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  Birmingham Nights
by Petronius
Photos by Wendy Huber

PetroniusFirsts. Life overflows with firsts. First day at school, first car, first kiss — first rave. Sometimes these experiences can be wonderful, or they can be nightmares from the black pits — oftentimes they are merely, in the sum of things, OK. But you remember them forever, regardless of quality. I remember my first party — the place, the people, the events surrounding my baptism as a partykid, so to speak.

It happened like this.

One September night last year, I pulled off I-20 into Birmingham, Alabama, having driven hundreds of miles in one night from Athens, Georgia, a non-stop straight shot through Atlanta and places in between. Perhaps the most amazing fact of what I consider a rather amazing weekend pertains to the fact that my car, a 1982 Mercury Cougar, crème colored, low to the ground, more fit for an early 80's ghetto pimp than a middle class college student, made the journey without dying. No flats. No overheating. I remember pulling into the gas station in Birmingham and promptly popping the hood to cool it off.

I remember this gas station very well. A shell station. Several banks of pumps. Very clean, well lit. Strategically placed homeless men. Attendant behind a plate glass window, a middle aged black man with hair both graying and balding. He wore the expression of a man who watches paint dry and finds it entertaining. Across from the gas station was a used car lot, surrounded by a high fence. Behind the fence sat a guard in a golf cart. At the edge of the gas station parking lot stood the pay phones. Next to the pay phone sat a skinny black man, obviously homeless in his dirty pants, t-shirt, and ball cap. I needed to use the phone and call Mara, my host for the weekend, to come and get me.

I had never met Mara. Never seen her picture. Only corresponded with her about a week via e-mail. Add a brief conversation over the telephone. I had posted a message at raves.com looking for someone to go to a party with. You see, I wanted to go raving. Very badly. I had never been. Oh, sure, I had listened to techno music for years, having been won over forever by Alpha Team's "Speed Racer." I knew about the UK Summer of Love, Ecstacy, and Ibiza. I remember in New Orleans during the summer of '92 driving through the French Quarter and having my brother point out a warehouse covered in graffiti, two statues of angels flanking the doors and saying they threw raves there. What were raves to him? "Places where people dance all night to loud dance music in weird clothes and do Ecstasy." Sounded good to me. I loved to dance. Not booty dancing. Not line dancing. Not ballroom dancing. Primal, out of Africa, Haitian voodoo dancing. I fit in nowhere else in my own eyes, and the scene sounded like the place for me. But in Augusta, Georgia, where I had grown up and which I regard an urban desert, there were no parties. Just punks, punk bands, and metal boys. And I despised it absolutely. I had to escape. I therefore determined to "go and get my groove on," at any cost. I called out like the lost soul I was, and Mara responded.

In a furious exchange of e-mails between Sunday and Friday, we both decided we were pretty cool people, and I decided she sounded attractive from her descriptions. I believed her because, hey, how many fat raver girls do you know? What she thought of me, I don't know. On Friday, she invited me to go to a party in Birmingham. It was called "Pimpamee Street" and had a pretty impressive lineup of DJ's: Bad Boy Bill, AK 1200. How could I refuse? I called her up, tried to drag a friend off with me but failed. I grabbed my jncos, snatched a bundle of bills from the ATM, filled up my gas tank and hauled ass down the road.

By such routes I found myself in the parking lot of a Shell station as I waited for her to pick me up. In the meantime, I found myself accosted by homeless men and starving rednecks. I cannot recall the name of the old homeless man by the phone. In our conversation, I learned he shared my birthday, June 4, and had served in Vietnam, and "Liked me and was going to watch out for me." He talked of a lot of things: Drinking mushroom tea, smoking dope, sharecropping, living under a bridge near the gas station, and the FBI shipping him from jail to Vietnam, his eyes glowing with a wild light throughout the narrative. He wanted to take his shirt off to show me his bullet wounds from 'Nam. I declined and gave him about a dollar's worth of change to keep him friendly.

