Utilizing A Passage from
Aldous Huxleys Doors of Perception
as Section Headings
it came about that, one bright May morning,
I swallowed four-tenths of a gram of mescalin
dissolved in half a glass of water
and sat down to wait for the results.
Huxley, Doors of Perception
A large pale blue automobile was standing at the curb.
Unlike Huxleys dream car, mine was black — jet black, convertible,
with rounded fenders and a silver Indian chief on the hood. My dream
car sat in the woods, abandoned. We found it rusting, hemmed in
by trees and brush, with no easy answer to how it had arrived.
Maybe fifteen years earlier there had been a path or dirt track, some
way to drive a car into this dense urban thicket, but just then we couldnt
see that. Four crew-cutted boys in cut-off jeans, wheeling our bikes
through damp woods in search of anything to divert our boredom, all
we could see here was an inexplicable circumstance, pure mystery.
It was mid-summer, and the weeds and ferns were so plush underfoot that
we didnt need our kickstands. We simply let our Schwinns and Huffies
fall onto the soft green carpet, then bound forward on foot, descending
on the abandoned car as if it were the long-lost grail. I remember even
now the intense, radiated heat of the dark metal baking in the July
sun; can still recall the smell of rubber tires, and some peculiar odor
coming off the cloth seats. If I close my eyes, I can see the torn rag
top, and the loose piles of broken glass scattered all about. The car,
I believe, was a Pontiac, from the mid-1940s.
My ten-year-old mind struggled to comprehend this unexpected discovery
— someone abandoning an entire car. An entire car? I was holding
onto everything in my brief life: bottle caps, baseball cards, broken
metal, small bits of oddly shaped stone. Yet someone had left a car,
lost track of a full-sized automobile. It made no sense.
Perhaps that is why Tommy Mucciarone refused to approach. Tommy just
glanced fretfully over his left shoulder while the rest of us, the boys
on the Schwinns and Huffies, yanked at the oxidized wipers, searched
for the missing cigarette lighter, picked through the rubble and trash
of the floorboards for coins, maps, clues, whatever little thing we
Tommy, no doubt, was anxious that the owner might return. He understood
— we all understood, from the layers of rust and the thick growth
of weeds perforating the floorboards — that this hulk had been
here for a decade or longer. But the owner might still come back.
This was a car after all.
We would come back, had it been our car.
2. At the sight of it, I was suddenly overcome
by enormous merriment.
Occurrences are not alone and we are not apart from that which
does occur if only when the stars are out and waters rise to lunar songs
of times before they knew the moon was earth to men in solemn cubes
of blueish light on evening rides with relatives and closer friends
than even neighbors are.
Then it came when old men drank in musty bars and cherry bombed the
bathrooms until laughter struck the night and whiskey breaths puffed
home to lukewarm meals and upset womens hearts until morning drenched
the sky and woke the men who panted off to work.
And times then came when women drove in drunken fear through whitened
roads of shining hopes and banks of snowy fantasies until the metal
touched and ripped and ran and wandered to a formal place where pistoled
men write funny words and listen to their radios so that they can drive
you home in emblemmed cars so neighbors can peek out and wonder where
thee lady had gone wrong.
I wrote that breathless bit of prose roughly twenty-two years ago; banged
it out on an old Royal typewriter while sitting shirtless in my backyard,
working on a tan.
I was also stoned when I wrote it.
I think it shows.
3. What complacency, what an absurd self-satisfaction
beamed from those bulging surfaces of glossiest enamel!
The automobile and various forms of inebriation were fairly well connected
for the first three decades of my life.
Im not bragging, understand. Not even close. This is just how
it had been.
My first automobile memory was the inspiration for whatever you want
to call that piece of writing above — a prose poem, a cry for
help? My memory is of careening through a blizzard one Christmas
Eve, my mother at the wheel. No one should have been out driving that
night, given the visibility, but more to the point, my mother was drunk
— so bombed that she eventually scraped the front bumper of our
family Chevy across the side panels of two or three parked cars.
