The Eucalyptus Grove

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Whenever I come to the Eucalyptus Grove on the Berkeley campus I always have a weird acid flashback to 1993.  At the time, I used to like to take LSD and come out here with my guitar and sing my weird songs to the cosmos.

I had this stupid idea back then of recording an album of original music.  It was going to be my psychedelic masterpiece.  I planned on calling it “Private Pepper.”   As sort of a pun.  Because I was aspiring towards that psychedelic Beatles sound.  And because my music had been a private little thing with me that I rarely shared with the public.  This friend of mine had built a home-recording studio with an 8-track reel-to-reel tape recorder and DATs and all kinds of amazing toys.  So we recorded 12 of my hit songs.  And he added all sorts of amazing psychedelic effects.   And I swear to God, if you took enough drugs it actually sounded like music.

But anyways, I was remembering one haunting song I used to sing here in the Grove back in the olden days of 1993.  It was called “We’re Never Coming Down.”  Because that was one of the stupid things I aspired to back then.  I believed that the psychedelic state was this expanded level of consciousness.  So I wanted to permanently attain that state.  “To get high and never come down,” as Richard “Ram Dass” Alpert used to put it.

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Course it didn’t occur to me at the time.  The other side of the bargain.  That you could get high and never come back down to earth.

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Drugs and alcohol

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Drugs?  I’ve tried ’em all.  And I’ve gotten pleasure from all of them.  Aside from downers, opiates and pain-killers. Which just made me groggy and bored.  Had minor flirtations with crystal meth and crack cocaine.  Unitl I realized the high wasn’t worth the damage. As well as the annoying Laws of Diminishing Returns (the more you did them, the less you got from them)

Did about 300 LSD trips, from age 17 to age 40.  At one point I thought acid was a kind of spiritual medicine that was expanding my consciousness.  Eventually concluded it was garbage that was scrambling my brains.

Pot I started smoking when I was 16, and kept smoking until I quit about 3 years ago. I would go through long periods where I’d smoke pot every day.  Or I’d go for years without smoking it. Or I’d smoke it semi-regularly.  I mostly liked pot because when I played music it made it sound better, deeper, more emotional.  But pot often turned on me.  It could make me hideously introspective.

Alcohol, I started drinking when I was 16.  And immediately liked it.  I’m mostly a beer-o.  But when I was 19 I spent a year drinking burgundy (I thought there was something “bohemian” about drinking red wine).  I mostly considered booze a goof. It shuts off my mind and stops me from doing so much goddamn thinking (my brains is kind of wired as a Meaning Machine and it’s constantly regurgitating data.  But the booze shuts that part down and gives me some relief).  Some of the best times in my life have simply been sitting across from a friend and slowly getting schnockered together, as the hours got more and more golden.  Just sitting and talking really.

For most of my life I was a “weekend drinker.”  Go out with the boys (and girls) on a Friday night and tie on a good one.  Get a little wild. . . . What turned me into an “everyday drinker” was when I started doing the street vending job full-time.   I’m an extremely shy, self-conscious person.  So I found the non-stop dealing with all the customers to be very painful, awkward and draining.  But after pounding a couple quick cans of OE I’d start to lighten up.  I began to actually enjoy talking with people.  In a weird way, the alcohol made me a nicer, friendlier person.

I once went four years where I was completely straight.  1997 to 2001.  That was the only period of my life where I wasn’t taking one substance or another.  Probably not coincidentally, that was one of the happiest and productive periods of my life.  I had s clean line in my head back then.

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Drugs in general are pretty stupid, Part 2: LSD

 

For some reason I’ve been thinking about some of the stupid things I used to do back when I used to take drugs.  LSD is another one of them.

Now, back in the ’60s, all the acid gurus used to stress the importance of “set and setting” while tripping on LSD.  In other words, you should pick a safe and buccolic setting when you’re experiencing that transformation of consciousness to a state that has been variously described as a state of insanity or a state of mysticism.  And everything in between.  Unfortunately, most of the settings for my acid trips took place in the real world full of sharp objects and weird people.

I remember one such night where I found myself peaking on acid while stumbling around in a very rough neighborhood in Oakland, well after midnight.  Hardly the most ideal setting for a groovy LSD trip.  It was the kind of neighborhood where you needed to have your wits about you  just walking around in the middle of the day. Let alone in the middle of the night, deranged on drugs.

