Walkabout: Watch Your Head and Step – September 3rd, 2002
by Bing Futch
“He gets it. He so gets it…”
The voice burbled at me in a high and warbly fashion, almost liquid in tone. I wasn’t paying much attention to that, however, because the back of my brain was just starting to detach itself from the ground. I came up slowly, oozing, dripping, bits of me splattering messily down upon the earth. Not quite on the ground but more like into the ground, it seemed. In fact I was a part of the ground and it wriggled through me like molasses. The air was ripped in places, jagged holes showing through to something bright on the other side, then it would close up again. Weird. My hands slowly dripped out of the atmosphere, like some space swamp creature with seaweed tendrils hanging off of its arms. I heard myself say “I see, my brothers” and I was vaguely aware that my mouth had begun to hang open. My body was leaking, or rather – something seemed to be oozing into it. Part of my leg joined with the table in front of me, waving and wobbly in the sea of firelight. One friend was pulling his forehead out of another friend’s thigh, fleshy bits and fabric wisps of smoke and mercury. Every move in a shimmering slow motion, almost a reverse fall, as I felt lifted back into the position in which I had presumably started. Millions of invisible hands seemed to support my body as it solidified and again, sat normally upon the patio chair in the backyard. My eyes had not adjusted, but they looked inward and reflected upon what I had just witnessed. What the hell was that?There was a sheer sort of terror that rippled through my body, I felt my eyes dart around the campfire at my co-horts in partying. Was this real? Just moments before, I had taken two very large hits of a hallucinogenic plant called salvia divinorum. A friend had promised to bring some as an extra special treat for this party and he had delivered handily. “You’re the guinea pig,” he said.
Salvia divinorum is a species of sage (the genus Salvia) and a member of a very large family of plants known as the Labiatae, or “the mint family”. Its name means “Sage of the Diviners” and it’s been used in religious ceremonies by the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico for years. In fact, true salvia only grows in a valley located in that tribe’s land. Salvia contains a chemical substance called salvinorin A which is a psychoactive compound. Which means that it makes you see crazy, Doors-like things. Unlike most psychoactive compounds, salvia is not an alkaloid. It’s also not habit-forming though it is extremely potent. This stuff can produce visions, give the divine sense of time travel, take you on an existential trip into world’s that you only thought you knew. Apparently, no-one knows how salvinorin affects the brain, but this much is true: it’s unlike any other psychoactive in existence.
Yes. This much is true.
Salvia divinorum is completely legal in every country of the world except for Australia, which passed a law making salvia illegal earlier this summer. Though little-known by most people (and ATF grunts) in the states, it’s slowly gaining notoreity as the new party drug of choice. Unfortunately, salvia isn’t an appropriate party drug due to its wondrous, philosophical effects. Any unwary partaker getting a good double-lungful of this crazy shit could end up walking through a plate-glass window in order to escape the demons.
I thought the world had stopped. Life just stopped for a beat and let me peek inside its great, luminous cogs. And what I saw scared the McFuck out of me for a split-second. It was all an illusion; this life. Like something out of “The Matrix” or “Vanilla Sky” or even more recently, “S1M0NE”. All of that talk about everything being made up of molecules, we’re all basically broken down into particles and every particle in the universe vibrates and is part of every other particle. I saw this. Saw the very fabric of the universe. And it looked like Soup Of The Day.
“Okay, sit in the chair and relax,” said the friend who had brought the salvia. He loaded up two bong hits. “You’ve gotta hit ‘em back to back.”
I nodded, and took the first one, firing up the bowl with the little green leaves in it. “Careful, you have to ignite it at a higher temperature. Allow me.”
Better, there’s one hit.
“Hold it for 40 seconds.”
One, two, three, four…
I look around the campfire and there are encouraging smiles and twinkling bits of glee, because everyone’s going to try. I exhale and am handed the second bong, which I hit dutifully and then sit back in my seat. I feel the bong being taken away and I sit back in my seat. I exhale and am handed the second bong, and I sit back in my seat. I feel the bong and am handed the second bong and I sit back in my seat. And I sit back in my seat. White. Silence. It’s one of the biggest white rooms I’ve ever seen. I can’t see the floor, or the walls or the ceiling either. It’s like a vacuum with a big light, which is coming from everywhere at once.
