From Gitmo with hugs, or How I Spent my Summer Vacation
By Ian Murphy
2130: Detainee was shown a crude drawing of John Walker Lindh and told it was a mirror. Detainee refuses soy milk. Soy milk is poured on his head…
2300: Detainee appeared to have been disgusted by the word employment. Detainee is made to wear a makeshift necktie…he is told he has real upper-management potential.
2330: MG showed a can of shaving cream to detainee…. Detainee became enraged…. He struggled against his restraints as if to attack….Detainee was subjected to poking and light slapping…Table of Contents:
It’s the Summer of Love in Taos, NM and I’m getting none. Miranda’s sitting in the lotus position next to her Humana monkey-god shrine, excoriating Obama and prophesying financial Armageddon. She’s an ophthalmologist who believes in extra-dimensional aliens and Tarot cards. Her bedroom door is a colorful Vishnu tapestry. A jewelry box on the toilet contains a Bob Marley medallion and a POTUS locket. The place is filthy with new age crap and fallen idols.
We met this weekend at a Wiccan retreat in Arroyo Seco. “My friend goes down to Peru every year,” she’d whispered, “and she told me, ‘You know who has the best ayahuasca? This math teacher out of Albuquerque!’”
I now feel ill just typing that word—Albuquerque.
Ryan and his girl—and I mean girl—friend Stephanie are parked in the driveway giggling inside their RV. He’s a barely 3-D Shaggy in his balding forties, and she looks like she just ran away from Native American Girl Scout camp. They drifted here after a month at the Rainbow Gathering in Cuba, NM. What was the best part? “Oh, man, we got these tasty chocolate pastries one night….”
Scientifically speaking, this Hippie Hajj was a reaffirmation of everything tragic within the human animal.
Slumped on Miranda’s living room carpet, we pass the pipe and chitchat. “Where were you before the Gathering?” Stephanie asks.
“Started off in Erie, Pennsylvania,” I answer. “Met up with Major General Michael E. Dunlavey.”
“Whoa!” Ryan exclaims. “Who’s that?”
“He was, um, in charge of torturing people at Gitmo in 2002,” I say. “It was weird. We talked about pizza.”
“Oh, man, pizza…” he trails off.
Summer of Love 2. Shit. How about one Summer of Reason? I’d rather be back at the hostel in Santa Fe. I’d rather be back in Kentucky or Texas being molested by Johnny Law. Hell, I’d rather be back in Buffalo.
The Taos Board of Tourism should be dragged out back and blasted with bird shot. If they’re going to relive ’69, I want another Altamont. I know it’s the wrong state, but there are plenty of bikers about, and these Hippies 2.0 deserve a little authenticity in their lives.
Miranda joins me on the back deck to dote over her pride of orphaned cats. “He treats the kittens like he’s their mommy,” she says of the muscular one-year-old. “ME-OW! Oooooo! Oooooo!”
“If he had nuts he’d rip them to shreds.” I can’t help myself. She returns dragging a mattress. I sleep outside with the other bugs.
I arrive in Erie late, find an unmetered parking spot just outside of downtown and call it Camp X-Ray. They’re serving $2 pitchers of swill at a place nearby called The Antler. “The Moose is Loose,” reads the sign. Pennsylvania’s a strange place—a Puritan’s conundrum. You can’t buy booze anywhere outside of the pubs, but you can get it to go. I drink two pitchers, ogle college girls and then stumble back to camp.
It’s a sweltering morning. Beer seeps from my pores as I enter the massive, Greek-columned courthouse on West 6th.
Courtroom H is paneled in dark wood with red-painted vertical accents that reach the vaulted ceiling. The bench is raised and situated in the left corner. “All rise for the Honorable Michael E. Dunlavey,” instructs the bailiff. “You may be seated.”
This morning’s defendant is a minor drug offender and petty thief. The judge is a far more interesting criminal.
Dunlavey is an army reservist Major General, handpicked by Donald Rumsfeld to head up the interrogation division at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He served as Commanding Officer of Joint Task Force 170 from February to November, 2002. His October 11, 2002 request to pursue 18 methods of torture – including stress positions, dog phobias, extremes in temperatures and general dickishness – was attached to the now infamous Haynes memo, which Donald Rumsfeld lent his signature and this hilarious note: “However, I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
William “Jim” Haynes II, a bipedal worm and former General Counsel of the DoD, recalled in 2004 that the request of the “aggressive Major General” is what started the move away from The Geneva Conventions and toward enhanced interrogation.
In his impeccably researched book Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values, British barrister and professor of law at University College London Philippe Sands wrote this of Dunlavey’s brief memo: “It propelled a momentous request into the heart of the Pentagon without raising a single policy concern about the consequences of ditching [US Army Interrogation] Field Manual 34-52.”
Sands continues: “This memo was written by someone who knew the request would be approved, which suggested prior contact with decision-makers in the Pentagon. Such a request would not have been made if its author entertained doubts as to its prospects.”
Around the time of the one year anniversary of 9/11, Dunlavey was under incredible pressure to come up with actionable intelligence. There was, perhaps, a wink and a nod coming from the very top—Feith, Rumsfeld and even Bush, whom the Major General reported to directly. Now Dunlavey’s in a modest Pennsylvania courtroom keeping America safe from drug users and smalltime crooks.
“It looks like you stopped growing—a little bit,” Dunlavey quips to a black kid in shackles and prison orange. He stands out like a lump of charcoal in a snow bank. The Judge has built a rapport with the repeat offender. Dunlavey’s been interrogating people since Vietnam. Most of that time he’s likely stuck to FM 34-52, which stresses rapport building.
“You have been read your rights,” a clerk tells the defendant. “Do you understand those rights?” He nods pensively. Today Dunlavey will be adhering to the Geneva Conventions. Common Article 3 will apply. The detainee shows no physical or psychological signs of mistreatment. How will he juice him for intel?
As Dunlavey hears evidence, he asks the occasional question, judiciously strokes his bottom lip and chin, and periodically reclines in his large leather chair. In the end, the kid gets off easy—probation, some fines and time served. The next defendant is a no-show.
“Alright,” Dunlavey stands up and looks toward the press seats. His posture is every bit military issue. “Who do we have here?”
“These two are interning with Erie PD,” the bailiff says and motions to the kids sitting quietly to my right. “And this guy’s a journalist from Buffalo.”
“Buffalo?” Dunlavey beams. “Where’d you grow up?”
It turns out that we grew up in the same South Buffalo neighborhood. I went to the terrible public school and he went to the Catholic school down the road. We always hated those Catholic kids with their stupid ties, and they hated us with our lack of ties. But he’s of an older generation and neither of us holds a grudge. We talk for a while about the sorry state of Buffalo’s economy. He’d been back home recently for a UB law school reunion, and can’t get over the mess they’ve made of the waterfront.
