Acadia National park contains most of what I love about Maine. Rocky mountains, hidden streams and valleys, rain water lakes, ocean view that stretch to the horizon, and hikes short enough for the average smoker to complete without too much complaint. If you wander through the park with people who know how to shut up once in a while, you can almost trick yourself into believing you’ve been spirited to some forever fairy realm, never to return.
Bar Harbor, where most people sleep and eat while visiting, is a scum laden monument to cheap excess and exploitation. Come June, in a a town that spent eight months subsisting on fewer notable businesses than the fingers on a lobsterman’s hands,1 junk shops and hippy traps and over-priced restaurants pop up overnight as their out of state owners return to thaw them out and suck the tourist teat so they can cart the money back out of the state. By day the streets are lousy with Hawaiian shirts and ambling families buying moose hats and lobster ice cream. By night, the bars are packed with every local employee pumping money into booze and drugs with the rich kid visitors.
Since everybody works two or more service jobs, wraps up the night with a pocketful of cash, and lives in temporary housing that would make a section 8 contractor cry, the Bar Harbor summer scene for a waiter is a non-stop orgy of drugs, booze, and sex.2 I went to Simon’s Rock, and Simon’s Rock has nothing on a Bar Harbor summer.
Enter me, with five hits of acid on August 13th, 2000.
Part 2, or “Everything Goes Straight to Hell”
If you get a good acid trip going, you feel like a god. Hell, you are a god. People becomes easy. Everything becomes easy. You can literally do things you can’t do sober. Or at least, you can do them without all the pesky practicing you have to do sober. It seems like you can see right through people, so all the tiny, subliminal signals we respond to, and that are written about in stupid body language and poker tell books, are right in front of your face, usually exaggerated and flashing pretty colors.
A veteran tripper knows to be careful. Even a budding pro, as I was, knows that you can lose control if you get too much confusing input, like, say, a tourist town in August. Jake didn’t realize this, and he was so eager, and the last trip was so, so good, I figured we could rock the day the same way we rocked the night.
So, we did our two and a half hits around eleven in the morning. One thing I didn’t find out until later was that Jake was operating on two hours of sleep, and was perhaps not the stablest state of mind. It probably wouldn’t have stopped us.
What happened next requires a map.
This map is color-coded for the severity of the situation. Bear in mind this whole journey is probably less than two miles, and was completed over the course of two or three hours. Here is what happened at each point on the map. The meaning of the colors will become obvious, if they’re not already.
We hang out at our apartment until the acid kicks in a little bit, and head out right after the first peak. We both have backpacks filled with toys, which was one of our many mistakes: we planned too much, especially Jake, who just didn’t understand the finer points of tripping yet, one of the basic rules being you can’t plan or over prepare, because you will quickly get frustrated in your inability to achieve anything. It’s much like meditating: you can’t force your mind to empty or demand a revelation. That guy who always wants to create an intimate moment when nobody’s drunk enough, and it ends up forced and awkward? Yeah, like that. The difference with acid is that the consequences of trying to make something happen that won’t are infinitely worse.
No matter. I would teach my student well, and we would again ascend to Olympus.
We hit the street at noon. I would say we were the two dumbest people in Bar Harbor that day, but that couldn’t possibly be true, and the fact was Jake had no idea of the risks, whereas I did and I ignored them, so I was by far the dumber companion.
I sent a draft of this chapter to Jake, so there will be some of his commentary and corrections, but I’m leaving in what I remember, even if it’s wrong in places. Here’s Jake:
We actually dropped the tabs then went to the grocery store, after picking up some tripping toys from the chick that lived in the upstairs apartment next you yours, and bought a bunch of food; most notably way too much dried fruit. Then we headed to the park. Also, I’m pretty sure me met up with a waitress (who happened to be in my class from grade-school through high-school and whom I’d known since I was 11 years old, and I will admit that I had a crush on her for at least a few of those years) at a local restaurant to make plans for her to drive you to Massachusetts later that night.
We hit an intersection. Things are starting to get a little trippy, and there are a lot of people on the street. I am not yet questioning the wisdom of our journey, but even after a lot of experience with acid, I’m beginning to have trouble focussing. Whatever. We head for the park.
