This Heat Wave is Reminding Me of the Summer of 1995 When I Stupidly Took Acid for the First Time While Hundreds of Old People Died Around Me

Do you remember the national news story where more than 700 people died in Chicago because of temperatures reaching 105 degrees? That was the weekend I decided to try acid.
Publish date:
July 19, 2013
heat wave, Acid, chicago, summer of 1995, M

The summer of 1995 as a college sophomore at Northwestern in the suburb of Evanston, Illinois, I was working a few jobs.

I was interning as a music writer at Illinois Entertainer, and I worked as entertainment editor at the summer version of the college newspaper.

I used to write about music a lot until I met and fell in love with a musician who told me that everything I thought about music was wrong, and in some respects he was right, because he's the one who introduced me to Elvis Costello and Graham Smith and Lisa Germano and Dear Nora and Ted Leo and just about everything exciting and raw and on the verge that I still love to this day.

But at the time I fancied myself a young Lester Bangs with breasts, super hard core except I misguidedly thought the route to get there was by being a dorky overachiever at Northwestern University’s student newspaper. Sticking it to the MAN, yo.

I lived with two roommates. I will call them Mary and Bob. Mary was my hot roommate who was my partner in crime. Bob was very into the multiple VHS stacks he had of every episode ever recorded of "M*A*S*H" in his room and dressing up with other Civil War aficionados on the weekends.

It was really hot that summer. We didn't have any A/C. We were so bohemian. Who needs air conditioners? We had a thirst for ADVENTURE!

That summer, because I was determined that every single experience I had would define me and introduce me to some new truth about humanity, I ended up in a lot of very sketchy situations. Like finding myself in a dark basement of some whacked-out guy's apartment who was a campus drug dealer obsessed with KISS and determined that I would not leave until he taught me the really-very-simple why-couldn't-I-just-follow-his-lead chords to "Wave of Mutilation." I remember thinking proudly to myself as I repacked his bong: Oh yeah, baby, THIS is living.

But the real crowning achievement of that summer was the weekend of the heat wave. It is a famous weekend in Chicago's history. It was a brutal, brutal, brutally hot span of five days, and I didn't know at the time, but more than 700 people were dying all around me.

So what did I do in this murderous heat? I decided to get more bombed than I ever had and drop acid.

Oh, but before doing the acid? There was an epically idiotic one-night stand with a stoner music producer -- which seemed to be the perfect pre-game move.

I met this producer when I was supposed to be covering a big indie rock music conference, but as soon as I got to the convention, I immediately locked eyes with this 40-something, who was totally decked in black, wore his sunglasses indoors and sported a tiny proud little ponytail. This dude immediately homed in on me as an Easy 19-Year-Old Girl Who Wants More Defining Life Experience.

Which I was.

And so, the producer and I drank a million beers, and then we called up my hot roommate Mary to come over and join us at this huge rock venue in Chicago called the Metro. Pretty soon music producer dude said that he had really great weed back at his hotel room, and so Mary and I clapped our hands and said, "Yes, of course you do, dirty old man, let's go to it!"

The main thing that I remember about being in this guy's super-sweet all-decked-out-in-white hotel room was that Mary and I took to the place with all the joie de vivre of "Girls Gone Wild." Like I remember us actually jumping up and down on his bed as if we were about to go wild at any minute.

And of course we got incredibly high by his incredibly monster weed.

Then -- because in blackout time there isn't necessarily a cohesive narrative format but instead moments that then cut into another moment -- what I remember is holding hands with Mary gleefully and just bouncing everywhere on his bed. (It kind of reminds me of one of the few times I went to Bungalow 8 in my life when I got truly star struck and saw Amy Sacco standing in a potted plant holding hands with Axl Rose kind of grinning like little kids jumping up and down and I thought, OK I get it, and that night I remember calling this guy that I had been dating who is a Hollywood manager so it made my message all the more douchey, and I said, "Hey. I just wanted to tell you that I keep seeing all these celebrities. And it makes me think of you." Perfect.)

So yeah, the next scene I remember after the jumping up and down on the bed part with Mary was me suddenly making out with this old music producer guy (looking back, he was in his early 40s -- and hey, I turn 40 in two years and three months!) and getting bewitched by how curly-gnatty his little ponytail was. It was very faded rock and roll but at the time I thought this was some big honorific and I was making out with like, Mick Jagger or something. I was very shallow then, and I've improved quite a lot. (Please stop laughing.)