“Why are you here?” he finally asks.
“To talk to you.”
“I don’t really know,” I say. “Politics and stuff.”
“Well, I’m apolitical,” he replies. “I voted for the president.”
“Are you going to the dinner tomorrow?” I ask.
“You know, the Bush thing.”
“No,” he says curtly. “No reason to go.”
In roughly 36 hours Erie, PA will be hosting the 104th annual meeting of the Manufacturer and Business Association at the Bayfront Convention Center. The dinner costs from $1,100 to $1,500 a plate. About 1,600 people are expected to attend. International war criminal George W. Bush will be the keynote speaker. It’s his first domestic post-presidency speech. I suspect there’ll be a massive protest.
“What about Gitmo?” I ask directly.
“Can’t.” he scowls. “It’s in litigation. After it’s out of litigation, I’ll give you a draft of my book… an autographed copy.”
“I’d love to talk to you about it, because there’s so much disinformation and misinformation—and just out and out lies. It’s just absolutely mind-boggling to me. And the end result is a lot of people have been falsely accused of doing the wrong thing when they didn’t. They did the right thing. They did it well, and it’s totally out of control. It’s incredible to me how partisan people in this administration have been, but it’s not my—it’s way above my pay grade as they say.
“And, while we’re in litigation my lawyers told me don’t talk to anybody anymore. I said, ‘Why not?’ They said, ‘Well, you know as well as I do that no matter what you do or what you say, somebody will take it out of context.’ Some people will—there’s actually been people who’ve written articles and I don’t even know who they are, or attributed comments to me from a third party, and I have no idea who these people are. So, how do you fight that?”
Mock burials…fierce dogs…stress positions….fake menstrual blood….Koran in the toilet….Christina Aguilera!
“Classic example was some stuff two weeks ago in the Charlotte paper. I happened to be passing through there to go to a friend’s retirement, and I talked about uh… (sighs)… not Zawahiri. I’ve just forgotten his name. The guy [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] who we captured in Pakistan and waterboarded—the CIA did it. You know, I mean, they did. But this writer, on the front page of the Charlotte Observer, or whatever it was, said that happened by the CIA in Guantanamo in 2002. The guy wasn’t even captured yet! I mean, you print something like that, and then it will be republished and people will reference it, and it’s just one mistake after another, and each one—you know, I’m a historian. I love history. We fail to pay attention to it. It’s just like right now. We’ll probably have 100,000 pairs of boots on the ground in Afghanistan by the end of the year. That’s where we’re going. Despite what the administration wants us to believe, Europeans aren’t jumping on this bandwagon. They’re not putting anybody in harm’s way—except for the Brits and the Australians, and ironically, Malaysians—or Indonesians. And I just go, ‘The whole thing’s insane!’ There’s a famous quote out there: ‘Afghanistan is a very easy country to get into and a very difficult one to get out of.’ You know who said that? The Duke of Wellington in 1810. There’s been two major British forces there. One in 1842, then 40 years later. They didn’t want the Russians there. Even Genghis Khan wanted to get out of there.”
We talk Buffalo. “Has anyone done a biography of [deceased former mayor] Your Honor Jimmy Griffin?” he asks. “He was like a modern-day Daley out of Chicago,” he says with admiration, smoothing his long, black robe.
“Is that the guy who told everyone to go out and drink beer during a blizzard?” the clerk asks Dunlavey.
“I don’t recall,” he answers, “but that sounds about right!” Dunlavey then complains about Erie—how they built a public parking ramp on the most valuable piece of property downtown, and how you can’t get a decent pizza.
“You gotta go to Wildwood,” the bailiff butts in. “John’s Wildwood. He’s from Wildwood, New Jersey.”
We say our goodbyes and Dunlavey disappears into his chamber. I hate to say it, but I sort of liked the guy.
The Major General’s influence would be felt around the world. The guy who replaced him, General Geoffrey D. Miller, went on to “Gitmo-ize” Abu Ghraib. And was it just me, or weren’t those some really nice photos? Too bad Obama won’t release more. Seymour Hersh says that there’s video depicting atrocities well beyond the 18 techniques of Dunlavey’s request—like raping teenage boys in front of their mothers.
It’s unclear from the available information whether Dunlavey’s memo sprang from his sincere desire to protect us from evildoers, or if the idea was seeded by his seniors to construct a ground-up narrative. The portrait painted in Torture Team is of a soldier following unspoken orders. “No one ever told me ‘the gloves are off,’“ he told Sands. “But I didn’t need to talk about the Geneva Conventions, it was clear that they didn’t apply.”
Maybe Americans are too dumb to delve into the legality of what was done in our dungeons. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll shows that we oppose closing Gitmo 2-1, and according to The Economist we have a more permissible attitude toward torture than China. Muckraker Jeremy Scahill reports that abuses continue at Guantánamo to this day. Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera journalist who was held illegally at Gitmo until May 2008, is now suing Bush & Company, but nobody cares. Obama retained Bush’s policy of indefinite detention, but that’s not as sexy as a fake birth certificate controversy. (Incidentally, when I purchased Sands’ book the clerk at Borders asked me, “How do you spell torture?”)
Public opinion of Dunlavey in Erie ranges from “he’s an asshole” to “he kept us safe” to “I don’t know no Dung-wavy.” A local reporter I talked to stopped just short of calling him Hitler’s Douchebag.
I spend the rest of the day walking around Erie killing time and looking for public toilets. Back at Camp X-Ray—my beleaguered ‘96 Cavalier—I recline the seat as far as she goes, smoke a joint and enjoy another night of solitary confinement.
The day of Bush’s first speech on American soil since his catastrophic reign is appropriately marred is by dark clouds and a chilling rain. I go early to scope out the Bayfront Convention Center. It’s situated on the shore of Lake Erie, and cut off from downtown by a highway. It’s the perfect place to house a coward. Safe. Secure. No place to protest. No line of sight.
After a late afternoon lunch, I return to the waterfront expecting to join a gathering of unforgiving Americans. There’s no one here. No voicing of outrage. Not one burning effigy. Next to the convention center is an upscale hotel with a swanky bar and complimentary lobby internet service. Well dressed white people mingle. Their laminated passes display their first names and a photo of Bush.
“Hey, Dean!” I beckon an old codger. “You mind if I ask you some questions?”
“Well, OK,” he says.
“How’d you get to be such a rich, soulless fuck—does it just come naturally or do you practice?”
He runs, slowly.
