• Editor’s note: What follows was intended to be a rambling kickoff to a Counter-Inaugural Podcast at Radio Free Dogpatch, but my sidekick Hal Walter developed a bad case of previous commitments, so I’m laying it on you old-school instead. Tomorrow it will be radio silence from yours truly here and on Twitter. But there will be an open-mic post suitable for commentary, so feel free to chime in with your thoughts on what this particular changing of the guard means for you, and for the rest of us. Finally, a tip of the carny’s boater to Ray Bradbury for the headline. It’s a pity — or is it? — that he didn’t live to see Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show come to life.
IT’S BEEN A STRUGGLE, TRYING TO FIND WORDS to describe how I feel about what’s going to be happening on Friday — and afterward — in Washington, D.C.
I’ve watched this changing of the guard since before I was eligible to vote, and it rarely goes well for progressives.
In 1969, when Richard Nixon was preparing to take an oath of office he had already violated by undermining the Paris peace talks, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam staged a three-day counter-inaugural that proved quite the bash, both literally and figuratively.
Yippies Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman brought a revolutionary-theater sideshow to the circus, proposing to inaugurate their own president, a 145-pound hog named Pigasus, with predictable results. The Left immediately set about eating itself alive — Splitters! — rocks, bottles, horseshit and punches were thrown, cops and protesters alike took a beating, 119 people got a tour of the hoosegow, and as is traditional in such matters, both sides claimed victory.
Nixon, of course, claimed the White House. Twice. You may recall how that turned out.
I found it all fascinating, from a safe distance, and when I became eligible to vote in time for the 1972 elections, I tried to register as a member of the Youth International Party, the proper name for the improper Yippies. Never happen, said the county clerk in Bibleburg, and I had to settle for signing up as an “independent.” But Hunter S. Thompson was actually in attendance at the ’69 inaugural, and he didn’t exactly come away with a smile on his lips and a song in his heart.
Recounting the experience for The Boston Globe in February 1969, Thompson wrote: “My first idea was to load up on LSD and cover the Inauguration that way, but the possibilities were ominous: a scene that bad could only be compounded to the realm of mega-horrors by something as powerful as acid.”
As Thompson watched the deal go down during what he called “a king-hell bummer” and “that wretched weekend,” he saw “a new meanness on both sides … and no more humor.”
“Suddenly I felt cold, and vaguely defeated,” he wrote. “More than eight years ago, in San Francisco, I had stayed up all night to watch the election returns … and when Nixon went down I felt like a winner.
“Now, on this Monday night in 1969, President Nixon was being honored with no less than six Inaugural Balls. I brooded on this for a while, then decided I would go over to the Hilton, later on, and punch somebody. Almost anybody would do … but hopefully I could find a police chief from Nashville or some other mean geek. In the meantime, there was nothing to do but go back to the hotel and watch the news on TV … maybe something funny, like film clips of the bastinado.”
• • •
Neither Hunter S. Thompson nor Dick Nixon are with us this time around, but another pair of Sixties relics you may have thought were likewise long gone — LSD and psilocybin — are making something of a comeback as potential treatments for whatever bad scene may be unfolding on the backside of your forehead (or in front of it).
In December, The New York Times reported on a couple of studies that showed “clinically significant reductions” in both anxiety and depression in cancer patients who took synthetic psilocybin.
The studies, which the Times called “the largest and most meticulous among a handful of trials to explore the possible therapeutic benefit of psilocybin,” found the beneficial effects persisted for months.
One patient, who had just completed treatment for stage-3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, described what he called “an epiphany.”
“I’m not anxious about cancer anymore,” he said. “I’m not anxious about dying.”
Another, whose treatment for acute myeloid leukemia left him with graft-versus-host disease, said the experience left him with “a greater sense of peace with what might come.”
“I’m very grateful, beyond words, for this trial,” he added.
And on January 14, The Atlantic ran a Q&A with Ayelet Waldman, whose new book “A Really Good Day” describes her microdosing with LSD to self-correct what she described as “a pretty significant depression.”
She had tried the traditional remedies served up by the medical-industrial complex — antidepressants, ADHD drugs, SSRIs, you name it — but a couple drops of diluted and highly illegal L-S-Dizzy is what did the trick for her.
Said Waldman: “I felt happier or at least not as profoundly depressed almost immediately the very first day I took it.”
Funniest thing, hey? About 10 years after the good Doctor Thompson was mulling over that Nixon inaugural, a friend and I offered an acid-soaked homage to his fear-and-loathing tour of Las Vegas. But we didn’t have his stamina, and when a jai-alai match at the old MGM Grand started to look like a “Star Wars” shootout we got the fuck out of there at a very high speed indeed, driving all the way back to Alamosa — the Brain Damage Express, via Kaibab and Page, the Four Corners and the terrifying Wolf Creek Pass, with the usual horrible weather and without the enhancements that were still a few years down the road.
But we sure as shit weren’t depressed. We were simply seeing a whole lot of things we’d rather not have and thought a case of beer, a long night’s drive and a plate of his mom’s enchiladas might mellow us out.
Forty years later I can make my own enchiladas but I’m not so sure about the acid. I still have my copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook,” but I was never much at chemistry.
• • •
All trips, both good and bad, come to an end, sooner or later. And in May, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will break down the big top in May for the final time after 146 years.
According to The New York Times, Feld Entertainment, the producer of the circus, cited rising operating costs and falling ticket sales, a condition that worsened after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey dropped elephants from its show last year.
CEO Kenneth Feld told The Associated Press that moving the show by rail, providing a traveling school for performers’ children and other expenses from a bygone era made carrying on a losing proposition.
“It’s a different model … we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price,” he said.
And let’s not forget that old devil competition. There’s another, bigger circus coming to town, with a permanent base of operations in Washington, D.C., the financial support of the State, and free worldwide access via social media. Plus elephants, too!
The Greatest Show On Earth is now an angry orange clown with a Twitter account. Hur-ry, hur-ry, hur-ry. …