Andrew O'Day - The Trip of a Lifetime (autobiographic writing)
Andrew O'Day In Words and Pictures
Andrew O'Day: Facets of Fandom
Essays and Writings:
(© Andrew O'Day)
|Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone|
|History and Fiction in Doctor Who||Towards a definition of satire in Doctor Who||Surveillance and Space in Doctor Who||
Philip Martin’s “Vengeance on Varos”
|Andrew's Interviews Page||The Trip of a Lifetime|
Andrew O’Day was a very insignificant person. He blended into a world of billions and, to those who didn’t know him, appeared to be just a teenage boy standing unremarkably on a street, in a foreign land, small amongst the surrounding shops. He certainly didn’t warrant writing about himself in the third person. You would have simply walked by him unsuspecting that there was anything out of the ordinary. But, for a time, Andrew didn’t see things that way. He felt that He was a God, gigantic amongst the minute shops. Your reality and His reality were two entirely different things. In His reality, one minute He would feel grandeur, one minute He would laugh uncontrollably for no reason at all and one minute He would feel the darkest fear. His was a world where illustrations came to life and where colors glistened. Yet it was also a world of dangerous syringes and knives. And it is that strangest of worlds and the story that surrounded it which is recounted here.
Andrew was in a very dark, nightmarish place when the events of this narrative unfolded. Having moved from England to attend McGill University in Montreal, he spent his initial holidays – in the summer and then the winter - in the ordinary seeming town of Halifax, Nova Scotia where he fell in with a drug-dealer in his mid-20s known as ‘Psycho’ and his teenage no-nonsense girlfriend Kathie. They lived in a small basement apartment in Spryfield, a rather poor neighborhood located some way out of central Halifax, and were after his money. It was a Canadian harsh winter, with snow on the ground. But it was not only physically cold but also chilling to the spine and Evil. That is no overstatement. Andrew had gone back to Halifax dressed to look like Psycho: with a new black leather jacket, contrasting with Psycho’s well-worn one, black jeans, black boots, black leather gloves, a black hat and scarf. Everything black and sinister. Before that winter, Andrew had seen Psycho as rather humorous, and charming, the guy who liked to play on the poker machines, but afterwards Andrew saw Psycho as something else - as dangerous. Because something sinister happened that would change Andrew’s perception of the world.
It began as any ordinary day would. Andrew was sitting in the front room of Psycho’s apartment, enjoying a cup of tea and a smoke, and wondering what the new day would bring when they arrived downtown. The two of them were alone; Kathie had gone to Ottawa to spend the Christmas holidays with her family and was due back that evening. Psycho and Andrew talked casually and Psycho inquired as to whether Andrew had enjoyed his cup of tea. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable question but Andrew was unprepared for what happened next: Psycho informed him that the tea had been laced with a hit of Acid. Andrew said he didn’t believe him; Andrew didn’t want to believe him. Andrew had his head on his shoulders and had long resisted Psycho’s attempts to get him to try the drug, not knowing what its effects would be. But Andrew shivered, thinking it odd that Psycho had been so insistent on making the tea that morning. Then Andrew put a Walkman on and, suddenly out of nowhere started laughing. ‘Why are you laughing?’, Psycho asked Andrew grinning knowingly, to which Andrew responded ‘The music is making me laugh’. ‘The music is making you laugh’, Psycho echoed in a sinister way. It then dawned on Andrew that Psycho really had spiked his tea and that something had happened that Andrew had no control over but Andrew was by then enjoying the sensation too much to be annoyed. They left the apartment, taking the bus into central Halifax.
When they arrived downtown on Spring Garden Road, Psycho took Andrew into The Second Cup, situated at the farthest end near South Park Street, and left him with a cup of tea while Psycho went away to do whatever it was he needed to do. Andrew just sat there, feeling very paranoid; a friendly ginger haired girl named Kerry came in with her friends and smiled at him before sitting at the other end of the coffee shop and Andrew wondered anxiously whether she knew he was tripping. Perhaps Psycho had run into her and told her. Andrew just sat there, these thoughts dominating his mind. Andrew was also mesmerized by the colors of the counter and of the price boards in The Second Cup: the reds and the yellows glistening like they had never glistened for him before.
