Lust & Philosophy (ch. 4): “Kind of like Hot Wheels and tits and the Day of Judgment all rolled into one”

Hey, guess what! It’s my last year of junior high and I finally meet someone who deals in LSD, which I am eager to try. One day I skip my morning classes and head over to his high school. I don’t know his name, he’s just “the guy who sells acid.” I manage to find him hanging out in the pool hall across the street. He tells me to wait for him outside the school cafeteria while he picks up my dope. He returns with a small strip of paper otherwise known as White Blotter, with ten stained droplets on it for $2.50 a hit. The paper is perforated so you can neatly tear each hit off.

“Anything I should know about this acid?” I ask, being my first time.

“Don’t take more than one.”

The universe grinds to a halt as he speaks. Though only a high school student, he looks like a wizened adult. “Can you lay one on me?” he asks.

I give him a free hit and he puts it in his mouth.

Math class, back at school. “Hey, Damien, I got some acid,” I whisper to a classmate sitting in front of me.

“Gimme some.”

I give him a hit. He keeps it for later. I place a hit on my tongue. I’m not too worried still being in class since today is Friday and we have only Science left after Math. And then Science turns out to be canceled because the teacher is sick. We’re free.

I wander into the school library and say hi to two classmates, Barry and Tina. Barry is your all-round perfect student, popular and does his homework too. Once when I bullied him he punched me in the nose. We’ve more or less made up. Tina has creamy boobs and soft brown eyes and is the girl I’m most attracted to in the whole class. They hang out together. I couldn’t tell you if they’ve done it yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Many girls in the class are no longer virgins, at fourteen or fifteen, and they don’t hesitate to brag about it. That’s how we know. There are rumors of parties after school with naked games.

“I just dropped acid,” I tell them.

“Are you high yet?” asks Tina.

“I’m not sure.”

“You’re crazy,” says Barry. They go back to work.

From what I’d read in library books on drugs, it takes about forty-five minutes for acid to start working. It’s been forty-five minutes, and a warm sweet glow is indeed descending upon me. I go outside and head for the bike rack at the school front gate. There I see Damien, laughing and holding up my opened bike lock. “How did you find out my combination?” I ask.

“You’re gone,” he teases.

I now realize two things. First, I forgot my papersack in my locker, which I need for my newspaper job. Second, the warm glow is gathering unprecedented force, if my experience of marijuana is anything to go by. On the way back to the building, I look over my shoulder at Damien. He looks like he’s in the wrong end of a telescope.

Pot can make you very high, even to the point of panic, but rarely hallucinations – seeing things that aren’t there. Like one time after getting really stoned with a friend in my basement room. We were eating cookies. When I brought one up to my mouth, the cookie was an island in a sea that I was descending toward in an airplane. It was intense, but it wasn’t a hallucination, because what I saw was based on something that was actually there.

Now the real hallucinating begins. Back inside the school hallway, I see something astonishing: Coca Cola, Esso, Buick and other brand logos are floating all around. They have the still grace of dead tropical fish hanging in water. I am trapped in a dream and completely aware of my surroundings at the same time.

I get my papersack and go back outside to the smoke pit, the grassy area by the bike rack where we’re allowed to smoke cigarettes. Damien is gone. I sit down with some other classmates. Between the two trips out in front, a lot has happened. Colors are sharp and vivid, the air jelly-like. The sky is tightly wrapped in product logos.

“I dropped acid,” I tell them.

They peer into my eyes. “Yep, his eyes are dilated. What’s it like?”

“I see words and letters all over the place.”

“Can you see us?” Mary-Jo asks, concerned.

Ken makes faces at me.

“Don’t freak someone out when they’re on acid,” Jill chides him.

The grass is a green jumble of words. Words fill the trees; each leaf is a letter. The alphabet is caught in Mary-Jo’s hair, in everyone’s hair. My hands and arms are tattooed in letters. The street is a melted pond of words. Every surface is covered in words and letters. They don’t spell anything, there is no message, but I sure get the point. Kind of like Hot Wheels and tits and the Day of Judgment all rolled into one. Sprung out of the tiny tab of paper like a monster jack-in-the-box. I am already old: that thing about seizing the meat and bones of the event seems like something I learned in nursery school.

