It was Tuesday December 4 1973 and I awoke to that same smell of hashish that had been in the air as I quickly descended into unconsciousness last night, only more so. It was not a minute later that Butch was by the side of my upper bunk. He looked at me with his big dark eyes and asked if I was okay.
“The manster Coopenstein staggered off yesterday from the brewery in a drunken stupor into the wet embrace of the Lady Amsterdam”, he said, “The rest of our little ensemble returned from our separate adventures only to find his slender avatar hibernating in its nylon cocoon, and not even cocktail hour! I was for waking you, but I was outvoted by the majority.”
I chuckled at his embellishments to my nickname and the rest of his tale, but felt the need to defend my honor as a person able to ‘hold his liquor’ as the grownups would say.
“I don’t recall I was in a ‘drunken stupor’” I noted, still squeezing the sleep from my eyes.
“Ah well”, he responded, his eyes twinkling, “Maybe it was instead the rest of us in a drunken stupor marveling at your ability to partake of independent thought and action.”
Then his big dark eyes got even twinklier, “Mixed metaphors aside, inquiring minds want to know, are you a butterfly yet?”
Learning quickly here to play along with Butch’s flights of fancy and fantasy, and in this case with a nice dose of candor I managed to mutter, “I’ve turned into something, not sure what yet!”
He nodded and grinned like the wily professor pleased with his star student. “Isn’t it always the case!”
He flashed his now familiar shiteating grin and his right hand emerged from hiding behind his back holding a small pipe with a short wooden stem leading to a metal shank attached to a metal bowl with embers of tobacco emitting the slightest curl of smoke.
He took a drag and the bowl flared and I heard the resiny hash sizzle. It seemed a very long time til he exhaled the smoke and spoke.
“As you might now infer, I scored my ‘killer’ hash yesterday. We smoked some last night before dinner and I was wont to wake you to join us, but alas I am no dictator and was outvoted by the ‘lovebirds’.”
Acquisition of good weed, or hash 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.
“And we are smoking some now, and INSIST that you join us. Just as Doctor Frankenstein electrified his monster to jolt it to life, Doctor B wants to ‘cannabify’ his Coopenstein manster!”
I chuckled to myself that it was just like in Grindelwald. One session of drinking sufficient 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 with a nickname 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. I had learned well enough, that 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. That was true for both my parents’ world with their booze and us younger types with our weed.
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 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 continue to welcome me into 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 really 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 realm 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…
I like smokin’ lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin’ with the wind
And the feeling 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 my ‘old friend’ 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 the cards 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, and I might as well climb on board this time for the trek to the higher realm de jour.
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 (or not maybe), 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 plucky and brazen in his actions. Still, he was about to hijack my day in a way, and I challenged him with a question.
“So when in Amsterdam?” I queried acerbically, finally fully awake now. His eyes twinkled and he chuckled at my question.
It had been six weeks since I had smoked any of the stuff, and I remembered that, particularly combined with tobacco, it had gotten me very high for quite a long time. 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, we WERE born to be wild. I’d spend it with these friendly members of my backpacker cohort in the altered ‘state of hash’. This would indeed be today’s unique adventure, today’s ‘cog railway’.
“Yes”, he finally replied, “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 summoning all his theatrical childlike faux fierceness, “And don’t say no to your fucking muse, dude!”, as he put the pipe between my just separated lips.
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 retreated to the circle where Gwendolyn and Burton were sitting, 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 paisley one that I had not worn yet here in town and that was still unworn since the washing in Angelica’s kitchen. 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 of course to facilitate the burning of the hashish, like adding kindling to start a fire in a fireplace, the resiny chunks of concentrated cannabis were like the logs in that fire, needing something that burned more easily to get them ignited. Those ‘logs’ of hashish would be set in a bed of cured tobacco leaves, from either a pouch of pipe tobacco or from just a torn open cigarette. 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. Even more so with a pipe than a jay, since the paper wrapper for the joint would absorb some of that liquid, 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 realm 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 liquifying and spilling out the back of my head, only then to evaporate into a gaseous cloud and fill the room. Yeah 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 I immediately followed 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 and dilated pupils, 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, finally broke the silence with his words.
“I am so fucking high!”
The rest of us giggled. The four of us were now calibrated with each other in our new shared magical realm. A realm that existed within the mundane everyday world around us, but not visible unless you were stoned, or at least that was my now 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 bunk room. I peeked out an open window in the front of big dorm 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 color, 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 still in its efficiency of both warmth and compactibility into its little orange pouch, just half the size of 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 bunk room on the second floor.
