“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
LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)
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)
Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)