With fists, with words, with kindness
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It was 1969. I was 15. “The Sixties” was far from dead. ’68 was last year. Just. Next door. Nixon was just really getting started. Exxon (wasn’t it just Enco back then? before Enco it was Esso, and somewhere in there it had been Humble: Humble - Esso - Enco - Exxon, a strange progression in aggression) was just really getting started. Gasoline was $.30 a gallon.
I started the tenth grade that fall at George Rogers Clark Ballard Memorial High School. Or simply, Ballard High School. It was to become an appropriate name.
Because of the district the school encompassed, an unusually broad spectrum of social levels was to be found within its confines. Most students were white, from the upper echelons of the middle class. Many were quite well off. There were also middle class blacks, poor blacks, farm kids and kids on welfare. It provided a real contrast.
With the whiter kids came the money — green, Baroque warheads with which to fight boredom on a grand scale.
It was a time of air-conditioned revolution — all the comforts of home. A time of controlled adolescent fission. Wailing guitars. Celebrations of drum and bass. Blatant materialism, hybrid socialism and Mickey Mouse Leninism. In that order, I guess.
What we’re talking about here is the greatest of all American inventions: surplus cash. And its disposal. The cash flowed out and the drugs flowed in and neither river showed signs of ever running dry. To this day they have not.
The drugs were varied, of high quality and abundant. Marijuana was of course the Budweiser of illicit inebriation. It had for some time been curiously good copy, and was now, for me, a personal reality.
I had been in Earth orbit for a while, or perhaps I was living on the moon. I didn’t know exactly where or for how long. Soon afterwards I was beyond lunar orbit and headed towards the end of our known solar system in my planetary cruiser affectionately known as Sgt. Pepper.
I never did know if I had gone to Pluto or one of the moons of Neptune. I was so long in returning I rather think it was Pluto. But then, these things can fool a person.
God, I was a conservative little bastard. I dressed nicely and generally fueled the fires of maternal joy. But sometimes these things are only skin deep.
By this time I was declared atheist and thought that, really, this whole Christian scene was the biggest truckload of bullshit I was ever likely to encounter.
By the second semester I wore a permanent pair of blue jeans and my hair length grew with the noticeability of an advancing glacier. But it did grow. At a somewhat faster pace Sgt. Pepper took me deeper and deeper. Even Dear Prudence was quite worn.
The drugs grew. People were wide-eyed and falling from their desks. I did not understand. I could not accept this. I did not. I rejected everything I saw. I replaced it with nothing. Nothing was offered and I did not search. WHY? The life support system within Sgt. Pepper was superbly designed. We trod ever onward. So seldom were there visitors.
In ’71 I was to identify physics and discover a physicist. Such intense natural beauty.
But I was no scholar. If it didn’t come the first time I forgot it. I didn’t care.
I was alive and breathing and in such incredible innocence of truth this was all I cared about.
My masturbating exploits ended in absolute visions of a wilderness cabin, dark-haired sons, fair-haired daughters and my blond-haired woman.
Surely this was life.
Jesus was about to peak and had claimed many in our school.
Surely this was not life.
Marijuana had long since become a jello mold infested with fruity bits of LSD, angel dust and hash.
Like the cerebral coaching, whatever my mind could do with dope it could also do without it. . . . And be stronger because of it? Perhaps. Maybe this is what motivated me. Sgt. Pepper and I had arrived at our destination.
1973. Nixon is re-inaugurated. “The Sixties” is dead. The country begins recovery . . . back to normalcy. We must forget those outlandish ideals. No profit in them. We must toss them aside to be left behind. Except . . . what is this glittering trinket? Ah, yes, our newly found drugs. Now the chic may become chicer in disco lunacy and the wasted may become wasted in a variety of ways. Variety is the spice of life.
A few months earlier I had begun my shaky college career which has so far lasted six years. I am still no scholar. I quit as soon as I start and then start again. I fail and fail and fail and triumph only when I damn well please.
Sgt. Pepper and I still take occasional jaunts but now whenever I return I am an alien. OOPS! Wrong planet, as they say.
Lennon & McCartney have been reduced to one note finger exercises on FM stations that carry ads for bargain Cadillacs. My dad listens to a “Yesterday” that’s been Hollywood strung and quartered. He listens in the den. He listens in the bathroom. He listens in his car. His Pontiac has full stereo sound. Cool air in the summer. It is power-braked, power-steered, changes gear ratios automatically. It is not a luxury car.
