This story is the pivotal narrative turning point that it’s easy to blame for me being the person I am instead of someone else. The summer of my twentieth year on the planet obliterated every measure of good, evil, truth, beauty, reality, and fantasy I’d had before and makes everything that’s happened since seem banal. It’s the reason I will never believe in anything again, the reason I play music, and the reason the Acadia Hospital nursing staff thinks I’m a crackhead. There are probably three or four dozen people that won’t talk to me to this day because of these events, and I am an local legend in Bar Harbor, Maine.
I’m writing this down for a number of reasons,1 first among them being that I’m sick of telling it. If I know somebody long enough, this story eventually comes up, and I have to tell it again in varying levels of detail depending on the speaker’s level of interest and my level of blood alcohol. The shortest, no frills version that does it any amount of justice and gets some of the side story details is upwards of half and hour. What with questions, it’s usually a one to two hour conversation. Even I get bored talking exclusively about myself for more than forty-five minutes. If you have a tripping story, it usually takes fifteen minutes to a half an hour to tell it in all its glory, and that’s just an eight to twelve hour ride that feels a lot longer because your sense of time is on a lunch break. This story is about a 23042 hour ride, and my senses were a lot further gone than some measly industrial grade psychedelic drugs could have taken them. It’s just too fucking long to tell.
So I’m doing it here in parts, because nobody wants to read something off a computer screen for that long a stretch, so I can just refer everybody to this website if they’re really curious. I’m also telling it because it’s a pretty good story, and I’ve been putting off getting it down in its entirety because it makes me feel weird thinking about it, as it is the cause of my PTSD.3 But I think eleven years is long enough, and I can think about it now without wigging out.
So, in some number of episodes until I finish, this is the complete, annotated, unabridged story of I how I went bat fucking crazy for three months.
Part 1, or “Why We Thought It Would Be Such a Great Fucking Idea to Drop Acid at High Noon in Bar Harbor”
Any good story of a stupendously bad decision should have a little preamble about how the decision, out of all decisions, was weighed and chosen. This is for the future generations of little druggie morons, who can hopefully identify the path they’re on before it ends up like Requiem for a Dream.4 Don’t let my severe awesomeness trick you into thinking you can go crazy and come back and end up like me. I wasn’t supposed to come back, and nobody thought I ever would. People who freak like I freaked tend to die horribly in the first month, or at best spend the rest of their lives in mental institutions or living in the woods and abandoned factories.
The history of this truly epic bad decision was because we—we being my heterosexual life-mate Jake and myself—had made nearly the same decision a month prior, and it worked out great. The fact is, acid’s pretty cool unless it completely destroys your mind and life. My first trip was horrible, my next eight or nine were awesome, then Jake and I had what is possibly the most amazingly perfect trip I believe can happen. It is the happiest I have ever been or ever will be. It was every existential worry not just cast aside, but thoroughly fulfilled. All the answers of life, the universe, and everything laid at our feet, the whole of creation stepping out from behind the curtain and saying “Yes, it’s okay, this is how it works, everything it fine, and you’re pretty cool.”
This is how it began:
In the morning, Jake said, “Fuck it, let’s do some acid.”
At the end of my table waiting shift, a friend of mine walked up to me and said, “I would like to shake your hand,” and put a ten strip of acid into it.
There’s no better prepping story for and acid trip.
We started at about midnight. Maybe later. Lesson 1: midnight is a better time to start tripping than noon. You have a little time to get a handle on things before you have to deal with people. This was Jake’s first trip, so we worked our way gently through the opening stages.5 You have to bounce around with tripping. It comes in waves; at the top of each wave, reality falls apart a little more, you lose your sense of what’s real, the subject/object, other/self dichotomies break apart, you’re not sure why, then you come back down a bit and remember you’re on drugs and it’s cool again. We wandered around, getting more and more tripped out, then found ourselves on the beach, at dawn, at roughly the exact moment we started peaking.
