October 22, 2012 at 2:17 PM
A serialized novel and podcast by Andrew Leo Lovato
Andrew Lovato, Ph.D., is a communication professor, author and eavesdropper.
The following is Chapter Nineteen of a serialized novel and podcast. Start the story of Elvis Romero at Chapter One.
I diligently practiced my meditation every day. The effect of these efforts was apparent. I felt more centered and connected with the world around me. I realized that I really could alter my attitude and perceptions in fundamental ways. My hunger for mind expansion eventually led me to seek another avenue in my quest. I did not make my decision impulsively; it was something that I had been turning over in my head for quite some time. I weighed the pros and cons, looking at the risks and benefits from every possible angle.
The morning I decided to act was beautiful and warm and the Santa Fe sun blazed in the October sky. I parked my car in front of the Federal Post Office Building, pulled a couple of quarters out of the ashtray and shoved them in the parking meter. I figured that what I needed to do wouldn’t take more than half an hour. I walked quickly down Lincoln Avenue, past City Hall and the Sears Building, toward downtown.
When I reached the Plaza, I scanned the center of town looking for a slight, hunched figure with a long, black ponytail. I surveyed the park benches and green swaths of grass for my contact but he was nowhere to be found. I sat under a tree and after a few minutes, Miles Lopez appeared. He walked out of Woolworths five and ten cent store with a bright, yellow spoon embedded in a Frito pie and a satisfied look on his face. He made his way to his customary spot in the middle of the Plaza and relaxed on a concrete wall surrounding a monument that honored veterans of past wars.
The monument was a controversial icon in Santa Fe lore. A carved inscription on the north side of the obelisk that pointed to the sky had read, “To the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico.” Many Santa Feans both Indian and non-Indian complained about the biased attitude that the inscription reflected. However, year after year City officials had taken no action to correct the eye-sore and the monument remained unchanged sitting only a few hundred feet from the Pueblo vendors who peddled their jewelry to tourists under the portal of the Palace of the Governors.
Then one day on the early seventies, a young man in his mid-twenties wearing a City of Santa Fe maintenance uniform showed up with a chisel and hammer and calmly asked people in the vicinity of the obelisk to stand back because he had been given the task by the Mayor himself to remove the offending word “savage” from the inscription. He joked and laughed with locals and tourists alike as he neatly obliterated the letters that had for so long caused so much consternation. When his task was done, he methodically cleaned up the chips of stone he had scattered during his labor and casually walked away.
It wasn’t until several days later that City officials got wind of this action and indignantly announced that no such order had been given by the Mayor and this type of vandalism to City property would not be tolerated and the perpetrator would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The golden-haired apparition was never seen or heard from again and he took his place in Santa Fe legend next to the mysterious carpenter who constructed the miraculous staircase in the Loretto Chapel.
I sat down next to Miles and started up a conversation.
“Hey, how’s it going Bro? That looks like a super fine Frito pie you’re laying into.”
Miles shoved a mound of beans, red chili, cheese and Frito chips into his mouth and shook his head in agreement.
I pushed on, “Yeah Bro, I’ve been thinking that it would be nice to score a hit of acid but I don’t really know of a good place to make a connection. You know anybody I could talk to Man?”
I knew that my connection was sitting right next to me but I needed to make my request indirectly, it was just part of the etiquette of scoring. It was not like he didn’t trust me or thought that I might be a narc. We had grown up together attending the same public schools and we had seen each other almost every day of our lives. We were almost like brothers in some ways.
Around ninth grade Miles had established his identity as a “head” and he climbed up the ladder of the Santa Fe teenage hierarchy. He was a reliable source of high quality weed, psychedelic mushrooms, peyote and LSD. During the years that he supplied these goods to so many Santa Fe teenagers, he had indulged in most of them himself. The result was a permanently dazed look in his dark, brown eyes and a perpetual smile that was somewhat charming in its own way.
Miles looked into my eyes with an anticipatory twinkle.
“Elvis you’re in luck. I just got a stash of some killer shit and it will knock you on your ass.”
“What have you got, Bro?”
“Cool” I exclaimed not wanting to let on that this meant nothing to me and orange sunshine might as well have been purple moonlight for all I knew.
