Moodswing - I can fly

A tongue on the floor and a head in the clouds

God, isn’t there some kind of age limit on acid trips?

You’d think that by the time you turn 40 or so you’d graduate to prescribed drugs and become a legitimate, respectable junkie like a few first-lady runner-ups I could name. But Lary is at least 500 years old — or older than me, anyway. Not that you’d ever know it by his behavior, which landed him in the hospital yesterday with a concussion and cracked ribs and probably brain damage, too, not that you’d be able to tell right off.

Essentially what happened is that Lary took acid, climbed the scaffolding inside his warehouse and flung himself head first off the top just like a junkie. His account will differ from mine because I was not actually there, but since he was all hopped up on drugs neither was he, if you think about it. Still, he insists he slipped and did not fling himself, and that he did not climb the scaffolding because of a bad trip but because of his bad roof, which is falling down and needs to be fixed.

“Don’t give me that,” I said. “You thought you could fly, didn’t you?”

Lary knows I’m afraid of acid because as a kid I totally bought into that tax-funded traveling sideshow of ex-addicts who used to visit grade schools and host anti-drug rallies, which essentially entailed freaking everybody out with stories of their former junkie escapades. These were not just trite little tales about hippies who thought they could fly. No. For example, one guy took the microphone and told the audience about his drug buddy, who had a bad trip one day and barfed out his entire tongue onto the floor. That’s right, one second his friend was fine with his tongue attached to the back of his throat and everything, then he took some drugs and bleh, there his whole tongue was on the linoleum, quivering like a liver.

Looking back I realize that’s probably not even possible (right?), but for an 8-year-old, it painted a pretty graphic picture of what to avoid, and today I can at least look at myself and say I didn’t end up a tongueless junkie.

Too bad I couldn’t, at least in part, extend the same criteria to my best friend. In all, I’m really glad Lary didn’t die, because knowing the condition of his place, a fall like that could have easily meant impaling his brain on a big railroad spike. We’re pretty close considering we have little in common. He is the oldest in a brood of 10 siblings falteringly brought up by a severely God-fearing mother and a philandering father, and I am the middle kid from a much smaller family that was headed by my mother, an athiest missile scientist and part-time petty klepto with broken aspirations of becoming a beautician, and my father, a boozing unemployed trailer salesman who once had huge dreams for himself, only his fears turned out to be much bigger.

I remember Lary once told me he spent very little time at home growing up, instead choosing to wander the woods behind his house, and that’s how I like to picture him; as a child running with his arms outstretched in total solitude, gleefully free of the emotional suppression his home had come to encase. My own home held a similar aversion for me as a kid. At first my chain-smoking parents fought with the ferocity of rival tigers, each blaming the other for the fizzle their hopes had become, but over the years that anger settled into a calcified weight that simply hung there in our house, hidden in the constant blanket of cigarette smoke over our heads.

I used to wait until the middle of the night to escape. After my parents fell asleep, I’d sneak out and run barefoot through our neighbor’s vast front lawn. When it was warm I’d unbutton my flannel shirt and just run in the quiet night, back and forth under the moonlight, with my shirt flapping behind me like a little cape, my face hardly able to enfold the utter joy I was feeling.

Then one morning my father awoke rheumy-eyed and shaking. “I saw you in the grass last night,” he said angrily.

I was immediately terrified, certain he’d mete out his usual punishment, which was to clout me across the ass with the lid of a tin flour canister we kept in the kitchen, but instead he stopped and just stood there. Through the smoke of his cigarette I saw his face suddenly fall as if broken by the weight of all his mistakes, all the steps he took or was too timid to take but that nonetheless led him here, in this messy house confronting an errant child he’d watched gallop barefoot under a full moon in the middle of the night.

Looking back, I wish I had taken his whiskered, tortured face in my hands, but I didn’t. So instead I am left with the memory of how he just stopped and shook his head and ran his twitching fingers through his thinning hair. I remember his eyes, his booze-addled eyes suddenly beseeching something just outside his reach.

“I saw you,” he said again, softly, “and you were flying.”

Hollis Gillespie’s commentaries can be heard on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program. To catch her latest commentaries, go to