Whom god wishes to destroy, he first makes mad.
— Euripides by way of Samuel Fuller
After dropping acid, the committed psychonaut sits in quiet contemplation, slows his heartbeat, steadies his breathing, calmly waits for the rush. Unlike the tripster who can’t hardly wait — he shakes his legs, paces, races about, quickens his heart, which increases arterial flow and speeds the alkaloid toward the 5-HT2 serotonin receptors in both the locus ceruleus and the cerebral cortex, with hallucinations, awe, and laughter the result. But the neuron, he for whom the solution has become the problem,1 compulsively sucks on the sugar cube even though some part of him (the vector of the unconscious where important messages are stored so that they can languish and die) knows it’s really a psychic cyanide pill.
Guess which one of that trio I was.
Once upon a time, way down in the alley, when the Age of Aquarius had morphed (seemingly overnight) into the Eve of Destruction,2 I did what any post-adolescent, Mensa-minded, slavo-jewo depressive would do — I self-medicated and slid all the way down the rabbit hole into bizarro Wonderland. I was lost and could not be found; I was also emaciated and probably dehydrated from snorting too much speed in too little time. Then one day, in my weakened state, foolishly believing I had docked in a safe harbor, I dropped 200 mikes of Sandoz3 with three reivers in rainbow tie-dyes, one of whom was the sociopath-snitch who once, when popped for possession with intent, had given my name to the authorities, looking to trade me in, like an old cell phone, for his freedom.
It was my Humpty Dumpty moment, the night I shattered into a million pieces.
The background music for our liftoff was Cream, “Strange Brew.” Coinciding with Clapton’s first cautionary chorus — kills what’s inside of you — I felt the first tingle, the first hint of weightlessness that for some signals the exciting freedom to float along gusts of psychotomimetic wind, but to me . . .
I closed my eyes. I quickly found myself floating, la-dee-dah, through a vertigo-inducing, Oskar Fischinger–inspired,4 day-glo galaxy of pulsating circles, blinking rectangles, spinning globes — a phantasmagoria of Colorform abstraction, flaring incandescence, chromatic intensity.
It was psychedelic, man.
But I was dancing on the knife’s edge and as the Azerbaijani say, Dance on a dagger’s edge, shred your soul. After a century or two, this galactic vortex I was aglide in took on the appearance of a gaping, febrile, hyper-colorful, festered wound. As it did, I began to sense a loss of control. It is a mere hop, skip, and an uh-oh for exhilaration to transform into abject terror. Soon I found myself in free fall — The Neuron Who Fell to Earth.
Newton’s Third Law of Thermodynamics defines the binary universe: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. Therein lies the beauty of binaries — their absolute, oppositional nature: on or off, alive or dead, win or lose, true or false, black and white, war and peace, self and other, open and shut . . . to be or not to be.
Thanks to my early training as an acolyte in the cult of the volcano god Jehovah, I have always been a binary kind of guy. So in this instance, as with most others, I reduced the set of variables to the simplest of equations: if I were freaked with my eyes closed, when I opened them, I would surely calm my shit down.
Unfortunately, as soon as I opened my eyes, the oozing, throbbing horror of it all streamed seamlessly from my mind’s eye into the phenomenal world. The walls, the rugs, the floors, the furniture, the windows and shades, the lamps and sconces, the sockets and switches all appeared to be breathing and pulsing in tandem, morphing and blending into one another, as if everything had become part of an immense and singular living organism.
I should have been ecstatic, but being at one with the universe launched me into a terror-filled maelstrom — ego death seemed to me to be only the beginning of a slippery slope that would inevitably lead to a more all-inclusive kind of death.
I was tripping out of my skull, trapped in the bummer equivalent of Defcon 1. I had to do something, and pronto.
Faced with what I perceived to be an extinction-level dilemma, I had a go-to strategy I had fooled myself into believing would someday yield a different outcome. And so . . .
Determined to think myself out of trouble, I threw myself into the abyss of reason.
My mind commenced to race — a mile a minute the operative cliche, but only if you plugged in parsec for mile, nano for minute. The stream of my cinematic consciousness became a Class VI rapids, superfluming me past a specific set of memorialized texts, which I sluiced by in ascending order — Attack of the Crab Monsters, Invaders from Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As I flumed, I grokked why I had had such a violent reaction to such a commonplace, purple haze hallucination — the Persian rug doing the psychedelic slither before my eyes. (Colonel Panic, in the living room, with an icepick.)
