And then there was King Acid. He was like Johnny in The Wild One. What was he rebelling against? “Whadda ya got?” King Acid a whirligig of energy, of sadness, of liberation.
I met him in June 1998 at a little apartment party. I was only seventeen, but out of high school and sharing an apartment with a cocaine addict. We were all drinking and there was King Acid, himself just seventeen the previous May, though he was also out of high school, having graduated a year early. He was living at the apartment where the party was taking place. All his worldly possessions were strewn about the couch: a pile of clothes, a portable CD player, and a few books.
He was beautiful. I fell in love with him on the spot. He had a a very strong jaw and lips that were constantly pursed as if in thought. His mushroom-shaped hair was dyed black except for a little spot in the front, a tuft of his natural brown hair that he had missed in the dying process. The imperfection fascinated me.
He came by my place a day or two later, looking for my cokehead roommate, probably of course to score some drugs and I invited him into the apartment even though my roommate wasn’t home. Our place was a mess and there were beer cans stacked to the ceiling and holes that had been punched in the walls but King Acid’s attention immediately gravitated toward the cheap paperback edition of John Donne’s poetry sitting on the kitchen table.
“Whose book is this?” he said.
I admitted that it was mine.
He was a little taken aback. “I’ve never known anyone else who liked the metaphysical poets.” And so I took him to my bedroom and he inspected my bookshelf. He was quite impressed. There weren’t many in our drug scene who read at all, let alone books that were a little challenging. Yes, well, we were going to be wonderful friends.
Things wouldn’t last with my cocaine addict roommate. Within a few months, King Acid and I were sharing a studio apartment. I slept on the pullout bed in the living room and he made a nest of blankets in the walk-in closet.
We were barely employed, part time jobs and all that, barely pulling together the rent, but what really changes eh? And there we went, zigzagging everywhere, everything strange, everything a hallucination. Lysergic doses a couple times a week. The reality synapses snapped. Life lived completely in fantasy. “We’re growing tall,” I said. “Like Alice.”
On the phone with one of his many girlfriends, King Acid said, “I’ve been doing a lot of partying lately.” The little studio apartment we shared always and completely full of hangers on looking for free drugs and booze. King Acid had a drug connection and he was always happy to share with people, a very select few, he considered his real friends. Everyone else paid. And we all tripped. Yes, Captain, and did we.
King Acid’s conversations were effortless and he seemed to know every lowlife in Hoover, that weird Birmingham, Alabama suburb where we lived. Very strange stuff. But here we were. Rent was cheap. We hardly ate or drank anything proper. We saved all our money for booze and drugs then crammed as many people as we could into our tiny apartment. We drank tequila if we could manage it, cheap beer if that’s all we could afford. Bad to worse was the order of the day.
And then it suddenly all stopped. Word got around that King Acid didn’t want to be disturbed. And so he wasn’t. But I lived there. I was allowed inside.
He sat on the pullout bed, watching a VHS copy of The Wall on our little TV. The movie, based on the Pink Floyd album of the same name, was about a man totally numb and disconnected. Pink, the main character, a rock star, cult of personality, all that, shaves his eyebrows and turns himself into a fascist tyrant and his fans become his mindless soldiers. King Acid watched the movie with cold eyes and lips pursed in anger, his body emptied.
“I’m starting to merge with the movie,” he said during a rare lucid moment.
Almost a week went by. All he did was watch that movie.
But the calls persisted, the knocks on the door persisted, and very soon the parties started again.
King Acid worked in a movie theater in Hoover, the Birmingham suburb where we lived, but we had to go a couple of towns over, to Homewood, when The Matrix came out. His theater wasn’t showing the movie, but it wouldn’t have mattered because the place in Homewood had stadium seating, quite a novel concept at the time. King Acid figured that if we were going to experience this mindfuck of a movie, we should do it the right way.
