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Creek Running North

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November 09, 2005

Another career-limiting post

The first time I dropped acid - or for you morality parsers out there, "experimented with LSD, an illegal hallucinogen" - I had just turned 17. Buffalo was going through one of its hardest winters in memory: three feet of snow in December, another three in the first three weeks of January, and then the Blizzard of '77 hit: another foot of snow accompanied by 65 mph winds. About thirty people died.

When they got the Thruway plowed, my housemate K. got a visit from her boyfriend from Albany. Boyfriend brought along a little supply of what was, in those halcyon days of the Whip Inflation Now buttons and humorous Saturday Night Live skits, referred to as "orange sunshine." Boyfriend handed me one, and I swallowed it. I don't remember the boyfriend's name, and that's probably why.

When the walls started to undulate slightly, I went for a walk in what turned out to be a bright, sunny winter day. I found myself on the Bufffalo State College campus. I ran into Ralph, my favorite hippie. Ralph was about 5'3", always smiling, women all loved him until they didn't. He had a beard I envied horribly, and knew all about Eastern religion stuff. He was just getting out of his little Datsun pickup. "Chris! How 'ya doin?"

"Tripping my brains out."
Ralph was delighted at the news. I can still see his eyes sparkling. "Hey, that's great!"
"Orange sunshine!"
"Far out!"

I hugged Ralph and walked back to the apartment. It was locked: there was no one home. It turned out that I had forgotten to take a key. I must have been distracted for some reason. I think I stood staring at the apartment door for about three minutes when the light dawned. I could go back outside! It was nice out!

I went back outside, walked up to Elmwood Avenue. A car honked. I turned: it was K. and the boyfriend, laughing hysterically, beckoning at me.

[Note: The remainder of this post involves stories of operating motor vehicles under the influence of mind-altering chemicals. It should go without saying that I do not condone such activity now, nor did I really back then when I wasn't, you know, tripping. Kids, don't try this at home.]

I walked to the car. It is perhaps appropriate at this point to mention that K. was astonishingly beautiful, an East Indian goddess, eyes the color of coal and the most amazing skin I have ever seen. If her skin was a web page background it would have been <color="996600">. This was all rather accentuated under the brilliant winter sun in my, um, condition. "I said we're going to Niagara Falls, do you want to go?"

I didn't need to be asked a third time. Boyfriend's car was small and Japanese, with two very large speakers in the back seat. I sat between the speakers. Boyfriend pulled into the gas station at Elmwood and Forest and I watched him fill the tank, buffeted by the treacly New Riders of the Purple Sage.

About two repetitions of side B later, we arrived at the Falls. "Let's go to the Canadian side," said K. "The view's better." Boyfriend smiled. Or, to be precise, he continued to smile. He'd pretty much been smiling the whole way. We drove across the Rainbow Bridge and up to the Canadian Customs officer.

"Citizen of what country?" We said USA all around, of course, and it didn't occur to me until just now that the reason the officer narrowed his eyes and sent us over to the "detailed questioning" area may not have been because we were all hippies, but because K. had obvious familial roots in a Third World nation. I wonder. Whatever the reason, we trooped into the interview area just as the LSD completely consolidated its control over my central nervous system.

The Canadian Customs officers were uniformly polite, and this may be the most utterly superfluous sentence I have ever written. K. handed over her New York State driver's license, which in those days had no photo, and her Erie County sheriff's department ID, which did. (She wasn't a cop: The Sheriff's Card was public photo ID for alcohol consumption purposes, used almost statewiide to make up for the photo-less driver's license.) Boyfriend did something similar. Then it was my turn. I had no license, and was too young to get a Sheriff's Card, so I offered up my State University College at Buffalo student ID, which was from the year before, and thus expired.

The agents passed my ID back and forth among themselves. One of them asked me if I minded stepping into his office for a few moments. I didn't mind: I was in an excellent mood.

He offered me a seat, and sat down behind his desk. Behind him, a plate glass window offered a view of the highway. He asked me a few questions, each of which I answered to the best of my ability and immediately forgot. I was trying my best to act normal. He had lint on his forehead, oh my god! it's moving when he talks! Look at something else. Trying to look thoughtful and coherent, I thoughtfully and coherently glanced downward for a moment before answering a question. This was a mistake: my hands were in my lap, and they were suddenly fascinating. It's entirely possible I stared at them for two or three minutes: I don't know. Yes sir, just wanted to look at the Falls. No, I'm not hitchhiking: K. is my housemate in Buffalo and her boyfriend's from Albany. Oh, about ten-thirty today. No, we'd be heading back into the US in a couple hours, at the very latest.

