I’ve never been a fan of the concept of ‘embracing the infantile,’ politically speaking. I think it’s petulant and indicative of latent liberalism to admit that one’s politics are by and large idealistic to the point of uselessness; however, I feel no cognitive dissonance in appropriating this mindset with regards to my drug use when I am next to broke and there are pharmacies with perfectly good wares available to me.
The evening began as many good ones do: with my stomach exactly one churn from painting the cement with my lunch and a bottle of cough syrup, courtesy of the lovely folks at Robitussin, three-quarters empty. My friend, whose name is Debbie, as far as you know, had already stained her insides crimson and was downing her half of the Benadryls in true late-teenage form. After a minute more of the goddamn retching, I choked down the rest and wondered why I was so devoted to cutting myself off from sensory stimulation when I knew I had a movie to watch. The last drop of that awful concoction sliding down my gullet was both a source of relief and anxiety, for I knew nothing could prepare me for whatever esoteric wisdoms awaited me on the other end of this strange adventure.
45 minutes later, I was utterly fucked; my vision was blurred beyond the point where it would be of any use to me, and my body felt as though it were a quivering pile of disjointed alien limbs having an impossible orgasm to a German minimal techno mix. My perception of time stretched and compressed in ways I couldn’t even begin to quantify in my state. Our sober friend finally arrived outside Debbie’s apartment, after what seemed like hours of deliberation, and we piled in with the approximate grace of a sloth stumbling out of a failed euthanasia attempt.
Knowing we’d have a while until we arrived at the home of our tragically sober driver, Debbie fired up Beyond the Black Rainbow on her laptop. I can only imagine how unnerving it must have been for the operator of that fine vehicle to have two drooling imbeciles, who were for all intents and purposes paralyzed, loosely fastened to her car’s backseat, playing across the auxiliary cable what she was left to assume was an extended Tangerine Dream record with whispered dialogue. Honestly, listening to that for too long would drive anyone mad. The blips and bleeps which comprised the entirety of the score for the first 15 minutes of the film were perhaps more entertaining than what was going on in the frames of my drug-addled mind. I was, however, forced to close my eyes several times during these bright red transitions that made me fear my brain would bleed and my eyes would pop and that idle alien consciousness watching over me would finally snap at my carelessness and run me the fuck down. The horror at this thought gripped my mind until the car came to an unexpected halt at a Panera. Our discompassionate tripsitter actually expected us to walk into that place, into the gaze of middle-class America!
None of my extremities felt as though they were where they should have been as I shuffled into the deathtrap with Debbie, guiding her with a robotic gait. We ducked into a booth as our compatriot ordered a sandwich, as someone would if they didn’t have two raving animals, twisted beyond comprehension, immediately in tow.
Debbie slurred her words together in a low whisper, “Jesus hell, who does this? We’re sold down the river… the fucking river.” I was going to attempt one of those esoteric jokes that make dissociatives so entertaining, but behind her dinner plate-sized pupils, I saw genuine fear.
I tried to speak louder than her, but I found that all was coming out was somewhere between a smoker’s rasp and a squeak, “Don’t worry, next son of a bitch to come over here, I’ll leap on the bastard. You know, I’ll really unleash some unspeakable energy, and uh…” My train of thought ground immediately to a halt and I stuffed my face into my crossed arms on the table, bringing about a warmth that I had hitherto never felt with such clarity. My body melted away and I was back in the void I had explored so many times before. The blips, the echo of that goddamned movie, they kept replaying in the dark corners of this realm. Suddenly, I was standing up outside the booth once again and looking into a tunnel of customers who were ostensibly waiting in line for their food. I wasted no time in pushing past them; however, with my inability to properly feel, I had to estimate the muscle motions necessary to complete such a task. I could sense their gazes through the back of my skull, an alienating sensation to which I am no stranger, as I passed them and made my way to the register. There sat the cash register and an odd-looking fellow whose face was not quite clear to me. I reached forward and, with arcane strength, I pushed that cash register, that symbol of the logic of commodification under capitalism, onto the floor. Ripples cascaded across every surface of the establishment and I climbed over the counter with enough ease that I assumed I was gliding. It was at that moment that I clutched the rolled up fat of my belly and realized just how nonexistent my appetite was; the void that permeated the world around me extended to my stomach, apparently. I grasped for whatever sauce containers were in my reach and managed to snag mayonnaise and spicy mustard, which I proceeded to squirt onto the floor until I had enough to work with. I got down on all fours and began to paint in the sauces a series of expanding figure-eights, and as I fell through the drawing into the vast, infinitely complex geometry of the heavens, I finally opened my eyes back at the booth.