I leave the smoke pit and ride my bike down to the paper-shack, the drop-off point for the Edmonton Journal. We are newspaper delivery boys, but we call the job “rags.” Bob our supervisor is cool. After the truck dumps off the newspapers and we’ve bundled them into our sacks and are ready to go, he lets us hang out as long as the rags get done before supper. None of us ever reads the newspaper. We spend our time showing off the candy we buy at the corner grocer’s with our weekly earnings.

I sit on the bench. The shack interior is a giant rock album cover lit up with geometric patterns and shifting neon latticework, an electric Oriental rug churning with the words LOVE and SEX. The words form lozenges that open and close like mouths, speaking and spelling themselves at the same time. Bob is clueless to the brilliant scrim. I start on my route.

The paper route is in the neighborhood and I know it well. The first time I got really high on pot, earlier in the year, was also the first day I took over the paper route from Ken. The marijuana was highly effective and struck like a pair of cymbals. I was only a few blocks from home and I knew the street I was on and that it ran east and west, but I had no idea which way was east and which was west. It seemed like an unfamiliar neighborhood.

My sense of orientation on acid, by contrast, is entirely intact. My memory is magnified. Newspapers are not dropped off at the wrong door because I am lovingly aware of who subscribes and who doesn’t. I perform the job with aplomb. Other things are going on. I walk up the stairs inside an apartment building to a synthesizer soundtrack of squeaks and wiggles and whooshes. As I reach the top, the landing buckles into outer space. When I emerge from the building, the grass lawn springs up in a chorus of greeting. The hallucinations have ripened into full form. The words now stick out of the grass at crisscrossing angles like giant weeds. They are so distinct I could cut myself on them. I smell of blood and baby flesh. Boneless, I waddle to the next apartment building.

When rags is finished I go home, the house to myself, my parents being away for the weekend. Damien stops by with Dan, a neighborhood dealer who wants some of my acid.

“We’ll see if I get off,” Dan says skeptically, as he sticks a hit in his mouth. Damien took his half hit a while ago and has a big smile on his face.

I ride up 76th avenue to McKernan Park and sit down among the words in the grass. I suddenly realize rumor will be getting around about the acid and more people will be showing up. I go back home.

Later Dan returns with a scraggly freak I don’t recognize.

“Yeah, it’s good,” Dan tells me.

“Man, would I cut off my right arm for some acid,” says the freak.

“How much do you have?”

He pulls out seventy-two cents. I take his money and give him a hit.

Damien returns, wiped. “Bugs are crawling all over my arms. They’re on my refrigerator too!” he says, as he darts back out the door.

Jill’s friends come over to buy some acid. Her steady, Dean, has a huge shock of wavy hair like Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and is dressed in regulation hippie uniform of faded jean jacket, jeans (Levis or Lee but not Wrangler) and hiking boots. I can’t say I know him all that well, yet I am in awe of him. He’s a few years older and operates in the higher circles of anointed freaks. I must have earned some points by being a source of acid, as they deign to hang out and light up a joint. Dean pulls out an album and puts it on the record player, by the group Budgie, with neat artwork of a budgie on the cover.

I seem to have been plugged into some kind of dealer network. Yet another guy I don’t know appears in the front door. “Anyone want to buy some Purple Microdot?” he inquires.

“I already have some White Blotter.”

“It’s the greatest thing in the world – acid,” he says with a flourish on his way out.

Meanwhile my mother’s friend Kay is supposed to come over in the evening to check up on me. It’s already five o’clock but I don’t have the courage to ask them to leave. She is a nice woman, a strict vegetarian on a diet of seaweed with a son who plays the oboe. It will be a disaster if she shows up now. I whisper the unpleasant news to Jill.

“Uh, I think we gotta leave,” she tells Dean.

