I never, ever go a night without sleep anymore. If it’s five in the morning and I’m awake, I call out of work, regardless of the circumstances. I would rather lose my job. It used to be fun to get a little wiggy after an all-nighter. I’ve always had the totally unfounded theory that lack of sleep tells the body there’s danger present and it puts you into a constant fight or flight mode. Whatever the reason, lack of sleep can cause, among other things, aching muscles, confusion, headaches, tremors, hallucinations, dehydration, increased blood pressure, and eventual psychosis followed by death. Humans tend to be incapable of staying awake long enough to die without the help of amphetamines or a rare condition called fatal familial insomnia, which I’m too terrified of to do the proper research on. Suffice to say “fatal” is not a obscure latin term.
If you don’t go to dreamland, dreamland comes to you. Think about all the things you’ve believed, unquestioning, while dreaming. When you dream, you are InstaFanatic about whatever ludicrous set of rules you’re presented with. That’s not a great place to be when you’re awake, unless you’re looking to start a religion.
Part 4, or “I Party With a Bunch of Hippies and Do More Drugs”
The scene in Great Barrington was much as I’d left it the prior year. The town remained a vaguely tourist nook with aspirations toward being a college town. Jun and Duke and SomeGirl were all staying at Jun’s place for the moment. There were a couple other kids wandering in and out who I knew to varying degrees, plus Jun’s roommates, one of whom I don’t remember, and one of whom spent the next three days locked in his room taking mushrooms and acid with two girls. The relationships there were not clear. SomeGirl had been dating Jun up until a few weeks prior, when she spent a couple of days in jail with Duke after the WTO protests went south. They bonded, and SomeGirl started hooking up with Duke. Jun seemed gracefully disappointed, and the tension was relatively low. I was waging emotional war on my own mind to stay calm and try not to worry about Jake or my continuing trip, so other people’s problems didn’t figure big.
We all caught up on the ride home and chatted and hung out that evening. Video games abounded. I smoked some weed and had a couple beers and tried to relax. I felt I was doing okay.
That night, still worried about Jake, I couldn’t sleep again. This may also have had something to do with trying to sleep while on a small, decaying recliner. I semi-sobered up over the course of the night and poked at the chair, thinking, thinking, thinking….
Eventually it was about noon. I nudged Jun awake and told him I was going to check out Berkfest for a bit on my own. He nodded and I wandered off.
I couldn’t have been better dressed for the event. I had my dad’s old hippy shirt, a corduroy crimson vest with billowing hemp sleeves with flowers embroidered at the cuffs.1 My jeans were in the midst of becoming the flannel layer beneath the denim. Beads may have been involved, and I had a black pouch of goodies at my side. I felt like the Wizard of LSD, mostly because I was on it and pretty stoned, partly because I was still keeping my shit together.2
I walk down the road and run into a couple of girls coming the other way. I ask them where Berkfest is and they look at me somewhat disbelievingly, since I didn’t notice but you could already hear the bands, and I looked like the last person on Earth who wouldn’t know this information. I was in ultra-friendly mode, but when you’re 20 or younger, ultra-friendly from other people comes off as creepy.
I finally get close, walk over a hill, and see what would become my vision of Heaven for the next five years, until I discovered Brooklyn.
Start with rolling hills. Don’t just write off “rolling hills” as a cliche, think hills with the sweep, dip, and rise of a wave crossing its ephemeral moment of quintessential waviness, transcribed by da Vinci’s hand from memory, when he saw it in a moment of silence on a really good date.
Add a forest. Not any forest. A forest that serves both as line between civilization and the grassy valleys of the hills it surrounds, and as the mysterious depth on the far side of those valleys, promising tygers, dragons, and the infinite unknown.
Now, in the grassy valleys of these forested hills, add thousands of multi-colored tents filled with nubile hippies, pretty colors, flashing lights, and the smell of five-to-ten in Texas.
I decided I wasn’t quite ready to deal with it on my own, and headed back to Jun’s place for more video games and movies.
At this point, in my attempt to remain calm, something was starting to switch over. I had achieved a consistent Zenned-out quality. I merely acted, and allowed my mind to do whatever it wanted while I focussed on keeping my pulse down. I was in a constant state of detached, semi-conscious self monitoring.
