Hallucinating in Paradise
Issue #10, December 1993
'Another Day in Paradise'
— City of Irvine Official Motto
A diamond shaped pattern of bright lights slowly hovers in darkness over the city of Irvine. The intense non-projective lights glow with prismatic fluorescence. No sound emanates from these shapes which seem to be about a hundred feet off the ground. I walk with the lights for about twenty minutes, not deviating from the completely clean sidewalk, which even in my bare feet feels grit free. I am for some reason absolutely convinced that they are spaceships. I wish quietly to myself for them to take me away. I continue to follow, believing that I am about to witness something incredible. So quiet and big, the forms slowly descend; and as my excitement peaks, it is instantly shattered by the now-visible fat white band of rotor blades. They seep out of the darkness, exposing a squadron of four double-bladed combat helicopters. I laugh at myself, and I berate myself all the way home.
Even though I felt that Irvine was responsible for my feelings of oppression, I was using hallucinogens which amplified the psychological environment, effectively oppressing myself in the process. Irvine, California is an experiment in master-planned community fabrication. Its twenty-five year expansion was intended from the beginning to exhibit all the things that would attract those who could afford a middle-to upper-middle-class consumer oriented community. Irvine is a residential community, a University town, and there is a mini mall at nearly every major intersection. The environmental design of Irvine, given the conditions of its development, could have grown into a realistic 'Utopian' community. The idea of fabricating a local network of living areas, recreational zones, and light industries could have worked dynamically in a positive, progressive direction. Where Irvine deviated from its once radical or alternative approach to community was the infusion of consumer culture and attitudes. It is not the 'place' that fabricates identities: what constituted the psychological space of Irvine had more to do with how people were using it.
I would walk when I couldn't sleep at night. This activity was prone to police advisory. I would never carry any ID, so when I was stopped and questioned by the police I could feel like I was being interrogated. I almost enjoyed wasting their time, knowing that they wouldn't do a thing when it came down to it. Ten minutes of questions and rolling up my name on a computer screen:
'How old are you? You're not supposed to be out after 10:00 pm.'
'I couldn't sleep.'
'I might take you in and have your parents pick you up.'
'I just live over there.'
I know there wouldn't have been this problem if I had a car. I remember running away from the lights of a roving police helicopter that had spotted me and a friend. We were sitting on the cinderblock retaining wall of the rental townhouse complex where I lived. I lost the lights in an alley which I used a lot to avoid being seen by police. A year after I left Irvine, IPD was sued by a family whose retarded son was mistaken for a youth on PCP, and beaten. The police cars in Irvine are all white except for a bluegreen-white-blue stripe (The Incorporation of Irvine 'official colors') running the length of the car on the roof, passenger side. Inside they've got a computer, dash mounted shotgun, and the jurisdiction of the Incorporation to maintain security.
Heritage Park is a landscaped area with a synthetic-looking lake filled by green water, a fountain jet, and sickly looking birds. Next to it sit the Arts Center, the Teen Center, the Olympic pool, Irvine High School, and various other sport fields packed next to the 5 Freeway. Also there, enclosed prefabricated racket ball courts which I would visit with friends to just hang out. The corners of the courts were charred from fires, and Satanic messages in spraypaint adorned the unpainted concrete walls. At one point the courts had doors. They were taken off when it was discovered by police that homeless people were living in them.
I remember researching my use of LSD. A number of acquaintances in high school spoke of their exposure to the drug in terms of weirdness, entertainment value, and visuals. An older friend gave me the book _Doors of Perception_ by Huxley, noting that his description was pretty close to the experience. No doubt this exchange is a common one, almost stereotypical. I went through public and college libraries in search of information about psychedelics. An obsession with combating what I perceived as a censoring of positive or objective materials on the subject led me to experimentation. I wanted to get 'really good acid' — the pushers at school didn't know what LSD meant, or what constituted good.
The package I got was a parabolically curved square of red gelatin which was called RED PYRAMID ACID. My first experience was clear and uncluttered with expectation. The things I saw and felt that left the deepest impression were elements of Irvine's environment. All the cement flowing like cold water, like a temperature which wasn't really there. Watching objects turn into crystalline snow flake mandalas. The feeling of experiencing organic reality was like seeing into a new world. I was accompanied most of the time by what seemed to be a computer-generated cartoon (like the cartoon character whose name was Jerax-enkne). At the time I considered the experience a personal victory: I could do whatever I wanted without any retribution. Chemical Freedom. Now I see what I did for a time over and over as a desire to escape by any means possible. I could have been more efficient in my form of escape, but that wasn't the idea.