What kind of a demented prick would pay $1,500 to hear a speech from the least articulate, most blundering and plundering president in the nation’s history? Women float around the lobby sipping chardonnay and Long Island ice teas, stroking their diamonds.
“You look beautiful today, Lisa,” I compliment a twenty-something that drifts by. “Say, with cheekbones like that—are you full-blooded evil?”
She runs, quickly.
“Excuse me, sir,” the concierge accosts me. “Are you a guest at the hotel?”
The shindig starts at 5:30 according to the local press. Before Bush speaks, Penn State coach Joe Paterno is going to regale the crowd with heroic tales of ball handling. There’s no press allowed, which is why the only reports of the event come from the The Washington Times. Apparently, someone asked Bush if Obama’s a socialist. “We’ll see,” he said.
At 6pm I hit the road. Along a soggy median, there’s a lone couple braving the inclemency to hold up their pitiful signs of protest. Bush terrorized this country more than al Qaeda, and all our populace could muster were two middle-aged sandal-wearers with shoddy penmanship. America has the memory of a paint-huffing goldfish.
The law may be blind but her ears make up the difference. Unfortunately, the people who speak her language are lawyers. As Sands explains, the road to torture was paved by those bastards. Ahead of the curve, he predicted in Torture Team that Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Doug Feith, William Haynes, Jay Bybee and David Addington would face criminal charges for spreading the legal blacktop. Charges were filed against them in Spain. It’s uncertain if the proceedings will go anywhere. I asked Sands by e-mail if he thinks the Bush Six will be held accountable in Spain or elsewhere.
“There is every prospect that criminal investigations will be underway for the foreseeable future,” he replied. “Would I travel outside of the United States if I was one of the Bush Six? Doubtful, very doubtful.”
After the abysmal showing at the Erie “protest,” I don’t share his optimism. Then again, I’m an American. There’s something on TV I really need to watch.
Driving. Driving. Driving until I can’t think. Driving until I reach Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. It’s 3am and I can’t find the campsite. I park next to some cars, roll out my sleeping bag on the concrete and crash.
Torso springs from concrete. Arms flail defensively. I yell.
“Wake up!” Two park rangers hover over me, one prods my back with his boot. “Wake up!”
“What is that thing that goes like this at night: ‘Eeeeaahh! E! E! E! Eeeeaahh’?” I ask. “Whatever it was, it scared the shit out of me. What time is it?” I reach for my cell.
“Keep your hands where I can see ‘em!” one barks and stomps, cracking the phone’s outer display.
“Jesus! What is wrong with you?” I ask, awake enough now to realize what’s going on.
It’s an ungodly humid morning and I’m in a Kentucky swamp with two crew-cut fuckers playing out their authoritarian wet dreams. No one else is around. Their crotches are uncomfortably close to my face. I try to stand up.
“SIT DOWN!” one yells, pushing me down at the shoulder. “SIT DOWN!” The other strokes his Taser and grins. “I am a federal officer! I am in control of this situation! Do you understand that?”
“Sweet Jesus,” I plead. “Calm down. I didn’t do—”
“I am a federal officer! I am in control of this situation!” he repeats at a higher volume. “I’ll be telling you what to do, not the other way around! You got that?”
OK, I think. I can take these fuckers. I’m a cornered animal. I’m a dangerous man. This isn’t right. I’ll tackle the smaller one and grab his gun. I’ll punch the other in the throat first. I’ll gouge out their fucking eyes. There is no way these power-hungry-rapists will win. Calm down. Calm down. Breathe, Murphy. Breathe.
“You got any illegal substances in the vehicle? Any marijuana?” they back off a little to peer inside the Chevy.
“Nope,” I say with relief, thankful I had the foresight to fiend in Erie—thankful that their khaki-wrapped junk is out of my face.
“Large amounts of cash?”
“We’ll see about that,” the ranger says and opens the driver-side door.
“Um…you can’t do that,” I offer meekly. He riffles through my stuff and doesn’t answer. He reads a passage from my diary. I don’t make a big deal of it. I have nothing to hide. Squeaky. Clean. Legal as torture.
“What are you doing here?” asks the younger ranger.
“I’m a writer. I’m just driving around…writing about stuff.”
“Stuff like this. In the military, they call it force drift. You ever hear of Michael Dunlavey?”
“I started off in Erie, PA interviewing him. And now, I’m chatting with you fellas.”
“They said it’s going to be 95 today,” he says.
The senior ranger bounds from behind my trunk, dangling a small baggy. He wears a self-satisfied smirk like he’s just taken down Pablo Escobar. Inside there’s an empty one-hitter. “I thought you said you didn’t have nothing.”
“I didn’t think I did.”
“What else you got in there you don’t know about?”
“Look, if I don’t know about it how would I know?” The younger ranger chuckles. The older scolds him with an icy stare. The younger licks his lips and lowers his head.
I’m confined to the ground. The flies nip at my sweaty skin. My back aches. I need a piss. A third ranger shows in a pickup. Twenty minutes of muggy silence pass and I’m handed two $75 citations—one for sleeping outside of a designated campsite and one for the possession of drug paraphernalia.
I’m free to travel the bleak North American Wilderness.
Heading west on Route 40 a few clicks outside Amarillo, a Texas state trooper cuts me off. I slam on my brakes. My heart races as I fret over whether I should pass him on the right or wait for him to speed up. He gets up to 50. I lag behind. Waiting. Sweating. He slows down, flashes his lights and points me to the side of the road.
“Roll it down,” he orders, tapping on the passenger side window. “Do you know why I pulled you over today, sir?”
“Gee, officer,” I say, wiping the perspiration from my forehead, “I have no idea.”
“Well, I pulled you over for speeding and following too close.”
“What the—what are you talking about?” I shriek. “You cut me—”
“License and proof of insurance.”
“But you cut me off!”
“License and proof of insurance,” he barks. “I ain’t gonna tell you again.”
Jesus! I give him my license and an expired insurance card.
“It’s insured, I swear,” I plead. “I just don’t have the card, for some damn reason, officer.”
“Put your keys on the dash, sir,” he says, looking over my ID. “Hold tight.”
“Can I get out and piss?”
“No.” He strolls back to his cruiser. The semis scream past at a thunderous 80mph.
Five minutes later he tells me he’s going to let me off with a warning for speeding and tailgating, but he writes me a ticket for driving without insurance. “Send in a copy of your insurance card to the judge,” he says, handing me the paperwork, “and you’ll be fine.”
“Sure. Sure,” I stammer and reach for my keys with relief. “Have a good—”
“Not so fast,” he spits, raising his shades and looking around at all the clothes, cases and supplies in the backseat. “Where you going?”
“I’m a—a writer. I’m just out on the road looking for…stuff to write about.”
“Who you write for?”
