Published by Jonathan Aryeh Wayne, October 14, 2015, based on his memoirs from August 20-25, 2015
“Oooooooh!” That’s all I heard for the longest time. My forehead was both numb and aching, along with my nose and left kneecap. I had a white wire from a phone charger dangling from my new smartphone in my right hand. I was looking down at it after I walked head-first into a glass door upon exiting a Mexican restaurant in Greenpoint. How did I find myself in this humiliating moment? I was so caught up in the moment of being back in New York, that I had left my phone charger attached to my phone attached to an electrical outlet in the restaurant while I was eating a colossal vegetarian burrito with John Cuda. After eating, I was about 3 blocks away from the restaurant and realized there was a noticeable void in my left pants pocket. I had left my phone in the restaurant. And then after I went back to retrieve it, I wasn’t even looking ahead of me. Was it the 10 hour drive from hell that had unsharpened my mind? That thud into the glass door was deafening, at least to me. I could only imagine the people in the restaurant who suddenly either heard or saw my mishap, with jaws dropped and half-eaten food falling out of their mouths. I didn’t look back though. The daze was only momentarily. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t drawn blood as I thought I broke my nose. I half expected the glass door to shatter also. Lucky me. I continued, opening the actual door before seeing another glass door ahead of me. If I ever wanted to be a ghost, it was there and then, as walking through glass would have been effortless.
Earlier that Thursday it was stressful though. My buddy John and I intended to drive to New York City for the first time, from Pittsburgh. On top of that we agreed to take my sister Esther along for the ride as she wanted to meet up with a friend in Brooklyn. After we picked up ice at the gas station for my little cooler packed with snacks, we started our journey on a warm, sunny day around 1 pm. John, the guy who was driving, isn’t a big fan of driving in general, like myself, but immediately we started off on the wrong footing, as we discovered his car’s front wheels were not aligned properly. The previous day John had his car fully inspected and he assumed everything was fine… until, about 15 minutes into our journey, his steering wheel started shaking in all directions while we were driving at high speed. That could only mean one thing. The wheels were out of alignment. So now we were in jeopardy of having a damaged vehicle with the added inconvenience of unpleasant driving for the duration of the trip. But around Somerset, PA, I saved us all. As we drove down the turnpike I looked on my smartphone for an auto mechanic who could perform an emergency wheel rotation for us. I used my new advanced smartphone to perform a real time search for an auto mechanic somewhere not too far off the highway, using Google Maps. I found this hole in the shop repairman called Reffner Tire and Wheel Alignment. It was a miracle. The guy answered the phone and said to just come down and “he’d take a look at it”. We pull off the turnpike and navigate to main street USA, and here’s this older, burly man waiting for us, in front of an old, nondescript auto shop. He brought out the jack stand, and proceeded to use his power wrench to remove the lug nuts in mere seconds. Then he took both front tires and balanced them in his shop. A few minutes later the tires were back on the car and it only cost $12. This was only 30 minutes out of the way, and now John’s car didn’t have any more shaking for the remainder of the trip.
Fast forward about 4 hours into the future and we find ourselves somewhere between Harrisburg and Allentown stopped on the side of the highway crippled in a deluge of heavy rain and lightning. So by now in this voyage I was no longer estimating a 7 hour trip, but probably 8 hours, especially with that prior stoppage to change the tires, something I’ve never experienced on any road trip. An hour later I was hoping we’d make it 9 hours. By the time we had dropped off my sister in Midwood, Brooklyn and stopping for gas, we were approaching the 10 hour mark since we departed from Pittsburgh. Around 11:15 pm, we finally made it to Williamsburg after much stress and unpleasant bickering back and forth, something I don’t care to experience again. The apartment we were staying at, on the corner of Lorimer and Nassau Avenue was spectacularly located though. I discovered this rental on airbnb.com, a site I often use for traveling out of town. It was across the street from the entrance to hipster-filled McCarren park and this superb Australian restaurant: Five Leaves. The 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment had everything going for it, except for the noise as there were construction crews working outside starting early in the morning, and for tourists who like to stay out late and sleep in, it wasn’t the best fit for our lifestyles. My complaints are just first world problems anyway. It sure beats lying on a bench outside across the street in the park, despite the warm summer weather.
