Archive for August, 2003

A Story I Often Tell

Friday, August 15th, 2003

[Erowid Note: Scotto actually got this written in August and its not his fault it is a month late. We blame burningman and weddings. Sorry for the inconvenience.]

Once when I was young and very inexperienced with matters psychedelic, a friend and I decided to try our luck with an extraction of LSA from Hawaiian baby woodrose seeds. Knowing extremely little about dose and even less about what to expect from the experience, we merrily swallowed an indeterminate amount of sticky black goo and sat down and waited for the onset of effects. At some point, it seemed appropriate to layer on a big hit or two from a bong just for flava, as the kids say.

My partner in crime lived in a tiny studio apartment above a garage, and his girlfriend was our sitter for the evening. I was extremely young and obnoxious, at a time in my life when psychedelics were a brand new world lying in wait for me – a world that I believed was mine to conquer. They were on the couch across the room talking about Robert Anton Wilson, and I was lying on the carpet having a monstrously hallucinogenic experience of some kind, when at some point I began to get very, very uncomfortable with the situation. When I look through my notes from the experience, they are filled with youthful braggadocio, but what I remember clearly looking back is the sense of stark terror at experiencing such terrifying shifts in my consciousness and my reality.

Here is how I tell the story today: It was as though I was swimming in that carpet, trying to escape. My discomfort and increasing paranoia led me to crawl alone into the bathroom. I began hyperventilating; I remembered reading a post from alt.drugs (even more a wasteland at the time than it is today) suggesting that hyperventilating on psychedelics was very dangerous, and that’s precisely why I plunged ahead, ever the archetypal rebellious young idiot. This led into a vicious physiological spiral in which I found myself unable to breathe naturally, and by the time my friends found me, I was gasping and twitching on the bathroom floor. They reacted as though they felt my life was in danger; my partner in crime for the evening had a large syringe prepared, which he brandished ominously before I had a chance to ask him what was in it and what it was for.

And then, moments later, I was back on his living room floor, and he and his girlfriend were still discussing Robert Anton Wilson, and I was swimming in the carpet, and I had not crawled into the bathroom at all, at all.

I was more than taken aback; I was shocked, and terrified. I had no prior experience along these lines to guide me, and I wasn’t at all sure I could trust my partner in crime and his girlfriend. What if they were talking about me, about how they wished I wasn’t such a loser who spent all his time flopping around on the living room carpet? What if they wished they hadn’t invited me in the first place? This was at a time in my life when I was riddled with all the stereotypical angst of the youthful and the angry; the confident, arrogant exterior I projected was a house of the most ineffectual cards.

Frightened and alone, I crawled into the kitchen, hoping to find an escape. A large kitchen knife lay on the counter. In an agonizing slow motion, I yanked myself up to the counter and grabbed it, and with a kind of wretched glee, I began hacking at my own wrists. I must have emitted some kind of scream, because my partner in crime came running? I don’t exactly remember what happened next, but before I realized what I had done, I was riding in the back of an ambulance on the highway.

And then, moments later, I was back on his living room floor, and he and his girlfriend were still discussing Robert Anton Wilson, and I was swimming in the carpet, and I had not sliced my wrists open at all, at all.

I knew at that point that the entire situation was intolerable. As long as I lay on that living room floor, any kind of horrible twist or turn was possible. I decided I needed to flee. I knew from my previous two hallucinations that if I made too much noise, I would attract my partner in crime’s attention, and so I crawled even more slowly this time into the kitchen. The apartment door opened off the kitchen to a long wooden stairway leading down to the driveway. Carefully I drew myself to my feet and opened the door. I guess, however, that I wasn’t quiet enough, or perhaps a horn blared outside at an inopportune moment, because my partner in crime came rushing into the kitchen in dismay. I threw myself forward, attempting to get away before he could stop me, and in my hurry, I somehow tripped and tumbled headfirst down the entire flight of stairs. I landed hard on the pavement below, on my back, looking up at my partner in crime and his girlfriend standing in the doorway.

And then, moments later, I was back on his living room floor, and he and his girlfriend were still discussing Robert Anton Wilson, and I was swimming in the carpet, and I had not left the apartment at all, at all.

Clearly the strategy was sound: I had to get the fuck out of there. It was just my approach. I wasn’t nonchalant enough. I wasn’t committed enough. Casually, coolly, I made my way to the kitchen. The door opened quietly this time; I easily made my way down the stairs, to the street, to my trusty brown Toyota Corolla. I climbed inside, started the engine, easily made my way out of the neighborhood. Indeed, it wasn’t until I was out on the highway, cruising at high speed toward my home some forty-five minutes away, that I realized that I WAS STILL HIGHER THAN I HAD EVER BEEN IN MY LIFE. I was in no shape whatsoever to be operating a motor vehicle at high speeds! I began to panic, and fear flowed through my veins. At nearly that exact moment, a semi trailer swerved in front of me, cutting me off unexpectedly; I swerved to avoid it, and careened off into a ditch. The car flipped over, and as it rolled, a huge piece of metal sliced cleanly through my neck and lopped my head off.

And then, moments later, I was back on the living room floor, my partner in crime and his girlfriend were still discussing Robert Anton Wilson, and I was swimming in the carpet, and I had not driven away at all, at all.