“When can you score me some shit and what will it set me back?”
“I got a few hits here in my backpack and I can give you one now if you have the cash Bro, ten bucks a tab.”
We smoothly and discreetly carried out the transaction in broad daylight in the center of town without fear of the Santa Fe Police Officer who pedaled around the Plaza on his ten-speed with a stylized Police shirt, tight black shorts and a bright blue racing helmet. The cop was much more interested in scoping out the tourist chicks than looking for drug deals.
We exchanged a vato handshake and I headed back to my car with my stash in my pocket and ten minutes to spare on the parking meter.
I was not really fond of getting high in the normal sense and I wasn’t seeking to try LSD for cheap thrills. I felt like I was on a spiritual quest and I’d heard a number of things about acid trips that intrigued me.
Honestly, I did not even particularly care for smoking grass. Although I had purchased a few lids in my time and shared more than a few joints with friends, I never really liked the way that pot made me feel. I grew moody and introspective after smoking weed and I felt compelled to endlessly analyze myself and pick apart my life. It usually left me feeling depressed and listless.
Likewise, alcohol did not do much for me either. Although at first the buzz made me feel uninhibited and confident, it did not take long for the initial feeling to wear off and leave me feeling wasted and suffering from a massive headache. The next day after drinking too much, I was repelled by the sight and smell of alcohol and I never understood how anyone could become an alcoholic.
I wanted to try acid for far different reasons than just getting high or having a good time. I had come across a book that intrigued me when I was scanning the shelves of the Santa Fe Public Library one afternoon. The book was titled Be Here Now and was written by a man named Richard Alpert who had changed his name to Baba Ram Dass after adopting Eastern religion. Alpert had been a professor at Harvard University but gave up his academic career and western way of life after trying LSD several times and “turning on” to a new cosmic consciousness. He wrote that the key to true awareness was to always be in the present moment and to avoid obsessing on past events or planning for the future. Thus, one should always “be here now” because in reality, life is only made up of a series of present moments strung together in a continuous stream. Baba Ram Dass wove in a variety of concepts and philosophies related to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Eastern thought that I found intriguing and strangely appealing.
The Catholic doctrine I grew up with did not meet my current spiritual needs in a meaningful way. In fact, when I looked back at my indoctrination into Catholicism, the primary emotion I recalled was fear. There were several things that I was taught in Catechism class at Christo Rey Church when I was being prepared for my First Holy Communion as a nine-year-old that continued to disturb me.
The whole idea of heaven and hell troubled me. In particular, how it related to the concept of predestination. The Catholic Church taught that God knows everything. I reasoned that if God knew everything that went on in the past, what happens in the present and all that will happen in the future, God must know who is going to heaven or hell, even at the moment a person is born. If this was the case, then there was really no free choice at all and God had already divided up the human race into the haves and the have-nots in a spiritual sense. I never got an explanation to this conundrum that satisfied me.
I was also disturbed by the images that I witnessed in church. There was too much blood and suffering and even though I understood that much of it was symbolism, the retablo paintings and bulto figures of Jesus and the Saints unnerved me and I avoided looking at them. I particularly disliked the images with the eyes that always seemed to follow me no matter where I stood. I distinctly remembered one particular painting of a seemingly angry Jesus whose eyes burned their way into my young psyche. I was never quite sure if the fear I experienced was due to the intensity of the glaring eyes or the guilt that Catechism classes instilled in me in an attempt to transform me into a model Catholic boy.
The only divine figure I truly felt comfortable with was Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was in a perpetually serene mood and was always surrounded by adoring Angels. Her temperament was much more to my liking.
I had picked the location for my drug-induced spiritual journey prior to my encounter with Miles and I wasted no time in beginning my quest. I drove around the corner from the Post Office, past the Scottish Rite Temple which seemed like it had been designed by someone on an acid trip, and turned right on Artist Road up toward Hyde Park and the Santa Fe National Forest. I traveled up the mountain on a narrow, winding road surrounded by Ponderosa pine and aspens. After about a half hour, I reached the Big Tesuque trailhead and parked. Pulling on a faded blue denim jacket, I walked down the trail that disappeared into a valley of thick aspen trees. A clear, cold mountain stream ran near my feet and sounded like a million tiny bells as it lapped over the smooth, round rocks.
