Rick. Rick, get up.
Hunh? What time is it?
It’s 6:30. You have to make your tee time.
Are you crazy? I feel like there is a pregnant cow sitting on my head. How did I get here, anyway?
We brought you home. Your car is here. You have to make your tee time. It’s part of the discipline. When you come back from the Blackness you have to act as if you were never there. As if nothing happened. You have to go to your job or church or make your tee time.
All right, I’m going. God, I am never going to drink that shit again. Can I have some aspirin?
Sure. But I have to talk to you for a minute. Rick, last night you had your first true martini. And your second. And your third. And your—
I don’t want to talk about it. I apologize wholeheartedly and profusely. Thank you very much for your help and hospitality. I am never doing this again.
Don’t apologize. So your friends had to take you home. And carry you into your house. And you locked yourself in the bathroom all night. And you probably won’t be going back to Jimmy’s Cabana anymore. But don’t worry, we stuck you with the tab.
That isn’t important. Things have changed for you now, Rick. You have seen the Blackness. You are an initiate. You have descended to the First Circle of Hell. You have experienced the power of the martini. Granted, it consumed you, but you are just learning to walk here.
I’ve been insanely drunk before.
It wasn’t the same, was it?
No. It was way worse.
And better, too. Rick, what you have seen, or rather did not see, was the Blackness. It is particular to the true martini. You were wholly untested and unprepared. Now that you have experienced it, even though it overwhelmed you, you now know it intimately. You have reached the first level. You have taken the first step of a grand, if trying, journey.
What is this Blackness?
It is what you know now and a whole lot more. It is an altered consciousness. It is a shimmering gin martini suspended in infinite black space. It forces you to look inside your psyche and confront yourself without weapons, without defenses, without the niceties and protection of social customs. When you become more accustomed to it you will learn to navigate it.
Dude, I was fuckin’ loaded. I couldn’t even stand up. How the hell am I supposed to navigate that?
Well, Rick, it’s hard. You were in too deep. But don’t think of it as forcing yourself to maintain sobriety. You have to learn the rules of the game because once you are there you can’t just click your shoes and wish your way back to Kansas.
I couldn’t even wish my way to the rest room.
Think of it as driving a car through traffic. You can’t just force your car down the wrong side of the road. You have to stop for lights. You have to be prepared for the unexpected. Learn the rules, anticipate most of the variables, and you will be good for at least short trips at your level. Last night you tried to get where you were going by driving in a straight line the whole way. That usually works out pretty badly. I think you crashed into your garage wall to start and then just kept going.
This is pretty fucked up. What level are you?
Probably in the Fourth Circle. I admit you went pretty deep last night. Even I may have had trouble finding my way as far in as you were. But I wouldn’t have panicked. I have learned some techniques to use when I fear I have become lost. If I’m not too lost they work most of the time.
I can’t tell you. They are different for everybody. But you will find your own in time. I have been doing this for years.
How many levels are there? Nine?
I always assumed so. I don’t really know. This is mostly a solitary journey. Sometimes we travelers bump into each other, but by and large we are on our own. It is an exercise in self exploration. You turn inward, not outward, and it is naturally quite difficult to share that with someone. Especially if you are having trouble speaking English at the time.
Who do you know on the Ninth Circle?
Nobody. I doubt there are many alive and I am pretty sure they wouldn’t be much to talk to. But you certainly don’t have to be a master to find your way through the Blackness. You learn how to move first, then you learn how good you are at those techniques and what they get you. I can tell you the hardest thing I had to master was the tunnel vision. I still struggle with it.
What do you mean?
The Blackness creeps up on you like tunnel vision. You have to remain on guard or you won’t notice the walls closing in. If I do not see myself going in then I become lost. I saw it happen to you last night. You panicked. But don’t worry about that anymore. Now you know.
I don’t know, Dan. I feel like shit and I acted like an ass last night in front of everybody. I even got us kicked out of the bar.
No, you got you kicked out. We left voluntarily. But feel no shame. Do you have any idea how many places I really shouldn’t go back to in this town? It can be dangerous, but also enlightening. You see through new eyes.
What do you see through these new eyes?
I don’t see anything. But sometimes it’s kind of like turtles humping.
Hunh? Are you the turtles?
No, but I don’t just watch them either. There are no turtles, of course, nor sex either. That is an altogether different experience.
This is all a bunch of shit. I’m not drinking that crap again.
Rick, don’t give up now. I can’t promise that it will all be smooth sailing from here, but you have overcome a great hurdle.
Look, I didn’t say I was going to give up drinking. Just martinis.
Rick, listen. Beer makes you silly and fat. Bourbon just makes you crazy and tequila just makes you sick. But the martini, Rick, dangerous though it may be, opens your world to a whole new existence. You should give up those lesser drinks and concentrate on exploring the Blackness. I’ll give you a hint. After a while I learned I was better off practicing at home. Now when I go out I am better trained and prepared. You were in no condition to notice this last night, but I was in the Blackness too. Nobody else noticed it, either. Through careful preparation I kept my field of inner vision open and was not taken by surprise. Once you can navigate the Blackness you can get blitzed and people just think you are being mellow, or charming or weird or whatever. But not hammered. Not until you get yourself lost, which becomes harder and harder to do with practice.
Weird is right.
Don’t give up now, Rick. Don’t be frightened by the dog that bit you.
Okay then, how do I master this dog?
You can’t. You can’t control it. Rule number one. But you can learn to keep it from biting you while it gives up its secrets as fast as you can listen to them. I can’t tell you how, but you’ll learn. Start off slowly, make some more mistakes, and in time you will embrace the Blackness. And people will think you debonair when you order a six martini lunch and hold it.
You’re pretty fucking crazy.
Maybe. Probably. But I’m also right. I’ll see you in the Blackness.
How will I know it’s you?
I’ll be the one with the flashlight.