I sat looking at the clear plastic bag of contorted mushrooms sitting on my desk. Heart be still. And I was instantly transported back in time to that fateful night I examined my first pathetic bag of weed I had bought from Joseph C. The feeling was the same. The anticipation. The fear mixed with excitement. From behind me Ringo Starr sang about getting high with the help of his friends as his ringing cymbal play elevated The Beatles tune into playful greatness. Splendid. Well, at least I didn’t need to roll joints this time. All I need to do is put the slimy cow-shit grown fungus into my mouth and swallow. Should be simple enough. I turned a single mushroom head between my fingers. I sniffed it. It literally smelled like feces. I knew that if I went through with this, there would be no turning back. I put the mushroom into my mouth. Wretch. Gag. It immediately disintegrated into a slimy feces tasting substance that was all but impossible to swallow. I bolted, running down the hall into bathroom, pushing Frank out of the way of the nearest sink, plunging my head into it, drinking in the tepid tap water. Black slime running from my mouth sticking to the basin.
“What the fuck is that,” Frank asked, incredulous at what he was seeing.
“Nothing,” I replied, running back to my room for my porcelain Potsdam beer mug.
The water in Potsdam was another problem. The frequent changes in temperature characteristic of November in Potsdam caused alternating snow storms and subsequent thaws. These thaws caused the fertilizer in the surrounding farmland to run-off into the Racquette river. The solution to this problem was chlorine. Tons of chlorine. So as I filled the porcelain beer mug to the rim with water I immediately rejected the idea. The water had a distinctive yellow tint.
“Dan, give me a beer.”
Dan stood in his door smiling.
“Come-on Dan. I just swallowed a mushroom and I can’t swallow anymore without a beer.”
“Pretty bad, huh?”
“Yeah, and I just swallowed one and I’m not sure if I’m feeling anything yet, and a need something to take the rest, and I’m not sure if I’m feeling anything yet. Give me a beer”
“Drugs are bad for you.”
I stared at him with contempt.
“You sold them to me.”
“Wait here,” Dan said, mysteriously shutting the door to his room. I waited. Dan was busting my balls like a pro. From inside Dan’s room his stereo began blasting a Steely Dan tune. I commenced to kick the door.
“This is my last beer, you realize,” Dan asked, finally emerging with the beer.
“That’s okay,” I said, running with it. “Beer’s bad for you.”
I sat again staring at the mushrooms sprawled out on my desk. Disgusting. I felt a little light headed but I knew this must be my imagination. Only 5 or 10 minutes had passed and the expected effects would take 45 to 60 minutes. Paul McCartney was now fixing a hole where the rain comes in as I scooped up another mushroom and pushed it into my mouth. Gag. I immediately twisted the cap off the beer. It exploded in my hand, shooting foam violently across my desk. Now I knew why Dan had closed the door to his room so mysteriously. He had shaken the beer bottle up pretty good. I placed the opening of the ejaculating bottle into my mouth, the foam now mixing with the mushrooms, forcing me to swallow the disgusting mixture. The mushrooms on my desk were now soaked, bleeding a brownish slime. In final frustration I scooped up the remaining ‘shrooms and put them in my mouth just as John Lennon introduced Mr. Kite.
How can I begin to explain? On one level all the clichés applied. Everything I had ever read on the subject was completely 100% accurate. Mushrooms were everything I expected them to be. And nothing I expected it to be. Words - Language - Adjectives cannot even begin to approach the experience. And when the initial effects began to take hold I knew, almost immediately, that I would never be the same. I knew that a door had swung open on my life that would never close again.
Hallucination? The very idea of that clinical ‘take’ on the psychedelic experience - that it was an hallucinatory experience - was an insult to my senses. No, this was not an hallucination. The sharpening of my senses may not have actually occurred on a mechanical level. I did not suddenly have 20/20 vision, or bionic ears. But rather the sharpening of my senses occurred on a spiritual level. I saw nothing that was not there. But I saw everything with a deeper understanding, a deeper empathy, a deeper appreciation. And no clinical analysis can tell me otherwise. No clinical analysis can tell me that the stirrings in my heart were an hallucination. No more so an hallucination than the stirrings of the heart usually associated with listening to the fine music evoked from a particularly spectacular sunset. With this reasoning clinicians can dismiss all human experience outside of the strictly mechanical as hallucination. Art. Happiness. Love. All an illusion. Our perception of colors? An optical illusion? Maybe so. But who is to say what beauty is? And if for a brief moment I glimpsed the wonder of it all, if I suddenly, all at once, absorbed the full totality of the beauty of my own existence - enmass - who is to say that that experience is or is not real? It was artificially induced through the use of chemicals, therefore not real? Well, is not all human emotions derived from chemical reactions in the brain? Should we then dismiss anti-depressants as unnatural chemicals, therefore, the happiness they may invoke from the clinically depressed as illegitimate emotions? Should I dismiss the bitching of my premenstrual wife as ‘not real’ merely because it is induced by hormones?
