Sunday, July 22, 2007


Joan’s comment about my Lemon Verbena looking like marijuana (see Summer, below), made me think about my last encounter with the herb, sometime in the late eighties. My boy friend, Jeff, and I had been to an opening where we had a few tokes (remember, it was the eighties) and went back to the loft to wait for Carlo McCormick who was going to come by to see Jeff’s new paintings. The next thing I knew it was morning, and I was lying on my back on the bed—not just fully dressed, but with my jacket and shoes on and the strap of my bag still over my shoulder. Jeff was stretched out next to me, in his jacket and shoes as well. Later Carlo said he rang the buzzer several times and then phoned—the phone being on the table right next to my head.

I didn’t try anything more mind altering than green tea until ten years ago, when my friend, Tim, and I read a memorable article in Harper’s entitled “Opium Made Easy” by Michael Pollan about poppies. The gist of the article is that all poppies are the same, but their legality depends on where they’re grown and what you do with them. In the article, Pollan gives a recipe for making a tea with dried poppies. He must have made it sound very attractive, because Tim and I immediately went to the Flower District to acquire some. I recall thinking that the sales people in the shop would be on to us if we came in and only asked for dried poppies, so I took a few other things to the cash register, including some ribbon for gift-wrapping that I still have. It reminded me of the old Lenny Bruce routine about a kid buying model airplane glue, that goes something like…I’ll take this and, um, this and this and uh, oh yeah, fifty tubes of airplane glue.

Back at Tim’s Gramercy Park apartment we chopped up the poppies, boiled them according to Pollan’s recipe, and drank the brew. I don’t remember what it tasted like, but the effect was great, really subtle; I felt more concentrated and centered than ever before. Tim, an opera singer with a beautiful, rich baritone, rehearsed while I sat on the couch, hearing each sound with enormous clarity. After a while I remembered that I was having ten people for dinner in an hour and had better leave. It really wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds, because I was having the food delivered from a local Moroccan restaurant, but still, it was ten people for dinner and would go off much better if I were actually there.

The effect out on the street, with the sun and the crowds of people on the sidewalk was not so subtle, but somehow I made it home, proceeded with the dinner party, and may have successfully fooled my guests into thinking I was normal. The great thing about having that many people for dinner is that no one really notices if you don’t talk much. In the middle of it I sneaked into the studio to call Tim. “I am so sick,” I said. “Really?” Tim sounded surprised, “I’m fine.” Ten minutes later he called back.“ I am so sick.” For the next twelve hours, through the night and into the next day, we called each other to report on the state of our nausea, which finally, slowly, dissipated.

These days, of course, if we wanted something to make us really sick, we wouldn’t have to go through the awkwardness of confronting an actual salesperson, but could buy our poppies online. Just for the hell of it, I Googled “dried poppies” and the first site that came up had this to say:

Rest assured you have found the dried poppy seeds you are looking for! …we sell the most saught (sic) after and popular poppy pods available…The poppy has a truly unique past for a flower with the way it will always remind us of WW2, with the poem Flanders Fields and its use was found dating back almost 3,000 years where poppies have been found in Egyptian tombs…

Yikes! What are they drinking?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

How great to read about this again. It took me back to my Gramercy Park kitchen and brewing up the experimental tea. The negative results were unexpected and disappointing but I appreciate the curiosity and adventurous spirit!