Take it or leave it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

DROP IT LIKE IT'S HOT

I remember the time my brother Justin procured some LSD, one tab each for himself, me and our younger brother George. And so it was that one Friday night during the spring of my second year at college we three elected to "drop it" as the saying goes. Justin's friend Omar happened to be over that night. Omar said he'd taken acid before and would happily guide us through our experience, or "trip" as they call it, so we wouldn't trip out. He would be the sober one. I didn't feel comfortable with Omar as my guide for anything. For starters, he was younger than I, who was 20 at the time, and therefore still a teenager. The phrase responsible teen is so ludicrous it makes me laugh. Furthermore, Omar was just as crazy as my brother, his best friend, and Justin was as wild as it got. Also I think he may have had a criminal record.

Therefore I would not be dropping acid that night, no sir. But when the time came - the hour was around 10 - I pretended to ingest my tab, so as not to dampen the mood or kill the vibe, and I hung out with Omar and my brothers for a portion of the evening. Eventually things got pretty wild. They were laughing at nothing I thought very funny and making more and more noise. Raucous fun, as they say. A real ruckus. I prefer the placid and serene. So I quietly excused myself and locked myself in my bedroom. Omar would have to act as my brothers' guide, though I'd be gently eavesdropping in case the situation got out of hand.

As I began dozing off I was awakened by a loud pounding at the door. My brother George wanted in, to check on me. He was worried that I was having a bad trip. Imagine. I the sober one! Of course he didn't know, and I assured him I was okay. But he wanted to chitchat, so I invited him to sit with me on my bed. It was past my bedtime so I was slowly phasing out, but not George. His eyes were bursting out of the sockets, pupils dilated. He looked a bit crazed. But he was in good spirits, so, his version of fun. Until he proceeded to harangue me for "beating" him, was the phrase he used, when he was as a kid. He was only 16 on acid, so I presumed he meant when he was a littler kid, as in when we attended parochial school together. Yes that was it. And for telling the nuns on him, and for not playing catch with him out in the street, which forced him to erect a hopscotch grid and play by himself. It was guilt trip central. At least he got good at hopscotch.

But I wasn't aware until then that he held so many grudges. Best I could remember, I was a good big brother. Dutiful at least. Picking him up from school, dropping him off, helping him with homework, lending him my term papers to copy verbatim whenever he wished. Though I was on trial I didn't defend myself. I'd let the facts shine however dimly in my memory. And maybe it was good for him to get these feelings off his chest. Cathartic. Eventually George got tired of venting and bored with my reticence and rejoined the others in the kitchen for some fun. And eventually the party wound itself down, Omar went home, my brothers to bed, and I to sleep.

But I was resolved to have my good time, too, doggoneit. So the next morning, a sunny Saturday, rather than accompanying my father to do the weekly family grocery shopping at Costco, I elected to stay in. I showered, made my bed, and went out into our garden where I found a manicured spot on the grass beneath the shade of a large tree. I took with me a blanket and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. The plan was to pop my tab, then sit cross-legged and meditate, perhaps read a passage for inspiration and meditate some more, until the drug kicked in. That never happened. No sooner had I taken the acid than I developed an overwhelming preoccupation with flies. They were everywhere, buzzing furiously, dive bombing my skin. And these were no ordinary flies. They were acrobatic flies on speed. Way too fast to swat and they would not leave me alone. And they just reeked filth, as flies do. I may have squashed one and been morbidly fascinated by the sight of its blood. I couldn't concentrate on my meditation, so no sooner had I set up shop outside than I was back in my room.

I was beginning to feel that taking acid was a terrible mistake. Something felt off. I felt unclean. I showered again, but this didn't help. So I stuck my finger in my mouth and attempted to vomit out the tab, but having fasted since the prior night (thinking it would intensify my high) I couldn't bring anything up. Then I took a picture of the holy man Sai Baba off the shelf and prayed to him to help me get through this. I lay down on the carpet face up and began breathing deeply while focused on the ceiling. But the shifting shapes made in the cottage cheese pattern attracted my attention. It was like a swirling sea of faces, each stranger, more hideous than the one before. A white-washed region of hell, for sure. So I closed my eyes. Next I became cognizant of a vibration. It passed through me, and was not altogether unpleasant. Quite the contrary, it was as if my whole body was having an orgasm, fitfully contracting in these paroxisms that made me groan. But it felt somehow not right, unclean. Maybe because I had been raised in Catholic school and taught to consider myself a sinner. And drugs and full-bodied orgasms were probably sins, felt too good not to be.

