The Kick Inside

We were our century’s cowboys; explorers of inner space, the last adventurers. We charted the only empty terrain left under heaven or on earth. We were the superstars in a world without borders, and yet to look at us today, you’d think we were nothing more than criminals.

With legalization and liberalization came a relaxed attitude, and the lifting of the specter of jail time for drug crimes lightened everyone up. Far from freeing society, though, decriminalization mostly just made it lazy; drugs became just another creature comfort in a world already full of them. Despite the tsk-tsking of reactionaries who called us self-indulgent waste cases, we intronauts (it was my old friend Ginzo who coined the word; a million headlines, books and articles and he’s never seen a dime of it all, which I guess is just as well since he won’t let metal within four hundred feet of him, because of the beams) were simply seekers. We wanted to used drugs and other substances that altered the brain chemistry to become new pioneers, travelers in the world inside. We weren’t the burnt-out junkies those who grew up too late to appreciate our sacrifice said we were: we were Lewis and Clarks of the mind, the Pizaros of the soul.

And, like those great men and others like them, we faced grave personal peril in our forever-unappreciated quest for experimentation for experimentation’s sake. Just the five of us paid a price far beyond any imagined by the ivory-tower punditocracy who scorn us for the knowledge we brought the world. Ginzo you know about, particularly if you were a psychology major in college who concentrated in deviant behavior. Red was the first of us to take the long, black trip; he was the most dedicated of all, eating anything — metal, plastic, solidified or congealed industrial solvents — as long as it had been heavily processed with powerful chemical agents. The things that man filed down into a powder, mixed with egg whites and brandy, and drank, all in the name of science, should bring shame to the safe-as-houses middle-of-the-roaders who pass for researchers these days. People like to say that the reason no one visits his grave is because of the high levels of radiation and toxic groundwater, but I know better. Larry and Neal — what a pair they were. Larry smoked things you wouldn’t have thought it possible to smoke, and also did some stuff with househould astringents that have yet to be surpassed. Where did it get him? A pauper’s grave in Bolivia, or possibly Parguay, depending on which of those guys who hang out by the shuffleboard table at O’Sullivan’s you want to believe. And Neal, who loved Larry as much as he loved liquefying non-liquids and injecting them into his veins, is the only one besides me who’s still alive and not living in a yurt he constructed out of discarded human tissue.  But he’s just not the same man he used to be. His face used to light up when he’d have half a cup of liquefied steel wool coursing through his bloodstream; now the only glow he gets is from the cheap motel sign clicking on and off.

Do I have any regrets? Hell, no. The things we discovered were too big, too important to worry about the shabby treatment shown to the men who did the discovering. A remarkably complete data set regarding the passage of iron filings through the human body, an explicitly detailed map of northern and southern Happyland during all six seasons, a fully functional perpetual motion machine that can be activated by good thoughts (not that you can find those anymore), to a corpus of psychiatric literature for which we have been personally thanked by the American Medical Association: these and other accomplishments stand alone, regardless of the sniping of our detractors. Am I bitter? Not really. I never got into this for the glory. I was just following in the steps of great men like Owsley, Leary, and that guy who lived in the green and white trailer in Spanaway. If I seemed tall, it was because I was standing on the foreheads of monsters. Pretty profound, huh? I wrote that.

We were pioneers of inner space, artists in the ultimate medium, the last heroes. And what do we get for our troubles? Huh?

What was I talking about again?

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