A Christmas present from Thomas Van Stein.
Excerpted from Surreal Bounce:
I want to mark the passing of another year with my best friends around me, at Lucky’s, an aroma of seasoned pine as Montecito nights grow chilly.
We lounge on the front patio beneath a pair of palm trees, smoking Cohibas, sipping martinis.
“So what do you do?” Van Stein asks Reek Pisserin.
The Englishman hems and haws. Finally he comes clean. “I’m a private eye.”
“I knew it!” Van Stein howls. “You’re all spooks.” He looks around, lowers his voice. “Sorry. But what are you doing here?”
I wink at Floater and puff my cigar. “We didn’t want to get into it so soon. But you brought it up, so here goes. We’re here to recruit you.”
“What kind of assignment?”
“We need you to paint a nude woman playing a violin.”
“Doesn’t matter. Young. Good-looking. Nice figure—you do figurative work, don’t you? And playing a violin.”
“After we visit the Lights of Marfa.”
“You don’t know about the lights?”
Van Stein shakes his head.
“They appear out of nowhere,” I say. “Dancing lights, in the west Texas desert. Near Marfa. Perfect for a nocturnal artist such as yourself.”
Van Stein pulls out a stick of dry vegetation. “We need to celebrate.”
“Are we supposed to smoke that?” I ask.
Floater looks around nervously.
“Nope,” says Van Stein. “It’s supposed to smoke you.”
“Excuse me?” Reek Pisserin, jet-lagged, isn’t sure he heard right.
Me, too, for that matter.
“It’s sage,” says Van Stein, as if that should settle it.
“You’re going to cook ravioli with cream sauce?” asks Floater.
“No. The Chumash use it for purification.”
“Who?” I ask.
“Purify what?” asks Reek Pisserin.
“The Chumash are our local Native Americans,” Van Stein lectures. “They were here—in Santa Barbara—before anyone else. There’s a lot of ancient stuff going on around this area. They used sage to purify their souls, by smudging it on themselves.”
Van Stein lights a match and begins burning his dry vegetation, which he waves around, then purifies each of us, one by one, right ankle, up the leg, thigh, torso and shoulder, over the head, then down the other side, sage smoke filling the air around us. After snuffing the flame, he smudges our foreheads with ash.
We depart Lucky‘s before they insist upon it, shift our party westward to downtown Santa Barbara, the Palace Grill, to re-commence our communal brain-oiling with a quart of Cajun martinis “for the table.”