Later, in the darkness of night Andrew stood on Spring Garden Road, just outside the burger store Harvey’s, with its neon sign, and opposite the Park Lane shopping mall. The road was near deserted. He just stood there, feeling the weight of his legs as though he was all powerful, while his head fried. He felt so grand compared to all the little shops. A newly-returned Kathie came up to Andrew and all he could say was that he was in lego-land. Because that’s what it seemed to be to Andrew: him standing above all these small constructed buildings. Reality had become distorted. ‘Lego land’, Kathie repeated with a smile on her face, finding the assertion very humorous. Then Psycho joined them; they went across the street so that Andrew could get money out of a cash machine for a taxi back to Psycho’s and Andrew retained the good sense to cover the pin number he was entering as he could see Kathie trying to look.
On another night when Andrew had taken LSD voluntarily and they were all walking up South Park Street in the direction of Spring Garden Road, Andrew came across a little chain joining two poles, raised less than a foot off the ground. Any normal person would have just walked around the chain or have simply stepped over it without so much as stopping to give it a second thought. But Andrew stood before the chain, paralyzed with fear. Almost immediately, Psycho noted the source of Andrew’s fear and goaded Andrew to JUMP! As far as Andrew was concerned, Psycho might as well have been telling him to jump over a massive drop between one tall building and another. All Andrew could hear was Psycho relentlessly enjoying the situation. After what seemed like an eternity, Andrew, our hero, finally seized the nerve to jump over this low chain and breathed such a sigh of relief after surmounting this ‘enormous challenge’ that his sigh seemed as though it was audible to the whole street and his breath could be seen in the cold air. Again, Andrew’s perception of what was real had been totally lost.
On yet another night they were back at Psycho’s apartment - Andrew, Psycho, Kathie, and another teenage street girl named Stephanie - and this time Andrew had voluntarily dropped two hits. This became more of an enacted out nightmarish drama with Psycho, our villain, as ‘director’. Andrew was sitting on a couch with Psycho and Kathie on the other side of a table upon which stood a brightly lit candle in a darkened room. The pair took it in turns to spray the candle with deodorant which caused the flame to burst out in Andrew’s direction. Andrew darted from one side of the couch to the other in order to avoid the flames. Then after a while of doing this, Psycho had Kathie dress up in a nurse’s uniform and get a syringe from the kitchen cupboard. Psycho had on another occasion shown Andrew the syringe and had informed him that it contained HIV blood. Kathie came from the kitchen and squirted liquid from the syringe and started to advance towards Andrew sitting on the couch. Andrew cowed away in terrible fear. The horror ended with Psycho saying ’you or your brother’ (who was back in England) to which Andrew responded ‘I love my brother’. Psycho asked Andrew to repeat those words and Andrew said again ’I love my brother’. Psycho gestured Kathie away from Andrew. For some reason, as Psycho informed Stephanie watching on, he seemed to feel that Andrew had come a long way in order to be able to say this, as though Andrew was always concerned with himself and no one else. These were all the mind games Psycho played. Andrew was totally out of control of the situation and vowed to never to be at that apartment, or alone with Psycho, again, leaving hastily at the coming of dawn and returning down town. Andrew’s fears were soon again shown to be founded when a couple of private detectives picked him up in a car on Spring Garden Road and were trying to ascertain Psycho’s involvement in the case of a missing girl from Toronto.