We take off our backpacks and sit in the park, then stare at the sky, since the visuals are really taking off. We’re still happy at this point and mostly just giggling and looking at stuff.
In one of the most awesome events that has ever occurred to me in any state of mind, one of the landscapers working on the park, probably about 50 and heavily bearded, walks by us, leans down, and says:
“The effect’s better on mushrooms.”
I know I claimed a lot of things were the funniest thing ever in Part 1, but this was the funniest fucking thing that has ever happened. We crack up, wave at him, and think this will be even better than the first time.
This is the moment where I start to worry a little about Jake. He starts repeating himself. He also starts commenting on how fake everything and everybody is. And he starts mentioning, just offhand, how we can do anything we want. It is very important, when tripping, to maintain a death grip on the knowledge that you can not do anything you want. Physics and legal systems have a way of making themselves known when forget this fact.
The repeating himself bit is also bad. Tripping is by turns neurotic and psychotic: the neurotic moments are about obsessing over some unspeakable fact of the universe that you can finally acknowledge and communicate to others in a way you simply can’t when you’re not tripping.3 Then somebody makes a joke and you remember it’s all a joke and the world is pretty and it’s someone else’s turn to talk. People spend their whole lives on this stuff because tripping with a few other people is just a long night of the best conversations you’ll never be able to have again and the best jokes you’ve ever heard.
But Jake wasn’t hearing my jokes, or my attempts to get him out of his neurotic cycle, and this is why you have guides on your first few trips, because sometimes when people get like that, they don’t come back. The odds aren’t high, but it doesn’t take a lifetime of drug abuse to wreck a mind: one bad trip will do it.
I decide we need to get away from the crowds, and make a right, toward the beach.
We sit on the rocks and check out the ocean. I decide maybe a game of Go will focus us and get back on track, so I whip out my travel board and try to get him to play. He’s having none of it. He stares at the board for a few seconds, possibly attempting to play, then swats a few pieces out to sea, and shouts
“Just Be! We can just BE!” in my face.
I realize this is bad, and we have to get home, immediately. I pack up what’s left of the Go pieces and start strongly but carefully hinting that we should make our way back to my place. It takes about twenty minutes, or in on-acid-next-to-your-freaking-out-best-friend time, six hundred years.
There was a good amount of time on the beach where the clouds were spelling out words: a la yellow submarine. You kept asking me what they said as I kept repeating this was so but I told you I couldn’t read what words they were, just that they were words. I do distinctly remember knowing, and saying to you, that it wasn’t possible for clouds to spell words but my eyes were telling me they were.
Having already led us across a park full of hippies, which was stupid but seemed to calm him down—and more importantly, or so I thought, calmed me down, since I was now the only person capable of being responsible for us—I make the next worst decision of my life, which is to lead us back up to the main shopping drag. Considering I specifically led us away from the main drag six hundred years prior, I can only assume I was trying to find the fastest route back, assuming I could control Jake’s decaying mindset. You will notice from the map that there was a very obvious route back that was almost the same distance and didn’t involve walking down the busiest road in Bar Harbor. I mean, it’s hard to walk down it stone sober sometimes.
Acid’s a powerful drug.
And it didn’t matter. We didn’t even make it to the main drag.
In the park I actually fall on the grass, flailing and rolling around like a cat in catnip, and only have a moment of clarity and get up to follow you when I look up at you, after trying to coax me up and away, and you say “Fine, I’m leaving, you can get arrested.” Half way across the park I hear a booming echo that drowns out every sound on the very busy street and if I want to my voice becomes this echo. I vaguely recall mentioning this to you but perhaps I am mistaken.
Jake is still in we-can-do-anything mode.
“We can say whatever we want!”
“Yes, that’s true, let’s just head this way, ok?”
“We can do whatever we want!”
“Yes, as long as the cops don’t get involved. Come on, we can do anything we want at my apartment.”
“We can go anywhere! I’m going to go in here.”
Jake dives into a clothing/trinket store.
This is the exact moment that changes my life forever.
I didn’t know this yet. At the time, I was peaking on two and a half hits of the best acid I’d ever had, so I sit down on a bench and start chatting up a Hawaiian t-shirt, since there’s no fucking way I’m following Jake into that store.