A macabre and miserable realization sunk in: I was not leaving that apartment until I had come down off this fiendish substance. I resigned myself to lie there on that carpet, immobile, incommunicado. Hours passed. My partner in crime and his girlfriend eventually went to bed. Seven a.m. came and went; eight a.m. came and went. I realized I had made a tactical error. We had chosen this particular substance because we thought it was short acting enough that I would be able to report to work at ten a.m. that morning. But nine a.m. arrived, and I was still shell-shocked, and it was time to leave. I gathered my things and quietly left the apartment, certainly less high than I was while peaking, but in no way put back together again. The sun punished me for my indiscretions as I climbed into my Corolla and hit the highway.

That summer, I was working as a performer at a theme park. We were rehearsing a fourth of July parade, and this ten a.m. rehearsal would include every single performer in our department, as well as our head choreographer and all his assistants. The parade was going to be televised regionally; in fact, one of our numbers was a commercial for a major international sponsor of the parade. I pulled into the employee parking lot with an ever increasing dread; this was right around the time when I first realized the absolute, unquestionable value of building in recovery time to trip planning. I wandered through the employee checkpoint, through the deserted park not yet open for business, to the giant amphitheater where rehearsal was to take place. The vast concrete stage was already filled with dancers, warming up, chatting, preparing for what would be a grueling two-hour rehearsal in the sun. I avoided everyone I could, warmed up as best as possible, and prepared myself with what little will I had left.

Rehearsal began. For those of you who have not had a career as a professional dancer, let me be clear: they do not fuck around. It took approximately fifteen minutes for the other dancers around me, the choreographer’s assistants, and eventually the choreographer himself to realize that something was not right with me. My coordination was shot, my concentration was non-existent. In these situations, you’re expected to learn a lot of complicated choreography in a very limited timeframe; that’s how you get the job in the first place. I must have also looked like absolute hell, sweating much more profusely than was called for. Finally, the choreographer stopped rehearsal – this, in front of approximately seventy-five of my peers – and strode over to me. “I don’t know what your problem is,” he announced, his voice echoing off all that concrete, “but it’s clear you don’t belong here. Get your ass to medical, and don’t bother coming back to this rehearsal.”

I have rarely felt as humiliated as I felt staggering the length of that stage to get away from those people.

And then, moments later, I was back on the living room floor, and my partner in crime and his girlfriend were still discussing Robert Anton Wilson, and I was swimming in the carpet, and I had not attended any kind of dance rehearsal at all, at all.

Finally it occurred to me to sit up and attempt to communicate with my partner in crime. The best I could manage was, “I am having a terrible series of hallucinations, in which I cannot tell what is real and what is not. I think you should just drag me into your coat closet, and slam the door shut behind me, and leave me there. That way, when I start hallucinating, at least some part of me will always be able to remember that I’m in the closet, and I’ll be fine.”

My partner in crime leaned in and said, “Fine. Scotto, you’re in a closet. Boom.” And then he wandered off. My psyche reeled – I’d been hallucinating so wildly, for all I knew, I’d been in a closet the entire time. For all I knew, I’d crawled into the closet in an earlier iteration and had gotten lost without knowing it. And there was my hallucinatory partner in crime, merely pointing out the obvious. For all I knew, I was NEVER GOING TO COME DOWN.

I published a trip report on a mailing list shortly after the experience, describing it in breathless terms, essentially showing off. “This is insanity, and it’s a BLAST!” I wrote. “Go insane, lose your mind and your responsibility, and live in sweet pools of fractal bliss forever and fucking ever.” My partner in crime showed that trip report to a mutual friend whom he believed would enjoy psychedelics, and appended it with his own commentary: “None of the bursting through the door with a syringe stuff was true at all, of course? The ambulance thing was all a hallucination. Nor did he drive his car in this state. I would never have let him, obviously. Nor would [my girlfriend], and for that matter, Scotto would not have been physically able to do this. It’s precluded totally, and there is no danger in this respect because it just does not happen. And he certainly didn’t slit up his wrists. I’m saying this because these are the kinds of myths about hallucinogens that the propagandists like to distribute, but it’s much more figurative than that. Scotto writes it as literal because in a very strong sense, it is literal, and to convey the power of the experience, being literal is a good literary device. But none of the dangerous things that apparently went through his mind could manifest in reality. He did attempt to go out through the door and fall down the steps like he wrote, but the reality of the picture is that when he approached the door he did so while crawling on his belly, which is a typical maneuver, and so even though he got the door open (I don’t know how) he couldn’t have flung himself down the stairs because he was limp and on his belly. At worst he would have plopped down one step at a time like a snake.”

This was all intended to convince the friend in question that, hey, psychedelics aren’t actually THAT big a danger, so come on, what are you waiting for? In retrospect, our blazing arrogance and stupidity is obvious. I’d just had a horrible experience, pretended for the sake of public appearances that it was really, really cool, and staggered on with life as though I hadn’t just taken a bitch-slapping to my ethereal consciousness. It was a pattern that took years for me to outgrow. Psychedelics were flashy and exciting and mesmerizing when I was young, and for years I willfully ignored and downplayed the fact that I wasn’t actually enjoying them much of the time. I guess that kind of willful ignorance is how you get through youth.

I might get through it eventually.

Citation: Moore S. “A Story I Often Tell”. Erowid : eScottology. Aug 2003