“There was to be no peace and tranquility for me any longer. This was fear and loathing in Fort Tilden.”
Let me expound on that horizontal thought: lying. Specifically, lying on the sand, mind spinning, sounds sparkling and colors resonating. This was what I was experiencing two days later, on a sunny Saturday afternoon on a beach in Fort Tilden in Queens, New York. What the hell was I doing here in this state of mind and body? Or maybe I should say out-of-body, out-of-mind and probably out-of-time. My buddy was on a mission though, and I was a reluctant participant for this hallucinogenic experience. This is not something I signed up for though, its not something I was really excited about doing truthfully, after having not ingested a psychedelic drug in over 3 years. To make matters worse, I wasn’t even sure what I had ingested. I was told these “peeps” were made with loving care, but one person’s definition of “loving care” might not be the same as mine. The anxiety of having to transport these frozen magic mushroom cookies to New York in a worn out and soiled glass mason jar also bothered me slightly. It’s not just that I wasn’t sure if these “things” were fresh or safe to eat, I didn’t know what else was in this concentrated “peep”, as my buddy called it. There was a deceptive yellow sunshine icing surrounding this round little curiosity, complete with a psychotic, blank face that didn’t reassure me one bit. Whoever created these psychedelic peep-cookie-things decided to imprint three little black dots for two eyes and a mouth. I was told by another man who was connected to the mastermind baker that eating a half was plenty and more than enough. Eating a whole “peep” would probably be suicide, or at least be one hell of a trip. I listened to his advice and earlier that day I cut the cookie in half, with pieces crumbling everywhere on a porcelain plate. I took an empty Haagen Dazs mini ice cream container and put the half-cut remnants in there.
So here I was, finding myself wondering if I had taken too much on that Saturday afternoon, while I was lying on the beach flat on my back. But I wasn’t feeling nearly half as bad as my buddy next to me who had eaten an entire whole “peep” that was completely intact. Just an hour earlier, we were raving about that tasty sweet delicious flavor in our mouths. Boy, something that isn’t supposed to taste so good sure as hell does. I’ve had my fair share of true, authentic, real Psilocybin mushrooms in the past and they weren’t supposed to taste good. And that’s what good medicine is. It’s what it does after you consume it that matters, not the shallow flavor you taste while you’re consuming it. So right off the bat I knew something was amiss here. One has to trust one’s gut instincts after all. Well, what was done was done.
After a tenuous trek to find a parking space within walking distance to Fort Tilden Beach that delayed us about an hour, we finally did the unthinkable and was enroute to blowing our minds. I don’t like to see myself as a recreational drug user by any means as the few times I did this in my life were strictly for medicinal reasons. So aside from this being incredibly illegal in the United States, it was also rather foolish choosing a public beach of all places, despite thinking it was going to be less crowded due to its inaccessibility. I tried to tell my buddy that this wasn’t the ideal setting. People were within a stone’s throw of our beach encampment. Add to that, the anxiety and uncertainty of the NYPD patrolling the beach shores from up above in their helicopters, which I clearly remember at one point. Yes, you heard right. I was lying on the sand and there they were, just above my head. The rotorcraft did a loop and then came back for round two. Were they coming for me? Did they know what I had done? I opened my eyes and lo and behold the police chopper was circling up above making a loop back around towards me yet again. I could have sworn the door was open and machine guns were pointed squarely at me. This was not ideal one bit. I could already hear “Ride of the Valkyries” playing from the movie scene in “Apocalypse Now”, when the 9th Air Cavalry regiment played this piece of music on helicopter-mounted loudspeakers during their assault on a Vietnamese village. Ironically, here I am now being psychologically assaulted on the beach of this old, abandoned U.S. Army military base. There was to be no peace and tranquility for me any longer. This was fear and loathing in Fort Tilden.