I was six or so. Dont worry, my mother kept telling
me. Im all right.
But she wasnt, and she knew it.
We were a block from our house when it finally dawned on Mom that skimming
metal to metal against a line of parked cars was not acceptable, no
matter how much snow was falling, or what the holiday. Her response
was to drive two miles out of her way, straight down snow-drifted West
8th Street, to the City Hall police station. Once there, she turned
The officers behind the desk, perhaps already caught up in their own
Christmas Eve revelry, seemed to find my mothers predicament amusing.
I dont remember, but Im guessing they took down the pertinent
information. Or maybe they didnt. It was Christmas after all.
What I do remember is that they drove us home in a black-and-white cruiser,
with chains on the tires.
Ten years later, I turned sixteen. My friend Peter had a Volvo —
or rather, his father had a Volvo — and throughout most of our
high school years we would pass the weekend evenings by filling the
Volvos interior with sweet marijuana smoke and cruising the boulevards
of our lakefront hometown. This was in the early 70s.
The smoke gave everything in our world a pleasant, surreal quality.
It served as an antidote to the edgy boredom of our teen years. It blocked
out the trouble all of us were having at home. It connected us with
our older brothers and sisters, the Woodstock kids.
Sometimes Peter, Jim, Danny and I would stop in the K-Mart parking lot,
get all smoked up, then go inside to watch the night-owls
shop under fluorescent lights. The shoppers seemed so oddly significant,
examining boxes of detergent in the unnatural glare.
We would giggle a lot.
Then we would drive some more.
The first car I ever owned was a putty-colored 72 Datsun. I bought
it for $400 in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. I couldnt
drive a standard shift, though the car I purchased had one, so my friend
Palmer drove me around for the first few days. Eventually — yes,
we were high — he taught me to drive the car myself.
Palmer was a drug dealer. He was my drug dealer. But we also hung out.
I think it amused him to have a friend like me — straight-arrow,
studious, a campus leader. It amused me to have a friend who dealt drugs.
My little walk on the wild side. Plus, the drugs were always available,
often free. I had developed a problem.
One night we were playing cards at Palmers dining room table when
four men kicked in the door. They had guns, and were not pleasant. They
took the drugs, and money, and sped away in a Ford.
My second car was a 1966 VW Beetle, with an engine not much larger than
what you might find in a mid-sized snowblower. The 12-volt electrical
system could barely power the lights — they often dimmed when
the car accelerated. There was no heat.
I loved that car. Still do. Wish I still had it.
One late December afternoon, I took my VW onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
As chance would have it, a massive ice storm moved in quickly behind
me, covered every surface with a dangerous, glassy sheen. But I didnt
stop. I was determined to get home.
In those days, smoking marijuana while driving made long car trips palatable,
passed the time quickly, helped me stay alert — there was no real
end to my rationalizations for what had at that time become a clear
addiction. But the fact is, I almost never drove any distance without
my pipe and baggie at my side.
So I smoked a little weed as the ice storm started, and the drive soon
enough became an endless, surreal ordeal of ice and stalled automobiles
blocking the lanes. What should have been a four-hour drive stretched
into twelve. The little VW was steady and reliable though, until about
my tenth hour of driving — it was nearing midnight now —
when I came to an upgrade just before the Kittatinny Tunnel. The road
was a sheer sheet of ice at this point. I went nowhere. My tires merely
spun in place.
I spotted the huge headlights of a tractor-trailer coming up in my rear
view mirror, and thought, Oh God, Ive done it now.
The lights kept coming. I kept spinning. The tires whined. Nothing.
Lets step back a minute:
The VW Beetle wasnt called bug
for nothing. It was small, eminently squashable.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike is notoriously
dangerous, even in good weather.
This was a severe ice storm.
And I was high, in only partial control
of my reactions, reflexes, and senses.
How stupid could I have been?
