Tokyo on acid is the place to people watch.
We're at Tokyo Disneyland when I drop acid for the first time. David had picked up the tabs from his guy in Roppongi, and he and Robin and I take the metro to the suburbs. David hands us friendly little strawberry squares of paper; I let mine dissolve in my mouth as he instructs.
I start to feel it at the border of Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.
"I think I'm starting to feel it," I tell David.
"Are you starting to feel anything?"
"Do your... uh, do your balls feel funny?"
He laughs. "I've never really thought about it before."
I'm like a yokel at a World's Fair, everything fresh and deep and meaningful. Two little girls stroll by dressed in brilliant red, beautiful bookends, walking hand in hand with their oka-san. I point them out to Robin, my own kid sister, who collapses into idiotic laughter. David is starting to sweat by this time; we are definitely not being cool.
The colors are fantastic. I am turned on to the complexity of the machinery that surrounds us, gape at robotics displays that distract herds of tourists while they wait in line. Elaborate conveyor belts wind overhead, filled with casual space junk, android spare parts, an engineering miracle unnoticed by the crowds. I am on a foreign and unexplored planet with senses I’ve never known to use.
Later, drifting down quiet waters, robot children sing to me that it's a small world, after all. They are beautiful in their diversity and carefree and loving. "You kids stop singing!" I scream at them. "Cut your hair! Get a job!" I marvel at the bitterness filling my throat; I recognize my father's voice. If only he could see us here, his son and daughter and some L.A. juvie leading us gleefully down the drug path. Just one month removed from the Ivy League and I’m on a kind of foreign exchange trip Dad could never imagine.
On the metro back into the city, the peaceful happy sounds have gone, and we see the determined commuters, dry and brown as dead leaves, stomping towards the suburb trains. We go to Shinjuku, the city hub, emerging into the Blade Runner air of giant neon billboards scripted in kanji, messages from Mars. I spy a string of soft-glowing paper lanterns strung orangely along an alley behind the train station. We follow them through the tight passage, past an archipelago of tiny, wooden speakeasies that look like they’ve stood here since before the days American bombs sundered Tokyo.
And I look up to see the moon, fat and full, hanging like the finest lantern of all, silvered paper, brighter than the gaudy thousand neon kanji that loom giantly across the tracks. Tokyo Moon. I reach out and caress these fragile, beautiful words as though they will break, and my heart with them. I have never seen the moon before tonight.
Robin and David lead me away from the station and under a trestle where a mural is frescoed in shocking red. Emerging from the tunnel, we hear a slapping sound to our right and look to see a dusty, naked black man, homeless, like a displaced aborigine, standing in a gutter and pounding out a rhythm on his buttocks with his palms. A wild-looking Japanese man goes by, shaggy hair and beard, mouth slack. His sweatpants are torn away in front and his penis dangles. He clearly is insane. We ask what could have happened to this man.
Moving quickly toward the crowded plaza, where gangs of young kids smoke and bullshit. We're taking all this in as David yells, "There he is! That's the guy!"
The guy is David's connection, a tall, skanky Dutchman. David talks quietly with him for a minute, then walks back over to us. "He says he's got more tabs, if we want them." We've been tripping about nine hours now. I've long since passed out of the hallucinatory-intense stages of the drug and am enjoying a loose-limbed exhaustion in my body. But this must mean something. "Tell him I want one," I say. I exchange a few thousand yen for another tiny strawberry patch of paper.
Robin and David sit in the cobbled pedestrian mall sharing lovers’ talk while I head into the McDonald's can. In the stall, I can feel the acid seeping onto my tongue as the tab dissolves. Back in the street, we watch Tokyo go by. My tastebuds crackle and sputter. A huge storefront marquee proclaims "DRUGS" in neon letters, and it seems profound to me.
Later I put on my walkman and wander the backstreets, Neneh Cherry singing to me, "I've Got You Under my Skin." Old Cole Porter weirdly translated to hip-hop, cross-pollinated like so many things here. I find the unlocked door of a small office building, its daytime riders long gone home or wherever else. On the first floor is a teppanyaki restaurant, plastic food in the window. A plastic red snapper looks at me and rolls its eye, mouth gasping and gulping, tail wriggling to the beat of the music. Transfixed, I head further upstairs, the stairway dim and vaguely threatening. "I've got you deep in the heart of meee..." I am standing by an elevator watching the brown marble walls breathe. The marble is like brown flesh, like the solid gut of a middle-aged man, inhaling and exhaling. I reach out to touch it and it ripples away like water beneath my fingertips.
