Ezra Titus

1966 – 2009

CAMPING WITH ANTON

Mom – Thank you for encouraging me and for being the brilliant evocative woman you are. The palm tree doesn’t look great, but I’ve been singing to it. I love you eternally and beyond. — Ezra

 

CAMPING WITH ANTON

Lovingly dedicated to my Sister, Amy ‘Sweet Leaf’ Helm —

Anton Copland was a tall, skinny boy with straight, thin, mousy-brown hair who adored LSD and alcohol. He never wasted a minute going to school or exercising. Everyone grew used to seeing him with completely black circles around his eyes. He rarely slept, and when he did, it was often when he had passed out in some field where we would simply leave him as it was clearly his chosen fate to live this way. No one felt sorry for him, as he apparently felt no sorrow for himself. As far as Anton was concerned, this life of hallucinations and alcohol poisoning was an earthly paradise. He was infinitely reckless and seemed to have no fear of injury or any brain damage that might result from his avid drug abuse. He didn’t really seem suicidal, nor did he emit any distinctive aura of self-loathing, though maybe he should have. Anton just didn’t care about anything except tripping and drinking.

When I was about fifteen, Anton was eighteen, with all the physical capacities of his age, matched with the carelessness of an autistic toddler.

During those years, Anton, Sharon Sandler and I often liked to get some mescaline, a few bottles of rum and a bag of pot to go camping atop some cliffs at the end of a hiking trail that ascended West Mountain. Sharon had ‘fried’, frizzy, blonde hair with pink streaks throughout. She was tall and somewhat attractive except for her…… well, her body, and those eternally black eyes she seemed to share with Anton as if they arose from some genetically inherited trait they’d both been cursed with.

One September night, we all hiked up the mountain with about fifteen hits of mescaline and three quarts of 151 proof rum with one obvious goal in mind. After setting up a tent, we took some of the mescaline and, for about an hour, we marveled at the stars and spoke in hushed awe concerning the beauty of the night. After a while, Anton and I became far too drunk, and Sharon watched, somewhat turned off, as we cursed and wrestled with each other, overloaded with mescaline, drunk as sailors and brimming over with testosterone. The strong rum made the time go quickly and before I knew it, I was waking from a blackout in a collapsed tent.

It was freezing cold on top of the mountain that night and only Sharon had possessed the foresight to bring a sweater. When I rose to a painful hangover I was tangled in the folds of the twisted, orange nylon tent and numbed at the extremities by the biting cold. I wrapped the tent around myself even more completely in a vain attempt at maintaining my body-heat. I coughed and wondered why I’d woken up at all, desiring nothing but to sink back into that toxic, shivering sleep. Then I heard my name being shouted desperately.

At first, I thought I might’ve been hallucinating. The voice sounded very distant and the situation seemed very unrealistic. But, as I heard my own name, as well as Sharon’s being shouted repeatedly, I was sure the voice was real, and reluctantly crept out of the ‘tent’ into the early morning frost. Poor Sharon had fallen asleep leaning against a large, fallen tree. She was still clutching her bottle of rum in red, frostbitten hands. There was frost in her hair and frozen mucous clinging to her upper lip. “Sharon!” “Ezra!”- It was Anton calling to us frantically, but where was he? Sharon remained asleep. I thought she might’ve actually frozen to death, but in my confusion concerning the whereabouts of Anton, my concern for Sharon would have to wait half a minute. After looking around, and trying to shake off my double mescaline and rum hangover, I realized with horror that Anton’s voice was coming from far below me, over the edge of the cliff.

Terrified, I walked toward the precipice and peered over the edge, down into the treetops about forty feet below. There, walking aimlessly and still somehow with an intact bottle of rum in his hand, was Anton. His eyes filled with hope as he saw my confused visage peering over at him with a shocked look of wonderment and disbelief. He smiled as if then, everything was all right and yelled up to me: “Ezra! Look around from up there and see how I can get back up!”

