POV

Legalize Freedom

Then I had to fend off the attacks of an old hippy lady that claimed the only way she could sense if my spirit was ready was through having sex.

Story and photos by Icarus Blake - Icarus@citizenbrooklyn.com
Sonora, Mexico Photo ©  Icarus Blake

Sonora, Mexico Photo © Icarus Blake

Once upon a time I smoked pot. It was a late affair; in my school years I was too busy with sports, and too terrified by my coaches, to even dream of doing any kind of drugs. If my performance on Sunday games was less than stellar, the big, bad coach would stand over me huffing and puffing asking me if I was doing any drugs. He was against sex too, but that was not a problem, as sex in those days was harder to come by than pot. Even masturbation was a very illegal activity. I would only do it on Mondays and Tuesdays in fear that it would hamper my athletic prowess. There was also this urban legend going around that too much wanking would make you blind. Go figure.

Chihuahuan Desert, Mexico Photo ©  Icarus Blake

Chihuahuan Desert, Mexico Photo © Icarus Blake

You may wonder how I vented my teen-age anger with all those self-imposed restrictions. I would constantly get into fights, and my coach would get a few weekly calls from the local police station (small town), asking him to come and pick me up from the “containment room”. He would oblige, but never seemed too worried about me being so violent. I guess he saw that as added training. In fact, a smart, sweet girlfriend would have fixed all that, but, to those girls, I was the personification of evil.
Most of my high school buddies smoked pot. I would patiently listen to their absurd rambling and giggling, trying to imitate their state as to fit in. But, honestly, I thought they looked and sounded pretty stupid. Then came college, and with that a steady relationship that included regular sex (different town, no bad reputation). No, I was not a virgin ‘til college if you may wonder, but you really do not want to know about my pitiful previous sexual experiences. Just know this: my first time was in a tiny tent while camping with my best friend and two girls… It was so cramped in there that I almost had sex with my friend instead of one of the girls. It all went downhill from there.

Peyote Cactus Photo ©  Icarus Blake

Peyote Cactus Photo © Icarus Blake

My college sweetheart smoked pot, lots of it. She was intellectual and politically active, and claimed it would relax her and get her mind off the serious stuff. So I tried and we made love stoned. It was wonderful, REALLY wonderful. It felt like my body had been equipped with billions of extra sensors. Her theory was that pot was an inhibition killer; it just blasted away all the crap between your brain and your senses, a shortcut to pleasure.

New Times Coffee Shop, Amsterdam Photo ©  Icarus Blake

New Times Coffee Shop, Amsterdam Photo © Icarus Blake

Then we broke up. I was pissed and lonely. It was winter and I was late preparing for exams, and it was raining all the time. I started smoking on my own, not a good idea. Instead of being more relaxed, I kept obsessing about all the things that were wrong. I had no desire to study, as a matter of fact I almost dropped out. That was the winter of my discontent. The more I smoked, the less I felt like doing anything constructive and the more depressed I got. So, I quit and started running loops around the park every day. A bit of a Forrest Gump Syndrome, eventually, I paced myself, passed the exams and felt better about life.

New Times Coffee Shop, Amsterdam Photo ©  Icarus Blake

New Times Coffee Shop, Amsterdam Photo © Icarus Blake

Soon after, I moved to California and read Castaneda’s book “The Teachings of Don Juan”. Castaneda was a UCLA educated anthropologist who wrote twelve books about his initiation to peyote and shamanism. More than twenty-eight million copies were sold. I was living in LA at the time, not so far from the Chihuahua/Sonora desert where the stories took place and where there is an abundance of San Pedro cactus. What is a young person to do? You guessed it. Before I knew it, I was crossing the border to Mexico looking for my own Shamanic experience.

Photo ©  Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

I based myself in Chihuahua, and began roaming the desert looking for a Yaqui Shaman. I like deserts, but this one was a pretty rough one. I had very limited resources and decided to spend more time in the city investigating better options. I started hanging out with a bunch of hippies whose theory was that Castaneda came to Mexico, got VERY wacked on different psychotic drugs and then wrote the books under the influence; there was very little truth about his relationship with Don Juan Matus, the shaman. To me that sounded like saying that Steve McQueen was afraid of speeding on motorcycles, absurd. So I let them talk and accepted their invitation to do peyote at their settlement in a run-down adobe house near the village of Juan Adama.
First, I had to withstand a ridiculous initiation with ramblings ranging from unicorns to spirits of the earth. Then I had to fend off the attacks of an old hippy lady that claimed the only way she could sense if my spirit was ready was through having sex. Two days went by and, finally, after my modest donation of twenty dollars to the commune… I got to chew on some peyote buds with the high spirit gang.

