magic mushroom tax
Saturday, June 3 2023
location: somewhere on Ridge Street, Charlotteville, Virginia
Last night I'd mentioned to Jessika that these days I tend to go to sleep at about 8:30pm and then wake up at 6:00am. She said that she'd developed a similar schedule. This morning, though, I could hear her up before me. Eventually I came out and was relieved to discover that though I'd drunk an awful lot of wine yesterday, I'd done it on a schedule that meant that I would get no hangover.
As I sat in the living room drinking my coffee, Jessika's daughter S was "hand knitting," a practice I'd been unaware of. I had her show me how, though I didn't actually make anything. Meanwhile Jessika was making us both breakfasts. She made them as faces whose photographs would be added to the massive collection S had shown me last night.
Last time I'd visited Jessika, she only had one camping trailer. But now she has a second one, which she used as recently as last Sunday at Sherando Lake in Augusta County. She gave me a tour of both of them. Having a portable house seems like it would add some useful things to a life, though they aren't without downsides. Old ones from the 1960s have issues that need to be addressed, and they take up space. Having two meant one of them had to be on the street, and somehow Jessika and Aaron have come to be in possession of three motor vehicles on top of that. This wouldn't be so bad in some situations, but in the Ridge Street neighborhood, reportedly there is a lot of torque on street-parking rights, with people feeling proprietary about the parking directly in front of their property. I'd discovered this yesterday after I parked my Bolt directly behind Jessika's second camping trailer, which placed the car in front of a lot belonging to her neighbor. And when he came home from work, he passive-aggressively parked with a gap of only about a half inch between his large utility van and my tiny electric car. To placate him, Jessika eventually suggested that I move my car across the street, where that neighbor isn't so proprietary about "her" street parking.
At some point I helped S assemble a "worm farm," which was similar to the ant farms of my youth but featured worms as the residents, which can be viewed through the plastic sides of the "farm." You're also supposed to grow grass on the top, meaning the lid needs to come off at some point. If you did that with an ant farm, the ants would quickly fan out into your kitchen, but worms are kind of stuck with the damp-soil habitat provided.
Then Aaron came back on his eBike from his covid isolation and we all went on a walk down through the neighborhood to Moores Creek. Along the way, Jessika was pointing out the environmental ignorance underlying the construction of the development of newer vinyl-clad houses, which required a series of tall retaining walls that cut the end of Ridge Street off from easy access to Moores Creek. There's also the issue of all the herbicide that the newer residents apply to their lawns, all of which runs down the hill and makes it so the people in the older houses along Raymond Road can't have vegetable gardens.
We made it down to part of the creek in the woods where it had to maneuver around some trunk-like ridges in the bedrock. Soon thereafter, Jessika checked her phone and realized that a big kids' birthday party she thought was today (and which she'd encouraged me to come to because there would be things for adults too) was actually happening tomorrow. So now we had to figure out something else to do this afternoon.
On the walk back to Ridge Street, Aaron was telling me the uses he'd found for a generative-AI-powered Adobe Photoshop plugin. Then, out on the deck as we all ate cherries, he sent me a link to a music video he's been working on using this technology. It somehow turned organic human activities into complicated machine-like systems, with individual humans acting as, for example, the teeth on a gear. Soon thereafter, Aaron went off to his studio to do some work and further isolate himself on the low probability that he was infectious for covid.
For awhile S used a bubble wand to make floating bubbles that Myrtle delighted in obliterating as quickly as she could.
And then A, S's friend from up the street, arrived on foot (alone, without a helicopter parent, which was refreshing.. He's the son of Leah, one of the friends I lived with on Observatory Avenue in 1997 and 1998. Like S, A is seven and has a vivid imagination, so they're great friends. They immediately went off together into the backyard to play with a set of bows with rubber-tipped arrows and a wooden knife, among other things.
It wasn't long after that that Jessika wondered if we should maybe be drinking beers. That sounded like a good idea to me, even if it was only about 3:00pm. And then kids decided to join us for some reason and I discussed some topics that interested A. These included fencing (that is, the sword play), the ancient Egyptians, and the composition of the Sun. A knew the Sun was made of plasma, though apparently that source of information hadn't contained what elements are in that plasma.
