One Friday night we decided to drop a trip at my parent’s house. George’s house was the easiest to trip at because his mother a) was often not there and b) was very sweet and respectful of Georges space, including music played at the very outermost range of human hearing and most importantly c) had developed an almost supernatural command of the quality of denial.
Ian’s parents were slightly more difficult. He had three big brothers and a father who had none of the above qualities, except perhaps sweetness in a rough edged sort of way, especially while drunk. He had a big garden where we used to practise our ninja movements while flying high on acid. Once, Kevin, the most acrobatic of us all, had flick-flacked down the garden into a cactus which carpeted him in very fine hair like thorns. In the tripping state they were simultaneously extremely irritating and almost impossible to see. The poor boy became obsessed and spent the next six hours in a corner picking at often imaginary hairs.
My parents were the hardest. My mom, while sweet as milk tart and adept at denial, was very inquisitive and did not pay much heed to privacy. My father was dead focused and not easily fooled by our teenage confidence tricks. My room was in a sort of attic above the house where we had relative privacy but the trick was to get four tripping boys past them sitting in the lounge. One was always fearful that a normal ‘hello!’ might transform into a hideous demon howl from the pits of the abyss.
This time however a combination of two factors orchestrated to trap us in a situation where life imitated psychosis. Firstly, the trip hadn’t kicked in. It was our custom to down the acid immediately after scoring, to avoid both having to wait for the trip and carrying illegal substances around. Often, it would kick in quickly and we would be swimming in the mental ocean long before we reached home. At other times it lurked, like a great white shark, bumping into us, tasting us with its nose before making the attack. Secondly, my father insisted that we all sit down with them and watch a movie that was about to start.
I don’t know in what universe or queer whit of God it should happen that the movie we were about to watch was a cartoon called ‘The land before time’ but this was the reality that manifested. My father – who is not big on cartoons – and four jumpy teens sitting side by side on one couch, bolt upright, tapping our legs, despite the fact that there were plenty of other seats in the lounge. We were like cardboard cut-out teenagers on mescaline, smiling and sickeningly polite, trying to keep our eyes and the evidence of their dilated pupils fixed permanently on the screen.
This is where the next problem came in. At this stage of our tripping training, we were well into the candy realm and the hell bands, generally in that order. What started out as sweet and heavenly ultimately deteriorated into the demonic as the insecure substrata of our minds perverted the hope and purity that is uppermost in the brain. More importantly, the physical and environmental triggers that we experienced during the first hour of the trip set the tone, for both heaven and hell. A story about five cute little dinosaurs making their way through the apocalypse of the comet which struck Earth to find ultimate redemption in some promised land of green leaves and sparkling rivers. I shuddered to think how hell would interpret it.
Once we were seated however the escape velocity became formidable. We could not just simply leave. My father was observing us. One false move and the men with white coats would be called in. More importantly, our fixation on the screen was creating cartoon mind in our brains. This can be very scary. Cartoons don’t have edges or concrete. They are round and make your mind round. Without concrete and edges, it is impossible to make stairs. There is a word to describe this state, not in meaning but in the sound of the word: Salubrious. My mind was beginning to slip over itself. It took every step of my willpower to stand up and calmly announce that we would be retiring to my room for the night.
Once safe in the little cocoon world of my room, I opened the floodgates and allowed the hallucination to unleash itself. Predictably, it was very sweet. It started when I was sitting on the floor and from the corner of the room – to the accompanying sounds of military taps – marched five little dinosaurs. Putt putt putt they went, marching in single file, a little brontosaurus, a triceratops and two other dinosaurs that I cannot recall, each no higher than a hand from the ground and each a pastel cartoon shade of blue and pink and violet. The fifth, the leader of the troop, was technically not a dinosaur but rather a woolly mammoth.
When the pink elephant reached me, it tapped its trunk on the toe of my foot – five times, its expression haughty and imperious – and commanded, with stunning cuteness, that I immediately remove my leg from its path. This I did and in that decision set off a rather devastating chain of events. The problem lay with the acquiescence to cuteness, or moving aside in any sense of the phrase. Allowing anything to walk over you is one of the most common problems we face in life.
