Trying to Do Acid with My Mother
Last year I tried to convince my mother to do LSD with me. It was a joke at first, asked walking through Christiania in Copenhagen, a small piece of land in the city’s harbor that once housed army barracks and munitions facilities. The army vacated in 1967, and, after sitting idle for four years, the neighbors broke through a piece of the fence to use the empty yard as a playground. Soon after a local writer and anarchist provocateur, wrote about reclaiming the space. The goal was to, “create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community.”
A community of mostly dissatisfied young people came to Christiania, feeling the “beating of the pioneer heart,” and in the midst of one of Europe’s most historic capitals they simply began again. People built new houses in the overgrown flora and reappointed the cement spaces of officialdom as shops and workrooms. Soon after the loosely anarchic schema was fused into that abandoned ventricle of the Danish society. Predictably, Christiania began to draw attention for its open acceptance of drug use. Though the neighborhood’s founder had a grand vision of direct democracy and the fusion of self-interest with community prosperity, the free use of drugs defined Christiania. There’ll be time for civics tomorrow, but it’s nice out today so let’s get high as fuck.
As this defined Christiania to the outside world it also made it a regular target for the Danish government, which, citing safety concerns and broken drug laws, would periodically stage raids on the neighborhood. Residents of Christiania were remarkably capable of defending themselves, however, and police were regularly turned back.
The persistence of this one freedom–the right to get high as fuck whenever–has also been the source of many of Christiania’s biggest internal challenges. As is often the case, pro-drug zones are always in danger of power-grabs and speculation. So the beneficent hippies of 1971 were soon faced with scary new neighbors, in the form of meth-making biker gangs and their hard-drug schilling competitors. The ideal of a free and open society was easiest when it only had to be free and open to peaceful folk who did yoga and grew marijuana, but when challenged to accommodate people with guns and freakier chemicals to do business with, tensions soared
There were gang wars, epidemics of heroin and speed addiction, and some horrifically violent moments, including a nightmarish grenade attack in 2004 that blew off a young man’s jaw. But Christiania has survived. This year it celebrated its 40th year with a proud display of flags, free cake, and a week-long party. The community earlier this year won the right to buy its freedom from the government. If the residents can pay 76 million kroner ($13.7 million) by 2018, they will be the official owners of their land and considered a semi-autonomous zone under Danish law. Property is robbery, as the Proudhonian war-cry goes, but in Christiania it is a collective vindication, a reclamation from the state of land that no one person should have ownership of.
My mother’s memory of the neighborhood goes back further than the anarchy insurrection of the 70s. Before it became a theme-park fantasia for the freegan-minded, it was a dumpy working-class neighborhood with high crime and bleak apartment blocks. Walking through Christiania with her I caught a glimpse behind the graffiti, marijuana, and drunken 40 year-olds gathered around someone with an acoustic guitar singing John Lennon songs in the wane and unreliable afternoon sun. To her it was the bleak land of out-of-work sailors and dockhands withering away in old cement buildings one mid-morning cigarette at a time.
I went to Disneyland the first time I took LSD. I ate a single dose on blotter paper and drove down the I-5 with some friends nervously waiting for everything to change. We stopped at a liquor store thinking some booze would keep the effects of the drug from being to distressing. I followed my friends into the narrow aisles of the store and noticed a small tingling across the skin of my upper body. As I moved to the refrigerated cases of beer I noticed that the aisles seemed to be leaning, almost on the verge of tipping over. Caution would be needed here, and so I slowed my pace, thinking I was being extraordinarily prudent. Surely this was what it meant to hold it together while on drugs.
Then I felt my friend grab me by the shoulder. “You gotta chill out,” he said,” you’re freaking out.” Apparently, I hadn’t just slowed my walk but had stopped completely and was in wobbily kneed crouch, like a frog made to look like it can walk, while staring at a can of olives with a depraved grin. He walked me back to the car, the sense that everything was slanted just to the verge of toppling over continuing. I started laughing as I leaned my arm on the roof of the car, the pleasantly cool tingle still running over my bod. This was funny! Things looked like they were about to fall over, I wanted to explain to my friend. Instead, I managed only to hold his glance for a second or two before succumbing to another diaphragm convulsion, emptying all the air I had in my lungs until the convulsions produced only a high-pitched squeak.