I presumed that at night all the male types slept in the men’s bunk room 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 through 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 bunk rooms 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 sleeping quarters. And when I followed Butch and Burton into the women’s bunk room, there were several 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 auburn 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, turning in the process and giving us a quick glimpse of her profile, and the outline of her small breast, nipple and all, under the front of her fairly sheer bra.
It might have been two seconds in the mundane world we had recently departed, but it was eons now. Captured by its perfect shape. Imagining it fully unencumbered, my fingers ascending its slope to the summit. My mind flashed on the perfectly conical Jungfrau in Grindelwald.
She then pulled a t-shirt over her head and the gorgeous thing went into hiding. That followed by a sweatshirt, and finally of course the ubiquitous poncho, hers a bright yellow.
Following Butch again, the four of us 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!”, she scolded playfully, “Don’t drink too much beer!”, she chided in mother hen mode, “But do have a glass, or two, 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 vestaments of down jacket and poncho, with just my face interfacing with the outside world, now enjoying each drop of rain and gust of cold wind that had beset me before but now 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. A stranger in a strange land. 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 feed the bus were stunning in their weight and metallicness. The way they clinkity clanked into the shiny little machine on the bus that took your fare made me giggle. I almost poured in more coins just to hear that amazing sound again.
The brewery seemed like a totally different place, the moans and groans 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 our cohort of big haired young adult types preparing to drink lots of free beer.
And that free 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”, vocalized and sparking more giggles 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 feed me. I was quickly doing the same in his mouth in response as Gwendolyn applauded and Burton finally joined her ovation.
Still very stoned and now loaded up with alcohol as well, which I noted got to your brain quicker than the hash, we were soon back under our ponchos and back out on the street. Whereas before, buzzing on just the cannabis, my experience of the cold, wet, windy day had been just a playfully reverent obsession with the minutia of sensations. The visceral reaction of my brain to the various wavelengths of colors; of painted wood on doors, door frames and boats docked in the canals; the metallic paint colors with chrome highlights interplaying with glass windshields and windows on cars. The textures of the wet stone and brick facades of the buildings. The feeling of a drop of water collecting on the underside of my nose between the nostrils before becoming heavy enough to overcome the surface tension and fall several centimeters before crashing upon my lower lip. The faint whiffs of ozone, burnt and unburnt petrol, algae, baking bread, cooking meat, decomposing sewage, nylon and sweat. The cacophony of voices and footfalls of boots, heels and sneakers; car engines, horns, brakes and rubber tires gripping or slipping on roads; rain drops crashing against various surfaces, awnings, windows, sidewalks, windshields and ponchos. The taste of water from the sky compared to the water that dripped from my nose with that little infusion of saltiness. The thermal reaction of my skin when a gust of wind caressed my cheek.
Now adding to that cannabic reverence, the alcohol applied a layer of inordinate courage and lust, egging one on to fearlessly pursue an ever larger myriad of sensations and experiences, to say no to nothing.
In the midst of this intoxication, both in and with the moment, I somehow realized I had forgotten that I had planned to go to the BOAC office to book my return flight.
“Hmm”, I pondered audibly, catching the attention of my trio of comrades, open as we all were to any and all possible input. As we continued to walk I began my soliloquy, waving my arms in my poncho like some big flightless bird.
“Before the BOAC place closes today got to get the ticket thing.”
“Not to worry”, said Butch, still playing the benevolent alpha and somehow still capable of analytical thought, “Let’s do the Van Gogh museum first, Gwendolen’s inspired suggestion, and hang there until our brains get sufficiently sobered by the gravitas of fine art.”
“Hey watch it buster”, came a growling beer boosted female voice from the back rank of our still trodding forward little foursome formation. “Van Gogh’s no downer! He can be pretty damn intoxicating in my book! ‘Starry Night’. ‘Wheatfield with Crows’ for god’s sake!”
“I yield as always to the lady”, responded Butch with his patented feigned obsequiousness, “Though perhaps her understanding of ‘gravitas’ is not so reverent as my own.”
No response came from the back rank. Perhaps Gwendolyn’s current analytical capability was not great enough to parse Butch’s last sentence. Mine certainly wasn’t, and she being the smallest person of the three of us, was that much more affected by the intoxicants.
“Anyway”, Butch continued, “After we’ve been thoroughly sated by the Dutch master, I will accompany the Coopenstein to get his boarding pass.”
