Hereís Hal Incandenza, age seventeen, with his little brass one-hitter, getting covertly high in the Enfield Tennis Academyís underground Pump Room and exhaling palely into an industrial exhaust fan. Itís the sad little interval after afternoon matches and conditioning but before the Academyís communal supper. Hal is by himself down here and nobody knows where he is or what heís doing.
Hal likes to get high in secret, but a bigger secret is that heís as attached to the secrecy as he is to getting high.
A one-hitter, sort of like a long FDR-type cigarette holder whose end is packed with a pinch of good dope, gets hot and is hard on the mouth ó the brass ones especially ó but one-hitters have the advantage of efficiency: every particle of ignited pot gets inhaled; thereís none of the incidental secondhand-type smoke from a party bowlís big load, and Hal can take every iota way down deep and hold his breath forever, so that even his exhalations are no more than slightly pale and sick-sweet-smelling.
Total utilization of available resources = lack of publicly detectable waste.
The Academyís tennis courtsí Lungís Pump Room is underground and accessible only by tunnel. E.T.A. is abundantly, embranchingly tunnelled. This is by design.
Plus one-hitters are small, which is good, because letís face it, anything you use to smoke high-resin dope with is going to stink. A bong is big, and its stink is going to be like commensurately big, plus you have the foul bong-water to deal with. Pipes are smaller and at least portable, but they always come with only a multi-hit party bowl that disperses nonutilized smoke over a wide area. A one-hitter can be wastelessly employed, then allowed to cool, wrapped in two baggies and then further wrapped and sealed in a Ziploc and then enclosed in two sport-socks in a gear bag along with the lighter and eyedrops and mint-pellets and the little film-case of dope itself, and itís highly portable and odor-free and basically totally covert.
As far as Hal knows, colleagues Michael Pemulis, Jim Struck, Bridget C. Boone, Jim Troeltsch, Ted Schacht, Trevor Axford, and possibly Kyle D. Coyle and Tall Paul Shaw, and remotely possibly Frannie Unwin, all know Hal gets regularly covertly high. Itís also not impossible that Bernadette Longley knows, actually; and of course the unpleasant K. Freer always has suspicions of all kinds. And Halís brother Mario knows a thing or two. But thatís it, in terms of public knowledge. And but even though Pemulis and Struck and Boone and Troeltsch and Axford and occasionally (in a sort of medicinal or touristic way) Stice and Schacht all are known to get high also, Hal has actually gotten actively high only with Pemulis, on the rare occasions heís gotten high with anybody else, as in in person, which he avoids. Heíd forgot: Ortho (ĎThe Darknessí) Stice, of Partridge KS, knows; and Halís oldest brother, Orin, mysteriously, even long-distance, seems to know more than heís coming right out and saying, unless Halís reading more into some of the phone-comments than are there.
Halís mother, Mrs. Avril Incandenza, and her adoptive brother Dr. Charles Tavis, the current E.T.A. Headmaster, both know Hal drinks alcohol sometimes, like on weekend nights with Troeltsch or maybe Axford down the hill at clubs on Commonwealth Ave.; The Unexamined Life has its notorious Blind Bouncer night every Friday where they card you on the Honor System. Mrs. Avril Incandenza isnít crazy about the idea of Hal drinking, mostly because of the way his father had drunk, when alive, and reportedly his fatherís own father before him, in AZ and CA; but Halís academic precocity, and especially his late competitive success on the junior circuit, make it clear that heís able to handle whatever modest amounts sheís pretty sure he consumes ó thereís no way someone can seriously abuse a substance and perform at top scholarly and athletic levels, the E.T.A. psych-counselor Dr. Rusk assures her, especially the high-level-athletic part ó and Avril feels itís important that a concerned but un-smothering single parent know when to let go somewhat and let the two high-functioning of her three sons make their own possible mistakes and learn from their own valid experience, no matter how much the secret worry about mistakes tears her gizzard out, the motherís. And Charles supports whatever personal decisions she makes in conscience about her children. And God knows sheíd rather have Hal having a few glasses of beer every so often than absorbing God alone knows what sort of esoteric designer compounds with reptilian Michael Pemulis and trail-of-slime-leaving James Struck, both of whom give Avril a howling case of the maternal fantods. And ultimately, sheís told Drs. Rusk and Tavis, sheíd rather have Hal abide in the security of the knowledge that his mother trusts him, that sheís trusting and supportive and doesnít judge or gizzard-tear or wring her fine hands over his having for instance a glass of Canadian ale with friends every now and again, and so works tremendously hard to hide her maternal dread of his possibly ever drinking like James himself or Jamesís father, all so that Hal might enjoy the security of feeling that he can be up-front with her about issues like drinking and not feel he has to hide anything from her under any circumstances.
Dr. Tavis and Dolores Rusk have privately discussed the fact that not least among the phobic stressors Avril suffers so uncomplainingly with is a black phobic dread of hiding or secrecy in all possible forms with respect to her sons.
