ACCELER8OR

Jun 22 2012

The Belladonna Shaman (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #20)

By R.U. Sirius


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“I vomited some of it, but still managed to keep most of it down. After watching me, the rest of the gang decided to take only half a tablespoon. I learned an invaluable lesson in drug experimentation that would stay with me for life: never go first.”

 

A segment from the MONDO 2000 prehistory part of the upcoming MONDO 2000 History Project Book, Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 and the Cyberculture of the Late 2oth Century

I consider my second qualification as World Mutant #1 to be my death at 15 from the witchy deliriant Belladonna.

It was early in the summer of 1968. Myself and my friends had heard stories about people taking this drug, Asthamador, that you could buy in the drug store that contained belladonna. Someone described spending the entire night picking bugs off of his skin. Nothing speaks to the weird reality of being fifteen than this fact – we all agreed that this sounded really cool! We decided to get some of this belladonna and take it that Saturday night for the Ronnie Dio (yes, that Ronnie Dio) and the Electric Elves show in downtown Binghamton, New York. Dio was our biggest local star.

The day of the show, bottle of asthmador in my hand, we walked down to the neighborhood store and bought drinks to wash down the medicine. I bought a Coke, and I can’t remember what the other guys bought, but the Coke would turn out to be important. We went into the alley behind the small grocery store where teens sometimes would hang out and smoke cigarettes. Finding it empty, we prepared to take our medicine. None of us really knew anything about dosage, so we just went with what we had, a tablespoon that my friend and upstairs neighbor Dave Waffle had grabbed out of his kitchen. I went first. I gulped down the tablespoon of asthmador, washing it down with the Coke. You do not know the meaning of the word bitter unless you’ve done this. It was like swallowing Satan’s fetid bowels, which should have given me a clue as to the kind of experience that was to follow. I vomited some of it, but still managed to keep most of it down. After watching me, the rest of the gang decided to take only half a tablespoon. I learned an invaluable lesson in drug experimentation that would stay with me for life: never go first.

Once we’d swallowed our poison, we decided to go into the store for some snacks to wash away the taste.  Things seemed pretty normal and I picked out a package of chocolate Hostess cupcakes that used to be so popular – the ones with the white squiggles down the middle. I reached out to grab it off the shelf, but the cupcakes jumped away, eluding my grasp. The little white squiggles had turned into eyes, nose and mouth. The cupcakes laughed at me.

Somehow I made it out of the store. I can remember walking for maybe two blocks, carrying my hippie mocassins. At some point I just winked out. Even today, I still have some sense, or recollection, of what my hallucinations were like – I experienced a flash of recognition a couple of years later. When I saw Munch’s The Scream, it resonated – not just the face and the distortion but the sense that one is surrounded by some unfathomably horrific presence that probably hides an infinity of other unfathomably horrific presences both within and beyond it, endlessly layered. I also remember seeing my father sitting in a chair and smoking his pipe, disappearing slowly from his feet to his head while asking me what was wrong. Two cops found me staggering down Main Street, eyes without irises – just big pools of black. I writhed and struggled and screamed and vomited as the officers tried to restrain me. One cop wanted to take me to jail, but the other one recognized the need to rush me to the hospital and he prevailed.

I entered Our Lady of Lords Hospital wrapped up in a straightjacket and was immediately given a shot of morphine.  Once they got me to stop flailing, they were able to find my wallet. They pulled it out to see who I was.  In those far less paranoid times, teenagers didn’t necessarily carry ID cards. But my friend Vinnie had found these sort-of IDs that had a space on them to write your name and address and phone number and we’d had some fun one night writing the names of our heroes, or of odd characters, onto the cards and sticking them in our wallets.  I had two cards on which I had written two different names.  Since the admission authorities knew I wasn’t Ho Chi Minh, they figured the other ID must be the correct one. I was admitted as Frank Zappa.

It took a few hours for the doctors to make their diagnosis – atropine poisoning potentiated by Coca Cola (which apparently potentiates the atropine several times over). Meanwhile, the rest of the gang made it to the Ronnie Dio show, but Dave Waffle never got to see the big finale.  At some point in the show, he hallucinated that he was back home but that the song on the radio really sucked.  Irritated, he walked to the radio and started twisting the dial which, unfortunately, was some girl’s knee (okay, it could have been worse.)  He was dragged out of the hall and thrown into the street.

Fortunately, a friend of his older brother saw that Waffle was out of control and decided to drive him home.  Once home, Waffle managed to make it up to his own house, but he went into his mother Gloria’s bedroom and started taking off his clothes.  She screamed at him but he thought it was another friend, Rob, yelling at him to open up the window to talk.  Waffle leaned out the window holding a conversation with the imaginary Rob while his mom called an ambulance.

The arrival of the ambulance got the attention of my parents. Gloria shouted something about an LSD overdose and as Waffle was rushed to the emergency room, my father thought to call and check regarding any other LSD overdoses. “No. No LSD overdoses,” a nurse reported. A few hours later, when it was well past curfew and I still hadn’t returned home, my father called again and the dots were connected.  Frank Zappa, who was in the emergency room after having his stomach pumped, had little chance of survival.

I woke up 36 hours later, looked up at the ceiling, noticed the blurry versions of my older brothers who were standing by the side of the bed. I asked them why they’d taken down the poster of Stokely Carmichael that I kept on my ceiling.   A cheer went up and one of them rushed into the waiting room to tell my mom and dad that I was still alive.

