Tag Archives: Ohio

Van Halen Cassette tapes, Kindergarten Underpants, Atari 2600, and the Awesome Hippie Babysitter

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Atari2600wood4

Atari2600wood4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rock and roll was the background music to my life from a very early age.  I initiated this obsessed love with two cassette tapes.

The first was “Purple Rain” by Prince.  I had that when I was about 4 years old.  My Dad bought it because he thought it was a killer album.  My Dad always had an ear out for what the best music on the scene was, a practice that I tried to pick up on.

The second was “1984″ by Van Halen.  I had that when I was about 5 years old.  I loved the song “Jump“, and also loved “Panama”.  I memorized the lyrics to “Jump” and used to sing them to my classmates in Kindergarten.  They looked at me like some sort of space alien.

My Dad was really into music.  When I was in my Mother’s womb my Dad’s drummer, Rodney Psyka nicknamed me “BB” (pronounced “Bee, Bee”), which is why my parents named me “Benjamin Bradford White” a little bit of a reference to BB King, but a never ending reminder that my identity was carved out in the middle of a bar gig.

I had no idea when I was a little man that my Dad had been heavily into the 60′s and 70′s drug scene. Nor did I have any idea that the members of Van Halen had probably indulged in their fair share of booze and drugs (especially old Diamond David Lee Roth!).  I just knew that I loved the sound of music pumping in my ear-drums.  Something about it felt familiar to me.

When I was a kid, my Dad smoked Barclay 100′s cigarettes.  I remember being 4 and 5 years old, and my Dad would be blowing that mellow blue smoke into the air.  I would be wafting it away from my face, trying not to breathe it in.  I always yelled at him saying, “Dad!  Smoking is so gross!  I hate it!” My Dad would just laugh and light up another, at times apologizing for smoking.  My mom would give my Father the dirty look that she often gave him.

I didn’t grow up under any sort of religious instruction.  The basic religion that my parents seemed to feed me was love, tolerance and compassion, coupled with BeatlesJoni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young records.  As a child I looked to musicians as being a certain breed of sage or prophet. I felt that their chords and melodies contained some sort of mystic power.  I was drawn to it.  It was the most spiritual experience that I encountered in my formative years.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I did pretty well.  They had me in a couple of advanced classes and I was basically a geek.  I was a different kind of geek though, because I had a variety of friends.  I was somewhat of a “socially adjusted geek”.

I had an appetite for trouble as well!  Once in Kindergarden I pulled my pants down in front of the class when my teacher had left for a short time, trusting that we the students would behave ourselves. We found after that she had left to join a small group of people that were observing their class behind glass with a one-sided mirror.  It was a behavioral experiment done by the Montessori School we were part of at the time.  They wanted to see if kindergarten kids could behave themselves in a large group without adult supervision.  I led the kids into a mini riot when I dropped my drawers and thwarted their experiment…

My parents later thought it would be a good idea to put me in public school, to give me more structure and rules.  It ended up working well.  I became a good student, and more well behaved.

In the meantime my Dad worked for John Hancock, an insurance company that was doing well in the 80′s.  He was at work often but he was also a good Father.  In many senses he was more of a friend to me than a disciplinary force.  I could always talk him out of punishments.  For example, after the pant-less fiasco my Dad tried to take away my Atari 2600 for a month…  and I talked him down to 2 weeks of Atari-absence.

Then there was the first time I witnessed my Dad get drunk.  He didn’t do it often, especially in front of me, and he definitely wasn’t an angry drunk, more of a slap-happy drunk.  We were at a wedding once when I was 10 years old and he had a little too much whiskey.  He had a lot of wild conversations with random people, basically being the life of the party in an extreme sort of way. While I, on the other hand, didn’t get it.  I cried and cried on the way home telling him how wrong it was.  After all, I was taught in school that these exploits were wrong.  Something in my young conscience felt horrible about it.

My Dad reassured me that he wouldn’t do it again.  He was generally good to his word throughout the rest of my pre-adolescent years.  He wasn’t an alcoholic, just a social partier.  He communicated to me that his position as a Father was more important than his party life.  He did a good job of keeping those two worlds separate before my eyes for quite a time. 

I had a babysitter named Laina who talked often of going outside to “get a fresh of breath air”.  I had found out that she smoked Camel cigarettes, and thought that maybe she was going outside to toke. I thought that was true because she used to come back from the “breath of fresh air” in an erratic mood and feed me some wild snacks, like Tato Skin potato chips, marshmallows and Coca-Cola Classic.  Then I hit the age of 13 and found that all hormones of either gender make one erratic. Nonetheless, it was safe to say I began to get a little chubby and crazy on this munchie food towards the end of my Elementary School days.

During this time I also got a guitar for Christmas.  My Dad had the guitar amp wrapped up and under the tree, and I had opened up all of my presents including the amp, but no guitar was to be found.  Then my Dad pulled a kamikaze move and grabbed the guitar out of his closet.  I was thrilled.  It was a black Fender Squier Stratocaster with white inlays.

Laina, my babysitter, was really proud of me for chasing after rock and roll.  She got me into the DoorsAerosmith and Led Zeppelin.  I listened to Zeppelin II for the first time, and it blew my world apart.  Jimmy Page’s riffs made me want to learn how to tear it up just like him.  Laina even helped me write a song, and we called it “Death Theater”.  She was really bummed when I made the lyrics a naive version of an anti-drug rant.

But Laina and I became pretty good buds.  She took me downtown in Hudson, Ohio during the annual shaving cream fight that all the middle schoolers and high schoolers used to go to.  It made me feel pretty cool to say the least, especially for a 4th grader!  Laina helped me figure out a little bit more of who I thought I was, and turned me on to rock and roll that turned my world upside down.

Rockstar Daydreamer

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Rock star baby, Rock star.

Rock star baby, Rock star. (Photo credit: fmgbain)

Someday he’s gonna make it to the top
And be a juke box hero, got stars in his eyes~ Foreigner

I’ll never forget when I played my first gig in a bar.  I was 14 years old and our band Mulberry Tree got a gig at a dive called “Europe Gyro” in Kent, Ohio.  We got there to set up and the stench of alcohol, cigarette smoke and urine had filled the air.  A couple bands were playing with us and treated us like second class citizens, so of course we went on last.  It was a Sunday night before school on Monday.  We went on at 10:30 pm to an audience of one black man, drunk out of his mind and yelling out, “play some Jackson 5 man!”  My Dad had set up the gig for us.  At one point I dropped my pick in the middle of a song and was deeply embarrassed when he picked it up off the ground and handed it to me.  I think the microphone picked up my words, “get away Dad!  Get away!”

Not long before this, we had our first experience in an amateur recording studio.  The man who recorded us was a total throwback to the 70’s and 80’s.  He had a wild long pony-tail down to his butt cheeks.  He played the saxophone.  We recorded all our Mulberry Tree Songs live, and then I did the vocals.  We finished a whole album of 7 songs in 12 hours.  We laughed at Duane, our drummer, because we had to duct tape headphones to his skull, they kept slipping off because he banged his head to the beat while drumming.

All of this led to the pinnacle for us.  We had a chance to play in front of our peers in High School at what Hudson High School in Ohio called “Rock Fest”.  It was 1996.  Hits like “Stupid Girl” by Garbage and “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins were on the radio.  Duane, Mitchell and I were nervous before the show.  We snuck into a bathroom upstairs in the High School and turned off the lights.  We lit up a cigarette and shared it.  We hopped up and down pumping ourselves full of adrenaline before the show.  Then the moment came.  We were on.  I stepped up to the mike, plugged in my Cherry Red Sunburst Gibson Les Paul, and wiped away the hair hanging over my eyes.  We played our first song, and through the whole show the crowd stayed into it.  We were deeply hooked on the accolades we got from the masses of peers looking onward.