The dialectic made perfect sense, too. Attack of the Crab Monsters is a poverty-row meditation on the downside of collective consciousness: in order to be assimilated, the brains of the chosen ones must first be chowed down by a mutant giant crab on a totally fucked and irradiated atoll. What could be more straightforward?
Invaders from Mars portrays the horrors of the hive-mind from the POV of a kid. Little Davy’s parentals have extraterrestrial hatpins inserted into the base of their skulls, which puts them in thrall to a macrocephalic bronze brain under glass who sports a pair of fiercely bloodshot eyes, as well as several sets of T Rex-ish atrophied arms — he’s a thoroughly stoned, alien avatar of the Hindu god Krishna . . . and no adult believes the kid.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the cherry atop this hive-mind shit sundae. Pod People take you over atom for atom, cell for cell, absorb your mind and your memories, all this while you sleep. The invasion is fronted by the holy trinity of Amurrican trust — your best friend, the avuncular sheriff, and the town shrink. Suburban Freud dismisses the growing paranoia (the boy says his father isn’t his father and the woman says her sister isn’t her sister) as merely an epidemic of mass hysteria. Let your guard down for an instant, forget to pop that extra pep pill you’ve copped from your stash, and you might just come back to your squeeze and experience The Naked Kiss,5 the horrific reveal that while you were gone, the love of your life has gone pod on you. Since the body snatchers are all connected through a uni-mind, all she has to do is think it and the pod volk come running. With them hot on your heels, you run and run and run, winding up on a freeway jammed with SoCal commuters and pod-filled trucks, screaming for anyone to listen: They’re here, they’re here!
And if it weren’t for the moral bankruptcy and marketing mandates of the Hollywood hive-mind, the story would have ended right there. And what a bummer that would have been.
Or in my case — was.
Tempus was fugit-ing, and I was bumming like a motherfucker. I needed to slow my roll. I had to speak my mind.
In tonight’s performance the part of the Jabberwocky will be played by Bob.
Brainiac scout troop . . . collective crab consciousness . . . once they were men, now they are land crabs . . . parents from space . . . mom and dad down to kill — me! . . . epidemic mass hysteria . . . you fools, you’re in danger . . . she loves me, she loves me not . . . ’cause she’s one of them, one of them, gooble gobble . . . make me a sergeant in charge of the booze, make me a sergeant in charge of the booze —
Wait a second, I said to myself, those last two — they’re from Freaks6 and from Them.7 Mutants and giant ants have nothing to do with this. How the fuck did they get in here? . . . How the fuck did I get in here!
Even more to the point, How the fuck was I going to survive this trip?
The answer came in the form of a vision: Skeeter Davis8 — a mieskeit mirage wavering before me, serenading me:
Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
’Cause you don’t love me anymore?
Who was it who didn’t love me anymore?
I didn’t love me anymore.
It was then I had my epiphany (I was tripping after all): I needed the end of the world. I scrunched my eyes and held my breath; I was fixin’ to die. Which I couldn’t, because, as we all know, the autonomic nervous system has no override switch. Spent and spooked, I stopped trying and opened my eyes. I saw my fellow tripsters staring at me. They looked like three grinning gargoyles. They exchanged glances, then burst into what was clearly an at-you rather than a with-you cascade of laughter — cruel and resonant.
I was sure some telepathic shit was going down.
I was certain the Crab Monster with the collectivized consciousness would round the figurative corner any second, perambulate toward me, reach out to me with its claw; it would use every trick in the giant crab ventriloquist manual to get me to give up, give in, to join the new crab order: Once they were men, now they are gargoyles.
I was equally certain that if I sneaked a peek at the back of a gargoyle neck, I would see the telltale hatpin — proof positive that he and his gang were in thrall to the rheumy-eyed Martian puppetmaster.
I urged myself to think good thoughts.
I thought and thought and thought, but all I could come up with was the creepy notion that if I opened the door to the hall closet, I would see my pod replacement in medias snatch, waiting only for me to gey schluffen in order to finish the job — my nightmare scenario made flesh.
The walls felt like they were moving in on me.
What choice did I have? I screamed.
I stood up; I ran; I took refuge in the john, took a leak. I flushed. I stared at the swirling, rainbow water. It was hypnotic. The toilet began to serenade me — the first chorus of “Tales of the Brave Ulysses”:
You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever,
But you rode upon a steamer to the violence of the sun.
And the colors of the sea bind your eyes with trembling mermaids,
As toilet Cream sang, the water became kaleidoscopic, alive with tiny purple fishes and trembling mermaids, choreographed by the invisible, hallucinogenic hand of my Busby Berkeley9 introject — synchronized swimming while circling the drain.
