Tuesday, 17 January 2012

About Me, Part 16: Strange Days

I remember the first time I saw a hippie on television in a feature on the 60s: I was probably about eight or nine. Who are those people? I recall asking. Why are they acting like that? They're having so much fun. They dress up all the time.

Flash forward ten years ... the spring of 1988 ... I met others involved in the new counterculture at Dawson College. The few people I met at school had friends sharing an apartment several blocks away, downtown. Everybody seemed really immersed in the same music and ideas that I was. I felt, at least for a short while, that I had found my kind. But, I soon began to run up against some familiar issues. For all my personal exploration, I was still the insecure, vaguely drawn person I had been years earlier; my growth was mostly intellectual and creative. I was still quite underdeveloped in other ways. I had no sense of myself sexually, or even physically at all. I was now, socially, surrounded by people of all persuasions who seemed light years ahead. Many people blundered in their relationships, but the learned and grew nonetheless. I, for reasons, I did not understand, remained frozen. I hoped that this would change, but I had no idea where to begin.

I did experiment with drugs that summer, mostly out of curiosity. I began with weed, then mushrooms, and found them way overrated. That summer, while my folks were away on vacation, I went to a festival in the park and took a full hit of acid. I had read Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test earlier that year and had been listening to acid rock for nearly two years. Still nothing prepared for the onslaught of my own deepest fears and hopes writ large in technicolour as the full power of the hit I took was unleashed.

I was sitting on a blanket in the park, at dusk, when the acid took effect. Suddenly, I felt both sleepy and alert and the same time. Dizzy, yet lucid. Above me, the clouds retreated from various spots in the sky like grease in water. The pavement on the path next to me bulged and cracked like cooking porridge. As time past, I felt less sure of whether or not my hallucinations were really happening. Friends and others would occasionally reassure me that I was only having a trip, but I grew suspicious at how they seemed to be talking about me behind my back. There instructions to calm down started to sound like they were be spoken backwards. Scenes in front of played out, then repeated, then play backwards as if I were rewinding them on a videocassette, then they would split into two alternative realities with the same thing happening in two different speeds. Someone else told me something that has haunted me ever since: I didn't have to let my trip (life) control me, I could control it. I could detach from my thoughts, even when they threatened to swallow me up. A friend brought me to where some Hare Krishnas were playing musical instruments on an Indian rug on the grass. The paisleys in the rug became vicious red snakes that jumped up and bit me knees, little bolts of pain like when your foot falls asleep or like a series of small cat bites. Behind me a band blew the music tent roof sky high while fireworks made the sky boil. I demanded to be taken home, by which I meant crashing at one of our host's apartments in the west end. Someone finally relented, and a few of us, or several of us, piled into a Volkswagen and headed across town. I remember glimpsing spider monkeys scampering across the street in front of us as we passed under street lights, and the letters on the Montreal General Hospital sign bending and contorting themselves into Cyrillic characters.

When we got back to the apartment, I watched as the stucco walls bubbled and simmered down, and the neon op art patterns faded. At sun up, I headed home and took a bath. The dots floated on the water for a while before disappearing altogether. I then went to bed and crashed, exhausted. I was woken up, not long afterwords, by a phone call; it was my mother calling long distance. She and my grandparents (her parents) had been wondering where I had been for the previous twenty-four hours. Of course, I lied and said that I had been at work (I did not actually have a summer job at that point) and had gotten home late. I decided that I was not going to be taking acid again any time soon.

I continued to write all summer. While most of my friends and acquaintances had headed to States for a Rainbow gathering in Texas, I looked for work, doing odd jobs in a variety of warehouses all over town before finally getting a job at Ben and Jerry's ice cream parlour right downtown. I spent the rest of the summer working shifts that sometimes went until 2 am after which I would take three different night buses to get back home, finally getting to bed at 4 am. But, I made money. My folks had been putting pressure on me to take practical courses for the real (corporate) world. I made a consession by agreeing to take another math course that fall; the rest of my curriculum ran the gamut from documentary film to introduction to design.

Late that summer, I got another call from my mother informing me that I considered an embarrassment to the family. Apparently, the neighbours (I wouldn't have put it past them) were complaining to my grandparents. "My little rebellion was over," I was told. Were they so dead set against me finding things out for myself?

Truth was, I was getting quite disillusioned with the whole "hippie" thing anyway. Somewhere along the way, I began to find the constant discussions about getting stoned, and the infighting and ego battles and jealousies tiring. I cut my own hair and modified my manner of dressing that fall. I was eighteen. No longer a punk, hippie, or anything anymore. Just me.

To be continued ...

No comments:

Post a Comment