He will not resign, they say. He brought our boys home, at least, they say. He resigns.
Some of my high school mates are becoming middle-aged. Many sell insurance, even the ones that were going to show that photography is an art.
Other classmates work very hard at becoming middle-aged. They are very chic about it.
The rest sell dope. Pure capitalism. Demand. Supply. Risk. Tax free. It is big business. It is very big business.
At the university I am becoming a fixture, I guess. All universities everywhere have them — those perennial students that occupy small corners in the brains of professors and computers like so much shrubbery.
In five years or so I’ll probably go back into physics. Right now I am studying ecology. I would like to experiment with artificial climax re-forestation. Not the modern climax, but the climax of two or three hundred years ago, with conifers. It was the type of forest that first welcomed, with open arms, the white man.
Back in 1967, my husband-to-be became intensely interested in trying pot. I felt pressure to join him in this new experience despite my sheltered background and my college roommates’ negative input. My closest friend prayed out loud for my future babies to rot in my womb if I ever tried smoking marijuana. I decided to side with my future spouse and worry about babies later.
With much nervous shaking, I rode with him to the experimental woods surrounding parts of the large midwestern college we were attending. A buddy of his had given him a tobacco tin half full of alfalfa looking stuff. We knew only that we were to roll it into “joints” (whatever they were) and smoke it. We both made huge joints and started in. Knowing nothing about inhaling or holding the smoke in, we puffed away. Nothing happened. Determined to get a result, we tried more.
There was no warning, no pleasant “buzz,” giggles or other sensation to prepare me. I looked down at my love and saw his head floating away from his body. I started to scream, and at the same time, observed myself screaming. As I continued to scream and he hurriedly sat upright, the words “Stranger Face” implanted on my mind.
I remember other things — thinking I could fly off the tailgate of the car, seeing little people hiding in the November woods, etc. As I experienced these things, I cooly watched myself and felt sorrow for my fiance as he tried to comfort and quiet me. After some hours, he says, I recovered and we went back to our separate dorms. I told no one.
Having received no reaction of his own, my future spouse wanted to try again. Twice I went with him on walks where he lit up a pipe and tried smoking that way. Still no sensations. I had no desire to touch the stuff again myself, feeling it must have come straight from my Catholic roomate’s devil. I learned much later that it is not unusual to have no reaction the first few times, but that the sort of experience I had is unusual and probably came out of my deep rooted fear. Extremely controlled people often have more trouble letting go enough to have a feeling than people like myself who can feel stoned without smoking.
Three years later, in 1970, we were married and my husband was pursuing an advanced degree while I produced our first child. When the baby was two weeks old, and the degree wrapped up, we packed our meager belongings and headed for New Mexico. During the packing process I cleaned a high cupboard we had never used and discovered a baggie full of green tea leaves. Since I was nursing, I begged off while my husband tried it — still no sensations. We threw it away rather than risk carrying the stuff cross country for such small pleasure.
A few years later, another couple was strolling the desert with us when I discovered another baggie full of green stuff beside a cold campfire. Fearing some sort of trap, or perhaps, poison in the bag, we nonetheless picked it up and took it home. That evening, with the other couple, we lit up. By now we knew enough from reading that we tried inhaling. I felt warm and happy. My husband became creative and jotted down notes for a house we wanted to build. As I recall, we nursed that bag along for quite awhile. Our friends had no reaction, and decided it was all a hoax.
Over the next several years, we quietly located people who were in on the secret. Eventually, someone gave us seeds and we grew our own. Now, smoking pot has become an undercover thing we do regularly. We’re considered upper middle class by our “far out” friends, and far out by our “upper middle class” friends. There are a few from each category that smoke with us and we tread lightly when letting people in on the deal.
Our biggest problem at present is when to let our two children find out what we do with that pipe after they are in bed. We haven’t told them. Since we mostly smoke at home (we dislike the idea of driving while high and usually manage to invite people that are spending the night or can walk home) they will find out someday.
