When I was eleven years old I bought Beastie Boy’s License to Ill on cassette with my birthday money. I spent weeks on end in my bedroom listening to it on repeat, playing Gumshoe and Punch-Out. Once I memorized the lyrics, I began deciphering their meaning. In nineteen eighty eight my mother was the closest thing I had to the internet. I remember reading her lyrics from “Slow and Low”, asking “Mom, what’s LSD?”
“It’s a drug, honey. It makes you see things that aren’t really there.”
One of my most vivid memories is standing in the kitchen with my mother as she told me this, thinking “I’m going to take LSD someday.”
Walking a wooded shortcut home from high school, I paused atop a steep white hill at the tree line’s edge. I looked down at the deep snow crusted over solid in sheets of ice. Peaking on five hits of Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I saw the late afternoon sun smiling at me in every crystal, a magic shell rippling yellow orange across the vanilla mound. I knelt to inspect the snow’s glowing surface. Countless shapes swam together to form my reflection, wide crazy eyes, sloppy hair, clouded breath. When I leaned in to kiss myself the cool, slick lips of the other me pressed back on mine. I outstretched my arms and legs. The rough wool of my Guatemalan sweater rubbing against the hill like a balloon against a window, I vibrated slowly in the warmth of the sun’s rays.
I heard my name being called. Lifting my head, I could see my next door neighbor, Ryan, standing in a plowed driveway fifty feet from the base of the hill. Ryan was a few years older than me. On the morning of my first day of middle school we had sat in almost this exact same spot. We paused at his insistence, on a log just past this clearing. He took off his backpack and unzipped it, then pulled out a forty-ounce of Olde English. “Welcome to the big leagues, Motherfucker.”
“Adam!” Ryan was calling, one hand wrapped around his mouth in attempt to amplify his voice, the other gesturing me toward him. I shifted my weight forward by arching my back, then punched into the ice crust and gripped the packed snow with both hands. I pushed off as hard as I could and began sliding down the hill. The air was whispering my name. I moved my hands in front of my face, palms out, to brace myself for the slide’s stop. I was crushing through the crystalline skin in my descent. At the hill’s bottom I continued moving until plowing deep in a snow pile at the driveway’s end.
I rose and shook the snow off, tussling my hair, waving my arms wildly, pinching my sweater away from my belly and waving its slack. Ryan was laughing uncontrollably. I looked down and saw wet red splotches on the undyed areas of the front of my sweater. I looked at my palms. Thin streaks of blood. I noticed the thickest stains at my sweater’s cuffs, then pulled up my sleeves to reveal a multitude of oozing cuts and scrapes along each wrist. “Fuck!” I turned around and saw two red lines of crushed ice marking the path of my slide.
The first time I tripped I remember feeling that this was the state I was always destined for. I saw a clear path leading me from birth to that moment, another kind of birth, an almost unbearable state of openness, a state I remembered before I experienced it. I’ve taken more acid than I can remember, and I don’t regret a drop of it.
When I was in ninth grade my English teacher thought I was smoking weed because I wore patchouli. I snuck out of the house with a mason jar full of whiskey one night. When I returned home at daybreak, I chomped three hits out of a sheet I had hidden in the basement, then passed out. I woke up cross-eyed, unable to tie my shoes. During home room period, I was called down to the guidance counselor’s office. There, my parents were waiting with Bruce, the school drug counselor. “We know you’re smoking pot,” Bruce began our conversation. Laughing wildly, I told them the truth “I hardly ever get high, but I take acid every day.”
I was invited to a Fourth of July party at my friends’ house in the country. My friends are my favorite poets. Their Fourth of July parties are amazing. Poets come from all over to be together and read poetry for one another. It can be an intimidating thing, the presence of so many people you respect and admire, especially so when reading your work for those people. Often, in the face of intimidation, I cope by raising the stakes to the point of absurdity. So I took some acid.
There was a band called the Pots and Pans.
They made this noise that people couldn’t stand
and when they toured all across the land,
the people said, “No, no, no!”
