Monday, July 30, 2018

Into The Great Wide Empty







The first small excursion with LSD was a lot of fun. It left me with a renewed sense of gratitude for the many blessings I have in this life. For the next couple of weeks I was clear headed, optimistic, looking forward to retiring from my job at the end of the month.
 And I have to confess: I got a hell of a kick out of feeling like an old outlaw. You know- a wild and krazy guy, and all that stuff.  Especially at work around the twenty and thirty-something year old teachers at the elementary school. I showed up Monday with the broom and dustmop:

“Hey, JWM, how was your weekend. Do anything fun?”


But I’m getting sidetracked, here. Whatever afterglow I had from the day soon vanished under the weight of a bad case of influenza. I was scary sick for over a month, lost most of my hearing and developed a knot in my left shoulder that would leave me in pain for months to follow.

After the flu had passed I parceled out the rest of the first dose in three rather unremarkable, and not especially enjoyable turns with the blotter acid. The days had some enjoyable moments, but all in all were neither great fun, nor unduly unpleasant. Nonetheless, acid is very predictable, and the neutral trips taught me exactly what to expect from the LSD, and about when to expect it.  I had recovered most of my former stamina by the end of March. By April I was ready to go again.

It would prove to be a strange, but overall neutral event.

 Something was disturbing my sleep. I sat up in the middle of the night. A woman stood in the bedroom doorway. She wore pink. She had red hair, fair skin,  and she seemed to shine with a light that came from nowhere. I was startled, but not frightened. Before I could speak the woman vanished. I snapped awake. Lucid Dream. I hadn’t had one in years.


Two hours later it was still dark out, and I sat in the den coaxing my brain awake with my first cup of coffee. I jumped up in a charge of adrenaline when my wife screamed in the living room. I heard her throw the sliding glass door open as I bolted down the hall.

 Mary stood on the porch. “I saw Buddy the Cat all arched up,” she said. “There was a coyote stalking in the yard. I opened the door, and it jumped over the wall.”

 All three of my cats were there in the yard. It was nothing short of a miracle that Mary scared the coyote off before it took one of the cats. Now, all of us were out there scared, and agitated as hell. Ol’ Buddy, Skinny, and Littlecat hovered close around me, but just out of reach.  I couldn’t get them back into the house, so I had my coffee on the step huddled up in the dark with a flashlight in the cold morning.
 I finally coaxed the cats indoors, and shut them in the house. The sun was coming up. Now I could get a start on Bicycle Day.


The South Bay is the stretch of So Cal beaches that runs from Redondo up to Venice and Santa Monica. The South Bay beaches are thirty miles west of me,  through the some of the worst traffic in LA. That’s why I seldom go there. But  I had my 1961 classic Schwinn, and my trusty Dyno cruiser in the back of the truck.   I was taking the old Schwinn to Jack, a bike wizard in El Segundo. You don’t trust a machine that old with just anyone. 


 It was actually 4/20, the day after Bicycle Day, but it was a stoners’ holiday no matter. I was ready to party with a couple grams of some Private Reserve Gorilla Glue, a couple of grams of some high octane Jack Herrer, and a little bit o’ LSD. The 105 freeway was clear in the late morning, and the parking gods had my back. I dropped off the Schwinn, and pulled into the nearly empty lot at El Segundo Beach.

11:30 in the morning. This is the fifth time I’ve dropped acid after not having done it for over forty years. Now I’m upping the game a little and taking a generous third of a tab. I fish the little bag out of my pocket.  I’m getting adrenaline just looking at the tiny chip of blotter.

 You can back out!
My heart pounds a little as I take it out of the plastic bag.

Not today. Maybe some other time…
I ignore the voice in my head. The blotter is on my tongue.

 Spit it out.
Too late. Crunch. Crunch again. Swallow. I’m committed. 

The little wave of anxiety passes with a deep breath, and I hop on the bike. The morning is cool, the sky is clear and the air is slightly hazy. The plan is simple: trip out, and cruise. I’ll ride north past Santa Monica- see some of the bike path I’ve never seen, be back here in the late afternoon, cruise down toward Hermosa for food, and head home after the traffic clears.