“I don’t see how that ma—”
“Look,” he growls, “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
“Which way is this, where you pull me over for no reason?”
“Easy,” he smirks. “Who you write for?”
“A magazine called The BEAST.”
“Never heard of it. What do you write about—where are you going?”
“Well, right now I’m writing about the law, I think. I started off in Erie, Pennsylvania talking to Major General Mike Dunlavey—you ever hear of him?
“He was in charge of Gitmo. Nice guy. Anyway, I’m going to meet up with some Wiccans in Taos to drink a powerful hallucinogenic tea from Peru called ayahuasca…for this, um, article I’m working on.”
“Boy?” He furrows his brow. “Don’t get smart with me.”
“Oh, never! I’d never get smart with you, officer. That’d be a tremendous waste of time. Yeah, the church is called PaDeva and they have the legal right to consume DMT as a part of their rituals. I emailed them in Memphis, and the High Priest Xythos said I could tag along. Yeah, should be a good time. Yeah.”
He squints and cocks his head to the side. “Can I search your vehicle?”
“Good question!” I applaud. “The Supreme Court just ruled that you can’t search my vehicle without probable cause, so—”
“It’s a yes or no question.”
“Well then, no.” I shrug my shoulders.
“Since you won’t give me permission to search your vehicle what I’m gonna do is call the K-9 unit.” He strolls back to his cruiser.
I have nothing to worry about. No contraband here. Squeaky as torture. Nonetheless, there’s just something about assholes with badges that makes me nervous—force drift. But the High Court’s on my side. On April 21, they overturned a 30-year precedent of unwarranted searches during traffic stops (Arizona v. Gant). I don’t know if they got the telegraph down this way. They didn’t at Mammoth Cave. I hope those national park pigs were thorough. A one-hitter in Texas? Enhanced interrogation, waterboarding, stress positions, fierce dogs, Chirstina Aguilera!
Five minutes becomes fifteen, and a second cruiser pulls up behind us. Cops hunt in packs. A half-hour later, the k-9 truck is barreling toward us through a field next to the road. By now it’s dusk, and my bladder’s about to explode. I’m ordered out of my car to stand in the field where I’m frisked. A gray mutt is led around my car three times. Sniff sniff sniff. He then begs for a treat.
“He don’t want nothin’ to do with it,” the second trooper drawls.
“OK,” the first trooper says, clearly disappointed. “You’re free to go.”
“You’ve done fine work here tonight, officer. Fine work!”
“Wait a minute,” he says to my frozen astonishment. “You know, you got a pretty bad gas leak there. You better get that fixed—pronto.”
About three miles down 40 west I get pulled over again. New trooper, no explanation. “License and proof of insurance.” I show ID and ticket. He lets me go. This process is repeated 10 miles later—different trooper, same shtick.
As far as I can tell, I’m now an honorary black man. Maybe it would’ve been much worse if I were Henry Louis Gates. Maybe they’d have booked me for possession of melanin. Or maybe they’d have just beat it out of me—Texas style. And in Kentucky? Who knows what those cracker-ass crackers would’ve done? Or maybe, just maybe, we really are living in post-racial America, where the cops treat everyone like shit, because they can. We’re all niggers now. As an honorary black man I’m allowed to say that. Of course, you can buy your way out of niggerdom. And isn’t that the real reason the truly “stupid” arrest of the Harvard Prof bothers us? He has money. He’s educated. He shouldn’t have to put up with that. But the rest of us broke niggers just have to deal.
The Santa Fe International Hostel management gives me a few minutes to get my leaky car off their lot. I can’t swing the repair. A junkyard gives me a pittance for the rusty husk. I abandon half of my stuff and haul the rest back to my room.
The hostel’s is barely within my budget. Every morning they make you do chores, but the kitchen’s stocked with free food. I write during the day, and spend my nights drinking beer outside. After a week of solitude in Pecos Canyon it’s good to be social again. Then something awful happens. The educated nightly chats turn into infuriating debates about new age mystic bullshit. Hippies descend on the hostel as locusts, but dumber. They believe in energy, psychics, aliens and ghosts. They cite Art Bell! Some of them think climate change is “subjective.”
“I was just thinking about a bicycle,” says Sabrina, a woo-meister from Toronto, “I look down and there’s one in the field!”
“That’s no coincidence—it manifested.”
She says I need to open my third eye, and it’s no coincidence that we met. She rubs my upper thigh and tries to score a ride for her and her friend to the “Rainbow Gathering.” Once she determines that I no longer have a car, she stops talking to me.
That bicycle bit is straight from The Secret.
Day 2, July 5 2009 (Camp Rainbow)
0130: Detainee claimed his name was Zarqawi. He confesses that his mission is to detonate “radioactive peace vibes” within the territorial United States…he reveals details of The Gathering’s inner workings. Like al Qaeda, it’s loosely organized with no formal governing structure.
0300: Detainee confessed to colluding with the domestic terror organization Whole Foods… He also claims responsibility for constructing a mysterious hippie weapon know as “Granola Funk.”
0400: Detainee is offered a marijuana cigarette. Detainee gets totally baked…
Through Craigslist I snag a ride into the Jemez Mountains about 20 miles outside of Cuba, New Mexico—the site of the 37th annual gathering of the “Rainbow Family of Living Light.” (No relation to the C Street Family.) Held in a different National Park every year through July 1 – 7, the Gathering’s billed as a Utopian oasis of peace, love, community and freedom. It’s a purported alternative to the evils of mainstream society, consumerism, capitalism, pop culture and mass media. And there’s the promise of enough drugs to down an angry herd of wildebeests.
We drive northeast from Santa Fe under a majestic blue sky dotted with bunny rabbit clouds, weaving through enormous, stark white and red-tinged mesas until we reach the evergreen mountains. “Welcome home!” glossy-eyed, longhair-acid-casualties whine at us. “We love you!” These are the traditional and irritating Rainbow Family greetings.
The young couple I got a ride from think it’ll be “fun” to hike up the back way from the parking area rather than wait for the shuttle. Distance: 4 miles. Altitude: 7,500 ft. to 9,000 ft. Terrain: cow pies. It takes this clubfooted-sea-level-smoker about 3.5 hours to drag my gimpy ass, camping supplies and a bowling-ball-bag full of bottled water up the mountainside. I lose sight of the group somewhere near the two-mile mark.
“What’s your name, brother?” one guy tried to encourage me. “Ian, man, the universe is willing you up the trail. Can’t you feel it, man?”
“Fuck you,” I wheezed. “The universe…just fuck you.”