I took another shower, my third of the day and it was not yet noon. Then I walked around the house. My dad was shopping, my mother was at work, and it was just me and my two brothers. The drugs had worn off, and they were quiet. The air was peaceful; my mind was not. Everything seemed dirty. The hand grease on the door, the spots on the windows. Dust everywhere, and the beige carpet looked like leopard print. I deep cleaned my room, found a spot behind the night stand that had a layer of dust about an inch thick, or so it seemed to my heightened perception. How could I not have noticed this before, I wondered.

Next, George came into my room. No hard feelings about last night. He saw a traffic citation on my desk. The day before I had been cited for jaywalking on my way home from school. The ticketing officer accepted my address on faith since I didn't have my ID. When my brother heard this he couldn't believe I hadn't provided a false identity. I could not believe he would recommend lying, and to an officer of the law. What kind of guy is this! My sensibilities were outraged, but I couldn't form any words. My tongue was tied. GT went back to his room. I reflected that I too had considered giving the cop a phony name.

I needed some fresh air so ambled outside where I encountered Justin. Casually he mentioned the evening before, and wanted to know, did I feel anything. Now it was my turn to lie. No, I said. Not a thing. Justin seemed depressed by this. How he wanted me to have a good experience. I looked closely at my brother. He looked like an alien, like a character from a cartoon, like joker from a Batman movie not yet made, like Flattop from Dick Tracy. His hair an unearthly shade of orange, his features coarse and pockmarked with acne, and his skin an inhuman shade of white so translucent you could see the veins in his neck. This kid is demonic, I thought. He has it in for me. Probably wished to poison me with this acid. Maybe even put a curse on it. No that can't be true, I'm tripping. But my brother really does not look well. Maybe he is just hung over. Will I look that way tomorrow? "You're depressing" Justin said as he went back inside. As I watched him go I was seized by an overwhelming urge to embrace him, hold him fast, tell him how much I love him, and never let him go. The moment passed.

I remained in the back yard, in the small basketball court my father had installed when I was in grade school. I picked up the ball, its leather faded and cracked, and shot a few baskets alone. I remember thinking that if I focused with extreme intensity I could will the ball into the net. It worked about half the time, which is the average field goal percentage of a pro. I was unguarded and shooting lay-ups. I was overcome by guilt. I began to berate myself for spending a day wasting time outside shooting hoops. I should be out in the world, accomplishing things, making my mark, getting stuff done! That's how I was raised, going from one event to another. And now, tossing this dirty ball around in the middle of the afternoon. The definition of failure. That song by Tool.

Thus began the period of intense self-evaluation wherein I became my own worst critic. I looked in the mirror. My muscles were bulging out of my shirt. I looked like a muscle-head, a gym rat (at the time I was). I couldn't relate to myself. And here I had asked my father to buy a tray of chicken breasts. All those poor mutilated animals, dying so I could feed the biceps and pecs I no longer wanted. I vowed to once again become a vegetarian. How long would it take to detox the meat from my system? Lessee, I'd been eating meat every day, several times. How to calculate this? O the future was too remote. The present was hardly worth living. No doubt I had gone too far in the wrong direction, with this acid. I was unclean. I needed to start over, start afresh, free of drugs and animal flesh. Free from lies. But I couldn't do it in this life. It must be as a newborn. I needed to be born again, that was it! (And this is how we kill ourselves.) These feelings were so intense. The judgment continued.

And I realized. This is what it must feel like at the Last Judgement, where they say God evaluates you on the merits and demerits of your earthly life and assigns you to heaven or hell or purgatory accordingly. But the catch is, unlike what the Christians tell you, you are not judged by some outside party. It is you who judges you, but not this individual version of you; rather it is a you divested of its ego with its self-righteousness and rationalizations and justifications. You see yourself in the stark light of objectivity and render judgement without leniency, in cold blood. No breaks, gimmes, or excuses. The facts shall speak! How did I fare? None too well. I was a hypocrite. A liar. Unclean. A drug user. Self-righteous. Wasting time. Too into my appearance. Suddenly I was visited with a ravenous hunger, but two bites of a mango made me want to throw up. I sat down at my desk to try to get some homework done, but I could make no sense of my Spanish lessons. It was like reading Greek!

My dad returns from the store and after helping him in with the groceries I watch him sit himself at the kitchen table. And I see him, really see him, tired, old, fed up, a little indignant that I had left him alone to do the shopping when he had worked his butt off all week to make the money to buy the groceries, but too macho to say so. He looks like a grandpa! I forget he has just come from the Valley, where the oppressive air sucks the life out of a person. And my mother comes home from work and she is for sure an extraterrestrial. The things issuing from her mouth. Wacko! No sooner do I have this thought and she says, "You think I'm an alien, don't you?" Proving she clearly is.

