The Trip Before The Trip
My best attempt at describing a wild psychedelic adventure.
The night before starting my road trip through America, I took a winding psychedelic trip through the universe with my dear friend, Jesus. (No, not the man on the cross. A Mexican man with whom I shared many a troublesome story. Pronounced ‘Hay-Zeus’, though most people just called him Zeus). We had each taken the biggest hit of our life. I’m not sure how much exactly, I just snipped a chunk off of two of the long strips in my freezer. This acid was no shitty blotter, either. None of that spotty nonsense where each section of the sheet is a different potency. This was made by one of the fine few people who can hold art and science together. A Michelangelo of Chemistry. This stuff was pure, through and through. It washed out any previous experiences with Research Chemicals and bad acid. This stuff was Honest, True. It was the finest form of communication between humans and whatever alternate worlds lie out there just beyond our sensory reach.
Within an hour of putting the white strips on our tongues, we had blasted off into some sort of metaphysical, inter-dimensional data field that humans have no business peeking their heads into. We had peeled back the curtain of this reality and stepped behind the Stage of Life. I thought I could see everything for what it actually was, stripped of the connotations.
There was a part of me that felt like I could control anything (that would be the Ego). I stood out on the balcony on that cold January night—my nose red from the brisk wind of an impending snow storm—and tried to make the sun rise with nothing but my mind. After several minutes of this Zeus informed me that, despite my admittedly potent psychic abilities, I couldn’t control the weather. At least, not tonight.
Soon after that, the drug took over and humbled me, placing my sense of self gently into the backseat like a parent might put a child. As if to say “sit down in your little booster chair, look out the window, and enjoy the ride.” I stared out the window of the vehicle that was this drug, Zeus by my side, and watched the universe unfold. The drug presented itself as a mountain of evidence of man’s inability to control anything in this wild world. Inside of me was an ancient desire to submit to the awesome power and control of The Cosmos, or God, gods, the universe… whatever name you want to give to that life force that runs through all of the universe and all of time like an infinite river.
The same few Harry Chapin songs were playing on repeat. “Uly,” Zeus said (Uly, pronounced You-Lee, is short for Ulysses. It’s not quite fitting of my mother’s Colombian culture or my father’s Portuguese one, but my mom was a fan of mythology). “Uly, change the song, bro.”
“I’m trying,” I responded, the words spilling out of my mouth thick and slippery like bubbles of soap. I stared at my phone’s cracked screen. My god-damned phone screen. It had become three dimensional and holographic. I couldn’t navigate the damned thing, let alone change the songs it was playing. And something about this phone seemed evil. Unnatural. Alien. Like a robotic leech planting into the back of my head, seeping out my life force as it slowly enslaves the human race. God damn it, what if The Matrix was real? And we humans are just sex organs of the machine world? Somebody said that once. About humans being sex organs of the machine world. Was it Terrence McKenna? No, somebody else. Whoever it was, they were right. We are consumed by purchasing new electronics—TVs, new phones, new gaming consoles—and every generation of technology is a little bit “smarter”, a little bit more self-serving—as we humans become dumber and dumber. How much longer until the computers take over the world? Would we even notice it? Has it already happened? Is this how an alien species invades? First slowly, then all at once! That’s exactly what happened to the Roman Empire with those god damned Visigoths!
Shit, was I talking out loud? I glanced over at Zeus. He was staring at the ceiling, so I guess not. I swung my giant balloon of a head back at my phone, but couldn’t make much of it. Moments ago I tried to control the sun, now I couldn’t even figure out how to change the song on this leech of a device. A muffled chuckle came from the speakers… it was Harry Chapin! That bastard was laughing at me! He sang:
“All my life’s a circle
Sunrise and sundown”
his voice echoing. He was taunting us with each song and our futility on this wild trip, stumbling through reality. Images of taxicabs and 30,000 tons of bananas in Scranton, PA and car crashes on Amity Road flashing between mine and Zeus’s collective mind.
