Dropping Acid for the First Time with Emotionally Unstable Strangers
“Did you stick your finger in it?”
The friend of the Hungarian saw me drinking a Corona and startled me from behind with that ice-breaker. As a point of fact, I had not stuck my finger in it. He explained that you plug the bottle up with your finger then flip it upside-down; this sends the lime through the entirety of the beer, presumably enriching its flavor.
The exchange transitioned to a cigarette outside, and the two seemed like decent people. No cause for alarm, almost timid. They invited me to join them and their dates at their table, and we were off.
That night I originally planned to meet another friend, but plans changed. He never responded to my text, though I saw he had read it. The initial thrill of befriending me must have worn off, I thought, and I realized the last time I actually saw him was when he asked to borrow money.
I had been in Taipei only a couple months so there was plenty left to explore. I wandered into a new bar in a new area and, through determination, forged a new plan.
I chatted with all four quarters of the double-date, and they all reassured me that I wasn’t a fifth wheel. In a word, it was awkward, though we made the best of it.
The friend of the Hungarian confessed to me a deep attraction to the waitress while his date was in the bathroom. Immediately, he fell into a silent funk that I can’t explain. He and his date left soon after.
I was now alone with the Hungarian — the spitting image of Martin Starr in a skull cap — and his date, a plain-looking Taiwanese girl with low self-esteem. Her contribution to the group’s conversion had been first to tell us she was stupid, then ugly, and then stupid again.
Continuing to explore options for the night, I suggested the three of us go to my regular bar. It had that polished dive-bar feel I love, so I quickly grew roots there.
On the walk over, we had two conversations worth note.
The first, I asked how they meet, an go-to conversation-starter of mine, especially with couples. The Hungarian told an animated story of how he found her lost dog, and — like a movie — it lead him straight to her. I always was a sucker for romantic stories.
The second conversation of note, I asked if they wanted to do acid.
At my regular bar, the Bartender was a 20-year-old drug pusher. She was my one of my favorite types of girl: inarguably beautiful with a troubled past. My attraction to her transcended physical when she told me she did a little acid every day because she’s shy around people and the drug opens her up. I could relate, in my own way.
Despite my best efforts, she remained unflinchingly faithful to her Norwegian boyfriend. Still, my advances yielded a new friend, and one with access to drugs.
Though I’ve done ‘shrooms several times, I had never done acid before, and not for lack of trying. Lemon tabs and flaky dealers turned this into a something of a unicorn hunt for me, my only unchecked box on the list of mainstay drugs.
Naturally, I first asked the Bartender to do it with me. She declined, citing that she didn’t know me well enough. Perhaps it was an excuse, but I took it at face value.
My new friends, however, offered a new opportunity. With my time in Taiwan waning, I seized it.
The Bartender sold me three tabs. She overcharged me, I’m sure, but I consider it a fair tax for finding such a thing in place less accepting of those things. I fronted my new friends the payment, and for the next few hours they parroted how they were going to pay me back. I knew going in, there was a good chance I’d never see them again.
We stocked up on supplies — water, orange juice, cigarettes, and beer. The Hungarian, with ten trips under his belt, was our guide.
“Leave it on your tongue and let it dissolve. Don’t swallow it.” He had the patience of a Kindergarten teacher. “It’s 3 am now. That means the acid will stay in our systems until 3 pm tomorrow. In the next 12 hours, there may be times when you freak out because it’s lasting so long. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. No one’s allowed to freak out until after 3 tomorrow.”
We followed his orders, after quieting his date’s concern about taking too much for the first time. Having the tab under my tongue struck me as a tiny, tasteless snuff pack.
The anticipation was peaking when doubt first poked out its head.
“I need to call my boyfriend,” said the Hungarian’s date abruptly. She was getting cold feet and wanted his reassurance.
Preemptying my confusion, the Hungarian told me, “It’s okay. He knows about us. It’s an open relationship.”
“Hey honey,” she said into the phone. “Listen, I met some guys at a bar and we’re about to do acid together.”
How many calls like this did her boyfriend receive?
The place we chose was perfect. Absolutely fucking perfect. Alice herself couldn’t have picked a better place to trip.
The Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall. Google it. Classic Asian architecture, but on the level of a national monument, surrounded by a traditional zen garden that looped around for miles. The gods spared no expense creating this ideal psychedelic playground for me and my companions. Buddha statues, ornate bridges, exotic animals — everything you see sober and think “I bet that’s looks great when you’re tripping!”
Of course, it would be hours before we could appreciate the true majesty of the park. In the late hours of the night, our present was still wrapped in darkness. We planted ourselves next to a serene babbling brook — that’s right, there was fucking babbling brook too. Truly, we discovered the Garden of Eden.
The vibe was that of old friends camping. The three of us got along great at that beginning: we had similar tastes and senses of humor, and we shared that misfit comradery. From time to time they got amorous with each other, and I went on brief 5-minute strolls to compulsively establish my independence. My therapist had much to say on my need to prove things.
But for the most part, we spent that time hanging around like teenagers after school.
“A few hours ago, we didn’t know each other even existed,” I said, feeling sentimental. “Now, we’re having an experience together that we’ll remember forever.”
The Hungarian’s date called me optimistic. Proving her right, I said, “That’s another thing I like about this group. We have an optimist, a pessimist, and a true neutral. We balance each other out well.” The true neutral referred to the Hungarian, who spoke sparingly without adding much to the conversation one way or another.
Slowly, almost unperceivable, it started to kick in. At first I thought it was the beers, but then I noticed that things in general seemed more… interesting.
I lay on my back staring at the moon, as one tends to do on drugs. Even sober, there always seems to be a blurry ring of light around it, a trick of the eye I suppose. Now, that hazy cloud seemed solid. Solid light. As real as the moon itself.
The longer I stared at the solid light encircling the moon, the more it began to look like a raging purple inferno of celestial flame.
“I think I’m feeling it,” I said.
“I’m tripping balls,” said the Hungarian, matter-of-fact.
“I don’t feel anything,” said his date. “I think it might be my medication.”
I remembered for a moment that I had put myself into a compromised state with strangers.
“Medication for what?”
“But the medication helps, right?”
“I have my good and bad days.”
The sensations grew and grew, and what started as “fireside” conversations gradually entered more bizarre territory. I offered to psychoanalyze Bipolar, foregoing my usual subtly and asking her directly with the word “psychoanalyze.”
We never did get to go deep, as she deflected my questions artfully. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I remember repeating “It’s not your fault.” Those four words hold within them the boundless totality of therapeutic psychology.
Our first session transitioned into talking about childhood pets quite organically from psychoanalysis. I hadn’t thought about Fluffy for years, and upon the group’s interrogation was forced to admit that my first pet’s fur was, in fact, fluffy.
The light-hearted conversations suited us better, especially with Bipolar becoming increasingly disturbed by not feeling it alongside the rest of us. We talked about TV, music, and other bullshit. I asked the Hungarian to speak his mothertongue. He did, and we all laughed.
Still, Bipolar’s pessimism seemed to win out. I stepped up as the hero, inspired to prove what a great guy I was. “What if you just get drunk? Then you can still have fun while we trip?”
The Hungarian had little desire to prove what a great guy he was, and opted to stay by the brook while we went to a Family Mart (think 7–Eleven) for alcohol.
“You have to stay here, though.” I insisted. “It might be hard to find you later.”
“I’ll be here.”
“Will you, though? This seems like the kinda thing where you’re not going to be here when we get back.”
“I’ll be here. Where else would I go?”
Bipolar and I ventured out right around the time the first signs of sunrise appeared. The night, as we knew it was over, and something new was coming upon us.
A disclaimer. From here on out, dear reader, you may suspect some of the details are more drug than reality. I assure you they happened as I account them. Separating fact from fiction has been a longstanding theme in my life, and out of habit I verified every little thing with my companions or physical evidence later. Everything I couldn’t confirm, I didn’t bother including here. All that’s left is the truth.
I can’t recalled precisely how the topic came up, but Bipolar very casually, and as quickly as possible, explained how they had been lying to me all night.
Her first confession was that she was “not 24” but rather “much, much older.” Given that she was Asian, and there’s a 20-year margin of error for estimating ages, she could very well have been middle-aged.
Her stream of consciousness confessional continued, and she again lamented her bipolar medication inhibiting the acid. This flowed into a rant about her strict parents. How they kept her at home. How they ignored and mistreated her. How they medicated her because they didn’t want to listen to her.