And afterwards, we were able to sell our album to all of our friends.  It was on cassette tape.  I had to make copies myself on my high-speed audio dub recorder, and we gave some weed to a friend of ours for making our “high-tech” album art on his 95′ PC Computer.

But after the show, Mitchell’s Father cornered me.  He proceeded to tell me that “red flags” were going off in his mind, because in one of our songs I had a lyric that sang “smoke it up, toke it up, drink it up, gulp it on down”.  He was sure that I was singing from personal experience.  I assured him that I was writing fictionally, and felt bad for all of the poor people who were caught up in the mess of addiction.  After a lot of interrogation, Mitchell’s Father backed off.

I came up to Duane and Mitchell and they were asking me; “What did he say? What did he say???”  I told them that he tried to get me to admit I was doing drugs and drinking, and that I was sure I pulled one over on him.

I was becoming a liar.  I certainly struggled with lying to my parents, because we had such an open, transparent relationship.  Nonetheless, somehow, lying became a new weapon that I felt I could use to protect the things I did in darkness…  I began lying to many people, including my parents and some of my close friends.  I began to abandon my conscience and step into a whirlwind of hedonistic freedom of which I had not experienced yet.

Busted With Weed

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Marijuana small

Marijuana small (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s something that happens in the heart and soul of a young man when he begins to taste of criminal adrenaline.  I learned to lie more effectively, and my drug habits increased.  This made me hungry to delve into madness more deeply.

Every chance I got, I was smoking dope, or “bud” as we called it back then.  I began to understand that there were different levels of marijuana quality, and the higher the quality, the more expensive it was.  I sampled stronger weed.  I smoked by dumpsters during rock concerts with people I didn’t know.  I jammed with older high schoolers that smoked in their parents’ basements.

One time I was smoking a pipe with Maxwell Clancy, a well respected doper in the 12th grade who always had high quality stuff, in the school bathroom during lunch.  The hall monitor of the school who we had named “Hall Hitler” walked in.  I was deeply freaked out and sure I was busted.  I put the pipe in my pocket, spurred on by Maxwell to hold onto it, and not realizing that I could potentially take the heat for him.  Hall Hitler came in, declaring loudly, “Alright everybody!  Get outta here!  Stop smoking and doin’ whatcher doin’!”  As we walked out of the bathroom, with our high coming on, Maxwell walked up to me, likely afraid that I’d steal his pipe.  He asked me to hand it over to him.  I cupped it in my hand and handed it over.  Hall Hitler came up to us and barked, “Hey!  What was that you handed over!”  Maxwell babbled something in court jester fashion, running off like a carnie circus man.  Hall Hitler confronted me, and I told him all I had was a lighter.  I pulled it out of my pocket.  He let me slide with a warning and an after-school detention.

Somehow, experiences like this just furthered the hunger for mayhem within me.  Duane and I had heard of some older friends who planned on going to a “Rave”- an all night illegal party in the city of Cleveland, Ohio that would surely have lots of drugs, girls, pumping techno music and colored lights.  The thing was, I’d have to sneak out of my house in the middle of the night on a Friday night, and they’d come and pick me up.  Everything was set for me.  I had an eighth of an ounce of greens in my pocket, and they were heading over to get me about a block away from my house to avoid suspicion.  They were coming to get me at 1:30am, and would get me back by 6am, just in time to sneak into bed before my parents woke up.

I snuck out of the house carefully and slowly, making sure that our English Springer Spaniel “Nick” wouldn’t wake up.  I crept out of the back porch door of our little ranch house.  I walked through our backyard into a neighbors back yard, and before long was out on the street in the middle of the cool March evening.  The stars were out, and it was a little bit chilly.  I lit up a Camel Light cigarette and waited.  Looking at my watch I realized it was 1:32am.  No sign of them yet.  I waited some more and finished the cigarette.  My watch said 1:41am.  Where were they?  I decided that it was all a bad idea.  What if I got caught?  What if they never came and I got caught for nothing?  I began to head back to my house.  I felt the horror run through my veins as I saw the dining room light on from a distance.

Panic ensued.  Should I ditch my large bag of weed in a tree?  Should I throw out my cigarettes and lighter?  I was freaking out.  I just decided to admit that I was outside smoking a cigarette, and left the dope in my pocket.  My parents would be mad, but at least it would explain the smell, and I would maybe get grounded for a weekend.  No big deal, no big deal at all…

I creaked open the door and came inside.  My parents gazed at me in horror.  “What are you doing, Ben?  It’s almost 2am!”  My Mom vehemently asked me.  “Ummm…  nothin’ Mom, I was out smoking a cigarette.  I’m really sorry.  I only had one of them, I won’t do it again.”  I replied squeamishly.  Then the axe came down.  Just like in 7th Grade once before my Mom asked me, “Empty your pockets, and let’s get rid of these cigarettes.”  I fumbled for a lie.  “I don’t have em’ Mom!  I only had one that I got from a friend!”  Really, I had a pack of Camel Lights that was almost full.  “GIVE THEM TO ME!”  My Mom barked back.  I carefully pulled the pack out of my pocket, trying desperately not to pull the bag of green buds out with it.  Then she yelled the words I didn’t want to hear.  “PULL OUT EVERYTHING, BENJAMIN!  I WANT TO SEE THE BOTTOM OF THOSE POCKETS!”  I pulled out the weed.

Jesus was talking about religious, charlatan fakers when He said; “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:2)  He was addressing living a duplicitous religious life.  But the phrase applies to every scenario.  People eventually get caught…  no matter how well they think they can hide it…  Even those that try to hide their misgivings their whole life will be found out after their death.

My parents were shocked.  Somehow my Dad just could’t believe that I would ever do any of this stuff.  My Mom had been suspicious all along, because she was a little less idealistic than my Father.  I was to be grounded for one full month.  No sneaking out, no hanging out with friends.  I was only allowed to play music with my friends under supervision.  Also, they made me cut my hair short.  My curly-haired girlfriend at the time, “Adah”, broke up with me shortly after, since I couldn’t ever come out to hang out with her, and I think she really dug my hair.

Prescribed Darvocet for a Broken Wrist

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death by darvocet

death by darvocet (Photo credit: chotda)

To be sure, being grounded for a month after being busted with weed was a drag.  But the hair that my parents cut off began to grow back, as did my hunger for the adrenal reality of post-adolescent mischief.

The song, “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis was high on the charts throughout April of 1996.  Oasis was a band that rode on the back of what could have been the twentieth consecutive wave of Beatlemania that happened after the Fab Four hit the charts.  I liked what they were doing, but then heard that lead man Noel Gallagher thought that “his band’s first album was better than the first put out by music legends THE BEATLES, THE WHO and THE ROLLING STONES.” (http://www.contactmusic.com/news/gallagher-my-debut-was-better-than-the-beatles_1013583)  I felt this statement to be so deeply offensive, that I decided to boycott Oasis.  I wrote their name on a piece of paper and taped it to my bedroom wall with a circle around it and a line through it.

My room was becoming quite the rock n’ roll shrine.  It contained pictures of Jimi Hendrix playing at Woodstock, it had myriad photographs of John Lennon and the Beatles, it had a poster of the Who from the 1980’s that contained an ad for “Schlitz Beer”.  These posters replaced all my half naked photographs of women.  Looking back I still can’t believe some of the things my parents let me get away with.  But making moral, ethical decisions wasn’t something on my radar until years later.  And it’s still not natural for me to make those decisions, but rather the Spirit of God that compels me towards them.