Meanwhile, as I fended off my new best friend, a blue jeep shambled into the parking lot up to the water hose, jets of steam coursing out from under the hood. A very anxious man, his skin florid, leaped out of the jeep and immediately began calling me "sir" in a very agitated voice: "Sir! Sir!," he said, "Could you help us? We're from so and so and my car's overheated and out of gas and I ain't got no money and my wife's hungry. Could I have some money to feed my wife? She ain't had anything to eat all day. I'll give you my wedding band if you want. Please sir, help us, sir." With his gapped teeth and wounded look of distress, he looked right pathetic, like a stray. Needless to say, I was beginning to feel very stressed. I had driven nearly two hundred miles and everyone seemed to be after my money, of which, being a student, I possessed very little. I bought his wife a sandwich. I checked his gas gauge. Sure enough, it was empty. I gave them a five-dollar bill. He thanked me with effusions befitting a convict receiving a last minute reprieve from death row.

My new best friend, my fellow Gemini, watched this all with intent interest. He came up to me when the man and his wife were out of earshot and demanded to know how much money I gave them. I said five dollars. Since I had given him less and was irritated by this, he wanted to know why. I explained that since a woman was involved, they deserved more aid than he, him being a man. This quieted him but he informed me that they were going to take that money to go buy crack. "They going to smoke crack. That man told me while you was inside." I nodded and said, "Well, they won't be able to get any crack if they don't fill up that gas tank." Of course, it wasn't over then. I had to help push the blasted jeep to the pumps, and then, after they left, with their wedding rings, I might add, I was left alone with my buddy and had the pleasure of listening to more of the same old shit about 'Nam and sharecropping and his mother across town.

When Mara's white Camaro swerved into the parking lot, I couldn't get the fuck out of there fast enough. The old man asked them for a ride. I remember standing behind him, shaking my head and crossing my arms and silently mouthing, "No! No! No!" Mara and her friend looked more at me than him, and when he turned around, I put my hands behind my back and stared innocently at the ground. Thank God, they declined.

I jumped into the car and followed them. We ended up at a 24 hour bi-straight dance club called the Quest. But it should be familiar to anyone in B'Ham. A lovely drag queen took my money and my id and I was ushered into the dark confines of the club, right behind Mara and her friend, who was named Alex. The sight of Alex disappointed me instantly, because Mara was as attractive as her letters advertised: Slim with a muscular build and blond hair around her shoulders, and a prominent jaw, which did not detract from the prettiness of her face. She wore jncos and a baby doll t.

Alex was a break-dancer and he was ripped. Long skinny arms and tremendous shoulders built up over hours of practice. His hair was dark and close cut. His eyes were also dark. He was into Adidas running pants and wife beaters, and wore a Kanga hat he would doff before he tore shit up on the dance floor.

They reassured me that no one would hit on me, and I having been to gay clubs before, reassured them that I didn't care. I followed them past the pool tables and the dance floor, where they were playing really cheesy house, out onto the back porch area. Here was the rest of Mara and Alex's crew. All of them looked very thuggish in their sweatshirts and close shaven heads and piercings. Mara held me by the arm as they looked at me with indifference and said, "This is Petro from Atlanta! He's never tripped or rolled before!" No matter how I tried to tell them I was not from Atlanta, I remained from that moment "Petro from Atlanta."

They instantly began discussing what drugs I should take. One suggested trolling, which is the same as candyflipping, taking acid and ecstacy before. Others warned me away from it and others made the obligatory ecstacy booster speeches. I found a quiet corner and sat down and tried as best I might to be forgotten. Alex and Mara occupied themselves with each other, while one young woman, very skinny, a pierced under lip, wire-rimmed glasses, her brown hair in a flapper cut, sat down across from me. We talked a bit, and then she leaned over to me, looking very furtive, like an agent in a James Bond film, and asked, "Do you know anyone who wants any coke?"

I smiled a very wide grin and reared back in the chair away from her and said, "Not I."

She promptly got up. Next time I saw her, she was rubbing at her nose and squinted her eyes very vigorously. I assume she made out all right.

The other person I spoke with was Xenia, the Bulgarian lesbian. She was a very pretty girl, pale, with an oval face, numerous piercings in her brow and ears. Dark eyed, with dark hair streaked with red dye.