Then came the dagger to my heart: the story of the lost puppy was bullshit. In retrospect, yes, I am gullible for believing it in the first place. It’s not the first time my gullibility has gotten me into a sticky situation, and I promise it won’t be the last.
My already taxed brain struggled to comprehend the true story of their meet-cute: They met through Craiglist Ads for BDSM.
“I love my boyfriend,” she said. “But he doesn’t fulfill me.”
As a person with pathological trust issues, this was the last thing I wanted to hear during the formative onset of my first acid trip. I wasn’t on a fun adventure with new friends any more. Suddenly, I was drugged around mysterious liars.
Still, I maintained my composure. When I was in college, more than once I got too stoned and retreated to the crawl space under my desk, where I rocked back-and-forth. That was just weed and in a comfortable environment. That I could remain calm in this situation made me realize how far I’d come.
By the way, the whole time we had been holding hands. Not sexually, but as innocent children and, if I’m being completely honest, as an instinctual comfort mechanism. In my mind, at that time, it was just the thing to do.
But the more the truth came out, the less comforting it was, until a temporary sobriety caught hold and I let my hand drop.
At Family Mart, we bought tequila shooters, ice tea mixers, ice, and plastic cups. We forget to ask for a lighter before the clerk walked away. To my horror, Bipolar grabbed one and threw it in her purse.
I hid my distrust on the way back, even held her hand again to prove nothing was wrong. I didn’t want to let such small lies bother me, but with my paranoia I found myself questioning everything about the couple.
To make matters worse, when we came close to our brook, Bipolar grabbed my arm to hold me back. She looked me square in the eyes with an icy, unblinking stare. Those eyes, devoid of any of the warmth we shared over the last few hours. Those eyes…
“Don’t tell him I’m not 24.” It wasn’t a request. It was a threat.
My mind, with a mind of its own, drew up every file it had on mentally ill people committing horrible and violent crimes, with and without the aid of Craigslist. This line of thought intensified when we returned to the brook and found the Hungarian missing.
There were a few moments, then, where I was absolutely positive that I was dead. I was dead, Bipolar had murdered us both not long ago, and I was currently living a kind of euphoric death dream à la Snows of Kilimanjaro. What lasts with me to this day wasn’t the surprise at being dead, but the certainty with which I knew it to be true.
Then the Hungarian waved us down from a few feet away.
“People started coming, so I moved.”
He was right. In countries that enjoy the world’s longest lifespans, sunrise was about the time the elderly come to the park for calisthenics and Tai Chi. They walk the park paths making the wildest flailing movements, raising the question of not how but why? You could hear them through the park, swinging their arms into a full-body clap and hooting like animals for, I’m guessing, health reasons. That, and their occasional farting, played our background music.
As we regathered, Taiwanese elders trickled into the park and started their slow marches around the track. I considered being worried that I was on drugs in public, but decided against it. I’ve been stoned enough in public to know that this particular strain of paranoia never plays out.
Bipolar’s eyes had shaken me, and I wandered off by myself until I figured out how to process my mysterious companions. I found a nice tree to lean against and watch the sunrise.
What sinister plan did they have in store for me? Gods knew what was on that Craigslist post. Just then, they flanked me from behind my tree, one of each side, and said:
“Let’s go back to my place.”
I saw their place clear as crystal. Boarded up windows and creaky floor boards. Bloody sex toys. A gagged survivor from the previous weekend when this venus fly trap couple lured in some other sucker. But not me. I’m far too clever.
“I’m staying in the park,” I said adamantly.
The Hungarian was confused. “Did something happen on your walk to Family Mart.”
But before I could answer, Bipolar, with the best intentions, spoke up. “I know what this is about. I know how I can fix this. Hungarian, I’m not really 24…”
“No!” I shouted as quickly as I could. “It’s not that. It’s that you lied to me about how you met, and now I can’t tell if anything you say is true.”
Acid is a funny drug. You can be rational and level-minded about the most absurd concepts. I could only think in absolutes, and the idea that people could lie about some things but not others, well… that was truly absurd.
The Hungarian laughed warm-heartedly, patted me on the chest, and said, “That was just a joke. I didn’t think anyone would actually believe it.”
I verbally conceded my gullibility.
“He’s such a nice guy,” said Bipolar. She wasn’t used to people being nice to her.