About three-quarters of the way my hands are blistered, my back’s a giant, electric spasm and I’ve completely lost the trail in the drizzle and dusk. Against every instinct in my body I crawl on all fours, upward through the dark, mud and thickets of shrubbery, toward the interminable din of shitty hippie drumming.
Bloodied and filthy, I claw my way through some thorn bushes into a clearing full of drunken assholes. This is “A Camp.” A slovenly jackass, who looks like a Bad Religion roadie reject with a spiderweb tattoo on his cheek, is goose stepping and offering the Nazi salute to some passing Orthodox Jews.”Sieg Heil!”
I can tell right away that this place is jam-packed with, like, real groovy vibes, brother.
“You’re fucking dead, man!” one shouts back. “You better watch your back, asshole!” They look a little out of place with their yarmulkes, pressed slacks, suspenders and curly-Q sideburns. They’re headed to “Jerusalem Camp.”
The Gathering’s sprawled over a couple square miles and fractured into 30 to 40 different camps. Everybody has their click—Jews, Alkies, Meth-Heads, Hindus, Fags, Hare Krishnas, Jesus Freaks, Holistic Numb-nuts, Zombies, Yogis, Dipshits, Muppets, etc. Forestry officials estimated that over 10,000 retards showed in total. Some have been on-site for weeks setting up kitchens, chopping wood, building stages, digging latrines and smoking copious amounts of dope. And they smell exactly how you’d imagine.
I limp toward the “Main Meadow” past the “Trading Circle,” which is a dirt path lined with hippies sitting cross-legged and shining dim flashlights on their sad wares. Money is frowned upon at the Gathering. If you want a bushel of sage or a “healing crystal,” for some fucking reason, you need to trade for it. Chocolate is the closest thing to an official currency. Chlamydia works too.
I stop to catch my breath at a bend and some guy asks me, “What’s the difference between my garage and my auto mechanic’s? His garage isn’t filled with dead babies.”
“What do you get when you stab an infant?” I counter.
“AN ERECTION!” a filthy crowd shouts back. So they’ve heard that one.
Some are howling, “Nic at night!” This is done to mooch smokes. Hemp fiends call out, “Marco!” Someone with pot yells, “Polo!” It’s groovy and annoying.
“Yeah, dude,” a guy tells me. “It’s great to be out here, free from the evil of greed and money. This is an alternative to capitalist society, you know?”
“How?” I ask. “I mean, I bought that cigarette you’re smoking, all the food was purchased at a grocery store—everyone got here by filling up their CARS with GAS that costs MONEY on roads paved with tax DOLLARS! So what the fuck are you talking about?”
“Oh, man…” he trails off, combing his fingers through his filth-matted hair. Then, without prompting, he tells me the story of where he was when Jerry Garcia died. “I’ll never forget that day, man.”
Boom-boom-boom-boom! Go the drums into the night. The closest circle is chanting “Yahweh!” over and over again.
On July 4th I awake, sore as hell, to much-needed silence. Until noon the meadow will be calm. Thousands of people hold hands, forming concentric circles and praying for world peace. I take solace in the thought that at that same exact moment somewhere in Pakistan a Predator drone is decimating a Pashtun village with Hellfire missiles.
I sit on a small hill next to an ancient hippie, enjoying the quiet and a cup of coffee. He’s well into his sixties, and dressed in hand-sewn patchwork, shabby leather moccasins and a tattered, paisley headband. His gray, disheveled hair and beard fall past his midsection, nearly hiding his cloudy eyes and toothless grin. His wrinkled, liver-spotted hand feebly clutches a wooden walking stick, which is wound with a leather strap and decorated with bells, trinkets and feathers. Without words I give him a cigarette and he passes back an overflowing glass pipe. An excited pit bull ambles toward us and sneezes at the billowing smoke. I cough and stroke its dirty fur. The dog lifts its leg and pisses all over the old man’s back. He doesn’t notice.
By afternoon, the rain and drumming is again souring my mood. I haven’t eaten in over a day. I walk to the nearest kitchen line. “The Bread of Life” is the Jesus kitchen. “I don’t want government run health care, because it’s just a business,” a college girl says behind me. “They can’t make money off the real cures—Holistic medicine.” (Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is wisely betting they can.) I don’t have a dish, so they slop the bean-gruel straight into my filthy hands. I lick my digits clean and daydream of Hippie Auschwitz.
Still famished, I shunt my fear of hepatitis C and accept a few ounces of bitter orange juice from a clown in a jester hat. “Thanks, Chief,” I say. “I need it.”
“Actually, it’s ‘Sky Chief.’“ Whatever. A quarter of the people here have some phony handle like “Fire Walker” or “Cloud Maker.” I’m not fucking kidding. I even met a toddler named “Nugget.” That kid’s really going places.
There are roughly 20 Park Rangers, local police and US Marshals, who are on scene to help find a lost little girl—or so they say. Behind aviators, they gaze over the meadow, helpless. Naked old men pass with spliffs in mouth. Clearly spun acid-heads gawk and snicker. Johnny Law does nothing.
“How long you guys been here?” I ask a Marshal.
In total the authorities would arrest two-dozen and write some 300 citations. But on the whole, the crew-cuts are well behaved. At last year’s Gathering in Wyoming they fake-massacred hundreds with paint ball guns at Kid Village. Sadly, everything at the Gathering is inauthentic.
I bump into a guy I met in the parking area named Jaoquin. He’s a real Rico Suave motherfucker with a pencil-thin beard, gold chain, a black wife-beater and matching fedora—who occasionally slips into Scarface. “How was your night?” I ask.
“Have you seen the people I came with?”
“No way, mang. Have chew seen da peepew I caym wiff, mang?”
“Chew wan some mushroom, mang?”
We hike to his tent. He tells me he’s lived in Santa Fe since the 1540’s and pours a massive pile of tiny blue caps into my mitts. We knock ‘em back and I feel nauseous immediately, which is not normal, likely psychosomatic. Jaoquin says he’s a member of the Christian UDV church, or União do Vegetal. The “Vegetal” means Banisteriopsis caapi—the vine used to make ayahuasca, DMT. Originally out of Brazil, the UDV has a thriving following in Santa Fe. After a puritanical government crackdown, the UDV sued the Justice Department on the grounds that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was being violated (Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal , 2006). UDV won. Squeaky.
We trudge back to the main meadow and are accosted by some leather-fringed asshole, who insists on hugging us while chanting “Om” and shaking as if he were in a voodoo trance. There’s a lot of that about. All the wrong people are naked and writhing around in the mud. The drumming persists. Something ain’t right.
I look at my hands and notice that they’re up to some very strange business. “These mushroo—” Jaoquin is gone.
“Hey, dude!” someone taps me on the shoulder.
