4:38

We arrived.  Mad Hatters stood 20-feet-tall—a top-hat with purple, burgundy, and yellow horizontal stripes.  A row of gas pumps out front; a simple doorway with the brim as stoop; no windows and no one else around.  The countryside was yellow and vapid, as if a nuclear bomb had gone off not long before.  Mad Hatters was the lone survivor—vestige to a time and place where life was simpler and architects conceived of novelty gas stations and tripped-out-headwear for giants.

We piled out, me first.  I was so intent on getting inside that I didn’t wait for my friends.  I walked in like you would to any service station and nearly collided with the back wall.  I’d seen treehouses with more floor space.

Occupying most of the station was a man, the likes of which you don’t normally see this long after an Ice Age.  He was all girth with a crew cut and a forehead like Kansas.  Flanked on either side by rows of Mars Bar products, I wondered how a person this big came to work in a place this small.

‘How’s it going?’ I said.  He nodded, arms folded.  ‘This place sure is small.  I was expecting something a little more….roomy.’  He nodded again.  The alchemy of uppers and downers in my bloodstream had me babbling like an idiot.  I was aware I should just shut my mouth but I kept going anyway.  ‘We drove all the way from Tahoe to see it.  Heard all about it.’  He smiled.  ‘You must get claustrophobic in here.  Kind of like doing business in your parent’s closet.’  He smiled again, amused, but made no sound.  Any moment now I expected him to open his mouth and reveal he had no tongue.

My entourage (sans Tito the Mannequin) filed in and we began an unintended game of sardines.  Marty turned to Monty.

‘Tell me again why we’re here?’

‘Food,’ Monty said.  ‘And for the memories.’

I couldn’t tell if the smell was coming from me or someone else but there was a hint of cannabis to the air.  I saw the mute cashier’s nostrils flare.  Marty and Monty broke for the Charleston Chew, forcing the man to move aside.  A bell from outside signaled a customer pulling up to the pump. Great, I thought. Just what we need.  A few more people in here.

Our muscle-bound host turned his attention from Marty and Monty, who were debating the virtues of nougat versus caramel.  I followed his eyes out the door and saw a white sedan baring the seven-pointed star of the California Highway Patrol.

“Oh god,” I said to no one in particular.  Somewhere in the back seat of my mother’s convertible was a plastic bag concealing five logs of San Pedro cacti—unconcentrated mescaline.  Marty and Monty had purchased the stuff a week before during an ill-advised peyote vacation in Joshua Tree.  Abandoned roaches populated the ashtray.

‘We should go,’ I said, turning my back on the door to face my friends.

‘We just got here,’ Monty said.  ‘The party’s just starting.’

‘And it’s about to end.  We need to get out of here.’

‘What’s the hurry?’ said an unfamiliar voice from behind me.  I had to push against the wall to let him in the door.  He had a wide, toothy smile and I could tell he was the chatty type.  He looked at me straight on, earnest as a Scoutmaster, before his eyes trained down to the six-pointed star pinned at my breast.  His eyes narrowed.  He must have known it was the stoner holiday.  What better spot for catching dumb hippies than a 20-foot-high tribute to the Mad Tea Party?

That your convertible out there?’ he said.

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