“How much time… how long has she been up there?” Sweat dripped down my brow as I remembered how to speak.
“Hey guys, I hope you don’t mind that we came here; I haven’t had a bite since this morning, and I was considering just eating you guys for making me take you home.”
“Mother of fuck, she’s already back,” I thought to myself, and attempted to telepathically project to Debbie. For some reason I couldn’t conceive that this was a possible outcome of our visit to Panera.
Following a few more agonizing minutes of watching that rotten toad of an impromptu chauffeur chow down on a BLT, we crowded into the car and continued our journey. The timing of the film was appropriate, as the protagonist, Elena, was becoming very frustrated at a psychological exercise conducted by her obsessive captor, Barry Nyle. I could physically feel my neck shrink down into my torso as the tension in the scene became more present and palpable. A new song kicked in as the film introduced more of the retrofuturistic therapy facility—notably, a psychic pyramid which served the purpose of sedating Elena. I found the combination of the colors and the music to be engaging on a visceral level as a result of the experience, and I would go out of my way to look into textures in scenes and invent new patterns to match the sweeping analogue synth score, which was composed by Sinoia Caves, one member of Black Mountain.
Debbie had her head stuffed into the back of her chair and was mumbling something about Tilda Swinton’s weird animal. Poor soul was going to make a fucking mockery of the creature, moreso than it likely deserved. I snapped her back to reality to let her know that a.) we had arrived at the apartment of this sober sad sack we called a friend, and b.) I needed to go throw up. I spent a short time knelt before the porcelain throne, making an offering of assorted half-digested foods so that I might learn something about myself amidst the mental chaos of this trip and perhaps even finish that godforsaken movie. Fucker was moving at a snail’s pace on its own and I was only getting moments at a time with it. I crawled to the TV where we would continue the film and found Debbie crying; not sobbing, but definitely weeping. Her normally rosy cheeks were flushed like a statue cleaned with a pressure washer, only never to be recaked with the usual bird shit.
I tried to ask if she was all right, but all I recall coming out was “How is?”
She seemed to understand, however, and she turned to me and said with a sincerity I’d never heard in someone’s voice before, “Where’s the hope if there’s no seeing tomorrow?”
I hadn’t the foggiest clue what she meant, but I knew she meant it genuinely, whatever it was. I started to tear up too and embraced her as all the emotions this drug normally kills flooded back into my conscience; dysphoria, depression, euphoria, and melancholy simultaneously encircled my cerebral cortex and made their way to the core of my being. I don’t know exactly how long we stayed that way, but it was long enough for those emotions I wanted so desperately to avoid to recess to the dark places of the mind. The numbness returned.
She pulled away and fumbled with the TV remote until by some miracle she got Netflix working and put our movie back on. I can only assume the clear-headed component of our party got bored with our antics and went to her bedroom, because the room was now empty besides myself and Debbie. I was now identifying more with Elena’s struggles in escaping the facility, which, despite being touted as a blessing, was tantamount to a high-security prison. Was this creeping sobriety or the latent empathy of a sedated soul? Perhaps it was the self-interest of a transgender person who felt she actually did have something worth escaping; perhaps it was nothing at all and I’m overthinking it in hindsight, but I know I felt something a thousand miles away from the shores of sensation, in the land where only thought is left, and I know it was beautiful.
8/10, excellent soundtrack, appealing retro visual design, slow pace, a good dose of existential pondering.
Art by Rilo Harris.