Avril and C. T. know nothing about Halís penchants for high-resin Bob Hope and underground absorption, which fact Hal obviously likes a lot, on some level, though heís never given much thought to why. To why he likes it so much.
E.T.A.ís hilltop grounds are traversable by tunnel. Avril I., for example, who never leaves the grounds anymore, rarely travels above ground, willing to hunch to take the off-tunnels between Headmasterís House and her office next to Charles Tavisís in the Community and Administration Bldg., a pink-bricked white-pillared neo-Georgian thing that Halís brother Mario says looks like a cube that has swallowed a ball too big for its stomach. 3Two sets of elevators and one of stairs run between the lobby, reception area, and administrative offices on Comm.-Ad.ís first floor and the weight room, sauna, and locker/shower areas on the sublevel below it. One large tunnel of elephant-colored cement leads from just off the boysí showers to the mammoth laundry room below the West Courts, and two smaller tunnels radiate from the sauna area south and east to the subbasements of the smaller, spherocubular, proto-Georgian buildings (housing classrooms and subdormitories B and D); these two basements and smaller tunnels often serve as student storage space and hallways between various prorectorsí 4private rooms. Then two even smaller tunnels, navigable by any adult willing to assume a kind of knuckle-dragging simian posture, in turn connect each of the subbasements to the former optical and film-development facilities of Leith and Ogilvie and the late Dr. James O. Incandenza (now deceased) below and just west of the Headmasterís House (from which facilities thereís also a fair-diametered tunnel that goes straight to the lowest level of the Community and Administration Bldg., but its functions have gradually changed over four years, and itís now too full of exposed wiring and hot-water pipes and heating ducts to be really passable) and to the offices of the Physical Plant, almost directly beneath the center row of E.T.A. outdoor tennis courts, which offices and custodial lounge are in turn connected to E.T.A.ís Lung-Storage and -Pump Rooms via a pargeted tunnel hastily constructed by the TesTar All-Weather Inflatable Structures Corp., which together with the folks over at ATHSCME Industrial Air Displacement Devices erects and services the inflatable dendriurethane dome, known as the Lung, that covers the middle row of courts for the winter indoor season. The crude little rough-sided tunnel between Plant and Pump is traversable only via all-fours-type crawling and is essentially unknown to staff and Administration, popular only with the Academyís smaller kidsí Tunnel Club, as well as with certain adolescents with strong secret incentive to crawl on all fours.
The Lung-Storage Room is basically impassable from March through November because itís full of intricately folded dendriurethane Lung-material and dismantled sections of flexible ducting and fan-blades, etc. The Pump Room is right next to it, though you have to crawl back out into the tunnel to get to it. On the engineering diagrams the Pump Roomís maybe about twenty meters directly beneath the centermost courts in the middle row of courts, and looks like a kind of spider hanging upside-down ó an unfenestrated oval chamber with six man-sized curved ducts radiating up and out to exit points on the grounds above. And the Pump Room has six radial openings, one for each upcurving duct: three two-meter vents with huge turbine-bladed exhaust fans bolted into their grilles and three more 2Mís with reversed ATHSCME intake fans that allow air from the ground above to be sucked down and around the room and up into the three exhaust vents. The Pump Room is essentially like a pulmonary organ, or the epicenter of a massive six-vectored wind tunnel, and when activated roars like a banshee thatís slammed its hand in a door, though the P.R.ís in full legit operation only when the Lung is up, usually NovemberĖMarch. The intake fans pull ground-level winter air down into and around the room and through the three exhaust fans and up the outtake ducts into networks of pneumatic tubing in the Lungís sides and dome: itís the pressure of the moving air that keeps the fragile Lung inflated.
When the courtsí Lung is down and stored, Hal will descend and walk and then hunch his way in to make sure nobodyís in the Physical Plant quarters, then heíll hunch and crawl to the P.R., gear bag in his teeth, and activate just one of the big exhaust fans and get secretly high and exhale palely through its blades into the vent, so that any possible odor is blown through an outtake duct and expelled through a grilleíd hole on the west side of the West Courts, a threaded hole, with a flange, where brisk white-suited ATHSCME guys will attach some of the Lungís arterial pneumatic tubing at some point soon when Schtitt et al. on Staff decide the real weather has moved past enduring for outdoor tennis.
During winter months, when any expelled odor would get ducted up into the Lung and hang there conspicuous, Hal mostly goes into a remote subdormitory lavatory and climbs onto a toilet in a stall and exhales into the grille of one of the little exhaust fans in the ceiling; but this routine lacks a certain intricate subterranean covert drama. Itís another reason why Hal dreads Interdependence Day and the approach of the WhataBurger classic and Thanksgiving and unendurable weather, and the erection of the Lung.
