Tag Archives: LSD

Space, The Final Frontier, Part II

I have previously set out to write a three part series set in the early days of the 1970’s.  During those days, roughly between fall of 1970 and fall of 1971, I fell into lock step with the craziest of the crazy in California, which means that there were no limits and no holds barred as I wrestled with what I saw in myself and what I saw myself becoming.  I had done most of two semesters in college but only had two grades to show for the effort, a ‘C’ and an ‘F’ from the first.  As the second semester was coming to a close I loaded my motorcycle into the back of my Studebaker pick up truck and with my roommate, who had just broken up with his girlfriend, hit the road to we had no idea where at the time.  Along the way we picked up two sets of hitchhikers, both of whom were heading for Seattle or its suburbs, and so we ended up spending that summer in the Seattle area.  The tale of that summer deserves a story of its own.

When we returned to San Diego at the end of summer I obtained a low-paying job at a golf course and moved into an apartment complex where a friend lived.  Although we did not share an apartment unit we were close to each other, and most of the people in that building shared their food and drugs and other possessions in a manner very consistent with the counter culture in the Golden State at that time.  It was in this apartment and in a house that several of us rented a couple of months later that I spent my time most heavily involved in the drug scene.

As I mentioned in Part I of the story about those years, I struggled with the question of whether or not I should tell this story.  Heaven knows there is nothing uplifting about it, except possibly as an example of God’s grace that I didn’t kill myself several times during this period.  I finally concluded that I would write this tale for two reasons.  First, because this is a part of my life.  If I would write a memoir of the events of my life it would be dishonest to leave out the parts that I am not proud of.  I don’t have to expose all of my dirty laundry to convey the story of a life that hung on the edge and could have gone upwards from there or very much gone downwards, but could by no means stay locked where it was for long.  I hope that somebody in a similar place will read this and see some of themselves in my story, and decide that it’s time to make a change.  If I could do that, I would consider all of my writing to be a success.

The second reason that I decided to write about these times is that even in the midst of this insanity we were still in most ways ordinary human beings living in a particular place and time.  Representations of drug abusers found in the entertainment industry frequently portray them as sordid, nihilistic wasteoids who would sell their souls for their next fix, and some indeed are like that.  Others show users as cute and funny, sort of a Jeff Spicoli character from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.  The reality is that we were very much like everybody else.  Most of us had jobs, while others were in college.  Our parties differed from those of the jocks and the cowboys mostly in our choice of drugs and also in the unlikliehood of a fight breaking out and somebody getting their head busted.  We did use illegal drugs, it is true, but we were, by and large, much less of a pain in society’s neck or a project for law enforcement than were the people who used legal ones.  My hope in this vein is that I might be able to convey to anyone who has a family member, a loved one, or a friend taking up residence in this strata of society that they should not write that person off.  Your friend, brother, wife or parent is in there somewhere.  It’s not easy, but stay with them and let them know that you care about them anyway.  Just as me and most of my friends came back from that edge, so too might they.

But as I began to write part two I realized that I did not have the stomach to spend a great deal more time reliving those days.  There were times that humorous things occurred and I will share one or two before I close this subject, but I will not put any more energy into this project.  I have always looked for the humor in life and have found it in the strangest places; in Vietnam, while recovering from a divorce, and in an amusement park ride with a friend throwing up as we twirled round and round.  I would not allow a retelling of the humorous aspects of this period to whitewash the nihilistic valuelessness of it however.  That person who was me lived for little, loved little, believed in little and expected nothing.  Writing about that time causes me to hear and feel distant echoes of a me that was the diametric opposite of who I am now or strive to become, and I gain small satisfaction in remembering where I was even though I can still chuckle at some of the crazy things that I got myself into.

For instance.  One night I was driving to the apartment of a girlfriend of a friend to deliver ten ‘hits’ of mescaline.  Mescaline is the synthetic form of the active psychotropic agent in the hallucinogenic peyote cactus used by some Native Americans to achieve a state of altered consciousness in some religious ceremonies. I was never what you would call a pusher, but within our extended drug-using community anyone who acquired more of a drug than they could personally use might sell some to another user, and in return might buy some when the tables were turned.

