Nevermind that it was the first quarter of the twenty-first century and no one cared about barbershop quartets anymore. Nevermind that people no longer wore pinstripes and skimmer hats unless they were making a joke. Nevermind that electro-pop boy bands had long ago supplanted the quartet in cultural relevance and style. Nevermind that there had been a time when being in a barbershop quartet meant being respected, honored, and fawned over. Nevermind that money was tight, debts were owed, and bills needed paying. Nevermind that the world was in an awful state of disarray, and no one—no one except the Shaman—seemed to have any real answers. The Cosmic Quartet went right on having the time of their 500-year-old lives.
And their stage was the Earth. Was its forests. Its hills. And valleys. The Cosmic Quartet did not need an audience, lest that audience was a field of daffodils, lest there were petunias swooning in the galleries. True entertainers to the gooey center, they wouldn’t have minded a crowd of lizards and kittens so long as they were paying attention. Still, they spent just as much time in the city as they did in the wild. Since the Cosmic Quartet was in the business of harmony, they were also in the business of balance—and it paid to balance their time between those two worlds, as secretly entwined as they were. For, despite their detachment from the social structures that bound ordinary men and women—like money—they were not ignorant enough to think they could escape the civilized world altogether. Besides, the deer weren’t too fond of wandering buskers. None spared their attention nor their dollars. Stingy bastards. Where does a buck keep its wallet, anyways?
In the cities, the quartet took up residence wherever they could find it—most often hostels and work exchanges. They spent their days on busy street corners and park squares serenading passersby, sipping kombucha, and accomplishing vocal feats that would’ve made Mozart laugh and cry at the same time. Since morally they were above the red tape of licensure and permission that street performers normally had to navigate, they’d long ago become adept at forgery. Although, they rarely needed to prove the legitimacy of their act. Their sound could hypnotize even the most fascist police officer. Throngs of humans passing by could not help but fork over their Hamiltons. Their boaters couldn’t float with all that change in the cargo hold, so they’d built a collapsible trunk and painted the inside a gaseous emerald nebulae with something important to say. If they weren’t careful onlookers occasionally tripped over the trunk while peering in. For the Quartet it was just another draw, another loose tentacle strewn out for the innocents, a way to hook ‘em. It was one thing to attract the crowd; it was another thing entirely to keep them interested. But they did and so their days in the city were spent earning their way back into the woods to captivate their true audience—the endless river. And their nights in the city were spent getting stoned and drunk and dancing to the raucous ragas of their accompanying sitarist, the infamous Divit Madhup.
Divit had been a child of the sitar for as long as he could remember. Of the entire quartet, he was the only real Indian. The others were given the same title in error. That is, they were from the Caribbean—a different sort of Indian altogether. Blame Christopher Columbus for the mix up—among other things.
If you’re wondering why he’s considered infamous, it’s because the President once invited him to the White House for an evening with the Indian Ambassador and a collection of diplomats. It was November. Snow had arrived early to the party. And the District of Columbia had a look on its face like it’d just seen the Scariest Ghost Ever. Why the President had decided to host such a gathering in these decidedly frigid climes, one will never know. It was November and Divit had to catch a last minute flight from Majorca to make the event. He was not without his grumbles for having to oblige the Leader of the Free World amidst his seasonal hibernation on the Spanish island. In Washington, it was thirteen degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of negative seventeen. In Majorca, hoopoes were sipping mai tais, yachts were still in the harbor, and the Sun was so red, it looked like God was eating watermelon over a particularly azure plate of sky. If the Mediterranean were a sea horse, Majorca was its eyeball—an island bearing an awful resemblance to a twenty amp fuse or a mounted mule’s head; there, in a cottage so close to the sea it could fall in, the sitarist spent the summer and autumn months manufacturing LSD as pure as a baby’s heart.
Usually it was ritual for him to come back to the states for Christmas, despite his not celebrating it. Indians still adored Jesus and he was just the same. The Holidays were a time for bringing people together, a time for gratitude and true joy. And that was just what his acid offered—a real, bona fide chance to rip through the veil and find out what really mattered. Whether it was due to the coming celebration of Mr. Christ’s birthday or the arrival of a new year, when seekers were anxious to wipe the sleight clean with a rag made of clarity, to Divit Madhup, Christmas meant peak appetites for acid eaters, and the hits went like hotcakes at IHOP on discount Wednesdays.
But, the White House invitation—a formal bit of parcel, too formal for his tastes—got stuck in the mail and didn’t come until three days before the gathering was to be held. Needless to say, Divit hadn’t the time to secure a proper flight back—one that would allow him to carry a thousand eight and a half by eleven sheets of freshly dried blotter paper on board. So he had to come back the old fashion way—in coach, with three large vials of lysergic acid diethylamide tucked securely in his rectum. Because of the late notice, his plane would not touch him down in Washington until the afternoon of the event. He would have been in the clear, sporting a red tuxedo, black bowtie, and a mustache with four different kinds of curl, had it not been for the unanticipated turbulence of the flight. That day, the Atlantic had a tummy ache and heavy clouds were assembling by the hundreds to watch her lurch. The storm caused the plane to dip hard at one point, which in turn caused the sitarist to clench his butthole a smidge too tight. In his haste he’d forgotten to seal one of the hidden vials and the unexpected clenching caused the cap to pop right off, sending two ounces of acid surging into the absorbent folds of his digestive tract.
By the time the plane hit Washington, he’d sweated right through his tux, his mustache was playing tricks on his nose, and the stewardess was looking more like an alligator with overripe grapefruits for bosom. A lesser man, in his shoes, would have pulled the emergency door and jumped with an invisible parachute to his death. But Divit, sensing first the peculiar shift in the contents of his rectum, then later the familiar sensation of onset, when his thoughts started spinning the other direction, and his brain felt like a throbbing furnace in his skull, and all he wanted to do was laugh his way to Heaven, buckled his seatbelt and forced himself—as much as such things can be forced—into a deep meditation. Upon landing, he’d gathered just enough sanity to retrieve his carryon from the overhead, just enough composure, as he was exiting the cabin, to smile and say thank you to the pert-breasted gator at the front of the plane, before running like a spooked penguin right for the restroom to empty his bowels of the vials and his in-flight lunch.