She was sipping a beer and dragging on a cigarette, going on about how she had gone to a straight bar and had all of these guys buying her drinks because she pretended she could not speak English. My, she was a merry one. And very intense. She informed me she held a degree in computers, but worked at McDonald's because she would not give up her piercings, which were part of her individuality. She loathed her co-workers, saying in a very thick accent, "They all think I'm weird because I ask them do they snort coke, do they do crack — I play with my nipples just to get them excited. I used to be a dancer but there are no lesbian bars in Birmingham for me to work at. So I work at McDonald's."

Then she went on to disparage the US versus Bulgaria. "In Bulgaria," she said," it's anarchy, and it's beautiful, you can do whatever the fuck you want — you run into a cop, you give them money, they go away. You do that here — you go to jail! They won't mind their own business. And this shit that I can't drink. Do you know if I said I didn't want to drink, my family they would beat me? This country is so fucked."

Later she spoke of her travels, espousing a "Just do it!" attitude. Amsterdam, Ukraine, London, France. All of Europe, basically. South America, North America, and all the roads between littered with snorted out baggies and one or two heroin needles, and a stint as a prostitute. Fascinating. You won't meet a girl like that at the coffeehouse in downtown Athens. She informed me that she was the most unique person she knew. Her work as a prostitute in Amsterdam was the underpinning of her argument. I then informed her that wasn't that unordinary, and while I had not been a prostitute, my father had been a pimp, which is pretty close. I have a weird past of my own, of which I may relate more at a later date. Xenia was a bit put out by me not being shocked or bothered, and she soon dismissed herself for another drink at the bar. She did not return. It didn't matter, because I soon left with Alex and Mara.

After a brief discussion (I'll kill anyone who steals my stuff), I ended up crashing on the couch at Alex's apartment. Mara slept with Alex. Oh, well, I thought, one can't have everything, now can they?

The next day, the day of the party, Alex was at work, leaving me to tour the city with Mara. I saw the sights of Birmingham. Some giant warrior on a pedestal, a big church in the middle of town with a fountain in front of it, which Mara informed me, was the first place she ever tripped. Various raver related shops. Head shops. (IF YOU SAY BONG, YOU ARE OUT!) One had a very fine selection of crack pipes, rivaling anything you might find in Little Five in Atlanta. I remember at lunch, this strung-out chain smoking intellectual type tried to chat us up, and after he had examined us from behind his glasses with his eyes, declared that Mara and I were "the first people in big pants I've seen who look respectable." A dubious compliment at best. Across the day, while I waited for the party and all that, Mara indoctrinated me as to the finer points of raving. "We don't like sell-outs — like Keoki. I mean, he's good, and we'll go see him, but we don't like him." I thought that rather nonsensical. And the bigger the pants, the better. If your pants aren't at least 42 inches wide at the cuff, you're nobody. Just give it up, buy some khakis, and rush a frat.

In the early evening, we returned to Alex's apartment. We played Bond and Mortal Kombat on the Nintendo. Various people drifted in and out of the apartment, including Alex's roommate, Merlin. Merlin was into magic, casting spells. Stuff like that. As the evening lengthened, we began to put on our party best. Mara wore a Porn Star tee, jncos with red and white crests down the edges, and platform shoes. Alex wore his breaker gear. I wore black jncos, assorted necklaces, and a green polyester shirt that turned blue in the right light. I looked very sleazy, like something from U2's Popmart tour. We planned to go early and save money. So we were all dressed up. But where, oh where, were the drugs? Mara had spoken of these in her letter, and I was game. (Later she would call me this poor experimental kid — pretty right on the mark.)

Alex took care of this. He said, very businesslike, "Look, I have stuff, but all I have is what I've got to sell. I can't give it away."

I was sitting in a sling chair. "And what do you have to sell?" I asked.

"Acid." Not what I wanted. I wanted to roll, but if you want to run with the group and have fun, you need to be on the same trip. Imperative. People on ecstacy and people on acid, in my experience, do not relate too easily.

"How much are you taking?"

"Two," he said.

"And Mara?"