For a moment I put my hand over my mouth as the full horror of being awake poured over my being. “How the fuck did you get down there?” I demanded. I knew already that this was going to be a bad day. Anton said he had been taking a piss over the side of the cliff, “and you should’ve seen the lights…..” He went on into a totally irrelevant description of his wonderful mescaline visions. I stopped listening to him. I could only wonder how the bottle of rum, which he was still drinking out of, had remained intact and incidentally, how Anton had managed to fall off of a sixty foot cliff without sustaining any visible injury. He was even in a good mood.

I heard Sharon muttering behind me, still drunk as a fish. I marveled for a moment at this unbelievable event that was unfolding, and began searching for a way for Anton to get back up the cliff. Somehow, there actually was a way, be it one only a mountain goat could easily navigate. I followed the path by eye and successfully directed Anton back up the zigzagging path toward the top of the cliff. How miraculous it truly was that Anton actually navigated his way back up, we wouldn’t know until that night. In the mean time, he happily crawled into his sleeping bag, took a sip of rum, stared admiringly at the sky for a moment, and fell asleep. Sharon mumbled something before her head tilted to the side and she too began to doze off.

I was too amazed to sleep, so I just sat there on a rock, waiting for the full light of day to emerge and warm the morning air. I just couldn’t stop looking at Anton, snoring away. I was shocked, as if I were seeing Dumbo in real life, or some such thing.

Two and a half hours later, Anton started screaming. Contrary to my hopes, the day had only grown colder and hearing the authenticity of Anton’s screams assured me that, as I had foreseen, this was truly going to be a bad day, especially for Anton. Sharon grew upset quickly, and helplessly inquired as to what exactly was wrong with Anton and what we could do to remedy the situation. Anton, for a time, could only continue to scream and cry in unfathomable pain. Sharon poured rum into his mouth, which he drank desperately in between bouts of coughing and vomiting. Finally, he brought himself to speak and begged us to remove his boots. We tried to do so, but the slightest touch sent him into a veritable adventure in pain. We loosened the laces of his boots, but taking them off proved too much for him to withstand. He gasped, “Water! Water!” We had none, and Sharon sent me to find some, along with a park ranger who could assist us.

I was still quite drunk, given the massive amount of rum I’d consumed the previous evening, and I tried to run, but consistently fell and stumbled down the trail until I stumbled right into another camper’s tent, knocking it down and crushing the man inside as I did so. He emerged quickly and angrily, but his face changed as he saw the panic I was in. It was clear also that I was in a miserable state of drunkenness, but it was really only the desperation in my eyes that told the man something was very seriously wrong. So, instead of yelling at me for having fallen on him and dismantling his tent, he inquired as to the trouble apparent in my bleary gaze. After I’d quickly told him what was happening, confused and obscured as I was, he began to help me fill an empty rum bottle with some of his water. I’ve never since seen anything like it, but as the man poured the water, it began to freeze in the neck of the brown, glass rum bottle and I’d have to poke the ice through the neck with my finger periodically so that we could pour a little more water into it. The cold water and ice dripping down my red, swollen hand made the cold all the more painful. The whole situation in fact, was already so unbearable that I considered abandoning Sharon and Anton in favor of going further down the trail to find a ranger. Of course, my conscience would not allow this, and I stumbled back to the edge of the cliff which we’d so wisely chosen as the site for our trip, which had now turned into an absolute, and worsening disaster.

Anton looked visibly disappointed when he saw how little water I’d managed to get into the bottle, and this, combined with the pain furrowed into his bloated, blackened eyes made Sharon begin to cry. I felt time was racing, so without saying a comforting word to Sharon, I stumbled off in search of a ranger. Thirty-five minutes later, I came back alone. No one who could have assisted us was to be found within any reasonable distance. Even the camper who had given me the water had vanished.

As Sharon cried, my frost-bite deepened and Anton continued to scream. I knew I had to think of something to get us out of this situation and I had to do so quickly, which meant overcoming the sluggishness imparted to my psyche by the rum and mescaline as well as ignoring any emotional reflexes that might have surfaced during this crisis, the likes of which I’d never been confronted with. I must shamefully admit, that for a second time, I felt a great desire simply to go home and deal with the whole thing over the phone from the warmth of my living room. That though, would’ve taken far too long. It would take me at least two and a half hours to get home, and this was obviously a situation that needed to be attended to immediately. But, what could I do?

