Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pict Churs in an Exhibition

There's a snapshot I'd share, a moment of my life that has no particular poignancy save it's punch line beyond "wow, that was me?"

It may have less import if you've never experienced hallucinogens. Any one is the same as another; pot, lsd, mescaline, peyote all deliver the same punch in varying degrees. If you've never imbibed, think dizziness and then, move your head swiftly left to right. It will take your eyes a moment to focus, but in that flash are the trails of hallucination, the static objects stretched as if faces in a fun house mirror.

We lived in a two story house, built near the turn of the century as a storefront with living quarters. It was a poverty neighborhood; inhabited by white trash, bikers, hippies and an assortment of ethnic groups with children aplenty. Like a row house with no attachments, the rectangular, peeling, yellow building stood on the corner of one busy street and a quiet avenue, a semaphore stopping traffic every few minutes.

Haphazardly formed into three separate apartments, its first floor was the original store where a huge plate glass window, half covered in sheets and rugs, spanned 2/3rds of it's face. A true hippy lived alone in that space, sharing it with only a cat, multiple bags of pot and hashish and a few dozen mismatched pair of dirty socks.

His sink was littered with pizza and Chinese takeout boxes, his floors with underground comics the likes of "Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" and the other soft core porn/social commentary of the day. Walls covered in posters of Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Savoy Brown and slogans such as "keep on truckin" surrounded his only piece of furniture visible to those who'd peer through his glass; A horridly ornate, oaken dining table, complete with two circa 1950 aluminum and plastic kitchen chairs.

It was here he would commit his daily ritual; pouring a bowl of frosted flakes, adding milk, and then racing his cat to the bottom...both creatures lapping as if it was their last supper. I'd offered him a spoon once. He only smiled and shrugged. Words are hard to come by when stoned 24/7 and let's say, he was a man of few words.

Upstairs there were two matching abodes; a single house split in two by lath and buffalo board, toilets and kitchens carved into former closets and hallways...the mark of every good slumlord.

To your left, the manse of  "so and so"; a leader within the newly formed American Indian Movement who'd had a hand and voice in the Wounded Knee debacle. A huge man who I'd never seen walk a straight line or mutter a coherent phrase while his neighbor.

He lived with two women; two we'd describe as his "wives". Not that we knew of course, but seldom were they seen together without the three of them moving as one body; hanging off each other like faux fur coats swaying in the slightest breeze.

Nearly never did we have an exchange with these folk, choosing instead to ignore each other in hopes the bad dream would end and all would be better come the morn. I did though help him repair his front door once; its splintered frame and torn hinges a reminder of the brute force it takes for any man to throw a woman through wood and brass.

Luckily we had a fine stereo, Cully, Cindy and I. And when our neighbors became slightly too raucous, Rod Stewart or perhaps the Moody Blues would come to our rescue, singing words of wisdom louder and ever louder, drowning out the miseries of those less fortunate. But I must admit we were a tad nervous as AIM was as much a force of violent revolution as a breath of peace, and a man in power could be a significant threat once crossed.

Our living room/kitchen was near a great room in size, fully half of the 600 or so square feet we paid dearly for. A crusted, cat scratched couch and comically matching easy chair, and a floor covered in huge, fluffy pillows all pointed to the electronics wall, a smallish television and massive stereo brought back from the PX's of Vietnam and paid for with drug monies no doubt.

Two speakers sat on rail and standard shelves, the chipped wood planks barely able to hold the weight and girth of each music box; long cracks in the wall's plaster a testament to screeching guitars and pounding drum kits, holding court at far too many decibels.

This was the scene one fine eve when we decided to party, dropping lsd about eightish and whipping off a few bongs to start the deliverance from reality posthaste. A new collection of vinyl awaited us; Jerry Garcia "The Wheel", Fleetwood Mac "Mystery to me", Gypsy "Gypsy Queen", a Ten Years After Live album and Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma" all stood opened and ready for first listen.

