LSD Insanity

In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, Brad Pitt’s character casually smokes an LSD soaked cigarette. Just as the acid-induced hallucinations kick in, three people bust into his house armed with knives and guns. He laughs at them. He doesn’t think they are real.

“Did you ever do acid?” Mark asked me.

Mark and I have been friends for almost thirty-five years. How does he not know this about me?

“Are you kidding? I used to take acid three or four times a week,” I shrugged, “For about six months. Maybe longer. ”

“Why’d you do that?”

“I wanted to see God.”OIP.u5D65V-WwphdhnASj8pIbQAAAA

“Did you?”

“Of course. At the end, I hoped I’d go to heaven overdosing on sleeping pills and booze, but ended up in a coma and went to an insane asylum instead.”

“Wow. What was that like?”

Here’s what that was like: In December 1970, a friend found me unconscious in the beach cottage I’d rented with my long-gone boyfriend that winter. An ambulance drove me (from the hospital where I’d been revived) to New Jersey’s notorious Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital.

Initially I was housed in a locked ward. For about forty-eight hours I suffered the shivering sweats and hallucinations of delirium tremens (DTs) due to the sudden withdrawal from alcohol. Swaddled in a straight jacket, I watched Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse playing on my floor. When they danced up the wall and out the window, I screamed for them to come back. After three or four days on heavy tranquilizers and anti-psychotic drugs, I was moved to a three-story dormitory, one of many Tudor-style hospital buildings surrounded by old oaks and acres of farmland in pastoral Monmouth County. Patients were supposed to be grouped by similar diagnoses. I have no idea what my diagnosis was but I do know I wasn’t as crazy as most of my eighty housemates.

Every morning I woke to someone running around ranting and raving nonsensically. We all had lockers but a patient warned me if I put anything in mine, she’d take it. I had no clothes of my own. I wore left-behind shoes and calico cotton dresses made by long-term patients. The huge day room in the center of the building had overstuffed chairs and couches organized in small conversation clusters. After breakfast most patients ran into the day room to their favorite chair and pushed it up against the wall. On my first day, I sat in a chair with my back to the open room. A patient ran up behind me and squeezed Unknown-1both hands around my neck until an orderly pulled her off. All the other patients laughed. That’s why they kept their backs to the wall.

At my first session with the psychiatrist, I thought he was mad at me. He showed me photos of babies without heads born to mothers who had taken LSD. I knew nothing about drug and alcohol addiction. Neither did he. He thought I had a choice.

I was in Marlboro for the month of December. Church groups sent buses to take us involuntarily to their Christmas parties. Time spent at church socials in my nut house clothes was equally as tortuous as recovering from my demons.

I never swallowed a hallucinogenic after that—not because headless babies scared me. I tried to reach heaven and didn’t make it so I figured God had other plans. It took four more years for me to recover from alcohol. My last drink was forty-four years ago today. 

 

Film School with Vivienne

Film School with Vivienne

 

The elevator opened to a lit-up scene of human statues in the closed-for-business City Hall lobby.

“Cut! Close that elevator door!”

I slinked back into the elevator, up to the 4th floor Elections Department and flew to the telephone in my office where, in the Saturday morning quiet, I had just finished the 1993 voter registration plan.

I called my high-rise neighbor, Vivienne de Courcy. “You have to come down here right now!”

“Ach. Can’t possibly. Bogged down. Writing,” said Vivienne, a frustrated 9-5 insurance lawyer who spent Saturdays grinding out movie scripts.

“You must — they’re shooting a movie in the lobby. We can get access with my I.D.”  Vivienne and I loved sifting through the credits at the end of movies trying to figure out what everyone did, but we’d never been on a movie set.

Chicago’s City Hall squats on one city block with doors at Randolph, LaSalle, Washington, and Clark Streets. I hurried to the Washington Street side of the building down the stairs to the lobby. Flyers were posted in the stairwell: Lobby Closed Saturday Noon for Filming of The Fugitive. When did they put those up?

I ran down the hallway, shoved open the polished brass doors and caught my uninhibited, garrulous sidekick swinging her long legs out of a taxi on Washington Street.

Vivienne’s knockout looks never suffered from uncombed hair and no make-up. Flinging her camel-hair cape over her shoulder she shivered in the March wind, grabbed my arm and skipped inside. I muttered quick instructions: don’t embarrass me, don’t say a word, don’t make me laugh, do not get me in trouble.

Crew Only signs sat on food tables along the corridor. Perched at the table near the rotunda we hawk-eyed bowls of popcorn. Vivienne whispered her intuitive movie-credits knowledge. That’s the Director. Production Assistant. There’s the Script Supervisor. Which one is the Grip? Dunno.

A crew member gestured to the popcorn, assuming we were extras. Vivienne helped herself. What? Don’t do that!

And then, Action! Harrison Ford came running down the circa-1911 polished marble staircase across the wide rotunda zig-zagging through the crowd of extras I had witnessed by the elevators. Cut! He walked back upstairs. Action! He came running down again chased by Tommy Lee Jones.

Oh my god, he’s coming this way. “Vivienne! Say something!” Harrison Ford sauntered over to munch popcorn. I shoved Vivienne toward him. He said hello and she asked him how he liked Chicago.

“Is that an Irish accent?”

“’Tis.”

“How do YOU like Chicago?”

“I love it.”

“Well, I love popcorn.”  He smiled and strolled away.

My starstruck legs wobbled. Back at my side with a handful of popcorn, Vivienne shimmered. Turning toward the exit we faced crew and extras gathered for the catered lunch behind us.

“Are you two extras? What’s that I.D. around your neck?”

We skedaddled down the hallway, fluttered out the doors and whooped it up all the way home.

 

Vivienne de Courcy’s first feature length movie. “Dare to be Wild” is premiering at the Palm Beach Film Festival in April, 2016. She currently resides in Ireland and London.