Either everything we experience is a legitimate human experience - or nothing is!
Reality is in the eye of the beholder.
What I experienced that night was real. It moved me in the most profound way I believe a human can be moved. All at once I understood the American Indian custom of using mushrooms as a sacrament in which a deeper understanding of God and Self were explored. I suddenly understood what it meant to see the face of God, and to be unable to fully perceive His beauty. I suddenly understood why deeply religious experiences had been associated with the psychedelics for as long as man had recorded such things.
Reality is what you make it.
And I was making the best of it.
It started about 45 minutes later. Right on schedule. The hall had opened up and was now buzzing with activity. Detour had his door open directly across the hall from mine, and was sitting on his bed, the usual butt hanging from his lip. Dan had finally emerged from behind closed doors and was, I could tell, periodically checking on me. Dave my roommate arrived as well, and was also sitting on his bed working his way through a bag of potato chips, eyes still blackened from his ‘slip on the ice.’ Despite Dave’s rather provincial up-bringing, and subsequent redneck attitudes about every subject ranging from politics to guns, Dave was somehow a huge Beatles fan. He in fact had every Beatles album. And not a single album from any other group. According to Dave there were no other groups. So, as a fan of the Beatles, Dave had a fascination with the psychedelic experience. I therefore let him in on my little secret. He was instantly on the edge of his bed, watching me through his beady little Hitler eyes.
“You should listen to The Beatles,” he said, jumping up enthusiastically and rifling through his album collection.
“I just did and..” I began to giggle, “I’m waiting for the effects to begin.” I continued to laugh. Dave’s enthusiasm towards The Beatles was legendary, but this particular evening it really tickled my fancy. I mean here he was, this little guy running around the room, all excited about The friggin Beatles. It had its comical perspective and I continued to laugh as Dan walked in.
“Hooooooows it going,” he asked, watching me carefully, a hint of concern in his eyes.
This was too much. I bent over convulsed with laughter. People were so funny. The veneer of his personality was just a mask that I could now see through. His phony act before of coolness towards me was now so obvious. He really did want to observe and it was hysterical. His way of standing there was hysterical too. So portentous. This was all too funny to take in. Dave running around with Beatles albums, holding them up to me for approval, and Dan just standing there looking at me. I found myself laughing until tears streamed down my cheeks.
“You’re feeling okay then,” he continued. And I was doubled over.
Oh please! Give me a break! The dry sarcasm was just more gasoline on the flames of my laughing fit.
“This one,” Dave asked holding up Rubber Soul, and I was on my feet crying at the ludicrousness of this scene walking out of the room and directly into Detour’s.
I sat directly across from Detour on his roommate’s bed, finally catching my breath momentarily, tears still wet on my cheeks. And as all laughter is contagious, Detour smiled at me warmly reacting to my obvious good spirits
“You’re in a good mood,” he said, smiling as he took a drag from his cigarette.
And I was laughing again. Detour obviously could see the whimsy of all of this and I was now laughing more out of sheer delight at the empathy we were sharing. Detour looked at me with a quizzical look as he joined me in some good spirited laughter. He looked at Dan who was now standing over me with the same quizzical look.
“So you’re enjoying yourself then,” Dan asked, again purposely antagonizing my funny bone, doubling me over with laughter. I squeezed my eyes shut. A field of deep red rolled off into an infinite vortex. I opened my eyes. Detour and Dan were still exchanging quizzical looks.
“Are you stoned,” Detour asked.
I, of course, could not respond. Not with their constant teasing. I could only laugh again, my cheeks now cherub like in my lower peripheral vision. Dan & Detour also were flush with emotion, cheeks now rosey red, elf like, eyes sparkling with delight.