 The wide South Bay beaches are all the same- 200 yards of empty yellow sand, shapeless gray surf crashing near the shore, jetties every so often. North in the haze is Marina Del Rey, the Venice boardwalk, Santa Monica, the carnival rides on the pier, the Malibu mountains, and long empty stretches of paved bike path.  I’m going to meet Mike, a buddy of mine, somewhere along the route. He’ll be coming south from Venice. I have the feeling he won’t hang for long, but it’ll be good to touch bases.


 The late morning is cool in  the diffuse spring sun, and I’m riding under a pale sky almost straight into a light breeze. I dressed for cold. I’m old, tall, and skinny, and I chill easily, especially on acid. Being a little too warm is a little uncomfortable; being too cold is misery. I wore my denim club vest, my “cut” as the kids say, but I had it more for the pockets than the image.

I reach Dockweiler, then  Playa Del Rey where the jets from LAX thunder and whine overheard. I run into Mike a mile or so later. We chat a bit as we bike along. Mike founded the bicycle club with me a little over five years ago, but now he has pretty much given up pedal power for E-biking. 

The speakers on his bike are linked to a radio station playing from his phone. It’s supposed to be a 4/20 themed day, but whatever they were playing is just getting irritating as hell. Besides, I can’t hear for shit. I can either talk or listen to that crappy radio. The music sucks and the commercials are annoying. I want to tell the guy on the radio to shut  the fuck up I…
Then I realize I’m starting to twangle a little already. The acid always starts this way, with some little thing becoming very urgent and demanding all my attention. It’s just been forty five minutes since I dropped. 
 I ask Mike to turn it down so we can talk. He’s cool with that. And I’m glad he’s here because it’s been a few years since I took this route, and getting through the loop around Marina Del Rey, and then back down to Venice is tricky.


 By the time we reach the boardwalk at Venice Beach I’m coming on pretty strong. I’ve got electricity in my head, and energy in my shoulders, and this just seems so totally appropriate!  Where else do you come on to your acid on 4/20 in LA except for the entrance to Venice Boardwalk?

 Everything is psychedelic murals, head shops, sunglasses, and T-shirts, mixed with art, street life, urban campers, even hippies. I’m excited. I have that little pressure in the head, and  more nervous energy than I need, but nothing intimidating, or scary. We stop at a shop on the boardwalk to chat with one of Mike’s pals, a guy who does E-bike tours through Venice.  I can feel myself grinning, and everything I’m looking at is suddenly a very interesting feature of this very Venice placeandpeople…. I’m getting that ‘I’m cool’ feeling that acid seems to give me. Mike introduces me to his pal, “Hey, Eddie, this is my friend, John. He’s down here tripping on acid.” 

Eddie kind of shakes his head- “Glad to meet you. Acid, huh? I haven’t done that shit in fifty years”.  
 I read that tone. It’s a thing I’ve noticed before when I tell people that I do acid, or mushrooms. Some think it’s pretty cool that a guy my age is still up for that stuff. Others sort of shake their head. Good thing I’m not hooked on the approval of others. 


Mike and I burn a couple bowls of the Jack Herrer. It’s my favorite strain, a sharp, edgy sativa that throws my mind into overdrive.  This is my wake n’ bake, the first tweet of the day. The energy from the Jack hits the acid, and starts cranking up the voltage.  Now I’m really feeling it. I’m more than a little surprised at how high I’m getting. Everything is taking on the quality of a dreamy well-orchestrated scene. I’ve got electricity in my head, like a gently buzzing transformer, a little giddiness in the solar plexus. I feel like I want to move, and not stop. 


We saddle up, and start down the bike path, and I’m glad that we’re moving again. That grin keeps returning, but I’m feeling a sense of urgency, and more nervous energy than I’m comfortable with. I find myself hunching my shoulders, and reminding myself to relax. I try to explain to Mike what’s going on. Mike isn’t particularly interested. I tell him about the dream I’d had last night, and the episode with the coyote. How everything seems all of a piece, how it fits in, and how it all is…

 Mike cuts in, “It was probably a ghost. After all, didn’t your Mom die in that house?” 
Leave it to Mike to come up with exactly what NOT to say to someone who’s tripping. It doesn’t bother me though. A few minutes later he decides his E-bike isn’t working right and  he heads back home. 


