Jim Knable’s Sons of Dionysus, a lusty novel of myth, mirth, and music.
Every year the SODs did two cross-country tours. Winter and Spring. Two weeks each. In my imagination these were rolling orgies: drugs and booze and sex and mayhem, violating children and animals, leaving teenage girls devirginized and women pregnant and diseased, maybe even taking scalps. Arthur confirmed all this when he returned from his first tour.
We met back in our room. He looked like he’d been through a war. They had sung for their supper across the Northern States, driving through blizzards, crashing on floors of graduated SODs, the occasional hotel, the frequent (preferably women’s) college. They’d been treated like celebrities in Billings, Montana. Huge concert in the town community center. Arthur had a big belt buckle with cowboy boots and a bolo tie to match. He enumerated the many conquests as we lay that night in our bunkbeds.
Sons of Dionysus, Chapter 4 (Read by Steven Klein)
I had gone back home over the winter break. It was awful. Hardly knew how to behave with my parents; they didn’t know how to treat me either. Went to all the familiar places. Walked through the schoolyard of my old elementary school. There were condoms in the sandbox and a bench now dedicated to one of my teachers who had died. Went to the coffee house where I used to sit with my friends, all of us innocents together—maybe had a beer at someone’s house once, maybe a drag of a cigarette, or someone’s older brother tried to give us a puff of pot, but that was all we ever did. Saw those guys again now, most of them still around town, never left or didn’t go far, not as far as I went. Thought about my new place in the world, the college town that had become my own and how it was now sitting there without me, going on for three weeks without me, snow building up, our little room with the carved names under the fireplace shelf gathering dust.
I sit at the table with my parents. The first dinner together is nice, everyone being warm and loving. Feels good to be home. By the second week, I’m miserable. Can’t stand them watching me, wondering what time I’ll be home. Nothing to worry about then, nothing now; not here. If they only knew about the SODs, the clay cups of beer, the girls and gays and testicles hanging out. I do tell them about Arthur, describe him as a fine upstanding young man, a role model. My parents are old fashioned; they like to hear about role models.
One night my old friends have a party at Linda’s house. Her parents are out of town. Some of us are back like me from college, but most are at City College or just doing odd jobs, no real need to go anywhere else for them. We sit out by the pool, on the lawn, watching the occasional car through the fence on a quiet street. Max, Derek and me. Max has taken up smoking, so the other two of us try to smoke along with him, not quite inhaling, holding bottles of beer between our legs to show that we are in college and things have changed. But we’re still friends; we say we always will be friends. I wonder if that’s true. Already, I’m closer to Arthur and several others from college than I ever was with them.
It’s supposed to be a lunar eclipse tonight, says Max, the new smoker.
I knew, of course, but acted intrigued.
I think, says Max, we should make it a point to get together, just us old friends, every time there’s a lunar eclipse. Like even if we end up not seeing each other for years or whatever. We should always come back to the same spot and be together like this.
Max has red hair and is experimenting with a goatee. He left the state for college. Only one state up, but left the state nonetheless.
What spot? says Derek, the first real friend I ever had. From back in eighth grade. We had actually gone to different high schools, but he hung out with all my friends. Just before I had gone off to college, Derek and I sat in his living room and he told me that he marveled at my ambition. He said he would never be like that. He just wanted a good job and a nice wife and a happy family. They would live somewhere near his parents so they could babysit. That sounded horrible to me, but I told him I wished I could have that kind of life, too. No, you don’t, he laughed. You’d never be happy with that. You need to be some kind of star.
Here, says Max. We’ll meet here every lunar eclipse.
Linda was quietly behind us now, bare feet in the damp grass.
So let me get this straight, she said, you three are going to come to my parents’ lawn every time there’s a lunar eclipse?
Linda was valedictorian our year. I always say that smart girls are smarter than smart guys. She was skinny with long black hair like me, always wore tank tops, didn’t really need to wear a bra. People always thought we might be together in high school, but that’s just because we looked so similar. If they didn’t think we were together, they thought were twins. We were in a way. If the contest had just been among males, I would have been valedictorian.
What if my parents move? says Linda.
They’ll never move, says Max.
Yeah, you’re right. Okay. It’s a deal.
We all look up at the moon. Nothing much to see. In fact nothing at all, being eclipsed.
Linda’s were the first developed female breasts I saw other than my mother’s, which, thank God, I don’t remember. She had been wearing one of her tank tops in chemistry class one day. She had her arm raised, holding a beaker over a flame. I saw right into her tank top, the slight raised mound of flesh, the tiny little nipple. Then she put her arm down. I kept trying to see it again. It never showed itself. I hadn’t really thought of Linda sexually until then. I thought about her that night, about touching her while she had her arm raised up. After I had brought the fantasy to its ultimate end, I felt a wave of sadness, great sadness, like I had violated something sacred. I felt like an unclean leper, a sinner, a voyeur; I vowed to never think of her that way again.
So we were up there singing on this big stage, says Arthur, the whole town is out to see us, the whole auditorium full, we were rock stars to them, that’s what it felt like.
It takes me a second to remember what Arthur is talking about. I’m back here now, not there with them on the lawn. That lawn and all of them are on their own, without me.
Then what, I say.
That night we slept in someone’s barn. Moses did a ritual with some burning logs, almost burned the place down. We had to put it out with our piss because it was starting up on one hay bale and if that went, everything else would go. So we all whipped it out and stood there pissing like a bunch of demented firemen with short hoses. Moses had this colossal stream that arched up over all of ours, like a fountain, and it kept going and going.
I laughed and Arthur laughed and then I stopped laughing. Was I jealous? Hell, yes. I had certainly never pissed on a hay bale with thirteen other men at the same time, let alone whipped it out intentionally in front of anyone. My friends just looked at a moon that wasn’t there and made well-meant and meaningless promises to each other that we’d never keep.
Continue to Chapter Five
Jim Knable is a Brooklyn-based writer of plays, songs, prose, and the occasional screenplay. His plays have been produced at MCC Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Soho Rep, NYC’s Summer Play Festival and other regional theaters, and have been published by Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing, Samuel French, Smith & Kraus and Playscripts, Inc. He released his solo album Miles in 2000 and Redbeard (2006) and Golden Arrow (2009) with his band The Randy Bandits. Their next show is Saturday, November 5 at The Rock Shop in Brooklyn.
Actor-Producer Steven Klein (audio) runs Firefly: Theater & Films, recently played a Russian operative on BURN NOTICE and produced the award-winning doc MAKE BELIEVE, of which Ebert said “Gem of a movie…thumbs up!”, now on DVD.
Beeb Salzer (illustration) is an artist, set designer, and essayist based in San Diego.