I repeatedly induced a synthetic experience ten times more emotionally loaded than the actually existing one. I didn't think, 'This isn't entertaining, I shouldn't do it anymore.' I had a 'no pain, no gain' attitude toward my recreational drug experiences. Irvine is a social space where the barrier between work and normal living situations, including recreation, have eroded; consuming becomes a full-time occupation and entertainment. It is a place where people use commodities to satisfy their individual need for community. Instead of fulfilling the need for collective social structures, they have developed living spaces duplicating the psychological orientation of office cubicle settings.
I was declaring my 'individuality' amidst the synthetic fields of service capital and masterplanned architecture. I believed that if I were to escape by purchasing commodities, I would be doing exactly what I was railing against: the predomination of production, manipulation, economic abstraction, and prefabricated entertainment. I almost never thought about the fact that someone was making money off my experience. I see how I was a plant in someone else's abstract field, having the same 'individual experience' as many other people stuck in the suburbs at my age. What I got was my laughter about how anyone could 'buy' the feeling I was having.
A number of times I took LSD and just spent the entire day walking around Irvine. I would prepare a special 'spacesuit' which would enable me to spend the whole trip out in the environment of Irvine without getting exposed. The spacesuit consisted of surplus military clothing, thermal underwear, hunting socks, sunglasses and well-constructed basketball sneakers. The baggy military poncho I would wear could conceal and protect extra clothing or a camera. Sometimes the camera would be useful to record something that I was hallucinating to show me later what it really was. I think it had to do with obtaining some kind of barrier between myself and the overtly synthetic look of the environmental design in Irvine.
When I was ten, and I had just moved to Irvine, I had a blue nylon windbreaker that I would wear all the time. The vice-principal of the elementary school that I attended confronted me about the fact that I would wear it so much. He was a tall man with a giant hair piece that appeared hair-sprayed into a helmet shape. He had big caps on his teeth which made them protrude in a white shield. To his questioning about the jacket, I feigned ignorance of possibly having a 'problem.' Later I did think about the fact that I had drawn attention to myself just trying to be comfortable in an insecure situation.
I met a waiter at a local corporate coffee house. We became friends enough to hang out. He was Vietnamese and liked to go Garden Grove's Little Saigon, to eat food at the Vietnamese restaurant dance halls. He was into cocaine and would buy grams. He kept me abreast of his consumption rate. I have never done coke, and he would never push it on me. His family life was really bad, and he would come to the rental town house where I lived in the middle of the night high on coke, unable to sleep, and disturbed.
He would have very intense, paranoid fights with his parents; most ending in him being expelled from his house. One night he showed up high and excited; he had just ripped off a drug dealer in Santa Ana for an Eight Ball of coke. He said that he had put his fingers in his jacket like he had a gun, and that he had been shot at while taking off from the drug house. He showed me a bullet hole in his VW Bug. Things fell apart for him at that point; he lost his job at the coffee house, and he stopped coming around late at night. I ran into him a year later. He was working at a circuitboard soldering plant making car stereos, the very kind that he treasured in his own car. He was getting high in the back alley of the corporate-owned youth entertainment restaurant where I worked. He was getting prepared for the night shift at the plant.
One friend was interested in taking LSD, and I took it upon myself to guide him through it. Unfortunately, I had him driving around Irvine instead of going to a nice place. I took him to an abandoned street project where an overpass had been built, waiting for the suburban sprawl to meet it. The concrete road had asphalt on it, chainlink, guard rails, and sidewalks. This immense construction was just floating alone amid vacant scrub-brush-strewn acreage. I imagined that in some Incorporation planning office across the light industry border between the El Toro Marine Base and the Costa Mesa Mall Zone, a plan was lying in an office file, or maybe pinned on a wall. The geography had been planned for years to be some day chock full of corner mini malls, rental condos, and artificial-looking parks. At the bridge, which offered a view of about three miles that day, through pale brown air, my friend was sitting on a guard rail. I took black and white pictures of him soaking it in, tensing quickly, and laughing to himself. In one of the pictures he is looking off, an unbelieving expression upon his face.
The next place that I took him to was the last public site sculpture made by Isamu Naguchi , _California Scenario_, which sits between two huge blue glass office buildings next to South Coast Plaza Mall. The sculpture is a red stone-laid plaza with abstract elements symbolically depicting regions of California's geography: a half-dome mound, with various indigenous desert fauna; a black onyx pyramid with an abstract stream running into it, representing the Southern California Nexus; and a large wedge sundial with a waterfall running down it, depicting the aquaduct. It is peculiar that I would pick a hyper-abstract depiction of the ever-present artificial environment in order for him to clear that artificiality out of his head. He seemed to like the place; he laughed at some children who were playing there. He questioned their intelligence. He had a lot on his mind, including the fact that he had to have dinner later with his girlfriend's parents. He later told me that he spent the entire dinner watching his food and everyone else drip.
