Jim Knable’s Sons of Dionysus: a lusty novel of myth, mirth, and music.
Charlegne was halfway to becoming Charles. The top half. S/he was still recuperating and would not be back with us for a little while longer. S/he sent reports to the group through Benjamin, who was still in recovery from his broken leg and the slight concussion he did actually sustain from being brained with the pig head. The spring tour south sounded eventful from the stories I heard. There was one arrest in Birmingham, something to do with disorderly conduct while wearing a diaper and pushing a shopping cart off a bridge.
Sons of Dionysus, Chapter 10 (Read by Jeff Wilser)
The sprint to the end of the academic year had begun. Arthur and I were staying up late, working on papers, reading, doing problem sets. As the end of the year approached, the panic of 4000 other over-achievers had become contagious, even amongst such nonchalants as the SODs. Those who showed up at the Owl before or after having been up all night wrestling with rhetoric were especially praised. My own attendance dwindled. Arthur kept the faith, stumbling home drunk, back to his desk to read, scribble, smoke, drink bad coffee, and eat 2am sandwiches. He looked awful, worse than when he returned from the first tour. He was not shaving, but he also could not grow a convincing beard, only patches of scruffy asymmetrical failure. I’m hardly one to talk as I don’t need to shave at all. I have never grown facial hair worthy of attention.
The chaos of our academic lives slapped all of us, whatever our tendencies, addictions and perversions, into a rigid stupor of study. Already there were one or two we knew on academic probation, failing, looking as if they might not be allowed to return the next year. There was a long history in the SODs of past members who had never actually graduated (but still showed up for various events and orgies).
Seeing Arthur’s martyr-like struggle to let neither his studies nor his compatriots down, I was grateful I was still an outsider. I could retreat to my former focused self, where Arthur could only forge ahead into the hurricane, carrying what sanity he could with him, chasing the swirling eye. What did Nora say about focus? What did Clifford say? So much conflicting wisdom and anxiety floating in the air, already thick with the threat of summer, made it hard to accomplish anything.
There were many bums on our campus streets. Bums reminded us constantly of how lucky we were. One particular bum haunted all of us, for he once went to school here. Unlike several SODs who went on to live productive lives despite not having graduated, he had actually graduated, but opted not to leave campus. Instead, he wandered the tunnels under the dorms, sat in the back of large lecture classes, lay on the grass where the students studied or frolicked, made a brazen display of his homelessness. He was probably in his late twenties, though he could have been mistaken for 40. He kept himself dirty and disheveled. If a movie producer were looking for a relatively attractive but disgusting-smelling homeless man for a movie about a homeless man who is befriended by a college student, he would be cast.
His name was Roger.
Roger, though he had never been an SOD, did have some long lost connection with the group. What this connection was, was kept secret from the freshman catamites and no one else outside the group really cared. He was used as a threat. Roger’s gonna break you in soon. Roger’s waiting just at the end of your catamite year. Rumors of the role Roger would play in the transition from Freshman to Sophomore year abounded, usually sexual in nature, though sometimes stranger.
I, like everyone else on campus, interacted with Roger almost daily. He asked for money to buy drugs and alcohol and I, like most others, said: no, sorry. One day, as I was rushing to the library in a blur of sleep deprivation, he grabbed hold of my arm. No, sorry, I said immediately.
I’m not asking for money, he said, I want to show you something.
I can’t, I’m late, I gotta go.
I know where Cassandra lives, he said.
You want to find her, don’t you? Follow me.
He walked off. Undeniably I wanted to find Cassandra, whose last name I never learned, whose first name did not appear when I searched for it in the student database, who was there one day with me in the coffee house, then gone and never to be seen again. Do I believe in such things as what I must in order to decide to follow him? Quick, follow him before he disappears down the rabbit hole.
He was fast, dodging through a stream of students and townspeople down the main street of the college town. I could barely keep up with him. People parted like mythical waves in front of him. I only had to stay close enough behind to catch the open space before it closed with rushing bodies again. At such a close downwind distance, his smell was nauseating: sweat and urine and alcohol and several other unidentifiable odors. He swerved at an alley between two storefronts and kept down it, garbage bags stacked on either side, an open door at a dead end at the end of the alley. He walked through the door.