I forget how that had come about.  I think I’d been hoping to spend the night at my friend Mary’s place, she lived in that neighborhood, but she probably kicked me out when I started going loony-tunes from the LSD.  So now I had to come up with a Plan B.  Namely, how I was going to navigate my way all the way back to Berkeley while my brains were exploding from the LSD effect, it’s wonders to behold.  Further complicating matters as I wandered around, every couple of minutes I’d be distracted by one hallucination or another.  I remember staring for a long time at this neon light that seemed to be some kind of profound symbol — a message of some sort — from some ancient and otherworldly realm.

Now, one of the beguiling and mind-fucking thing about psychedelic drugs is:  While tripping you feel things more profoundly.  But what you’re feeling is not necessarily profound.  LSD completely skews that meter that allows you to distinguish your imagination from reality.   And it also skews your cause-and-effect logic (just ask Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter crew).    It can be like an intense and surreal dream with it’s own cock-eyed logic.  And like a dream, you have no idea that you’re dreaming.  It all seems completely real at the time.

For example, at one point I passed this parking lot full of shiny, brand new cars. I immediately had a profound epiphany.  All these expensive cars massed in the middle of this mostly-black neighborhood in Oakland was a clear-cut sign that the black community was emerging as a dominant force in today’s global economy and would soon rule the world.  (I prided myself on my ability to spot these new and emerging social trends before everyone else, even if I sometimes had to manufacture them in my imagination.)  (PS.  The next day I realized it had just been an ordinary used-car lot.)

After wandering around in circles for some time I came to the savvy conclusion that I better get my ass home and quick before I got into some real trouble.  I knew I was too crazed to get on a bus full of people. Especially full of the late-night denizens in that neck of the woods.  So I did something I rarely did and hailed a taxi.

Things were going fine as I sat there in the back seat of the cab, congratulating myself for having successfully found this safe haven.  The taxi driver was a bland, heavy-set, middle-aged guy.  The thing I most remember is how he kept looking over his shoulder at me as he chatted amiably.  His face kept shifting from the changing lights and shadows of the streetlights and the headlights.  And as I looked into his face I suddenly had yet another one of those incredibly jarring and profound LSD revelations.  This was no mere taxi driver.  He was Satan himself!  And this taxi cab was taking me directly to Hell!

I was stunned by this realization. But I could see it clear as a bell on the taxi-driver’s face.  Which kept shifting back and forth from bland taxi driver to Satan himself. He kept looking back at me with this leering, malevolent smile.  Like he was enjoying the cat-and-mouse game with me.  I realized I was a trapped rat, completely helpless, with no escape.  The doors were surely all locked. I was his prisoner.  I was doomed.   A lamb being led to slaughter.  I was never going to get out of this cab alive.  I was on a one-way trip to Hell!!!!!

I was overcome with panic, and began to perspire profusely. I briefly considered tryng to physically over-power Satan. But I knew that was hopeless, I was no match for all of Satan’s satanic and supernatural powers. So instead I concentrated feverishly on his seemingly inane patter.  Perhaps there was some way I could reason with him.  Perhaps this was all a big misunderstanding and he had mistakenly picked the wrong doomed soul.  I couldn’t remember signing any contracts lately.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the cab came to a stop.  “End of the line,” said the cabbie ominously.  I made a desparate grab for the door handle.  And much to my surprise, the door opened.  When I stepped outside, stood firmly on the ground, I realized, much to my great relief, I wasn’t in Hell after all,  but was standing in front of my apartment building.  Somehow, I had managed to escape the grasp of eternal death. I was a free man!  Thank God all mighty.  I was so happy and relieved, I gave the taxi driver a $40 tip for a $20 ride.

LSD really is a stupid drug.

 

The Polka Dot Man

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The Polka Dot Man, 1982

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For whatever reason, Berkeley has always attracted it’s fair share of weird characters.   I often wonder why there are so many nutty people in Berkeley.    Is it that, for some reason, the nutty people are drawn to Berkeley??  Or is it that something about Berkeley drives people nutty??  Who knows.  I’m too nuts myself to figure that one out.

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One of the many strange characters is a guy who was known for many years as the Polka Dot Man.  The Polka Dot Man has been bizarrely displaying himself on the Berkeley campus since the early 1980s.  He would sometimes go years without talking, like a deaf mute.  Often he’d sit unmoving for hours at a stretch in weird postures.  In a newspaper interview, he said he originally slipped into this catatonic state while tripping on LSD in a Texas jail.  He became fixated with the drain-hole of the urinal, staring at it for hours.  And that was how he got locked into the “polka dot” concept.  For years he wore a bizarre, clown-like costume covered with polka dots.