“Jesus fuck!” I startle. “Oh, hey, um…”
“That acid kicking in yet?” he asks nonchalantly. “Yeah, brother, watch out! It has a little mescaline mixed in, too.”
“Hmmm,” is all I can manage.
“Don’t mention it, brother.” He walks, gradually shrinking in size but somehow not moving away. I’m too stunned to give chase. Too angry to move. It’s pointless, too late. I’m already backing out of the driveway.
I hide out in my tent and fill the bowling-ball-bag with watery vomit and bile. The tent is hyperventilating and shouting blue madness. I gather some essentials, and say goodbye to the tent forever.
My hands! Not good. Nothing’s where it was a second ago. Cheaply animated. 2-D. Technicolor. Ewok village. But no! These furry freaks pose absolutely no threat to the Empire. All they’re doing is shitting in the woods.
Rainbow hell, zombie flesh. How many years until death? The world’s at end, but maybe not. Civilization, however, is filthy rot. There’ll be no water in fifty years, the world ignores its brightest seers. Gutted, phony counterculture. I watch and hear the flapping vulture.
“Get the fuck away from me you fucking fucks!” I wipe the crusty puke from the corners of my mouth. The drums. Always the drums. Boom-boom-boom-boom!
“WE GOT GOOD HUGS!” They’re coming. “GOOD HUGS!” Boom-boom-boom-boom!
“I don’t want a fucking hug, you fucking fuck hippie fuckers!” It’s dark, muddy and slippery. “Fuck off, you goddamn zombies!” Boom-boom-boom-boom!
“GOOD HUGS!” They’re gaining on me. Boom-boom-boom-boom! There’s got to be fifty of the emaciated soul-suckers. “HUGS! GOOD HUGS!” They’re trying to steal my essence. The drums taste of rancid sauerkraut.
“Back off! I’m fucking warning you! You touch me and I’ll bite your fucking ears off!” I slip on an early Duchamp. Coated in cold, wet earth. Entombed before death. Fog and smoke hang low in the meadow. Hounded by hugging hordes of cubist hell. “Stay away, you fucking motherfucking fucks—I will fucking brain you people!”
Are they people? Boom-boom-boom-boom! “WE GOT GOOD HUGS!” They drone. “GET THE DRAINBOW, MAN, HE NEEDS A HUG. GOOD HUGS!” Fireworks explode and rain blood. The American Nightmare! Boom-boom-boom-boom! Were they ever people?
“I fucking mean it, you creepy bastards!” They descend on me with open talons. Boom-boom-boom-boom! I flop in the frigid mud, a gasping fish. Boom-boom-boom-boom! “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Fuck!!!” Vests….headbands….tie-dye….Birkenstocks! I close my eyes. Boom-boom-boom-boom!
“No! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” Who’s that shouting? Boom-boom-boom-boom! I wonder and look down the blue pyramid, across the chessboard landscape. Boom-boom-boom-boom!
“Bishop to Queen 50!” I yell. Boom-boom-boom-boom! “Sacrifice the King!”
“GOOD HUGS!” Whoever it is he’s being mauled by Ewoks. “GOOD HUGS! WE GOT GOOD HUGS!”
They’ve pinned him down and they’re dangling magic crystals over his face. Poor guy never stood a chance. I should help. “Guantánamo!” I cry and leap from the precipice. Boom-boom-boom-boom! I punch, kick, wail and gnash teeth. Boom-boom-boom-boom! I scratch, hiss and elbow. Boom-boom-boom-boom! Hippies are nothing if not physically underwhelming. A stiff breeze would take them down. I’m a hurricane. Boom-boom-boom-boom!
The ruckus subsides and the Ewoks flee. Boom-boom-boom-boom! The victim must have ran with them, not realizing I was there to help. One Ewok is doubled over, sucking wind in the mud. There’s only one thing to do…
“Where’s bin Laden?” Seated, the detainee’s arms are bound with shoelaces. His neck is lashed to a tree trunk with a belt. “Where is he, Johnny?!”
“You better start talkin’, Johnny.” I spit in his dirty face.
“My name’s not Johnny, man, I swear!” he pleads. “You—you—got the wrong—” SMACK!
“Don’t give me that shit!” I bark in his face. “You look a whole like John Walker Lindh to me. American Taliban—ring any bells, Johnny?
“That’s—that’s not me—me, man,” he cackles with fear. “I fucking sw—swear to you, man. I fucking swear to God. I swear to fucking—” I kick him in the ribs and the detainee starts hyperventilating. He hushes at the sight of my knife glinting in the moonlight.
“Nobody can hear you out here,” I crouch down and whisper in his ear, flashing the blade before his eyes. “You better start cooperating, Johnny.”
“I’m not Johnny, man!” he wails. “Oh, man. Oh, man—”
“Fine,” I say. “I believe you, Zarqawi! Where’s Sky Chief?!” SMACK! The detainee is uncooperative, bleeding from the nose and sobbing uncontrollably.
“That’s—that’s not, oh, man, that’s—” SMACK!
“Where the fuck is Sky Chief?” I say calmly, crushing his genitals underfoot. “Who are you working for? Who’s in charge here?” I stomp hard. The detainee passes out.
It was clear, considering the situation, that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply. Still, walking away I feel a sense of loss. My belt!
I see a vision, a mythical representation of the Gathering: a hippie with his head so far up his own ass that he’s a human Ouroboros. I follow it through the woods until sunrise. I see road. Any woo with a car will do. I find Michael/Michelle, a cross-dressing Pagan Brit. His/her business card reads: “Chief Magic Officer.”
“Just give me five or ten minutes,” he/she says, then sucks the bad mojo from some kid’s chest through his fist and blows it into the wind…you know, like ya do. The kid, completely healed I’m certain, lopes down the hill to join the Ouroboros.
Michael/Michelle “manifests” a speed limit sign by thinking about it. He/she knows trees have consciousness. He/she talks about The Celestine Prophecy and The Secret with credulous respect. He/she blames my bad weekend on “the Law of Attraction.” He/she reads The Huffington Post for advice on beating the swine flu with enemas. He/she appreciates how Deepak Chopra bastardizes the uncertainty of quantum mechanics to produce a bevy of spurious metaphysical claims. But it’s not so bad. The CMO has a sense of humor and a car.
“What did the Buddha say to the hot dog vendor?” I joke. “‘Make me one with everything.’”
“Then the Buddha gave the vendor a twenty and asks for his change,” he/she jumps in. “The vendor looks at him and says, ‘Real change comes from within.’”