“We’ll come too”, said Gwendolyn, the gnarly tone of her previous response totally gone. She and Burton were obviously grooving along with Butch and I in the whole ‘hey we’re all wasted let’s stick together’ hive mind thing.
My administrative problem addressed for now, and my inhibitions pretty much KO’d at this point by the one two punch of the hash and the beer, as we continued to pound the pavement through the cold rainy city towards the gallery, I decided to share with the group what my mom, an artist herself, had taught me about Van Gogh.
“So my mom’s a painter”, I said, turning my head back toward Gwendolyn and Burton behind me as we continued to walk in our little formation, “She does mostly abstract stuff, but she went to art school and studied art history alot”, giving them her bonafides before I launched into my interesting fact.
“So she told me that Van Gogh was one of the first painters to work with a newly invented ‘chrome yellow’ pigment, which he used to capture those iconic fields of grain he’s noted for.” Then continuing, “He actually did much of his painting with a palette knife rather than a brush, kind of applying the pigment like you would frost a birthday cake”. I included a pantomime of a hand wielding that palette knife in small half circle motions.
This lit up Gwendolyn. Walking behind me next to Burton, she grabbed and yanked on my poncho to get my attention.
“Whoa there dude!” Her voice was sharp and fierce like I had not heard it before.
So into my buzzed groove, it startled me and I stopped walking. The others quickly halted as well. It was like we had been trudging along in some sort of trance groove that we all suddenly fell out of, or like we were a team of horses and the driver had pulled hard on the reins.
Butch and Burton turned to look at Gwendolyn. Following their lead I turned around as well. She 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 then finally speaking.
“Sorry!” It was spoken as sheepishly as her previous utterance had been demanding.
Butch started to cough out a laugh, followed by Burton. I watched the look on Gwendolyn’s face transition from embarrassment to a sort of jaunty pride up as she got more comfortable showing this brazen assertiveness in front of her male comrades.
Seriously buzzed like the rest of us, probably more so, she struggled to compose herself enough to speak a cohesive sentence. “Dudes,” she pleaded, “Just took art history… totally into it… love Van Gogh… but that palette knife thing!”
Explanation given, we all started to walk again, but now Butch and Burton ahead starting up their own conversation, revisiting an earlier argument they were having about socialism versus capitalism and free enterprise. Gwendolyn now next to me, she leaned toward me as she fired her questions, working hard to be more coherent.
“So your mom paints. Is she a… has she… sold stuff?”
“No”, I responded, “She’s done maybe a dozen canvases, mostly abstract.” I used ‘canvases’ rather than ‘paintings’ because I recalled my mom referring to them that way at times and I wanted to impress Gwendolyn that I knew the lingo at least. “I’m no art critic but I think she’s pretty talented.”
“Wow”, she replied, “I wish I had a mother like that, or at least knew someone like that.”
So I waxed on on the topic, saying that my mom generally worked in our living room, where the natural light coming in the two big windows was best. She’d have her canvas either on an easel, or sometimes laid flat on sheets of newspaper on our living room coffee table. Gwendolyn listened intently, kind of grimacing and nodding in turn. She finally confessed that she too liked to paint, but was just starting out. She’d only worked with watercolors on paper so far, but had ogled the oil paints in the art store and she was excited to maybe try them.
“Does your mom buy her canvases at the art store? They seem pretty expensive.”
“Nope. She makes them herself.” It felt like I was almost channeling the prideful way my mom would have said it.
So feeling and craving Gwendolyn’s rapt interest and the connection growing between us, I went into the process in great length. It was actually pretty much the same process we used to build ‘flats’ for a stage set, so I knew the steps well. Buying the pre-cut corner braces and having the lumber yard cut the pieces of wood for the sides. (My theater group used the table saw in the backstage shop at school to cut the lumber ourselves.) Buying canvass at the art store by the yard, plus the sizing. Cutting a piece of canvas to leave a couple extra inches on each side. 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 and ensure there were no wrinkles. Finally painting on the sizing, so it could dry and shrink the canvas to a very taut surface ready to have paint applied.
“So does she paint all the time?”
“Off and on”, I responded, “Though she often has a canvas in progress for weeks at a time.” Then chuckling at that strong olfactory memory, “The living room often smells of her oil-based paints and the turpentine she uses to clean her brushes.”
“Mmm”, Gwendolyn purred, “I remember that smell. When no one was looking I’d open the tubes of paint at the art store and sniff them. It’s intoxicating.”