Hashish and Mother Goose

Issue 33 by Jeanne Wilkinson

Hashish and Mother Goose

Val has received a Christmas gift from the old lady of one of his clients: some hash brownies. Hashish is from the cannabis plant but purified and intensified, with a pungent, soil-like flavor that doesn’t do much for the brownies but chocolate and sugar make the hash itself somewhat palatable. I’ve smoked it before – since it’s not from a test tube, it’s on my okay list. Val gets it in a compressed form and sometimes sprinkles it in a joint. I’m not too excited about eating it, but I’ll do it. I’m on the magic bus; might as well go with the traffic. Within reason, of course. Within my code.

I’ve been reading Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and have at least half fallen in love with the fictional Valentine Michael Smith from Mars who has amazing “psi” powers and is an expert at “grokking” things, which means, as far as I can tell, that he takes them in fully, on every level possible...like he sort of absorbs their essences, nuances, implications, ramifications, complexities, layers, etc. etc.

When I was maybe nine, my mother asked me to get the scissors and she finally found me empty-handed, staring at the bathroom ceiling. What was I looking at? A light pattern on the ceiling made from leaf-shadows trembling in the sun? A crack that had morphed into a spindly spider? A water-stain rabbit or bird? My mother saw a disobedient child who wasn’t doing as she’d been told, and wasn’t her day hard enough without a willful daughter on her worn hands, hands that used to be so soft and smooth? How could I explain to this red-handed, angry parent whose voice was sharper than the scissors she now held, how could I tell her how beautiful things are sometimes, small things that catch your eye and say, look at me, I’m a miracle, I am cause and effect, I am the riddle and the answer to the riddle, I am what matters: see me and you will see all, or some such nine-year-old version of those thoughts? Instead I remained silent, because otherwise she might have deemed me “precocious,” that damning Midwestern mother’s word for someone who thinks she’s just a little smarter than she should be.

Obviously, I was engaged in grokking on that far ago day...too bad I hadn’t met Heinlein’s Valentine Michael from Mars, he might have made me realize I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy...

Maybe the hash brownies will help me in my quest to get really good at grokking. Not to brag, but I think I’m partway there. Maybe a life of excruciating shyness is fertile grokking ground. When not preoccupied with the paralytic fear of being noticed, of being called upon to speak and subsequently found wanting and then wanting to disappear, to be absorbed forever into the floor, the wall, the ether, the shy person spends a lot of time watching, analyzing, contemplating. I think that’s what Val means when he calls me an observer, which, while not exactly an accusation, is also not a compliment. Like he’s saying I’m above it all. Or acting like it. Which maybe I am because I’ve found that being with Val is perfect grokking practice. I talk to him when we’re alone, of course, nothing very deep, but we get along, and we’ve got sex when we need to communicate, but around his friends I’m the audience so I can simply relax into my quietness and yes, grok to my heart’s content. Drugs help, too, in that they make me see things I’d otherwise miss. Lots of things. Everything, really. Amazing how we go through life missing almost all of it.

Val encourages me to take more drugs: pot, hash, acid, coke, heroin, speed, whatever, whenever, wherever. Not that he cares about my grokking quest, in fact he knows nothing about it, but getting your old lady high comes with the drug-dealing territory. It bothers him when I turn down that morning joint because I have to get something done during the day even if it’s a couple of stitches in my jeans or my life will devolve into a river of undifferentiated gray slime that will carry me away into an underworld where I’ll exist as a half-formed Shade. He’d like it if I actually asked for something rather than being the passive recipient of drugs flowing my way; he’d probably even love to take my virgin arm and stick a needle into it. But just wait until I really need the drugs, then I’ll be his old lady all strung out and whiny and a royal pain in the ass. Like, at first the old man digs the whole cozy situation, but when her cute little habit turns into a full-blown addiction, then he’s no longer Mr. Generosity, he’s supplying her because she demands it, the greedy, annoying bitch. And then she’s fucked. Unless he’s strung out, too, and digs the grim romance of you and me against the world, babe, then they’re fucked together. Like Dani with her boyfriend, in it for the long haul, for better or worse, accent being on worse, over and over until there’s hardly a spare vein to stick a needle in, not in your arm or foot or ankle and you either float away into Shade-land one day or you go through hell to get out of it and away from each other. As far as I know, she’s still with him, blowing her veins out one by one.

