It was Tuesday December 4th and I awoke to that same smell of hashish and tobacco that had been in the air as I drifted off to sleep last night, only more so. It was not a minute later and Butch was by the side of my upper bunk. He looked at me with his big dark eyes and asked if I was okay. He said that I had wandered off yesterday from the brewery and when he Gwendolyn and Burton had returned to the hostel after dinner I was already in bed sound asleep. I told him that I was, just really tired, still fighting off a cold and looking forward to getting home soon.
He nodded as if that made sense, then gave me his best shiteating grin and said he had “scored some killer hash” outside the Am X office yesterday, and that he had almost woken me up yesterday evening when he decided to smoke some with “all my impoverished white friends”, referring to our discussion yesterday about traveling on a shoestring budget. Still groggy from my extended sleep, I uttered some unintelligible sound to acknowledge his success. Acquisition of good weed, or hashish in this case, was, by every pot smoker protocol that I had been exposed to, considered a celebratory moment, that should be shared by smoking some. He said they were going to fire up a bowl and did I, or the “manster Coopenstein” as he had coined me, want to join them. It was just like in Grindelwald, one session of drinking too much beer together with one’s fellow backpackers, and though he had only known me for a day and a half he was already addressing me like an old friend.
In all the pot smoking I had done over the past fifteen months since that first September of my freshman year at Western, I don’t recall ever having woken up in the morning and soon after gotten high. For the responsible user, whether of pot or alcohol, the use of recreational intoxicants in the morning or even in the afternoon was considered generally inappropriate, a sign of overuse and lack of discretion.
Though it would have been more prudent to have taken a raincheck and smoked later when the day’s touring and chores were done, refusing the offer to join the circle passing the pipe or the joint, twice in a row (since they had asked me to join them my first evening here in town), might be seen as an indication that I was spurning that well intentioned effort to welcome me to their fold. It was all about joining that clandestine circle of voyagers and binding yourself to them through the altered state you would all share passage into amongst the otherwise straight arrow world around you. It was very different than drinking alcohol, though the two were sometimes done in tandem. Alcohol was also a social lubricant, but in a very different way. It was about letting go of inhibitions, allowing you to momentarily forget your troubles and better navigate in the social sphere. Cannabis was all about opening oneself up to the revelation of the magic normally hidden in that regular world.
My internal Greek Chorus demanded to be heard on my dilemma, Brewer and Shipley’s folksy “One Toke Over the Line” gently urging me to consider Butch’s parlay, but then Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” making the powerful closing argument…
Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah Darlin’ go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space
I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin’ with the wind
And the feelin’ that I’m under
Yeah Darlin’ go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space
Like a true nature’s child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
I mean what line in that song lyric did I not resonate with or want to experience somehow myself? And here was this guy Butch I had just gotten drunk with the day before, already having given me a not unpleasing nickname, and offering me a seat on the day’s wild ride. There was something beyond just getting back home and proving to myself and my friends and family that I was up to the challenge of doing this odyssey, on my own as fate had dealt it to me. Engaged in this long journey here in Europe, every day was appropriately its own unique adventure, and not a procedural routine. In Grindelwald I had balked at taking the cog railway up through the Schreckhorn and Eiger to the Sphinx Observatory at the “top of Europe” with three awesome young women, because of the cost and my tight budget. That financial calculation did not apply here.
So like a true nature’s child, still in my sleeping bag lying on my side, I nodded to Butch that I would join them, figuring I would at least have a little time to get up, put my clothes on, and join their little circle somewhere in the room. Not so, as Butch held up the pipe to my mouth, continuing his grin.
I couldn’t quite believe his pluck, but was pleased that he felt connected enough to me to be so brazen in his inquiry. Still, he was about to hijack my day in a way, and I challenged him with a question, not so unlike Caesar to Brutus. “So when in Amsterdam?” I queried acerbically. It had been six weeks since I had smoked any of the stuff, and I remembered that, particularly combined with tobacco, hashish had gotten me very high. Smoking now, with a whole day ahead of me, was going to change the dynamic of that day dramatically, but what the hell, I thought, I’d spend it with these friendly members of my backpacker cohort. This would indeed be today’s unique adventure.