Recreational drugs are more or less traditional at any U.S. secondary school, maybe because of the unprecedented tensions: post-latency and puberty and angst and impending adulthood, etc. To help manage the intra-psychic storms, etc. Since the placeís inception, thereís always been a certain percentage of the high-caliber adolescent players at E.T.A. who manage their internal weathers chemically. Much of this is good clean temporary fun; but a traditionally smaller and harder-core set tends to rely on personal chemistry to manage E.T.A.ís special demands ó dexedrine or low-volt methedrine 5before matches and benzodiazapenes 6to come back down after matches, with Mudslides or Blue Flames at some understanding Comm. Ave. nightspot 7or beers and bongs in some discreet Academy corner at night to short-circuit the up-and-down cycle, mushrooms or X or something from the Mild Designer class 8ó or maybe occasionally a little Black Star, 9whenever thereís a match- and demand-free weekend, to basically short out the whole motherboard and blow out all the circuits and slowly recover and be almost neurologically reborn and start the gradual cycle all over againÖ this circular routine, if your basic wiringís OK to begin with, can work surprisingly well throughout adolescence and sometimes into oneís like early twenties, before it starts to creep up on you.
But so some E.T.A.s ó not just Hal Incandenza by any means ó are involved with recreational substances, is the point. Like who isnít, at some life-stage, in the U.S.A. and Interdependent regions, in these troubled times, for the most part. Though a decent percentage of E.T.A. students arenít at all. I.e. involved. Some persons can give themselves away to an ambitious pursuit and have that be all the giving-themselves-away-to-something they need to do. Though sometimes this changes as the players get older and the pursuit more stress-fraught. American experience seems to suggest that people are virtually unlimited in their need to give themselves away, on various levels. Some just prefer to do it in secret.
An enrolled student-athleteís use of alcohol or illicit chemicals is cause for immediate expulsion, according to E.T.A.ís admissions catalogue. But the E.T.A. staff tends to have a lot more important stuff on its plate than policing kids whoíve already given themselves away to an ambitious competitive pursuit. The administrative attitude under first James Incandenza and then Charles Tavis is, like, why would anybody who wanted to compromise his faculties chemically even come here, to E.T.A., where the whole point is to stress and stretch your faculties along multiple vectors. 10And since itís the alumni prorectors who have the most direct supervisory contact with the kids, and since most of the prorectors themselves are depressed or traumatized about not making it into the Show and having to come back to E.T.A. and live in decent but subterranean rooms off the tunnels and work as assistant coaches and teach laughable elective classes ó which is what the eight E.T.A. prorectors do, when theyíre not off playing Satellite tournaments or trying to make it through the qualifying rounds of some serious-money event ó and so theyíre morose and low on morale, and feel bad about themselves, often, as a rule, and so also not all that surprisingly tend to get high now and then themselves, though in a less covert or exuberant fashion than the hard-core studentsí chemical cadre, but so given all this itís not hard to see why internal drug-enforcement at E.T.A. tends to be flaccid.
The other nice thing about the Pump Room is the way itís connected by tunnel to the prorectorsí rows of housing units, which means menís rooms, which means Hal can crawl, hunch, and tiptoe into an unoccupied menís room and brush his teeth with his portable Oral-B and wash his face and apply eyedrops and Old Spice and a plug of wintergreen Kodiak and then saunter back to the sauna area and ascend to ground level looking and smelling right as rain, because when he gets high he develops a powerful obsession with having nobody ó not even the neurochemical cadre ó know heís high. This obsession is almost irresistible in its force. The amount of organization and toiletry-lugging he has to do to get secretly high in front of a subterranean outtake vent in the pre-supper gap would make a lesser man quail. Hal has no idea why this is, or whence, this obsession with the secrecy of it. He broods on it abstractly sometimes, when high: this No-One-Must-Know thing. Itís not fear per se, fear of discovery. Beyond that it all gets too abstract and twined up to lead to anything, Halís brooding. Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits heís devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. Itís hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency.
At 0015h., 2 April, the medical attachéís wife is just leaving the Mount Auburn Total Fitness Center, having played five six-game pro-sets in her little Mideast-diplomatic-wife-tennis-circleís weekly round-robin, then hung around the special Silver-Key-Membersí Lounge with the other ladies, unwrapping her face and hair and playing Narjees 11and all smoking kif and making extremely delicate and oblique fun of their husbandsí sexual idiosyncrasies, laughing softly with their hands over their mouths. The medical attaché, at their apartment, is still viewing the unlabelled cartridge, which he has rewound to the beginning several times and then configured for a recursive loop. He sits there, attached to a congealed supper, watching, at 0020h., having now wet both his pants and the special recliner.
Eighteen in May, Mario Incandenzaís designated function around Enfield Tennis Academy is filmic: sometimes during A.M. drills or P.M. matches heíll be assigned by Coach Schtitt et al. to set up an old camcorder or whatever video stuffís to hand on a tripod and record a certain area of court, videotaping different kidsí strokes, footwork, certain tics and hitches in serves or running volleys, so the staff can show the tapes to the kids instructionally, letting the kids see on the screen exactly what a coach or prorectorís talking about. The reason being itís a lot easier to fix something if you can see it.