That afternoon, I get a call from Jake’s brother, and finally find out that Jake is fine. I’m so relieved I almost start crying again. Jake’s brother makes it clear that I probably shouldn’t stop by the house for a while, but that after a few hours strapped to a hospital bed, Jake was 100% okay, and not even in much trouble, since his family’s rage was reserved exclusively for me, and the cops were understanding about him being fucked up on drugs, but otherwise a good kid.3 I told him that worked for me, and I’d see him in six months.
Free of the worries that had been haunting me for the past sixty or so hours, I celebrate by smoking a cigarette and telling all my friends, then we all celebrate by smoking about two metric shitloads of weed and playing more video games. I tried to enjoy the day, and looked forward to the coming restful night when I could sleep and finally stop tripping.
A few weird things happened that evening. I played a game of Go against Great Barrington’s best player. I’m actually responsible for the Go craze that swept Great Barrington, having introduced Jun to it the previous summer. The local toy shop repeatedly stocked Go boards on his or my request, and they were wiped out within a week each time. Despite this, I’m not an especially skilled player, and Jun and his friends rapidly outpaced me. I’d barely played in the intervening year, so even if the town wasn’t the source of the world’s finest Go masters, I expected to have my ass handed back to me after a thorough rape and some token whippings. I ended up fighting him to a standstill. The room actually hushed and watched us play. I wish someone had taken a picture of the game, because it was a solid mass of pieces, without a single capture, migrating out from the center of the board. After three or four hours, my opponent and I agreed the tension was just too much, neither of us wanted to have to figure out how we would begin to calculate the score once we got to the edges of the board, and we called it a draw.
The next thing that happened was I picked up a video game, about some space warrior who got stuck alone in the middle of nowhere and decided to piss off all the alien species he could find. Jun recommended it, saying it was fun but kind of hard. I got through two thirds of the game without dying once. Jun piped up at one point with, “How are you doing this?”
I remember saying, “Oh it’s easy. You just have to read the algorithms.” In a kind of Matrixy way, it really seemed like I could see the equations powering the angry aliens, and I could just figure them out and be in the right place at all times. Eventually this fell apart when one of the bosses was a giant spider, and we started passing the controller around, joking about how my arachnophobia was killing my flow. Eventually I beat it, and cruise through the rest of the game perfectly. Perfectly. I didn’t miss a shot. I didn’t take a hit. On my first try. I outperformed a roomful of near-professional gamers on the most difficult game in the room, one I’d never heard of, on my first try.
Here’s the problem.
Since the moment of my out of body experience, I was surrounded by near constant validation. My roommate laughed it all off. My neighbors were sympathetic. The monks were fascinated by me. My friends were glad to see me, and said I looked fine. I performed feats I’d never before achieved, and haven’t been able to since. The universe itself was complimenting my newfound state of mind. Everything was implicitly validating my coping mechanism, and the humility I gained through fucking up in the near worst way possible was telling me to accept everything around me, including whatever lessons could be learned, and to ascend to some higher state of mind. I do believe, and this may be the only thing I believe with any amount of certainty or faith, that I was tapping into the some hidden potential of my mind. There’s no way to describe this, but it involves all the usual things people say when they try: my mind and body became one because I realized they were never separate. I could feel the ebb and flow of all my senses and the world around me, the vibration of existence, the most delicate transactions of energy that constitute the world around us. At some point on this arc, I achieved enlightenment. Not the enlightenment you get from realizing it’s all bullshit. I achieved the total destruction of all symbolism, experienced pure experience and thought as a single unmoving moment. Do you know what it’s like to transcend the illusion of time? It’s fucking awesome. There is nothing more validating than enlightenment, because it removes all need for validation. For the most part, I haven’t really needed validation since, even though I’m back on this stupid level of reality and have to work and eat and do all that other pointless shit. When things gets bad, or someone’s judging me for whatever reason, I just shrug and think, “Well I saw the other side of the universe, so fuck you.”
Why was this a problem?
Jun once related to me what is now my favorite quote: “Drugs are a revelation we’re not ready for.”
I had the revelation.
I was not ready for it.
The problem with destroying symbolism is that if you want to go back to your day job, you have to put it back together, and if you’re unpracticed in this sort of things, you’ll probably get it wrong.