His eyes twinkled and he chuckled at my allusion and said, “Yes. When in Amsterdam do as the…” He paused, wrestling with what you called people from Amsterdam, finally deciding, a bit too pleased with himself perhaps, “Do as the Amsterdamned”, and then taping in somehow to Steppenwolf’s close, “And don’t say no to your fucking muse, dude!”, as he put the pipe between my just separated lips, and I inhaled the acrid resiny smoke, pondering what he was implying by saying that he was my muse. It burned my lungs but I tried to hold it in, finally exhaling convulsively and bursting into a fit of coughing. Ah, just another morning at the Christian Youth Hostel in Amsterdam.
He took another toke himself, holding it in and shaking his head in mock disapproval as he watched me cough, finally exhaling and presenting me with the pipe to try again. Still lying on my side, enjoying actually his continuing attention and being spoon fed as it were, I took a second more tentative toke, then looking to the ceiling and emitting a couple small sputters but basically holding it in. Finally exhaling the smoke triumphantly like a whale spouting water, to Butch’s “bravo”.
He finally withdrew to his circle of other tokers, instructing me to join them, which I did after sliding into my jeans and digging thru my pack for that last of my three shirts, the dressier one that I had not worn yet here in town and that was still unworn since the washing in Angelica’s kitchen. Besides Butch it was just Gwendolyn and Burton. Angus, who had passed the pipe with them that first evening, was no longer there at the hostel. The three of them were a couple tokes ahead of me, but just as well, since I had not had any THC juicing my brain for six weeks, and it was likely to hit me harder than it would them. And particularly so with the addition of tobacco, which had its own sort of buzz, and which I had never smoked on its own, and only a handful of times mixed with hash.
The tobacco was added to facilitate the burning of the hashish, like adding kindling to start a fire in a fireplace, the resiny chunks of hashish were like the logs in that fire, needing something that burned more easily to get them ignited. Those chunks of hashish would be set in a bed of dried tobacco leaves. Those leaves once lit would keep smoldering and sucking on the pipe would bring more oxygen to the mix, causing them to flare up and get the adjacent hash to combust as well. Smoking the stuff alone without tobacco generally involved constantly relighting it with each toke, with a cigarette lighter or worst case with a fresh match each time, an annoying added step.
There was an intimacy, erotic even, to passing the joint or a pipe, that I loved. You were sharing saliva with the other people in the circle, as you would if you were kissing each one of them on the lips. I was sitting with Gwendolyn on my right, and since the pipe was going clockwise, I got to essentially taste her lips each time I put my own on the pipe bit, including a little hint of cherry from what I presumed was some sort of chapstick or other lip balm. And she sucked on the pipe so tentatively, with the flesh of her extended lips quivering slightly in a very sensual sort of way as she drew the hot smoke into her mouth. I imagined her kissing me and sucking on my lip with that same tender tentativeness.
We shared the pipe and took our hits in silence, as if talking would break the spell of the ritual, including the impending opening of our brains into an anticipated other level of consciousness. The onset of that transition, at least in Gwendolyn, was signaled by her giggles. Burton and Butch responding to hers with their own. I starting later than the other three, was not quite there yet. Waiting for me they continued in respectful silence, communicating with each other telepathically or at least with eyes and subtle facial gestures only. And finally I realized that it had crept up on me, and I was suddenly very stoned like the rest of them, like my mind was spilling out the back of my head. We were still four separate unique souls, but now intimately plugged into the same new level of thought, sensation and connection with each other.
I tested that new ether we had all elevated our heads into. First looking to my left into Butch’s eyes and smiling, and he giving me just a subtle squint in response that seemed full of an array of meaning, followed by that big shiteating grin again, as if to say, “I told you it was killer!” Then across the circle I met Burton’s eyes, just at that moment when they had moved from Gwendolyn’s direction to my own. He had appropriately checked in with his partner first before sharing this new intimacy with Butch and I. Burton and I gazed deeply into each other’s eyes and he shared a flare of fierceness, his passion for ideas, and I reflected back with just a touch of my own fierceness to honor his, in that patriarchal sort of way which I was usually not comfortable with, but then immediately following with a surrendering sort of grin. Finally my eyes met Gwendolyn’s, she turning hers from Butch across from her. I could see the slight trepidation at first in her widened eyes but I tried to project just loving friendliness which I could see her acknowledge and relax into. Butch, playing the alpha for the group as the facilitator of our buzz, announced that he was “so fucking high” and the rest of us giggled. The four of us were now calibrated with each other in our new shared magical realm beyond the mundane world, which was operating by its own logic in parallel around us, or at least that was my cranked up imagination’s take on the situation.
