At the age of eleven, the young man in the motorized chair had helped his grandfather commit suicide. Very little had gone right since. It was not that he talked about it. He rarely talked about anything, even to Miss Lucy Barnes, the fundamentalist, who visited him on Thursdays. The people who occasionally took an interest could find it all in his chart, the drug addictions, the visits to the State Hospital, the electroshock treatments, some sixty in all, the period Nathan sized up as the Sixties blur, when the Grateful Dead became his favorite group, and when he copped the bad bag of heroin that paralyzed him, all but enough movement in the right arm to propel himself from a toggle switch, the motion infinitely caring, skirting the other cripples, nursing that high slung chariot where he reclined like some Medieval artist’s conception of a scourged Messiah, handling it like a fragile instrument, never grazing a wall, never touching a laundry cart, always with his large wide eyes in the emaciated bearded face surveying the field of action until he ended in the lounge and waited for passersby to insert a Marlboro or a Kool in the end of his smoking tube and fire it up, but mostly waiting for Edgar.
Edgar was the only human being he had ever met who really knew the score. Tommy King had said he was spaced, but King didn’t know the Sixties, and besides, King was a fag and a no good son that would say that about anyone who didn’t come across so straight in their own way that you had to be afraid for your life. King felt he was spaced, but Nathan knew different. Edgar Biederfeld had had the ultimate experience. No wonder people with small souls didn’t read him right. Edgar Biederfeld had taken 10,000 hits of liquid acid in the winter of 1968 and had gone on tripping for another half a year, and nobody else had done that, not Dylan, not Timothy Leary, not Jerry Garcia. In many ways Edgar Biederfeld was God. Besides, he smoked non-filter cigarettes and had a crewcut with a long untrimmed beard and was on Social Security disability and played the guitar better than Clapton when he had half a bag on, and that whole combination was enough to make anyone God or at least very close to it. Not to mention that he was a Deadhead. There were more of those left than anyone really thought, but when you ran into one you savored it like a fine wine, like a whole fresh bottle of one of those German wines like Blue Nun, because you knew you were in the presence of something important, and no matter what they said, Edgar Biederfeld who came every day to visit his senile uncle, was purity and love and kindness and all those other lovely words he could think of when he took to thinking about him, and he had saved Nathan from the one time Lucy Barnes had gone too far and had told him that rock music was the work of the Devil and he had screamed and twitched and cried and ran his chair into her leg and called her out, saying he would simply turn her into fire if she ever said that, ever again, anything about playing tunes backwards for messages from Satan, any of that garbage and crap that wasn’t even worth mentioning for fear of getting sick on it.
Just when it became unbearable, when he was left alone in the lounge and Lucy was out in the larger world looking for someone else to convert, Edgar had walked in with a big smile and those funny Lennon glasses, the gold wire rims, and told him, told Nathan in his agony that there was only one way to go. That you put Paul McCartney on the right and Lou Reed on the left, or maybe Mick Jagger, and you went right down the middle between them, you burned down the middle, and on the other end was Paradise, and that there was no other way to get even close, to get a sniff, and from then on Nathan wasn’t bothered by those people anymore, the Lucy Barneses. He let them run on all they wanted, because he knew that there was complete order and harmony in the world, and it was all due to the very thing he had founded his life on, and that was rock music, and especially the Sixties, and especially that narrow lane between Jagger and Paul McCartney, because he took young Edgar Biederfeld just a step further, though he never mentioned it, that that narrow path was Jerry Garcia and the Dead, world without end.
It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered. It didn’t even matter that his mother had deserted him, that she was up to her teeth in the Kingdom of Jehovah just like his father, dead now five years, that she never came to see him, that she sat around all day and prayed to Jesus and didn’t even take the time to pray for her only son who lay around all day with a tube in his privates and looking at the world from one angle, just past his lap-board and contracted feet with eyes that saw just a corner of the floor and the doorway, waiting for Edgar or sometimes Lucy, but saw it all, saw more than God, he thought, saw and heard and knew that life was not without meaning, not as long as he had it in his memory, as Garcia had it in his memory, because he loved Edgar Biederfeld, and he loved Garcia, and he would go on that way till they all died, and even beyond, even till he was a hundred and 23, sucking on Kools and Marlboros and a taste of reefer when he got very very lucky, just a touch last month, and go on that way maybe till there was absolutely no one in the whole miserable world left who had the slightest notion who even Lou Reed was, and then he would go peaceably, knowing he had done his part, for he had gone the path, and that was Nathan Muller’s ambition, to be the last, the very last unsullied flower child on earth, the last freak, the last Deadhead.
A young god on the methadone card
Reduced to this aching sack of bone,
This paraplegic shaman
Wired to the current scene—
The tiny room is ultimately electronic.
It is enough to perforate
Hands, feet, that contrast—
From virile strength
To skewered penis, juice in a bag,
Eyes like holes, liquid smile,
Nostrils bored in a stark emasculation,
Mirrors my current fixation,
The will to death I expiate with rag
And liquid soap, such oddity watching, watching,
Fussing at his limbs,
While the stereos lie fallow,
The TV sets, Atari,
Here at the center,
Greater Yahweh, Indra, Vishnu, Siva,
Sprouting from Sturmer’s belly,
That waste, that embryo, that fish, that claw,
Fertile as an insect, acid as despair,
Up, up, into the high-slung chair
At 33, just that suddenly,
Just that free to jerk along the tile
Past Bradford’s tremors,
Norbert staring, steering from a toggle at the chin,
M.S. Frankie managing with flippers,
Poor Ruthie’s stubs, Stoat’s grin.