A REAL BUM TRIP
PHOTOGRAPHERS HOVERED over the scene like bees smelling honey. Something fantastic was going on, something that might make them rich and famous if only they could catch its essence. Alas, for all of their hovering most of the bees remained hungry. If there was something fantastic going on, it was happening inside those colourful people's heads. Most of the time there was nothing to record for posterity but wide-eyed amazement. Even at a trip's crest people's faces might be twisted in horror or radiant with bliss, but about what? The tiger lilies on the table? The gaping chasm of an empty cookie jar? If you had seen one roll worth of tripping people you had seen them all.
Then there was the problem of access. People on acid often had a hard time accepting the presence of straights, because they would feel drawn down to the world of tangible reality. 'Sorry Peter, what did you say just now? I see, eh... Actually I still don't get it. Could you explain what you mean?' In the meantime you had travelled on to another planet, and whatever it was you had felt compelled to utter ten seconds ago, had long lost all relevance. It was the difference in time frame, mostly, that jarred. Plus the outsider's perhaps inexpressed, but to your all-seeing eye manifest disbelief that your experience had any value.
Outsiders, in short, were a drag. In that respect Hans Bruggeman was one of the best trip photographers. A gentle, soft-spoken man, he had tripped probably a dozen times when I met him one day at Vinkenoog's, where he recorded us sitting around on the couch, staring out the window, hugging one another. He timed his shots, keeping the interference of mechanical activity to a minimum. I liked his ways and struck up a friendship, which (due to the compounded genius for impulsive activity of two Geminis) rapidly escalated into a budding partnership. Bruggeman shared my interest in the East and, still smarting from a break-up, was ready to travel. I was, well, ready for anything.
We decided to go on a
long reporting trip to
'Hans, before we go, I think we should trip together.'
'Absolutely, no better way to get in tune.'
'Your place or mine?'
We took the acid, a triple dose, in Bruggeman's apartment cum studio on the Amstelveenseweg, a first floor walk-up. I had been there several times, but never to absorb the atmosphere. It was sparsely decorated, and a little dusty. The glass panes in the French doors and windows had been replaced with dark brown composite board. The floor was covered with the same material. Half a dozen semi-neglected cats ran around expressing their anger at the menu. Or maybe it was flees that drove them crazy. Bruggeman's intentions were good, but a man photographing trippers is up at odd hours, little overlapping the opening hours of pet stores. And anyway, the cats may well have been a left over from the broken relationship. There was a strong sense that they were not really loved.
Whatever the reason, there was something about the cats that made them very present. Climbing in the curtains, scratching at the door sills, doing their business in the litter box with endless scrapings to cover their sins. It disturbed me most that they were so furry. Floppy bags of fur flying around everywhere. Sometimes they even came up to me, rudely walking onto my lap with sharp, demanding claws, or trying to flatter me by rubbing their necks on my knee, grunting as if they came.
I had been scratched by cats as a child and my teenage girlfriend Lonneke had a cat who long tried to stop me from getting intimate with her. (Until one day I kicked it out the door, with credits to Pavlov.) Such was my relationships with felines at the time. Later, a broken relationship of my own would leave me a black cat without name who stayed with me till his death at age nineteen. Sensitized to contact-high like no other animal, he was a great mystic. When I was stoned we would sometimes lock gaze as I did with trip mates in the sixties. Once he kept staring in my eyes for a solid half hour, purring intensely. Then he looked away, and shrugged his shoulders. Enough is enough.
Bruggeman's cats had not learned this simple lesson of life. They dominated the experience to such an extent that soon I started feeling their fur even when they were three feet away, then ten feet away... By the time we were at cruising altitude I felt the cats all over me even when they weren't in the room. Like I was loosely covered in fur myself. Being hairless except on top I didn't like the regression. It was as if I was losing my human qualities and got nothing in return but masses of itching fuzz.
