I was still trying to transfer my hangover to the coldest side of the nearest available pillow when my phone rang. Again. My mom and Donald had gone out of town for the weekend, Sam was spending the weekend at her friend Sophia’s house. What else to do but for Jake, Todd, Andy, and I to get fucked up for old times sake?

Standing up was a challenge, but I did manage to get to my couch and my phone.



“You can’t lie to me.”

Oh, man: this was going to get the monks riled up…

“I what…?”

It felt like all the important parts of my brain were pressing against the inside of my skull, like lips on glass.

“Did you sell pot to the Chi Sigs?”

“Did—what—? No,” I said. “… When?”

“‘No’—or ‘When?’”

“Kiley, what the hell are you talking about… and why at 7:48 in the morning.”

“Brent asked Andie if she could score more pot for the guys at the house. She would never—and then Brent said, ‘Just find Kiley’s boyfriend. He’s got some.’”

The monks went fucking ballistic—brain and balls with both ends of the staff.

“That?” I said. “One of the guys in the Royal Family outfit asked me if I had any weed when we were at that party. I gave him my stash because he looked like he needed it a lot more than I did.”

“So you sold the Chi Sigs weed.”

“I guess. It wasn’t a thing. It was just… guy needed a hook-up.”

There was a long pause on the phone—not even a labored pause, just: dead fucking silence.

“You can’t come to Zen Center any more. And we… we need… A break.”


“Finn: you don’t understand how this works.”


“Do you understand, Finn?”

“I snorted lines with your sister,” I said, my mind racing with adrenaline. I could feel the world getting very small, very fast——with a rapidly shrinking door at the end of the universe. “What’s the big deal?” I asked as I saw it close, drowning the last of the light.

“Finn,” said Kiley, her voice finally starting to break. “You need to think about the world you want to live in… and right now? You don’t understand what it means to live in mine.”


“Bye, Finn.”

Downstairs, there was still a third of a bottle of Jim Beam, half a bottle of Southern Comfort, an unopened bottle of Phillips peppermint schnapps, as well as what I hoped were at least close to original amounts of my mom’s bottles of Amaretto and E & J scattered across the kitchen table and counters. The floor wasn’t really sticky at all, so we mustn’t have gotten too out-of-hand: some other people had shown up late, but I didn’t remember who they were. Beer cans and Domino’s boxes lay in a pile by the back-door. None of the cigarette butts looked to have burned noticeably into the linoleum tiles.

I gazed out at the garage while I was making coffee… my brain was still smashing itself against the inside of my skull: no day for a bike ride. I pulled the house phone from the cupboard’s side and called Jake.

“Jake… Kiley dumped me.”

“Sucks,” he said, “What for?”

“I don’t know. No. I do: for selling weed.”

“You have weed?”

“Well, Jake… I have… I have something to show you. Can you come over?”

“Let me get Todd….”

“Nope. No Todd. Just you, dude. This has to be, like, a totally secret mission.”

So of course I called Cindy next.

“Cindy,” I said when she finally came to the phone.

“What, Finn?”

“I need you to come to my place,” she had something insane playing in the background. “… and bring whatever’s playing.”

“You don’t have Vengeance yet?” she asked.


“And why the fuck am I coming to your house all of a sudden?”

My eyes watered up very unexpectedly. “Because I need an honest person today… And I need someone to hang out; help me figure some shit out.”

“Jesus,” she said, “that’s dark.”

“Bring Vengeance,” I said.

Jake arrived with a bag full of frozen 7-11 burritos, which I desperately needed. The two of us were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and eating our second microwaved burritos when Cindy knocked. Jake had never met her.

“I’m Cindy,” she said, announcing herself. She looked at the burritos on the table, at our mugs of coffee. At the bottles of booze. “So, this is some kind of disaster. Not surprising… but I was hoping for something less predictable from you, Finn.”

“Jake,” I said, “I need to take Cindy up to my room.”

“Dude—no worries, I’ll start carrying the trash,” he said, smiling while he rolled up his burrito wrapper.

“You what?” asked Cindy.

“No,” I said, “it’s cool. I have something you need to see.”

“What the fuck did you do?”’ she asked.

“I got…. very unlucky,” I said, “Now come see.”

The stairs to my room were a pile of books, cassettes, records—half out of their sleeves, magazines, dirty boxer shorts, socks, biking gear, Coke cans, Gatorade bottles… it was a mess my mom had long since given up navigating. When we got to the top of the stairs, I asked Cindy to stop while I opened the little hatch to the attic crawl space. I crouched down and disappeared for about 10 feet before emerging with the first of two 12 quart Rubbermaid totes packed with marijuana buds.