All, in the end, sucked down the abyssal sewer.
The light in the bathroom was blinding; the noise of the toilet recycling deafening. And yet I couldn’t stand, couldn’t even move. It was as if I had no will. I was lost in space; I was in a state of waxy flexibility.
Dr. Cristo, bull goose shrink of Shock Corridor, said it best: A man can’t tamper with the mind, and subject himself to all kinds of tests, and expect to come out of it sane.
After my Waterloo in the loo, it was retreat and surrender, as well as grievous humiliation, all the way home.
The gargoyles, having tired of me — I was less entertaining, more of an annoyance now that I was bogarting the bathroom — called My Friend the Bear to come and get me, which he dutifully did. As he led me down the stairs, he handed me a brownish pill (Thorazine: ensuring that children are seen and not heard since 1952; for prompt control of senile agitation; helps keep the real in reality). I dry-mouthed it without question, the Bear being one of the few creatures on the blue planet I almost trusted.
The dopamine antagonist kicked in. I stopped bumming but I couldn’t stop thinking about how badly I had disintegrated. I felt burned out — like I had run out of fuel, like my core had collapsed, like I had formed my own black hole hell.
As if that wasn’t enough, while I was trying to gain some traction in order to tread lightly back into the real world, there came a knock on the door of my coffin-like crib. Before I could plead with whoever it was to just please leave me the fuck alone, in floated My Friend the Bear’s Old Lady wearing nothing but a tattered tee, her eyes bloodshot, practically twirling in their lids, her smile bursting with bravado, offering to laugh with me10 like she was an Eskimo wife in The Savage Innocents.
Would that the wonders of the day cease and desist already. On my best days this kind of sexual adventurism would not have been my strongest suit. And this was not one of my better days. The Bear’s impulse was surely generous in nature, but it was also the Platonic form of projection. A pity fuck pimped his way is how he believed the healing should begin. And while I had no clue what was good for me — if I did I would never have dropped acid with Brain Eating Cannibals From the Planet Pitiless — I just knew as I stared at the Bear’s main squeeze in all her good sport willingness, that accepting her vulvaric gift11 would send my careening spin on the karmic wheel of desire ever more out of control, and would be certain to bring on yet more pain to both spirit and flesh.
And I told the Bear’s Old Lady so.
I felt unbounded relief when she slammed the door on me on her way out, even as I knew that I had just offended one of the few people who, until that moment, had borne me no ill-will.
This last straw broke my mental back and I then went into hermit mode — snorting meth and brooding. As I focused inward, the Jehovah judgment thing I was raised on did not serve me well. I was on trial, yet I was also judge, jury, and prosecutor. An optimist might have noted that no matter what the outcome, I couldn’t lose. But I was no optimist.
One morning, a week after my mondo megabummer, seven days into my meth bender, I looked in the mirror. Staring back at me was a gaunt, unshaven wraith with a cigarette dangling from its lips, tough-guy style. Its eyes were bugging out, nearly pinwheeling; this specter was way tweaked. Some part of me was able to see through the dissociative mist and understand that the thing in the mirror needed quality, structured chill time, and that if the wraith didn’t get to chill, and quickly, it would be curtains for the kid.
The next day I went back to the city and within a week I was crashing in the psych ward of the Klingenstein Pavilion of Mount Sinai Hospital. What better place for a lost yid to wander?
1 With a tip of Da Schneidz hat to My Friend the Cartoonist’s shrink.
2 The western world it is exploding was the message Barry McGuire laid down in his unpolished and straightforward rendition of “Eve of Destruction,” a 1965 protest song that had been passed on by the Byrds and, according to the google, recorded by the Turtles, who often recorded the Byrds’ discarded or rejected material. The song was what creative executives would dismiss as on-the-nose (appropriate for the protest genre) and (tortured metaphor alert) was one of the primary agaric cultures used to breed the bacterium ironica in the petri dish experiment known as the baby boom. The song’s title also inspired a film of the same name, which is perfectly summed up in IMDB: A terrorist hunter is hired by a scientist to deactivate her android double, a walking, talking, murderous nuclear bomb which has gone amok in the big city and is about to explode — keeping in mind that both scientist and doppelgänger are named Eve.