The somewhat eventful Christmas holidays were coming to an end - actually they had ended and Andrew had a return ticket which allowed him to spend the first week of his McGill term in Halifax. He formed a plan: he decided he’d like to find out what the experience of tripping on Acid on an airplane was like, so swallowed a hit he had purchased from another dealer downtown just before going through to the departure lounge. Apart from his feeling that the cabin crew all had British accents and that he was being taken back to England, the night journey back to Montreal was, I’m afraid to tell you, pretty uneventful. For Andrew had taken the hit too close to getting on the plane and its full effect did not materialize until he was back in his student residence of Solin Hall. There as Andrew walked through the corridors, he felt a grandeur - a feeling of being the largest thing ever - that he had felt that first night tripping on Spring Garden Road. Andrew went to the basement to play Road Blasters on the game machine and felt so powerful at the controls.
There were more terrifying moments on LSD to come. Andrew had found dealers on Rue Ste Catherine and began taking Acid in paper, as opposed to pill, form. Once, Andrew had taken so many hits at once that he fell onto his floor at Solin and he felt as if he was being sucked into the ground with special effects one would find in science fiction drama. Luckily, Andrew was spared any onlookers this time since, while he was desperately trying to prevent himself being sucked into the ground in a very dramatic episode, anyone watching would have simply been confronted with the sight of a teenage boy rolling about on a floor. Not so, however, on another occasion, when Andrew was in the living room of John, Evan, and Isaiah’s apartment and was surrounded and taunted by the students of the third floor, who were making weird noises and gestures towards him. All they could see was a boy sitting in a chair with his hands over his head, but for Andrew it was a terrifying experience until Isaiah came in, broke things up and took Andrew to his room. Then there was the time Andrew was tripping and more seriously became transfixed on a knife in Isaiah’s kitchen. The knife was lying there on the side board and Andrew was being increasingly drawn towards it. It was enormous in his consciousness and it was as though the rest of the kitchen surroundings did not matter. Thankfully, Isaiah broke Andrew away from his very real peril by coming into the room thus diverting his attention.
There were also the moments of going over weird and disturbing ideas again and again in a labyrinthine fashion. Andrew wrote on a piece of paper ‘What is Andrew O‘Day?’ and amongst his responses were that ‘Andrew O‘Day is a Human Being’. Then Andrew had to ask ‘What is a Human Being?’, to which he concluded that ‘Andrew O’Day was one’. Andrew also asked ‘How could Andrew O’Day possibly not be HIV positive?’ as, even by then, he had slept with a lot of male partners, and around that scribbled down reasons for his suspicions. These were the big questions of life that LSD kept Andrew puzzling over until he burnt out at dawn.
One time, in the early hours of the morning, Andrew was sitting in the small common room on his floor of Solin Hall. On the wall in front of Andrew was an illustration of birds flying. He stared at the image, and the more he stared the more he experienced the image coming to life before his eyes. He was transfixed by the way that ever so slightly the birds in front of him started to move. Andrew sat there for ages just looking, fascinated. This was one of those rare harmonious moments he experienced on Acid. Soon, however, he was to have a very bad trip in his room at Solin which brought to an end his involvement with the drug. One blessing was that LSD was not addictive so it was in no way hard for Andrew to cease using it.
When Andrew visited Halifax again the following spring, it came largely as a relief that Psycho had all but faded from life on Spring Garden Road. Andrew didn’t know what had happened to him. While Andrew had been befriended by someone at Solin Hall who knew of Psycho and started going to the Halifax school hangout, no matter how hard he tried to escape the past, there was also something pulling him back. Despite Andrew’s vow never to be alone with Psycho again, he once went to Spryfield in the dead of night to find out if Psycho was there. It was like a scene from a horror film. Andrew stood there in the street, this time small amongst the buildings, and was haunted by the sound of dogs loudly barking filling the night air. Andrew could only have been there for a couple of minutes before he thought it wise to make a hasty departure. Psycho once said to Andrew that Spring Garden Road was just like any other street except Psycho was on it, and that certainly became true after Psycho left. Psycho also said that Andrew would remember him until the day he died - indeed how could Andrew possibly forget all this?