I may not have been able to leave my house regularly since being grounded for a month when caught with dope, but I did find creative ways to keep my marijuana habits regular.  I had kept acquaintances with one of Percy’s good friends, Damien.  He was regularly into the use of dope and was starting to dip into the world of psychadelics.  My parents thought they were monitoring me well, and I convinced them to drop me off early for school so I could get caught up on homework.  Really, I was meeting with Damien and smoking pot behind a set of canoes that were not far away from Hudson High School in Ohio.  We would meet on these cool spring mornings, with a layer of dew kissing the blades of grass on the ground.  We’d smoke pot through a pop can, poking holes in the center and crushing the middle of it, and sucking the smoke through the open drinking hole.  He would bring cigarettes filled with marijuana also.  He managed to get me high before school on a good number of days.

I would buy marijuana in small amounts from Damien, and take it home.  My parents didn’t get home from work until 5pm and I’d be home off of the bus by 3:30pm.  I’d always have an hour or so to smoke weed on my own, through pop cans or whatever I could find.  Sometimes drug buddies would come home with me for an hour and leave before my “rents” got back.

I learned the trick of using eye drops as well.  I would put them into my beet-red eyes, which would always be the side effect of smoking pot, and they would turn my eyes white.  I would spray cologne on before my parents’ got home.  As far as they knew, I was making quite the turn-around.  But I was pretty sure I had them fooled.

One day I was stoned at school, and it was gym class time.  At this point I still had shaggy, long hair and was becoming as skinny as a rail from continued use of cigarettes, dope and a steady diet of strong black coffee.  I would normally skip lunch and use substances to stave off my hunger.  The gym teacher “Mr. Norman” used to call Duane, Mitchell and I “Rock n’ Rollies”.  Especially me, because the only sport I was engaging in at the time was running sprints from school authorities and testing my lung capacity with various types of toxic smoke.  Mr. Norman always made fun of me for my inability to run more than one lap around a track without getting winded, and my knack for only performing 3 push-ups before collapsing to the ground.

We were playing “Broomball” a fun gym class game this day, and I was high enough to be making quite a spectacle of myself.  I began running backwards and cracking jokes, mocking the foolishness of the game.  Kurt Bartmann was a short kid who happened to be tying his shoes on his knees behind me as I was running backwards.  I ran backwards right into him and tripped over him like modern version of Donald Duck in the old Disney cartoons.  But this was no cartoon- I landed straight on my wrist and heard a loud “SNAP”!!

The next thing I knew I was in Mr. Norman’s office.  “Hey Joe, you see this Rock n’ Rollie’s wrist?  Twisted up like a pretzel eh?  You ever seen an injury like that Joe, huh?”  Mr. Norman was commenting, making a spectacle of my severe injury to his jockey, meat-lovers pizza eating friends. Mr. Norman had a killer tanning bed tan.  He ran 5 miles every morning at 4:30 am.  He was 53 years old and could beat up most 20 year olds.  All I knew is I was in severe pain.

I was taken to the emergency room by my Mom.  After 2 hours of waiting in the emergency room for the deeply competent hospital to see to my wrist- which looked as if it was slanted in an unnatural 45 degree angle, they treated my ailment.  They put an x-ray on my wrist and put my fingers into 5 metal Chinese-fingertraps that made up an iron claw.  They pricked my wrist with a shot, numbing it with some sort of anesthesia.  They then strapped my upper arm down and cranked the iron claw up, blasting my bones back into place.  I was still coming off of the high, and was numb from that as well, so my Mom was surprised that I reacted so calmly to the seriously painful situation (though I did let out a little yell when they snapped my wrist).

They then sent me home with another big mistake for a kid of my addictive nature.  They gave me a big bottle of pink pills labeled “Darvocet”, and told me to take them for my pain.

The next week I was off school, with a glow in the dark cast on, recovering from my pain.  My parents were lenient with my grounding and allowed friends over to see me as I was laying around.  I entered into the haze of these little pink Darvocet pills.  They were tremendously strong and gave me a doped up feeling that I looked forward to.  I learned from someone that crushing them up and snorting them would have a more impactful effect, so I did that a few times.  Occasionally I would get a bit of weed from a friend and combine it with the Darvocet, putting me into a whole new high I hadn’t experienced before.

As I recovered from my broken wrist and floated on in a haze of Dextropropoxyphene (the active ingredient in Darvocet), nicotine and THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), I was being set up for release from school.  It would be the summer of my 9th Grade year.

As “Pretty Noose” by Soundgarden, and “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla blasted on the radio waves and audio tracks behind vivid images on MTV, I was heading into my first 3 months of total wreckless abandonment as a young party-hungry miscreant.  I didn’t even catch the lyrical message of the Cranberries anthem “Salvation”, which foreshadowed brighter days to come.

To all those people doin’ lines,
Don’t do it, don’t do it.
Inject your soul with liberty,
It’s free, it’s free.

To all the kids with heroin eyes,
Don’t do it, don’t do it.
Because it’s not not what it seems,
No no it’s not not what it seems.

Salvation, salvation, salvation is free.
Salvation, salvation, salvation is free.

Drunk and Arrested at Age 15

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Hiatt type 2010 handcuffs. Circa 1990s

Hiatt type 2010 handcuffs. Circa 1990s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was late July of 1996, and “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand” was #1 on the alternative rock charts.  Not far behind was Stone Temple Pilots’ “Tripping on a Hole in a Paper Heart”, a modern psychedelic rocker, and Beck’s “Where it’s At”- an genius hybrid of minimalistic alt-rock and hip-hop done by the white grandson of a Vaudeville performer.

This had been an interesting summer.  My parents, in the midst of their continual fighting about money, had certainly moved ahead financially.  We bought a nicer house closer to the High School in Hudson, Ohio.  It was actually within walking distance.  One positive result of this was my removal from old surroundings.  Some of the neighbors around me who perpetuated my drug habits were now absent from my every day life.

On top of this, our high school band, “Mulberry Tree”, was facing some strain.  Our drummer, Duane, had disappeared from our existence for the summer.  We found later that he was hanging out with his older friends, and had really gotten the love bug for an older girl.  I suppose I would have done the same thing were I in his shoes.

But in our youth, me and the bass player of Mulberry Tree, Mitchell, took it personally.  We started writing our own music, which had more of a progressive-rock edge to it.  We wrote 6 to 9 minute long opuses, which were deeply influenced by prog bands like Yes, Rush, early Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and King Crimson.  We were also certainly influenced by Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne.

Yet the removal of Duane and his older friends from our little rock star utopian dream world severed us from the ability to acquire marijuana.  We began to experiment more often in the cedar lined shelves of our parents’ liquor cabinets.

Mitchell would come over on Summer Evenings, after playing baseball all day, and we’d conjure up some form of liquor or beer.  We’d fill ourselves with it to the point of buzzing or being intoxicated, and then we’d congregate in my basement, which now had a full drum set, guitars, a bass, amplifiers, a keyboard, PA speakers, and a little recording studio with equalizers and mini-speakers.  It was every thing a young rocker would dream of.  We’d record our original music, with me on drums, and rhythm guitars, and Mitchell would play bass and lead guitars.  We’d mess around with over dubs and share doing the vocal tracks.  We created some great material when the alcohol wasn’t disabling us too much.

