The Athenaeum
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The Athenaeum

For $3000 I’ll Tell You About My Mother

On the now infamous Ev Williams post;

…which Normal Earthling explained to me, even though I persist in “not getting it” because, like many things in life, willful ignorance and denial seem like the winning strategy… there are 156 comments! If you are attracted to dumb like I am, you read those comments, every one of them. Some… a really small fraction… are very good. Few of them are really bad. Not that bad comments aren’t good. I like to read dumb comments. That’s why I read the Yahoo Finance message boards, reddit/r/skindiseases, and Yelp reviews.

In that stream of Mediumans reacting to change, one guy said he made $3,000 on an article about his ayahuasca trip. $3000! That’s a third of the way to a second-hand tractor. $3K off of just one trip! I’ve tripped enough times in my life to get a tractor even if I only clear $200 a write up!

Of course there’s a catch. An ayahuasca trip is “of the now”, whereas my trips were “of the then”.

I’ve been told that “of the then” can sometimes become “of the now”. It happens. Tom Jones is back. Sometimes us olds can catch lightning in a bottle.

I’ve read a lot of accounts of ayahuasca trips. I have to acknowledge that having a shaman instruct you on how to see “the goddess” is inherently more interesting than the image of me in a basement with a guy named “Spruce” listening to the Allman Brother’s Whipping Post, but I can try.

While I’m sure my experiences are of no interest to people who were born before 1975 (…All of them will say, “Gutbloom’s story is so boring and pedestrian. Everyone in my high school could have written THAT piece of dreck”) there is the possibility… no matter how slight… that some kids… and by kids I mean the influencers between 22 and 30… will say things like “Mid-century acid culture is kewl now, like cocktails. Do you know where I can buy a dashiki and some colorfully embroidered jeans?”

The hard part is that for a piece to “go viral” I have to get it into the hands of the younglings, and we all know the younglings abandoned Medium years ago.

It seems clear that this piece is doomed to failure, like a boat struggling against the current… in a sea of effluent… along the shores of lands inhabited by shit people… but, perhaps, some bots will read it. Maybe I can earn enough to buy one of those crappy, under-powered, electric tillers.

Part I: Dosed by an Imperfect Shaman

The adventure began with my friend Keegan and I standing in a blue level men’s room in Madison Square Garden.

I say “my friend” because at the time I thought he was my friend. He may have been my friend.

I’m almost certain that he would say that he was my friend if he were alive today and we could ask him.

But whether he was really my friend or not is hard to say. I was seventeen years old at the time and had no understanding of what the word “friendship” actually meant. It was one of the many, many things I didn’t understand. One drop of water vapor in the fog bank between my ears. Part of the mist that clouded all insight and cognition, forcing me to repeat lines from Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now in the hopes that such rehearsed tidbits might indicate knowledge, or fork some wisdom, or hint at sophistication, but which instead sounded a foghorn warning of ignorance to others navigating the same dangerous shoals of adolescent misunderstanding I was.

The list of things that I did not understand at the time, which includes items like insurance policies, mortgages, skin flaps, pregnancy, honesty, delusion, and what being a “person” is all about, is too long to transcribe, and it grows longer as I get older, but from this point, when I look back across almost four decades, I have to wonder, “how did I even survive?” I see my previous incarnations as pupal stages. A sightless, soft-skinned caterpillar munching on leaves. A blind albino alligator living in a cave. A flightless fruit bat blindly wandering through a suburban hellscape looking for… looking for… god knows what I was looking for.

I might have said, “god” at the time, if you had asked me, because I was poisoned by a mish-mash of religious ideas that were in the teenage folkstream back then. I had read Carlos Castenada’s books, some essays by Jiddu Krishnamurti, Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and a few Russian Novels. Add to those J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories, and you end up with a blenderized understanding of Buddhism and a kid who doesn’t understand menstruation attempting to read the Tao Te Ching.

How can one look for god when he can’t find himself? I can tell you, because I did it for years, but, of course, the god I was looking for wasn’t god. I was looking for a god I could be priest to. I wanted to jump the line of gnostic knowledge. Every time I took acid I “saw god”; a god whose covenant evaporated as soon as the drugs wore off. A god nobody else saw, not even me when reacquainted with the pulses of the everyday world.