We don’t plan to tell them until they are old enough to keep it to themselves and use some judgment about trying it themselves. They are getting heavy messages at school against using drugs. I support that for young children. On the other hand, using pot can be a pleasurable, harmless experience if one possesses a little judgment. So far we haven’t picked the perfect age to reveal ourselves. I hope we’ll recognize the moment when it comes.
When I was in my early twenties, LSD represented an evil attempting to corrupt innocence in the same way that my sexuality had attempted to corrupt my teenage virginity years before.
That isn’t such a great analogy on a couple of different levels (like psychedelics are optional experiences and sexuality is not) but sums up, nonetheless, the pedestal I had put LSD on: it was forbidden.
This attitude made good sense for a long time. I was adamant through my college years about psychedelics; I wouldn’t take them although my interest in them made me sit up and listen to others’ tripping stories.
There were very few people I knew who had not done acid. Many did it regularly, as often as three or four times a month. When I was with them as they tripped, the worst that I witnessed was a subdued spaciness. In comparison, I felt like a scurrier, in speech, thought, and movement, that felt inappropriate to the extended stillness I felt within them. It created distances between us I resented.
I tried LSD at age 25, heavily influenced by a friend who’d used it extensively and had cultivated a sound philosophy about it that I respected. He said one should never take LSD lightly, and to do it (as a beginner) only under “safe” conditions (at home with the phone off the hook, or outdoors in a familiar secluded place). “Do it only with someone you love, and above all, trust,” he said. “And if you do it alone, be in touch with your trust of yourself.” He emphasized that it must be approached with respect, as a tool, not as “a way,” and to never take acid that hadn’t been tried first by someone you knew who could vouch for it.
I felt guilty about taking LSD before I ever took it. I wasn’t feeling a lack of resources for experience, or for “more tools.” If the intention was to use acid as “a tool,” wasn’t I opening myself up to the possibility of wanting it more than what I had already? And worse, if I had one big failing, it was a lack of discipline. What kind of discipline does it take to do acid? None.
Even so, I was annoyed with the way I’d assumed that I was “beyond” certain things. I’d prided myself on: “I’ve never felt a desire to take psychedelics.” (Never say you’ll never. Permit yourself any experience and it won’t stalk you, nor do you need to experience it; just let the possibility be.)
I was lying when I said I’d never wanted to take LSD; I was curious. I persuaded myself further with: “LSD has had a powerful influence on the culture I live in. It has shaped history. Look at the Beatles. Look at the Sixties. When I tell my children about those times, I want to know what I’m talking about.”
So I did it, with someone I love and trust (who had also never done it before), with the phone off the hook on a safe Saturday in April when the earth was reeking of fertility and the sky was blue and the air crisp.
We took it at ten in the morning, after thirty minutes indecision. At five past ten, it felt like we’d swallowed death, if the unknown is death. I giggled a lot and suggested we get into the bathtub to calm down in the water. After a half hour, my friend said he thought he felt something. I felt nothing except excitement.
We decided to move outdoors, to wait for it, “it” having taken on the proportions of a jumbo jet which was going to crash into the yard at any moment. The outdoors was beautiful. Leaves had just come out on the trees, and the air smelled sweet. I’d never been more thankful for the earth as mother, as the guardian spirit of whatever journey I was about to take.
The first sensation I noticed was that my teeth felt like chewing gum. Not sticky, but chewable. Soft. I chewed on them; laughed about it.
We began to walk in a wooded area. The quiet was lush, green, and liquid. The dogwood blooms were the only visual “noise,” looking like unreal party decorations, scattered along the path for psychedelic purposes.
We were walking slightly uphill when I noticed I could not walk very fast; my breath was short, my pulse rapid, and something powerful was marrying itself to my body and mind, a steady invasion of what felt like currents of “silver” energy, invading not only me, but my friend and the trees and everything else. I say silver, because I tasted a silvery taste in my mouth (ever chew on tinfoil?) and felt an aspect of my nervous system expand with something that didn’t feel alien to me: a chemical my body produces in small quantities at other times of extreme alertness (adrenalin?), yet I felt calm.
But cautious. I needed to be still, to sit down. I began to feel an awe for what was happening: nothing was “still,” everything — myself, forest, sky, earth — was a vibration, quivering before me.
The concept “vibration” became a living, visible entity that swallowed up my sense of time and space and solid matter, penetrating everything with light.