"She's doing the same," he said. "I think you should do two as well — because one will get you going places, but two will get you to what your friends are talking about."

I laughed — he was trying to up-sell me. I told him as much, and he laughed and smiled, too, saying, "Hey, that's my job."

"Alright," I said, "That's fine. How much?"

"Twelve bucks."

"Okay."

I took the money from my wallet and he took it and returned a few minutes later with two little pieces of paper in a cellophane cigarette pack wrapper. "Now don't tell anyone where you got this from."

I nodded and put them on the table next to my chair. Two paper hits of acid. Something I promised I'd never do. But I thought, hey, if I can go to the party on that, it can't be too bad. How little I knew. That dictum, Never trip with strangers, did not cross my mind. Over two hundred miles from home. No one, not a soul, knew where I had gone. I didn't have a roommate. We played more Nintendo.

We dosed at nine. Mara had already had hers in when I did mine, putting them right under my tongue. And I waited. For the longest time, nothing interesting happened. I thought, my, this is overrated. Then things began to change.

Mara started saying, "Oh shit, this is strong! I can feel it in my eyes already." I felt nothing and regarded her with levelheaded curiosity. I asked Alex if I needed to keep the paper on my tongue. He said, "Go ahead and spit it out — it's all shits and giggles now." I obeyed and waited.

He gave me one last word of advice: "Remember, it's just a drug. It wears off." My litany for the evening.

Things began to change. I felt weird, to say the least. A tremendous pressure in my head. Veins stood out on my arms and foreheads. My pale skin began to flush. I ground my teeth. I went and stared at myself in the mirror. My eyes stared at me, wide and dark. I walked out of the bathroom, and said very quietly as I sank into the couch, "My cool. My cool. I've lost my cool — and I want it back!"

So it began. I went into Alex's room. They showed me drawings. I called one a disco fairy — another, a serpent, upset me. Porn magazines. Looking at naked women on acid, their breasts and buttocks and legs distorting, irritated me. I was not interested at all.

Then the shit really hit the fan. Dreadful things were happening here. I sat down on my chair. I had a camera and had taken a picture of Mara with her paper on her tongue. She wanted to take one of me — "Because you won't believe how unfucked up you looked." I agreed, in a gurgle that resembled English. Here are some highlights:

Alex and Mara talked about going to the party: "We're not going to the party anytime soon." First sign things were a bit out of the ordinary.

I remember that a bunch of people were playing James Bond: Goldeneye. Sober, I'm pretty good. I was thoroughly on my way to another galaxy. Motor skills? Ha! They stopped playing, and I said, "I'll play." They looked at me, said "What you gonna play, motherfucker? Hell yeah, let's go." I grabbed the controller, pressed start. That's it. Move the controls. Watch the screen. Press the buttons? Not a shot. Not a hope. No control. No control. None whatsoever.

"I am losing my shit." The favorite quote of the evening.

I remember through the distortion, Merlin leaned over me and said, "We're not as evil as you think we are." I was like, what?

Cool air on the back of my neck. I stood up, tried to find it. I reached around into the void, feeling the walls, searching for the grate. I remember someone saying: "I don't know what country he's in, but I wish I was there." Alex's verdict regarding me: "That motherfucker needs to just sit down for awhile and lose his mind — I know I am."

On acid, one waxes philosophical. You think heavy thoughts about time. I remember I desperately tried to see the time on my watch and failed miserably. It was just a myriad of colors dripping all over. I realized time was a model of my mind. Reality was a model of my mind. I had fucked with my mind. I had fucked with reality. I remember thinking, Where is reality? — and why was I so foolish as to leave it?

As for the outside world, I thought, There are wars, taxes, stars, moons, school, family, classes, Saddam Hussein, President Clinton, and Wall Street posted a gain yesterday. Who cares? Do they know a damn thing? Are they where I'm at?

I remember someone said, "You've gone to Planet Motherfuck and you ain't coming back for awhile."