This was exactly what I had predicted would happen. Actually, I am glad to be on my own. I’m past the come-on, and climbing that slow arc toward the peak. I stop and take a couple more tweets. Weed and LSD go together like a cigarette and coffee. The added buzz throws it all into motion, and I pick up my pace a little. 


Bicycling is hypnotic, and I become the rhythm and the pace, and the wind is the sound and the sound is the wind, and I breathe, and pedal, and I flow though all of it and I’m at the still center of things with the wind slowly pushing the world past me. Thought bubbles float up from the deep to be observed, entertained, or dismissed as dangerous. 

Far to my right, now, the Venice Boardwalk gives way to beach front apartments in Santa Monica. I’m watching the slowmotion roller coaster pier. The beach seems strangely empty for a holiday. Then I remember that it’s Friday. You don’t get a day off for 4/20.

 The bike path tunnels under the huge pier for what seems like hundreds of yards, and there are fireworks in the darkness. I burst out into the sunlight all dazzled. The parking lot and the last of the beach attractions slide past, and soon I’m farther north than I’ve ever ridden on this path.


 I have the whole world to myself. I pulse along in a fast hypnotic dream and it all becomes still. Wide yellow beach on either side of me, city brown cliffs far to the right and the pale slate ocean far to the left and the pedal and pulse of the afternoon windblast is picking up cold roaring in my ears making it hard to push, and the hazy spring sun in the pale washed sky, the sea a pale slate, the light sand all of a piece, a moving watercolor in cool pastels…

Where am I now, and what do I feel out here?  Suddenly there is no point of reference. This electrical buzz, the urgency, energy driving me. There is this overall sense of “enscenement” (“en scene ment”), that is, everything takes on the quality of a perfectly staged scene, a masterfully painted landscape, with all harmonious elements merged into a living singularity with the wind and sun, and the hypnotic pulse of riding riding riding. 

But I can’t tell how buzzed I am. Or how fast I’m going. Or how far I’ve ridden. Or what time it might be.

 How long ago did I pass Annenberg House? There is no point of reference. No one around for miles.  How alone out here! 

What did you set out to do this day? Take my bike to Jack, and drop acid at the beach for 4/20.
 What did you expect? A party? A love-in? Free music, and hippies dancing in the sand? None of that, really, but it felt like it should be here, and so I came. 

And what did you find? I find myself alone on my bike.
Riding Way alone. Riding Way out here. Riding Like always. Like a million times before. Riding Like on the Harley. Riding Like in the car. Like Interstate 40, like Interstate 64, 70, 90…  Like I... Riding Alone on the road. How many times across the continent? Riding  Twelve? Fourteen?  

Riding Alone on the road, alone on the bike path. Riding  See a pattern here? It’s who you are, John.
 
What about the dream? Mary said it was a guardian angel.
 You believe that? Of course, and not just because I’m tripping. Riding Guardian angels look out for us, and looking out for those Riding we love is looking out us. And my cats-  I love those silly cats. If anything had happened to Ol’ Buddy…

Don’t go here. Change the subject.  The angel was a blessing. Riding  Don’t tell yourself scary stories.  And so the subject is changed, and the brain slides into neutral.

 Riding  So what is this? What do I feel here? This is an acid trip. I’ve been on lots of them, but that was all so very long ago.
 It wasn’t like this, then. Or was it? The December trip was filled with  a sense of amazement. Wonder. Elation. Delight. I remember my head lit up with a million ideas.
 Riding riding riding Hallucinations? Tracers? Colors? Not since the 70’s…
 This isn’t like that; it just- it just -is. I mean, I’m not feeling elation, or euphoria. Neither am I feeling great sadness, anxiety, or fear. The experience is Riding  not unpleasant, but it isn’t a lot of fun either. It just is.

 Or maybe it’s  being way out here alone on the cold empty beach that  isn’t much fun.
Hard to tell.

 Maybe this is why I quit doing this so many years ago. It’s just a place to be. It’s everyday life, only with all the dials cranked up, and teasing the edges of discomfort. 

Where am I now? How long have I been out here?  Ridingridingriding how long riding…

Stop. Stop for a rest.
 
