Chapter 3: Chasing the Dragon

The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of Undivided: The Redemption Inquiry. The third chapter of…

Part the First—Ill Winds: In which the Soule of Humanitie is greatly vexed in many realms of human endeavoure. The Author draws upon experiences in this and other incarnations. Much darkness, little light.

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A Historie of Humanity’s attempt at escape from pain through narcosis and of the seductions of technologie. The devolution into an Aeternal cycle of Enslavement follows thereby. The Author finds instruction in the lives of his pater and grandpater, and in looking back from The Redemption.

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The stoning of America comes after a long slow windup. Centuries. I am a 21st century psychiatrist, a healer of souls and purveyor of potions. It’s personal. I am also an observant Jew, something of an anachronism in our time, but I am purposeful about it. It organizes my thoughts in ways strange and beautiful. I come from a lineage that goes back on my father’s side to the steppes of the Ukraine, the banks of the Dnieper River. It is to that side that I turn in this true saga of Morpheus and Technos, the twin tamers of the wild in us, the pursuit of dream-inducing substances and the impulse to make things. My grandfather, Pop Pop Joe, was born in a shtetl, a primitive Jewish village in the Pale of Settlement, behind an invisible curtain that protected his community from the dangers of the Enlightenment, from assimilation, from loss of identity. As a young teenager, inspired by peripatetic Bolsheviks and the bright lights of Odessa, he tore through that curtain to become ‘a modern man’, as he called himself. He came to America. His world was the world of machines. His son, my father, was born the privileged only son of a middle class non-observant Jewish family in Philadelphia in 1925. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, outstripped his father’s technical education, and became a pharmaceutical chemist. My father’s father never understood my father’s world. My father inhabited the world of molecules. I grew up the oldest of three and the only son in a household of nominally reform Jews in an upper middle-class suburb of Philadelphia. I wandered between colleges, smoked pot, and traced a meandering path to medical school, and onward to a residency in Psychiatry. My world is the world of ideas and of spirit. My father never understood my fascination with matters of spirit, worried that I might believe in “a guy with a white beard on a throne.” Not to worry, Dad. The three of us, grandfather, father and son, three different paradigms of being, mechanical, molecular and energetic. I imagine the evolution of the world from the point of view of The Redemption. As we know, the birth of the Messiah was on Wednesday, April 9, 2121. That was the last time in human history when the holiday of Passover, the recurring dream of redemption from bondage, intersected with the obscure 28-year cycle of The Blessing of the Sun. In the days of the Temple, the Levites, the assistant priests, empowered the sun to burn a way across the sky. Morpheus and Technos. The two cosmic colliders crossed paths only twice before in two thousand years. Once in 1925, the year of my father’s birth, and again in 2009, a year of evil augury. The rough bookends in the telling of this tale.

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Taking the long view, it all started with Soma, Indra’s favorite ‘tipple’, a gift from Agni, the Fire, to humankind. Soma, born of ocean foam, companion to Sita, Rohini and Tara. Doomed to die and be reborn in an endless cycle. Fleeting consciousness, quicksilver. The sacred mushroom plant, Amanita muscaris, its source according to some. In the holy Vedas, 4th verse of the 74th hymn in the 9th book, the priests of Agni filter the potent fungal intoxicant through their own bodies and avail their supplicants of its virtue in the liquor decanted from their bladders. The Aryan practice of uromancy spread throughout the ancient Near East and into Europe. The Zoroastrians, and their descendants the Parsees and Manicheans, too imbibed the urine of drunkenness. The Roman poet Catullus mocked the ancient Iberians for their practice, and the rabbis warned that the Israelite priests should not use urine in the preparation of the Holy Temple’s incense. Why the warning if it had never been done? It was the Teutonic tribes who embraced Agaricus most passionately in terrorizing all of Europe. The furious Norsemen consumed the mushroom straight and in its reindeer-filtered form, the fabled yellow snow. Their ferocity in battle was such that they turned their killing frenzy on friend as well as foe. They bequeathed their bellicosity to their Anglo-teutonic inheritors, who in turn exported it worldwide. In a fateful turn of the millennial karmic wheel, the high energy impulse returned to its Aryan source, embodied as the British Empire qua wrecking ball on the Indian subcontinent

