She/He/It was like a living thing for me, this red-orange-white oily blobby rising and falling jellyfish-like DC-powered apparition of repeated: births, slow risings, slow scatterings, slow drop-fallings, slow re-meltings, then rebirths and it was one of my best and closest (always within arm’s reach) friends through two cold Stockholm winters.
Not unlike a small, well-behaved pet, actually.
I’m seventeen then and living in my own old and (as I hinted above) DC-powered apartment, and even through the rent was only an unbelievable $14 a month—72 point something kronor if memory serves though probably ten times that in today’s money, still, even $140 a month should not be a budget breaker if your paycheck says $1,550—but even so, I was always broke, for when it came to breaking budgets and leaving them for dead teenage-spending roadkill I was an undisputed master—you have to know there are such things as budgets to not step all over them, intentionally or not.
In other words, payday was the day when I paid back the money I had borrowed during the last twenty-eight days (usually most of the paycheck), pay the rent (as I said, $14), buy enough canned food to see me through to the next paycheck, then spend the rest (should there be a rest) on (a) an LP or two, that’s vinyl Long Playing records for all you millennials, (b) on some quality hashish, and (c) on whatever else struck my fancy and which I deep down and for mysterious and untraceable reasons could not live without: the lava lamp (whom I never named, but should have) being a good case in point and certainly one of those things I could not live without, and when I brought it home payday evening or the day-after-payday evening, I was probably down to a dollar or two at the most to last me for the next four weeks—that’s where the concept of borrowing from friends and colleagues to stay a-float/live enters the picture.
But that’s beside the point.
The lamp was magical.
I placed it on the low glass-top table by my bed so I could lie on my right side and watch orange blob after orange blob slowly rise to the top of the lamp there to shatter and slowly (though faster than rising) rain down as smaller oily blobs toward the hot base, there to reform to a new jellyfish-like oily blob and rise again: repeat two million times…
Yes, admittedly, I was quite often stoned during these long, fascinating explorations of warm oil in motion and they usually took place after I had listened to several records and was now winding down, easing into the cold night, and sleep, to re-set the stage for the coming, though still distant and colder still, morning.
The apartment was not well heated (and that is an understatement)—just a small paraffin heater that warmed the air immediately above it and not much else; on very cold nights I used to fire up both gas burners to help make things livable, and sometimes left them on through the night—a memory that gives me shivers even as I write it now: if for any reason the burners would have gone out, I would have gone out with them in fairly short order.
Nevertheless, here I am, a comforter plus a blanket or two piled on top of me (almost able to see my breath) cheering competing oil blobs as they slow-motion race for the top of the lamp, winner gets a million trillion dollars. Then there’s the competition of how many drops each blob breaks up into once slaughtered and before heading back down (another fortune to be won).
Needless to say, I had the attention span of a goldfish at these times, each rising and falling a brand new and exciting experience, one of near breathtaking suspense to see which oil blob would win these slippery competitions.
Looking back across the fifty plus years that separate me typing this from that young hashish-hazed me cheering oil blobs, I cannot deny the a-little scary fact that the lava lamp indeed kept me if not warm, then at least company.
I wonder why I never name it, her, him…