When my dad came back the second time, I spent the six months he was there coming home from school to find him asleep on the couch. When roused he often acted drunk. He avoided finding work. He would look out the window of the brown shakeshingle townhouse apartment at the perfectly landscaped mounds. He noticed how they were positioned in front of all the picture window streetside units, and said, 'Everyone's got their little parking spot worked out; they all park in the same place everyday after work.' He saw a future there where he could do no better than produce hollow words for a place which was designed to be 'ideal.' The third time he came back, I told my mother to take him back to the airport.
I spent a couple weeks doing Hydro Morphine and Methadone at the apartment of a woman I was dating. She was ten years older and, unbeknownst to me, was a diagnosed sociopathic schizophrenic. She had stolen the drugs from the wastepaper basket of a cancer patient; this patient was a Hari Krishna devotee who thought that if she died while on painkillers she wouldn't go to Krishna. The woman I was seeing would pick me up from high school and drive me to Laguna Beach where she would entirely confuse me with her illness.
Once I went to a high school counselor for help. I explained what my plans were for the future. I told her I had been taking LSD, and that I had found the experience to be a trial by fire. Numerous times I was incredibly grateful to be back in reality and to be thinking somewhat normally. The insanity of my later trips was wearing on my ability to socially integrate myself in a normal way. I had the delusion that synchronic and symbolic events were always falling in my path. The counselor didn't express her concern in a vivid fashion, although she was visibly nervous. She told me of friends who had taken acid during the sixties and felt they had received something unique. A perception of 'true' organic reality? A sensitivity that would aid the reconstruction of their psyche? An ability to understand and cope with internal division, or the heightened ability to repress their subconscious?
I remember being unable to tell what temperature it was, feeling completely exposed, and a sense of weariness at thinking about everything. I couldn't breathe deep enough; everything smelled fake or unreal. My hands were raw and sensitive, or maybe warm when the fingers touched themselves. I remember looking into the sky only to look back at myself, into my face, out of my body. Silence, freedom, a lightness. I walked toward my body standing in the street, and went through it, only to turn around and look at the back of my head. Once back inside I crossed a street where cars were stopped at the light. The crosswalk was shifting like sand in the wind. The cars sounded like they were going to run me over. Terror. Inside the pizza house, sitting next to the line of video arcade games, the sounds were mixing together in a digital crush of noise — too much not to laugh at. I went outside in an attempt at keeping it all together. The mini-mall landscape architecture had been planned with eucalyptus trees built into the design. As I looked at the trees, they exploded into what looked like wet, running paint strokes.
I looked over only to see the guy who had sold the acid to me four hours earlier. He looked scared as I walked up to him and said, 'This acid's really good. How was your trip?' Even more scared, he responded, 'Ah , I've never taken it . I only sell it.' As he quickly walked away, I said, 'You should try it sometime.' I think I spent the rest of the day just trying to find a place outside where I could ride the trip out without being hassled by anyone. A place where I could feel secure and think without being asked a question or forced to go somewhere. A vacant place where something hadn't been put, absent from spot patrols, off the planning maps. Someplace away from a freeway, that I could walk to within an hour, without getting over-heated or being suspicious for walking through the back alleys of rental units to get there. Someplace not already used by the other currently disenfranchised youth of my age who thought I was a little too smart, a little too strange.
I remember being followed my two men in a black Z28. I saw that they noticed me; they saw that I noticed them. I walked into a subdivision to avoid them. They took the street. I walked back out and crossed the street. I was scared, and I saw a man running down the other side of the street toward me, in a blue jogging suit, with two white stripes. I crossed the mouth of a development named CALIFORNIA HOMES, almost speed-walking with fear. The Z28 swerved over to my side of the street, the door swinging open, one man saying,' We got him!' I ran away from the car and into the development. There, I went to the nearest house, where I beat on the door for someone to let me in — I was asking for help. As someone from my high school looked over the fence at me, I heard, 'Put your hands up, and turn around.' And as I did, I saw an IPD cop with his gun pointed at me, resting his elbows on the colored stripe at the top of the car.
The Z28 arrived, and the jogger caught up, saying, 'We didn't think we were going to get him.' Next the usual questions: who, where, how old, why did you run away?
I looked at his mustache and said, 'I thought you guys were creeps.'
'Can we look in you bag?' They were going to take me in if I didn't comply so I let them.
'Hey, smell this. Hey boy, this bag smells like marijuana. When was the last time you smoked marijuana, boy?'
'At least three weeks, sir.' Finally, they let me go. They thought I was a burglar.
Back on the street, where the Z28 had stopped, another car stopped. The door flew open, and this time it was a woman with a book. She said, 'Have you ever read about Dianetics?'
'No! Go away, leave me alone!' I ran almost all the way home.
S.W.Hendee is an artist currently living in West Oakland who makes stainless steel and cardboard objects. He is interested in technological nomadism.