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Nineteen Twenty Five, the year Dad was born, they revised the International Opium Convention. Signed in Geneva on February 19 and launched on September 25. The political answer to the worldwide opiate epidemic question. An epidemic that was fueled by western gunboat diplomacy during the two previous centuries. It was always about distribution. Who controls access to relief from pain, the ticket to virtual paradise, to la la land. Who parcels out Shangri la to the lotus eaters? The Convention begat the first international drug control body, the Permanent Central Opium Board. Those boys used a statistical control system. They were an official organ of the League of Nations. The League also banned heroin the same year. The US, China and Egypt failed to put the kibosh on hashish because India and its pals said no go, on account of it being woven into the very fabric of their societies. The US had no same compunction about banning alcohol. That year Prohibition created a field day in Philadelphia for speakeasies and other purveyors of illegal hooch, the poor man’s Morpheus. In Chicago, Alphonse “Al” Gabriel Capone clawed his way to the top of a crime syndicate that ran an empire of illegal breweries and a transportation network that spanned the US and Canada. A shadow league of cops and politicians were in their pockets. A lot of twentieth century fortunes were made on those covert ops. The wrangling of Morpheus was big business.

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In the embattled national atmosphere and moral chaos of the Prohibition era one man stood out in my family’s telling of history, General Smedley D. Butler. General Butler was tapped by POTUS Cal Coolidge and the mayor of Philadelphia to quit the Marine Corps and become Philadelphia’s Director of Public Safety. His job, simply put, was to clean up Philly. His tenure ended the year my father was born there. The story of Smedley D. Butler grabs me like few others. Allow me to digress. Butler is a figure both tragic and heroic. How could it have been otherwise to be a tool of the great capitalist beast that subdued the world and all the peoples in it? Six years later ‘the Fighting Quaker’ retired altogether and hit the speaking trail. Three years after he hit the road he’s a goddamn whistleblower testifying before the United States House of Representatives Special Committee on Un-American Activities. Seems a cabal of Wall Street investment types, J. P. Morgan money men and even old Prescott Bush, was alleged to be hatching a plot to take over the government from the newly elected FDR. Those boys had badly miscalculated when they asked the general to lead his VFW followers in an insurrection against the Feds. Butler was a hero to the thousands of disgruntled World War veterans who camped out in the Bonus March protesting the Hoover administration’s refusal to give over their service bonuses. Future ‘defender of liberty’ Douglas MacArthur, with the help of crony George Patton’s tanks, rode roughshod over the soldiers camped on the Anacostia Flats. All that in spite of Dwight Eisenhower’s warning: “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there. I told him it was no place for the Chief of Staff.” Butler earned the undying loyalty of the men for supporting their cause. He even voted for FDR in spite of being a diehard Republican. But the Business Plot conspirators, as it was called, mistakenly thought Butler could be persuaded to lead an army of five hundred thousand disaffected vets in a coup against FDR. Butler told the committee that the plan was for him to assume near-absolute power as the newly created ‘Secretary of General Affairs.’ Roosevelt would be relegated to a figurehead role. An honest to God fascist dictatorship at a time when much of the rest of the world was pitching itself headlong into the arms of other fascist dictators. From the viewpoint of the Redemption this pervasive move toward fascism might be interpreted as a misdirected attempt at universal integration. Moshiach takes a wrong turn. The dream derailed becomes nightmare, and the technology nightmarishly efficient. Humanity missed the mark in 1925, not a whiff of The Redemption in the air.