It was a poor contingency, but it was also the only possibility and therefore came to mind rather quickly: I had a Swiss army knife, and I cut Anton’s sleeping bag at the corners, so that Sharon and I could push a crooked sapling down each side, creating a pitiful, make-shift stretcher that appeared doomed to fail as soon as we had completed it. Additionally, pushing crooked, frozen saplings in between Anton and the sides of his sleeping bag was not the most comforting thing we could have done. He shrieked and wailed as every jutting branch and stub scraped past his shattered body. Then, it was time to carry him down the trail, which, given Sharon’s strength and condition combined with the integrity of the ‘stretcher’, I silently thought would be impossible.

Still, as I said, it was the only contingency. So, as Anton’s screams began to echo through the wilderness, Sharon and I slowly made our way across the rocky, crooked trail, often bumping Anton against rocks and trees and even dropping one or the other end of his body at times. The screams became nearly unbearable, and Sharon’s weeping began to take on a hysterical tone, but we all knew there was nothing to do but continue. It was a ridiculous caravan of pain and sorrow. At one point, we nearly dropped Anton off a cliff yet again, but eventually we made it to the wide part of the trail.

There was a large, white, rusted pickup truck waiting for us with two laughing rangers inside. We’d had just a little luck, as the camper who had given us water had notified the park rangers on his way down the mountain.

We put Anton into the rusty, corrugated bed of the pickup truck and so began a long, bumpy ride down the trail. Anton screamed to the heavens all the way down to the waiting ambulance. The two rangers just couldn’t stop laughing and Sharon cursed them for it. Each lump and divet in the trail brought a new uniquely pitched scream from Anton. God was giving him a very severe, skeletal spanking for everything he had ever done wrong in his life. It was the kind of ride you’d never forget.

The woman who drove the ambulance let me push the buttons on the siren controller as we sped toward the hospital. The buttons were labeled, ‘howl’, ‘scream’, ‘yelp’ and ‘wail’. Anton seemed to have the same buttons attached to his tormented body. The ambulance driver took it all in her stride. I imagine she was quite used to this sort of thing and, ignoring Anton’s yelps and howls, made casual conversation with me on the way through Woodstock. Sharon asked to be dropped off at the road near her house while I accompanied Anton to the hospital.

I waited in a large crowd of bloated diabetics, convulsing drug abusers, screaming children and deformed compilations of medical oddities all seated in colorful, plastic chairs until the doctors told me I could go in to see Anton. He had three broken vertebrae, a broken leg, and was vomiting pure rum. The doctors said he was “a very lucky young man.” “Lucky indeed,” I thought. They also said that only the massive amount of alcohol he’d consumed could’ve made it possible for him to walk up the cliff after having fallen. Anton didn’t have much to say, so I just stood there and stared at him for a while until, finally, I called my dad to get a ride home. It would be two weeks before they put the cage on. After that, Anton would be able to move, and that’s when things really started to get wild.

For two weeks, Anton was held motionless in his hospital bed by about thirty-two straps from his forehead all the way down to his feet. Sharon, after having lived through our little camping trip, refused to leave her house for months. However, Linda Skyler, another friend of ours accompanied me to the hospital to visit Anton. He constantly implored us to bring him pills, acid and alcohol, which we lovingly did. We used to hitch-hike to the hospital, which was easy because Linda was a blonde bombshell of a girl and we always got picked up within seconds of putting our thumbs in the air. Before going to the hospital, we’d always hide in the bushes at the center of the Kingston traffic circle and smoke a joint. It was really amusing to us, watching police cars drive by while dragging on a fat ‘dube’. We just laughed, because we knew we were in such an obvious place, that we would never be noticed. We had to spoon feed Anton his drugs and alcohol, which must’ve been painfully obvious to the doctors and nurses in the hospital, but apparently, none of them cared enough to say anything about it.

