14 May 2008


Albert Hoffmann, the scientist who discovered / invented / synthesized LSD, died recently at the age of 102. That has given me the occasion to pause and reflect, fondly, upon my own history with LSD.

And that's right, I wrote "fondly." LSD was good for me. It made my life better. I have not taken it since 1970, but I took an awful lot of it before I stopped and I'm glad I did.

Now there are those of you out there reading this who are probably thinking: "I hope he doesn't have children." Well, not to worry, I don't. If I did, I wouldn't suggest to them that they ought to drop acid. But I'd have a tough time discouraging them.

There are others of you out there reading this who are probably thinking: "That stuff must have scrambled his brains." And I suppose you're right. It did. But I like the way my brains have been scrambled and I'm doing just fine with them mixed-up that way.

The first time I took LSD was in September 1966 (I was fourteen), about two weeks before it became illegal in California. I had traded a UCLA professor a bag of mediocre Mexican pot for a dosed sugar cube. Over the next three and a half or so years, I probably took acid between two and three hundred times. It was easy to lose track.

Now I'm not about to say that LSD will work wonders for everybody, or anybody. There is every chance that I was simply lucky not to have wound up a screaming, drooling, non-functional maniac. Some of my friends did, at least temporarily. A couple of them, near as I can tell, have never fully recovered.

When I dropped acid with friends I was always assigned the job of "maintenance foreman." That meant I took care of us. If there were tickets to be bought for something, activities to be organized, shopping to get done, talking to "the man" if "the man" showed up, driving; that's what I did. I even learned to drive a stick shift when I was stoned on acid and a friend needed to go somewhere and had forgot how to drive.

So, here's what LSD did for me.

It made me, mentally, stronger. I guess in the Nietzschean sense of "what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger." I don't fully believe that. Some of the things that don't kill you, can maim you. But still, in some of my most formative years I dealt with a lot of really strange and challenging stuff in a wide variety of circumstances. No matter how bizarre the world around me got, or at least the world as I was seeing it, I learned to cope with it. To this day I am very difficult to freak out. I tend to stay calm under stress. Sure, I have little explosions every now and then when things aren't going my way. But I tend to settle back into equilibrium pretty quick.

It helped give me a great deal of tolerance for things that might otherwise strike me as weird, strange, abnormal. I hardly think of anything as abnormal or normal anymore. When something seems weird or strange, I find it more interesting than threatening. That helps my powers of observation.

It taught me to see colors better than I might have otherwise. One of the things that LSD does is to enhance your sensitivity to color, kind of like boosting the saturation setting in Photoshop. I do take pretty good pictures, if I do say so myself, and I think LSD is partly responsible for that.

Same with patterns. Under the influence of acid I never hallucinated anything that wasn't actually there. I tried, and it never worked. (I've had to depend on the occasional high fever attending a recurrent episode of malaria for that.) But I did perceive complex patterns where none, probably, really existed. Part of my approach to photography, and much of my writing for that matter, is to find some kind of order, structure, pattern in the chaos that makes up the real world.

Who knows if I killed off a bunch of brain cells or not? Maybe I could have been smarter or saner. I don't know and I don't care. I'm smart and sane enough as I've ever needed to be. Either that or deluded enough to think that I am. And so far at least, I've escaped the attention of the nice men in the white coats.

So in my case, I want to celebrate the memory of Albert Hoffmann. And give a nod of thanks to Augustus Owsley Stanley III who certainly did more than his fair share to help psychedelicize my adolescence.

* According to the recent obituary in The Economist, "desire to laugh," were the last words Hoffmann was able to write in his lab journal after he first, deliberately, took a dose of LSD.

At midnight last night, the new, onerous LA County Taco Truck ordinance came into being. A brave group of taqueros has banded together to resist. Once more I ventured into East L.A. with pals - the toothsome Christa Faust and Bill Krauss, a fine fellow taco lover. Here's the poster for the event we attended, followed by some photographic evidence:

Tacos El Galuzo

Channel 34 was there

Cabeza - YUM!

Taco truck fine diners

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