Continuing to wear the alpha hat, Butch announced that we were off to the brewery for today’s tour, once everyone was ready, which sent us male types scattering to our bunks around the room, plus Gwendolyn downstairs to the women’s bunkroom. I peeked out an open window in the front of the room down to the street and canal below and saw and felt the cold rainy day, smelling the faint notes in the air coming in, of ozone, standing water, algae, and the hint of gasoline, plus fixating on the glossy crimson paint on the above deck structure of the houseboat docked in the canal below. Returning to my bunk, I peeked in my backpack and all my gear and clothing was suddenly fascinating in terms of its form and function. After ten weeks on the road living always out of that pack, I was pretty intimately familiar with and had a sort of relationship with each item of clothing and gear that I had. That included my down jacket, now a paler orange than when I first got it in the mail from the Recreation Equipment Incorporated co op in Washington, but beautiful now in its efficiency of both warmth and compactibility into its little orange pouch, a bit smaller than a football. I put it on but left it unzipped in front so I wouldn’t get too warm, and then donned my orange poncho. Butch and Burton were in their ponchos too, and Butch led us down the stairs to the women’s bunkroom on the second floor.
I presumed that at night all the male types slept in the men’s bunkroom and all the women in theirs. I certainly hadn’t seen any women sleeping in ours when I had briefly awakened last night and walked thru the maze of bunks to the men’s bathroom. And I wondered if the bathrooms attracted any clandestine sexual activity like they apparently had in the Grindelwald hostel. Everyone was kicked out of both bunkrooms in the afternoon, your backpack and other stuff supposed to be put on your bunk, so staff could vacuum the floors at least and clean the adjoining bathrooms with their toilets and showers. But in the morning and particularly in the evening, there always seemed to be at least a few women in our bunkroom. And when I followed Butch and Burton into the women’s bunkroom, there were a couple guys there, beyond the three of us, and the more expected handful of female types, plus the faint smell of hashish, previously smoked, but no obvious active smokers now.
Gwendolyn was there by her bunk, her back to us rummaging through her backpack. Still in her jeans, her back was bare except for the back of a gray sports bra, her mane of wild curly brown hair tumbling down over her broad shoulders. Butch and I hanging back, Burton approached her and put his hand across her back and on her far shoulder, which I saw rise just slightly acknowledging his touch. She then pushed him playfully away, giving us a quick glimpse of the outline of her small breast, nipple and all, under the front of her fairly sheer bra. She then pulled a t-shirt over her head followed by a sweatshirt, and finally of course the ubiquitous poncho, hers a bright yellow.
Following Butch again, the four of us now headed down to the main floor and passed Greta’s station where she had plenty of time to size each of us up, detecting that we were stoned. “You kids look after each other now! Don’t drink too much beer!”, she chided in mother hen mode, “But do have a glass for me!”. Continuing his pluck and flirting back at Gretta, he called out that she looked “particularly awesome this morning”, and she smiled with mock shyness and blew him a theatrical kiss. She caught my eye and winked at me with what I interpreted, or at least fantasized, to be a lascivious grin. Then it was hoods up, into the cold and wet and down the front stairs of the hostel to the street.
I was totally in the moment, encased in my nylon cocoon of down jacket and poncho, with just my face interfacing with the outside world, enjoying each drop of rain and gust of wind that caressed my cheeks as I walked beside Butch, with Gwendolyn and Burton behind us. I felt completely like that alien being I thought we all looked like in our colorful ponchos. The doors of the townhouses we passed fascinated me, along of course with the array of colorful boats docked along the canal. A bit later, the coins briefly in my hand to ride the bus were stunning in their weight and shiny metallicness, plus the way they clinked and clanked into the little machine on the bus that took your fare.
The brewery seemed like a totally different place, the sounds of its machinery and the voice of the tour guide like sonar bouncing off the walls and ceilings, echoing and distinctly defining the acoustic space of each of the big rooms. The smells were intoxicating, taking my mind to botanical realms of fields of barley and organic chemistry. And experiencing the frenetic insanity of a thousand clinking, streaming multithreaded bottles was comic sensory overload that made all four of us break out in giggles and draw looks from some of the traditional tourists salted amongst all my cohort of big hair young adult types preparing to drink lots of free beer.
