|Three Kings: Mexico City Christmas|
CHRISTMAS IN MEXICO 1963
1963 was a big year for me. I had passed all my exams at Stanford and was beginning my thesis work under Walter Meyerhof using a small particle accelerator in the basement of the Physics building. With some lady friends from the Psychology department, I had just experienced my first acid trip which opened up for me new worlds of possibility. In this excitable mood I decided to spend my Christmas in Mexico, packed my gear into a big duffel bag and hopped a bus down to Guadalajara.
Where I met a fellow American named Dave Whitaker, who was married to an anthropologist in Wisconsin, and was, like myself, looking for adventure. Both of us were bearded and scruffy and attracted a lot of attention. Since 1963 predated the hippies, we were called "existentialistas" or sometimes "Fidelistas". In Mexico City we met several young men from the University who were eager to practice their English and wanted to show us the hot spots. Dave & I lived in a hotel a few blocks from the Paseo Reforma park right in the center of the city, within walking distance of the Metropolitan Cathedral and several other famous landmarks. We had been warned not to drink the water so we subsisted on beer and food we bought from the ubiquitous street vendors. At one of these stands, I was served slices of goat cut right off the animal and stuffed into a big tortilla.
|Mexico City taco stand.|
One day Dave and I decided to see the ocean and took a bus to Mazatlan where for the first time I was able to swim in ocean water as warm as a bathtub. The Mazatlan beach is crowded with expensive hotels, but behind the hotels sits a typical Mexican village. We stopped in a cantina and immediately became the center of attention. At a table inside, four Mexicans invited us gringos to play a drinking game. They produced a "shock box" made of a lantern battery, an automotive spark coil and a rheostat for controlling the voltage. I had played with such devices in my physics class in high school and knew how they worked. In this cantina game, you would hold a tin can in each hand and see how much voltage you could endure. The loser buys beer for everyone. This game was a nice way to interact with good-hearted guys who didn't speak your language. And after buying three or four rounds of beer for the Mexicans, we gringos shook hands with the winners, happily took our leave and traveled back home to Mexico City.
Pulque is a peculiar Mexican beer brewed from the agave cactus and sold only in special bars called pulquerias. Pulque is the color of milk and is known as the drink of the working class. As luck would have it, there was a pulqueria right across the street from our hotel. Each of us dared the other to try this exotic brew and I would taunt Dave by calling him Señor Pulque in hopes that he would try it first. That never happened. And I am still ignorant of the taste of this working-class brew, a situation I very much regret.
Dave did introduce me to another exotic substance -- not pulque but "speed". As that time you could go to any pharmacia and buy Dexadrine in various forms without a prescription. (Even though every bottle was clearly labeled "Not for sale without a prescription".) I loved speed. It made me feel as super smart and as fearless as I knew I really was. And I could stay up and party all night. "This is a drug I could get addicted to," I said. But unlike acid, which seems to give you insights into the nature of consciousness, the speed high is completely empty, a mere revving of the engine of ordinary awareness. And when the drug wears off, the downside is horrible -- like somebody has been using your body for weeks. After this brief experience in the streets of Mexico City, I said goodbye to amphetamines as a future drug of abuse.
|Tenochtitlan, the Temple of the Sun|
While Dave was busy with something else, I decided to take a trip to one of Mexico's most famous archeological sites -- Tenochtitlan, the Temple of the Sun, which is located a few miles north-east of Mexico city. I rode a bus, complete with people carrying live chickens, to the site, ignored the little kids trying to sell me "authentic" clay figurines, wandered around the various buildings and then decided to climb to the top of the Sun Temple.
I was almost to the top and flanked by two women, when one of them turned to me and asked me one of the strangest questions I have ever heard. "Did you know," she asked, "that this temple was built by Jews?"
Actually I didn't know that. But I was informed by the two women, who happened to be Mormon archeologists, of their belief that one of the Lost Tribes of Israel had sailed to the New World and founded new civilizations of which the Temple of the Sun was one part. Since I was a mere physicist I could come up with no facts to refute their claim so I listened intently to their story. And eventually after reaching the top of the Temple, the women led me down, across the yellow tape, to meet their Mormon colleagues who were busy excavating some new walls covered with paintings of jaguars and other exotic ancient Jewish iconography.
|Another taco stand|
Later, after my trip to Tenochtitlan, Dave and I were walking in Mexico City with a bunch of locals who were testing out their English (which was much better than our Spanish) when we ran across a guy in a vacant lot who was selling marijuana. I was curious because I had never tried this substance but one of the Mexicans warned us: "Don't try that stuff. It make you crazy. Let's go get drunk instead." Ignoring his warning I bought a bag of it to take back to our hotel. Most of the Mexicans left but two followed us back.
Our room was on the third floor with a window facing the main street. And to make the scene complete, a neon sign outside our window was flashing lurid colors across the bed.
We rolled the stash up into a big cigar using a page from a Mexican newspaper and passed it around. The two Mexicans were lying on the bed and Dave and I were sitting on the floor. The neon light was flashing off and on. It looked like a typical sordid drug scene you might see in the movies. It was my very first time smoking marijuana.
Dave and I both saw spiders. Big spiders crawling all over the ceiling and across the walls. But they were comical spiders like something from a Disney cartoon. We burst into laughter at this shared hallucination. There were spiders running all over our room. And they were really very very funny.
Meanwhile the Mexicans on the bed seemed to be having a bad trip. They had stopped speaking English and were screaming in their own language about Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Perhaps they were having a religious experience but it seemed not to be a pleasant one. Perhaps they had "gone crazy" as their comrade had suggested might happen with this loco weed we bought in the street. We had no chance to assess their condition because as soon as they calmed down sufficiently, they ran out the door and we never saw them again.
These days, most people interested in experimenting with drugs start out with marijuana and graduate to the "harder stuff" but for me it was just the opposite, For Nick Herbert, on Christmas Eve 1963, in Mexico City, for better or for worse, LSD became a gateway drug to marijuana.
|El gringo existentialista|