 I quit pedaling, and roll slowly to a  stop. Hop off, and straddle the bike. It seems strange to be still. The hypnosis breaks. Where am I now? Wasn’t I supposed to be riding? Check the phone. It’s twenty to three. More than four hours in.

 I realize what’s wrong. I’m thirsty and tired. I’ve been cranking hard into the wind, and I haven’t stopped for hours. Take the lid off the water bottle, and slowly drink it all. Take a breather. Damn. Water is really good.
That wind in my ears! I have a sense that I’m very stoned, but it’s oddly hard to tell just how stoned. I can feel the water soaking through my stomach and small intestine. I feel my body cool, my head clear. A girl floats by on the bike path, and merges with the scenery. Time to turn around.


 Suddenly the wind‘s at my back, and the sun is behind me. Everything flashes from windblown hazy cold pale spring to Southland lit up for summer. The scene turns from watercolor to bright circus tempera. The water is flushing into my limbs, and it feels good. I can feel this thing peaking, like reaching the crest of a hill.

 Odd that I should be so much more buzzed than I was on the ¼ hits. This is a strong one. I can feel the nervousness still, so I break out the Gorilla Glue. This stuff is ridiculously strong, and it does a great job of stuffing a pillow over the voices in your head. I’m thinking of the Country Joe, and the Fish song…

“Heyyy, partner- Won’t you pass that reefer around? My world is spinning yeah. Just got to sloooow it down…”

The indica based smoke is sweet as maple syrup, and the body rush eases the tension in my shoulders. Now I’m feeling good; let’s get high! I knock back three more tokes, and hit the path. Now the wind is at my back. I’ve gone from pushing against the cold, to floating effortless, nice warm an’ easy. The sunlight has gone from silver to gold. The world from pale to bright. The weed starts glowing up in my head, and I’m sliding into the familiar dreamy euphoria. Yes, four tokes was too much, and I am very stoned, and it feels good.


 I start back toward Santa Monica. Dang it’s a long ways away, but the colors are in bloom. I’m floating on weightless pedals with the wind at my back. The air around my ears is still and quiet. The pier, and then the carnival rides on the pier slowly grow closer and more distinct. How pokey slow the rollercoaster. Before I know it, I’m charging through the dark stretch under the pier again, now breaking triumphantly into the light.

 I’m flying along through Santa Monica, passing the slower bikes, feeling one with the wind, and my trusty cruiser. I notice a group of young guys- college age kids sitting on the block wall. One of them smiles and waves, “Happy 4/20”, he calls out. I can’t let that slide.

 I back pedal, skid the tire around, and ride back up to the guys on the wall. (Keep in mind, I’m 65 damn years old, and not a youthful 65 at that. I look like a crusty ass wannabe outlaw in my club vest and patch.)

 I smile at the kid, “You, sir, are the first person today to wish me a happy 4/20. I believe that calls for a toke. Indica or Sativa?” His buddies chuckle.

 “Sativa”, he says.

“A man after mine own heart. I am a sativa fan myself.” I pack a really fat bowl of the Jack Herrer, and hand him my old school brass pipe. He tries to light with a Bic. It won’t work in the wind.

“I need…”

“You need a torch.”  I hand him my torch, and his buddies crack up.
 “Watch out for the metal pipe. It can bite you.” He gets a monster toke, and headrushes so bad he has to hang on to the wall..
“Thanks”, he coughs. “Oh fuck!”  “So what are you doing out here today?”
“Just out celebrating 4/20 and bicycle day.”
“Bicycle day?”
 “UH, yeah. You know.  4/19… Albert Hoffman… 1943…”
Blank look. They don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m grinning like an idiot. “It’s the day to go trippin’. Look it up on your phone. Hey, you guys take care.”


I ride off laughing a little. Figure I gave them a story to tell—“We saw this old guy on a cruiser bike…”
Before I know it I‘m back in Venice. I can see the boardwalk, crowded in the mid afternoon. It’s a combination freak show, skid row, carnival midway, and hippie swap meet. It’s a ways off the bike path. I look over there, and really don’t feel much like merging into a big crazy crowd.  But Venice is also where the bike path makes a detour of several miles inland on Washington Boulevard to get around Marina Del Rey, and over Ballona Creek.