Our young friends Gary and Colleen, still in high school, were coming along. Gary was a nice kid. Sixteen, chubby, weird greasy bowl cut. He could drink like a fucking fish, too. Good guy. He also had a car, a giant gas guzzler of an SUV, so it was also of practical use to have him around. King Acid didn’t have his license. Neither did I. Too poor for a car and who needs the hassle?
It was the middle of the week. A Wednesday, maybe? King Acid and I were off work and Gary and Colleen were skipping school, like they did a lot in those days, to hang out with us for a while before we went to the movies. They came over mid-morning and King Acid had already eaten his lysergic breakfast. They walked into the apartment and King Acid shouted, “Follow the white rabbit!”
“He’s been saying that all morning,” I said as they walked in and took a seat on the couch and lit up a joint.
King Acid hated pot paranoia and the stuff was prone to giving me panic attacks. But why not be gracious hosts?
Soon afterward, King Acid was in the closet, clutching a hunting knife and talking to people only he could see.
“Shit,” Gary said. “He’s really fucked up.”
And indeed he was.
To make things worse, Benny, our main acid dealer, stopped by.
A skinny little shit with perpetual nervous ticks, Benny was, like everyone else, in awe of King Acid.
“Benny!” King Acid shouted from the closet. “Get the fuck over here, Benny!”
“Don’t sell him anymore acid,” I said.
But it’s hard to argue with someone who has a giant knife and is threatening to stab you with it. Benny sold him a few hits.
And yes, a stupid decision, but come nightfall we were in the mostly-empty movie theater parking lot. And as we got out of the vehicle and stretched, one of the cars started to go mad. Lights flashed, horns honked. The car alarm had gone off seemingly on its own. King Acid crouched into a three-point stance, shouted “I am the Maxx!” and ran across the parking lot, toward the car.
I eyed Gary and he returned my glance for a second, both of us realizing that this maniac was going to attack some poor shit’s car. Then we took off after him.
I was out of shape and chubby Gary wasn’t in great shape, either. But we managed to get to him just before he got to the car. We grabbed him in a bearhug. It was all very surreal. I didn’t think we were going to wrangle him.
“I am the Maxx!” he shouted. “I am the Maxx!” Made sense he thought he was the Maxx. He had recently gotten into the TV show. The whole thing was very hallucinatory, certainly. The protagonist, a superhero, sort of, wore a purple suit and he might or might not have been completely crazy. He was a homeless man who lived in a cardboard box. He might have been hallucinating his life as a hero in the mythical Outback, or he might have actually had the power to travel through space and time.
“I am the Maxx!” King Acid shouted, still trying to wriggle out of our grip.
Colleen just now caught up with us. “Jesus,” she said. “What the fuck?”
“This is stupid,” I said. “We should just go back to the apartment.”
“Fuck you!” King Acid said. “We’re not going back! I am the Maxx!”
Gary let him go. I also released my grip. “You gonna be calm?” Gary said.
“I am calm!” King Acid said.
“Fine,” Gary said. “Goddamn it, we’ll see the movie. But you gotta calm down, okay?”
“I’m calm. I’m fucking calm.”
He barked at us. Wildly. Like a dog.
“Hey man,” I said, “let’s smoke a cigarette.”
King Acid nodded wildly. Then he barked some more. Jesus.
“We’re gonna get our tickets,” Gary said. “We’ll meet you inside.”
I concentrated on my cigarette. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Calm.
Once in the building, we walked past the concession stand and a pair of good looking teenage girls passed us. They smiled at King Acid, his face a pretty sight to just about anyone. And he fucking barked at them. The girls quickened their pace on their way out of the theater.
I told King Acid about the barking a few days later and he said, “That’s funny. I remember saying, ‘Hey, pretty ladies!’” And so it went.
Gary and Colleen had the best seats in the house: the last row. The place was completely empty, an advantage when you’re seeing a movie in the middle of the week while babysitting a frenetic lunatic.
Yes, yes, so there were some previews and King Acid squirmed in his seat, impatient for the movie to start. I was impatient, too, hoping the whole thing would be over soon and we could get the hell out of a public place and back to the apartment.