An orange Aztec pulls into the hostel lot, turns around and stops. The passenger-side window lowers and the driver asks, “Ready?” A hulking, broad-shouldered thing with long, straight hair and penetrating eyes is riding shotgun. It’s introduced to me as Maru. His real name’s Brad and he’s actually a French & Native American IT call center employee. He says he stays fit by injecting HCG—a hormone extracted from pregnant lady urine. The driver’s a clean-shaven, stocky guy with glasses and a professional haircut. He’s wearing blue jeans and a nice golf shirt. He checks his iPhone for directions. Until a week ago, he was high school calculus teacher. He wants to go to grad school for psychology. I ask, “You’re Xythos, right?”
We drive north of Taos to an adobe he’s rented in Arroyo Seco. Miranda’s waiting in the driveway. The area’s a mix of natives living out of dilapidated trailers that have been on family land for generations and rich gueros in new, swanky digs. Val Kilmer, Julia Roberts and Donald Rumsfeld each have a place around here. We see an abandoned stroller in a field of desert brush. Our rental’s backyard has a circular sandstone patio with a fountain, fire pit and hot tub. Real nice. Unfortunately, the sauna is padlocked. Unloading the hatchback, I see the buckets. “Are those for what I think they’re for?”
“Yup,” Xythos chuckles in a slight southern drawl. “Not too hard to figure out.” He’s originally from Missouri and before that Georgia, where his first ayahuasca teacher was a carny. The carny’s teacher was a carny, too, who learned from a real Peruvian old boy.
At about 10pm we break fast with a piece of bread dipped in olive oil and a cup of black tea. Meanwhile, the stinking jungle is bubbling on the stove. It doesn’t smell that bad, Miranda and I agree. It’s our first time. This is Brad’s tenth, and Xythos says he’s done it more times than he can remember. How often does he take it? “It depends on how much I’m dealing with in my life,” he answers. “I’ve gone months without it, but usually once a month—sometimes every weekend….for the last 12 years.” The insanity of that statement wouldn’t truly hit me until the next night when I was vomiting bile at the sight of my own maggot-infested corpse.
By 11pm we’re setting up a circle of pillows, blankets, cushions—and of course buckets—on the back patio. The sky is a 3/4 moon and the brightest galaxy soup I’ve ever seen at the same time. It’s a chilly and wondrous desert night. Xythos dons nothing of Wiccan garb. It’s a Nike t-shirt, shorts and an “ironic” pair of New Balance sneakers. He sets up his shrine on a small table—candles, sage, incense, jars of powders and liquids, and four small wooden goblets.
The ritual starts with the burning of sage around our bodies, like we’re being gone over with a metal detector wand. Xythos offers a short prayer, which is dedicated to “Lord & Lady.” We then go around the circle and say what we want out of the experience. I flake and say I want to know the right questions to ask.
We’re given a cup of the “Goddess.” This is the vine Banisteriopsis caapi. It’s an MAOI (Monoamine oxidase inhibitor), which will allow us to orally absorb the DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) in the chacruna leaf. After about 20 minutes, Xythos kneels next to me and asks with a wicked grin, “You ready to get in?”
He mixes by candlelight, carefully, precisely. The first cup is foul, no doubt, but it’s drinkable. It tastes like chunky mix of tobacco juice and a very bitter baker’s chocolate. We lay down and wait, looking at the sky.
The first thing you feel is a slight pressure on your teeth, and then more pressure on your sinuses. After a few minutes you feel calming waves of wind blowing through you from head to toe, and you ask, “Is this it?” Just then an invisible, buzzing entity pushes down on your body. The first time is scary. It becomes more frequent—the buzzing, the pressure and a sense that the drug is a conscious being. Of course, this is a hallucination, but the drug seems to probe and ask questions.
Soon you lose all sense of time and space, and your eyes twitch uncontrollably as in REM sleep. Your stomach rumbles. You can feel the tea work its way through every inch of your digestive tract. Lethargic, pinned to the ground, I eye the bucket and decide not to vomit. That’s the luxury of a first-timer. Your body hasn’t yet built an association with the tastes and smells of the sinister “medicine.”
Brad vomits immediately and covers his head with a blanket. Miranda vomits soon after, covers her head and predictably weeps for most of the night. Xythos sits in a chair and whistles.
The objects in my field of vision fall apart. Trees, shrubs, stones, dirt, mountains, moon and sky fuse together into a flat space that is both right in front of you and very far away. All the familiar shapes are now meaningless, locked together in a breathing kaleidoscope of projected cosmic agency. Faces and bodies, reptilian, mammalian, insect and alien, grow out of the ambiguity. They seem benevolent and curious. Before the ceremony Xythos encouraged us to build a “relationship” with the plants. That makes sense now. He’s beating a drum and chanting:
“We all come from the Goddess
and to her we shall return
like a drop
flowing to the ocean.
Hoof & horn
hoof & horn
all that dies shall be reborn.”
I really should be laughing, but I’m too far gone. The chanting is sporadic and mostly wordless, and Xythos has a decent singing voice—Wayne Newton meets the face of death. Periodically throughout the night he sprays us with aqua flora, which smells a little like Listerine, and burns sage around our languid bodies. It all seems completely normal in this state.
After about an hour of indescribable universal oneness, I relive every relationship I’ve ever had. Friends, lovers and family that I haven’t thought of in years creep and pop into my consciousness to say hi. Every slight, broken heart and regret gains a new perspective. You forgive yourself and others. You feel like calling everyone to tell them you love them. Hugs even sound like a good idea. There’s plenty o’ fish in the sea, I think. Newness. Hope.
After the emotional revelations, you move into a more cerebral mode. My frontal lobe is electric. A sense of intellectual and physical power overcomes me. I do 50 push-ups and the earth pushes back. I feel amazing. The whole of evolution makes sense. I’m here for a reason—whichever one I choose. I’m stardust that possesses the evolved competency known as free will. My sensory inputs and meaty mind are the ingenious accident of a dumb universe, which allows the cosmos to contemplate and gaze upon itself. I feel like Carl Sagan, but alive and without that goofy turtleneck. I’m an evolution machine built from a collection of billions of endosymbiotic descendants of the earliest life on the planet. My vascular system is cousin to the trees, my nervous system has insect brothers. Maybe I’m not alone, useless, worthless and sad after all. I feel good. Really, really fucking good. Peace and power pervade my being. I feel like I can fuck any fish, accomplish any task, scale any mountain or escalator. It doesn’t matter that the world’s going to hell. I stretch and jump around. “Eat this,” Xythos says and shoves a hunk of chocolate in my mouth. I nearly puke.
Like with psilocybin mushrooms, as you come down you’re deluged with snot and tears. DMT is close to psilocybin, chemically. As an encore, the ayahuasca tells me a joke. Punch line: “Pain, disease and death.” I laugh harder than I’ve ever laughed.