The Polka Dot Man existed in this weird mute-deaf-dumb catatonic state for many years.   Then one day he was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a building that happened to catch on fire.  This fireman started screaming at him: “GET UP!! GET UP!!!”  For some reason, the fireman yelling at him, ordering him to get up, pulled him out of his catatonic state.  He began talking normally to people again, and was relatively normal for several years after that.

The human mind is a peculiar thing.

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The Polka Dot Man, circa 2016

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Charles Manson

 

Turn on, tune in, and X out.

I’ve always had a weird fascination with Charles Manson.  Like I lot of people, I guess.  If you made a list of the 10 most famous living people on the planet, I wouldn’t be surprised if Manson made that list.  45 years after the Sharon Tate murders there’s still an enduring, world-wide fascination with Charles Manson.  Manson has become almost a cartoon character of evil.  America’s favorite monster.

When I was 17 in 1974, senior year of high school, I first became fascinated with  Charles Manson. It was like an off-shoot of my general fascination with all things LSD.   I had a little bookshelf that was  built into the head-board of my bed in my bedroom.  And I kept it well-stocked with books related to psychedelics drugs.

There was “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” of course, which featured Ken Kesey as sort of the prototype psychedelic hero — the pioneer and space-cowboy explorer of inner space.  And I had a Beatles bio paperback, circa Sgt Pepper, with color photos of the Beatles decked out in their “psychedelic clothes” and Paul talking about how LSD had helped him to see God, and how acid might be a universal cure-all that would end poverty and war and shit if only the square politicians would start turning on.   And, of course, I had “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas,”  Hunter S. Thompson’s madcap vision of the psychedelic experience.  And I had a bunch of Kurt Vonnegut novels, who was like a psychedelic father-figure (his son Mark Vonnegut would live out the classic ’60s hippie trip, starting a commune and grooving on many acid trips until he finally ended up in the nut ward).  Even my sports books had turned psychedelic.  There was “North Dallas 40” by Peter Gent, one of the first acid-dropping NFL football stars.  And the NBA basketball star Phil Jackson started out the first chapter of his jock bio, “Maverick,” with a story about how an acid trip had changed his life (for the better, natch).

But one day, quietly, my parents slipped a copy of “Helter Skelter” by Vincent Bugliosi into my collection of books.   They never mentioned it to me directly.  But I could sort of tell what their unstated message was:  “We can see where you’re headed with the drugs and the street scene and the psychedelic hippie shit.  So you might want to check out where that path could lead you.”

Of course I was fascinated with “Helter Skelter” and would read it many times from cover-to-cover.  And when I was tripping on acid I would some times vividly imagine what those kids in the Manson Family had experienced.  On acid you could understand exactly how those kids had been transformed.  For psychedelic drugs do open up your head in a way.  But they leave your  head exposed to be filled with whatever happens to be going around.  Nature abhors a vacuum after all.  And that goes for all that blank space in your noggin’, too.

Later,  in the 1980s, one of my best friends would become good friends with this wispy little Berkeley hippie chick named Angel Star who used to be in the Manson Family in the late-’60s.  Angel Star was in her 30s by that point, and every now and then she would talk about Charles Manson.  She claimed she had gotten out of the Family before the killings started.  But I was never so sure about that.

And Angel Star was just Charlie’s type.  Small, girl-ish, waif-like, with the long, straight hippie-hair parted in the middle. It’s weird how so many of the Manson girls were the exact same type.  And it was the “Children of the Damned” aspect that I think was such a big part of Manson’s enduring fascination. That these cute and seemingly innocent (and sexy) teenage girls could be capable of such monstrous acts.

I always wanted to ask Angel Star about Manson.   In retrospect I regret I didn’t.  But I could tell she didn’t want to go there.  It wasn’t something she  was eager for other people to know about. And I respected that.   Because it marked her in a way.  Almost as if it X-ed her out of society, even though she hadn’t literally carved one on her forehead.

To this day, I’ll still occasionally see Angel Star wandering around the streets of Bekeley.  Often dressed in rags, and sometimes pushing a shopping cart and listlessly scrounging around in garbage cans on Shattuck Avenue.  Always alone.  Always silent.  She’s in her 6os now and looks a bit haggard, even as she’s still retained some of her girl-ish demeanor.  She looks almost like an ancient, grizzled, little girl.   And I’ll sometimes think of how many different lives Charles Manson ruined.  And it’s almost mind-boggling.