When Butler went public he hadn’t counted on the fact that the business cronies had the fix in with the government boys and the newspapers. So they shut him down, though the Congressional record stands. Probably why he went public a couple of years later with his famous anti-war pamphlet “War is a Racket.” That’s when he blew the whistle on the whole military industrial complex, as Eisenhower later called it. Butler confessed he was a bigger racketeer than Al Capone, “a gangster for capitalism” on three continents, propping up Banana Republics around the globe all on Uncle Sam’s dime. What’s good for the Company was good for the country. And war is always good for business. War and opiates, twin horsemen of civilization’s apocalypse. But back in Philly in 1925, the Fighting Quaker kicked down doors and took names. Smedley D. Butler took unfettered aim at speakeasies, bootlegging, prostitution, gambling and police corruption. His success was mixed with complaints of civil rights violations and other irregularities. In the end, General Butler resigned under pressure. On his way out the door he shook his head and sighed, “Cleaning up Philadelphia was worse than any battle I was ever in.”

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I happened to catch the ‘War is a Racket’ speech on my car radio while driving through the DC suburbs just before the turn of the 21st century. It was stirring. But I couldn’t believe it was the same guy I’d heard about as a kid. At the time, I only knew one particularly absurd story about General Smedley D. Butler. The name had stuck in my mind since I first heard it cross Pop Pop Joe’s lips. Sounded like a W.C. Fields character. My grandfather, Pop Pop Joe, was a fledgeling father the last year of General Butler’s tenure in Philly. When I was a kid, Pop told me a knee-slapper, in his heavily Yiddish inflected English, about the general. “Cars vere a new ting in Philadelphia, and zere vas starting to be a problem of traffic congestion. So zey brought in zis big general, Smedley D. Butler.” Pop Joe made sure to emphasize the “D”. The name sounded like he had made it up. Perhaps he saw the mere fact of having a middle initial as an affectation, one that he and Molly abjured in that they never gave my father a middle name. “Ze big idea vas to put an enormous light on top of Villiam Penn on City Hall. Ven it vas red, ze cars vould tear like hell down Broad Street. Ven it vas green, zey’d tear like hell down Market Street.” The comic effect of his spiel was enhanced by his rolled ‘r’s’ and his pronunciation of the ‘h’ in hell as if he were clearing a clot of mucus from his throat. Joe laughed, “Of course it didn’t vork!” throwing his hands up in the air. Now I can see it, the city’s first drug czar, the original Keystone Kop. The man in the street came to see him as a laughingstock, perhaps the work of a crooked press. Who knows? This is your government on drugs. War and hooch, the whole sad pas-de-booze. Sic semper hubris.

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“Moshiach!” cried Malka Diamond nee Belsky as they hoisted her bloody baby boy balling from the womb on April 12, 1925. “Messiah” in the mamaloshen, the mother tongue, Yiddish. She was Grandmom Molly to me. It was the same thing she croaked fifty five years later as I entered the room of her nursing home in Bryn Mawr PA. She was alone and dying of lung cancer, never having smoked a cigarette in her life. My father told me that he witnessed her death by asphyxiation. I could not read his emotions at the time. My grandfather believed the doctors were trying to kill his beloved Malka with their morphine. Morphine, the blessing of its dreams withheld. The birth of my father occurred on Easter Sunday and the fourth day of Passover. Four days after the eve of Passover had intersected with Birkat HaChama, the Blessing of the Warm One, the beginning of that twenty eight year creation cycle when we renew the sun’s contract to continue tumbling through space. An auspicious time for Moshiach to come if ever there was. The holy Ovstrovster Rebbe back in the Old Country anticipated with full belief precisely that. It didn’t happen. But I digress. “Ve vent crazy over your father,” Pop Pop Joe confided in me some years later. “Ve vould stare into his diapers so you vould tink ve vere searching for jewels.” He could laugh at their obsession. The unintentional joke embedded in the shortened version of my father’s name, Jules Diamond, was lost on my immigrant grandparents. They had named him after a Roman emperor, Julius, as was the aspirational custom in the naming of so many of our Jewish American boychiks of the Roaring ’20’s. Think Augie, Julian, Lucian, Marcus. Then of course there was always the Austro-Hungarian Max and its Roman predecessor Maximus. The buy-in to Imperial America.

