I've been experimenting with psychedelic drugs since I was a teenager but the peak of my experience came when I was in my early twenties working at Masquerade Fantasy on Decatur Street where we made and sold hand painted leather masks in the Italian style. The owner was a big, eccentric drunk guy who always wore Hawaiian shirts and would ride around the Quarter on his electric scooter hitting all the bars. This fellow wasn't a strict boss and was frequently out of town, so I would often live in his mask shop for weeks at a time presiding over the place by day and having raucous parties by night.
As it happened it was right at this time that an old friend of mine started up an herbal entheogen business and began importing exotic hallucinogens from all over the world. From Salvia Divinorum to Peruvian Torch Cactus to powdered toad venom, I did it all sitting behind the counter of the mask shop listening to my White Album and Live at Leads tapes for the ten thousandth time.
The Ayahuasca came already brewed in a two liter 7-UP bottle. I couldn't help but think of poor Bill Burroughs slogging through the jungles of South America and eventually contracting worms in search of the same thrill. In the modern world the most exotic drugs you've never heard of are just a mouse click away.
Now back then when I had access to all these weird drugs I have to admit that I was irresponsible. I would give the stuff away at parties and festivals in a haphazard fashion. For example I went to Jazz Fest one year with an ounce of Salvia 10x and handed it out like candy to whoever wanted it. In retrospect I realize that kind of freewheeling behavior was unwise and it did occasionally cause problems.
One time I gave a gutter punk a hit of 10x (which is 10 times stronger than raw Salvia) and he sprinted off down the street into the night. The next day I saw him and a friend sitting on a stoop. When he saw me he told his friend, "Watch out for this guy. Last night he drove me completely insane."
I was a madman on the loose and needed to be stopped but I had yet to learn this lesson when I got my bottle of Ayahuasca. I immediately offered some to a couple of gutter punk friends.
"What the fuck is it?"
"It's a shaman's brew from South America. A mixture of two plants. One plant contains the DMT and the other enables your brain to process it."
"It smells like shit. Have you tried it?"
"No, I have to go to work today. Supposedly this stuff is pretty potent. Like, "talk to aliens" potent. I'm going to drink some after I close up tonight."
"Alright, hook me up.", said the Alpha punk. The Beta punk concurred.
We went down to the mask shop and I locked the door behind us and drew the curtains. I know it's hard to believe someone would give me the keys to their business but I swear it's true.
"How much are we supposed to drink?"
"Not much. Just a couple swallows."
I poured the vile liquid into plastic go-cups and the punks choked it down. Then we sat around and smoked a joint while they waited for the DMT to take effect.
It wasn't long before the punks started looking green around the gills and within twenty minutes they were clearly feeling it. They were slurring their words and flailing around and one of them kept laughing maniacally. They started to get nervous. The mask shop can be a menacing place with all those frogs and witches and ducks glaring at you in the florescent light.
Trained spiritual guru that I am I recognized their agitation as a symptom of sensory overload and suggested that they go lay down in the bathroom. The mask shop used to be an apartment and had a pleasant, spacious bathroom with a functioning tub. I got the punks situated, closed the door and put on "Dear Prudence" from the White Album which always has a soothing effect during a heavy trip. Then I opened the curtains, flipped around the sign, unlocked the door and started making a pig mask out of leather.
It was about an hour later that my coworkers Mindy and Sylvia arrived for work. Mindy was a former model who had moved to New Orleans from Florida with her boyfriend Dave. Sylvia was a cheerful and gregarious native deeply involved in the local bar culture. By then they were both accustomed to, and I'd like to think highly amused by, my stupid antics. Neither of them were particularly surprised when I told them about the comatose punks in the bathroom.
After the usual pleasantries I said to them in an offhand way, "Oh, I almost forgot, there are a couple of gutter punks writhing around on the bathroom floor. I gave them some witches brew from South America and apparently it's pretty intense."
"You saved some for us right?"
"Of course, but I thought we could do it at your apartment after work."
"Hell yeah! Dave won't mind."
The gutter punks finally came to after a couple hours. They seemed no worse for the wear.
"Good call putting us in the bathroom man. I puked twice. That's some crazy dope you got there. Insane visuals. At first I didn't know what was happening. I could hardly move. It was fucking great!"
Another successful experiment.
After work we locked up and walked over to Mindy's house off of Eylsian Fields. Dave wasn't home so we lit the Nag Champa and I poured us three small doses from the sacred 7-UP bottle of foul tasting enlightenment. That stuff was pretty bitter but we got it down.
I'm going to forgo rating the categories by number. It seems so arbitrary. I'll just list some important points about the experience and comment on them.
Authenticity--- In all truth, my Ayahuasca was not brewed up by witch doctors in South America but by sketchy looking guys with long hair and dark glasses in the French Quarter. I know what ingredients they used and what they were supposed to do but I don't know if they followed the recipe carefully or just winged it together. I doubt they prayed over it. The dose I took was about four ounces and lasted for three peak hours with two hours of come down. I've heard tell of Ayahuasca trips lasting for eight or nine hours, but like I said, these guys weren't exactly chemists.
The "Oh shit! I took too much!" Factor--- The first effect I noticed from the drink was a sudden and certain panic that I had taken too much. The room started spinning and my heart was beating out of my chest. The fear was overwhelming. The incense and trippy music Mindy put on the stereo wasn't helping either. Mindy must have been feeling the same way because she got up, went into her bedroom, and closed the door. Sylvia was, as usual, in a state of pure bliss. Not wanting to disturb her with my frantic vibrations I went out on the balcony which was overflowing with plants. It really felt like the jungle. I curled up into the fetal position on the ground and began to recite the Litany Against Fear.
The Power of ONE!!!--- After writhing around for what seemed like hours, but was probably more like forty five minutes, I started to relax a bit and became more aware of my surroundings. I was still laying on Mindy's balcony surrounded by plants in full bloom. Mindy's cat, Sid Vicious, was staring at me with mild curiosity. I was now profoundly struck by the beauty that had been created on that balcony as an act of pure will. This jungle I was in was not to be taken for granted but had been painstakingly eked into existence in this unlikely place, through careful nurturing and diligence. Did Mindy realize the profundity of what she had made?
The cat was a product of the ages. Bred down from countless generations to be as pleasant and agreeable to my sensibilities as possible. In the forth dimension he looked like a vastly long cat-snake that got cuter and cuter the closer you got to the head. He seemed to know I was in a strange mood.
Even the mosquitoes swirling around me were my friends. I let them land on me then shooed them away without killing them knowing that they too were part of the tapestry of the universe that comprises all things.
I sat there in a blissed out revelry for maybe an hour or two before the intensity began to subside and I again felt I could handle human company.
The Come Down--- Ayahuasca is one of those drugs that makes you thank god you're still alive. I went into the living room and Sylvia was still sitting in the same spot on the couch. She gave me a knowing look.
"Holy shit dude!", she said shaking her head in amazement.
"I know what you mean. I just took a tour of the cat's genetic history."
Mindy came out of her room and we all shared a kind of "high five" moment. We had survived again.
"I'm going to say that this was more intense than the toad venom but not as crazy as the cactus.", said Mindy.
"Yeah" agreed Sylvia, "This was more intense at the peak but the cactus lasted much longer."
"So do you think you would ever want to do it again?", I asked them.
"Hell fucking no! Just like most of the stuff you come up with it's fun to do once but not something you want to do every day. There's a reason the classic drugs never go out of style."
We all cracked a cold beer and drank to that.