But the drummer said, “Yes, yes, yes, this tour is a test.”
I dropped mid-conversation while sitting at a picnic table, slipping tabs onto my tongue and washing them down with a gulp of the lemonade punch I had brought a punchbowl of. Just as soon as I swallowed, one of our hosts began corralling guests inside. The reading was about to begin. The come-up was fast. By the time the fourth reader began I was self-consciously grinning ear to ear. All of the poetry was amazing, and growing more so by the second. By the time I was invited to read, I was beginning to peak. My stomach was flipping. The walls were breathing. The microphone was a prehensile extension of my tongue, rising out of my throat with each new word, etching the poem onto the room’s air. After I read some people complimented my work, and I, trying to keep my grin under control, attempted to express my admiration for their work. I felt safe and loved. Before I left the party, having returned to normative consciousness, I approached some people I wanted to talk to earlier. “Hey, earlier today I was kind of out of my mind I, but I wanted to tell you that poem you read was beautiful.”
“Are you okay? Why were you out of your mind?”
“I was tripping.”
“OH! Well, I don’t think anyone could tell.”
There is this idea of the acid test. Not a test of the acid, but a test of yourself. Some people think it’s a silly idea, that it can’t be failed. But I’ve seen people fail it.
I took acid with a couple friends and went to see a screening of eXistenZ. Afterwards we were smoking a bowl at a friend’s house when one of them picked a guitar and smashed it, screaming “There’s no up or down!” The rest of us looked on, shocked and tripping, as he jumped onto and broke the dining room table, then lay motionless in a puddle of beer, broken glass, and splintered wood. He failed the test.
Another friend, that had started taking acid with me back in high school, has been in and out of psychiatric wards for most of his life now. I realized something was wrong when, while walking through a cemetery, neither of us intoxicated, he sang a line from a Doors song then asked me if I knew what it meant. I gave him my explanation of the lyric and he responded “But do you know what it really means?”
My brother once told me that I had ruined my life with acid, that I could have been anything I wanted if I hadn’t destroyed my brain. He said there was a long stretch of time when my family thought I’d never be able to live a normal life. I never wanted to live a normal life.
Now I have a family. I work forty or more hours a week in a grey office. I spend another ten to twenty hours a week running a poetry press. I don’t go out much. I don’t party a lot. But once a season I take acid. As I’m eating it I’ll have a question on my mind, and by the time the trip is over I’ll have an answer. I don’t expect anyone to understand this. I don’t suggest everyone do this, but it works for me.
Someone asked me how I would feel if I found out my kids were taking acid. I think they’re too young to be taking any kind of drug at this point, but I’d much rather find out my children were taking acid then opiates, uppers, weed, or even alcohol. There’s a reason some societies use hallucinogens sacramentally. While the lumpen culture of the American wasteland lacks the framework for this kind of ritual, small pockets of an alternate awareness exist. I’d like to think my home is one of them.
When you first take acid, there is a feeling of absorbing knowledge from the fabric of the universe, gnosis. If you keep taking it you find out what you’re really learning is you don’t know anything. Many chalk this experience up to a difficulty in integrating the lessons the drugs are teaching. I think learning to not know is the lesson. Maybe this is most important thing to learn here. If we can know in our bones that we don’t know, we can reconsider many our hardwired survival instincts that move us to hate and fear. We can start to untangle our webs of association built from bad vibes and clinging.
When I was a small child I carried a beige lunchbox-sized tape recorder with me everywhere. I would record strangers’ voices, the sounds of wind rattling trees, squirrels hulling chestnuts, and television shows. After dinner one evening I was listening back to the day’s recordings on my swing set when the voice on the tape deepened and slowed to a stop, but the play button didn’t click back into place, as it usually would when the tape was over. I lifted the recorder and noticed it was wet on the bottom, a clear fluid leaking from its battery compartment. I rubbed my hand across the slick then put a finger in my mouth. I can still feel this first acid sting on my tongue.