It may have been wandering, or boredom, or self-destructive behavior that led me into the bathroom at the blue level of Madison Square Garden with Keegan, a friend from boarding school. I was getting ready to drop two windowpanes of a four-way hit. Whatever I was seeking, I knew that, at the very least, this dose would provide a counter-irritant to douse the peat-fire of boredom and wanting burning in my guts.

Keegan asked me how many panes I wanted to take.

I asked, “how many are you going to take”?

He said, “two”.

I said, “I’ll take two, then.”

Soon after I took them he told me that he had dosed on this same acid two days before, which would mean that he had some resistance to the batch and was doubling his intake to make sure he got high. What it meant for me was that if the acid was any good I was going to get very high, and the acid was good.

Whether what Keegan had done was “mean”, “unfair”, “stupid”, “dangerous”, “funny”, or “not a big deal”, wasn’t a question I asked at the time. It was two decades before I began to realize that some of my “friends” were not my friends. It may be of no surprise to people older than fifty that many of the people I once called “friends” were really transactional acquaintances forged in a furnace of boredom and need. At some point in my life (like, about age forty) there was the awful realization that some of the people I referred to as “friends” were simply people that let me hang out with them. They didn’t actively humiliate or shun me, and so, to my adolescent pollywog brain, they were “friends”, even if there was no reciprocity in our relationship.

Keegan was not someone I hung onto. In the brutal pecking order of boarding school hierarchy he and I were roughly equal, though we shouldn’t have been. Keegan was smart and funny, but he was also overweight, messy, and occasionally obstinate, in the kind of peevish way that eventually stops making sense. In a milieu where sports, good looks, and emotional control counted in the calculation of your social credit score, I could fairly count Keegan as an “equal” despite the fact that he was a more compelling, charismatic, and engaging character than I was.

Keegan had another strike against him that may be hard to explain nowadays. His parents were divorced and he was being raised by a single mother. Why that information reflected poorly on him is a topic for another serving of dreck, but there is no question that my dysfunctional, alcohol-soaked, “in-tact” nuclear family gave me a lift. Keegan’s mother, who was smart but stranded economically (though not so stranded that she couldn’t afford boarding school for her son) came to parent’s day alone, or didn’t come at all. While that information seems like it would be the last thing that teenage boys would care about, somehow it factored into the equation, and, in ways that confuse both logic and analysis, made it easier for us to take Keegan himself less seriously.

As I look back at it, I don’t think Keegan was being a dick when he gave me the double dose. We can explain it away by using the euphemism, “he was being mischievous”. He saw it as a prank. Had he not died of a drug overdose when we were in our twenties, I am certain that today he would be willing to either apologize or explain to me why he didn’t need to apologize. I’m sorry he can’t do that.

Part II: The Trip

After dropping the acid in the bathroom, a metallic flush began on my tongue and filled my entire mouth while we were walking on the concourse towards our seats. I was seeing vivid color trails before any music started. When the Grateful Dead came out, I couldn’t quite fathom what was happening. All I saw was Gerry Garcia’s great gray set of hair mushrooming and breathing as he took the stage. His hair kept expanding until it filled more than a third of the Garden. Then then band began to play.

Here is the a recording in the concert. There is a crash at the beginning of the opening number, Mississippi Half-Step, which I clearly remember, though at the time, I couldn’t make any sense of it.

Throughout the concert Keegan and I stayed in our seats. At one point a Deadhead “twirler” came up to our tier and spent what seemed like hours Grateful Dead dancing.

I must have been smoking. I didn’t really smoke much as a kid, but I didn’t “not smoke” and since almost everyone in the world smoked, I sometimes did. Two girls came up to our seats and asked to bum a cigarette from me. I had a pack of Marlboros, but I couldn’t find them in the Vietnam era army jacket I was wearing. I had taken the jacket off, so I just kept turning it over and over looking through various pockets, it began to look like a carnival ride of pickle green cubby-holes. The girls stared expectantly, Keegan kept up a running commentary under his breath that they couldn’t hear:

“They’re still waiting. The two girls are waiting patiently while the stoned kid paws at his jacket pockets and grunts. No, that’s a lighter, Gutbloom. A lighter is not a pack of cigarettes, even if you stare at it for a long, long, time. What’s this? Hurray! You found something. A ticket! which is also not a pack of cigarettes….” etc., etc.

