stray dog

[This piece is so-titled because the story wasn’t over when I thought it was, but instead followed me like a stray dog determined to tag along.]

It was the Seventies. I was at Brandeis University, just outside Cambridge, Massachusetts. So yes, I took LSD. I was alone in the university’s Rose Art Museum that was like a drop of pond water: tiny and unassuming until you slid it under a microscope and then suddenly there was life of every ilk. In the Rose-Art-Museum Drop-of-Pond-Water, I was rubbing elbows with scores of the greatest artists of the past century.

Face-to-face with an abstract impressionist canvas, I said “I know you. You will now become pure light.” I stared. The colors throbbed, swirled, and melted into solid white.

On a different day, another student and I dropped acid and went to visit Shapiro Hall, a girls’ dorm. My behavior was very normal. I was surprised when a female student I knew came up to me and asked point-blank “Are you guys tripping?” In my most composed voice I responded “Why would you ask that?” And she replied “Your friend has been staring at the wall for thirty minutes.”

I graduated a semester early, champing at the bit that restrained me from what I imagined to be real life. I sold my car. I assembled a backpack, a Martin guitar, a tiny tent, a compact Svea camp stove, and enough cash to last me until, hopefully, I would figure something out.

I got on a plane to Malaga. I thought the southern coast of Spain would be warm in March. It was not. I hitched south until I reached the Pillars of Hercules. I got on the ferry to Morocco, where I hitch-hiked for a couple of weeks until a stranger accosted me and put me in a car. After an hour or two, I tired of the drive. I signaled the driver to let me out at a village called Ksar Es Souk. He asked me for money. I concluded I had been in a taxi.

I pitched my tent in the Ksar Es Souk campground. It was otherwise uninhabited. Young men from the town arrived to see The American. They were warm and pleasant. There was one other American in town, and that evening these young men took us to a brothel. Looking back, I suspect it was much like showing out-of-towners the Seattle Space Needle. I drank the mint tea and enjoyed the conversation in Arabic, a language I did not understand. In Morocco, by age fifteen the girls look like twenty-five. These girls looked fifteen. None of us chose a girl to have sex with, and they were disappointed when we left.

Only one of the Ksar Es Souk natives spoke English. He handed me a slip of paper and said “Do you know this man?” On the paper was written “Richard Alpert and Joanne Lund” and an address in Watertown, Massachusetts. “Yes,” I said. “He is a famous spiritual leader who has taken the name Baba Ram Dass.” My friend told me they had met a year prior and had dropped acid in the desert.