“For fuck’s sake, Finn!”

“It’s not what you think,” I said to Cindy, then called down to Jake—”Jake, you can come up now!”

The funny thing was…? I still hadn’t entirely worked out the lie that would get me out of the truth. I was coming out with the second tote when Jake reached the top of the stairs.


My room was the entire upstairs of our GI shack: I had my bed near the window with its air conditioner, a couch, a TV, a stereo, a desk—my own closets. It was like living in my own apartment. I set the totes of weed on my coffee table, then slid the 12” of New Order’s Blue Monday out from beneath one of them.

“What the fuck are you doing with this much pot, Finn?” asked Cindy.

“I know: It’s more weed than I know what to do with,” I said, “and it’s freaking me the fuck out.”

“Finn…,” said Jake, “This is fucking gold.”

“It’s a fucking problem,” I said, “and we need to get rid of it.”

“Shit, that’s easy: I’ll take it!” said Jake.

“You can’t,” I said… “I mean: I just can’t let you take this stuff and sell it.”

“How’d you get it?” asked Cindy.

“I… found it,” I said. “I was on a ride and I saw these bags on the side of the road. And one was ripped, and I could see that it was weed. Probably a gang drop or something.”

I pictured Blake’s face leering above mine for the last visions of light I would ever experience, the warble of his voice as the poison he slipped into my Coke took effect, “I fucking told you I would end you if word ever got out that I gave you that weed.”

“And you fucking stole it!” said Jake. “Balls!”

I pictured Blake taking a Polaroid of a naked waitress. I pictured Blake manning the trolling motor, “Nope. No signs of a body…”

“I need to get rid of it,” I said “——and you guys have to help me.”

“Well, we can start by smoking it.” said Jake.

“Or not. You could go to jail for a very long,” said Cindy, pausing for emphasis, “… time. I need to leave now and pretend I never saw any of this.”

“You can’t. I mean, you can…, but Jake: can you go find another burrito or something?”

Jake popped open one of the totes, plucked a crystalised bud from the stash, then said, “I can go work on a few things.”

Cindy was sitting on my couch, her face in her hands. She had switched from black nail polish to clear polish with white tips. She parted her hands and said, “Finn… why did you bring me here?”

“You seemed like the only person who… wouldn’t judge me, I guess—like the only person who wouldn’t give me shit advice. Who wouldn’t tell.”

She leaned back on the couch and reached into her purse, then pulled out a coin and held it out to me. “Do you know what this is?”


“Take it,” she said, “and hold it in your hand.”

To Thine Own Self Be True. Unity. Service. Recovery.

It was heavier than I expected. There was a “I” in a triangle in the middle.

“It’s my 1 year sobriety coin, Finn.”

Cindy looked at me with a plain, open face—as if it was now my job to paint an emotion on it.


“Never guess, right?” she asked. “Finn, this is bullshit. So you need to make a choice.”

“Can I sit down?”

She looked at me, maybe a little surprised—like I’d painted outside the lines in some fucked up way.

“Cindy… I just need you to help me figure this out: then you can tell me what a fuck up I am, OK?”

I handed Cindy her coin back, she put it in her purse, then got up and grabbed a tote, “Let’s start by taking this shit to the trash.”

“We can’t take it to the trash,” I said, “It could be found there.”

“What do you want to do then?”

“I don’t know… disguise it?”

What happened next is permanently recorded in the annals of Stupid. And Epic. And monks laughing before their next strike—far, far beyond the Two Eternal Gates of Idiot Mountain… Cindy and I carried the pot down to the kitchen as I hatched my scheme.

“Jake,” I said, as he put the finishing touches on his third burrito, “we’re making flavored pot.”

“We’re what?”

“This is crazy,” said Cindy.

“We need to disguise this pot, guys,” I said, “and it sucks that we’re gonna waste a bunch of booze—but this is some genetically-engineered wonder pot. Shit is fucking traceable—but this is totally going to work.”

I set the oven to 160 degrees as Cindy set her tote of pot on the kitchen table, “Let’s go to Target.”

We piled into Jake’s tan and brown Granada and drove to Target, where we got: 8 cookie sheets, four shallow Tupperware containers, two boxes of Reynolds aluminum foil, candles, Gatorade, and Doritos. We then spent the rest of the day soaking Blake’s marijuana in Jack Daniels, Peppermint Schnapps, E & J Brandy, Amaretto, and Southern Comfort—then bake drying it on low in the oven.

“Do you think the candles are going to cover up the smell of pot?” asked Jake. “It’s pretty dank in here right now.”

“That’s just because the oven is on,” I said. “We can keep the candles burning after the pot is done drying.”