"And this address on Windsor Avenue is your current address?"
"No, it's my mother's."
"Is it her current address?"
"Yes. Yes, it is."
"Chris, does your mother know you're trying to enter Canada today?"
"No, she doesn't." I forced a chuckle. "I didn't even know myself I'd be trying to enter Canada until about half an hour ago."

He got a little more serious, more avuncular. "Chris, are you a runaway?"

In fact, I had left home two months previous, and failed to keep parents apprised of my whereabouts in the time intervening. What would I have said? "Dear Mom, I am doing everything you are afraid I'm doing, what with the drugs, drinking, sex with college students, and walking around in blizzards with insufficient clothing, love, Chris." Not letting her know was the compassionate thing to do, the caring course of action. Still and all, that made me technically a runaway, despite the fact that I thought of my self more as running toward. What did he just ask, again? Oh, yeah. I thought to myself "you know, Chris, if you weren't tripping my brains out right now, I would be just about shitting your pants." Then I wondered whether I might actually have said that last bit out loud. Have I been just opening and closing my mouth like a fish for ten minutes? I am screwed.

But Immigration Canada was still looking at me expectantly, as if only a moment had passed.

"No," I said. He nodded. Saved by lysergic acid diethylamide's subjective time dilation once again!

"So," he continued, "if I were to call your mother and check with her to see if she knew, in general, where you were..."

What did a poker face look like again? "Would you like her telephone number? It's 716, 884,..."

"No, that's OK." He closed the folder. I had a folder! "I believe you. We just can't be too careful, especially with the weather like this. Young people who've run away from home in New York State try to hitchhike to Toronto, and wind up in the hospital with hypothermia."

"Why, that sounds horrible."

Deep inside my mind, which over the last few eons in this naugahyde office chair had become a tangible thing, with layers like brocade fabric sewn one layer to the next, and with my conversation with Immigration Canada merely the uppermost, most superficial aspect, I felt small entities swelling. They were seeds, and yet no, they were tumors, or potatoes. No, kittens. Fifteen levels down, they clawed through the layers. Not kittens. Puppies. They were yelping, straining against the fabric: spiny, ovoid, orange puppies. Not puppies. Only ten levels from surfacing now. For what seemed a thousand years I watched them break through one swath of dark brocade after another.

"Yes, it certainly is horrible. We don't get to all of them in time."

Not puppies. They were giggles. I had giggles surfacing, due to erupt any moment, and part of me - a very small, remote part of me - held a concern that this would be counterproductive given the circumstances. The concern was small, blinding white, and very, very pretty, like crystal.

"And of course that takes a terrible toll on the poor officers who find them. They just get very tired, and drift off to sleep in the snowbank."

Giggle surfaced. I choked it down.

"Well, I think we can let you folks enjoy the falls. You know, Chris, you wouldn't have had to go through this if you'd just had proper identification, or even a note from your mother."

"Yes sir. I'm sorry to have wasted your time with my mistake, sir."

"Oh, not at all. It's my pleasure. Just something to remember for next time, eh?

I choked back another giggle.

Outside the office, K. and Boyfriend were leaning up against the interview counter, talking with the agents and smiling blissfully. K.'s eyes might have melted the entire country. I pretended to study the architecture of the building as another agent explained how tourists cross into Canada to see the Falls, take a side trip to Toronto and go on Welfare. Boyfriend smiled. K. smiled. I looked at the ceiling support I-beams and smiled.

As we left, K. asked if I was okay. "You seemed really spaced out."
"I was trying to act casual."
"Don't do that."

We went to the Falls. The entire plunge pool at the base of the Horseshoe Falls had frozen over, and was covered with what seemed fifty feet of striated ice and snow. I was coming down. I watched little olive phosphorescences play among the striations on the ice bridge at the base of the Falls. It had clouded over, and fat wet flakes begain to fall.

Posted by Chris Clarke at November 9, 2005 03:22 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Not letting her know was the compassionate thing to do, the caring course of action.

I realize that you probably are saying that this was what you were thinking at the time and not what you're thinking now, and I'm not at all trying to make you feel guilty, but it really wasn't.

We've never really talked about this before, but that time - while you were disappeared... that was a really really really really bad time.

Posted by: craig at November 9, 2005 06:58 PM
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Yeah, I know.

The odd thing is that for me, it was when things started to stop being that bad.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 9, 2005 07:02 PM
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(of course, now that I think about it, that's still only maybe 2 to 2.5 more reallys than was normal...)

Posted by: craig at November 9, 2005 07:31 PM
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Less than that for me.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 9, 2005 08:09 PM
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You know, sometimes I feel a bit like a voyeur here, but this is a nice little Kumbayah moment. Really.

