Tuesday, March 23, 2004

"Stopping the World," the Third Definition

I continued to explore the boundaries between the imaginary and real dramas of life. The woods had taught me that there were natural dramas that were difficult to rewrite. I had also discovered limited success in manipulating adult dramas. I began to accept the boundaries set by adults less and less, as they had proven themselves to me to be a species that was not to be trusted. But the natural boundaries were yet to be explored.

A secret life emerged; consisting of crawling out of my window at night and roaming the city; sometimes with companions, sometimes alone. The opportunity presented itself to test a particular boundary that had fascinated me for some time. Through an unexpected turn of events, I found myself in the possession of the set of keys to a new Cadillac.

The speedometer read 110, and I still had some pedal left. Before I could fully explore the limits of this machine, I failed to navigate a corner. It slid out of control, smashed into one pole, and then shot ahead, wrapping its nose around another. A costly lesson in physics was learned that night.

My cousin and her family were in shock when they arrived at juvenile hall to pick me up. They decided they had no choice but to send me back to my father and stepmother. Before the date for my departure arrived, I slipped away. At fourteen years young, I found myself living on the street.

There were many children on the road in 1968. It was easy to blend in. The first order of business was to make the obligatory pilgrimage to Haight-Ashbury. I headed for the interstate, stuck out my thumb, and five hours later was wandering the streets of San Francisco.

The next few years were to be a wild adventure, consisting of hitching up and down the California coast, eventually getting picked up by the police and placed in a foster home, and finally being sent to the state boy's school.

Part of this adventure involved drugs. Lots of drugs. We were human guinea pigs; ingesting, injecting, snorting, huffing, toking guinea pigs. Some of us didn't survive the experiment. Others melted their minds. Others lost their soul. Others were put in a cage like the wild animal they had become.

There were magical moments; I could tell you of nights filled with beautiful visions and communing with fellow travelers. But then I would also have to tell you about the ugly times; hiding under a bush shaking with a club in my hand, or having to pull over because I was unable to stop screaming.

I speak of this because it is a part of the journey. The story would be incomplete without it. Before going any further, let me say this clearly. The use of any drug, including organics, is a shortcut, a back door, which offers short term rewards, but the final cost may not be realized until it is too late. In my experience, the cost is always too high.

A certain drug offered glimpses of a realm that I deeply desired; one that molded both the real and the imaginary dramas into one experience. The way it accomplished this amazing result is difficult to explain. A simple description might begin with a consideration of how the mind works. We are bombarded with millions of stimuli every minute. We cannot possibly process so much information. So, we develop filters, removing everything but the essential data. This drug took away all the filters. Every external stimulus was fully experienced.

At the same time, this drug caused the brain cells to fire in new and unusual patterns. Not only was the brain overloaded with external data, it also had to process a constant flow of new internal information, coming from parts of the brain previously hidden to the conscious mind.

During one of my weekend passes from the boy's school, where I had been incarcerated for the dangerous crimes of "consistent runaway and drug abuse," I was given a particularly pure dose of this drug. As I felt it beginning to open the filters, I climbed the stairs to a friend's apartment, and knocked on the door. A woman I had never seen before opened it. As we stood talking, I noticed that there was something wrong with her stereo. The song was slowing down, and the voices were getting deeper and deeper. Before I could comment on this, I noticed that the woman's hand motions seemed to flow, as in a choreographed dance. Her voice was also getting deeper. And slower. Then, the music stopped, as did her hands, and her mouth. She stood before me frozen with her lips still trying to form a vowel.

A sudden wave of fear gripped me. My fright seemed to kick the stereo, as the turntable slowly began its circular journey once again, the deep bass tones gradually becoming recognizable as the voice of Eric Burdon. The woman continued her explanation of why my friend was not there, as if nothing had happened.

I stumbled down the stairs and back into the sunlight. As I began to walk with my friends down the sidewalk, I had to stop every few steps as the implications of what had just happened began to sink in: "...but that means...and that means...and that means..." It was as if a deck of cards had been fanned before my eyes so quickly that I only had a glimpse of each unique design. But that glimpse was enough to turn my world upside down.

Was it just a drug-induced illusion? Most certainly. Yet, illusion or not, the possibility that another more universal illusion had been exposed was a suspicion that was born within my mind that day. Just possibly, our division of time into segments of past, present, and future are artificial dissections.

Three years later, just a couple of weeks after my eighteenth birthday, a patrol car tried to pull me over. I floored my Chevy, and smiled as I saw the flashing lights receding in my rear view mirror. That smile quickly disappeared when I returned my gaze to the road in front of me. Two more sets of flashing lights were waiting up ahead. You may be able to outrun the cars, but you cannot outrun the radios.

I spent enough time in jail for my head to begin to rise above the fog formed by all the chemicals I had ingested. As I did an inventory of my network of friends, I came to the realization that every one of them, without exception, was either in a mental hospital (or belonged in one), in prison (or headed there), or dead. This was the drama unfolding on the stage of my life.

It was high time to rewrite the script again. I knew a fellow traveler who was leaving for New Mexico. He had invited me to go along. It sounded like a plan. Ride out into the desert, allow it to dry me out, and start putting together a new script.

In summary; "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And there are many ways to uncover these things beyond this physical realm and the world of dreams. We may learn to stop the world, but taking a shortcut along the path always comes with a price. If you enter through the back door, be prepared to have insanity, incarceration, or death be your escorts as you make your final exit. Beware.