Head Tripped

A funny thing happend on the way to the hallucination machine.

It's hard to find the time to hallucinate these days. Used to be, my only real priority was ingesting some sort of mind-altering substance and hallucinating -- if only to discourse at length with Huckleberry Finn.

"Huck, listen, dog, there's no way I'm painting this fence," I would say to him through metallic-blue spray-paint lips. "You're not going to fool me again."

And then Huck's all, "Adam, will you please do me the favor of shutting your fucking mouth? I don't want you to paint my fence ever again, because you do such a terrible job, you paint-huffing faggot."

"'Terrible job,' 'Faggot,' eh? Well, give me that brush right now and I'll show you how to paint a fence, you homophobic piece of white trash."

Every time, man. He used to get me like that every time.

But nowadays, what with how they run me ragged at this paper, I'm lucky if I manage to show up drunk for work once or twice a week -- let alone discourse with Huck at length about the pathos of the post-modern American male. Seems the only way I get to really hallucinate anymore -- I'm talking shaking, speaking in tongues, shrieking in paranoia hallucinate -- is through sleep deprivation. Or heroin.

Which is why I found the Colorado Department of Public Safety's invitation to strap into the Virtual Hallucination Machineso intriguing. I'm sorry -- did I say intriguing? I meant terrifying! A virtual hallucination machine? That sounds like the creepiest horror flick of all time:

It was to be the greatest breakthrough in psychiatric science. A group of young, hot, used-to-be-in-Disney-programming psych students had developed a machine capable of leveling the playing field with the very patients they were trying to help. But what they didn't realize is that once you go inside the Virtual Hallucination Machine, there's no getting out!The Hallucinator, in theaters this summer. Starring Jessica Biel.

But last Thursday, when I arrived at the Wheat Ridge Municipal Building -- hey, ever notice how the only businesses in Wheat Ridge are dentists' offices and mortuaries, like the only things to do out there are have your teeth cleaned and die? -- the sight was not nearly as terrifying as I'd imagined. Gathered in city-council chambers were a handful of local health professionals, along with a representative of Janssen Pharmaceutica, the company responsible for the Virtual Hallucination Machine. Some hype in Janssen's handouts: "The interactive tool is comprised of goggles, earphones and a computer program that simulates hallucinations unique to each participant. The experience lasts approximately five minutes and is considered a valuable tool to create empathy for consumers who face the reality of hallucinations."

But the only consumers are government agencies like the state public-safety department, which has police officers endure hallucinations so they'll know that the strange man pacing and screaming on the 16th Street Mall is not doing so as an assault on your character, Mr. Officer, but because he is a schizophrenic. Which means the Virtual Hallucination Machine is a noble device that increases tolerance, understanding and empathy. But nobility be damned, I just wanted to trip balls. And why do cops need clinics on what it feels like to hallucinate, anyway? They hallucinate and see minorities holding guns all the time.

Finally the waiting line for the machine dwindled and it was my turn. I strapped on the goggles, put on the earphones -- and like that, I was whisked away to the magical world of the schizophrenic. Which is pretty scary. The exercise has you suffer from typical schizophrenic symptoms as you walk through a virtual-reality grocery store to the pharmacy and try to refill your prescription. I immediately started hearing voices -- "They know why you're here." "Loser!" "Can't you even keep your medication straight?" -- as well as hushed screams and creepy children's laughter as people in the supermarket stared at me and appeared to dart out of the way.

As I made my way to the pharmacy, the program froze up. But I didn't know that. All I knew was that suddenly there was no sound and some white guy in an ugly, Cosby-like sweater kept darting in and out of my vision. I sat there for about four minutes while the program malfunctioned, watching as the fucking Cosby sweater guy disappeared and reappeared every couple of seconds, threatening to harass me or strike me but never doing a thing.

"Shit or get off the pot, Cosby-sweater!" I wanted to yell.

After ten minutes (rather than the advertised five), the Janssen representative rescued me from my supermarket torpor.

"Were you just standing in that aisle the entire time?" she asked.

"No, at first I was walking all over the place and people were freaking me out and stuff, but then I just got stuck there with Cosby-sweater forever."

"That's weird," she said. "That's never happened."

Pardon me for being paranoid, but here I was getting my free hallucination -- and for whatever reason, the machine momentarily malfunctioned and sent me into the most boring, pointless supermarket standoff I have ever been a part of. Like a King Soopers strike, only crazier. I was denied the very trip I had sought.

So, I thanked everyone for the opportunity, left the building and started driving toward Boulder. While inside the Virtual Hallucination Machine, I'd received a text message from Huckleberry Finn. He was hanging out on the Pearl Street Mall.

 
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