Photo ©  Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

That is when I learnt a precious lesson, I am very sensitive to hallucinogenic drugs and I generally need a quarter of the dose that everybody else takes. Hence, when the peyote took over my brain, my whole consciousness shot out of myself and started running circles in front of me, racing around with a bunch of free-range, skinny chickens inside the walled-in yard. That would have been fine, except that the chickens started growing in size and getting very aggressive. Now, I remember stopping and try to talk it over with one of the chickens. He towered over me listening attentively and then, somehow, I must have entered another level of reality, ‘cause the chicken turned into a regular size girl that was stroking my cheek and telling me it was all right. Problem was she had no arms and her hand was floating separated from her body next to my face. Sure. There were also moments of extreme lucidity, hyper-attention almost. I remember trying to write something down, knowing that it would have been a precious record of my experience.

 Photo ©  Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

When I later checked my notes, most of them were full of scribbles. One page had my birth date written a dozen times, many with the month spelled wrong. One note said: you pussy idiot. The rest was pieces of words written with the calligraphy of a four year old. At the peak of the trip, I obsessed over the tip of my yellow pencil. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I truly believed it was the work of some god. A totem like symbol. I had no sense of time passing, but I believe the pencil and I had a few hours of very intimate exchanges. Then night fell and I started getting uncontrollable chills. I went inside and crashed next to a fireplace. Fire gazing occupied the rest of my peyote trip. Morning found me thirsty and severely hangover. More than a few people assured me that it would have been a lot better the second time: I wanted no second time. I left and took the bus back to the US border.

New Times Coffee Shop, Amsterdam Photo ©  Icarus Blake

New Times Coffee Shop, Amsterdam Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s 10am on a Friday twenty years later and I’m talking to Ismail at the New Times coffee shop in Amsterdam. He juggles his time between making espresso and filling small pot bags for the morning customers. Back in the US, Colorado has just legalized recreational Marijuana and he’s very curious about it. I, in turn, am very curious about the Dutch experiment that began many years ago. Crime has been down since he says, except at Holland’s borders where trafficking with neighboring nations is heavy and crime is up. Border municipalities are now enacting stricter controls and lobbying the government to modify the law. We should expect a similar problem in the US.
Has Holland become a nation of potheads? Not at all. As a matter of fact, all these coffee shops are semi empty and quite depressing. The novelty is gone and the market has flattened out. Most customers are tourists going for the one time thrill of smoking in a public place. I also find it quite strange that, although you can smoke as many joints as you like, you can’t light up a regular cigarette. It’s prohibited by the law, the ‘other’ law I guess. Another oddity is that the cultivation of cannabis is also prohibited in Holland; hence, it needs to be smuggled into the country. In fact, the real success story in Holland, is the management of addiction to heavy drugs like heroin. It’s an impeccable, progressive program that works very well. Also, it appears that the percentage of people that transition from pot to heavy drugs is very tiny, contrary to what many other governments lead us to believe.

New Times Coffee Shop, Amsterdam Photo ©  Icarus Blake

New Times Coffee Shop, Amsterdam Photo © Icarus Blake

Ismail insists that I try one of his Space Cakes and I give in. Why not? It’s legal after all… A few hours later, I find myself sitting on a bench along one of the canals. I’m mildly high and very mellow. I’m in no rush to reach for either of my two phones and all I want to do is to stare and smile at passersby. I spend a pleasant hour reconnecting with that part of myself that I never have time for. Later, as the effect of the Space Cake gently glides out of my mind, I sit at dinner with friends and I am in a great social mood.

Ismail Aajoud Photo ©  Icarus Blake

Ismail Aajoud Photo © Icarus Blake

In regards to stress, the cannabis I ingested was nothing short than medicinal. Probably as effective as a good yoga lesson or a therapy session. There is so much talk these days about the therapeutic use of psychotic drugs that can be found in nature, but are all heavily criminalized. We cure ourselves with highly chemical compounds full of harmful side effects. But way before all these mammoth pharmaceutical companies existed; we had wise men and women that knew where to find in nature the cure to many of our ailments. But now we are in this ‘funny’ cycle where the very companies that make our medicines are also amongst the ones that contribute to the pollution of our environment, hence causing many of the sicknesses that we cure with their meds.
Crazy world. We keep adding laws, regulations, prohibitions and limitations to both the culprits and the victims. We use our common sense less and less. Maybe the real problem sits with the stifling of our freedom of choice. Maybe we should seriously consider legalizing freedom and stopping governments from setting the boundaries of one of our most prized possessions.

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