Oh man - this year's Writer's Digest Conference was a surreal experience. I made some good friends, met some pretty badass writers, and even got a few agents interested in my book. I would love to go into more detail about everything but I'll save that for the newsletter.
Let's talk about this week's story.
This story follows Alex and Amanda's psychedelic adventures during Nocturne; Halifax's evening of public art. I really enjoyed writing this chapter - actually, I think it's the chapter that I've enjoyed writing the most so far. My hope is that people will read this story and it will inspire them to buy a ticket up to Halifax for Nocturne this year so they can check it out for themselves. I'll be there.
That's all for now.
* * * * * * * * * *
Nocturne (part 1)
Amanda unfolded the rolled-up piece of aluminum foil out onto the butcher block. These shrooms, like all shrooms I’ve ever seen, had a very unappetizing look to them; they were about 3-4 inches long with narrow, brown, shriveled stems and a slender little cap at the top that made them look like little mummified penises.
Amanda had also prepared mushroom-mango tea that she brought over in a metal, vacuum insulated, Georgia Tech thermos that I’d loaned her the day before. We took about three stems each and gagged them down with water and slices of pizza. We finished the pizza and started planning out our route online while we took small sips of the tea. By this time, one of the not-meant-for-the-outdoors, cushioned pleather chairs had become considerably water-logged through a crack down the middle of the main seat cushion. After a series of unfortunately-located pants’ stains, the chair was deemed unsittable by most of my guests. The other chair was slightly better sheltered and, therefore, in better condition, but already starting to become speckled with little cracks where the thin, brown veneer had ripped, exposing the white fabric underneath.
I love doing shrooms. In fact, aside from pot and alcohol, it’s the only drug that I consume recreationally. Everyone has a different experience on mushrooms, ranging from full-on, hallucinatory trips to a mild sense of euphoria and elation. I was in the latter group, with the exception of one time when my friend Rick and I simultaneously witnessed a space-time-traveling phantom in Piedmont Park in midtown Atlanta (which may or may not have been real). Other than that, my experiences with mushrooms have been more-or-less non-hallucinogenic. No, my appreciation of mushrooms is mainly time-based. They have the ability to saturate your focus so that every second is meaningful. This has the effect of stretching out the time axis so that, at the end of the ten plus hour high, even if you just stayed on your back porch all day and stared at your neighbors garden, you feel like you’ve just completed some sort of epic, days-long existential journey of self-discovery. You have this fond, detailed recollection of every little thing you did that day and every trip to the bathroom, or show you watched, or cigarette you smoked, seems like it was its own special memory. If you spend any finite period of time in a particular room of the apartment and then move to a new room for whatever reason, it feels like you’ve entered a whole new place; like you’ve ended one rich chapter of memories, only to begin a new one (That Time I Heated Up a Hot Pocket in the Microwave in the Kitchen, followed by That Time I Ate a Hot Pocket in the Living Room and Watched the First Half of Dumb and Dumber). This was in the days when my obsession with the time-axis was at its peak; when I considered time to be, in a very literal sense, the closest thing to God that existed. So taking mushrooms and being able to exploit the time-axis to my advantage was a profound, almost religious experience for me. So when Amanda proposed an evening of psychedelic mushrooms and publics art, I was in no position to say no.
The first stop on the tour was going to be the pier over by the Halifax Farmer’s Market. We headed down Inglis Street, passed by the Chinese bubble tea shop, which always seemed to be more heavily patroned than I thought any bubble tea shop ever should be, and took a right onto Barrington. There was a crispness to the air, enough to wear a sweater and a light coat, but not enough to chill us to the bone when the wind came off the Harbor from the east. We walked down the little side street and took a left through the small walkway tunnel just before the Halifax Christian Church for Chinese People*.
When we got to the boardwalk, we could see that the Pavilion 22 shopping area was open. This is a kind of arts and crafts market that’s generally only open when big cruise liners are in town and docked out back. Halifax was a city brimming with artistic expression, so there were usually a few booths there from local craftsmen and artisans, but mostly it’s people selling knick-knacks that have Halifax written on them somewhere or the Canadian Flag or something. As far as I knew, the cruise season was over, so I wasn't expecting the Pavillion to be open, but, alas, here it was; open as hell.