Nothing existed. My body, Alex, Mara, the room, the music, all dissolved. Just snatches of lucidity greedily snatched at. Panic throbbed underneath my mind as my complete helplessness dawned on my mind. Bad thoughts like little imps cackled across my mind. I thought, oh dear god, I'm going to end up on the front page of the school paper. "RAVE DRUG MENACE CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM!" I pictured the headline. Oh man, I'll be contributing to the propaganda against raves! Dammit. I also contemplated getting even if things didn't work out. I crouched in the chair, looking at Alex, thinking, So help me, I'll get you by God if I'm fucked up. My senses may be gone, but I am still here. Oh yes, I can point you out to the cops. I smiled at him and asked, "Do you know what I'm thinking?"

His eyebrows arched above his wide-open eyes and he nodded gravely. Then reality left. Again. And again. And again.

I remember Alex looked at me and said, "Are you human? I'm human."

"Yes, I'm human," I snapped, "And so are you!"

Mara kept asking it. "Goddammit," I said, "I don't need to be thinking about this. We're all human." Alex told her to pipe down. I rode the lightning in quiet desperation.

And bit by bit, reality eased back, against its will, into my mind. All perception was out of whack. I could not move with any coordination but I could see my body remained. Thank God for small miracles. The outside world lost its terror. I went out into the night. I propped myself up against a big brown dumpster outside the apartment. The sky bled. Radio towers left red streamers, like trails of flame from a dragon's jaw, to bleed across the velvet sky. Not black. Not purple. Not blue. Velvet.

Mara followed me. She crouched in front of me, smiling at me with a leer, and said: "You never thought it'd be like this. You didn't have a clue. You couldn't imagine it'd be like this. Cause you're tripping!"

She repeated this about twenty times: "Cause you're tripping cause your tripping causeyou'retrippingcauseyou'retrippingcauseyou'retrippingcauseyou'retripping..."

I remember thinking, I wish this bitch would shut up. But I listened very politely. It was all I could do.

She continued: "I feel sorry for people who never tripped. They just can't imagine, you know."

"Yeah — now I know how Robert Crumb became the way he is."

"Huh? Who's that?"

Oh dear. I garbled out the very simple explanation, "Sixties cartoonist, did lots of acid. Made big impact."

"Oh."

I said, "I want to go to the party." I mean, I drove down from Athens and did not think it worth all the driving to get fucked up on acid with a bunch of weird people in some drug dealer's apartment. Well, actually, that is fairly interesting.

Mara agreed. We petitioned Alex. He worried about cops. "Five-oh. And who's going to drive?"

Not me. Mara volunteered. "I drive when I'm tripping all the time. I like it."

Now, some of you may think it foolish to step into a car on drugs. Well — it is — but it isn't. Acid can be done. It requires superhuman concentration, or the equivalent disregard for safety. We could not concentrate, but we had plenty of the latter. We piled into the car. And if we crashed and died? "Well, if we die," said Alex, "We won't care."

Dead on logic. I got into the car and decided if anything happened, I would pretend to be asleep. I thought I could manage that much.

We only nearly crashed about three or four times. Not too shabby. The dashboard was fascinating. All those lovely colors. And the faces shifting in the mirror. I recognized some of them from back home.

A cool thing about Birmingham lies in the grid pattern of the city. If you see a cop, you can skirt down a block and avoid him and then return to your original route, no skin off of your nose.

The party was in a tall building several stories high. I remember all of the kids outside in the streetlight. Droves and droves of ravers, decked out in their regalia of big pants of various brands, Adidas caps and visors, necklaces and bracelets. They were everywhere, the girls with their glitter make up. The boys with their barely there haircuts. Mara and Alex were stunned. They said a lot of "Holy shits!" and "Goddamns!" They declared that, "This is the biggest party in over a year" for Birmingham. They quite confidently proclaimed most of the crowd sucked and were fakes, but that I was cool because I was with them. I was just pleased to be able to shamble from the car and get into the night air and get in line. I spent most of the time staring at people. I knew it was rude, but thought, hey, I'm tripping and therefore, the normal rules don't apply because I'm here and they're not here, never were, and never will be.