“He’s wacked man,” Detour said, a look of amazement in his wide eyes directed at the elf-like Dan. And I laughed at the sheer joy of it all, walking out of the room and down the hall to the men’s room, the different shades of light from the hall’s overhead bulbs casting rich earth-tone colors onto the walls and my cloths, as I moved down the hall and in and out of the various bulbs’ umbrellas of light, each a different universe in and of itself. The antiseptic white florescent lights of the men’s room created a death pallor over the entire room. I stood at the toilet peeing. The strict geometric shape of the white porcelain wall-tiles created a weblike pattern in afterburn imagery that crawled across my mind, intertwining in crazy angles that seemed 3 dimensional around me. I looked at the toilet smiling at the whimsy of it all, and the toilet seemed to share my feelings, standing all askew from the wall, a whimsical toilet from ‘toon town smiling back up at me.
I moved to the mirror. It was just as I suspected. My pupils were completely dilated and my cheeks were similar to Dan’s and Detour’s, with rouge-like pastel coloring on my cheeks that seemed to denote merriment. I stood laughing at my reflection. So this was it. This was what I had been waiting for. And it was great. I felt like I was in Disney World. And my face, although it did not actually change, became more elfish, and I laughed some more. Frank entered the bathroom with his towel, soap and toothbrush. He looked at me, toothbrush at the ready, as I continued to laugh at my ridiculous face.
“What’s so funny?”
And I walked out into the amber light of the hall, feeling as if I had passed interdimensionally from one world of light to another. Dan stood outside Detour’s room laughing, only to stop as I approached.
“Well,” he asked, excited for me.
“Amazing. Its really amazing,” I answered, going into my room and shutting the door behind me. Dave still sat with his Rubber Soul on his lap. I didn’t want to laugh anymore. My cheeks hurt.
“I’ve got to listen to Yes,” I pronounced, going over to my records.
“Go right ahead,” Dave concurred, obviously fascinated with me, and amazed with my sudden transformation into an elf.
I placed Yes’ Fragile album on the turntable. My hands shook as I lowered the gigantic needle onto the blindingly shiny vinyl, only to watch it bounce across the entire disk with an enormous scratching sound.
“A little too much momentum there,” I said, looking at Dave who sat with his mouth twisted into a sarcastic contortion. “Can you do this?”
And Dave rose and placed the needle gently down as I settled down on my bed.
Yes worked their way through Roundabout as I closed my eyes and watched breathlessly the developing three dimensional multi-faceted crystalline light show evolving behind my eyelids. And the crystals spun in direct correlation to the music, interweaving into patterns that joined and separated, creating voids of lights and incredibly detailed meadows and pastures changing into a moving road complete with multi colored streetlights that passed with the blinding speed and precision of Yes’ music, only to watch the road dissolve into a porous pink veil that represented the space between songs after Roundabout finished.
Bang. Bang. Bang. A loud knock on the door.
“What are you doing in there,” Dan asked, his hair now very 18th century wig-like.
Detour’s muscle-bound roommate Steve was now in the hall with his shirt off doing handstand-pushups. I could sense that a contact high was spreading through the hall. Despite the majorities’ ignorance to my condition, my jovial mood and laughter was catching on. And when I started doing handstands in the hall also, several of my hall mates joined me, making a topsy-turvy conga line of soughts. Soon an orange was being violently tossed down the hall in a college test of machismo reminiscent of Rollerball and dodgeball, the two lines of maniacs throwing the bruised fruit at each other, with the objective of doing as much damage as possible. I watched the rich orange streak with great interest moving like a slow-motion streak of pastel moving through the air. This was too dangerous for me. I entered Frank’s room and sat uninvited on his desk.
“B.J.!” Frank said, (it stood for Big John) looking at me surprised at my visit.
“Hi,” I said, half laughing. Dan now entered. He was still obviously tailing me.
“Whatta ya up to,” Frank asked, returning to his mirror where he continued to comb his Italian hair that moved like Madusa’s snakes in slow motion with his endless tousles. I squeezed my eyes shut. A gelatin-like sheet of cellophane moved across my field of vision, shimmering with a rainbow-like light across its dazzlingly shiny surface. I opened my eyes. Frank still stood at his mirror while Dan played with the knobs on the stereo. The infinite details in every pattern of the room moved solid and three dimensionally into my vision, flowering with super rich blues, violets and maroons off the tapestries that hung exotically from the walls. And as always, those merry elf-like cheeks on Frank and Dan.
