Outside and sitting on the back deck already hot cross-legged. Forward chest, deep breaths and closed eyes, hands on my thighs like sieves. Boards of splintered wooden currents and streams laid underneath me as I teetered between thinking and trying not to focus on my painful buttocks.
Spend most of my day sitting. Writing, playing video games, praying, riding a bike, and taking the bus. Shitting.
Enough already. Stood up. Went inside and to the galley to ingest five dried grams of mushrooms.
I don't remember the last time I removed sandwiches from a zip-lock bag. The golden capped, blue and white stemmed fruit lay in the bottom inert but dense with inter-dimensional wisdom. Or, you know. It's a poisonous fungus.
Either way, they smelled like dead leaves and tasted like tree bark, eons old. I sat on the circular table beside the west window, eating slowly. Flowers and pollen. Wind through an autumn grove. Had tried the first day, a week ago, just a few small doses and the psychoactive effects were highly manageable. Rode my bike thirty miles that day.
But this day, eleven in the morning, I went on a much shorter bike ride to the mountains north of Altadena. The journey to take less time than it would for the high to kick in -- although that's not entirely what it is. It's a symbiotic ride through consciousness with an alien being growing inside you. Unafraid of death and thrilled for the day pass into a human life.
Thirty minutes up Fremont and my front wheel began wobbling with the waves of asphalt heat, reminding me to drink. Things were getting brighter and louder. The sun rising higher. Lunch hour.
Not even in Pasadena yet and my dad called just when I felt the mushroom really get its roots in there. Like a hand grabbing my stomach from the inside. An extra light came on, hella bright. And right in time for my favorite performance of the week: the paternal check-in.
"Yes, sir?" I wheezed, and drank more water.
"What're you, taking a shit?"
"Not today," I said. We giggled on our end. "But no, I'm out riding as usual. The only time you ever call me is when I'm out riding."
Pause. "Good! You're lucky to have such a mobile, uh… job. Lifestyle! That allows for you to stop and check in at any time, you know?"
"Yeah, agreed. I don’t even have my phone on when I’m writing, so... What's going on with you?"
Every update from my dad is easy to follow because he tells me the whole of it and which step he's currently on, and what we both need to do next, each time we talk. I usually tell him what I've accomplished for the day. He’ll then suggest what my tomorrows might consist, in what ways he needs my assist, and eventually ends with, "What else is going on?"
"Too much to say,” Inside the atrium of my skull, the floor fell out and every wall began expanding outward. “But it’s all on track. I’ll email you.”
Goodbye, press the red button.
The bike clicked into my hand as I reached down for it, and we put on headphones over headband, walked a few blocks to the top of the hill. It’s a strange glide down through a layer of train tracks, industrial plants, and yet-to-be-abandoned shops before opening up to a park and apartment-studded rectangle just beneath downtown Pasadena.
It's truly amazing that a public park has water fountains with actual drinkable water just strewn throughout. America is great. Filled a glass bottle and drank some too, then onward as the toadstool in my belly grew.
Sidewalk ended without warning and I flew into the street seething, ears aching, heart beating, face red, and soon speeding. On a bike. To a hike. Take it easy. Finally in Altadena and I'm starting to get ahead of myself in time because I skipped the part where we found a mausoleum and read the names of all the people on the second floor who'd died and been buried there. Walked the dusty halls barefooted, silent.
Then crept outside, not scared or tired, but ready to be at the damn mountains already.
Acid is a magic carpet ride where you're the Arabian prince flying into enchanted caves and through starlit skies. But mushrooms are more like meeting Bigfoot in the forest. And that can be a scary thing, for sure. When you're going twenty-five down crescent drive to the trailhead and you realize that something almost sentient, alive, is in your body with you. A buddy, for sure, but not all buddies are nice or necessarily considerate. Imagine running into Bigfoot, and spending the day with him. And you're animated! It' be a blast, but it probably ends with him running off into the brush. Leaving you up the creek.
Regardless, the entity is so enthralled by nature that I knew as long as I got there soon -- shit I passed it. Way back. So far down the wrong way. Cursing. Ran back up the hill and even on my bike pedaling in the highest gear legs bursting at the edges it took forever to recover the mistake.