There was no build-up to this electric intensity; it came very quickly, unstoppable. I felt as if I had one foot in this timeless new world of vibrating matter, and another in memory (the time-world), my body’s memory. My essence was experienced by me in a new way: as a distinct, unique, vibration.
I could not speak at this point. My head felt like the source of the universe. I carried my body to a rock and sat down and looked at my friend, who was walking almost on tiptoe, gracefully; I could sense he was also experiencing “the world with the veil up,” where vibration was an intimate reality instead of an abstract concept.
We sat for what seemed like a long time in one spot, intensely aware of the effect that every vibration — our thoughts, tree thoughts, earth thoughts — had on one another.
I only became uncomfortable when I realized I was not my thoughts. I was trying to “identify” myself within this expansive experience, and watched my feelings and perceptions, like animals, come through me and hang for a moment in the air and then vanish. Who was it that was watching? “Worrying” was not compatible with this space, so I let go of the worried me, and suggested, with soft, halting words, that we continue walking.
Soon we began talking. Much of it seemed telepathic; a few voiced words were rich with meaning, and shared understanding. Once I laughed, a long ho-ho-ho from deep in my belly, and fell in love with the sound as I heard it. It sounded like the happiness I felt inside myself, that came from confirmation. Affirmation of all that I believed in, and longed to exemplify, seemed to stand tall on my head, like a black top hat, a clownish presence of “yes, it is real, the continuity of your being is rooted in joy, and you suffer needlessly.” There was no sorrow, no loneliness, no aching or hunger. I was full, and my cup was very definitely running over.
We spent the day moving like dancers from moment to moment, each one rich and full. At one point, I went into the house, and looked into the mirror a long time. My eyes looked strange; I could see them vibrating, throbbing like dying sunfish on a pier.
I stepped back and smiled at myself. An ancient tenderness came over me, and I saw in the mirror a man.
He was a short man with a broader forehead than mine and a thick, muscular neck and chest. I thought of India and then Arabia. His features were only slightly different from mine. I sensed he had teeth missing, but his rough edges were smoothed and glowing, and his love for me deeper than the ocean. I felt this being was myself in a future or past embodiment, and his experience and mine overlapped at crucial points that helped set up the circumstance of my contact with him at this time.
I wanted to see if my friend could see this man in the mirror also, but he’d gone outside. He said later that the house had seemed oppressive and dark.
We looked at the clock only after it seemed years had gone by. It was two o’clock. The intensities were not shifting, but by four o’clock I felt the vibrational fields shifting again, a re-assimilation of “the old world” was taking place.
By ten that night, the only remnant of the drug’s influence was slightly chewy teeth. I began to fret, and took pen and paper and tried to capture the intensity, or at least a memory of it. The words seemed empty, after such a plentiful time of silent understanding.
Many of my mixed feelings about LSD were resolved by taking it. I had previously blamed myself for setting myself apart from my friends with my pride, during my college years, saying I “didn’t need it.” What I was unwilling to admit at that time was that I was afraid of what LSD might show me. After experiencing it, I was thankful that I had not tried it in my college years. My sense of self was too vulnerable then. I had a lot of fears I wasn’t ready to confront: and acid would probably have made those vulnerabilities more painful.
I’ve taken LSD several times since the first, but it’s never been as intense or affirmative for me as it was the first time. It’s been “interesting,” but there is something unnatural about it, unnatural in the sense of using a door that opens at the expense of a body and spirit that has not evolved in its own time to this space. I don’t know the specifics, but surely there are consequences to our more subtle bodies (like sunbathing for four hours in full sun when your skin has never been touched by the sun).
I am also distrustful of LSD’s origins. Even when someone has vouched for its quality and “purity,” I feel I am somewhat at the mercy of this unknown chemist, whose intent certainly taints his product.
Even so, I cannot dismiss LSD as “a misguided manifestation,” come into the world to distract and confuse us. Any drug is qualified by the motivation in taking it. It is not “good” or “bad.” A helpful question to ask might be: will this choice have a helpful, harmful, or benign influence on my life goals, or my ability to be who I want to be?
For the non-believer in me, LSD was a positive experience, verifying that death exists within time, and if you are fully in the moment, there is no time.