There was another guy that used to hang out on Telegraph Avenue for a bit around 10 years ago.  Young, hippie-looking guy, dark brown hair, beard,  probably in his mid-30s.  Used to hang out on the sidewalk outside the Caffe Med, usually alone, never seemed to talk to anyone.  Always dressed in black clothes and was usually barefoot.  Nothing particular distinctive about him, except that he always wore a black top-hat.  And every now and then he’d take his hat off and you could see he had an X carved in his forehead.  Whenever I would see that guy hanging out on the Ave, I always got a strange feeling.  It was like seeing this haunted specter from the past, hovering silently over the scene.  And maybe a specter of the future, too.  Last  I heard, Charles Manson was still alive and well.  And still had an enduring appeal.

The original cover art for Acid Heroes

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This was the original cover art for my Acid Heroes book, which was sort of a scathing account of the ’60s psychedelic movement and its aftermath. The thing totally bombed. So I guess I didn’t do a very good job on it.

I have massive regrets about how that book turned out. Its only about 25% of what I intended. In part because of the difficult circumstances while I was writing it. Try writing, editing and publishing a 300 page book while homeless and living out of a sleepingbag. During the rainy season. On top of that my best friend was in the process of dying an agonizing death (he would be dead a month after it was published). I guess it’s a miracle we were able to produce anything. So I’m grateful for that. And that me and Pat survived the experience. If only barely.No automatic alt text available.

December 8, 1980

It was 1980 and John Lennon had disappeared from the public eye for about 5 years.  And then one day,  out of the blue there was suddenly a new John Lennon song on the radio.  “Starting Over.”  I remember how startling it was  to suddenly hear the famous voice coming over the airwaves once again.  Like a strange spectre from the long-lost past.

And then one afternoon a couple weeks later, I was hanging out at my ratty apartment in Berkeley and I turned on the radio and all the radio stations were inexplicably playing John Lennon and Beatles songs.  I spun the dial and it was Beatles on virtually every station.  “As you probably heard,” said the radio DJ in between Beatles songs, “John Lennon was shot and killed  in New York city…..”   A crazy Beatles fanboy with a John Lennon obsession — a true Beatlemaniac — had apparently murdered Lennon.

I called up my friend Mary at work.  “They just killed John Lennon,” I said.

“I could give a fuck about that!”  said Mary.  She hung up the phone on me.  She was mad at me about something else.

I felt a powerful need to do something, to pay my respects to my fallen hero, John Lennon.  Assassinated.  The radio DJ said that there would be a candle-light memorial service for John Lennon later that night at the San Francisco marina.   So I immediately decided to — what else? — take some LSD and head over there.  Grabbed my coat and grabbed my hat, made the bus in seconds flat . . .

I made it to San Francisco all right.  But as I sat in the crowded trolley car on the way to the marina, the acid started kicking in.  It started doing weird things to all the swirling faces crammed into the seats around me.   The faces were mostly secretaries and businessmen in three-piece suits,  commuting home from work.  But they all seemed to be staring at me.  Smirking at me.  And smirking at John Lennon.  Could they tell I was high?  That bit.  “Good riddance to the long-haired freak,” I over-heard one of them say.  Or was that the acid talking? Hard to tell when your brains are starting to explode out of your skull.   They were the Straights after all.  And I was a bit of a long-haired freak myself, tripping on LSD amongst them.  It meant something back them.  Straights versus Freaks.  The lines were more drawn back then (unlike today where every other corporate lawyer sports a ponytail and earrings and has multiple tattoos).  John Lennon had been a hero to people like me.  But he had been an enemy to many others.  People forget that now.

When I got to the marina it was dark and deserted.  I probably had the wrong marina.  But I was in no condition to find the right one.  I took a big pull from the pint of Jim Beam whiskey in my jacket pocket as I debated my next plan of action.  Plan A — whatever that had been — had somehow not coalesced.  I stood there alone on the beach as the waves lapped to the shore.  I stared up at the black, star-lit sky of eternity.  And for a second I saw the face of John Lennon twinkling down at me from behind the brightest star in the sky.  It was  John Lennon Himself looking down at me from the cosmos.  His face was the sky and he was part of the Heavens now.  I smiled back at him happily.   I looked at the star again and John Lennon winked at me from behind the star.  Or maybe it was the acid winking and twinkling in my brain. . . .