Jessika told me a story of how she came to own a minivan whose heating system managed to get ruined by a stray colored pencil. It involved a woman named Malania who had some children with Persad, the guy who had been the significant other of Theresa Venesian back when he stabbed Eric "the Huffinator" Huffman circa 1997 (something I remember being supportive of). Those kids are all grown up and Persad is serving time in prison for stabbing someone who, unlike the Huffinator, responded by calling the police.
And then, speak of the devil, Malania showed up. Apparently she's the kind of friend who can just show up unannounced, which is the way I remember things being in Charlottesville and pretty much nowhere else. Malania had a bottle of campari, which she apologetically compared to cough syrup. But Jessika and I know our cough syrup and it didn't taste anything like it. By this point we were each two strong IPAs into the evening, and campari has a lot of alcohol too.
Later Leah and her husband Amaury (he's Belgian and he and the kid speak fluent French) arrived and it definitely had a festive feel out on the back deck. At this point, the kids started assembling something out of view that involved a lot of hammering. Whatever it was, it was a secret that the kids insisted would be revealed later.
Something about old friends (and I noticed this with Eric Patterson the other day) is that, no matter how long it's been, when you're back together, it's as if you were never apart. That's how it felt with Leah. I just love the way she casually gossips, something that she does more as a celebration than anything negative. One of her first observations was "Gus, you got Jessika druuunk!" And it was true that after that compari, we were both Big-Fun drunk. As for me, I don't think I'd been this drunk socially since Jeff's party a couple summers ago. But ours was the fun kind of anything-could-happen drunk that Leah wanted to catch up to, and so she began drinking wine. Fortunately, for those worried about the children, not all the adults were drinking like this. When, for example, Aaron arrived after his day of covid isolation, he got himself some seltzer. He'd given up alcohol at least two years ago.
Once she'd had some wine, Leah went on at length about what our old friend Shonin has been up to. Reportedly he still works for the Census Bureau, where he recently received accolades for formulating some plan that would allow the Bureau to significantly cut its staff while also completing more work. That might sound like the workings of "the Bobs" from Office Space, but his intentions were supposedly pure. Shonin also has a novel he's been working on, which Leah characterized (as with everything Shonin did or now does) as brilliant. Talking about Shonin led Leah talk about his hot older sister Natalie, who, Leah says, has become a far-right extremist in recent years. Leah has always had a fondness for beautiful women, and she sounded whisful about Natalie. Then she remembered that Natlie had a friend named Sarah who was "hot" in a "butchy" kind of way, and then she reminded everyone at the table of the time Natalie showed up with Sarah at our Observatory Avenue house and then Sarah was seen hooking up with me, something nobody at the time expected (since Sarah was assumed to be only interested in women). Leah talked about that incident for much longer than its importance in history warranted.
Somehow my real estate empire came up, and Leah interrogated me about whether or not Gretchen and I are slum lords or running some kind of hippie houseing commune. I replied that I'm the one who doesn't want to rent far below market rates, always having to counteract Gretchen's bleeding heart.
The plan for dinner was to order something and have it delivered. After some back and forth about what that would be (given that, as a vegan, my needs would eliminate the most options), we decided to order Indian food and at some point Amaury went to pick it up. It turned out he'd paid for it too, and when I tried to give him a $50 bill, he refused it. Later when he and I discussed the work he does (it involves writing software for CUDA-based GPUS to analyze transponder data to find defects in railroad tracks), I realized he probably makes signigicantly more money than I do. But he also has a kid and other expenses, and he lacks a real estate empire. (As for Leah, her only use for her nursing credentials these days is volunteering at Planned Parenthood.) I think by the time the Indian food arrived, Malania had left. You can't drink too much campari and wine if you need to drive home (even if you are something of a risk-taker, as anyone who would choose Persad as the father of her children must on some level be).
We were all having such fun that Leah came up with a plan to make the fun continue. She proposed that we all go back to her place (one of the more beautiful houses a little to the northeast on Ridge Street), have a big bon fire (which would feature the burning of the by-now very dry Christmas tree. Then Amaury would put the kids to bed (it would be a sleep-over for S) and us adults would all eat magic mushrooms. Leah said they have been decriminalized in Washington, DC and are no longer difficult to obtain. That sounded like big fun to everyone except Aaron, who seemed to be leaning into his covid isolation as excuse to avoid socializing. When you're not in a social mood, nothing is more irritating than a bunch of people having fun. (I get it; I've done this sort of thing many times myself.)
