Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In My Mind I Was In England

Jim and I were best friends in, and just out of, High School. As was the case with so many young people at the time, we were relatively troubled souls. Mind you, this was the 60’s, and the beginning of a mass personal, and cultural, revolution. Because of, and in keeping with the times, we were in the habit of taking a lot of LSD. And with our ever-increasing use of the hallucinogenic it was becoming, predictably, difficult for us to differentiate between Wonderland and that other world some people often referred to as Reality.

Like a couple of happy idiots, we had no compunction about driving under the intoxicating sway of this enlightenment drug. It even had a power of persuasion that convinced us that we could actually drive better under it’s cathartic influence. Eventually, however, we fell into the dangerous and reckless habit of driving on the wrong side of the road. Big surprise.
Jim and I would take acid and go for long drives in the country, the mountains sometimes. We were two people who imagined things, dreamers I suppose, if that’s what dreamers do. If we could somehow put ourselves in unusual, foreign, or exotic situations, we usually would. Of course, LSD helped us do that. It didn’t require that we leave the country, or even our house for that matter. But we did drive quite a bit, and we did play out many of the scenes we imagined.

We talked a lot about England. It had a pretty profound musical influence on us, and on our culture at the time, so it was only natural that, as kids, we’d fantasize about the place. Under the influence of LSD, many long discussions about going to England turned into thinking that we actually were there. We’d hop over the centerline and drive on the left side of the road, usually at night, and often without lights, the road lit only by the brilliance of the moon. It was mysterious, and it was romantic. Our initial pretending had obviously morphed into a self-delusion of the most dangerous kind. We’d drive, unaware of any peripheral reality, unconcerned even, just wanting to feel what it was like to be in England, and before long we’d actually believe we were in England. If we became aware of a car approaching from up ahead, in our lane, we’d think some maniac was driving on the wrong side of the road, and if we didn’t move quickly over into the right hand lane, the wrong lane to us, but actually the correct one, there would be some immediate trouble looming large. As the car passed, we’d comment on what a dangerous driver the guy was, oblivious to oncoming traffic. Maybe even suicidal. He could have gotten us killed. We were thinking responsibly, but of course, having crossed the line from consciousness to hallucination, as happens, we had everything pinned to the corkboard upside down.

We took many of these drives, and enjoyed our time in England. We were shocked, however, to say the least, by the number of people over there that couldn’t stay on the correct side of the road. At the time we reasoned that they must have been visiting Americans with cultural brain lock. Or maybe they were on drugs.
In retrospect, it’s frightening to think of how many people we endangered by our actions. And how very different life would have been, for them, and for us, had we not been so lucky.

There was one occasion, driving in the mountains late one night, when Jim and I nearly lost our lives. We were in his MG convertible. He was driving. It was a very curvy stretch of road above Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains. He was taking the curves at a pretty good clip, feeling the road, and feeling invincible. The road sign up ahead depicted an arrow making a complete loop, indicating a horseshoe turn. Jim and I looked at each other, simultaneously, and in disbelief, as if to say, “No curve could be that sharp!” Jim ignored the sign and did not slow down. We missed the turn, heading quickly for, what proved to be, a two, or three-hundred-foot cliff. The front tires went over the edge, but as we slid to the side the rear axle got caught up on some rocks. We balanced there, precariously, in shock, in the dark, and frightened beyond measure. We carefully climbed out over the trunk and back up onto solid ground. Wonderland had suddenly become that proverbial reality we’d always heard so many people talking about.

A few months later Jim drove his car over a cliff and was killed. He flew off into an empty sky above Azusa Canyon like an adolescent Condor on its maiden flight.
I was not with him.
But I feel like I was.

We ignored a lot of signposts in life when we were younger.
I do my best not to ignore them now.

I’ve carried Jim’s death with me for 42 years.
We are never free of our past associations.

Or of our contribution to their eventuality.