I think the date was somewhere around the early 70s, so LSD must have just been illegal for a few years at that point.
My dad was a priest, an Episcopalian priest, or Anglican, in Philadelphia at the time, working at Penn University, and he had a woman he was very close friends with who was his secretary at the office there who was getting married and had asked my father to do the marriage ceremony. Very normal affair for a priest to be doing.
My dad took this stuff seriously and really always enjoyed meeting the couples he was going to marry several times before doing the actual ceremony, getting to know them a bit, having conversations about what they wanted the ceremony to be like, and maybe even seeing if they wanted to write their own vows or things like that. Really making the ceremony something specific to them instead of a cookie cutter, boilerplate religious thing to read through. This was going well.
He met the groom to be, who was a big guy from South Philadelphia, one of the rough and tumble parts of town , a lot of Italians and organized crime.
This guy’s name was Vinny or Tony – that’s something I don’t remember in the story, but it’s somewhat irrelevant. It’s one of those names that screams “mob”. My dad really trusts and knows this woman very well so as he’s going through this process he’s got his heart in it and so do these two people.
The wedding comes, and everything goes great. My dad said it was a crazy experience. There were tons of people in suits with gold chains and their shirts unbuttoned two buttons. It was a big South Philadelphia wedding, totally outside of my dad’s normal life and scene, but such is the life of a person doing marriages for whoever comes to you.
And somewhere in the middle of this whole process, it turns out that this guy is not in fact part of the mob, although he does seem to associate with it, but he is in fact an undercover narc for the Philadelphia police force.
Weeks later after nothing to report, my dad gets a phone call from this guy, and he says “Ralph. Thank you so much, the ceremony meant a lot to us. It went wonderfully. I want to take you out to lunch to catch up.” So they go out to lunch some time, they have a nice conversation, they get back in in each other’s loops, and he says “Ralph. This meant so much to me that I want to give you a gift for what you’ve done for us.” My dad says “Well, you’ve already paid me, there’s really no need, but thank you.”
He says “Ralph, have you ever done LSD?” Of course, my dad’s speaking to a policeman, and it’s the 70’s, and my dad hadn’t done LSD.
My dad’s a bit too old to be a hippie. He was born in 1936, so he was more of the Beat Generation perhaps. He was around more of the countercultural stuff in the 60’s, but he wasn’t in his early twenties, he was in his mid-thirties, so he was supportive to a lot of the anti-war and civil rights cause and involved in stuff associated with the hippie generation and early psychedelic movement, but wasn’t right in the thick of it himself.
So his answer is “No” to the question of whether he had ever done LSD, and Tony, let’s call him Tony, says “I’d love to give you LSD. Do you have a free Saturday some time?” I think it’s so cool that my dad actually took this seriously and did it.
He said “Yeah, next Saturday sounds good, let’s do it.” My dad cleared his schedule for the day, with a wife and kids at home and a job as a priest. He drives to this guy’s house, he welcomes my father into a room that he has in the basement, and he says
“Ralph, do you like Beethoven?”
My dad loves Beethoven.
He’s a huge classical music fan, so this was an easy answer for him. He says “Great.”, and he gives my dad what he remembers to be two pressed pills, which I imagine must have been seized drugs, since he was not only a cop, but an undercover cop doing drug busts.
These drugs go somewhere when they’re seized, and somehow Vinny had some. He gives my dad the LSD, he tells him to lie down on the floor, he has a carpet there, and he just starts DJing Beethoven records at my dad all day long while my dad just lies there and blisses out on the floor for the whole session.
My dad talks about it humbly and modestly. He says things like “The music got right inside in my body. The colors of the room, the colors of the strings, all of the sounds and timbres of the orchestrations mixed behind my eyelids.”
He had a wonderful experience and eight to twelve hours later he shook Vinny’s hand, got up and drove back home to his life. He’s never done psychedelics since then, but it really left his mind completely open and receptive to the fact that these are interesting and safe experiences, someone who in other ways wasn’t particularly caught up in the psychedelic whirlwind of the 60’s and 70’s as I mentioned, which I think is interesting.
That’s about it for the story. The reason that I think it’s cool to tell in 2015 is because this guy who’s a narc, these people who we demonize like crazy within the psychedelics conversation.
Not only did this guy have the presence of mind to understand that there was something not just illegal and bad about the drugs he was tracking down and seizing, but he also was seemingly a totally well-trained psychedelic session leader or therapist.
He did exactly what they do at the Johns Hopkins studies. He led my dad through more or less textbook how all the clinical trials are being led these days inside of controlled academic or medical situations, and this guy’s an undercover cop doing this with what I imagine stolen seized drugs to a priest who married him because he thinks it would be a meaningful gift for him having just blessed his relationship that he’s gonna be following through with for the rest of his life.
It trips me out in a bunch of different ways, and I think it’s really humanizing and interesting to all the different sides of the stories that we’re telling and thinking about interacting with these days, that all these different people, whether or not they’ve had direct experiences with the substances themselves, they probably do have some personal understanding of what’s going on that’s not just straight dogmatic, not just straight legalistic, and on the other side, not directly anti-any of those things for us on the pro-psychedelic side.
Wherever this guy is right now, I thank him like crazy for having done this, and I imagine if he did it with my father, my father isn’t the only one that he did this to.