The next scene I remember was me -– delicate coquettish flower that I am -– suddenly writhing on the bed and starting to moan. Awkward. One minute it's like "hahahahahaha, slumber party fun time!" and then you know: SEX! So at that point that’s when the dirty old man music producer guy actually threw a wad of twenties at Mary so she could grab a cab.

So that was pretty classy. And then we had sex -- and notice that the sex was not actually one of the definitive scenes. The next morning I woke up to realize I had not done any reporting whatsoever on this indie music conference I was supposed to be covering but instead had had sex with an aging music producer, and I was now waking up in his hotel room to confront the harsh, harsh light of morning day when everything appears way less like you are a female Lester Bangs and much more like you are a silly stupid slut.

But despite all these reservations, I sat there and thought, OK, OK, this experience has been defining, no doubt. I mean, it has to be right? Because this guy, you know, he wears his sunglasses indoors and how many people do you know who do THAT? It's people who are fighting against authority who do that, that's who.

And then he started to talk, he started to talk at me. It was this long never-ending soliloquy on music and the music industry because I'm sure that part of him thought (and part of him was right) that this was why I had slept with him. I had slept with him not for his aging cock but rather for the wisdom that he could then impart to me through his aging cock.

And so he told me all about music and how a few years ago for the first time he heard "Pet Sounds," and he realized he knew nothing about music up until that point. It was all moot before "Pet Sounds," and he felt like he had ears for the first time, and until that one magical moment, he had just been someone who was a fraud, that's how hard the album rocked him.

Then he talked for like an hour and a half more about that, he smoked more weed of course, and I sat there completely baked out of my gourd, still trying to figure out exactly what this experience was supposed to teach me outside of the fact that you know I was REALLY LIVING, man.

So at one point I realized, you know, I want to contribute something to the conversation, too. I want to show him how much stuff I know, too, and so I said, "Yeah, you know I kind of felt that way –- the whole having ears for the first time thing –- I felt that the first time I heard The Velvet Underground. Their first album."

It was like I had interrupted President Obama at a press conference by sharing what my opinion on the exit strategy should be from Afghanistan. He said sharply: "Yeah, the comparison doesn't really work."

Then he just moved on, still wearing only his underwear, pacing around the room, and he started talking about how the government was out to get him because they wanted him to pay his taxes and really his only joy in life was his child and then at some point he picked up his softball glove and started slamming a softball into it saying that he really wanted to try to catch a game, did I know where he could catch a softball game?

At that point I was kind of terrified to say anything after my Velvet Underground smackdown, so I shrugged, then he looked at me and said: "Let's get you higher."

So there I am waking and baking for the first time in my life and getting so extraordinarily high, like out of my mind high, and I'm staring at him thinking, Dude, dude, dude, this guy has a kid, and he's walking around naked in his underwear slamming a softball glove, and I don't know what this means except last night I was moaning so I must be having fun. Maybe? I don't remember? I must be learning something about life, right?

Then he looked straight into my eyes at me and he said: "Mandy, I know a lot of guys have hurt you, but I'm not like that. Let's meet later and see a foreign movie and have a picnic, OK?"

And I'm like, "OK, OK, OK," and I jet out of there, and I make my way back down to the music conference realizing that I haven't interviewed a single person or made a single note and realizing that I've never been so high in my entire life. Realizing that the only thing I need to do is hide, that if I can hide away everything will be perfect.

I was outside in the sweltering heat, starting to feel a bit woozy until I found the conference, which was being held in this Columbia College building in Chicago. Air conditioning. Thank God. So I took an elevator and I went to a hallway on the top floor, went right outside a professor’s office and curled up in a little snuggly ball and slept for the whole day.

Except then I woke up and, I remembered, "Oh man, this is the DAY! This is the day that I had promised to drop acid with Mary and Bob."

So I made my way out into the disgusting heat again, took the train back up to Evanston to meet Mary and Bob, who was, naturally -- along with his Civil War gear and "M*A*S*H" stash -- the one actually in possession of the acid.

Mary embraced me when I got home, said how glad she was to see me alive, said that the cash the music producer had thrown at her had been plenty for the cab ride thanks very much and so was I still up for dropping acid?

"Absolutely," I said, my entire body covered in a thin film of sweat and sex.