Why are you freaking out? These parts are only allowed so much movement before unwinding. We looked down at my denim-encased legs moving through the air as if submerged in liquid.
Dude, chill. We're here.
Oh. The street that had smelled like tree underarm pits, but in a sexy way.
The gate had a break in the side for pedestrians. Locked my bike up and hugged the first tree along the path, before noticing a stream down there. Removed my shoes and set them atop a park bulletin board, and checked my water.
A woman came up the path. She did not immediately look at me, which allowed me to watch her long enough to manage a humanlike approach, "Excuse me?" I stepped forward.
She slowed and met my eyes. "Yes?"
Deep breath. "Do you happen to know where to get water around here?”
She stopped to turn and look where my eyes pointed, over her shoulder.
The path we stood on took hikers from the road to a bridge near the bottom of the mountains. Spindly trails started on the other side of the bridge and looked like dead, withered worms, but between the foothills there and the raised roadway on the opposite side, was this expanse that stretched from the valley below us to the horizon in the east. Green and grey grew along the banks of the small stream that came from under the bridge and made a hard left, running straight through it all and into the distance.
"Drinkable water?" she asked. "I doubt it."
"I realize it’s stupid to be asking now. I have some, but I thought I should ask before I go out there."
"Sorry, I'm not from around here," she sighed, glanced at my feet and reevaluated me with relative discretion. "But I have a bottle of water."
"Oh, no. I don't want to take your water."
She revealed it. A Volvic plastic bottle, half full and warm.
"Oh," She held it out to me. "Oh, thank you."
So much hesitation because I didn't want to be rude, but I also wanted to run away. Could've easily remained a tree as she'd passed instead of intruding on her day. Too afraid that people might know, or think my eyes look crazy. Really hoped for just a yes answer. And, I guess I got it.
She said, "Enjoy your hike," as she walked away.
I turned and went.
The bridge didn't take long to reach or to scramble under, or to find the stream hidden under tilted trees. Walked through it, not hallucinating. That's the exaggeration that makes the myth. The truth is that everything is so vivid and lucid already, you’re just experiencing it with the company of child-like wonder in your stomach. And it brings out your own. Sasquatch ha-has along with -- and we’re splashing in the water, of course, then running up the gravel and sand dunes out the canopy to the dusty trails beyond. The heat was on. Blazing my feet into sacks of boiled bacon, but it didn't bother us.
Passed a guy in knee high socks and cotton-laced cushions round his bunions. "Wow, that must be hot," he said.
"No, it feels great," I found out when I focused on them. Dug my toes in. We began to run again. Found several trailheads and offshoots to the stream where we lied on cooled rocks and dreamt together in the sunstreaks trough willow.
Every little nook so chock full of living history and vibes. Couldn't help; felt the hide of each old oak that we passed and just as things began to normalize. As more people flooded the trails. Just as the noise increased and I could hear words that hurt and see eyes that stared, I took to a jog.
"That's brave to go barefoot," said a lady in shoes matching the pink of her ankles.
And just when I feared that maybe fasting had been a bad thought and Sasquatch had gone because of all the googly people coming along, we saw a sign that delighted us. A trail off the main path, barely trodden.
Three young women in painted-on half pants and sports bras passed and felt need to cast comment.
"Psh, Coyote Canyon?" asked one.
Another called, "Good luck!"
Luck isn't a thing. Drank the rest of the given water and twisted the plastic into a knot, put the cap back on and bagged it.
We're about a third of the way through this story, transition to a mind state of complete freedom and no fear of voyeurs because up just twenty feet the path narrowed, scraggly trees rose, walls began on either side in sandstone. The path widened once we passed an invisible point where most people would turn back. Stretch of shaded sandy wash snaking through the narrow canyon.
Two beach trees created a twisted threshold, stepped over it and hiked an S curve, then the path opened overhead and we could see the power lines stretching from mountaintop to mountaintop. Up the hill more, turned to view the raised roadway way off, and even the seven pillar cityscape of LA, gray on the edge of visibility. The sand under my feet had lost its discipline, seemed only a dried stream really -- not a footpath at all. Brush grew in and alongside it now, yellow and white little flowers.