We, not-altogether-gracefully, stumbled in through the swinging glass doors to the warmth inside. Under the domed lighting of the market it seemed as though we had kept up a brisk pace on the walk over; we each had a thin coating of cold sweat across our foreheads and were taking breaths that were perhaps a bit deeper and quicker than is appropriate indoors. In public.
Amanda’s eyes were like reflective black marbles. That’s one of the dead giveaways that someone’s on shrooms; the doe-eyes. This, combined with the way the lighting reflected off the sweat of her skin, gave Amanda an angelic glow. Kind of like the glow that women get when they’re pregnant. But Amanda was no angel and Amanda was not pregnant. Amanda was, as would be quite obvious to anyone who knew what to look for, under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
‘How are my eyes; my pupils?’
‘Good. How ‘bout mine?’
‘Come’ere’ I said, and placed my hands over her temples and pulled her face toward mine to get a good look. Her pupils were fully dilated, with just a thin rim of hazel green delineating the perimeter.
‘Yeah, it’s pretty bad,’ I said. ‘You’re, like, completely glazed over.’
‘Yeah, uh-oohh man. You are too,’ and she pointed up towards my eyes.
‘Yeah,’ she said and nodded a little and smiled the way you smile when you’re trying to hold in a laugh.
We headed to the washrooms to check out for ourselves just how fucked up we actually looked. I zip up and go to the sink and I casually lather up. I wait until I’m at the point of rinsing before I coolly look up and check myself out in the mirror. What’s she talking about? I jut out my chin up and to the right, then to the left, maintaining eye contact with my reflection the whole time. I look fine. Then I lean in to get a better look. Jesus! I jerked back and grasped at the sink to catch myself; a reaction that did not go unnoticed by my fellow men’s room patrons. My pupils are, indeed, fully dilated. Jesus! Oh, god! I look like a freakin’ alien. Okay, no need to panic. This was good to know for when I had to interact with people later; as long as I kept to poorly lit places and avoided eye contact I could probably pass for not being on drugs.
I came out onto the short hallway that existed solely for the bathrooms and the janitor’s closet and Amanda was there waiting for me on a bench. She was watching some little kids playing on the bench across from her. She had a look of sincere amusement and interest in her eyes; like, if I had waited a little longer to walk out, there is a very good chance that she would be down there on her knees playing too, but not in the way that an adult plays with a kid, but, rather the way a kid plays with a kid; as equally enchanted peers. Either she was so enthralled with whatever scenario the children were acting out via their intricately-jointed Mattel® action figures that she did not notice me standing there, or my consciousness was running a few seconds ahead of my body on the space-time axis and, while I could perceive the hallway, the children playing, and Amanda sitting in front of me, this was merely a perception and my physical body was still inside the washroom, maintaining a white-knuckle grip on the counter and staring into my reflection in the mirror. I looked at my hands out in front of me, first the back, then the palms, then the back again. My physical self and conscious self seemed to be, indeed, inhabiting approximately the same space-time coordinates. I finished checking my hands and I noticed Amanda staring up at me. Judging by the look of contained laughter on her face, she had seen me do my space-time hands check.
‘Yep, let’s do it,’ she said, as she rocked herself up from the bench.
* * * * * * * * * *
‘Oh shit. Check it out. This is one of those off-perspective rooms,’ I said. ‘Like one of those rooms where it’s designed to look, like, deeper than it is.’
‘Oh wow. Really?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It’s like an optical illusion. Look.’ I walked into the room with wooden floors and purple walls. There was a small table at the far end with a painting hanging over it. I walked to the back of the room and turned around to face Amanda. ‘See?’
‘I don’t know Tam. You look pretty normal to me.’
‘That’s all part of the illusion,’ I said, as I reached out to either side to touch the walls. To my surprise, I couldn’t reach the walls with my fingertips. ‘Hmm.’
‘See? I told you.’
‘Wait, wait, wait, wait,’ I said, as I started back towards Amanda. The wood floor was creaky and fragile-sounding as I walked across it.
I stood next to her and looked back into the room. ‘Huh. Well what do you know about that? Here,’ I nodded my chin towards the room. ‘Walk back there real quick and let me take a look.’
Amanda clomped into the room and continued towards the back wall. Each step sounded creakier and noisier as she walked.
‘See?’ she said, as she turned around to face me.