Which is why I’m glad that I’m in love with fictional Valentine and not with the living breathing Val. Because it’s an addiction, being in love, isn’t it? A craven writhing madness that can make you do crazy, stupid things? If I were in love here and now, would I stick a needle in my vein or do drugs that aren’t on my okay list just to get closer to my man, to make sure he keeps loving me?

Maybe I would. Quite possibly, I would. I’ve been that kind of weak, brainless fool; I’ve known it firsthand.

Is that what happened to Marcia? Was she that much in love with her man? Or did the drug just take over at some point...

For the record, I don’t think that Val is in love with me, either. We never use the word love; we never talk about how we feel; we never pretend to be more than we are. Whatever that is. Or isn’t.

So I’m not hooked on Val or, amazingly enough, on any of the drugs that go along with him. So far. The powers that be would have you think that one toke of pot will send you frolicking down addict alley, but I’ve never suffered any kind of withdrawal, or even any craving. Am I just lucky? Is it something genetic? But even Val isn’t really addicted. He’s strung out on getting high, but not on any one particular substance...although I can’t imagine him going for very long without pot...

I take drugs, you know, for the experience. In high school I loved to drink because it made me feel free and floaty, me, the speechless nothing girl shedding her shroud of shyness to talk and dance and be funny and flirty, which invariably got me into some kind of trouble or another, and which invariably I paid for the next day with hours of fetal-position shame and remorse. But nobody drinks around here – it’s too straight – and I haven’t found a drug that makes me feel happy like that. Besides, I don’t see Val appreciating an old lady who’s all flirty and floaty. I used to love cigarettes but I’ve pretty much quit smoking, too, only a little Indian bidi every so often since Suzanne started making me see that what you take in affects who you are, and that there’s a kind of karma connected with everything that you put into your body, IHOP, notwithstanding.

In any case, I haven’t found a drug I’ve actually wanted. Certainly not enough to ask for it. So far.

Val and I are hanging out in his room in candle-lit semi-gloom as the hashish begins to come on. I’m experiencing the usual signs of being stoned, my head feeling full and dense but at the same time expanding like a balloon, a bright red-orange balloon the color of light shining through blood under your skin.

Some people claim that pot and hash make you mellow, but what is this mellowness? Some kind of cud-chewing bovine stupor? What’s mellow about having virtually every molecule of your life asserting its presence, demanding that you grok it? What’s mellow about the screen falling away, the one that shields you from the mind-blowing intensity, the flood of sensory and auditory data that makes up our insanely complicated everyday world and lets you move ahead doing whatever has to be done without being distracted by the pulsing of a vein, a candle flame, a green leaf...the way red reaches out and blue moves away...

...when I’m high, I no longer look through a glass darkly, but face to face. Which may be why I avoid looking into mirrors – who are you? where do you come from? – and into other people’s eyes because I might catch something naked and sidelong that would make me want to push through all the stupid social clutter and talk in true ways – what do you know? what do you see? what do you fear? – when what I fear is letting real things slip out of my mouth only to be looked at like I’m making strange clicking noises, bobbing and clacking like a creature from another planet, possibly dangerous, forcing me to blurt out any old stupid thing – oh, it’s nice out today, I love your sweater, gosh, so much homework to do – anything to stop them from shooting me with sharp, angled glances that deflect me far away until I’m lost inside my own vanishing point, a dot on my own horizon left to scrape my way back to the foreground...back to a common language which says nothing but can be mutually understood as I don’t-mind-me-I’m-just-a-silly-girl scramble my way into the human race again. Which is why I can’t take acid...too risky...even this hash is beginning to feel like too much...my mind a late night radio pulling in stations from far away, a syncopated cacophony of words noise music noise words...my mind a high-pitched buzzing storm of atoms fusing into myriad molecules, more a feeling than a sound...must be why they call it a buzz...

