High Times

In the Sky With Diamonds

Remembering my favorite vicarious trips down Timothy Leary Lane

It was, and forever remains, the unholy trinity: sex and drugs and rock & roll. Back in college in the late 1960s, I had plenty of the last, and some of the first and second (wish I had had more of the first, but, then again, with sex, a little can go an awfully long way).

However, today my focus is on the drug component—specifically, hallucinogenic drugs, a narcotic genre in which I merely dabbled, and only for a short period. Mostly, I didn't like the loss of control, and I admit to some concerns about having my future children emerge from the womb with flippers instead of feet.

I recall no awesome phantasmagoric experiences. Once, I had a brief discussion about the afterlife with a table lamp, and there was the time I walked down South Street ducking imaginary shellfire. But that was relatively mundane stuff. I had friends whose minds melded with lighting fixtures; who took day trips that lasted a week. Not for me, that kind of vacation from reality. For that, I could go to Palm Beach. But I enjoyed hearing about or watching others trip the light fantastic.

Herewith a few of my favorite vicarious trips down Timothy Leary Lane (he's dead, you know):

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1. Still coming down off of a powerful Mescaline high, two dear friends of mine thought a visit to the Bronx Zoo would help ease them back peacefully into the flow of the animal kingdom. As the story was related to me, Preston was goofing on a gorilla, standing right outside his cage, scratching his underarms, jumping up and down and making loud apelike noises. The gorilla just stood there, looking at this fool with bored contempt and no doubt wondering how Darwin could have gotten the evolutionary sequence backward. Suddenly, without warning, the gorilla let loose a ferocious burst of vomit, drenching Preston from head to foot. The gorilla then turned on his heels and walked to the back of his cage, without so much as a smirk, leaving my good friend stunned, speechless and absolutely filthy. Forty-six years later, Preston recalls wiping his face and thinking that a) it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature, and b) there are better places than the zoo to come down off a Mescaline trip.

2. Imagine, for a moment, how the "Who's On First?" routine might have played out were Abbott and Costello high on orange sunshine. Something like that transpired with my college friend, Barry, who was quietly tripping his brains out one night in his dorm room in the company of his two pussycats, one of whom he had rather pretentiously named after himself. Back then, we used the word "cat" as frequently as young people today use "dude" or "dog" to refer to one another. So, when a bunch of us came into Barry's room to smoke some weed, we began talking among ourselves about this cat, and that cat, and someone referred to our gracious host, the human Barry, as a "mellow cat." Well, Barry's cat, Barry, was anything but mellow, and human Barry, hearing this as a reference to his cat, awakened from his drug-induced fantasy world to take great offense at this misstatement of fact. Suffice it to say that all manner of confusion ensued as we all tried to sort out Barry the human cat from Barry the feline, and all the other cats out there in drugville. Maybe you just had to be there, but it seemed pretty funny in the moment. Later, we calmed down and put on the two greatest tripping albums ever recorde—"Steppenwolf the Second" and the "Crazy World of Arthur Brown." It made all of us, including the two Barry cats, very happy.

3. This is one of those apocryphal drug tales that has the added benefit of being true. A friend of a friend who went to another college figured that taking his philosophy final exam while on acid would imbue him with a more profound sense of the oneness of the universe, giving him an edge over the other test-takers. As I heard it from my source, the philosophy student, possessed of a greater understanding of the human condition, penned a brilliant essay, one worthy of a Schopenhauer or a Wittgenstein. The problem was he wrote all 4,000 words of the essay on a single line of paper, thus ensuring that only he would ever know his true brilliance.

As the poet once said, this is the hard home run of the drug trip—you can't bring anyone along with you. On the plus side, among all the many people I've known who've dropped acid, there is not one recorded case of a flippered offspring.

Tags: memoirs