Finally, the day arrived when Anton would have his ‘cage’ or metallic body-cast applied. Linda and I were on hand to offer moral support and to witness the tragic procedure. Anton had been informed that, unfortunately, no anesthesia could be administered for the insertion of six screws into his skull. That would’ve relaxed the musculature, and then the screws would disalign themselves when the muscles regained a normal degree of tension. He was given a steel bar to hold onto, and a wooden dowel to bite on. I had no idea the skull was so thick, but the doctors informed us that each of the six screws would have to be driven three quarters of an inch into the bone. The screws were rotated one full turn each round. First one, then, the opposite, and so on until all six were driven deep into the bone. The sides of his head had to be shaved first, but the top of his hair was left long, giving him a very punk-rock appearance. When they added the black, tubular steel ‘antlers’ as I called them (and there were six) he looked super-future-punk. I mean the kid looked “way cool”, as Linda put it. The metallic structure was attached to a plastic contraption that bound Anton from shoulders to waist. A fiberglass cast had already been applied to his broken leg.

When Anton got out of the hospital, he seemed different somehow. He was angry and had grown more reckless than ever. He always wanted to start a fight when he got drunk, and he’d charge toward people with his metal antlers thrust forward, broken leg flailing in a spasmodic sort of running. It was a bizarre, but effective tactic. He hadn’t been out of the hospital a week when one night, he got drunk and charged toward Gabriel, a huge, strong Indian boy who was also the toughest, most fearless guy we hung out with. Gabriel had grown up in a bad part of New York City, and was accustomed to fighting. He was good at it. When Anton charged toward him, head down, steel antlers protruding, Gabriel simply stepped out of the way at the last second. Anton crashed through the glass door of the pharmacy and his frame got stuck. He couldn’t seem to free himself and sirens were going off as the alarm had been set off. Anton wasn’t bleeding or anything (by some miracle) and one by one, we all ran away knowing that the police would be there at any second.

When we saw Anton again at The Pinball Palace a few days later, he refused to tell us what had happened and uttered terrible curses on all of us for having abandoned him. When he saw Gabriel, he tried to rush toward him, but he slipped and fell down in the muddy slush of early October. We all ran into ‘The Palace’ immediately, as no one could help laughing and no one wanted to be the first one Anton saw when he got up. Gabriel though, stayed outside and started telling Anton to go fuck himself and that if he didn’t stop this shit, he’d end up paralyzed and that no one wanted to be responsible for it. The lecture lasted about fifteen minutes after which Anton was cautiously readmitted into our little group on a sort of ‘probation’.

****

EZRA AND ANTON TAKE A TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY

One day, he and I went to New York City on LSD, antlers and all, and allow me to comment; this is not a good or safe thing to do. I still think we’re lucky to be alive. Before we got off the bus, I realized that the driver, as well as the rest of the passengers were all large, black apes. This was frightening to say the least, and that was only the beginning. We’d taken far too large a dose, and by the time we were out on the street, I was hard-pressed to remember what a ‘street’ was.

So, there we were, standing right in the middle of Eighth Avenue, tripping our brains out. I slowly realized that the big yellow cars were honking at us. I insisted, much to Anton’s objection, that we move onto the sidewalk. There was an old whore on the corner, with retarded children running around her in circles. She offered to fuck us both for two dollars. As Anton was pulling out a wad of cash, I said “NO, NO!” and pulled him away. A Japanese businessman looked up at me and smiled. He had only black holes where his eyes should have been. I took this to mean that he had no soul. I led Anton in any direction as quickly as I could, having no idea where I was or where I was going. I just wanted to get away from that whore, the retarded children and the soulless businessman.

On Sixth Avenue, we turned toward Central Park, tried to overcome the sea-like motions of the sidewalk and gather the courage to move forward. I looked for street signs, but there were too many giant orange and blue spheres bouncing around the city, and I couldn’t figure out exactly where we were. I decided to hail a cab, as I had come to the city with the intention of purchasing a distortion box for my guitar. We got into the cab, and I said “Electro Harmonix”, which was the name of the store at which I planned to buy the fuzz-box. The cab-driver drove us promptly around the corner and commanded a fee of ten dollars which we paid without question. I looked into the store window, but there was only a blinking Christmas tree with a live squirrel running around it in quick little circles. “They must be out of distortion boxes,” I thought, and we decided not to go inside.