...my mind an inky new-moon sky star-pricked with bits of light...

...the air fitting...tight around my body...edges, borders of this body-burden, shoulders hunched on pillows...up I’m sitting up I’m filling space an axis mundi through my head my back my mind I breathe I breathe breathe breathe...my mind inside my body...no...no...my body...inside my mind...THE mind expanding growing branches pushing sky roots digging...

...my mind a taut vibrating string...a violin a hundred strings all tuning up while golden light plays patterns, creamy yellow...light...on...walls...and...walls...and what?...tapestries...tapppp...uuhhhhhh.....................................................................................
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...my mind an empty cloud...

...shedding words like rain...

...I HAVE NO WORDS...

...I wordless think electric throbbing color light shape forms flood but words gone fled is this how babies think how animals think but they’ve not lost not lost their minds...

...THE WORDS ARE GONE...

...I wordless think...

...the terror acrid odor seeping...

...my mind a blundering blunt no shape no form...

...THE WORDS ARE GONE...

...I wordless think...

...a strike a stroke?...

...I HAVE NO WORDS...

...I wordless think but one...

...one word is rising choking phlegm I cough it up:

“Talk!”

“What, babe?” Val asks, and I shake my head, my ability to form syllables exhausted. He turns his head to me, sees my horror-filled eyes and is quiet for a moment before he slowly begins to recite, in his New York City drawl, “Mary had a little lamb, her fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go. Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet...”

Mother Goose. He is reciting Mother Goose rhymes, and they are a life preserver for my mind flailing in this wordless sea. I feel them flow into me, the rhymes, I rise to catch the steady, sturdy waves of rhythm, I ride them as a current, a river vast and ripply full of punctuation and italics and verbs and nouns and subjects and predicates as the words stream back into my mind. Somehow, Val has understood, I believe, what is happening to me – maybe this has happened to other people also, maybe it’s happened to him. Val has grokked my problem; he has given me Mother Goose; he has given me words! Everything in the room has a name; my memories and thoughts are back, sorted, stored and ready to be utilized as needed.

God knows, the world I currently exist within is not verbose; words and phrases like “far out” and “wow” contain layers of meanings and ramifications, freighted with subtle significance that depends upon circumstance, environment, body language, inflection, state of stoned-ness, facial expression, subject matter, and much, much more. I know there are languages like this, where a single syllable contains a universe of diverse interpretations depending on all or some of the above.

But we still use words. We still think in words. We need words. Especially me with my habit of thinking all the time, my I think therefore I am mantra. Oh, God, I have never felt such relief. I am saved. I am redeemed. But never again will I take hashish in any form, smoked, eaten, whatever. I will forever fear its mind-bending mind-destroying power – the mere smell of it will send me fleeing.

I will forever be grateful to Val for leading me out of my distinctly non-mellow bovine stupor back into the world of words. I love him for this. And paradoxically, his acting on my behalf in such a way makes it seem more likely that I will be able to someday break my own rules, at least once, to take acid, LSD, a man-made substance, and to not be afraid.

Much.


"Hashish and Mother Goose" is excerpted from the author's memoir, 1969: My Year with a San Francisco Drug Dealer.

About the Author

Jeanne Wilkinson

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Jeanne Wilkinson lives in both Brooklyn, NY and Madison, WI. From being a “back-to-the-land” organic dairy farmer in Wisconsin, she ended up with an MFA in painting at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. As a writer and artist, she tries to create a vivid visual world for the reader. Her essays have been featured on WNYC’s “Leonard Lopate Show,” NPR's “Living on Earth” and “Cleaning Up Glitter Literary Journal.” Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Columbia Journal, Digging Through the Fat, Fresh.ink and Prometheus Dreaming. Creative nonfiction has been published by The Coil Magazine, Raven's Perch, New Millennium Writings, Lemon Theory and Metafore Magazine. Her short experimental films have been screened at BAM and at the Greenpoint and NYC Indie Film Festivals, and a video installation was shown at the 13th St. Repertory Theater.