Finally, after so many goddamn previews, the movie started. Suddenly the screen filled with vertical lines, computer code, all bright green and actually quite mesmerizing. King Acid stood up, stiff at attention, holding his arms out to either side. He was absorbing the Matrix’s source code, taking it into his body, letting it flow through him. Then he started to walk forward, as if he was actually going to walk through the screen and into the movie.
“Oh shit!” Gary said.
We both stood up, grabbed him just as he was about to trip over the seat in front of him and, most likely, topple onto his face. We struggled to wrestle him back into his seat.
“Goddamn it,” I said. “Sit. Just sit.” He reluctantly sat down.
The movie rolled on and a few minutes later a woman told Keanu Reeve’s character that he needed to “follow the white rabbit.” King Acid pointed wildly at the screen. “The white rabbit!” he said. “See!” He was convinced the movie was speaking directly to him.
This feeling of personal connection with The Matrix had weird repercussions a few days later.
In the movie, characters are transported from the illusory world of the Matrix and back into the real world when they pick up a ringing telephone and hold it to their ear. Well, here we were leaving a Burger King, our bellies full from cheap food, walking through the parking lot in the hot Alabama sun, and a payphone started to ring, apparently for no reason.
King Acid’s eyes went wide. “It’s the Matrix!” he said. He sprinted across the parking lot to answer the phone. I hurried after him. I was convinced he’d finally cracked.
When he picked up the phone and held the receiver to his ear, a look of severe disappointment spread across his face.
“No one there,” he said, sullen, and hung the phone up.
I don’t think King Acid dug Rob Zombie’s music. But he went the concert with a group of us because it was something to do, and he didn’t want to be left out.
He had a bag full of green geltabs and offered them around like a good host. But nobody accepted the offer because why would we want to be tripping around so many goddamn people pushing each other around in a mosh pit? The stuff of nightmares right there.
From Hoover, we traveled up I-65. Birmingham’s Southside.
Packed standing-room stadium and underage kids wandered zonked out of their minds. Most of our group joined the mosh pit, that silly excuse for dancing where white kids pushed each other around violently to the beat of the heavy metal music. I stood back. I hated to be pushed. I hated to be touched. So I found the best view I could while remaining outside the mosh pit. Things got rowdy before the music even started. Girls on the shoulders of their guys, exposing their tits and jiggling them in the direction of the stage, even though there wasn’t even a band up there and maybe they were just flashing the ghosts of their future selves. King Acid made his rounds. He seemed to know every drunk teenager in the BJCC Arena that night. What a world. What vision.
Intermission came and King Acid ambled up to me. He had a bunch of glossy photos in his hand and a laminated ID hanging from a strap around his neck. He smiled crooked and showed me the pictures. Rob Zombie, his guitar player, everyone in the band had each signed a photo of themselves for him.
“Where’d you get these?” I asked, suddenly filled with jealousy.
“This chick!” he said. “She was so happy to see that I was actually alive that she gave me her backstage passes. Man, Rob Zombie was fucking drunk as shit. I could smell the whiskey on his breath. His wife was gorgeous, though.”
“Holy shit,” I said.
Oh, right. Some background might be in order here. A few weeks, maybe a month before the concert, King Acid had convinced almost everyone that he had died. Jeb, a redneck dumbass transient who had been sleeping on the floor in the studio apartment left a message on the answering machine saying that King Acid had died in a car accident and that funeral information would be available soon. Nobody believed Jeb until they called back and he started screaming at them and crying on demand. Jeb was a sociopath.
I was hanging out at my mom’s house about twenty minutes away in Trussville when I called and got the message. I left several angry messages on the machine telling Jeb to cut the shit and have King Acid call me. It wasn’t that I thought King Acid was incapable of dying, it’s that I knew Jeb was a shit and he would do anything King Acid asked. And besides, I was his roommate and had a key to the place. I’d find out eventually. So Jeb let me in on the joke the second time I called.