3 When research chemist Dr. Albert Hoffman unknowingly absorbed a molecule of the chemical he had newly synthesized, he described the feelings he had when he got home and got prone: I . . . sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away. Three days later, on April 19, 1943 (now known as Bike Day among the initiates), Hoffman deliberately dropped 250 mikes of the new compound—lysergic acid diethylamide-25—hopped on his bike, and pedaled home, getting off on the way. This auto-administered dose of LSD was mankind’s first intentional acid trip and even though it happened during wartime, thanks to Swiss neutrality, all of Switzerland had been declared a no-bummer zone. The pharmaceutical company Hoffman worked for was Sandoz, which therefore had exclusive rights to space you out. In the ’60s at the beginning of the tripping frenzy that followed, anyone lucky enough to get his paws on some pharmaceutical-grade acid would brag to his bros that it was the real deal Sandoz shit that had fueled his journey to the inside of his mind.
4 Fischinger was an experimental animator and artist. Had he remained in the Reich, he would have undoubtedly been designated a member of the degenerate art tribe, with all the perks that went along with that tag, so that when Paramount came calling in ’36 and offered him an office and 250 samolians per, he hopped aboard the first dirigible out of Hitlerville and landed in Lotusland, where he ran head-on into the art v. commerce dialectic, quit Paramount, and moved over to Mauschwitz, where he produced some of the more far-out shit in Fantasia. When Tio Walt had his work redrawn to satisfy Disney’s more Mickey Mouse aesthetic, he split from there as well. He then divided his creative time between personal and commercial projects, one of the sprightlier examples of the latter being his animated promo for Muntz TV. Its theme song begins There’s something about a Muntz TV. The vid box was the brainchild of the great American huckster Madman Earl Muntz, who sold factory-direct to idiots. (A YouTube commentator describes a Muntz TV as having about half the parts in it of any other TV. . . Muntz took an RCA set and removed as many parts as he could and still have the set work negligibly.) Muntz manufactured the first car tape deck, a four-track sold under the brand name Muntz Stereo-Pak, as well as a shitty sports car, commercially fueled by its futuristic name — the Muntz Jet. Muntz was a visionary capitalist con man who, in the case of Fischinger’s kicky commercial, seduced the public with snazzy abstraction in order to more easily separate the marks from their moolah.
5 According to the hooker heroine in the movie of the same name it is the smooch that signifies perv.
6 The original ninety-minute cut of Freaks Tod Browning turned in to Paramount had the guys in the bespoke schmattas so whimmy-whammed they took it out of his hands and had it trimmed down to a sixty-four minute programmer. This truncated version jettisoned the horrifying details of the mud-dripping freaks [on their rain-soaked, midnight crawl led by Prince Randian the human torso, biting down on his knife as he wiggles his way forward before finally] swarming over the tree-pinned Olga Baclanova. The crawl climaxed in House of Pain surgery that transforms Cleopatra from beautiful trapeze artist and gold digger into the latest pledge to the Freaks fraternity—the Chicken Lady. But what elevated Freaks from precode curiosity to world-historical film is the initiation ceremony during the wedding feast: A tabletop dwarf enthusiastically announces We’ll make her one of us. A loving cup, a loving cup. The rest of the table begins to chant We accept her, one of us, we accept her/Gooble gobble, gooble gobble, at first individually, but, as the dwarf walks the table passing around an outsized goblet filled with bubbly for all the Freaks to sip from, the recitative becomes louder, more somberific as all the Freaks chant in unison We accept her, one of us, we accept her/Gooble gobble, gooble gobble. This psalm of acceptance, this ritual of welcome, is poignantly moving and horrifyingly hilarious. It underscores the righteousness of this congregation—the mutant and deformed celebrating themselves as they sanctify acceptance of the other into their tribe movingly demonstrates the noblest aspect of what it is to be human.
7 I was standing on the platform of the Gongguan station of the Taipei Metro bound for bamboo-shaped Taipei 101, which held title as the tallest skyscraper in the world from 2004 to 2010, when a high-pitched, keening whistle trilled through the station. This sound, indicating the imminent arrival of a train, was also the sound emitted by the giant predatory ants of Them. And so while the natives began to politely queue within precisely placed, angled lines etched into the station’s floor, my head went on a nervous swivel looking for hymenopteric incursion. I got turned on to Them by my Friend the Gleaner; it was his favorite flick. He felt about Them much the same way the Jews felt about God when they cataloged all the solids he had done for them during the flight from Egypt in the passover ditty Dayenu (“It would have been enough”). If it had only cameo’d the pre-Davy Crockett Fess Parker as a pilot who flips the fuck out when he realizes he’s flying in formation with a pair of giant ant queens and their consorts: dayenu; if the only character in it had been the absent-minded, prophecy-spouting, grampy scientist with a hot-cha-cha tochter in the demanding assistant/love interest role, imploring the men of action firing their guns to get the antennae! get the antennae!: dayenu; if it had only featured the scene in the madhouse overlooking the storm drain large enough for a giant ant to prance in and out, a madhouse where one wackbrain chants Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze, make me a sergeant in charge of the booze, while his put-upon neighbor begs him to be quiet with this hilarious beseechment—ple-e-e-e-ze, my nerves!: dayenu; if it had only included this one autopsy report — Old Man Johnson could’ve died in any one of five ways: His neck and back were broken, his chest was crushed, his skull was fractured . . . and here’s one for Sherlock Holmes — there was enough formic acid in him to kill twenty men: dayenu; and if Them was populated only by giant ants emitting the same sound used in the Taipei Metro to signal oncoming trains, well then: day-the-fuck-enu indeed.