We ended up connecting with an older girl named Madeira in our circle of friends.  Mitchell had a love interest in her, and I had a bit of one, but knew that it was only right to allow my friend to pursue his interest before mine.  Our first connection with Madeira was at one of her parties.  Her parents would leave town and her 21 year-old sister would buy enough beer to kill an army of kittens.  She’d invite her sphere of influence into her den of high school freedom, and we’d partake of the spirits.

Now, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol for two years, and have never been legally drunk, because the only drinking I did past the age of twenty-one was a beer or glass of wine here or there.  I was floored by Ephesians 5:18 that says; “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”  I want that fulfillment and joy that can come from sobriety and being filled with God’s presence.  But at the age of fourteen going on fifteen, I dug debauchery.  The dictionary defines debauchery as “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures”.  This was my M.O.

The first party we attended at Madeira’s house began with Mitchell and I sharing a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and ended with both of us laying like fools on a bathroom floor, vomiting what seemed to be an endless ocean out of our insides, and professing of our bro-mance friendship love for one another.  People say and do completely silly and regretful things under the influence of alcohol to be sure.

Later, Madeira had invited us to hang out with her and go bowling.  She obtained a bottle of 40 proof (1/2 strength) whiskey and 2 bottles of Boone’s sparkling wine for our voyage.  We made it to the parking lot of Stonehedge Bowling Alley in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Madeira was 16 and drove us there.  Mitchell had a learner’s permit because he was 15, and I had no sort of driver’s license because I had just turned 15.   We certainly had no plans for a designated driver.

We decided to drink the alcohol before going in to bowl.  Mitchell and I drank the whiskey, and Madeira drank the Boone’s.  Mitchell and I managed to finish the entire bottle, which was ½ strength but a large quanitity, especially for 15 year-olds!  Madeira finished both of the bottles of Boone’s.  We stood outside and smoked cigarettes as the deeply inebriating effects began to destroy and flood our minds.  Mitchell and Madeira ended up further away and I was on my own smoking.  I saw them kiss.  Madeira later got so sick that she started throwing up.  We never made it into the bowling alley to bowl…

So we had a serious dilemma.  Madeira was in no state of mind to drive.  Mitchell had a learner’s permit and half a bottle of rot-gut whiskey in him.  I had the same amount as Mitchell and no license.  We collaborated with great wisdom and intelligence to have Mitchell drive us home.  “We’d take a back-road highway- Route 91, and avoid the Route 8 freeway.  That way we’d stay away from potentially getting pulled over.”  So we thought…

Mitchell drove us home as Madeira laid down in the back on my lap.  She was feeling terrible and not in the best place, but still my feelings for her were there…  hidden underneath the surface.  I looked out the window into the beautiful summer night sky.  It was July 29th, 1996.  The stars were out.  What were we doing?  Were we crazy?  I held back my feelings for Madeira.  I hoped that we wouldn’t get in deep trouble.  Things weren’t looking good.

Mitchell drove through Cuyahoga Falls, then Stow, and then we were close to the border of Hudson, Ohio.  All the way he kept turning around to us in a fit of adrenaline.  He spoke loudly with a slur, “I think we’re going to make it!  Everything is gonna be ok!”

When we crossed the border into Hudson, a cop car pulled out of the darkness.  Flashing lights beamed in behind us.  Mitchell began to freak out.  “Oh no! Oh no oh no!!!  What are we gonna do?  What are we gonna do?”  He yelled.  I responded, in my inebriated tone, “It’s all good man, just tell him you’re taking us home and Madeira has the flu man!”

Mitchell pulled over.  The cop shone a flashlight in from behind us, making our adrenaline spike up.  Mixed with the alcohol, the feeling was numbing and terrifying.  The cop came up and addressed Mitchell, “Son, do you realize you were driving without your headlights on?”  Mitchell flipped and started apologizing.  He got out of the car and admitted he didn’t have a real license.

Everything else seemed to flash before our eyes like a nightmare.  Mitchell getting a sobriety test, then getting cuffed and put in the cop car.  The cop pulling me and Madeira out of the car and cuffing both of us.  Two back-up cops showing up and taking all of us separately…  isolated from one another…  They put me in the back of a cop car alone.  I was drunk, only 15 years old for 9 days, and breaking curfew.  An accomplice to under-age drunk driving.  I don’t remember all the details in the haze, but I was definitely weeping like a little child in the back of that cop car.

Later that night at the police station, our parents would come and pick us up.  I was too drunk to remember any of the conversations.  But I do remember when my Dad brought me home, and my Mom was waiting at the door.  It was about 3 am.  She didn’t say a word to me, she just wound up and slapped me hard in the face.  The numbness of the alcohol combated the physical pain.  But the emotional pain and shame were magnified.

I went up and slipped into a drunken slumber.  I would be grounded again for another month.  I would be enrolled into Oriena House for substance abuse counseling.  I would have to serve community service.

“Burden in My Hand” by Soundgarden would enter the soundwaves of the summer of August, 1996.  I would write songs in my month of grounding that were reflecting on my own addiction and desperation.  What would my Sophomore year of High School hold for me?  Would it be a year of reformed salvation?  Would it be a spiral into degradation?  Time would tell, but the words of Soundgarden certainly reflected my current state.

Follow me into the desert
As thirsty as you are
Crack a smile and cut your mouth
And drown in alcohol
Cause down below the truth is lying
Beneath the riverbed
So quench yourself and drink the water
That flows below her head

Close your eyes and bow your head
I need a little sympathy
Cause fear is strong and love’s for everyone
Who isn’t me
So kill your health and kill yourself
And kill everything you love
And if you live you can fall to pieces
And suffer with my ghost

Vomit and Tears

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Puking and Driving

Puking and Driving (Photo credit: Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline)

Fall was always my favorite time of year.  The Fall of 1996 in northern Ohio was complete with sun-kissed luminescent leaves on trees like every color of a neon, ultra-violet rainbow.  The chill in the air lent itself to thick button-up shirts and sporting my blue and black winter hat with flaps on the ears.

Sublime’s “What I Got” and The Wallflowers “6th Avenue Heartache” were filling the ears of listeners during the autumn of ’96.  But I was still a classic rocker to the core.  I carried around a big yellow Sony Walkman with Korg studio-headphones that looked like ear-muffs.  I wore it in the hallways of school and filled my brain with Led Zeppelin 3 and The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’, as well as Lenny Kravitz and Jimi Hendrix originals.  By this time I had so many recordings I had made on my own that they became a regular part of my listening too.

I smoked pot weekly.  It had become normal for me.  In the midst of my creative pursuits I had a disdained disinterest in school, sports and the functional, healthy ways of life that I saw my peers embarking upon.  I smoked Camel Lights, about 5-10 a day.  I lit up in the bathroom sometimes, but mostly before and after school.  The nicotine rages would kick in at the end of the school day if I hadn’t had a cigarette, which is why I would sometimes sneak one in the lavatory.  Lots of others in the school did this.  The boys bathroom wasn’t even allowed to have doors on the stalls because the teachers and hall monitors wanted to police the students constantly for puffing on cigarettes.

I also acquired a fascination for drinking hard liquor.  I learned the wild ride of pumping a bunch of it into my system at once.  I would mix it all of the time.  I would drink Whiskey, Cognac, Rum, Gin, and Vodka in any order at any time.  Straight shots, Screwdrivers, Rum and Cokes, you name it.  My parents had a liquor cabinet, and I learned that they’d less likely catch me drinking if I combined a bunch of different liquors.

