I am continuing to write a series a memoir-notes. In the last of these I left off right when I had decided to enroll in Community College. I know that my first semester began in August 1994 but it is not totally clear what I was doing the first part of this year. I am pretty sure I was living at the preschool for part of that time, though I don’t really know.
I do know it was during that time when I reconnected with my immediate family. I hung out with my sister and my aunt a bit and I found out that both had a pretty rough time while I was gone. My sister had had a brain tumor. My sister had always had dizzy spells and fainted a couple of times when we were young. We had taken her to the doctor many times. She was unusually big for her age, her eyes bulged out of her face a bit and we knew something was wrong but the doctors never found anything. They tried to do a CAT scan and my sister would not stay still long enough. She fought it very hard. Anyway, after I had ran away from home she was out riding a horse one day (my sister was very much an equestrian) and the horse threw her. She hit her head and as a result went to the emergency room. While there they discovered that she had a massive brain tumor. As she described it the tumor took up over three-quaters of her skull cavity and her entire brain was squashed into the front 1/4 of her cranium. She said it was very scary having brain surgery and that she was on medication but felt fine. She was still riding, showing, and competing on horseback. I was amazed by her story. And here I had thought my appendectomy was hardcore. She came out and heard Mortalis, my band at the time, play and she was impressed by how ‘energetic’ the music was (she herself was into country at the time).
It was good to see her and I was impressed by her story but we didn’t really get along very well. She wanted to rehash everything that had happened with our mom and to catch me up on what she had done to her since I had left. She thought that I would be as happy to bash our mom as she was and was eager to find someone to bond with over the experience. At the time I was not interested in rehashing. I was looking forward not backwards (it took over 20 years for me to start to look back on those events! And some of them I still don’t want to look back on!). My mom felt hurt by what my sister had done and my sister was hurt by what my mom had done. I wanted to stay out it as much as possible.
I heard that my uncle was getting remarried so my sister and I drove down there with my aunt. My aunt had been shot by her ex-boyfriend when I was 11 or so and had been paralyzed from the waist down as a result. She was in a wheelchair but had recently bought a car that was rigged up to allow her to operate the pedals with her hands and so she could drive. She needed help getting her chair into the the trunk after she got in (and getting it out) but other than that she was good. Oh, how angry she got if she ever found someone parking in the handicap spot! Anyway we went to the wedding down in LA. My uncle had been in Vietnam and had come back a very different person. He had had an aneurysm in his brain after he returned and had another personality change. He was an air traffic controller but after the aneurysm he became a born-again Christian and went to clown college, where he met the woman who he was now marrying.
The wedding was interesting (involving crystals and a harp players). My mom was not invited because she was not getting along with my uncle over something or other. I found the inter-family dram to be very off putting and for the most part I tried to stay out of all of it. My sister had wanted to be a vet at some point and had started school but never finished. No one else in my family had gone to school and they all seemed to think that studying philosophy was a waste of time. They also wanted to bash my mom, and I had a lot of anger towards her as well, but I wanted to try to get to know her as a person. She seemed sincere at the time that she had changed and wanted a second chance. I was willing to give it to her but the rest of the family was not. As a result I tended to keep to my own business. I had a lot going on in my own life at the time!
From what I was saying before you may be thinking that I was probably taking a lot of acid during this time, and that is correct, but it is not like acid was the only hallucinogenic I did back in those days. I really enjoyed taking LSD and had done paper (all with funny names), liquid (dropped on Cheetos, and once a Tums antacid just for “irony”), and gel tab LSD (black pyramid being among the best I had). I had also taken Orange Sunshine which was a designer drug supposedly like a combination of LSD and mescaline. And of course there was mushrooms. I really found that LSD and mushrooms were very different. Mushrooms gave me more of a body high and to be honest I think I had more “Bad Trips” on mushrooms. They seemed to put me more in tune with my body and nature and at the time I did not really enjoy that.
By the way, I am breaking one of my past self’s cardinal rules by talking about all of this. I used to be pretty vocal that it was uninteresting to hear about other people’s hallucinogenic experiences. Listening to someone talk about their experience on acid, I used to say, was a bit like listening to someone tell you about their dream. To the person telling the story it is all very interesting but to the rest of us it is just a random sequence of events. And I recognize that this is all a bit self-indulgent but I am for the most part just trying to get stuff straight in my head and going through this stuff helps. But I am also leaving a lot of the details out of what I would call “workaday” acid trips and just focusing on ones that stand out in some dramatic fashion.
At some point Jay had got some mushrooms, and much like those magic fungi, he has popped back up out of no where. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and as I remember it he just showed up randomly with some mushrooms. I don’t know exactly when this was but I am thinking that this must have been sometime in early to mid 1994 but before I started Cuesta. We ate them and went wandering around town. I really liked the period after taking the hallucinogens and before them kicking in. There was a nervous excitement that was addictive and then after a while the shadows began to flicker and the world took on a subtle glow somewhat like concrete in the early morning sunlight just after it has rained…and then who knows what would happen?
