Even at 16 he was a self-confident, supremely assured bastard, and part of the reason I hung out with him was in the hopes that some of that would rub off on me. That and the drugs. Oh yes, the high grade weed, the pharmaceutical/CIA grade LSD, the nitrous oxide. Endless. It was, after all, New York City, at the height of the Reagan presidency.
Cliff didn’t have a mantra in those days, but if he did it might have been 'maintain.' No matter what the circumstance, no matter what kind of fiendish chemicals were competing for oxygen in our post-pubescent bloodstreams. There is no excuse for a freak-out, none whatsoever. At times this could be taken for a lack of compassion, this druggie existentialism. My most powerful memory, perhaps one that shaped me more than any other, comes from this time. It was a spring evening, perhaps nine PM and Clifford and I met on the Staten Island ferry and split four hits of acid two way. We went back to my mother’s apartment and stowed the rest of the evening’s supplies – four oil-cans of Foster’s Lager and a 24 pack of nitrous oxide – and headed out to the Silver lake park golf course. We were high, very, very high, and we smoked pot in that way that acid-eaters do, breathing the smoke as if it were air, feeling nothing but absolute drug bliss Clifford mentioned that he had more acid, two more hits, and I convinced him that the prudent thing to do would be to eat them as well. Maybe I said something like “It’s dangerous to be carrying stuff like that around.”
The park grew too bright, too filled with nefarious potential, and we both realized too late that the extra acid had perhaps not been as prudent an idea as it had seemed at the time. There was the matter of the lager, and the nitrous. Both would be needed, and soon. We walk / stumbled back to the front door of my second story home (mother away somewhere, which was probably for the best) where I discovered that my key was not. Pockets picked. Searched. Roundly like an octopus, hands in one than another, and back again, slips of paper, coins, assorted not-key items. Panic. Heat rising behind eyes until everything tinged crimson. In the category of very bad things, this was the very bad…door not…red laughing, malicious whispers. Tangling, everything was tangled, there was no getting out of it. The drug had hold, bad. Needed to grab something.
“I’m going to freak out.” I announced.
“If you do I'll just leave you here.”
No compassion. Yes. But Clifford Heller was not one to eat heavy psychedelics with weaklings. I had known this from the start. Ergo - MAINTAIN. His words were like a sword cutting through my own internal Gordian Knot.
Suddenly the evil dissipated, just like that.
“So…what your saying is that total meltdown is not a good option?”
“No,” Cliff replied. “Definitely not.”
Plan. Action. March forth.
“Lets go find it,” I said, sensing that my keen grasp of logistics would impress Clifford. After all, the chance of two severely deranged acidheads locating a four inch long key on a golf course at midnight was extremely high.
Oddly enough, we did not locate the key, though after several hours of searching I did remember seeing a bright red wooden ladder tied to a gate somewhere, the existence of which made ingress into the sanctum and consumption of beer and nitrous possible (albeit after the optimum peak for maximum enjoyment).
I learned many things from Cliff Heller. “Meltdown is never a good option” was only one of them.