He who binds to himself a joy
William Blake, Notebooks, ca 1791
The trouble with this acid," Cedar mused, wiggling his fingers in front of his eyes, "Is, it's melted."
Annie paused a moment to fold her brain around this confusing statement.
Cedar squatted and et the sea tickle his toes while he played with the surface of the water. He flicked the tips of his fingers in front of his eyes, sending the droplets back out through the sunlight into the ocean, checking the after-images and smiling ruefully. He was the very picture of an experimental scientist evaluating the test of a hypothesis. At least he thought he was. With his bushy black beard, long thick curly hair, cut-offs and T-shirt, he looked more like a beachcomber, but then marine biologists often do. Not chemists, though, and not high-priced New York shrinks except in their pupal phase.
"It's been an hour and a half, easy," he continued.
"You too, huh?" chimed in Annie. She was feeling placid and pretty, with a colorful (but certainly not garish) piece of cloth from the local market wrapped sarong-style over her bathing suit, and a loose shirt hanging open. Casual elegance, she thought, haute hippie style, and she had it just about exact. The silver (well, the jeweler said it was sterling) ankle bracelet was the exact accessory, adding in just that touch of the exotic that distinguished the ensemble from that of the ordinary tourist on vacation. Anyway, that was the idea. What actually let her carry off the image was mostly the way she felt and bore herself, but perhaps she needed the costume to get into the part.
"I keep checking out my knees," continued Cedar as if into a Dictaphone,
"And I keep getting that feeling like I'm ... coming on to acid ... but if you keep on coming on then you're not coming on ... you're just ... feeling like you're coming on..."
Annie stood with her back to the ocean and the waves lapping over her ankles, scratched the side of her nose and addressed the problem empirically.
"Shall we try another?" she ventured.
"Why not? Try two. Three. Shit, try the whole fucking stash, that's what we got it for, isn't it."
They sauntered up the beach, along the damp line where the sand was firm and warm. The sun was higher than they were, on a perfect Christmas day on Baga Beach in Goa, on the coast of India. Annie had left her religion behind in Turlock of damned memory, and Cedar of course had been brought up with Hanukkah, but Goa was at least superficially Christian, after four hundred years of Portuguese rule, and celebrated the nativity with laid-back enthusiasm for what seemed like weeks. It would have been churlish not to join in, and foolish not to add your own spin to the entertainment. Hence, partly, the acid.
We soodle is that a word? thought Annie.
"Yeah, it's a great word," confirmed the walking dictionary beside her.
"That's exactly what we're doing."
Presumably, thought Annie, I said that out loud. I thought I was just thinking. Or maybe he's picking me up in some kind of telepathy. Hmm. Soodling slowly down the shore, fetching the fisher-folks casual glances and rolling the rainbow edges of the shimmering scene and ... damn! It's working! There's more to this stuff than I thought. But not like it was, no, not the way we expected.
"Hey," she remembered suddenly, "We gave that dude a lousy deal."
"It was only for some hash."
"Yeah, I guess."
"And I told him I couldn't guarantee it any more."
Cedar was absorbing the full dimensions of a psychedelic tragedy. He'd scored fifty microdots right before they took off, with the express intention of finding the right environment and doing some serious exploring inside his skull. The place was here and he was here and so were the questions: If a little acid is fun and a good hit helps you see what's going on in your life and in your world, what does a really big dose do? And what is really big anyway? The word was, too much was just enough; but how much was that?
Annie didn't really give a shit, but she like the idea of having some acid around. It was easy to conceal, in microdot form, and far too cheap to be worth smuggling for cash so the pigs didn't look for it much. More than that, however, she liked the idea of having some person around. Not just anyone, sure, and realistically probably not a woman. Other women were for friendship, for gossip, for support but not for long-term intimate companionship. Housewifery was out, and marriage was a bourgeois anachronism, but the social preconceptions were harder to kill than the names or the legal institutions. Besides, if you went off traveling like that with another girl, what would you do if one of you got involved with some guy and the other one didn't? It was asking for trouble. Yeah, right. Hey, have things really improved that much in the last couple of decades?