In California at that time there were many homeless people populating the downtown area. They would eventually try to get them to move out of the downtown area, and this was a big controversy in the city of San Luis Obispo, but at this point there were a number of them on their cardboard, huddled in doorways of shops, and especially by the water fountain in the Mission, which is where we were. Jay got super paranoid and started thinking the homeless people were undercover cops and that they were watching us or at least that is what he was saying. Jay liked to fuck with people and it was hard to tell if he was serious, especially on drugs, but the homeless people did look menacing. And the eyes on that tree were looking at us a bit funny. I felt as though I was walking down the sidewalk and that as I was doing so I was stretching out like a long worm. I was leaving a trail of myself like the bikes in Tron. I see a movie theatre and the tree seems to say that we should go in and get off the streets. Point of No Return is playing but for some reason I think it is going to be Point Break, which I thought of as a funny movie (my favorite movies at this time were Bad Taste, and the Evil Dead series, along with Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and I’m Going to Git you Sucka), so I was totally unprepared for what happened.
As we are sitting in the theatre waiting for the movie to start things are moving and dancing and I am starting to see images on the screen even though it is blank. But the images slide off the screen and behind the thick red curtain that lines the wall. I wonder what they are doing back there? I think that but I hear myself saying “Hot in here?” as I start to take off my shirt. “You can’t do that!” Jay says, but I am already staring at my stomach by that point and as I start to think “I am not here, this is not me…” the movie starts.
The movie begins with a group of kids walking towards a drug store. The sign out front should read ‘pharmacy’ but instead it says ‘drugs’ and I start thinking that the movie knows that I am tripping. Yes, I think that the movie knows that I am tripping. How could it know? I wonder. Then all hell breaks loose. I won’t describe the whole movie but anyone who knows the plot knows that she becomes a super secret agent that is contracted to kill at a moment’s notice while living a seeming normal life. She seems so normal but then she goes and kills a bunch of people. This movie is insane and it is very violent. But by the end you realize that she just wants to be free. She is no longer the kid that they brought in at the beginning. She is a normal person. By this point I am really invested in the movie and I really want her to be free.
We come out of the movie and we are talking about how trippy it is. “Anyone one of these people could be undercover like she was” I say pointing at a random stranger walking by. “Yeah, I know” says Jay. We are heading over to this party that we know is happening and somehow we end up in a Taco Bell. I guess I had to use the bathroom because I am in there peeing when I notice some guy comes in and take the urinal next to me. There are other urinals (a seeming infinite fractal expanding series of urinals actually) so I am wondering why he is standing right next to me (but then I start thinking that maybe he isn’t close to me and I am tripping). We are both standing there peeing and not looking at or talking to each other and I start to wonder if he’s under cover and perhaps has been sent to kill me. He looks normal but so does she. I start thinking that I could easily kill him before he kills me. I wonder what kind special training he has had? He looks over at me, sort of worriedly, and I realize that I am losing my mind. Holy shit, he can tell that I am insane. I have to get out of here.
We make it to the party and there are a lot of people there. I start to make my way to the keg and it feels like I am swimming in the crowd of people and I worry that I will inhale some of the people and need CPR. I finally make it and cling to the keg while getting a beer. As I am standing there I look around and it looks like I am in a horror fun house. Everyone’s faces are twisted and distorted. Their exaggerated features a grotesque imitation of personhood. I figured out later that drunk people and Shrooming people are a bad mix. Drunk people are slurring their words and making all kinds of sincere facial expressions and it is really too much for someone who is hallucinating. At some point I end up talking to a friend of mine and after a while I say that I am tripping balls. He says ‘really? I can’t tell!’ and I had an epiphany. I realized that no one else could tell what was happening in my mind and that as long as I acted like they did and made appropriate noises at appropriate times people would assume that I was normal. I went around the party making noises and and trying to imitate the grotesquely exaggerated facial expressions I saw. People made seemingly appropriate noises in response. I wondered what the noises I was making meant and then I wondered how I knew what I was wondering?
Of course I wasn’t just taking drugs. I still loved to read and I remember that I was reading Red Dragon by Thomas Harris around this time. I remember vividly one night being so terrified by this book that I had to go to a Denny’s to continue reading it. I just wanted there to be other people around (and I didn’t want to stop reading the book). I was also working and playing in my death metal band. After Mutilation recorded it’s demo (in 1992) we had some line up changes. There is a lot of personal drama that I won’t go into but you can fill a lot of it in yourself I am sure. At some point the bassist and guitarist left and we met another guitar player and his playing reminded me of Deicide and so I thought he was very good. Way better than our previous guitar player (I thought, anyway). But at that point we were still Cannibalistic Mutilation.