Nearby, there was a McDonald’s and we were hungry, so we wandered inside. Confronted with the girl at the counter, neither of us knew what to say. The girl also remained silent for quite some time looking with morbid curiosity at Anton’s great, metallic head-frame, bolted into his shaved skull. Finally she said, “What can I help you with today?” Anton and I looked at each other, completely at a loss for words. Some time passed as the girl’s eyes widened steadily in amazement until finally, Anton said, “Well, what kind of stuff do you have here?” She looked as if she were about to step off the face of the earth as she gestured toward the menu on the wall and replied, “Oh, y’know, hamburgers and stuff like that.” “Oh, good,” I said, “I’ll have one of those.” She asked, “Would you like any fries with that?” and after contemplating this for about a minute, I said yes. Anton ordered the same thing I was having. The food was difficult to eat though, as it kept moving. Anton grabbed quickly at his fries, saying, “look at those little buggers squirming around!” I was having similar problems with my meal, and we finished less than half our food before we left.

We walked aimlessly for a time and I watched the great colored spheres bouncing around the streets. I also noticed there were more and more squirrels at each and every juncture. Anton commented on this as well. At one point, we saw Central Park in the distance. “Trees!” Anton exclaimed, and we started to run toward these, which we perceived to be a haven of some sort. When we got to the park, we sat on a very large rock overlooking the street and decided that this would be a good place to smoke a joint. We did so, but in the middle of smoking, who could it have been climbing the rock toward us with a bottle of beer in his hand? It was Ron Wood from the Rolling Stones. He had a white fur coat on and black leather pants with snake-skin cowboy boots. “Got a joint?” he cried out in a drunken English accent. “Got a joint?” We were amazed and slightly frightened as he made his way toward us. Then, he stumbled, spilled some beer, slipped in it, fell and broke the bottle, cutting his hand. Anton and I got up simultaneously to walk away, and as we did so, Ron began yelling at us: “You fuckin’ bastards,” he said, “come back here you fuckers!”

We walked into the park, and now there were thousands of squirrels, all standing on their hind legs doing a strange, Egyptian dance in unison. I had never seen bright, red squirrels before, so ‘cage boy’ and I stood, gawking at them for quite some time. Eventually, a dog ran by. The squirrels attacked him in a great swarm and quickly ate him like a school of piranha, leaving only the skeleton. As they ran away, one of them stopped to wink at me and he said “succulent!” “Whoa!” I said, “did you see that?”

“Yeah man,” Anton replied, “that was pretty awesome!”

There were colorful, strangely shaped balloons raining down from the sky in a veritable torrent. Anton said he needed to take a piss (the thing which had gotten him into trouble in the first place). We were standing in the middle of a roadway swarming with roller-skaters. I said that we should try to find a bathroom, but Anton said, “No man, I’ll just piss right here on this tree.” This tree, was one that was growing in the median between the two roller skating paths, and Anton just dropped his pants and let loose. I watched in horror as 100 skaters laughed at the boy with the large metal cage on his head, pissing in full view of everyone in New York. Anton noticed nothing out of the ordinary and was completely unembarrassed. We continued walking through the park, watching the red squirrels perform their strange ballet. Three men who looked like murderers walked by us at one point. “Let’s get these guys!” one said, but his friend said “No! Not these two!” And, I do not know why. It must’ve been Anton’s steel antlers.

Eventually, I decided it would be fun to go to the top of the World Trade Center. Anton agreed, and we jumped in a cab, but this was strange, because inside the taxicab were red squirrels eating saltines. The driver didn’t seem to mind though and in a little while, Anton and I were standing at the base of the twin towers.

We somehow managed to get on the tour, and we were soon in the elevator. I just wasn’t registering that while in the elevator, a man in a red suit kept telling us to get behind some yellow line. We ignored him, and when the elevator took off, Anton and I were hurled down onto the floor. Twenty-five other people roared with laughter and it sounded like they were all laughing through a long, metal tube. Anton fumbled about, trying to stand up, and his antlers made clanging, scratchy noises as he repeatedly bumped and scraped against the walls.

