The Price of 'Spice' and 'Crazy' Kenny of Cooley Texas
I never learned Kenny’s last name. But what words was Kenny anyway? A Demigod dropped from Valhalla’s lineage on his head. Would the wisest man understand this fool? Were we wise, my friends and I, and was Kenny even a fool? Nay and Aye, cuz if we were wise we would’ve stayed clear of a schizophrenic Viking with pantheistic personality. Did we deem Kenny disorderly- no, he had orders from on high. We just were never quite sure what the orders were. We usually kept quiet about his bad orders, omens and odors.
We first encountered Kenny one summer’s day at Sharky’s. I wish it were a Sunday so it would seem ordained, but it was a Wednesday, Wōden’s day. Sharky’s mom invited him to youth group, but was Kenny even a youth we wondered?
D’you go to Cooley High Kenny?
D’you go to Cooley County Community College?
And thus concluded our first chat with Kenny. He repositioned his trademark headphones as we drove to church. He sat in the front, me, Shark and Marx in back. He effectively blocked us out, bobbing his head to Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
That night we played Dizzy Bat: our version of the objective was to put your forehead on the Dizzy bat and spin and spin a dozen times then run as fast as you could towards the person opposite. Who won was anyone’s guess. When it was Kenny’s turn a small girl was facing him. It exemplified trust, I think.
Okay... go! Our Youth Leader exclaimed.
Kenny twirled at a speed akin to a black hole’s event horizon. It was an event I’ll never forget. Feet prancing about almost hovering and when he dropped the bat his knees gave way and feet tromped off towards the girl. Somewhere in those moments of light- headed ecstasy Kenny forgot to stop stomping when the youth leader said so- STOP. He forgot how to run. He forgot how to stop. He pile-drove into about thirty chairs with a clang and clatter and we stood chattering. I almost vomited it was so funny and sad.
What a pinhead Shark said. Marx sniggered, suppressing a wide smile.
And there lay Kenny amongst the wrack of chairs elbows hung above on two seats staring at us. He hung his neck like Loki in shackles, a mad gleam growing in his eyes. Nobody helped him at first. He was lifeless, only his cat eyes moved. Then those with gentler hearts than us started to hoist Kenny up. A full minute later Kenny was walking and snorting, touching everyone on the shoulder without a word, only a huphuphuphup of trust. Huphup was Kenny’s laugh. It was short, syllabic snorts.
Kenny kept coming to youth group until the discovery. Kenny was no youth. Despite his boyish brain Kenny had a full beard and must’ve been in his mid-twenties, so our Youth Leader no longer allowed his visits. We thanked God.
That did not mean he didn’t hang around Sharky’s place. Shark’s dad didn’t like him hanging around, but Shark’s mom was adamantly trying to convert Kenny. They’d talk of Christ. Eventually she realized Kenny couldn’t be redeemed or coaxed. Christ, could he be? Kenny could be crucified and still never betray his beliefs, whatever those were.
There were times when Kenny would come over without an announcement. We’d walk inside, from a walk around the pond or talk at the park beneath the pavilion, to find Kenny rummaging through Shark’s samurai swords and flashing them about. We took cover behind the couch. Kenny claimed to be an expert martial artist, a black belt in fact. Naturally we didn’t believe him, remaining behind the couch’s refuge, fearing black eyes.
Shark’s house was always unlocked- anyone could break in. And Kenny often did. He was a sneak, always approaching seemingly out of nowhere, poof, like magic.
One night we were camping in the backyard, swapping poor horror stories, when Kenny came through the gate, ogreish, groping around the night, gawking at our little lantern light saying hey guys, watchu doin? Mind if I join? inches away. We camped in from then on. It afforded us false security. Sometimes he’d stand at the glass door of Sharky’s ill-lit media room, just staring, slinking in the flower beds, tromping over azaleas and stomping shear-wielding gnomes.
Our junior year was the year of Kenny fear.
He would walk all around the old neighborhood with his headphones on, sometimes stretching on the long Cooley Elementary School lawn looking directly at the sun. Some days he’d say hello and enter Shark’s backyard and sit and stare and say something like have you guys ever thought about- cuz he was thinking about- and other days he’d pass us by as we waved, knowing full well he’d walk without a wave as we’d say Kenny hey Kenny hey Kennnnny and Kenny would walk into the woods as we jumped on the trampoline, with a kiddie pool situated on top spilling water all over the coils, or he'd find us fishing at the pond pretending not to notice him. We weren’t trying to rile him up. We were trying to treat him humanely. But we were young.