“Suddenly I saw a man’s head glaring at me from behind a sand dune from 50 feet away. Was I in their territory? Did they sense I was onto something?”
I looked to my left and all I could hear was grumbling and moaning, and certain mumblings regarding something about “dark magic” and “death”. Here’s this guy I’m hanging out with who’s in utter pain and confusion, squirming around like a beached whale. I laughed uncontrollably. It’s all I wanted to do. I said something along the lines of: “Come on man, look at the beauty all around you!”. I continued talking. “You took too much, ha ha ha…man, if only you had just taken half like I took, you would have been just fine…ah man, you should see what I’m seeing here!” Like I had feared, the mushroom cookie was tainted. And if it wasn’t, there sure was something else at work here, something else that was in there that wasn’t exactly from a Psilocybin mushroom grounded up into a fine grey concentrate coated with sweet yellow icing.
I dizzily walked back into the sand dunes to relieve myself amid the beachgrass. Suddenly I saw a man’s head glaring at me from behind a sand dune from 50 feet away. Was I in their territory? Did they sense I was onto something? Albeit slightly paranoid, I was still acting completely sane and I knew it, because I was conscious of my surroundings. The previous year I had been to Fort Tilden, I was with this same buddy of mine, and I remember him catching a glimpse of some strange activities happening here in these dunes, of “men hopping around with one another”. Flashback forward and its around that time of the day, in the late afternoon now, with the sun setting to our west. I had just properly relieved myself in legal fashion, at least legal to the laws of nature. But then I realized this wasn’t my territory. I didn’t want to be here to witness homosexual acts of affection right now. I was just trying to survive and live another day. I straightened up, walked back towards the beach and saw my buddy sitting on the water’s edge, weighted down by the gravity of the tainted mushroom cookie circulating throughout his body. He had clearly overdosed, and was severely affected by its powerful neurotoxic effects of tryptamine. I was grateful I had only eaten half of this monstrosity. It wasn’t my idea in the first place but I went along with the allure of trying these in a beach setting, much like my buddy did with LSD. But as he told me that he was a human rocket bouncing around the beach under LSD, he was a dying dinosaur being smothered by an avalanche of sand under these ‘shrooms.
Earlier, while we were in the ocean, just prior to the wave of nausea that set in later, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We both soon realized that there was an incompatibility between mushroom and beach. It made sense as mushrooms naturally grow in woody areas, in forests and earthy, shady environments. The beach was not the domain of the mushroom whatsoever. This was not the right place in this moment in time. Nevertheless, I wasn’t doing too bad on my end, unlike the suffering man I was observing before my eyes. Earlier I had seen vibrant neon colors of all spectrums, cascading all around me in perfect, sacred geometric shapes. There was an order and intelligence to all of this, not a jumble of random patterns and chaos. I was wondering also why I had all these “things” around me, such as a hat, a backpack, a phone, a bag of takeout food from a highly rated Brooklyn restaurant that a large seagull nearly stole from me earlier, etc. I wondered who all these people were, sitting in their beach chairs staring at books and electronic screens. Why were they here? What did they want? How did they feel? I was in disbelief of the world around me and realized that all these materials I own are meaningless. These “things”, these objects, these materials – they ought not to define who I am or my destiny, nor anyone elses. I thought of myself as free-forming energy, invisible, ghost-like, and not of this earth as I exited the matrix under this psychedelic spell. But things began to change not long thereafter.
“We embarked on a late night odyssey through Williamsburg, swearing that Joe’s Pizza (on the corner of 5th and Bedford) was the best pizza we had ever eaten.”
