The Moses Chronicles (2001)
The Sun, the Moon, and Eleven Stars
Moses flew to Albuquerque, rented a car, and spent the night at the airport Best Western. The next morning he drove north, past Santa Fe and Los Alamos, the womb of the nuclear dream. As he got higher and higher, seven thousand feet above sea level, out of the clouds appeared the Anok Monastery, glorious and ominous, like a castle in the sky from an Italo Calvino parable in a Douglas Sirk film.
After parking the Ford Focus in a small, unpaved area, he walked fifty yards to where cement walls closed upon a rusting wrought-iron gate seven feet high and circling the monastery grounds. His chest tightened from the altitude. He peeked inside the gate at a haphazardly maintained Japanese garden. No one was visible. A sign on the gate with words written in Magic Marker read please leave all messages on the bulletin board. Moses wrote “Urgent—Life and Death—for Alchemy. Please Call.” He wrote his cell phone number. Outside the gate, half buried among the grass and weeds, under the shady native aspen and pine and a few imported eucalyptus trees, was a corroded cement bench. Moses lay down. With stress taking its toll on his already battered immune system, and amid the hum of the soporific surroundings, he fell immediately asleep. When he opened his eyes, a rail-thin, angular-faced middle-aged woman dressed in white pajamas hovered over him. “I am Desiree. I dared not awaken you. I hoped you were resting peacefully.”
Moses pushed himself up to a sitting position. Desiree remained standing while Moses explained his dilemma. Looking confidently knowing, Desiree nodded, grinned, revealing tiny teeth. “I will seek him out. It is his choice.” Desiree spoke in a wispy, soft voice. “From the cocoon comes the butterfly when the winter rains turn from tears to laughter.” Moses barely nodded, thinking, Sure thing, whatever you say. “Wait here. Meditate if you can. Listen to the songs around you.” Desiree strode barefoot to the gate, and Moses fell back into a semiconscious semisleep state. His head filled with gauzy visions of breathing tubes extending from his nose and IV tubes from arms as he lounged poolside beside hospital beds holding both of his mothers while prehistoric birds soared above in a smoldering sky.
After some time had passed, he couldn’t say how much, the monastery gate clanked open and shut. He jumped up to a sitting position too fast, leaving him feeling as if his head was aloft in space and detached from his still supine body. Not entirely clear of his somnolent visions, Moses watched an almost translucent, shadowy puppetlike form floating out from a liquid mist of yellow-whiteness. This waking reverie solidified into a human form dressed in white pajama pants and a white T-shirt, a shaved head, with a face perfect in its symmetry. Walking barefoot, a duffel bag slung over his right shoulder and a guitar case in his left hand, this apparition was, unmistakably, Alchemy.
Moses slumped in his spot, feeling like an unraveling ball of crumpled clothes masquerading as a body.
“I see that my reputation exceeds me,” Alchemy said laconically. His voice did sound remarkably familiar to Moses.
“No, yes, um, I was asleep and you startled me,” Moses answered, a bit embarrassed by his dishevelment.
“The sleeper is the proprietor of an unknown land.” Alchemy smiled enigmatically, dropped the duffel bag and guitar on the wild-haired grass. “I am so glad you came. Not because of why, but I discovered I am just not that Zen-ish. I need to get laid. And have a smoke.” He spoke with a self-assured intimacy, as if they were old friends. He bent over and pulled a pack of Camels from his duffel bag. He tossed the pack in the air and caught it nimbly in his right hand. “Had these for the entire time and didn’t touch them. You’d think now I’d want to quit for real.” Alchemy lit up, puffed, sat down, and relaxed his lean body against the back of the bench. “Desiree said you might be my brother. You’ll be the first.” Alchemy’s luminous eyes, one blazing blue and one quiescent green, further unnerved Moses. Alchemy narrowed his gaze with the slightest condemnation. “So far I’ve had three brothers, two sisters, a dozen kids that weren’t mine, and about fifty guys who claim to be my father.”
Moses knew nothing of Alchemy’s paternal parentage, and although he was more than a little curious, for the moment he decided to forgo any prying. Alchemy tapped his chin with his hand that held the cigarette and sneaked a peek at Moses’s bald head. “The chemo?”
“Yep. Though it was eking back even before . . .”
Alchemy pursed his lips but only nodded in sympathy. He took one more drag on the cigarette and put it out. “So, if we are related, looks to me like you must be a scion of Salome.”
“I guess. Yes.”
“You got the family feline mouth and lips.” Moses hadn’t had time to process any resemblances, physical or psychological. He hadn’t yet been face-to-face with her. “I guess you spend too much time in a classroom to be an L.A. sun worshipper.” Moses glanced down at the slightly pinkish–off-white, freckled skin tone of his wrist and hand and then glanced at Alchemy’s unblemished, lacquerlike copper complexion.