And the beer, cool and deliciously bitter, along with the tangy cheddar cheese and crunchy cheese curls, were the first food and drink I had had all day. We all consumed the nectar and ambrosia of this Willy Wonkaish beer world in mostly reverent silence, with the occasional theatrical “ummm”, thrown out to spark a giggle or laugh from the rest. Burton was dropping cubes of cheese into Gwendolyn’s mouth. Butch, always with a take on or response to pretty much everything, started pushing the shiny orange cubes at mine, me finally relenting and letting him drop them in my mouth. I was quickly doing the same in his mouth in response as Gwendolyn applauded and Burton finally giving us a hand as well.
Still stoned and now loaded up with beer as well, which I noted got to your brain a bit quicker than the hash, we were soon back in our ponchos and back out on the street. I realized at that point that I had forgotten that I had planned to go to the BOAC office to book my return flight, which I shared with my comrades in a sort of impromptu ranting soliloquy, waving my arms theatrically, looking like some big flightless bird in my poncho. Still playing the benevolent alpha, Butch suggested that we go to the Van Gogh museum first, which Gwendolen had suggested earlier, which was just a short walk from the brewery. We could hang out there until we got a little less high, before he accompanied me to get my ticket home.
Burton and Gwendolyn, grooving along with Butch and I in the whole hey we’re all wasted let’s stick together hive mind thing, agreed to tag along as well. My administrative problem addressed for now, and my inhibitions pretty much KO’d at this point by the one two punch of the recreational intoxicants, I pontificated about what my mom, who was a painter herself, had taught me about Van Gogh. How he painted with a palette knife and even used a newly invented “chrome yellow” paint to capture his iconic waving fields of grain, again gesticulating as I did, including a pantomime of a hand wielding that palette knife in small half circle motions.
This lit up Gwendolyn, who was apparently into fine art as well. Walking behind me next to Burton, she grabbed and yanked on my poncho to get my attention, calling out “Whoa there dude!” So into my buzzed groove, it startled me, and then Butch looked back at Gwendolyn and started giggling, followed by Burton laughing as well. Gwendolyn, who had been pretty low key at least since I had met her, was apparently surprised by her own impromptu behavior and the sudden attention to her it had just garnered, copping a sheepish pose with her hand over her mouth and saying “sorry”, and then cracking up as she got more comfortable showing this brazen assertiveness in front of her three male comrades.
The four of us, all cocooned in our colorful ponchos in the drizzling rain, stopped in our tracks on the sidewalk, the three of us guys facing Gwendolyn, who was still laughing. Seriously buzzed like the rest of us, she struggled to compose herself enough to speak a cohesive sentence. “Dudes,” she pleaded, “I just took art history. I’m totally into it! I love Van Gogh’s stuff, but I did not know that palette knife thing.” Then looking specifically at me, “So your mom’s a painter? Is she a… has she… sold stuff?” We started walking with her next to me now, with Butch and Burton up ahead, the two of them getting into a heated discussion about something that sounded political.
I told her no, she had not sold anything, but she had done maybe a dozen “canvasses”, mostly abstract, and that I thought she was pretty talented. I used “canvasses” instead of just saying “paintings” to impress Gwendolyn with my own knowledge of the art lingo. I waxed on on the topic, saying that my mom generally worked in our living room, with her canvas either on an easel or on newspaper flat on the coffee table, and the house often smelled of her oil-based paints and the turpentine for cleaning her brushes.
Gwendolyn listened intently, kind of grimacing and nodding. Finally she admitted that she too liked to paint, but was just starting out. She had only worked with watercolors on paper so far, but had seen the oil paints in the art store and she was excited to maybe try them. She asked me how my mom got her canvasses, and was fascinated when I explained her do-it-yourself process. Buying the pre-cut corner braces and having the lumber yard cut the pieces of wood for the sides. Buying canvass at the art store by the yard, plus the sizing. Strategically nailing the canvas to the back of the frame, first at the center of each side, then working out to the corners to maximize the stretching so there were no wrinkles. Finally painting on the sizing, so it could dry and stretch the canvas to a very taut surface. She commented that it was so cool that my mom had explained the whole process to me, and I wondered what the deal might be with her own mom.