Then, a rip in the whiteness. Some twenty feet from me. It sort of bubbles up out of what I suppose is the ground and through it comes a gurgling, grinding, grating noise. Like film burning and melting before a projector, the little foul-colored hole continues to widen, it’s got a copper-black tinge and it rolls about at the edges like hot oil. Other rips begin to appear in the large white room, breaking and cracking the whiteness with liquid invasion. It appears that the stillness was an illusion, the frames weren’t moving, the film broke. The dollops of brown, red, orange and black spread like a plague and riddle the white, wounding it with jagged gashes and flapping bits of ectoplasm that resemble misshapen vaginas, all puckering through the air and ever-widening so that the ball of color spirals on and reveals the scene. The air is choppy and filled with a gelatinous bass drone. Like listening through soup.
It is soup.
I snap my head to the right and notice that the lower half of my face has failed to follow. Alarmed, I quickly return my head to its previous position in time to see my nose and lips wafting forward, following the top of my head’s draft. I looked suddenly to a friend whose face was just melting into place, bits of white framing her head in brilliant, gooey tendrils. “There you are,” she said with cheer in her voice. Looking around, I see that everything is part of the goo. The bubbling holes gave way to a blurry, shifting, oceanic landscape where everything rippled and rolled. The chairs, the guests, the ground, the air, the fire, the sky, it was all made of the same stuff, this ooze that burned its way back into the white room. I sat for a very long time.
I sat for a very long time once more and acknowleged that I was back with a smile and a nod. “Let him come back slowly,” said a voice to my right. “You saw something, didn’t you?”
I was back with a smile and a nod for a very long time. I acknowledged that I had seen something.
Tentatively touching the arm of my chair, I rubbed my face with the other hand and glanced around for any sort of leftover whiteness, now in the minority, closing like little light sores in the inky fabric of this midnight campfire. There were none to be found. The other party-goers lined up to try, jockeying for position like it was a new amusement park ride. I don’t remember their journeys. As well that I’m aware – I wandered off into a corner, found a piano and reflected on the mind-blowing trip that had just rocked my world. I clocked my general demeanor at “stunned but stoked” though just a rotten hint of terror lingered. My own body had risen up out of the pools of red-black encroachment, dripped its way across the shrinking retreat of the white. There was a single thought: oh god this is the truth, I don’t want the truth, I don’t want to be attached at the hip and head to my neighbor, I want real life BACK!
There, sitting in the rehearsal room, absent-mindedly plunking out simple melodies, I had something to chew on during the Key West trip. Jae and I were leaving in the morning and this would signal the official beginning of “El Bing-O Adios-O”. For the past several weeks, I had been ticking down the days and finishing up last minute calendar obligations, clearing the books so that time could be spent truly doing nothing. Key West was looking better by the minute, but this mind and spirit altering experience turned out to be a completely unexpected ingredient in what was to be one hell of a soup by the time all was said and done.
Go to the potty. Freshen up that drink, make a sandwich, light a candle. Come back and share the big ending with me you wonderful lugs. For those who have followed along this far, here’s a personal note to you: I love you every day that you live, so live every day that you’re loved.
Love 5.0: Key West
After a brief stopover in Key Largo to visit with Jae’s sister and her husband, we arrived in Key West, dogs in tow. “America’s Carribean” was looking far removed from the idyllic island that Mr. Hemingway lived upon, but really – what did I expect? Certainly beautiful, the sunsets were stunning, but there are no beaches to truly speak of and absolutely no waves either. Some guys are never happy. The tiny burg is just another dueling ground for developers and native Conchs, one side trying to erect timeshares and resort hotels while the other desperately appeals to the government for aid in slowing the bulldozers. There are a total of four large Hyatt properties on the island, each standing on what used to be whimsical pieces of old Key West. For the most part, the little villages and sections of town remain simple while the expensive houses of past drug lords and entertainers continue to be remodeled into castles of extreme attitude. The corridor off of Flagler Ave., which runs east-west across most of the island, features homes that could easily be featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Meanwhile, the ghetto over off of Whitehead St. is just a quick scooter trip away. Mini-projects and run-down tenaments, shuffling teen-age boys with big pants and combs protruding from their heads, within walking distance of the most prime real estate in several counties. The juxtapositioning is truly unreal. But Key West has a history of being home to an extraordinary quality of people, many of them blew in from time to time like the seasonal hurricanes, dropping money like dandruff flakes and dancing on tabletops, then whooshing off for another four or five months. In the 1940’s, it was a popular port for drug smugglers; in the 50’s, a celebrity get-away. The long-running and unspoken credo is “mind thy own business” and it’s been a perfectly democratic agreement with few falling outs. Where else in the world can boast a zero murder rate? Let any Conch tell it, the place was bound for hell once they built the bridge.