I spend an hour meticulously putting away the groceries after first deep cleaning the fridge. My mother remarks how patient I am in scrubbing that hard-to-reach area beneath the crisper drawers. The acid I'd come to find was laced with speed, and aren't we all Cinderellas on speed. Then Justin and I do a few sets of chest on the bench press I have in my room. I make like a trainer and push him real hard - get that last rep, maggot! - and he collapses under the weight, curses me out and storms off. I call a girl I knew in high school. I can hear her friend in the background. I think suddenly, she is in love with me. I have known her for years and only now is it dawning on me! She asks to make plans but I cannot commit to getting through this night so I hang up.

Later she comes over with my best friend from high school, Jason. I berate him mercilessly for coming over unannounced, how outrageous!, then suddenly self-conscious I excuse myself to take a shower in my parents' bathroom, leaving them waiting for me on my bed. I return from my fourth shower and dim the lights. Why am I so uncomfortable with myself! I think you guys need to go, I say. But we just got here, they say. So they stay. Thankfully because it is tax season and I don't know how to file taxes. This is before the Internet and everything needs to be done by hand. Hearing this Jason calls his accountant friend who gives me excellent advice about what to write off. I am so touched that he'd do this for me, a stranger, and free of charge. It makes me want to cry. I say goodbye and realize I have forgotten all he told me, but the feeling of his tender attention remains.

My friends finally leave and I lie down to bed but cannot sleep though it is nearing midnight. A new me has replaced the old me, I come to find, and I don't like him. I wonder if the old me, the complacent, kick-back, self-righteous one who is good at Spanish and loves lifting weights, will ever return. Or am I doomed to be this intense, critical person for the rest of my days? Because if I am permanently altered by this experience, there won't be many days left. Dun dun dun dunnn...

Eventually I do go to sleep, and the following day my father helps me with my taxes. Reluctantly and with such irritation it makes me want to cry. And he a CPA! Who happens to owe thousands in back taxes so perhaps the exercise hits a nerve. It is Mother's Day or Easter. We take a picture out front of our house before leaving for my Aunt Linda's. I have on Girbaud jeans and a violet dress shirt made of satin, tucked in of course. My hair is short and parted on the side. I look very clean cut. You'd never know I was still sort of tripping. On the way to my aunt's house I notice my parents are bickering over something. I remark how different they are as individuals. Like night and day. And that if I can only strike a balance between my grim and somber father and my blithe and flippant mother I'd be perfect. It's a hard balance to strike and easy to swing wide either way.

By the party's end I become myself again, but not entirely. At least I didn't kill myself. But there are other ways to be "born again" other than in body. Just ask some Christians. If more people knew this there'd be a lot fewer suicides. And indeed the "twice born" Hindu achieves something similar to what the Catholic's Confirmation or Hebrew's Bar Mitzvah is meant to stand for. Through of all things LSD I had been initiated in some higher, more spiritual sense, eligible to access a more esoteric realm unknown to the adolescent and for that matter to the common rung of individuals, whose interest rarely strays from the purely mundane.

And yet I lost a certain innocence on that full-spectrum day now two decades away. It was as if I'd eaten from the tree, tasted good and evil, became conscious of sin, and conscious of my nakedness. A frequent refrain for me. But if innocence is a necessary casualty in the war for wisdom, so be it. Because once tasted, the fruits of the flesh can be transcended. And thus began the gradual wearing away of my identification with the lower self, the self-interested ego-based personality that lives life on the surface, small-minded, rooted in personal opinion, hounded by an insistent interest in things of the world. The real Self, witness of all, the backdrop on which all happens, the shining light of Awareness on which all takes place, cannot know sin, is not unclean, cannot take drugs or for that matter eat flesh and gain muscle. It is beyond all this, yet envelops and contains the material. It always is, waiting to be recognized.

The steps of spiritual progress are these. First, recognize that you are not the body and the mind. That you are the Awareness apart from these which also includes them. Clear the mind of thought. See that all multiplicity, like various colors of the spectrum arising from white light, has its origins in the One. To the extent that you can always remember this Self that is your real identity, if you are fixed in pure consciousness every minute of every day, you are "realized" as they say. And that's the real high, with no lull, low or hang-over.

I have done acid a couple of times since then, usually at a club "scoping chicks," always with a few drinks. I didn't feel much. Maybe the alcohol dulled my perception. Maybe the atmosphere wasn't ripe for another life-changing experience. Maybe the sensitive psyche can only handle so much heavy stuff. But the flashbacks can be fun. Everyone should drop it like it's hot at least once. Just mind the flies.

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