Eventually Mac, the singer, for Cannibalistic Mutilation, got a girlfriend and this caused a huge and stupid fight over how he spent his time. I think we may have been supposed to play at some house party in Fresno (and had made flyers etc) and he said couldn’t go. His girlfriend didn’t think it was a good idea (or something). So after our fight he was out of the group. The new guitarist said he knew a singer and thus Mortalis was formed probably sometime in 1993/1994 though I really can’t remember the exact dates. Sadly there are no records of Mortalis that I know of. There was some video and we had some pretty decent recordings but they were all lost in the Great Storage Place Fiasco of 1997. We found a new bassist who used to play for another local band (and who went on to found Neighborhood Creep) but he eventually left and was replaced by Jonathan Boyle who was usually a guitarist but played bass in this band. We played a lot of house parties but we also organized several outdoor shows. One was in Cuesta Park and we had to get permits for amplified music. Another was at Pirate’s Cove, the local nude beach, and we had to pack all of our gear and then lower it down to the beach on ropes (the beach was at the base of some cliffs).
It was in the midst of all of this that I started community college in August of 1994. Cuesta was a two-year college and it was located out just past the juvenile hall that I spent time in just a few year ago. I would often reflect on how strange it was to be going down that same road but heading out to the Cuesta campus instead of juvy. Incidentally the prison and the pound were also out down that road. I loved the Cuesta campus it was beautiful. I was a bit older than the average freshman (I was about 23 at the time) but I looked young and no one seemed to really mind.
I also remembered Cuesta from when I was a kid. My mom had taken one art class out there and she did not really like it. She had been painting since she was a child and she had won several art contests (you can see some of her work here) but she did not like studying art. She claimed that she wanted to learn how to paint in her own voice and she did not want to be turned into someone else. She had this idea that by studying painting she would become unoriginal because she would adopt the techniques of the teacher and therefore not really be expressing herself. I never really thought about it but this is probably part of the reason that my first semester at Cuesta I did not take any music classes. I saw that they had music theory and even a percussion class but I never thought of music as something that you could study in school (possibly also related to the fact that I went to a so-called ‘Basic School’ that focused on the Three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic (and please don’t point out that only one of them actually has an R in it, that is frowned upon!)). Music and science were optional).
Before the semester started I had to do several interviews with the program that was helping me, and I had to take an aptitude test. I forget what the results were, but they were good enough for them to help me. They would set you up with the financial aid paperwork and give you a book voucher. At that time tuition at a community college in California was inexpensive. It was something like 10 dollars a unit, meaning you could take a class for about $30 (plus fees). I could afford that but books were expensive so the voucher was welcome. Plus I took advantage of it and would shop for as many books as I could find. I did not know it at the time but California has as part of its history affordable higher-education and I was incredibly shocked when I came out to New York and found tuition to be very different!
I enrolled in World Cultures (an anthropology course), Humanities: Western Culture 1A, which was a yearlong class on the history of western culture. It featured an art professor, a history professor, and an English professor. It met three times a week and each week we would focus on one period of time, getting an overview of important historical events and then the next day seeing art from that period and then the next day reading some important piece of writing from that period. I remember that we started with the Epic of Gilgamesh, which I had never heard of before and I was blown away by it. In fact I still to this day discuss it in my intro to philosophy class. That class was a very cool class and I really think there should be more courses like this. Putting art, history and literature together helps make the past real, or at least it did for me.
I also enrolled in an Introduction to Philosophy course and an Introduction to Psychology class. My philosophy professor was an adjunct (of course I had no idea what that meant at the time!) and I am pretty sure his name was Mr. Knight and that he owned a local sausage factory as well. He was always telling us how practical philosophy was, how it could help us avoid being taken in by advertising, etc but honestly that made me less interested in it. I ended up dropping the psychology and declaring philosophy as my major. I didn’t like the psychology class because it felt more like therapy than an actual class. Whoever the professor was, I do not remember, would let people go on and on about their personal problems. It seemed like every time he said something someone would raise their hand to share an experience. Meanwhile I was reading Descartes’ meditations in the philosophy class (we used an early edition of Elements of Philosophy by Enoch Stumpf, a book I used when I first began teaching intro to philosophy at Brooklyn College many years later) and he says that he is sitting by the fire and he does not know if he is awake or asleep. “I’ve been there!” I thought to myself. But then from there he proceeds to draw some fairly controversial conclusions. That the mind is separate from the body being chief among them (in my mind). I was pretty convinced by that argument at the time. Of course I am not my body, I thought. My body is weak and I am strong. My body holds my mind back. I felt shackled to my body, alienated from it.