Kenny drifted into our lives now and again just as the sins of senior year began to seep in. Kenny, I believe, in later years, would be a drifter; we would someday pass him on the highway, watching his strange silhouette, smoking a cheap, hand-rolled cigarette, with a burlap bag on his back, fade in the rearview.
Thanks Be to God.
We would keep driving. We’d learned our lesson.
One such educational experience was Sewer Day. It was during a dog day of summer, layered in that intractable mist that sticks like nasty hot Texas honey to the skin. We decided to descend into the darkness: Shark, Antman and me got headlamps and longboards and headed for the sewer system at the end of the creek. As we descended through the boughs and bushes, we saw Kenny standing at the sewer mouth staring inside. He did not look curiously at us but he looked curious. He asked where we were going. We said sewer. He seemed surprised, I’ve never seen ya guys down there. I thought of mole men, all blind brothers, and mad moths, seeking lamplights.
This freaked us out. Kenny now knew we shared a friendship entwined in the sticky sewer filth, a congealing crap we couldn’t scrape off with a Sharper Image Knife. This was the way we thought about Kenny. Like I said, we were young, and assholes.
Crow-Ken took the rear, slouching, shuffling, as we swam in the sewers, belly’s flat-to-boards, but somewhere and sometime along the way Kenny disappeared in the dark. And even when Sharky called this curiosity to our attention we continued, thinking we’d continue to Antman’s neighborhood where the snaking sewer tunnel's tongue opened out. When we arrived at a rain-gutter Shark peeped out. He said coast is clear, Crick you go first. And as I slung my board out, two boots paced inside the frills of a black trench coat.
He crouched down and smiled. He didn’t say anything. Just smiling.
We thought we lost you, I said with no more than a whisper. I wished I would’nt’ve.
You did, he said sinisterly, and then strode off. He flew. We sat in the rain-gutter’s belly freaked out, trying to process how he’d found us. It was clear. Our fear found us. Crow-Ken could track us wherever we went. He smelt our residual fright. He saw our light. That Mole-Moth Man.
We’d developed an acute Kenny-phobia, I admit it, so much so that we needed to know where he was, where he was going, what he was, why he was, what he pondered and when he was. We knew the answers to these questions should remain unasked, we didn’t dare unmask Kenny, knowing well that what lay beneath was mysterious madness, unknowable to us.
One day, on Hallows Eve, Kenny crossed the bridge behind Shark’s house. Me, Antman and Shark were on the back patio ‘shootin the shih’, so-to-speak. We spoke in Shark-ese, an infectious language. Kenny The Crowkin approached with these skittish, creepy Cooley High cronies on his coattails. We called them Crow-knees. Funnier then, but we were young assholes, and funny.
Kenny's entourage were stoned, we could tell. Pitiful punks.
Kenny was smoking a cigarette and came up to the wrought-iron fence. The kids, at least eight years younger than him, hung back. Perhaps they thought we were police informants, finding pubescent punks smoking to slam the book on. They tried keeping cool, smoking cigarettes, but hardly inhaled.
Hey Kenny. Sup? I said.
Cool man, so what’s up? Shark asked, smirking.
Smokin he said smiling, as a smoke cloud shrouded his face.
Yeah. Obviously. I indicated the tobacco cloud.
No not cigarettes. Not only.
Pot? Antman asked, accentuating the O.
No K2. Y’all want some? He reached into his pocket producing an aluminum package that said SPICE and had a smiley face in the foreground of a psychedelic prism.
You know that synthetic stuff’s bad for you Kenny.
The kids could care less and Kenny seemed disinterested too, shrugging, putting the package back in his pocket. He asked, you guys know it’s Halloween right? Pulling his trench coat collar around his neck and we could hear Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls blaring from his blown-out, buzzing headphones. It was on an eternal repeat.
So... What’re you guys doing tonight?
The kids scratched themselves and shielded their stony eyes from the sun. Kenny kept calm but the kid’s were fulvous faces, frightened for some reason. Was it us? Just chillaxin on our ahhs Shark said. Behind us were mats of synthetic spider webs we intended to put up, some jack-o-lantern lights on strings, rotten sardines, and a decapitated head. It had a certain macabre aesthetic that only immature teens can conjure.
Not stealin candy from kids? Kenny said with an air of cool disbelief.