I stood back and rubbed my chin with my hand. ‘Yeah. You might be right. This could just be some normal-ass room with a stupid painting in it.’
‘See? I freggin’ told you,’ she said, as she threw her arms up to the side and walked back towards me.
‘Wait,’ I said, as I turned and walked a few more steps back and turned back around. ‘Let me get a better perspective of it.’ I folded my arms and took a close look at the room. I tilted my head to the right, then to the left, and then I made a rectangle out in front of me with the thumb and index finger of each hand. ‘No way,’ I said, ‘this is totally an optical illusion. Here. Come back here and look at it.’
Amanda walked back and turned around and stood next to me. ‘Yeah, I mean, I guess it does look a little bit off.’
‘See!,’ I said. ‘Here, watch me walk through this room that we’re in right now, which, I think we can both agree, is not an optical illusion, and look at the contrast and the difference in perspective when I cross over the threshold there.’ I waited for a couple of people to pass by to where I had a clear, unimpeded path to the purple room and I walked methodically from where we were standing to the back of the other room, and turned around and stood next to the table. I cupped my hand to the side of my mouth. ‘See?’
She leaned her head to one side, and then to the other. Then she threw her hands up and shook her head.
‘You gotta be kidding me,’ I said, as I walked back towards her.
‘No. I mean, I guess it looked a little different, but..’
‘Here,’ I said, ‘you walk over, just like I did, and let me check it out.’
‘Huhggg, alright,’ she said, and she rolled her eyes and started off toward the room.
I watched her as she walked away. She turned around when she got to the other end and threw her hands up to her sides.
I stood back with my hands in my pockets and examined her standing there in the room. Then I checked to make sure there was no one behind me and took a few steps back. I studied the angle at which the lines of the oversized tiles on the marble floor ran parallel to my line of sight, across the large entranceway, and then compared that with the angle of the wooden floorboards of the room. Then I looked up and studied the lines where the walls intersected the high ceilings overheard. I looked back at Amanda and she gave me another impatient shoulder shrug. I nodded quickly and motioned for her to come back with my hand as I started off in her direction.
‘Yeah?,’ she said, as we met up and turned onto a diagonal course to the right, my right, toward the next high-ceiling room of the museum.
‘Yeah. You know what I’m thinking?’ I paused as I looked over toward her. ‘I think that’s actually just a normal-ass room.’
‘I freggin’ told you!’
‘Yeah,’ I said, as I looked down and nodded. ‘I know. I guess I was just trying to force it.’
‘Yeah, well, I’ll admit. That room did look a little weird.’
‘It did, right? I mean,’ I shrugged my shoulders and motioned back behind me with my left hand, ‘I mean, what was the point of that room anyway?’
‘Yeah. It was oddly placed.’
‘Right? Why the fuck would you have a tiny purple room with one little painting in it right next to the entrance?’
Amanda puffed out her cheeks and released a slow breath. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, as she shook her head.
‘And we were out there. Spent, like, five minutes trying to figure out if it was a fucking optical illusion or not.’
‘And all these fuckin’. All these people around here,’ I said, as I twirled my finger in the air, ‘all these people are all like, “yeah, so, these people are clearly on drugs.”’
‘Ha! I know!’
‘Acting like a couple of fuckin’, stoned sluts! Fucking going to the museum trippin’ on mushrooms, and fu--'
I felt Amanda’s hand as it thudded up against my chest, forcing me to stop in my tracks.
It’s that feeling you get when you catch yourself, quite suddenly, being too loud. Inappropriately loud. Loud enough to interrupt something pure and quiet. The stillness washes over you like a wave of white noise and you can feel the echoes of your last words hanging in the air. You shut your mouth, but it’s too late. Your words have escaped and are out there, ringing in everyone’s ears, and there’s nothing you can do to take them back. And then, sometimes, you hear the most beautiful singing. Wait, what?
Amanda stopped me right in the entranceway to the large-ceilinged room. Just across from us were three bleachers arranged in a shape that resembled three consecutive sides of an octagon. Each row of the bleachers was lined with men in tuxedos with shaved heads and they were singing in some sort of beautiful choral whisper that made the whole room hum and was immediately intoxicating. There were rows of people sitting in folding chairs facing the bleachers, all of who were currently staring in our direction and shooting us exotically unfriendly looks.
-- to be continued...
* Yes, that is the actual name of the church.