I liked going back to school but in those early days I was not taking it very seriously. I did not take notes or fully devote myself to the classes. But I did meet a bunch of non-death metal people. One group of people were from out of town and they liked to snowboard. I took mushrooms with these guys after class one day and we sat around playing a game called Asshole. It is a card game designed to get you very drunk. I had never been snowboarding but they invited me to go so I went (I think this may have been in the winter of 1994 but am not sure). I had no gear but they said I could rent it when we got there. I had never really seen snow before. Living in Los Angeles as a kid we were inland and I didn’t even know there were mountains near us until after I moved away from L.A. In Pismo it never snowed and my mom hated the snow. We get there and I do get a snow board and boots but I don’t think I need any snow gear. These guys are impressed because they think that means I am confident I won’t fall because I must be good. But I am just stupid! The first day out I did fall a lot but I picked it up pretty quickly. It was like skating but with the board strapped to your foot. Being in snow was different than concrete but it was not too hard. I was sore by the end of the day though and I was also soaked. I hadn’t really realized that since I was warm I would melt any snow I came into contact with and my pants and shirt were soaking wet by the end of the day. By the second day I bought some snow gear and then was getting pretty good. We did a night session where we all took mushrooms and I remember gliding down the mountain and I could veritably feel the power of the Earth as I hurtled down this majestic mountain (ok so we were in Big Bear but still it was pretty majestic to me). I remember thinking about gravity being the curvature of spacetime and I felt like I was bending and carving spacetime itself with my snowboard. After our session we watch Disney’s Fantasia, which I had never seen, and I found it very creepy. I actually ended up buying a snowboard from these guys and I went a few times before I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and lost everything in the Great Storage Place Fiasco of 1997.
As I recall it I was experiencing a real clash at this time. The guys I hung around with in the “death metal scene” thought I was wasting my time going to school. They didn’t like these people who came into town and trashed the place and then left. But I had rediscovered my love of academics. It was like I had forgotten that I enjoyed school. But now I remembered.
It was also at this time that I started having real panic attacks. The first one I had was on acid. I was frying and having a good time and suddenly I felt like my heart was beating too fast and I felt a pain in my chest. I became very dizzy and I went to lay down and don’t know how long I laid there but I felt like I was floating above my body and that I could see myself dying and decaying right in front of my eyes, but at the same time I was paralyzed and could not move at all. It was my first really bad trip on LSD and it was only much later that I realized that it was a panic attack. Looking back on it before this I had really only ever worried about external threats. Even when I had to have emergency appendectomy I didn’t feel too worried about it. I was confident my body would heal if I let it. But now I felt attacked from the inside.
I had another incident that was so bad I called my mom from the emergency room. I thought I was having a heart attack. They did cardio tests on me and everything. I found out later, by talking with my mom, that she had panic attacks as well and that she was diagnosed with agoraphobia.
One other time a bunch of us we’re going to see Interview with the Vampire which had just come out. I really liked Anne Rice and was excited. I remember that during the scene where Lestat is trying to get the other guy to kill the prostitute and she is crying and covered in blood. I suddenly yelled out loud “somebody help her!” And stood up and ran to the bathroom. I wanted to wash my face but my hands were already wet. I looked down at them and could see my vision start to tunnel. I hadn’t taken anything except marijuana that day so this feeling was odd. I stumbled out of the bathroom and fell back against the wall. I woke up sitting on the floor with my back against the wall. A small crowd had gathered and people were asking if I was ok.
I started drinking coffee for the first time in my life in the middle of my first semester (prepping for finals in Barnes and Nobles with a group of students was my first coffee ever!). I had always been against coffee drinking. It’s funny now but when I was young I used to criticize my grandma for always drinking coffee. Anyway I was studying for finals with a group from class and I had had a lot of coffee. I was also planning on sleeping in the park (I was couch surfing at that point after leaving the preschool) and so I got some sleeping pills from the 7-11. I thought it would help me get a good night’s sleep before the exam but I took too many (I never got sleepy so kept taking them) and started to feel very funny. I got very nervous and took myself to the emergency room. I don’t really remember when this was but I associate it with finals and with Half Asleep in Frogs Pajamas, which I was reading at the time (It had just come out and I would sit in Barnes and Nobles and read the book without buying it). I forget how I discovered Tom Robbins but I loved his books and I read all of them in this period. Back then I liked to pick an author and read all of their work. This particular book was a real trip because it is written in the second person and so really puts you into the story, or so it felt to me at the time.
But anyway I had the most vivid hallucinations I have ever had, including watching an entire episode of Dukes of Hazard on a cabinet door and having a full conversation with a nurse who turned out not to exist. I had by then hallucinated quite a bit but this was truly realistic, fully immersive hallucinating in a way I had not experienced. And just from coffee and sleeping pills! They made me drink charcoal and kept me overnight. They thought that I had tried to commit suicide and the scars on my wrist were not helping my case.