I want to reach that awareness on my own, without LSD. It is ironic to me that in order to reach this “higher” frequency, where everything vibrates so rapidly and seems to be more like sunlight than matter, one must slow down, considerably, in order to “be in the moment.” This is the test of discipline which LSD, when misused, mocks.
I was just looking for a mellow high and an interesting night on the bayou in Monroe, Louisiana, in town to visit an old friend and check out what the deep south is famous for — ’shrooms. Having earlier in the day traded ten hits of just back from Berkeley four-way windowpane for 200 large mushrooms, my friend and I were catching up on each other while the mushroom man prepared our potion.
It was no trouble to drink the six-ounce cup of tea he gave each of us. Tasted pretty good actually. After we were finished, he informed us that the two of us had just ingested the juice of fifty mushrooms (fresh, big, black bayou ’shrooms). We had both done a bit of acid in our time so we thought everything would be cool.
My friend took off down the street to play some music with other folks while I sat down to sort some slides for a show later in the evening. Within five minutes sorting became extremely difficult. After ten, I gave up and lay down on a bed laughing hysterically. I continued getting off, extremely rapidly, alone in a strange house in a strange town. Time — timeless — the psychedelic speed-up of a hundred moments and thoughts into one. Tripping!
Eventually I tried meditating to keep from freaking out. The hallucinations were getting very intense, much more than I had ever experienced. Soon I was so high that I could hold out my arm and not even see it there were so many hallucinations. Reality? My grasp on the situation was fading fast. Still alone, after an hour? Two? Don’t know. Hearing things.
Then the paranoia hit. The reality that here I am in this house with a bunch of illegal mushrooms, not to mention various and sundry other substances. What to do? Hearing sirens — real or imagined? They’re coming to get me. All this energy I’ve got, they can detect it, they know . . .
Somewhere amidst this setting for total freakout my friend came back to his house. Looking in his eyes I knew he was as high as I was. A little talking and I realized how freaked out I was and had enough sense to eat a couple of downs. The downs put me out and I lay down, but my mind was still just buzzed, and it left my body for a period. The best way I can describe that is that everything was vibrations, interacting. I felt fully conscious but it was a totally different experience and I didn’t know what to make of it. Thought and communication — all on a vibrational level. How strange to see things this way . . .
Good morning Bill, Geez, that sure was some Saturday night! Need some breakfast! After that and some packing and a long goodbye, I was cruising east on Trailways, one long blond freak with backpack and a quart of mushroom juice, sipping slow this time. A long ride to N.C. and lots of time to sort it out.
Well, the sorting out took months, but the juice was gone as soon as a few friends in Carolina knew I was back. That was five years ago, and recently I’ve been thinking of making a run down to Louisiana. See what my old friends are up to!
It happened on a steamy July morning near Pittsboro. I was in the company of three people I had done a lot of psychedelics with and we had inhaled some good MDA (a wonderful drug, later maligned due to increasingly poor quality) in a quantity no one was keeping track of.
My eyes, as they usually did on the drug, seemed to be flipping in my head like a pair of venetian blinds gone berserk. At dawn, we had managed to drive out to a friend’s place in the country. We were eventually scattered around the front porch trying to say goodbye to the two friends we’d awakened at that time.
What happened, happened simultaneously to the four of us — our auras became wonderfully visible, but only to each other. They glowed around our whole bodies like soft neon.
Joe stumbled over to me, excitedly mumbling something about the wonderful shade of yellow surrounding me. He was awash in indigo blue, as was Chris. But our somewhat paranoid companion, ________, was glowing an angry red. It was, in our minds, a sort of confirmation of his state: he was the angry, confused, dazed one. He had become increasingly paranoid over the summer, even when he wasn’t tripping. At 17, he had suddenly become a living symbol for all that redness means: danger, anger, extreme urgency. He stood on the porch alone, glowing innocently red. We stood in the yard, feeling like beautiful jewels, watching him. As he came toward us the glows faded and disappeared.
The upshot of all this, for three of us, is a singularly beautiful memory, and the reinforcement of a belief in all that auras can indicate. For _______, he flipped out totally seven years ago, two months after this incident, and as far as I know, he has yet to relocate in a more coherent reality.
Drug experiences are kind of difficult to write about, but I remember one night out with my “running buddies,” Fred and Mike. We had just gotten hold of three doses of a popular (I’m sure it still is) pill known as purple microdot. At the time I assumed it was some sort of acid (LSD) mixed with speed. Come to think of it, it could have been Drano, for all we knew.