I remained in the hospital for about a week. (Those were the days, huh?) And while my first hallucinatory trip had not produced much insight, I learned that, throughout my coma, I had been waited on and mourned by crowds of crying teenage girls, some of whom had to be forced out of the waiting room when visiting hours were over. So I did learn that girls liked me – although I was still too goofy to take full advantage of the situation.

And was I full of contrition?  Were we contrite?  No, we were incorrigible.  Vinnie showed up at the hospital and left behind a cake that had some weak and improperly prepared marijuana baked into it. It was inactive, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. And when Mark Perone, my 14-year-old hoodlum rock guitarist neighbor left me a pack of firecrackers, I got a hold of some matches, opened the bathroom window and, lighting them one at a time, tossed them outside, until a nurse finally came running in.  Exasperated, she asked me why I wanted to make more trouble.  I didn’t, I told her.  I just didn’t want the firecrackers to go to waste.  All American teen logic at its finest.

When I’m feeling mystical, I start to think that I journeyed to a rare underworld and it was some sort of shamanic initiation. I emerged as a zeitgeist savant with a few neural circuits directly hooked into the dark matter of the universe. I’m intimate with emptiness in a very profound and scary sense — I’ll say that. But I have the decency not to impose it on anyone else.  Still, I’ll claim this as an initiatory rite qualifying me as the man who will bring about der final solution to der  human banality problem…

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

Ted Nelson & John Perry Barlow For MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #17)

R.U. A Cyberpunk? Well, Punk? R.U.? (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry # 18

The New Edge At The New Age Convention (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #19)

 

 


10 Comments

  • By Ed, June 22, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

    My belladonna experience, yep, only once, began in the early evening when three of us each took a tablespoon of the herb in a tumbler of water. While there was no vomiting, we all lay around for at least a half hour sure we were dying and vowing to somehow make it to a hospital. Which, of course, we didn’t. There are several dark and extreme places that are outside my conscious memory. I do recall at some point visiting at friend at the gas station where he worked. While there a couple of the city’s finest stopped by and I thrilled everyone by tossing coins that fell to the floor amid sparkles and shining, blinking lights! I don’t believe my audience got as much enjoyment out of it as I. Shortly, they apparently decided discretion was the better part of valor and opted to simply leave the crazy fellow be and go on their way.

    Sometime after midnight, I drove home. I had to drive all the way home with my head out of the car window since the windshield was totally blocked with black paint or something. (Well, it was night.) When I woke the next morning, there were a whole bunch of people in my room, just watching me sleep. Turns out the closet door was open.

    I only took belladonna once, but that was quite enough.

  • By Cynthia, June 22, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

    I have this can! I bought it at an antique store!

  • By Jaxa, June 23, 2012 @ 4:55 am

    “When I’m feeling mystical, I start to think that I journeyed to a rare underworld and it was some sort of shamanic initiation. I emerged as a zeitgeist savant with a few neural circuits directly hooked into the dark matter of the universe. I’m intimate with emptiness in a very profound and scary sense — I’ll say that. But I have the decency not to impose it on anyone else.” …well you just imposed on the world wide web so logically you must not have the decency you attribute yourself with.

    “Still, I’ll claim this as an initiatory rite qualifying me as the man who will bring about der final solution to der  human banality problem…”…….waaaanker. Druggies are the source of much banality, perhaps even the majority.

  • By John, June 23, 2012 @ 7:15 am

    Ironic that Frank Zappa was pretty much the only musician of the time to be completely drug-free.

  • By Polat Guney, June 23, 2012 @ 9:31 am

    Wow. Now imagine being some unsuspecting asthma sufferer in the middle of an attack having ‘Asthmador’ forced on you as a treatment.

    btw-it’s “Our Lady of Lourdes” hospital. I lived two blocks away for years.

  • By Doug, June 23, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

    \m/ R.I.P. DIO \m/

  • By francesco44, June 23, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

    Dear R.U. Sirius

    The story is interesting but I think you did not read carefully the composition of the wonderful and terrifying ASTHMADOR…I think Dr Schiffmann is shivering in his grave!

    Your experience was not only a “belladonna experience” but also a terrifying DATURA STRAMONIUM experience…You know Datura sometimes abbreviated “Stramonium” (in french “stramoine” is the famous “devil’s weed” given to Carlos Castaneda by the Shaman Don Juan Matus….I strongly encourage you to read (in Wikipedia for example…) the chapter related to Datura Stramonium!

  • By unlisted, June 23, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

    good reason to take a real hallucinogen. A woman I knew took belladonna and woke up naked in a closet not remembering the entire night. Datura compounds are toxic.

  • By Pam Whiteley, June 26, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

    My great aunt had serious asthma and used to use Dr. Shiffman’s powder to relieve it. I’m 66 so you know this was way way back. She would burn the powder and breath it in. It was green and I was convinced she was a witch since she had short gray curly hair and this green smoke swirling around her head. And I was a very young child. Right after an attack she would tell fortunes using cards and tea leaves. The powder also contains marijuana extract. My cousin and I figured that out when we attended our first college party and smelled our aunt’s powder in the air. It wasn’t. But we figured out why she was able to tell fortunes after an asthmas attack.

  • By j, March 31, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

    Wonderful story! I have only just started reading through your archives and am very pleased to have discovered this site

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