The low sun casts the dry, desolate San Luis Valley into a harsh, flat brown.
I should be watching the road, scanning the horizon for cops, anything but drinking and thinking, smoking and thinking. Stop thinking. Stop thinking. Unshackled from my day job, I'm driving like some sort of '90s version of Hunter S. Thompson, "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs begin to take hold."
Feeling strung out from the everyday madness of responsible life, I want escape from this increasingly bitter search for career and family and the rigors of being a American in 1998, and I'm not getting it. So I light up and take a puff.
Marijuana, pot, grass, kind-bud, with it I live in the moment and the flood of thoughts that suggest that I'm a failure because I still don't own a house, bought a car with my credit, or gotten married and had kids stops. It just doesn't matter anymore. Life's too short to worry and my own personal bouts with anxiety just seem to complicate things. I just don't get it. I just don't want my life to spin down into the same humdrum existence that my father fell victim to.
Get up every day at five AM and make the two hour commute from Colorado Springs to Denver. Work all week for a corporation that sees you as a name, a number, a liability then come home on the weekend and handle the family matters that haven't been resolved. Stress and fear. Stress and fear. Yet I'm not sure where this path is headed either.
Me, I'm not willing to hop on the '90s boom-bus to economic oblivion and destruction. Yet, I'm not sure where this path is headed either so just outside of Poncha Springs I take a hit of acid.
I don't excel at anything easily. Living off my writing alone. Hah! A farfetched idea. I work, have had to work since I was 15 years old. But 1998 proved to be a significant year, a crazy year. After giving up a teaching job, a doomed, albeit significant, relationship and my credit rating, I started creating some semblance of life that was mine. I became social, met people, talked to them about a variety of subjects and I wrote. After a few months of writing again, I started thinking that maybe I should perform some of my poetry. My writing was largely autobiographical, and after a few open mikes, I started editing my pieces by reading them out loud.
Um, this is a poem from that period.
Under My Bed
While I am at work,
rain overwhelms the gutter,
stumbles over the rail,
into my window well,
erupts through my window,
and onto the floor.
Late in the evening,
I discover two yellow uniformed persons
sucking up the flood.
The room smells like a swamp
and little bundles of separate identities
and disparate lives crawl out from under my bed.
As the flood waters wash over my floor
and crawl under my bed
all these memories come rushing back.
Graded essays, worksheets, word searches, and lesson plans that I pushed under the bed
come back in one big saturated pile.
Names, handwriting samples, and a failed career
come back to me in a square, sopping mess as I carry it out to the alley like a pizza.
A spare pillow, your pillow as I recall is sopping and drips water as I drag it outside.
A pair of your shoes, your backpack, your socks, and your black frilly top
are pushed in the corner and leave a puddle behind.
After 3 months of bachelorhood, I wonder how under my bed
became your storage shed?
You won't even talk to me, yet you left parts of your life shoved under my bed?
We were so careful about taking off shoes in the living room,
yet your shoes made it under the bed next to the essays and lesson plans?
after jokes of sweating feet and leather,
I find your shoes stinking and tapping their way into my dreams and nightmares.
This is not the time to think about teaching,
and I certainly don't want to think about you.
It seems strange to be thinking these thoughts on an accelerated journey to Colorado, but such is the nature of my trip and as it began, innocuously enough, the visions begin to take hold. The Arkansas River rose up from its riverbed and I could actually see the fish, the dip of the rafter's oar, the polished stones on the riverbed, and I became the river stumbling through life largely unaware of my headwaters or ultimate destination. But it has a destination; it makes sense. And I knew I understood this kind of thinking before.
With Acid my history made sense. With Acid all the people I was meeting were put there for a reason and had something to teach me. My thinking had been transformed by Acid, but my life had stayed pretty much the same until 1998. And suddenly, as if I was inventing it myself, I was transforming my life into a work of art, a devotion to poverty and absurdity, "Jack Kerouac's voluntary poverty personified the pursuit of private artistic genius in a culture that assigned its highest values to power and wealth."
I just stopped caring as much about the basics of living and my writing exploded. Writing felt natural. Simultaneously, I registered for a class at the university and much to my surprise and delight discovered I would be reading authors of the Beat Generation.
In my Acid inspired frenzy, the Beat Generation made sense, fit into the collective gestalt of my life and added a measure of history to justify my own weirdly kinetic, social, and sponge-like existence. While I was turned off by many of the author's lifestyle choices, particularly Kerouac's dependence on alcohol and Burroughs' heroin addiction, many of their ideals seem to gel with mine. And then the cop pulls me over just outside of Johnson City.
He's tall and pulls the dark, blue cap over graying blonde hair. He tucks his thumbs into his belt and walks up to the car.
"Can I see your driver's license and registration?"
Somehow I manage to keep my head on straight, freaking for sure, with sad visions of spending a cold night in a Park County jail taking hold of my unreasonable thought process. I always had pretty good cop luck. Someday, I know, my cop luck is going to run out. I just don't want that time to be now. Nothing is worse than being stuck in a room without any sensory input on Acid. And I haven't even peaked yet.
"Can you....What is that?"
I didn't even notice. When he'd asked for my license and registration, I didn't pay attention, but now hanging from my glove box, in a zip-lock baggy, is a quarter ounce of psychedelic mushrooms.
"Give it to me."
Under normal conditions, it's best to just tell the truth, but this is not normal conditions. This is not just a routine stop of some suburban white kid going to fast; this stop has moved into unfamiliar territory for him and for me.