I remember waiting with Mara and this girl came up to me. She gave me her bottle of water and bag, declaring she trust us. They ended up in my arms. I promptly forgot her. A minute later I discovered the bottle of water. I thought, wow, can I still drink water? Let's see. I fumbled the lid open and put it to my lips. To my pleasure, I discovered I could. I drank and drank until, well, it was gone.

When she returned, she asked for her water. She took the bottle, gasped, and said, "You drank it all!"

I stared at her. Then I stared at Mara and tugged on her shirt. Then I stared back at the girl. I couldn't say a single word. Imagine a young man being examined for military service and the doctor gets around to sticking his finger up your ass. That's the sort of look I wore. Thank God for Mara. She smiled at the girl and dismissed me with a wave of her head, saying, "He's tripping. First time tripping."

The girl looked from Mara to me and said, "Are you rolling?" I shook my head no.

Mara repeated, "He's tripping. First time tripping. He's on acid."

"Oh," said the girl, "Totally different trip!"

"They're poles apart!" said Mara.

I just watched and stared as the girl patted me on my cheek and hugged me. How lovely.

When we finally made it up the line into the club, I was scarcely able to give them my money. They were pros at taking money from people off their rockers on assorted designer delights, though, and the next thing I knew I was in.

One word. Overwhelmed. The music was absurdly loud drum 'n' bass. The sounds slashed across my poisoned mind. The beats ripped and roared and rose and fell and floated and hallucinated and dilated and disintegrated within my ears, draining down into the coal chambers of my subconscious, where, if I think about it, I can hear them to this day. Lights. The lasers pierced and pulsed through the foggy air as I wandered through the press of bodies, forms young and fair and terrible. God I was losing my shit. But I was in. And it was going on. I remember following Mara and Alex up the stairs, up above the main floor and peering down at the anarchy below. All these neon bodies glowing in a great swarm down below as I crouched at Mara's pants cuff.

I couldn't dance. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. I could only allow myself to submit and be overwhelmed. Grinding my teeth the whole time. When we returned to the dance floor, Alex dueled with other dancers. They formed a ring around him and one kid would get in there and bust his shit out. Alex, I think, would watch, approve, and then bust into some kind of kung-fu drunken monk breaks. I could only watch in drugged out amazement. The other people were good, but he was like a demigod to me, because he was on the same shit I was and he could move with all the grace of a cobra rearing to strike. Such control. Of which I had so little. So little. And what of I? I could only crouch on the floor and hold one of the club's pillars, when I wasn't crawling around and guzzling other people's water bottles like a deranged maniac. One guy tried to stop me. I just looked at him, unable to comprehend. He turned away. Leaving me in my own little world.

I remember I had a camera I borrowed from a friend who was curious and wanted pictures. Look at the pictures. Just look at them. You can see where I was at. I remember Mara took the camera from me, which, no matter how I tried, I could not aim, and shot the rest of the film.

I only attempted to dance once. A lull in the music came. Things got very quiet. A voice boomed out over the megaphone, telling us to give it up for AK1200! The crowd went nuts, I went nuts clapping, and all hell broke loose. No more duels. Just everyone doing their groove to a thunderous explosion of vinyl power blowing up beneath the palpitating shudders of a thousand strobe lights. I tried. I failed. I hit some poor guy, apologized. He smiled. I decided that all I could do was wave in the middle of the maelstrom wearing a big shit-eating grin.

We eventually left the club, me clinging to Mara's backpack like a small child, and collapsed on the side of the building. Cops. I recall the cops. But everyone was making too much money for them to care about the chemical fueled dance frenzy inside the building.

I sat against that wall, chewing frantically on a piece of gum given to me by Alex. It was a godsend. It was something I could do without thinking. Mara sat beside me. I was glad to be with them. I had been so terrified that I might lose them in that mass of party kids and be left lost and out of my mind. But they were good kids, and they took care of me. They talked with people, and girls whom I never saw again gave me hugs.

Alex declared it was my first real party, and so it was. "Kid's hooked for life," he said, as I bobbed my head up and down, still chewing my gum. In short order we returned to the car and the apartment.

