4 – Light Show

Around 3:30am, Ray would declare ‘last call’ and sell us a six-pack of Carling Black Label to go. The party, by now it was a party, adjourned to the Deke basement, but first, the women had to be deposited back at their dorms. We would then sit on the bar; because there were no stools and the floor was so sticky you’d adhere permanently if you stood still for three minutes. The indestructible juker played in the other room. Conversation usually revolved around pussy and no-pussy. No-pussy is the drunken young man’s favorite topic: it’s salacious, fraught, and can be spun out forever. Not getting any is the bond that holds all male relationships together and “When a Man Loves a Woman” is its theme song.

Or the party might migrate upstairs to someone’s room, The Who or Santana blasting. Smoking pot when you were wasted always seemed like a genius idea, but it only further attenuated what had become a long, increasingly muffled, night. We might amp up the no-pussy discussion by dropping the needle on “Satisfaction” or go all psychedelic, pass around pipefuls of hashish, and listen to The Moody Blues. After an album side or two, the talk slipped into monosyllables and activity was limited to the passing of the joint or the pipe.

One night, late, I was in someone’s loud and smoky room leaning against the doorjamb, sliding slowly down, when some guy grabbed me and hoisted me onto a chest of drawers. This new perspective was inspirational. I crouched and glared. The circulation of the joint sometimes paused in front of me.

“Oh, very nice. Take it. Here. Take a fuckin’ hit. Okay, don’t.”

And it passed me by.

“What the fuck’re you doin’, anyway?”

I lowered my gaze to my interrogator. “I am … a vulture,” I said. I felt a spinal vibration. No, I was The Vulture. I stated this with all the gravitas of the deeply stoned, while in fact what I was doing was channeling Snoopy perched on his doghouse roof imitating a bird of prey and thinking predatory thoughts. I was merely wasted. But I had claimed everyone’s attention and declared myself.

 

By the time school started up again in the fall of 1969, I was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon, a seasoned pot smoker, and I was V. Vulture had been distilled to its essential consonant. I could roll an efficient joint and always had an ounce of my own. Geddo and I shared a room in Deke House. He had a steady girlfriend, a pretty blonde with thick curls, who he imported from a women’s college two hours away on the occasional weekend. They would take to the top bunk immediately, while I lit out for the Shoe. As the sun was coming up, I slid into the bottom bunk and passed out.

The war in Southeast Asia had loomed in the foreground for so long it became part of the cultural furniture. Neil and Buzz strolled on the moon, then opted to fly on back to Earth with Mike. The entire summer had been preoccupied with Woodstock, three days of peace and music. Rock ’n roll was life’s soundtrack. It was brilliant and personal, cushioning the tumult with a backbeat. Was I a hippie? I wore bellbottoms and had scraggly hair. Hell, I even strung my own love beads.

The fires of the distant world cast a sympathetic glow upon our tiny rebellions. So it seemed like a good idea to me to try to sell five hundred tabs of acid on a campus of maybe eight hundred students. During Thanksgiving break, a friend from prep school talked me into it. He fronted me the purple barrels and I became a campus entrepreneur. I sucked at it. “Wanna trip?” Is that what you say? I managed to get rid of two hundred somehow and kept the remainder in a baggie outside my window. I sometimes fronted the acid on my end, too. No one would ever get paid. Every time the rumor of a bust blew through, I’d retrieve the LSD from its hiding place, stick it under the mess of papers in the glove compartment of the Barracuda, and park the car on the other side of campus. Smart guy. No bust ever came down and after a half dozen false alarms we quit reacting.

Because I had a car and could be talked into getting behind the wheel for any reason, I was the designated driver when we went to score weed in quantity. We’d take off under cover of darkness with beers between our legs and drive east to Dean Junior College or Bennington. That’s where enterprising middle-class kids distributed pot by the kilo. I usually got an ounce for my trouble, which was no trouble at all.

 

I just loved LSD; the perilous colors, the insane discombobulation, and the sense of exhausted accomplishment the next day. It was something I never did by myself, always with a buddy or two. Occasionally, a whole crew of Dekes would drop together and tromp through the snowy woods like a gibbering battalion or spend hours playing a spontaneous word association game called ‘The Third World Game’ with rules we reinvented each trip. On one particularly psychedelic evening, we got out a box of crayons and took turns covering the wall of somebody’s room with the mutations that Grace Slick and Paul Kantner’s unborn child would be heir to. It was very colorful.

“Gills!”

“Three rows of tiny breasts!”

“Specialized hair!”

“Specialized hair? Oh, jesus. Is there any more beer?”

“I’ll go,” I said. “Anyone wanna ride with me?”

“Are you fuckin’ kidding me, V? You’re tripping.”

“Fuck you,” I said, digging for my keys. “Anybody?”

Heading down into town, College Hill Road stretched out before me for a good half mile. It was lit by streetlamps that cast alternating semicircles of sodium vapor light as far as the eye could see. The effect of the drug transformed the street into a molten straightaway with huge incandescent moguls like some bizarro ski slope. I brought my skills to bear on this challenge and began skirting the hallucinatory hillocks in great sweeping arcs. Soon, another set of lights, bright red ones, approached from behind. I pulled over to the middle of the road. The cop gently guided me to the side, told me to lock the vehicle, and drove me back to campus.

Minutes later, back in the Room of the Nightmare Baby …

“Hey guys, let’s go to the Pub.”

 

LSD often gave rise to situations of stupefying complexity. A fraternity brother, Owen, called over Christmas break with an excellent proposition – Would I like to see Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve? “Meet us there,” he said, “I’ve got an extra ticket.”

Somehow, I found him. It surprised me to see him with a bunch of his friends. We merged with the mob of stoned people milling out front in a state of mildly agitated happiness and I gave in to the magic. “Here, V.” and he handed me a ticket, “And a tab of sunshine for now and one for later.” I threw back the pills. We passed through the doors and ambled toward the stairs to the balcony. “Bummer, man,” said the usher to me, “You’re through that door,” indicating with his thumb. “Hey, Owen!” I shouted at his retreating back. He turned, “Look, V. It’s a really great seat.”

It was a great seat, right in the middle of the orchestra. As I sidled down the row, I noticed that on every seat was a small metal tambourine. The acid kicked in. I sat there with the noisemaker in my lap as the crowd poured in around me. The house lights went down. The Band of Gypsys took the stage and Hendrix’s guitar ripped a hole in the universe. The light show began to pulsate. The audience rose as one. Except for me, nailed to the chair by hallucinogens and a toy tambourine. The top of my head disappeared. My tender consciousness scattered like confetti. Afterwards I couldn’t find Owen either, but I located my car and drove miraculously back home to New Jersey.

My father was waiting up for me. I don’t remember the gist of our conversation; all I do remember is clutching the tambourine as if it held the secret of human existence.

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