Not just any man, of course, but Cedar was the incumbent and he was into it. In many ways, the whole trip was his idea; it had her unqualified endorsement but she might not have done it if he hadn't been so up for it. Certainly she would have done it differently without him, but she was much happier to come along on his journey than not to go at all. She tended to drag them into slightly less frugal quarters, and she heartily discouraged the practice of sleeping on railroad platforms, which he thought was practical, but most of the time they traveled fairly sociably. It was a minor advantage to have a walking encyclopædia along (early multi-media, really) even if he was so far into head trips he sometimes seemed like an android. He certainly meant no harm.
As the çi-devant Jake Bernstein, the alias under which he was known to government officials and close family members, Cedar was, after all, an initiate and minor acolyte of the academic cult. God knows what the Pranksters had done, up the road from Santa Cruz in La Honda, but in Harvard the professors kept notes. Leary and Alpert made it all the way through the system of write-it-down, publish-when-possible and keep-your-source-data before they caught up with the freaks out west and the kids on the street. More than that, they did it in a department that believed that the rat-torturing B. F. Skinner was some kind of profound theorist and that operant conditioning would explain the universe. They couldn't help but write down how much they ate and they took some truly impressive quantities.
Street numbers were rather less reliable then rat psychology, of course, but the early explorers laid down some benchmarks. A good hit of Owsley was said to be 500 micrograms of pure LSD-25 aka Dr Hofmann's excellent discovery, Sandoz's gift to the universe, etc and people both split them and doubled them, making a rumored spread of 250 to 1000 mikes. If you just wanted to groove, you could get off on a hundred or less (which became the standard dealing dose by the late '70s), while the scientists in Cambridge, using Sandoz pure while it was still available, took up to two thousand.
The legendary Mr Owsley was out of business by the end of the sixties, and his quality control standards were more honor'd in the breach than in the observance, but in 1970 good stuff could still be found. And those microdots had been heavy duty. They had field-tested them one weekend up at Mount Tam with some friends ... but that's another story. Call them 500 mikes each and you wouldn't be far off, as of early November in Northern California.
On Christmas day, in Goa, the same dots felt like fifty.
"What do you mean, melted?" asked Annie in a puzzled tone.
He paused to look at her. What on earth was she talking about? Slowly the brain clicked through the cycles: history, no; cash, no; local topography, no; ah yes, conversation. Engage tongue.
"Evaporated. Catalyzed. Disappeared."
"But it didn't melt, right?" She was looking bewildered. It was important to get things straight. "I mean, the little tabs look just like they always did."
"Yup, the little tabs are there. Well, they were this morning." Cedar was being careful. He had been much influenced by an Introduction to Philosophy course that featured silent trees falling and the like. I see therefore it is, conundra like that, favorites of undergrads and profs alike, at least in philosophy and physics. The engineers tended to bah-humbug such speculations but then people who actually built complicated things were not an important component of either the hippie or the academic tradition.
"So the stuff in them isn't the same as it used to be."
Cedar, on some level, thought he was a scientist, but Annie was the one with the step-by-step approach, especially when hewing to a straight line in a twisted personal sub-reality.
"Well, either it's different or we're different, 'cause this is different."
She started to giggle. He caught her eye and then her laugh. She spread her arms out and lowered her head back so the sun poured down her throat, and he did the same. She slowly spun around, him too, a pair of lazy windmills calling for the touch of a breeze.
Maybe losing a hundred bucksworth of acid wasn't such a big deal.
"Sure enough, it's different."
"Warmer temperature, cooler scene."
"Cool scenes don't make no chemistry."
"Hot times mangle it?"
"They don't do it no good. I bet that's what did it. What the hell, I bet we can find some more."
"I don't care that much. Not right now anyway."
"Still wanna do another?"
"Sure. Wanna get a mango juice?"