Finally, a large bush blocked the way.
"What the heck?"
We peeked around it: more sand and sandstone and wily brush.
Nature is vital to a mushroom trip. The draw of quiet kept us going and around the weedy bend there was a large Oak with its root system mostly hanging out the side of the mountain, beside a rock path. Yellow flowers exploded out the vines on either side of the entrance.
Reverently followed, the stone split creek lead to a dead end where another smaller rock path went off to the left. It smelled of sage, unrecycled plastics, and decay. Flies and gnats buzzed a bit, but a breeze beckoned through the maw to keep moving. Climbed, stooped, through dead branches and into the full shade of the mountain. Each step along more hollow and alone than the last – as if walking slowly toward a corpse or a hole with leaves over top, spikes at the bottom.
A long line of genetic dominoes come to an end here, in this vessel. Most outside this canyon will divide themselves in half over and over again into eternity until the earth is shoulder to shoulder full maybe. Only a select few of us get to be the end of a root. The reaching fiber that makes it to a place nobody else has been and ends there.
Except this path just petered off into nothing.
Tried climbing either side of the little canyon and nope. Stood there a while in the absence of breeze, holding my breathe. The mushroom assured me that if we were so silly as to die here, it'd be the same as anywhere else.
But if that’s true, then why the hell die here of all places?
“I didn’t come here to die,” I laughed. We nearly ran from that place. Spilled out of the blackened entrance with skin crawling. Had seen my own face behind the shattered, black mask of the enemy.
Began walking out, but a couple of feet and to the left were these green loamy steps.
A little glen between lay just over a hump, through passage of mint and sage and wisteria. Monarch butterflies and tiny white moths stirred from brush to bush and there was a low hum up past the main tree in the middle of a small hill. A few companion trees grew around the small clearing of golden grass and along the ridge above the path, which had obscured the glen on first approach.
Slabs of rocks for sitting, napping upon, or otherwise, stationed themselves around the grassy hill and even under the grandmother tree at the heart of it. A bed of soft green matted grass glowed in circular shade under her boughs, but I didn't enter there. Instead I followed a dirt trail around and uphill to brambles of buzzing bees.
This was it. Everything. I raised two fingers to the universe, hailed the sun, and said a prayer of gratitude as a light cloudcover came over us for a cool rock nap. In time to contemplate how much more meaningful this all would be with a companion, break down and cry about your ex.
Contents of my backpack and possibly all I have before walking back out into the wasteland: Six plastic bottles (mostly recovered from the hike including the given one), four rolls of film (one finished), three house keys on a ring, two bike keys on a ring, two notebooks, two cameras, one glass bottle (third full of water), cotton shirt and pants, smart phone and charger, wallet, headband, lighter, bowl, headphones, a knife, a pen, and a book.
That's so much, really. I didn't even read the book the whole day. Or use one of the cameras.
One bag is more than I need, but I took it with me, obviously. Fast, quick, and in a hurry because the time was three thirty and I had other places to be.
Smoking shy of an hour later in one of the threshold beach trees, its outstretched branches holding my body hammocked. Tail-less monkey in sunshine bliss, brain spinning. This can’t be a habit for so many reasons, the least of them being its tremendousness. The mushroom affirms to me everything I already and will believe. It gets to the core of you whether you like it or not and digs. Roots around. You won't necessarily like what you find out, but it'll be true. And it'll always thereafter be with you. So take the trip as lightly as you experience the enormity of existence. It means as much as it means.
The ritual of going on a trek in the mountains makes inner arcs easier to follow with the reinforcement of real world manifestation. Literally walking the steps of a myth. It's a physical journey that affects the underlying materials of your soul because it's designed to do so – even when contrived.
"You're just on a hike, man."
I dropped from the tree and giggled heartily. Crunched barefoot on the leaves and balanced on low branches, checked my phone and gasped.
Sasquatch will leave your ass in the lurch.
I had an hour to get to my bike, which we both knew was an hour away.
Headphones on and gone.
