Peyote and MeAugust 18th, 2011 by nick
Me and Victor would order the green peyote buttons, several dozen at a time, from Lawson’s Texas Cactus Gardens. They came with planting instructions, but we never planted any of them. This was 1965 in Iowa City, Iowa. The buttons cost a quarter apiece. When a shipment came in, we would put out the word to our friends who would come over to “the mission” for a peyote party. The mission was what we called the crash pad where I and a bunch of other people were living on communal pots of Kraft macaroni and cheese dinners.
We knew nothing about peyote. Victor had read something somewhere about it and found out you could order it through the mail. So we did. Somewhere we learned that you should first clean out the white fuzz that supposedly contained small amounts of strychnine.
Everyone would sit around with sour expressions on their face, munching on fresh, green peyote buttons. The only record we had at the mission to play on our cheap portable record player, was Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. I must have heard that record at least a hundred times, in all states of consciousness.
These peyote parties became a fixture in Iowa City for a couple of years. It was never a large crowd. Everybody knew everybody very well, as well as it is possible for people as young as we were, still blank slates, to know each other.
I married Susan that year and soon after we had a son, Jason. I was working at Component Homes on a pre-fab housing assembly line. It was brutal work for a 6’2″” 145 lb weakling. Ten hour days, and a half hour for lunch. I would go to a nearby bar and order a boilermaker, a bottle of beer and a shot of bourbon, and that would be lunch. After work I would buy a quart of beer to drink when I got home. I loved Jason. I would hold him in my arms and carry him around our apartment, pointing out its features and explaining the world to him.
After a little while, we moved to Ames so that I could finish my degree at Iowa State. I needed to make up two flunked PE courses, a beginning accounting course, and a sophomore literature course. I worked at the Student Union, washing dishes and setting up chairs, and Susan’s folks helped us out. After I graduated, I got a job as a programmer trainee at the Iowa State Highway Commission, which was not far from the house we were renting. And I got it because of peyote.
One of the regulars at the Iowa City parties was a guy who had a girl friend in Ames who used to come over to Iowa City for the parties. She was beautiful and smart and sweet. Everyone loved her. And she worked as a computer programmer at the Iowa State Highway Commission. She hipped me to, and recommended me for, the job. I took a programmer’s aptitude test and scored 100% in half the allotted time, and my career in software development was launched.
Peyote got me another job, many years later. Sometime in 1995, when we were living in San Francisco, in a little row house in the Sunset district, I got involved in the Native American Church, attending all-night peyote ceremonies in a tipi. I invited my old friend, John, from The Farm communal days to one of these meetings. At that time he was the manager of the San Francisco Chronicle’s newborn, experimental website, The Gate.
Before the meeting we talked about it. The Gate was John’s only topic of conversation in those days. He was having trouble finding a tech guy who was competent and communicative and trustworthy. I gave him a detailed run-down on just exactly what kind of person he needed. Coincidentally it was a perfect description of myself. In the morning when we emerged from the tipi, all peyotied up, having undergone an intense bonding experience, he offered me the job of Technical Director. I was there for five years and built the first major newspaper website’s technical underpinnings, almost single-handedly, from the ground up. It was a major milestone in my checkered career.