Bruggeman had just bought a CO2 powered pellet gun, which we tried out in the living room. Whether he had planned to take it on the trip I don't remember, all I know was that he had boxes full of the copper pellets and within the first hour we went through them all. It was fun to be shooting in someone's living room, assured by the owner that it was okay. Targets were pinned to the composite board in the French windows and whatever damage the pellets did to the surrounding woodwork did not seem to matter. This helped our style. Boy, we were good, hitting the target from all the way at the far end of the studio, over thirty feet away. The composite board under our feet became hard to walk on due to the hundreds of tiny pellets. The cats kept chasing each other across the room, constantly tripping and tumbling and looking amazed at the sudden trickiness of the familiar floor. Some of their accidents were quite spectacular, even fun, but did little to decrease the sense of living in a cat's world.
I told Bruggemans to shut the cats into the kitchen or I'd go home. He obliged sadly. I don't know whether he missed their nearness or sensed what was coming. We plopped down on some easy chairs and began tripping in earnest. We put on an album of North-Indian music. Sarangi, a precursor of the violin. If played without refinement a rather harsh sounding instrument. The record we put on had been made in the field, with village artists. The melody was rag Sarang, the only Indian composition played in heroic mood; the playing had the vigour and brashness of a Punjabi folk dance. Its sharp tones evoked the clashing of swords. It was brilliant, but unpleasantly sharp. Soon the swords hit not just each other, but me, cleaving my flesh with such speed that no blood was seen. No limbs cut off, no heads severed... All that the clanging swords did, was hurt.
I told Bruggeman that I did not feel well, but all he managed to do was smile vaguely and play with the empty gun, shooting 'poof', 'poof', 'poof', meaningless little puffs of gas.
'Hey Hans, this is kind of a bummer.'
'You think so? I'm okay.'
'How can you be okay when I'm not okay?'
His insensitivity to my misery made me feel cold and lonely. Inside I was hurting, outside I was covered in hateful fur. I tried to break out of the downward spiral, went to the kitchen and ate a handful of sugar, but after a brief span of relief got nauseous - as if all my being resisted this sweetening of an experience that really wasn't sweet at all.
The cats had slipped through the kitchen door as soon as I opened it and were all over me again. Now there was little difference between them and me anymore. Whenever I touched myself I felt the fur, a horrible presence that I could not shake off. Was it the cats or was it their owner? I could stand it no longer.
'Hans, the trip is off.'
'You can't just call a trip off.'
'Sure you can. I just did.'
'Peter, this triple whammy is going to keep us busy for at least another five hours.'
'I'm talking about
It seemed ludicrous that he did not know.
'You're too fuzzy, Hans.'
'I'm sorry, I didn't realize.'
Out on the street the cats stayed with me, covering me in grey, moth eaten fur. Their presence suffocated me. I wanted to free myself of them. I would have shed my skin if I could. All the people meeting me on the sidewalk noticed my affliction; they turned their heads away in horror or stared openly at me, a freak of nature.
I walked through the stately De Lairesselaan, the 300 gamma trip still raging. Much of the time I was conscious of nothing at all; when I was, I desperately tried to feel something else but disgust at my harried existence. In my most successful moments my entire sense of self was reduced to the knob of the collapsible umbrella in my hand. I had become that umbrella knob - a total nothing, a lump of insignificant matter. At least it wasn't hairy. I caressed it and felt lifted up by its smoothness.
At the Concertgebouw, I briefly came to my senses again, and realized that I could not go on living as the knob of an umbrella. I saw years of therapy in a closed institution. Barred windows, bare walls, well intentioned cruelty with electric wires and numbing drugs... Had to get out of this, had to do something...
I did what I always did when things went out of hand, I went home. Home to mom and dad Cohen in their Buitenveldert apartment. With soft pillows, freshly squeezed juices and trays of chocolate creams. I had just enough for the taxi out to the suburbs and lay slumped on the back seat, fortunately upholstered in smooth vinyl. As I entered, Greetje Cohen embraced me warmly.
'We have been waiting for you.'
'You could feel it?'
'Oh yes', Herman said, 'it was very strong. How are you now?'
'The knob of an umbrella.' I showed the implement. 'This is all I am.'
'A little depersonalized - so what, happens to the best of us. Last week I had become a toilet seat. Eaten too many nuts and raisins.'
'Have some chocolates', Greetje said as she presented the tray. 'They do wonders.'
They did too. I was
healed without confinement to barred white rooms, though from that time on I
was mortally afraid of knives and for ten years after could not even stand the
sight of fish mongers slicing raw herring. For a citizen of