Juan G. Escobar
“In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey.”
We are at Dave’s house, somewhere in the middle of late 70s southern California suburbia, when the drugs begin to take hold. I hear zzzzzshshsh, echoing waves of an almost indiscernible, vaguely insectoid buzzing sound, getting louder, crescendoing, fading out, then coming back a few seconds, minutes, hours, days, eons later. My mouth tastes like I’ve been sucking on a handful of loose change. “What the fuck is going on?” “Where are all the pretty colors and dancing elves?” “Oh shit.” “Fuck, I gotta get outta here, man!”
I had scored a hit of acid at lunch from Benny; a tab of “White Lightning”, five bucks. Cool. I eat it and proceed to walk of campus.
I blame disco. I used to love to go to school dances when I was in junior high. They would play rock music, like T. Rex, David Bowie and Alice Cooper, maybe some cool oldies like The Dave Clark Five and Chuck Berry, perhaps some mellow Carol King stuff for the girls. Sometimes girls would even ask me to slow-dance–heaven. Sometimes they would even have live local bands playing for us. I can still hear the endless garage-band versions of “Smoke On The Water” reverberating through the gym. There was the requisite adolescent sexual tension. It was fun. I never missed a dance.
By the time I got into 10th grade, which for us was the beginning of high school, they were playing nothing but disco at all school dances. Too young to appreciate the irony and kitsch of it all, and perhaps a bit too dense to take advantage of the possibilities for getting laid, I bailed on the whole thing. “Disco sucks, man.” I could not relate. If you wanted to go to a school dance, disco was it. There was really nothing else going on musically at school dances.
My grasp of the experience that had been junior high had been somewhat tenuous to begin with. I was barely there. I did have a few friends and an art teacher, Mr. Johnson, whom I liked and respected, and these more or less kept me connected to “the system”. High school was a different story all together. I did not make a graceful transition. Somewhat of an odd creature, I was adrift amidst the various crosscurrents of cliques, hormones, feathered hair, bell-bottoms and the expectations of others that I was neither equipped nor prepared to make sense of or deal with in any way that may have been of some value to me. I got stoned. If I couldn’t or wouldn’t play along at least I could say, “Fuck you, I want no part of this nonsense!” That’s what I did.
Recently chemically enhanced but not yet high, I was leaving campus when I ran into my friend, Mark. “Hey man, what’s going on?” he asked.
“Nothin’, I just ate a hit of acid.”
“Benny’s White Lightning?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Holy fuck man, I heard that shit is really strong.”
“That’s cool, I got some angel dust. You wanna go over to Dave’s and hang
Off to Dave’s we walked. His house was a few blocks and about a fifteen-minute walk away from the school. Now Dave had always been a fat pretentious douche bag, but his parents were almost never around and he always had decent music, beer and munchies. Given my impending altered state I had no interest in either food or beer, but at least his house was someplace we could smoke, hang and trip out for a while. I was seventeen, a senior at J.F. Kennedy High School in La Palma CA, and eating a tab of acid, smoking some angel dust and tripping my balls off seemed to me an excellent way to spend the afternoon.
While I’m waiting for the acid to kick in we’re sitting in Dave’s backyard listening to Mott the Hoople and me and Mark are passing his PCP laced joint back and forth. Dave is not interested in our chemical recreation. After a few hits I’ve had enough and I spark up a Marlboro. Mark gets up and walks into the kitchen to get a beer. From my perch on the patio furniture in the backyard I can see the two of them through the kitchen window. Why are Dave and Mark talking about me? What are they saying? Why is Dave making strange faces at me and taping on the window? Maybe he knows I think he’s a douche bag. What the hell is that oscillating buzzing sound? Why are there strange ominous voices and sinister whispers in the music? Where they always there?
Of course they were, I just hadn’t noticed them before. I can’t stay here. I get up; walk out the back yard and into the street.
The air is smoggy, heavy, metallic; no joy in this grey diffused sunshine. I fall into the currents of those tidy suburban streets like a frightened sleepwalker in the grips of a nightmare from which there is no waking up. I am waking up; that is the nightmare. I drift along not knowing exactly where I’m going or why. My mind is racing, yet everything is moving in slow motion. I’ll figure this all out. Everything catches my attention, everything is reverberating, rippling and dripping with multiple meanings beneath the everyday meaning of things and it is a matter of life and death that I FIGURE IT OUT RIGHT NOW!
Cars go by, they elongate as they pass, their shape and length corresponding precisely to the Doppler effect of the sound they make as they pass. They are shorter as they approach and longer as they move away. I swear I can hear the radios in the cars. The people in them look like cheap discarded mannequins or twisted dolls left over from some deceased, crazy, old cat-lady’s garage sale. I begin to discern patterns and hidden meanings in the movements of traffic.
