I finally leave the apartment at 9 am. The world has a hard, bright, watery clarity, an amphetamine shimmer. This is the docklands, where you can sometimes hear the ghostly harmonics of a big shore breeze winnowing its way between the tall glass towers. But not today. It is winter, just before Christmas. Although it is a Saturday, the Googlers are still going to work with their lanyards round their necks. I am chewing gum for my clenching jaw. I hail a cab and we drive over the bridge, past the black water of the canal basin with its scurf of bobbing refuse. The sky is there and not there, the world is there and not there, I am there and not there. During the final hours of the party my left leg developed a Parkinsonian tremor, and it is still pumping up and down of its own accord as the taxi stalls in townward traffic, the radio broadcasting RTE voices like the rumour of a grown-up world. The driver wants to talk but it’s okay, everything is okay, because I am still very good at conversations, I have been very good at conversations for six or seven hours now.
3,4-Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine acts on the sympathetic nervous system by blocking the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters accumulate in the synaptic clefts and are released into the bloodstream, one immediately perceptible effect of which is that you become very good at conversations.
People love talking on drugs and people love talking about drugs. People want to tell you about their druglives, their sojourns in drugworld. They want to tell you their drug autobiographies. I once met a chemist at a wedding who told me that he had used pharmaceutical-grade ketamine to treat his depression. His girlfriend kept warning him not to talk about drugs with people he had just met. But he was a chemist, he said, what else could he talk about but drugs? He said his depression was gone, pfft, just like that, after three or four doses of ketamine. The first time I ever heard of ketamine was when a college friend came back from a year in London and told us all that ketamine was a really good rollover drug. I didn’t know what a rollover was back then. I asked the chemist at the wedding if he was still taking ketamine and he said he was, recreationally. The traffic moves and my mood shifts, and I begin to worry – I begin to worry that I am worried. I try to nudge things back towards my mood of five seconds ago, when I was unselfconsciously enjoying the warm afterglow in my stomach and the pastel depths of the winter dawn, but in doing so I trigger a chain of interrogative metacognition that leads me unavoidably to the fear that I have now permanently altered the neurochemical balance of my brain and will never be able to perceive reality accurately ever again. But then my mood shifts once more and I am calm, and there are traces of crimson in the brightening sky, and even the tremor in my leg feels comforting. But there are flaws in the perfection of the moment. Beneath the scouring minty flavour of the gum my mouth tastes like some kind of industrial polymer. As the party ended I kept reminding myself to drink more beer, because beer exerts a depressive effect on the sympathetic nervous system and is supposed, therefore, to soften comedowns, but every time I tried to drink I recoiled from the foul anti-taste. The beer tasted venomous, as if through some mysterious process everything that usually served to make beer palatable had been stripped away to reveal what beer actually, really tasted like – a fizzy grey broth of chemicals that made you want to retch. A man I had never met before was wandering around the darkened apartment holding a teapot filled with vodka in which floated four or five slowly dissolving pills of different shapes and colours: green dragons, blue ghosties, yellow lions.
Blue ghosties were popular for a while but the comedowns were nasty, sure by Tuesday morning you were calling the Samaritans, blue ghosties give you the fear big time, man. Yellow lions are way better, everyone agrees. The man with the teapot explained how he once smuggled forty yokes through airport security by rolling them up in a gripseal plastic baggie and taping the baggie to his shaved inner thigh. He asked me how old I was and then apologised for asking such a personal question. I asked him what he did for a living. He told me he worked in finance – investment banking – but that he really wanted to get into professional outdoor sports. Another man I had never met – he wore a large Victorian beard, like George Bernard Shaw’s – came over and said sure wasn’t Christmas great craic altogether, gas banter with the lads. We vociferously agreed, my teapot friend and I. We had obviously all hit it off in grand style but I felt the urge to go to a different section of the apartment to see what was going on there. At the edge of my awareness was the suspicion that at some point in the future I would not be at this party, I would not be feeling as good as I felt right now, I would not feel as warm or as purposeful or as good at conversations as I did right now. But in the kitchen I found a knot of friends, three of them, two boys and a girl, their bodies seeming to radiate soft light like presents under a Christmas tree in a television commercial, although this soft-light effect may have been because they were all covered in a shiny layer of yellowish sweat or because they stood beneath the apartment’s sole functioning fluorescent light.
3,4-Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine is known for its entactogenic properties, meaning it generates feelings of emotional openness, empathy, and oneness, and oneness is a pretty excellent word for how I felt about my three friends as I joined them in the kitchen. Hadn’t we known each other all our lives? Hadn’t we all dropped at the exact same moment four or five hours ago, and weren’t we all on the exact same buzz right now?
I glanced back at George Bernard Shaw and the Teapot Man and congratulated myself for having transitioned from a provincial backwater of the party to the bright cosmopolis of the kitchen, where the banter would be sparkling and everything would be alright. I leaned against the formica countertop, through which I could feel the buzz of the bass amplifiers that some DJ had set up in the living room, humming under my hand like a fly trapped under glass. But everything was not okay, there was drama, the girl who was my friend was upset because one of her friends was still seeing this guy who was bad for her, he was a real dickhead, he kept cheating on her and one time he even hit her, and what were we supposed to do? And because of the general wave of entactogenic bliss that was buoying me aloft, I was fully capable of generating a good deal of sympathy for both the girl who was my friend and the girl who was her friend, but on another more profound level I wanted to explain that I didn’t care at all about this situation, and that what I was actually worried about was the effect it would have on my buzz. (Like a fly under glass.) But then a moment later I had acclimated to this new mood of drama and concern and frustration, and I realised that in fact I had a good deal of useful advice to give to the girl who was my friend, and when I looked around a few seconds later, half an hour had gone by and we were alone in the kitchen, me and the girl who was my friend, and we had been talking intensely for the whole intervening period.
And even though she was still talking in very emotional terms about her friend whose boyfriend was a real dickhead, I had now entered into a new mood or phase of feeling in which I was seriously weighing up the pros and cons of kissing the girl who was my friend, even though her boyfriend was in the next room at that very minute and I was in no way sexually attracted to her. And now, in the taxi, as we enter the brown grid of the city, I am profusely glad that I did not kiss the girl who is my friend, and simultaneously amused at what a foolish, sentimental fellow I was, two or three hours ago, what foolish thoughts I entertained. The taxi has almost reached the street where I live and all at once I am pinched with dread at the thought that I will have to go into my empty apartment alone and lie down in my cold and empty bed, and at the knowledge that when I close my eyes there is no telling what I will see – once it was a man with rusty nails driven through his eyelids, and once it was a chorus line of strawberries with big smiling mouths full of shark’s teeth– but for the next thirty or forty seconds I do not have to face this, I am still in the cab, and my mood remains unbroken.
And I am still back there, at the session, in the middle of my Friday night, and dozens of people still in their dark duffel coats are piled on top of one another on all the couches, and a man I do not know is nodding and frowning over his laptop, producing trancy beats that are almost certainly the greatest music anyone has ever heard, and in every room blue smoke is hovering shoulder-high in altocumulus formations, and I have a full pack of smokes still in my pocket, and two guys with earrings and undercuts are trying to get the Playstation to work, waving the controller at a yellow screen, and someone asks me if I want to do another half and I say Ah go on sure I might as well, and twenty minutes later I come up so hard I have to find a bathroom and vomit in the sink, and my heart is beating so fast it feels like I’ve been defibrillated, and someone has pulled the curtains against the dawn, and nothing is even funny anymore, and I am having a good time I am having a good time I am having a good time.