I’d like to make some notes about my narrative which is based on what really happened to me as a teenager but told in the third-person. Acid is non-narrative. I have been able to ‘hang’ the individual trips onto an over-arching narrative of how I came to be on LSD. But the trips themselves contain disjointed moments of emotion (wonder, fear etc), hence my use of phrases such as ‘One time’ and ‘On another occasion’ to join together the ‘trips’. My piece has the feeling of the cinematic. Writing in the third person has given a sense of a larger drama in which myself and others were ‘characters’. I was referred to by some at Solin Hall as ‘The Odeon One’ linking my life with the grand narratives of film, and my narrative contains the epic notion of the voyage, as well as other genres such as horror and mystery. There are postmodernist meta-textual references to film such as my saying that Spryfield in the dead of night was ‘like a scene from a horror film’. But who was in control of this narrative - myself or Psycho as metaphoric rapist invading my body with a pill? Furthermore, I did not know exactly what was transpiring - Psycho’s involvement in the case of a missing girl and to where he ultimately disappeared.
While this is not a piece of Twilight Zone ‘fan-fic‘, it begins with a Rod Serling type of narration to the 1950s/60s American fantasy series, and can be seen in some ways as analogous to that program. Many of those episodes start off in the genre of ordinary small-town drama which somehow becomes unordinary and the place of fantasy. Likewise, Halifax, Nova Scotia is a small Canadian town and Spring Garden Road an ordinary street (as Psycho pointed out) but they became something else for me through the introduction of a psychedelic drug. This opening to my little narrative is, at the same time, meant to disorientate the reader with the question ‘what is going on?’ as well as introducing the themes of the differences between perceptions of ‘tripping‘ and ‘not tripping‘, and hence between reality and unreality.
A key theme running through the piece is that of identity and proportion. The opening paragraph begins with the contrast between, on the one hand, smallness and the insignificance of identity when not tripping and, on the other hand, largeness and significance of identity when tripping. Note the way I have referred to myself as ‘He’ with a capital ‘H’ in the opening paragraph to emphasize the feeling I had of myself as a God. I have also written in the third person in order to capture the sense of epic grandeur that Acid gave me. But, at the same time, I use the narrative voice to humorously deflate the epic sense I had of situations, using conventions associated with mock-epic. For example, there is a use of very humor when stating that Andrew ‘our hero’ surmounted the ‘enormous challenge’ of jumping over a chain less than a foot above the ground. While many writers have adopted the mock-epic or mock-heroic genre, this is somewhat akin to the narrator’s humorous debunking of the hero in the televised version of Douglas Adams’ mock-epic The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981) since the events were only of epic proportion in my own mind. In my instance, it is also a very black humor. There is also the incident of me feeling I am being sucked into the ground in his room at Solin Hall with science fiction effects just being a teenage boy rolling about on the floor. It is moments like these that also mark the difference between the Andrew who was a character in this story on Acid and the omniscient Andrew (me) who is narrating back from a present perspective and who is no longer ’tripping’ but who can see what was happening in then-Andrew‘s mind.
The idea of significance and lack of significance also raised itself back in Solin Hall when I was asking in the third person ‘What is Andrew O’Day?’. Here, in my room, all alone, I was, having somewhat of an existential crisis that is often seen as a feature of modernism and the lack of meaning in the modern world but also accompanies psychedelic drug use.