My story that I was a new coffee drinker (at age 23) and had tried to use sleeping pills to come down before my test was not sounding convincing to them. Homeless-kid-tries-to-commit-suicide-in-the-park was a story that they knew. They had a psychologist come up and talk to me and I explained what had happened and that I had an exam that I wanted to get to. They let me go but it was not a fun experience. I remember I showed up to the final exam a little late but mostly on time but I was not prepared at all. It was an in class blue-book exam. I had no idea what the questions were about. As I recall they were about some war or other and some policy or other. I had nothing to say so as I sat there I formulated a plan. I wrote an introductory paragraph ‘in this essay I will explain why the policy had the effect of causing this war, etc’ then I went to the last page and wrote, ‘so as I have shown this policy has had this effect’. I then undid the staple holding the pages in and took but all of the middle pages. Because of the way these things are made the first and the past page are really the same piece of paper so what I had wrote was still there. I pocketed the papers and turned in the exam. Of course the professors were not fooled at all and were not buying my story but I stuck to my story (that I had written the whole essay and it must have fallen out) and they agreed to let me take the exam over again. I earned a C.
In January of 1995 the spring semester at Cuesta starts. I take Humanities 1b, the second half of the year long course and a computer/typing class. The humanities class met in a giant auditorium and we had little direct contact with these professors but they were the same ones from the previous semester. I never knew if they remembered me or not. I also take an epistemology course, which is my first philosophy class officially as a philosophy major. I remember that it was in that class that I first encountered someone who really believed in skepticism, that we did not know that the external world existed, and we used to argue endlessly about this. I was a staunch realist at the time. I also remember thinking that Jay would love this stuff. He had already formulated the thesis of skepticism on many acid trips.
That semester I ended up meeting a guy named Arturo (remember no real names unless the person is a public figure) and his friend Lydia. They were major potheads but also into the Grateful Dead. They were both fairly well off and Arturo didn’t mind too much if I mooched off of him. Arturo was a very jovial very large and round hispanic guy. He talked as though he was out of breath and was always mischievously charming when he interacted with you. At first it might seem like he is faking it but that is just him. Lydia was the daughter of someone who ran a big name brand company (I forget exactly what it was but chances are you have used this product) and she is a very attractive blonde, with a somewhat midwestern-hippy vibe about her. She had a credit card from her parents and had already dropped out of school and was just hanging with Arturo. We would try to smoke as much weed as we could. We would try to overdose (though as it turns out you can’t overdoes on marijuana). I remember seeing Pulp Fiction with these guys and being so high that we later forgot we had seen that movie and got all excited to see it (for the first time), went back to the same theatre to see it and then we remembered about halfway through the movie that we had already seen it, and seen it together!
Sometime in my second semester at Cuesta I moved into a house with a bunch of roommates. Among them were Lydia and Arturo and a guy named Balaram who was the bassist for a local reggae band called The Shival Experience (fronted by local legend Shival Redwine, who was Balaram’s father (incidentally Balaram is still currently playing in a band called Boombala). And some other guy who I can’t remember. This was big house that had an upstairs, a downstairs, a backyard, and a garage out in front. I had my drums in the garage and we would practice out there. We also had many parties there and the bands would play in the living room. This place was fairly close to Cuesta, but not really. It was still at least seven miles out the country road.
Mortalis played on KCPR’s metal show and we got quite a good recording from it. KCPR was the radio show of Cal Poly but it had a fairly esteemed history (Weird Al started there). I wish I still had the recording. I remember they interviewed us and the singer at the time said that we were engaged in a kind of sonic guerrilla warfare in that we would show up anywhere, house parties, the park, etc, and play violent extreme music. The singer for Mortalis opened a T-Shirt shop and had a giant professional silk screening set up. At one point we had three or four different Mortalis shirts. They were awesome and I wish I still had one!
We had a big house party where Mortalis and Emetic played. There used to be some video of that show that was unbelievable. It showed the mosh pit in our living room and people stage diving off the second story balcony. At one point someone gets slammed into the sliding glass door and the entire door comes off its hinges (but didn’t break). I remember that Balaram was out of town and we put all of the living room furniture into Balaram’s room and someone stole something in the process or something got broken, or something happened. Shival had to come over and adjudicate. He sat there smoking a joint and listening to both sides and then, like a Rastafarian King Solomon he solved the problem. I don’t remember the details but I do remember being impressed with how fair and even-handed he seemed to be, trying to understand all sides before coming to a decision.
I had to hitchhike to Cuesta for my classes. Usually this wasn’t much of a problem. If you left at the right time most of the traffic out that way was going to Cuesta and I was never late because of hitchhiking. One time I was picked up by this guy who had some hash and we smoked it on the way out to class. I showed up and it was art day in the World Culture 1B class. I sat in the auditorium high as could be looking at the art. Amazing, the history of the world. Amazing how far we have come since then. Amazing how far we have to go. I was floating, and then the light came on. Class was over.
That semester I also had a computer/typing class and that is where I found out that no one really cared about BASIC anymore. Everyone was talking about C+ and C++ and I didn’t know anything about those things.
