21 October 2011

Acid drop (...and subverted Friday crab blogging...)

Personal nostalgia alert ... and an apology to Dr C for dragging his Friday Crab Blogging series into disrepute.
A chance combination of circumstances have, over the past two weeks, involved me in an unusually intensive and prolonged series of conversations around the analysis of data on substance abuse. I've found myself thinking how strange it is that someone who has so little experience of the issue should be so involved in making pronouncements about it.
Many years ago, for reasons which now escape me, I found myself talking to an elderly woman in a small rural village about Israel. "Oh", she said, to my bafflement, "they do like their LSD there, don't they?" Such was my naïvety at the time that I recognised neither the antisemitism (which would have horrified me if I had realised what it was) nor the meaning in context of LSD (an abbreviation for Britain's pre-decimalisation currency). I stood there, hiding my puzzlement at why she should think that Israelis were particularly fond of lysergic acid diethylamide.
I've never felt any inclination to do drugs. There was one accident a long time ago, at school; there have been some supervised official trials later in life; I got mildly stoned on other people's smoke, from time to time in the early 70s; but no actual use. Some of my friends, yes; me, no. Not from virtue; my sense of rebellious adventure just couldn't overcome my reluctance to surrender self control. In other words, I'm boring.
One accident a long time ago ... perhaps accident is the wrong word; but it was certainly unwitting on my part. It also played a crucial part in my subsequent reluctance to experiment further.
I was in the last year of school. I'd been dancing with Maryjane Peterson (all names have, of course, have been changed beyond recognition) in Galli Mavri, a night club in the long wall. I had allowed myself to fantasise at an unrealistically hopeful level, and was now feeling tragic. I also had a headache. Danny Whelan offered me an aspirin. It was a funny looking aspirin; much smaller than most, so I asked if he had two; he laughed, and gave me another. I went to find a glass of water.
Danny was with Maryjane's best friend, Brenda Williams. In retrospect, that was the first night of the rest of their lives together which is a romantic thought; but at the time it was just an uncomfortable coincidence – I probably had the dubious distinction of being Brenda's last fling before Danny. "Fling", on second thoughts, overdignifies our encounter. It was very short, taking place in the half hour break between Physics and Double Maths. It was conducted in some discomfort, amidst the disorganised clutter of the sports equipment storage hut. And it ended with Brenda observing, as she gazed out to sea and adjusted her clothing, “yes ... well ... I'd rather have eaten a carrot”.
That was Wednesday; on Friday, she arrived at the dance with Danny. Most of us were only surprised that this had not happened earlier. On the mysterious scales of one to ten which preoccupied conversations in the boys' and girls' locker rooms, Brenda and Danny were both up around 99. They seemed an inevitable couple.
Dancing with Maryjane, I had plucked up my nerve as the music died between numbers. It had been a slow dance, Flowers in the Rain. She hadn't moved off to dance with anyone else in the last hour. We were both hot and sticky with the exercise and the summer night. We were right next to an open door, and nobody would notice our departure. "Would you like to get some fresh air?" I asked, hopefully. She stepped back a pace, pushed her hair back out of her face, and gave a foxy grin. "Why; do you have a carrot with you?"
I ran a glass of water, swallowed Danny's aspirins, and ambled morosely down to the beach.
Galli Mavri was built into a gatehouse and several adjoining chambers in the old Moorish defensive wall around the mediaeval east coast port. Off this coast, decisive or inconclusive sea battles had been fought in wars between Greek and Persian, Greek and Greek, Venetian and Turk, British and German, man and tempest. In the centuries since the wall was built, the old harbour which it defended had silted up and a new one established down the coast. By the summer of 1969, the looming stone overlooked nothing but the lazy shifting water of Citron Bay. The doors opened out onto the road outside the wall, along which very little traffic moved unless coming to Galli Mavri itself. Beyond the road, the ground fell away through a short band of low scrub and wild melons to the white coral sand beach. The wall behind the club, betwixt it and the city, was thick enough to protect residents from the noise; even in front, once you crossed the road and dropped below its level, there was almost nothing to be heard.
I wandered a little way northwards along the beach. In the distance, in the same direction, were the lights of Ayii Irini. Under the jetty at which the town's fishermen brought in their small boats and conned the tourists, I sat down on the sand. With my back against the wooden piles I watched the splintering dance of moonlight. While I waited for the aspirin and the gentle susurration of water against wood to do their work, I mentally rehearsed different versions of myself as Tragic Hero.
Something was terribly wrong.
I was sitting inside a huge dark temple of pillars. Between the pillars, the sky was on fire: a million blazing lights which burned silver holes into my eyes. There was a vast cosmic hissing sound all about me, as an ocean breathed up and down the sand. The sand itself had become immense and world devouring; I could feel every single grain as it swelled to a glass-sharp bolder and cut its own individual pit into my skin. The universe was embalmed in an overwhelming stench of salt, tar, decayed fish. I was clad in sheets of harsh fabric, its surface a moonscape of mountains, valleys, ridges deeply indented with potholes between its crisscross fibres, abrading my flesh like sandpaper.
My feet were being boiled. I looked down, and saw the obscenely monstrous saucer shape of the crab. I knew that the crab was seeking me. When it found me it would crunch me to pulp and powdered bones in those pitiless claws. I turned my head, scanning across the crab from left to right, getting an idea of its size; the whole scan took a thousand years, and through it all I could hear the click and grind of my moving neck.
Nearer than the crab, closer to me, something moved. I looked down. Two hugely loathsome pink slugs writhed in casings of leather straps on the sand. I threw up my hands in self defence, and two more horrors flew at my face: pink, again, long and fleshy, with bundles of swollen pink jointed sausages flapping and flexing at their ends. I stopped moving. Movement attracted the creatures. Stillness was hope. I sat still. I sat still for æons, as the sea breathed and the sky burned and eternity marched its way through my head in heavy boots. As I sat, frozen, the rest of the world hammered in. My head was swelling, and in another millennium or so would burst from within. The columns of the temple groaned like overhead thunder. The sand whispered and rustled, the crab ticked like a cosmic clock, and I listened to the mountain building movements of my heart. Through it all, the intolerable fire in the sky burned on and fractured into the blazing sea.
After many lifetimes of stillness, the giants came. I heard them first, their long slow voices booming vastly along the sand, but dare not turn my head. Then the crushing slithering echo of their footsteps. Finally, they came into view. Three of them, towering above me, their heads in the fire of the sky. The one in the middle had dark-rimmed pools where eyes should be; they flashed inky black, then flared with the same inferno as sea and sky. The two on either side were women; the oceanic rise and fall inside their clothing, as they moved, generated agonising waves of desire which would shatter me into a myriad glittering shards. One of these had the star fire in her hair, the other a swirling curtain of midnight. They saw me, their noises rising in pitch as they changed direction to swoop down on me.
The one with no eyes came first, loomed close. Discovered, I abandoned my stillness strategy and tried to fend him off. The jointed sausage-things appeared again. One of them collided with the eye pools, which shattered. The other fell against my mouth and I bit it; pain roared through me. The giant reached out a sausage-thing of its own: I opened my mouth, hearing the muscles and sinews grind, and bit that too. The giant made a world splitting trumpet sound and withdrew.
One of the others, the dark haired one, also reached out, but past me on either side, out of reach, closing behind my head, pulling me into the continental softness of her front. In the sudden darkness, free of flaming sky, the smell of salt and rot swept away by a musky living scent, surrounded by the rush of a torrential bloodstream and the two-stroke double thudding of a giant heart, I found an inner point of still quiet. I was bathed in low breathy twittering giant-voiced reassurances. I cried rivers which carved valleys down my face, across the endless desert and into the fiery sea.
I am told that Astrid, Richie and Megan sat with me, held me, reassured me, for more than an hour before any of them dared leave in search of help. Galli Mavri, with the only nearby telephone, had closed; only when the last customer had left, and they stood outside locked doors on a quiet road, did my absence worry them. While others drifted off towards Ayii Irini, Astrid insisted on looking for me.
I wouldn't move until the monstrous crab was despatched. Examining the sand carefully, Richie found it – about a centimetre across, long dead, its shell empty – and carried it down to the sea. The stars were bright enough to see by, but they could make no sense of my ravings about a burning sky. Richie's hand was bruised and bleeding where I had bitten him; so was mine, where I had bitten myself. His face was cut and bruised by his broken glasses. Since I panicked at any attempt to detach me from Megan's increasingly tear-soaked cleavage, she insisted on staying attached to me until I was safely through my bad trip.
Megan and I shared a bottle of orange Fanta, every school day; by pooling our resources, we saved money on the price of two separate cans. We had almost nothing else in common. One lunch time, without comment or explanation, she gave me an LP – the Bee Gees red-flocked album, Odessa. I wasn't a Bee Gees fan, but that particular album remained one of my most treasured possessions until, many years later, I lost it in a difficult move. I have a copy on CD, now; the title song, in which the singer floats lost on an iceberg in the North Atlantic, still reminds me oddly of white-hot stars over a white sand beach. Friendship is the strangest thing. I was moved and warmed and touched and humbled to discover how deep this Fanta friendship ran.
I stood on an iceberg once. Not alone; I was with a large group, though they seemed irrelevant in the terrible desolate beauty.
Richie bore me no ill will for his mangled hand and lacerated face. He and I invented some story or other for parental consumption. For weeks afterwards he would offer me sweets, pebbles, seeds, snails, anything small and round, insisting that they were aspirin, and I would find empty crab shells in my bag.
Astrid was my best friend; but her story is a separate one, for telling elsewhere.
Danny married Brenda, and they now run a small road haulage business.