Cindy came downstairs after a record run, “Dazzle Ships?”

“Perfect,” I said.

She didn’t want anything to do with me and Jake, but told me she’d stay, “Just to keep the stupid away from the dangerous.”

“Dude: I can’t feel my face. This is some fucked up pot,” said Jake. “I can’t believe we’re fucking up pot that’s already this fucked up.”

When Cindy came back to the kitchen, she started rumbling through the kitchen cabinets, first pulling down my mom’s tin of Constant Comment tea, then rifling through the drawers.

“You have real silver spoons.”

“They were my grandmother’s.”

“You need to polish these.”


“Because they’re yours, dumb-fuck.” Cindy said as she began opening the lower cupboards, looking for silver polish. She closed doors in a very specific way, a way that sounded like a lot like the rhythm of “dumb-fuck.”

An hour later she was reading my mom’s copy of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray in the living room, with a finely-polished silver spoon and the one un-chipped bone china cup my mom had inherited along with the silver spoons. I stopped to look at her there, after dropping a cookie sheet of peppermint schnapps-flavored pot on my bedroom stairs, along with its bottle.

We were almost done.

“Cindy?” I asked.

She looked up from Wilde, then leaned forward to ash her cigarette.


“Thank you.”

“What are you going to do with it?” she asked.

“Dump it, surprise everyone with the craziest weed ever—give it away. Freak people out when they spark up: let their expectations burn,” I said.

“You seem pretty good at that.”

I pinched my nose as my eyes watered: “Yeah… I guess I am,” I said.

When the last of the cookie sheets came out of the oven and I came downstairs for the last time, the mess of the climb to my room punctuated by 5 cookie sheets covered in pot and the 5 bottles of booze that flavored them standing sentinel, Jake had already taken the rest of the pot out to the trunk of his car.

“Let’s roll a J for Victory,” he said. Cindy was sleeping on the couch in the living room and I brought the china and spoon into the kitchen and set them on the table while Jake rolled a joint.

“Tastes like…. butterscotch,” said Jake after exhaling.

I took a pull on the Southern Comfort-flavored joint. He had a point, but then he didn’t.

“It tastes like… ‘filthy ass,’” I said.

No one would ever mistake this for good weed. I handed him the joint and then went to the living room to visit Cindy, to wake her.

“Hey,” I said, putting my arm on her shoulder, “Cindy: time to get up. Let’s get you home.”

She put her hand on my cheek and pulled my face forward. I kissed her.

“You’re welcome,” she said when our lips parted.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Again,” she said. And I kissed her as I knelt next to her. “You know you’re an idiot,” she said, exhaling as she sat up.

“An idiot on fire,” I said, “sending sparks to Heaven.”

She looked at me, exhausted as she stood up, “Just an idiot.” Cindy dragged her arms over my shoulders, though, and said, “… who still needs to make some decisions.”

We drove Cindy home and as we pulled up to my house Jake said,

“Dude. Uh, I think I’m going to have to drop you off here.”

I had just caught, out of the corner of my eye, Donald’s Saab in the driveway.


“Good luck, dude,” said Jake as I opened the door to his car.

The front door of our house was open, just the screen door letting the light of the house out into the night. I could see Donald’s silhouette on the couch where Cindy had only just been sleeping; could see my mom pacing in near the kitchen table, the phone clutched to her ear.

The monks got busy and my stomach became drunken dojo mayhem when I opened the front door.

“Finn!!!!” screamed my mother, clutching the phone to her stomach.

I looked at Donald, who looked at me and then down at the carpet between his tassel loafers.

“Finn,” said my mom, “Where have you been———” she clutched me by the arm and stormed me into the kitchen, “——and what do you have to say about THIS?!?!”

“We polished the silver,” I said.

She swung the phone in her hand and struck me hard on the cheek with it, then screamed into the phone, “See! See what kind of son you raised!”

I sat down at the kitchen table, my face throbbing, and pulled the newly-polished spoon toward me across the green vinyl tablecloth.

“Oh, it’s my fault!” my mom screamed into the phone, “well, you’re the fucking alcoholic! ———Nevermind. Oh, Jesus: What are we going to do about, FINN!”

Several solution options, none really on the table, were exchanged as I looked into the tea leaves Cindy had left in the bottom of the cup: Military School, back to my dad, to my grandparents, foster care…

“Talk to you father, Finn,” said my mother, thrusting the phone into my hands, “see if HE can’t tell you what kind of fuck up you’re making of yourself. He should know!”

“Hey, Dad,” I said.

“Keep fucking up, huh, Finn?”

“Pretty much,” I said, “Standard operating procedure. You?”

