Sister Icee & German Fruit Juice BearsTuesday, March 17, 2009
But the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever, vainly, to comprehend.
The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxeley
La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
Ya no quieres caminar,
Porque no tienes,
Porque le falta,
Marihuana que fumar.
I have spent most of my life avoiding or turning down people who want to get me high, drunk or both. We all know that there is nothing worse than to tell a nervous person, "Why don't you learn to relax?" People have come up to me at parties and whispered in my ear, "Alex, just let go and you will see how much fun it is."
In the mid 80s Gary Taylor used to host battle of the bands contests at his Rock Room on Hornby. He invited me often to be one of the judges for a very good reason. I was a cheap judge. He kept me happy all night with free Perrier. The other judges indulged on hard liquor and white powders.
On my father's side of the family there has been an unusual incidence of alcoholism so I must have some built-in aversion to any addiction (except one I might as well confess right now, the German brand of fruit juice bears sold at London Drugs).
In my grade 11 at St. Ed's High School in Austin, my roommate, Maurice Badeaux went to town on a Saturday evening. I think we might have had a midnight curfew. While he was gone I decided to find out what it was like to get drunk and I emptied his bottle of bourbon. We were not supposed to have liquor in our rooms. When Badeaux returned I was oblivious to everything. He began to kick me, "How could you finish my personal bottle of Bourbon?" I felt no pain.
Sometime around 1982 another Maurice, Maurice Depas, lead singer of a Vancouver pop band, Maurice and the Clichés and I were on Wreck Beach soaking the sun in our birthday suits. "Alex I have this great hashish. You seem to be immune to all of the stuff. Give it a try." He put some in my beautiful Peterson Irish pipe (he ruined it forever) and lit it. After a few minutes he asked me to pass him the sun tan lotion. I realized I could not move. I was frozen solid. That was the first and last time I tried the stuff.
Some years before, my Yorkshire friend Andrew Taylor had purchased some peyote in a Mexico City herb market. We both had read Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception and Heaven And Hell. He came over to my house and persuaded me to try the stuff while he watched me with a stop watch. Nothing ever happened. Either I was immune to peyote or they had fooled him at the market.
On another occasion at Gary Taylor’s Rock Room a large woman came up to me. I had never seen her before in my life. She said, “Alex open the palm of your right hand." She then dumped a pile of white powder on it and watched me. I did what I was supposed to do. She returned a few minutes later and asked, “And, how was it?” My answer must have confused her even though I thought it was most accurate, “I felt like I was walking up the stairs from the hot and stuffy Buenos Aires subway in the middle of the summer and suddenly I was hit by a rush of fresh air.”
While teaching high school in Mexico City around 1974 my students asked me what my opinion on taking drug was. I told them a couple of stories. In 1967 I had gone to visit my friend Robert Hijar in San Francisco. He lived in the then most fashionably high neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury. I stayed for a couple of months. My hair was extremely long and I wore an army surplus jacket (peace sign button on the lapel) with a sewn-up bullet hole that must have rendered its previous owner impotent. For laughs I once went to the park to try a Digger's stew. At the time I was feeling very Argentine so I drank a lot of mate from my gourd. The hippies who lived below one day asked me what it was. Most of the time they were high on some substance but this time they looked fine. “This is an Argentine tea called mate. Want to try some?” They answered, “Not a chance it seems to be habit forming since you always have that thing in your hand.”
The second story involved my attendance of a concert of the Jefferson Airplane. In a darkish corner during the concert I spotted a beautiful girl with a Joan Baez long, dark and straight hair. She was huddled in a corner staring at a little glass of what must have been crème de menthe. She seemed to be fascinated by the colour.
I further explained that when Rosemary and visited my mother in Veracruz we would drive through the semi-tropical city of Xalapa (home of jalapeño peppers). The landscape was a strange pristine green that was the greenest green I had ever seen. “It was an absolute green. It was a green that would define and prove Plato’s idea that everything we ever see with our senses is imperfect, a mere shadow of the world of essences. Xalapa was glimpse into this world. The girl at the concert was staring at what she perceived to be absolute green.”
But I knew that I had to give my class an answer or I was in trouble. I told them that there were two ways to enjoy a tomato. One was to buy a greenish pale tomato in the super market and take it home. Then with a salt shaker, and a touch of MSG the tomato would be surprisingly delicious. The other way was to go to the garden, pick a ripe tomato and give it a big bite. “Both tomatoes are delicious. My preference is for the garden variety.”
In Mexico marijuana, in Spanish it has two allowed spellings, mariguana or marihuana, there is still a more obvious differences between social classes than in Canada. One who smokes marijuana is called a marihuano or mariguano. It can be used as an insult and its meaning is but a notch up in class from a zombie of the cannibal-in-the-mall variety.
The woman in the portrait is Shelley Francis a.k.a. Sister Icee who in 1998 owned and ran the Cannabis Café on West Hastings. I photographed her for an article, August 20, by Anthony De Palma for the New York Times.