8 Wikipedia tells me that Skeeter Davis was one of the first women to achieve major stardom in the country music field as a solo vocalist, and that she was an influence on both Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton. Like many pioneers, she paved the way for those that followed before fading away into the mists of memory. But before the fade she recorded “The End of the World,” a really good pop tune at 45 rpm that is transformed into a world historical song, the platonic form of heartbreaking, when slowed to 33 rpm, as My Friend the Film Critic and I discovered while searching for an anthem for the Theater of Gibberish, our troupe of two, committed to entertainment on the edge, now gone but not forgotten, at least not by MFFC and me.
9 Busby Berkeley was a choreographer and director famous for epic dance sequences in ‘30s musicals like Flying Down to Rio, Wonderbar, Footlight Parade, and Dames. His production numbers involved large multidimensional mobile sets filled with masses of synchronized chorus girls and guys, dancing both with and counter to its many moving parts, shot from all angles, over, under, sideways, down, which, when edited, result in a seamless kaleidoscopic cavalcade of high-energy images, a graceful, gonzo geometry of motion. Perhaps his most amazing set piece is “Lullaby of Broadway” in Gold Diggers of 1935, which he also directed. It clocks in at just under fourteen minutes, is both symphonic and surreal, and combines classic montage and his patented terpsichorial steps to spin out the tragic narrative of a doomed Party Girl. The song begins: a pinpoint of light in a black screen moves slowly toward the audience, getting larger and larger until it takes up most of the screen and clarifies as the close-up of the woman singing. She revolves and horizontalizes until she is looking up at us, a half-smoked cigarette locked in her lips. The outline of her face transforms into a cityscape the camera cranes into. A montage of the city on the go in the a.m. — the milkman’s on his way — breakfast, commute, work. As the city snaps into action, a Manhattan baby — they don’t sleep tight until the dawn — is dropped off at her tenement. She pets Kitty Kat at her door, pours cream into its saucer, grabs the paper, goes to sleep. Night. While the rest of the city comes home to eat, relax, sleep, Party Girl wakes, dresses, repeats her nightly crawl through club after club, the last one laid out in signatory Berkeley fashion, suddenly populated by a regiment of energetic, singing hoofers. Party Girl joins the throng, is twirled and whirled in a dizzying roundelay, passed from partner to partner, and finally back to the arms of her date. She breaks loose, runs up a flight of stairs, through a pair of french doors opening onto a balcony sans rail, closes the doors as the chorus led by her date teem on the other side. Party Girl and Rich Boy kiss through the glass, provoking carnal madness in the throng of jazzed dancers, who push the doors outward, propelling smiling Party Girl over the edge to her death. Kitty Kat mewls, the paper lies untouched. The camera reverses, cranes out of the cityscape, resolves back into the face of the recumbent, smoking singer. She revolves back to face us, sings the last lyric — oh listen to the lullaby of old Broadway — as she recedes into the blackness.
10 Translated from the Eskimo for “fuck me.” It provides the engine for the central incident in Nick Ray’s anthropological expose of life among the Inuit. Anthony Quinn is Inuk. When a missionary, tasked with converting the savage innocents to Christianity, makes a visit to his igloo, Quinn breaks blubber with him, placing a serving of maggot-ridden whale meat before the proselytizer, who is too polite and perhaps too focused on his task at hand to politely decline. After the evangelist eats the putrescent provender, the generous native Alaskan invites him to laugh with his wife. The holy roller, undoubtedly reeling and nauseous, feels he must draw his line in the snow. He makes the mistake of declining a tad too forcefully, giving judgmental, disgusted, and offended as he does so. Inuk rightfully takes this declination personally and in his rage bashes the head of God’s Man into the pristine white inside wall of his igloo again and again until it is corrupted by the blood and brains of the aggrieved, holier-than-thou apostle.
11 Staring a gift vulva in the vagina dentata, so to speak.