Furthermore, I’ve been using language - the written word - to convey to you the Acid trips but these experiences cannot really be done justice by language - written or spoken. Most of what I have written will seem bizarre to the ordinary mind. The point that Spring Garden Road with all its lit up shops was like a small lego land obviously sounded bizarre to Kathie who was not tripping at the time. For the un-tripping mind a street just appears as a normal street and a person is in proper proportion in relation to their surroundings. They have a true sense of reality. But it is all very bizarre and real to someone tripping. Language always reduces things, it paraphrases them, and Acid is very much about how it makes the person taking it feel. These things are felt powerfully and had to be lived in order to be truly appreciated. It’s Acid’s failure to be reduced to paraphrase that makes this the most difficult piece I’ve had to write. It has challenged me as a writer and is in many ways an experiment that has been doomed to failure. But, at the same time, if you are reading this and being freaked out or just thinking ‘NUTS’ ‘COMPLETELY NUTS’ at sentences such as Andrew believing he was King of a Lego Land and at the idea of Andrew ‘our hero’ surmounting the ‘enormous challenge’ of jumping over a chain less than a foot above the ground then I will have partly succeeded in conveying the absurdity of Acid. I’ve also tried to convey the nightmarish quality to the trips.
I’ve always felt that, since Acid is so visual, if these trips are to be represented they would best be conveyed through the medium of film or television or at least through illustrations, although I have shown some ways in which the written word can be used effectively. There were Expressionist artists who symbolized mood through shapes and bizarre uses of color (e.g. Edvard Munch), German Expressionist filmmakers of the 1920s, and twentieth century works of surreal visual art and films which feature nightmarish imagery such as Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and El Topo (1970). However, my trips were closest to a film like Enter the Void (2009) which features the out-of-body experiences of a drug dealer who is shot by the police and makes use of imagery based on psychedelic experiences. Enter the Void is shot at nighttime amidst the neon light signs of Tokyo and utilizes point of view filming from the perspective of Oscar, who is on drugs but not Acid. In this way, the film reminds me of my experience standing on Spring Garden Road at night amidst the lit-up signs and walking through the corridors of Solin Hall feeling my grand presence. Furthermore, Enter the Void makes use of dazzling colors such as those I experienced in The Second Cup. This connects with the films The Trip (1967) and The Monkees’ Head (1968) which also play with color in an exaggerated way. Certainly surreal techniques could also be used to convey my experiences such as of a shot of an Andrew head superimposed over an image of Spring Garden Road or a shot of Andrew’s large feet over lego pieces. Another key film is Psych Out (1968) which revisits the theme of unreality and reality present in The Trip and uses visuals to distinguish between what is in a person’s mind when on drugs and what is in reality, though the hallucinations are greater in this film than those I experienced and, as noted earlier, I have used a humorous narrative voice to draw attention to this absurdity. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror television also link in with my experiences. The episode ‘The Long Sleep’ of the British series UFO (1970) features characters who take LSD with exaggerated bright light filming, and with a character feeling so mighty that he jumps off the roof of a farmhouse. The BBC serial The Box of Delights (1984) features a picture on a wall which comes to life through magic, using animation, resembling, in an exaggerated manner, the way I perceived the birds in the picture at Solin Hall starting to move. David Whitaker’s Doctor Who serial ‘The Edge of Destruction’ (1964), has the frightening image of Susan Foreman attacking characters with a pair of scissors which Kathie with a syringe links with, and Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ (2011) not only resembles Gaiman’s graphic novels in that there is a bizarre quality to the alternative universe in which the protagonists find themselves, but Amy and Rory run through the weird TARDIS corridors. This connects with my perception of the corridors at Solin Hall as strange. It is also worth noting that different productions use sounds to convey the nightmarish or out-of-this-world experience of being on drugs.
Finally, it is important to realize that this piece is true. This is pertinent since the theme of reality versus unreality has continually surfaced, with Acid distorting a sense of reality. But now I am not tripping I am able to factually convey the nightmare and absurdity of the trips and shape everything artistically, giving some kind of order, and significance, to an experience which lacked order and was just plain mad.
My thanks to Frank Collins and Dr. I.Q. Hunter for suggesting some of the films and television programs mentioned in this piece.
Text © Andrew O'Day and used with his kind permission. This page was compiled by Tim Harris.
This page was first published to the internet Saturday 12th April 2014