His unease is apparent as he glares at me. "So, you're telling me you don't what this is or how it got in your car? ...You don't know what this is? ...It's okay to answer me?"
I can see flashes of the bureaucratic nightmare his job must be. I can see the mountains of paperwork he'd have to fill out on me.
"I don't know you, right?" ...And you don't know me?...Good. ..So if you tell me what these are, I'll let you off....So they are psychedelic mushrooms...And you aren't on them right now?...This is what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna to take these and ground them in the dirt on the side of the road, then I'm gonna get back in my car and continue like this stop never happened. You're gonna wait until I'm headed in the other direction and then you're gonna drive to Denver not speeding until you get to Jefferson County. Is that understood?...Good."
"Get out of my county."
Close call. Why would anyone want to be a cop? Who'd really want to deal with the kind of behaviors that cops routinely deal with? While I appreciate his letting me off, I wonder how many others he's let off? How many have gone on to do even more damage. And what motivates people to take positions of authority in our culture anyway? Who'd really want to put up with the hassle? And then I realize I'm traveling to Denver to visit my sister, who's a cop.
How far had my thinking been removed from the kid I was when I graduated from high school? In the search for career and family, I'd read the wrong books, wrote about the wrong topics, did the wrong drugs and now I just want to scrap the whole American dream, but in favor of what? It just doesn't make sense to me anymore. I drove cross-country..."to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision, or he had a vision to find out eternity."
What I failed to realize on a more primitive level is that I'm relying too much on drugs to achieve this altered state, this nirvana. I haven't discovered that "all drugs have been tried and all have lead to greater bondage rather than freedom from the conditions of physical and social existence. " I'd been tearing along on the path of least resistance, taking LSD on sacred occasions, gagging as I put the freeze-dried mushroom on cheeseburgers, smoking pot out of soda cans, bongs, glass pipes, and joints, and drinking beer like it was water. In 1998, I realized I was no different than "All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could Peace and Understanding for 3 bucks a hit." My search for meaning on the back roads of America had been instinctively American, trying to find salvation in an accelerated way in an accelerated culture.
Instantly, the vision takes hold of me and makes me understand the confusion that plagued much of my youth. I'm standing over the microphone at the drive-through window saying, "Can I take your order?"
Only I'm in the car too: a white, beat-up, two door '91 Lumina and I'm speaking into the speaker, "I'd like a Nirvana with cheese, a side order of Peace, a large dose of Happiness, and for desert...a small bit of Understanding."
And when I pull up and look at the younger version of myself handing the bag through the window, I don't know what to say. I want to try and make sense of it all and explain it to that kid working fast food to pay his way through college, but I don't know where to begin.
Instead I pull out of the drive-through land and open my bag: a couple of hits of Acid, a Joint, a large amber colored Beer, and a quarter ounce of Mushrooms that I put in my glove box for later consumption.
In my rapid, accelerated search for meaning I'd taken a uniquely American approach. I figured if I searched hard enough, pushed myself hard enough, applied the same Protestant Work Ethic to it, I'd find meaning in life.
Do something enough and eventually you get good at it right? Do something enough and eventually starts to make sense right?
I can feel the unease rising up in me as I pull up Crow Hill just outside Bailey, Colorado. I can feel the futility of my own life well up in the pit of my stomach and I want to stop. I want to stop and be happy with what I have for a change.
Instead, I slam the accelerator to the floor and roar up the hill, cresting the hill at an even hundred. I'm spending too much time in my head. My thoughts are beginning to turn back on me and I don't like where my frenzied brain is taking me.
Popping in another tape, I hope it will take me away, let me escape from the strange walled confines of my own circular thoughts and strange daily adventure my life has become.
I'm 35 years old and the only thing I know how to do is write. And even that seems to only ward off the evil spirits when I'm actively engaged by it. Life outside the confines of my brain is too ominous and dark and I can't for the life of me figure out how I've gotten into this mess.
I surrender....but can't because I still have so much more writing to do. I was so much to be like Kerouac and say, "There is nothing here to hide the fact of gravity holding us intact upside down against a surface globe of Earth in infinite, empty space." Why can't I just be? Why do I have justify so much of my own existence? And what am I trying to prove on this crazy trip to Denver anyway?
Denver sneaks up on you as you meander down Turkey Creek Canyon. I know it's there, but it still catches me off guard when I spill out onto C-470 and see the hazy downtown skyline enveloped in the "brown cloud" and the jagged uplifted Red Rocks exposed on the Hogback.
I'd understood so little about life when I lived here, and I realize I still don't get it, may never get it. There are no easy answers. And in the clarity of the moment I experienced my own revelation best said by Henry Miller:
For a fraction of a second, perhaps, I experienced the utter clarity which the epileptic, it is said, is given to know. In that moment I lost completely the illusion of time and space. I felt that everything was justified...there is only the poetry of motion creating the illusion of truth and drama. For some reason or other man looks for the miracle and to accomplish it he will wade through blood. He will debauch himself with
ideas, he will reduce himself to a shadow if for only one second of his life he can close his eyes to the hideousness of reality...For weeks and months, for years, in fact all my life I had been looking forward to something happening, some extrinsic event that would alter my life, and now suddenly, inspired by the absolute hopelessness of everything, I felt relieved, felt as though a great burden had been lifted from my
So I pull of C-470, pull into a gas station, fill up the gas tank, call my sister, turn the car around, and head back to Albuquerque and my computer.