We all took a trip to Disney Land and did black pyramid LSD gel tabs. It was amazing and my mom tells me I came back very impressed by the ‘smog sets’. That must have been in March or April of 1995 (or thereabouts) because I remember it was right when the Indiana Jones ride came out. Our first ride on that was a dramatic experience. Waiting in line on acid is an interesting experience and then add on top of that the strange distractions they have in there and that was quite an adventure in and of itself. The ride is even crazier though and at the end, they have this animatronic Indiana hanging from a rope and my friend thought he was a real person. He was crying and screaming for someone to rescue this guy and then the big boulder came. It was dramatic. Once we were done we hurried to Space Mountain, and then quickly back to Indiana. We must have done that 5 or 6 times that day.
At some point the semester ended and I completed my final exams. The end of my freshman year of college! In retrospect I think I did ok for all the other stuff going on in my life. I earned mostly Cs with an occasional B (in computers/typing!) and D (in anthropology). I was not really applying myself but I was learning a lot. And, more importantly, I had acquired a checklist of what I needed to do in order to get my General Education certification and then I could transfer to a four-year college as a junior. I was taking out loans and working when I needed to but I had finally found a way forward. At the time I remember thinking that it was a good thing I had played so much Zelda because graduating from college was just like playing a video game. Instead of three quests before you get a key to unlock a sword it was three classes before you get a certification that unlocks the next course (or whatever). Video games, at least of that sort, were like training for bureaucracy. Very different from the Last Strarfighter plot where they train us to become star fighters, I thought.
During the summer I hung out with Arturo and Lydia a lot. I saw the Grateful Dead with them a few times. One time I remember was June 4th 1995 at Shoreline Amphitheater. I can’t remember if I went in this time or not. I saw the Dead a couple of times in this period but only went into the concert once. I vaguely remember that it all felt very commercial. Everyone was in the parking lot selling stuff, people were holding their finger’s up looking for tickets. From inside you could hear them play Fire on the Mountain. It seemed to me like an amusement park ride, like something from Disney Land where you go to see vaguely menacing half-alive figures repeat their programed motions. I do remember being inside at one of the Dead shows I went to and seeing the drum intermission, which really blew me away. I also saw the spinners for the first time. These people would just spin and spin and spin and I remember thinking it was like the world’s most gentle mosh pit.
Ballarom introduced me to his father’s reggae band, The Shival Experience, and I remember a bunch of us going up to Big Sur to hear them play. I don’t remember when but I am guessing it was sometime in the summer of 1995. I had met Shival already but never heard him play. I had only just recently been introduced to reggae music and was interested to check it out. We took orange sunshine and danced in the mud while the sun set behind the band. Shivel was an amazing guitarist and Ballroom was an amazing bassist and Maurice was an amazing drummer. And together they made amazing music. And dancing in the mud was amazingly fun. As we jumped and splashed in the mud I looked around and saw all of the smiling faces, cute girls and happy guys, jumping, clapping, the deep tones of the reggae bass pulsing, with the one-drop beat from the drum accenting the downbeat of the rhythm; this was an experience I had never ever had before and it was amazing. I loved music but I had never experienced music’s power to bring transcendent joy and happiness. It sounds stupid now but I had always found it to express rage and power or silly fun (like Weird Al and the Beastie Boys) or melancholy. Sure there was a majestic beauty to death metal, a lot of it is inspired by classical music, believe it or not, but it is not the same. After that I really wanted to learn how to play the drums like Maurice, the drummer for the Shival Experience. I wanted to be able to make people move like I had just been moving. I wanted to make people feel what I had just felt.
Because I was friends with Balaram, who had had dreadlocks since he was born, and since I saw all the white hippies with dreads at the Grateful Dead shows I went to, (and because I am an idiot) I decided to grow some as well. I remember getting some Rain Oil and rubbing it into my hair. And I eventually did get dreadlocks, which my friends called ‘the cat turds’. Talk about cultural appropriation! I was clueless but someone did call me a ‘race traitor’ and another asked me if I knew which race I was in. I remember I had some kind of carved bead in one of the dreads and as it grew it would whack me in the forehead when I head-bangged. I needed to find a job and so I eventually shaved the dreads off. I really resented it because people looked at me like they thought I was a skinhead, which I was not!
On one memorable trip we went to see the Jerry Garcia Band (I am pretty sure that is who it is though I could be wrong…it may have been RatDog who I remember seeing at some point), as it turns out this was just before he died but we did not know that at the time. I think this was in 1995 but I don’t really remember exactly wen. Arturo was driving and we had this plastic inflatable swimming pool in the back of his hatchback car. It was filled with ice and beer. We were hauling ass down the freeway drinking and passing around a pipe full of weed. Arturo was steering with his knee while lifting the pipe and holding a beer between his legs. Do not try this at home! We made it to Ventura and went to some place that either Lydia or Arturo had friends at. There we continued to pre-party. We made Flaming Dr. Peppers and took a bunch of Xanex. For a while I sat on the couch and was simply unable to recall how one’s face ought to be composed when one was not talking. How does one hold one’s lips? One’s tongue? It was crazy but it was time to go to the show. We show up and the parking lot is hopping as usual. People are selling burritos and beer and grilled cheese, and everyone is smoking and dancing. Good scene. That’s when I try Nitrous for the first time.