I decided to pay my respects by worshiping at the altar of the rocknroll church.  I floated up the street to the Mabuhay Gardens, this hip new punk rock club on Broadway and Columbus.    Inside, the place was dark and almost empty.  It was a weekday after all.  A generic high school rock band from the suburbs was on the stage, mindlessly grinding through their set of generic rock songs.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I sat there at my nightclub table in this strange underground theater. Wondering what it must have been like to have caught the young Beatles at the beginning of their career, playing at small dives just like this one in Hamburg, Germany.  And I marveled at the power and magic and excitement that the four young lads from Liverpool must have generated.  Generating enough electricity to transform the whole world and send it spinning on a new axis.

The generic rock band played through their entire set without even mentioning the Lennon assassination once.  Somehow that disappointed me most of all.  For I thought of how the Beatles had always captured the moment.  I looked around the club at the other empty tables, wondering what it all meant in the context of a million other nightclub tables in the endless expanse of time and space.  I felt dazed and confused as I tried to make sense of what had happened.    I had a copy of today’s San Francisco Chronicle  sitting on my table and the frontpage headline stared back at me in typeset worthy of World War III.  “JOHN LENNON MURDERED.”

The Mabuhay waitress drifted over to my table.  She was big, heavy-set barge of a woman dressed in a floor-length black goth dress that reminded me of a tent.  She had on heavy black eye make-up and she looked down at me with very soulful, dark, puppy-dog eyes.  I stared deeply into her sad eyes and I could tell that she Understood.  She reached down  and picked up  my pint bottle of whiskey that was sitting on my table.  “You can’t bring outside liquor into the premises,” she said.  Then she turned and drifted away.  I sat there pondering the true meaning of this fascinating interaction between two human beings amidst the endless expanse of time and space and nightclub tables . . .

I wandered around the streets of San Francisco for many, many hours, thinking many, many lost and forgotten thoughts, and staring deeply up at the stars as if looking for some kind of sign from John Lennon.  Then I accidentally stepped in some dogshit on the sidewalk and spent the rest of the LSD trip intensely paranoid that I smelled bad.  LSD is a strange drug.

Somehow I ended up back in my ratty Berkeley apartment.  And  I spent the rest of the night reading and re-reading my worn paperback copy of “Lennon Remembers,” the famous interview from Rolling Stone magazine. And each word glistened off the page like sacred text.

(— excerpted from the book ACID HEROES: The Psychedelic 60s and its Aftermath)

Acid Part 8

(Originally published in 2004)

The next day when I came down from the experience–that’s assuming you EVER really come down–I felt stunned in a pleasant sort of way. LSD had definitely lived up to its billing. It had been a powerful, magical, and exhilarating experience with curiously uplifting spiritual and–YES!–even cosmic overtones. So LSD was quickly added to our repertoire of weekend party drugs along with beer, pot, vodka, and Boone’s Farm Strawberry Wine.

One night Donna and I tripped on acid and staggered across the street to the big strawberry farm by my house. Strawberry Fields Forever, literally. We laid on our backs in the wet dewy strawberry patch staring up at the black sky and the twinkling stars of forever feeling like we were lying on top of a  massive space-ship that was hurtling us through the endless expanses of time and space at amazing speed. Which it was, of course.

Another night on another trip, we snuck into my father’s church, which was a spooky experience in itself  after dark with the creepy cemetery behind it. I sat down behind the big church organ, Phantom of the Opera style, and noodled out the opening riff from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” each note dripping into the air like golden drops of electric quicklsilver. As Lennon once said about the mind-boggling soul-warmth of psychedelic sounds: “You don’t just HEAR the music on acid.” And as the music touched my soul I realized why Lennon and so many other rock musicians had been taken by LSD in such a big way. The LSD added this other indescribable dimension to music, this other-worldly sensual pleasure, like consuming the nectar of the gods, this most exquisite mind-candy that reverberated and echoed through your psyche and touched the deepest levels of soul-meaning. As I sat behind the big church organ tripping on the haunting keyboard riffs I intuitively understood how psychedelic rock music had been at the very epicenter of the ’60s revolution. Donna and Suzie Q in their stoned-out craziness picked up the big church speakers off the ground and began rocking them back and forth in their arms while I played at top volume, setting of the most amazing series of musical explosions and sizzles and  sonic crackles. I sat there in stoned-out awe at the mind-boggling, never-before heard sounds we were creating, aural sculptures in the air, as we methodically blew out the circuits of the big church speakers. And I realized in that moment that perhaps I was a musical genius after all.

Near the end of the school year I got busted by the cops for smoking a bowl of pot in my car. My Mom and Dad had to come down to the police station to pick me up. My Mom was distraught to the verge of tears. My son the drug addict. My father sternly said: “We’re going to search you bedroom for drugs and if we find anything we’re going to turn you into the police.” Fortunately they didn’t find the 20 hits of blotter acid I had stashed between a book. A couple weeks later, my parents discreetly slipped a copy of the book “Helter Skelter” about the Manson family and their LSD rampages, into my collection of books, I guess to warn me about where I was headed.