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My dear departed newly reimagined post-Redemption dad. What a painful lifetime that was for you. It’s good to see the transdimensional map of your face smiling wistfully back on all that narishkeit, nonsense, now that we’re all hanging out in the post-truth era. Foolishness. It’s edifying to follow the arc of humanity’s flight from pain over the course of centuries, the fractal geometry of suffering. Pain, a guiding principle for generations. Pain was my father’s specialty, his grand passion. It earned him a small but noteworthy place in the narrative of pain and its remedies. The drama played out at home as well as on the stage of international politics and the medical-industrial complex. I can still see Pop Pop Joe, barely five feet and a piece of fire, bestriding the narrow strand in Ocean City, N.J. He was a stumpy Russian Jewish colossus, fedora hat, sleeveless T and suit pants. With little prompting, my grandfather launched into the heroic saga of saving his dying son’s life. My father sat out the Big One in chemical engineering school at the U. of P. But the war at home was pretty savage. To escape the pressures of his hyped-up academic schedule and the intrusive attentions of his well-meaning parents—as well as piano lessons from a Ferde Grofé protege, Rhapsody in Blue with the Paul Whiteman Youth Orchestra—my father ran around with his zoot-suited buddies scaring up as much trouble as could be had by a handful of yids in the City of Brotherly Love. Until he started to bleed out.

It was his senior year at U of P. By then most of his pals had either signed up or been conscripted into Uncle Sam’s army. The way I see it, his rage to live his own life got turned inward and rotted his guts from the inside. They didn’t know much about Ulcerative Colitis back then. So my grandfather paid whatever money he had to a battalion of specialists to take my father apart, piece by necrotic piece. Osiris dismembered and tossed in the Nile by his half brother Seth. Sparagmos, so the predator can’t get all of you at once. The shocked mind stores little pieces of itself that may or may not be redeemed by a future act of re-membering. On the beach, Pop Pop Joe shook a fist of misshapen and grease-stained fingers at the sky. “Zey said he vould die if I didn’t get him ze new vonder drug, Streptomycin. Only for ze G.I.’s. But Joe Diamond doesn’t take no for an answer. Zere vere zese guys I heard of, up in Boston, could get you anyting for a price. A price! Ve vere talking about my boy!” Dad lay on his beach chaise reading the Wall Street Journal, pale and unmoved.

“I got in my car and drove all ze vay to Boston, paid ze men vat zey vanted, and took ze Streptomycin back to Dr. Bockus at ze Graduate Hospital.” Tears rolling down his cheeks, Pop Joe bellowed with clenched fists his remembered triumph, “He said it saved Julius’ life!” An aside, Henry Bockus was one of the original movers and shakers in gastroenterology and started the department at the U. of P. in 1923. I always assumed it was spelled like the Greek god of wine and chaos, Bacchus, until I saw it spelled out in his obit. He was hit by a truck at age 86, hospitalized at Graduate, and died on Friday April 6, 1982; the eve of the eve of Passover. The exact same timing by reckoning on the Hebrew calendar as Dad’s death in a hospital in Florida 15 years later. Both deaths exactly one day shy of the annual Redemption from Pharaoh’s bondage.