Only it wasn’t really a joke. Because there were a lot of teenage women in King Acid’s life that were infatuated with him and really cared for him, despite his best efforts to drive them away by fucking them and ignoring them later.
The day after Jeb made the death announcement, I came home from work and was about to walk into the apartment when King Acid stopped me. He pointed at one of the windows. There were five women in our apartment, crying like hell because they really believed he was dead. And there was Jeb, trying to console them and maybe trying to work a piece in for himself. Something was terribly broken here.
And so here we were at the Rob Zombie concert, weeks after King Acid announced he was actually alive and the whole thing had been a gag. Some stoned chick who thought he was dead was so happy to see him that she gave him her backstage pass. And he didn’t even like the band.
My expression must have been easy to read.
“Hey man,” he said, “I’ll give you one of the pictures, okay?” And he did. A few days later he gave me the drummer’s picture. Not very exciting.
I just nodded.
The mood was tense when we left. Our group of maybe ten packed into two cars. There were five of us in Gary’s car. King Acid sat in the passenger seat. I sat in the back next to Phil and his girlfriend Joy. Phil didn’t even drink or do drugs.
I-65 South, now, we left Birmingham, headed toward Hoover, and King Acid looked around the car nervously, eyes wide.
“Does anyone have a goddamn cigarette?” he said.
Gary and I were the only smokers and we didn’t have any on us.
“If nobody has a cigarette,” King Acid said, “then we’re all gonna die.”
It took a second to realize that he was actually trying to kill us, but by that time the car was already heading toward the concrete divider. King Acid had grabbed Gary’s steering wheel, pushed it hard to the left and locked his elbow. Luckily, we were in the far right lane.
Everyone else screamed, but I just kind of watched passively as the divider got closer and closer. Okay, so this is how I die.
We must have been mere inches from that goddamn divider when Gary wrestled the steering wheel from King Acid’s hand and stabilized the car.
“Jesus!” Joy screamed.
Poor Phil looked like he was having a heart attack. He was pale with fear. “Not cool man,” he whispered.
I didn’t say anything. I just watched as King Acid turned around and smiled at the three of us in the back seat, all goofy and childlike.
When Gary pulled into the apartment parking lot, King Acid got out of the SUV and looked up at the night sky in awe. “Goddamn. Look at that shooting star.”
“It’s a plane,” Gary said, annoyed.
Inside, another all night party.
Getting high now. Getting very high.
King Acid spent most of the night locked in the bathroom, having private horrors.
Around the time the sun started to rise, King Acid left the bathroom. He emerged wearing sandals and boxer shorts. He had a towel wrapped around his head as if it was a turban. He went into the kitchen, grabbed a bunch of cleaning supplies from underneath the sink and tossed them into the oven. He turned the oven on high and then grabbed a flyswatter from the counter. He swung the swatter through the air wildly, trying to kill bugs that weren’t there. Then he walked out of the apartment and into the hot Alabama sunlight.
“Jesus Christ!” I said. “He’s gonna blow the place up!” Gary shook his head and calmly walked over to the oven. He turned it off and started to gather the aerosol cans from the oven. “You can’t actually blow anything up like that. That’s not how it works.”
I went into the bathroom. King Acid had written “Redrum” in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror. I stared at the words as I pissed. Then I noticed the bathtub. Some sort of mix of chemicals had turned the water purple. I’d never seen anything like it.
As I walked out of the bathroom, the lights went out. Gary rushed to a window and looked out. “The other buildings don’t have power, either.” King Acid was going from building to building, turning the fuse boxes off.
What kind of horrors swept over him? We didn’t see him for the rest of the day.
From there, things got pretty weird. One night we ended up a few apartments down and some neighbors had a photocopied book with pictures of Yoda and other Star Wars characters and somehow this was their religion, I guess. The guy swore up and down that George Lucas got all his material directly from God or the gods. Something. It was somewhat Lovecraftian. Whatever, so we smoked weed out of a World War II-era gas mask that had been rigged into a bong and I had a panic attack when the acid and the pot combined and I had post-apocalyptic terror nightmare visions of gas mask-wearing war creatures, red eyed and hungry. I went outside and crouched in a stairwell. I tried hard to breathe.