That watch you’re doang Kendo? Shark asked. We laughed. Robbing kids of candy seemed lame. We weren’t to old to do it, just too damned dignified.
I’m doin some thing Kenny said vaguely.
Can’t say. All I can say is that you do not want to be out tonight.
Why nahl? Shark feigned a shiver, smiling shiny, gummy, vampire fangs at us.
Something BIG is goin down tonight. Kenny laughed like a vampire. Play but only in part. He said: that’s all I can say, and stood against the bars holding his hands like a convict. The kids could tell too. If Kenny didn’t become a drifter he would be a convict.
Like what? We merry three laughed uneasily.
You’ll see Crow-Ken said ominously.
Okay Kendo, seize ya Shark said as they left, peas (peace)!
We three spoke to Shark’s mom about Kenny’s empty threats. We sensed she sounded scared. Maybe Kenny would strangle us, we hoped. Halloween needs false fears.
You boys shouldn’t go out. That Kenny kid is crazy. He’s mental. Not quite right. That was her medical opinion, as an anesthesiologist, mine: Kenny should be put down, peacefully, poor, poor Kenny. A taxidermist would keep him in his office, a monument to the degradations of man in pill-ridden suburbs that year of Our Lord 2009.
Shark sensed she was scared, but it was his mother and he really wanted to amp up her anxiety. All Ken said was ‘something big is goin down’.
Yeah he was probably just joking, Antman acknowledged. We agreed elbowing each other.
There’s no way you boys are going out tonight. No way.
Awh Kenny’s just crazy we said. Yeah, a crazy Crow.
Eventually she broke, realizing we were too old to trick-or-treat and too old to be told what to do. Just be careful, okay? She said, slightly disinterested now, but still mundanely motherly. I don’t want to hear some story about how you boys got butchered.
Could Kenny keep our slaughter a secret?
Shark’s dad said let the boys be butchered. Good lesson for ‘em. But Shark’s mom got serious and strutted off. Shark’s dad smoked a cigar the size of dildo and told us three heads’re better than one. I thought this was very funny, in fact, Kenny would concur, yes, three lopped heads, lollipop skulls on sharp stakes stuck in a small circle for The Call to Cthulhu, was a better sacrifice than one scalped soul, property of Neck-less Nick (a local legend), the weird one-eyed wino.
So that night we went out with flashlights to the park and pretended to prey on the older kids in their grim reaper masks with scythes and crazy clown costumes. The young kids were with their parents, in cute costumes, cradling candy. These innocent scenes assured us all was well, as we walked towards the woods, on a normal holiday evening.
What if Kenny killed us? Antman asked appropriately.
He’d probably kill Cricket first Shark said to Antman. Rip his innards out.
At least I’m in the rear. I’d be last.
Guy in back always gets killed first Cricket-shih.
Antman was right. He was a horror-movie aficionado. The chump in back always gets chomped first so I transitioned to the front flashing the light by bushes.
Then from behind we heard rustling. Quickening our pace, pressing along the path checking every nook in the creek where Kenny might be lurking. Our poise perturbed. Then we heard the laugh. Not the laugh of a human imitating a hyena but a hyena. Kenny crept from the bushes and howled huphuphuphup and Antman dropped his flashlight cinematically and Shark and me turned to the source of the sound. Kenny in his trusty trench coat carrying more bags of candy than he could hold so some candy corn fell, clutching his stomach cackling huphuphuphup. Gotchya Guys!
We got around him in a sprint and darted over the bridge into Shark’s backyard and bent our lights on the walkway near the woods. But Kenny was gone. Disappeared. Fear found us again.
Another night, me, Wally, Antman and Brennan the Badger were in Walrus’ VW.
There was a massive lightning storm. We’d been smoking weed and driving around the neighborhood, all save for Anteater who kept his window down to ventilate, pressing his lips into the crease to keep from coughing on the second-hand pot-reek. We went to the park to present ourselves options. What was there to do in this detritus of rain and lightning? Smoke some more seemed stupid. We were too high to hear our internal ideas, or each other. Antman asked what we were doing dammit? No one knew.
We wheeled in with Wally’s headlights on the playground. A flash of a form appeared atop the monkey bars, then the headlights focused on this shirtless figure. Antman rolled his window down as Wally the Walrus turned the music down to hear the lightning and see the roar of Kenny.