When they’re gone I quickly clean up the living room. Kay arrives only minutes later. I’m outside mowing the lawn to disguise the fact I’m still pretty wrecked. Though the hurricane has died down a bit, the words and letters are highly visible even in the darkness. I say hello and go down to my basement room, exhausted but not sleepy. Time is all screwed up. I am completely detached from the act of going to bed. It might as well be breakfast time.

The next day I feel fine. I buy the Budgie album. I ask my mother if she could embroider the budgie on the back of my jean jacket. Joe objects: anything coming from a rock album cover is by definition reprehensible. The idea upsets him so much, in fact, that he drags me down to my room and gestures spasmodically at a poster I have of a shirtless Robert Plant cradling a white dove and smiling his freaky smile.

“How can you have this on your wall?” he shouts. “This is sick, don’t you understand, sick!”

One day later in the summer, Dwayne and Rory show up at the back kitchen door of Fong’s, a Chinese restaurant where I’ve gotten a job as a dishwasher. It’s midnight and my shift is over. Dwayne is a tall Canadian Indian and Rory, his blond-haired sidekick, has yet to reach puberty. I wasn’t expecting them, but I know why they’ve come.

“The car is free,” Dwayne announces with gravity.

The car sits in a used car lot a few blocks away. We had been nosing about the lot recently when I discovered a car with unlocked doors and the keys in the ignition. “Hey, you guys, c’mere!”

They rushed over.

“Wow. See if it starts up.”

The engine turned.

“It works.”

The car was blocked in front and behind by other cars.

“Do you think we can steal it?”

“I’m going to,” I said, grabbing the keys, “if it’s ever free.”

Now we walk over to the lot, in the meat of the event. The car behind is gone, giving us access to the driveway out. I have never driven a car before. I start it up, put the gear into reverse and press the accelerator. We lurch back and smash into the car across the driveway behind us. I maneuver out of the lot and on to the street, swerving wildly until I get my bearings.

Dwayne has arranged everything. We’re to hook up with two other friends, Ike and J. T., at Tipton Park a few blocks away. We drive into the park. Dwayne gets out to look for Ike and J. T. A minute later he dashes by, shouting something. In the distance, me and Rory see gliding over the bushes lining the park the cherry lamp of a pig car, like a shark. We get out and run like mad, cutting between houses. I soon lose Rory and have no idea where Dwayne went. In one alley, the headlights of a pig car appear and I duck back behind the house yard just in time. A few more blocks to go. I make it safely to my basement room.

How the fuck did the pigs find out so fast? I put Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run on the stereo to calm myself down. Side one hasn’t finished playing when I hear a banging on the front door. I go outside the back gate to see who’s there.

“Is that you, Isham?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you come inside please?” says the policeman.

Joe is already there in his pajamas. “You stole a car!” he says, disgusted, though evidently not a little awed that I had the initiative to do something noteworthy even if it was criminal. “You stole a car!”

It was Ike and J. T who gave us up, I find out. They never showed up at the park but freaked and called the pigs. The police were alerted as well by a woman living across from the car dealer’s who heard our commotion in getting the car out of the lot.

“Why did you do it?” asks a cop who visits our home the next day. I have no answer for him.

As I am under sixteen and a juvenile, I’m only sentenced to six months of probation. This requires me to meet weekly with a group of other kids under a supervisor, a friendly social worker named Bill, who takes us bowling or to the movies, when we aren’t meeting at the youth center for talk sessions.

In the winter Bill invites us to stay overnight at his country cottage at Gull Lake, a couple hours drive south. I tell June, one of the girls in the probation group, about acid. She wants to try it and gives me money for four hits. We want to bring along some pot too but decide it’s risky with its telltale signs and odors. Of course we would get in serious trouble if caught using drugs at Bill’s place, but acid is just so fucking great and we can’t pass up this opportunity to trip on a trip.