Bob greeted us solemnly with the tabs and said: "Well now's as good a time as any." We all put it on our tongues excitedly, and Mary and I said, "I don't feel anything, I don't feel anything, I don't feel anything, I don't feel anything, I don't feel anything."

Then suddenly that song by the Smoking Popes "I Need You Around" came on, and Mary said, "Wait is this that new Smoking Popes song?" And then a second passed and then just like a loop, like a glitch in time, Mary said again, "Wait is this that new Smoking Popes song?" and we realized that suddenly we were in double time, the acid had hit, and we were completely obliterated.

It was right at that moment when we also realized how hot it was. But not just hot hot -- like 105 degrees hot. Which seemed like a side effect from the acid but it was not.

"It's. So. Hot," I said, stripping off my clothes. "Why did we do acid again? Why was this a good idea?"

Mary and I just panted at each other like dogs. Bob smiled at us proudly. There really is nothing like your first time.

Just as the acid started kicking in at full steam I got a phone call from the college radio station, where they reminded me that I had to do a show that night, and I had to be there in 30 minutes.

"I can't do a show," I said to Mary and Bob. "I don't even know what my name is."

"You have to do the show," they begged. "Is there A/C in the studio?"

"Yes," I said. "Then we're coming, too," they said.

So I gathered up Bob who by this point was wearing the top half of one of his Civil War outfits and smoking a big cigar and Mary whose eyes looked empty and happy and spacey and confused. "Air conditioning," she sputtered. "Let's. Get. Air. Conditioning." And we stumbled down to the station.

As I entered WNUR, I went through the door inside and the first person that I saw was the most right-wing woman who I went to school with who lived in the same door with me the year before. I had never seen her outside of that situation before -- or since. She was the one who would drape gigantic "Abortion Kills" banners over the quote board in the common area, and she of course she was the first person to greet me.


"Mandy, what a pleasure to see you!" she said, staring into my scrambled brain. All I heard was: "Abortion kills, Mandy. SO DOES ACID."

I just remember trying to avoid her eyes, just thinking that if I avoided her eyes then everything would be OK, and she asked me if everything was OK, and I said, “Yes."

Long pause. "I think?”

That's what acid did to me. It made me qualify everything with an "I think" at the end of it. "Are you living in Evanston this summer?" "Yes," I replied to her. Long pause. "I think?"

And then as I stood there dumb-founded staring at the right-wing dorm mate, I saw walking up via the security camera, wearing his Civil War re-enactment uniform with his gigantic cigar and looking like a person who was about to bomb the radio station, my buddy Bob -- and then Mary kind of circled around him, shuffling nervously beside him on the security cam.

Abortion Kills Girl asked, "Are those your friends?" And I replied, eyes cast downward, "Yes."

Long pause. "I think?"

She took one look at them, one look at me, I saw a flash of pity in her eyes and she buzzed them inside. "Have a GREAT show, Mandy," she said.

Here's what I remember about the set of music that I played that night. It consisted of about 90 percent Steve Albini-era PJ Harvey, heavy on the songs where she's screaming and gnashing teeth like the one that concludes with her screaming, "Lick my legs, I'm on fire, lick my legs I'm desire," and then I remember all of us were kind of stunned into silence by the music.

It was just so...epic.

Which was awkward. Because I was a deejay. And there were long, long bouts of silence. ON THE AIR.

When I finally snapped out of it, I grabbed the mic, giggled and said in a throaty whisper: “Well you know what they say. More music, less talk. That’s what they say." Long pause. "I think?”

Then after PJ Harvey, I played the entire album of "Pet Sounds," because you know, RESPECT.

When we left, the heat was now so bad I almost fainted.

"It's just the acid," Bob said. "Isn't it great?"

I started crying.

Then we got Subway sandwiches. Bob got a foot-long because it was a better deal.

"Will you give me a massage?" I asked, and then in slow-motion as the sweat poured off both of us, Bob started rubbing my back, and the entire moment smelled like mayonnaise and sadness.

"I think I'm going to puke," I said. My hot roommate nodded. We proceeded on the walk home, got distracted for a few hours by some street lights changing, finally found our way back to our apartment -- and entered the steaming A/C-less oven that it had become.

"When do you stop feeling so insane on acid?" I asked. "I feel like I'm going to die." I started crying again. I filled up the bath tub with ice water, and then I fell in and out of sleep.

"Don't worry," Bob reassured me at one point. "No one dies from the heat."

I never did acid again.


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