you had to be afraid of
I took psychedelics quite a few times my senior year of high school at
Miss Piddingsdale’s boarding school in southern New England. One time my
friend Morton sent me this package of chocolate mescaline and told me to snort
it. So I snorted this brown, cocoa-powdery stuff and got incredibly high with
two friends, Amber and Blythe.
We had permission to spend the night together at one of our respective
dorms. It was time to be over there for check-in. I was down in the smoking room
of my dormitory and as I was going up the stairs, I was aware that my feet were
sinking right through the steps. The step would close around my foot, making it
completely disappear. It must have taken me an hour to get up those stairs!
(Stairways are trouble for me on psychedelics. On another occasion, I was
going up the outside fire escape in another dorm and there were flames shooting
up through the metal-grate stairs. My feet would go through the step and fire
shot up to my knees. It was extremely frightening. I wanted to get up those
stairs real fast).
After what felt like an elongated uphill struggle with the stairs and the
clock, we arrived at the appointed dormitory just before check-in time, the
moment the dorm supervisor would go to everyone's room to make sure you were
there. This was an adult, someone you had to be frightened of. You certainly
didn't want to tip him off you were tripping your brains out or it would have
been very bad news.
We were out in a common area watching -- or pretending to watch -- a show
called Toma on a black-and-white tv set. I'll never forget how the
hallucinations caused the picture to divide itself into vertical slats of
alternate black and white. There was no "picture" but this psychedelic
beechnut-stripe pattern. I had no idea what was really on the screen, though I
could still hear the audio for Toma.
So I sat there struggling to see a real tv image, thinking "Oh, my
god, what is happening here?", when the fucking dorm supervisor came to
check us in. I thought "Oh, no, I'm never going to be lucid enough to even
answer my name." They always said something like "Oh, I see you're
spending the night." You had to interact in a way that was lucid and
The three of us were glassy-eyed looking at this tube. I had just had the
frightening experience of coming up the swallowing staircase and now I was
sitting in front of the slatted tv screen, gaping keenly at a procession of
stripes. I figured the supervisor is going to know I'm tripping, because I won't
be able to answer a question coherently. I was nervous. I felt frozen waiting
for him. My heart was beating heavily.
But he came and said something and I must have said the right thing back.
My friends stayed absolutely silent, but he ignored them and went away.
through to the core
Back around 1975, when I was eighteen and living in Boston, I bought a
whole bunch of acid, little red tabs called "red apple," which I was
supposed to sell but wound up dropping myself with friends.
One night, I went to see my friend Susie, a Harvard student, perform in a
play and afterwards, we went to her dorm and took acid with a couple of others.
Susie had been dating a hippy guy named Jimmy, an elfin fellow with sandy blond
hair, pinkish skin, and a sort of unformed face: a squashy nose and not much
On this night, we ditched him deliberately. Susie had had enough of this
guy and didn't want to sleep with him or have him hanging around her anymore.
She told him he should bug off before we took the acid that night, but he just
wouldn't go away. To escape him, we went to a friend's house in Cambridge,
around three in the morning.
At one point in the night, there came among us another peculiar
individual, a dark-haired guy who had terrible acne but was kind of nice looking
nonetheless. He peddled Real papers, an alternative daily newspaper, on the street. He was a
really pleasant guy, but we unfortunately didn't have enough acid to share with
him. He was cool about it though and just hung out with us, picking up a contact
We were out walking around and suddenly realized we could hear Jimmy
calling for Susie. He was roaming the streets of Cambridge, yelling "Susie!
Susie!" pathetically. We thought this was hilarious but also scary. We were
really high, on the verge of hallucinating, and felt kind of paranoid that we
couldn't get rid of this guy. It was like a bad dream that he was emerging out
of the mists of Cambridge from nowhere when we were so sure we'd lost him.
He caught up with us eventually and we concealed Susie. What was acutely
evident to me on the acid was that he had completely disintegrated. His
personality had fallen apart. He'd become a sickening blob of unformed need. I
hated him. He was frightening. I didn't know what he would do next. He begged us
to tell him where Susie was and why she wasn't there. We lied to protect her and
finally he disappeared.
The sun had started to come up, and everyone else was going home, so the Real
papers hawker walked me home. I was still very high. He said he knew this really
nice place to take a walk right nearby. We went up to the end of the street to
this hole in a chain length fence amidst all this overgrown brushy crap I'd
never thought to pay attention to. He led me through this hole like the hare led
Alice to Wonderland. Through this little window in the urban facade was an
Arcadian fantasy. It was magical.
We went through a beautiful forest glade that couldn't have been nicer.
There was all this mist in the trees which was gold from the sun. The birds were
singing. The paths were easy to walk. It was very green and it smelled great. We
walked around there for about two hours until I finally started to come down. He
walked me home and I went upstairs and went to bed.
But beginning with this trip, I could see a person's inner motivations
whenever I was high on acid, and from then onwards I never felt the same about
that individual. It was an extremely uncomfortable, unpleasant feeling that
happened a lot when I tripped and went to my local saloon, the Plough and Stars,
where I virtually lived.
