November 14, 2010 by David Gillaspie
Ken Kesey was nobody’s darling, least of all his own.
If he wanted membership into the Darling Club he would have stayed on the great-book-every-two-years schedule and pumped out more movies and made the light shine brighter.
Did Kesey need a brighter light on him?
He was called a genius. Are you blinded by his genius yet? Maybe you should be.
A person most qualified to call someone a genius is another genius; if Albert Einstein called someone a genius, they were probably pretty smart.
Mark Christensen called Ken Kesey a genius in Acid Christ. He’s probably right, even though he’s no Einstein.
The genius of Kesey turned a drizzling Saturday sidewalk into a glowing MMA octagon.
“Welcome to the cage,” he said, skipping in a circle wearing black fighting trunks.
Mark had finished his reading at Multnomah County library and pushed open the front door. He flinched when he used the hand that cramped from signing books.
He saw the octagon before him, the fingerless gloves on the mat, and knew that only he saw it; everyone else stood frozen in gray light growing darker until only Kesey stood out.
“Hey, come on down, Mark. Don’t look so surprised. You knew you had this coming.”
Mark walked down the library steps, his lanky frame growing looser with each step.
“What’s coming, Ken?”
“I made promises. I gave my word. I was rewarded with betrayal and deceit. Where ever you come from, that’s not a fair trade-off.”
He opened the caged octagon’s door. Mark stepped inside, caught in a trance.
“The ground is a lot softer than it looks,” he said.
Kesey jumped and made the whole floor move.
“It’s a mat, Mark, like a good bed to go sleep on. Are you ready?”
He circled and stepped, bowing forward and snapping back. He lunged forward, low and smooth, slamming his foot down in three hops like an extended sword fighter. In and out, side to side he moved, recording every angle of Mark’s face.
“What are you doing, man?”
Kesey dropped to a knee and popped back to his crouch, then the other knee.
“We’re going to trade blows, Mark. That’s what Mixed Martial Authors do. Sometimes we pick our opponents, sometimes our opponents pick us. You picked yourself.”
“No, I didn’t. I don’t remember that.”
“You called me a bully.”
“That’s not what I said.” Mark started shaking his arms loose and floating on his toes inside the octagon.
“‘On the bus or off the bus’ does not mean ‘my way or the highway.’ You know that.”
“It’s a loose interpretation. Okay, look Ken, you want to do this M-M-Author thing? Punching me in the face is going to make you feel better?”
“It might. I’m willing to give it a try if you are.”
“That’s just what I thought, man. Violence. For all the peace work you’ve done, you choose violence. I knew you would. Goes along with the booze.”
Kesey stretched his neck. It was the neck of man who could take a three point stance leaning forward on his feet and head, then flip over and arch his back to land in a bridge.
It was a wrestler’s neck.
“You had to bring up the booze? That I’m a ‘heavy drinker?'” Kesey spun one arm around like a propeller, then the other.
“Booze is part of the story when a guy is diabetic with Hep-C and hits the bottle. Maybe it turns into the whole story.”
“And maybe it was too much; maybe none was too much. Look, at the end of the Oregonian review of Acid Christ, remember what I said? If I had to do it over, I’d be an every-day writer. I’d do it. I meant it.”
Kesey dove to the mat and did the worm around the octagon. Christensen moved to the opposite side when the worm got too close.
“How does an acid guru die a drunk? That’s what I want to know. Did you see nirvanna in a brew pub? Did you achieve the waking dream state in a gin mill? Give me something. What did you tell everyone else?”
Kesey stopped worming in a circle and rolled to his side on the mat.
He looked lethal. He put on one pair of fingerless gloves, pushed the other pair toward Mark.
“What happened to Nirvanna? It started to feel like any other job and the kid shot himself. Or was it the drugs? I didn’t shoot myself. And I didn’t go Kurt Vonnegut and try to smoke myself to death. Listen, if pneumonia is the old man’s friend, then booze is the tired writer’s friend.”
“You look tired right now. You shouldn’t even be in here. I shouldn’t be in here. We don’t have to do this.”
“Does this look tired?”
Kesey wormed to his feet, landing in a squat. “If we don’t do something, these people won’t be free. This is it for them unless we fight. They’ll be stuck in their gray world.”
“What if we get hurt.”
“No ‘what’ about it. We’re going to get hurt.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Beat on me with Acid Christ, then say you don’t me to get hurt. I’m already hurt.”
“I didn’t write it to hurt you.”
“Then why? One Mommy Dearest wasn’t enough? Did we need to read how Bing Crosby ruled his family with a big stick? No one needs Acid Christ.”
“Maybe so, but maybe they still need you, Ken. If you had it to do over, you’d be an every-day writer? You’d write characters who get high on everything they can, like nature and God and love? You’d open the door to greater awareness by sharing your genius instead of spraying the road with acid?”
“Sounds good, kid, real good. Where were you when I needed you? I’ve got some things I need to work on now, so I’d better get to them. We don’t have to fight. We have to do something, though. I’ll give you a little punch. A little punch in the shoulder. Is that okay? A baby punch from six inches away will bring back the light for these people. We can do that?”
Kesey held his fist six inches away and swung his forearm into the shoulder with all the wound-tension power of an elite athlete who knows how to drive his entire weight onto the smallest space.
The punch sent Mark Christensen flying into the caged wall sideways and dropped him to the mat.
“Six inches, huh? That was six inches?”
“What can I say, Mark? Never trust a Prankster. You knew that. That’s what ‘on the bus’ means. You’re slipping, man.”
Kesey watched Mark pick up the fingerless gloves and pull them onto his hands.
“Little punch, he says. A tap for the people. Won’t hurt a thing. Sort of like acid, huh Ken? It’s such a little thing with a big blast. Well I ate plenty of acid. Sometimes I wonder who I might have been if I didn’t take it, or taken so much, but right now I’m the guy who is taking you down,” Mark said.
Kesey started moving backward, like he was riding a bike, looking like Muhammad Ali. He spun a perfectly timed cartwheel with hands raised high.
“Bring it on, Bandwagon.”
Mark put his hands up, drew a bead on the dancing figure, and rushed in… (to be continued)