Xythos opens the circle and it’s time for the long awaited “midnight soup.” Best tomato bisque ever. “In Japan, because they’re so repressed,” Xythos says, eying his spoon, “they call it a laughing circle.”
“Repressed”? What issues hadn’t I addressed? Alcoholic, deadbeat father? Clubfoot? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Anal retentive stage, divorce, deaths, break ins, knife fights, leg braces, those electric sheets that sounded a terrifying alarm when I wet the bed and all the other tedious details of a completely normal early childhood? Getting my ass kicked in junior high? Went there. Lack of talent? Bisexuality? Utter stupidity, greed and selfishness? Personal and professional failure? Ditto. My latest relationship debacle? Felt peace. Marked financial destitution? Ha! My habitual flaws and addictions? Want more. Cheating, lying, stealing? I’m forgiven. Which shameful stone hadn’t been turned?
“Oh god,” I mumble and leave the table.
The ayahuasca runs make every other bout of diarrhea you’ve had seem like the strolls. They use it in Peru to rid the body of tough Amazonian parasites. You can’t buy this super-laxative at Rite Aid. (Now with consciousness altering DMT!) No, that wouldn’t be legal. Probably for the best. It smells the same coming out as it does going in. After a soak in the hot tub, I shit my towel. If you ever drink a cup of this madness, keep in mind: it’s not just a fart.
Three hours of shuteye. I’m dehydrated; my head aches. There’s no fucking way I’m ever going to do that again.
Rob and I drive into Taos for fruit and a cup of coffee. He took the name Xythos during a ceremony, and unfortunately it is also the name of a brand of document management software. The name PaDeva came out of a ceremony, too, and fortunately it means “to consume the Goddess” in Sanskrit.
Traffic is crawling, because of the Taos Pueblo Pow-wow. At roughly a thousand years old, the Pueblo is the oldest inhabited apartment building in North America. Hippies with pet rats aggressively panhandle at intersections. “You have the makings of a nice little cult here,” I remark. “Just like Manson.”
“You ever hear that guy’s music?” I ask. “Pretty fucking crazy, man.”
We talk about religion and The Doors. His father’s family are reformed Mormons, and his mom and step father are Catholic. He explored witchcraft in his adolescence and returned to The Lamb in high school. After a short stint in the Navy, which “didn’t fit,” he revisited paganism, explored pre-Christian religions and the South American Shamans—all of which he folded into what is now PaDeva. And Morrison still rules.
“I used to be certain there was an afterlife,” he says. “Now I’m what people would call an atheist.” How in the world is this legal? “In New Mexico there’s precedent—I even called the Attorney General to make sure.” UDV paved the way, and PaDeva passed the religious test with flying, psychedelic colors.
We get to talking about this vague hippie “energy” I’ve heard too much about. I ask him what it means. He ignores the question. Rob’s not a dumb guy; he got the hell out of Georgia. He worships the drug and doesn’t go in for magic. There’s very little dogma surrounding PaDeva. This is a religion I….respect. I never thought I’d think those words. They regularly consume a Schedule 1 narcotic with no fear of Johnny Law. They’re squeaky. Legal as torture.
Back at the abode, Brad and I watch a little “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Saturday is chill. Everyone does their own thing and snacks on fruit, rice crackers and guacamole. I still don’t know whether I can bring myself to drink another cup of the Bitch’s Eucharist. My body shakes at the thought.
Saturday night’s ceremony is indoors. The reek of incense and sage makes me nauseous even before the first sip. A lovely young woman from Albuquerque has joined us. She’s the smartest one here. Two nights in a row is pure masochism. The living room is a thick fug. Vomit, aqua flora (which now smells of BO and Old Spice) and perfumed smoke mingle in the ol’ factory. It’s awful. My brain is screaming: “You fucking idiot! Didn’t we drink this shit last night? Are you fucking retarded?”
“Eh, shut up,” I think as I struggle to choke down the second cup of the night. At the first whiff I vomit immediately. I drink ¾ and give up. What tasted last night like tobacco juice and chocolate tastes now like poisonous bile, piss and shit. It smells the same coming out as it does going in.
Brad the apprentice lays down and Xythos sucks the bad mojo from his body through a fist and pretends to puke it into a bowl…you know, like ya do. The things you have to do to have a religion, I think, as he does the same to my heart area.
Xythos is hitting his shaman’s drum. Each beat is a vine-wrapped rung of a ladder that extends through the ceiling. “Ascend,” he looks at me and says without moving his lips. I climb through darkness, wafting upward with the putrid smell.
“Welcomezzz,” says something. It’s not human. I’m in the desert. The adobe is gone. There are no signs of civilization. It’s definitely not human. It’s digging. I approach it. It’s the size of an elephant. It’s an….insect, but its abdomen, thorax, head and legs are sheathed in a exoskeleton made of “titaniumzzz,” it says.
“These is known knownzzz,” its quasi humanoid face buzzes from behind creaking, chiseled mandibles. Its antennae whirl on a whirring motor. “These are thingzz we knowzzz we knowzzz. Digzzz,” it orders. A shovel falls at my feet.
It hums casually like an electrified Mongolian throat singer as I move dirt. Up to my hips in earth, I see something behind the creature. It’s my body wrapped in a massive corn husk. “Not yet!” it buzzes. “There are knownzzz knownzzz. Know unknown knownzzz.” He seems to know what he’s talking about.
That face. So familiar. That skeletal nose. The wireframe glasses. Those compound eyes.
I’m beyond fatigue and soaked with sweat. It’s been a hard month. The pit is deep. The creature tells me to get out. It drags my body in front of me and says, “Know the unknown unknownzzz.”
“Unwrap it?” It says nothing.
“You OK?” Xythos asks me as I finish retching guts onto a shrub. “You looking for scorpions?” he laughs.
It’s been weeks since Miranda dropped me off at the Taos Greyhound station/pawn shop (the automatic weapons are selling well). Maybe it was the perfect Summer of Love—packed with masochism, delusion and torture. Even the bus employees were authoritarian pricks. “Since 9/11,” the driver out of St. Louis said, “we will call the Department of Homeland Security if you cause a disturbance.”
I smoked a cigarette outside of the Denver station. There was a local news cameraman there to film the arrival of Freddie Gonzales. He escaped prison twenty years ago in a helicopter his wife hijacked. Now he’s out on parole.
I’m back in a Buffalo, struggling to end this article. I’ve rewritten it more times than I care to admit, and nothing seems right. Like humanity, I tried and failed. Since the ayahuasca I’ve been up and down. All epiphanies are fleeting. I’m still sad and heartbroken. I’m still poor and alone. I’m still alive and dreaming of tits.
Things couldn’t possibly be any other way.