“How do you like Bar Harbor?”
“Uhh. Is your friend okay?”
“I have no idea. You here with family?”
“Um… huh… yes, we’re just…”
At this point he looks inside the store. I have no idea what’s happening; I’m just trying to focus and I sense I’m losing my conversation partner.
“Have you been on the whale watch tour?”
He’s obviously uncomfortable, and I’m trying to soothe him.
“Where are you from?”
At this point, the conversation ends, as Jake comes flying, nearly sideways, out of the store. This is not just drugs, it’s a cinematic exit. Sans backpack. It looks like he was hurled out of the store by a two hundred pound bouncer. He hits the bench with his leg, flips off the store, and starts stalking down the street.
I turn to my new friend. “Nice to meet you, I need to check up on him.”
My new friend had already fled like he’d just met two drugged out nut cases. I hope I didn’t give him a stroke. I run after Jake and try to be practical.
“Jake, what happened to your backpack?”
“We can do what we want!”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, what happened to your backpack?”
Things are not going well, but I can still get him to follow me, so we continue to the corner, and start down the main drag.
Once inside the store I sort of don’t remember where I am or how I got there for a moment. A lackey employee asks me “can I help you?” I look at him then turn to a stack of sweaters on a shelf and probably think something like “those would be soft,” and hug them like a child, them fall backwards to the ground, pulling them with me. After a moment I have a moment of clarity and think “I gotta get out of here.” Apparently, I found out later, when I hit the bench outside I tore the bolt holding it down out of the concrete. It didn’t even leave a bruise, though it probably should have broken my hip.
Jake is shouting nonsense and flipping off strangers. Bar Harbor in the summer is not like New York City. People notice when you’re nuts. The rich tourists were not amused. People were protecting their children and crossing the street. It couldn’t have been more upsetting if we’d been black.4 He knocks over one of those chalkboard restaurant advertisements and kicks it for good measure. His mood swings are astounding: He’s laughing for two seconds, then crying for three, then angry for two, repeat. I’m trying to manhandle him down the street, and at some point, as I’m trying to apologize to strangers with hand gestures while keeping my own mind together and trying to keep him from pissing anybody new off, I turn to look at him and he’s as angry as a wounded wolf mother and screams at me
…And smack me across the face.
Then bursts into tears.
Then starts stalking down the street again.
I’m terrified, in a way that you can only be terrified when you’ve just fed your best friend industrial strength hallucinogens and it looks like he might kill somebody on his way to eternal madness in the most public place in America east of Vegas. I realize I’m going to have to get physical, and I run up to him, say something I assume was brilliant, and keep a grip on his shoulder as I walk us down the street.
What I don’t know at this point is that the Bar Harbor police force was already in hot pursuit. I wasn’t looking behind me as I had all four eyes—plus the wacky one that comes out of your forehead when you’re on great drugs—fixated on Jake’s every move. It’s not enough. He breaks free, laughing, and starts running down the street. I’m almost too late when I realize what he’s running toward, which is a young woman helping a very old woman out of a car.
I know exactly what’s going to happen, and I start running faster than any human has ever run before, since Jake’s wiry, fast, and already halfway there. I get in front of him at exactly the moment he jumps up with a whoop and kicks the car door, which would have broken half the bones in this grandmother’s body had I been a tenth of a second slower and not already had a grip on the door. I push Jake back and apologize profusely, and, for some reason I will never understand, the younger woman smiles at me as if it’s okay. This may have been because Jake was back in sobbing mode, and stumbling away. I assume she assumed we were drunk. I’m not sure how that makes it okay, but since this situation was entirely my fault, I was taking what I could get.
And this is, beyond any other, the reason I will never do acid again. I also have absolutely no recollection of this whatsoever.
I manage to get Jake home, after only one or two near deaths, and in getting him in the door I also inadvertently and unknowingly shake the impressive police force that’s been chasing us.
Once I get him inside, he starts rolling on the floor moaning. It’s an endless loop alternating between an unenthusiastic “Well, we might as well” in a british accent and a much more enthusiastic “Just be!”
At this point I settle in for the ride and wonder how many hours of this I have to endure.
Turns out to be one, since an hour after we get home, Jake’s older brother calls me.