On this particular night, as I drew near to the apartment of my friend’s girlfriend I stopped at a light, and when the light changed I turned left and began to descend a small hill at the bottom of which was the driveway into the parking lot of her apartment.  As I rolled down this hill I happened to look in my rear view mirror, and right in the middle of the roof of the car that was behind me I saw a big round red light.

In 1970 a car with a red light in the middle of the roof could only be a police car, and the fact that the red light was lit up could only mean that I was busted.  Now in those days I was seldom in a car without a bottle of beer between my legs (I do not advocate this; I’m just telling it like it was), and this was the case on the evening in question.  But of much greater concern to me was the ten hits of mescaline that I had in my pocket.  Ten hits meant ‘dealer’, and that carried far greater opprobrium with the local constabulary than did ‘user’.

Time to think quick!  What to do?  Pulling over to the side of the road I quickly dug the pills out of my shirt pocket, popped them into my mouth, and washed all ten of them down with a big swallow of beer.  I was just taking the gulp which washed away the incriminating evidence when the car which was behind me passed on my right.  It was a Chevy I think, or maybe a Ford.  I’m pretty sure that it was a sedan, but it may have been a coupe.  Aw hell, it might have been a station wagon.  One thing that I know for sure is that it did not have a glowing red light on the top of the roof.

In complete befuddlement, a condition about which I could write volumes out of close and frequent experience, I looked again into the rear view mirror.  The only light which I now saw there was the traffic light which hung in the air in the middle of the intersection at which I had just been stopped, and that light had by now turned green.  I was baffled and just sat there for a few moments trying to figure out if I had experienced a hallucinatory flashback from some previous psychedelic trip.  I had never had such a flashback before and in fact knew of nobody who ever had, but the media and some entertainment venues presented such a thing to be a fact and at that moment I was not prepared to discount it.  It wasn’t until that traffic light turned red again that I put two and two together.  I had looked in my mirror at just the moment when the red traffic light emerged from behind the car that had been following me and appeared right in the middle of the car at the roofline.

I was filled with relief!  I expected to get busted for the open beer container, but that was a much lesser charge than carrying drugs for sale.  And then it hit me; I had just swallowed ten hits of mescaline, any one of which would guarantee a fine psychedelic trip for a couple of hours!  I knew that I had time to drive back to the apartment before I ‘came on’ to the drugs, but I had only just enough time, so I hung a very illegal U-turn (why not go for broke?) and beat a retreat to my apartment, where I spent most of the rest of that night dodging asteroids somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.

Several months later I was living with five of my friends in a three bedroom house.  Four of my roommates were couples and of course got two of the bedrooms.  Dale, the fifth person, had a girlfriend who was frequently at our house and so he got the other bedroom.  I had nothing like a girlfriend, which was my usual estate, and so I slept on a huge pillow on the living room floor.  I really didn’t care.  Such things as where I collapsed were of little importance to me.

Among our company were people with a wide preference in their drugs.  All of us smoked marijuana and took the various psychedelic drugs that were available, and one of our favorite evening experiences was what we called the ‘moonshot’.  We would take LSD as the booster phase, then mescaline to blast us away from earth’s gravity, and finally psilocybin to put us into orbit.  I remember seeing our entire living room filled with neon blue tyrannosaurus rex skulls with the jaws opening a closing to the rhythm of Savoy Brown’s “Looking In” on one such evening.  In addition, some of us used pills of all descriptions; uppers and downers, and also peyote cactus and a variety of other powders and fluids and whatnot.  In short, we had a small pharmacy of recreational and very illegal drugs in our house at any given time.

On one night, when my roommates were at a concert which I had not the funds to attend, I was sitting at home drinking some beer and smoking a joint or two while listening to music on the reel-to-reel tape player that belonged to one of my roommates.  This was a normal condition for me, and one that I could handle with a high degree of competency.  Nothing out of the ordinary was going on until all of a sudden I saw a light from outside playing on the closed curtain of our front window.  Out of curiosity more than paranoia I peeled back the curtain and peered out, expecting to find one of our friends with a flashlight.  What I saw instead was a police car shining its spotlight in our yard.