I don’t know what this acid was. I heard George Washington print and Tim Leary print. It would not have surprised me if this was the brew that Tim got so worked up over for the second half of his life. This was the acid Jesus took.6
Bar Harbor has a neat little feature, which is a sand bar that bridges the main-ish land (Bar Harbor is on an island to begin with) to a smallish island at low tide. At that moment, while we were peaking on acid, just after dawn, the tide was as low as we’d ever seen it, leaving a vast walkway to this island, the fringes of which were covered in sparkly green sea plants and scuttling sea bugs. Directly above this bridge, the sky was split as if by a razor: to our left, black storm clouds stretching to the western horizon, to our right, crystal blue sky with the perfectly yellow sun coming over the sea. It was low 70’s.
At this point we were already beside ourselves with joy. Everything was perfectly fucking awesome. We headed over to the island.
A dog ran up to us, which was the funniest thing ever, for some reason. If you haven’t done acid, but have smoked pot, trip giggles are like pot giggles… well, on acid. Whatever, the point was the dog ran back to some other people, and we just kept moving on, not wanting to kill our vibe by running into sober kids.7 At some point Jake bursts out laughing and points to a kid lying comatose on the beach wearing a grateful dead tie-dye t-shirt. We laugh over it then stop and look at each other.
“Uuh. He might be dead.” (giggle)
“Let’s check on him.”
We wander back and notice he’s severely bruised.
“Uh dude. You okay?”
He snorts, opens his eyes and looks up at us.
“Never better,” he says, then rolls over and goes back to sleep.
This is the funniest thing in the history of the universe to us, so we walk on, holding our sides laughing. We start up the winding trail that leads to the open field on the peak of the island, and notice the two people attached to the dog behind us. We assume they’re hippy tourists. Then we think they’re following us. So we walk up.
It’s extremely difficult to make progress in any specific direction while tripping. You have to keep stopping and watching the leaves wave at you, the clouds burst into fractal mosaics, the ground writhe with life, and think about how it all means stuff and you can see every tiniest detail of your tripping buddies body, mind, and soul and how it’s ebbing and flowing with the energy of the sound, which you can see, by the way, and the pulse of the cosmos. At least, on this acid you could. We communicated in total nonsense language and know exactly what was meant. So we would head up the trail at a good clip, half believing the people behind us were stalking us, then get distracted by something that was The Awesomest Thing Ever Except for That Thing That Happened What Time Is It Oh Shit They’re Following Us Again.
After an hour or so of this, we came to a bend in the trail where the roots had created a kind of stairway landing and the trees a natural gazebo roof, and I said “Fuck it. Let’s see who these guys are.”
“Well, this is totally the place to do it.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
If these two were FBI agents, it wouldn’t have been a problem. We were completely harmless on a drug there’s no practical way to prove we were on. If they were criminals, they probably would have figured out that we were on acid and left us alone, because fighting a tripping person is like fighting a crazy person, and fighting a crazy person is stupid.
I have to give some back and future story to explain how incredibly ridiculous the identities of our stalkers turned out to be.
The one I’ll call PillDude was a guy I met at a college party in Orono five months prior. We’d gotten sick of the frat kids and gone upstairs to do a fairly obscene amount of Ritalin off the washer dryer combo, and we’d bonded over a bunch of college stories the way you do when you’re getting high on kiddy-crack.8
I’d never met the person with him, and in fact I knew him for six months before I figured out who he was: he was the gay kid who dated my dead ex-girlfriend after me and right before she killed herself, then got sent home because he lost it for a couple of months. She was the only girl he ever dated or had any interest in dating. I’d heard endless stories about him while I was still in Massachusetts. We knew all the same people. People told us we should meet. We didn’t, until two years later, on an island, on drugs, at 8 a.m., six hundred miles away from where we’d previously lived two miles from each other for a year. Call him Red.9
At the moment, I was more stunned to see PillDude.
“We’re on acid!”
“The GW stuff?”
“We thought you were stalking us!”
Then we all fell over laughing. I didn’t even know the story behind Red, and this seemed like the craziest coincidence ever. I mean, it’s obviously not, but seriously, if I put it in a movie, no one would believe it.10 After a couple of cigarettes and some catching up, we pulled ourselves together and made it to the top of the island and lay around in the grass.
