Sunday, June 12, 1983

X-ray frogs

My carefully laid plans to write an essay dissolved when Barry, Patrick and Mike came into my room. “Shall we do the acid?” Barry asked me, and for an instant I was seized with an agony of indecision, a straight choice between my responsible, essay writing self and the pleasure seeking, idle self.

But the tiny snips of card were there lined up on the chair arm, a half each for Barry and the others, a whole tab for me, which I’ve been religiously saving for a day like this. I threw myself over the edge and swallowed the tab along with everyone else.

I lay on my bed reading Invisible Man and waited for the effects to take hold. Barry and co. disappeared outside to play football and as I waited, I tried to objectively assess what was happening to me. It was an odd sensation, almost like I was losing awareness of specific details of the walls of the room and the bed on which I lay. Instead, I felt an odd, blurry vibrancy and awareness of the things around me.

The threesome returned, sweaty and out of breath but in a sort of hysterical frame of mind: within minutes the room had dissolved into shuddering laughter, our faces smeared with tears as we rolled helplessly about. We just couldn’t help ourselves. Total pandemonium as we flopped about in my room, crumbling into bouts of laughter as we found an election leaflet featuring the toad-like visage of Reg Castle, Labour candidate for Watermouth and New Lycroft.

Everything and anything was enough to bring on fresh fits of helpless laughter, much to the bemusement of Shawn, Shelley, Pete and Mo who, on separate occasions, came and stood watching or sat with us. I was intensely aware of Pete’s awkwardness and forced-smile embarrassment.  I sat dumbly shaking at the ridiculous hilarity the world had suddenly assumed. My room seemed to be dissolving into a giant heap of blankets, books and litter. Occasionally a lull would descend, and we wiped our eyes and let out a sigh, before some other trivial but intensely funny thing would strike us and we’d erupt once more. Breathlessly we whirled into Barry’s room; I wanted to shut out the rest of the corridor, the rest of the world, so that nothing would intrude. We decided to go outside and play football.

Outside the mania still held us in its grip but not so firmly. Almost reluctantly we walked off the path and out onto the grass. It felt as though the whole world’s eyes were focusing in on we four. The space, the wideness, my smallness in the midst of this great green expanse made me feel awkward and supremely self-conscious. We stood half-heartedly amidst the grass, painfully conscious of everyone and everything around us, flapping our arms and feeling small, or hopping awkwardly from one foot to the other.

We mechanically kicked the ball without any enthusiasm. I went through the motions for a little while but soon retreated up into the trees on the slope overlooking Wollstonecraft Hall, where I hung about amidst the leaves, a big awkward figure dressed all in black, towering amid the low branches. The others joined me and we sprawled in the grass beneath the leaves and summery skies, huddling close to one another.

This was a really noticeable effect. Patrick said that every time he does acid he begins to feel alienated, and I could see why, for our little band felt isolated from everyone else as we sat there in the greenery, gazing down on campus. Them and Us. At one point we were hunched so close we were almost touching one another.

“Good X-ray frog weather” said Patrick, and sure enough, as I lay on my back and looked up, the clouds rolled over us, dissolving and reforming in crisscrossed lattices of white, as though a delicate grid had been superimposed over my field of vision. We watched each cloud blow over, the leading edge of the cloud extended forward in fingers, the main body billowing after, remarking on particularly good 3D specimens, some subtly shaded and tinged with colour as they folded and rolled into ever new shapes. I also noticed more colour on the trees, and when Patrick pointed it out to us we could all see the way the leaves seemed to heap over in green shimmering mounds of light and shade, away from the wind.

Patrick talked and talked, a long, bitter, disgusted monologue—I looked and saw and agreed—about how this campus of picturesque valley views still leaves we students bored. “Bring some kid down from the Brixton ghetto and he’d think it was paradise, but all you lot can do is lounge about complaining. It’s all so passé. It stinks.”

Several times he had me squirming awkwardly on his hook and I remembered the paranoia from the acid trip Pete and I took a few weeks ago. Several times I ground to a swollen-tongued halt as I attempted casual conversation. “Why do you always wear black?” Patrick asked me. “It only shows up your dandruff.”

He also reduced Barry to a defensive silence, broken only by grunts and murmurs of assent, as he told us why he couldn’t go on with the RCP and talked about books and painting and the difficulty and delicacy of the latter. The Magus by John Fowles was “like a bath of cold water” and accounted for much of his present bitterness and disillusionment: “You have no hope after reading that book; it strips away everything.”

Mike shivered and said it was the worst acid he’d ever done; “I don’t know why; it’s this place,” he said, looking around at the trees and the rows of windows. Occasionally he too would grind to an excruciating halt in dry-lipped embarrassment as he was misunderstood or misheard.

The evening breeze was mounting and the cold began to cut us—I noticed the goose pimples on Patrick’s arm. We all wore thin shirts and so we went back inside. It was eight p.m.; the day had rushed by. We began to call the trip “it,” referring to it as an entity as though something great had just passed. Mike still seemed uneasy.

We met up with Guy, who’d just returned from London and set off for the Town and Gown to spend an evening drinking. I left them all at a party over in Rousseau and came back before everyone else. Patrick had vanished with Yvonne Ellis: Barry and Mike were engrossed in conversation. I left in a gloom and went to bed, my mind full of Patrick, the way the discoloured smudges of dirt on my wall blurred into large purple indefinable letters, the way our arms left behind a visual trail and afterimage when waved, the clouds, the colours, but also the intense paranoia and self-consciousness.

It was a day to be experienced rather than enjoyed.

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