“You’ve been trying for hours,” Zeus said
“To change the song, Uly.”
“No, it’s been minutes.”
“What is time?”
“Time is the rhythm of the world,” I said, recalling my musician friend Joe saying the phrase. I remembered it so vividly that for a moment I thought I was Joe, that I was that moment, presenting itself to Zeus as if it was his memory.
“Where’d you get that? The back of a cereal box?” He chuckled to himself. “But, for how much time have we been here? Man, we shoulda wrote down the time on our hands when we took the acid. You know how people do that sometimes? You write down the time when you took the acid, so that you can check it and you know how long you’ve been tripping?”
“Yeah, I’ve done that once or twice.”
“We shoulda done that, brother. How long ago did we start?”
“I dunno. Hours? Days? How long have we been in this room?”
We were staring at a picture on my wall again. It was a dark, surreal painting done by some hippie out in Asheville, North Carolina. In the painting’s foreground was a tree, spotted with fiery leaves of autumn, standing on the edge of a cliff. In the background, below and beyond the cliff and deep into the night, were faint yellow and orange lights of a small city. The sky was a dangerous storm of blue and dark grey. I could see the brushstrokes, the layers. The painting had become 3-D. The layers of paint spaced out in front of me, clearly, holographically, clearly showing which parts had been painted first and which had been painted last. He had painted the sky first, perhaps one big layer of blue, then coated the grey on top of that. Then the black of the darkness below the cliff, and the lights of the small city. then he had painted the tree, with the bark in its swirling madness. Then the leaves, which had no real form to them. They were just specks, both there and not, simultaneously in the ordered world of nature and the chaotic world of darkness. Last, he had painted the cliff. A dark grey cliff that looked connected to the tree somehow, as if the cliff and tree were some ethereal piece of his dream, transplanted onto the real world of a dark sky and a distant city. There was a stroke of gray in the middle of the cliff that I know was the last thing he did, because it popped out of the painting and sat nearly on my nose.
“It seems like I’ve been here before;
I can’t remember when,”
sang Harry Chapin.
“Uly,” Zeus said, “What’s a thought?”
“A thought, well, it’s a thing that you think about.”
“A thought is a thing?”
“I don’t know how to describe it.”
“Me neither, that’s what I’m saying, Uly. It’s impossible to describe a thought without using the idea of a thought. Go ahead and try.”
“Okay. A thought is when something external enters your brain, and then your brain… thinks of a thing. Wait, no. That’s not right.”
“A thought,” Zeus said, “is the firing of neurons in your brain, because you are… thinking. Fuck. Does anybody really know how to describe a thought?”
“I’m seeing things,” I said, fully into the acid trip now.
“What are you seeing Uly?”
I felt like the Cosmos had slapped a tentacle onto my brain and was uploading data that I couldn’t fully process. “First, I see a comedian on stage. He just told a joke that made the whole crowd laugh. Now there are friends at a dinner table, sharing stories and laughing. Now a group of children making faces at each other until one spits out his apple juice from laughter. Two hunter-gatherers at a fire, one is making noises and grunts and movements with their arms until the other one howls with what I think is laughter, it’s hard to tell. It’s like the first time a human ever laughed.”
“What else do you see?” Zeus urged me on.
“I’m seeing all of humanity trying to describe a thought. I’m seeing a 3D movie, inside of that 3D movie is a film movie, inside of that is a stage performance, inside of that are people acting in front of a campfire, inside of that is a caveman trying to describe a thought to another caveman. Now I’m seeing hands. I’m seeing a hand typing on a laptop. Inside of that is a hand on a typewriter. Inside of that is a man writing in a newspaper. Inside of that newspaper I see a cartoon. The cartoon is two cavemen, one is writing on a stone tablet. He’s trying to describe a thought. He can’t.”
“Do you see anything else?”
“Well, I see you,” I said, losing trace of the visions and coming back into the room.
“And that’s crazy enough as it is, ain’t it.” Zeus said with a laugh.