Dr. Hoffman's Folly
Bill stood on the
kitchen table, his arms raised in a grand, sweeping gesture, shouting
"I am Jesus Bill! I am Jesus Bill! Hallelujah!" in the
bombastic oratorical tones of a holy-rolling tv evangelist. He
leaped about on the flimsy table like a demented, drug-addled
Peter Pan, and I was afraid it would collapse under his weight,
but I was unable to do anything except stare at him with a big
dumb grin on my face, because the acid was kicking in big-time
and turning the clockwork gears of my thought processes into a
water-slide filled with raspberry jello.
There were four of us scrambling our brains that evening with what was supposed to be lsd, but could have contained just about anything that was poured into the kitchen sink where it was most likely concocted; drain-o, rat poison, douche vinegar, who knew?
Our blinkered band of blind pied pipers consisted of my friend Dave, his friend Bill, my first wife Terri and myself. We were all young, none of us over the age of twenty, and we were gathered in the small apartment where Terri and I had lived since our untimely teenage marriage, precipitated by the unplanned birth of our daughter Diana the year before.
Diana had been put to bed an hour earlier and we had sprawled on the living room carpet waiting for the drug to take effect. And as we sat hovering in that twilight zone between everyday consciousness and righteously fucked up, I glanced through Bill's journal which he carried with him everywhere he went, a key prop in his emerging literary persona. I read through some of his latest poems, expecting Bill's usual mix of zen philosophy, dada nihilism, and absurdist theatre, and was shocked and taken aback by the extremely violent anti-christian sentiments I found expressed in them. There was stuff about Jesus sucking diseased cocks, having the cross shoved up his ass, and lots of nasty scatological references.
Dave, Bill and I were all Jewish by birth, but gravitated towards eastern theologies; zen buddhism, hinduism, taoism. We practiced yoga, and had disdain for pretty much all western organized religions, and certainly no love for christianity, but this was really over the top! There was some serious rage in that notebook, and wherever it was coming from, christianity was the target. It was a side of Bill I hadn't seen before. He had always played the part of the mystic, serene and wise beyond his years, or else the clown, the witty court jester who amused everyone with his surrealist wordplay and eccentricity. Now I was seeing one of Bill's darker characters, one filled with volcanic repressed anger, and it scared me; not so much for myself, but for Terri, who, although seriously strayed from the flock, had been raised a catholic, and I was nervous about how she would react if she should read the products of Bill's poison pen.
I knew that Terri was volatile and prone to extreme bouts of irrational over-reaction, but what neither of us knew at the time, and wouldn't know until years after our divorce, was that Terri was suffering from a serious dissociative disorder; the result of a highly abusive and traumatic childhood in an extremely dysfunctional family filled with alcoholism, addiction, incest, physical abuse and mental illness.
I think it would be safe to say that taking acid was not a good idea for any of us, but what the hell did we know.
So now Bill was dancing on the table, gesticulating wildly and shouting "I am Jesus Bill! Praise Jesus Bill!" at the top of his lungs, and Terri stared at him with a googly-eyed expression of uncomprehending confusion; she looked like she didn't know whether to laugh, cry, take offense, or wind her watch.
My stomach knotted; this was not going to be a pleasant trip. Truthfully, though, I didn't really know what kind of a trip I had wanted it to be. I don't think any of us really knew what we were after. Enlightenment? Revelation? Kicks? Transcendence? Escape? Wonder? We had failed to heed Dr. Timothy Leary's advice to honestly examine one's true expectations and motivations before taking lsd.
Terri laughed hysterically at Bill's antics; the kind of bone-chilling laugh that one rarely hears outside of the locked ward of an asylum, the kind of laugh that makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck, and your scrotum, should you possess one, shrivel up like a raisin. Dave and I looked at each other wide-eyed. The first note of bad trip paranoia had been sounded. Once again, Tim Leary's words came to us too late: set and setting, set and setting--we were fucked.
Terri continued to laugh like Woody Woodpecker's evil twin. We thought she was going to have a fit. Even the normally implacable Bill was alarmed now and had climbed down off the table.
"What's wrong with her?" he said.