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Pop Pop Joe had to crank up his steampunk macher game to pay for all the fancy doctoring and surgeries. “Hawthorne [the surgeon] vas a big doctor,” opined my grandfather. “Had von of zose fancy goyische[meaning gentile and therefore top of the line] places out on ze Main Line. Von of zose long driveways zat goes from ze street all ze vay up to ze house. He vanted me to make a light for him.” A light for a life. Seemed like a fair deal. After all, my grandfather was the man who electrified Philadelphia. A one man Industrial Revolution, Technos incarnate. He moved there straight from the classrooms of Cooper Union in the Big Apple to the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. Once he hit the streets of Philly it was only a matter of time before he became a real macher, a fixer of every kind of mechanical contraption ever designed by a human brain. And he was a millwright, a practitioner of that arcane technology that kept an army of Rube Goldberg apparati running, networks of belts and pulleys and flywheels powering all the machinery in early twentieth century factories. He had only stayed on the Lower East Side long enough to get rooked in a shell game on the street. A nearby flatfoot told him to quit whining and move on.

In Philly he started with ships. A kind of Jewish Ben Franklin. The other dock workers were amazed at the pile of a dozen or so sandwiches this five foot tall yid pulled from his rucksack at lunch every day. Little Yankel, the original steampunk dude. Yankel and Malke weathered the Great Depression on the income from properties he acquired while converting the housing stock of the city from gas to electric. This was the infancy of the grid, as we call it now. It was in 1925 that the British government commissioned Lord Weir, a Glaswegian industrialist, to solve the problem of the fragmented electrical supply system. Lord Bill teamed up with Charlie Merz, the man who turned horse-drawn trams into electric trains, and presto—the Electricity Act of 1926. Britain was on its way to a ‘national gridiron’, the original term of art, the seedbed of the whole electronic universe yet to come. The entire process took some off-the-books work of the ‘night-time engineers’ to hook up all the regional systems into one big one, an army of steampunk dudes like my grandfather. The U.S. and the rest of Europe were soon to follow suit. By the 21st Century we were all waiting for the grid to crash. Everywhere that mankind traveled, by plane or train or oxcart, it carried with it its pain and its remedies, the profusion and the dying back, the dream of liberation and the technology that both blessed and cursed that dream.

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The final Dr. Bockus story courtesy of Yankel the electrician, the millwright, the master of the machine world. This one also told while Pop Joe held court on the beach. “I came to visit your fazer von afternoon in ze hospital and found him lying in a pool of blood.” My father had crash landed, after ascending the fiery heights of chemical engineering school, onto a cot in a ward at the Graduate Hospital. Nary a splash was heard as friends, classmates and sweetheart quietly disappeared into the silence of a protracted series of hospitalizations and a five year convalescence. My grandfather was pacing the beach and pounding his fist into his palm as he continued, “I ran to ze head of ze bed to see if he vas breadhing. He vispered to me, ‘Let me go, Pop.’” My father, for his part, would have been just as happy to drift off into his morphine sulfate induced la la land, never to return. He told me so. But then I wouldn’t be here to tell you the story. “No!” shouted Pop Joe, “I vas NOT going to let my son die. I got zem to call ze doctor right avay. You should have seen zem all running around every vich vay and taking orders. It vas under Dr. Bockus’ direct instructions zey hung your fadher upside down and poured blood right into his legs. He did not die zat day.” Tearful grandfather, mute father.

The same story over and over and over. Different fragments, different audiences, but always the sturm und drang, the pain, the heroism, the medicine, the specter of death. For years I imagined the god Bacchus had hung my father upside down from a grape vine and bathed him in life-giving wine. Only in medical school did I realize what must actually have happened. Because of his massive blood loss, all of my father’s veins collapsed. The standard technique back then, though now out of vogue, to get access for a blood transfusion, and maintain perfusion to his brain and vital organs. They put my father in Trendelenburg and did a venous cut-down. Less dramatic than a Bacchic epiphany, but it worked. My father’s stigmata. The doctor, a dealer in time.