This mattered second to dogshit to me. We were in Key West and I was going to drop out with all the weight of a twenty megaton bomb. “Bing Futch, your elevator to mindless bliss has arrived, sir” and VOOM! After checking into our cottage at Casa Alante right on A1A, we settled in, showered, fucked like mad, showered again, kissed the doggies good night and headed out for the first of many good times on the town. There was a buzz that we were feeding off of and it flowed from the island itself. We felt it as soon as crossed the bridge and turned onto Roosevelt Blvd. A palpable energy, imagined or not, coursed over the two of us as we began cruising over Key West soil and remained a constant thrum for the duration of our visit. Maybe the island was made of human bones and covered in sand. Wouldn’t have mattered a damn to me; it felt incredible. There is a noticeably different pace affected on the island, not necessarily a slower pace but perhaps a more relaxed pace. If people are rushing, they’re rushing in the coolest way possible. We maintained that sort of blissed-out approach, even when Jae’s dog accidentally bit her in the face.
The scream came from the bedroom of our cottage and I dropped what I was doing in the kitchen, running madly for the door. Jae was sitting on the side of the bed, holding her face in her hands, blood running between her fingers.
“Jesus, what happened?” I asked as she pushed past me towards the kitchen. I caught on and hurried along, aiming to aid her with paper towels and water from the sink. Champ, her 12 year old lab-collie mix, had gotten a little aggro with her during a lovin’-hug session and lodged a tooth right at the eyebrow level of her right eye. It was already swelling and the wound was filled with blood, meaning the flow was strong; the cut was deep. Somehow stemming my intense queasiness at the sight of blood, I was able to help her clean up and make an ice pack for the swelling. “Lay down,” I told her. She resisted at first, the girl can be strongheaded and proud when she wants to be, but who can’t? From working at theme parks and hospitals, I’ve learned my share of first aid. I also knew that regardless of my immediate care, she needed to see a doctor. What if a nerve was damaged? The cut was very close to the eye and deep enough to require stitches, but she refused to take it that far and settled for some Neosporin. Tough girl, didn’t even cry. In typical Jae fashion, she suggested that her pain was nothing compared to the fact that everyone would think I was the one that gave her the shiner.
She had a point. How many evil glares would I get from women as we bandied down Duval Street, shopping for gifts? Would some drunken fuck at a bar decide to “stand up for the little lady’s honor” and knock my teeth into my stomach? No, we surmised. Because they’d see how much we were obviously in love with each other. And if that didn’t work, who gave a rat’s ass? We carried on, not attempting to hide the mark, which actually cleared up so much by the third day, it was hardly noticeable. “That’s good,” said Jae, looking into a mirror. “I won’t have to explain this at work when I get back.”
“Don’t think about work yet. We’ve got four more days,” I said.
“Ooops, you’re right. My bad.”
Jae and I “met” while I was broadcasting a radio show in January of 2002. She instant-messaged me, I told her to tune in, played some blues for her and extended the show by fifteen minutes that fateful Sunday evening. Less than a week later, we had met in person and we’ve been a constant ever since. In the beginning though, it was different. Neither one of us were looking for a relationship, especially my freshly divorced ass and I told her that. Fair enough, she said. She was in love with somebody that she couldn’t be with. We’d be great fuck-buddies, mutually attracted to each other with a nice balance of intelligent, professional, whimsical and silly working for us. Who’d have thought it would end up as love? Life has a strange way of introducing new versions of your whole experience, little upgrades that you’re not even told are coming. No, “there is a new version available, would you like to download now?” More like, “by the way, how do you like them applets?” This wonderful woman, whom I approached with good manner of reason and logic, had the misfortune of getting the new upgrade first. She hit Love 5.0 and I was still working the bugs out of Love 3.5 which caused a bit of incompatibility in our platforms and the machine developed a few idiosnycrasies. A pop-alert here, a crash there, a little freeze-up action, it’s all part and parcel of developing relationships. There’s the initial “whoo-golly!” which is usually accompanied by robust loads of sex and that leads into a more logical processing of feelings which often results in a “oh, my – what is it that I’m doing here exactly?” as you become more aware of the severity of your situation. Past the dating phase, spending exclusive time together, a decision to either take it no further or make that commitment, it all becomes something that you think about more and more the longer you’re together. By the time we hit Key West, I was still trying to decide which direction life was thinking about slinging me in. There was still a snag with the house on South St., so I hadn’t put down tent stakes yet. All of my niggling legal snags would be tied up soon and there was the freedom of being able to do just about anything that I wanted. Did that include settling down once more, just as I was acquiring a newer, better pair of wings? There was a painful irony in that analysis somewhere and it left a grungy feeling on my tongue as it slithered down. I needed to reach that high note release after years of not getting an even break and I had studied for it. The afterlife was constantly on my mind now, interwoven with the whole concept of life and what it could possibly mean. On an existential level, my life had turned around almost on a dime and it was primarily because of Jae’s deeply spiritual and psychic connections. When the metaphysical comes to land on the physical plane, look out Pedro, ieet’s gonna geet you.
