isn’t bad for the soul.

I never got a chance to tell my dad this, and he’s the smartest person I’ve ever known, but he was flat out wrong. My only ever wish was to live.

And so here I am again, the idiot in his hot tub, looking at the sky and it’s the same damned moon, it hasn’t changed at all since I was a kid but back then I was just smart enough to think about the past people and I never once considered I was looking at the same thing that someday the idiot in his hot tub would look at too. My future was up there the whole time, and I never even thought about it. What an idiot!

19 Comments

  1. Jonathan Cardew

    Al!

    Is that you? Do my eyes deceive me?

    So great to see you in this workshop! I miss our fireside chats at Cedar Valley, and this sounds very much like one of those!

    The voice here is Kratzian–meaning it’s funny, a little bit strange, with an underbelly of clear-eyed insight. You go from hot tub back to hot tub and somehow manage to squeeze in father-son relationships, souls, Charles Manson, and the eternity of the stars and the universe. Is this part of a longer work? I feel something longer here, but it also works as a standalone piece.

    I especially appreciated the ambivalence in this piece. This part really struck me: “I once told a kid in high school that tripping on acid was bad for the soul. Just a year later in college I told a different kid: “Sure, I’ll drop some acid with you. Why not?”” Apart from being very funny and truthful, this ambivalent vibe runs through the story and works to connect youth with age, innocence with experience.

    This is my absolute favorite line: “We saw funny things bend that shouldn’t bend and we laughed until the skin slid off our cheeks and we were nothing but a bunch of laughing bones.” YES, this is ACID.

    HOW ABOUTS:

    This is a draft–maybe you want to make it longer, maybe you want to make it shorter. I don’t know what you want! Stop pestering me! Whether you know what you want or not, I thought I’d share some How Abouts.

    1. Refrain it? I love the line “I’m the idiot in my hot tub at night looking at the stars…” and perhaps you could use it as a refrain in some way. Refrains are a great structural method and add rhythm. Could even be the title? I’m also into the line “I once told a kid in high school…”–you could also refrain with “I once…”

    2. I really like the macro and micro aspect of this piece. On the one hand, it is about someone growing up and reflecting on a past experience. On the other, it is about the interminable fixity of the universe. I wonder if you can bring in the universe a bit more? Is there a space-y phenomenon that could work as a metaphor in some way? Light years? Wormholes? Dark matter? It might be nice to bring in a bit of technical detail.

    VENUES:

    When I read this piece, it made me think of Splitlip Press. If you were to continue with this piece, and it was a good fit length-wise, you might consider submitting it there (they like voice-driven stuff with pop culture references).

    Man, I wish I was in a hot tub right now! Thanks for sharing your work here. Feel free to reply with any questions or comments, and feel free to send in a redraft (if the fancy takes you).

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

    • Al Kratz

      Hey Jonathan! I snuck in!

      I’m not sure what I’ve got here yet and what length. I find it interesting the thoughts of it being longer because my mind has been working more with long than flash lately. I really liked the samples from the lecture today and it gave me a little kick to try somethings with this flow and the idea of both getting understanding and getting lost by looking at the heavens, by making mistakes and by getting older.

      I would be interested in a Cardew take on the line between Refrain working and Refrain annoying or being “too” voicey. How do we get that balance of the power of a repetitive frame without the buggy of a repeat.

      • Jonathan Cardew

        Yeah that’s a good point–I do read some framed pieces that are annoying. I think you have to interrupt the rhythm sometimes, just like a drummer straying off beat for an organic feel. Hard to get right.

  2. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Al, so nice to read you again! Love how we get Jesus Christ and Charles Manson in the same sentence. Sort of acid-like. I think we may have touched on this topic (possible more than once) at Cedar Valley? Even so, love how the drug play filters through this lens of everyday life, told in your highly inventive, yet casual style. Fireside chats, perhaps. I sort of felt you could possibly end on the second to last paragraph. I love the reveal there for an “end.” But it also feels like this speaker isn’t done yet! So happy to share the space with you!

  3. Wilson Koewing

    Al!!!!!

    Man, awesome to see you here. I miss you buddy.

    First thing I noticed about this piece is that the voice is just tremendous. It is singularly and absolutely you. You could tell me this story sitting outside at Cedar Valley and it wouldn’t be much different. That may not sound like a compliment but I think it is a huge one. To be powerful and create depth while sounding just like oneself is an exceptional gift. The gift of an effortless storyteller.

    I think the way to elevate this from a first draft, somewhat anecdotal piece (which is what I always preach when it comes to CNF, which I’m assuming this is) is to fool the reader with structure and depth that they can’t see, while keeping all the stuff that is so very much true and you.