I walked for about half an hour until I reached a clearing where the stream plunged over a drop of about ten feet and the waterfall tumbled into a pool and sprayed mists of fragrant droplets through the air. Bright, green moss clung to the rocks and yellow aspen leaves floated on the surface of the pool.
This was my sacred place. I’d been coming to this spot for several years whenever I wanted to get away from the world. It was an isolated spot few people had discovered. A huge, black boulder sat in the middle of the pond and faced the gentle waterfall. It was a perfect contemplation site, surrounded by the smell and taste of the rainbow mist. I had strategically placed broken tree branches and rocks that I hopped on to reach my meditation boulder without getting my shoes wet. It seemed unbelievable that this stone had been placed in this enchanted spot by purely natural means. I was sure that it was destiny that had led me here. This is where I chose to explore the journey to the center of my mind following the advice of a sixties psychedelic rock song.
I sat on my black throne and tried to still my thoughts. I slipped my hand into my pocket and pulled out the round, orange pill. I slowly brought it to my mouth and placed it on my tongue. I took a deep breath, reached into the pool of water and scooped out a handful of the sweet liquid. I swallowed purposefully and felt the LSD slide down my throat. I knew there was no turning back.
I reclined on the cold boulder and waited. Five minutes passed, then fifteen, yet nothing seemed to happen. I wondered if Miles had sold me some bogus shit.
I looked up into the bright, blue sky and a silver jet gleamed in the sun as it soared overhead. It suddenly exploded in mid-air and a shower of silver flakes shimmered as they rained down toward earth. They glittered and descended like fireworks.
I thought, “Is this really happening?”
I felt strangely calm and removed from the unfolding scene. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another jet approaching and as it flew overhead, it too exploded but this time, it spewed a glistening shower of green and purple stars over the landscape. This spectacle repeated itself over and over again for what seemed like hours with each blast sending down the most beautiful colored rays I had ever seen. The blues, reds, greens, oranges and countless other hues of light were unlike anything I’d ever imagined. I realized that I could observe this magical scene equally well whether I had my eyes opened or closed. The wall between my inner and outer worlds was transparent and reality was not separated in the same way I was accustomed to.
Eventually, the extravaganza subsided and I slid down from my rock and stepped into the cold mountain water. I made my way to the face of the waterfall and plunged my head into the bubbling sheet. The sensation I experienced traveled down to my core. The water didn’t just run over my body, it ran through me, became a part of me. I became the waterfall and the waterfall was me. I closed my eyes and felt myself rushing down the mountain, washing over rocks, flowing over banks, crashing against tree stumps, guiding fish, and tumbling down the valley.
I understood something more deeply and profoundly than I had in my entire life. It was all one! There was no separation between myself, the stream, the trees and the sky or the clouds. I was part of the cosmic universe and the separation was all an illusion. I felt a sense of limitless joy. I was no longer alone and alienated from life. I belonged because I was alive. I had as much right to be here as the moon and the sun and the stars at night.
“How amazing it is to be alive,” I reflected.
I thought about all of the people I knew and everyone who was experiencing life at that very moment. How beautiful they all were. How perfect it was that so many hearts were beating together at the same time, sharing the miracle of existence. The trees vibrated with vitality and goodness. Every blade of grass, flying insect, and fish in the stream was part of God’s creation.
This moment of clarity was my first and last transcendent experience with LSD. A few months later I tried it again but the results were quite different. Rather than opening the world up to me, it made everything feel chaotic and oppressive. My only compelling thought was to wish for the trip to be over so that I could go back to being “myself” again. I made a deal with God that went something like this:
“Lord, if you let me get out of this one and guide me back down, I promise that I will never be so arrogant and mess with this beautiful mind that you have given me.”
Although it took several more hours that seemed like an eternity, the hallucinations and paranoia gradually faded away and all that remained of the experience was a vague memory, like waking up from a bad dream. I stuck to my word and I never had any desire to take LSD again. I realized that although it had opened up a door for me and had been of value to me at that moment in time, there was nothing more it could teach me. No artificial method was going to enlighten me or lead me to nirvana. There was no shortcut and only hard work and perseverance would lead me to the promised land of the soul.