"I don't know," I said nervously, "maybe she shouldn't have taken any acid."
We stood in a circle around Terri and arranged our faces in ways that we hoped would seem kind and soothing.
"It's okay, Terri," I said, "everything's going to be alright."
"Yes, everything's groovy," said Bill, "think about butterflies and bunny rabbits and shiny daffodils..."
"You've done acid before, haven't you?" Dave asked Terri. Terri looked at me.
"Not really," she said, "when we did that sugar cube--that was my first time."
"Oh shit!" I said.
Terri was referring to an afternoon, shortly after we had first met, when I had shown up at her house with some sugar cube acid while her parents were out, and we tripped and had sex in her bedroom while side two of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band played over and over on the turntable--we must have heard it thirty times--and Terri was menstruating and her blood got all over the sheets, and she was flipping out and getting hysterical and I kept telling her "No... it's beautiful... it comes out of your body... it's natural..." like some drugged-out flower child at a Manson family orgy.
So Terri hadn't had as much experience with acid as I thought she had. Not that we ever got good acid anyway. The days of Owsley and orange sunshine were long gone. All of our late 70s suburban acid was heavily cut with speed and god knows what other kinds of garbage, and our trips were usually psychologically akin to the act of peeling off one's own skin with a pair of tweezers. I honestly don't know why we continued to take the shit.
"I think I'm freaking out," said Terri, her voice quavering.
"You're not freaking out," I said, trying to be the voice of reason while my brains were sliding out of my ear like runny eggs. "We only took one hit. It's not that much. You're going to be okay." I tried to sound confident and upbeat but Terri wasn't buying it.
"I... I need to be alone," said Terri.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" I said.
"Yes... no... I mean... I don't know... maybe..."
And she removed herself to the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Dave, Bill and I looked at each other uncomfortably. A pall settled over us, replacing the earlier hilarity of Jesus Bill.
"What do you think she's going to do?" said Bill, "She's not going to hurt herself, is she?"
"I don't know," I said, as I watched the carpet and the walls breathing in and out. "I think you freaked her out with that Jesus Bill stuff. She is catholic, you know."
Bill just stared at me blankly.
"And whatever you do, don't let her look at your god damned notebook."
Just then, Terri came rushing out of the bedroom in a panic.
"I... I'm going to get in the car and drive... I have to get away..." she said in a shaky voice.
"That's not a good idea," I said slowly, trying to maintain my composure.
"No... not a good idea," my friends echoed, with barely concealed alarm. We got up and once again surrounded Terri, fencing her in with our bodies. With soothing baby-talk and paternal cooing we gradually herded her away from the door, moving slowly so as not to frighten her.
All of us were tripping pretty heavily at this point, and it was getting hard to keep track of what was happening when. Right now, yesterday afternoon, and five minutes ago were getting jumbled up and re-arranged like chips on a scrabble board in a scrabble match played by monkeys. All kinds of Lucy-in-the-Sky visual effects were pre-empting my usual neural-retinal schedule: colored silly-string motion trails, shifting kaleidoscopic patterns plastered over every surface, chairs and tables shooting up to the ceiling on rubbery legs like in an episode of Little Nemo in Slumberland. And in the middle of this phosphene brain-gasm, a part of me was trying to figure out how to keep Terri from snapping her tab and slipping her wig, and that part of me was a little man in a little boat in a toilet bowl getting sucked down into a fluorescent day-glo whirlpool.
So Terri and I decided to take a bath together thinking it would chill us out, but when we shut the door to the bathroom, the walls began to close in on us. The water running in the tub sounded like a deafening waterfall with eerie voices murmuring underneath the roar, and the flowers on the wallpaper seemed to be staring at us with accusing eyes as we got undressed. I felt as if I was slipping down a dark tunnel. I was paranoid; the toilet hated me. Whatever nasty things the acid was doing to Terri's head were now infecting me as well.