The truck continued forward until it hit me. Or rather, nudged me —
quite gently, given the vehicles enormous size. The unseen driver
slowly and deliberately placed the tractor-trailers front end
directly onto the rear of my tiny lump of German engineering, locked
his front bumper onto the VWs engine compartment, and pushed me
up the hill, into the tunnel, where the pavement was dry and traction
was again possible. Then he slowed enough for me to move forward on
my own power.
For some time I thought it had been an act of kindness, but later surmised
that the driver of that truck was maybe just watching out for himself.
He was headed to New York City, most likely, something important in
back, or at least something he would be paid for if delivered in time,
and pushing me up the hill, into the tunnel, meant he could keep moving
I waved as he passed me on the downgrade, but God only knows what he
Let me guess, Theres an idiot in that little car.
4. Man had created the thing in his own image
In many ways, our cars define who we are.
A down-to-earth patriot? Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet.
A rebel? Every revolution begins with a single act of defiance (Toyota).
Dissatisfied? Wouldnt you really rather have a Buick?
Drunk? Suddenly, the worlds glass is half full again (Volkswagen).
Both of my parents drove drunk, with regularity. Our current president
drove drunk, in his younger days. My own shameful record of motor vehicle
impairment is chronicled above. And I am writing this essay during the
2002 Christmas holiday, amidst the endless rounds of seasonal parties
revolving around booze and food. All around me I see people drinking,
far more than normal, but I dont see them walking home.
An honest person has to admit that though drinking and driving is universally
condemned, it is still widely practiced, and in most cases, no one intervenes.
Thank goodness most of us have enough sense not to drive when we cant
walk, that only a regrettable few of us are desperate, misguided enough
to weave across lanes of traffic, enter the highway by way of the off-ramp.
But for most of us: a few beers at a party, and off we go. Wheres
I remember my amazement when I moved to Louisiana and encountered Drive-Thru
Daiquiri stands. In my native Pennsylvania, we still operate under
antiquated State Store laws, limiting the sale of liquor to scarce locations
with restricted hours. In Louisiana, I discovered, you could buy whiskey
from a rack, right next to the gas station cash register. You could
do this on a Sunday morning, if that appealed to you.
I later learned — to my further amazement — that it was
legal to drink and drive in the Pelican State. Yall can
wave your open beer can out the window at a police officer if you want.
Its okay? It was not legal to be drunk and drive —
there was a blood alcohol level above which you could not stray —
but the casual beer, or a strawberry daiquiri in a to go
cup, was just fine.
At first I thought my new Louisiana neighbors were being decadent. Lately,
I think they were just being honest.
Our cars are mere extensions of our selves.
And we love our booze, pot, soma.
5. — or rather in the image of his favorite
character in fiction.
Remember Brave New World?
Huxleys futuristic novel spends much of its first chapter narrating
electrical shocks administered to infants, a form of mental pre-conditioning
meant to make the khaki babies averse to flowers.
Why flowers? The simple love of nature, the Director of the Hatchery
explains, doesnt quite do enough to encourage citizens to
consume manufactured articles as well as transport.
In Huxleys fictional world, transport is all-important. Our
Lord is replaced with Our Ford. Crosses have
their tops lopped off, to resemble Ts. (As in Model Ts.)
Fords in his flivver, the Director remarks at one
juncture. Alls well with the world. The State wants
citizens to purchase vehicles, and then to fill the storage compartments
with costly gear — mountain bikes, Polartech fleece, Global Positioning
Systems, $200 poly/nylon, micro rip-stop shell, super-wicking sleeping
bags — before heading into the mountains.
Ive modernized the list, of course, because Huxley is not around
to do so himself. Nor is he able to witness all of those SUV commercials
that fill modern television. Who needs legs? the ads tell us. Load it
all up and drive to the top of the mountain!
Clearly, the State has won.
In Huxleys novel, the brave new world order is enforced by encouraging
the use of narcotics — calming soma — rather than bombs.
Intimidation has only limited power, the controllers assert, because
violent tactics merely build up resentment in the minds of the oppressed.
Soma, we learn, is far more effective in keeping the lower middle class
blissfully quiet and fully productive.