Anyway, the three of us were out in Fred’s VW, smoking pot and looking for a place to party. Mike suggested going to Ernie Lane’s. It seemed like a hell of a party was going on. There were several people walking around, most of whom I didn’t know too well. Among those I did know well was Jack Kriss, president of my senior class. I had known him since early childhood (Sunday school for years, choir, etc.) but I hadn’t seen him since graduation. I now had a beard, which Jack admired. He said he had one but had to shave it off today. He explained that he was the vocalist for a rock band; Ernie Taylor was in it, as were most of the people there. I casually mentioned (being, after all, a man of the world) that I was tripping. Jack said, “Oh really, I didn’t know you tripped,” and all the other standard things one says in response to such an offhand confession from a former straight-arrow. (If he only knew!)
Wandering through the maze of audio equipment in Ernie’s basement (I guess his parents were gone), I noticed two girls I did not know. One was sitting down with a tourniquet around her upper arm, the other had a syringe in her hand. Shooting up! Despite my collegiate sophistication, I’d never seen anyone shoot up before. The needle went in, and the recipient began to moan, not really with pleasure, not really with pain. I had never heard anything like that before and have not since. I was morbidly fascinated. Then Mike said, “Let’s go.” We did, but not before I had a conversation with Verne Gill, an acquaintance. He said I was a hero (!) to him in high school when I played flute and could I give him flute lessons (I was a music major) since he had a flute stolen from a local high school that he didn’t know what to do with. I said I wouldn’t tell anyone and sure I could give lessons. Verne never mentioned flute to me after that night. So I left having been spooked, fascinated and flattered almost simultaneously (while “tripping”!).
Cruising around with Fred and Mike later that night we noticed police cars parked near a local pharmacy. The next morning we learned that the place was held up by an unknown man with a beard and a young female accomplice. They stole x-number of dollars worth of drugs, mostly amphetamines (speed). A few weeks later, Jack and a girl whose name I didn’t know were arrested. I don’t know if they got their speed back, but I do know Jack got a suspended sentence (his parents were not without influence) and is now attending Eastern Kentucky University, doing quite well I guess. I don’t know what happened to the girl or even if she was one of the girls I saw that night. The funny thing of it is, I never did get off on that purple microdot.
Seventh or eighth acid trip, I can’t remember which, my trip pal, Blue, was spewing a lot of crap about love being imminent and ever present and I was starting to tune him out; the acid was starting to tune him out (I and the acid being two distinct people, maybe more), but before he dissolved I heard him say acid is a tool. Now that made sense. I used the tool that trip. Anyone who’s done the drug knows the way you can look into things, enter things. The trip went on and that was the theme. Acid is a tool.
It was in a dorm room that the tool did its best job. A crowd of people were drinking, smoking, babbling, eating fruits and meat (not me . . . that meat was alive!). I stood back and watched them all turn into apes in the mirror across the room. Yea, I had a snout and pointed ears too. I wasn’t eating or drinking. But I was sure as hell abusing the tool, using it for kicks. But what else is it for? The thought, the image got lost in the evening (somebody’s car, some beer, some reefer, the night spread out, I came down on a sunny Saturday in Spring which I was too burned out to appreciate).
But I realized there was more to the drug than just the high and the kick. It took a few years to incorporate that realization into my living. Although I could see that it was wrong to waste so much time and so much of my soul and body in the narrow pursuit of highness, the desire couldn’t be told to leave. But acid I eventually swore off of. Too far, too long, too much. But the desire needed fulfilling somehow. So back to the standards: booze, pills, the drugs of our fathers and mothers. Not too many insights, but a lot of action. The trouble was that I began to lose control of the action. The pills frayed my nerves. A little pot and I’d freak: body shake, head spin. Teeth ajar, eyes all bloody, stomach torn up, legs weak, I’d reach a point where I’d say no more pills. That would work for awhile. I’d smooth out. But I’d come back. A tool, I’d say. I could write pretty well on speed at one time. But the tool quit working. Lucky for me I can throw some things away. I reach a point where I’ve had it and I shovel whatever it is that isn’t doing its job into the shitcan. So eventually, out went the pills. Two out of three. One more to go. (Don’t count marijuana in this. It’s just too benign, or to me it has been; or is that another joke on myself?) Alcohol.