And of course there was the morning when King Acid was walking out the door, his work vest on and ready to start the day, when Jessica, the girl who was taking him to work that day, looked him up and down and said, “Uh, aren’t you forgetting something?” And yes, indeed, he had forgotten his pants. Jessica actually had to point to his slacks lying on the floor next to the girl he had slept with the night before, and even then King Acid didn’t understand what she was trying to say. So she picked them up and held them to his face. “Your pants,” she said. And so King Acid put his pants on and left with her, using a fly swatter to swat at invisible bugs. Later, at the movie theater, he was in a staff meeting and he freaked out, ran out of the room, went into one of the screening rooms and hid behind the curtains.
Then there was the incident with Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a mouse that King Acid had found wandering around the movie theater. It must have belonged to a kid, because the little thing waddled right up to King Acid and let him pick him up. Nietzsche spent the rest of King Acid’s shift in his shirt pocket, and then he came back to the apartment.
King Acid had a real soft spot for that goddamn mouse. Hell, I loved the mouse, too. It would crawl up and down my arm and sniff my ear. It would sleep on my chest.
One afternoon, though, King Acid killed Nietzsche. He didn’t mean to, of course. He was having fun, tossing CD cases at him and the mouse was playfully dodging them. But then King Acid tossed one a little too hard and Nietzsche couldn’t move out of the way in time. The CD case caught the little guy in the legs and flipped him over. Nietzsche hobbled over to the makeshift shoebox home that King Acid had set up for him. The mouse died overnight.
He put Nietzsche’s body into a ziplock bag and put the bag in the freezer. He was going to keep the body cold until technology improved to the point where the mouse could be brought back to life. But it didn’t take very long before King Acid came to realize that we wouldn’t need the entire body to resuscitate the poor beast, so he decapitated the thing and left its head in the freezer. Imagine so many people who jumped back, squealed, when they saw a mouse head in the freezer.
And soon Nietzsche had a roommate. It was a cigarette in a ziplock bag. King Acid’s “soul cigarette.”
Wandering down Highway 31 in the middle of the day, he was out of smokes and had a hell of a craving for nicotine, so he looked toward the heavens and screamed, “I’d sell my soul for a goddamn cigarette!” Yes, but then he passed a gas station right at that moment and on the ground was a pack of cigarettes, and his brand no less. Unopened. So of course he opened the pack and smoked a cigarette. And then another, and another, until there was only one left. He figured as long as he didn’t smoke that last one, he would be fine. The cigarette stayed in the freezer for maybe a week or so, but eventually King Acid ran out again and he smoked it.
I had a drum machine that my dad gave me and I never really used because I wasn’t as excited about making music as I thought I was. King Acid, who would later DJ semi-professionally, really got into making music on the thing, though.
“You’ve got to listen to this,” he said. “I’ve made a nightmare.”
Headphones on and King Acid played his composition for me.
If there was any way to capture the absolute essence of terror and melancholy, this was it. It wasn’t even a proper song. There wasn’t a beat to carry the thing. It was all ambient droning basslines and terrible screams even though the machine could only make drum and bass sounds, though it came with the ability to slow them down, distort them. There was wind howling and goddamn heartwrenching moaning and cymbals distorted and slowed down so that they sounded like the crashing of a psyche.
I took the headphones off. I couldn’t listen for very long. I was terrified.
Several factors, not the least of which was the constant complaints from our elderly downstairs neighbor about crashing and stomping around at three in the morning, conspired to have us kicked out of the apartment.
