An excerpt from the novel
by Rudolph Wurlitzer
by Rudolph Wurlitzer
He was up fourteen grand. He decided to keep four for himself and give the rest to Walker as payment for the next installment of the script, making himself the producer. He would have Walker sign a paper saying all three of them owned the script equally. This was his move. He was pulling up on the fast lane and making a grab for the package. He would have a half a script credit along with the producer’s credit and if Wesley pulled some shit they could take it to a younger director more able to deal with the action. Because if there was one thing A.D. felt the script needed it was action. Or another character. If there was another person along, another girl perhaps, a friend of Lacey’s that Jim could fall in love with, then the sex would be better and more complicated and there would be more angles. Later he would deal with all of that. For now he would just shine it on.
He cashed in his chips, except for a hundred dollars worth of ones and put Walker’s ten grand into a separate pocket in a sealed envelope. Then he went over to the blackjack table and spent the next several hours neither winning nor losing. Meanwhile, Walker, who hadn’t been able to sleep, was trying to wear himself out by returning to the script. He had been working off and on, occasionally watching the action in the casino for a few minutes, but mostly hanging around the desk while the scene built inside him and he felt himself pulled back to that long traumatic journey by train up the length of India to New Delhi. It was the smokey evening light in the Madras train station that he remembered first and then the babble of thousands of voices …..
EXTERIOR MID DAY. Coming in over the scene with a crane shot of Jim and Lacey following two porters bent double under twelve pieces of luggage as they make their way through a chaos of travelers, beggars, and food vendors. The exotic anarchy of the scene has drawn them closer together. They certainly looked more cooled out than they did a few days ago, wearing white kurtas that hang loosely over their waists and newly bought leather sandals. As the porters place their luggage in their first class compartment, Jim whispers to Lacey in a broad imitation of an Indian accent, “It doesn’t matter if all of India is outside wanting to come in. I mean, does it now? We are inside and being inside is all that matters when one experiences the outside in such an aggressive worldly manner. I don’t know if that is properly philosophical, young lady, but I’m very much fatigued, not just physically, but in my own spiritual body as well and as we know, weariness admits to its own demands”…This while sliding a hand under her flowing kurta…the porters have laid out their V bed rolls, accepted a tip and left. The train picks up speed as it pulls out of the station. Through the window scenes of rural India: endlessly parched fields, smoke from a thousand cooking fires, cardboard and tin shacks outside of ancient mud villages where oxen push water wheels and hollow eyed children stare blankly at the passing train…
THESE SCENES INTERCUT. . . with Jim and Lacey cozy and intimate inside their protective cocoon, playing cassettes on their tape deck, drinking wine and eating sandwiches from a straw basket the hotel provided, making love…Within the rhythm of the montage night arrives, then the first streaks of morning light across the flat dusty landscape…The train stops at the crowded station of a small city. It’s hot. They have an hour’s wait and decide to stretch their legs on the platform outside where entire families live and sleep in the midst of the usual food vendors and comings and goings…
ANOTHER ANGLE. From inside a nearly empty restaurant an American couple, who we know by their adopted Indian names of Sita and Bodhi, sip tea and silently watch Jim and Lacey as they stroll down the platform. They have been on the trail for a very long time and look utterly wasted in their torn and grease stained lungis and kurtas, faded prayer beads made of tulsi wood draped around their necks, their jaundiced faces sunken and empty eyed. As Jim and Lacey reach the end of the platform and turn back towards the train, three lepers appear like apparitions from a grotesque dream, waving their open sores at them as they ask for alms. An old woman with half her nose missing tries to rub a hideous dripping arm across Lacey’s shoulder. Lacey screams. Reaching into her purse she throws a handful of bills at the lepers, who crawl on their hands and knees after more money then they’ve ever seen…As Jim and Lacey make their way back to the train, Bodhi steps outside the restaurant and intercepts them. He is a dark haired young man with a long matted beard and small oval eyes that seem too slow and mechanically controlled. ‘Those were lepers,’ he says to Lacey. ‘You’ll have to get rid of your shirt.’ Lacey, on the edge of hysteria, starts to cry but Bodhi puts his hand gently on her arm. ‘Don’t worry. Happens all the time. Come on in and have a cup of tea’ …. Numbly they follow him inside, sitting down next to Sita, who is blond and perilously thin. ‘Put this on,’ she says to Lacey, taking a wadded up orange kurta out of her handbag and handing it to her… ‘They never actually touched me,’ Lacey says…’I know what I’m talking about,’ Sita says, her pale blue eyes insistent…Obediantly Lacey changes into the torn and soiled kurta that makes her look as freaked as she feels. ‘I have been inside that rag a long long time,’ Sita says softly. ‘It carries my vibrations and if you open up to them you’ll relax.’ Lacey nods, not wanting to pursue it any further. On the platform in front of them an old man in a dhoti starts to play a srangi (Indian violin). He is blind, and is helped by a young girl, who sings along in a high tender voice. A few people drop coins in front of him… ‘Going north, are you?’ Bodhi asks…’New Delhi,’ Jim answers and then – Bodhi gets right to it. ‘Listen, brother, can you spare enough change for two poor pilgrims to get on the train? We’re going up to Rishikesh and we sort of lost it. I picked up malaria in Cochin and both of us went through the hepatitis trip. Any way you cut it, we’re busted’… Jim offers him a wad of rupees. With great deliberation, Bodhi counts out what is needed and hands the rest to him. ‘Blessings on you for a pure and compassionate act.’ He calls out for two orders of dumplings and kurds, then turns to stare at a young boy in a white Rolling Stones tee shirt trying to hustle a pack of Camels. ‘Hold on. Just wait right there. I see an old friend.’ He turns to Jim. ‘If you can front me three hundred more rups I can absolutely guarantee you a serene and expansive ride all the way up to the city of your choice, Neu-va Del-hi’… Jim hands him the rupees and he walks quickly outside where he and the boy begin a transaction, obviously not for cigarettes …. Sita sighs. ‘He was beautiful in Mysore. He was very open, like a baby when we saw the Puri Baba. He cried and kissed his feet. It was a holy moment.’ She stares off across the tracks as they sit there in the hot oppressive silence waiting for the train…
CUT TO… small four black balls of opium in the palm of Bodhi’s hand, in the background, through the train window, the setting sun sinks over bleak rolling hills. Bodhi passes everyone a ball, the best, most efficient way is to shove it up your ass. But if you can’t handle that you can swallow it’ …. He and Sita proceed to execute the first option. Jim swallows his but Lacey hesitates. ‘I’ve never done anything like this,’ she says with an awkward giggle …. ‘No one’s forcing you,’ Bodhi says. ‘It just smooths and grooves a boring trip. Takes you off the clock’ …. Jim puts an arm around Lacey, pulls her to him. ‘C’mon, sweetheart, it’s like a perc or a valium’ …. Closing her eyes, she swallows the opium with a sip of wine …. Sita pours more wine into a copper offering bowl that rests on a makeshift altar set up underneath the train window created from a yellow silk cloth laid cross the width of one of Jim’s suitcases. She and Bhodi have made themselves at home, having claimed the upper two bunks for themselves. At the rear of the altar on either side of a burning candle, are a smoking incense stick and an ancient skull bowl. A many colored paper cut-out of a mandala rests in front of the altar next to a bell and sickle shaped knife. On the window they’ve taped two photographs: a reproduction of the goddess Kali, her blue four armed body standing triumphant over two headless corpses, and a black and white photograph of a ferocious smooth skinned yogi covered with ash sitting naked underneath a banyan tree, his pupils raised upwards so that only the whites of his eyes are visible…Bodhi lies back on a lower bunk, his hands locked behind his neck, very relaxed and satisfied with the way things are going. ‘Sita and I might do a little puja. Jump the energy level. Sanctify the space and pacify the demons’ …. ˜Well sure,’ Jim says. ‘Whatever it takes’….Sita, seated in a half lotus in front of the altar, nods and clasps the palms of her hands together, bowing slightly. Then she touches the top of her head and intones: ‘Om Hum Hrim Siva Saktibyham Svaha’ …. Lacey curls up inside Jim’s embrace as they lie on the opposite bunk. She can’t stop giggling. ‘This is all a little theatrical, don’t you think? A little hippy-dippy’ …. Sita turns to stare at her, a slow sad smile on her thin lips …. ‘I didn’t mean anything,’ Lacey said. ‘I just don’t know what’s going on’ …. After a long pause, Bodhi says: It’s theatrical all right. If you know that you’ll come through the dreams ok’ …. ‘Come through what dreams?’ Jim asks, struggling to make sense through faculties that are spinning away from him …. ‘Whatever dreams Mother India has in store for you,’ Bodhi replies. ‘This country doesn’t work, you understand. It doesn’t want to work. It’s in a time switch. Everything that’s repressed back home is on the street here. The outside becomes the inside or is it the other way around? Certain things become available. Our Guru teaches us not to shrink from the senses but to conquer them through experience. He says perfection can be attained by satisfying all desires. Take it right to the street, he says. Every event is sacred. That’s our Baba’s special message for you this evening.
