HOW TO TAKE MUSHROOMS AS AN ADULT
Illustrations by Kerris Ganeson
In 1983, a beagle dog named Max was born on a sugar cane farm in Louisiana, soon adopted by a woman named Janelle DeRouen who lived with Max in New Iberia, a small town just north of Vermillion Bay on the Louisiana Delta. He lived a good dog life and then poor Max had a grand mal seizure and died in 2013. After he died, the local newspaper ran a story on Max, one very old dog, who was 29 years and 10 months at the time of his departure. In fact he was the oldest dog in the history of recorded time. No dog has ever lived longer than Max.
I bring up Max because it would seem, to the best of our records and accounting, I have now outlived every dog. No dog has lived as long as I have. If you loved a dog in 1985, it is for sure dead now. Every dog you loved as a child, every Buster and Bailey and Scout and Sadie is dead. You either set your dead dog on fire, or you buried your dead dog in the ground and gravity has opened your dog’s jaw and it howls in endless agony until the skeleton scatters and the unforgiving earth tears the remains of your dog apart, slowly, year by year, until the Floods. Your dog is dead. But I am alive. I am alive, I am almost 30 years old and now I want to tell you how to take psychedelic mushrooms as an adult.
Lionizing age as an important mile marker is altogether foolish, I know this. It is the most ephemeral of events to ponder. Those who are past the age in question see the folly of its significance and those who aren’t there yet can’t totally empathize. I recognize I’m a bit dramatic about turning 30 and that the target audience of this moment is crushingly small. It’s just sometimes I think the only thing I can say I have done in my life, with confidence, is that I have outlived a lot of dogs. Turning 30 is fine, it’s just accepting that you have lived a good portion of your life already, thirty years worth, which is longer than a lot of things, the least of which is poor Max the beagle.
There’s an old saw I read awhile ago about celebrating these kinds of birthdays: When you turn 10, you get cake. When you turn 20, you get drunk. When you turn 30, you do drugs. When you turn 40, you get dinner. I can’t remember what happens when you turn 50, but I imagine it’s a nicer dinner or maybe death. I didn’t plan on taking drugs when I turned 30, but it began as most drug stories begin, unremarkably, though ultimately became decision that would be fraught with terror and tears and bluegrass and adult diapers on a winter afternoon in the Catskill Mountains outside of Woodstock, New York.
This is a drug story, one of the greatest genres of non-fiction. They are a time-honored tradition, not the experience of drugs, per se, yes, that is well and good, but the unpacking of the experience and the retelling of the experience. Since man started telling stories, man told stories of the time man ate the wrong berries and made a fool of himself. Drug stories are the last binds we have to those people we rarely talk to anymore from high school. From “Kubla Kahn” to Too Many Cooks, they are the universal donor of conversation and extend a special kind of winking empathy in the listener/storyteller relationship. And while this universal familiarity speaks to the ultimate banality of drugs in general, there is nothing like a great drug story.
There are two reasons to do drugs. One is the radical paradigm shift of perceived normality and imagined enhancement of emotional or physical faculties you possess when you are sober. The other is boredom. In the small Wisconsin town of Whitewater, where I grew up, we did drugs out of boredom. There was no means to an end, we smoked pot because the Peyton has a car and just past the old artesian well there’s a road called Road X which is fucked up if you think about it and Tom just bought the instrumental to The Chronic 2001 and wouldn’t it be hilarious if we just put the strobe light on and freestyle over it until we got bored again and went home. Boredom was all I needed to take mushrooms the first few times in my life, when I was 18.
Back then I knew little of what lay beyond the gates and gables of my childhood. When you are an 18-year-old whelp, you are much closer to 13 than you are to 23 in practice. You are still contextualizing life with what happened in Middle School, the liminal state between sweatpants and jeans, where hand jobs are whispered about like state secrets and where no one could really be mature about the gym mats. At 18 these things are closer to you than any cool thing you’ve imagined yourself to have done, and these simple, unburdened years weave into to the drug experience. I laughed in my basement with friends the first time I took mushrooms, while my dad was asleep upstairs. I stared at my friend’s shirt, the pattern of which was made of different kinds of fabrics. I took about 10 minutes to try to explain that to him, and after failing, we collapsed again into barely-breathing laughter. I looked in the mirror at my grotesque, shimmering face that swirled around like finger paint. I think we listened to Guster or Dispatch or Dr. Dog or one of those bad-even-by-jam-band-standards jam bands. It was just that: dumb fun.
I did mushrooms a few more times in my teens and early college, acid once, but then didn’t trip on anything for 10 years, at which time there came a third and ultimately the worst reason to do drugs: You read something about them in The New Yorker.