“See, everything’s fine,” rallied the Hungarian. “There’s no need to worry. No one’s going to hurt you... Now let’s go just go back to my place and relax.”
“What a great idea!” chimed in Bipolar like a sales assistant on her first day.
“I gotta go,” I said, then stood up and sauntered off.
The Hungarian — the right man for the role of guide — caught up to me and talked me down. We agreed to stay together, on the condition that we remain in the park.
We returned to the sunrise and set up camp by my tree. We tried our best to have a normal conversation, but alas the odds were against us.
Apparently acid comes in waves, and out of the blue I got my first real visuals. I stopped speaking mid-sentence when I first noticed that strobe lights were hitting a tree from both sides. I never saw anything like that on ‘shrooms; this sensation of seeing “real” things that weren’t there was new to me. Bipolar asked me to describe it to her for vicarious purposes, and I explained it using the strobe light metaphor.
Right on cue, a colorful hummingbird, the likes of which I never saw, came and sniffed at our orange juice and tequila-tea. I thought, “A hummingbird? Isn’t that a little, y’know, by the book?” But then the others assured me that it was actually real and they saw it too.
Now relaxed by the sunrise and interaction with the creatures of the Heavenly Garden, I was able to speak more openly and amicably about why I was scared they would murder me.
“Well,” I started nonchalantly, “I don’t think I’m in danger as long as we’re in the park. There’s too many witnesses around so I doubt you’d harm me physically.”
Bipolar leaned in close. “Do you want us to harm you physically? In his post on Craiglist, he said — ”
“Shhhh…” the Hungarian gently interjected.
I continued to voice my distrust, going as far as to blatantly tell Bipolar some of things she said scared me. They offered explanation after explanation but nothing convinced me until Bipolar said suddenly, “Well, how can we trust you? You’re just some traveler who goes around from country to country. What are you running from?”
It hit me all once. Isolated instances of people saying similar things to me. Alone, these meant nothing, but when she inserted the linchpin they all spoke the same message. It must be difficult to trust someone who comes and goes from your life in a matter of months.
One can never be sure of how they come across to others. A fresh perspective… isn’t that what I signed up for with a psychedelic?
My vocal suspicion was certainly not helping Bipolar’s mood; her vexation grew the harder the Hungarian and I tripped. Her responses were becoming snappy, even combative. Despite unabashedly fearing her, I sympathized with her as well.
I switched gears to Mother Hen mode and tried to comfort her, telling her I liked her, and that I was just paranoid. I tried to get her to understand that her life had value. Everyone on the planet, at the very least, should have that.
But my words did nothing. A perfect pessimist, she conjured a black hole that sucked away the fun the Hungarian and I were committed to having.
Not just the elderly were arriving the park by now, but also weirdos who get up early on weekends. There was a handful of dog walkers, and a friendly if not curious puppy explored nearby. The three of us stood up straight and tried to impress it. After all, what a treat a dog would be, right?
The dog weighed his opinions, and sprinted back to its master without a look back. It was the first and only time a dog didn’t want to meet me.
“Animals hate me,” said Bipolar through the rain of the storm cloud atop her head. “They never want to meet me. They sense I’m a bad person.”
“That’s not true,” I lied. “Animals are just stupid,” I lied again. “Besides, I mean, look at us. Can you blame it for not wanting to come over? If I were a dog, I wouldn’t come either.”
I had a point. We were a sight, a group of wasted partiers, up all night in disheveled clothes, empty beer cans and tequila shooters littered around us like we were nesting.
“No… I know it’s because of me.”
The next day I realized she had been right when she texted me and I didn’t respond.
She exhausted both my patience and compassion. The Hungarian and I were trying to build a good time, while Bipolar, seemingly by design, was deconstructing our efforts at every new attempt. Of the three of us, the only one who wasn’t tripping had the craziest look in their eyes.
“I hate you…” she said through gritted teeth. “… because you’re tripping.”
Who doesn’t want to hear that their first time on acid?
She was spiraling, perhaps because of the tequila, or the sleepness night, or any other possible reason — she was good with surprises. Every word she said came through gritted teeth, and what she was saying! Chastising the Hungarian for not being nicer, berating the Bartender for selling bad acid, insulting Taiwanese people and their (her) culture.