The dawn finds me sitting on the roof in a thunderstorm, trying to coax a bird out of hiding. I’m not crazy yet.4 I’ve always loved thunderstorms, rain, and birds, so it’s not impossible I would do something like this today, except I’d bitch more about being damp afterwards. I’m communing with the beauty of the world as it rages above my head, beginning to touch the infinite possible universes at right angles to our measly four dimensions.
I can’t sleep. It’s day four.
The previous night, before everyone except me fell asleep, the roommate doing god knows what in his bedroom made a brief appearance to the rest of us. He came in, wearing only rolled up cargo pants and a hemp necklace. He sat down, staring into distance.
“I think… I need to go into the woods.”
“Okay,” said Jun.
The kid stared at the ground for a while, then got up and slowly waddled back to his room. I have no idea what happened to him, but I suspect he was heading down a similar path to mine, he just had two teenage girls to go with him.5 Later that night, while I was in the recliner, staring at the ceiling, I heard a noise, and discovered he had crawled into the living room and was rooting around in my bag. I sat up and he crawled away like a guilty Gollum. Glad as I was to have not been robbed, saving a few baubles and fifteen dollars worth of pot from an insane hippy wasn’t worth the cost I was paying each sleepless hour.
I crawled in from the roof and tackled a new day. I’m still proud of myself for holding it together as long as I did. I was still sane, despite the stress, drugs, and sleeplessness. But the balance was tipping. I tried to take care of myself that day,6 because, in the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, I needed to go. The fuck. To sleep. We hit the Berkfest tent city. The next two days were spent wandering between the hippy festival and the stoner apartment; the memories start to get a little cloudy here, so I’m just tacking together the best bits I can confidently say happened.
The tent city was all it promised to be. Packed with surprisingly attractive girls and laughably pathetic guys,7 all equally welcoming. We wandered into ten person tents with multiple arched entrances, where we’d sit and chat and smoke with whomever was inside. We hacky sacked, and I did it competently if not expertly. This was another skill I never had before and haven’t had since.
I bought a bunch of glow sticks that night and did glow stick dances. Thanks to the Tai Chi videos my grandmother sent me when I was a kid, I had a natural talent for this, and it’s one of the few skills I kept for a good few years, and I deeply resent the rave scene for fucking itself up so badly that glow stick dancing became the decade’s Sign of Being a Loser. The glow stick vendors would ask me to stay nearby so they could shout, “Buy our glow sticks so you can be like this guy!”
I fell in love with those glowing strands that you can bend into loops. I discovered I could hold the ends of one strand with a looped strand on it, and sort of hula hoop it up one arm, then down and up the other arm. I thought it was coolest thing since air-conditioning, and I don’t know what the general consensus was, but at some point a couple of girls went up to Jun.
“Is he okay?” they asked.
“I’m not sure,” replied Jun.
I wish you could hear his voice. I didn’t care. I was fine. Perfectly fine. Better than ever. I was fucking enlightened.
Here’s Jun’s take on the matter:
So when you’re with a friend when he’s going through an experience like that, there is a certain amount of emotional ambivalence involved. Like any other reasonably well educated young person who’s been around drugs, and the tripping culture, but has never seen a more enduring psychosis up close, you figure out pretty quickly when someone close to you is legitimately slipping their marbles. You want to think everything’s okay, but you know it’s really, really not.
Affectively, he was just a little too sincerely fascinated with everything. Everything he was saying at the time just reeked of acceptance and gentle insight, and he said it with the kind of sincerity usually reserved for events like watching the sun rise. That’s all well and good, but you get the sense of “he can’t possibly fucking keep this up.” Anyone who’s done a drug like acid knows it’s goddamn exhausting. It’s the sensory equivalent to running a marathon; your filters for perceptual intake are on a paid vacation, and you’re taking it aaaaaalll in.