Speaking of planes, a highlight of this part of the trip was a flight in a bright orange biplane. Built in 1941, the Waco UPF7 is one of a few planes owned by Fred Cabanas, owner-operator of Island Aeroplane Tours (305.294.TOUR). It’s a hard-to-miss ride that requires a delicate entry maneuver and hair that will allow you to wear the helmet/headset properly. My dreads are not a good example of this. Along with a weird case of stomach queasiness, my anxiety level was credibly low given the fact that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the pilot.
“Do you like rollercoasters?” he asked me, grinning like Tom Cruise.
“Yes, but let’s ease into it, okay?” I replied meekly.
We eased into it, alright. He eased the plane forward after kicking the prop into gear automatically and we taxied around the tarmac at Key West International Airport. With skies so blue and blinding, we floated off of the ground after a short run and ascended steadily, with nary a wing dip or a decrease in altitude, not even as steep as a chain lift, rather on the slightest incline. The island fell away ever so slowly, a surreal moment that filled my lungs with salt air and my heart with giddy fear. Ever so gently, our upwards arc abated and in a parabolic “hello!”, we were dipping down in a graceful echo of our last trajectory – my stomach lurched and I noticed the bright blue “Sic-Sac” secured in the see-through packet on the dashboard, just to the left of the dials and knobs. It’s logo was a breezy 50’s glamour script with a cartoon of a winged elf rushing to get sick then happily on his way with full bag in tow.
“If an upset stomach is anticipated, remove SIC-SAC from this container and keep ready for use. Do not be embarrassed by this precaution as even veteran air travelers are subject to occasional motion sickness.”
As if on cue, the Waco executed a hard right turn that put her wings straight down to earth at a 90 degree angle. I looked to my right and saw nothing but two orange blades and a whole lot of blue. I grabbed onto the little black bar provided for my use and forced myself to stare down at our gravity-defying stunt. Doubling back over Smather’s Beach and straightening out, passing over the White St. Pier with its huge compass clearly visible from the air, right over the southernpost point in the United States, the buoy seemingly tiny at this height. Looking forward through the blur of propeller, a diamond-sprinkled carpet of aquamarine wraps the screen. At this point, I can hear some pilot voice squawking above my ear, something about “maneuvers.” And then Charlie turned the juice on.
It was like a rollercoaster without tracks. No annoying friction to get between you and the sensation. He took us down nose first, dive-bombing innocent houseboaters out barbecuing for the day, pulling up and leading me to believe that we were upside down, but not quite. I jabbed my thumb up into the air and hooted like a scarlet macaw. It was on. We cloud-hopped for awhile and I did my best to snap some digital pictures while cruising.
When I got back down to land, it was hard to relate what I had seen and felt, what it all meant. The trip was amazing, mind-blowing even and it was all for free, courtesy of Sherrie, who happens to be related by marriage to the owner. I tipped the pilot well and began to review footage of the flight, this practice allows me to corroborate details in my head with those that I captured with the camera. There were heart-shaped islands, nudist resorts, the aforementioned house-boaters and beneath them, eerily visible in the clear water of the Gulf, a hundred ghostly shipwrecks lurking just underneath the surface of the water. It instantly flashed me back to the spring of 1983 when our high school band went to Hawaii for a music competition. One of our “off-day” activities involved a boat tour through Pearl Harbor and directly over the site of the U.S.S. Arizona. As the boat hovered over the spot where 1,177 crewmen died on December 7th, 1941, we all ran to the sides in order to catch a glimpse of what lie down there. We saw nothing but a gun turret that was above water and reflections of the sky and our own curious faces. Later that day, an aerial photograph revealed what we had failed to see and a terrible chill ran through the group as a collective. There, resting on the bottom of the bay was the entire hull of the warship, straddled by the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. It was like seeing a ghost.