And so the night progressed, each set of tunes cranking louder as senses muted and hearing expanded. The three of us said little; only turned eye to eye and nodded knowingly when a passage struck our collective fancies, each of us bopping in our own funny, fantastical ways.

About two am, Roger Waters and company began entertaining us, the howling strains of slurred guitars and thumpy bass now a cacophony that threatened to shake the building apart.

There is a cut on Ummagumma called something akin to "Two furry creatures in a cave and grooving with a Pict" that is the climax of this tale. Again, there is no punch polizei dropped from the heavens, no one hung themselves or saw da debil. But it's still an image I'll never forget, a microcosm of my life that in a way has tempered who I am into one who takes the absurd with a grain of salt.

The song, as I remember, starts quietly...chirping, cricketesque sounds, a synthesizer warming up. Over time, instrumentation is added, the telltale whine of steel strings caressed by madmen; and slashing organ chords, layered in tritone atop the smash of Zildjian and Paste cymbals and solid whomp of bass drum. On and on it goes, louder and louder it stomps; a hardly recognized melody from hell that surely mesmerized our little coven, now solidly within the grip of illicit, mood altering drugs.

At it's peak, the shaking of the very heavens, as loud as I've ever witnessed music in any venue, there is a asynchronous thump thump thump barely audible in the background. Ripped from our individual muses, we snapped heads toward each other and stared open mawed, all likely envisioning a plethora of angered Indians standing at our entry, pounding to get inside and reap a pound of flesh; payment for a night of fitful sleep.

Again the thump, this time slightly louder, and again we collectively came to attention; each of us leaning forward as if to stand and answer the door, and none of us willing to take what might be our final steps.

The music turns again and repeats a few phrases before working into it's next fever pitch, this time thumping loud enough to move furnishings...and a deep voice is heard saying words such as "if you don't turn that down I'll".....

To ARMS! The three of us stood in unison, swirling brain blood quickly moving to our feet as we dash together to "the wall" and snap the volume control to its downward and locked position.

In drug stupor, silence is deafening and manually straining your senses to obsess possible doom, only makes the lsd work all the harder conjuring brighter colors, faster moving trails and thicker air. We stood as one, quizzical eyes piercing candle lit shadow and elvish ears perked on slowly swiveling heads. The only sound is the buzzz-cachunk of the semaphore as it slips from green to yellow and then red, the music of the waiting and impatient.


Rushing to our windows we peer into the dark night and see our neighbor, the catman, helping a child climb the stoplight pole. Another is seated atop it's bright yellow frame, legs clutching the red for balance and arms reaching to us as if a baby needing to suckle. A half dozen kids stood at it's base, a pubescent party of sorts; the children of the damned who'd no where to go, no one who cared and therefore, no one to entertain them.

And so they'd picked our corner as center of the universe, an outdoor dance club for 12 year olds complete with grape kool aid our hippy pal had graciously brought as a late night gift. And now they were unhappy, the raving rock and roll no longer shouting from within and the boredom of poverty creeping back into place.

We laughed and waved, pranced and joked with our audience a few minutes and then, finally realizing our relative importance to the world at large, recranked Pink Floyd, that all could share in our journey.

The thumping, it turns out, is in the recording...a clever little trick I must say. But the title seemed ironic to me at the time.

Once my roommates had left for sex and sleep, I gazed out the window an hour later, still reeling from the effects of the cannabis and acid. Only two boys remained of the gaggle that had stopped to listen, both clinging for life to the yellow pole and straining to see what insanity might live beyond our windows.

On spying my face they barraged me with questions...who are you guys...why is..what come... I did my best to answer each in turn, likely adding a muse on the mysteries of life and meaning of the alignment of the planets as I am want to do.

'Twas Several Species of Small Furry Animals, Gathered in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict“...or so it seemed at the time. And the Pict entertained them as long as he could stay that is what Pict's do.


  1. Yep... Picts...

    Good to read this :)

  2. Oh, love. :) Hadn't heard this before. I'm happy to have now.

  3. Great recollection. I remember listening to 'Animals' in such a stupor :)