Fungod, Berkeley, ‘77-78

TransamericaI was living in a garage in Berkeley at the time, after I came back from Hong Kong. I was what? Thirty-one, thirty-two. There was no heat in the garage, but there was an old electric space heater in the attached potting shed where I had my sleeping bag up off the dirt floor on a door on cement blocks. It never freezes in Berkeley. The garage doors had been replaced with mismatched many-paned French doors. If it wasn’t raining and the sun was out, the place was cozy for a couple of hours every day in the late afternoon. A big redwood tree grew next to it, sheltering the place from everything, including the sun. I had running water from an outside spigot, but no bathroom. My landlady, a working single mother who lived in the front house, let me use her downstairs bathroom, which was just inside the unlocked back door. We rarely met or talked. I don’t remember her at all.

I had a small refrigerator and a hot plate, a pot, a fry pan, a bowl, a plate, a mug, two glasses, flatware, and a hunting knife. There was a desk—another old door, this one up on milk crates—with my baby-blue portable Smith-Corona electric typewriter on top of it. The sole piece of furniture was a short rattan seat with three-inch legs at the desk. There were some pillows on the cement floor for guests, but I don’t remember any. I was content there. I tried to write fiction and failed succinctly. These were my psilocybin years, the years in which I learned to accept the fact that failure and I were like an old married Catholic couple who could never get a divorce.

I had a job—I’ve always worked—as an after-hours legal file clerk for Trans-America Insurance in the Pyramid across the Bay in San Francisco’s financial district. I had no car. I took the F bus over and back. Three to eleven, pulling and copying documents for a mammoth law suit. The most mindless job I’ve ever had, even more numbing than sweeping steel plant floors or picking artichokes. I did it all as a paid observer, fueled by magic mushrooms.

The mushrooms came prepared as a powder, the consistency of ashes from an ash tray, inside black film canisters. They came from an enclave of illegal Japanese dope-dealing growers up in Alpine County. Their gage was good, too, but their psilocybin could not be beat. Each canister contained the equivalent of two-to-three tabs of LSD, but as a powder you could control your intake. Before work every day I would spread a dose or two on my palm and lick it off, wash it down with a can of Rainer Ale. During my shift it was simple to augment the dose as imposing reality required—no smoke, no works, no nothing required, just a grey line on my palm to lick off and relaunch. I never shared it, and no one ever got to watch me lick my palm. It was a private high world.

An important injunction came with the mushroom dust, part of the ritual—not a religion, just an understanding—it was not to be sold for a profit. My connection passed it on to me at his cost, five bucks a canister. I never sold any. Who would buy it anyway?  It was so cheap it must be shit. Smart druggies paid top dollar. Besides, it was a mellow high not a rush—long and thorough, totally unthreatening. It was just a fungus after all.

The high was an entrance, a through-the-looking-glass sort of thing. It filtered out most of reality’s short waves, the frenetic ones, the immediate ones, the invented ones. This included most human inter-activity. All that stuff with others still went on, but as if on a flickering screen off in a corner that I could monitor and tune in and out. The world was much larger with all the social foreground filtered out, revealing a much deeper and more diverse sphere of sensation. When you learn to use all your senses as one, you-as-observer disappears, and conflict becomes impossible. I’m sure people thought I seemed disengaged, because I wasn’t engaged with them but with what encompassed them.

Of course, I was celibate and had no social life. When I got out of work at eleven p.m., I would hit a few North Beach bars before catching the F bus back across the Bay, but all that was always a solo event. I did a great deal of walking. That was my main entertainment. The mushrooms—the Fungod, I called them—preferred the outdoors and made me keep moving. I would walk for hours, for days when I could. On my days off I would dose myself up and head for the wilderness hills, either up behind Berkeley or over in Marin, and bird watch. I have never been in better shape.

It has been thirty-five years since my last visit with Fungod. At some point, social reality came kicking and bitching back into my life, and I let it. It is the human part of human nature that degrades us, that inhibits us from becoming what we might be. At least once, for a few brief years, I managed to escape and become part of not just us but of a vast non-personal macrocosm of infinite, intertwined detail. I had a glimpse of the homeostatic wholeness.

By the way, we are nothing.

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