I’ve seen alcohol do a number on so many people. We all have. It was hard to realize that it was doing one on me. The thing about alcohol is the thing I’ve heard about drugs like heroin, cocaine and morphine: you come down off the high, but the drug still controls you; that is, if you’re susceptible like I am. Alcohol is a liar as far as I’m concerned. It says I ain’t going to hurt you, all you got to do is behave. You learned your lesson last time. You’re not going to embarrass yourself any more, you’re not going to alienate any more people, you’re not going to wake up with that cold paranoia squatting on your chest tomorrow. THIS TIME IT’S GOING TO BE DIFFERENT.
Like I say, he’s a liar. After 13 years (13 months ago next week) I said no more. It was like kicking someone out of the house. The last time I got drunk (I don’t drink if I don’t get drunk) I saw the devil . . . a very nasty, very ugly person. The same guy I saw in the mirror on acid. Myself of course. It was a cold winter night and I had finished my last beer, finished a half gallon of wine, eaten some kind of slop that drunks are famous for throwing together (one time a mixture of tomatoes, celery soup, bacon, mushroom soup, ketchup, mayonnaise, oregano, lemon juice, salad dressing, potato chips, American cheese, black-eyed peas, eggs, croutons, wine, spam, all on rice . . . it made me puke . . . the dogs wouldn’t get near it); I went to the bathroom and I saw the devil.
The next thing I knew I was waking up. I remembered cussing someone over the telephone. I remembered an angry woman’s voice. I remembered my best friend (at least he was until the night before) leaving as I threatened him. I jumped up and the room started spinning. I took a shower and started thinking. I said, buddy, you’ve reached a point of crisis. Something has got to be done. Something was done. I told the guy in me who drinks to get his shit together and get the fuck out. He got out. Every now and then he comes to the edge of the yard. I get out my blackjack and he splits. I’ve decided I don’t like him, don’t care about his feelings. . . . It wasn’t easy to get him to leave, but he’s gone. I feel a hell of a lot better for it.
So now, if I need to get high I smoke some pot. Blessed the gentle hemp. It’s never caused me any problems.
The whole thing about drugs is this: you’ve got to realize what you can handle. Young people do it because it’s a fad. Older people do it because they need it. You can’t escape drugs. You don’t have to. Time is the teacher. If you survive, you can learn. If you don’t learn, you don’t survive. I’ve never been one for useless pain; the problem is being able to tell when the pain is what used to be pleasure.
What’s the main thing I’ve learned from drugs? The same thing I’ve learned everywhere else: Stand up, be strong. Don’t let anyone push you too far. Don’t let anyone else control you. Once anyone or anything gets their grips on your person, do like the Dolomite: Bust out their teeth, kick ’em in the ass, get ’em a night job pumping gas.
Today would have been Einstein’s 100th birthday, and the media are taking us aside to Explain What He Meant, lest our continuing bafflement (why do they assume we must be baffled?) dampen the celebration. One pathway to understanding Einstein’s cosmology that the newspaper hasn’t discussed is chemical alteration of consciousness. Marijuana, psilocybin, and LSD, by changing our relative viewpoint, can bring us an emotional understanding of Einsteinian truth that just isn’t available in, say, high school physics. My own chemical enlightenment about special relativity took place a few years ago in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Late in a Sunday of tripping (marked by reverent visits to the graves of Henry James and Margaret Fuller and a less-than-reverent wander around the tomb of Mary Baker Eddy), I leaned back against a tombstone and slipped into reverie. The acid was revealing the immense deliberation of nature — how the cirrus clouds above and the branches of the trees and the swell of the hill I sat on were not random but ordered, symmetrical in themselves and seamlessly interlocking. Clouds and trees and hills were all one entity. And I’m in it too, I thought, and so thinking I (as myself) ceased to be. I stopped being illusorily independent of the universe. Now I was the hill, the tombstone, the sky. No borderlines of body or mind. I felt the true I, heard the one note that we and all we sense are merely harmonics of. I did not disappear; I became manifest. Since that moment I’ve never understood how Einstein could baffle anybody. E=mc2 simply means that there is one energy that is everything. “All graceful,” as the Grateful Dead once sang.