If anybody had happened upon us, we would have looked like your average group of tripped out hippies, except that the only person not sitting up was Red, who, for no reason either of them could explain to us, looked like he’d just gotten the shit beat out of him by a bar mob. It took us a while to notice, but he was covered in blood and bruises, so what it actually looked like was that three WASPs just beat a gay kid to death.11 We had a laugh about that, then headed out and naturally parted ways. There are some hazy points, but I remember an animated conversation with a gas station attendant who said we were sweet kids when we left, then we watched the storm brew up until it started to rain, then we went back to my place and played with loose change and dark lights for a while. For a good hour, we were crying with joy over the perfect beauty of everything in the universe. Then we watched American Movie, and self-referential meta-documentaries are about the best thing you could watch on Acid, and giggled at the water from the storm we’d watched form over the last fourteen hours as it dripped through my ceiling. As we came down and realized how many cigarettes we’d smoked,12 we still felt the perfect harmony of everything, and felt like better, healthier people for at least three weeks. It was the perfect, weird and amazing combination of coincidence and really good drugs.
Acid is not like pot, or alcohol, or any other “mind-altering” drug. You don’t know what mind altering means unless you’ve been on a hard core trip.13 It’s like you suddenly realize you’ve been seeing the world in two dimensions and now you can see four. The rules change. People around you become perfectly comprehensible and beautiful creatures, instead of the average dicks they are most of the time. I reject completely that acid doesn’t bring some insight about the universe; yes, it’s all in your head, but so is the everyday, non-tripping, non-psychotic universe. You have one tool with which to experience the totality of your conscious life; if you make any deductions about the world around you with it, you have to reevaluate your deductions when you realize you can interpret the world in a completely alien way by rewiring your perceptions with half a gram of chemicals. Acid puts the whole meaning and being versus reality play you leave on the TV as background noise directly in front of you on an IMAX screen with surround sound and popcorn. Whatever experience of the universe there is to be unveiled by the modern human brain, a investment worthy percentage of it can be seen during a really good acid trip.
My mind, by itself or even drunk out of it, is not capable of the perfect happiness we achieved during those sixteen hours. Much as I love the universe, it will never be as beautiful again, barring a radical shift in the nature of being human.
Why wouldn’t we do it again?
“Captain, our shields our down!”
“Weapons offline, sir!”
“Hull breach on decks 18 through 36!”
“Core containment failure is immanent!”
“The vending machine ate my change for like the fifth fucking time!”
“I never really loved you!”
“I said no mayo!”
“Abandon ship! Abandon—”
1 Above and beyond the standard reasons of getting strangers’ approval and making money.
3 I have a crippling fear of losing my mind, matched only by my pathological fear of death. Naturally, creative thinking lets me assuage my death fears, but also triggers the out-of-control free-associative process that triggers my PTSD and removes my ability to think or talk coherently, replacing it with shivering, anxious sweating for a few hours. Ain’t life grand.
4 The best Don’t do Drugs commercial of all time, assuming you don’t slit your wrists after watching it.
5 There will be inevitable homoerotic overtones to much of this chapter. Deal with it.
6 Or if it was, it would explain a lot.
7 We should have known that nobody awake at dawn in Bar Harbor is sober and we needn’t have worried.
8 And don’t have a girlfriend.
9 I know, I referred to the last redhead who figured in a story as “Red.” I’ll call the rest of you Red too.
10 Unless it was at the very beginning. You can start on a good coincidence, but you can’t finish on one, or use one to change the plot in the middle. I just saved you a whole semester of fiction writing classes.
11 I also didn’t know Red was gay until six months of knowing him. I swear I’m not that blind, it just never came up, and he didn’t have any tells. I mean, our favorite pastime was to non-euphemistically punch each other in the parking lot. And it’s not like Red’s a little gay, or maybe gay; he did gay porn. Hollywood lies to you.
12 A lot. People who trip and smoke often refer to “The Eternal Cigarette” because it seems like your cigarette never goes out. This is only because you chain smoke and never remember lighting the one in your hand.
13 Or lost your mind in some other fashion.