Kenny was laughing at the lightning, as if in summoning. Blue crack o’ light, Kenny held his hands high above and shouted O! He screamed O! Huphuphuphup! As if suffusing the shock into his stomach to laugh at Heaven, hupup, he spotted our slim headlights cutting through his Crow-Ken cloud and jumped off the monkey bars bolting for our car. Wally reversed and we drove out of the parking lot frazzled and saying what the fuh! What was Kenny doing?
We eventually went back. But Kenny was gone. Taken into the eye of the storm.
Once we gave Kenny this legal hallucinogen called Salvia. No telling what it would do to the ghoulish fool. He had several mental eccentricities after all. A fragile freak, but we gave Kenny the sticky salvia all the same in a smoking plastic bottle with aluminum foil at the top. I lit it with butane -the flame had to be blue we knew- carbing it for him with my resin thumb. He inhaled. Instantly he began rolling on the Cooley Elementary School lawn waving his hands over blades of dewy grass. He said something like I can move them with my mind. We weren’t sure if it was working. I took a hit. Held it in. My spine turned to steel. The sky opened up and consumed. Kenny was a wriggling worm. The Cooley Crew gathered round to eat him with silver forks the size of pitchforks. Some short time later I stopped hallucinating, still tripping over solid feet and words. Kenny was still wriggling on the lawn like a worm. We were calling Kenny. Kennnny. Gone again.
These things about the kid named Kenny (who was not a kid) were ever present.
He was a caricature. A Viking with a head of mental eccentricities and Metallica’s music was constantly blaring through those big headphones. In one culminating moment Kenny confirmed every Kenny-Phobia I’d ever had and made, as I walked to Shark’s along the wooded path, along the creek ‘tween our houses, and saw Kenny in his hulking trench coat. It was too hot for that trench coat. Kenny liked to boil alive. Winter or summer he sweats like it’s an act of aggression. His headphones were on and he was walking blindly, headbanging in a long stride. His head bobbed like a rooster. I saw something glint behind his back but knew I must face my foolish fear. When he spotted me with my suitcase he removed his headphones and harkened: Hey!
In that moment he unsheathed a big blade from behind. I shuddered. Good God he had a broadsword.
Heya. ’Sup Cricket?
I uh didn’t know you owned a sword. I laughed lamely trying to ease my internal tension as well as his bloodlust. I knew he was a ‘serious’ swordsman now. Cool. I said cool so un-Cooley.
You wanna hold it? He offered me the hilt. The sword surged with a sinister aura.
No. No thanks. Thanks man. How’ve you been?
Fuckin terrible. He shook his head swinging the headphones off, and dropped his sword tip to the ground- ping. His fists clenched the hilt, knuckles ghastly. I thought perhaps the purchase of a deadly sword would've cheered him up, but no go.
Why? What happened?
Got fuckin fired.
From where? I put on my most emphatic empathetic face.
Walmart. He clenched the blade in a fiery fist. His fingertips trembled slightly.
Last week. Said I scared customers or something stupid like that, can you fucking believe that? Kenny the Crowkid began grinding his teeth to dust and gums to pulp.
Who said that? Keep Cooley Cricket I forewarned myself. Kenny could crack.
Lot’sa them. My manager. He hugged the hilt skittering the tip along the concrete with a metallic scream. My manager. He smiled a toothless grin, stopping the sword- scrapping motion. There was anger glowering deep in the darkness of his eyes.
That... sucks Kenny. Sorry.
Kenny drew a blade-line in the concrete. The scraping sound made me mad.
I got half a mind to go back and teach em a thing or two ya know? He said, Yeah, but I might start giving Kendo lessons. He nodded absentmindedly stringing together two separate emotions into a seamless sentence, anger and ambition, almost amalgamated.
I’d heard the word before, Kendo? Kenny’s Kendo.
He swung the sword straight up and thrust with the blade between his eyes. Japanese sword sport, he said, but you don’t use real swords only wooden ones. He smiled what I thought was a smile. I imagined Kenny’s Kendo would require real swords and wavers: I Promise Not To Sue Kenny’s Kendo Incorporated: due to loss of limb.
Oh cool, so you’re good at it? I hoped to God he was good at sword-play.
His eyes rolled into his head, Yeah, he said, staring straight at my shoulder.
Nice. Just Play NICE: Never Incite Cooley Eccentrics.
You wanna hold it? He offered the hilt once more.
No thanks. Thanks man. So where’re you working now? You have anything lined up? So I know never to go there.