It is said that we spend a whopping twenty six years of our lives asleep. I reckon we spend at least one third of it being walked over. Every minute of every day we have decisions to make, compromises to negotiate. We are assaulted by a million different strategies, not least of which is cuteness, but they are all linked by a common intention, to manage your reaction when they stand on your foot. So I moved my foot and surrendered my will and the little troop of cartoons moved on their way.
As the night wore on, the cartoon creatures, most specifically the Mammoth, stuck around. I noticed that they were growing and as they hung around my cupboard, started to run out space. Inevitably and subtly, the mood started to sour. The once cute creatures had transformed into podgy little knee high teenagers and were poking each other with their sharp bits. Ultimately – and this is probably a reflection of natural evolution – the elephant won and banished the other cartoons.
Immediately it softened its attitude, sidling up to me with a big grin, nudging me gently. Forget those other cartoons, it seemed to say, I’ll be your companion. So I thought ‘what the hell’, hang around with me little guy. He was a polite and accommodating little elephant that wanted nothing more than a warm body and a little bit of camaraderie. Of course, over the course of the next hour, it continued to grow until eventually I found myself making room, giving up little inches of space for my new friend.
Not long thereafter a couple more elephants came to visit, old friends of my new companion. They were about the same size and were different cartoon hues. It was getting kind of crowded on the floor – although they were ever so well mannered – and I decided to move up onto the bed. My friends were also dancing around with their own phantasms of the candy realm but I was so preoccupied with the elephants that I hardly noticed them.
After a while the elephants started to run out of space again and one of them walked over and asked me if I minded them sharing the bed a little bit. I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable but I didn’t want to be rude to my visiting friends so I moved over and he sat down on the bed, his butt by now so large that he filled up half the mattress. And as juvenile elephants will do they were romping around and bumping into each other and I was pushed further and further into the corner, where my bed met two walls. I started to feel nervous and claustrophobic. Eventually all I could see was this great big cartoon blue butt and I felt sure it was going to snuff me out.
We called it ‘The Candy Realm’ because the colours were like the colours of old candy sticks, the sort you used to buy at fairs and circuses. Candy floss colours wrapped around sugary bliss. When you took the acid, there was a place you could go to, very near planet earth, where everything was gentle and sweet and candy coloured. To orchestrate this state we painted our rooms in bright colours and had groovy posters and played soft, melodic, romantic music. It created a warmth in the room, that we accentuated with colours and pastel disco lights. The world was filled with feathers.
Close by however was the hell band. As cute as the Candy Realm was, the Hell Band was mean. All the cute things in the candy realm developed edges in the hell band. You can think of it like the cliché layers of an onion. Just outside of our reality is the faerie realm (or band or layer), the first layers of the onion. I guess this is where most dreams happen. It is the silly little dreams at the onset and ending of sleep. Here it is that you can learn to interact with and enjoy the dream scenario, when it becomes real but sufficiently unreal so that it can reward you with fantastic prizes… or punishments.
Well it happened that these elephants just got too big. Eventually there were only two left – a girl and a boy elephant. They were cartoon blue and cartoon pink. They started to get aggravated with each other and really irritated with me. The male one – and this was the one who concerned me most – began poking me with its right tusk.
At some point in life you inevitably get into a situation with a large, scary dog. You come across this dog and for some combination of reasons you are stranded and you are at the mercy of the dog. Before it launches into action and rips your throat out there is a suspended motion in which you and the dog come to a simultaneous conclusion.
It is battle of intellect against instinct. If you play this situation wrong, the dog launches its attack. If you play it right, it accepts your authority. At the juncture of these two notions is a frozen, suspended moment when you and the dog share the same space.
Thus it was with the elephants. He knew I was scared and in the same moment I knew it too. When I was tripping the most vulnerable part of me was my eyes because they were like body height curved lenses that look into the beyond but could, like the eye, easily be poked. To be poked is like having a thorn on this inside of your eyeball.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse the elephant swung around in fury and broke his tusk in half against the wall. He was enraged at the pain and started swinging around, trying to slash my overexposed eyeball. It was really scary. It became clear that we had crossed into the hell band.
I will not dwell on where the night went from that point, but be assured that there is always an elephant in the room and they will always outgrow and overstay their welcome. My advice is to just call an elephant an elephant when first they manifest and not allow them to share space in your mind. Ultimately, these elephants will always invite their friends.