Field Trip

It would have to be winter of 1988, early 1988, like January or something. I’m not sure, but my memories are tied to two xmas presents I got then:

  • the CD of Depeche Mode: Music for the Masses, specifically Never Let Me Down Again (released 1987)
  • The Infocom text adventure Bureaucracy by Douglas Adams (also released 1987)

So, it would have had to have been after Xmas, thus early 1988, probably a bit before I turned 20.

These two gifts are sort of important, the latter for reasons that will become clear later, and the former because I decided then, and still think now, that the lyrics of that song are specifically referring to using hallucinogens, which seems reasonable from Depeche Mode:

We’re flying high
Watching the world pass us by
Never want to come down
Never want to put my feet back down on the ground

I had dropped a few times then, and was getting a bit bolder, and thought it would be an excellent idea to take a largish dose – two small squares of blotter, a bit more than I had done before, and take the bus to the Field Museum in Chicago. Alone. In winter.

Now, the Field Museum wasn’t my favorite (that would be the Museum of Science and Industry, still one of my favorite places in the world), but it was more accessible on the bus, and I thought its quiet, laid-back atmosphere might mix gently with my intended extradimensional explorations. I figured it was sort of like an indoor park, the sort of place I might be able to quietly sit on a bench and write in my journal without anyone thinking it was too strange.

I was bundled up in my warmest winter coat, with a scarf and a pair of little square John Lennon/granny glasses with silvered lenses. I didn’t wear regular glasses yet – I needed to, I guess, but just didn’t have glasses, and always wore different cheap funky sunglasses, and I thought this pair was great. Very Mozart in Mirrorshades (1985) I miss being able to buy cheap non-prescription sunglasses. I think I also brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a plastic baggie jammed in my pocket, possibly a walkman, and my journal. Oh, yes, and a little bit of pot and a small bowl, which is pretty much a requirement for enjoying acid. It was, in short, a fucked up field trip.

According to the online CTA route planner, that ride would be a bit less than an hour from where I lived, so I expect I melted the two little squares of paper on my tongue before setting off, the point being that it would start barely kicking in around when I got there. (Hmm, I seem to remember they might have had pisces symbols on them…)

The rest of the story will come in flashes of images, things remembered and forgotten not as much due to the drugs as due to the 15 years that have passed since then.

I walked in and paid my admission, opted to keep my winter gear with me instead of checking it, as I did not trust my ability to sensibly interact with the coat check personnel in a couple of hours.

The first thing I remember is the statues. If you walk in the north entrance of the museum, turn around and look up, there was a grouping of classical marble statues, perhaps three, at least one of which is gesturing with two fingers at the air. I knew things were starting to kick in because the statues were waving gently. (from some photos I found online, I think there’s a painting of Sue there now…)

I wandered the exhibits, slowly slipping into a hyperactive dream state. Spent some time writing, other time slipping around the halls, agog at preserved specimens of huge trees and leaves. And great weirdness.

Great Wierdness #1: There was, at that time, a temporary exhibition of, I think Eskimo handicrafts, in an unusual climate controlled gallery that still exists in the basement. This gallery is protected by revolving doors, I passed through them with a Freudian whoosh to find myself in a dark, dark environment, quiet, soft chemical air, populated by a series of dimly lit vitrines. Even my deeply dilated pupils afforded little purchase in grasping the layout to navigate. I think, it retrospect, it really was that dark – acid makes the night look like day, and this really looked like night.

I’m still not certain to this day that I didn’t hallucinate this, but I’m fairly sure it was real. It seemed as if when I walked up to each of the display cases, a motion sensor would slowly brighten the illumination in the case, only to reduce it again when you step away. Wow. That was cool. Each individual object drew me in, brightening to present itself, then fading away when I stepped out of range. Perhaps this was in my mind, but it makes sense that a curator would do that, in order to protect delicate artifacts from being damaged by light.

Great Weirdness #2: In wandering around some more, I started to hit what I think of an as “oscillation,” something that has happened to me on other LSD trips, when you have a choice of two states or places to be, neither of which is wholly satisfactory, and you keep switching from one to the other, typically for temperature regulation.

In this case, one of these states was inside the museum, which was too warm with my heavy coat, as well as too full of other human beings for my immediate comfort, and the other state was outside the museum, with snow up to my hip and subzero temperatures. So, for a while, I would exit the museum from (I think) the south side, and walk around, re-entering in the North side when I got too cold. I don’t think I was aware that “warm” and “cold” were specifically the problems, just that I didn’t want to be inside, and then I didn’t want to be outside. I think I also tried to eat my sandwich, but it was sort of smooshed up from the trip and not too appealing.

So, I must have done this several times. Three? Five? Seven? I know by the time of one of my later re-entrances, the girl working at the counter seemed to wink at me. Winking intentionally to let me go in without checking my ticket? Winking because she thought I was cute? (tripping people are beautiful, mainly because dilated pupils are a sign of attraction, so maybe) Or she could tell I was terribly high? (I furtively smoked a bowl on one or two of my outside trips to try to chill, but couldn’t find a very private place) Or did I just imagine the winking? Not good, not good.

Great Weirdness #3: Before this field trip, I had spent many hours working through the puzzles in the game mentioned above, Bureaucracy. A great piece of interactive fiction, dark, paranoid and brooding while being funny. (for those of you who don’t remember, interactive fiction, also called text adventures were a form of game that was all text, words you read on your screen and type commands like “throw the rock at the monster”. It was fun, and your imagination was as unfettered in constructing imagery as when you read a book.)

Several of the puzzles involved references to a sort of monster called an aye-aye, described as “a very strange-looking creature that seems to have been assembled from bits of other animals”, with pointy teeth and bat’s ears and a long hooked middle claw on each hand. You had to find a stamp with its picture on it, you ran into one in a jungle, but you could never actually get the stamp, catch the creature, etc. Futile and frustrating. It kept chasing you in one way or another, popping up where it wasn’t expected and then disappearing just as suddenly.

And then I saw one.

In. The. Fucking. Museum.

In a glass case, stuffed, mounted, and with a little tag saying
Aye-Aye: Daubentonia madagascariensis
I had, quite naturally, assumed that the aye-aye was fictional, made up for the game. I was really sure up until that moment there was no such thing as an aye-aye. It sounded impossible from the description in the game, and I had just spent weeks, really, trying to deal with this fucking aye-aye and largely failing.

And it jumped out of the game and followed me into MY fucking acid trip!

aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!! fuck fuck fuck!!!

I mean, I didn’t scream or anything. It’s a weird looking creature, a nearly extinct lemur, that caught my eye in a scary way before I read the tag. I think their specimen wasn’t terribly well preserved. Once I read it, I stood there dumbfounded, absorbing this turn of events.
I wasn’t sure what it meant, or what to make of it, but I needed to leave. NOW.

I stumbled outside the museum, and trudged through the waist-high snow to a payphone strangely situated in the middle of an empty field. I called my best friend Karen and her boyfriend (later husband) Mark.

“Hi, Karen? I’m at the Field Museum, and I dropped some acid, and it’s cold, and I need to leave. NOW.”
“You’re kidding, that’s such a pain in the ass, no! Get yourself home.”
“I have a little bit of pot. At least enough for the two of you.”
“Ummm, OK, we’ll be right there.”
“Please hurry.”

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