Although we should have probably tackled and sedated him, forcing him to sleep, we didn’t (so easy to say in hindsight). We let things run their course. I could say we did it out of a sense of respect for his autonomy, or his personal process, or something like that. In truth, we just didn’t know what the “right” thing to do was. It would have been easier to call men in white coats if he hadn’t been so damn nice and positive and zen about everything; I think part of me really did want to believe that this was just a friend going through a beautiful spiritual experience. You want sincerely to believe that the change you see in them has a positive and authentic core. Plus, he was doing some really cool shit. He isn’t just writing that he suddenly got better at reflex-based tasks, or could suddenly and improbably dance at a festival, with rhythm and abandon, when we all well knew that he was way too reserved to have actually PRACTICED that, he was just doing it spontaneously. And doing it well. That’s the important bit.
That was the nice part of this story. There’s a not-so-nice part. Remember Leary? Set and setting? Part of me thinks he was just lucky for a while to be in a reasonably good space, in a good place, at a good time. Being in a mental hospital is somewhat less chillin’ than my living room was in those days.
Things took a darker turn on the last day. I decided to supplement my travel budget with a little drug slinging, so we walked down what was nicknamed “Drug Alley,” a wide muddy swath of vendors selling bongs and bowls and pretty much anything a turn of the millennium hippy could want. Shady looking semi-hippies and ravers in hemp clothing weaved through the crowd, muttering, “Molly, molly, acid, e, KB, molly.”8 I find a particularly shady looking kid and buy a vial of acid off him for a hundred bucks.9 He runs off and we walk back up drug alley. On the way, we see a guy lean over to his girlfriend, who is staring blankly into the distance. He talks to her and she doesn’t respond. He shouts at her and she doesn’t blink. He starts slapping her, harder and harder. She doesn’t respond. We walk by, like everybody else.
Once home, we relax with a final round of video games before we all drive back up to Maine in the morning. At some point, one of the girls accompanying Gollum comes in and asked to buy a couple of hits of my newly acquired acid. The deal is she’ll give me ten bucks, stick out her tongue, and I’ll squeeze out two drops of liquid LSD on it. I take her money, and she holds her tongue out, slightly upturned to catch it. Just as the first drop is coming out, she turns her tongue down, which causes me to jump just enough to squeeze much, much harder than I intended to.
I’d say she got her money’s worth,10 in that about two or three drops’ worth hit her tongue. The other ten to fifteen drops landed on my arm. We apologized to each other, she seemed satisfied, and I lunged for the nearest thing that could clean off my arm. As anyone who’s watch SLC Punk knows, acid does not need to be ingested to take effect.
Jun and I have discussed this over the years, and we’re not completely convinced the acid was real. It didn’t matter; my state of mind was such that if you held a sign with big enough letters spelling “YOU JUST TOOK FIFTEEN MORE HITS OF ACID” in front of me it probably would have had the same effect as the real thing. I hadn’t slept in six days. The importance of this moment was that I accepted, to my detriment, that I was not going to be okay. On the one hand, not immediately seeking medical help was the latest in a long series of bad decisions, but on the other hand, I still had to remain calm.
I think Jun was getting slightly worried at this point, but he’d seen worse. When I told him about it, he said, “That’s really not good.”
I just shrugged and settled in for the ride.
The ride. The night. The fire.
1 I tend to leave the details of my old wardrobe out of the conversations I have about hating hippies.
2 What was left of it. I hadn’t eaten much since I lost the lion’s share.
3 I, Jake, and Jake’s brother did a lot of things in Maine that the cops never found out about, which may have tinged their analysis of our character. Fortunately, we’d been careful and non-felonious.
4 Promise. Truth be told, I occasionally have trouble convincing people I’m not crazy now, but I know the difference, and I wasn’t crazy yet.
5 I constantly wonder what I did so wrong in my youth that everybody around me got so much more action than I did.
6 Well, as much as a reckless 20 year-old on acid can.
7 Hippy communities are almost always like this.
8 Translation: “Really good ecstasy, really good ecstasy, LSD, okay ecstasy, really good pot, really good ecstasy.”
9 Acid comes in several varieties. Crystal, liquid, paper, and gel, last I knew, though I heard a rumor many years ago that gel tabs were on the outs, and I haven’t researched since. A vial is a small glass container or an eye dropper holding somewhere between one and two hundred hits, and you can sell a hit for five bucks to the right person.
10 Especially since I didn’t charge her due to the snafu. Astoundingly, I managed to sell not one hit of the purchased acid, and remain history’s worst drug pedaler.