To celebrate the fiftieth birthday of the Lava Lamp, I bring one into my classroom and turn it on. It’s not an original; I couldn’t have afforded one back in the day. This came from a mall gift shop sometime in the 1980s. When it heats up and the lurid green wax starts morphing into tube worms and alien brains and the Big Bang, the students grow excited, their thoughts like blobs of colored joy. They begin to imagine possibilities.
Like the “longitudinal lava lamp” one proposes. The enclosed glass bottle would lie sidewise, twenty-four inches long, with maybe a propeller at each end, pushing the colored wax back and forth. Trippy. I don’t get into the logistics, I merely point out that that would be a latitudinal lava lamp.
Another student has this notion for a lamp the size of the classroom, a gigantic glass cube with a passageway through the middle, like the entrance to the Great Pyramid, with visibility overhead and all around, as if you’re in an aquarium and the lava flowing about you are the fish.
“It’d be sick with a black light!” someone says.
“Or how ’bout a six-foot tall glass cone with a helix of bright swirling waxes!”
“Like a barber pole,” I say, but they don’t grok what that means (any more than they would know the word “grok” or the book it comes from).
Theirs are stoner ideas, mind candy for tripsters, crazy and wild and impractical as all get-out. But that’s who the kids are, afloat in a world without moorings. I’m happy for their excitement. They try to get me to come up with some designs, too, but I demur. What they don’t understand—can’t understand, because they were born in the twenty-first century—is, to me and my friends, thinking about life and death and love and war, a simple candle and a stick of incense were always enough.
David Daniel was born in Boston and grew up in Weymouth, on the south shore. His novel The Heaven Stone (1994), winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel contest and a Shamus Award nominee, introduced private investigator Alex Rasmussen, who has also appeared in The Skelly Man (1995) Goofy Foot (2004) and The Marble Kite (2005), all published by St. Martin’s.
In addition to nine novels, including Ark (1985), Murder at the Baseball Hall of Fame (‘96), and The Tuesday Man (‘91), Daniel has published more than 80 short stories (some of which are collected in Six Off 66 and Coffin Dust ) and is co-author of a college English text, Take Charge of Your Writing (Houghton Mifflin 2001). He has written 300 articles, book and music reviews. He has worked as a janitor, a carpenter, a tennis instructor, truck driver, and a “brain slicer” at Harvard Medical School. He teaches at Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School and is an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, where he has served as the Jack Kerouac Visiting Writer in Residence.
Daniel lives in Westford, MA with his family. He served as a consultant to Walter Salles’s forthcoming documentary on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Dennis McNally, official historian of the Grateful Dead, declared Daniel’s suspense novelWhite Rabbit (2004) one of the best “Sixties’ trips” he’s taken. Reunion is his latest novel.