“Dude, you will not believe the day I’ve had.”
“Uh, yeah, I think I might. My dad’s on his way to your place. With the police.”
I hang up, and shout at Jake.
“Jake! Them! Here! Coming! Run!”
This breaks through Jake’s loop, and we book it. Here’s Jake:
Before Matt called the before-mentioned waitress showed up with a friend and basically all three of you stared at me rolling on the floor mumbling for a while before they decided to leave.5 I also recall trying, very ineffectively, to play your bass while repeating nonsense ad nauseum.6
We dash out out of the apartment and I take us up to the apartment next door. This was more shitty housing, generally occupied by up to eight temp service industry workers that I’d befriended over the summer. Improbably, nobody is there, which in retrospect is the best possible condition for the apartment to have been in. I wanted someplace that wasn’t on the cops’ radio, and I wanted help. Storming into this apartment on acid with the cops on their way would not have improved my relationship with anyone in that apartment, but, since I didn’t keep in touch with any of them, if I could rewrite history in a short-sighted way, I would have written in one of the more mature residents to take care of us and deal with the cops properly and accepted the fact that I’d instantly lost eight friends, as opposed to losing them the usual way. As it was, we were completely alone. Jake somehow lost a shoe, which I missed, but he had to go back for it later, which must have been a conversation I’m sorry to have missed.
Jake sat down on a chair. Then he screamed.
I’ve heard a lot in my life. I worked in an institute for the mentally fucked completely beyond all hope of repair. I went to several liberal arts schools and almost as many state colleges. I’ve seen people tweak. I’ve seen people die, afraid, and needing help.
Nothing will match Jake’s scream. Nothing will match the moment of tripping my ass off, watching the one of two friends I consider family screaming in a way that logically contradicted his being human. If you’ve ever heard a porcupine scream, you’ve felt true fear. This was worse. This was a thinking human screaming from a billion years ago when its crustacean ancestor was murdered by a hive of Japanese horror movie monsters. I shudder to this day at the memory of the sound.
I am paralyzed as completely as if he’d been a banshee and killed me with his cry, so I’m unprepared when he dashes down the stairs. I dash after him, and see him again as he’s running into the street, waving his arms, screaming, directly into the arms of the police and his father. I run after him, screaming
“Jake! Jake! JAAAKE!”
This is when I have my first and last out of body experience.
As I’m screaming Jake’s name, the universe stalls. My brain ceases. I am in the midst of perfect experience. My senses collapse into each other, my train of thought jumps the tracks, I pull back in a melodramatic Hollywood zoom out, and I see my body in front of me, surrounded by cops and my screaming friend, and the universe and all my senses and perceptions fly together into my body in front of me as I drift powerless above it, in a giant X collapsing into me.
To be precise, the universe was collapsing into my bowels, which may explain why I shit myself at this point.
I snapped back into the more standard, consciousness-in-my-body state, to see Jake’s father trying to hold Jake’s arms back.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re getting him into,” says my best friend’s father. He has nothing more to say to me. I turn my head and there’s a cop six inches in front of my face.
“What’s he on? We need to know!”
“Two and a half hits of acid.”
Jake shoves another cop away from him, and the cop says “Whoa there, buddy.” I manage to think that this is a stupid response on the cop’s part. Then I realize there’s shit running down my pants. I try to grab what I can, and run, crying, as high on acid as I’ve ever been, back to my apartment.
This is the beginning.
I try to hold it together. A friendly chat with the police. Escape from BH.
1 For those of you who don’t know any lobstermen, this is fewer than you think.
2 Unless you have no game, like I didn’t. Most of my bad decisions probably could have been avoided by getting a little action back in the day.
3 You just can’t. I’ve tried. Many have tried. You’re not smarter than them. You are in the moment of knowing it or you’re not. Tim Leary was right: 4000 years of philosophy looks laughably pointless after eight hours on acid.
4 You want to see racism? Hang out with rich white people. They are not ignorant. These are educated people. They run our country. A part of me will be forever proud of my best friend for ruining a thousand rich bastards’ vacations.
5 This explains why I didn’t get my ride from her later that night.
6 It should be noted that Jake taught me how to play music, and is an exceptional bass player.