Cab Ride (I keep playing with this story)
It was about 3 A.M. and here I was - hot-boxing a cab with a mildly obese driver sporting a number 13 New Jersey Devils jersey over what looks like three or four other t-shirts. J.C.'s greasy hair hung out from under a backwards Red Sox hat - fitted, of course.
And officially licensed, though the once proud white label was now a faded creamy grey and half missing.
"You believe in reincarnation?"
That’s a loaded question, coming from a fat cab driver sporting a nose piercing and shorts. In New England.
He trailed off for a second. The rest of the group had stumbled inside and here we were, smoking in a cab parked facing against traffic in the apartment building's loading zone.
I shifted in my seat and leaned back, partially against the seat, partially against the door, right elbow perched on the sill and protected from the chill by a wool jacket.
Suddenly, J.C. started talking again. The words tumbled out like water overtopping a dam:
"What if, what if, what if. You know?
What if... like... what if there really are guardian angels. But they fuck up, you know - they get bored, they get distracted, they intentionally neglect their job? And as some kind of punishment - I mean, you can't just fire a guardian angel, right? They're not really tangible, mortal people. So what if instead... they just get sent back into these cycles - like they wind up reliving the life of the person they screwed up."
Was I really that stoned?
I looked over at him: "This is pretty heavy shit."
There was a pregnant pause as he nodded.
"Stripper weed. Does not disappoint."
The engine knocked softly as the smoke drifted in curls around the car. I was talking about the conversation, not the weed. But he may have had a point.
J.C. exhaled and started again.
"What if that's reincarnation, man?"
"Right, man? Can you imagine? Once you figure it out, and you know how it ends. It's really something man. It's liberating - the ultimate freedom, honestly. The game is rigged and you're the one rigging it. Right up until the end, man.
"It's like this: I think you're allowed so many wiffs. Can't be everywhere at once, right? And no one is ever really surprised when the adrenaline junkie dies climbing Everest.
"But if you miss too many of the easy ones - one too many kids chasing a ball into traffic, or a distracted lawyer driving down the highway - maybe they revoke your rights. But you're stuck here then, right? You're one of the supreme beings."
He was talking as he took short, sharp pulls on the joint making his words forced and awkward as he tried to hold in the smoke but keep the story going.
"Gotta do something with that soul..."
The joint was pinched between index finger and thumb with his right hand. He finally exhaled and tapped his chest with his middle finger.
"Gotta do something with it."
The cab was silent until I finally tried to sum it up: "So you're telling me that you think reincarnation is the way the universe punishes guardian angels who fucked up? They just wind up on a perpetual merry-go-round?"
J.C. shook his head and took one last pull, handing me the half-smoked joint.
"Nah, man. Not just random shit. Like you don't get to just wake Chinese or something. You have to actually go back through what those people went through. Like if that lawyer rear ended a trailer because he was trying to read email and he got tagged in the head with some gas pipe, well... you get to do it instead of him. Like he gets a cosmic reset and you wind up in his spot, but the end is already set in stone."
I couldn't help but stare dumbstruck as I tried to process the situation through the thickening haze in my mind.
Suddenly, the radio crackled with some Indian accent, questioning where 27 was. J.C. just reached up and turned the volume down.
Apparently, telling a perfect stranger about how reincarnation was not only real, but it only happened as punishment for screwing up as a guardian angel was more important than work?
"Alright, man. Well..." I exhaled. "Well... that's dark."
We both laughed. Then J.C. just sighed.
"I knew you wouldn't get it."
"Once you figure out - there are signs along the way; you find out that you can get away with certain things that would get most people in trouble - once you learn that, you are free. You can do anything you want, within the constraints of that lifestyle."
"So you're telling me if a stock broker fell into the blades the his helicopter, and you didn't stop it, then you would at some point also fall into helicopter blades?"
"Yes!" J.C. was excited. He visibly jumped and swatted at my arm.
"But better yet, man. I get to be the stock broker, right up until that moment. So you know - I don't have to have the exact same life, I could load up on hookers and blow. But as long as I am J. Winston Howells, III and I stumble walking to my helicopter, I can do whatever I want."
"Like wind up as a fat cabbie in New England who smokes with strangers."
J.C. flashed a smile, but Marty could feel the tension building.
"You got it man."
He was holding the joint again. He liked to use it to point at things, I guess. And now he was pointing it at me, with the crinckled white paper of the joint hanging loosely between his index and middle finger.
The rest of his hand was... clenched?
"You got it. Now, get the fuck out of this fat cabbie's taxi. I've got a bridge abutment I need to meet."
The joke hit me in the gut but I just nodded, then popped the door and stood up.
Before closing the door, I leaned down. "You be careful out there, bud." Then I stood in the middle of the street and watched the yellow Crown Vic head down the block a few feet and turn around in a driveway.
J.C. tapped the horn twice as he sped by, headed back towards I-95.