 What was the landmark for Washington Boulevard? I can’t remember. I’ve done this a zillion times, but suddenly I’m disoriented, and not sure if Washington is ahead of me, or if I passed it.

 I stop the bike. My head is buzzing, everything around is floating, I’m unsure of where I am, and I am peaking surprisingly hard for such a small dose. What to do? Gotta’ ask directions. That means going on the boardwalk. So. We go. Into the parade of madness.

 Bums. Skaters. Chicks. Tourists. Negroes. Hippies. Rasta looking dudes. College lookin’ kids.  Foreigners. They’re all stereotypes- perfectly exaggerated caricatures of some sort even if I’m not sure what sort. Who looks like they know where they are? Nobody! It’s getting very chaotic. Before I know it I’m completely lost in the crowd, and I don’t know where I’m going, or which way is north or south. But I remember not to panic. It’s just the “L” as we used to say. Eventually I walk up to a guy in a sunglasses stand. He is a human version of Jabba the Hut. “Could you tell me, where’s Washington Blvd?” I ask. The guy points down the boardwalk, and speaks in a mystery accent. “Righ’ there a’ the pier.”

 Not fifty yards away.
 Oh. Yeah. The Pier. I knew that. 

I lock up the bike and go to piss.  I walk in out of the sunlight, and the whole restroom is swimming in colors. The stainless steel urinal becomes the horrible maw of some alien beast, as I’m peeing down its throat. I remember this kind of stuff from high school. Not bad. I smile. 


It’s a tense and sketchy ride going up Washington. Traffic everywhere. Rough pavement. Cars. Trucks. Busses. Noise. The annoying sense of being lost. Are we there yet? And finally the entrance to the bike path. Down the bike maze, pass the marina. And *finally* there’s the bridge over Ballona Creek.

 I stop for a drink of water. I feel like I’ve escaped from something. About a mile further down the path I feel the peak begin to break.  Relief. I can take a deep breath. That sense of urgency that has haunted the day is relaxing into a soft melancholy.  We’re coming down.
 
Actually, I’m kind of glad. As I start the last leg of the cruise it occurs to me that this may well be my last dance with Lucy. I probably won’t do this again. But I said that the last time. Or was it the time before? It’s part of it, too…  Like starting out by getting all nervous over some silly thing…  Ends by thinking you won’t come back here… Just part of it. Still…

 There was nothing really unpleasant about the day, but like I said earlier, the experience was just oddly neutral. On the fun scale the day was just a flat five out of ten. But all I did was ride and ride and ride. 

Too much solitude?  Yeah. Too much alone- no one to remind you to stop and take a break.
 Too far from home? Yeah, all that…
 What about the rest of your stash? The rest of the acid? The shrooms? The sage? Nothing sounds like fun just now. I don’t know.  Maybe you’re just too old for this shit. I don’t know… 

 Maybe I’m just tired out. Odd, but only now I begin to realize how stoned I’ve been all day. It’s almost five when I roll up to the truck. And I realize I’ve been on that bike for almost six hours. I need food. I’m beat.

And I realized again for the millionth time, and the first ever that I had wildly overestimated my stamina. It was so very typical. I had watched me do this kind of thing for decades, and here I was doing it again. The plan was to get to this point, and roll down to Hermosa, have dinner, and hang around until traffic clears. No fucking way did I have the energy to ride to Hermosa. I’m still wired from the acid, and I don’t want to eat.  This is Friday afternoon. Between me and home is thirty miles of bumper to bumper traffic (in a stick shift truck).

Strangely enough, one of the benefits of taking LSD is that it keeps me very patient, and very attentive when I drive.  Good thing too, because for the next seventy five minutes I would not make it out of second gear. I felt like a total hero for making it home. It was after seven. Fourteen miles per hour average. Life in So Cal. Don’t think about it. I’m just numb.


A shower, food, and coffee brought me back to life. I flopped in the living room, played with the cats, and knocked back a bowl of the Jack Herrer. It’s good weed. Another bowl, and the room is floating in lights, and  for ten or fifteen minutes it let me revisit the peak from the comfort of my favorite chair. Last dance with Lucy? Ah, maybe not, maybe not.

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