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“Morphine saved my life,” my father told me flatly one time. “For five years it kept me out of pain, but I knew I’d have to undergo pharmacologic withdrawal.” My father explained how his career as a pharmaceutical chemist was launched. “Rage propelled me out of my bed. Your grandmother would have hung over me there the rest of my life.” Years later when we debrided my grandparents’ empty apartment, Dad found an entry in his mother’s diary from the years of his illness. “I fear we are losing our boy,” she wrote. He tossed the diary, the clothing, the furniture. He let the City of Philadelphia condemn Joe’s three warehouses full of old shop machinery in various stages of disrepair. The mechanical world was getting the boot. He continued his story, “Arthritis in both of my hips made it so I had to walk on two canes, but I had to get out of that house. Bill Bruce gave me a chance. I worked for him at Wallace while I was getting my Ph.D. at Temple. I was researching the secret to safe opioid analgesia. Heterocyclic compounds looked promising. My dissertation was the synthesis of ethoheptazine.” Hard to say what morphine really was for my father, or for anyone else that tasted of its intoxicating potency—Persphone’s cursed pomegranate seed or Osiris’ redemptive golden phallus.

Dad thought he’d found the Holy Grail. JD’s Ph.D. thesis begat Zactane. A match was arranged between Zactane and Milltown. Milltown was the first blockbuster psychotropic in American history, named after a bucolic North Jersey suburb. In 1957 meprobamate AKA Milltown, accounted for a whopping third of all prescriptions written in the US. The bloom, however, was off the rose. At a meeting of pharma wizards at The Barbizon Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, it was disclosed that the wonder drug was merely a dangerous sedative, not the ‘relaxant’ as advertised. The blind seer of psychedelia, Aldous Huxley, was at The Barbizon as well, chief literatus in the Huxley scientific dynasty. He prophesied to the chemical gurus that we were at the threshold of an era, an explosion of compounds “capable of changing the quality of human consciousness.” Compounds which, along with the rest of Medicine’s love affair with technology, transformed the doctor-patient relationship from companion in healing to instrumentalist in an orchestra with no conductor. Death, the ultimate predator, evaded once more by a division into parts. Zactane and Milltown, joined in unholy matrimony by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, begat Equagesic. The dark alchemy of market share and human suffering. It too was not The Redemption devoutly to be wished. It was, however, Betty Ford’s and Bruce Lee’s future bête noir.

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The history of opiates is a complex tale, at once personal and collective. Yankel the electrician could never quite grasp how such tiny pills could have any real effect on the mechanical device he conceived as the human body. He and my father stood on opposite sides of the threshold of a technology paradigm. Morphine was my chemist father’s deadly friend. It was the first medicinal compound to be purified from a plant. Friedrich Sertürner was the man who did it, between 1803 and 1805. Named for Morpheus, god of dreams. Opium, mother of Morpheus, was among the oldest of psychedelic medicinals, elixir of the subcontinental poppy. Another candidate for ‘Soma’ in the Rig Veda. The moonlight plant, opiate or hallucinogen; ‘joy plant’ to the Bronze Age Sumerians; cultivated by the Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians; traded by the Phoenicians and Minoans throughout the Mediterranean. The Persian and Islamic empires humped it to the Far East. Opium stars in the Ebers Papyrus, and in Dioscorides, Galen, Avicenna and Paracelsus. Dusting the halls of empire and neolithic burial sites, opium was what made surgery possible in the ancient world. Technos and Morpheus waltz hand in hand, spinning crazily out of control with each turn of the millenia, lurching toward apocalypse.