Posted by: Miguel Alondra at November 9, 2005 08:34 PM
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That's horrible. You'd think Canadian police, in particular, would be trained against falling asleep in snowbanks.

Nice post. Kind of reminds me of my first trip, at David Bowie's "Let's Dance" show in Phoenix, where I was the driver (who had no idea what he was getting into). I think it took me 15 minutes in real time to convince myself this really was my old Bug. The key identifier was the particular pattern of bubbles in the peeling silver backing of the driver's side mirror.

That was when I decided we'd hang out in the nearby park for a while before I'd try driving us home.

Posted by: Sean at November 9, 2005 11:43 PM
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In thinking about, uh, rather, rewriting my comment, I realized that the first thing that pops into my head sounds so mean sometimes. But, thanks for a good laugh. I have spent the last few hours learning about my blog's CSS and tweaking the theme, and I thought that I would never see another html color code again. But to read it in such a lovely context was redeeming.

Posted by: Kim at November 10, 2005 12:59 AM
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...buffeted by the treacly New Riders of the Purple Sage.

I gotta believe that the "treacle" was "The Last Lonely Eagle" from the first NRPS album and, who knows, maybe that was the start of your environmentalism. Funny things happen when you're abusing dangerous drugs.

Posted by: Prufrocky at November 10, 2005 05:02 AM
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This is particularly funny to me because I'm living in Toronto now and I feel like I know those immigration officers.

Now getting back across the border into Buffalo, that's another story.

Posted by: SneakySnu at November 10, 2005 05:34 AM
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The doors of perception, indeed. Very well written. (By the by, I take it you no longer know Ralph. Because if you did, I reckon he'd have told you that the Yi jing citation you mentioned in, I think, your 12 Sep 05 post, was incorrect: the hexagram is #2, Kun, while the quoted text was from hexagram #1, Qian.)

Posted by: ostranenie at November 10, 2005 05:53 AM
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thanks for the contact high chris. i once cruised into the border staion at tijuana after driving from muleje, about 800 miles. i had nibbled some acid for the speed effect and was pleasantly toasted until the guy in the little booth smiled and rattled off a bunch of spanish!! luckily enough for me, before my confusion about which direction i was going turned to panic, he laughed a huge laugh and said "gotcha." we had a nice conversation with much smiling. i admitted that i had two limes. he waved us through, right past the white-bread family whose station wagon was being searched.

Posted by: dread pirate roberts at November 10, 2005 09:20 AM
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hey chris, muchas gracias for the trip. I couldn't brave the chance that I wouldn't come back from acid. most I ever did was a few crumbs from a tab of angel dust. that was sufficiently weird though.

did you ever read mark vonnegut? his book, eden express, chronicles his attempts, as the child of his generation's primo icon, to manage it all. he found himself on his roof at one watershed moment, close to attempting to fly. the key part of the book for me (reading it as a twenty-something) was that sometimes the reason you don't handle drugs well is because you're allergic to them. I figured that was my problem with weed and so quit trying to make it work for me.

funny, eh? making dope work for you?

Posted by: peacebug at November 10, 2005 04:07 PM
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Weed can work for you- it's great for mild/moderate chronic depression. And high blood pressure. Lots of god's herbs are good for us, you just gotta find out where and when. Acid on a trip to the Canadian Falls, never tried it.

Posted by: Buffalo Gal at November 10, 2005 06:02 PM
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How weird today to pop over to CRN, and find this post. I just wrote about Timothy Leary today...

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie at November 11, 2005 09:35 AM
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I'm not going to say anything about walking across the train bridge at Letchworth. I swear I'm not going to.

Posted by: craig at November 11, 2005 01:15 PM
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When my brother was a teen, he took some orange sunshine and had a rather unpleasant experience. I was about 12 then. I had to call the local assistance agency, Terros, that handled kids on bad trips, and they took him off to pump him full of vitamin B. The fun part was explaining to my mom when she got home from the grocery store where he was. I told her, quite calmly, "Well, he had a bad trip, but it's ok, the Terros people came and got him and they're taking care of him". My mom totally freaked out. I couldn't understand her reaction...

Posted by: donna at November 11, 2005 09:58 PM
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Chris, I meant to leave a comment to this effect after the "Christmas 1977" post, but if/when you ever publish your memoirs, I'll be first in line for a copy.

Posted by: Dave at November 12, 2005 05:16 AM
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Sometime I should tell you the story about the LSD and the little people.

Posted by: Lauren at November 12, 2005 09:02 AM
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