She complained about having to use the bathroom and neither me nor the Hungarian dared object. As the only person who cared, I was in charge of cleaning up the trash.
I was happy to be outside of Bipolar’s event horizon, even just for a bathroom break. The Hungarian stepped into a stall because he was too shy for a urinal — a habit I myself once had, but trained myself out of. Poor guy.
He finished before me, and I heard him groan after he came out. “Don’t look in the mirror,” he advised. I recalled that my friend from college said the same thing after he saw his own skull in the mirror while tripping.
Defiantly, I shot a look in the mirror to prove how courageous I was. “Damn,” I thought. “I look great!” If memory serves, I’ve never looked better since.
Bipolar emerged from the ladies’ bathroom, face buried in her hands. She had suffered a similar mirror trauma as the Hungarian.
After a orderly and productive debate, we concluded that we should smoke outside the park because we weren’t sure if it was legal inside… even though we had done just that for many hours.
By this point I hope I’ve successfully conveyed my profound and almost spiritual connection the park. With that in mind, you can imagine my distress upon stepping outside it. Cars, horns, pollution, droves of people, concrete… I had traveled to a far and foreign land in just a few steps, and I was homesick.
The Hungarian, meanwhile, felt invigorated by the strong sun, unhindered by trees. For the first time he removed his hat, revealing a glorious Hunter S. Thompson dome of baldness. In his trippiest moment, he stood in the middle of the sidewalk and stared up at the sun, arms outstretched like a cultist.
While he was connecting with the beauty of the world, I babysat Bipolar while actively avoiding looking into her crazy eyes.
“This sucks for me. I want to go home.”
Something about it felt like the end. We were outside. The day had long since begun. Bipolar’s mood had reached a boiling point. I seized the opportunity and excused myself to walk around the park. Not to prove anything, just because I wanted to.
That hour I spent walking around the park alone was the acid trip I always wanted to have. The scenery was ripped straight from one of those old Chinese parchments, stoic cranes and all. I walked across oriental bridges in a sweaty metal band T-shirt, but in my heart I wore the traditional robes of an ancient Imperial statesmen.
The classic Chinese architecture fit in quite well with my trip, so much so that I momentarily suspected the ancient Chinese architects were all tripping as well. Dougong — those interlocking wooden supports for roofs — had always been the perfect reminder that, hey, I’m in Asia! But today, they were moving, mechanically, like a conveyor belt.
But, in a way I can’t explain, each one moved in different directions as the previous one. This defied everything I knew about the human eye — if the visuals affected only what you focused on, how could it so meticulously incorporate what was happening in the peripheral?
The wildlife was also phenomenal. Birds I’d only seen on TV. Gorgeous flowers that the most creative artists would fail at matching. Even the elderly people gave me something to watch and ponder.
At some point, I felt my phone ring. Earlier in the night, I had tried to text a buddy of mind, but something felt off. I can’t quite explain it, but my phone just didn’t make sense. I knew how to use it, I knew what pushing the icons did, but every time I looked at those teeny tiny pixelated letters, it just made me irrationally angry. Since then, I hadn’t given my phone a second thought, until the Hungarian called.
He was leaving and wanted to say goodbye and somehow — somehow! — we managed to coordinate a meeting spot. Bipolar had left shortly after our quick stint outside, and now her partner was heading home.
It was a pretty bro-y moment. We both played it cool, but there was something underlying the whole thing that I’ll never forget:
We had a unspoken understanding that we were never going to see each other again, but at least we did this cool thing together. I always intend to have more unspoken understandings in my life, but the times they actually happen are always rare.
We parted, and I continued my mystical journey through the zen park.
Alone with my thoughts, and the crowds of hooting, farting old people, I decided to do some soul searching. I was looking to have one of those drug-induced, life-changing epiphanies you hear about. In this mystic garden, on a beautiful day, I thought the stage was set perfectly.
I’m spent my whole life seeking out such epiphanies — anything I think will make me better. I’ve always had this need to be better, to prove something. I’m always worrying about what’s wrong with me, and epiphanies offer systematic solutions.
But no epiphany came that day… and that, on its own, led to an epiphany.
Maybe I didn’t need to be better. Maybe I was just fine as I was. Maybe it was time to relax and stop trying so hard.
In other words, maybe I didn’t need to prove how cool I was by dropping acid with a couple of strangers.