At the top of the tower, we looked in awe at the view below. Giant worms crawled throughout the mass of red and grey buildings stacked sloppily atop each other. The city was a teaming mass of worms and M.C. Escher-like architecture. However, the snack bar was just as interesting. Anton purchased a squirming apple, and I got a little carton of chocolate milk that was breathing. The milk was delicious. Anton took a few bites of his apple, and put it back on the pile of ice, right where he’d taken it from. I kept taking large gulps of my chocolate milk. After a while, I was surprised that there was still any left. I looked down into the carton, and indeed it was empty. However, I put it up to my lips and began to drink again. The milk flowed as freely as ever.

Walking around the top floor, we noticed a janitor’s closet, and decided it would be a good place to smoke a joint. We went inside and lit one up. We were talking, and laughing, having a good time (I was still drinking my chocolate milk) and I guess we didn’t realize how much time had elapsed since we’d entered the closet. We were smoking, oh I guess our fifth joint in there, when the door was flung open. It was the guy in the red jacket who’d yelled at us about the yellow line in the elevator. “You two! You! You, with the cage!” he screamed, “we’ve been looking for you for hours!” We laughed and followed the nasty little man out to the elevator. We were rocketed down to the lobby and ejected from the elevator with a nasty remark.

There in the lobby, we found ourselves completely lost. How would we exit this labyrinth of a building? We saw a group of four revolving doors and decided that this must be the way out. We walked through and realized we were standing in a bank. We walked out and deliberated as to how to escape this building again, at length. Eventually, we again spotted the four revolving doors, and again decided that this must be the way out. This time, the people in the bank looked at us suspiciously. (Anton’s antlers were something that just couldn’t be missed.) The third time we decided to exit through the revolving doors, Anton got nervous and decided to get into the same partition of the door that I did. Not realizing this, I pushed against the handle and heard a terrible, metallic crunching noise as Anton’s antlers were crushed within the door. After a struggle, and some cooperative effort, we again entered the bank. This time, three secretaries immediately picked up their phones and Anton and I ran back through the doors again in terror. He again tried to stay too close behind me and got his cage crushed in the door. We struggled like three stooges all wrapped up into only two, and made it back out into the hallway, running for our lives. I don’t know how, but we eventually got out of the building.

After a dangerous evening during which Anton, his antlers and I wandered all the way from Wall street to Spanish Harlem and back, we found a cheap hotel somewhere and spent the night. We watched Laserblast on TV and, at one point, I felt my eyeballs turn inside-out. Anton threw a beer bottle out the window and we heard someone scream as it shattered below. We couldn’t sleep, so we watched TV until daylight, when we went to Penn. station and boarded a train for Poughkeepsie, never giving a moment’s thought to the fact that we had to go to Woodstock, and should’ve taken a bus instead.

We fell asleep on the way and when we awoke, we were alone on the train on top of a rickety, old bridge over the Hudson river. They’d failed to wake us up? What had happened? We got off the train and walked the precarious, decrepit old bridge, tie by tie, back to Poughkeepsie where we soon found ourselves drinking beer in a children’s playground. Anton wanted to sleep there, but I insisted we find out how to catch a bus back to Woodstock.

I was home by midnight. Be it all as it was after that little sojourn, Anton seemed to have lost a bit of that “piss and vinegar” he had, up until then, possessed in such quantities. He still hung out. But more often now, one saw him alone, driving around in his blue Dodge Dart with that ridiculous get-up bolted into his slowly regrowing hair. The cast on his leg only had to stay on for ten weeks, but the antlers remained for no less than eighteen months. Strangely, by the time it was all over, Anton rarely hung out with us, his old crew. He never thanked Sharon and I for what we had done and he has remained somewhat bitter, in general, to this day. Sometimes, one can still see him driving past the village green in Woodstock in that thirty-five year old Dodge Dart, grimacing.