This was my first experience with being scared straight.  After a moment of frozen panic I began to tear through the cupboards and drawers of my roomies, flushing all manner of capsules, tablets, powders and pills down the toilet.  I was surprised that the door hadn’t been broken down by the time that I had finished that frantic mission, and decided to eject as many baggies of marijuana and peyote and the tiny marijuana plants that we intended to plant later in the spring over the back fence.  Arms full, I raced across the yard expecting at every second to hear the pounding of leather shoes and the deadly command of “Up against the wall, Mother—“.

The command never came, and after the last plastic bag of peyote flew over the fence I walked shaken but confidently back into the house.  Even if the bust came now there was hardly enough of our stash left tucked away in more elaborate hiding places to buy me more than a minor charge.  I was a little bit surprised however that I had not yet seen a badge or heard an order barked in my direction.  Upon entering the house I traversed the dining and living rooms and looked out at the street from our front window.

There was nothing there.  No officers, no police car, no nothing.  I was, of course, very happy about this, but slowly it dawned on me that I had just flushed or chucked over the fence the stash of all five of my roommates.  How was I going to explain that?  I knew that they would accuse me of paranoid hallucinations.  Paranoid I was OK with, but I never once believed that any of my hallucinations were real.  The T-rex skulls chomping away in my living room were not real and I knew it.

All ended well though.  I was indeed accused of hallucinating but we were a pretty mellow bunch – I was probably the rowdiest of our number – and they all finally allowed that I MIGHT have seen something; maybe the police were looking for a prowler.  We recovered what we could from the field behind our back fence and carried on as best we could after what was, for me, a pretty good scare.

It was not long after this event that I quit using psychedelic drugs or any other type of pills.  I had gone on ‘trips’ before that were not fun and colorful and happy things, and in those cases I would take a barbiturate to knock the edge off of that high.  On one occasion however there were no downers in the house to be had, and I had to ride out three or four hours of an intensely unpleasant and introverted trip that was very unsettling.  I well remember retreating into my room – I had a room of my own by this time – lying on the exposed bladder that was my waterbed, and watching the television until very nearly daybreak.  It was hot that time of the year and the waterbed was several degrees cooler than room temperature, and the late, late, late night television offerings then included the cheap old black and white western films with heros wearing white hats who played the guitar and had six-shooters that never ran out of bullets.  I was able to connect with those movies and associate with when I watched them as a young boy in the security and sanity of my childhood.  I found this comforting and reassuring and in that way rode out the bad trip.  I finally, gratefully, fell asleep at the end of a long and very unpleasant night.

I was never inclined to take that ride again, and to the best of my knowledge all but one of my roommates at that house made a similar break with that dangerous and destructive path.  I had fun in those days, Lord knows!  But I also flirted with accident, overdose, and the violence that was endemic to a subculture which accepted with some pride being outside of the law.  There is nothing today which would call me back to that lifestyle, but I hesitate to condemn those who might be there themselves.  They are just people with faults who, if they survive, might advance to something better.  They have my prayers and support.

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Space, The Final Frontier, Part I

It didn’t take me very long after I was discharged from the Army to enter the drug subculture that prevaled in California in 1969.  I had smoked a great deal of marijuana in Fort Hood, and later in Vietnam, and it was rumored that some of the weed that we smoked in Vietnam had been cured in opium.  I don’t know the truth of that, but there is no denying that it was powerful stuff.  I remember one night in Long Binh when I was sitting in a lawn chair on the wooden porch outside of our aluminum ‘hooch’, or hut, in which twenty or so of us soldiers made our homes.  I had smoked several of the pre-rolled ‘Saigon Bombers’ that we bought from a Vietnamese supplier and was feeling a good deal more loaded than usual.  A radio or 8-track nearby was playing the Beatles’ song “Hello Goodbye” and I felt like I was falling through solid rock towards the center of the Earth, with only the dum-dum-dum-dum beat of the song holding the rock apart to enable my descent.

On another occasion which I did not get to witness my friend Wes stripped down one of the bombers which I had sent to him through the U.S. mail and rolled four very thin joints out of it.  Later that day, at a break in classes at a community college in San Diego, Wes and three other guys descended into a canyon next to the school and passed around one of those tiny joints.  All four were so plastered against the ground upon which they lay that any thought of arising and making their next classes floated off into the wild blue San Diego sky.  Yeah, it was powerful stuff.