He pushed me into the backseat of the car and gave me a can of beer to drink, with clear instructions to stop freaking out. We drove into the open plain of the Disneyland parking lot, gnarled with the dingy colors of owned automobiles. We covertly drank more beer and I noticed the while elation of the liquor store had departed, the feeling of toppling over remained. The world was misproportioned and I felt emotionally parched, I had no feelings to frame this new view of the world as a good or bad thing. The tilted mini-vans simply tilted, and the neutrality of this fact made me sulky and suspicious.
When we finally adventured to the ticket booths and I handed the cashier my credit card it seemed like she held onto it for what must have been the lifetime of some lesser insect. In recognition of this fleeting life, I went through a dense strata of feeling, from relief to total despair when I looked behind me and realized my friends seemed to have disappeared. I could have spoken last words at that moment, “I’m sorry, I’ve always loved you,” to no one in particular. The counterwoman seemed indifferent to the coda I was considering and handed me a receipt to sign. I remember writing only the letter “X” on it and handing it back to her.
I took my ticket, walked through the gate, and found my friends on the other side. The rest of the afternoon was less remarkable, mostly comprised of standing in lines for rides, staring for slightly too long at the cheap-looking plaster walls that gave each fantastical subsection of the park its own character. On the Pirates of the Carribean ride I recall one of my friends deciding to get up out of our boat and climb across the plastic hull into the empty boat behind us. At this point the ride stopped and a voice over the speaker system announced that moving between boats was against the rules and would be cause for expulsion from the park.
Excepting the American triumvirate of booze, cigarettes, and caffeine I am not especially interested in drugs, but LSD is the one exception. Each of my subsequent experiences with the drug have been remarkably different, sometimes the effect is to pulverize rational thought into monkey syllables, other times it’s an ebullient giddiness that returns the vivid colors and newness of experience to the boring world, and still others it’s a hallucinogenic enfolding of one thought and image into another. The variability and duration of the drug also make it a difficult to do. It requires effort to put up with a high that doesn’t peak your emotional mechanisms but instead discombobulates your rational ones. It’s easy to be drunk but struggling through a 12 hour fit of acid takes work.
These are not the kinds of experiences one immediately thinks of in relation to parents. Or rather, they’re ones that both child and parent fight to keep in separate spheres– I’m reminded of another time in college when my roommate had just eaten a quarter ounce of mushrooms when his parents called and I handed him the phone without even thinking. “I didn’t think I’d need to tell you this,” he said afterward, “but next time my parents call and I’m high on mushrooms, tell them I’m not here, okay?”
There is a time when parent and child become more curious about the adult experiences of the other. The stresses of the custodian diminish, while the helpless incompetence of the child erode after each survived experience. There are many things I wonder about my mother now. She raised me with a lazy but pious sense of religion and the irrational taboo-avoidance it entails. Caffeine, premarital sex, pork, LSD, and jewelry were all sins against god (though she often excused herself from the jewelry prohibition, once sweetly confiding in me that her father would have disapproved of the necklace she’d worn to church).
This world seemed sensible, if sometimes inconvenient, in my pinhole view on it at eight year-old. 25 years later it is barely just a speck, into which it would be impossible to squeeze my most beloved memories. LSD is a fine rescue from the narcissism of past memories. There’s nothing ignoble about becoming enraptured with yourself (who else should it be, finally?) but that condition is an inevitability better saved for solipsistic mirrors and the spacious hours of workaday night. In the interim, we have the opportunity to aim the enrapturing impulse at other things.
The parental instinct is toward conservation, and how quickly does the child press against that constant sense of being safeguarded, watched over, governed. In the old anarchist romances, property ownership was not simply theft, but a sign of withdrawal, a drawing of lines to separate people, to create a safe threshold that can always be crossed, returning one to the pinhole of memory and reflection. These lines are necessary, if imperfect, but one hopes that they can be a little more permeable than law, civics, religion, and parental stubbornness sometimes make them.
And so, not even realizing I’d wanted to before, I asked my mother if she’d do acid with me as we walked through the graffiti’d corpses of the old embattlements. She said no. And then she quickly changed the subject, almost as if she hadn’t heard me ask the question.
**“Christiana: 40, Fresh, and Free” (via The Copenhagen Post)
“Copenhangen’s hippie neighborhood Christiania raises money to save commune” (via The Washington Post)
“Christiania – a small community with big ideas” (via The Guardian)
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