a shroom of one's own
I wish I still had the notebook I kept in the winter of 1974, when I was nineteen, unemployed, living at home, at a loss. I was alienated from my father's ministry, which wasn't, in my opinion, revolutionary enough, and whose central doctrines no longer made sense to me. My father was a Baptist minister. Our congregation was very small and composed of white working class people of various ages. The church building was next to Cabana Colony, an instant housing development built in the early sixties, although much of the actual ministry was conducted at our house. It was a family ministry. My mother and sister played piano and organ at services when we sang from the Baptist Hymnal. My father played trumpet and autoharp when he played the songs he wrote. I often accompanied him on guitar. My sister Betty, my cousin Cathy and I had expanded the practice of spreading the gospel to include antiwar demonstrations, aquarian explorations, and guerilla theater confrontations with the Palm Beach County power structure.
I didn't smoke pot until I was out of high school, in the fall of 72. I thought school was a brainwashing factory and I felt estranged from Reality. I was looking for a way to cure my alienation with cannabis and psychedelics. I read some Carlos Castaneda, R.D. Laing, Ram Dass. I first tried psilocybin the year before in Tallahassee. We picked mushrooms in a cow pasture near town. Back in West Palm Beach, which had a lot of cow pastures full of mushrooms, and among the various dope dealers I'd become acquainted with I could easily obtain the tools for the mind-altering experiments I read about. I kept a journal during this period of identity breakdown and breakthrough.
I was piecing my own doctrine together, a scavenger dharma bum. I conceived a plan for a happening, a vision quest. I would spend a night alone in the pine and palmetto woods west of town. I put up my tent in my brother-in-law's cow pasture and built a campfire. I organized the space according to the four directions, borrowing ideas from Black Elk Speaks and a book on peyote use in the Native American Church. I also had the Evan-Wentz translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (with Jung's "psychological commentary") because Leary and Huxley and those guys used it as a guide for acid trips. I awoke an hour before sunrise and smoked a joint and ate the mushrooms I had picked earlier, fresh from cow pies, maybe praying over it as a holy communion -- This is my body broken for you, flesh of the gods, etc. I tried to read from the Book of the Dead -- NOW YOU ARE EXPERIENCING THE FUNDAMENTAL CLEAR LIGHT OF REALITY -- or something, until the Trip started to move its own way in my head -- or maybe it started moving in my bowels when I was squatting on the ground, closely observed by a cow who sees cows defecate all the time, but not people, and it watches me like -- is this a man?-- he builds a fire like a man but shits like a cow? Like one of us? Hilarious in a Mister Natural sort of way but then
sun rising, the world struggles to awake, groaning as in childbirth, as Saint Paul says, waking to the daily angst and war of survival and absurdity and suffering and existential strife and am I transformed into that which I ate? This is my flesh, God's flesh, reduced to a subvegetative state and nothing more than a fungus on the ground, in the mud and cow shit, groaning in the abysmal muck.
Then I am on my feet and walking deeper into the woods for a million years through prehistory searching for a Way through and out of this wilderness and its suffering and snakes and unknown predators and bits of memory messages blown out of my neural files, words forming and disappearing in the surrounding ether before I can read them, like an audio visual collage I'm walking through and I don't want to go back to Nature I want to escape Nature and its struggle and suffering and all these ghosts of ground rattlers and other animal spirits, so I evolve and humanity evolves imagining a civilization to go home to, so I had to get out of this swamp and back to the city.
And I went to the trailer where my sister lived. It was on a lot adjoined to the pasture they leased and that they were letting me camp on. So I get to the trailer as the family is waking up and getting ready to go to work or take the kids to school and all that workday trap I was a fugitive from and I couldn't connect with their reality principle of work and submission to the system and I saw them literally turning into cattle before my eyes like a transformation in Ovid or Homer. YOU'RE ALL TURNING INTO CATTLE !! I cry as I rush out to the car so I could escape this prison camp cow pasture and get back to town and find my Way.
So I get in the Buick Skylark. It is Mom's car when she isn't at work and mine when she is, and I start to back out and straightaway I'm stuck in mud and hopelessy bogged down. So I borrowed Betty's car because I was desperate to get back to town and out of the woods. Her car is an old white station wagon covered with Bible verses -- FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, etc., a mobile folk art agit prop for Jesus, and I laugh at this crazy vehicle I'm flying as I descend from the skies into Palm Beach County, out of the glades and past golf courses and new growth of gated communites in gleaming concrete and now I sense another dangerous transformation in my shapeshifting, now I am turning into an internal combustion engine or part of the engine, part of the car I drive -- I'M A MACHINE HEAD !! I yell. Mechanized Man!! Worse than a cow! And I was passing the first instant golf course community of West Palm Beach on the highway out of the wilderness and I SCREAM with all my lung power, howling into town like a teenage werewolf. I drive into North Palm Beach turning the dial to sorry early 70s AM radio stations until I finally hear TIME HAS COME TODAY by the Chambers Brothers --
"Now the time has come - TIME - There is no place to run - TIME - I might get burned up by the sun - TIME - But I've had my fun - TIME - I've been loved and put aside - TIME - I've been crushed by the tumbling tide - TIME - and my soul has been psychedelicized - TIME - has come today"
I drive to my friends' apartment in North Palm where they were trying to live a simple life modeled on Freak Brothers comic books.They weren't there but their female roommate, the crypto-girlfriend sleeping with one of them, was waking up, and I told her I was tripping on mushrooms and asked her if she wanted to smoke and could I hang out until I got my head together and so forth and she said it was cool so I roll a joint and I am pressing the marijuana in the banana-flavored EZ Wider with my finger tips and I have been doing this for Eternity, eternally pressing the crumbled leaves in the paper carefully trying not to let the stems break through and tear the paper and trying to even it out, forever and ever.
Then I am in the room alone in a still moment a perfect space time bubble exquisitely afloat in infinite now, etc.
And then we sat in the common room and she put on a comedy album -- The Child's Garden of Grass -- based on an informative and funny manual for pot smokers and meant to listen to while stoned so they could mess with your heads, and we are listening to this skit about the aphrodisiac qualities of weed where the male and female get high like we just did and maybe we begin to send subtle sexual signals to each other but I can't tell if she is really sending these signals to me and laughing because the scene on the record was the scene we are in, or was I projecting this and the atmosphere got increasingly tense like the possibility of sexual intercourse with a real live girl was at hand but she was my friend's crypto-girlfriend, I think, and so we didn't Do It and I have to leave.
So I go to the door and step outside and there is a Goodyear blimp in the sky not far away and I call to her, It's the Blimp! It's the Blimp! the Mothership! -- not sure if I'm hallucinating this, until she comes out and confirms that, yes, Far Out, the Blimp is in the Sky right Now and watches as if it Knows.
I went home and saw Dad in the kitchen and I fear I look big-eyed with drugs. I'm dirty and reek of pine smoke and cannabis and sweat, a stoned prodigal son -- this is what I see when I look in the bathroom mirror. I lock myself in my room and put on a Sun Ra record and write in the notebook I burned later that year.