The effects of psilocybin can help nicotine addiction. It can calm anxiety in cancer patients, and ease their fear of death, the article said. Scientists were reopening studies and mushrooms may good for people now. Ah shrooms, the au courant cancer and leisure activity. Having done them a few times 10 years ago, I thought, “Of course this would be a great way to recapture some damn youth on the cusp of turning 30,” especially with a cosign from the venerable New Yorker. I’m told that taking shrooms because middle class life is crazy stressful and he finally unwinds is actually a plot line on an episode of Togetherness, but the fear that my life and Mark Duplass’s life were slowly melding into one pathetic post Apatowean mannered middle class trash pile was a fear that I would just have to conquer at this point because I want to take shrooms with my girlfriend in the woods. I want to be a kid and have fun again.
Obviously, the first thing I did to prepare for the trip was Google, “How to take mushrooms as an adult.” I hoped there would be a sort of primer for people who wanted to get more out of the experience than laughing at shirts. Maybe a kind of prix fixe menu of things to do to enrich the experience a bit, or a list of things not to think about like ISIS or Boko Haram or Twitter. The first article that came up in Google search was, I kid you not, “10 reasons why you shouldn’t take shrooms & wear adult diapers.”It was an earnest post (on Craigslist?) and an altogether great drug story about exactly that, but then it was not really helpful.
The internet is a great resource for drugs in the form of dudes on message boards offering arm-chair advice in a tone that closely resembles a movie poster of Neo from The Matrix. It was not really any help for a few weird tricks to have a great time shrooming as an adult, as a grown man who has a job and a life behind him and has logged zero hours of therapy in the last 10 years. But that was okay because my girlfriend Marion and I are industrious. We went to the Park Slope Co-Op and bought organic english muffins and peanut butter to eat them with. We bought kombucha tea to drink while we were tripping. We brought a complicated fantasy board game and even talked about the possibility of having sex (which is absolutely hilarious in retrospect). We’ll turn our phones off. We’ll go on a hike. We’ll pack snacks. We’ll write a letter to The New Yorker thanking them, hopefully it’ll get published. Maybe we’ll watch an episode of Togetherness.
We had rented a cabin outside of Woodstock, NY, owned and operated by and old Norwegian woman named Karin. The cabin was quaint and tiny, just like Karin, who, pushing 70, came over and greeted us when we arrived with a bottle of cheap red wine and some gingersnaps. She was our little grandmother, and after she took her leave with her small steps, we were ashamed that we would probably sully the vibe of her cabin by sleeping in past 10 am, much less doing a bunch of drugs in it.
The designated day arrived, H-Hour, and we pulled out the bag we had bought from Promo, the small, effete friend of a friend’s dealer who two weeks earlier laid out three bags of shrooms on our kitchen island. I knew to look for ones with the the biggest caps, a thing I recalled from a decade ago. I inspected the bags using the kind of scrutiny reserved for actors on CSI. I picked the bag that I thought had the best caps, but at the time I really thought this was some awful three-card monte game (or that Promo was a cop) and was just glad the whole ordeal was over. He offered us coke, but the thought of eying more bags of drugs with feigned authority made my skin clench around my body, so we passed and I walked Promo out.
Now the shrooms were in between english muffins, strawberry preserves and peanut butter, as Marion and I took bites, looking at each other with awkward anticipation. The cabin was full of shrugs and nervous grins.
While we in the “welp” stage waiting for this literal poison to take effect, we set off on our hike to a nearby quarry, the idea being drugs would make this really fun. It was a cold day, about 25 degrees out, and I packed the kombucha and some snacks and some water in my backpack, already feeling like a total adult about this whole thing, bundled up, and walked with Marion up through a residential cul-du-sac and up to a ridge leading to the entrance to the quarry where the nature trail forked. We took a path up to the right and climbed up another embankment. Beside us were an inclination of slate gray rocks, folded over each other like steep Mansard roof. All you could hear around us was wind in the branches and our footsteps along the path. We came to a frozen pond and a light dusting of snow would switch patterns on the ice every few seconds with a swirl of wind. Around the pond was sea-green lichen and an nuclear-green moss. There were maybe five colors at most in my vision, but they were a scheme, like a crude mockup of scenery with color swatches stapled to it.
We decamped here for a bit and just sat in silence. The nausea, which both of us definitely forgot was a thing with shrooms, started to kick in. My head and stomach filled with weight. We sat on the spongy moss looking at this iced-over pond and the small limestone rock face opposite it, just feeling terrible. It took all of my determination that I was going to do some drugs today to not stick my finger down my throat and abort this adult trip because up until this time I was having a pleasant afternoon in this schematic tundra.
