You never know who will show up or what to expect when you face the folding chairs and start reading from your new book.
Especially when the book you just wrote is all about LSD.
On Tuesday night, I made my fourth bookstore appearance to promote my new book, and it happened again.
Someone tried to turn me on.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised. The late Timothy Leary--a key figure in my book--was, as some of you might recall, the "pied piper of LSD." And this bookstore was in San Francisco, near Haight and Ashbury streets, not far from where the Grateful Dead used to live. So it really shouldn't have come as a shock when a young guy with a slightly crazed look approached the signing table and opened his book.
Opposite the title page was one of those tiny Ziploc bags that drug dealers love to use. Inside the clear plastic bag were four hits of blotter acid - four doses of LSD infused into little squares of multi-colored paper.
"No, thanks," I said. "I'll pass tonight."
The first time this happened was at my first reading a couple weeks ago in Marin County. A woman a bit older than my 56 years (think aging hippie goddess) walks up to me all wide-eyed and says, "Your book sounds like fun. Do you still indulge? I just happen to have some mushrooms with me."
"Wow," was all I could say. "Tempting."
I stopped doing drugs some years back. I don't even drink alcohol anymore. But mushrooms used to be my second favorite drug.
My favorite was MDA, or a variant of that substance known as MDMA, known to younger users as "Ecstasy."
It was offered to me after my recent appearance at the Harvard Bookstore, right across from the university that booted Timothy Leary and Richard "Ram Dass" Alpert off campus back in the early sixties. This time it happened in a restaurant next door to that bookstore. Someone who'd been to the reading had some Ecstasy in his pocket.
"God," I said to myself, "grant me the serenity...."
Talk about flashbacks. My book begins at Harvard with the story of how a young and jealous underclassman named Andrew Weil gets mad when professors Leary and Alpert won't let him serve as research subject in a controversial psychedelic drug experiment they began on campus in the fall of 1960. Andy Weil -- the future C.E.O of alternative medicine in America -- was just a freshman when the story begins. The way Andy went about bringing Leary and Alpert down was so vicious that Alpert (better known today as the spiritual teacher Ram Dass) still gets mad when he thinks about it. And we're talking about stuff that happened nearly a half century ago.
Andrew Weil redeems himself in the end. So does Huston Smith, who was a philosophy professor at nearby M.I.T. when he took his first trip at Leary's house in Newton, MA, on New Year's Day of 1961.
Huston, who just turned ninety, flashes a huge grin when he tells that story. "What a way to start the sixties!" he says, eyes wide.
As for me, I just hope to make it through another book reading.
What's next? A Native American shaman with a bag of peyote buttons?
Could be. My next reading is tonight.