Just watch and accept. Every rip-off, betrayal, slimy surprise; they’re all opportunities to jump your level’ …. ‘What’s he saying?’ Lacey whispers to Jim. She is beginning to feel stoned and paranoid …. ‘Something occult, no doubt,’ he says. As if from a great distance they watch Sita ring a little brass bell, softly repeating a mantra: ‘Om Jaya vijaya vijaya’ ….Lacey tries to sit up but falls back on the bunk. ‘Oh God,’ she moans. ‘What’s happening to me?’ …. ‘You’re on hold,’ Bodhi explains, standing up and smiling down at them. ‘We dipped your opium into a little elixir of snake juice. Copped it from an old jungle Baba back of Goa. You’ll be paralyzed for a few hours, nothing more than that.’ They watch him, unable to move or speak as he systematically goes through their luggage, emptying out Lacey’s purse and Jim’s wallet and trying on Jim’s clothes. Sita remains absorbed in meditation, her eyes half closed, the mantra a whisper through her lips …. ‘You’re observers now,’ Bodhi goes on. ‘Tantric tv watchers. Pranayama is a great yoga. Very pure. Watching your breath and your thoughts and your money and possessions come and go’ …. He tries on one of Jim’s white linen jackets, admiring himself in a handheld mirror. Impatiently, Sita tells him to get on with it …. Bodhi sighs, folding up the jacket and putting it with the rest of his chosen wardrobe. ‘We have to complete the puja. We’re on the sixth day of a seven day puja devoted to getting Sita knocked up. We’re neophytes, you understand, and a lot can go wrong when you’re working the kundalini up the spinal column and touching base with all the chakras. That old inner woman can cause you grief if you don’t stay on the point. So we have to perform when the moon tells us to perform. Tomorrow will be the fertile time for a god-child to be conceived. Now we store the energy, hold back the sperm until the auspicious moment and then let the sakti unite with Siva’ …. ‘Please,’ Sita implores …. ‘All right then,’ Bodhi says, turning back to Jim and Lacey for one final word. ‘Don’t worry about your passports. We just want to meet our needs, nothing more. A few clothes, your money, tape deck, stuff you can easily replace. You’re loaded, after all. Hey, we’re not out to do anyone in. Although, as our Baba says, we occupy the place of the gross. But in his infinite compassion he gave us the tools to process it all’ …. All this while he’s quickly removing his clothes and joining Sita who is sitting naked on a bedroll in front of the altar. They stare into each other’s eyes with great seriousness, intoning Hrim, Shrim, Kleem as Lacey and Jim lie pinned to the bunk unable not to look …. Sita’s fingers slowly circle the tip of his cock. His breathing becomes rapid as he squeezes Sita’s nipples. For a moment they have to pull back, shutting their eyes as they regain control… ‘We need music,’ he suggests …. Sita looks at him impatiently. ‘Don’t be an asshole. Concentrate on the gap between breaths. Abandon yourself to those gaps. You remember what Baba says’ …. ‘I’m not keeping the Atma in mind,’ Bhodi says. All I feel like doing is fucking your brains out …. ‘ She looks at him with disgust. ‘If you shoot your filthy load into me I’ll never forgive you …. ‘ ‘No danger in that’ he says looking at his wilted cock…’It’s five minutes to twelve,’ Sita reminds him. ˜We’ve come too far to throw it away …. ‘ She bends down to give him an efficient blow job. As he becomes erect she pulls away and slowly lowers herself towards him. But before she can settle herself over him, he ejaculates in short spasmodic bursts. ˜You creep,” she cries out. ‘You’ve ruined everything.’ She turns away and bursts into tears…A few hours later the train pulls into a dark and nearly deserted station. Jim and Lacey sleep the dreamless sleep of the drugged while Sita and Bhodhi prepare to leave the compartment, looking resplendent in white linen suit and clinging silk dress, a gang of porters carrying all their bags except two, which they have left behind as a gesture of goodwill.
Rudy Wurlitzer is Road Editor of Smoke Signals.
Novelist (Nog, Quake, Flats, Slow Fade and The Drop, Edge of Yonder, essayist (Hard Travel To Sacred Places) and screenwriter of cult classics like Two Lane Blacktop, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, Candy Mountain, Walker and Little Buddha, among others.
This excerpt from his 1984 opus exploration of film biz hustlers riding the dharma trail originally appeared in the 1983 Unbraining issue, and has just been reissued as a novel and audio book by Drag City (http://www.dragcity.com/products/slow-fade).