This still is not enough for me. "I want to go to Roppongi," I tell them back downstairs. David is skeptical. "That's pretty intense for your first time." "Roppongi," I repeat. He hails a cab and we pull away from Shinjuku. There’s a kid on the sidewalk decked out in an absurd purple zoot suit, heavy black glasses like in the Godzilla movies. The kid doesn't see us laughing as he preens, bopping toward the crowds like the king of Friday nights. "Oh yeah, look at that strut," David narrates. "He's a rebel. He's Rebel Youth of Today."
The taxi to Roppongi takes a lifetime, the city at night a mad blur. One of David’s homemade acidhouse mixes on my walkman, electronic gurgles washing into my ears. A new world of livewire buzz. At last we emerge at Roppongi crossing. I am slapped by terror – the city is under siege! Cops, cars, lights and rush, the dust of riot. Everything is breaking down, the jackboots of stormtroopers around the corner. But this is only Friday night in Tokyo's playpen district. I have a dim curiosity to experience a real siege on acid.
Gas Panic, the in place for hip gaijin, one street and a million light years from the touristy Hard Rock Cafe with its plaster King Kong. Gas is cramped and always packed; deafening and sweaty. A beefy Aussie in a tank top is behind the bar, face matte with pancake makeup, his eyebrows plucked and penciled. Gas Panic is where the beautiful and grotesque blur. It is the far-off outpost of the Orient, the dangerous fantasy place I imagined all those years in the Southern backwater where I grew up. Thundering rage of house music, bodies in the back dancing on top of each other. TV screens cast noiseless images of zombie B-movies; smoke thick as clay, psychedelic lamps casting blurs of moving color. The whole place could fit inside one lane of a bowling alley.
Hours pass. I sit at the bar with my walkman, watching as the Aussie beefcake lifts a leather girl across the bar and kisses her, arms bulging. By this point Robin and David are long gone – last metros stop at twelve, and after that you're on your own until morning. Roppongi is therefore a land that comes to life at midnight and raves past sunup, revelers drooping homeward bleary-eyed while the locals come out to hose down their doorstoops. I'm OK, I told Robin as they left, I want to stay and watch. I lurk with my walkman making a hash of the house beats pumping from the club's speakers.
I motion to the beefcake and ask for orange juice; David's told me that vitamin C makes the trip more intense. "Eight hunjrid," Beefcake says in Australian, sliding me the glass. I stare at him – eight hundred yen is more than six bucks. I dig stupidly in my wallet and begin fumbling coins; "the money game," David calls it, nothing more confusing when you're frying on LSD. Six bucks for an orange juice! Beefcake can see I don't have it, not even close. "Fegit it," he sneers, "just toss yeh fry into the tip jah." My pitiful mess of coins goes into the kitty.
I shamble outside and down the hill past the public toilets. Daylight is coming up cool and chalky. There’s a tidy cemetery wedged into the middle of Roppongi’s drunken mess, burying ground in Tokyo's dense cram at a premium. I hop the fence and sit on a slab, listening to Arabic wails sampled over slippery stone-deep bass; I close my eyes and watch crisscrossing beams of ruby, violet, aquamarine. I see the music. Then suddenly, a man's angry voice bellowing, LL Cool J, "I'm gonna knock you out!" Through still-closed eyes I clearly see an urban riot, brown faces running fear in the streets, as sure as if I'd flipped on the TV; the shock of this hits me like a punch.
At some point exhaustion gets to me, and I fall asleep on the flat marble tombstone. I know the metros are running by the time I jump awake. Skin sensitive as a raw blister, sinuses dripping, I take the back streets past sleeping houses, past an empty school where elderly Japanese vagrants sit drunk and abandoned on the playground swings, like sad, strange children... I find my way back to Roppongi crossing, past the whore's hot pink of Almond cafe, underground to the metro. The last of my money is back in the barkeep's jar; in the confusion of morning commuters I slip past and onto the train.
David has a room at the Sanno, the plush hotel Uncle Sam's boys can use when on liberty, and he's luxuriating in his respite from Yokosuka base. It's too early to wake him and Robin when I reach the hotel, still in the fading fringes of the trip like the whispering tail of a comet. I'm smacking down a cheeseburger in the grill room when the big-screen TV in front of me bursts into insanity – two old women in Swiss folk dresses, squeezing concertinas and yodeling. This goes on for several minutes. After nearly twenty-four hours on acid, the most surreal thing I've seen is on an Armed Forced Television broadcast. Uncle Sam, molding the soggy minds of the troops.
Robin finally lets me into the room and I collapse. Later I wake up to noises; she and David are making love in the bed next to mine. I close my eyes with my back to them and pretend I can't hear.