Alas, my high school acid-tripping career would end on a sour note. Finally it was June, the last big weekend of our Senior year, the end of the line, the culmination of 13 long years on the scholastic assembly line. And now, here we all were, poised on the verge of leaving the cocoon of school and stepping out for the first time into the mysterious Adult World of jobs, careers and marriages. But first there would be the big graduation party on the last Friday of the school year, the last gathering of the tribe that was the Doomed Class of 1974.

The big graduation party was at the home of Stan Oinst, the star quarterback of the football team. Just about the entire senior class was there that night crammed into Stan’s suburban house. Donna and I decided to add a little sparkle to the occasion by gobbling down some LSD, naturally. We were “the stoners” of course so we had to live up to our high school roles. Party on, dude. We entered Stan Oinst’s house just as the first rush of the acid was kicking in. There was a rock band playing in the living rooms, the coolest kids from the cool crowd, naturally, and they were playing the hits of the day, mostly “folk rock” which was the thing that year. The room was jam-packed with people and I tripped out on all the faces, my classmates, all the fuckheads I had known for the last 6 years, and all the secret stories between us. The band was playing a cover of the Eagles big hit “Take It Easy” and I wanted to get a good look at the band so I made my way to the front of the room. It was extremely crowded but I managed to find what seemed like a good place to sit and groove to the tunes. Unbeknownst to me, what I was sitting on was, alas, a glass coffee table. Suddenly there was some kind of loud explosion and shards of glass went flying straight up into in the in slow motion like the coolest hallucination. And then I noticed I was sitting on the floor amidst the broken shards of glass that only moments before had been Stan Oinst’s glass coffee table. Suddenly it had gotten very quiet and everyone was staring at me. The band had stopped playing their instruments like THAT–! which was a jolt in itself, the first inkling that something had gone tragically awry. Everyone from the Doomed Class of 1974 was staring at me, it was like a frozen painting and only I was moving. I sat there amidst the broken glass, tripping on powerful LSD as my brain struggled to make sense of this queer scene. Surely this was one of those strange hallucinations that occur with regularity on acid. Wait’ll I tell Donna about this one, she’ll laugh good about that. And I had a momentary sense of hopefulness.  Which quickly passed.

Next thing I knew I was in the kitchen and Donna was helping to wash the blood and glass splinters from my hands. Everyone was glaring daggers at me. I caught a glimpse of Stan Oinst–star quarterback–as he was rushing back and forth from room to room with his hand on his forehead in an anguished pose. I felt an urgent need to talk to Stan Oinst at that moment, to straighten out this misunderstanding. Whatever it was. Surely he would understand. Perhaps there was some way I could fix the shattered glass coffee table and make things right, possibly with glue or tape. Then Stan Oinst was standing in front of me. We went back a long ways, me and Stan. We had been the 11th and 12th men on the end of the bench of the Jay Vee basketball team in 1971, and we had spent a lot of time at the end of the bench over the course of the season arguing over which one of us was actually the worst player on the team (it was Stan). I momentarily considered mentioning to Stan an amusing anecdote from that season past, but Stan cut me short.

“Just leave!” he said.

Next thing I knew Donna was driving me around in her car as I slipped into a subhuman funk. “Just don’t think,” said Donna. I thought about that for awhile. I was the cosmic loser of all-time (but at least it was cosmic). I had made a fool out of myself in front of the entire class. One final memory of me to last a life time. “So long kids, I’ll never forget YOU!” I had cemented my reputation as High School Loser forever. Plus the fiendish intensity of the LSD drug was magnifying everything a thousand percent. Donna pulled her car over to the shoulder of an off-ramp and we got out for some fresh air. We stood there on top of  a bridge overlooking the buzzing traffic of the car headlights below, and I just wanted to fly away to somewhere else, and to BE somebody else, forever.

The next day was the big cap-and-gown graduation ceremony on the football field behind the high school. I listlessly pushed my way through my acid-hangover knowing that I had made a fool of myself in front of everybody and that they all knew.

“I heard you had a smashing time last night,” smirked sexpot Suzie Q. She had always thought of me as a fool, and now I had officially confirmed it. My high school career was now over, so I threw my cap in the garbage and went off to face my so-called adult life, whatever that would be.