Nowhere. Is your job hiring?
No, ya know, sorry man. Don’t think so. A lie. Was I willing to subjugate those kind former coworkers to a state of constant Kenny-Phobia? No- I’d saved some souls.
Shit. Man. He scratched his stomach with the broadsword’s blade.
So what else has been going on in Kenny-Land? Land? Land? Stupid. So stupid, I’m sorry I said that. Just Please. Please! Do not spill someone’s blood on me Kenny!
Just got back from fuck-ing rehab. Kenny swung his sword close to my face.
I ducked automatically. Wow! Man... for what? I regained equanimity.
K2. Buying big bags online, like pounds. The sword hung by his side once more.
You got addicted to it? I didn’t know that.
Yeah. It was bad. His face tightened, I could tell he missed his smiley drug. Sorry to hear that Kenny- but you’re better now?
He laughed. No. They’ve been given me my pills again.
Oh that’s good.
No it isn’t. I hate it. His expression burned, not with brilliance but something born in that blackness of the brain, a mental cloud that shrouds sound judgment, sightless savagery, looking for some life to attach to and attack. And there I was, Light for Moths, Mind-food for MoleMan, carrion for Crow.
It doesn’t help?
No. I don’t know but it just makes me angry ya know? He gripped the handle and swung the blade out again in a long arc at our feet.
I jumped back, Sorry! To hear that. I paused. Move it along. I’m on my way to Shark’s place. Want me to say hello for you?
For me? His consciousness collapsed, was giving way, he’d forgotten himself.
Yeah, of course, I said adamantly, and warmly at a healthy distance. We haven’t seen ya in a while. Sure Sharky’d like to hear you’re doing well.
That’s cuz I’ve been in rehab.
Yeah sorry to hear that.... well, I gotta go, I’ll let Sharky know you said hello. He sheathed his sword and put on his headphones hitting play on his IPod.
Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. The bell tolled for us. Kenny walked away without a wave once more that fated Wednesday. Gone again. God be praised!
A year later, maybe more, I learned that Kenny overdosed on Spice, that tricky synthetic shit sent him to the hospital. Modern medicine afforded him nothing. We said he ascended into Valhalla at the right hand of Madness Almighty. But that wasn’t true. His soul still haunts us. On any desert highway one comes across Crow-Ken, a dark drifter, digging claws into his nightshade trench coat for an aluminum package of Smiley Mr. Nice Guy Spice, sniffing, shoving it into his mouth, moaning huphup. Somewhere, somewhere out in the vast expanses, near Mespelheim with the drug Demons and Mad Moth Giants, he’s seeking some source of light beyond the tunnel, I think, headphones blaring For Whom the Bell Tolls, sitting on an island surrounded by magma, blind as a bat or mole; anyways, apart from man, almost.
No Man is an Island... Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.
-John Donne, 1624.
K2, or 'Spice'
The Price of 'Spice'.
The Price of 'Spice' was not written originally, or intentionally as a social-issue so-to-speak. It centered around a 'kid' named Kenny who died from overdosing on a drug known as synthetic marijuana, or K2. He was prescribed medication for Schizophrenia as well as self-medicating with Spice. At the time, before his death, my friends and I called Kenny crazy. We distanced ourselves from him, even whilst we took drugs recreationally, including, a time or two, K2. I began to consider the cost of scapegoating, and wrote this story. It is a social issue set in a personal story. If anyone wishes to, they can converse with me on the meaning of the last lines by John Donne. Those lines were the secondary impetus for the story, and hold, for me, a simple and inspiring morality about the spaces between us all. After all, "No Man is an Island," so shoot me a message.
Mr. Nice Guy
This smiley-face packaging contains the same substance I saw Kenny smoking. Currently it is no longer available legally, but at the time of the events it was easy to attain from smoke shops, or something similar from someone on the streets. The smiling face conceals a sinister substance inside, a drug for which there is little detection, besides respiratory failure and death: see image below for some of Spice's symptoms.
For more in-depth analysis of the issue:
Please provide, with due discretion, facts and personal accounts on this social issue. Both are necessary for constructing a civil debate, to broaden the spectrum of our understanding, bearing in mind that it is remarking on Mankind's existence, what is and is not, that is as important than mere social goals that give us growth. Why and How are equally valid ventures, but one must seek Why whilst working with How. Why do we breath? We can only change How.
© 2015 Eldon Arsenaux