I gravitated toward this neighborhood bar because I’d just moved to the
city on my own. It was very chummy and homey and they cooked food and sold it
cheap. Beer was cheap too and it was good. It was a fun and lively place. There
was music every Friday night. I knew all the bartenders.
I dated this MIT student who was going to be a doctor. He was happening,
but others were real low-lifes. I knew all these losers and flakes and
alcoholics. If I took LSD and talked to someone I'd talked to fifty or a hundred
times before, his or her inner motivation would become clear. Layers of
personality would strip away and I would see right inside to the core, and what
was usually in there was fear.
I almost always saw that they were afraid, afraid that I would discover
something yucky about them, that their self esteem was zero, and that I would
find out they were nothing. I was not able to pick up the scent of their
weakness and fear until I took acid.
There was one European guy in his early forties who always had a crush on
me. I don't know what he was doing in the Plough and Stars. I saw into him that
he was afraid of something about himself. He was always checking to see how I
was perceiving him. I could see this big mushy mass of fear and self loathing.
Once I saw people in this special, acid-illuminated way, I never saw them
in any other way again. The impression they made while I was under the influence
was a true one, and I was able to see the same thing again when I was straight.
I could never see that older guy, for example, any other way again. Same with
that poor pathetic moron Susie dumped, who revolted me whenever I ran into him.
As for myself, In spite of the queasiness of this sixth sense of insight
into people, I felt invincible on acid, at first. One of the nicest things was
the feeling, however short lived, of how much personal power you had.
The strange guy who took me on the walk in the secret garden was solid
and cool. He didn't seem to have any neuroses. He didn't place any demands on
me. He didn't come on to me sexually. He wasn't exacting in any way. He was just
a nice guy, comforting. I didn't see any weakness or fear in him.
I finally had to stop taking acid when I started to feel my brain cells
burning up. I saw people who lost a lot, some who lost their marbles. There was
one guy who became a gibbering idiot with serious mental health problems
subsequent to his excessive use of acid.
After I'd taken it about a dozen times, I would experience these
excruciating body pains while coming down, terrible twinges all over, in my
arms, my feet, and my hands. I guess they were muscle spasms, but they were
really painful. I never did acid after that.
saw you there
When I was working at the Harvard Law Library, there was a kid there
named Jamie about seventeen years old. I was nineteen at the time, a bit more
mature. We worked together behind the reference desk, checking research
materials in and out and shelving them. It was a nifty little job, perfect for
me because I could read the whole time.
One day, we decided to drop acid at the beginning of our shift, which was
five p.m. to midnight. Now, don't ask me why I felt I needed to trip during my
employment duties, but I did.
We got really really high. In fact, I got so high, I had to go home.
Fortunately, I had an hour for dinner break, so as soon as I found myself going
right over the edge, I took my break.
People were coming up to ask me to check out a book or magazine or
periodical and I would not understand what they were saying. Then I had the
totally scary experience of having to write. I could not do it. It was really
very weird. I totally lost the faculty of understanding how written language
There I was in front of this very intense law student, who's like
"Well? Well? What's the problem here?" I was supposed to be writing
down his name and I couldn't form any letters.
“I'm sorry, I'm not feeling well," I managed to get out and went
to get someone else to do it. Then I told the supervisor I had to leave and go
on my dinner break immediately. So I instantly exited and went home, where I had
a glass of milk and some food, which always brought me down right away. At the
end of the hour, I was still pretty high but more in control.
Well, I get back to the Library and poor little Jamie had been there by
himself with no tripping partner to talk to him.
And he was right out of his mind. I mean totally insane. He kept saying
"I saw you there. I saw you there."
"What are you talking about, Jamie?" I asked him. He said
"You've got to come here with me and talk to me. This is really
serious." So we went into a section of the Library that’s hardly ever
used and sat down on some steps in a huge hallway.
"What's the problem here?" I asked. By this time, I wasn’t
straight, but I was certainly lucid.
"I saw you in that gay bar."
"What gay bar?" I had actually been to a gay bar a few months
back with my boyfriend at the time. The place he was talking about was not the
place I'd been and I definitely was not there the night he was telling me I was.
I was unable to convince him of this, though. He'd decided that he'd seen
me at this “underground” bar wearing these big red and white feathers in my
hair, which I had actually worn for Valentine's Day or something, but not on the
night in question.
And he was convinced that I was going to tell people and that I knew he
was a “faggot.” It was a horrible experience for him. In the social climate
back then, being gay was nowhere near as acceptable as it is now. For a
seventeen year old boy especially, it was really a big deal.
I assured him, first of all, that I'd never been in "his" gay
bar, though I had been at this other one. And I told him that it was perfectly
alright for him to go to a gay bar. He should relax about it. I certainly
wouldn't tell anyone. It was none of my business and I didn't care one way or
the other. He should be calm about it and maybe he should go home for dinner
It was really tragic. He'd become so paranoid about this, that it totally
ruined his trip and it also ruined our relationship. He was never comfortable
with me again after that. He never got over it. He'd decided I'd already seen
him at this bar and even if I hadn't, now he'd spilled the beans to me, so now I
knew he was gay and there was no going back. It was really sad. He was a nice
kid. I liked him.