Others joined us. One was a skinny, deeply tanned girl in pants of simply epic proportions made out of silver cloth. Jenny. A stripper, I learned later. And some Asian girl. Both were pumped to the gills of e pills.

They began to roll upon arriving at the apartment. Hard. They closed their eyes and grimaced with pleasure, and moaned about how they wanted their fiancées. They had been very clear on that point. "Damn I want my man to get here!" they cried together. I, though, sitting on the other end of the couch, could only think how horrible sex on acid could be. Sex on acid? No way! Are you fucking nuts? I could barely talk, much less chat some girl up and have my way with her. Admitted, that had been a goal of my field trip, because I am far from innocent, but really, the whole concept irritated me. I remember listening to Alex and Mara through the walls and being simply appalled. I huddled in a corner and said, "Ain't nobody here but us chickens." Damn straight. I remember I stared at myself in the mirror one time, smiling and laughing, knowing that it was but the first of many adventures.

We watched break dancing videos and played Bond and smoked weed. A lot of weed. And every time I closed my eyes, I saw ultraviolet jnco girls swaying their hips to the undulating rhythms of AK1200's drum 'n' bass set. How I wanted it all to end. I asked Merlin, who was a big tripper, if he had ever asked himself, "Goddammit, is this ever going to end?" He replied with a very firm "No." I was alone on this one.

I tried to bundle up in a dark corner and sleep. I was sweating under my blankets, but I was thinking that was a good thing. Sweat. Sweat it out. Sweat it all out and blank out and all will turn out well.

I couldn't sleep. Nothing was working. Dawn was cresting over the hills through the windows of the apartment. I wanted release. I wouldn't have minded dying. Really. I just didn't care. When Alex offered me a pill, paranoia crept up my mind. "What is it?"

"A Valium."

"Where did it come from?" One must know the sources of ones little party favors.

Jenny, sitting beside her fiancé on the sofa, said, "It's mine — it'll take the edge off your trip and help you sleep. If you don't want it, I do."

Anyone who gives away drugs but wants it if you don't, I figured, couldn't be offering me a bum rap. I took it.

Alex and others discussed the acid we had dropped. Alex shook his head and said, "That acid was da schnoogie!"

"No — not da schnoogie!"

I remember everyone going to bed. Jenny and her man were in the bed and they looked at me and said, "You wouldn't mind if we screwed, would you?"

"No." The whole idea of voyeurism, considering how the walls were still waving, quite intrigued me. As far as I know, they didn't do anything. I managed, after another hour or two, to pass into oblivion. Blessed be the darkness, for I feel nothing within its arms. Amen.

When I woke, all around me was normal. My limbs moved when I wanted. My teeth did not grind away at each other like brake pads on a run away train. I could talk. Hallelujah! I walked out into the afternoon light and reality never looked so fine. But the music, I could still feel the music tearing through my bones. Just a faint shimmer of what came before, but still there.

When Mara woke, she and Alex got me back by various ways to I-20. I watched them pull up another ramp off the Interstate, out of sight and out of my life as quickly as they came. I hauled ass non-stop to Athens, looking elegantly bedraggled. I actually went to class the next day.

That was my first party. My first rave. My first trip. An experience fraught with terror and wonder, beauty and discovery. I nearly fell apart on the ride like a rag doll worn apart at the seams. But I held together. And I would never trade that experience for anything. I've not seen Mara since, but I remember at Raves.com she posted a message: "Petronius! Hooked for life!" Oh yes, I am. Hooked for life. May my revelries continue across my life.

"Petronius" lives, loves, and studies in Athens, Georgia, as an English major aspiring to write his way through life. He's loved the music of the scene since '92 — a big beat shook his soul, and he's not been the same ever since. However, he only showed his face in the scene a year ago. May that event never be regretted, world without end. If he were a band, he'd be Joy Division. If he were a book, he'd be "The Essential Ellison." If he were a mythic character, he might be Loki, God of Mischief. If he were an animal, he would be the serpent, long of memory and enamoured of warmth in all its forms, but never forgetful of the coldness fused into his bones. If he were a literary term, he'd be "hyperbole." If you ever see him, and have a tale to tell, feel free to seek him out.

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