We made an educated decision to get back to our cabin as quickly as possible. I thought only of poor, hapless Maureen Dowd, totally owned because she couldn’t handle her weed. Now I’m trudging silently through the wilderness, as the world turns into a charcoal painting. There’s a guy leaving his house. Shit what is he doing does he have a job? This hollowed out rotten log looks absolutely terrifying. The ground is moving upwards and backwards. Is it telling me to go back to the pond? Marion and I are not speaking because if I said what I was thinking it would sound totally insane.
We are 100 yards away from our tiny beautiful cabin and we see Karin. Jesus Christ if she comes over here and asks about the cheap wine we politely poured down the drain or the gingersnaps we haven’t touched I will absolutely say something awful like, “Well, Karin, everything’s a circle now, so, you know.” I fumble with the key to the door, we get in, close the blinds, and lay down on the couch. We are both tripping very hard at this point, and we could not be happier that we are safe from the charcoal wilderness.
A day later, as we’re driving back through an actually real-life terrifying snow storm on a narrow two-lane Catskill highway, we were unpacking what went so wrong with these drugs. “Okay but it wasn’t all bad,” we countered after a three minutes of detailing all the bad things. We were sill hazy from the experience, and trying to put together whether or not it was a good trip or a bad one.
“The badness was part of the goodness,” I said, mushroomily. By the time we settled back in from our nauseating hike, I was dizzy to the point of only being able to lie down. The way things moved was both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time; so powerful and so boring. Hallucinations no longer fascinated me in the way they once hypnotized me, which became a point of contention for the entire experience. I hated the entire concept of being on drugs.
As I tripped, and of course rode it out because there’s few really effective ways of slowing the trip down when you’re in the middle of it, I wept. And not like some tired tears rolling down my face, I mean keening and wailing. Marion listen to my stream of conscious flow out of me as I tried to grapple with the idea that millions of adults didn’t have the time or the privilege to take some drugs. I cried for not being able to have any fun, or to relive how fun this was when I was 18. I cried at my age, at my total inability to let go and enjoy some drugs, some fun-ass stupid-ass drugs. As I wept, it slid slowly into laughter at the total absurdity of this entire scene I was making, which then bounded right back into crying again. This went on for 10 minutes or maybe a few years, I don’t know, time doesn’t really matter when you’re on mushrooms. I held Marion tight, her shirt speckled in grey patches of my snot and tears.
“If you were tripping with your bros would you be crying like this?” she asked.
I laughed so hard I started crying again.
What concerned me next was that, quietly, I thought about wearing adult diapers. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I honestly didn’t know if I had to pee or not, everything felt sweaty and druggy. I could make an educated guess, but never since I was a tiny kid did I have less control of faculties. This depressed me even more and I wanted to pee my pants out of sadness and self pity. Great, I’ve regressed too far, I’m not reliving my teens, I’m reliving my 2's.
We finally came down and detached from each other, and after some cajoling using language like being able to “handle” or “deal” with such things, we convinced ourselves to walk outside and go look at the sunset behind the peaks of the Catskills because if we can’t get around our own minds and our lives and our age at least we can have the majesty of nature distract us until our pupils come back down to size and we feel like all food isn’t actually alive.
In the years since I laughed at a sweater and threw a frisbee and listened to terrible music, things somehow became a catastrophic knot. Whatever innocence and free-wheeling impulses that I had when I was 18 going on 13 were now tangled inside my head. I’m 30 going on 25, as solipsistic and self-involved as any twentysomething is right now. Few things make me sadder than this. It’s not a fear of getting older, it’s the fear that I don’t know how to age.
Aging gracefully used to be easy, probably. It is still easy to do if you live in a hermetically sealed pod, but now we age chaotically, in all directions. Age is no longer a linear path towards ridding oneself of habits, of better grammar, of finer pleasures, of matriculating to leisure activites befitting of your age like our ancestors did. Now we see paths that stretch back to our youth daily, we are constantly surrounded by one hundred points of adolescence. From Vine compilations to poptimism, from the ironically undermining zinger to That Way We Are All Writing Now, the politics of youth are volitile, effective, and inescapable. Where once I rolled my eyes at my mother for not understanding the Universal remote control, now it’s so easy to understand the concept of not understanding life around me. It’s a fine line between being young at heart and over-enunciated the words “Crunch-Wrap Supreme” at the drive-thru with the kind of judgment reserved for thieves and murderers.
I forgot that most drug stories just end. That’s kind of the best part about drug stories, is that there are so unprofound and anti-moralizing that they end bathetically with a “So yeah dude it was crazy fucked up.” The lesson is that drugs are cool but generally bad. Or maybe they are uncool but kinda good. If you’re finding this because, like me, you Googled, “How to take mushrooms as an adult” I just want to say two things: You have not yet begun to age and be thankful that I’ve altered the keyword search algorithm so that you don’t end up on the adult diapers Craigslisticle.