After many months of being home I finally got the opportunity to try a psychedelic drug, such as I had read and heard about during much of my tour overseas.  It was supposed to be mescaline, I think.  The reaction was non-existent.  It was a dud.  Probably somebody had sold me some aspirin.  I was disappointed and looked to try again later.  That opportunity arrived soon enough and I experienced my first trip on LSD, but because of a delayed reaction I had the misfortune of taking that first trip on my own.

I obtained the ‘hit’ of LSD, or acid, from my friend Jack.  Jack and I weren’t extremely close but had known each other for a long time, and when I discovered that he had a hit to share I bought it from him and ingested, or ‘dropped’ the hit right away.  Once again, nothing happened.  Eventually I went home, climbed into bed, and tried to go to sleep.  Sleep was not to come on this night however.  Shortly after I turned out the light my senses exploded, with vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell competing to see who would take the blue ribbon for Most Heightened Sense.  Even more unnerving was the reaction of my thought processes.  Perhaps you have had a lazy day in which you lie idle and allow your thoughts to drift.  It was sort of like that except that instead of drifting, my thoughts acted like they wearing jet packs.  Ideas would fly across my mind like laser-guided meteors, sometimes returning to deep space from whence they had emerged and sometimes colliding with new ideas, creating black rabbit holes down which new and unrelated ideas would fly with several of their half-baked relatives in their train.  The jumble of senses and unorganized and hyperactive thoughts, some of them in colors which I am simply inadequate to describe, put me in an extreme state of agitation or, as we said, “freaked me out”, and I arose from the bed, dressed, and exited my house in order to walk the mile or so to the courtyard cottage that Jack shared with his girlfriend, Angela.

The walk was marginally comforting, as I could fix my mind on the act of picking one foot up and putting it back down, and then the next, and the next, and so on.  The streets and houses and businesses along the way were as familiar to me as was my own room, since I had walked and driven and delivered newspapers and, well, lived in those streets for many, many years.  Eventually however, and too quickly I thought, I arrived at Jack’s place, only to find him gone.  The sense that I felt most acutely at that moment was ‘alone’, and the loneliness was heightened four-fold by the acid which was progressing toward its maximum effect, or what we called it’s ‘peak’.  When we reached this plateau of maximum effect we called it ‘peaking’.  I did not know all of this at the time.  I only knew that my brain was doing things that it was never programmed to do, and I had nobody who had any experience with this to guide me through it.

Across the cement path which separated the tiny stucco bungalows which made up this residential complex lived a couple whom I knew slightly from previous visits to Jack.  People tended to hang out on their front porches in the warm evenings of San Diego and got to know each other just a little.  I knew this couple well enough to know that they also used drugs and preferred barbiturates, or what were called ‘downers’, or ‘stumblers’.  These pills would make the user very lethargic, relaxed, almost hypnotic and mellow.  Mellow was exactly what I could have used at that moment.  I suppose that I knew the guy’s name forty years ago, but it escapes me now.  He was sitting on his porch as usual, listening to music and smoking, and I greeted him and explained my situation.  I then asked if there was any chance that he might sell me some reds (seconal), or yellow jackets (nembutal).  This guy didn’t really know me well enough to feel safe making that transaction, since there was in his mind the possibility that I was an undercover narcotics officer, or ‘narc’.  He told me that he wasn’t holding any stash that night, and so I turned away from the relief that I had hoped to find there.

Discouraged and more than a little bit freaked out, I returned to walking on the streets between Jack’s place and my home.  It was not too late but the neighborhood was very quiet.  As I walked past the houses, the big Catholic church and school on Marlborough and Orange Avenues, the closed jewelry store and hobby shop on busy University Avenue, and the Mexican restaurant which was always getting nasty ratings from the Health Department but was open all hours of the night, and fed many a taco and enchilada and cup of strong, black coffee to late night revelers who were trying to sober up enough to make it home, make it to school or make it to work, my mind was straining to reach out and grab security and comfort from the known and trusted, only to crash headlong into thoughts and sensations which were security and comfort’s polar opposites, which came roaring out of some parallel universe and breaking into our world through a wormhole in my skull.