Joe drives me down and upon arriving exchanges a few words with Bill. Before he is even out the door June and I each drop a hit. She gives half a hit each to Pamela and the two native Indian brothers Curtis and Cameron, also in our group, and the final half hit for herself on top of the whole hit she has already taken. I stare at her and warn her she may have taken too much, especially as it’s her first time.

The cottage is spacious and homey, a place fit for freaks, and even Bill could pass for one with his beard and jeans. The collection of old couches and musty pillows, the hangings and rugs strewn along the walls and the floor – all correspond to an ideal rustic hippy hearth. The back of the house faces a yard and a driveway out to the single road through a village of not more than a couple hundred people. The front looks out on Gull Lake, but all that is visible from the big window in the winter months is an expanse of pine trees and snow.

Bill prepares a lunch that includes, of all things, Campbell’s alphabet soup. If there is one thing that uncannily resembles my hallucinogenic visions it’s alphabet soup. I begin hallucinating when the soup is ready. Pamela and June are also starting to get off. They’re laughing, a little too uncontrollably for my comfort – I worry they might give us away. After lunch everyone splits up to do their thing. Some go out tobogganing. June and I sit down together on the couch.

“This is amazing,” she says, as the colors and patterns stream across the walls and ceiling in full bloom to a romping soundtrack of Led Zeppelin’s III and IV on the record player.

We decide to take a walk to the general store several blocks away. “Stairway to Heaven” continues to blast in my head at high volume outside in the silent air.

“I feel like I’m in a play,” June says.

The store can’t be more than a quarter of a mile down the road but the walk seems to take much longer. The dark stuffy shop is run by an old native Indian woman so stolid she could be a shop souvenir. I am hardly aware of what it is I want and stand there waiting for June, who buys a Pepsi and some candy necklaces. Although I am clearly in a store, it feels like an actual store, a composite store assembled by my memory, and home all at the same time. June puts on the candy necklaces and we start on our way back. For no reason she tosses the Pepsi bottle high up into the air. The pop flies all over us, and she laughs hysterically. Before we know it we’ve walked too far and are lost. But there’s only one road so we try heading the other way and are able to find the cottage.

Back inside, I look out the front window. Snow letters dangle placidly from the branches of the evergreens, making faint tinkling sounds like a musical box. Words and letters are plastered over everything. I light up a cigarette. When I inhale, I fill up with smoke. I am completely hollow. The metallic taste in my mouth is nothing like tobacco. The stereo receiver has shrunk to half its size, and I am not able to count the number of its knobs, which keep shifting as the receiver expands and contracts. My sense of time expands and contracts along with it and the music, speeding up when the receiver is tiny and slowing down when it’s back to normal size. There are moments when time disappears, like a bubble that pops. I go outside to the outhouse to take a piss. I anticipate a long journey, but it proceeds fairly quickly. Yet when I return a few minutes later, hours seem to have gone by, as if time is the cottage’s affair and had nothing to do with me.

I find June in the bedroom talking with Bill, who makes a funny comment that I don’t understand. June is patching up a hole in her jeans with yellow yarn and band-aids. I’m surprised Bill hasn’t caught on to what’s happening.

It gets dark and supper is prepared. The peaking has passed but the effects are still pretty strong. I have no appetite and force a bowl of stew down my throat. While she picks at her food, June describes how the whole room is turning into a sphere and explodes.

After dinner Bill’s brother strums a guitar. As the drug wears off the heavier effects give way to a surge of relaxation and peace, as if we all had just returned from an arduous mountain climb. It certainly felt like a journey, the acid being more powerful than on my first trip.

Bill does somehow find out after the fact and confronts us at our next group session. He’s pretty good about it, I have to admit, his social work training kicking in, and doesn’t get too angry. We get positive feedback instead. He says he admired our resolve in acting independently, exactly the sort of impulse that we need to take control of our lives in a responsible way.

*     *     *

Chapter 3: “Success is never haphazard but only ever proceeds from comprehensive and systematic attack”
Chapter 5: “Each new walk down the stretch was charged with expectation, at once a cornucopia and a minefield of possibilities.”

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