By this time I had been convinced to “go out” with Jaen, who was Duane’s ‘blind date’ at the homecoming dance.  It was odd, because Jaen was 17 years old, and I was only 15.  I could tell she had never kissed anyone, because at one point we kissed and it was about as awkward as seeing a clown at a bus stop.  I hung out often with Jaen and her group of friends, which included my blind date, the cool hippie-girl, now turned friend and party buddy Elysia.  We would have parties, and find parties to go to.  There would always be beer, liquor or dope.  We began to learn the madness of mixing the three as well.

I was still in love with my ex-girlfriend and now best friend Harmony also.  We talked all the time on school nights and weekends.  We shared all that we went through with our relationships.  Something inside of me always felt that I was dating people just to see if she would become jealous.  She would definitely ask me questions about girls I was with, including Jaen.  I would act like I really dug them, but I was just hoping that Harmony would admit her feelings for me.  She began to give me little notes at school.  I kept them all in a shoebox.

I loved to raid my parents’ liquor cabinet before going out on social functions.  By this time, Duane, our drummer from Mulberry Tree, could drive.  He would drive me all over the place.  If my parents happened to be at work at the time I would raid the liquor cabinet and fill myself with alcohol, then call Duane and have him come and pick me up.  Sometimes we’d have plans, so I’d take some shots before and find myself falling all over the place, making a total fool of myself in front of our friends.  It became a kind of image.  People would say, “awww…  Benny’s at it again!”  I became that guy.  I was the intoxicated guy, the one that was drunk at 3pm, the one that was stoned at 8am in the morning at school.  I lost weight rapidly.  I eat Vivarin caffeine pills all the time to try to keep myself alert when I wasn’t wasted.  I dropped to 135 pounds, and earned the name “Skeletor” amongst my friends, because I always had dark circles under my eyes and was bone-thin skinny.  I also had a huge puff of hair on top of my head, making me look like an oblong q-tip.

One day Duane had planned to come and pick me up, just to hang out at Arabica, our favorite coffee house, to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee.  I decided to hit my parent’s liquor cabinet, since they weren’t home.  I drank an insane amount of liquor.  I drank it all straight, mixing Gin with Rum and aged Cognac.  I took a huge swig of pretty much whatever they had in the cabinet.  I felt a twinge each time in my throat as it burned down my esophagus and into my guts.  I certainly hadn’t had much to eat.  I probably drank the equivalent of 15 shots.  Duane showed up in the driveway and I got in his car.

The alcohol quickly began to kick in as I lit a cigarette and smoked it out of Duane’s window.  I don’t remember much of what happened, just that Duane was amused with how tanked I was.  What transpired after wasn’t amusing at all really…

The next thing I knew we were at the coffee shop.  I tried to sit down but I kept having to put my head in my arms on the table.  Everything was spinning out of control.  I had been drunk plenty before, but this was another level.  I got up and stumbled to the bathroom, running into every table and chair on the way, falling over on the ground, running into people.  I got into the restroom and grabbed one of the 5 blurry toilets I saw spinning around in a kaleidoscopic whirlwind.  I aimed my mouth into it and spewed out what seemed to be an endless flow of poisonous vomit.  I don’t remember much of what happened after that for a period of time…

The next thing I knew Duane and I were sitting on the pavement in some obscure area behind the Acme Plaza in the town of Hudson, Ohio.  There was puke all around me.  Duane had bought me a loaf of bread to eat, and some water.  I was trying to eat and drink…  everything went blank after that…

The next thing I remember, Duane and I were in my room.  He had really gone out of his way to look out for me.  I had gotten myself into a shower and changed my clothes on my own somehow,.  The problem was, my old clothes stank like grandma’s cough medicine and barf.  I was laying in my bed and Duane was telling me he had to go.  He had to take off before my parents’ got home, in case I would get busted.  Since I was obviously drunk, like an insane vagrant stumbling in the streets, it was apparent that I would be found out.  I was as obviously impaired in my judgement as the princes of Zoan in Egypt were in the time of Isaiah the prophet in the five-hundreds, B.C.  The Lord had mingled within her a spirit of confusion, and they would make Egypt stagger in all its deeds, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. (Isa. 19:14)  Like an ancient analogy coming to life, I was a drunken man staggering in his vomit to be sure.

My parents got home.  I don’t remember much of our conversation.  But I do remember being at the dinner table.  They told me if I did this again, they’d take away all my instruments and not let me play music.  I started weeping and crying like an alcoholic.  “Don’ take away my moooosic man…”,  I whimpered.  I was to be grounded yet again.  Though they threatened to take away my music, they didn’t, just friend privileges and freedom to go out on weeknights and weekends.

Many original songs would flow out of these struggles.  I was earning the reputation as a seriously troubled kid.  I certainly wouldn’t cease smoking marijuana, drinking, and smoking.  Though I learned to hide it better.  For some reason I couldn’t get enough.  The life around me continued to shatter and crumble.  All I cared about was the next buzz and the next song.  The lyrics and melody of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Muzzle” rang in my head like a soundtrack and anthem…

I fear that I’m ordinary, just like everyone

To lie here and die among the sorrows

Adrift among the days

For everything I ever said

And everything I’ve ever done is gone and dead

As all things must surely have to end

And great loves will one day have to part

I know that I am meant for this world

My life has been extraordinary

Blessed and cursed and won

Time heals but I’m forever broken

By and by the way…

Have you ever heard the words

I’m singing in these songs?

It’s for the girl I’ve loved all along

Can a taste of love be so wrong

As all things must surely have to end

And great loves will one day have to part

I know that I am meant for this world

And in my mind as I was floating

Far above the clouds

Some children laughed I’d fall for certain

For thinking that I’d last forever

But I knew exactly where I was

And I knew the meaning of it all

And I knew the distance to the sun

And I knew the echo that is love

And I knew the secrets in your spires

And I knew the emptiness of youth

And I knew the solitude of heart

And I knew the murmurs of the soul

And the world is drawn into your hands

And the world is etched upon your heart

And the world so hard to understand

Is the world you can’t live without

And I knew the silence of the world

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8bfBKVVv0Q

The Post-Hippie Scene of Kent, Ohio

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Main St Bridge - Kent

Main St Bridge – Kent (Photo credit: Todd Baker << technowannabe)

Kent, Ohio was made infamous by the 1970 May 4th shootings of 4 college students on campus, and Neil Young, backed by Crosby, Stills and Nash, coined the song “Ohio”, which forever rang in the consciousness of Kent residents.  Ever since then it was one of the premier hippie spots in the Cleveland/Akron area.

In the center of this hippie culture was Brady’s Café.  Brady’s Café was right next to the Kent State University Campus, and was upheld by hippies who had been around Kent for a long time.  It attracted a new generation of hippies…  Gen-Xers and Slackers who listened to Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, as well kats who were into the Grateful Dead, Phish, and the more widely accepted Dave Matthews Band.

Duane and I were drawn into the scene of Brady’s, and were introduced to it by his older friend Brenden, who often sold us dope.  At least once a month, a band called “The Black Hole Jokers” would play there.  They were mostly a Grateful Dead cover band.  I had my “initiation” into the Brady’s scene at the ripe age of 15 when the Jokers were playing.

You can imagine the kind of scene a Grateful Dead cover band drew in.  A synchronistic plethora of freaks, circus clowns, dopers, hippies, Frat Boys, Goths, Wiccans, Transexuals, Preppy Kids, Metal Heads, Harley Riders, Bisexuals, Satanists… you name it, were all there in their respective haze of choice to enjoy the surrogate psychedelic sounds.  I was just a kid, and no doubt got stoned on weed that was stronger than what I was used to at Brady’s.  Now I was hanging with college kids and adults in the drug scene.  At times, it was more than I could handle.