"Don't look in the mirror!" I said in a panicky voice, expecting to see a vision of our flesh melting off our heads, leaving Mexican Day of the Dead sugar skulls blinking back at us. We got in the tub and sat facing each other, and as I watched her, Terri's skin took on a greenish glow, and her eyebrows curled up into a sinister pointiness, and her teeth became fangs, and the freckles around her nose turned into rough, bumpy scales. She had transformed into a dangerous, frightening lizard-woman, and I could tell by her look of trepidation that my face was doing bizarre and unpleasant things for her benefit as well.
"Is my face scaring you?" I asked. Terri nodded.
The trip was taking us from a colorful Peter Max black light poster into a medieval Heironymous Bosch demonic nightmare.
"Okay--let's get out of the tub then," I said, my voice small and tremulous. "Don't look at me and don't look in the mirror."
We quickly got dressed and rejoined our friends in the living room. They were watching tv, but the screen was broadcasting nothing but static, since all the stations had signed off for the night.
"We're watching the snow," said Bill.
"It's really cool," said Dave.
"Look--it's thousands of people waving flags..."
"Oh yeah," I said, "I see it too... people waving flags..."
"Look--now it's millions of Chinese people with conical hats..."
The novelty of the tv game did much to take the edge off of our fear and paranoia, and soon we had forgotten all about the bad trip bathtub. The four of us sat huddled around the tv for what seemed like hours, ooh-ing and ah-ing over the imaginary scenes and hallucinatory characters that our lsd-feuled sense organs were projecting onto the tv's visual white noise. The distraction seemed to calm Terri down, which in turn calmed me down, and everyone was able to relax. Eventually, the drug began to wear off, and the tv static lost it's animated funhouse appeal and reverted back to plain old boring static.
"Come into the other room with me," Terri whispered in my ear. We excused ourselves and shuffled off into the bedroom. Terri shut the door and flopped herself down on the bed.
"I'm horny. Come here and fuck me!" she demanded.
"Now? What about Dave and Bill?" I asked, somewhat anxiously.
"What about them?" Terri said, as she stripped off her clothes.
"Well, they... they'll hear us..."
I was rather uncomfortable with this idea. I knew that both Bill and Dave hadn't gotten laid in quite a while, and I also knew that it would be pretty unpleasant for me to have to listen to my friend having sex in the next room when I was feeling horny and frustrated.
"Come on," Terri demanded, "put that thing in me!"
I did the deed as quickly as possible, all the while worrying about Dave and Bill overhearing Terri's squeals and moans of pleasure. It was very hard for me to enjoy myself and I felt rather like a concubine in a male harem, or a stud animal corralled into a breeding arrangement.
When the servicing was over, I quickly returned to the living room to check on Dave and Bill. The vibe I got from them felt kind of strange and I could tell that the quickie had been clearly broadcast through the apartment's thin walls. Dave had an ambiguously crooked smile on his face, half amused and half embarrassed, and Bill was standing on his head in a yoga posture. Our two-year-old daughter Diana had awakened and wandered into the living room and was staring saucer-eyed at Dave and Bill as if they were gooey green martians with antennas and six eyes and drippy slobbering fangs. I picked her up and tucked her back into her crib, and by the time I got her back to sleep, Terri was snoring in the bedroom and Dave and Bill were feeling sober enough to drive, so we said our goodbyes.
I sat on the couch and reviewed the night's adventures. It was clear to me that Terri and I should definitely not do any more acid together. Lsd is not a recreational drug. It is a powerful substance that needs to be approached with caution and reverence. It can be a gateway to expanded levels of consciousness, or a pandora's box loosing all the screeching demons from the dungeons of the subconscious. Luckily, we got through the evening without anyone burning their hands on the stove or jumping out of a window. We were on the ground floor anyway, so a jump would not have been fatal. And besides, those once-familiar tales of acid trips gone awry are most likely urban legends. But the experience underscored the wisdom of the unfairly maligned Dr. Leary who warned people not to take lsd unless it was in a highly controlled environment with an experienced guide. And one should definitely not feed acid to people indiscriminately without knowing anything about their state of mental health.
It's no surprise to me that the 1960s magical mystery tour through the summer of love ended up on the side of the road with a blowout and smoke pouring out of the hood, and a lot of misguided, psychedelicized basket weavers sitting on the grass, gibbering and babbling and twiddling their thumbs and toes.