We were in the kitchen of a restaurant. Mexican cooks looked up at us in our movement with slightly baffled but ultimately unimpressed gazes. We came out through the dining area, where tables were being set and patrons sat. A woman dressed in a white button down shirt and tie said: You can’t be in here— to him, not me, though when she saw me in pursuit of him: Get out, both of you! And we did, leaving through the front door. Now we were outside again, apparently having only taken a shortcut, not a dive into a destination.
We came to a gate outside a residential college. He beckoned for me to magic us in with my keycard. I did. We passed through the iron swinging bars into a courtyard; now he darted left and ran up a narrow flight of stairs set in a stone wall and around a corner up above, out of sight. I had been in this courtyard before but had never seen these stairs. I walked between the walls, the real rabbit hole, step by step; the air was cool and dark. About half a regular flight up was a sharp turn and a parallelogram of light stretched on flat stone brick, sun shining from some unseen height. And now, past the turn, I saw him, one arm raised back triumphantly extended, hand outstretched, gesturing. Behold: a secret tiny grove, a rectangle of grass; at the far end, the object of his gesture, a barely life-sized statue up on a pedestal. I go up to it. The statue, I know these two figures, is Apollo… and Cassandra.
The story was fresh in my mind, thanks to English 129. Apollo, in love with mortal Cassandra, has given her the gift of seeing into the future, but she has spurned his love and now he turns her gift into a curse, making it so no one believes her prophesies, especially the one about the Trojan Horse, the death of Priam and her own murder at the hands of Clytemnestra and Aegysthus. In this sculpture, though, he is still in love with her, the gift is not yet a curse; she has not yet turned him away. He stands above her, lovingly whispering into her ears and giving her the power to see beyond the present. The sculpture stands free from walls, suspended in space on its base, lording over the tiny stretch of green, green grass. The light streams in from the blue white sky high above the walls and illuminates it, sparking the dew on the ground and the natural tiny shiny stones in the sculpture. Cassandra. The wrong Cassandra, unfortunately. I had been hoping for flesh, not rock, not myth.
I thank Roger and give him a dollar. He pockets it quickly and reclines on the grass, a clown of a bum of a perpetual student. I leave him with the statue and go down the stairs, out into the courtyard.
The voice. Broken, sweet and cracked, the light bouncing off her blazing hair, she stands right there. I am appropriately amazed.
That’s your name right?
I wondered what happened to you.
I can barely make a sound except to echo her words.
I’m late for a class.
Like Echo herself, I repeat her sentence for mine. (But I wasn’t late for class!)
Well, nice to see you again.
And she raced off, waving.
I heard my shallow voice squeeze to get out of my strangled throat. A sorcerer could not have cast a better spell to silence me when I most needed to speak.
I dashed after her. Outside the gates. No sign of her. Three ways she could have gone. I choose the one nearest, still running. Running down and through a quiet street. No sign. I double back. Take another path, back into the throngs. Still no sign. I run in circles, I lose my mind, I cannot find her anywhere. I am defeated finally, sweaty and frustrated.
But, closer now than I was before to finding her, for don’t I now know where she lives?
I wonder if she’s seen her namesake’s statue. I want to be the first to show it to her.
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.
Jeff Wilser (audio) is the author of The Maxims of Manhood and the Man Cave Book. He’s the founding editor of The Plunge, a site about bachelor parties, relationships, and how to be a groom. (Jeff has never been a groom.) His column is syndicated to The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Miami Herald, Detroit Free Press, and network of 100+ newspapers. His writing has appeared in print or online at GQ, Esquire, Glamour, The New York Daily News, The New York Post, VH1, and MTV. He’s the former Editor-in-Chief of the nightlife site Clubplanet.com. His celebrity interviews (80+) include George Clooney, Ellen Page, Matt Damon, Jamie Foxx, and everyone from Ice Cube to Woody Allen.
Beeb Salzer (illustration) is an artist, set designer, and essayist based in San Diego.