It wasn’t until after the horrors of the American Civil War that opium yielded its hegemony to morphine. The Gilded Age turned its lonely eyes from luxuries afforded by slaveholding to alternate realities produced by opium and morphine in the minds of wounded soldiers, middle class women with ‘female problems’ and destitute gentry alike. The Chinese Opium Wars, a snarling hellhound beneath the glittering surface of the Gilded Age. The wars were fought at the behest of the British East India Company, backed by the gunboats of Britannia. They forced the opium trade down the maw of a resistant Chinese Empire that was trying desperately to control the growing rate of addiction among its citizens. But what was good for the balance of trade for the Company was good for the Crown. They had already grabbed the subcontinental opium market, and destroyed India’s economy a century earlier. Collateral damage of the victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The Company giveth and the Company taketh away. The same company, by the way, whose products our colonial forefathers threw into Boston Harbor. Industrial strength pain control was at hand. ‘Opium eating’ made its way into Victorian London’s society parlors, even featured as the solution to a Lewis Carroll logic puzzle: “If he wears white gloves he is an opium eater.” However, once opium became an international scourge it was fashionable to pin it on the Chinese. We can almost laugh at the feigned ignorance of it all, looking back from the point of view of The Redemption. The dealers in pain and in intoxicants disingenuously point to their victims as the source of the problem rather than the result. Amnesia, the operative principle in the dim halls of history.

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My father’s final foray into the world of psychoactive drug design was the synthesis of a plant-derived compound, the antimalarial from India, methaqualone, AKA Quaalude. I was a young tween in the mid 60’s, not yet savvy in the ways of the psychonaut. Dad was driving me to school one typically dull morning when, apropos of nothing, he prompted me, “Guess what the most popular drug on the streets is right now.” I’m not sure if I even shrugged. “Quaaludes,” he told me. I couldn’t tell at the time how my father felt about the ‘repurposing’ of his drug. It wasn’t until a few years later in high school that I got to see for myself what it did to a couple of guys I knew. In the middle of Symbolic Logic, Drake Richardson, a tall reasonably intelligent WASPy athlete not wearing white gloves, began to gyre in his seat, emitting a continuous low moan. Mr. Savage, the math teacher, who happened to be possessed of the peculiar skill to trace out large perfect circles on the chalkboard, adroitly escorted Drake to the school nurse’s office. Another friend, Mark Silverberg, a tough no-nonsense wrestling team dropout, came to school on a Monday with his face smashed up. Seems he kissed the sidewalk after a tryst with wine and ludes.

They were dropping like flies. Bill Cosby was using it as the new date-rape Mickey Finn. The government of South Africa deployed it in Project Coast, under the direction of Dr. Wouter Basson. It was part of an armamentarium of psychoactive drugs used to gain ‘non-lethal’ control over rioters during the apartheid era. The entire drug cache disappeared into the underground when the National Party got the boot. The total quantity of methaqualone released into the ether may have been close to a ton. Back in the USA, none of my crowd were hip enough for Studio 54 and its psychedelic delights, but ludes had hit the glam rock scene full force. ‘Disco biscuits’, hors d’oeuvres for the terminally cool.

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At a press conference on June 18, 1971, President Richard Nixon officially declared the ‘war on drugs’. We were deep into war those days, Viet Nam and all. And what a sexy combo it was, war and narcotics. The next couple of decades saw a metastatic expansion of the availability of heroin, the successor to morphine, in no small part thanks to the CIA’s ‘business’ partnerships with the Hmong tribesmen in Laos in the 1970’s and with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980’s. Our own spooks midwifed the growth and development of the two largest sources of world opium and heroin production, the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent, geographic bookends for the Asian landmass. During the Vietnam War, Air America, the CIA’s own, was shipping black tar opium in body bags to customers around the globe. By 2009, Mexican heroin production ramped up 600% from just four years earlier and a spate of new synthetic opioids were on the launching pad. The twin tentacles of the opioid epidemic were already insinuating themselves among America’s citizenry, snaking their way along the byways and thoroughfares of the country’s decaying small towns and urban ghettos.