“So you don’t need anything but a dose of my marrow?”
“That’s plenty, because if I can’t tolerate your marrow . . .”
“It’s time we get going, then. Now fill me in.”
Moses detailed what Ruggles told him about Salome believing he was stillborn and his now urgent medical situation as succinctly as possible. While he did, Alchemy stared intently at Moses, slowly transforming from meditating monk into the quintessence of rock star cool, changing into black jeans, retro suede Beatle boots, turquoise T-shirt, and an unbuttoned red denim jacket. When Moses finished, Alchemy edged closer and bent over so they were at eye level. Moses pressed himself harder against the bench. Alchemy announced in a cryptically serene voice, “I’ve been to your grave with my mom.” Moses shivered. He imagined himself compressed inside the small coffin. Still alive. Was he implying that he thought Moses was an imposter? Lying? Moses was afraid to ask. Alchemy stood tall and backed away. “Someday, I’ll take you there. Maybe we’ll have an unburial ceremony.” Alchemy reached down into the duffel bag again, and this time he pulled out a pair of sunglasses and a .22 caliber pistol. He put on the sunglasses and inserted the clip into the gun and then returned it to the bag. “When I don’t have Falstaffa or Marty, or my bodyguards, Mr. Beretta is my companion.”
“Have you ever used it?” Moses decided this was not the moment to bring up his opposition to all guns; he believed the Second Amendment had been parsed in such a twisted way to misinterpret its meaning.
“Used . . . as in useful. Never shot anyone. I’ve had dozens of spurious threats and a few serious ones. People come up to me all the time. Most are cool, but some are belligerent. They want to fight because they think I’ve fucked their wife. Or because I won’t fuck them. Or they caught their girlfriend getting off to a photo of me. Or I’ve stolen their songs. One guy stalked me because he said he was the true Son of God and I was the Antichrist. You wouldn’t believe this shit. You just wouldn’t.” Alchemy’s accent struck Moses as that rare mix of American everywhere and nowhereness that sounded as if it were created for someone speaking Esperanto. No matter the angst or impatience of his words, and here Moses felt they differed, the melody of his voice possessed the tranquil quality of a Bach sonata.
“Or they want your bone marrow.”
“That I can give. Desiree sensed you have good juju. Me, too.” With those two words Alchemy assured Moses that he believed him.
Alchemy’s tone lightened. “Can I drive?”
Moses hesitated. “It’s rented and—”
“I got insurance policies and lawyers you wouldn’t believe exist. I’ve been sued by someone who claimed I copped his wallet at an Insatiables concert. I testified at a trial ’cause two brothers swore I recorded secret messages in ‘Papa’s Gun’ for them to kill their father. You know the song?”
“Sorry, no. Not that one.”
“Good. I like that. Anyway, fucking two-legged leeches make them all go away but they bleed me. Me driving someone else’s car? Popsicle money.”
Moses, overwrought and achy, didn’t want to drive anyway, so he gave him the keys. “I thought we’d stop in Santa Fe for the night and then fly to L.A. My doctor’s there.”
“Have you told anyone?” Alchemy tossed his bag and guitar in the trunk, took out the pistol, placed it under the front seat, and got in the car. He adjusted the seat. He was about six one, long-legged, and lean to Moses’s five nine and, before the onset of his illness, stocky build.
“Just my wife. And my mom. Geez, well, the woman I call my mom, not my biological mother. This is going to get confusing.” He laughed nervously. “She’s the one who told me about your—our—mother.”
“Make sure, for your sake, they keep it to themselves,” Alchemy warned. “I prefer we drive. We can stop in Jerome, in Arizona, for the night. Best for you to remain unknown for now or your life will be hell.”
“How so?” Moses asked, naïvely curious.
“The princes of the paparazzi.”
“I’m beginning to see.”
Alchemy replied, “You. Have. No. Fucking. Idea.”
As soon as they got close to Santa Fe, Alchemy asked to use Moses’s cell. His own was in New York or L.A. or any of a number bedrooms. Moses dialed for Alchemy, who talked as he drove.
“Trudy, I’m coming through in about six, seven hours. Staying one night.” He hung up and talked to Moses. “She’s an old friend. Did some of the first pics of the Insatiables. They paid for the down payment on her place. Now she teaches yoga and does nature photography.”
“You mind if I ask how it went up there? I always wondered about that much isolation, if I could do it. I think so. Maybe ten percent of the time, because I want to keep that hope, I believe in God or an afterlife. I want to believe but . . .”