Julie Heyward said...

You totally reveal yourself when you tell me that you had "orange Fanta, every school day." I never went for orange; the grape soda was so much better.

Felix said...

Julie: you have found me out ... orange Fanta was the real substance abuse! :-)

I never encountered grape soda Fanta ... this is the first time I have heard of it. (Though these days I do snort a lot of white grape juice.)

Julie Heyward said...

I was thinking of grape Nehis vs Orange crush -- in tall bottles, of course. Sold out of what looked like a top-loading chest freezer packed with crushed ice and all frosty-dripping after you fished it out.

Both must have been massively dosed with coloring because to imbibe was to BECOME deeply, deeply spiritually purple or orange.

Felix said...

JH> ...massively dosed
JH> with coloring...

I say Disodium 6-hydroxy-5-[(4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonate (aka E110 or Sunset Yellow), you say trisodium (4E)-3-oxo-4-[(4-
2,7-disulfonate (aka E123), let's call the whole thing off...


Geoff said...

People used to relate their LSD experiences to me which made me wonder as I had the same sort of experience without using it. I tried it once and had quite a pleasant out of the body experience - really did leave my body, the proof was there. For someone who was "locked in" smoking hashish was a great escape. I found that Magic Mushrooms - Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as Liberty Caps - some centuries ago were also a key to "The Doors Of Perception".
This a 1954 book by Aldous Huxley.

Dr. C said...

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.