    In this case, I thought about the dad. I was so enamored with the guy sitting in the hot tub that when I got to the second part where the dad was mentioned again, i had to go back and remind myself where he was mentioned to begin with.

    If this piece is about a seemingly minor, though ultimately profound difference of opinion and thought with a man the narrator considers “the smartest they ever knew” then I feel like, from a framework standpoint, that should take center stage. Which is why I would suggest starting the piece with the opinion of the father. I know that kills the absolutely fantastic opening, but I think it helps the goals of the piece overall. I honestly think it might be as simple as just switching the first two paragraphs.

    Going on from there I guess it’s mostly about how deep you want to go. I think this could be a longer piece, though it functions well as is. Maybe one more mention of the father in some capacity.

    Just a pleasure to read, Al.

    Best,
    Wilson

    • Al Kratz

      Wilson! Miss you too man. Thanks so much for the feedback here. This is good stuff and is going to help. I mean what we’ve got here is a think piece about a mid-level man….

      I love these comments about the dad here. That gives me good things to think about. This really is a CNF story I’ve been trying to find the right way to tell. I’ve got some good options to play with here.

  4. Len Kuntz

    Hi Al,

    This had a real nostalgic feel, like a journal entry the reader is privy to. I love how you use drugs not only as an escape mechanism, but also to evade reality. Those initial references to the moon were very gripping. I also like how this piece came full circle at the end. Really nice job.

  5. Francine Witte

    I love the voice in this piece. Has that sure-footed Al Kratz signature. Like I know I’m on solid ground, that this writer has authority. I love that idiot in a hot tub line. So good. And I like all the self-reflection going on and hearing about the different circumstances of tripping. I also like very much how you come back to looking at the moon and how its the same moon. Great piece.

  6. Kristin Bonilla

    Al, I’m laughing over how we both ended up with pieces about acid. Must be the influence of Starry Night?

    Fantastic voice, as always with your work. From the first para with Jesus and Charles Manson sharing the moon, I immediately want to pay attention. I love the ambivalence in this voice. It feels earned. Life lessons learned. There’s a tension between the greater significance of things and the insignificance of things–acid trips, life choices, etc. Just someone dropping some wisdom In the hot tub.

    I’m hoping this is part of something longer because I’d love to keep reading.

    • Al Kratz

      Hi Kristin! Thanks so much for the comments and good to see you here. Screw Van Gogh, must be Cardew! 🙂

      Ah, dropping wisdom in the hot tub. Cheers.

  7. Jennifer Todhunter

    Hey Al, I really, really love the voice in this, it’s really readable and catchy at the same time and it propelled me through the story. The movement in the first half was terrific and fresh and it really pulled quickly and part of me thinks this would be really striking if it ended on “That was a valid question.” because things become more focused after that and less frenetic and it doesn’t necessarily match up so the ending reflecting on where we started feels unwarranted. But I did appreciate the whole piece and thought maybe if you could marry up the pace of the two halves, you might find a more cohesive piece – or split them in two.

  8. Benjamin Niespodziany

    “Maybe the best thing that ever happened to me on acid was watching The Golden Girls.”

    Now *that* is a sentence I didn’t expect to read this weekend. I can almost see this starting a new section or a page break. It’s such a strong attention getter and opener.

    I really like that this reflective piece loops back to the jacuzzi, and stays in this cosmic headspace. My instinct would be to remove the final line and take away the joke/insult/exclamation, but it also might work if you’re writing is generally more humorous and self-deprecating.

  9. Todd Clay Stuart

    Al, I love this! Love the premise and so many great lines. This is fun, thought-provoking, and the voice is compelling. Love the conversational tone here. I also love the fact that Christ, Manson, and the Golden Girls are all represented here. That’s quite a variety of cultural, historical references. lol Nice work!

  10. David O'Connor

    Al, what a lovely piece, made me think of Denis Johnson, even a little Kerouac, that’s my trip, and even caught me looking up at the stars thinking of my father, which I think is where the heat of the crisp rhythmic prose leads. The first sentence is rock solid hook. And thoughts like: . The worst trip I ever took was the one I hadn’t taken, add depth. If this was mine, and I had to go go back, I’d shave off some of the observations, like the last line, keep closer to the heat, no need to judge yourself, it create distance with the reader and narrator. Love your voice and the prose is exacting, well done!

  11. Wendy Oleson

    Al, this made me cry. It’s so raw and beautiful–there’s this honesty i latched right onto and built and built.

    This might be one of my favorite sentences EVER, (“Maybe the best thing that ever happened to me on acid was watching The Golden Girls”) and that the paragraph kept going without disappointing, brilliant. Damn, that’s a good paragraph.

    Thank you for this.

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