I spent many nights at Brady’s sick from something or another.  One night I was just ill and spitting up by the ledge on the outside of the café.  It may have been that I had been taken hold of by some bad pipe greens that were laced with something nasty.

We literally used to buy drugs in the upper floor of Brady’s from crazy dudes we didn’t know.  One dealer was named “Seff”.  He was a bi-sexual nymphomaniac, and a heroin addict.  He would sell Duane and I weed, sitting right in the middle of the coffee shop on the upper floor.  Looking back I realize I could’ve gotten into some weird situations that I didn’t understand or know how to prepare for.  Someone transcendent was looking out for me…

They turned Brady’s into a Starbucks years later…

High at a Haunted House

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English: Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hil...

English: Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill – cropped screenshot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amidst the haze in my cobwebbed brain that paved a way into Halloween during October of 1996, I was convinced to be a part of the Hudson Haunted House.  The Hudson Haunted House was a locally known haunted favorite in the Cleveland/Akron area of Ohio back then, and it still is.

You have to understand that Hudson was a predominantly Upper-Middle Class community.  Most of the people of Hudson were well off, white Protestants.  We in our family were middle-class agnostics.  I felt caught like a rock in a hard place…  torn between two worlds.  The world of the lower-middle class, salt of the earth misfits always seemed to have an alluring grip upon me.

The Hudson Haunted House was full of infamous yard-birds, run by the “Hudson Jaycees”.  The Hudson Jaycees rightfully sought out disadvantaged and “troubled youth” to volunteer at the house.  This was quite a bunch of vandals, stoners, and mobile home dwellers.  We had Jeff, who had a throwback mullet from the 80’s heavy metal scene, and seemed to always have a 40 oz. bottle of Mickey’s Malt Liquor surging through his veins, and then there was Myron, caked in facial blemishes and at least 60 lbs. overweight.  There were many more of a colorful variety like this that worked with the Jaycees at the House.  And I was to join the band, a toothpick-thin skinny stoner with a 1966 Beatles haircut.

There was a lounge in the back room of the House where everyone hung out, smoked cigarettes, and geared up in costume for their next scare in a room.  The rooms all had a different theme and a plethora of costumes, complete with various rubber, decapitated body parts and unlikely weapons such as meat cleavers and hammers.

My favorite room was called “Bloody Butler”.  It must have been something of the only child narcissist in me, because it was a room that was run solo.  One would put on a torn up, sanguine steward’s uniform, and a zombie like mask with a bald head, and long, gray, curly hair sticking out over the ears and back of the head like George Washington.  The room would be strewn with decollated heads, arms and legs.  Their was a severely creepy chandelier that hung above, laden with cobwebs and dimly lit.  Organ music similar to a Bach fugue would play at a suspicious medium volume in the background.

As the Butler I would wait behind an unseen doorway and wait for a crowd of people to enter.  I would walk past a sensor quickly into the sight of the people and wave the meat cleaver in the air in front and close to them.  A strobe light would come on and a Vincent Price-esque laugh would blare at loud volume when the sensor was triggered.  Women would always scream and cling to their boyfriends or husbands.  Once or twice, a large football player would freak out and scream at a high pitch, which was satisfying to this Rock n’ Roll whey-face.

One day I was to work Butler, and Elysia my favorite hippie girl friend showed up before my time to go in.  She told me she had some really potent weed on her.  She grabbed me and we ran out into a forest nearby.  She packed that silver and black pipe she had full of herb and we smoked it.  Something about jogging a bit before doing this would intensify the high, because my lungs and adrenaline were pumping.  Also, I wasn’t one to run or exercise regularly, so any bit of it would really get my blood moving.

I walked back to get into costume, feeling insanely fried.  I don’t even remember putting on the costume or heading into the room…  But I do remember one instance that followed.

I did my normal gig of walking past the sensor and into people’s faces to scare them.  Besides making one lazy, hungry, affected and aloof, ganja affects one’s depth perception, to where sometimes things right in front of you look almost two-dimensional instead of three-dimensional.  I went out past the sensor and towards the crowd, while lethargically waving my meat cleaver into the air.  There was a gated fence made of black iron that separated me from the line of people coming through, and I fell over it and practically right on top of this girl!  She was screaming her head off and freaking out.  One of the security guys, Brutus, who wore a yellow shirt labeled “STAFF” and generally watched for the welfare of our customers punched me in the head and cussed me out.

I was taken into a room and scolded by someone, I don’t remember who.  I just know that I stared at them lackadaisically with a dumb smirk, which intensified their anger and irritation.

After that I think I was asked to leave the Hudson Haunted House.  But I didn’t care.  It was all the more reason to blaze up another joint, have another beer, do another shot, eat another caffeine pill, chain smoke some cigarettes, and slip into oblivion.  By this time I was spending at least $10 a week on dope, probably $40 a month on liquor and beer, and smoking a pack of cigarettes every three days, which back then cost about $1.85.  Where did I get the money you ask?  From my parents.  I would use the money for this stuff instead of lunch at school or other things.  That was also why I got so skinny, because I would spend money on drugs instead of food.

I began to write weird, dark, depressing songs.  They cried out in desperation, sorrow, and heartbreak as these emotions crept through a haze of inadvertence.  I was addicted also to the depression and pain that came with my self-induced blues.

Local H’s “Bound for the Floor” was popular in 1996.  The lyrics described my life and echoed into my soul, though I would have explained them to be about someone else.

“And you just don’t get it, you keep your copasetic, and you learn to accept it, and no, you’re so pathetic…”

I was in ignorant bliss, as the world around me seemed to continue crumbling.  My parent’s and I fought more, my grades plummeted, my feelings for my ex-girlfriend Harmony seemed to magnify, but it seemed that there was nothing I could do about it.  I drowned myself into a haze of smoke and liquid, as the holidays approached nearer and nearer.  I don’t remember the Christmas season of 1996, but I’m sure that I was stoned and drunk for most of it.

The First Time I Did LSD

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pupil  of doooooom

pupil of doooooom (Photo credit: Aero Racer E)

The humiliation of being a flagrant drug addict gets old, and brings one to myriad crossroads.  On the freeway of addiction one road sign reads; “It’s time to cut back”.  Another sign reads; “It’s time to quit altogether”.  Yet these signs are small and seem to speed by in an incoherent blur.  They unnoticeably lurk in small font on the side of the road while the vehicle of life is travelling at seventy-two miles per hour.  Then, a large, green exit sign with huge white letters states what has seemed obvious all along; “Try new drugs” it exclaims in your face.  It seems to beckon to you like a side road hotel after a 10-hour road trip.  You slow down and prepare to exit, to a new freeway, and a new wild ride where you do not know the destination at the journey’s end.

John Lennon tried LSD almost by mistake with George Harrison in 1966.  They were spending time with a friend that they would later call “Dr. Robert” in a song on the album “Revolver”.  The lyrics lilt in a melody laden with psychedelic oblivion;

Well, well, well you’re feeling fine

Well, well, well he’ll make you

John and George’s friend convinced them to try this new drug, “lysergic acid-diethylamide” and put some in their tea, and said it was all the rage among young swingers and hipsters of the time.  An hour later Lennon described his experience, that they were going up a “lift” (British for “elevator”) and swore that the building was on fire and were in a frenzy, and then minutes later, the fear abated and everything went to normal.  This was the way of the mysterious acid trip…  a game of Russian roulette in the mind.  Would insanity strike?  Insane joy?  Fear?  Reckless abandonment?  Power?  Violence?  Harmony with the universe?

