MY FIRST TRIP – FROM THE HORRORS OF ACID
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Although I was merely a weekend hippie in the last Sixties, I obeyed the lyric “Let’s go get stoned” often enough to muddle my perception of time. I really didn’t care what year it was anyway. As for names, if you are dismayed because I have changed yours, I’m glad you survived.
“69” is my favorite number for those years of sexual liberation. On a lost weekend in ’69, I was drinking beer at Tweed’s on West 72nd street when a young man approached me and introduced himself as Carl. He was wearing a German soldier’s helmet and a double-breasted, red military tunic with gold braid. His appearance was a trifle odd notwithstanding our current fashion of flamboyant eccentricity. I must say his headgear seemed inappropriate to our present predilection for big floppy-brimmed hats introduced to us by the pimps from uptown.
“Ya wanna drop some acid with me?” he asked. I was not surprised by his candor. Many of us strove to be straightforward even beyond the impudence of our youth. For instance, to walk up to a stranger and ask “Do you want to get it on?” was commonplace in our quarters, and “Yes” was a frequent response.
“How long does it take to kick in?” I bravely inquired. I had never dropped acid before. I had heard about all the sunshine coming in from California. I was intrigued by the prospect of sharing the enlightenment. And I had heard that a Dr. Leary had given it to alcoholics–I drank a lot, so I considered myself imminently qualified.
“You feel it comin’ on in about fifteen minutes, dude,” responded Carl.
“Right on! I’m in.” I was actually scared shitless. But I managed to swallow the little piece of paper Carl produced from a pocket of his tunic. I asked for the time, made a mental note of it, and slouched down in my seat to look real cool.
“I wrote ‘The Brig’ ‘ya know,” Carl stated matter of factly after a few minutes of great jukebox, smoking, drinking, looking cool and digging the chicks.
“Oh, yeah?” I didn’t know what he was talking about and I didn’t care. I wanted to know what time it was.
“Yeah. Those assholes stole it. I’m suin’ ’em. I can prove I was there!”
“No shit, man.”
“I tell you, I was there.”
“Far out. Got the time?”
“I don’t feel it, man. What gives?”
“Cool it. My pad’s ’round the corner. Wanna check out my flick? We’ll get some take out on the way,” Carl offered.
“O.K., man, let’s split.”
“Take out my ass!” I grumbled as Carl rummaged through the garbage can by Tad’s Steak House, coming up with a hand full of scraps, which he stuffed into a bag he’d found on the corner.
“This stuff’s good. We got here just in time.”
“Man, let’s split.” I was embarrassed. People were staring at us.
“Hey, check it out, man, check it out. Lobster!”
“What time is it?” I felt nothing except an urge to relieve myself of three small pitchers of beer, nearly a record for my bladder.
Carl led me through the bowels of a nearby brownstone to his sub-basement apartment. I tried to memorize the rights and lefts we took along the musty hallways, just in case I had to make a run for it later. We finally entered a very dimly lit crypt littered with fish and chicken bones and several molding stacks of used books.
“How ‘ya like these digs?” he asked.
“Way out. What’s the rent?”
“Rent free, man,” he replied. I assumed he was squatting, or maybe the landlord didn’t even know he was there since the place was, for all intents and purposes, uninhabitable.
“I’ll heat this stuff up,” he said and picked up a black pot from the floor and proceeded to wipe it out with a newspaper.
“Say, I’m not that hungry. Why don’t we cruise over to the East Side?” I urgently suggested.
“But what about my flick? I want you to check out my star, Valium Valery. I’m her leading man, the producer, director and cameraman, and….”
“Wow, cool!” I interrupted. “We’ve got to check it out now, then we’ll hit the East Side,” I negotiated.
Carl got his projector up and running. There, on the screen Carl had painted on the cellar wall, he projected moving images of himself having intercourse with a life-sized inflatable doll decked out in a blonde wig. By the time the show was over, I noticed that Carl seemed awestruck by his creation.
“Whaddaya think? Profound, eh?”
“Heavy duty! You’re the man! Great lay, dude!” I perpetuated the lie necessary to get out of there. “Let’s make it to the East Side. I want to buy you a drink at that groovy joint where the groovy chicks hang out. By the way, what does acid feel like, anyway?” The hit still hadn’t hit me.
The East Side was like a foreign country to many of us West Siders. We had a few cool hangouts on our side of the park, namely whore bars and saloons frequented by pushers and pimps, which made for good jukebox selections, but the East Side was really happening in those days. In fact, it was so much fun that we never heard again from some friends who went over there to check it out.