Arturo sees someone with a tank and some balloons and says “oh, let’s get some Nitrous!”
“What’s that?” I mumble/splutter in reply.
He looks at me and says “oh, you’re in for a treat!” and rushes over to the guy. “Will you trade some smoke for two balloons?” he asks in his breathless but sultry way. He is moving his eyebrows in a way that suggests the answer should be yes.
“Yeah man” the guys responds. I get the balloon and Arturo tells me to inhales it and breathe it. He demonstrates. So I do so as well. Immediately I feel light-headed. My vision starts to narrow and I hear this pulsating sound WAH-wah-WAH-WAH-wah-WAH… And then I am lying on the ground. Everyone is looking at me.
“You just phished!” I was informed by the crowd. That’s when you pass out and start violently shaking and twitching. Like a fish on the ground. Arturo holds out his hand and helps me up. Then he says ‘open your mouth, I scored some doses’. “Cool” I say and open my mouth.
Things after that are a bit hazy but somehow I end up separated from Lydia and Arturo and I am wondering around the parking lot fucked out of my mind on drugs. Everything looks the same. There are row after row of cars and people with dreads and they all look the same. I stop and talk to some of them and then wander on. Smoke here, drink there, wander around. At some point I see this van and for some reason I think that Arturo might be in there. So I walk up to it and slide back the door. Inside there are what appears to be infinite people writhing around. All in various stages of undress and in the midst of various sexual acts. It looked like a scene from Caligula mixed with the scene from Indiana Jones when they open the snake pit and see all of the writing snakes down below. This van was a portal to the Ancient Roman times and I was witnessing a long past event. But I wasn’t and I noticed that some guy was yelling at me
“What the fuck are you doing?!?! Shut the fucking door, asshole”
“Romani Ite Domun, fuckhead” I blurt back (quoting a line from Monty Python for some reason…it means ‘Romans go home!’) and then I turn and start running in the other direction. I see Arturo off in the distance. He was a very large Hispanic dude with a big floppy hat. How could you miss him? I am yelling “hey Arturo” and he sees me and waves. And then I run full speed into a car hood that I had not seen and face plant right into it. Finally some violence at one of these shows!
Arturo had come up with the idea that he could make some money by selling Nitrous balloons at a show and that we could steal tanks of nitrous and then take them to shows to sell. He found a welding supply place that had a bunch of tanks sitting around. They were heavy so at first they were just left out in the open. He jumped over the fence and dragged one of the tanks back. We had to help him get it over the fence. After that they started locking them up and building enclosures around them so we had to stop but we did have that one tank and he did take it to some shows and sell balloons. By that time I was over Nitrous. I had learned that when you inhale it the lung prefers nitrous to oxygen and so you are actually suffocating. I could not get it out of my head that doing Nitrous and drowning would feel about the same and that made it no fun for me.
I get a job at Ross as a cashier and I am fairly good at it. It is funny because old ladies are asking me if I know their granddaughters and one of the guys who I work with tells me that ‘I clean up nice’ after I tell him a bit about my history. Ross is funny because they don’t have any security system in the store. What they instead have is a tapped recording that comes on at random intervals. The recording says ‘Security to shoes’ or ‘security to women’s dresses’. The idea is that this gives the impression that there is security and that they are busting shoplifters, but really they aren’t. So cheesy. I let my friends come in and get clothes for free. Basically if they come through my line I will let them go with paying a minimal amount. Needless to say this makes me popular. Eventually I am set up and busted as part of a sting. They have someone come through my line and buy something that is 9.99. They give me a $50.00 and as I am counting back the change they leave. I look up and they are gone. So I set the money on the side of the register. They don’t come back and at the end of my shift and so I pocket the money. As I clock out and prepare to leave I am approached and asked to come into the back. What for? Well, that lady was a set up and I stole her money. What? She never came back! How is that stealing. I should have left a note in case she came back. Ok, I thought, but I have done way worse than this. Either way they fired me and I was told that I was banned from Ross forever. I laughed. Really?
When I heard that Jerry Garcia had died and that there was a big memorial going on up in San Francisco I decided it would be fun to go. It was scheduled to be held August 13th 1995 in Golden Gate Park and I had never been there. So I decided to hitchhike up there since I had a few weeks off. It was a great trip. The ride up there was fairly easy ad I got picked up by some deadhead in a bus. We drank and smoked the whole way up there. We got to the park and I got dosed with acid. I was in the drum circle when these rose petals started falling from the sky. It was a trip. To this day I cannot tell if those rose petals falling from the sky were real or not. I especially remember that there were a lot of people crying.
After the drum circle died down I remember there were these two hippies playing together and they motioned for me to sit down and join them. I did and I was trying to play along but I really did not know how to play these kind of hand percussion instruments. One of them stopped and said “we are trying to have a conversation and you keep interrupting us and yelling” at the time I was very embarrassed by that but it did make me aware that I wanted to learn how to drum in different styles. I had never thought of percussion as a language and the idea that different rhythms could have a back and forth was very intriguing to me.