I know about Tuskegee, small pox blankets, mk ultra; I begin speculating about all the horrible shit I don’t know about, and how the ideological spawn of those very same heartless killers and mind-fuckers may have refined their techniques in the intervening years to maximize human suffering; then it hits me, somebody is controlling this . . .this, zombie zoo. That’s what this is, a fucking zombie zoo and I’m the only one who knows it. Jesus, I’m a fucking lab rat zombie in some twisted bastard’s, or group of twisted bastards mind control experiment. They are controlling my thoughts and everyone else’s. I can’t really see them but through their manipulations I know they are there. I’m more scared than I’ve ever been before or since. My skin is crawling. I’m trembling. I’m breaking out in cold sweats. I’m hyperventilating. This is not a dream. This is happening.
The panic would Doppler in and out in waves, always accompanied by that zzzzzshshsh sound. As the sound got louder my fear would increase. It was building. Each time it was more intense. No sooner had I managed to calm myself just enough to keep going, than it would start all over again, weirder and more horrifying each time.
I’m about to step onto a pedestrian overpass, when I actually step onto it I hear the sound of impossibly large machinery begin to click into gear. I step off. It stops. I step back on and I can hear those immense gears grinding into position. I’ve got to get across. I try to ignore the sound and keep walking but no matter how much I walk the end does not seem to get any closer. Oh fuck, this thing is a giant treadmill and I’m trapped forever. From behind me and to my right some scraggly zombie kid on a neon, orange, stingray, bike rides past me straight to the other side. That breaks the spell long enough for me to get across.
I’m pacing in circles at the corner of La Palma Avenue and Moody right where the Carl’s Jr. sits. I think I’ll cross the street. No, that’s what they want me to do. Fuck them, I’ll stay right here. Oh god, maybe that’s what they want. This has to stop. Can’t anyone else see what the hell is going on like I do? I stare intently into cars as they pass. Flecks of foam are beginning to appear at the corners of my mouth that I keep trying to get rid of by wiping them away, to no avail. I’m waving my arms and shouting at people. The cops drive by and I stare right at them. I can’t imagine what I must’ve looked like to them. They pull into the parking lot of the Carl’s Jr. and I make a run for it. They get out of their patrol car, chase me and wrestle me to the ground, cuff my ass and toss me into the back of the patrol car. I am convinced that they’ll take me someplace and kill me, like those rednecks did to the character that played Burt Reynolds’s little brother in that movie in which Burt plays a drunk Indian.
Instead, they drive me to the La Palma police station and throw me into a little cell. They ask me what I’ve taken and I tell them, “One hit of acid and some angel dust.” “Oh, and by the way, all of this is fake.” I’m left to sit in the little cell for what seems like a couple of hours, although it’s hard to tell for how long because at this point the flow of time is still a bit elastic. I’m still horrified, but not nearly as bad as I had been. They tell me they’ve called my mom and that she’s on her way to pick me up but I don’t believe them. I’m convinced that they’ll try and send a double of my mother. I will not be fooled by some simpleton pigs. When she finally shows up I am satisfied that it is actually my mother. The cops release me to her, the requisite forms, papers and documents are signed, and off we drive in our family’s blue 70s Chevy Kingswood station wagon.
My mother took me out of that jail and we drove around for a while until she could figure out what to do with me. While the more pronounced effects of the drugs had by then subsided some, I was still a long way from being okay.
Her friend, Lucia lived in our neighborhood and it was arranged that I would stay at her house for a few days. Lucia and her husband had kids that were a few years older than me, and I think a couple of them were already out of the house by then. I had a quiet room to myself and the run of the house for about three days until my father’s rage had subsided and it was safe for me to come home.
It took a chemically induced, paranoid, psychotic breakdown for my mother to intervene on my behalf, and for once to take some action to keep my father from beating the hell out of me. When he found out about my alkaloid induced adventure into tin foil hat country that day, his reaction was that he wanted to kill me for embarrassing him, and for the inconvenience of being interrupted at work by the phone call informing him of what had happened.
It’s more than likely that he wouldn’t have actually killed me, but given the chance, without a doubt, he would’ve beaten me senseless. I have no idea exactly what my mother may have said to my father, but I imagine that she was somehow able to convince him of just how serious and dangerous a situation I had gotten myself into, and that any violence directed towards me may have done even more damage, but I can’t say for sure. When I did finally get back home, I went out of my way to avoid the son of a bitch. I actually managed to not see him for about three days. When I finally did see him he just gave me a disapproving look of total disgust, turned and went about his business. I don’t think the bastard ever said a word to me about my freak out.