Turn On, Drop Out
By George Dimos
Illustration by Corrinne James
By the time Bobby and I reached the Jay Street-Metro Tech station, the acid had already started to kick in. Myrtle Promenade was quiet as usual for a Thursday night, but the street lights and the closed stores’ flickering neon signs created a visual noise equal to that of a rush hour. It was Bobby’s first time dropping acid, and I was a little worried about him taking two tabs at once. Naturally, I wanted to make sure he was fine, but that didn’t seem like a priority at the time, given the phantasmagoria of color that was spreading ahead of us. Everything felt comfortable and safe enough to be at ease.
A police car with flashing red lights passed by Jay Street, and Bobby stood there, gazing at the asphalt as if observing the imaginary trail the vehicle had left behind. I was not sure whether he was scared of getting caught–a silly concern, regardless, as cops are not allowed to arrest you if you have already consumed the drugs––or if he was simply astounded by the palette of colors that paraded in front of his stoned eyes.
“We should take a walk,” I said, lighting a cigarette. “We can go through the park. That would be nice.”
Bobby didn’t respond right away. He kept staring into the void for a few more seconds, before lazily repeating my words without even blinking:
“Yeah, that would be nice.”
Bobby and I had snuck out of a fraternity party, taking place in our house. We were both leading members of the Sigma Tau Fraternity at Adelphi University–in which we were both enrolled–and we had sort of an obligation towards the school community and our beloved chapter to throw a party every once in a while, and bring everyone together. Both of us had silently agreed that these parties were getting old and kind of annoying. During a previous gathering of that caliber, we were entertaining the idea (half-seriously, half-jokingly) of arranging a field trip with the fraternity, and having a Kool-Aid aperitif secretly laced with LSD prior to our departure.
“It would be like the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The word ‘trip’ would have a double meaning.”
I am not exactly sure when or if we actually decided against that plan, but Bobby apparently never quit courting with the idea of an acid experience. Earlier that day he came to my room and timidly asked if I could get some from my dealer for him. Five hours later, we were both so overwhelmed by our female guests’ witchy makeup and our male guests’ buccaneer-like boorishness that we decided to leave the house without saying a word to anyone.
“I don’t know if you like the darkness,” I said. “Personally, I enjoy it. We could go up there, near the monument if you prefer, though.”
Fort Greene Park was not as empty as Metro Tech Center, but there were still only a handful of people––mostly kids––hanging out there.
“I think the monument would be a better option,” I finally said, since Bobby seemed incapable of making a decision.
We climbed up a hill and reached the plateau where the Revolutionary War monument was erected. “Erected” was the perfect word to describe the monument’s posture. From its base it was almost impossible to see the bronze urn at the top, despite it being covered in the incandescent light emanating from the granite shafts at the four corners of the small plaza.
“I love acid,” Bobby exclaimed, momentarily awakened from his trance.
“It’s quite something, isn’t it?” I said. “It gives you a different perspective on places that you think you know very well. It is very similar to the concept of satori in Zen Buddhism. Satori occurs when you are able to see things for what they really are for the first time. Acid gives you that ability.”
“You are so articulate,” Bobby said. “It’s very hard for me even to put my thoughts in order.”
I looked around and noticed the rippling of an old sycamore’s leaves. There was something unnatural about it––almost artificial. Eventually, I realized what it was. It wasn’t the tree itself. All the green spaces were segregated by a very unappealing wire fence.
“I don’t know what the point of that really is,” I said.
“The point of what?” said Bobby.
“Well, that,” I said, pointing at the fence. “Why have a park at all, if people are not allowed to walk on the grass? It’s not a botanic garden, for Chrissake. It entirely defeats the purpose.”
“Maybe they just planted it. It needs time to make roots,” he said.
“Still, though. It’s the presupposition that Brooklyn people are hooligans that’s annoying. The system doesn’t even give them a chance, anymore. It just takes its measures against them.”
Bobby seemed to ponder at this. Perhaps he didn’t quite get what I was talking about.
Bobby came from a wealthy Massachusetts family. His father was a businessman, and had raised him very strictly. All his life he must have believed that strict rules are not only the norm, but naturally justifiable, given humanity’s inherent vileness and laziness. I could only pretend to fathom how a mind-altering drug like acid would impact Bobby’s worldview; an orderly one, where such things as right and wrong existed, and right was currently prevailing.
Bobby’s cell phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the name Jack Weller flashing on the screen.
“Hello,” Bobby said, adding a silly, pretentiously polite inflection in his voice that even to him sounded off under the circumstances.
Jack was our third roommate at the Sigma Tau townhouse. He wasn’t even a member of the fraternity, but he lived there anyway due to a Res Life fuck-up. I couldn’t make out any words he was saying, but he was talking fast and louder than usual.
“Okay, we’ll be back soon. We’re at Fort Greene. Give us ten to fifteen minutes,” Bobby said before hanging up.
“Is the townhouse on fire?” I said, lighting another cigarette.
“Something like that,” Bobby said. “Security came over and kicked everyone out. Jack is pretty wasted, but he mentioned something about an ex-FBI agent and ‘underage drinking’. I hope we’re not in trouble.”
“You know what I hear?” I said. “I hear everyone asking for someone competent to come and rescue them. We left for five minutes and the feds are on our case. They teach us that service is a good thing, but honestly, I’m starting to get sick of it.”