In the previous decade Alchemy generously shared his controversial opinions on politics, sex, drugs, and scores of arcane subjects in hundreds of interviews. When the Insatiables released The Multiple Coming, he didn’t dodge provocative discussions about God or religion. He was careful never to reveal his personal beliefs (or lack thereof) and explained that the entire album consisted of different characters’ relationships to faith.
Moses continued, “I’m thinking, if I survive this, I might try something like that.”
“Maybe you should. Meditation is pretty addictive when you get into it. I got going on both dysphoric and euphoric hallucinations. I thought I had weird sleep patterns before, but this place messes you up on purpose, three hours here, three hours there. My brain got so disoriented that my nightmares were happening when I was awake and screwing with my daytime reality . . .”
Moses wanted to interrupt and ask about his nightmares. He thought about his own daymares. But Alchemy seemed to be on a talking jag.
“Desiree advised me to lower my adrenaline levels. I’m an action junkie. Have this need to get off on crowds and attention. It was hard to withdraw from phones and e-mails. Ended up cathartic. I’d do it all again, except . . .” He shook his head and exhaled a loud breath.
“No sex. You’re not supposed to, um, pleasure yourself. I was walking around with a permanent stiffy. I gave up. Haven’t jacked off that much since I lost my cherry when I was a kid in Berlin.” Alchemy paused and took both hands off the wheel, held them aloft and strummed an air guitar, gave a childlike “Woo—woo.” He sang the Country Joe song, “And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates . . . Whoopee! we’re all gonna die . . . ,” as the car lurched perilously close to the edge of the road. Moses glanced down at what would be a thousand-foot drop, clamped his hand on the door handle, and clenched his jaw. Alchemy finished singing, retook the steering wheel, and jammed his foot against the accelerator. “Nathaniel, my mom’s guy, used to sing me that song when I was a pup-star. Had no idea what it was about but it stuck in my head. Mose, it’s going to be okay. I promise.” Moses was only half listening, thinking that if Alchemy kept driving like a drunken Evel Knievel, any marrow transfusion would become moot. “I’m jetstreaming nonstop. I don’t like it. I prefer to think before I talk. Not like Salome, who, you’ll see, you never know if she’s just channeling her DNA or is in one of her ‘Blue Savant’ periods, that’s what she calls it. Ruggles got other names for it. You meet Ruggles?” Moses nodded. “You have to beware, sometimes you think she’s out of it but she’s just playing you. Now, Ambitious, you’ll have to meet Ambitious, there’s one cantankerous motherfucker who talks or punches before he thinks. If you call what he does thinking. He’s PO’d at me now.
“Shit, though, almost six weeks of being a mute. Of nodding or shaking my head. I’ve have my silent periods but—phew. Mind?” Alchemy pointed with his right elbow to some bottles of water in the backseat of the car. Moses handed him one. “Thanks.” Alchemy finished an entire bottle, then another. “So, am I what you were expecting?”
“Don’t know yet. Hadn’t thought about that.”
“No.” For so many years Moses had imagined meeting his father, but he’d never imagined life with siblings. For someone as introspective as he considered himself to be (and he had considered the possibility his father ran off with another woman), Moses was confounded by this omission. “Four days ago I had no siblings and a different mother.”
“That is one mindfuck. Maybe it was too painful? You didn’t want to miss what you could never have? Hey, Mose . . . You got a brother now.” As was his habit, Alchemy renamed him. No one had ever called him Mose or Mo or Moe. “Mose” sounded romantic and sin-street tough, misleading perhaps, but so what, he liked it.
Alchemy was deified by the luck of the genetic evolutionary hierarchy. It wasn’t that he talked different, was smarter, more graceful, or even more beautiful than so many others, but he radiated an energy that no hype machine could manufacture. Moses had run across plenty of “stars” in New York and L.A., and instantly you could spot the ones whose eyes yearned, like a starving discarded dog, to be noticed and coddled, and yet would shoo you away if you approached them. Only a rare few possessed presence that commanded you to gawk at them. Alchemy had that specialness, charisma, magnetism, those overworked and abused adjectives that cannot capture or quantify the inimitable and illuminative qualities that transcend logic and language.
As Alchemy continued his monologue, Moses thought about the night he’d seen the Insatiables at the Whisky. As one of their encores, they jammed on a harder-edged version of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic.” Alchemy sang, almost beatifically, “The magic’s in the music and the music’s in me . . .” It was true, Moses thought to himself. He was magic.
As the Focus descended the mountain, Moses now hoped this magic man would not only transfuse him with his bone marrow; he longed to be blessed with a few sprinkles of Alchemy’s miracle dust.