“Stop fucking around, Finn,” he said. I could tell that he was himself pretty far gone into a twelve-pack.

“Yeah,” I said, “I guess this is serious.”

My hands were shaking, and I felt like I needed to barf, but my mind was strangely calm. Like: whatever was going to happen to my body, my mind was already beyond all that. I could hear my mom out in the living room, trying to get Donald to intervene…. could hear his vague reasons for not getting involved, “He’s your son, Caryn,” and “Maybe it’s just an experiment,” “These things happen.”

“Finn,” said my dad, “Think of your mom. Think of how she can get…. how she can… take a long time to forgive a fuck up. And sounds like you really fucked up, kid. If I were you? I would just… be careful.”

“Right on,” I said. “You really think she’s going to send me to military school?”

“None of us can afford it, Finn,” said my dad, “… but watch your fucking mouth. I know a night with a Drill Instructor and I would rather spend a night with a bastard D.I. than your mother when she feels like a bitch.”

My mom grabbed the phone from my hands, “I have to talk to Finn now. I hope you prepared him for the consequences of this,” she said. Then she hung up and turned to me.

“Explain. This. To. Me,” she said, pushing the roach on the saucer toward me.

“It’s a roach. Jake and I smoked a joint. We thought you were out of town. I’m…. sorry.”

“Sorry? Do you KNOW what this can do to you?”

I was sooooooo tempted to say, “Get you bone-stoopid high.” But didn’t… I wondered what a Drill Instructor looked like.

“I guess… maybe. I mean, I guess not,” I said, dropping some hangdog on the night, “I guess I don’t know what can happen to me.”

My mom pulled out a smoke, then parked herself, exhausted, on a chair across the table. She pulled the finely polished spoon back toward her and looked at it.

“Finn…?” she said, after exhaling. “You really did polish the silver.”


“Finn….? What’s happening to you? What about the racing? And… what’s her name? Kiley? Are you trying to throw all of that away?”

I looked up at the clock above the phone: it was after eleven. Even the monks were exhausted.

“I’m not trying to throw anything away, mom,” I said. “I just… I fucked up.”

“Well, there are going to have to be consequences, Finn.”

It slowly dawned on me that she hadn’t opened the door to my room in months—and still hadn’t. That my transgression, in her eyes, was limited to what was left of a Southern Comfort-flavored joint. Jake had done an ace job of cleaning up the rest of the house, actually, and It occurred to me that my mother and I were considering separate sins.

“I know,” I said, “Consequences… there have to be consequences.”

“I met Kiley, you know,” said my mom. “Donald and I went to her house for a fundraiser. Her mother is a VP at our bank. And her dad is one of the best P.R. men in Minneapolis. Did you know that?”

“I never really asked what they did—but they are very good at Scrabble,” I said, which was true. “It doesn’t matter anyway, Kiley and I broke up this morning.”

“Is that what this is,” my mom asked, pulling the roach-laden saucer back to the center of the table, then putting out her cigarette next to the joint.

“They’re related,” I said.

“Well, Finn: you need to think about what kind of world you want to live in. Kiley’s gorgeous, Finn. And you know what? I see what she sees in you… you’re a smart, beautiful boy, Finn. I just don’t know if she see’s seen all of you. If she’s seen… this; if she’s seen… your father.”

We both played separate conversations in our head about my father, in silence and sadness and no small measure of terror. Then she flipped open her Marlboro’s and lit a new cigarette.

“OK,” she said, exhaling, “I’m going to talk to Donald about what kind of punishment is appropriate for you——in the meantime, you need to sleep on what kind of life you want to lead.”

She was seated in such a way that she couldn’t see the stairs to my room. I backed out my chair and looked at her, facing away from me, looking down at the kitchen linoleum, in a kind of theatrical pose of disappointment. Then I looked at the still-greater disappointment in the middle of the kitchen table: one last bone china cup and saucer, one perfectly-polished spoon—a rescue operation stained with the resin of a joint flavored with all the worst karma in the world.


Tozan’s “Hot and Cold”

The monk asked Tozan, “How can we avoid being immersed in Hot and Cold?” Tozan said, “Why don’t you go where there is no cold, where there is no heat?” The monk asked, “Where is this place, with no cold, with no heat?” Tozan replied, “Where it is so cold it kills you; where it is so hot that it kills you, too.”

— from Charles Waters’ translation, Lotus in Ashes: Koans from the Mumonkan and Hekiganroku


This is the fourteenth section of Zen Arcade, a novel by Joel Turnipseed. We will be publishing a new section every other Sunday until Summer 2015. Read them here or get an email notification when the new section is available.

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