No rush and no hurry but there were certainly more children out than before, and I looked homeless or crazed more and more as the jog went along. Sweating out the last of my water. Sandstone feet and soiled open safari shirt I'd not actually planned on wearing. The other shirt had been used to wipe my crying dirty face in a part of the story I left back in the glen. So I had that animal print on and no shoes and small grey shorts and my skin goes from pale sand shins to a khaki forehead, shoulders and nose red, black helmet of hair. Running along the trail with a full, military-green pack.
The only reason they could ever know for sure is if I told them. So I didn’t. I jogged by and waved, widening my eyes at the strain of exercise before me, saying, "hey!"
Totally normal human.
I might just be a hipster training naively, like I'd seen in some movie. And that's pretty much true. That's basically how I go out in public ever anyway. Recognize that to a certain degree, perception is reality -- but it doesn't matter if you're the protagonist.
The stream remained where I'd crossed before and the bridge above it, too. Wet feet for a treat then a quick scramble through a sandy area reeking of pee, cursing. Found my shoes where I left them. Marveled at the light of growing evening and found my bike.
A golf course materialized a couple of blocks down the street with a sign: open to the public.
I refilled and drank at the fountain there. For free. Washed a little until I got some glances and fled. Two hours until the show in Burbank and I had an hour and forty-five to ride.
Whew. Might've put us through an unnecessary ringer. The organism still resided inside me, but the water had barely revived it and the exercise wasn't making it excited.
Winds were high, coming from the direction of Burbank.
After a few confusing attempts to follow Google Maps, the bike path signs became handier for in-game directions. Green panels with white bikes hung on street signs and some portions of the actual road painted, lead to the gem of the entire tour: Foothill Boulevard.
Essentially on a bike going up the down escalator. I fought like a maniac to push each block behind me, and then got stopped by each red light at the intersections anyway.
Must have passed every kind of conceivable intersection going up that hill; ones with fire departments at the onset of a call, a school zone classes getting out somehow, churches with parties in the yard, and everyone outside ogling at the wind. Some kids even took photos.
Buildings were bulky and the streets wide with cars trying to ram me out of crosswalks. Few people were actually using the sidewalk for transit. They were either in cars or in yards and they all had nice clothing.
Verdugo Road stems off near the top of the hill and as the map seemed to indicate, curved down and around to Burbank. It was a glorious ride down aside from the occasional times I'd find the end of a bike path on the road, and with no sidewalk. Got some honks, but that's like a dog’s bark. As long as no car actually hits.
So I made it down in a sheer slalom and it really cooled me. But I was also almost out of water again.
When I turned off Verdugo and back toward Burbank, the wind really broke. No hill acted as barrier anymore, and even at an incline down, if I stopped pedaling then I'd stop moving. Or it'd slow me enough to force me off the road and I couldn't, wouldn't miss this show.
Duncan Trussell is a comedian and podcaster of a truth-seeking nature, and ending a mushroom trip with him was my idea of a perfect day. He'd invariably have jokes about psychedelics. I had to make it there by eight. My phone said seven when I checked obsessively, about halfway.
The problem is ingrained in me and attached, I think, to what I think to be my identity.
Punctuality is important, because it's honesty. But obsessing about time itself -- or at least our system of measuring it -- is a waste. Maybe? Well, especially if you're already late!
I knew and know this, but refused to listen in the moment.
I told God he could go spit. Middle fingers. The clouds were low by then and the wind down Flower Street so powerful. I cursed at the circumstance and went into oncoming traffic, crisscrossing train tracks, gasping for breathe when it finally happened.
Hurk! Oh no, don't go.
And I vomited. Kept riding over the bumpy road and through another intersection, all the cars stopped at red lights from every angle. The horizon flashed when I vomited again, onto my hand. Green mucus.
On my own with fifteen minutes to zigzag through ten more blocks. Wind still rising. The thought that got me through this was that very soon the suffering would be over and the show would be all the better for it. Inhale. Push. Exhale. Unfurrow your brow.
Gonna make it right on time, and there's likely opening acts before Duncan. Don't have a heart attack or something.
Deep breathing and a countdown -- not according to a clock but the rhythm of my body with the bike and the street. Keep quiet except to exhale at the proper moment. Kicking off or making the light. Turning sharp and recognizing.
"I've been here!"