After I gave the girls cigarettes, they walked away, and then the ceiling of Madison Square Garden touched the floor.

Forty years ago I might have been able to tell you the peculiar hallucinations that accompanied individual songs. Some of those visions still color my emotional reaction to those tunes if I listen to them now, which I seldom do.

More memorable is the image of Keegan and his younger brother, who met us after the concert, standing on a New York City street trying to figure out which way was east. I was quite certain I knew, and I pointed north and said, “That’s uptown”, then pointed south and said, “that’s downtown, so that,” pointing east, “must be east.” I don’t remember if they agreed.

We went into an arcade in Times Square named Playland.

“Playland” Times Sq. 1985, ©Matt Weber. Used without permission.

When I told my brother about my adventure a few weeks after the fact, he told me that Playland was one of the “crusiest places on the planet and I was lucky I wasn’t swarmed by chickenhawks.” I wasn’t. No chickenhawks that I remember. No people. There were people, but I don’t remember them. I just remember the green lines of the video game and the sound that the tanks made when they materialized.

There was nothing epic about my trip to the land of Nod. All of the epic was inside my head. From the outside, we were just messy stoned kids wandering around the city.

We made it Grand Central Station before the last New Haven Line commuter train had departed for the suburbs. On it, we joined a group of Deadheads from Rye that Keegan knew. They were another dirty lot. One of them was even wearing a top hat. Someone had a tape recorder, and they were playing the concert we had just attended.

An argument broke out between Keegan and someone else about whether the Dead had played the “Weather Report Suite” at the concert (they hadn’t).

I wasn’t a Deadhead and had no interest in the argument. At the time I wasn’t impressed by the Rye kids. My ignorance was so complete that I could arrogantly dismiss that which I knew nothing about on the thinnest shred of misunderstood and badly reasoned evidence. I only knew what I knew, which was painfully little, but I was certain that my beloved suburb was in every way superior to Rye, and, so, by the deductive process that renders simple ignorance into mindnumbingly cocksure adolescent arrogance, I figured that the kids from Rye were somehow “wanting” and I shouldn’t waste my time on them.

Little did I know that Rye was the town where Ogden Nash lived, where the Dick Van Dyke Show was set, and that gave us Nick Kroll. I thought it was simply the backdrop for Rye Playland. There was plenty I could have enjoyed in Rye.

Some time in the morning we tumbled out onto the station platform and, still as a group, went to a downtown diner that was open. I had a plate of eggs that wiggled, breathed, and grew hairs. My mouth was full of the chemical taste of speedy acid and I knew that I would be awake for at least eight more hours.

We left the wandering pack of Deadheads and made it back to Keegan’s house as dawn arrived. His mother was awake.

Keegan went immediately downstairs.

His mother and I talked for a long time in the kitchen. Mrs. Keegan was kind and interesting… interesting because she seemed genuinely interested in me. She, like my mother, was a Westover graduate, and I had the realization that she was just like one of my aunts… could be one of my aunts… sitting at the kitchen table and making deceptively sophisticated small talk. I didn’t know much, but I knew she was shrouding her concern for both me and her son in her subtle and psychologically-sophisticated set of questions. Her rejoinders to my answers were sagacious. I wish I could remember them.

For all the Koans I could recite (“Why does the Buddha come from the East?”) or snippets of the Tao Te Ching I could burp out (“The name that can be named..”) I didn’t recognize one of the Masters even while she was instructing me. Of course I couldn’t see her. If I had, I would have had to recognize her sister rabbi who was in the kitchen at my house. These boddhisattvas, who understood, endured, and knew so much, were willing to put their own “desires” aside in an attempt to feed and care for pupa hell bent on fucking up their yet-to-be spun cocoons.

I wish I knew then what I know now. I had met the goddess on my non-ayahuasca trip.

But I didn’t know. I went downstairs into Keegan’s basement bedroom to smoke pot, listen to Jethro Tull, and watch the walls swim.

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