Getting home was a bit tougher. I sat for a long time sort of coming down from acid in the middle of nowhere until someone stopped. It was this white guy who was clearly tweaking on something. He sad that he saw me there and had to get me out before some “fucking [expletive deleted]” saw me. I was shocked that he said the n-word to me but he automatically assumed that I would be cool with that (my hair was just beginning to grow back and I still looked somewhat like a skinhead at first glance). I was like, yeah, good thing. He offered me a line of something and so I snorted it. Then he started telling me that he had just got out of prison and was looking for a job, his girlfriend had cheated on him while he was in prison and he didn’t know if the kid she was pregnant with was really his. I made small talk about being in the group home and he drove me for a bit and then dropped me off about half an hour later. I sat at that point for a good long while until some black guy picked me up. He was a copy repairman and we smoked a big fat joint and made small talk. He told me that he drove a lot and picked up hitchhikers for company on the drive. I didn’t tell him about the guy that had just dropped me off but it was an interesting pair of experiences. The white guy had only picked me up because of how I looked, not like the black guy who picked me up in spite of how I looked. Each of them had liked me and made for interesting conversation but you could not put those two people into the same room without a large problem. I found that to be really sad at that point.
I still wasn’t all the way home so I still had some hitchhiking to do. I got picked up by some guy and by this time it is late and I am tired. He tells me it is fine if I sleep so I doze off. I wake up and we are pulled over and he is rubbing my inner thigh. As I come to and access the situation I elbow him hard in the face. He is sputtering and yelling and blood is flowing down his face as I scramble out of the car. I realize that we are at a rest stop and I start running towards the highway. He is yelling after me “fuck you anyways, man! I was doing you a favor, you ingrate!” I am flipping him off over my shoulder as I book it towards the onramp. I made it back ok after that without any problems. I rarely had any problems while hitchhiking and that was one of a small number of cases where things went bad for me.
The fall semester would have started in late August of 1995. I take Environmental science, where I write my paper arguing that we should Pave the World and grow all plants on the moon (and import oxygen from the moon and export carbon dioxide to the moon, etc; I got a B in that class!), chemistry, and algebra. I really liked the chemistry class and was pleasantly surprised that it was mostly physics. The professor was the father of a friend of mine who was a drummer in another death metal band. My friend told me that his family was Mormon and I thought that is was odd that someone who had those beliefs could teach a science class. In the algebra class I did not really apply myself. I had already made it through calculus and so felt this was a bit remedial.
September 6th 1995 –P-Funk at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz. I think this is the first time that see P-Funk. I think I may have gone with Arturo and Lydia but to be honest I cannot remember. But what I do remember is that I was blown away by this concert. I was instantly turned into a huge P-Funk fan.
On my 24th birthday Lydia tells me she has a surprise for me. We are going up to see Phish and she has a quarter ounce of mushrooms in the form of one big mushroom. We split that one big mushroom. We drive up there and I am shrooming good and hard. I was never really into Phish and I felt bad for the Deadheads who were trying to find a new home. I had heard that Phish was breaking up their tour dates to make it very hard to follow them like people did with the dead but then when we got in and the band started a chess game with the audience. I was very confused.
At one point during the show, in between songs, everyone all at once starts to sing happy birthday and I lose my mind. It is my birthday and the entire Shoreline Amphitheater is now singing happy birthday. At this point my birthday is a closely guarded secret that I reveal to only a select few. I really don’t want people to know and so I am very unnerved by this experience. It turns out that I have the same birthday as one of the members of Phish, which I found out when the crowd got to ‘happy birthday dear…Phish band member’ and then I found the entire thing very funny. How easy it is to slip into the assumption that you yourself are the star of the movie! I was just an extra in this production.
I start to panic, my palms are getting sweaty and then Phish sing ‘we’re glad, glad, glad that you’re alive’ and I agreed and calmed down. I also remember vaguely liking ‘run like an antelope out of control’ but I mostly felt that their music was not fun to dance to.
I really don’t remember how any of this came about but at some point we all have to leave the house we were living in. I think we were evicted from the house but I actually don’t recall. I do remember that I was getting sick of the death metal scene and all of the meth that was showing up there. I had done meth a few times and I was always very impressed with my drumming ability while playing on it but I had seen people really hit rock bottom on it and I didn’t like how long it lasted for. After seeing Shival on Orange Sunshine and the happy mud covered faces of cute girls and then comparing that to the blood soaked faces of angry men slam dancing to a band called Suffocation (or whatever) I wanted the former. Death Metal seemed like a dead end and school was opening up new horizons. I did not want to stop and so I quit my death metal band (which did not go over well) and decided to focus 100% on school.
I had a friend who told me about a job opening up at a local mortuary. It was free rent and decent money, and at a mortuary? I was intrigued.