Well, actually it came as a bit of a surprise to King Acid when he came back from a road trip to find out we could no longer stay at the place. The eviction notice came when he was in Panama City, Florida with a guy we called Waldo because he looked like the main character from Where’s Waldo. They sold fake acid to a hotel room full of guys who left their guns sitting on the hotel bed and drank grain alcohol. They insisted that King Acid and Waldo stay and party with them until the acid kicked in and the two of them were convinced they were going to be killed when these guys found out they had been sold fake shit, but King Acid tried to chug some grain alcohol and puked on the floor, so the two of them were kicked out of the room anyway. And they headed back to Hoover, where King Acid found out he didn’t have a home anymore.
Not that it mattered much. Housing was cheap back then and King Acid and I put on our nicest shirts and did our college boy routine and were able to con our way into another apartment before we had to move out of the old one.
The place was bigger. It was a two bedroom. King Acid took the smaller room because it felt constricting and the white walls made him feel like he was locked in an asylum.
All the freaks, burnouts, thieves and lowlifes who hung out with us in the studio apartment followed us to the new place. And, since we had a bigger place, they brought more friends. Things got very dark very quick.
The bad omens started the first night. A loud party and Jeb got his ass kicked and he spilled blood from his nose onto the carpet. He left and we never saw him again.
Now that we had a wide living room, there were sleeping bodies everywhere, and all the time. People smoked weed in my bedroom closet. I needed sanctuary, but it wasn’t coming.
King Acid drank to blackout. He tripped nearly every night.
Mimicking a scene from The Wall and Bob Geldof’s Pink transforming himself from rock star to fascist, King Acid shaved his eyebrows and as he left the apartment with another woman I’d never seen before. He turned to me and registered the shock on my face and said, “You know why I did this.”
And then he started talking about joining the Marines. All this while he watched Full Metal Jacket every day. He watched as Vincent D’Onofrio’s tortured character, a fat and out of shape recruit, made fun of and abused, put a shotgun to his mouth and pulled the trigger, his brains spraying on the walls behind him. This, King Acid decided, was what he really needed in his life.
But he never went to a recruiting center. He was eating tacos one night and just said, “I can’t do it. Do you realize how long it’ll be before I can enjoy tacos again?” And that was the end of the matter.
Finally, mercifully, our days in that apartment came to an end. It was early May 1999 and somehow the party had gotten completely out of control and someone invited some jocks that had just come from an Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Birmingham and were rowdy and looking to get into some trouble. One of these assholes started spraying a fire extinguisher in the apartment and throughout the building. The twenty or so people in the apartment cleared out fast, running to their cars, the fucking barbarians.
King Acid had left the party some time before the fire extinguisher incident, feeling suffocated by the craziness.
I was alone, having to explain the situation to an angry cop, trying to focus on his face, trying to concentrate even though the acid was really fucking with my head. Concentrate. One word at a time.
And then King Acid returned, walking through the hallway that led to our apartment, shaking his head in disbelief at the white foam that was all over the floor and walls. He walked into the apartment. “Jesus,” he said. “I thought I was dead. All I could see was white all around me. I thought I had slipped over to the other side.”
The next morning a cop knocked on the door and told us we’d better clean our mess up. We put some surgical masks on and swept the hallway. We were both hung over and felt like shit.
Even though we stayed at the apartment for another few months, the distance between King Acid and I grew. I kept spending more time in Trussville, where my mom and stepdad lived. I started a band and we practiced in Trussville. I needed really needed some distance. Eventually I just moved in with my mom and stepdad.
I would see him off and on for the next seven years, before I permanently left Alabama in 2006. He was always living with a woman, off and on with Anna, sometimes with others. He was always drunk. Sometimes he was on acid. He got a little better and then he got a lot worse. By the time I left Alabama, I was convinced he was going to drink himself to death.
But he didn’t. It took a decade but he sobered up. He was living in Tuscaloosa and he had a next door neighbor who practiced yoga. His neighbor’s enthusiasm attracted him. King Acid threw himself into yoga with the same obsessiveness he threw himself into drugs and booze. And he got straight.
Now he’s a yoga instructor who lives with his Japanese girlfriend Kumiko. He’s sober, he’s happy. He’s no longer King Acid. Just call him Adam.
Always, though, we ache for vision.