As I approached my family home I knew that entering the house and sitting alone in the darkness of my room was not an option.  Wes, my best friend, was probably out with Jack, so I knew that it would do no good to walk to his house.  Besides, it was probably a good four miles away, and the idea of trying such a feat seemed out of the question.  The answer, which occurred to me with a clarity that was a rare thing for me at the moment, was to drive several miles east to Santee, a suburb of the city, to the house of my older brother Brad and his wife Ginny.  Why it seemed to me that I would have to walk if I chose to go to Wes’ house but could drive to Brad’s is entirely beyond me as I remember this event, but it seemed to make sense at the time.  I think that this will help the reader to understand how my thoughts were, well, a little bit unorganized.

Brad had never done psychoactive drugs and was much more of a weed and beer guy.  Still, he was my big brother, and I always had looked to him as the guy who would pull my fat out of the fire when i was in a fix.  Brad, being four years my senior, went before me in everything; in school, in the Army, in relations with girls, he had done it before I did and had done it better in my opinion, and so I climbed into the 1963 Mercury that my parents allowed me to use as I wished and began a kaleidoscopic drive across the east side of san Diego, and then down a long hill into the dark and sleepy town of Santee.

Brad and his wife Ginny were home and I soon explained my crisis.  Brad, of course, knew nothing about what I was going through, but his and ginny’s presence provided a contact with something familiar and non-threatening, and that helped to calm me down although I did not feel that effect immediately.  Thoughts and sensations seemed to take a while to catch up with each other.  Brad knew of a phone number to a service which was established to try to help people in my position.  This was 1970 after all, and there were thousands of young people in every city and town in America who were ‘tuning in, turning on, and dropping out’, many of whom had the same reaction as I had or something worse.  This particular service was there to talk to people who were freaking out, trying to tell if there was a real medical emergency that needed immediate treatment or just a scared kid who needed someone who seemed to know something about what they were going through and that they could hold onto until the drug would begin to wear off.  Brad dialed the number and a male voice came on the line, a voice that I hung onto for the next half hour.

By that time I had been peaking for about two hours, and even though I wasn’t aware of it all at once, the effects of the acid were beginning to wear off.  The colors of the afghan on the sofa did not appear to be as bright as they had been when I first arrived, and they had quit moving too.  The cat no longer seemed to know something that I didn’t.  Ginny went to bed and I hung up the phone.  Brad made some coffee, and although one would think that more stimulants were not what was called for, the warm and comfortable familiarity of a cup of joe at the kitchen table with my big brother was exactly what I needed.  Soon after finishing a second cup I was asleep, or floating in something which passed for sleep, on the sofa in Brad’s living room with Portia, their cat, lying on the pillow above my head with her face right at the level of my right ear.  The sound of her purring induced some very strange dreams.

One would think that a single such experience would be enough to convince a sane individual to give up such foolishness and never try anything like that again.  If we were dealing with a sane individual that might have been the case but, alas, we were not; we were dealing with me.  It would be many months later that I would try acid again, and this time in different circumstances and with different results.

I really don’t know exactly why I was willing to give LSD another try, but I believe it had much to do with the level of disconnectedness that I felt with life in general.  My childhood had been a life lived in a gray straight jacket of conformity.  I was uncomfortable with who I perceived myself to be and struggled to be something or someone that I wasn’t, even though I was not at all certain of what or who that was.  At the same time I was not able to discern the difference between a sage who had achieved detachment from the petty distractions of the material world and had found concrete truths upon which to anchor a life, and a stoned slacker staring at his naval because he was to hammered to do anything else.  I knew that I wanted to find a place where things made sense to me, where the inadequacies that I perceived in myself would be strengthened and the holes in my personhood would all be filled in with knowledge and capability.  I know that this reads like a bunch of pop psychology gobbildy-gook, but that is the best that I can do to explain it.  I did not know much about sages and how one went about pursuing the condition of sageness, and so I opted to take the drug path to enlightenment, and was determined to carry on at a later date.  The story of that path continues in Part II.