In the second semester of my Junior year of High School in Hudson, Ohio, I joined the Orchestra to play percussion.  I had heard it was an easy gig and we had a sweet-hearted teacher named Mrs. Bush.  Mrs. Bush made music fun and easy, and didn’t have incredibly high requirements for our excellence.  Also, if one joined the orchestra, they could be in the steel drum band with Mrs. Bush’s son, Mark.  This was a larger motivator for me to join, because my friend Mitchell played bass in that group, and aside from all my personal creative pursuits I longed to be busy playing music again.

In the group were a great collection of misfits, including one David Wilt.  David Wilt was six foot two inches tall.  He had long hair that he pulled behind his ears.  He wore tie-dyed shirts and smoked the best weed in town.  He also sold acid.

David Wilt didn’t only find acid to distribute, he actually made it at home.  He had a conversation with me one day about it.  “Hey Benny, I know that you dig smoking dope.  Have you tried acid yet?”  I answered in haste, “Ummm… no man.”

I had a pensiveness about LSD.  I knew that the Beatles and Hendrix did it.  But didn’t this stuff put people in the Looney-bin?  I talked further with David Wilt about it.

“Look man…”  I said, “Isn’t that stuff kind of crazy?”

“No bro,”  David replied, “This stuff is killer man.  You just have to be in the right state of mind to take it.”

“Right state of mind?”

“Yeah man.  If you like have a bad thought, or are in a bad place with weird people when you take it or something, then your trip will go bad.  But if you surround yourself with the right situation and the right people, you’ll have like the best time of your life bro.  I’ve done it a bunch of times, and never had a bad trip!  It’s 10 times better than getting high or drunk, and it lasts like 8 hours!  It’s also cheap man, 5 bucks for a hit, or take two hits if you wanna really trip your brains out.”

The reasoning made sense to me.  In fact, it seemed like taking this drug would even guarantee a good situation!  Just remove any bummer from your surroundings, and it would go well.

I didn’t know then that David meant that you couldn’t have a notion of conscience or awareness of mortality while you were on an acid trip.  I didn’t know then that you couldn’t have a friend around that really cared about your health and well-being, because they would bum your trip.  I only knew that I wanted to get higher than I was before.  And hey man, if this drug helped produce songs like “I am the Walrus” by John Lennon and “Axis:  Bold as Love” by Jimi Hendrix, then I was in.  I wanted to make heavier, deeper, more colorful music like that too.

My theological framework was one that adopted the religious and spiritual views of my heroes.  John Lennon sang “All You need is love”, so I wanted to follow him.  My room was actually a John Lennon shrine.  There were times when I actually believed I was praying to his spirit, and asking him for guidance.  I know it sounds wild, but these were some of the many wild religious thoughts that crossed my mind in the middle of my pursuit of “higher consciousness” or “enlightenment”.  I didn’t have any specific belief about God or gods that may have existed beyond me, just a plethora of ideas that came and went in and out of my mind.

I wanted to write songs like the Beatles did, so the next step of risk seemed to be taking the plunge into heavier drugs.  “So Dave…”  I said to my tall, new hippie friend, “Can I score some of this stuff off of you?”

I also convinced my bass player friend Mitchell to take this stuff with me.  I told him how we’d probably make music like the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band era.  I told him it would open up our minds more.  I tried to convince my drummer friend Duane to do it with us.  He just agreed to be there with us and get stoned with us while we were tripping.

I bought the weirdest dose of LSD that I would ever buy from there on out off of David.  It was homemade, and not cut into regular doses.  It looked like a bunch of purple, dried-up, crooked jello-glass.  David explained to me that he didn’t divvy it out correctly, and just to try little pieces of it at a time, and eat more if it wasn’t kicking in after an hour.

The moment of this monumental risk came like an adrenaline flood of chaotic fear and excitement.  It was the feeling one would have before going on a rollercoaster or bungee jumping.  Would we make it to the other side without losing ourselves, or would we understand what Jim Morrison meant when he sang “Break on through to the other side”?

Mitchell and I got Duane to drive us to the Acme Plaza where we always hung out on a Friday after school.  I had all this strange purple acid in a little baggie, which I had paid $20 for.  I also had a $40 bag of mid-grade Mary-Jane, a lighter, and a new blue and purple glass pipe I had recently purchased to cement my constant pot habit, and I also had my trusty pack of Camel Lights.

Mitchell and I each ate a small shard of what looked like purple jello glass.  We were totally freaking out.  “Oh man!  We’re going to trip, we’re going to trip!”  Many colorful expletives were used to exclaim our excitement and fear.

We lit up a pipe of dope and passed it around in Duane’s car.  The stoned feeling began to kick in and I don’t remember much of what happened after.  Though I do remember when the acid kicked in.

We were walking towards a large water tower in the town of Hudson, Ohio, and the water tower began to vibrate and pulse.  A body buzz kicked in that seemed to overtake me with total numbness.  I think I turned to Mitchell and said, “Man, are you high right now?” And he said with a euphoric foolery, “Oh yeah man!”  I honestly don’t remember the rest of that day.  But I do remember more of the next time we took it.

Mitchell and I had a history exam to study for.  It was a good front to convince his parents to let us have an overnight study session at his house during the week.  Mitchell and I shared one thing- a crazy streak.  We had a hunger for adventure and wildness, and loved to break rules.  I brought my study stuff over on a Wednesday night the next week, and we faked like we were studying from 8pm to 10pm.  His Dad came in and told us we should go to bed.  I had a sleeping bag on the floor and Mitchell was in his bed.  We ate more of that weird purple LSD that I had.  We actually split up the bag and finished the rest of it- what was probably the equivalent of 2 hits each, because it was certainly a mild batch (something I would discover later).

Mitchell and I were into prog-rock and were listening to an album by Steve Hackett- the former guitarist for the original Genesis (with Peter Gabriel- pre-Phil Collins corniness).  We played his album “Voyage of the Acolyte” – a wild, instrumental, medieval, psychedelic masterpiece.  The acid kicked in, and the song from the album called “A Tower Struck Down” was played about 10 times consecutively throughout the evening.  The song made us laugh like little children with all it’s dissonance and maniacal melodies.  Click on this link to hear it:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxl6RLlKkHI  (Listening to it now I laugh, because I realize how ridiculous it was- yet at that point we literally thought the music was going to make the ceiling cave in!)  We stared at Mitchell’s ceiling fan and watched it rotate, which he had put a blue, red and black lightbulb in.  We began to explain that it was “The Wheel of Fire”, because the fan blades would catch trails of each other and look like a vortex.  The guitar of Steve Hackett wailed through the night, and we got no shut-eye, all the way up until 3 am, when Mitchell’s Dad busted in with grave anger, likely because he heard our hysterics and brain-fried laughter.  “What in the world are you boys doing?”  He exclaimed…  well… he used more expletives than that.  “Uhhh…  nothing Dad!”  Mitchell exclaimed, his eyes dilated and wide open.  “We were just about to go to sleep!”

Of course we got absolutely no sleep, and the sun came up.  We went to school that next day, sleeping in class and telling all our friends about our wild experience.  The Beatles albums like “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” seemed to make more sense to me, as did Pink Floyd’s “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  It would be our own version of the year 1967 soon, and the trip was about to get wilder than ever.

My grades plummeted to D’s and F’s, my relationship with my parents grew more strained.  As for my girlfriend, Harmony, I told her about this first trip and encouraged her to take it with me.  It freaked her out really bad and she wanted nothing to do with it.  She made me promise I would never take acid again, and I agreed.  I decided that I would keep taking it, and not ever tell her.

