I grew up in a suburban, South East Denver neighborhood. It was quiet and safe. Routines were easy to identify. At 7:00 am the men pulled out of their garages and followed the brass ring to work. Mr. Newman drove a Saab, Mr. Engles a Ford and my dad, an Audi. At 8:00 am the neighborhood children walked out their front doors to the bus stop where we’d brag and lie, push and shove. At 10:00 am the woman pulled their cars out of the garage to run errands, volunteer at school, or play tennis. I don’t remember what they drove, something practical to usher kids around in.
My father didn’t always drive an Audi. He drove a Datsun, then a Ford, then an Audi. The cars followed his progress up the corporate ladder. By the time he purchased his Audi he began taking long walks with the neighbor lady, my best friends mom, his mistress. My mother contracted an autoimmune disease during this time.
The bus took us to school and dropped us in front of the industrial brick building where we would queue up and wait for the bell to ring. It was the era of bussing. There were Black kids, White kids, Mexican kids, Vietnamese kids. I had a crush on a girl named Natalie, was bad at math, and never won a blue ribbon on field day. I liked the way school lunch smelled but hated the way it tasted. In fifth grade, my friend Rob, who matured young, said Julie had a nice butt. I had no idea what he was talking about. I still played with toys.
Ronald Regan was President. His wife Nancy was first lady. One day all fifth and sixth grade students were given a very important letter to take home to our parents announcing a very important meeting that was being held at the high school lunchroom on an evening in the very near future. The importance of this letter was reinforced by a phone call home to remind our parents that their attendance, along with their child, was requested for a very important meeting at the high school lunchroom.
As the meeting day grew closer, the atmosphere around it grew in intensity. We didn’t know what the meeting was about, only that it was very important. We kids all agreed that we would be there with our parents.
On the night of the meeting, my mom, my best friend, his mom (yes the one my dad was carrying on with) and I had a pre-meeting dinner at Arby’s. I hardly had an appetite but managed to choked down a Jamocha shake. Our mom’s spoke to each other in low whispers. A woman, waiting for her take out order, dropped her infant baby on the red tile floor. The sound, a melon drop thud, was sickening. We all held our breath until the baby let out a sharp scream. The mother then worked hard to comfort the baby.
The high school lunchroom smelled like the elementary lunchroom but was far bigger and had murals painted on the walls. There were posters plastered announcing candidates for student council. I saw many kids from my school, some had older siblings who attended the high school. The kids with older siblings looked cooler and more comfortable than me. In front of the older kids I became painfully self aware of the clothes I was wearing. Our group of four took seats at a folding table.
Three police officers walked into the lunchroom. Two of them carried large black bags.
The eldest of the three welcomed us to the meeting and thanked us for being there.
“There is an epidemic infecting the children of America.” His began in a deep authoritarian voice. “An epidemic that is ruining families, lives and the American dream.” He paused looking just over the heads of his audience. “We are here tonight to educate you the parents, and you the children, about the dangers of drugs.”
A low whisper spread throughout the room as the officers began unpacking their bags loaded with drug paraphernalia, and to our great surprise actual drugs. That night we learned about pills, weed, shrooms, acid, PCP, Heroine, opiates, all of it. We saw bongs, rolling papers, and hash pipes. We heard horror stories of addicts and promising young lives ruined by drugs. Just one hit of weed, one dose of acid and a star athlete was now eating paint chips on skid row.
Another officer introduced ‘McRuff the Crime Dog’ who advised us that ‘only losers use drugs’. They always use a dog for this kind of authoritative mascoting. A cat wouldn’t care if you did drugs. “Do drugs, don’t do drugs. I don’t care. Just stay out of my sun.” The crime cat would say.
Then the police officers showed a short, unforgettable film about a kid who ate some acid and went to the store. Why go to the store on acid? Anyway, a hallucinogenic nightmare plagued him. As he reached for an orange it filled with maggots and worms, the check out lady went Large Marge on him. The kid, in the throws of a bad trip, ran from the security guard who was trying to help. In a demented rage he ran through a melting city up to the top of a building and threw himself off. The film was unnerving.
Nancy Regan made a cameo at the end of the film and addressed us; “Drugs take away the dream from every child’s heart and replaces it with a nightmare, and it’s time we in America stand up and replace those dreams. Children if someone offers you drugs ‘Just Say NO.”
We all left the meeting quietly, scared, and forever changed.
That night I lay in bed thinking of all that I learned. And here’s the fucked up part. I knew, despite how scared I was, that someday I would totally try drugs
… and I did.
I have often claimed that my life was bettered by the moderate use of hallucinogenic drugs. Mushrooms and acid had a profound effect on how I saw the world. After using them a couple times I became aware of the “lives of quiet desperation” of my father and the men in my neighborhood. I felt the graveyard of my stomach as it digested the flesh of animals and searched for compassionate alternatives. I recognized our home planet as sentient and interconnected. I understood my self as ethnocentric and miss educated. My reading took a turned from Steinbeck and Hemingway to Tom Robbins, Richard Bach, then to the beats. From Kerouac I discovered Gary Snyder and from Snyder Alan Watts, and from Watts, Lao Tzu.
My life was greatly influenced by my moderate use of hallucinogenic drugs. I read Watt’s book The WaterCourse Way and opened a restaurant based on the Taoist philosophies it trumpeted. With the guidance of psychotropics I understood the illusory nature of this physical reality and so proceed forth into this life with great confidence. I was fearless. I applied my understanding of gentle power to feed people, to serve people, to practice compassion. And it worked! It was as if the drugs allowed me to skip the first eight chapters in the metaphorical book of spiritual enlightenment allowing me to just get to work. I married the woman I loved and she gave birth to two beautiful boys. We raised them in a one-room cabin in the woods where we split wood and carried water.
Our successes created other successes. We began to buy property, open other businesses in other countries, moved down to the city. My attention was on creating things, and stuff, and success! By the time I was forty, for all intents and purposes, I was a success. My intentions were good, the results positive, the money flowed in.
We drove nicer and nicer cars.
And then my marriage fell the fuck apart. And boy, was it ever an ugly disentanglement.
All these beautiful things, this gentle stuff was litigated, and dissected by lawyers. Incomes were tallied, businesses were quantified, details were picked apart, sums were divided, and all these successes, these beautiful things, looked ugly to me. What was once fluid and gentle now became crystallized and jagged like the vicious grit of a kidney stone.
As I flailed and suffered through the meat-grinder of the divorce process I looked to the spiritual enlightenment I attained with the aid of the moderate use of hallucinogenic drugs for help. It was not available to me.
Come to find out, the kind of spiritual help I needed, as my life was falling apart, was written in the first eight chapters of the metaphorical book of spiritual enlightenment. The chapters I skipped as I tripped mushrooms in the canyonlands of Utah communing with the grandfathers and grandmothers of earth and sun. I never knew I would regret skipping those chapters until I sat in my apartment alone and cried out in pain and confusion and no one answered.
And so I stayed in my darkness, alone… until recently when I learned what chapter one in the metaphorical book of spiritual enlightenment is titled.
And so the real work begins.