“Well, actually, we have been out here for three hours,” Bobby said.
“Okay, maybe we should head back,” I said. “Are you hungry?”
“No, I’m good. I could use some coffee, though,” he said.
Coffee sounded like an odd choice for 2:30 a.m., but, hey, “to each his own,” I thought. There were a few bodegas we could stop by on the way back. I’m sure at least one of them would still serve coffee at this hour. We walked down the grandiose staircase leading to the other end of the park, and for the first time we got a panoramic view of the neighborhood, as much as the trees allowed it. It always struck me as weird that there were no cars on the street after a certain hour. It reminded me of accounts that I had read from European cities under authoritarian regimes, where no one was permitted to exit his or her house after 8 p.m. There was something very similar to a military junta in charge of New York City, and perhaps all of the U.S., but it wasn’t as self-evident as Francisco Franco’s fascist rule in Spain. It was more like an Orwellian dystopia where the Thought Police was surveying everyone’s mind, preventing crime before it was even formed as a thought.
We had walked four-five blocks down Myrtle Avenue, when I decided to sit down for a second. Bobby looked at me with a hint of fear in his eyes.
“What’s up?” I said.
“Are you sure it’s okay to sit here?” he said.
I was puzzled by his question until I realized where we were and what was causing his distress. The bench was situated right in front of the housing projects’ entrance.
“Sure,” I said. “This area is not dangerous at all, anymore. Look,” I said, extending my hand while venturing into the apartment block.
I could sense that Bobby was scared, but his fear was completely unfounded and directly linked to his upbringing. He followed me reluctantly, looking around him suspiciously. There were no people hanging out outside, and at times you got the impression that no one was living in those red brick buildings, either. The projects nowadays looked mummified, like exhibits in a city-large museum that NYC had turned into. There were even big lighting towers, illuminating every corner that crime could once flourish.
“It’s almost sickening,” I said.
“What is?” he said.
“These lights. I don’t know what to make of them. They are here to prevent crime, obviously, but there is something twisted about them. They must make people living here feel like lab rats,” I said. Bobby laughed. His laughter sounded obscene. I was dead serious about what I was saying. New York was a place where things used to happen––illegal things, but interesting things all the same. It was a city full of life. That was until some neoliberalist pricks, like Rudy Giuliani, or his successor, Michael Bloomberg, caught wind of it and decided to make some profit by turning it into a tourist attraction. But wealthy tourists don’t want to be in real danger. They want a simulation of danger, but not the actual repercussions. That’s why the technocrats wrapped this formerly vibrant city in an invisible plastic membrane and replaced the local coffee shops with Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts; to add a sense of security to the area. On one block you can see the den where Robert Mapplethorpe used to have his S&M sex parties, and on the next you can purchase your favorite overpriced coffee-like product.
“We should get coffee,” Bobby said.
“There is a Deli on the other side, under the bridge. They should be open,” I said.
The bodega was open and quite busy compared to the rest of the neighborhood. The Arabic owners were conversing in their native tongue while preparing sandwiches, and a couple of people were waiting in line to place their order. The coffee machine was off, but one of the employees got it started for Bobby. Sometimes I wished I could speak Arabic, just to hear what these guys were blabbering about. Bobby filled his cup and brought it to the cashier’s. The man behind the counter was busy assisting somebody who looked like a regular customer from around the block.
“Did you see that?” Bobby whispered to me, conspiratorially.
“See what?” I said.
“That guy walked in and placed forty bucks on the counter without saying a word. I guess that makes sense if he’s a regular customer, but the man behind the counter slipped something in an empty cigarette pack and handed it to him.”
“What do you think it is?” I said.
“Probably drugs,” he said, confirming my thought.
This simple story, maybe due to the influence of acid that was still pretty strong, triggered an even bigger train of thoughts in my mind.
“I think you hit the nail right on the head, Bobby,” I said. To my surprise, Bobby seemed to understand.
“That’s where this vibrant culture went: it didn’t disappear, it just went underground to survive,” I continued. “Think of a simple scenario. This man is a junkie, just like he used to be back in the good old days. He won’t shoot up under the bridge anymore, nor will he score on Myrtle, because his dealer is no longer there, waiting for him. He didn’t have to go very far, though. He scores dope right here, where the tourists can’t see him. This way both he and they are satisfied. The police knows it, too. The guy probably grew up in the same neighborhood as a police officer. The tourists don’t give a shit. They want to take pictures of a historic landscape with no people, just still nature. The butt of this joke is me and you, buddy. Art students looking for culture and humanity in this God-forsaken place. You sometimes notice old-timers smirking or laughing when you pass by them, and you wonder what’s so damn funny. Well, we are funny. The futility of what we are trying to accomplish is hilarious to them. This town doesn’t welcome any outsiders. It has just found a more efficient way to ignore them.”
Bobby was smiling, perhaps with pride for what he had discovered. It damn sure was a discovery, despite how terrifying. He paid for his coffee and we started walking back to the townhouse––this secluded space that might as well have been located on the dark side of the moon. The art students, the sororities and the fraternities: they all came and went. Like an experienced con-man, Brooklyn was welcoming them at first, as long as they had money to spend. Soon as the check was cashed, they had to make room for the next group, and that in repeat ad infinitum, until Brooklyn would gradually disappear from the world map once and for all.