Here in the hopeful and happy waters off of Key West, there were tons of ghosts lying underneath the otherwise cheerful and tropical harbor near Garrison Bight. It spoke volumes. But volumes of what? I pondered that on one of my “alone days”. I had brought a couple hits of X along with a little weed along on the trip, so I dosed and went out on the scooter to let the wind blow through my dreads and feel the shit seep out of my brain, leaving a clean, clear, positive space in which I could do my searching. 35 m.p.h. feels like 80 when you’re on a little scooter, flying and flying, bouncing over the pock-marked streets around the fringes of Key West’s long-surviving neighborhoods. Through Monroe County Beach to Searstown, blasting through the Truman Annex and hitting that huge arc out by Houseboat Lane full throttle, keeping pace with the cars and hearing the wind sing in my ears. Finding a slice of beach on the Atlantic side of the island, I plopped down on a slight bit of sand and looked out at the ocean, now turning a deep purple hue. Sunset was happening on the other side of the rock, the nightly entertainment orgy that goes down every night in Mallory Square, that’s where the draw was. It left open areas like this on the other side; serene and powerful. I made a phone call to an ex-girlfriend, then another, gave them the world as I saw it and waited for the litmus test of their responses. There wasn’t much to come away with. The salvia at the party had really taken me to a level that there seemed no return from, a place that required a certain amount of maintenance above and beyond the call of duty. I was fascinated that such an experience could’ve come out of this plant. Though I’ve never done heroin (needles scare me, even record needles), I’ve tried cocaine, crack, blotter acid, hash, opium, absinthe, magic mushrooms, amyll nitrate,Kentucky moonshine and something in a can that some guy offered to me at Zen Festival ‘97. I prefer marijuana, have been known to do a little Ecstasy and am attempting to regulate my alcohol intake since it’s obvious I’ve got issues with it. But in all of that discovery sir, I can tell you that nothing had prepared me for the profound impact that salvia manifested in my life, causing me to wonder if it was destiny or luck that brought it out. I ran my experience over and over in my head, recalling new things every time. I sent e-mails to friends, inquiring where I might find some of my own. Funnily enough, in our roamings around town, we happened upon a store called Island Vibrations just off of Duval Street, the main drag that cuts through what passes for “downtown” Key West. The red, green and gold schemes on the sign tipped me off to its head-shop status and we ducked inside to find a modestly stocked store with everything from hemp clothing to, will wonders never cease, salvia divinorum. It was available in both raw leaf form and extract, which is more potent. Since I couldn’t conceive of anything more potent than what I had already experienced, I opted for the ragged leaf and noted that I could purchase some extract online later if I decided. I also picked up the book “Cannabis Spirituality” by Stephen Gaskin and “The Holy Piby: The Blackman’s Bible” as delivered by Shepherd Robert Athlyi Rogers.
Jae snickered at me on the last purchase. We think she might have been a black man in a previous life. Definitely blacker than I could ever be.
She’s allowed – it’s not like I’m going to shift into full-on Nubian mode and begin acting like some African king. It just seems like I thought my mind was pretty open until I realized that there was still room for expansion. Age and time on earth does that to you, things fall into place, perspective becomes greater. All of a sudden, between our dreamings and wantings and strivings, there came a sense that there wasn’t enough time in the world to do it all. Which is exacty the point. You have to choose, make choices that will result in such and such an outcome, how you arrive and execute these choices will have a strong effect on how you live your life. Key West served as my own personal ground zero, a place where I could just sort of detonate and quietly float down into a haze of the big slow-down. From day to day, some new trigger or emotion would flare out of the dense atmosphere, textbook reasonings, autonomical inquisition, people getting kicked in the teeth and beaten before my unbelieving eyes at a club on Duval St. late one night. That and the knowledge that I’d be returning from Key West and staring down my life, still in upheaval, still in purgatory and long-overdue for a change; it all contributed to a sweet getaway that was peppered with moments of “what next?” that all but brought the party hunkering to a stop. Jae and I left Key West with a renewed amount of respect for each other as we discussed the possibilities. Would I perhaps move down here in a couple of months instead of staying in Orlando? Or buy that Winnebago and hit the road indefinitely? She faithfully stated that she would support whatever decision I might make, even if it took me far away from her. I felt another upgrade coming on. Little did I know that it would come with a virus.