The beach was coming to life. We were being consumed. The sand flies and biting flies emerged and started to attack us. There was nowhere to hide. The insects were coming to devour us. Every second was a nightmare. I swatted myself in all directions, like a pathetic creature, trying to ward off the insects, losing the battle. I thought of another strategy next. I jumped up and ran into the ocean, but then I felt nibbling and snapping claws at my toes. Lobsters were coming out to grab me from the bottom, luring me down to the ocean floor. The same thing happened to my buddy who started feeling strange sensations. Then out of the corner of his eye, he saw an extinct Steller’s sea cow jump up out of the water and do a head flip. It was a human being though despite his doubts. The water and its inhabitants were playing strange tricks on us. And then up in the sky, hundreds if not thousands of birds were flying over our heads, while flies were being deflected off the sand into our faces. This was the feasting hour of nature. This was a sign that we needed to leave, lest we be consumed alive. I could only imagine filmmaker Werner Herzog saying: “The only thing that is lacking is, are the dinosaurs here. It’s like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever… goes too deep into this has his share of this curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here. It’s a land that God, if he exists has – has created in anger. It’s the only land where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at what’s around us there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of… overwhelming and collective murder.”
Our presence was no longer welcome. The sun was already very low on the horizon and many people had already left the scene. Minutes later we were long gone ourselves, with whatever remaining possessions we could grab. And then that familiar primal instinct overcame us, that food would be good. The bag of crushed takeout food was well within reach despite being out for nearly 7 hours. I removed the disheveled bag from my backpack. There it was. A side salad with our eggplant and quinoa falafel sandwiches, on housemade flatbread with spiced feta puree, sunflower sprouts & grilled shishito peppers. There it was… and there it went, with some worries on my part about adding more stomach discomfort to an already disturbed stomach. I was also reluctant to eat the sandwich not just because of this but of the terrible sight of a half-used roll of toilet paper that adorned the exposed, broken carton of my meal. How the hell did it get in there? Did the used roll of toilet paper enter or touch the food? I recall that I didn’t have any paper towel, napkins or tissues so this was the only thing we could grab in that apartment of ours. But why oh why did I put that toilet paper in the bag with the food? Didn’t I think this could have occurred? I half-ate the food anyway and it was delicious, even though I had lost my appetite temporarily (for about forty seconds).
This difficult day was not over yet though as we had to look forward to the intense drive back to the apartment on a lively Saturday night along the busy Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I was quite concerned my buddy wasn’t in any condition to drive. But there we were, trudging back through the protected state park, passing a large field with a pavilion of Hispanic revelers blasting heavy dance music. The night was young and more was to come, after I took a long shower to remove as much sand and sunscreen from my skin. We embarked on a late night odyssey through Williamsburg, swearing that Joe’s Pizza (on the corner of 5th and Bedford) was the best pizza we had ever eaten. And right after we sat outside on that wooden bench that was lined with young hipsters chewing on similar slices, we took the L train into Manhattan and ate some more food at a small falafel joint on Rivington street in the Lower East Side. Where did this hunger come from? Not long after, we found ourselves in a burlesque theater called The Slipper Room on Orchard Street surrounded by throngs of horny men. How the hell did we end up here, completely sober? Were we finally and truly clinically insane?
Around 1 am we were back outside and walking north towards the East Village to try and catch a healing shot or two of kava at this new kava bar on East 10th street. We had missed the $1 special that only occurs for exactly 1 minute between the hours of 1:00 and 1:01 am, where you can order as many shots of kava for only $1 each. Nevertheless, as I still had a headache from the residual neurotoxins in my brain, what harm could kava do at such a late hour anyway? Why not continue this adventure with some relaxing kava tea? And so it came to pass, after a short walk for about a dozen blocks, we sat at the empty kava bar and took our medicine, and left. There was nothing left to prove. The “kava-tenders” didn’t care about our magic mushroom nightmare. This was New York. They’ve heard and seen it all. We walked up to 14th street and 1st avenue and down the subway steps. And beautiful music wafted up out of that stairwell. There, on the subway platform we watched an accordion player performing the theme music to Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. I finally had found the relief I had sought, in the comforting and soothing sounds of my favorite Steven Spielberg movie soundtracks, all performed in a unique French style. It was music that made me soar and nothing else from the past, present or future could come close. My spirit was spinning and my heart was floating in that stagnant underground air. And even after that loud, rumbling train came roaring down the tracks, puncturing my train of thought, my dreams later that night were of ancient mysteries and unsolved histories, far removed from any false prophets coated in yellow icing.