Frank looked at Dan incredulously
“Yeah,” Dan said, laughing as they took turns looking at me lying flat on my back on Frank’s carpeted floor.
“Hey B.J.,” Frank asked, enthusiastically. “Wanna go for a drive?”
Frank and I drove through downtown Potsdam in Frank’s brother’s heated car, the pretty colored streetlights sparkling in the crisp night air. I wore a heavy plaid hunting jacket that reflected a super rich earthtone color into my dilated eyes. We arrived at the supermarket and I felt momentary pangs of paranoia about going inside in such a compromised state.
“Oh come on B.J. You look fine,” Frank coaxed as I sat nervously in the passenger seat.
“You don’t understand. I’m totally wacked out.”
“Don’t worry. Its just a supermarket. Who cares anyway? You look fine.”
And we entered. The long rows of colorfully wrapped products boggled my mind.
“Everything looks so plastic,” I said, marveling over some dish-washing liquid.
“It is plastic. Come-on B.J.”
And we moved to the dairy section
“You gonna buy that,” Frank asked, motioning to the dish-washing liquid still in my hands.
“Uh....no,” I answered, putting it down in the refrigerated cheeses. “Its just so Andy Warhol.”
“Andy Warhol. You know, Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup,” I answered, confused by the vast assortment of different cheeses.
“You’re babbling. The soup’s in aisle three.”
And I walked off to aisle three looking for soup.
We stood in line at the single open checkout counter, arms filled with pepperoni, provolone, pickles, chips and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup. Two elderly customers slowly placed items from a full cart onto the counter to be rung up. Slowly. I felt a welling up of laughter building in me.
“Fraaaaaaank,” I said desperately.
I began to half laugh and half cry.
It was too late. I was becoming hysterical. I could feel the salt water filling my eyes to the brim. I was, if this is possible, laughing and crying at the same time. Frank, on the other hand, was not. The checkout girl wasn’t laughing either. The two elderly customers were still slowly stacking groceries. They certainly weren’t laughing. But I continued to freak, attempting to now flip innocently through a women’s magazine, continuing to laugh and cry unabated.
“Come-on B.J.,” Frank said in a hushed tone, obviously embarrassed.
But I continued, a high pitched whine winding up in my throat. I continued to flip through the pages.
The cashier fumbled with her register.
“I need the key,” she yelled out to the manager who stood watching me with obvious disapproval on his face.
“Oh no,” I cried, looking at Frank in desperation, and then falling back into complete tears. The laughing forgotten.
“Come-ooooooooon B.J. Keep it together, please, I’m begging you.”
“I told you I didn’t want to come in,” I said pathetically crying into a disintegrating tissue.
And I continued to cry as the manager and checkout girl continued to struggle with the malfunctioning register, and as the elderly couple nervously moved away from me.
“How was your drive,” Dan asked, as Frank walked past him, brooding, with no response.
I took a huge bite of my pepperoni, realizing too late that this was in all probability a dead cow’s face I was eating, suddenly taking off running, leaving Dan unanswered in the hall, as I spit up in the toilet.
I spent the balance of the evening floating around from Dan’s room, to my room, and eventually to the TV lounge where I strained to hold onto the dissipating effects of the mushrooms, getting occasional bursts, which faded out with the evening cable programming.
The next morning I moved through the cafeteria with my tray of food, somewhat frazzled. There was a little confusion there. But mostly I was fascinated by the events of the previous evening. I reviewed it in my mind over and over, piecing together the effects and my bazaar behavior. It was not what I expected. But it was great. It was as if I had entered a world of whimsical colors and people. It was as if I was experiencing the everyday mundane aspects of life with a renewed sense of wonder and appreciation. It was as if all the doors and windows to my senses had suddenly been flung open, and I was able to view life with a creative eye, with a creative tool unavailable to me before. Things we take for granted as constants became variable. Color. Sound. Became a variable thing. Red became more red. And why shouldn’t it? Who’s to say what red is anyway? Its all an illusion of the mind in the first place. Isn’t it? Its all a magical world anyway. Isn’t it? Yes I had indeed visited a magical world and I knew that I would be visiting there again.