Which makes me wonder why Dick Cheney and his crowd are so against marijuana
6. I laughed till the tears ran down my cheeks.
Julian Heiklen, a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Pennsylvania State
University, wonders the same thing. A perennial candidate for local
office on the Libertarian ticket, he regularly issues statements such
as, It is immoral to arrest someone for owning a vegetable. We
have the right to keep and bear vegetables.
The vegetable Heiklen wants us to keep and bear is marijuana, and his
habit of staging downtown State College smoke-ins displeases and embarrasses
Penn State administrators — my employers.
Thankfully, I many years ago moved beyond my own pot addiction, but
I can still giggle at the thought.
A few years back, Heiklen set his lawn chair in the middle of a main
intersection and handed out a flyer that read:
I am Professor Julian Heicklen, and I love our children. I want to do
everything I can to protect them, and that is why we are blocking traffic
today. Automobile accidents are responsible for more child deaths each
year than any other accident and most natural causes. We want to outlaw
the automobile. Anyone owning an automobile should be imprisoned.
He gave reasons, including these:
Unlike marijuana, which has never been responsible for a single death
in all of human history, the automobile kills 44,000 people each year
in the United States alone. It maims and injures many more people.
Unlike marijuana, which is not criminogenic, the automobile is highly
criminogenic. It leads to manslaughter, reckless endangerment, driving
under the influence of alcohol, speeding, and parking violations. It
also is used in the commission of crimes, such as arson and armed robbery.
He also pointed out that unlike marijuana, the automobile has no clear
medicinal use, and that people deprived of their cars
display irritability and irresponsibility.
In short, the car is a recreational drug, and we are addicted.
7. We re-entered the house. A meal had been
prepared. Somebody, who was not yet identical with myself, fell to with
ravenous appetite. From a considerable distance and without much interest,
I looked on.
In Doors of Perception, Huxleys readers will find a passage
— one that follows closely on those sentences used as headings
for this essay — wherein Huxley expounds further on his mescaline-fueled
then, abruptly, we were at an intersection, waiting to cross Sunset
Boulevard. Before us the cars were rolling by in a steady stream
— thousands of them, all bright and shiny like an advertisers
dream and each more ludicrous than the last.
again I was convulsed with laughter. The Red Sea of traffic parted at
last, and we crossed into another oasis of trees and lawns and roses.
In a few minutes we had climbed to a vantage point in the hills, and
there was the city spread out beneath us. Rather disappointingly, it
looked very like the city I had seen on other occasions.
He is looking, I suspect, for transcendence, some sort of mystical vision.
But from my own previous experience, I would say he was merely stoned.
8. When the meal had been eaten, we got into
the car and went for a drive.
Here is the rest of my dream car story:
The boys with the Schwinns and Huffies didnt sit in the abandoned
Pontiac that afternoon, though that is exactly what you might expect
four such boys to do. We crawled through the rusting shell, but we carefully
didnt lower our bottoms onto the sour, scratchy seats.
could easily imagine that something awful, something dangerous had occurred
here, or why else would the car have been left to rot? Maybe alcohol
was involved. Maybe something worse.
We were as naïve as boys of our age are meant to be — knew
little about drinks, drugs, or Huxleys warnings about mechanization
and the inherent danger of a society based on the shallow consumption
of manufactured goods — but we could sense power. We knew it resided
here, in this object, this magical abandoned automobile.
We sensed the energy in this hunk of metal. Rusted, stripped, the engine
long dead, even this forsaken wreck held a promise we could not yet
You will have a car someday, it promised.
You will be an adult, and all of what is hinted at here will be a part
of your life. You will hold this enormous power in your hands, and use
it, or abuse it, as you wish.
You will become addicted.
But I wanted one anyway.
W. Moore is the author of three books, including The Accidental
Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still (Algonquin,
1997) and Toothpick Men (MAMMOTH, 2000). He has published
essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review,
Harper's, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Utne Reader, Crazyhorse,
and Arts & Letters. More information on his work can
be found at www.dintywmoore.com