Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 5.4]

In October of my third year, as my coursework was winding down and I was beginning to study for my qualifying exams, I noticed a flyer on a coffee shop counter from the club where I’d experienced my first hit of acid; it was still open and no longer private. The flyer said John Digweed was going to be spinning there for Halloween! I later found out that, since the owner of the club used to bring budding DJs to America in the early nineties, the DJs now felt a sense of loyalty to him for helping launch their careers in the U.S. Because of this, the owner was able to book many elite DJs regularly. A friend of mine named Eve liked to go dancing, so I asked her if she wanted to join me. She was going out of town that weekend, but asked me if I was going to “roll.” I didn’t know what she meant.

“You know how when you take acid, people say you’re ‘tripping’? Well, when you take ecstasy, people say you’re ‘rolling.’ It’s completely amazing. If you liked acid, you would love it,” Eve taunted.

I was very intrigued, and had been curious about ecstasy for years, so I researched it online. I found a website hosted by a non-profit organization called DanceSafe. Its mission is to educate people about the effects and risks of psychedelic drugs, as well as to provide testing kits for people to test the content of their ecstasy pills. I viewed a slideshow called “This is Your Brain on Ecstasy” and I read all I could find about whether it was neurotoxic. In the end, after understanding how it works chemically in the brain, I felt that if the ecstasy was pure and only taken at a moderate dosage, then it was not neurotoxic or physiologically addictive. At the time, those were the two main risk factors that concerned me most.

I called Eve and she handed over two aspirin-sized white tablets with little yellow Tweety Birds embossed on them, saying, “Take one about an hour before you want to get high. Don’t eat about six hours before that. You want an empty stomach. Haaaaave fuuuuuun.”

On Halloween night around 11 p.m., after preparing some lectures for the upcoming week, I poured myself a small glass of wine and swallowed a Tweety Bird.

It was a twenty-minute walk to the club. I took my time, meandering through the huge live oaks on campus and soaking up the increasing energy I could feel on the streets as people started hitting the bars. My heart began to beat a little faster, and my entire body felt warm and fluid. Every minute or so, I wanted to take an enormously deep breath. The back of my head tingled. My muscles seemed pumped full of vitality. In the humid night air, which was body temperature, I felt like I was floating. Yet all this time, my head stayed very clear and focused. Soon, every inch of my body from the inside out was warm, relaxed, and light as a feather. My clothes felt like silk against my skin. I couldn’t help smiling. How come I’d never noticed how beautiful the streetlights were?

I felt like running for a stretch, and as I picked up speed I swore I flew off the ground for a minute. Butterflies pounded in my stomach. At the club, I was grateful for the short line to enter, and once inside, I followed the sound to the main room. There were easily a thousand people in the dark room facing the DJ, all bouncing up and down with their hands in the air. They were screaming and smiling while the DJ made the swirling, trance-like sounds weave in and out of each other to an amazing thumping drum beat.

The DJ was in full control of the energy in the room while he layered sounds and beats into a crescendo—a wall of sound—then dropped it all away into a deafening silence, a void of sensation that left the crowd in tears and screams of joy. A hauntingly beautiful woman’s voice emerged from the heavens and filled the room, followed by cymbals, which were followed by a drum, then a guitar. Music on top of music emerged in perfect progression until the sound was full-throttle energy and everyone absolutely had to jump and dance and scream.

As I stood there, bewitched, I noticed how young the crowd seemed. Almost everyone wore jeans that were snug around the waist but very flared at the bottom. The girls’ faces were sprinkled with glitter and they wore their hair in pigtails. Most had on Garanimal-like overalls with snug T-shirts bearing some very cute image on the front (e.g., Papa Smurf, Care Bears, Pokémon). A lot of them sucked pacifiers. I picked out some amazing dancers. They were so flexible and agile, their motions so quick and fluid; it didn’t seem physically possible to move so gracefully. The one thing we all had in common was that none of us could wipe the smiles off our faces. I’d discovered yet another universe to explore.

It soon became clear why this experience was called “rolling”—as your senses were stimulated, the drug’s effect intensified. You went from feeling warm and relaxed to a full-blown surge of endorphins and adrenalin coursing through every fiber of your body accompanied by beautiful visual hallucinations. Each peak of your high was referred to as “blowing up.” It was like you were on a smooth, silken rollercoaster. You could feel yourself rising slowly up, up, up into a minute-long peak of intense ecstasy…and then falling down, down, down into complete relaxation and rejuvenation.

It was the best feeling I could imagine. Paraphernalia like candy suckers, Vicks VapoRub, and glow sticks were used to stimulate your senses further and enhance the high. When someone noticed a friend on his way to a “blow up,” other friends would step in and rub his shoulders, arms, and head. They would perform light shows in front of him. They would rub Vicks on his eyelids and then blow cool air on them. They would pick him up from behind, as if they were going to crack his back, because stretching was pure heaven. Some people kissed to induce a huge blow up. Whatever gave you a natural little shot of endorphins while sober gave you euphoria now.

If you could time all your stimulation with a peak in the music, you could virtually leave the planet for minutes on end and only sense your consciousness. You would be able to think only the most glorious, loving thoughts and wish complete peace and love to everyone back on Earth. Each peak was different too, always fresh and surprising. Talk about sweet anticipation. The drug’s intensity waned after about six hours, but I stayed residually high until I crashed into my bed that next morning. I knew this was a rollercoaster I was jumping right back in line for.

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