“Never again” is a phrase that you should utter with decreasing frequency as you mature: You should learn from your mistakes. When you’re a kid, the world is full of sparkly phenomena, and you have not yet accrued enough disappointments to employ skepticism in investigating the seemingly endless sources of sparkle. When you’re nine-years-old, for instance, you may not have yet learned that candied apples are detestable pieces of shit. Imagine a giant apple that you can hold on a stick, like a king with a goddamned scepter, encapsulated by a reflective deep red coating. Just the sound it must make when you bite into it, that crunch – you’re left with no choice but to force your parent or legal guardian to buy you one. Then you try one. It turns out that you can’t eat this magical apple like you would a regular apple, expecting each bite to be covered by a proportionate coating of candy, because hard candy doesn’t break like that; it shatters into many hostile shards of candy that annihilate your teeth. It turns out, shards. It turns out that if you wanted to, you could theoretically break the apple and use it as a fucking weapon. And all that work and torture went into unearthing the most flavorless, soul-crushing apple variety: A Granny Smith. Is it any wonder that so many of us develop trust issues as adults?
Sometimes, after experiencing a never again situation, you’re struck by a wave of amnesia and get pushed back into a neutral pre-trauma state. Unfortunately, when this happens, the universe is burdened with the task of correcting you in a more memorable manner.
A few months ago, I suffered a bout of this type of amnesia during an ill-fated trip to a pot dispensary. While there, I was brazen enough to pose the question, “Why don’t I ever get edibles when I shop here?”
(As a side note, yes, I used the word “shop” in this context: While I am an avid believer in the medicinal benefits of pot, whose properties are vastly complex, visiting a dispensary sure doesn’t feel very medically official. You’d be hard-pressed to find a medication called “Alaskan Thunderfuck” at a conventional pharmacy).
After interacting with the budtender at the dispensary - whose white lab coat, long Zen master’s beard and cosmic presence made me feel like I was talking to God - I got home and prepared for an epic night. I purchased a ribeye that was so beautiful that I felt like I should apologize to it for the mess in my kitchen. I was going to cook it sous vide at 130 degrees and then sear it to perfection in clarified butter. Coltrane’s Giant Steps. 16-year-old single malt Macallan. Porn, probably. I ate half of one of the grown-up lozenges that I procured and risky-business’ed my way into the shower.
As I dried off with a towel, I felt the first signs of tingling in my toes; a very welcome sensation. About 20 minutes later, as I was tinkering with the immersion circulator, I still only felt the tingling. “Shouldn’t I be giggling by now?” I wondered, “I’m preparing a bath for a steak while wearing a robe and I have a mustache. I look like I’m about to fuck this steak.” But my high seemed to be reaching stasis and I was not about to settle for the smooth jazz of evenings after dropping $25 on a single piece of meat. I popped the other half of the lozenge in my mouth and proceeded with my grooming routine as the steak-bath reached temperature.
By the time the immersion circulator reached 130 degrees, a smile appeared on my face. “That’s more like it,” I thought, “now I can honor the bull that was sacrificed for this evening appropriately.” I would have never guessed that the next five hours of my life would consist of scrotum-gripping dread.
The first signs of trouble appeared as I removed the steak from the butcher paper in preparation for its bath. I unwrapped the packet and stared in horror at the practically pulsating piece of flesh that I was about to consume. I must have stared at the thing for the better part of five minutes. “Oh, Christ,” I thought, “Not again. I’ve already been through this – I’m not going to become a vegetarian.” But I could not tolerate the idea of eating this steak so I wrapped it back up and returned it to the fridge, where I hoped it would be safe from whatever awful force was possessing me. I opted for a couple of potatoes that I “baked” in the microwave.
As the potatoes cooked, which could have occupied anywhere from a few minutes to several weeks, I noticed that I could feel my heart beating in my chest without touching it. “Does it always do that?” I wondered. Suddenly concerned, I elected to take my own pulse; I placed my index and middle fingers on my wrist and started counting. I kept losing my place and had to start over, again and again, which it turned out did not help my anxiety. But I’m not a quitter; I would take my own pulse come hell or high water. As I counted, it occurred to me that I had no clue about what constituted a normal or an abnormal pulse. “Who do I think I am,” I thought, “a fucking doctor?” But I continued to count for some reason. My efforts were then interrupted by a heinously loud siren, which catapulted me out of my kitchen chair. “JESUS CHRIST!” I exclaimed. I no longer had to check my pulse; I knew that it was off the charts at this point. I was on the verge of weeping from fear – then I realized that my potatoes were done.
I opened the microwave door to retrieve my potatoes, which now resembled the wrinkly testicles of a 90-year-old, and realized that I did not have enough saliva in my mouth to move my tongue, let alone to eat potatoes – the driest of root vegetables. I shut the door, imprisoning the potatoes in the microwave. It was time to lie down.
