Over spring break, my daughter Jane and I will pay a visit to my childhood neighbor and best friend Carolyn Mahoney in Fort Pierce, Florida. Car was also my two-years-younger sister Nancy’s best friend, a fact which led to some of the more brutal episodes in the long ground war of sibling rivalry. But some good times, too. When Car and I were 14, her family moved from our suburban New Jersey street to Florida. About a week later, she walked out the door and hitchhiked right back up 95 to our house. In the intervening years, she has been incredibly tolerant about her appearances in my memoirs of our insane youth, though she is now a sought-after interior designer and icon of respectability and good taste. The beautiful and hilarious Mahoganizer, as she was once known at the all-night gin rummy tables of Dwight Drive, will always be an inspiration to me. Though as the following essay from my 1994 collection, Telling, shows, we were lucky to survive the escapades our moronic adolescence. Just say no, kids.
When word got out that our high school had supposedly been deemed to have “the third worst drug problem in New Jersey,” we were proud. Proud that our lily-white chunk of suburbia was right up there with tough cities like Newark and Trenton, who regularly whipped our butts in basketball and track. We had missed Woodstock, Haight-Ashbury, the Summer of Love, the idealism and innocence of the psychedelic pioneers. For us, the imitators, the second generation, The Trip went no further than our parents’ carpeted living rooms or the parking lot of the local shopping center. Religious experiences were limited to those that could be achieved by watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the public television station, or playing one David Bowie record over and over until morning.
The closest we got to the proverbial garden was a sports arena in North Jersey where we attended outdoor concerts, where Carolyn Mahoney and I spent my 15th birthday at a Grateful Dead concert. We arrived at two p.m. for a show that wouldn’t start until dark, spread out our blankets as close to the stage as possible, bought a couple of hits of acid from a wandering vendor — Purple microdot, blotter, windowpane! Strawberry fields, orange barrel, orange sunshine! Get your chemicals here, get your Thai sticks, get your orr-ganic mescaline! — and giggled and smoked cigarettes and talked to strangers all afternoon, so high that a simple trip to the bathroom was a quest of epic proportions.
Finally it got dark and the Dead came out and played, which was orgasmic and thrilling and endless. Everyone mouthed the words and played air guitar. When we were passed a pair of binoculars from a neighboring blanket, we squinted anxiously at Bob Weir (so cute!), Jerry Garcia (the avatar), Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Keith and Donna Godchaux (is she the one “Sugar Magnolia” was written about? Or “Scarlet Begonias”? We had analyzed the song lyrics as if they were the Talmud. We wanted to know everything.) Tiny panes of brilliant color swirled through air; moving objects left dense trails behind them, as if they had been photographed with a very long exposure. Carolyn, I’m peaking, are you? It was already the best Dead concert I had ever seen, and I had been to 11 of them. Then they played my song, “Eyes of the World.” Oh my God. Oh my God. I almost fainted. It was a half-hour version of a three-minute song and right in the middle of it I swear Jerry Garcia said Happy Birthday. Carolyn heard it too.
Somehow we ended up with no ride home, so after the show we went out to the parking lot and started asking people which way they were headed. We got a ride from some guys from Yonkers who went two hours out of their way to take us down to Asbury Park. Carolyn puked out the window and it got plastered all along the side of their car. Then we both decided we had forgotten what we looked like and begged them to pull over somewhere so we could go in a ladies room and look in the mirror. They actually did it. When we got home, they asked us for some water to get the puke off the car. It hosed off easily. Then they drove away.
We usually got acid from Laurie Leonardo, a burly girl who drove to New York City in her big white station wagon and bought baggies full of it in Central Park. Her father was a cop. We thought she was the coolest thing on earth. After all the little tablets were sold, she would let us lick out the orange or purple powder in the bottom of the bag. One time we got her to come to a dance at our high school. We sat out in the parking lot the whole time, licking baggies.
In fact, the majority of the drug dealers in our area seemed to be offspring of public servants. One Thanksgiving morning, Nancy and I arrived home after being out all night tripping at the house of the mayor of a neighboring town, whose son had a nice little business selling acid and angel dust. When we got home, my mother was sitting at the table having coffee. For some reason, she took our all-night absence quite calmly, and we sat around filling her in on details of the decor at the mayoral residence. Then I, who could not bear to spare my parents from a single sordid detail of our teenage lives, announced that we were tripping. What? asked my mother. LSD, Mom, we took LSD and now we’re tripping. But see, everything’s fine! We don’t think we’re Jesus Christ, we’re not going to jump out of a 10th-story window!
I just wanted her to understand that it was okay, that drugs were great, that all those horror stories she was hearing were a bunch of propaganda. Yes, I wanted to be a wild teenage rebel, but I wanted to do it with my parents’ blessing.
My mother sighed and got up to pour herself a second cup of coffee. Go on, you two, she said. Try to get some sleep before your grandmother gets here.
My parents went on a trip to the Bahamas and left us with Dory, a short Trinidadian woman with a seriously ample bosom who had been our live-in housekeeper and babysitter when we were little. One of my earliest memories is standing on the counter to reach the Cocoa Puffs box, which was stashed in a cabinet high up above the stove. Dory came marching in and caught me in the act. Get down from there, Mahrion Weeneek, she ordered in her island brogue. No, I said. You’re not my mother.
I am a beeg wooman and you are a little girl, Dory replied. Now get down.
My sister and I collapsed in hysterics. For months the funniest joke on earth was to stick out your chest as far as you could, point to your tits, and say, I am a beeg wooman and you are a little girl! Get it? A beeg wooman!
In honor of our parents being out of town, we had a tripping party. A dozen of our friends came over and we all took acid and went nuts. We tore up some sheets and tied ourselves together in a line, then paraded through the house with the lights off, chanting. Up in the attic we sat in a circle around a single candle and played an obscure game whose object was to blow out the flame and whisper “Suck my dick” before anybody else could.
This wildness went on until two in the morning when disaster struck. From my parents’ room, wherein Dory had been shut up all night presumably sleeping, came the sound of a television turned to its maximum volume, obviously an ominous message. We all panicked and tried to be very quiet. The blaring continued. Everyone said I should go down and talk to Dory, but she wouldn’t answer my knock.
Finally she came out and announced she had called her husband Kelvin, who worked the night shift at the local hospital, and she was taking us all over to the emergency room right away. Doom! The party broke up immediately, we got in big trouble with our parents and Dory hated our guts after that. She had her revenge years later when my mother hired her to sew my sister’s wedding dress and she made the armholes half a size too small.
Another time I was tripping with Carolyn at an Allman Brothers concert when I realized for the first time in a blinding flash that non-menthol cigarettes were much better than menthol. I switched to non-menthol right then and there.
Another time I was lying in my bed at four in the morning putting my thoughts down on lined notebook paper as fast as I could. It was amazing, I was seeing myself and my relationships from the outside for the first time. All the injustices and traumas of my adolescence were finally making some kind of sense, the convoluted ultra-intense teenage world of undying love and passionate friendship and soul-searing rejections and blow jobs and drugs and abortions and high school and God knows what other agonies. I saw that everything in the world was part of nature, nature was part of the universe, and everything in the universe formed a pattern that was sensible and beautiful if you could only see it from a distance. Like the seasons, the food chain, the solar system, like the beautiful colored patterns I was seeing in the air even as I wrote. Perhaps I was seeing the molecular structure of air itself! Then the point of the pencil somehow chipped down the middle so that each stroke made two thin parallel lines and I just had to stop because everything was everything and it was too intense.
Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.