Acid Part 7

(Originally published in 2004)

I shuddered involuntarily as the bitter taste of the LSD went down my throat. (For the rest of my acid-tripping career, every time I took acid I would get that same shudder effect in my cheeks, this YING!-YING! feeling as I called it. Or even if I just THOUGHT of taking acid I would get the shudder reaction, like some weird Pavlov’s Dog reflex.)

“It takes about an hour to take effect,” said Donna. The plan was to sit in the bleachers and watch the baseball game while we tripped on acid. My friend Roger was pitching in the game…

“Do you feel anything yet?” asked Donna. I looked over at Donna, her eyes were glassy and she was grinning wildly.

“Yeah,” I said.

Now is there anything more boring than acid stories? (Guess I should have thought about that before I started writing this damn book) Or, as ’60s cartoonist R. Crumb put it: “Our generation told acid stories like the previous generation told war stories! ….AND THERE I WAS!! TRIPPING ON 100 MIKES ON THE FREAKIN’ SUBWAY…!!!”

And besides, I’ve never been able to convey the LSD experience in words. It’s kind of like trying to describe a dream, usually the imagery is too personal and symbolic to make any sense to anybody else. The closest I’ve come to describing the LSD experience is: “It’s kind of like having somebody else’s brain suddenly stuck inside your head, and not necessarily a human brain, perhaps the brain of an ancient reptile or some alien creature from another dimension.” Which is perhaps the first shock of the LSD experience. Because you suddenly realize that your own brain is creating the pictures. And that when you alter the chemicals in your brain, the world that you thought was Out There — the so-called Real World –changes along with it.

“What are you doing?” asked Donna.

“I’m staring at my hand,” I explained. The palm of my hand was glowing, throbbing, undulating, with this translucent beauty. I could see through the transparency of the skin to the little green veins and cells, and underneath that was something else…the most precious and mysterious gem, my own fucking hand. I stared at the palm of my hand with utter fascination, as if seeing it for the first time. The intricate patterns of lines carved in my flesh seemed as if a road-map that explained some ancient secret from the beginning of time. If only I could read the patterns. I stared at my hand with rapt fascination. At the center of my palm was this glowing, diamond-like pin of light, shining and throbbing like the eye of a crystal ball, like the portal, the very doorway, leading to some fantastic cosmic realm. I felt myself getting sucked into it.

“Why are you staring at your hand?” asked Donna.

“I just realized something incredible!” I explained, beaming with happiness. “All this time people have been looking at baseball games thinking it was the national past-time. When looking at your hand should have been the national past-time all along! It’s been there all along, only nobody noticed it before. If only they would take the time to look at their own hand. It’s all right there in the palm of their hand!”

“Wow!” said Donna.

I was overjoyed by this profound revelation. I went back to studying my hand, amazed at the cosmic joke of it all. It had been right there under my nose all along. I looked over at Donna and tried to explain this keen insight to her, but I was transfixed by the shape of her skull. She was ginning wildly, her skin was stretched so tightly across her skull that I thought it would burst any second.

I tried to follow the baseball game, but it was as if time had shattered. The pictures came as if on broken shards of glass, each moment disconnected from all the other moments. One moment Roger would be on the pitcher’s mounds as if ready to pitch. And then the next moment people would be walking back and forth from the mound to the dug-out And then suddenly I realized the game was over and Donna and I were sitting alone in the bleachers.

Donna ran across the deserted field, her bra-less cone-like breasts swiveled around and around in strange patterns. Then I was home alone, in my parent’s bedroom, staring at my shining translucent face in the full-length mirror. The phone rang, and it was Donna, her voice pouring into my brain from a million galaxies away. Are you all right?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. I glanced at the center of my palm to see if It was still there. That magic glow. It was, only slightly fainter.

Acid Part 6

(Originally published in 2004)

In 1970, age 13, I started my freshman year of high school. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all died that year, and it was supposed to be symbolic of something.  Meanwhile all the cool kids in my class mysteriously started parting their hair in the middle, as if they had received a secret signal from somewhere. And the first long-haired hippie types were seen loping around the streets of suburban New Jersey.

Well, I did in fact end up stumbling upon one of those marihuana cigarettes with the twisted ends, and I did in fact smoke it. I got stoned for the first time at age 16 at a big free Carol King concert in Central Park in New York City. I went there with two of my high school buddies, Red and Brian. We were sitting in this big field with about a half a million people sprawled out on the grass. Somebody handed me a joint and the rest is history.

