Wednesday, December 06, 2006


It's my last day in Amsterdam. I've got no one to hang out with. I've seen all the good museums, I've biked through all the interesting neighborhoods. What's left?

Ah yes, one last thing to do: eat psychedelic mushrooms.

I'm fretting over this decision. I have taken shrooms once or twice before, but it was years ago. What if I get superpotent, brainfry shrooms, flip out, and wind up in a straightjacket? It's especially scary because I'm a firm believer in the buddy system, and I'm alone here. Also, to top it all off, it's drizzly out. Which means all the best shrooming spots (nature preserves, the beach, nice parks) are out of the question. My worry is that urban shrooming—in the streets and public spaces of central Amsterdam—could turn into a howling, gnashing nightmare.

But screw it. It's time for me to dance with the fungus.

Luckily, the "smart shops" here are incredibly professional. They tell you precisely the dosage to take (it's pre-packaged), help you determine which shrooms are best suited for your purposes (I took a pass on the daunting "Philosopher's Stones" and went for the wussiest option: "Thai"), and even explain how to come down if you're freaking out (you fill your stomach with food and sugary drinks, which mutes the effect).

So, now I've bought some shrooms, scurried them back to my hotel room, and gobbled them up. And now the waiting game begins. I walk around Amsterdam aimlessly, doing some window shopping, trying to kill time until the trip kicks in.

I'm in an H&M, on the edge of the socks and accessories aisle, when the drugs begin to take hold. My body starts to yell at me: "Something is happening! What is happening?! Yeeeee!!" Racks of cotton dresses shimmer together in a wavy mass. Sounds that were soft are suddenly loud, while sounds that were loud are now fading away.

I manage to stumble outside to an empty park bench. The trees here are waving wooden fingers at me, and birds are somehow flying without flapping their wings. It feels like I'm in a scene from Koyaanisqatsi. And my stomach seems poised to eject from my torso at any moment. I am clinging to broken shards of reality.

Then, after a few terrifying minutes like this, it all smoothes out. My stomach settles. My eyes refocus. I decide that I am not in fact dying ... and that the basic laws of physics still pertain. I gather myself, and I stand up straight.

It feels like there is a magical accordion in my skull and that it's pumping a thick, steady breeze of colors through my brain.

The rain has picked up and that low, weighty Netherlands sky looks sort of evil, so I duck into a nearby cinema. I complete the ticket transaction with a surprising degree of competence. Now I find myself watching What the #$*! Do We Know? in a theater with a few dozen people. The British women to my left whisper during the coming attractions, gossiping about their love lives. Their voices sound like they're living inside my cortex. Slate writes cool stuff, here. Then the film starts up, and it turns out to be just the ticket: an exploration of quantum physics and the meaning of life, written by members of a bizarre, guru-centered cult. Perrrrrfect.