“This lozenge is very, very mellow,” the budtender at the dispensary said. “You’ll hardly notice that you’re high,” he said. “One might not even be enough for you,” he said. As the second half of the lozenge high-fived the first that was already reclining in a La-Z-Boy somewhere in my amygdala, I fantasized about finding that budtender, yanking him by his wizard’s beard and screaming, “IS THIS WHAT YOU MEANT BY ‘VERY, VERY MELLOW,’ YOU FECKLESS TURD?” I wanted to strap him into a “good vibe” equivalent of an electric chair and pump him with the strongest possible current of good vibes until he exploded into a supernova of ineffectuality. Because I wasn’t mellow, I was going to die. I’m not using the phrase “going to die” to indicate that I was in any actual danger, nor in a histrionic Morrissey sense (…and you go home and you cry and you want to die). No, as far as I knew, I was dying.
I’ve danced around the rainbow of anxiety experiences in my life, including several shades located in the “bad pot trip” wavelength. Most pot anxiety I’ve experienced, while often terrible, is usually short-lived: You smoke, the effects come on and intensify rapidly, you panic, you take a benzodiazepine (at least if you’re me) and 15 minutes later you’re back to watching cat videos on YouTube and eating pretzels. Easy as pie. This, on the other hand, was like some archaic form of corporal punishment – like being chained to a giant rock and then pushed off a cliff into the sea.
I was now curled up in the fetal position on my bed, my whole body trembling violently; I was a six-foot vibrator. “W-w-when will it stop?” I might have said out loud. The Ativan wasn’t working. It occurred to me that I had no idea how much time had elapsed since I had placed the tiny pill under my tongue so I grabbed a small alarm clock that was on my nightstand and placed it right in front of my face on the opposite pillow. It looked like the clock and I had just finished making love. Then I realized that tracking time might not be such a great idea so I buried the clock under the covers and proceeded with my trembling regimen.
At this point, my anxiety was so severe that my perception of reality started to waver; I felt like I was in a movie or a dream. I was so scared that nothing around me seemed real and, every time I thought my fear could not become any more severe, I was proven wrong. “Aren’t I supposed to be enlightened by now?” I wondered. I was hitherto under the impression that if I would experience a state of fear that was adequately extreme, I would ultimately be led into a state of oceanic tranquility and be one with the cosmos. “That Alan Watts didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about!” I thought.
It was now 1:23 AM according to the clock that I hid under the covers. My anxiety was not letting up and I was hallucinating. I needed to talk to someone, preferably a human. I needed to hear something other than my auditory hallucinations or the sound of my absurdly dry “NPR” mouth, the latter of which was really starting to grate on my nerves. I didn’t want to call any relatives because I was worried about being chided for my weed blunder. I called one of my friends but he was busy. Then I suddenly remembered a recent conversation with another friend who, upon learning that I was going through a bad breakup, made the mistake of telling me that I could call him whenever I wanted if I needed to talk.
“Did I wake you?” I asked. “Umm, no,” he groaned in response. “Yes, I did.” Silence. “I’m having the worst anxiety attack I’ve ever had. I’m gonna die.” “You’re not going to die. Just breathe.” The conversation consisted mainly of me proclaiming that I was going to die and my friend telling me that I was not dying. He eventually tried to distract me by transitioning to other subjects but I could not focus on what he was saying. At one point, it occurred to me that he was talking about Jeff Goldblum for a reason that was beyond my comprehension to such an extent that I considered taking another Ativan. If I was going to die, I really hoped that my last conversation would not be about Jeff Goldblum.
After about 40 minutes on the phone, multiple references to Jeff Goldblum and several hundred “I’m gonna die’s,” I felt an internal release. Finally, after about five hours of swimming through the rectum of the psychedelic spectrum, I was free. I suddenly realized that my friend was still talking. Eventually, noting my silence he asked, “You doing better?” “I think so,” I said, “I’m starving now.” I remembered that I still had those delicious wrinkled potatoes. While cradling the phone on my shoulder, I walked over to the kitchen and opened the microwave door. The potatoes looked like Guantanamo Bay detainees. I suddenly remembered Obama’s quote, “…under my administration the United States does not torture” and started laughing maniacally. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to share this thought with my friend. “I’m going to sleep,” he responded. I continued laughing when I got off the phone. I ate the potatoes and went to sleep, occasionally bursting into laughter in the dark.
The next day I woke up and treated myself to a ribeye breakfast. As I chewed the steak, I reflected on the events of the previous evening and wondered, “Was that a valuable experience?” I concluded that it might have been but only in the crudest sense. It would be like saying that the experience of intentionally hitting yourself in the balls was a valuable experience because it taught you not to do that. Would you really have to be doubled in pain to figure that one out? Still, I can say with gusto that I would sooner wipe my ass with a cactus than ever ingest another edible. Never, ever again.