I looked up from the circle of stoners and Hari Krishnas in orange skirts and shaved heads and wispy ponytails were dancing around me clasping finger cymbals. Hippies, gypsies, and Greenwich Village street freaks with golden rings pierced through their noses all drifted past my stoned-out eyeballs. It was as if that Fugs album cover from the 7th grade had somehow come to life. Carol King was bleating out her songs from a tiny stage a million miles away on the other side of the field like looking through the opposite end of a telescope. Thus began my 30-year experiment with mind-altering drugs.

Later, still very stoned, we tried to order some hotdogs from an Italian hot dog vendor. The vendor kept asking “You wanna mustard or onion?” To which Brian, in his stoned-out bewilderment (I think it was his first time too) kept answering “Munions.” The angry vendor cursed Brian out left and right as Brian stood there with his mouth open in confusion, as Red and I rolled on the sidewalk in fits of stoned-out laughter. And “munions” became an inside joke amongst our stoner crew for the rest of the school year.

In 1973 I saw the Grateful Dead for the first time with my older sister and her hippie boyfriend in this big old barn of a basketball arena in Philadelphia with clouds of pot smoke hanging from the ceiling. I remember this ancient hippie who was sitting in front of me wearing a fringed leather jacket and a bandana around his forehead and ancient owl eyes that seemed to stare off into another dimension. It was shocking in 1973 to see an entire auditorium filled with long-haired hippie freaks. I had finally stumbled onto the epicenter of the mysterious “drug culture” I had read so much about. It was like being initiated into an ancient secret society that had existed parallel to normal society since the beginning of time. The crowd cheered the loudest when the Dead sang the line “…riding that train, high on cocaine” from their hit song “Casey Jones.”

Later that summer, Brian, Red and I went to the big outdoor Watkins Glen rock festival featuring the Band, the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead. Almost a million people showed up, it was the biggest concert of all time, even bigger than Woodstock. On the other hand, nobody would call us The Watkins Glen Generation, so it wasn’t bigger than Woodstock in that sense.

In 1974 I started my fabulous senior year of high school, and John Lennon had his last hit song before he disappeared from view, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.” Somehow, it symbolized the difference between the ’60s and the ’70s: we were no longer soaring to the heavens, but just trying to get high in the muck. I managed to worm my way into the big high school stoner scene, I started hanging out with Donna and Suzie Q, the two biggest stoner chicks in our class, or “the two air-heads” as they were affectionately known. We spent a lot of time in the parking lot cutting class and getting stoned, then staggering around in the hallways. Donna was a total pot freak, the first of a long line of pot freaks I would meet over the years. Pot was her thing. She owned every kind of pot paraphernalia; pipes and bongs and 20 different kinds of rolling papers and roach clips and stones and do-hickies, you name it she had it. Donna was dedicated to being on the cutting edge of all  the latest technological advancements in the pot-smoking field. You wouldn’t have thought it would be that difficult to take a weed and turn it into smoke, but there you go. One day in 1974 Donna whipped out the first issue of High Times we had ever seen–if memory serves me the cover featured an Eskimo woman holding a joint. It was vaguely shocking to see our secret, and very much illegal, pot-smoking habit on the cover of a mainstream looking magazine.

Anyway, pot really tripped me out, it seemed to stimulate my intellect, I would see things in a deeper way, things I hadn’t noticed before. And I would FEEL things intensely. At first I thought I could “see through” people, see through the surface of all the high school games, to a deeper psychological reality. Then the pot turned on me and I’d get hideously self-conscious; I’d sit there in the back of the class bug-eyed, thinking that everyone could tell that I was stoned out of my gourd.

Anyway, one afternoon as we were smoking pot on “the path” behind the school Donna asked me if I wanted to try some acid  she had just scored.

“Acid?” I asked. “What’s it do to you?”

“It like makes you see trippy colors and stuff,” said Donna. “You hallucinate, like when you move your hand you see tracers and stuff.” Donna had tried acid two or three times before, so she was the expert. Well, that sounded pretty cool, seeing tracers and shit, and I had always been curious about LSD ever since I read that Beatles book back when I was 11-years-old. I wanted to see the “tangerine trees” and “marmalade skies” for myself.  I had always been fascinated by all things “’60s” reading anything I could get my hands on on the subject. LSD seemed like the missing piece that would explain all the “love” that the hippies had experienced at Woodstock, and maybe even unlock the mystery that was “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vidda.” I wanted to take the Magic Carpet Ride that all the rock stars had been singing about. Donna handed me two hits of blotter acid. “You chew it up like bubble gum then you swallow it,” she explained. We sat there on the bleachers behind the high school and waited.