On May 13, 2009, a month and five days after the Blessing of the Sun had once again intersected the eve of Passover, President Obama officially announced the phrase ‘war on drugs’ was defunct, an abject failure. It happened to be the day after Lag B’Omer, the point on the Hebrew calendar between Passover and Pentecost when we are at last permitted to cease mourning the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s twenty four thousand disciples. We are told they died because they did not respect one another. What a price to pay. The end of an era. The promise of Redemption hinted by the cosmic intersection of Passover and The Blessing of the Sun came and went once again as it had in 1925. Power was no longer to be consolidated into the hands of fascist dictators but rather into the hands of monster multinational corporate entities. The cartels were raking it in and smaller narco-entrepreneurs were having a feeding frenzy. “Citizens United”, the deceptively named plaintiff in the eponymous Supreme Court case, was decided in 2009. It opened up free and unfettered access for billions of dollars of dark money to stream its way into American electoral politics. Within the decade we would discover that the billion dollar drug distribution companies were flooding every small town in America with a virtual tidal wave of prescription opiates, eagerly sucked up by an ever hungrier black market. A cabal of former DEA turncoats, industry fat cats and greasy palmed politicos saw to it that the flood of legal dope continued unabated. This was a direct result of the ‘Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.’ That particular scam was sponsored by the US rep from PA and cheered on by the billion dollar pharma distribution industry that bought and paid for him. It effectively took the teeth out of the DEA’s attempts at enforcement against the distributors. A massive act of bad faith that somehow flew under the radar of the entire US Congress. President Trump even had the audacity to float a nomination of the scammer to be the nation’s ‘drug czar’. The nomination was withdrawn when it was made public that he was the sponsor of the disastrous bill. A dank air of desperation deflated the ragged remnant of the enforcement community.

The runaway synthetic opiate train was just one sign that Aldous Huxley’s prophecy had come true with a vengeance. Our capacity as a species for going blotto, for drastically altering psychic reality, for chasing the dragon around every corner of God’s green earth, had never been so gargantuan. Now we can see, looking backward from The Redemption, that the leap from chemical to cyber-based euphoria was the train wreck waiting to happen, the cyberdelic paradigm shift foretold by none other than Timothy Leary, the psychedelic leprechaun himself. The ultimate marriage of Morpheus and Technos. The 21st Century’s armies of cyber-addled teens bear witness to that eventuality. But back in 2009, the chemical boys were still working overtime. An explosion of bathtub synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, whose sacred plant forms were known respectively in the Eastern hemisphere as ganja and khat, poured onto the streets of Western hemisphere cities as ‘Spice’ and ‘Bath Salts’. The first toxicity reports from poison control centers started rolling in. That year governments around the globe scrambled to pass drug regs outlawing the handful of compounds they’d been able to identify. But before the ink dried on each of their attempts at stemming the tide of psychoactive intoxicants, the rave market was saturated with the next batch of novel hallucinogens. It was too late, as it always would be. The ‘khat’ would always manage to wriggle its way out of the proverbial bag. The dragon lives to smolder another day. The Redemption, the dream of Morpheus and Technos united in the service of humanity, will have to wait.

About the Author
Michael Diamond’s day job is as a psychiatrist and doctor of medical qigong in the Washington, DC area. He has published occasional verse, fiction and translation in Andrei Codrescu’s journal, The Exquisite Corpse; in the journal Shirim courtesy of Dryad Press; in the online journal for Akashic Press; and in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, an artist and illuminator of Hebrew manuscripts, their dog, one cat, a cockatiel named Peaches and a tank of hyperactive fish. He has had a strong interest in Torah since first exposed to traditional stories as a child. Over the course of his life he has run the gamut of spiritual exploration of many world traditions of meditation and mythology. For the last several decades he has landed squarely in the traditional Jewish world. His writing is informed by all of this experience, by his curiosity about today's world and by his desire to mine the Jewish experience for its hidden and revealed wisdom. Torah Obscura, as in camera obscura, from Latin, meaning "dark room", also referred to as pinhole image, the optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen is projected through a small hole in that screen into the chamber provided. A glimpse of an otherwise invisible world afforded by a small aperture for light. All materials herein copyright © 2018 Michael S. Diamond. All rights reserved.
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