A Stoner on Local Cable TV

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The Human Condition [a tribute to René Magritte]

The Human Condition [a tribute to René Magritte] (Photo credit: [ piXo ])

One of the worst things about drug addiction is the tolerance factor.  When one uses drugs frequently they need more and more of them to get the effects they once experienced.  This was the case for me as April and May of 1998 rolled around.  I had been using harder drugs like psychedelics and prescription speed.  My marijuana use was through the roof.  To get any effect from using pot I would have to do 4 or 5 times the amount that I normally did to even feel it, and at times I didn’t even enjoy it any longer.  This did a number on my lungs.  There were times at the end of a dope smoking session that I would feel as if I could barely breathe.

It’s amazing the illusion one cultivates in the midst of addiction.  Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.  (Proverbs 10:23)  It’s a horrible thing to have your health deteriorating at the age of 16, but when you’re high you almost don’t care.  As time rolls forward you convince yourself that committing slow suicide is the way to go.  People used to ask me at the age of 16, “So Ben, what do you see yourself doing with your life?”  I would answer, “I don’t know man.  I might not even make it past 20…  But I’m going to party as hard as I can until then.”  Drugs had become my god.  I even believed that my destiny was destruction, and my glory was in their shame, because my mind was set on earthly things.  (Phil. 3:19)  I was even willing to die because of drugs and for drugs, because they seemed to give me my only moments of manufactured happiness amidst the desperation and brokenness of the social order I observed around me.  On the outside I was the court jester, a king of fools, a peace-child wanna-be sixties hippie, and on the inside I was growing more cynical and angry every day.  The alienation that one experiences in the midst of chronic drug use is profound and deeply devitalizing.

Despite the popular music of 1998, early 90’s bands like Alice in Chains began to sing the lyrics of my existence.

Down in a hole, feelin’ so small

Down in a hole, losin’ my soul

Down in a hole, outta control

I’d like to fly but my

Wings have been so denied

In moments alone, stark moments of sobriety which lasted only minutes and hours, I was buried in a hole.  I was lying to everyone I really cared about- my girlfriend Harmony, my parents, and even some of my friends.  In fact, many of my friends were becoming afraid of me.  I began to identify more with people who I once thought were too crazy or too criminal to associate with.  There were strange moments when I longed for my childhood again…  days when I felt untainted and more innocent.

Where was my soul in all of this?  I suppose I had buried it beneath the mounds of drugs, alcohol, and lapsed memories.  My conscience had been hardened in so many ways.  I didn’t care if I turned in homework at all, and I had no problem lying all of the time.  It didn’t matter to me if everything around me crumbled.  “These are all things that society just expects me to do man…”  I would reason to myself.  I may have kept a calm exterior because I was self-medicated all of the time.  But deep inside my world was spinning out of control.  “If there is a God out there he definitely wouldn’t want anything to do with me”, I often thought in my darkest moments.  I would just do another shot, smoke another bowl, pop another pill or drop another tab to try and forget about my deeper thoughts.  To me, God was a distant memory, a figment of my childhood imagination.  “Maybe God doesn’t really exist”, I thought.  “Maybe just the moral, do-gooders of the world made him up to feel like they’re better than everybody”.  These were the honest reflections of my mind as I became more marginalized by the mainstream people of my little microcosm of culture.  “No one will ever really love me”, I thought.  “Nobody really wants to understand me or know me”.  “I’m all alone in this world…  in my addiction and misery”.  I would’ve mustered the strength to pray if I thought someone was listening, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.  How was I even sure that anyone was there?  Nobody really cared anyways, I thought to myself.

Even music had become an afterthought for me.  It was ironic, because I had originally thought that drugs would enhance my music.  Quite the opposite was true.  In years before, I had written between thirty and fifty songs a year.  In the year of 1997, I had only written about twenty songs, which were getting increasingly weird.  The recordings I made contained more mistakes than ever, and my vocals were out of key at times.  Even the sound of my voice deteriorated as I assaulted it daily with a variety of smoke, sleepless nights and hard living.  Throughout the winter and spring of 1998, and all the way into summer, I continually worked on the recording of one eight-minute song, and kept scrapping parts because I was too constantly intoxicated to produce anything of musical value.  I certainly hadn’t found the inspiration that I thought would come from LSD…  Lucy was so far away in the sky with diamonds that I couldn’t make out her distorted face in the clouds.  The only happiness I experienced was chemical… fake… and I began to view everyone and everything through that lens.  ”What a bunch of fakes and phonies” I thought about the world and society around me.

In Ohio, at Hudson High School, during the spring of 1998, the teachers had gotten tired of a bad contract and decided to go on strike.  This meant that we would get a lot of press from the local news stations.  This also meant that they would try to set up a system to keep us in school.  They sent teachers in to substitute and pick up where the others had left off.  But because of the strike we knew there was no legal requirement for us to attend.

I remember when the cameras from the local news showed up at our institution.  All the students had decided to march out of the building and skip at 10am.  There was nothing anyone could do about it- not the school board, not the cops.  When 10am arrived, we all marched our way out of the temple of learning in great defiance.  I felt like I was part of the late 1960’s.  The cameras from the news station were there as we walked out.  I was definitely out of my mind when I saw them, and was yelling expletives as they passed by…  I was shocked that I didn’t make it on the local news that night at 11pm.  Looking back I realize how silly I was to think that they’d put a loudmouth kid swearing at the camera on TV.

This began 18 days of freedom from responsibility.  It was like summer vacation.  We never went to school.  Of course I started to go completely out of control.  I was using more than I ever had before.  I honestly don’t even remember one detail about those 18 days.  I just know that I was let loose like a wild, untamed golden retriever in a vacant candy store.  I was bound to leave a trail of devastation behind…  and have no idea exactly what that devastation even looked like.

I do know that we had RockFest for our Junior year of High School after the strike was over.  I was playing bass in a psychedelic cover band with mostly guys that were older than me at the show, and was invited to play one acoustic tune on my own.  The Hudson local channel had come to film the performance and interview the performers.  I only heard about this afterwards, because they had supposedly interviewed me and I had absolutely no recollection of even talking to them.  But there I was, on local TV for all the parents of Hudson students and local authorities to see me.  I never watched what I said, but people told me that I acted completely insane and babbled in incoherent riddles.  I do also know that I played the song “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd acoustically when I had my solo spot.  I invited an older friend, Willie Martin, to sing with me.  At one point I was addressing the audience;

“Hey man…  is Willie Martin out there?” I said into the microphone before an audience of about 300 kids.  “I need him to come up and sing with me…  Yo Willie, where are you brotha?  Haha…”

I was told later that I kept asking for Willie to come up, for about 3 minutes.  He had been right next to me on the microphone to my left for about 2 of those minutes.  I do remember only the moment when I looked over and saw him.  I exclaimed,  “Oh man, there you are!”  and everyone was laughing at me.  I officially had the reputation of being a complete stoner.

The summer of 1998 was about to unleash me into a wild realm of reckless existence.  My friend Mitchell began to become afraid of doing harder drugs.  He backed away from my pursuit of deeper aberration.  I was beginning to hang out in the haunts of my town with the freaks, drop-outs and super bohemians.  I had friends in their twenties who dealt drugs.  I was stepping into a world of danger that I knew nothing about, but I didn’t care where it led me…  whether it be insanity, prison, or even death.  I know that my parents were afraid for me, but I didn’t care what they thought anymore.  I didn’t want to follow any rules except the voice of id.