On the cab ride across the park, I told Carl we were going to Maxwell’s, a place that was really happening. But first we stopped at a regular saloon to guzzle cheap beers. That’s where the hit of acid, which by then I’d forgotten about, hit me hard and fast.
I was suddenly beside myself and the “I” was not me at all. The first trip is a surprise with no respect for your expectations, for what you’ve been told about tripping. It just creeps up on you, and there it is before you know it.
Perhaps the fluctuating shapes and colors of the liquor bottles on the bar gave what was left of me cause to wonder. On the other hand, it was the absolute, speculative background to every perception that seized the mind, making everything more real than real. Yet at the same instant, every object and its complex of relations were perfectly vivid, intertwined in perpetual flux; the entirety and its constituents were equally significant.
Everything existing existed for me, and “I” was essence with a will having an ultimately grand effect on everything. “I” was the cause of every word spoken, thought, shot of whiskey poured, glass to the lips, song on the jukebox, the one subatomic lever of all events. All facts were in perpetual motion relevant only to “my” power. “I” myself was nowhere in particular but everywhere at once. The entity called by my name was merely a fantasy on a tether.
I wish I could describe my experience in a way to make you wise, or at least entertain you with a poetic avalanche of glorious adjectives and adverbs. But I am not a philosopher or poet, so when I try to devise at least a colorful logical explanation for you, the inconsistencies cancel one another and I wind up flat, with a barren definition of nothing. But to me it was everything. Yet even under the influence of the powerful hallucinogen, I had not entirely lost my foursquare mind with its paltry platitudes concerning good and evil. The “I” I bespoke of was perhaps intimate with Being, but only at this address and under relative moral conditions.
For example, by some magical means Carl and I made it to Maxwell’s. It was packed. Carl remained outside while I squeezed in. I had leveled off and regained an intermittent sense of self that allowed me to personally enjoy my mystery tour. I was reveling in the warm, excited pulsing of the bar crowd when I heard shrieks of laughter outside. Those of us close to the door went outside to take a look.
Carl was stretched out on his back on the curb directly in front of the entrance. He had penis in hand and was pissing an arc up into the air, catching the urine stream in his mouth.
“Are you with this moron?” the doorman addressed me.
“I really don’t know him very well at all,” I replied and jumped into a cab minus my feelings of omnipotence.
My mind was pitch-black as the yellow submarine transported my body from the mystical orient across the dark park to the occidental haven of my West Side neighborhood. The lights came on. I paid the driver and stepped down into what would normally be familiar haunts. Yet I did not find myself there, at least not the self that ventured East in the evening. An apparent impostor preceded me everywhere I followed, and since then I often refer to myself as “we” – me and my shadow, I suppose.
I felt a ravenous groan in the pits below, having declined the earlier invitation to dine, so “we” stopped first for pizza on West 72nd. Rather, my phantom went inside and ordered while I waited outside, resisting the impulse to accompany him. In fact, I crossed to the other side of the street but I could not completely break the bond with him, as if I was compelled to stay in sight. I looked back into the pizzeria with telescopic vision. There, on the pizza my double was shoving into his mouth, were two flies buzzing with a tremendous argument that I fully understood. The dispute eventually brought them into harmony. It was some sort of prayer preliminary to sustenance. I will not repeat what they said since they were cursing like New Yorkers. I finally managed to break away, leaving my alter ego chewing his slice. I fled into the sanctuary of Tweed’s with my perpetual urge to drink a few pitchers of beer.
Alas! As I stood at the bar heaving suds to my lips, I happened to glance out of the corner of my eye towards the rear of the restaurant. There, in a dark corner, hovered none other than “me” again, watching myself at the bar! I just couldn’t get away from myself. No matter where I went, there I lurked.
I must say I was irritated at this doppleganger detective who was so clever that he did not have to tail me because he knew where I was going before I did, as if he was the stand in for my Fate.
I proceeded to drink with a vengeance– by 4am my first trip lost altitude and was skimming the ground as a nice high. My impostor had vanished, or so I hoped. All of the regulars who had dropped earlier were closing the bar. I was a veteran now. Jane approached me.
“Hey, Dave, we’re going to drop some blotter acid and drive to Washington for the peace march. Come with us,” she urged.
“Cool. I’m with it. Let’s split,” I replied, ready for anything.
–To Be Continued–