On the way through Leah & Amaury's house to the yard, I got a chance to meet their cat, a chonky striped gentleman named Ulysses. He and Myrtle the Dog seemed to be pretty good friends. The house had a nice big side-yard with an accumulation of good soil after many decades of intensive gardening. Leah loaded wood and paper into the fire pit and then added the bone-dry Christmas tree. Then she and the kids lit it on fire. The resulting flame was at least 20 feet high and licked around dangerously in the wind. It was good that Leah and Amaury live in a house with stucco siding, because this short intense blast of heat would've surely destroyed vinyl siding.
While Amaury was putting the kids to bed, Leah, Jessika, and I sat at the kitchen table with little tins of broken up magic mushrooms. We'd take pinches and eat them between sips of tea. But magic mushrooms are kind of nauseating, so we did this slowly. Periodically Leah (who was much more animated than us) would pinch bits of mushroom out of our tins and eat them herself, an act we referred to as a "tax." At just about the time my drunkenness vanished, it was wholly replaced by a feeling of being on magic mushrooms. I no longer wanted to be in a lit kitchen. I wanted to be lying down somewhere dark. Fortunately, at this point we went out into the yard and Leah added wood to the fire pit.
We lay out there for hours staring at the sky. The clouds had a simple high-altitude pattern that looked amazing, as did a single tree that had been recently rescued from vines. Every time I'd close my eyes, I'd see electric hallucinations in the places where my eyes had just seen blocks of darkness next to blocks of light. Some of these hallucinations took the form of chains of colored dots, which was what I remember seeing on a strong mushroom trip back on March 23rd, 1987 (when I'd taken two grams of mushrooms with some high school friends who didn't take any). These dots quickly rearrange to form two-dimensional profiles of people with elaborate headdress that remind me of Mayan or Aztec art.
Initially we were lying on the ground, but the Leah went and got blankets and she threw on us. There was a fair amount of talking and a lot of laughing, though that was mostly Leah, who sounded like some sort of non-human primate at times. Sometimes she'd bring up familiar topics like the "Brick Mansion in the Hood," a large house off Cherry Avenue in Charlottesville. Leah said it's still surrounded by "the hood" and it's still rented out. Gentrification is widespread in Charlottesville, but the Brick Mansion in the Hood is eternal.
Later in the mushroom trip, Leah went inside and came out with first tea and then hot water bottles. As Jessika said at the time, "there's nothing nicer than for someone to hand you a furry water bottle." Before Leah handed me a water bottle, I thought maybe Jessika was referring to Myrtle the Dog (who was snuggling with her). But no, there were actual water bottles. Mine wasn't furry though.
After the mushrooms started to wear off, we picked ourselves up, brought some of the stuff into the house, and then Jessika and I went back to her house. It had become surprisingly cool during our mushroom trip, and we were underdressed for the conditions. Jessika thought jogging home down Ridge Street would warm us up, and so we did. Well, I stopped jogging after about 300 feet because it wasn't that cold after all and I wanted the landscape to pass more slowly.
I thought maybe it would be something like 5:00am, but when I checked the time back in Jessika's guest room, it was only 1:30am.
A photo of the avocado toast and tofu "stir fry" face that Jessika made me for breakfast this morning.
A crow on a neighbor's house near Jessika's house. Click to enlarge.
A mockingbird attacks the crow. Mockingbirds are very common in Charlottesville.
A munchkin village in the front yard. Click to enlarge.
A 3D-printed dragon with S and Myrtle in the background. Click for a wider view.
Godzilla with Myrtle under the older of the two camping trailers that Jessika and Aaron own. Click to enlarge.
Helping S assemble the worm farm. Click to enlarge.
A creepy house on the way to Moores Creek. Click to see a wider view.
Aggressive terracing blocking access to Moores Creek from Ridge Street. Click to enlarge.
During the campari part of the evening, from the left: A, Amaury, S, Leah, Malania, and me in my second trimester of incubating a beer baby. Photo by Jessika. Click to enlarge.
The burning Christmas tree and a non-burning teepee that happened to be nearby. Photo by Jessika. Click to enlarge.
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