So I went left and knew the rest, four blocks to Starburns Industries. Locked bike. Phone out, gmail, find ticket. Sidewalk scrolling under flopping flaps. Look up at it. Empty block. Nobody at the door, nor outside at all. No cars in the parking lot. I walked around the building and found someone just as he left the back.
"Is there a show here tonight?"
His face told me, but he tried anyway, "Maybe check the front door..."
The front door said: Nothing.
A sign to the side, on the card scanner, said: press blue button for entry.
I pushed it. Nothing buzzed and no voice came. I tried again immediately out of fear I'd not pressed it fully the first time. I had, so I waited. I considered admitting defeat, but I just prefer the number three so I did one more.
Erin McGathy answered the door. If you don't know her, that's okay. Neither do I, really. But I've listened to her voice for hours on her podcast and Dan Harmon's podcast (Dan Harmon, president of Starburns Industries and good friends with Duncan Trussell), as well as seen her in a documentary, and live on stage. So I feel like I know her, obviously recognized her, and she'd never seen me before in her life.
But she let me in, and may have even said simply, "come in," as she lead me to a lounge to the left of the entrance. I followed her, awakening from the drug-induced reality of my day into an absurd dream. She sat on a sofa next to the clay figures used for the film Anomalisa. In the burgundy chair next to her, was Andy Dick.
"What?" I asked.
The lounge lights were low, but there were so many of them and a large hanging television, too. So I hoovered there by the door unsure, of course, what I should do. "Hello," I said. "Wow. Andy Dick!"
"Yep, it’s me. Are you here for the thing?" Andy asked me. He swiveled a glance at Erin.
"I'm here for the Duncan Trussell show... I'm assuming I'm at the wrong place."
Erin assured me it was fine and to sit. "What's the address? It's something Isabel." But I could barely pay attention over the noise of Andy Dick in the room. "Have a seat," she encouraged as I absently sought for something on my phone screen.
"Yeah, have a seat, ya idiot," Andy said. He cocked his blonde curls aside and blinked through the same thick glasses I'll have some day. "Do I know you?"
"Just checking. I didn't think so, but everybody knows me!" He swiveled back toward Erin for confirmation. She nodded. I approached and shook his hand, sweating profusely.
"Duncan Trussell," he mused as I sat. "You know what I like to call him anymore?"
"What's that?" Sweating profusely.
He smirked. "Drunken Tussel."
I laughed for a really long time. Enough that it might have come off disingenuous. Erin looked over her phone at me.
"That's funny, I'm not trying to be -- it's just crazy to be here. I feel like I'm extremely high. Could be... the dehydration, though." My saliva ran out.
"You know," Andy said. "You're..."
"Thirsty," I managed.
"...Pretty cute," Andy finished.
"Please help yourself," Erin waved her hand and a bar appeared behind our chairs in the corner of the room. It might have been there before. A large glass-faced fridge grinned full of goodies behind Andy's chair, so I drifted over.
"What's the address again?" Erin tried.
Andy asked at the same time, "How old are you?"
I told him without recourse and snagged two mini bottles of water, then took my seat. The leather laughed under the awkward placement of my butt, and I slid back into the chair under Andy's silent stare. Tried my phone again, trembling. Admitted I'd ridden a bike over, in the wind, two hours...
"Well no wonder you're sweating!" He reached out and tried a touch of my clammy forearm. "This wind! I got a weather advisory on my phone, can you believe it? -- do you get emergency alerts on your phone? -- It says..." He swiped at his phone. "It says: Wind Advisory! Thirty mile an hour winds..."
"Oh, that make sense. No, I don't get emergency..." Absently checked phone.
"What's the address?" Erin asked.
"Oh!" I swiped at my device. She did, too. All three of us swiped at screens for a few seconds in the relative calm of one of the most surreal living rooms I've ever sat in, a Community diorama behind me, legendary comedian to the right of me, and a pivotal character to Harmontown and 'quest across from me, studio of Rick and Morty around it all. We figured out the address finally, only a minute drive away. Only ten after eight. Show might not even be started, yet.
Erin said, "Roland will be picking us up in five minutes!"
"Us?" I asked. Andy groped me and told me, 'Duh Doy.'
"Wow, seriously thank you." I had a beer at Andy's insistence and relaxed as much as my rung bodily luggage could manage. "And sorry again for imposing on your evening."
"Not at all!"
"I was actually hoping to hit that tonight," Andy said.
Soon, but not in a hurry (although I awkwardly kept asking if we were leaving), Andy went to the toilet and Erin showed me the exit. I managed to ask neither of them a question of importance or make any further observations about the inside of this place I’d likely never revisit. Door closed. Back parking lot.
I don't remember the chitchat that I must have had with Andy on the way to the car, but once we got close he yelled out, "Shotgun!"
"Sure," I accepted it. "Of course."
"It's a simple game, bitch. With simple rules."
"The first person, to..." He began patting he pockets. "Oh, no! I left my pipe." He stamped. "I left my pipe in there! That's my favorite pipe...." His golden curls shook angrily as he stomped a few more times.
"You can probably get it later..."
"No," he decided. "We gotta go back." He turned to look at the path we'd taken to get to the threshold of this last little journey. Just a few blocks. And I don't get to hang out with Hollywood celebs on a daily basis, but I'd probably never hang out with them again regardless -- and the show was what I didn't want to miss. After all of this?
"You can have this pipe!" I tried, meeting him and Erin at the back door to the building. Handed over my little glass bowl and he accepted it. Then he went back to knocking on the door. Erin knocked, too. We all called for the door to open, then I walked away. Something groaned in my empty bowels and I dropped the empty beer bottle into a recycling bin.
My peripheral vision had narrowed slowly over the course of sipping it and waiting for the car. Not to be ungrateful because I should have stuck to water, but by the time we all got on the road, I was drunk. Hadn't drank a drop of alcohol in months and dehydration only helps it, duh.
"Roland?" Andy asked the driver.
"No, your name is Roland?"
"I'm Andy." They shook hands as the driver attempted a U-turn.
Then we were off and I said nothing the whole drive because every street that fell behind us also dropped into darkness, nobody out walking under the lights so they switched off and eventually only one block was left: the one we were on. Pulled up and a guard asked if we there for the show.
A mock castle rose up rigidly just beyond his outstretched left arm -- right this way folks! Or would you prefer VIP? Assuming he realized who was arriving.
Andy said yes, absolutely. “VIP! The green room, please.” Not direct to the show. We need a drink.
I laughed and trundled along. But Erin sighed. "What's wrong?"
"This is rude of me," she said. "To be here at this show. At this place.”
"What? No it's fine for you to -- why would it matter?"
"He married us..." she reminded me.
Duncan Trussel had officiated Dan Harmon and Erin McGathy's wedding. They'd gotten divorced a couple years ago, though.
"Shit," I admitted. "I'm sorry." Again.
"The three of you were married?" Andy asked. "How would that even work?"
Only seat available was a box below the projector for Andy and I. Erin likely left shortly after we arrived, but so did Duncan go on, so I lost track of what exactly was happening. Trying to pay attention through the swirling sea of withering poison inside me, for some reason drinking wine with Andy, laughing as he called out and nobody knowing it him until about halfway through the show when Duncan actually had to quiet him with comedy.
Found a spot on the wall mid-show and got along much better there -- even being in the audience was too much participation for me at this point and laughing hard at the set took the rest of the moisture out of my body.
I'd go a couple times to drink from the sink in the bathroom, but it'd cost at least a joke.
By the end of the show heat stroke began to set in and I went out a back door to escape the crowd. Duncan Trussell was standing out there beside a handful of friends. There were so many things I could tell him, thank him for, shake his hand about and whatever else. But if I stayed any longer the only thing I'd have done was vomit on him.
Because there was no stopping the wine and beer from leaving my upset stomach.
Got about a block from everyone before it gushed out, projectile. The ejection up my esophagus so violent I felt the blast against the top of my mouth before it changes direction, flooding through my teeth and to the ground. Extended splash.
Work hard, play hard.
The system purge hurts. Cried out the last bits of frustration and hurry.
Unable to keep down a glass of water at the nearest twenty-four hour diner, so ordered my own Lyft home and passed out somewhere between the front door and the downstairs couch, half naked.
It doesn't always go like this. But you learn a lot when it does.